Tuesday, November 23, 2010

ABC Farms Cheese & Wine Show, Pune – Nov 2010

Sula and Chateau Indage have become household names when it comes to Indian wine. Together they have been responsible for putting Nashik, Maharashtra on the vino map globally.

On a recent visit to a Cheese and Wine Show at ABC Farms in Pune I chanced upon two newbies, both of whose white collection hold enormous promise.

Fratelli from Solapur making a debut appearance is an Indo-Italian joint venture between Italy’s Secci brothers, Alessio and Andrea, the New Delhi-based Sekhri brothers, Kapil and Gaurav, and Mohite-Patil Ranjitsinh and Arjunsinh from Solapur. Fratelli is available in two white brands Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc — and two red brands — Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah priced between Rs 600 and Rs 1200 for a 750 ml bottle.

Vinsura, derived from Vinchur – 250 acres of sprawling vineyard land in Nasik and Sura – the Sanskrit word for wine, boasts a portfolio of wines ranging from Sparkling Rose, Chenin Blan, Sav-Blanc to Shiraz, Cab-Sav, Zinfandel and Claret. My favourite of the lot was the Coral Pink Zinfandel Blush extracted from Cab-Sav grapes and the Rose, so much so I had to grab a bottle for myself to take home.

Moving on to the cheese component of the afternoon, ABC Farms is said to be one of India’s leading producers of dairy, particularly cheese. With 50 years of operational and business experience in the dairy industry they produce over 60 varieties of cheese using their own cultures. Hybrid cattle and goats are used for the production of milk and then cheeses.

Several cheeses mostly generic Boursin, Cheddar, Edam, Gouda and Colby, infused with various spices, fruits and nuts were laid out with servers and cheese knives at the ready for tasting and purchases. Personal favourites were the Boursin crusted with Black Pepper, Boursin Crusted with Paprika, Sun-Dried Tomato Cheese (pic below) and a sharp Colby, only true in terms of colour but far too robust to be categorised as such.

To my disappointment the Raisin Cheese , Chocolate Cheese and Coffee Cheese left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Some things are better left the traditional way, and where cheese and fruit/ chocolate/ coffee are concerned, that’s my hunch!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Golden Ticket

“Home”, synonymous with family, nurture, care and love manifests itself in three forms – shelter, security and sustenance. As we progress from toddlers to teenagers there is a paradoxical shift of the same, and necessities over time become comforts and luxuries to be cherished.

While in the West flying the coop by the time one is in their early twenties if not earlier is the norm, Indians similar to Southern Europeans tend to continue to live at home, lapping up home cooked meals and enjoying being cleaned after and cared for.

Eventually however, everyone moves out, at least one hopes and aspires to (I can’t imagine anyone wanting to be the 40 year old virgin). And it is from this day that you embark on being an independent individual that you have automatically earned yourself a shiny, wonderful golden ticket.

I tend to use these golden tickets sparingly and save them for just the right time. For years now it has consistently been between November and December when Christmas is in the air and the festivities are eagerly being ushered in. There is already a jovial, happiness ringing through the air that is almost contagious, giving and caring is only quadrupled when you whip out a golden ticket.

If by now you haven’t figured out what the hell a golden ticket is – it is simply the pampering, oohing and aaahing that parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles shower down on you when you make your way back “home”. The grandeur of the visit of course is exacerbated by the distance from which you live from your family, as well as the frequency of your trips back home.

A boarder at the age of thirteen, the golden ticket is a thing I am very familiar with. Every visit back home since then, be it after my one year gap year in Denmark and my annual visits every year of Masters programme in Australia has meant coming home to a dinner of Fried Fish, Kerala Fry, White Rice, Kachimoore, Avial, Papad and White Curds, followed by my favourite Indian sweet – Gulab Jamun from Bhagatrams. A snooze in my childhood bed, that is periodically updated and it’s a matter of hours before I wake to my favourite breakfast of Appams and Chicken Stew.

This time however, it seems as if my golden ticket lost its sheen. I was offered leftover hot dogs instead of my usual welcome that I was looking forward to with baited breath. No special meal and moreover HOT DOGS! In the end we settled on going out for dinner to a new Kerala restaurant that offered the dishes of my childhood – I have nothing against the restaurant but could not fully enjoy it since its simply something best enjoyed at home the way I like it lovingly prepared.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Eat to Live ... or Live to Eat ?

Most people eat to live. And then there are some that live to eat, I am one of the latter, and am sure this comes of no surprise! To eat without balance, and by this I mean exercising judgment and one’s body is vital for a happy and healthy life. Hey, I’m no doctor, but it’s a simple prescription everyone knows, but not everyone likes to follow. Of late I have noticed the weight piling on, the angst of discontent with my current body shape and more so my fitness levels.

To be honest, I can’t go further without divulging all the information, or things simply will not make sense. Up until April of this year, six days a week, two hours each day, for the last seven years of my life have been spent dedicated to strenuous cardio, weights and abdominal workouts to ensure my body was in tip-top shape. And to this I must add that I was happy with what I saw in the mirror.

Over the last eight months working in kitchens, standing all day and exerting what seemed to be a hell of a lot of energy every day I neglected the gym and all/ any forms of exercise, yet eating the same enormously, extravagant meals I have always consumed. I just thought the kitchen was giving me a workout turns out cardiovascular motion cannot be replaced with working on the spot, damn!

While I have never been one for diets, my motto – eat extra tonight, run an extra mile the next day, I knew my time was ticking and it was only a matter of months before my rump became juicy enough to roast! Awful analogy I know, but I simply could not resist that one!

Anyways, coming back to me, my weight and enormous appetite has obviously got the better of me and with two Indian weddings within the next two months and my return to India – the land of slim, slender, sexy ladies the heat was and is most definitely on! And oops, I forget to mention New Years in Sri Lanka, with the requisite of slipping into a bikini duh!

About two weeks ago I decided it was time to turn things around. And so I took my first jog in months and boy was it a hit to my ego and my body, because not only was I left huffing and puffing like a penguin, but I was aching and sore the next few days. Getting in shape and gaining back that stamina was hard. What was undoubtedly harder however was trying to figure out what to cook for dinner.

While Melbourne was “supposed” to be warming up with spring midway and summer around the corner the weather was most definitely still wintery with chilly, cold nights and rainstorms deserving of Goulash and Mashed Potatoes, Massaman Curry with Fragrant Rice, or any other hearty carb-heavy fare, guaranteed to warm one up instantaneously. As you can see the odds were piling up against me, it was like I was fighting a losing battle.

Finally after much thinking, trials and tribulations I decided that instead of going from dishes like rich risottos cooked in chicken stock, with olive oil, lashings of butter and drowned in Parmesan cheese to bowls of fresh salad with the highlight being vinaigrette dressing, starving an hour later and finally succumbing to a disastrous midnight snack, that it was better to go half the hog and start with modest changes like taking away excessive amounts of dairy and carbohydrate from our diets, making our food delicious, filling and healthy, rather than being overly ambitious.

In all honesty I think this is the key, both me and my partner (who was initially shocked about my sudden change in dinner plans) felt happy and healthier and honestly I have lost inches, my clothes fit better and I have been at the receiving end of a fair few compliments.

If you are wondering what was on the winning healthy menu, here are a few of the meals I prepared the last couple week:

- - - Hokkien Stir Fry Noodles with Red Peppers, Carrots, Scallions and Beef Strips in a Sweet-Soy Asian Style Sauce

-- -- Beef Mince Tacos with heaps of shredded Lettuce, fresh Tomatoes, Salsa and Homemade Guacamole

- - - Grilled Chicken with Salad (and I had half a chicken left over which I used to make Chicken wraps and served with a leafy salad the next day)

- - - Steamed Cous Cous with diced Red Onion, Parsley and Tomatoes tossed in Lemon Juice and Olive Oil served with Lamb Chops

- - - Pan Fried Basa Fillets in a Lemon, White Wine Sauce with Parsley, Steamed Broccoli, on a bed of steamed white rice (used 1 tbp olive oil for 4 fillets)

- Seared Salmon Fillets with Asparagus and Carrots

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Home is Where The Heart Is

I’m back! Am officially on holiday and am aiming to resurrect my food blog with the former enthusiasm, passion and dedication prior to my stint working in Melbourne as a full time chef.

So here goes my attempt to redeem myself with a catch up... Cheers!

Crossing the Java Strait as I fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from Melbourne, where I began my journey this morning, my tummy is tight with knots, cramping like it always does when I am anxious. The aches in my stomach are no doubt the result of my recent incessant pondering over the notion of “home”, a matter that has been plaguing me since dinner last night.

On our way to our loved relaxed resto-bar Bimbo’s in Fitzroy, I could not help but want to take in all of Melbourne’s surrounds for the last time in 2010. I am not afraid to admit that whilst I have shared a love-hate relationship with the city of Melbourne over the span of this year, I could not help but feel a pang of sadness for a city that has definitely grown on me.

Days melded effortlessly into weeks and months with my time spent cooped up hours on end in the confines of Italian kitchens cooking up countless pastas and risottos, yet an undeniable connection with the city has triumphed over time. Melbourne despite its weary transport system and at times nonchalant people have snuck under my skin and won me over, especially because of the work-hard, play-hard ethos. And, I would be a fool to pretend for even one second that the city’s teeming restaurants, vibrant food markets that spoil one for choice, along with the continuous spirit of celebration that looms in the air has played no part whatsoever.

The question of who the reference to “our” refers to above may have arisen. Since April of this year I have become accessory to an Australian man of Irish-Maltese parentage, and he has completely and utterly captured my heart. Ok, I can assure you there will be no gushing and mushiness; I am simply bringing matters up to date as it is no secret that I have been MIA for some time now.

While we scoffed down $ 4 ultra thin wood-fire oven baked pizzas topped with oh so delicate flavours of smoked-salmon, spinach and mascarpone contrasted by a more robust choice of lamb, feta and rocket leaves, washed down with a local Cab-Shiraz, I think both Danny and I silently gave thanks for the time we have enjoyed together over the last six and a half months despite my work weeks averaging 50 hours! Beyond the belief that we are soul mates, we have become best friends and loyal partners, confidants and gastro-aficionados. We have managed to build a bond that feels airtight, bolstered by the resounding success of our once-upon-a-time spontaneous plan of moving in together and now added to us being us, we have a home to show for it, together.

Having had an abundance of intimate moments – just the two of us, I only assume it must be natural for me to feel slightly frazzled at the prospect of going back “home”. “Home” to the first and only notion previous to Melbourne of being “home” – that is Bangalore, India tomorrow afternoon.

Tonight I break my journey with an overnight stay in Kuala Lumpur, enjoying time with me, myself and I – symbolic of the interim period between my “new” life with Danny in our Melbourne home and that which separates me from my family and childhood rooted sense of home back in Bangalore.

My trip home has four main reasons. Number one and two are big, fat, Indian weddings, one within my extended family and the other my dearest, best friend Swetha – the first of my girls to get hitched. Of course, Christmas celebrations with my family, for which Danny will join me in mid December rates number three. And last, but not least, time for reflection, to figure out what 2011 holds for me career wise? I have been toying with the thought of going back to writing full time, or perhaps delving into events management, menu planning, or some kind of role involving travel and food, but basically putting cooking on the back burner for a bit and using my Gastronomy Masters and my Chef Certification in conjunction, somehow to get back to some of my original goals I had in mind when I first embarked on my journey Down Under.

Apart from spending time in Bangalore the next two months hold exciting travels too, with trips to Hong Kong end of this month and to Sri Lanka to usher in the New Year.