Monday, December 29, 2014

Cooking in December

A lot of new cooking was done in December. This was almost entirely due to the unbridled enthusiasm of the youngest Miss Stonethrower.

The first thing that she wanted was a Croquembouche. If you have watched Masterchef you would know what it is. This is a classic French dessert served at First Communions, Baptisms and weddings. A Croquembouche is conical and is made with either Choux Pastry buns or with Macrons which are stuck together with caramel. Choux Buns can be filled with a variety of flavored creams – chocolate and orange – being more popular.

At the center of the Croquembouche is a cone. I did not have one that could be used, so using old school card paper folded 4 times to get some strength and stability we made a cone. This we covered with aluminum foil which we oiled so that the caramel and Choux Buns would not stick. The filling was to be chocolate cream.

The Choux paste was made, the Buns piped out, egg washed and baked. This is where we had a technical problem. Unfortunately, the Choux Buns were not dry enough from the inside, so when they cooled, some of them deflated and fused. This caused a problem as the Chocolate Cream could not be piped into the Choux Bun as it had stuck together. Once the Choux Buns were baked and filled with the Chocolate Cream it was a simple assembly job of dipping the Choux Bun in Caramel and building up the cone.

I must say that for a first attempt the Croquembouche turned out well. It was a success, though not without its faults. All in all, we were pleased.

Macrons are a favorite dessert. The plan was to make plain Macrons i.e. without any flavor, but colored green. Yellow Lemon Cream would be sandwiched between two Macrons. Frankly Macrons are slightly trickier to make than Choux Buns. You need precise measurements for the weight of the ingredients, you need a thermometer to get sugar to exactly 118C and you need a stand mixer to make the meringue. To make the Lemon Cream you need to have a thermometer to ensure that you do not have scrambled eggs.

Macrons ideally, are best when made during the Mumbai `winter’. The humidity is lower so the Macrons remain in better shape and do not get soggy. This was the third attempt at Macrons. It was a grand success. The Macrons looked really good and tasted better.

Miss Stonethrower had eaten a Bacon Butty some months ago. She wanted to make them for lunch. According to her, a Bacon Butty has bacon [obviously] sandwiched between two slices of bread with Hollandaise Sauce and French Fries. This was a true heart attack on a plate. A true Bacon Butty has only Bacon between two slices of bread and is often eaten with HP Sauce. Anyway, we were game to make this extra rich version of Bacon Butty.

HRH the Queen of Kutch decided, after having been influenced by the meal we had at Borkonyha Wine Kitchen Budapest, to make a Squid Ink and Pistachio bread. So this was made. It looked really eerie, like a mutated monster. Black bread with lurid bright green Pistachio bits. Tasted great, looked scary.

For the meat in the sandwich we had two types of bacon; regular and so called `fatless’. This I put into a large frying pan with some water to render the fat. To this I added some sliced pork sausage and fried the whole lot in the rendered fat. In the interest of health the remaining fat was poured out.

We took a 500 gram pack of Amul Butter and set about clarifying it. Hollandaise and its sister sauce Béarnaise require clarified butter. A double boiler was set up and we stared making the Hollandaise. Hollandaise is a very trick and temperamental sauce. It splits. To quote Anthony Bourdain from his book `Le Halles Cookbook’ – “Know this. If you haven’t made Béarnaise from scratch before, you will surely fuck this sauce up. Don’t worry. Just do it again. This and Hollandaise, more than any other sauces, seem to smell fear and uncertainty.”

With this I started whisking the eggs. I added the now clarified butter drop by drop and kept whisking. With 3 eggs I was to use a lot of butter, but the words of Anthony Bourdain were ringing louder and louder with each addition of butter. I chickened out and stopped adding any more butter. The seasoning was adjusted and the sauce poured on top of the bacon. The Hollandaise was fine, really tasty; however, it was not light and airy. I think while I may have stopped it from splitting I had not added enough butter. But the sauce will be tried again. I have the remaining clarified butter resting in a plastic container in the fridge.

I survived the sandwich. I am staying far away from my cardiologist.

It’s been an exciting December.  

Monday, December 22, 2014

Ham - how to cook it at home.

December is a festive month. It is the time for eating and drinking and generally having a whale of a time. The weather is nice, people are happy and smiling, NRI’s are in town, restaurants are full; there are fairy lights all around. It is a good time to be in Mumbai.

For many years we cooked a ham at Christmas time. We had ham loving people over for dinner and what was left over was given to friends. Then, in 2009 we had to give our yearly ham party a miss as we were in the midst of shifting to our new home. For some reason, in December 2010 and for the next 3 years there was no ham made. This year we had to do it. December 20th 2014 was the dinner party with Ham as the centerpiece.

The first step to cooking a ham is buying a smoked uncooked ham. The Bombay Gymkhana and the Yacht Club cook and sell you ham. But getting an uncooked one is slightly trickier. In the very old days, when I was a hot shot lawyer travelling to Delhi, I used to get a ham from Pigpo a very famous Pork Shop at Jor Bagh in Delhi. They knew me as the `Bombay Ka Vakil’. I used to call them from Bombay, order the ham collect it on my way to Delhi Airport and pack it in my Pilots case. It fit perfectly. Then, for many years we got our hams from Anup Hukumchand’s shop Highland Cold Storage at Dadar. This time we decided to get the ham from Farm Products at Colaba. So an order was placed, and a deposit of Rs 500 was paid.

A cooked ham costs about Rs 2000 per kilo. So a 5 kg leg will set you back by Rs 10,000/- An uncooked ham costs Rs 650/- per kilo. Not only does it make sense buying and cooking your own ham from a purely economic perspective, and, you can get far better results doing it yourself.

On the given day we drove to the shop selected a 5.5kg smoked uncooked leg and asked them to debone it for us. Once that was done the ham was tied securely, packed and the resulting 5 kg ham was carried back. The car smelt lovely with the aroma from the smoke.

Saturday morning, the day of the party, I pulled out the large aluminum ham `pateli’ we bought years ago just to cook a ham, washed it and set it on the gas. Water, cloves, bay leaves, star anise and some peppercorns went in and finally the ham. Instead of water you could use beer or apple concentrate. Beer has become so expensive and apple concentrate is difficult to get. Earlier we got it from the Himachal Pradesh Emporium at World Trade Centre at Colaba. Water works just fine. Cover and put to boil. Once the pot comes to a boil you simmer it for an hour per two kilos or half an hour for a kilo turning the ham after every hour or so. Once done you pull it out of the water. By now the ham is fully cooked and ready to eat.

Then, it is time to prepare the ham for the next stage, baking and glazing. To do this you first take of the skin. This is simple; the skin comes off quite easily. The tip of a knife helps the parts that are stubborn. Once the skin is off, you score the fat in a diamond pattern and stud each diamond with a clove.

The glaze we made was Port wine, honey, brown sugar and a dash of vinegar. You could simply use sugar and smear it on the fat. Choice is yours. You pour on half the glaze and put the ham into an oven pre heated to 180C for about an hour. Every 15 minutes you baste the ham. After 30 minutes you pour on the rest of the glaze. An hour later you have a beauty.

Slicing a ham is difficult if it is hot. Serving the ham at room temperature is perfectly acceptable. It slices well. This was had with lashings of Mustard and Potato Au Gratin. It was a wonderful meal. It was a wonderful evening.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Cafe Sundance Mumbai. Really avoid this place

We do not like to eat at new or moderately new restaurants. They are overhyped, serve poor imitations and often bastardisations of classic dishes [add cheese add chilli] and are never grounded. They have either a group of investors or have an entrepreneur who is masquerading as a restaurateur.

One such place is Cafe Sundance in the Eros Cinema building at Churchgate. HRH the Queen of Kutch has been complaining that I am unadventurous and only want to go to `the same five and a half restaurants’. She had wanted to eat at Sundance Cafe and I had been resisting. I gave in on Friday 12th December. Mistake, bad mistake.

After downing a few beers and whiskeys at the Bombay Gymkhana, very cheap as you know, it was time for dinner. So we hailed a taxi [simple black and yellow, smelly, dirty, dusty, rattly with a cranky driver] we reached the Sundance Cafe at 9.15 on a Friday night in December during the festive and NRI season. The place was empty. Just two other tables were occupied. We should have walked out. A restaurant in such dire straits during peak dining time is a bad sign. Signal one ignored.

Menus were placed printed on card paper, dog eared, and frayed on the edges and with lots of food stains. Scanning the drinks menu HRH the Queen of Kutch asked for a Glenfiddich, I asked for a beer. After taking the order the server comes by and says they have no, repeat no, single malts. So she settles for a beer. Signal two ignored.

We ordered a starter, more about that later, a Tenderloin Burger and a Ham and Cheese sandwich was ordered for our mains. The order included potato so we asked for a portion of French Fries and a portion of Potato Wedges.

Before we could say Jack Robinson, the Ham & Cheese Sandwich arrived. Yup. Before the starter. We returned the sandwich with a warning to not serve the same sandwich again later but to ask the kitchen to prepare a new one. We again requested that the starter be served. Signal three ignored.

Normally three strikes and you are out. But the ordeal continued, now with an amusing twist.

Soon enough the starter arrived. This was Pork Belly Tortillas which are described in the menu thus - “Mini tortillas, slow roasted pork belly, guacamole and tomato salsa.” This is what we got. Clearly no slow roasted pork belly but bacon. Yes yes I know that streaky bacon is from the belly of a pig, but this was bacon for Christ’s sake not slow roasted pork belly. Obviously the kitchen had no pork belly. We did not return the dish for mis description but proceeded to eat it. It was fine but it was not what was described on the menu. Signal four ignored.

This is Bacon not Slow Roast Pork Belly

Then the Burger and Sandwich arrived with the two potato sides namely a portion of French Fries and a portion of Potato Wedges. The potato wedges were ice cold. I requested that they be removed and a hot portion be served. The staff readily obliged. Problem was that the Potato Wedges were ghastly. They had what appeared to me to be Maharashtrian Goda Masala more than liberally sprinkled on them. I hated them and left them uneaten. As far as the French Fries are concerned, this was a new low. By far the worst French Fries are served at Totos Garage. These were worse. Left uneaten. Signal five ignored.

Potato Wedges

The Burger had a patty that was small, tasteless and totally overcooked. I do not mind it being overcooked in India. I would be very wary to eat a medium [red in the middle] mince meat patty in India purely on account of health and hygiene. The problem we have is that our beef [buffalo] is very lean; hence getting moistness in a burger patty is difficult. So to that extent I do not blame Sundance Cafe for the poor quality of burger at the price Rs 475/- ++. The best burger by far is the one at The Table but that costs an eye popping Rs 1,200/- ++. The Indigo Deli also does a Burger at Rs 585/- ++. But, I am conflicted. Should lesser money mean worse food? I am not really sure how to answer this. .

The Ham & Cheese Sandwich at Rs 425/ ++ was unremarkable. You could make this at home. It had nothing going for it.

When we got the bill they had cheekily added 5% service charge. We refused to pay this. So we got a discount of Rs 160/- In any event the bill came to Rs 1800/- for two beers and the food I have mentioned. Absolute waste of money. We came away angry, and hungry. The restaurant never filled up. Clearly it is dying.

To conclude, do not go there. If you want a burger, and I am not being facetious, have one at Dunkin Donuts. Much much better and far cheaper.

It was entirely HRH the Queen of Kutch’s fault.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Our experiments with Amla

A couple of days ago I had gone to Crawford Market to replenish some essentials. Stuff like, Gruyere cheese from Narayan Stores, Barilla pasta from Empire Stores [thankfully Barilla is back on the shelves] Pine Nuts from Regal Dry Fruit and booze from Shah Wines. I also stopped off at our regular vegetable vendor. One of them is a delightful father and son duo. They specialise in only, funnily enough, tomato, beet, carrot and mint. Sometimes they have an odd additional vegetable that is in season. They also own the stall next door which they have given on rent to a Keralite who specialises in `English’ vegetables – capsicum, parsley, Bok Choy, Basil, tofu, mushroom celery and the like. I know tofu is not a vegetable!

After getting a kilo of tomato, the old man told me that he had really excellent `Avla’ which is Marathi for Amla or Indian Gooseberry. I was not really interested, but he was insistent and said that they were top quality, his final clinching words being, and I kid you not `ekdum goad aahet’ or they are very sweet. I knew that this was a fib, but what the heck I thought, won’t hurt buying a few so I bought a half kilo.

Now Amla is something that much is made of. It is a pale green hard fruit about the size of a large strawberry. It has no aroma, and it has a seed in the centre. Here is an image from the internet.

Amla is healthy, seriously healthy. It can cure everything; AIDS, coughs colds, indigestion, probably Ebola, definitely weakness which probably euphemistically means it has Viagra like properties. Suffice to say, Amla is a super food. A cursory check on the internet like this link will lead you to the wondrous virtues of Amla.

For three days the Amla sat on the kitchen platform, ignored. Finally, HRH the Queen of Kutch scoured the internet on how to make the elixir Amla juice hoping that the process would be simple and the Amla would be dealt with. We were in luck. It was dead easy. Simply chop the Amla to get rid of the hard seed, pop the chopped Amla into a blender and blend away. Once done you can drink the juice.

So the Amlas were chopped, de-seeded and put in our industrial strength Preethi blender, added a few cubes of ice so we would have a chilled drink, and let it rip. 500 grams of Amla yielded 460 grams of de-seeded Amla and when blended two reasonably full glasses of Amla juice. Looks delightful and has a lovely cool green colour.

With some trepidation I took a sip. It was sour, very sour, but drinkable. Armed with the knowledge that Amla was only good we proceeded to drink our glasses of juice.

After drinking, I did not feel particularly better or healthy. The legendry Amla’s curative powers were not yet evident. I thought it was probably slow acting. I am more used to alcohol which makes me feel better within 15 minutes of drinking some. But then alcohol is bad, it is a poison, it ruins your life. Amla is all goodness.

But dear readers, I must tell you that Amla finally acted. Both HRH the Queen of Kutch as well as myself were hit by a particularly bad episode of `loose motions’ or diarrhoea, a distinctly un-regal problem. By 8 pm some 3 hours after drinking the juice our bowels were empty. We were worn out.

Yes, Amla is a super food. Except that we are not going to have it ever again.

You can keep your super foods. They are not for us.