Saturday, September 24, 2011

Iyer n'chef wannabe meets an Iron chef (in real life!)

Some days, you wake up to the regular routines & chores in life (& beating ones head over the kitchen table about this weeks food  inspiration) without a clue how the day will turn out..  & 12 hrs later you're clueless about how delightfully surprising the day turned out to be (and you're back to smacking your head about which one of the myriad inspirations you want to tackle first!)
Tuesday Sept. 20, Took off impulsively to  Bobby Flay's book signing event at Williams Sonoma in Short Hills NJ. These book signings in general, require a lot of pre planning:  pre-ordering the book via phone, getting there 3 hours in advance & wait in a long serpentine queue. This time I struck it lucky, it definitely was well worth it. The scrumptious samples, highlighting recipes from the book, that the store prepares fresh & brings around.. ah well, scroll thru the pics & see for yourself before I hit you with this weeks recipe, adapted from Bobby Flay's new book The Bar Americain Cookbook.

Hot potato chips with blue cheese sauce
Pumpkin Soup with cranberry-maple creme fraiche and toasted pumpkin seeds
Deep dish chocolate cream pie
& the water that they  kept serving everyone frequently, very thoughtful!
 Unlike Ina Gartens book which I've yet to open & even look through (maybe it had something to do with the impersonal signing session, (no personalization, no 30 second 'one on one' with the customer ) of the author, this is a book I've browsed through at least thrice, in as many days, and there is PLENTY of inspiration for an ovo-lacto vegetarian like moi!, & despite the high end, and possibly intimidating reputation of a revered dining establishment such as Bar Americain, the recipes are quite feasible for the average home cook. I guess the elegance lies in its simplicity! The photographs by Ben Fink are a feast for the eyes!

I had a tough time deciding on which recipe to pick on to 'Panfusine' with a basic level of respectability and the final choice was based on whatever I had on hand at home. It had to have chili peppers of course, in a nod to Bobby Flay's celebration of this spice. A 'to die for' recipe for Black pepper buttermilk biscuits, with a generous dollop of traditional South Indian Tomato chutney. The recipe for the tomato relish can be found here. I had to halve the recipe, since there is no way I would let such a large amount go to waste (guess where it would go?.. yep, the waist! )

Tomato Buttermilk Biscuits (Adapted from Bobby Flay's Bar Americain cookbook)


2 cups All purpose flour (maida) plus extra for flouring
1/2 tablespoon + 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter (cut into cubes & chilled) + 2 tablespoons melted for brushing over the biscuits
1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons chilled buttermilk
Heavy cream for brushing
1/2 cup Tomato relish with smoked jalapeno and arbol chile

Preheat the oven to 450 F and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda & baking powder  and sift to combine. Add the chilled cubes of butter & rub into the flour or cut using a pastry cutter, till the mixture  resembles coarse bread crumbs.

Combine the 1/2 cup of butter milk and the relish & mix well together to get a runny paste like consistency.

Add the tomato buttermilk mixture to the flour and mix enough to get all the ingredients to just come together. (if the mix is too dry, add the remaining buttermilk 1/2 tablespoon at a time)

The white blobs?? Thats butter baby!

Remove the dough onto a floured surface, using your hands pat the dough into a sheet about 3/4 of an inch thick. Using a 2 inch diameter cookie cutter, cut circles into the dough and place these on the baking sheet. Re form the remaining dough into a smaller sheet and repeat once more. ( the remaining scraps, just shape it up into the last misshapen piece & add it to any remaining space on the baking sheet, it tastes just as good!).

Brush the tops of the biscuits with the heavy cream.

slide into the oven to bake for about 12-15 minutes till the top is a nice golden brown (accommodating for the  color of the tomatoes of course).

Brush with the melted butter and remove onto a wire rack to cool.

Serve warm with a pat of butter! (it tastes great even without any extra stuff on it!)

Bon appetit!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sugar n' spice & everything nice..

The Shiva Temple in the village of Kalakkad

Note to self: repeat Note to self:   When traveling within Rural India, Its waaay better to drive than take the train!!

This is what happens when you base yourself in the US of A & miss out on whats been happening back in the home country. They have great national highways that get you from point A to point B in great time with decent enough gas station rest rooms en route. Still accustomed to the old ways of traveling by train, we went on to book tickets on the Nellai express (yeah yeah AC 1 the highest class possible on the train, still). Kids loved it, didn't mind the griminess too much and the berths made for a great monkey bar substitute to climb up and down. but its hard for grown ups to get reused to something one has merrily gotten unused to!

So here we were on a hot & dry late August morning , at Tirunelveli Junction picked up by a pre-arranged car (an air conditioned Toyota SUV)  & driver, extremely friendly & knowledgeable about the region. Incidentally the name 'Tirunelveli' is transalated from the native Tamil (or Tamizh to those preferring the pure phonetic pronunciation) as 'sacred paddy field fence' (HAD to be a food reference right??). The original settlements probably date back to 1500 BCE, judging from the references to the town in sacred texts and bronze age excavations of burial sites in the area.
 Not many realize that South India has a treasure trove of architectural beauty in its many temples most of which date back to the 8th Century BCE.. These monuments were largely spared the terrible destruction wrecked upon North Indian monuments by the plundering Moslem invaders that ravaged the northern half of the subcontinent during the 12th century & onward. In the span of 2 days, it was a treat to retreat back in time walking through three beautiful temples. The 'Nellaiappar' Temple in Tirunelveli town, the Krishnapuram temple nearby, and the Shiva Temple in the village of  Kalakkad,  known for its tiger reserve and is one of the habitats for the endangered lion tailed macaque.  Photography is not permitted with in the temple premises, so just took in the beauty & imprinted it onto the neural memory card. The sculptures in these temples is a must see for those interested in ancient architecture. Intricate stone pillars that resonate musical notes when struck.. Just pressing your ear to the granite & get transported to a state of enthrallment  that just can't be had in a science museum...

The trip was a treasure trove in terms of the local food. In addition to rice,one of the main produce in this town is toddy palm & related sweetening products, (YES,  this is the same tree that produces palm wine & hooch! and NO, I did not imbibe any.) and a whole bunch of spices at the resort town of Courtallam.

Toddy palm root: Yep. this is edible and actually quite tasty. the texture of Jicama & flavor of fresh sugar cane, minus the sweetness. The vendor slices it thin & serves it with a sprinkle of Sugar & lime.

Toddy Palm fruit: Jello growing on a tree!

and this candy with the palm frond wrapper woven around. Its called 'Chill Karupatti', ( literally translated as karupatti  bits) The palm nectar is boiled down to a thick syrup & combined with fresh ginger extract and then set in these pyramid shaped molds. You have to carefully unweave the strips to get to the good stuff!

Palm sugar is used as a remedy for cough, just suck on a piece of this to calm down an irritated throat & ask the Ricola & Halls to take a hike. It really works & its 100% natural!

Inji morabba (cubes)  & chill karupatti (pyramid)

 For those with a tolerance for spicier stuff, there is the 'Inji morabba' or ginger candy, made simply with Ginger extract (with teensy pieces of ginger fiber inside!) & sugar. Spicy as anything, it makes for a great substitute as a sugar cube in a cup of coffee!

Speaking of spice, say hello to this fruit..

Any guesses? here's a hint:

Add caption
Yep, Nutmeg: The raw fruit is the size of a large plum, texture & tartness of raw mango with that unique nutmeg aroma permeating the entire flesh. It was simply a delight to see large quantities of this spice casually being laid out to dry in the sun. The taste of fresh mace is unforgettable.

The fruit can be cut up and made into a relish with mustard & chilli powder.

 To make this spicy relish you need

 2 raw nutmeg fruits (seed & mace removed)
1 cup diced raw green mango
1/2 a whole nutmeg powdered

other ingredients:
1 tsp Red Cayenne pepper powder,
Salt to taste (~ 1 -1.5 tsp)
1 tablespoon fresh crushed mustard seeds.
2 tablespoons Sesame oil.
 Combine the diced nutmeg (or mango & nutmeg powder), the Cayenne, Salt & crushed mustard seeds & toss to combine. Heat the sesame oil till smoking hot and pour over the seasoned fruit. Mix well and allow to rest for 2-3 hours so that the flavors may combine. Serve with South Indian Yogurt rice.

Spicy (check) .... & here is a sweet Panfusine recipe to complete this post.

Rice crepes stuffed with spiced poached pears (stuffed aapams) 

For the poached pears, you need.

  • 3 anjou or concord pears
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 4 cardamom pods (intact seeds only)
  • 1/2 cup water


  1. Peel the pears & remove the stringy central core & the seeds. Quarter & then slice into 1/4 inch thick pieces.
  2. In a saucepan, combine the brown sugar, water, star anise & cardamom seeds & heat to dissolve the sugar. When the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture has reached a boil, Add the pears, lower the heat to a simmer & gently cook the pears till soft but not mushy. set aside to cool. 

Aapam crepes

  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 1/3 - 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • stick of cold butter to grease the pan
  • 2 cups water 


  • Wash & soak the Basmati rice in adequate quantity of warm water for about 3 hrs till its softened.
  • Transfer the soaked basmati with as little water as possible to a blender jar & grind completely into a very smooth (& extremely thick) paste (it'll have the consistency of wet concrete). Add a cup of water to dilute the paste & give it a whirl in the blender to dislodge the thick rice paste. Transfer the batter into a container. lightly scraping out the sides of the jar.
  • Add the second cup of water to the blender jar & completely wash out the remaining rice sticking to the sides, lid & blades of the jar. Transfer this liquid to a separate container & SAVE.
  • Transfer this washed out rice liquid to a saucepan and bring to a boil. The liquid will take on a syrupy appearance, due to the starch swelling up (similar to what happens when you cook oats). Remove from the stove & strain this liquid into the batter. Stir to eliminate lumps. The consistency should be like that of crepe batter. (should have a yield of about 3 cups (~ 24 oz) of batter.
  • Add the confectioners sugar (adjust to your personal level of sweetness), baking powder & the lemon zest and stir in.

  • Heat a 6 inch nonstick skillet over the gas.
  • Rub the melted butter over the surface of the skillet to season it. Wipe uniformly over the hot surface using a paper towel.
  • Using a (1 oz) coffee scoop spoon, pour 2 scoops of the batter ( stir the batter well before using each time, the rice tends to sink to the bottom) into the skillet. Using the wrist, swirl the batter around the base & the sides of the skillet to coat evenly. 

  • Cover & cook over a medium heat for about 1-2 minutes till the edges begin to brown & leave the surface of the skillet & the batter in the center of the pan has set into a 'pillow'. Gently dislodge the crepe from the sides of the skillet & slide it onto a serving plate.

  • Spoon the poached pears onto the center of the crepe, Drizzle with extra poaching liquid if desired. Fold over & serve warm.
 Repeat with the remaining batter, makes 12 servings.

Bon appetit!


Sunday, September 4, 2011

'Paan' Shots at the Punjab Grill: Review of Jiggs Kalra's new restaurant

Yea Yea... like many other blogs, I too should be writing a post on Ganesh chaturthi, being in India while this festival is on in full swing, especially since i have a LOT of cute photographs of the 'modak' making process AND numerous varieties of the delightful snacks. Trust me to take off in a different direction! but then writing a blog is all about what excites you, isn't it?

Stumbled upon Punjab grill through my aunt's recommendation, returning from Bannerghatta National Park  (Not much by way of natural wildlife, but they run a respectable conservation effort to preserve tigers, Asiatic lions & sloth bears)

To Indian readers, J. Inder Singh Kalra (better known as 'Jiggs' Kalra) needs no introduction. A journalist by profession and former food columnist at the Times of India, He's been involved with food in the Indian media, the same way Mark Bittmann has been doing so through the NY times (except that Jiggs Kalra precedes Bittman by about 20 years or so!). I shall refrain from expressly using cliched terms like  'Czar' to describe the gentleman although I absolutely concur that he is worthy of such labels. Here is a link to an interview with the man himself

Punjab Grill is a chain of restaurants run by Mr. Zohrawar Kalra, (Mr Jiggs Kalra's son), inspired by the cuisine of the Punjab. Making its debut on 19th August 2011, the Bangalore branch is the first of the chain to opens its doors in a southern Indian state.

The decor within is elegant & classy, in earthy shades interspersed with bold splashes of black & red.

The staff is well trained, courteous & extremely helpful. We trooped in there without a reservation, three adults with a hyperactive 2 year old. Initially seated in the lounge area, they quickly set up a table complete with a high chair.

 Ordered Shikanjvi (Indian style sweet n' salty lemonade), Ambi Panna (Raw mango cooler) and Matta (fresh churned punjabi style buttermilk), can't really decide a single winner, they were all equally excellent. The street food style Shikanjvi, made from ripe limes ( referred to as lemon in India) had the perfect blend of tart & sweet and the sprinkling of masala (with cumin, black salt & pepper).  The Ambi Panna had an aroma of sun dried mango combined with the lively freshness of mint and an effervescent green color. An instant pick me up. As with most traditional Indian beverages, it is seasoned with a touch of  salt, pepper and cumin.

Green Mango Cooler (Ambi Panna)

Fresh churned Punjabi style buttermilk (Mattha)

Sweet & Salty street style limeade (Shikhanjvi)

The beverages were paired with complementary papad, chutney & the usual bowl of spiced & sliced  onion with wedges of lime

The range of dishes in the appetizer may  be what gives the restaurant the the grill in its name. Most of them are tandoor offerings, and  something to be noticed is the significant number of dishes with morel mushrooms. I forgot to ask where they get the supplies from of this treasured ingredient!

Skipped the appetizers and moved on directly to the main course. We ordered Amritsari Malai kofta, Malerkotlae di achaari aloo and the Punjab grill house  daal paired with roomali & tandoori bread.
Amritsari Malai Kofta (garnished with more nuts!)
The highlight of the dishes ordered was definitely the Malai Kofta. This has been the most decandent Punjabi dish I've probably ever had. The fried dumplings (kofta) consists of blanched & ground almonds combined with finely (almost ricotta consistency) crumbled paneer and khoya (Milk solids, obtained by evaporating all the water from full fat milk). The gravy ... you guessed it, more creamy goodness - Cashew based, the dominant (almost singular) spice used here is cardamom. In fact the first thought that came to mind..I could freeze this  & eat it up as a savory ice cream. An absolutely MUST TRY dish!

The house daal is a regal version of the classic punjabi daal with lentils & whole urad dal. Seasoned with onion garlic and tomatoes and slow cooked and simmered for a long time, it still retains the texture of whole cooked lentils that give it a wonderful mouth feel. finished with generous amounts of cream it is comfort food at its best when paired with tandoori roti and cumin flavored rice.

Daal Punjabi grill

The achaari aloo consists of baby potatoes cooked in a tomato gravy seasoned with fennel and bishops weed (ajwain). Spicier in terms of heat than the other selections, the well cooked tomato dominates in the flavor profile. The potatoes tended to be sidelined, It perhaps needed a bit of smoky grilling prior to being added to the gravy, to embolden their presence. A tasty dish nevertheless.
Malerkothlae di achaari aloo
Succumbed to indulging in Kulfi falooda for dessert. Unlike any other ice cream the decadent confection is almost thickened paste of sweetened cream, saffron and nuts frozen to obtain a shape.Served with chilled cornflour noodles (which had an oh-so familiar aroma that i can't quite place except that i think it had rose) over a betel leaf, Its a perfect ending to a wonderful feast.

Kulfi Falooda
Or so I thought. the ultimate cherry on the icing over the decadent cake of a feast was the Paan shots served up as we asked for the check. A freshly blended concoction of coconut, supari (a mouth freshner) and betel leaf (The leaf from the vine from a member of the pepper family). MADE THE DAY!! If nothing, go visit the place & have a meal simply to savor this novel shot!

Punjab Grill is located in Bangalore at SJR primus, ground floor, Koramangala, 7th block, Bangalore 560095
Tel +91-80-40902161/62.. Reservations recommended..


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