Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Deepavali/Diwali: A Dissection.

Deepavali/Diwali always meant long holidays, fireworks (crackers, really) going off all day and all night and a smorgasbord of sweets sent by neighbours.
Time passes. Diwali meant more prep time for exams, duties I'm required to cover, congested shopping areas with hordes of police-protection and crackers going off all day (bursting them between the hours of 10 PM and 6 AM has been banned. One of the rare useful laws the Government has passed)

However, there are some consistencies in Indian festivals. Things that don't have a shot in hell of ever changing. Read clash-y huge-budget releases (Vijay/Ajith, Vijay/Surya or Rajini/Yeah, right), marathons of sitcoms/"cine" programs on the TV, explosive rise in gold prices...

And yeah. Food and Family/Friends. Not in that order. Mostly.

While everybody wakes up at the crack of dawn for their oil-baths and the like, we sleep in. Wake up to the third cookie-hamper coming from one of Dad's friends. Lounge in front of the TV with a cup of black chai, getting my digestive enzymes ready for a true Tamil-style Deepavali feast.

C's mum's lunches are legendary... things you brave the rain and dangerous, Lakshmi-vedi-filled roads for. I learnt this when I overstayed one evening at their place, almost a decade back and was served piping hot rava kesari, bonda and filter coffee.

Meant to be consumed, sitting on the famous swing:

While being the butt of all jokes. Wait, that's just me.

This time, my little sister joins us for the first time, decked in her pattu-pavadai. She keeps me busy and worried enough... some how, I still get embarrassed. That stays consistent, too.

After catching up on the latest and sipping on preprandial juice, we wait for the last person to join us (with well-deserved guilt plastered all over their faces, anticipation over ours'). File into the dining room. And let the feasting begin.

Cautionary note: The photos, being taken on a stormy, grey day and by someone with zero photography-skills, will not do the food justice. But this practically applies to every post on the blog.
Puffy pooris!

Served with chana masala, bursting with plump chickpeas and fresh coriander in a fragrant tomato-onion gravy. Meant to be scooped up with little pieces of the pooris. Not to be eaten in handfuls, like you would with popcorn. Doesn't stop me.

Eid's tamilian counterpart. Brinji/Vegetable biryani with buttery croutons strewed on top.

Fluffy grains of rice, crunchy bits of vegetable are tossed with variety of heartening herbs and spices. Soul-food and sophistication on a plate.

Eaten with a little raita made with homemade curd/yogurt and crunchy onion. And medhu vada.

The logical, human thing to do is to overdose on the extremely-rare-to-come-across and excessively-delicious Tamil-veg food. Experience has taught me better. Always save space for Thayir semiya.

Doesn't look like The Piece de Resistance, does it now?

I'm eating the leftovers (which I unashamedly asked Aunty to pack for me to take home) even as I'm typing this post. It ranks up there, with Nutella, for me. How else can I describe it?
C's mum protests each time I rave over the Thayir Semiya... it's extremely simple and unworthy of high praise, she argues.

But you know what they say about the best gifts coming in brown-paper packages.

This time, the best gift is boiled vermicelli tossed with homemade yogurt, a little milk, salt and pomegranate, basically. It won't taste the same if I make it. I've accepted it, and it's a valid life choice.

Lunch finishes with the best part of the meal (I'm allowed to have up to 4 best parts, right?) That would be the

Dessert! Homemade maavu ladoo, adhirasam (holy yum!), coconut burfi and chocolate cupcakes. This is also the time when you collect your Diwali bounty from all those in attendance: homemade murukku, sweets, foreign-chocolate (notice the Ferroro Rocher!) and gifts to take back in neat little Ziploc bags and boxes.

Calories don't count. Calories don't exist. They're in your head. And in textbooks of Physics. Wear your fatpants. You can believe in them again tomorrow.

The evening ends with introducing my fearless sister to fireworks. Not ones that are products of child-labour. Not enough to pollute the environment and exacerbate an acute attack in any passing asthmatic. Just enough sparklers to match the ones in The Sister's eyes (who randomly declares "I'm so happy!")

So I've realized what Diwali/Deepavali actually means: Tamilian hospitality, good (albeit annoying) friends, great food and grey skies lit with laughter and light.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Homemade Pumpkin Puree. Toasted Masala Pepitas.

If you religiously follow FoodGawker and TasteSpotting, you would have realised one major fact. It's Fall!

Yes, Fall, of the autumn variety. Fall, in my opinion, is the best season, food-wise. Considering the mercury tends to dip a little during these months in Madras as well, indulge in all of the gorgeous apple and pumpkin recipes!

And if you've had enough Apple Crisp and Minestrone soup for a month, try something with pumpkin in it. Don't be dubious. I was. My Vegan Pumpkin bread was received with as much happiness as a batch of brownies, and that totally changed the way I looked at pumpkins.

They can be used for something other than haphazardly carved Jack-o'-Lanterns. Think soups, pastry, pies, curries and a host of other random deliciousness.

Almost all of the aforementioned recipes call for pumpkin puree. Warning: not even the snootiest of groceries at Madras stock these. In fact, they usually have no idea what you're talking of. Instead of harassing your America-based friends on Facebook for tins of Libby's Pumpkin puree... make your own.

Ask your kaigarikaar/sabziwala for Sugar pumpkins, the kind you use for making halwa. If you can track these down: yay, Step One cleared (yes, I'll save the enthusiasm for Step One of the USMLE variety). Let it ripen to the fullest. Cut it open, gut out the insides. Toast the seeds and flavour it with powders and potions of choice. Puree the gloriously-scented pumpkin flesh and use away!

Homemade Pumpkin Puree:


1 huge sugar pumpkin

Cut the pumpkin vertically into two halves. I'm tempted to say saggital section.

Scoop out the pumpkin seeds and innards, just like you would do for a papaya.

Cut into smaller sections, leaving the pumpkin peel/skin on.

You can see that I've packed a lot of the wedges in because my roasting tin was too small and I didn't want to bake twice. You totally shouldn't do that.

In a big roasting tray, arrange the wedges, cut-side down. Pour in a little water, so that the water level is about 2 cm.

Bake in a preheated oven (325 F or 180 C) for around a couple of hours. The pumpkin should be blistered on the outside.

Test one piece by digging in with a spoon. It should be soft with no resistance whatsoever.

Scoop out all of the flesh. When cool, blitz it in a mixie or use a hand blender to puree it.

Once pureed, pour the pumpkin into a bowl lined with muslin/cheesecloth or just use a huge-ass tea-sieve. Like you would for making hung yogurt. Let it filter for about an hour... plenty of pumpkin liquid would have steeped down.

Pour the pumpkin puree into a freezer-safe, airtight box and store in the freezer until you need it! Or you can just cling-film it and refrigerate if you're planning to use it in a couple of days.

Oh. P.S. Bonus recipe coming your way, since I post once in a long white.

Who wants to throw away those cute little pumpkin seeds that are bursting with nutrition and guilt-free nuttiness, right? Toast them and make a post-gym snack! Next best thing to them being dunked in dark chocolate and candy-coated, M&M style.

This is also something you can peck away at (my brother did call it bird-feed) while watching random episode of Criminal Minds/Rizzoli & Isles/Jersey Shore. Except that I don't watch Jersey Shore. Not every episode, first telecast and such like.

To change the topic very quickly, I give you:

Toasted masala pepitas:

Rinse the pumpkin seeds so that there are no pumpkin flesh/fibre sticking to it.

Dry them off with a kitchen towel or tissues. Except for scented-facial tissue. Don't ever do that.

Spread the dried pumpkin seeds on a baking tray lined with foil. Rub a small knob of butter onto the seeds.

Sprinkle over salt, red chilli powder/garam masala, garlic powder and tabasco sauce. Or use olive oil, italian seasoning, garlic powder and salt. Soy sauce, chilli powder, butter and tabasco. Whatever strikes your fancy. In various permutations and combinations.

Bake for 10-15 minutes at 350 F or 180 C in a preheated oven. Keep stirring it from time to time, so the pepitas don't burn. Pull them out, see if they're crispy. Cool. Munch away!

I'm so sorry I go Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Geek on you all the time. Give me my random moments? I'll give you true-and-tried recipes, with badly taken photos to boot.

Preferably ones that don't show my unmanicured hands (the dryness is because of living in smelly, powdery surgical gloves. Don't judge.)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Mash Grill House. Should or shouldn't I?

"It's Friday, Friday... Fun-fun-fun-fun."

I understand that it is no longer Friday, but it's still The Weekend, Weekend. Yes, I'm inching towards the big Two-Five and yet I'm up to date on YouTube sensations and Disney Darlings. Story of my life.

You should totally trust me on my info, though. E! News is automatically clocked on my TataSky. I've been known to run back from the library or the hospital just in time for my daily fix. Even keep an alarm so I can wake up at 4 in the morning to watch Giuliana (who seems to get skinnier by the day, if such a thing could be metabolically possible) scoop out the Goss.

God, I'm totally not proud of anything I've said until now.

What I'm proud of is my knowledge of food. So I won't know if Satvic food can ever allow for legal Umami flavours, or the exact fermentation process of fromage bleu, but I do know where to get a good cheesecake and how to make kick-ass Overnight Oats.

This post is for the gourmands and the Lazies. For the fully loaded and those who've got their salary a little early. You deserve it.

Last week, W and I cruising around Khader Nawaz Khan road in search of lunch at 4 PM. If we're starving at around the time, we usually hit Sparkys for deficiencies in the availability of actual food at the time. However, we thought we should save Sparkys for another occasion (one that justifies the taco salad and the wedges) and give another place a shot.

Our quest came to an end at Mash GrillHouse. It's easy enough to find... and nothing like the Mash of yore, the one on Besant Nagar Beach. The differences start with the prices.
Two tiny blips:
1)A steak plate is priced at 450-ish. Not something you'd be willing to shell out for an impromptu mid-day meal.

2)They serve pork, something that is an ABSOLUTE contra-indication, but they offered a tour of the place to show that they used completely separate grills and spaces. The waiter also informed us that the rest of the meat comes in from Bismillah Meat Mart (and hence, 100% halal) and many of the patrons were muslims.

The place was clean and pleasant enough. Nothing exceptionally luxe, but minimalistic interiors, well-lit dining room overlooking the pristine roads-and-trees of the posh neighbourhood and glorious silence.

But mostly, hunger won out, and we stayed on.

Hunger also dictated the stuff we ordered. Safe things that are hard to screw up, with enough starch and spice to satiate the two important nuances of our collective appetites. W asked for a medium to well done steak, with the sauce that the waiter recommended. I don't remember the name, but it had mushrooms in it and was apparently the speciality.

I asked for the Jalapeno Chicken grilled plate, priced at 350-ish. I was forewarned that it was the Mexican cousin of our beloved orange chilli chicken (in not so many words), but the promise of chicken chunks in a spicy sauce sounded enticing to my food-deprived brain, so I went ahead with it anyway.

So we waited for quite a bit (which I do not blame them for, we went at totally crap timings when the kitchen wasn't even functioning and save us, there were no other diners)... during which W was mostly fantasising about his mum's Friday biryani and me over the Sub of the Day at the Subway next door.

All this changed when the food made its grand entry.

The steak (you can ask for a sizzler plate or not) came with the usual suspects; steamed veg, sublime mashed potatoes, a scoop of Mexican rice and a side of polenta fries and gravy.

It's hard for me to be objective here. I was hungry, so it'll obviously taste good. But it was expensive, which automatically reduces the taste for me. I'll try, though.

It tasted like things that dreams are made of.  Crisp, sizzling meat that was fork-tender and doused in a peppercorn-ish sauce. Mashed potatoes that were wonderfully creamy without being greasy and nausea-inducing (95% of the time, I get disappointed). Objective enough?

We asked for an accompaniment of Steak fries. Potato wedges that had a cornmeal coating to them. Loved the textures, but was a teensy bit oilier than the baked wedges I'm in love with.

The Jalapeno chicken was, yes, like your neighbourhood chilli chicken. I polished it off with gusto, though.

It reminded me of Wangs Kitchen in the '90s with a little Tex-Mex ketchup-style sauce thrown in (Mex-Indo-Chinese?) The chicken was juicy, bountiful and studded with bits of spicy jalapenos. Would I order it again? I'm not sure. It was Chilli chicken/chicken manchurian/General Tsao's chicken... nothing that qualifies for semi-fine dining prices. It was definitely yummy in a street food way, though. And the accompaniments were good.

We decided to give desserts a miss since I felt like ice cream. Mocha Temptation at Cream and Fudge factory to be precise. If you head there, don't order the fruit flavours (such as Mango) but try sticking to chocolate-peanut butter-coffee-esque flavours. You heard it here first.

The staff were extremely helpful (without being overtly helpful) and courteous, as was the chef (who gave away the secret for the mashed potatoes!). They made sure we had a fantastic lunner (lunch+dinner, duh) so a shoutout is in order.

OK. Last of the ridiculous questions I pose and answer myself for the day. Would we go back? If it's for an actual dinner, replete with dessert and mocktails, on an occasion that justifies the expenditure of cash and consumption of calories, then: heck, yes.

P.S. If the photos are good, it's because I didn't take them. The W did.