Food Musings

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Image by rtppt via Flickr

I finally managed to catch MasterChef India 2 yesterday night. Does it seem like the judges talk down to the contestants, a wee bit? In that sense, it feels closer to MasterChef USA (minus horrible Gordon Ramsay) and less like MasterChef Australia’s cheerful, encouraging Gary, George & Matt.

The boy commented that the contestants are primarily housewives. I guess that reflects India’s approach to food as compared to Australia and the US. Looks like there still is a very strong feeling that the kitchen is a woman’s place of pride. The few men that I do know who cook well, are part of the small, urban elite that’s really more Western than Indian. Food and its creation are associated with archetypal ‘family values’ and ‘maa ke haath ka khana‘. We don’t really see it as a creative field in itself, with all the experimentation, newness and edginess of other arts.

Food

Speaking of which, I have something to say about the so-called foodie. I never claimed to be one myself. I have very marked tastes as well as a few health concerns about certain foods (corn allergies, mutton disagreeing with me etc). But I’ve always been enthusiastic about trying out something that I haven’t tried before. Perhaps because of the size of my portions (small), I get branded as somebody who isn’t really a foodie. That’s really funny, considering I’ve had no qualms putting a cooked octopus arm into my mouth but a lot of my ‘foodie’ friends would shy away from that.

What’s more, my vegetarian preferences make me a bit of an unfashionable standout in the crowd that says it loves food (translate that to liberally masala’ed, hefty meat portions). But isn’t enjoying something about how much pleasure you derive from it, not how much of it you consume? And what’s with the meat snobbery? I think a real foodie finds a way to appreciate anything that’s tasty, whether it is a steamed idli or a baked tandoori chicken.

I guess I’ll revise my declaration from ‘I am not a foodie’ to ‘I am not a food-snob’.

Indiblogger-MasterChef India2 Blogger Meet – Hot & Appetising!

I’ve been following MasterChef Australia with great enthusiasm, both last year and this one. I also managed to catch MasterChef UK (though Gordon Ramsay failed to charm me the way George & Matt Preston do). So the Indiblogger-MasterChef India 2 meet on Saturday sounded really promising.

As it was, they earned a big plus by having an air-conditioned bus ferry us to and from the event. The venue was RK Studios (where MasterChef India 2 will be filmed). This has to be a landmark of sorts for this city, given that it was home to some of Bollywood’s most iconic films. I am no expert on television sets but even to the rookie eye, the MasterChef India 2 set stands out for its quiet elegance, neat lines & bright, airy feel. Every setting that MasterChef viewers would be familiar with – from the contestant tables to the dining room to the pantry, the cutlery/crockery stocks to the stage where the results of each round are announced to the ubiquitous ‘M’ – are comfortably contained within the space.

The main area was furnished with tables for the blogger meet, that day but will hold the contestant tables during the show. Beyond the stage, cordoned off behind glass bead curtains lies the main dining area. Lining the main area on either side are the pantries, the cutlery/crockery shelves and the cooking implements. Upstairs on either side, replicating the MasterChef format are the galleries from where safe contestants view the proceedings.

The blogger meet started around 2:30 p.m. This gave us enough time to walk around and get in some photographs, which turned out to be a good thing since it got really busy later. The event started off with the Indiblogger staple of blogger introductions. I love the fact that Indiblogger meets include a display screen with a live-tracker of who has just entered and tweets about the event. It lets bloggers/tweeters identify each other. It also makes conversing from across the room great fun!

Once the introductions were complete, the three judges Vikas Khanna, Ajay Chopra and Kunal Kapoor took the floor to talk about the show and address questions. The obvious question of why there was so much coverage of contestants’ personal lives (and the ensuing politics) instead of focusing on the cooking, came up. The replies were slick, if not scripted but this was deftly deflected by turning the discussion over to the bloggers. Who likes sharing stories better than a bunch of bloggers? Soon the group was swapping food memories, from the sweetly nostalgic to downright touching. Among other things, there was a minute’s silence to honour the recently deceased mother of one of the bloggers, after she talked about how much she loved the show.

Post high tea (very befitting of the most popular food show of our times), we got a sneak preview/taste of what it’s like to be a MasterChef contestant through a set of short competitions. The first was what the judges said had been their first cookery lesson – dicing apples. Chef Ajay Chopra demonstrated the right way to do it and then conducted a competition among some of the bloggers. Chopped apples and one cut finger followed.

This was followed by a ginger julienne mini-Masterclass by Chef Kunal Kapoor and a competition. I participated in this one but my ginger strips just weren’t good enough to make the cut (yes, that’s a pun!). The third class-cum-contest was on chopping potatoes to prep for french fries (or finger chips, as we like to call them). The final competition was a mystery box challenge (whoo, whoo, whoo, MasterChef fans!). Under the box, we found a bunch of ingredients that had to be correctly identified and then all used to put together a recipe.

The event concluded with another Indiblogger staple – the chart-as-comment-box. Every blogger was given a chart with a string to hang over their backs. Then we were let loose to share notes, leave Twitter handles or email addresses, ‘I love your blog!’ comments and other little nothings that bloggers like saying to each other. :-) This is another great idea to keep track of all the great people you meet at an event but are just not able to connect with later. The giveaways, yet another Indiblogger staple included Masterchef aprons and a special thermal mug that lights up when it is filled with hot liquid! Good, no?


What really worked for this event was that there was a very definite value provided for the bloggers who got out of home on a Saturday and made the journey. Visiting the MasterChef set was spectacular. Being able to interact with the judges was great too but the real clincher was simulating an actual MasterChef episode with the contests and class. Food is very cool right now, in pop culture and nothing can be more exciting for a foodie than being able to talk about it to other like-minded people and with acknowledged experts in the field. The afternoon was well worth it.

I was looking forward to catching MasterChef India 2 anyway, having missed the first season. Now, after having actually been on the set and talking to the judges, I’m going to be extra hooked to the show. I think this event acted as a real appetiser for the show to follow. Great idea, Star Plus and fab work, Indiblogger putting up a wonderful event!

See more pictures of the event on Facebook and Flickr (starting here). The tweets of the event were tagged #MasterChefIndia2.

* Cross posted to Plain Salted.

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Ideamarked Sep2011: Cocktails, Dabbawallas & Wisdom

August was a busy month so I didn’t manage much link-love. But September started off on a good note and I’m hoping it’ll only get better.

My Style section is picking up. For a few reader/friends who asked, I Style! features whacky, fun clothing & accessories; Ideart showcases my fabric painting and I Wear tracks everyday style. This month, I add to the repertoire by featuring other people whose sense of style caught my eye. But don’t worry, I’m not turning into a fashionasta. Dressing & looking good are an important part of our daily lives. But The Idea-smithy will still have fiction, pop culture, reviews, general quips & wisdom (?). And here’s September’s features:

  • There’s enough being said about the best hairstyle for your face type but what about the
    Bellini Cocktail

    Image via Wikipedia

    one accessory that’s closest to your face? ‘Your Face Shape & Earrings‘ (via
    MillionLooks)

  • What’s a status update if not a way to rant? (via Facebook)
  • The art/book/style lover in you will LOVE this store that produces clothing with book art. (via OutOfPrintClothing, link courtesy HippyHollySimpleSally)
  • A handful of cocktail recipes from everyone’s favorite intelligent party-girl! ‘Cocktail recipes for people who really just like anything with a salt rim‘ (via TheCompulsiveConfessor)
    Osho („Rajneesh“ Chandra Mohan Jain)

    Image via Wikipedia

  • A book about language & whether it can be grown ‘artificially’. ‘In the land of invented languages‘ (link courtesy Time)
  • The dabbawalla has gone online! Find a tiffin service by cuisine, meal & location at IndiaTiffins.
  • Dabba Tiffins III

    Image by Meanest Indian via Flickr

    One from my Bookmarks from the 90s, this site has provided daily wisdom in my mailbox for over a decade. Ranging from the writings of Osho to Zen pearls to quotes by famous people, Deeshan is now available on Twitter & Facebook too.

  • A former colleague turns film director. His first film, Kshay is being screened at the Chicago International Film Festival. Congratulations, Shaan!
  • Shakti gives us India’s answer to the LBD! (via Twitter).
  • After I asked what Facebook’s look was doing for its users, this came up as an answer: ‘Does Facebook Really Care About You?’ (via CNN)
  • A hilarious email chain that’s been modified and edited from the original article, for sometime now: ‘London Times Obituary Of The Late Mr.Common Sense‘ (via MyBroadBand)
Little Black Dress

Image via Wikipedia

Carnivore

I used to know somebody who said,

“Vegetarian khana mere dharam ke khilaaf hain!”

But I think the boy really believes that any vegetable or fruit he puts into his mouth will devour the meat that it finds, before his stomach can get to it.

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* Also served at Plain Salted.

How I Ended The Bhindi War

Snooty restaurants that palm off watered-down rasam as ‘Mulligatawny‘ would describe it as a ‘Okhra’. Indians prefer the quaint name of ‘ladyfingers’. I’ve never been a fan. From my very early years, I learnt to detest the violent green hue, the snappy texture (external) and gooey feel (internal) of bhindi. Apparently I’d start howling the minute mum’s hand moved towards the stack on the bhajiwala‘s cart.

Once, when I was about seven and mum was away or unwell or generally unavailable, dad decided to make us breakfast. With much a tada! and a flourish, he presented his best efforts – sandwich toast stuffed with raw bhindi. I think the trauma of that has never entirely left me.

Undeterred, mum and dad continued to coax, wheedle and force this vegetable down my throat. Most notable of all was the claim that eating bhindi would make me good at maths! To this day, dinnertable conversations when this dish is served are variations of,

Me: Bhindi again! I have a degree in mathematics. You would think that’s about enough maths for anybody!

Dad: And it’s all on account of the bhindi we made you eat!

Oh well, there is no accounting for tastes, I guess (all that mathematics notwithstanding). Recently though, I decided to give my parents a little surprise. Mum was returning from a fortnightly trip and I had decided to put up a nicely cooked meal for her anyway. I figured adding her favorite vegetable might be a nice touch. Obviously I’d also have to make it appetizing enough for me to want to eat it myself. Oil, salt and spice came to my rescue.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 kilo bhindi (My mother checks for freshness by snapping off the end. If it snaps off easily, it’s fresh. If it stretches, it’s not. Also drop any that look blackish or have bruises)
  • 1 tbsp chilli powder
  • 1 tbsp turmeric (haldi)
  • 1 cube of ginger for garnish
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Oil

Method:

  • Here’s what I started with – thoroughly washed (by soaking for a minute in bowl of water) bhindi.
  • I chopped off the heads and the ends. Then I sliced each bhindi into half and slit it lengthwise twice. The result is quite gooey so it’s a good idea to do this on a chopping board & scrape everything into the vessel later.
  • The masalas were simply sprinkled on top. I was really playing it by the ear at this point so I just mixed them all up using my fingers. In theory it could probably have been done with a spoon. However once the bhindi  is cut (especially to this extent), the gooey mess is unbelievable. I figured I could use that wetness to ensure the masala got coated evenly over the pieces.
  • Once the masala was evenly coated over the chopped bhindi, I just had to fry them. Standard procedure – wait for oil to heat up a bit, grab a handful and toss it in (not too forcefully or a splash of oil will give you a painful burn). Fry till crispy brown.
  • I garnished the bhindi fry with fresh grated ginger. This is something new for me. Ginger has always been something I ground into paste and used as a base but never as a garnish. As it turns out the crunchy fresh zing of ginger goes a long way in masking any residual bhindi sliminess and it also complements the fried flavour really well.

Serving:

I intended for the bhindi fry to only be a surprise for my mother and not the entire meal. I guess if I’d sliced it into longer strips (instead of halving them), it could well have been a nice appetizer. As it turned out, I also made some chutney aloo sabzi, sambhar, rice and some fresh kachumbar salad. Here’s what my plate looked like at dinner. Mum loved it!

* Also served at Plain Salted.

Chatpate Chappati Rolls

So I vanished for a week and I’m back with an armful of posts. I had a relaxing day, last Wednesday. Which may be why I was in a mood to spice up things in the evening. Dinner was a rather boring meal of chapattis (albeit the soft, thin variety mum specializes in) and aloo-chauli. It was too late to cook anything new but dinner had to be had and the stomach (and heart) yearned for something tastier. So I pulled out a memory from my childhood of strange snacking urges and quickfix experiments.

I give you *drumroll* The Chatpata Chappati Roll! This was my first experience with oil & frying, as a kid. Problem eater as I was, mum was hard-pressed to make appealing meals for me. But middle-class housewives do have to make do with leftovers every once in awhile. I came up with this solution to stave off my rebellious tongue and keep the tummy (and mummy) happy.

Here’s how I did this:

Ingredients:

  • 4 thin chappatis
  • Amul cheese spread
  • Mango pickle (I like Priya’s Mango Thokku)
  • Aloo-chauli dry sabzi
  • Oil

Method:

  • Spread each chappati with a thin layer of cheese spread. You can also use grated Amul cheese cubes for a more salty, chunky taste (chunky because the cheese is in tiny slivers instead of an even spread).
  • Coat with pickle, according to your preference in spice. Pickles spoil if any other matter enters the bottle so the way to do this is to spoon out enough for one chappati in the first go. Also, don’t use the same spoon to scoop it out of the bottle and also spread it as little flakes of chappati or cheese could stick to it. I actually coated one half of the chappati with cheese spread and the other with pickle. That makes the flavours stand out distinctly in each bite.
  • Fill the sabzi down the center in a straight line. You need to put enough to stuff the roll but not so much that the chappati tears. Don’t take the line right till the ends of the chappati or the sabzi will spill out when frying.
  • Fold the ends of the chappati neatly over the stuffing. You can stick them together with a little cheese or oil. Flatten the roll so the upper fold lies to one side, to prevent unravelling in the oil.
  • Heat some oil in a frying pan and when the oil is hot, put in the rolls, fold to the end. My pan can take upto 4 rolls at a time but it’s difficult to turn them over without spilling or breaking so I only do 2 at at time. Even then, I stagger them so I put in the second roll when it’s nearly time to turn over the first.
  • Fry on sim as the rolls could burn very quickly. Turn over in the oil every couple of minutes to evenly brown.
  • When the roll is fried, lay it on a paper napkin to drain out excess oil. Once that’s done, you can garnish the top with green chutney, cheese or ketchup.

Serving:

Three rolls turned out to be a sumptous dinner for each person that night. But we’re all light eaters so you could plan on an extra for more enthusiastic eaters.

Any sabzi works well in this dish. Dry sabzis are easier to stuff but on occasion, I’ve even used dal preparations. I’d like to see how a Southern preparation like sambhar or poriyal turns out in this.

Dad doesn’t like too much spice or sourness so I used a light hand with the pickle. Thokku is essentially a mango chutney with few, if at all chunks. But more solid pickles should work well too, giving a chunkier flavour. Also, nimboo achar will add a really tangy kick to this. You should pick the pickle based on the vegetable preparation used for stuffing. The blander the veggie, the spicier the pickle.

You can serve it up cut into quarters like spring rolls. Or you can wrap the lower half of the roll in a paper napkin, Mumbai Frankie style.

Bon appetit!

* Cross-posted to Plain Salted.

Ideamarked Jun2011: Conspiracy Theories, eGadgets & Hakoba

Mid-month, I had coffee with two digital agency people to discuss the Indian blogosphere and the nature of content. On one hand, I’m delighted that the world is waking up to the thought that blogs are not just lunchtime amusement for the bored employee or the lovestruck teenager. With attention, I’m hoping will come the respect that any creator of original content deserves. On the other hand, it’s something that did come out of my own bored/frustrated moments, a diarying habit on multivitamins. It’s still curious to know that something that grew out of a personal quirk is now worthy of a distinctive opinion and even space.

But blogs, being reflections of people and their sentiments, must keep evolving as do their owners. While over at XX Factor, I’m moving to a more balanced perspective on relationships, men and such things, here at The Idea-smithy, I’ve gone back to my roots. Aside from my commissioned posts, the announcements of posts and press, I’ve also been posting snippets, stray thoughts and sundry commentary. I don’t know if you, my readers will like it or not but for now, this is me. Have a lovely monsoon!

  • How To Deal With Bullying & Harassment In The Workplace‘: Unfortunately, I don’t think we have any support systems legal or union. But it still helps to know that this happens and that it is wrong. (via Hubpages)
  • One for the foodies, if you’re wondering how to add that authentic East-Indian flavour to your vindaloo. (via East Indian Masalas, link courtesy Phyrodite)
  • If you’ve been a victim of unacknowledged praise (imitation, copycats, yada yada yada), Tynt might have a solution for you. The article reviews the product and offers some handy suggestions. (via Makeuseof, link courtesy Kirti Kapoor)
  • A Technophobe Unravels The Android Tapestry“:’Marvin’, my Android, showed up on Yahoo! Recommendations with an app-review!
  • 10 Classic Indianisms: Doing the needful and more“: As Indians we take zero pride in our identity. When we comprise 1/6th of the world’s population and godaloneknows how much of the English-speaking group, why is our usage ‘wrong’? (via CNNGO)
  • A person’s attitude to reading depends on the books they’ve experienced, especially early in life. Meet some of my childhood friends in “10 Great Vacation Reads For Children” (via FriendsofBooks)
  • E Vestigio came back to life with a poetic bit of writing, in silence.
  • Cracked was my favorite guilt-reading for this month: “10 mind-blowing Easter eggs hidden in music albums” (those mind-screwing musicians, them!), “7 Easter eggs in words of art(and you thought the Masters were all high-brow!) and “If Historical Figures Endorsed Modern Products” (heh, lookit Dali!) (link courtesy Dischordian)
  • A pretty white hakoba dress and a whole lot of imaginative photographs are up on Purple Peeptoes.
  • Navin Kabra has an existential question for the socially networked world, regarding a witness for one’s actions (via Facebook).
  • The 30 harshest author-on-author insults in history” (via Flavorwire, link courtesy Meenakshi Reddy).
  • “Yeh ladki hain ya ladka hain?” could well refer to the actor singing the song. Oh wait, who did she grow up into? (via Youtube)
  • Move over Sheila Kejwani and Munni Badam, errr…whozzat is here?! What is with Salman Khan casting lookalikes of his ex-es in his films? Catchy song though, this Character Dheela (via Youtube)

Recycled Food

In a dictionary, the Shit Burger would appear before Soylent Green. How about on a menu? Remember that menus list dishes in ascending order of price.

* Cross-posted to Plain Salted.

The Salami That Saved My Day

So now I have a new kitchen, one that doesn’t come with the ‘strictly vegetarian’ tag. Sadly, I don’t have the time that I used to have to spend there. For better part, this bright, airy and well-cupboarded kitchen is used to set up the clothes drying stand (a must-have in rain-soaked Mumbai at the minute!).

But today, the sun came out after four days of non-stop rain. Yes, I know the monsoons have been a welcome respite from the heat but the colour of the sky has a direct impact on my mood. I took heart after the gloomy weekend.

I didn’t really have the time for an elaborate meal, what with a full schedule to think of. But I did have a packet of Venky’s salami cuts in my freezer. The boy introduced me to the joy of cold cuts and I’ve been delighting over them ever since. Last week, I chopped up sausages into the pasta that I rustled up on a whim. The leftovers of that experiment came in handy for my lunch today.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 packet of Venky’s (Cold Cut Chicken Salami slices – 10 slices for Rs.30)
  • Amul cheese cubes
  • Green olives (My personal favorites are whole, seedless & pimento-stuffed)
  • Four slices of bread (I used brown)

Method:

  1. Thaw the salami in the microwave. I only let it go till the frosty ice had all melted away. Then I drained the water and let it mircrowave for another 10 seconds, till it was soft but not hot.
  2. Grate cheese over 1 slice of brown bread.
  3. Lay out a salami slice onto it. I succeeded in tearing a couple of salami slices while getting them out of the pack, so I arranged them around to fill the entire square area of the bread slice.
  4. Chop green olives in thin slices over the salami.
  5. Grate another layer of cheese over this.
  6. Cover with another slice of brown bread.
  7. ENJOY!

Serving:

Serves one too lazy/busy to cook stomach. I washed mine down with a glass of guava juice. How’s that for a nutritious, tasty, filling and easy meal?!

For the extra carnivorous among you, meat it up by adding more salami slices in the layer. If you have a big mouth, make a three-tier sandwich!

I love how colourful this looks. You can also add ketchup between layers or tomato slices for a brighter sandwich.

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Also served at Plain Salted.

Summer Special

On the raw, chopped pieces of heartbreak,
Lay the sting of old memories with the tang of new experiences
A sprinkling of spicy promise
Lightly dusted with salt of good hope
And simmered in the heat of a new season.

Summer’s here.

* Cross-posted to Plain Salted.

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