Sunday, September 07, 2014

The Gaggan experience

One of Skeeter's most admired chefs is in India, has spoken to her and has fed her. She's still euphoric and has a hangover of the experience, the Gaggan experience. Meet the highest rated chef of Indian origin, Gaggan Anand. He needs no introduction, but for the uninitiated, he has worked with culinary greats like Ferran Adria and set up a very successful restaurant that goes by his own name Gaggan in Bangkok where he serves progressive Indian food.

Gaggan and his team are like percussionists who have every rythm in order and show exemplary control over everything around. Not one thing goes astray. Perfection is their passion and it is manifested in their culinary actions. That would actually some up the Gaggan experience for Reeta Skeeter.
Ahead of the most wonderfully organised, timed and structured culinary demo, Gaggan took pride in introducing his team which consists of wine specialists, research experts and more. He playfully names them Nut, Nacho and so on. Like most modern chefs, he snaps at the mention of 'molecular gastronomy' and says what he and his team make is progressive Indian or modern Indian food. Gaggan Anand does not shy away from saying that the kind of food he serves should be had once in a while for the sheer magical experience.


At the culinary demo, Skeeter sampled chef Gaggan's spherical papri chaat yoghurt. By dropping a spoonful of spiced up yoghurt into a solution of sodium alginate the spherification happens and the result is a wobbly egg-like yoghurt ball that is fun to pop in the mouth and before you know, it explodes on your tongue reminiscent of the tang of your favourite street-food vendor's papdi chaat. Though Gaggan and team demonstrated his techniques at ITC Marya, he actually serves this yoghurt in various innovative ways. Over papdis with some chutney foam, over some jhoori bhaja where it looks like a bird's nest (do look up the web for this one) and so on. Creativity is infinite for this chef extraordinaire.


Dhokla with chutney foam, coconut snow and fried green chilli was showcased next. The usual dhokla batter is powered up by a nitrogen bullet, microwaved for 30 seconds and Voila! There is dhokla. It is easier said than done. One can achieve such results only when you know your root cuisine well and you have experimented with your version over and over. Gaggan surely has!



There was a mind blowing Phirni ice cream made from the very fragrant Thai jasmine infused with kesar and served with a pistachio based gel, silver varq and caramelized chikki-like almonds. Skeeter wonders what results this dessert would yield with the Bengali rice Gobindo Bhog. Food for thought?


What floored Skeeter was yet to come. A Mascarpone matcha tea cake sandwich with a brush of wasabi and a sprinkle of Vanilla salt. He may be known for his Indian progressive cuisine but the mascarpone match tea cake sandwich was a culinary revelation. Desserts in many a restaurant would have the mascarpone element. But Wasabi? Vanilla salt? Matcha tea? Skeeter loves a good Matcha tea ice cream. A perfectly frozen and well-composed matcha tea ice cream can be savoured bit by bit just like you sip tea and ponder. But with Gaggan's mascarpone match tea cake sandwich one can only become well, plain greedy. Gaggan uses liquid nitrogen as a base for iced-teppan to work with mascarpone cream cheese and a bit of sugar till it attains a cookie-like texture. He then uses a Shark fin grater to grate fresh wasabi and brushes the mascarpone cookies with it. A sprinkle of vanilla salt and matcha tea finishes this cookie, which is then placed on top of a matcha tea cake (the tea has been picked personally by Gaggan from Japan a week ago and is packed with freshness). This dessert is a tribute to his love for tea, his love for Japan and to his own gastronomical adventures.



The culinary demo was a sampler of the Gaggan experience for Skeeter. Gaggan spoke and shared a lot, he packed a lot into a very limited time whereas he could've easily got away by showcasing a lot less. This speaks volumes for the stellar kitchen performer that chef Gaggan is. He will prod you to read up about the gadgets he uses, freely share his ideas and recipes and most importantly give you back everything you paid in currency in the form of a culinary souvenir: The Gaggan experience.

And this experience was enhanced by a brilliant support team in India: Mangal Dalal and Nachiket Shetye of Cellar Door Kitchen. Cellar Door Kitchen is a platform for pop up restaurant events founded by culinary consultants, Mangal and Nachiket. Gaggan's unique pop up initiative is designed to delight food lovers with a degustation of progressive cuisine from Restaurant Gaggan at ITC Maurya in New Delhi from September 4th to 7th 2014 and later in Mumbai. For the first time Chef Gaggan re-creates his 11-course for tasting menu of progressive Indian cuisine with innovative cooking techniques in a pop-up in India open to all. Mangal and Nachiket are food lovers extraordinaire and part gnomes who have worked hard to change the Indian dining experience and deserve another blogpost altogether (read coming soon).

The Gaggan experience, a cooking demonstration by Chef Gaggan Anand was presented by American Express, Cellar Door Kitchen and hosted by ITC. 

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Le Bistro Du Parc: A french bistro sits pretty in Delhi

The French concept of Terroir is embedded in every brick of the kitchen of Le Bistro Du Parc, a quaint bistro that sits pretty overlooking a park in Defence Colony. Skeeter has struck off another 'to go' place on her list by dining at this gem of a bistro. In Paris, everyone has their own favourite bistros where they hop in at ease, select from a limited menu, eat, talk, ponder, proceed. Repeat. The menu changes often and the chefs bank on the availability of fresh, seasonal produce. The basics of a bistro are home-style food, simple drinks like wine, tea and coffee and affordable prices. 


At Le Bistro Du Parc Skeets started her meal with the Organic leak and potato soup (Rs 350 ) with a blob goat cheese and few sprigs of dill. It was picture perfect, temperature perfect and tasted well, perfect! As against an Indian dish where a host of spices come together to lift the main ingredient to another level, in French food, you can get a taste of each ingredient individually.


Moving on to Skeeter's main course and dessert together, she could not decide which of these stole the show for her. The Vegetable Tagliatelle with carrot mash and basil oil was part of a very pleasant surprise, for it was no pasta, but farm fresh, seasonal, organic, vegetables like carrot, yellow and green zucchini, peeled into strips and plated wonderfully to mimic Tagliatelle, cooked/steamed very lightly to leave the texture crunchy enough for one to bite in. The sweet scented basil oil peeped from between the vegetables to reveal itself and lend flavour to the dish.  Skeeter has never had a healthier dish at a restaurant. The portion size and the quality of this Vegetable Tagliatelle with carrot mash and basil justifies the price tag (Rs 500) absolutely. Skeeter will go back for only this one, on and on. That said, Chef Alexis Gielbaum at Le Bistro Du Parc told Skeeter that they change their menu frequently. So one is likely to go back at Le Bistro Du Parc for a fresh menu and more surprises. It is also commendable to note they have compensated vegetarians (for a limited number of dishes in the already small menu) beautifully by creating star dishes such as the one Skeets mentioned.


The Valrhona chocolate rocher (Rs 350) ended Skeeter's meal, oh-so-lusciously that she can stay off chocolate for the next six months just thinking of this one. Go grab a bite!

Meal for two: Approx Rs. 1800.
Address: A 57, 58, 59, Moolchand Market, Defence Colony, New Delhi

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Korma, Kheer & Kismet- an escapade to Old Delhi by Pamela Timms

Korma, Kheer & Kismet by Pamela Timms

A familiar welcoming air, blaring horns, human jams, rickshaw jams, electrical wire jams overhead, howling porters and the one providing you most extraordinary yet humble street food is how Skeeter would describe her Old Delhi. A city in its own right, studded with potholes, covered with grime, buzzing with noise, it is Skeeter's Hogsmeade in her own backyard. 

From the time fellow blogger Pamela Timms signed a book deal on Old Delhi with Aleph, to the poll for the best name for the book and the pre-book era when Pam would wander, hog and write about her experiences on her blog: Eat and Dust, Skeeter has been following it all. There are two reasons for the same: 1.Pam's guide to Old Delhi's best is Skeeter's idol as well. For, without Rahul Verma's columns on Old Delhi Street food, Skeeter would've had lesser culinary revelations. 2.To read about your beloved through another's eyes makes you fall in love all over again.

Korma, Kheer & Kismet by Pamela Timms

The book: Korma, Kheer, Kismet-five seasons in Old Delhi

This is not really a book review. Here, Skeeter speaks more about what she liked than what she didn't as there was hardly anything that Skeeter didn't quite like except maybe the choice of cover photo and one missing line that could've revealed what happens to Daulat ki Chaat after the 'right amount of dew' graces the bowl it is set in. However, the not-so-pleasant details of how and where it is made in Old Delhi more than makes up for it. Pamela even parted with Rs 5000 and braved her way (alone) through the kuchas to see it all with her bare eyes on an early winter morning and shared it with readers. Pamela Timms has recorded an year's worth of eating in and around Old Delhi, with a trip to Amritsar to dig the secret of the flakiest kulcha she's eaten at Baba Singh's shop: All India Famous Kulcha and another, to Madhya Pradesh where she got versed with some age-old Diwali rituals around food, dairy and more. 

Korma, Kheer & Kismet by Pamela Timms

Korma, Kheer, Kismet begins with what was the Gali-Mohalla gossip about Ashok and Ashok in Sadar Bazaar. They sell the best Mutton Korma in Delhi, according to Pam and hence the name Korma, Kheer, Kismet. Pam reveals how she cracked the mystery of the lineage of Ashok and Ashok and when she was happy, her bubble was burst by someone who debunked her theory and had a different tale to tell. 
She describes early morning business at Khari Baoli beautifully and is "mesemerized by the magnificent Mahyem of the spice market." She also writes, "A common souvenir of a trip to Old Delhi is a set of bruises from collisions with market porters." This is something any Old Delhi lover would undoubtedly have to sport.

pakoda

Pamela's narrative wades between seasonal produce (her tryst with jamun, falsa, shehtoot and so on), seasonal chaat (shakarkandi), festivals and festive food (Eid, Ram Navami, Diwali) as well as her endless efforts to extract recipes of some of her favourite dishes. She is aware that the people who share recipes give it all except one key ingredient. This book is no ordinary documentation of food through the eyes of an expat. It is abound with love, nurtured with experience and an exploratory spirit. Pamela rightly traces the food and its prices to labour class toiling hard for a measly sum and then spending a little out of it on a plate of chaat that would provide them nourishment (kulle for fibre, ram laddu for lentils, alu tikki for winter warmth, kulfi to deal with atrocities of summer). The spice enlivens the meal and prevents them from eating more and satisfies them as well. 


Pamela traces some bakeries making rusks and explores their British connection and gets thrilled at sighting macroons in Old Delhi. She also visits the Walled City at odd hours to see people making some of her favourite foods. Daulat ki Chaat and the unhygienic conditions it is made in being the most dramatic one. She's no stranger to Delhi's history of ice-cream as she writes about transport of ice from the hills to the capital for the Mughal rulers' pleasure. Many establishments still use ice instead of freezer to chill stuff like malai and prevent it from going sour.

Korma, Kheer & Kismet by Pamela Timms

The recipes

Sheer Khurma, Shakarkandi, Tikki, Tamarind sauce, Ashtami chana, halwa, Old and Famous jalebi recipes laboriously collected by Pamela maybe well worth trying at home but as the author concludes at the end of her book that the "hath ki baat" and the perfect taste is reflected in your cooking after making the same thing day in and day out a several thousand times. She also shares Akbar's Kabab and Biryani recipes from Ain-E-Akbari. 

Korma, Kheer & Kismet by Pamela Timms

Korma, Kheer & Kismet by Pamela Timms


From getting excited on spotting an elephant on roads on touchdown in Delhi in 2005 to sampling Korma and Kheer and bagging culinary invites from Old Delhi's most reputed, her Delhi sojourn has brightened Pamela's Kismet.

P.S: Here are some links to places in Old Delhi that are mentioned in the book and Skeeter has previously blogged about:

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Neung Roi, The Thai food haven

Southeast Asian countries are food cousins. One is likely to find similar ingredients with different names and slightly different tastes and a whole new preparation altogether. Thai food is HOT in India. And Neung Roi serving Thai food at Radisson Blu Plaza, Mahipalpur is a hot destination. The dining area overlooks a huge open kitchen where one can see the passionate Thai Chef Yenjai Suthiwaja rustling up the flavours of her country for Indian diners. She takes pride in showcasing food from North, South, East and West of Thailand through a massive menu that is presented to you on a note Tab (What Skeeter liked about them is that they serve Thai food beyond the regular suspects: the red, yellow and green curries).  And while rustling up Thai food for India she goes to the Delhi neighbourhoods enjoying papri chat (perhaps it appeals her Thai tastebuds due to the use of tamarind chutney).

neung-roi-thai-food-delhi-radisson-blu-plaza
Thai betel leaf

neung-roi-mahipalpur-nh8

We started with Tod Man Khao Pod or Corn Fritters served up with oomph in a cone. They come with a sweet chilli sauce which is served up with most Thai appetizers. It was fingerlicking good! The Yam Tuea Plu came next. 

indian-food-blog-Tod-Man-Khao-Pod-Corn-Fritters-neun-roi
corn fritters
A Wing bean Salad with a roasted coconut and tamarind dressing. This one turned out to be Skeeter's favourite from the entire meal. Crunchy winged beans were tossed in a simple yet palate pleasing dressing that left Skeeter craving for more. Had Skeeter known that she'd be expecting such treatment to the salads, she could've made a meal entirely of these. Then of course there were the regular suspects like the Thai green papaya salad (Som Tam) on the menu which Skeeter did not try. But what she did try was the Yam Som-O, a pomelo salad with crispy onion and garlic in a sweet and tangy palm sugar and tamarind dressing. Skeeter was reminded of this salad in Maharashtra served up by a freind's mother(she used local jaggery in place of palm sugar). The ingredients were different but the taste was so similar that Skeeter was left nostalgic.

indian-food-blog-Yam-Tuea-Plu-thai-winged-bean-salad-wing-bean








Next came the Phad Tuea Hrong or the Wok fried Tofu, Bean sprout & Chives with soya sauce. A light and flavourful dish which reminds you that sumptous food does not always need the help of too many spice mixes to stand out. The Phad Pak Kiew or Stir fried Kale with morning glory, pokchoy, soya bean sauce, garlic & pepper was another favourite. They also do a perfect Phad Thai, the kinds you'd get in restaurants in Bangkok minus the fish sauce for vegetarian diners like Skeety :D  

Phad-Tuea-Hrong-Wok-fried-Tofu-Bean-sprout-Chives-soya-sauce-delhi-foodies-zone-reeta-skeeter

delhi-food-blog-neung-roi-Phad-Pak-Kiew-stir-fried-Kale-morning-glory-pokchoy-soya-bean-sauce-garlic-pepper


While you are there do try their sorbet of the day. Skeets was extremely lucky for it was the Tamarind sorbet that graced her table. Tamarind is used extensively in some parts of Thailand for sourness and they've take it a step further by making a sorbet flavoured with Tamarind.

tamarind-sorbet
Tamarind sorbet
And there was a very refreshing Tub Tim Krob (Water Chestnut in Coconut Jasmine Syrup) served at the end of the meal. Light and satisfying, this dessert was the perfect end to a perfect afternoon.
(Skeeter was invited to sample Neung Roi menu.)

Tub-Tim-Krob-indian-food-blogger-Water-Chestnut-Coconut-Jasmine-Syrup
Water Chestnut in Coconut Jasmine Syrup

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Of family kitchens, heady aromas and The Sood Family Cookbook

Skeeter loves browsing good books. Cookbooks are Skeeter's best friends. Leave her in a mall and you will invariably in a store buying or admiring cookware or browsing cookbooks. The average cookbook with a collection of 50 or 100 odd recipes duly classified as snacks/mains/desserts is the most boring thing ever!
A long while ago Aparna Jain wrote on a social networking site that she's putting together a family cookbook: The Sood Family Cookbook. When Skeeter finally laid her hands on the book it was all that was promised. A true family cookbook in soul and spirit. For one, it covers not only the nuclear family but also the widespread global family. An aunt in the hills, a cousin abroad, a baker niece and others have pitched in to send recipes which Aparna asked for and that enabled her to compile this cookbook. The book is dedicated to a brother who'd need recipes that would remind him of home every time he decides to cook in his kitchen in another continent. The family is a good mix of Kashmiris, Malayalis, Mangaloreans, Assamese, Sindhis, Punjabis and more. Hence, the diverse flavour of The Sood Family Cookbook. The book was first self-published by Aparna in a three ring binder before being formally published by Collins.


The look: The cover is a very simple, thought provoking bayaam/bharani, which is a ceramic pickle jar in an off-white colour with mustard stripes on the mouth of the jar. It is a heavy duty jar that Skeeter often spots in Punjabi households in North India as also in South India. One look at this cover image hits you with nostalgia. Moving on, the book has broken many a bar and gone for illustrations rather than some drool-worthy photography. Works likes a charm! A welcome departure. Sample this: Images of a bharte wala baingan being roasted on the gas burner directly, a fondue pot invoking warmth, the quintessential Indian pressure cooker, a kashundi bottle reminiscent of the Bengali love for mustard, old thick bottomed kadahis making you reach out for the forgotten one in your store, graters of various shapes and sizes and Skeeter could go on!   

The recipes and usage: The book is reader friendly, with the numbering of recipes indicating a colour for its type: Red: Non-Vegetarian, Yellow- containing Eggs and Green for Vegetarians :D The 101 recipes are classified into Comfort food, Light and Healthy, Sood Grog, Anytime eats and so on. 

Try making the Sindhi Sael Dabroti, the fiddlhead ferns (Skeeter was scouting for a recipe once after purchasing lingdu, the local name for fiddlehead from the hills and had no clue what to do with it), the khatti daal, the 80-minute kaali daal, Hanoi inspired salad, Chilli gulabi guava, Berliner spiked hot chocolote and many more! A few recipes are so simple that you'd question why were they included in the book? The answer is simple: It was written for people who would one day have no choice but get into the kitchen and cook!

And finally here's what Skeeter did with The Sood Family Cookbook 

Skeeter was about to use her mom's recipe of the Sindhi kadi and found the recipe in The Sood Family Cookbook strikingly similar with a few changes. And it turned out well. Also, the Pahadi Hara Namak is a revelation and is the most easy peasy thing you can do to enliven a simple, casual meal. 

Price: Rs 899 on cover. Amazon price: Rs 492. Go pick!



Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A wild and leafy summer: Oliver Bar & Kitchen

There's something about Olive that keeps drawing Skeeter to the place time and again. The ever-inviting ambience? The pleasant and smiling, unpretentious staff? Aye! But more than that the skilled chef! For without good food, a place like Olive at a location like Mehrauli cannot continue to be a crowd puller. Chef Sujan Sarkar bowled Skeeter over with some of his finest creations. He admits that preparing a vegetarian menu which is neck-to-neck with the non-vegetarian one is no simple task. But he takes up the challenge and how! P.S: Chef Sujan Sarkar is sneakingly suspicious of guests that come asking for Pizzas. Agree Olive pizzas are good, but once you move beyond cheese and tomato there's a whole new world to discover.


Here are Skeeter's favourites off Olive summer menu. The amuse bouche (above), a pumpkin cracker, slathered with soft goat's cheese and topped with semi dried tomatoes and garnished with mini sorrel sprouts made for a pretty plate. Up next was the Salt baked beetroot with goat's cheese, wild rocket leaves, orange and apricot puree. The picture below does no justice to the beauty of the plate and marriage of flavours. In India, we are so used to cooking and overcooking our greens (thing what poor sarson ka saag and palak are subjected to: boiling, pureeing and frying!), that we've actually forgotten to keep it simple. Take cue!


The Charred baby gem and summer vegetables came with savoury granola, smoked goat curd, and pickled palm hearts. Fresh, summery and very indulgent. Skeeter could have had many helpings of the charred baby gem, but then there was other delicious food calling out to her. 


A simple palate cleanser: Yoghurt sorbet (below).



On to the mains. There was Fettucine topped in a simple sauce topped with super crisp Zucchini fritters (pic below). There was a decent Green asparagus and broad bean risotto. But what stole Skeeter's soul was a wonderfully crisscross grilled baby Zucchini and creamy polenta (Pave of Melanzane).



Pave of Melanzane
A summer meal is incomplete without king of fruit: mangoes! A Mille Feuille of mango, in signature Olive style (remember the strawberry one?)took care of that. Mango sorbet with a mango and mascarpone cheese mousse. Yum! And though there was no, and absolutely no space for more, the chef insisted we wait for the baked cheesecake, which was a 5-star dessert! It came with passion fruit curd, some rhubarb bits for decor, chocolate soil and sorbet on the side. Divine!

Mille Feuille of mango

Baked cheesecake

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Just Pressed - How Reeta Skeeter survived a one-day juice-only cleanse!

Even the best of health magazines and forums cannot rob Skeeter of her love for fresh, natural juices. Most health experts tell you to eat the whole fruit than squeezing out the juice. They have their reasons (fiber loss and so on) but Skeeter prefers to turn deaf. A hygienic juice bar round the corner? Count Skeets in! In the bits of Western and Southern India that Skeeter has visited, juices are fresh and aplenty, colas are less prevalent and seasonal fruits are a celebrity in their own right. And Skeeter's take is that as long as it is not canned and tetra-packed and so on, is freshly squeezed and tastes good, well, go for it!

Cold pressed juices are a hit with overseas cousins going ga-ga over them. When Just Pressed offered Skeeter a sampler of Cold Pressed Craft juices that they bottle after juicing them in a Norwalk juicer, Skeeter agreed. Now Skeeter's not used to fasting but the thought of giving her system a break with juices was tempting. 

The cleanse

Skeeter started her day with warm honey, lemon water followed by SOAK. A green coloured juice, not very great to look at, it had the goodness of Pineapple, Celery, Cucumber, Spinach, Collard, Kale, Lemon, Ginger and Wheatgrass. Skeeter sipped it cautiously and found that the pineapple, cucumber, lemon and ginger gave it a kick and saved the day. For someone, who's used to starting her day with milky tea this was quite a departure. The no-solids food plan needs a solid will power. Several times during the day, Skeeter would almost reach out for something or the other only to be reminded that she is off solids.


ACTIVE was similar minus Pineapple and Wheatgrass with the added freshness of Lettuce, Parsley and Cilantro. Both filled Skeeter up and put her off food too! Too much of green, healthy stuff does that to you Skeeter guesses. 
PUMP, Skeeter's favourite of all the juices, was made up of Coconut Water, Pineapple, Apple, Aloevera, Orange, Mint and Lemongrass. A very refreshing one this. Lifted Skeeter's mood and spirited and gave her the energy to keep going with the cleanse. 
JOLT was next. The kind of juice you'd have at a health bar. Carrot, Apple, Celery, Cucumber, Beetroot, Lemon and Spirulina were there in this bottle. If you are a health freak, this one will leave you happy and satiated. 
BOUNCE made for a pre-dinner snack. It had Carrot, Orange, Apple, Pineapple, Lemon, Turmeric and Chia Seed. Bounce was good and had the sharpness of the fresh turmeric root. Something Skeeter is used to having all through winter. 
By now Skeeter was used to a fasting body and mind. She could have really skipped CHARGE but then there were heaps of praises all over social networking sites and blogs for charge which is made up of Coconut Meat, Almond, Vanilla, Honey, Cashew, Cinnamon and Chia Seeds. It was filling and akin to a gluten free milk-shake spiked with cinnamon. A complete meal.
VERDICT: A very doable and delicious cleanse. The next day, Skeeter felt light and nice AND motivated enough to take this cleanse up once every now and then!
P.S.:The thing to be noted is that these bottles come with an expiry date (3-days) as they have no additives whatsoever, so do drink up maximum by the second day of receving your cleanse set. And Just Pressed can do custom juices as per your preference as well. All the best!
The only downpoint is the hefty pricing( which Skeeter guesses many may frown at): Rs 1600 for a one-day cleanse. But hey, you pay that kinda money (or more) for one meal at a restaurant eating unhealthy carb-laden food. Why not spend one such amount on your health?