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Monday, April 20, 2015

Askme Foodies Meetup with FBAB @ The Lalit Ashok

It started on a bad note for me. The cab that I had booked to take me to The Lalit Ashok was late by 10 mins. And the driver said that he was caught up somewhere in Domlur and it would take him another 30 mins to reach Marathahalli. Though I have used OLA cabs multiple times, it was the first time I faced something like this. I tried reaching their call center. It took multiple attempts but luckily I was able to speak to one of their guys who assured me another cab in 10 mins. Though it took a little more than 15 mins instead of 10 mins, I cab finally arrived at my doorstep.

The cabbie informed us that since there was traffic on the way ( it being a Sunday afternoon ), it would take us around 45 min to 1 hour. The route took us through MG Road which was bustling with activity and skimmed the precincts of the Chinnaswamy stadium which was to host the RCB Vs DD IPL match that very day. With the teams supporters being wooed everything ranging from T-shirts, banners, flags to even colorful headgear and the large number of police vans parked outside the stadium, that stretch of road did its best to look the part.

Finally we arrived at the hotel. A good one hour late for the meet. Though it was strikingly beautiful, we hardly had the time to appreciate the ambiance before rushing into the lift. As we entered the room, all the foodies were already ensconced in their chairs and enjoying the treats laid out for them. We were quickly ushered onto a table and after a swift introduction, the plates were laid out for us. As Ms. Randeep from the Askme team enlightened us about Askme, its user friendly interface and the plans (in pipeline) for the food community, I dug into the lovely looking treats. Most of them were the miniature ( or bite sized ) types that are much in vogue these days. Since most of us were there after a rather late Sunday brunch/lunch, it was just as good.

It was followed by a quick session on food photography by Mr Satheesh. Nothing earth shattering, just the regular stuff that one can come across while googling. Now everyone would agree that it is rather tough to cram a session on DSLR usage in a foodie meet that last for just about 3 hours. By that time desserts has been laid out and everyone had already dug in. And suddenly the emcee announced a quick contest in which everyone had to click the dessert plate. But only with their mobile cameras. There has to be a catch..rite. The hotel guys were gracious enough to bring out the fresh plates ( one per table ).  The laid back atmosphere of the room was magically transformed as everyone got busy clicking the pics. It ended with two winners being picked out.

The dessert plate as I clicked it !!

Then there was a quick session on presentation with Chef Ajit, one of the in-house chefs of Lalit Ashok. We picked up some useful tips about the basics while working with the sauces on the plate. Another quick contest followed. This time it was about coming up with the best plate.

Finally there was a quick session on food carvings by Mr Bibhuti ( Chef BB as we call him ), who also happens to be the founder member of FBAB (Food Bloggers Association Bangalore). We were presented with a small starter kit for trying out the carvings. By the time the session ended, it was almost 6:30 pm. A quick photo-op followed and we were handed over the goodie bags on a final thank you note.

Thank you FBAB, andThe Lalit Ashok for the wonderful experience !!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Mackerel Masala Fry

When one lives in an area which has a good density of restaurants and home delivery is just a call away, the temptation to forgo cooking becomes quite strong. Change of taste, tiredness , lethergy or just plain boredom, the excuses are too many and too frequent. But thank God, I am addicted to blogging and hence the urge to try out new dishes keeps me from eating out/ordering food too frequently. Whether it is a recipe that I have caught on TV or something that a fellow blogger has shared, I have something cooking on my mind at all times. And this dish is inspired by an episode of 'Strictly Street' on Travel XP.

Mackerel is a very common fish that is consumed in India. And one can find it almost everywhere ranging from the local fish markets to the non vegetarian sections of the most posh supermarkets. And I got this lot from a supermarket near my apartment. Though the fish was fresh, I was not happy with the way the guy had cleaned it ( a section of the head is missing :( ). I thought it looked terrible.

Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 25 mins

Ingredients -

For marination -

  • 4 pieces of Mackerel
  • 1/2 tsp GG paste
  • 2 pinch turmeric
  • 2 pinch chili powder
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • salt to taste

For frying -

  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp cumin powder
  • 3 dry red chilis
  • 2-3 garlic flakes
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • 2-3 tsp oil

Preparation- Clean the fish, make 4-5 gashes on each side and marinate it with all the ingredients listed under 'for marination'. Do rub the marinade over the pieces for 3-4 mins to ensure that it goes into the gashes. Keep aside for 15-20 mins.

Dry roast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds and red chilis. Grind into a paste with the garlic flakes and vinegar. Slather this paste all over the marinated fish.

Cooking - Heat a non-stick skillet. Drizzle the oil all over it. 

Place the fish on the skillet and cook on each side for 3 mins. Remove from the skillet and place over a tissue paper.

Serve hot.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Simba Alu Posto ( Flat beans and Potato cooked with poppy seeds )

The quintessential quality of Odia cuisine is that it needs to be wholesome and fuss free. Not too many ingredients nor too many steps. The focus is usually on one core ingredient and that is allowed to be the star of the dish. And flat beans is the star of this dish without any doubt. The potato and the nuttiness of the poppy seeds add a mellow touch to the otherwise robust flavored beans.

Read on for this recipe -

Preparation Time - 15 mins

Ingredients -

  • 1 1/2 cup Flat beans ( cut into inch long pieces )
  • 1/2 cup potatoes ( cut into small pieces )
  • 1/2 small onion
  • 2 tsp poppy seeds paste
  • 2 dry red chilis
  • 1/2 tsp pancha phutana ( panch phoran )
  • 2 pinch turmeric
  • 2 tsp oil
  • salt to taste

Cooking - Add 1 tsp oil to a wok. Add the Flat beans and potato. Stir fry till 3/4 th cooked. Remove from wok and keep aside.

Add more oil to the same wok. Throw in the broken red chilis and pancha phutana. When it starts spluttering, add onions. Fry till translucent.

Add the fried beans and potato to the wok along with the poppy paste and 1/2 cup water. Season with salt and add turmeric.

Cook on a low flame till the vegetables are cooked and coated with a layer of the poppy seeds paste.

Serve hot with white rice and dal.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Book Review: Yagnaseni - The story of draupadi ( by Prativa Ray )

[This book was originally written in Odia by author Prativa Ray. She won the Moorti Devi Award in 1991 for 'Yagnaseni' and was honored with the Jnanpith Award in 2011. This is one of the few books to be written about Draupadi, one of the central female characters of Mahabharata. The author has, by her own admission, included some imaginary episodes in the narration. This review is based on the English translation]

History is replete with many a kings who have had harems full of women. Yet, they have been heaped with liberal praise and their achievements have never been overshadowed by their personal lives. The women on the other hand have never been so fortunate. The moment she takes another man, she is ridiculed in the unkindest terms. But since I read this book with the intention of unraveling the psyche of such a woman, I have tried to retain my objectiveness and have refrained from being judgmental at any point.

When I first picked the book, I wanted a fresh look a Mahabharata, one from a female perspective. Well, these days there is a lot of talk about it and it is touted as one of the reasons for inclusion of women in the boardroom. Now most men would support such a move for the fear of being branded politically incorrect if they choose to look the other way. Some would even say that they would support their spouse should she choose to work. But how many would lend her a helping hand when it comes to domestic chores ? Doing the kids homework ? Not many, I guess. And that is what makes a world of difference. So, the keyword here is 'empathy' and not 'sympathy'. 'Empathy' for Draupadi is what the author is trying to achieve through this book.

I loved the fact that Yagnaseni, meaning one who is born out of the sacrificial flames, is portrayed as a normal woman. She is shown as a carefree young woman who has a crush on Krishna. But circumstances lead to a Swayamvar and she gets betrothed to Arjun, the third Pandav. She is shown as idolizing him and treating him as a hero. She is every bit the shy new bride with stars in hers eyes till she is forced to marry all the five Pandavs due to a misunderstanding on the part of Kunti, her mother in law.

From this point, one sees her as a tormented woman who has to live up to the expectations of five husbands, each of whom is as different from the other as is chalk from cheese. She is shown to possess a soft corner for Arjun, her first husband and her hero whom she does not want to share with Subhadra. Though she is wise and learned, all these qualities take a back seat as she gets on with her domestic duties. At times, I felt that the five Pandavs are portrayed as being too conceited.

The author meanders into controversial territory with Draupadi's fascination with Karna. The latter is shown to nurture a grudge after being turned down at the Swayanvar. The few interactions between the two are beautifully narrated and are among the memorable parts of the book. Despite Karna's thinly veiled hatred, Yagnaseni seems to be attracted towards him.Though it seems jarring, it has to be viewed it in the light of Karna being an equal of Arjun ( as Krishna quotes in the later part of the book ). Maybe one should suspend one's rationality by a few degrees while reading this book and consider everything to be a part of Krishna ( who actually holds the Universe within himself ) and his scheme.

The book ends with a journey to heaven that Yagnaseni undertakes with her five husbands. But sadly it ends with her fall on the golden dust of the Himalayas. It is attributed to the negative thoughts in her mind. At this point, none of her husbands come to her rescue. Though it seems cruel, it has to be viewed in the light of one's accumulated Karma and the resulting ramifications.

Overall it is a good book but one that has deep spiritual connotations. It took me more than a month to get over with it as one tends to read a chapter, mull over it and then go back and read it all over again.

Buy it online @ Amazon .

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Papdi Chat / Sev Puri ( Holi Special )

On the day of Holi, folks of all shapes, sizes and colors would come knocking on our door. As per tradition, they would apply the 'gulal' /'fagu' or dry color on the feet of the elders first and take the latter's blessings. People of their own age would be generously smeared on the cheeks while the kids or youngsters would not be spared even an inch.

This is one such recipe that is usually served to the guests on the day. Read on -

Preparation Time - 30 mins

Ingredients - 

  • 12 papdis
  • 1/2 cup boiled and peeled potato
  • 1/2 small onion
  • 2-3 green chilis (optional..only if you like it hot)
  • 1/4 cup yogurt
  • 1/4 tsp red chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp chaat masala
  • 2 pinch roasted cumin-chili powder
  • 1/2 cup thin sev
  • chopped cilantro
  • black salt (as per taste)
  • salt to taste

For Sweet Chutney -

  • Lemon sized ball of tamarind
  • 4 tbsp jaggery
  • 1 1/2 inch grated ginger 
  • salt to taste

For the spicy 'Theekhi' chutney -

  • 1/2 cup cilnatro
  • 2-3 green chilis
  • a small piece of tamarind
  • 2 pinch cumin seeds
  • salt to taste

Preparation - Take all the ingredients for the spicy chutney in a blender jar and give a good buzz. Remove and keep it aside.

Soak the tamarind in 1/2 cup hot water for 15-20 mins. Mash and discard the solids. Take the extact in a saucepan, add the remaining ingredients for sweet chutney and boil for 6-7 mins. Remove from flame and keep aside till cool.

Crumble the potatoes lightly. Do not mash completely.

Final assembly -

Take 6 puris in each plate. Put some crumbled potato oven them and then add some yogurt. Drizzle with the sweet and spicy chutney.

Add some chaat masala, chili powder, roasted cumin chili powder and onions. 

Sprinkle sev generously all over. Finally add some more onions, chopped green chilis, chopped cilantro, yogurt, a little chutney and some black salt. Sprinkle a little bit of table salt if required.

Serve immediately.

Note - One can also add boiled chickpeas, yellow peas or even black gram dal. Add chopped tomato and cucumber to make it even more filling.

Just a Smartphone ? Heck No !!

Ok. Agreed that a smartphone can do everything that your husband or boyfriend can. Well..almost. It can take you places ( Google maps to guide you if you are driving on your own or an App to book a cab when you just want to sit back and relax ), hold your hand throughout a virtual shopping spree, book movie tickets, reserve a table at your favorite restaurant, pay your bills, get your grocery delivered at your doorstep, etc. Well, it can even feed you with more gossip than your entire gang of girls can manage and keep you updated on the best deals in town. But brace yourself for the ASUS Zenfone 2 experience which promises all this and even more.

The first reason for getting my hands on this phone would be for the sake of pure vanity. The brushed metallic body ( do I hear the oohs ?? ) in an array of stunning colors has a flaunt factor that can give the hottest chick (or even hunk) a run for their money. Well, it does not come as a surprise considering that it has won the iF Design Award 2015 for innovation, ergonomics and functionality.

The second one is the truly stunning 1920x1080 Full HD IPS display which promises a viewing experience like none before. Watch the colors come alive on your 5.5 inch screen as you catch a favorite movie or even those holiday videos. I personally want it for playing those rhymes and kiddie videos for my toddler as it keeps him occupied while I attend to more important matters.

The third reason would be the 13 MP PixelMaster camera. Those who have been planning to invest in a digital camera, be prepared to give a second thought, for this phone has some amazing features like the low light mode, dual color flash, real time beautification mode and even a wide angle selfie panorama. Wow, I can already count the likes coming in. And it is something that the social networking addicts like me can hardly resist.

The fourth reason is that it also allows for some great movie editing. It is something that my husband is quite fond of. And did I forget to mention that the guy is a video game addict ? Well, with the 4GB RAM and 60 ms touch responsiveness, he will be addicted to this one in no time. But that also means I have to order two of the ASUS Zenfone 2 phones so that he does not monopolize mine.

The final reason would be the amazing battery performance. Good new for those like me who are perpetually connected to their phones. This one gets charged to 60% capacity in just 39 mins. Very useful when one is constantly listening music, downloading videos, checking mails or is even hooked to one of the social networking sites. Less charging time actually means more freedom and less thumb twiddling.

Check out the ASUS Zenfone 2 HERE.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Potli Biryani (Chicken Biryani in a Banana leaf parcel) !!

Some time back, I had read about a prawn biriyani cooked in a banana leaf. Though I wanted to try it out immediately, it did not happen due to certain circumstances and I conveniently forgot about it. If like me, one has the habit of collecting thousands of recipes, it becomes a bit difficult to keep track of them. Hence, this recipe was lying at the back of my mind and when I saw fresh banana leaves at the vegetable shop last week, I knew I had to try this at least once.

But I did not remember the exact recipe (but I think it had coconut milk in it and I was not sure if my North Indian friends would like it)  and decided to go along with one of my chicken biryani recipes. It results were good. The banana leaf imparted a subtle flavor to the rice and the 'potli' or the banana leaf parcel made for a lovely presentation.

Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 1 hour

Ingredients -

For Chicken -
  • 250 gm Chicken
  • 2 large onions 
  • 2 tsp GG paste
  • whole spices ( 3 cloves, 2 inch cinnamon stick, 1 star anise, 1 black cardamom, 2 green cardamom, 1 bay leaf, 2 mace)
  • 1/2 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/4 tsp garam masala
  • a handful of mint leaves
  • 3-4 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
  • 1/2 cup thick curd
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • oil (2 tbsp)
  • ghee (2tbsp)
  • salt to taste

For the biriyani rice -
  • 2 cups Basmati rice 
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 2" long cinnamon stick
  • 3-4 cloves
  • 2 green cardamom (slightly split)
  • 1 mace
  • 1 tsp ghee
  • salt to taste

Final garnishing -
  • Fried onions
  • mint leaves
  • coriander leaves
  • food color (opional)
  • ghee

Preparation - Clean the chicken pieces and pat them dry. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add all the ingredients listed under 'For Chicken' except for the whole spices, oil and onions. Mix everything together and rub the marinade on the chicken pieces for about 5 mins.

Keep aside for 2-3 hours.

Chop the onions into thin long pieces.

Cooking -

For the chicken - Heat oil in a wok. Add the whole spices and fry for 10-15 seconds. Next, add the onions and fry till translucent.

Add the mint leaves and the coriander leaves. Fry for 2 mins.

Add the marinated chicken along with the marinade. Cook for 15 mins (covered) till 3/4 done. Remove from flame and keep aside.

For the rice - Boil 8-10 cup water in large pan. When it gets to a boil, add all the spices and salt.

Wash the Basmati rice and add to the boiling water. Boil on a medium flame for 8-9 mins.

Switch off the flame.  Add the ghee and allow to stand for 30 secs before draining off.

Final assembly - Take a fresh and clean banana leaf that is wide enough and has no tears .

Rub a little ghee all over it. Place a layer of rice on it. Then layer with chicken, fried onions, mint leaves, coriander leaves, ghee and few dots of color. Gather the ends of the leaf, bring them together and bind it with a string/ribbon/rubber band.

Boil water in a steamer. If you don't own one, use an idli maker. Place the banana leaf parcel inside the steamer and allow it to steam for 10-15 mins. The banana leaf would have changed to a yellowish shade by then.

Remove from the steamer and allow it to rest for 10 mins.

Serve the parcels with raita.

Note - I packed individual portions into each banana leaf parcel. So, one can serve it directly with the leaf itself.