Sunday, December 22, 2013

Feeling Christmassy

Nishant & Silja setting up the tree

So I have moved out of my home, and staying at a friends' for a month or so. Missing my old apartment, missing Ram, and sweet Loki. But now I am enjoying the company of little Schnuggi. Tiny and extremely shy, her favorite spot to hide is inside the rice cooker.

Off late she has taken a fascination to one white snowman ornament hanging from the Christmas tree. She jumps onto the couch and tries to pull the toy. She loves the tree. In fact my friend rescued her from the streets this same time last year, and she snuggled up under the Christmas tree and refused to come out, like it was her home. I guess she was their Christmas gift last year. So it's that time of the year again.... wine, carols, fairy lights, the Boney M holiday playlist. And little Schnuggi head popping out of the Christmas tree!

My last month in Mumbai, and I don't know if I'll miss the city much, (although it's been very good to me professionally and personally) but I'm quite sure I'll miss my friends and furry buddies. 

in high spirits

Monday, December 2, 2013

Fusili with baked vegetables and cream sauce

One of those feel good pasta dishes, with a lot of fresh seasonal veggies, looking bright and colorful, perfect for the endless 'December -summer' days in Mumbai. In fact it does look like Summer on a plate!

For the baked veggies you need: (You can use any vegetable you like and any amount)
Zucchini thinly sliced, one red onion, one yellow bell pepper chopped and broccoli florets,
3-4 garlic cloves,
and a handful of dried herbs- (rosemary, thyme and chives/ oregano)

For the sauce you need:
1 cup of milk
2 teaspoons butter
chopped parsley
grated garlic (2 cloves)
grated parmesan (1/2 cup)

So mix all the veggies, garlic and herbs in a bowl with a generous amount of good olive oil and a little salt. Spread them out on the baking tray and pop it in the oven for about 15-20 minutes at 180 dec C. You might need to stir them once in between.

For the sauce, whisk the butter and milk, parmesan, garlic and chopped parsley. Sauce done.

While the veggies are in the oven, we get the pasta cooking in boiling water ( it takes about 10-15 minutes), till al dente. Drain the pasta and reserve about half a cup of the starchy pasta water.

In a pan, pour in the sauce, a little pasta water and the pasta and simmer till the sauce thickens, becomes sticky and coats the pasta evenly. Add the baked vegetables and stir.

Serve hot with a dusting of fresh parmesan.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

No Pets on board!

I didn't know that flying a pet to another city would be a cause of so much stress and mess. I don't know if this is the case just in India, or in other countries as well.
I want to take Loki to Bangalore, in the beginning I thought it would be simple enough, till I started reading up and talking to people.
Firstly the only airlines that allow pets are Jet airways and Air India. So that definitely narrowed down the options.

I have never been a big fan of Air India, I think they are the worst ever domestic carrier. The staff is rude and mean looking and the food is stale. So anyway, this wasn't about me, it was about Loki. I called up this organisation called Furry Flyers (they apparently help transporting pets internationally), and this is what they told me. I don't know how accurate and authentic this information is, but they seemed to be the only organisation of this kind with a decent reputation.
So to fly a pet in the luggage compartment of a carrier, I was told to make sure its a Boeing and not an Airbus. So apparently, if I book a ticket on Air India, they will inform me just a few hours before the flight takes off, if it's a Boeing or an Airbus! So if it happens to be an Airbus, I can't obviously take the flight and I'm left stranded. So Air India was definitely out.

Coming to Jet. I thought I would to their customer care, to know how to go about the bookings. Not only is getting through to their customer care through the IVR system a pain, but the guys in the call center are seriously ignorant. The guy I spoke to, told me that he couldn't help me, and I need to speak to someone in reservations with regards to flying pets. As usual he couldn't transfer the call, so I had to hang up and call customer care again and go through the entire IVR process to reach the reservation. So I enquire what needs to be done, extra charges blah blah about flying the dog, and he said he couldn't help me and I needed to speak to someone in cargo department, and of course he was unable to transfer the call, so I'm back again trying to reach jetcargo.

When I got through, this guy tells me, madam, please.... you have called Cargo, you need to speak to someone in reservations. They also told me that carrying a pet as baggage would entail an extra charge which worked out to some 15,000rs, according to Loki's weight. He also said they will provide the crate. Jet's website clearly states that they charge a flat fee of 5000rs, for carrying a pet. He said this information was wrong. This was when I lost it. I told him I needed to speak to someone in charge. So he gave me the number of the duty manager.

The Duty manager rubbished all the previous information. He told me that the airline does not provide the crate,  and that I should call up customer care for booking with pets. So I had come full circle. Customer care- reservations- jet cargo- duty manager- everyone not really giving me any useful information.

So, I was still ok with the situation, about everything so far. I'll buy the crate, I'll pay the extra 15000 if need be.

Now comes the next task, of buying the crate. According to airline rules, only certain kind of crate is allowed. These are called IATA approved crates. They are not your regular steel cages, but are made of fiber glass. I measured Loki, and he was around 35inches lengthwise. So I need a crate which is around 38- 40 inches at least.
I start calling various pet shops and even Furry Flyers. I was shocked to hear that a 'giant size' crate that would accommodate Loki, will cost me anywhere around 30,000 rs. While the large size crates (around 32 inches in length) cost about 13000, the giant size are not available in India, hence imported and expensive. After making several more calls and going through websites, I couldn't even find a place from where I could rent or hire a crate for a few days, quite surprising for a big city like Mumbai.

So far, 30,000+ 15,000= 45,000rs for a 1.5 hr flight to Bangalore.

Flight options completely ruled out by now, I started looking at options by road. Called up Avis, Meru, Easycabs, and a bunch of other taxi operators. Again the same answer 'Sorry, no pets allowed'.
I did manage to find an agency that transports pets within cities in India. They quoted a big fat figure of 35,000Rs.

Finally I have decided to take my own car. It's a Swift, it's going to be a bit uncomfortable for us, since neither me or the driver have driven long distances before. We are planning to halt at Belgaum for the night, at least in that way the three of us will have a much needed break. It's a fourteen hour journey. To my relief, when I googled, I found a couple of resorts that allowed pets, and they looked quite nice. Fingers crossed we are looking forward to a good road trip, and reaching Bangalore safe and happy!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Masala Chai... A late night treat

It's usually summer all year round in Mumbai, it does get a little chilly sometimes. It's been raining past few days and the weather is awesome. Late night, rom -com and snuggling up with Loki on the couch, with a spicy hot pot of masala chai is heaven.
Here's a fairly simple but super tasty recipe. As long as you have all the ingredients ready it doesn't take more than five minutes. I do stock up a bunch of spices for regular cooking, which come handy when I have these sudden masala tea cravings.

You need:
A small piece of ginger, crushed.
One cardamom pod- crushed
1 piece of star anise
2 cloves
Half a cinnamon stick
2-3 peppercorns - crushed
2-3 spoonful of brown sugar
1 glass of water
1 glass of milk
2 spoonfuls of tea powder

Get a pot of water to boil. Add the ginger and the rest of the spices, and let it simmer for a bit... this is the part where your kitchen starts to smell like heaven.
Pour in the milk and sugar and simmer again for a couple of minutes. Switch off the heat, and add the loose tea powder. Cover the pot, and let the flavors infuse for about 3 minutes, or more if you prefer it stronger. Strain the tea into the teapot or cups. You can garnish this with a spring of mint.
But tonight i enjoyed my cuppa with some special butter cookies from a bakery in pune.

You know where else you get good masala chai ? I was pleasantly surprised with the masala chai in Starbucks actually. Its not as spicy, quite light, but still pretty yummy.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Puppy's first surgery

It was a rainy Saturday morning, when we took Loki puppy to the vet. He was all excited and jumpy, - he probably thought we are going out on a picnic. Honestly it doesn't take much to get Loki excited. Just call out his name with a high pitched 'ki...' at the end, and he will stare at you for five seconds, before dashing across the house to grab a toy. Say the name 'figo' ... his big retriever brother, and he rushes to get his leash, in the hope of meeting his old friend, oh well.... he can't be that smart can he, maybe he thinks 'figo' is just another word for 'lets go out'

I wish there was some way we could have told him...'no, don't get excited, it's a doctor you're going to meet, for a relatively painful surgery. No ... dont get all happy and make us feel more guilty about this. What would you think of us, after coming back. Would you think of us as cruel parents, or would you not even know the difference, jump onto our bed at night, lick our faces in the morning, as if nothings happened.

So, we arrive early, around 10 am, and as soon as the doctor got in, she gave him a sedative. Although she said he would get groggy in fifteen minutes, it took almost forty five minutes for the effect to kick in. Puppy couldn't contain his excitement. New place, new people around, and a whole lot of attention, Loki was in no mood to sleep.

 at the clinic

The surgery lasted about an hour, and believe it or not, the doctor said Loki woke up a couple of times in the middle, so they had to pump in an extra dose of anesthesia.

The saddest was seeing him post surgery. He was quite unconscious, eyes half closed and his tongue sticking out, it was a scary sight, he looked dead. As we wrapped him in a blanket and carried him to the car, we could hear him wincing. and he cried for the very first time. It was a desperate painful cry for help, and all we could do was rub his forehead and tell him 'everything's gonna be ok... just hang in there'

He never spoke to us the entire day. I guess he was too tired, and not fully conscious. He couldn't even hold his head up to sit, and was resting his neck on a chair, and at other times, he looked like a little bobble head doll.
post surgery

The next morning, when we were woken up by crazy nonstop slobbering.  How relieved to get our puppy back in his form. They said he would calm down post surgery, become more dormant, mature... blah blah... well, nothing of that sort, though I was hoping he would sober down a teeny bit.

On my recent visit to the vet, she tells me 'but maybe this is just his personality, just meant to be hyper'. I couldn't help but smile, loved that she said that. Of course it's his personality, what else should we expect, after all we named him 'Loki'. It would just be wrong if he wasn't the annoying mischievous brat we fell in love with, Infact as I'm writing this, he has quietly stolen my socks and gone hiding under the table, watching me slyly from the corner of the eye.

Some precautions we needed to take after the neutering surgery- no walks for at least a couple of days. The stitches were fresh, and the roads wet and dirty. needed to ensure that he didn't lick the wound. We had got the 'cone of shame', just in case, but he was a good boy and didn't bother the wound at all. He was extremely well behaved even when he got the stitches removed. Give this dog a chew stick and he wont feel the nastiest needle in his bum.

Woke up this morning to see the brat happily propped on top of the table in the balcony. I freaked out a little, but this fellow is totally fearless.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Non bitter espresso on a Stovetop

Getting that perfect coffee in pot can be a bit of a mystery. I started with a simple French press, then got one of those electric coffee makers, and now a little stovetop. 
Whenever I made espresso in the fancY coffee maker, for some reason it used to turn a little bitter. MaYbe I wasn't using the right kind of coffee, or the grind. The French press coffee was decent. And now I'm trYing out the stovetop. So I've realised, it  does take some experimentation and practice to get the coffee how you like it.

So I started looking online for some tips. After trYing out various methods and trial and errors, I think I have cracked it. Atleast the waY I like mY espresso.

The grind: Medium ground coffee is what everYone suggests, but I don't seem to get that here, unless I grind it mYself. 

The coffee- Lavazza Rosa vs Lavazza Club. Lavazza Rosa is milder. Club which is a darker roast tends to get bitter. IllY seems the best, but expensive. The best so far has been the Starbucks house blend Medium roast. It's a whole bean coffee pack, which theY freshlY grind on request.

The right amount: It might seems like a lot, but about 3 spoonfuls to fill up the filter. Pat it down to a cake. This is verY important, if You want a thicker stronger coffee. If You don't press it down, it's mild.

Water: I never would have thought about this, but apparentlY using hot water gives better results than using cold or room temperature water. This also means You don't need to leave the pot on the stove for verY long, and reduces the chances of burning the coffee and leading to the bitter after taste once again.

Heat: Medium low. And since the water is alreadY semi hot, it will not take time to boil either. Just 3-4 minutes. Also it's important to take it off the flame at the right time. Not letting the entire water at the bottom boil awaY, I read it's one of the other reasons whY the coffee gets bitter.

Sugar: I like mY espresso a little sweet. Not verY. So this is an old technique that we use even to make instant coffee to get that nice creamY froth on top. Pour in a little sugar into the cup. Pour a bit of the brewing coffee (about 4 spoonfuls) into the cup and whisk it till the sugar dissolves. ( I like to add a spoonful of milk while whisking)Top it up with the rest of the black coffee.

I'm no coffee expert, but thanks to google and tips from coffee lovers, I'm quite thrilled to have finallY been able to improve mY home espresso!

espresso at Indigo deli. Delicious and rich with a luscious laYer of froth on top

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Man can cook

Ram's signature risotto. It's become a popular dish at our place, especially when we have guests over, Ram loves to show off his chef skills. Although technically, he instructs me to do most of the prep, - yes I am usually given the responsibility of painfully chopping the 8 large onions, making the stock, grating cheese, and of course the constant stirring of rice, and not burning it. And Mr chef comes in to inspect and add his little touches of seasoning and making sure the rice is al dente.

One of our friends Shipra wanted to feature Ram in her blog-, for a section on 'Men who cook' So we invited her over for dinner the other night, and Ram was to make his famous risotto. I made my poached pear salad to go along with it. The party was a success, good wine and good food with good friends!

Here's the recipe: Serves - 2
  • Ingredients : 3 Large Onions 1/2 cup chopped porcini mushrooms 4-5 cloves of garlic Olive Oil Butter Dry White wine 1/2 cup Rissoto rice ( Arborio ) 500 ml Vegetable stock 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese.
    Directions : 1. Lightly saute the chopped mushrooms in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and keep aside.
    2. In a large pan Chop the garlic and fry in olive oil until golden.
    3. Add chopped onions and fry until transluscent.
    4. Add rice to the pan. Add olive oil until the rice is coated in oil. Add 100 grams of butter. Cook until rice takes on a golden color. Keep stirring to ensure rice doesnt stick to the pan.
    5. Add 1/2 cup white wine. Cook the alcohol out. The rice should begin to expand now, having absorbed the wine.
    6. add boiling vegetable stock to the rice mix - one ladle at a time - stirring until rice completely absorbs the stock each time. The whole process should take 20 - 25 mins for the rice to be fully cooked.
    7. Taste the rice to make sure it is al dente but not raw on the inside.
    8. When the rice is cooked. Stir in 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese until a creamy texture is obtained. Add the cooked mushrooms. Season to taste and serve.
    9. Flat parsley can be added as garnish.
    * Key is to keep stirring the rice and add the stock a ladle at a time to get the rice cooked uniformly and just right.
    If you can't find Arborio rice, you can use Kolam rice (short and fat rice)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Quinoa/ sama breakfast

This simple breakfast dish packs a punch in flavor and protein. The original recipe called for quinoa, but I couldn't find it in the market. I got a substitute, which seemed similar called 'sama'. It also looks like upma in some way, and even this preparation is pretty similar. Let's say a 'fancy western' upma!

You need:

half a cup of quinoa/ sama
1 cup vegetable broth
a handful of peas, chopped carrots, onions, garlic, parsley
juice of half a lemon
2 tsp of olive oil, salt and pepper

Pour just broth over the quinoa to cover the surface. Set aside for 10 minutes, till it soaks in all the water and expands. Meanwhile in a pan, heat the oil and saute the onions, garlic, carrots and peas till soft. Salt and pepper. Add the quinoa, the juice of half a lemon and stir well for two minutes. Add in the chopped parsley.

The Spring Pea Soup

It has gotten a bit chilly past few days... thanks to the constant downpour through the day. This gloomy weather calls for a nice hearty soup.  The spring pea soup.
About a week back, I got on to this website-, and I have been keeping count of my calories and nutrient intake everyday. What was severely lacking in my diet was proteins. Being a vegetarian there are limited sources, so the pea soup rich in protein and fibers was a great idea.

Here's how you make it. You need:
  • 2 tsps butter
  • half a medium leek finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups fresh/ frozen peas
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 tsp fresh cream
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan
  • a sprig of rosemary

  1. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the leek, the salt, pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened.
  2. Add the broth, the peas and bring to a boil again. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until the peas are tender, about 5 minutes.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat, add the basil and rosemary. Let it sit for about 10 minutes, taking in all the flavours.
  4. Using a blender, purée the soup in batches until smooth. Transfer the soup to a saucepan, add the fresh cream and parmesan and simmer it for another 5 minutes.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Coffee Granita for an Indian summer

God.... when will the summer end? Its going past 40 deg C, there's no getting out during the day. And the days are long... hot and bright till late evening. I was thinking of heading to Starbucks for an iced latte, but the thought of even stepping out to the car, searching for parking, walking all the way to the cafe roasted and sweaty, is a put off.
I'm blaming the weather, or maybe I'm just lazy. I seem to have mastered the art of turning a day at home doing nothing, into something wonderful.

Then I remembered this coffee dessert I had seen a while back on Bbc's Good Cook. It was a simple espresso granita with cream. I love black coffee, and thinking of crushed ice coffee got me excited and looked up the recipe again.

First you need to make a glassful of espresso. Add three spoons of brown sugar. (less if you like bitter) Let the coffee cool down and meanwhile place a shallow steel vessel inside the freezer.

Once the coffee cools pour this into the vessel and pop it into the freezer again. Every 20 minutes, open the freezer and stir the mixture, so you get crystals of ice instead of a large chunk. The granita will be ready in an hour's time.

Scoop the crushed ice onto a martini glass, add a dollop of ice cream and pop it back into the freezer for a few minutes, till you get a nice chill glass, and then.... gobbled it up.

If you have made more, you can store the crushed coffee in a plastic box. I have saved some for Ram, who is not around but fortunately enjoying the cool weather in Bangalore. This will be a good treat when he gets back.

Jazz it with Zucchini

Zucchini may not be a fancy thing, looks bland and boring and not the top of mind ingredient when you're thinking of 'pizza'. But sometimes these humble vegetables surprise me the most.

A simple stir fry zucchini in olive oil with some salt and pepper, till it's nice and crunchy, is a tasty snack on its own. Fry some onions as well in the left over oil in the pan, till they caramelize a little, and layer these over a pizza base. (layer the base with some pasta sauce if you wish) Grate some fresh feta or mozzarella and a bit of Parmesan, and pop it into an oven for about 15- 20 minutes.

The stir fry zucchini can also be a yummy crisp garnish for your pasta. I tried it with an older recipe of pasta al limone- and it was lip smacking delish!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Poached pear salad with herb feta

It's soft, succulent, decadent... food for the gods, there is nothing tastier than pears poached in red wine. It's the perfect dessert with ice cream or as a light salad with greens.

For poached pear you need: 1 big plump pear, 2 cups of wine (white or red), 3 spoons of sugar (more if you want it sweeter), a pinch of cinnamon.

For the salad vinaigrette: 3 spoons of olive oil, half an onion finely chopped, 3 spoons of white wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Arugula lettuce and chopped walnuts for the salad.

Herb feta cheese: Soft feta cheese and assorted herbs- chopped parsley, thyme and rosemary

Peel the pear, cut it into halves. In a saucepan bring the wine and sugar to a light boil and immerse the pear in it. Add a pinch of cinnamon. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Keep stirring once in a while. The pear should neither be too firm, not too soft. Turn off the heat and allow the pear to cool in the liquid.

Meanwhile prepare the salad vinaigrette by whisking the chopped onions with olive oil and white wine vinegar. Add salt and pepper. Mix it with the lettuce and chopped walnuts.

Whisk the soft feta with the chopped herbs.

Assemble the salad by slicing the pear into thin slivers. Place the greens around, and garnish with dollops of herb-ed feta.

Mother's recipe- Baby onion Vatha Kozhambu

It has always been my childhood favorite- tangy and spicy! I am making it for the first time today, and it turned out to be pretty tasty.

You need: 6-7 baby onions, 1 spoon toor dal, 1 spoon chana dal, 3 tsps vegetable oil, 3 tsps sambar powder, 1 spoon asafoteda powder, a lemon size ball of dry tamarind.
2 spoons of mustard seeds, 1 spoon methi seed, 2-3 dry red chillis and a stalk of kadi pata for tempering,

First soak the tamarind in a medium size bowl of water and set aside.

In a pan, heat the oil and throw in the mustard seeds, methi seeds and kadi pata.
Wait for the mustard to pop. Add the dry red chili (broken in half)the dals, and the peeled small onions. Fry for about 4-5 minutes. Strain the tamarind andpour only the tamarind water to the pan. Add about half a cup of regular water.

Now add the sambhar powder and asafodeta, bit of salt and let it simmer for about 20 minutes. The mixture will become thick. The kozhambhu is ready to be served with steaming rice, papad and some potato raitha.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The best Cinnamon walnut bread pudding

Bread pudding is one of those comfort foods, that we all love to dig in on nice lazy weekends. This recipe is neither too rich or heavy and takes not more than fifteen minutes to make, with ingredients almost always available at home.

Pull out a portion of thick bread and cut it into small cubes. Take a handful of raisins and chopped walnuts. Toss all this into an oven friendly bowl.

A cup of milk and a cup of fresh cream. 3 tablespoons of honey. A few drops of vanilla essence. Bring them to a near-boil in a pan. Turn off the heat. Pour this into the bowl, just enough to cover the surface of the bread. Dust some cinnamon powder and brown sugar on top. If you prefer it sweeter, add more sugar.

Place the bowl in the oven pre-heated to 200 deg c for about 20 minutes. Let the bowl cool while you take in all the lovely cinnamon aroma, and drool over the lovely brown crunchy crust. And then... when you dig in it's sweet n sticky and gooey.