Monday, February 18, 2013

Valentine's Day Treats And A Labour Of Love

So, like everyone else, we celebrated Valentine's day this past Thursday. Of course, it is a great day to tell the people you love that you love them. And pretty much every restaurant here had a special Valentine's day dinner menu, and prices to match. And it struck me (very late) that we were already celebrating our third Valentine's day!

With all monetary reserves for the month exhausted on my end, I decided to stick to rustic homemadeism. And what a lofty endeavour did I set out on! A black forest cake it was to be, and an eggless one at that. Now it is in such instances that one should listen to people with much more experience that oneself. I did just that, and used an Eggless Black Forest Cake recipe from Divya's space. If I had to say something about her blog in one word, I can tell you that it has satiated a huge number of my late night cravings. So I wasn't really going to look elsewhere for a recipe.

You can find the recipe here. I'm not re-posting it here as she has everything you need to know listed out there. I did make a small change though. I bought a can of tinned cherries, pitted them and boiled them in the syrup they came in. If you want to do the same, use one can of cherries with only half the amount of liquid in them. Boil the whole thing on a low flame in a heavy bottomed pan till the liquid is almost gone. You can cool this stuff and use it for the cherry filling.

That chocolate artwork is something worth dedicating an entire post to, so that is what I shall do. The cake turned out really most and very tasty. Using real cherries was a good idea too.

On the same day, a cousin and I decided to bake another cake for her to take home. We used a basic chocolate cake (eggless) although you can use any chocolate cake recipe.

We cut it into two layers and soaked it in some syrup to keep it moist. The sugar dusting was a good idea too, as the cake was a bit not sweet enough before the dusting.

So that is what we did. Mind you, baking a black forest is laborious to say the least. Attempt it only when you really feel like it.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Focaccia with Garlic and Lavender

It was quite an idyllic setting for a story. Settlers here were simpletons-they had not much to do, and even less to eat. But in a way, they were rich. No one knows if they had ever realized how valuable the object in their possession was. In fact, when a war was waged to snatch it from them, they did not understand why an army would bother to come to their village, cavalry and all. Great confusion ensued when they were asked to give that coveted object back. The villagers refused to back down- why would they part with their only means of livelihood? The land's produce was all they could trade with the empire, and now those lands had to be given away for nothing!

In the fields, the shrubs were nestled so close that they seemed like a single entity. Their purple flowers were dancing in the gentle breeze, giving off wafts of fragrance that could captivate everyone. A war was waged with the village folk, and it lasted but a day. Accustomed to a peaceful life of tilling and trade, there was no question of them being able to stand in battle, leave along fight one. In little time, the lands were claimed by the enemy.

All this while, the fields were watching. Dancing in the wind was only a distraction. They were watching their people, their caretakers being mercilessly killed.

Once the short battle came to an end, the soldiers reveled in their sadistic victory. Although it was not necessary to kill, they had gone on a rampage, sparing not men nor women, and not the child. A dead silence fell over the fields. The soldiers, well aware of the treasure growing there, harshly plucked all that their hands could gather. By nightfall, the revelry took on new proportions- drunk men lay bare in the fields while their casualties lay a few feet away.

The next morning, messengers rushed to the capital, carrying news of doom and despair. The army they had sent was lying dead in the fields. Not one soldier was spared. One messenger wondered how even one corpse had not a scratch on its being. "They look like they may be asleep'', he said. Even the wittiest of the land's men could not decide what could have killed a thousand men. A Djinn, some said, while others blamed the villagers' vengeful spirits. Soon, a law was passed not to trespass those lands. No one would ever till there. 
All this while, the lavender blooms swayed in the breeze, their purple flowers dancing away, the wind carrying their fragrance to the village of the dead. They would continue to bloom even decades later,even though no one cared for them, for they had been watered by blood, and the lives of a thousand men.

Hehe, yes. I am a huge fan of morose stories. Because anyone can write happy endings, and because closure seems more important to me that a jolly ending. Whether you like the story or not, something must be said in Lavender's defense. It is not a poisonous plant, nor is there a bloody history involving it. It is a simple, unassuming herb that loves to grow anywhere and needs the littlest of care. I even bought a plant recently and it is going strong in spite of my general lack of care. Also, it is wonderful when used in cooking. A little bit of lavender can do what a lot of rosemary does to a dish. Moreover, it treats your tummy very well. Since it is a strong herb flavour-wise, one would be wise to use it in combination with something that can stand up to it- like garlic.

And that is precisely what we do in today's bread. I used an easy to follow Focaccia recipe from Jamie Oliver's website. I'm not posting it here again. Said link has everything from step by step pictures to a very reassuring narrative. For the unenlightened, Jamie Oliver is a world renowned chef and food enthusiast who aims to make cooking accessible to all. One of his dream projects is to teach every child how to cook his/her own meals, so they can cut down on all the unhealthy fast food that our culture teaches them to eat. You can listen to more of what he has to say here. In my personal opinion, he should be knighted!

Anyway, I used lavender instead of the prescribed oregano in his recipe. If you are planning to do the same, use lesser lavender than the amount of rosemary in the recipe. Else, you'll end up with bread that smells like perfume. I used 1/4th of all the quantities mentioned there and followed the recipe to the very end. With bread, it is always better to measure in grams than in cups. Here is how it turned out.

Right out of the oven..

Though you cannot use rosemary in place of lavender in the story, by all means try it in the recipe. And if you haven't made bread so far, give it a shot. Goes well with soups and pasta. Or if you are me, it goes, in half an hour.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Sunny Side Up, With A Twist

A couple of days ago, I told you all about the wonderful veggies I picked up at the HOPCOMS stall at the recent Lalbagh flower show. My veggie shopping always involves bell peppers. Especially when they come in different colours.

Since we've shifted to Bangalore, what I enjoy most is that there are so many more vegetables to choose, and est, from. I've never really tried cooking with knoll-kohl, or dill, or  varieties of bell peppers, or a zucchini for that matter. It is only here that I see some of these veggies being sold everywhere, and that propels me to try cooking them in as many ways as I can! Needless to say, it leads to some bloopers, and many wonderful memories both in the kitchen and the seemingly endless meal times in a south Indian kitchen.
Also, a lot of times, everyone craves versatility and this serves the purpose. Although I end up with a bowl of cereal for breakfast, eggs make a certain someone very happy and I don't mind at all!

Today's recipe is an inspiration from this image I stumbled upon a few days ago. For those of you looking for great recipe ideas, unexplored food blogs and DIY inspiration, StumbleUpon is like a door in the cabinet leading to Narnia. There are so many things I made just because the pictures looked pretty- and I found most of my inspiration here. Today's recipe is one such thing. Without further ado, let's take a look at the ingredients.

Bell Peppers    - 3 medium, one each in red, yellow and green
Eggs                - 3 regular sized ones
Basil                - A few leaves chopped into tiny bits
Tomato            - 1, Sliced into thin wheels
Chilli Powder   - To taste
Garam Masala
Butter              - A small dollop

Cut the bell peppers across into 3/4 inch slices. Remove all the seeds and the central portion. Heat a non stick pan and keep the flame at low throughout.

Drop a dollop of butter onto the skillet and let it sizzle.

Place the cut bell pepper slices on the pan. Let them cook for about two minutes. Place one tomato each inside the bell pepper slices.

Carefully break the egg and drop its contents into the capsicum pieces. Make sure you hold the egg really close to the pan so that they contents don't go haywire on the pan. It's alright if some of the whites spill over.

You can always remove them later. Sprinkle some salt, chilli powder and garam masala all over the eggs. Cover with a heavy plate and cook on medium flam for five minutes.

Then, take the plate off and arrange the basil on the cooking eggs. cover with the lid and cook again. When you move the capsicum around, its contents shouldn't wobble. That is your clue that the yolks are cooked thoroughly. If you prefer partly cooked eggs, take them off when the whites are cooked and the yellows are still wobbly.

Transfer them onto a plate and serve with some tomato ketchup. Best eaten when they're still hot.

Pictured during an earlier attempt.

See? This breakfast needs very few ingredients and can really be cooked in minutes. Needless to see, the eggs and veggies make for a very healthy breakfast. If you're averse to the smell of eggs, don't skip the basil by all means. It adds a great flavour to the dish and completely masks the eggs' strong smell.

Try it and let me know if your people liked it, or loved it. :P

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Lalbagh Flower Show, January 2013

In this post, I don't have much to say. Instead, let me show you something.

The biannual flower show held at Lalbagh Gardens during the Independence Day and Republic Day weeks is a sight to see, with exotic flowers and never before seen varieties of plants, all in full bloom. It is also during these shows that you can purchase a variety of herbs and orchids from stalls while they are at their healthiest best.

Take a look at these pictures and you'll come to believe yet again that nature is indeed the most beautiful woman that ever existed.

Each one of those beautiful roses was in full bloom..

My utter favourites- these flowers look so happy all the time!

One of the most striking contrasts in nature- red and yellow

I just can't get enough of these :)

For once, my camera cooperated and helped me get fairly good clarity pictures ;)

One of my favourites that day..

I think this orchid is called fairy's slipper...with shoes like that, why wouldn't anyone want to be a fairy?

Like the Sun had sent his youngest child to come play with us..

Like stars far away had chosen to come down to the Earth..

And all the world's colours had conspired to play paintball with this one flower..

And that morning's dew was biased towards these plants..

I wish we could recreate God's colours..

An Eiffel Tower model made entirely out of flowers- this one was the prime attraction.

And this was another attraction- a barbie doll with a floral dress

The stalls put up for the occasion deserve a special mention. People were selling everything right from orchids to pots to seeds to herbs you normally wouldn't find in Lalbagh. I, obviously, had to get something! I got some really fresh (I mean spotlessly healthy fresh) veggies from the HOPCOMS stall, a couple of pots aaaannnd....
Some basil
and some lavender

The plants are holding up quite well so far. They're growing at a steady pace and will live. The lavender is still too young for culinary purposes, but the basil has been put to good use. I can, however, vouch for lavender's sunburn healing properties- it works like magic!
Here are a couple of pictures that I clicked in my garden back home. That baby chameleon wasn't too happy about being spotted, as is obvious from the expression it gave me! 

The next flower show at Lalbagh will be in August 2013. I hear it is going to be even better this time around. Try not to miss it. I know I wont! Maybe some oregano and sage will find their way home next.

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Very Short Trip And Giving Time A Break

Through timeless, unknown lands,
Wander like a dandelion set free.
For it will tire you, drain you and at times irritate,
Yet, with memories, it will water your soul's eternal tree.

The best thing about day trips is there is almost no planning involved. The second best thing about them is that you don't have to carry a heavy bag. If there is one sure way to feel like a free spirit, it surely involves an unplanned trip to somewhere slightly far away. For once, abandon your life the way it is and do something different. 

Making a trip to Pondicherry from Bangalore is a very straightforward affair as far as planning a trip is concerned. You could take one of the many buses that ply between the two cities every evening. Or you could take the one train that goes to Pondi once every week from Bangalore. Yes, it is a longer journey and yes the train stops for every possible excuse. Also, it is usually late. So, if your agenda is to see as much of Pondi as possible, pick the bus. But if the idea is to spend a relaxed day out, do take the train. It leaves on a Friday night, around 11. The return train is at 10PM on Saturday, making it ideal for planning a day trip- you get twelve full hours in the city. We took the train and it reached Pondi at 10AM the next day. Sensing time being lost, we changed and had breakfast on the train itself- all six of us.

The road right outside the railway station is called Subbaiya Salai or South Boulevard. The first thing we did was follow that road away from the beach. We reached the Sacred Heart Church which is by all means an architectural marvel worth seeing. We spent some time praying inside as it was very calm in contrast to the road outside. 

We then paid a visit to the Aquarium- it is inside the Botanical Gardens complex. You can get here by following the same road, away from the beach. Time in the aquarium was well spent as there were some exotic fish worth seeing. It also helped that we got to be indoors for a while considering the sun was blazing with full force.

We then started walking in the opposite direction and arrived at the French part of the town. Now, every building here is painted white (almost) and the construction is all quaint and villa-ish. In other words, it is extremely beautiful. The end of the road brought us to the statue of Dupleix- the Governer of the French establishment in India way back in 1742. From there, one cannot miss the beach road. It is all rocky but we did go down them a bit, and had the time of our lives. This place was surprisingly cooler and very windy- how could we leave? Many, many pictures later, we decided that we needed to eat.

Wandering onto Mission Street and the many lanes it leads to brought us to Veneto. The ambiance and general atmosphere at Veneto is like a small, rustic settlement in Italy. They've gotten everything covered right down to the walls. The food was good, but I doubt its authenticity. The food didn't do justice to the huge fan following that Italian cuisine has- many a chef's illustrious careers were built out of making Italian food. The food here is just passable for Italian- and the garlic bread was at least five days old. If you really want to taste some authentic Italian, head out to Don Giovanni on Mission Street instead. We heard it is expensive but I have a feeling it would be worth the money. We then headed to Zuka on Mission Street for some of the best chocolates and desserts I have had in a while. Do not miss this one!

After all the extra travel and walking it involved, Auroville was a thorough disappointment. The highly popular meditation hall is closed for public viewing except early in the day. Shopping inside Auroville is unnecessarily expensive. Also, once you are outside the town limits (Auroville is on the ECR), be prepared to face all sorts of lewd comments from just about everyone. That we were a group of six fairly well built people didn’t deter other visitors from passing comments and displaying stupid antics. It is sad that while the locals are respectful and nice, it is the visitors who unnecessarily spoil Pondi’s tranquility. And before you ask, we were fully clothed. Avoid the beach in the area- somehow here, the men strip down to nothing and it still is the women who get harassed.

By sunset, we got back to beach road in the town. We took a walk to Raj Nivas which was beautifully decorated (it being Republic Day). While walking back, we got to see the lighthouse. Some more time was well spent here, after which we walked to Baker Street- a well renowned boulangerie on Bussy Street. Baker Street is where dessert lovers go after they die. The sheer variety of food will make you faint. We tried some macaroons, chocolate ├ęclairs, brownies, puff pastries with all sorts of fillings and the signature French dessert- Galette des Rois, or Three Kings’ Cake. I’ll do a detailed post on it later. Avoid the savoury items here as they are exorbitantly priced and not worth the money.

The Beach Road at Moon-rise

By now, it was time to leave. We shopped for some candles and incense at an exhibition and dragged our feet back to the Railway station. Yes, we missed several places (like the Museum which I really wanted to see, and the Ashram). Yes, we were dead tired by them time we boarded the train. But none of that mattered because we had a great time! I’d never replace that day trip with anything.

If you don’t particularly enjoy summers, avoid going here after February and upto May. Any other time is just fine while October- December is advised. Depending on whether you want a heritage holiday or a beachside one, you may have to add/omit some places from your itinerary. Do eat at as many places as you can. Grab a guide from one of the eateries you visit- they are free.

Explore Pondicherry by foot, and you will find things to do and eat that you would have missed otherwise. By all means, don't go here with a plan, just go. Pondicherry knows how to make you fall in love with it.