Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Indiblogger meet at Junoon, NYC

The Date: Sunday Sept 16
The Venue: Junoon , New York City

First things first.. For those of you who are wondering who or what on earth Indiblogger is, its the biggest blogger network for Indian bloggers from across the globe. They've been up and running for the past four years and in that period have done wonders in bringing together bloggers from all walks of life. Discussions span relevant topics of common interest to bloggers, including that all pervasive scourge that hangs over all of us, the threat of plagiarism. (they exposed one such scumbag and its amusing to read the thread of comments including those from the shamelessly unapologetic culprit).

Back to the event. It was a varied group of bloggers, with graduate students, a lawyer, a photographer,
a couple of graduates from the Culinary Institute of America (the other CIA), All of us with one thing in common, we all blog, about life, food, arts & craft.

Junoon  is a Michelin star rated Indian restaurant in the heart of New York City. Founded by Rajesh Bharadwaj with the culinary operations spearheaded by Executive Chef Vikas Khanna and Chef de cuisine Walter Rozario, It is unarguably one of the finest dining establishments for elegant, high-end Indian food.

View of the entrance with the 'trees of life' aligned in the foreground

Chef Vikas Khanna needs no introduction to the Indian diaspora. One of the most recognized celebrity chefs in India, he's been a judge in the Indian version of 'Master Chef' as well as other culinary shows such as 'Throwdown with Bobby Flay' and 'Hells Kitchen' with Gordon Ramsay.

A native of Amritsar,Chef Khanna embodied the essence of the well known Punjabi hospitality. Warm and easy going, he welcomed us graciously to his establishment. (although we must have  looked more like a bunch of students from IIT - Bombay -- I'm taking the liberty of quoting my alma mater here -- wearing our Sunday best, rather than the well dressed Wall Street and Park avenue clientele that the restaurant is accustomed to).

The Indiblogger team headed by Anoop ('the Zombie') Johnson and Diana did a fabulous job of arranging the details down to the fingertips. There was a small meet and greet/registration session set up in the elegant bar area of the restaurant (inspired by decor in  a hotel of the Taj Chain that Chef Khanna was associated with, early in his career), followed by appetizers in the private dining area set up exclusively for the group. Of course, the food ..

The Menu

Murg Tikka Mirza Hansru. -- Didn't ask what the name meant, just know that it was chicken.

Lahsooni Gobhi

Lahsooni Gobhi - Crisp fried cauliflower florets in a garlicky tomato sauce.

Paneer Pakora

And my personal favorite,  Paneer Pakora, delicately spiced paneer,  in a chickpea batter fried to golden perfection. Served with a chilled Chenin blanc. The Paneer is made from scratch daily at the restaurant and is spiced specifically for the dish. More on that later!

As the wine goblets were being filled and the appetizers set on the table, Anoop introduced us to a first hand view of what Indiblogger was and their passionate mission to bring together bloggers not just in India, but Indian bloggers from all over the world. Their enthusiasm was contagious. Just as he signed off, in walks Chef Khanna in person. He led us through a personal guided tour of the restaurant, explaining each and every detail that went into its planning, creation and execution,  from the decor to the desserts. 

The tour of the spice room

This was followed by a trip to the temperature controlled 'Spice room', an olfactory feast with the chef personally sharing his spice wisdom with a bunch of us foodie rookies, in such a down to earth manner. The prevailing atmosphere was similar to a pre-wedding saree/ trousseau viewing session with family! And about family & loved ones it was, Chef Khanna speaking fondly of his grandma 'Biji' and how she was THE  inspiration for his choice of career.
 It was back to the table where a divine spread was laid out paired with a perfect wine selection of Malbec.

Nadru Kofte

Nadru Kofte: Delicate dumplings  of Kashmiri lotus root and Fresh paneer , shaped into quenelles and cooked in a fennel and fenugreek spiced sauce,  with an exquisite garnish of a fried lotus root wafer.

The all time comfort food, Daal Makhani

and a Meat entree Murg Lababdar (which of course I skipped, being a vegetarian) served up in the most gorgeous Mauviel cookware, (Hey I can still drool at the pots and pans, can't I?)

All served up with a selection of Naan & Rice and Mint Raita.

There was a little culinary quiz which served as a palate cleansing course as much as it was an experiment in neuroscience (there I go again, You can take me out of neuroscience, but you can never take the neuroscience outta me..It adds a captivating dimension to my foodie passions). We were served tasting potions of a soup and asked to identify the ingredients and write them down without consulting each other.

It was exactly like that proverbial fable about four blind men trying to identify an elephant after touching different parts of the animal. Chef Khanna must have had a rip roaring time reading our lists, but the take home message was that once your memory systems latch on to a familiar dish, it ceases to think beyond the ingredients that are already imprinted in your memory. To me the soup reminded me of a 'kootu' that my mom made with Suran (Elephant's foot yam).

Dessert was a beautifully plated dish of Mango and 'Paan' flavored kulfi duo. Beautifully set into perfect cubes and frozen to perfection in a blast chiller.

And remember that awesome Paneer Pakora I was talking about??..

More of that in my next blog post with a review of Vikas Khanna's latest cookbook, 'Flavors First'

& needless to say, this was an experience I'll treasure for years to come! Thank you Indiblogger & Junoon for the beautiful memories!

Thats ME with a Cheshire cat like grin standing with the Chef. (the spotless Junoon Kitchen in the background)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi with 'Madhu Golakas' (Modak)'

Ganesha, the Lord of auspicious beginnings is indubitably the most cheerful god in the Hindu Pantheon.Short, rotund and pot-bellied with an elephants head, he is regarded as the governing deity of intellect and wisdom. Hindus the world over celebrate his 'birthday' . I'm incapable of explaining the details of the significance of this delightful god, so I'm just going to direct you to this link from Dr. Devdutt Pattanaiks website.

Ganesha is depicted as holding a bowl of 'modaks' in his left hand. These sweet confections resemble little bags of money. These modaks are basically a sweet filling with either a fried wrapping made out of wheat flour or a steamed variety with a covering made of rice flour dough. The word modak is thought to be a corruption of the Sanskrit Madhu golaka (Madhu- sweet/ honey; golaka: sphere / ball).

Getting ready to make the steamed version always induced a low level anxiety in my mother every year. She used to say that the lord's mood determined if the modaks (or kozhakattai, as they are known in Tamil) would emerge perfectly steamed or turned out to be a disintegrated mess. The solution: always make a tiny 'Ganesha' by pinching a bit of dough between the thumb, index and middle finger.

The toughest part of making the modak is getting the rice flour dough right. too much water and the dough does not wrap itself well around the filling, too little and the skin cracks up while steaming.
The modaks invariably are made in odd numbers, usually 11, 21 and usually the amount of rice flour made far exceeds the amount of filling. The remaining dough is then seasoned with  mustard, asafetida, chile and curry leaf. The mix is 'pinched' off into tiny bits and then steamed to make what are known as 'ammini' or 'mani' kozhakattai. These tiny morsels are highly addictive, don't know why, they just are!

Modaks (Sweet & Savory)

Sweet Coconut and almond filling:

You need:
3/4 cup fresh frozen grated coconut, thawed
1/4 cup sliced almonds, crushed roughly
1/2 cup crumbled Jaggery (Gud / Panela)
1 teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds
1/4 cup water

Combine the water and the crushed jaggery in a glass bowl and microwave for one minute till the jaggery dissolves. Transfer into a skillet along with the coconut and almonds. Cook down until the moisture evaporates, but before the sugar hardens. Stir in the cardamom and remove from heat. Set aside to cool. Roll into small 1/2 inch spheres.

Savory Urad Dal filling

1/2 cup dehusked split urad dal
2 red arbol chilies
a pinch of asafetida
salt to taste,
5-6 torn curry leaves
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

Soak the Urad dal for an hour in hot water. Drain the water, combine the dal with the chile, asafetida, salt and curry leaves. Grind into a semi-smooth batter . Heat oil in a non stick skillet, add the mustard seeds. when they sputter, add the urad dal batter and over low heat, stir the mixture until the moisture evaporates and the dal resembles large crumbs. remove from heat and allow to cool. shape into oblongs about an inch long.

Rice flour dough for the covering:

1 1/2 cups rice flour
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup milk (substitute with water or Almond milk for a vegan version)
pinch of salt.

Sift the rice flour with the salt into a large & deep mixing bowl. mixing the dough by hand is excruciatingly painful, not to mention the very high possibility of obtaining a lumpy ball of dough that is terrible to shape. I found this fool proof technique to eliminate lumps and the occasional dislocated shoulder. *Drumrolls*. A Kitchenaid Hand mixer.. , yes the kind you use to whip eggs for a cake  (except this operation uses the dough hooks).
Fit a hand mixer with the dough hook attachment. With the mixer set at a low speed, slowly add 1 cup of the boiling water into the rice flour mixing it simultaneously. Add the milk gradually. The mix should now come together into a pliable ball of dough. If its still crumbly, add the remaining water teaspoon by teaspoon with the mixer running until it comes together.

To assemble the modaks, grease your fingertips and your left palm liberally with oil. Pinch off a dollop of dough, roll into a sphere and gently  rub the dough with the oiled fingertips into forming  a thin 2 inch circle. place the filling in the center of the flattened dough, and gently fold the edges of the rice flour 'skin' to completely cover the filling. pinch the top of the modak to form a peak. remove any extra bits and mix with the remaining dough. Set aside and repeat until the filling is finished. For the urad dal fillings the dough is wrapped over the filling to obtain a semicircular shape. Pinch the circumference of the semicircle to seal.


 Heat about an 1/2 inch of water in a large pan (wide enough to fit a steamer).  Gently place the modaks on the steamer and steam them for 15 minutes.

Sweet modaks

Savory Modaks (yes, this one looked like a little white rhino!)

Remove from the steamer onto a plate, allow to cool slightly before tucking in.

Ammini (Mani) Kozhakattai:

Heat a tablespoon of oil, add a teaspoon of mustard seeds (allow to sputter), salt and your choice of seasonings ad add them into any remaing dough. Fold in to combine. pinch of teeny bits with your fingers and gently place them on the steaming tray. Steam for 10 minutes until the dough 'firms up'.

Bon appetit! Here's wishing everyone auspicious & lucky new beginnings in whatever you're planning to do!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

My own little Tomatina fest..

Last year at this time, I  bought (and fell head over heels in love with the idea of) a bushel of tomatoes (in two batches of about 25 lbs each). At this time of the year , my local farm sells these gorgeous plum tomatoes by the bushel,

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Memories of School and Canteen food (the St. Anthony's Sandwich Chutney)!

September 5th.. every year..
The day is celebrated as Teacher's Day in India where I grew up and went to school. The day, we girls  (My Alma Mater, St. Anthony's Girls High School in Chembur, a suburb of Mumbai,  was an all girls convent run by the sisters of St. Joseph's Convent) would trip over ourselves to give our class teachers bouquets of flowers that we'd all bought from the lone florist 'Bhaiyya' who had a little set up of planks set up over the storm drain outside the compound walls of Saroj Hotel in Chembur Market. I vaguely remember he had 2 selections, a 5 rs. and a 10 Rs. A watchful eye ensured that the two rose buds in the bouquet were fresh and the there was a respectable amount of asters and chrysanthemums. And the cheaper goldenrods were kept to an optimum low!


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