Thursday, August 24, 2006

off to sardinia and the amalfi coast

you can't imagine how excited i am. ten days of gorgeous sunshine, powder perfect beaches, crystal clear waters and a taste of the deliciously slow-paced mediterranean lifestyle awaits. i can't stop thinking of lying on deserted sardinian beaches and experiencing time standing still.

h and i are flying into cagliari (pronounced calyari) on saturday afternoon from london luton and will spend a few days exploring this regional capital as well as some smaller towns along the costa del sud in sardinia. then we drive up a few hours north east to the town of tortoli to stay with my high school friend, rutton, who has a beautiful villa that is just a stone's throw from the ocean. we'll hang out with rutton for a few days - swimming in the warm waters, hiking in the region's only national park and cooking simple italian meals with fresh produce bought from the local market. and, of course, drinking lots of wine and enjoying the companionship of a close friend. we also plan to drive further north to the sought-after part of the island, costa smerlada, which is supposed to have the most stunning beaches in all of the mediterranean.

we then plan to hop over by ferry to the south west of italy to explore the amalfi coast which looks unbelievably spectacular in all the photos i've seen thus far. also, many of jamie oliver's recipes from "jamie's italy" are inspired from the amalfi region so you know just how much i'm looking forward to the food here which sounds like it is just to die for. i can already imagine a future blog post on the luscious lemons that grow in this region.

and finally, we'll be driving to rome to spend the last few days. we got an unbelievably cheap ticket back to london from rome for only £20 a person! we're hoping to spend some time with our friends hrijoy and chiara who live in rome and know the city really well.

i'm ditching my laptop and blackberry so i can be incommunicado for a while. but i'm taking a brand-new, leather-bound journal and my digital camera and hope to spend lots of time writing and reflecting on my short italian adventure.

ciao until september 6th when you can expect the first post of my sardinia and amalfi coast diaries.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

yellow squash kootu/curry

i made ratatouille last weekend and didn't end up using all the squash i had bought at the market. so i browsed through my favourite food blogs to find a suitable recipe. priya's post on yellow squash kootu curry caught my fancy so i gave it a try last night.

it's a very simple recipe but the chana daal takes a while to cook in the pressure cooker and you need a hand blender to whiz up the cooked dal. also, the squash can end up being a bit bitter so cook well till it gets soft and a bit mushy.

the coconut, cumin and green chillie paste is what gives the dish its distinctive flavour so don't skimp on the freshness of the ingredients, especially the coconut. my favourite part of making this dish was grinding the coconut paste - i just love the fresh and spicy aromas that fill the kitchen.

enjoy the kootu with rice or chapatis.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

wine and cheese bar in clerkenwell

vivat bacchus is my favourite after-work hangout. it is a short walk from farrindgon, chancery lane or blackfriars tube stations. the restaurant is spread out over two floors. with three temperature-controlled wine cellars and a cheese room, an evening at vivat bacchus is always memorable. i usually come away learning about a fabulous new wine or cheese. how exciting is it to have over 6000 bottles of wine and 100 cheeses to choose from!

vivat bacchus has a diverse deli menu. some of the selections i like are the grilled seasoned vegetables with salsa verde and the paparadelle pasta with gorgonzola, peas, pine nuts and rocket. but what i usually get is their fabulous cheese board. you go to the cheese room (which is usually freezing cold!) and personally pick out the five to six cheeses that you'd like to have after an extensive dialogue with the cheese boy. i find the cheese boys very knowledgeable and they really help you create a balanced cheese board with soft/hard, mild/stinky, french/non-french cheeses. then you go back to your table and within five minutes you are served a gorgeously laid out cheese board with your chosen cheeses, crackers, grapes and lots of fresh bread. of course, by this point, you are already full thanks to the cheese boy's generosity in the cheese room while sampling to your heart's desire.

i went to vivat bacchus on friday night and discovered three new cheeses which i absolutely loved - reblochon, chablis and tomme brulee.

a very very soft cow's milk cheese with a washed rind. i love the creamy paste (although it has quite a pungent aroma which you have to get used to) and how easily you can slather it on crackers. i love the freshness and the smoothness of reblochon. read about the interesting origin of the cheese by clicking the link above.

another pungent, creamy and almost liquid cheese from france that i fell in love with. it's made from cow's milk and has a soft rind that is washed in chablis wine giving the cheese a delicate, slightly fruity note. i haven't been able to find much information on this cheese except that it's closest relative is epoisse.

tomme brulee
this cheese comes from the basque region of france and what makes this semi-hard cheese distinctive is the burnt rind (think creme brulee). it paired really well with the other two gooey cheeses.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

courgette, potato and mint frittata

i bought the recent issue of bbc's goodfood magazine after ages. i was flipping through the magazine on my way home on the tube. an usual fritta recipe intrigued me and i wanted to try it immediately. i didn't believe that mint and potato and zucchini (or courgette as they are called here) would make a good combination. i stopped off at m&s food on high street ken and picked up the veggies and some fresh eggs so i could make the frittata for dinner.

2 medium potatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium courgette, sliced
4 eggs
handful mint leaces, roughly chopped
110g/4 oz cheddar

1. boil the potatoes for 6 mins or until just cooked, then drain and set aside. heat the oil in a large, deep, ovenproof frying pan and fry the courgettes for 4-5 min until golden. tip in the potatoes and fry for 1 min with the courgettes.

2. in a bowl, beat together the eggs and mint, then season. pour into the frying pan and stir briefly. cook for 5 mins over low heat. crumble over the cheese and finish under a hot grill for 5 mins, until the eggs are just set and the cheese is browned. cut into wedges and serve.

i was amazed at how perfectly the recipe worked. i loved the freshness of the mint, the crispiness of the zuchinnis and the softness of the potatoes. perfect for a simple dinner or brunch with other goodies.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

maya's egg curry

when i moved into an apartment during my senior year of college at davidson, i was nervous because i had a kitchen and that meant i had to learn to cook. my apartment mates, who were turkish, french and american, were expecting me to cook these delcious indian curries. luckily, my dear cousin sister, maya, gifted me a "kitchen notes" notebook just in time for the start of senior year. she had already filled in about tens recipes for various indian dishes. i bumbled my way through cooking during my entire senior year and impressed no one with my culinary skills, but today, maya's present is one of my kitchen treasures and i do much more justice to her lovely recipes painstakingly written in her very friendly and huggable handwriting.

here's an easy recipe from maya for a spicy eggy curry - it was the first recipe that she wrote for me in her book and is the one i return to over and over again when i want a quick but hearty meal.

serves 4
quick, easy & tasty

since you like eggs, let's start with this.


4 eggs
1/2 tsp oil
1/2 - 1 tsp jeera
2-3 tbsp broken up cashew
1 large onion (minced)
1/2" ginger
1 green chilli chopped
1 tbsp coriander powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 tomato chopped
1/2 cup yogurt
coriander leaves for garnish

how to
hard boil eggs (8-12 mins); shell; cut into half. heat oil in pan, add cumin. when it starts to pop, add cashew and fry till golden. then add onion, ginger, chillies and coriander poweder, turmeric and fry till the onions are brown. then add tomato, yogurt and salt to taste and cook covered till the masala is like a paste and the tomatoes are fully cooked. if it is too thick add some water. put the egg-halves in and cook covered for a few minutes. then serve with coriander garnish.

eat with tasty tortillas and enjoy!

p.s. if you don't have cashews, use almonds or any other kind of nuts.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

tiranga rice for indian independence day

the very talented food blogger, indira, is hosting an indian independence day food parade on her blog which is called mahanandi. indira invited fellow indian food bloggers to write about a traditional meal from their home state and submit it in time for her food parade on august 15th, the day india achieved independence from britain in 1947.

choosing my home state was a bit hard for me as i have fond attachments to three states that i know quite well. i was born in tamil nadu but lived mostly in karnataka and maharashtra when i was in india. can't really say where i feel most at home. when it comes to food, i'm much more interested in learning about a very wide range of regional and national cuisines and don't really have an in-depth knowledge of the traditions of any one type of cuisine.

my entry for this food blog event is a pan-indian recipe inspired by the tri-coloured indian flag and is dedicated to my mother as she found it and slightly adapted it from a tarla dalal cookbook. it's a spinach, peas and carrot rice which is then baked to create a golden cheese crust that smells heavenly, tastes delicious and works really well with the rice.

here's the recipe from which you can accordingly adjust proportions based on how many people you are cooking for. this time, i just used one cup of uncooked rice and adjusted all other ingredients based on my best judgement.

serves: 8

for the rice layer: 1 1/2 cups uncooked rice, 1/2 tsp shah-jira (cumin), 2 tbsp ghee, salt to taste

for the greens layer: 3 cups chopped spinach, 1 cup boiled green peas, 3 chopped green chillies, 1 chopped onion, 1 tbsp ghee, salt to taste.

for the carrot layer: 2 teacups grated carrot, 1/2 teaspoon shah-jira, 1/2 teaspoon curry powder, salt to taste

for baking: 3 tablespoon grated cheese (cheddar works well)

cook the rice. each grain of the cooked rice should be separate. heat the ghee and fry the shah-jira for a few minutes. add the cooked rice and salt and mix well.

cook the spinach with 1 tablespoon of water. when cooked, drain the spinanch. heat the ghee in a vessel and fry the onion for a little time. add the spinanch, green peas, chillies, salt and mix well.

for the carrot layer 1, heat the ghee in a vessel and fry the shah-jira. add the greated carrot and 2 tbsps of water. add the curry powder and salt and mix well. cover and cook for a few minutes.

grease a baking dish and spread half the cooked rice. Next spread the spinanch mixture, cover with the remaining rice and finally with the carrot layer. Sprinkle the cheese on top. (you might notice that i flipped the layers around. had to do that because i didn't get my carrot proportion right and ended up with too little so i layered it first.)

bake in a hot oven for 10 or 15 minutes. serve hot as such or after inverting on a tray.

my mom created this recipe for a dinner party a long time ago. and i have been making this dish ever since i started cooking. funnily, my mum is not into cooking at all. she just has a great talent for identifying good recipes and then instructing our cook on how to adapt them. in fact, she quite dislikes going into the kitchen and has always discouraged me from doing so. she's quite amused that i've taken to food and cooking in such a big way and spend so much time on it. she's much busier dedicating her life and soul to a bigger cause, one that she galvanised more than ten years ago.

barcelona diary: some favourite memories

barcelona diary: la boqueria (food market)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

barcelona diary: origen 99.9%

i never imagined that la cocina catalana would have such delicious vegetarian fare. grilled vegetables, stuffed vegetables, breads, wild greens salads, garlicky cheese spreads and lots of creamy, indulgent desserts. it's simple meditarranean fare cooked with super fresh ingredients and without much fuss.

my friend amy recommended a local meal in barcelona at origen 99.9% which has three locations in the city. we ate a sumptous lunch at the el born restaurant, near the museu picasso. we really wanted to check out the museum but didn't have patience to wait for over 2 hours in the queue to just get in. so we headed straight to origen.

origen 99.9% reminded me a bit of le pain quotidien in manhattan because of the rustic wooden tables and the food treasures for sale. but it's a lot smaller, cosier and somewhat less commericial.

tostada de tupi con higos is cheese and fig confite. tupi is a cheese that comes from the pyrenees and it is mixed with figs cooked in marmalade style to create this delicious, creamy, sweet and salty spread. i love how i got a clove of garlic which i rubbed on the tostada before spreading tupi con higos.

ensalada de hojas silvestres (wild leaves salad in a honey mustard vinaigrette. wild leaves from the pyrennes include chicory, watercress, lamb's lettuce, dandelion and purslane)

berejnena rellena (stuffed brinjals with cooked onions, tomato, milk and flour lightly dressed with a basil olive oil sauce)

and finally, dessert - crema catalana (a crème brûlée-style custard with cinnamon - totally yum yum, especially with a glass of muscat)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

barcelona diary: rocket salad on brie toast

i have stolen a recipe idea from moo vida restaurant at the muy chic hotel omm in barcelona.

load up on several thin slices of brie on flat bread - use white or wheat bread, whatever your prefer. you can even stick in the toaster oven for about five minutes at around 300 degrees F till the cheese starts to get gooey.

meanwhile, toss together rocket (arugula) with a dressing of champagne vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and pepper.

once the toast is out of the toaster oven, let cool for a few minutes. add a handful of rocket salad. top with slivered apples, bits of walnuts and halves of green grapes. ready to be gobbled along with a glass of chilled cava.

Monday, August 07, 2006

barcelona diary: golfo de bizkaia

i had so many recommendations for different bars and restaurants in barcelona and i tried many of them but the one i loved the most was one that we found completely by accident. it's a small pintxos (basque for tapas) bar located in the heart of el born in la ribera district of barcelona.

being champagne lovers, we had gone in search of el xampanyet based on brett's blog post but sadly they were closed. i think the owners had pushed off for their summer holiday to some secluded island off the coast of italy or greece and i imagine they were sprawled out on the beach enjoying their peace and quiet while more and more foreigners thronged the barcelonian bars at the height of the tourist season. (note to self: august is a bad time to visit the big cities in europe).

golfo de bizkaia is just down the road from el xampanyet, is wonderfully unpretentious and serves the most delicious tapas from basque country. you take a seat at the bar (if you can find one) and grab whichever tostada looks irrestible from the dozens of plates in front of you. every few minutes, a waitress walks around and waves another tempting plate of pintxos just from the kitchen. a melting brie tostada topped with black olive tapenade caught my fancy while h enjoyed a wide variety of salami, eel and other tostadas that i couldn't even begin to name.

i was attracted to the table on the right hand side of golfo de bizkaia where a plate of fresh green chillies caught my attention. i asked the waiter for some and he started piling on loads (like twenty to thirty!) on an empty plate. i protested wondering how on earth i was going to bear the heat of so many chillies but he insisted that i had to get a full plate or none at all so i watched in dismay. the waiter ordered me to go back to my bar stool and wait patiently.

a few minutes later, he brought out a plate of grilled green chillies dressed with sea salt. what an idiot i was - i should have known earlier. the green peppers were none other than my favourite pimientos de padron! i can't even begin to describe how delicious they were when the pimientos were fresh off the grill. we consumed the entire plate in no time at all and washed it all down with lots of delicious cava. i can still experience the sensation of biting into a spicy pod and chasing down the heat with chilled bubbly. oh what a feeling!

my barcelona diaries

i just got back late last night from a fabulous weekend in barcelona. armed with a stylecity guide and recommendations from friends and other food blogs, i sought out some of the coolest, hippest and most stylish experiences that this wonderfully creative city has to offer. barcelona is just bursting with energy, vibrancy and a zest for life that is so intoxicating. inspiration is to be found everywhere - from the sidewalk of a mundane avenue in the eixample to the trendiest boutique hotels in el raval. what's most addictive about the city is its quintessentially mediterranean pace of life and obsession with food and wine. i'd move there in a heartbeat!

paris diary: haagen dazs on champs-elysées

i know this sounds terribly clichéd but you must indulge at haagen daz on the champs-elysées when in paris. yes, it is touristy. yes, it's crowded. yes, it's expensive. but it is so worth it. it's just one of those experiences that you don't think twice about because all that chocolate and all that sugar and all that full fat milk and all that cream is oh so good and you feel terribly chic despite the expanding waistline that awaits.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

paris diary: restaurant georges

Photo de M. Boyer

i went to paris on thursday for a day meeting but ending up staying the night. we went to dinner with our clients at restaurant georges located on the top floor of the centre georges pompidou which is the controversial modern art museum that you either instantly love or hate. the museum was recently in the news for upsetting a few LA-based artists because two paintings accidentally fell off the walls. what an embarrassment!

if you're looking for just one restaurant recommendation in paris then this is it. i say it more from the point of view of sheer ambience rather than the food - which is very good, by the way.

as you ride the elevator up to the sixth floor, you increasingly getting a more panoramic view of the city and the excitement slowly builds up. once on the top, the sheer expanse of paris all around is simply breathtaking. once on the sixth floor, you pass an outdoor terrace where you can chill with a few glasses of champagne before heading to the action indoors.

the dining room is massive. the industrial style with very high ceilings, exposed pipes and minimalist design overall is perfect as the focus is really on the views of paris. you can see the eiffel tower shimmering in the distance for ten minutes every hour on the hour at night. the lights in the restaurant are dimmed as it gets darker inside creating a very magical atmosphere with underlit tables et al. i specially loved the all white tables and the special touch of a single two foot high rose in a slim glass vase on every table. the waitresses are also dressed minimally and if you're into eye candy, you'll probably love it here.

the menu is continental with an asian flair. the asian threw me off a bit - not sure where that came from - but when i read that restaurant georges is the sister establishment to hakkasan in london, it made sense. i was pleased to have lots of vegetarian options including a california roll (sushi) that was fresh and delicious and penne with a rich tomato sauce. sorry about not taking pictures as i was at a business meeting!

what amazed me most was how buzzing the place was even at 1 am in the morning. restaurant georges seems to attract mostly thirty olds, young enough to want a very hip and trendy scene but just old enough to pay for it!

place georges pompidou
19, rue beaubourg
75004 paris
33 (1) 44 78 47 99

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

bangladeshi masoor dal

i received a lovely gift last year from john, one of my colleagues in the new york office of my company. when he found out that i was passionate about cooking, he took the trouble to get me an autographed copy of madhur jaffrey's from curries to kebabs. it turned out that john's fiancee's parents were neighbours of the jaffreys and so he was able to give me this special gift.

i tried my first recipe from this book over the weekend and was very pleased with how well my dal turned out. it was simple and wholesome yet had a very distinctive flavour. madhur jaffrey explains in the book that most lentils are boiled in the same way all over the world and it's the seasoning that makes the difference. this bangladeshi version of masoor dal is cooked with a final tarka of panchphoran which is a spice mixture containing equal portions of whole cumin, fennel, mustard, fenugreek and nigella seeds.

serves 4

1 cup red lentil
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 medium onion, sliced into very fine half-rings
1 to 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons corn oil
1 to 2 dried whole hot red chillies (i used 4!)
1 teaspoon panchphoran

put the lentils, turmeric, and half the sliced onion in a lidded pan with 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. do not let the pot boil over. skim off the scum that rises to the surface with a slotted spoon. partially cover with the lid, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 40 to 50 minutes, or until tender. add the salt and mash the dal and onion well with a potato masher.

in a small pan, heat the oil until very hot. put in the chillies. as soon as they darken, put in the panchphoran. stir once and put in the remaining onion. stir and fry until the onion turns reddish-brown. pour the oil and seasonings into the pan of lentils. cover the pan quickly to trap the aromas.

enjoy this tasty masoor dal with homemade chapatis, bhindi masala and a few slivers or raw onion.