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Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Chef Jian Zhou brings whole new flavours to The House of Ming, Taj Mahal Hotel

If we have to choose the most popular cuisine in our country, without a doubt the Chinese cuisine would win hands down. Having stormed the country in the early 80's, Chinese food has become an integral part of our gastronomical history as any other regional food. I have serious doubt if there would be a single person who has not had a taste of or heard of Chinese staples like Chow-mein or Chilli Chicken or sweet and sour or Momos. It might not be the most 'authentic' of Chinese food but it is the Chinese food that we Indians have grown to love. I remember during college days nothing used to be more satisfying than having a hot plate of noodles topped with spicy Chicken Manchurian or sweet and sour (without a doubt loaded with MSG but who cared during those days!!) from the mobile van parked outside the gates. If you did not want to have it there, you could conveniently get it 'parceled' and relish it in the comforts of your room. Those were the days!! 
Even today, going out for a meal together as a family our first choice of meal is most often Chinese. Of course, I have moved much beyond the stereotypical American Chopsuey and the greasy chowmein and spicy sauces as one realizes authentic Chinese food is all about lightly cooked food, delicate balance of flavors and freshness of ingredients (and strictly no MSG). 
My fondness for Chinese food landed me at The House of Ming at The Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi, which offers some of the city's best selection of chinese dishes, to attend a specially held Bloggers table. The House of Ming had newly appointed Chef Jian Zhou, who had meticulously crafted a new menu, including a wide variety of appetizers, soups, main course and desserts. Chef Jian hails from China and brings with him over two decades of culinary expertise.The cuisine showcased at the House of Ming is primarily from the Canton and Sichuan regions where the Sichuan style offers hot and spicy fare, Cantonese cuisine alluring the palates of those who prefer light subtle flavors. I couldn't wait to see what signature touch had Chef Jian added to the premier restaurant's  already popular menu.
The restaurant's classic decor and is reminiscent of Zen simplicity. The moment you enter the restaurant you immediately feel a sense of peace and tranquility looking around at the pristine white decor. Even the crockery, the wall hangings, the porcelain vases are all done in hues of green, blue and white as these colors have a great significance in the Ming dynasty history. Blue represents peace, stability, tranquility, unity and immortality. 
Delayed due to some unforeseen circumstances, by the time I reached the restaurant, others were well into their first course of appetizers. Of course the staff was nice enough to serve whatever I had missed along with the main course. Amongst the appetizers were served Lamb cumin, Scallops with glass noodles, Crystal mixed vegetable dumplings and Pan fried Mushroom Dumplings with colocasia sticks. I loved the dumplings which were really plump and juicy with a really thin outer covering. The Lamb Cumin was a revelation for our tastebuds. Flavored with roasted cumin powder and coriander the lamb was tender and bursting with flavor from the freshly grounded spice. When we asked the chef about his unusual choice of cumin spice in the lamb dish he told us how many years back, when working in Beijing, a regular customer had requested him to make a lamb dish with cumin. After that the dish became really popular there and the chef has continued making it. 
For soups, there was Chicken Grain Soup and Vegetarian Spinach and Tofu Soup. Chicken Grain Soup was a clear soup with coral mushrooms and small dumplings with filling of chicken mince. While I felt the chicken soup could have done with a little more flavor, the Vegetarian Spinach and Tofu Soup was delicious. With small pieces of tofu in the soup the fried garlic on the top gave it a lovely punch. It was healthy and wholesome - something that I would love to have on a cold winter day. 
The mains started with Sweetcorn Chilean Sea bass Guangdong style and Kung Pao Chicken. The fish was soft and flaky and tasted really nice. The chef had given his own twist to the Kung Pao chicken. He had made it in Canton style and the dish was little sweet. Though the lamb was cooked to perfection, I must say I prefer my spicy version better. White Chicken with Sichuan Mala sauce, we were told was a special chicken in China where it was made in white sesame water which was reduced further to make the white sauce for the chicken. What really stood out for me was the Twice cooked Spicy Pork with White Leeks and Sliced Tenderloin with Oyster Sauce. Both these dishes were winners. Twice cooked spicy pork, a classic Sichuan dish, had enhanced flavors from the fermented chilly and Shaoxing wine. Nice and spicy it left your tastebuds tingling and begging for more.
Equally popular were the Eggplant in Yu Xiang Sauce and Home Style Silken Tofu. Eggplant in Yu Xiang sauce were wok fried pieces of eggplant tossed in a spicy, sweet and sour sauce. According to the chef, in chinese cuisine the eggplant is an excellent variant for someone who does not eat meat. The fried Tofu was silken smooth and tossed with peppers and spring onions and flavored with chilli oil. Normally not a huge fan of eating tofu, this was one dish I really liked. Also served was Crackling Greens with crackling tasu. Fresh mixed chinese greens  with crispy fried Soya bean crumbs will certainly appeal to those looking for healthier options.
The Dessert an assortment of Red Bean Cake, Carved Fruits and Lotus Paste Stuffed Golden Fried Lychees had a beautiful presentation but the taste was a disappointment to me. The Red bean cake was too dense and the fried lychees just did not do anything to enhance the flavor of the Red bean cake.
All in all, there were some hits and some misses in the menu but on the whole it was a great dining experience and an absolute delight to meet the new Chef Jian Zhou and taste his delectable creations. There were lots of interesting dishes on the menu, for instance the Twice cooked Pork, Eggplant in Sichuan suce and the sliced Tenderloin with oyster sauce which were simple dishes but stood out for their outstanding flavors and textures. These are the dishes that I would go back for again and again. 
Scallops with glass noodles
Vegetarian Spinach and Tofu Soup
Chicken Grain Soup
                                         Twice cooked Spicy Pork with White Leeks
Sweetcorn Chilean Sea bass Guangdong style
Lamb cumin
Chicken Hakka Noodles
Yong Zhou fried rice
Kung Pao Chicken
Chicken with Sichuan Mala sauce
Home Style Silken Tofu
Sliced Tenderloin with Oyster Sauce
Red Bean Cake, Carved Fruits and Lotus Paste Stuffed Golden Fried Lychees

Friday, 29 August 2014

Apricot and Prune Loaf Cake

Are you someone like me who loves to keep your grocery cupboard fully stocked at all times? 
When I make a dish following a recipe, I try and use all the ingredients mentioned, to get my dish to taste as close to the original as possible. Due to this very reason my grocery cupboard, almost always remains over stacked, almost to the point of things toppling over when I open the cupboard to access anything. I have all sorts of things hoarded - sweet chilli sauce, black bean, honey plum, dark soy, light soy, barbecue sauce, Acetic vinegar, red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, Balsamic Vinegar, oils, spices, dried herbs, condiments, pastas, cans and boxes of this and that, you name it and you are likely to find it in my mini supermarket. Not to mention the different kind of chocolates and sprinkles stashed up in my refrigerator. 
The advantage is of course that it's very comforting to me to have all the ingredients easily available 'on hand' when inspiration strikes me to cook and saves me the trouble to wait to run to the store to pick up the ingredient, so in actual no time is wasted. But there is a huge downside too. There have been times when lot of items get duplicated, even triplicated(if that is a word), as sometimes I tend to forget whether the particular ingredient needed was already in the stock and of course most of the other times Murphy law strikes when one will never be able to find a thing at the time when you actually need it. (Somehow it happens with me all the time).Then it may mysteriously turn up the next day at the very spot you were looking for it.
So its really a merry mess. But no complaining. I love being surrounded by all my foodily treasures.
It just so happened that my husband announced sometime back that there might be a possibility of us moving to US for a new project that his company will be handling. He told me that nothing was definite and everything was on hold till the deal came through. As things were moving really slowly, I also took things easy and continued, as always, shopping and collecting things for my culinary adventures. Just last month the bomb was dropped!! "The deal had been finalized and we might be moving by early October!!" 
That was great news for everyone but my heart sank. My first thought was what will I do with all my precious ingredients stocked up in the cupboard which I had so carefully selected and lovingly collected (almost obsessively) over a period of time. There is no way that I could carry all my supplies with me or be able to consume them completely in such a short time. I guess some friend is going to get very lucky!!
So right now my race is on. There are so many things that I have bought for a particular recipe and have been able to barely use once or twice. Right now, my foremost project is dig through my pantry for things that are lying unused and forgotten at the back of my cupboard which I might have earmarked for a particular recipe but never got around to using it. 
So here is an Apricot and Prune cake that I baked with my excavated treasures from my cupboard. It is moist, lightly spiced with a lovely bite coming from the chopped prunes. I preferred to puree my apricots as I thought the puree would result in a softer texture (which it did) and with the addition of the fruit puree the amount of oil used would be less. Also be careful to fold in the prunes gently and don't stress too much about it settling in at the bottom.The prunes actually tastes great at the bottom
. Now while you enjoy this recipe I am off to dig out some more goodies from my treasure trove to decide what my next adventure in the kitchen is going to be.

Ingredients
1/4 cup pitted prunes, finely chopped
1/2 cup dried Apricots
1/2 cup oil
4 eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
boiling water

Method
Cover the apricots with boiling water and let it stand for 10 -15 minutes till the apricots become soft and puffed up.
Drain and puree the apricots.
Preheat oven to 170C.
In a large bowl whisk the eggs and sugar for 4-5 minutes till thick and creamy.
Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt.
Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture alternating with the butter milk. 
Pour in the oil, apricot puree and whisk till well mixed.
Add in the chopped fruits and incorporate into the mixture gently.
Bake in a preheated oven for 45 to 60 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

A Taste of Britain With Chef Daniel Ayton at Kafe Fontana, Taj Palace Hotel

"How can you portray the ingredients on a plate if you don't know its history?" - Chef Daniel Ayton
There is an ongoing British Food Festival till August 31st at Kafe Fontana, the all-day dining restaurant at Taj Palace, New Delhi and you are invited!! 
Showcasing Britain's diverse cuisine is the well known Chef from UK, Chef Daniel AytonVice President of the World Master Chef's Society and a Masterchef of Great Britain. He also also been associated with the Taj Group, London since the past seven years.
My first introduction to British food was very early on in life. Having grown up on a staple diet of Enid Blytons, I can still recount the countless adventures of Secret Seven's and Famous Five's and the vivid description the books had of mind boggling food like jam tarts, meat pies, hot scones running with butter, plum cake, treacle tart, cold ham, potatoes in their jackets - a fantasy world any child would love to dwell in. (Believe me,  back in the 70's, food like this was indeed a fantasy). What I wouldn't have given to be able to crawl into one of these novels and eat my way out of it.
I think these books were a major influence on me because this cuisine is very dear to my heart and till date this is the kind of food I love to eat and cook and write about too.
An invitation to attend the British Food festival had me all ready to relive my childhood food fantasies and I was all excited to find out the traditional British dishes that would be on menu.
According to Wikipedia, "British cuisine has been described as "unfussy dishes made with quality local ingredients, matched with simple sauces to accentuate flavor, rather than disguise it." However, British cuisine has absorbed the cultural influence of those who have settled in Britain, producing many hybrid dishes, such as the Anglo-Indian chicken tikka masala.".
The lunch was impressively laid in buffet style and Chef Daniel Ayton walked us through the exquisite menu. The mouthwatering array of dishess combined rustic and authentic dishes like Butchers pie, Billingsgate fish pie, Classic Cesar Ritz Salad, leek and potato soup to name a few. The desserts too had classics like Sherry trifle, summer berry pudding. 
Though some of us were really looking forward to tasting the famous classics like the Yorkshire pudding, treacle tart and kidney and Steak Kidney Pie (blame it on our staple diet of Enid Blyton's) which were conspicuous by their absence especially so as we found out that they were available for the a la carte menu for dinner.
Describing the dishes on the elaborate menu, the chef told us that the Billingsgate Fish Pie takes it name from the Billingsgate Fish market which is UK's largest inland fish market. Billingsgate pie had fresh fish made in white sauce and topped with a mashed potato topping. Absolutely delicious as I am a fish lover.
Highly recommended by the chef was the Fish and Saffron Soup. Made with smoked Haddock, I loved how the simple flavors of the soup were elevated by the use of saffron.
Cornfed Chicken with Barbecue sauce was next in line. According to the chef the Cornfed chicken was sourced from London's famous Smithfield Market, the largest wholesale meat market in the UK. I believe these free range chickens feed only on corn hence the name. This diet doesn't just gives the meat a beautiful golden color but also contributes to a more intense flavor than a standard white chicken, with a moister bite after cooking. I too found the chicken to be really juicy and full of flavor. 
Butcher's Pie is a traditional meat pie served in Britain made from stewing steak and beef gravy and enclosed in a pastry shell. Here the classic was replicated with lamb and being encased in a lovely crisp golden crust it was beautifully cooked stewed in its own juices. This is something I would love to make for dinner- a complete meal in itself.
 Nothing can get more traditional than the classic Leek and Potato Soup. 
Crumb Fried Fish served with a creamy mayonnaise was extremely crisp and fresh tasting. It got a big nod of approval from everyone on our table.
Chef also talked about how British people were basically meat eaters and don't really stress on vegetarian meals. Because of which here in India to recreate the same authentic British flavors in vegetarian dishes the chef found a bit tricky. But Vegetarians don't lose heart as the chef has put in a lot of effort and prepared an equally delicious fare keeping you in mind. Here are some dishes you can look forward to : 
Vegetable crumble in Basil Sauce consisted of an assortment of vegetables cooked in a  creamy sauce and topped with a layer of crispy cheese baked to a perfect golden color. I can't figure out which  I preferred more - the buttery cheesy crumble or the creamy vegetables.
Tabouleh, Fattoush, Beetroot Tzatziki Roasted Potatoes and Peas were a few other vegetarian options.
Stuffed Peppers and Sile - peppers stuffed with risotto and mushrooms.
Vegetable Mille Feuille- roasted wedges of mozzarella, potatoes zucchini and tomatoes with gooey melted cheese on top was a feast. I loved the different textures and flavors in this dish.
How can a British menu be complete without the quintessential English dessert -Sherry Trifle - a layered melange of sponge cake soaked in sherry and covered with jam, custard and whipped cream.
Another classic dessert Summer Berry Pudding was an absolute winner. Showcasing the beautiful summer berries, the dessert not only looked exquisite with its brilliant purple color but tasted great too. One spoon of the delectable tangy dessert and you were completely addicted to it. A memorable dish indeed.
As the chef joked the British were quick to embrace cuisines from other cultures easily hence the Apple Pie.
Apricot Cup Cake, Passion Fruit Pastry, Peach Mousse, Chocolate Shell with Cherry Filling, Strawberry Cheese Cake, Chocolate Flaky Bite were a few more sinful delights to tempt you.
Back from a trip to the famous "Spice Market' in Chandini Chowk, Chef Daniel was quite thrilled to explore the interiors of the city. According to him how could one understand the culture of the country without first experiencing its food and culture. Reciprocating, to educate the guests the chef had brought with him a platter of popular cheeses from Britain. Amongst them were a few interesting cheeses like Southwest Cornish Yarg, Cheddar cheese, Red Leicester, Black sticks Blue, Sussex Cheese. It was amazing to learn how the Cornish yarg was matured wrapped in leaves of nettle, (nettle is a prickly plant with stingy hairs that causes skin irritation on contact) which surprisingly lend the cheese a lovely nutty taste.
For some Indians who are fond of their extra punch of spices, the British food might seem a little bland due to lack spices but for me this meal was inspiring and spelled perfection in every way. I thoroughly enjoyed each and every preparation.
     
If you too want a soak yourself in the authentic flavors of Britain, head towards Kafe Fontana, Taj Palace Hotel, New Delhi. 
The festival is on till 31st August.

Timings: 

Buffet Lunch – 1230 – 1445 hrs
Dinner a la carte- 1900 -2300 hrs
Thanks Taj palace Hotel and Chef Daniel Ayton for the fabulous meal.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Beery-Beery Good!! Saying Cheers to the new menu at 'Beer Cafe' and .....Chef Saby's Recipe for Beer Chicken Vindaloo.

I have never understood people's fascination for drinking beer. Back in the forces, usually Sunday Brunch at the Army Mess would mean an opportunity of getting together with friends over large mugs of chilled beer followed by a scrumptious meal of biryani or idli dosa. But somehow the bitter fermented taste of beer never appealed to my tastebuds and on most occassions except for an occassional 'shandy' I have preferred to give it a pass. 
So, when I got an invite from Beer cafe at its flagship outlet  Beer Cafe Biggie in Connaught Place, for the launch of their new food menu, knowing my lack of interest in the drink, I almost had a mind to give it a skip. The thing that caught my eye, enough to interest me to change my mind was that Chef Sabyasachai Gorai had revamped their whole food menu and would be demonstrating how to cook some of his signature dishes - Beer Chicken Vindaloo and Banana Beerimisu
I had used other alcohols like wine and rum for cooking but never Beer. The only thing I was familiar with, apart from drinking the beverage was that it was great for washing one's hair with. Having met Chef Saby on a few occasions earlier and aware of his extraordinary culinary skills, I was quite interested to see what twist would he be giving to the dishes.
Also present on the occasion was Mr.Rahul Singh, Founder and CEO of The Beer Cafe. He spoke about how, "Beer Cafe was the largest beverage chain in India having opened 24 stores and looking at adding another 16 stores by December. Speaking about the newly revamped menu, he said that how till now they were mainly focused on beer and that food had taken kind of a backseat. The time has come to change that. Incorporating the feedback from valued guests, the food menu has been completely revamped by Chef Saby and his team Fabrica. Infact, our food menu will be customized for every outlet depending on the popular cuisine of that area. We aim to delight our guests by offering an array of international and modern dishes that will pair fabulously with their favorite brews."
During the launch the guests were introduced to the Whitlinger, produced in-house, which was being introduced for the first time in Delhi and would soon soon be available in all beer cafe outlets across india.
Chef Saby demonstrating how to cook Beer Chicken Vindaloo. Aromatic and spicy, The Beer Chicken Vindaloo had pieces of boneless chicken cooked to perfection in the  spicy - sour vindaloo sauce.
For the interested readers, Chef Saby's recipe is given at the bottom.
The classic Italian dessert gets a shot of Beer. Chef Saby and Rahul Singh making the Beeramisu - an interesting twist on the traditional tiramisu. I loved the way the the beer added a lovely hint of bitterness to balance the sweetness of the toffee sauce.
I gave both the beers served at beer cafe a try. To my surprise the 'Whitlinger' was quite light and I really enjoyed it - enough to get a refill. Stella Artois was a little strong for my taste, maybe because I am not a big fan of beer but I think it would be hugely popular with the Beer lovers.
A lot of thought has gone into conceptualizing the menu and the effort showed in the distinct taste and flavor of each dish. I loved everything on the menu and it is hard to choose any one favorite. I especially loved the melt-in-the-mouth Citrus Malai Tikka, The mouthwatering stuffed green chillies with corn kernels and Mozzarella, the hand tossed pizzas, the addictive Beer Batterd Prawns with wasabi mayonnaise, the sinful desserts which were absolute killers....that pretty much covers almost everything. I did tell you everything on the menu was fabulous!!
The menu comprises of international as well as regional cuisine with a generous dose of comfort food. Drawing inspiration from classic movies and songs some of the dishes have very quirky names- treat yourself to ‘Beer Bites’ that include a Chicken Run (BBQ chicken wings), Hollow Man (Crunchy summer vegetables stuffed rice paper rolls) and Tirchi Topiwale (stuffed mushrooms). Moving on to the signature Tacos and scrumptious thin crust pizzas that are made of fresh hand tossed dough. The menu also has an array of main course that consists of Gourmet sausage Platter, Australian Wok tossed noodles, succulent burgers Beer battered prawns and lots  more. Also making a debut are some delightful desserts like Beeramisu and Citrus beer pudding. 
Deconstructed Peanut chaat
Ripe Tomato, Mozarella Basil Pizza - The pizzas were fantastic - thin crust with loads on flavor and just the right amount of cheese on top.
Bacon and Sausages Pizza 
Beer Battered Prawns struck a chord. Something I would love to go back for again and again.
Green Inferno (stuffed green chillies with corn kernels and Mozarella) and Citrus Malai Tikka - another winner from the menu
The Greenfield Tacos
Dark Chocolate and Whiskey Mousse - you can actually lose yourself in its intense chocolate flavor enhanced by coffee and whiskey. Highly recommended for all chocolate lovers. Beeramisu layered with beer and bananas was also quite good.
What a cracking first encounter for me. I would definitely be saying more cheers to Beery times at The Beer Cafe.

And as promised here's the recipe for Beer Chicken Vindaloo 
This recipe serves 4
For the Marinade
3 tsp each of cumin seeds, mustard seeds and cardamom pods
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 thumb sized piece of ginger, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves
3 fresh green chillies
50 ml Beer
salt and pepper
For the Curry
4 skinless and boneless chicken thigh, chopped into large chunks
2-3tbsp olive oil
1 large onion finely sliced
3 tomatoes 150 ml chicken stock
100 ml Beer
a few coriander leaves for garnish

Method:
Dry fry the cumin, coriander seeds, cardamom pods and mustard seeds in a saucepan for a few minutes.
Add these spices in a food blender with all other marinade ingredients and blitz into a paste.
Cover the chicken with the marinade and leave in the fridge for atleast 4-8 hours.
Heat the oil and fry the chicken when the color comes, add the onions tomatoes and fry till they soften.
Add the remaining marinade, chicken stock and half of the beer.
Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes.
Add the other half, just before serving and serve garnished with coriander leaves.