Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Masterchef India 3 Behind the Scenes; the Other side of Reality TV.


I’m a big fan of Masterchef. I’ve seen most of the seasons of Masterchef Australia and love every single episode. I’d seen the Indian version as well, season 1 mainly and portions of season 2. Evidently, Masterchef Australia is different from Masterchef UK or USA, as it is different from Masterchef India. My mother and I completely adored the ghevar cake and rasgulla cake in Season 1. I never knew that India had such great techniques in cooking like the stone and wood-plank cooking task in season 2. I really wanted to work for Masterchef India. I would religiously call the production house’s board line at lunch hour for 8 months before the project finally started and I got that interview. Only the security guard knew who I was then.

Working on Masterchef for one who loves food today, is more a matter of honour and pride, than anything else. I’m proud too, proud of what I have learned from this project. Each time I would meet a contestant and speak to them about their food, I would feel more and more intimidated by the greatness of Indian food. There are so many cultures, little villages and regions, so many diverse food habits that I learned about. An ingredient as simple as a potato or okra, can be cooked in no less than a hundred different styles. Just by altering the proportions of simple spice combinations you can make a whole different dish. The treasure of knowledge in our country’s cooks is far greater than any other, and I only came to learn this during the Masterchef Auditions.

We went to cities and villages to research our tasks and in search of the best cooks. What I found was, ingredients and cooking methods that I had never seen before. Dafan and loon cooking, which I believed to be contemporary styles turned out to be techniques from the villages! Have you heard of Murgh Shikasta Haripasand Faizabadi? Well, I hadn’t either but then we met the man himself, food historian and writer, Professor Pushpesh Pant for his valuable inputs on this show. We met Chefs and culinary experts from across the country to bring out the best of Indian food in this show. The unheard techniques and principles in Ayurvedic cooking that can be brought out of the closet on the show. The dying art of making a ‘Poothereku’ that you will witness on the show. 

We have spent 3 months on just getting our hands on this beautiful art of making a Poothereku. Each day we would come in to the kitchen and make a fresh batter, speak to more regional cooks; call sweet shops in Andhra just to get that one task right. We didn’t give up and I still remember chanting a prayer during the task, hoping our contestants were brilliant enough to get it right. They were, they all were brilliant enough to make a perfect Poothereku.

A team of over a hundred people is working night and day on making a show that brings out the best cooks and the best food in India. There are so many aspects to a show and so many people’s effort goes in making it. We still wake up inspired, each day, with pride because we are working for Masterchef India 3. Television is a medium that brings the real stories of Indian people home, and the show is a reflection of the spirit and talent of India. My love for Indian food is sincere and I salute Masterchef India for showcasing its brilliance on the show.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Is OTB W-Day Buffet What Women Want? The Big Question Answered




Name: Out of The Blue, W-Day Lunch
Location: E-Square, Shivajinagar, Pune
Date of Visit: 26th September, 2012 (Lunch hour) (Review on Invitation)

What women want? While all of mankind is still struggling to answer this question, OTB attempts to answer it with its W-Day buffet. Did they succeed? You men, already know that you can never succeed in completely satisfying women but this is a good beginning. Firstly, it’s just a day dedicated to women. We would prefer it if the entire week was dedicated to us, but we’ll make do with a special day.
Since the W-Day buffet celebrates women and is designed for them, I am going to talk about it from a lady’s perspective rather than a neutral point of view.


The Concept and has it succeeded

Dedicating Wednesday to women is becoming a common and successful trend. With an offer like this it takes off the edge of mid-week-crisis for men and women, whoever cares to visit. I like to call it ‘The kitty party’ concept. This is a 5 course buffet meal that costs Rs 395 inclusive of taxes as on date. The buffet includes a non-alcoholic beverage,  a soup, variety of salads laid out, dips and bread, a cheese platter, live counter, main course and a dessert buffet.

On the Plus Side

This is a reasonable buffet for the location, ambience, quality of food they offer and the variety that is available. To be clear this is not like a “Shaadi” style buffet, wherein vegetarian, non-vegetarian Indian, Chinese and what is known as “Conti” dishes are laid in a long line with a naan counter. This buffet offers a selection of vegetarian and non-vegetarian salads, dips and bread, a cheese platter, a live counter as well as dessert that is laid out on the buffet table.

The main course selection includes sizzlers, pastas and BBQ dishes to choose from. These are not laid out on the buffet but freshly prepared and brought to your table plated like an a la carte meal. There are two reasons I liked this arrangement. The first being that the food does not sit out for hours on the buffet losing the freshness and getting overcooked as well. The second reason is that food wastage is minimum. You may have noticed people heaping up their plates with mutton, chicken, paneer all together with hakka noodles and stir fry vegetables on their plate, that they can no longer tell the dishes apart. Not only do diners end up wasting food on their plate but also there is more leftover in the kitchen. Freshly prepared dishes are brought to the table; however, portion size is comparatively smaller than that in an a la carte meal.

On The Minus Side

5 out of 10 Indian women are vegetarians. My mother’s kitty party friends come from well-to-do Vegetarian families and they meet each week for chitchat and their weekly gossip dose. The question that comes to my head is, will they like the OTB W-Day buffet? Although the selection offered to vegetarians is not limited and holds 50% weightage, the dishes that are offered are not very appealing. Not only does their description hold little promise but also two of the veggie salads that I tried and the vegetarian main course we ordered were disappointing. I think OTB should improve the taste of their currently available vegetarian dishes and also must include a few more promising and delicious vegetarian items to the main course. In my opinion the buffet did not do justice to the vegetarians.

What’s in it for Women?

The W-day buffet has some added attractions including a lucky draw with vouchers to be won. They also have an astrologer, palm reader and face reader. On request, kitty party games for groups can be organized as well.

Menu, courses and selection



There was a vegetarian soup, 4 different types of dips with assorted bread. Although the dips offered were impressive, the selection of breads offered can be improved. There were 6 or 7 different types of vegetarian and non-vegetarian salads.  Cheese Platter offered only two types of cheese namely emmenthal and cheddar slices along with inadequate accompaniments.



The Sushi live counter was impressive considering that it is hard to find sushi places in Pune in the first place. Although there was one vegetarian, a prawn and a chicken maki roll n California roll variety of sushi; this counter was unique and impressive in our city. It’s also a good place for an affordable experiment for those who haven’t tried sushi. They have a different live counter every Wednesday such as a Thai counter or a pasta counter.



For main course you can choose between a sizzler, pasta or a BBQ dish. Each of these offers 2 or 3 options. The selection of Pasta selection was limited. Pasta has become a safe choice for most of the Indian diners, a white sauce pasta and a tomato pasta doesn’t do it for me when there is no pasta live counter. I would’ve preferred to have few more promising pasta options on the menu.

There were merely 4 or 5 desserts on the buffet. This is disappointing for a sweet tooth. Many diners I know look forward to the dessert buffet and expect a good variety offered on the buffet. A chocolate gateau, a cheesecake, swiss roll and mousse is not enough.




Food

The soup of the day was light and average in taste.

Dips

The Aioli Dip, hummus and the petit pois dip were great. The petit pois dip was unique and refreshing change from regular dips, it slightly tangy and really worked together with those breads for me. The moho dip was good too, though not great.



Salads

The Ploughman’s Salad and Seafood Papaya Salad were delicious. 

Ploughman's Salad

Seafood and Papaya Salad


The Chicken Sausage salad was good too. However, the smoked cauliflower salad for the vegetarians was bland and unapppetising. 
Smoked Cauliflower

Tandoori paneer salad was decent but not great, although a little tang in it would have made it zingy and perfect.

Tandoori Paneer Salad


Live Counter

Sushi – the maki and California rolls were decent but not made with raw fish. There were shredded chicken and fried prawn rolls along with the vegetarian one. Since sushi wasn’t the main attraction but an added attraction, it worked. I think it is acceptable to use cooked prawns in place of raw fish if good quality fish is unavailable.

Sushi Selection


Main Dishes

I will begin with my order of Lemon Sauce Chicken, which is also listed as one of the house favourites on the menu. Ordering the house favourite is more or less a safe choice. The taste of the house favourite also sets the bar for the rest of the menu. If they can’t make the house favourite finger licking good then there isn’t much promise in the other dishes either. This chicken dish was delicious and the sauce was finger licking good. They use a boneless piece of leg in this dish making it far more juicy and flavourful than preparations using boneless breast. The ala carte portion size of this dish includes a leg and a breast however, for the buffet a single piece of leg was served with a side of grilled vegetables and very lumpy mashed potatoes.

Chicken In Lemon Sauce


The filet of Basa with Asian pesto sauce was creamy and yummy too. Basa is becoming increasingly popular with restaurants in the city for good reason. It was a good quality, fresh tasting fillet with pesto and creamy sauce. I hardly think any chef can go wrong when the dish is so perfect in itself.

The vegetarian cutlet sizzler was a disappointment. After the salads when I tasted the mediocre vegetarian sizzler, it made me think that this W-Day buffets needs work when it comes to their vegetarian selection. The patty was bland, soggy and the vegetables in it were not appetising. It was confusing, was it overcooked cabbage or something else. Perhaps a little more potato would hold this dish together, but something was definitely off. The patty around which the rest of the sizzler revolved, did not have enough character to make it a good dish.

Vegetarian Cutlet Sizzler


The lemon cheesecake and death by chocolate made it a satisfactory desserts buffet. 

Lemon Cheesecake

Death By Chocolate


The papaya mousse however, was too heavy, creamy and dense to appeal to my palate.

Papaya Mousse


Service

About a month ago when I had reviewed OTB Pune for the first time on my father’s birthday for an ala carte evening meal, the server’s lack of knowledge had disappointed me. He was unaware of the wines available that evening or the ones that would go well with our fondue.

This time however, since the review was on invitation, the service was far better. Although another error in service makes me assert that OTB Pune staff must learn more about their wines, dishes, and what they look like.

Siddharth ordered a vegetarian sizzler while Tanzif had asked for a chicken sizzler. Our server assumed that both the sizzlers he had brought from the kitchen were chicken sizzlers. He offered to bring the correct order. Since, both Siddharth and Tanzif are non-vegetarians they asked him to serve it anyway. In reality, it wasn’t a mix up from the kitchen. Our server could not tell the vegetarian sizzler from the non-vegetarian sizzler. He ended up serving the wrong sizzler to the wrong person without realizing they were different sizzlers. It is important for the service staff to be able to identify a vegetarian from a non-vegetarian sizzler. It can be difficult to tell them apart with all that sauce. I suggest the kitchen staff add a signature ingredient on the vegetarian sizzler, as a sign, so it is easier to tell them apart.

Value for Money

With few appetising vegetarian dishes and a limited selection of desserts, the value for money for a vegetarian is not up to the mark. Having said that, good quality food, an interesting variety of items and the location of OTB makes it worth it. The non-vegetarian sizzlers and BBQ dishes that we tried were all delicious. Had there been some creamy pesto or risottos in the pasta selection this course would have been a fun choice too.

That thing about this buffet is that it is a breath of fresh air for a weekday buffet. Aren’t you bored of having the same old Indian, chinese and ‘conti’ buffets all the time? OTB buffet has quite the edge when it comes to cuisine. They also serve a la carte dishes on Wednesday afternoon as well, in case you wish to spend the afternoon with wine, fondue over saucy gossip. This buffet can be a perfect lunch hour meal for working women or a way for women to relax and unwind for a couple of hours while their men and children are away.

Also Read my older Review of OTB Pune here

http://foodmantras.blogspot.in/2012/08/say-cheese-out-of-blue-e-square-pune.html


Ambience: 7/ 10 Good
Value For Money: 7/ 10 Good
Menu: 7/ 10 Good
Food: 7/ 10 Good
Service: 6/ 10 Average
That Thing About This Place: 7/ 10 Good

Good Ambience + Good Value for Money + Good Menu + Good Food + Average Service + Good That Thing About This Place= Good

Rating: 7/ 10 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

How To make Vegetarian Thai Curry with Homemade Fresh Thai Curry Paste? (No fish sauce)


Many of the packaged Thai curry pastes available in the market contain shrimp paste and fish sauce. There are a few Indian brands that manufacture Thai Curry paste without a non-vegetarian base; however, these are often not easily available. Why rush to the supermarket each time you crave for Thai curry? With fresh ingredients homemade thai curry paste is a far better choice.



Vegetarian Thai Red Curry

This vegetarian thai red curry is made with fresh, homemade thai curry paste with a vegetarian base. You can also use eggplant or other vegetables as per your preference.

Note: Non-vegetarians can add in shrimp paste and fish sauce to the Thai Curry paste. Diced chicken, fish or shrimps can be added to make a Chicken or Seafood Thai curry.

Ingredients

Step 1: How To make Vegetarian Thai Curry Paste

Galangal (use ginger if unavailable)                 30grams, peeled
Garlic              25grams
Lemongrass stems       30grams                                  
Fresh Coriander Roots, cleaned          50grams
Corianders Seeds, dry roasted                        15grams
Cumin, dry roasted     7grams
Red Bell Pepper          60grams
Red Chili (use fresh if available)         20grams
Fresh Turmeric Root (optional)         5grams
Soy Sauce        10ml
Vegetable Oil               25ml
Salt      to taste

Step2 : Vegetables

Broccoli, cut into florets         100grams
Green bell Pepper, diced         60grams
French Beans, 1 inch pieces    60grams
Mushrooms, cut into half       100grams
Baby Corn, halved and cut into 1 inch pieces                        60grams
Red Bell Pepper, diced           60grams

Step 3: Thai Curry

Vegetable Oil               40ml
Onion, diced                50grams
Galangal, chopped      20grams                      
Garlic              25 grams
Thai Curry Paste prepared in Step 1
Thai Basil        15grams
Lemongrass     15grams
Vegetable Stock           60ml
Coconut Milk             200ml
Soy Sauce        10ml
Cane Sugar                  10grams
Vegetables prepared in Step 2
Fresh Red Chili, sliced            10grams
Salt      to taste

Method:

Step 1:

Grind all the ingredients listed in Step 1 into a paste.





Step 2:

Boil water in a deep pan. Cut and prepare the vegetables.
Blanch the broccoli and refresh with cold water.
Blanch the green and red bell pepper and refresh with cold water.
Boil the french beans and baby corn.
Blanch the mushrooms.
Save the cooking liquid and use it as vegetable stock later on.

Step 3:

Heat oil in a pot; add garlic, galangal, onion and sauté.
Add in thai curry paste and cook well.
Add in vegetable stock, basil and cook on medium heat.
Tie the lemongrass leaves into a bundle and add it into the curry.
Add in the coconut milk, soy sauce, cane sugar and mix.
Add in the vegetables and cook on medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes.
Remove the lemongrass bundle from the curry.
Add in the sliced red chili.

Garnish with a swirl of coconut cream and basil leaves.










Saturday, September 22, 2012

Baby Steps to Making Eggless Modak Cookies with Chocolate Center (Sugar Free)




We have been serving the same old traditional Modaks to Ganpati Bappa for so many years. Don’t get me wrong, I love traditional modaks but I believe in giving some variety to Bappa. It’s been few days since Ganesh Chaturthi began and his belly is loaded with traditional modaks. How about taking 20 minutes to make this Eggless Modak Cookie for Lord Ganesha this weekend?

Eggless Modak Cookies with Chocolate Center (Sugar Free)

This is an orange flavoured modak with chocolate center. It is a pure vegetarian cookie. This No egg cookie recipe is made with sugar free. If you wish to use regular sugar replace it with the same quantity of powdered sugar.

For 6-8 Cookies

Ingredients

Refined Flour              100grams
Sugar Free Sweetener  30grams
Butter, softened          50grams
Orange Peel (use only the zest)          7grams
Cold Water few drops
Dark Chocolate, cut into pieces (use buttons)           50grams
Vegetable Oil to grease mould

You Will Need
Modak Mould
Baking Sheet

Method:

1) Preheat the oven at 200 degree Celsius.
Sieve the flour and the sugar free together for proper mixing. Take this mixture on a flat surface rub in the butter into the flour using your fingertips, until the texture becomes like breadcrumbs.




2) Use a zester to only grate the outer layer of the orange peel. Be sure not to get the inner, white layer since it is bitter. Add the orange zest to the mixture and mix well.

3) Sprinkle cold water on the mixture just to bring the mixture together. It will still be crumbly but do not knead the mixture at all. Once you bring it together, cling wrap it and pop it to chill for 20 minutes.




4) Remove the mixture from the cling wrap and divide the dough into 6 equal parts (depending on the size of your modak mould). Save a little extra dough on the side.

5) First, take a bowl full of water with a tablespoon of vegetable oil mixed in it. Apply this water and oil mixture properly on the inside of the modak mould. Apply this water oil mixture on your hands. Take a lemon size portion from the dough mixture and round it up in your palm. Put this portion of dough inside the modak mould.

6) Make a cavity in the center of the dough with your thumb. Press the dough evenly with your fingers, on the sides of the modak mould, making a large cavity in the center. Add a small cut pieces of chocolate in the cavity and fill up the cavity completely. Take another small piece of the dough kept aside and seal the modak from the bottom, making it flat and even on the base. Open the mould and remove the modak. Finish the entire dough by making even size modaks.



7) Line the baking tray with a baking sheet. Place the cookies on the sheet and pop the tray into the oven for 10-12 minutes at 200 degree Celsius.




8) Remove the cookies from the oven and keep them to cool for 20 minutes before lacing them in your cookie jar.