Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Sweet Indulgence: Coffee and Eclairs at Le Meridien, New Delhi

Life is dessert first!!
An invitation to interact over coffee and eclairs at Longitude, the all day coffee lounge at the Le Meridien hotel had me all excited. Being a passionate baker, I thought it to be an excellent opportunity to interact with the chef and get some handy baking tips on how to make the perfect choux pastry especially as I have been struggling now for some time with making my choux pastry. And of course, getting to taste some of the delicious Parisian pastries was the icing on the cake.
While waiting for the others to arrive at the hotel's uber chic coffee lounge Longitude, I sipped on some excellent Illy coffee. I was told that the coffees served here are from illycaffe, a world renowned Italian coffee blend that specializes in the production of espressos since 1933. Rich and strong, the hot cup of coffee was just the thing I needed to freshen me up after the long drive from Gurgaon.
Soon the others too joined. The best part about attending such events, apart from always learning new and amazing things, is that you get to meet other bloggers too, who are like minded and share the same passion as yours. It was great as always catching up with Sangeeta Khanna and Arvind Passey and a pleasure to meet Anita Tikoo and Aditya Banerjee who I was meeting for the first time. 
Once we all settled down, we were introduced to Chef Vikas Shrivastava who is the executive pastry chef at the hotel. Anasuya, the Director of Marketing Communications with Le Meridien explained how the new Eclair programme is a Starwood driven programme to introduce French eclairs with unique local flavors inspired by the destination. This programme has been adapted by all Le Meridien Hotels world wide. I thought it is a lovely endeavor where the chef can get creative and experiment with local flavors. 
Here too, along with the classic flavors like the Vanilla, and Chocolate, there were also some unique flavors like Passion fruit and Hazelnut Praline. To give his own local twist, Chef Vikas came up with local flavors like Rose Cardamom and Jaggery Ginger. My personal favorite was Jaggery and Ginger flavored eclair. This eclair had a lovely fresh taste of ginger which offset the sweetness of the jaggery, creating a perfect balance of taste and flavors. All the eclairs were extremely soft and light as air. Filled with whipped cream and iced with fondant icing they were a haven for dessert lovers.
"A true éclair is a long, thin pastry made with choux pastry dough, filled with a cream, and topped with icing. The dough, which is the same as that used for profiterole, is piped into an oblong shape with a pastry bag and baked until it is crisp and hollow inside. Once cool, the pastry then is filled with a crème pâtissière, whipped cream, or chiboust cream; and then iced with fondant icing."
Rose and cardamom
Passion Fruit
Hazelnut Praline
The Classic Chocolate
Classic Vanilla
Ginger and Jaggery
Chef Vikas also showed us the technique to fill  pastry using pastry bags and then decorate the choux pastry with fondant icing.
We also got to create our own eclairs with fillings of our choice. I almost felt like a kid playing with the icing and decorating the eclairs with different colorful toppings.
 Of course, ours were not even half as close to what the chef had made.
To give relief to our sweet tooth, we were also served some excellent savory snacks.

 It was a lovely afternoon - well spent in great company and good food. 
Group Pic courtesy: Arvind Passey

Friday, 4 April 2014

Banana and Honey Chocolate Cake

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt......

I know looking at this cake you must be thinking I have gone bananas - this cake doesn't spell 'banana cake' from any angle and looks more like a strawberry cake. Actually the strawberries are there purely for ornamental purpose - to add some color and to 'pretty-up' the cake a bit. Apart from that, they also feature on the top list of my dear daughter's favorite fruit. 
My daughters 12th class board exams ended 5 days back and I baked this cake to surprise her when she returned back home after giving her last exam. To celebrate the occasion, I decided to make a cake with all her favorite things - Chocolate, Chocolate and more Chocolate!! And of course the whipped cream and strawberries added to the glam. The smile on her face on seeing the cake was enough to tell me what she thought of it.
I think the word 'BOARDS' must be unanimously voted as the most detested and dreaded word by all school students especially twelfthies. Throughout the year, I think they never get to hear the end of this word and for most, every request is echoed with the logic, "But, its your board year, sweetie", "this is the most crucial year of your life, so you just need to focus", "concentrate on your studies so you can get into a good college of your choice", "the little effort you put in now will make your life".....and it goes on and on. Poor kids, I feel so bad for them. So much pressure from everyone and everywhere!!(Unfortunately, I too stand guilty of this act).
But thankfully, the tension and stress is finally over. I think the last year of school is just a way to prepare them for bigger challenges ahead in life - a stepping stone for more beautiful things to come into their life. Every child is special in their own way and I am sure destiny has something in their kitty for each one of them
So this special chocolatey cake is for my  special girl - our little princess!! May the future hold beautiful things for her and she always gets to live her dream. And of course.... life always has lots of chocolate cakes to offer.
                                              Whatever dreams you're dreaming,
May each one of them come true.
Whatever plans you're making,
May they all work out for you.
And may you have more happiness
Than any words can tell.
Not only on this day,
But all the year as well.
May you have a little sunlight
to guide you on your way.
May you discover, little by little,
happiness that's here to stay.
May you grow a little stronger
and a little wiser with each dawn
May you have a little time to
believe in dreams to dream upon
May all the joy your heart desires
find its way to you.
And may the blessings that brighten up your days
keep on shining through.

100 gms sugar
100 gms Margarine
3 eggs
2 Tbsp honey
3 ripe bananas, mashed
100 gms flour
2 Tsp baking powder
1 Tsp cinnamon powder
4 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 Tbsp coffee powder
50 gms chocolate chips dusted with a little flour

Preheat oven to 180 C.
Gently heat the margarine on the gas or microwave for a minute till melted. Keep aside to cool.
With the hand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar for 5-6 minutes untill light and fluffy.
Sieve the flour, baking powder, cocoa, coffee and cinnamon.
Fold it gently into the egg mixture till well mixed. 
Add the mashed bananas, honey and the melted margarine and mix well till incorporated.
Lastly add in the chocolate chips and stir the mixture gently till well mixed.
Pour the mixture in a greased baking tin and bake in a preheated oven at 180C for 30-35 minutes till done.
Serve it frosted with your favorite icing.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Chota Packet Bada Dhamaka!! - 'Chakhna Menu' at Punjab Grill, Saket.

The best things in life come in small packages.... I mean small bites. 
After bowling us over completely with his “WinterMenu”, Chef Gurpreet Singh and his team at Punjab Grill have come up with another novel concept of a desi “Chakhna” Menu. Inspired by the concept of Spanish Tapas or little bites served in small plates with drinks, Chef Gurpreet has outdone himself this time around too. He has given his own sweet twist to this Indian Tapas Menu by reintroducing some old favorites, some of which at least I had long forgotten and was delighted to see them again.
How many of you remember, Rimzim, a spicy masala drink that used to be available back in the 80’s or the Fryums, the yellow tube like snacks which I remember putting on our fingers, faking long nails with them and then relishing them one by one. The food certainly brought back a rush of memories, a delicious trip down memory lane. When we asked Chef Gurpreet how he managed to get hold of Rim Zim, as it is nowhere to be seen in the market, he told us how on a trip to Tilak Nagar he spotted a seller selling the bottles outside a small shop. He came back and searched the net and was lucky to find a seller. As it is I believe Coca Cola is planning to reintroduce Rimzim drink in the market soon.
'Just looking at the presentation of each dish you could make out the effort and thought that had gone into the planning and conceptualizing the menu, how every small detail had been paid attention to right from the drinks to the food menu– I think that is what makes it a complete experience at Punjab Grill.
Even a mundane thing like the paper in which the Ambrasari fish was served, to make it look more authentic, the actual 'Punjab Kesari' newspaper was printed on a butter paper  . Also the serving mats placed before us had playing cards printed on them to give you a feel of a laid back, chilled out ambiance where one could get together with friends and relax over a few drinks and snacks.
These are the simple pleasures of life, the fun moments that we spend with our friends and family that give us real joy and make us feel alive. I think in the fast pace of life, this important aspect of life has somehow gone missing from our lives and we somehow have forgotten to enjoy the small moments which give us most pleasures in life.
This is what the Chakna menu is all about – to slow down, sit back, relax and enjoy some gup-shup with friends over a few drinks and snacks.
About the food - We started with the Classic Papad Peanut masala platter which had four colorful cones in a caddy, each having chana chor garam, masala peanuts, tiny onion pakodas and mixed nuts. These cones reminded you of the street vendor outside your college serving bhel and chanas in paper cones. I especially loved the onion pakodas which were crispy and just the perfect size to munch on while chatting with your friends.
There were a lot of intriguing cocktails on offer. I chose the Nikki Te Tikhi which was an interesting combination of Vodka, Khus syrup, lemon juice and 7up. It was served with a sliced chilly (hence tikhi) which added a nice zing to the taste. My husband had the Old Monk Rim Zim, which I felt he took more for the nostalgia for the drink Rim Zim. 
I also had the Ganne Ka Juice Margarita, sugar cane juice with tequila, lemon juice, ginger and black salt and lots of shaved ice on top making it an heavenly combination for a ganne ka juice fan like me. Full marks to Band Baja Te Whisky for its innovativeness. A peg of whisky served in a glass with a baja, rather a bhopu inside sure did rouse our curiosity. It was fun to see the servers placing the glass on your table and playing the bhopu. There were a lot of people in the restaurant that day and an equal number of bhopus playing. But I am sure everyone was enjoying so much that no one would have minded. After all no amount of noise can deter a true  Punjabi to enjoy his food and drink.
Next a cute little copper pot was placed before us and we were told that it was "Happy Holi Bhang". I was immediately interested as I had never tasted bhang in my life. It was delicious, with a refreshing flavor of pineapple.

Jheenga 'Chownk' Ki Tikki, Masala Mattra was a cutlet of potatoes and prawns. The tikki was served on a bed of spicy matar, which is a very popular street food till date. You go towards West Delhi or Sarojini Nagar, it is filled with vendors selling muttar kulchas and believe me they are delicious (even though you might like to tell your kids not to eat there). 
Next came Kurkurri served in a small shot glass with imli chutney on the bottom. I absolutely love this snack. Spring rolls covered with crispy sevvayian and filled with olives and cheese and dipped in sweet tamarind chutney is enough to blow anyone's mind. This is one snack I just have to try at home which I am sure will be a big hit with the kids.
Next arrived the Ambrasari Machhi with Desi Aloo chips wrapped in the 'Punjab Kesari' newspaper. I think this is our desi take on the popular fish and chips dish. Fried fish is again a hot favorite with all Punjabis, my husband for one, who totally relished it. While he concentrated mostly on the fish, I enjoyed the desi local chips too. Full of spicy red chillies, I remember they were a treat when we were kids.

Tawa Chicken keema served with Fryums was an unusual but interesting combination of textures and flavors. 
Mutton ki boti (in Istri) "Charcoal Press" was again an interesting concept. In a few restaurants I have seen food served in mini versions but never in an actual big iron. I wonder where they acquired such an quaint looking traditional charcoal press from? Apart from looking cute, the mutton was extremely well cooked. Though what was actually missing was some naan and tandoori roti with it.

Sunny side up tuk-tuk, khameeri roti too did not disppoint. It was like pita bread stuffed with boiled egg in a onion tomato masala was highly comforting and satisfying. 

Masala Paneer Platter had pieces of paneer filled with grated coconut and chillies. I found it slightly bland and felt it could have done with a little more spices. 

Anda Tawa rice was fried rice topped with a fried egg sunny side up. The rice was nicely seasoned and had lovely flavors from the egg.

The best was saved for the last. Mele di Chuski - a long wooden tray with chuski of five different flavours was a riot of colors. Served in interesting flavors of Gol guppe ka paani, Ambi Panna, Anar juice, Nimbu and Orange and mixed with Vodka they were just perfect to end our meal with.

Kudos to Chef Gurpreet and the whole team of Punjab Grill to come up with such an  unique concept. I think this is where the strength of a great chef shines through when he is ready to experiment with something beyond the ordinary. The Chakna menu might have small bites but they surely do pack a powerful punch. If you too want to experience these incredible flavors and take a trip down memory lane, do go and visit Punjab Grill at Saket. 

Papaya and Jaggery Cake

Ever heard of a papaya cake? I agree that it is an unusual combination but if you can have an apple cake, a banana cake,  pumpkin cake,  pineapple cake, then why not a cake made with papayas? Isn't the papaya fruit supposed to be packed with nutrition and has numerous health benefits?
I too decided to go ahead and try out a papaya cake. Truthfully, It was only because I had a big bowl of over-ripe papaya lying around which no one wanted to touch. I did not feel like throwing away the over-ripe fruit, so I decided to puree it and keep it to use for one of my beauty treatments. Seriously, papaya apart from being nutritious and having excellent health benefits, is also great to use as a hair mask and a wonderful  toner for your skin. If you don't believe me, try it out yourself and watch how your skin glows and hair shines.
To pamper yourself with any kind of beauty treatments, you also need to have some solid 'me' time and with the kids hanging around the house nowadays, that is almost impossible to achieve thanks to their incessant demands. I actually don't mind. They are not all that bad, sweet devils that they are, I too feel good making them feel special, knowing they will be back to gruelling school hours in a couple more days.
So, I decided to experiment with the neglected papaya puree and decided to use it in my cake. Baking cakes with fruit purees is a wonderful way to substitute fat in your cake. Did you know you can replace about half the amount of fat called for with fruit puree. So, if a recipe calls for 1 cup butter, you can very easily substitute with 1/2 cup of fruit puree of any kind. You can see my recipe for Mango cake here made with mango puree. So, next time you bake a cake, try out this healthier option.
Another idea that I have been toying for a long time is to bake a cake with Jaggery. On a recent visit to Nangal (Punjab), we had this wonderful opportunity to see fresh jaggery being made. The kids were thrilled to see the whole process where sugarcanes were picked straight from the fields, fresh juice extracted with motorized crushers right there on the field, then collected in big vessels and  boiled and then allowed to set (which hardly takes a few minutes) right there in front of their eyes. It was a huge learning process for all of us and believe me there is nothing more delicious than having freshly made gud -my twosome also agreed even though they have on all other occasion refused to even put it in their mouths. So, I am happy we all got back something from the experience - kids witnessed how jaggery was made and I came back with tons of fresh gud (some for myself and rest for gifting).
The cake though an experiment, surprising was delicious. Even though it had an extremely moist texture, the cake held its shape and tasted fantastic, with the jaggery lending it a very earthy taste. Infact the flavors reminded me quite of the Sticky DateToffee Cake I had tried some while ago which again was delicious. The kiddos too enjoyed the cake and couldn't guess what the ingredients of the cake were. Only when it was disclosed to them that the cake had jaggery, did they twist up their little noses. Inspite of that,  it was finished within no time.
So next time you too have some over-ripe papaya lying around your house which no one wants to eat, you know what exactly to do with it, don't you?
3 eggs
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
150 gms Maida
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
100 gms jaggery soaked in 1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp cinnamom powder
3 tsp lemon juice
1 cup papaya puree
1/4 cup canola oil

Preheat the oven to 180 C.
Beat the eggs with the sugar for 5-6 minutes till nice and fluffy. 
Sieve the flour with the cinnamon powder, baking powder and baking soda.
Mix the flour, oil, lemon juice, papaya puree and jaggery water with the egg and whisk gently till all the ingredients are mixed well.
Pour the mixture in a greased pan and bake in a preheated oven for 40-45 minutes or till a skewer inserted comes out clean.
Let it cool for sometime before serving.

I even made muffins from the same batter in the Airfryer that I have been sent to review. Just 8 minutes baking time and they were done to perfection. I only wish the size of the basket was a bit bigger. But still they tasted awesome.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Sushi on a Roll - International Sushi Training Workshop At WelcomHotel Sheraton, Saket

Its not everyday  that  you  get the opportunity to watch the World’s best Sushi Chefs  in action and get to sample their master creations.
Huge Sushi fan that I am, I was lucky to receive an invitation to be a part of the International Sushi Training Workshop conducted on March 11th by JETRO & IFCA along with the accredited All Japan Sushi Association and WACS accredited Train the Trainer Programme at WelcomHotel Sheraton, Saket New Delhi. At the workshop Masterchefs  Masayoshi Kazato – Executive Director, All Japan Sushi Association and Mr. Hirotoshi Ogawa - Director General, All Japan Sushi Association shared some exquisite Sushi making techniques with the chefs of the Sheraton Hotel.

Chef Masayoshi Kazato is a global Sushi ambassador, who has visited over 30 countries in Europe, Asia and North and South America, to instruct local chefs and keen amateurs alike on the core techniques of making safe, delicious and authentic sushi at events, seminars and workshops. Here too, the workshop was  held with the same aims in mind.

The workshop began with Mr. Hidehiro Ishiura, Director General - JETRO Chennai addressing the audience. He spoke about how Sushi was slowly gaining huge popularity and how throughout the world there was an explosion of restaurants offering sushi.
The main idea behind the workshop was to create awareness amongst the chefs about the importance of proper hygiene maintenance, selection of the right ingredients and seasonings and correct preparation skills while making sushi.
Watching Chef Masayoshi Kazato at work almost made one dizzy. Watching him make sushi, you were left awestruck at how quickly his hands were moving (almost non-stop like a machine) and how effortless he was making the whole process look. I was told that he can make an amazing 15-20 sushis in a minute. Incredible isn’t it? 
Chef Kazato showed us how before making sushi he dips his hands in vinegar. This ensures that all bacterias are killed which is extremely important as one has to be careful while handling raw fish. 
The skills and experience of the chefs were apparent while tasting the different variety of Sushis placed before us. They were exquisite both in taste and presentation, a complete work of art. The quality of the fish was apparent in the first bite itself. The sushis were incredibly fresh and mild in taste and accompanied with a dash of wasabi to give you a complete explosion of flavours. The innovativeness in both the creation and the perfection of flavors can no doubt, only be achieved by one who is highly skilled and experienced in this field. 
I think it is an excellent initiative taken by JETRO & IFCA where the participants get to exchange their culinary styles and practices, to learn each others cuisines to maintain the authenticity in taste as far as possible. 
What better way to learn than from the masters themselves!!