Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Innovated Thai recipe that ferried me across hot waters !!!!!

Just like any other day, I woke up late, well after the sun had covered half its journey of the day. After having the brunch I started the usual surfing on my iPad, when I suddenly stumbled on some pictures of  enticing south Asian cuisine. Being a person who can rarely resist good food, I felt the desire to 'chow' down such delicacies. But Mitra would be back home late tonight and I was in no mood to trudge to some Thai restaurant all by myself. Thus the only option left to satiate my desire is to cook a Thai dish myself. Cooking such dishes is not that exacting, and would not take long to prepare for just two persons. So I continued to relax just as any other normal day. But things would soon tighten up, thanks to my 'very responsible' husband. 
Just as the sun had completed its journey, I decided to take out the chicken from the refrigerator and then the surprise struck me. I was there, holding two boxes each with six chicken drumsticks that were about to expire the next day. As far as I remembered these pieces were bought just the day before by Mitra while returning from his institute. Well it was not the first time when he bought something without checking the expiry date. Generally chicken pieces available at the super markets last for more than a week but you can always expect old boxes hiding among the fresh ones and my husband was perfect in picking up two such boxes. Anyways, I can't complain much as this is what one should expect from someone working on his thesis. But now it was up-to me to fix this mess and cook two boxes of chicken that weigh about 800 grams, all in one day. But even if I manage to do so, we must also be available to gorge down 800 grams, that too in one day. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Strasbourg : French capital of Christmas

While checking the weather forecast I suddenly realized that the temperature would soon touch sub-zero. The winter jackets have already started coming out of the closets and the trees are fast loosing their leaves. Winter is here once again and with the advent of winter the atmosphere here in Europe fills up with the spirit of Christmas. The Christmas lights of Champs Elysees have already been lit and the Christmas market that runs from mid-November until early January will start this week. Christmas markets are not that popular in France, though such markets are now being held in certain cities. It is more of a German tradition of having such street markets during Christmas, with some of the oldest ones dating back to the late middle ages. However in France, one can always enjoy such markets, with the ones in the Alsace region boasting of a tradition as old as the German ones. I frankly do not remember the source from where we came to know of it (may be Mitra's ramdom clicks on his computer), but once we did we made it sure not to miss the opportunity to relish it.

The Frankish empire after the Treaty of Verdun
 (Sorry but did not find a good English version) :
Source: Wikipedia
Before narrating our pleasurable experience at Strasbourg, the capital of the Alsace region, it is important to present a brief history of Alsace and thus the reason why such a German tradition is also an integral part of the Alsatian culture. In fact the Christmas market is not the only German stuff that you would find in Alsace. It also shares the German architecture, the German pretzels and ofcourse German beer with Alsace being the main beer-producing region of France. The story starts in the times of Charlemagne when he forged the Frankish empire, about three centuries after the collapse of the Roman empire. The greatest expansion of the Frankish empire was secured by the early 9th century from which evolved the subsequent German and French empires. The three grandsons of Charlemagne divided up the empire among themselves with the Treaty of Verdun in 843. Louis took control of East Francia from which evolved the Kingdom of Germany, Charles the Bald reigned over West Francia which later became France while Lothair recieved te central portion of which Alsace was a part. Ever since the death of Lothair in 855 Alsace has found itself being juggled among the two powerful neighboring kingdoms of France and Germany. France had held Alsace for about 200 years starting from 1674 but lost it once again to the Germans after the Franco-Prussian war. Finally the German defeats in the two World Wars meant Alsace was firmly incorporated into the French Republic and thus stems its present affiliation. So the German influence on the Alsatian culture is obvious and one such influence results in the Christmas market being held in Strasbourg since 1570.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Easy to cook yet Yummy Chicken Biryani

Biryani is one of the most popular dishes of the Indian subcontinent. Its origin may not be precisely known but most probably it originated in the kitchens of the Mughal rulers of India. No matter what its origin is, it is one dish no Indian (or anyone who has tasted it before) can afford to miss. There are numerous types of biryani that developed over the centuries, each depending on its creators taste, availability and ethnic differences. But surely each variety is delicious, savory and a gastronomical pride for the Indian subcontinent.
Generally Biryani (like most other Indian culinary delights) is considered to be too spicy and fattening and ofcourse too difficult to prepare. Well, not always. At a corner of the Pragati Maidan in New Delhi, on the Mathura Road lies "Matka Peer Dargah", the shrine of Hazrat Sheikh Abubakr Tusi Haidari Qalandari, a mystic who came to Delhi from Iran, around the 1260s. Around the durgah can be found the famous Baboo Shahi’s biryani, the recipe of which has trickled down over time from his ancestor who was supposedly the chef in the kitchen of emperor Shah Jahan. This form of biryani is actually prepared with mutton but with less amount of ghee (clarified butter) and without beresta (crispy fried onions) . Inspired from this here is my version of an easy to cook, somewhat less fattening yet enticing Chicken Biriyani.


Chopped garlic- 3 cloves
Chicken legs-6
Ghee-2 tsp
Cinnamon stick-1
Green cardamom-7+5
Brown cardamon-2+1
Bay leaf-1
Shahi jeera-1/2 tsp
Garam masala-1tsp
Jeera powder-1/2 tsp
Cinnamon powder-1/3 tsp
Green cardmom powder-1/3 tsp
Clove powder-1/3 tsp
Red chili powder-1 tsp
Sugar-1 tsp
Hyderabadi Biryani masala-1 tsp
Vegetable oil-3 tbsp
Basmati rice-2 cups
Rose water-3 tsp
Salt to taste


Soak the Basmati rice for 1 hour in water. Change the water after every 30 minutes.

Add vegetable oil  and 1 tsp ghee in a thick bottomed pan. Add chopped garlic. Sautee till it turns golden brown. Add the chicken and sear the meat till it browns on all the sides. (Searing is a technique in which the surface of the food is cooked at high temperature so a caramelized crust forms.)

Add 300ml water and lower the heat. Add the cinnamon stick, cardamom (green-7 and brown-2), 5 cloves and 1 mace. Add 1 tsp salt, all the powdered spices and yogurt. Sautee. Add sugar and mix it well. Cook for 40 min.  Check seasoning and then add 1 tsp salt. Now switch off the flame.

Prepare the rice while the chicken was being prepared. Add adequate water to the rice and then add shahi jeera, 3 cloves, 1 mace, bay leaf, green (5) and brown (1) cardamom, salt and a little bit of vegetable oil. Prepare the rice to 80% done. Drain the water. Put 1 tsp of ghee in the vessel in which you cooked the rice and transfer the rice to it and shuffle it nicely with a fork gently.

Transfer all the rice over the chicken. Add 3 tsp of rose water and saffron (dissolved in lukewarm water) and cook it in Dum for 15 minutes, first 5 minutes at 160°C, next 5 minutes at 120°C and the final 5 minutes at 100°C.  (Dum pukht (Slow oven) means cooking on very low flame, mostly in sealed containers, allowing the meats to cook, as much as possible, in their own juices and bone-marrow.)

Let it stand for a few minutes and then shuffle the rice with the meat and voila!!!! The easy but tasty Biryani is ready to be devoured upon!!!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Hor d'oeuvres using different types of French Cheese

In 1962 Charles de Gaulle was famously quoted for saying "Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays qui a deux cent quarante-six variétés de fromage?" -"How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?". Here in France almost every region has its own type of cheese. The types of cheese that numbered to around 246 at the time of Charles de Gaulle has now surpassed 400 owing to new methods, copied varieties from traditional ones and crossing of different types. To protect the traditional and geographic origin of the types, the french certification of Appellation d'origine Contrôlée (AOC) has been given since 1925 with the blue cheese Roquefort being the first to recieve it. I would not go into the details of all types of French cheeses and their classification, but briefly present here my recipes of three starters prepared using three types of cheese, each from a different region of France and from different sources (cow, sheep and goat milk).

Tomme de Savoie- Cow milk tomme from the Alps

Picture from Wikipedia
Tomme is a cheese popular in the French alps and Switzerland made from skimmed milk and so are generally low in fat. Tomme de Savoie is the tomme made in the Savoie region of France. This alpine cheese can be aged for 30 days to upto 3 months and the strength of taste and smell depends on the period of aging. The mild flavored ones are good for starters and given its soft nature can be used on a variety of dishes. My preparation with this cheese is inspired from the Italian Bruschetta or the French Canapé. Both these distinct finger snacks are based on pieces of bread with a variety of toppings. In Bruschetta the bread is rubbed with garlic and then grilled while in Canapé the bread with its toppings can fried, sauteed or toasted. For the topping I used Jambon de Bayonne, a famous French ham from the south western Atlantic coast grilled with Tomme de Savoie, the cheese from the south eastern alpine mountains.

Bayonne Ham-3 slices
Tomme de Savoie-50g

Slice the baguette. Cut the butter into small cubes. Chop the ham into thin rectangular pieces. Cut the cheese also into rectangular pieces. Now take a baking dish. Place the pieces of baguette in it. Place 2 cubes of butter on each piece of baguette, then place the chopped ham on top of it. Place one piece of cheese on top of the ham. Put the baking tray in a pre-heated oven for 15 minutes at 180°C . Serve it hot.

Ossau-Iraty- Sheep milk cheese from the Basque Country

Picture from Wikipedia
The Basque country is the region in the south western part of France bordering Spain and spans along the Pyrenees mountain range. The Basque culture has historically been unique and different from both the French and Spanish but has the influences of them both. The steep mountainous pastures of this region can be seen dotted with sheep ever since antiquity. The sheep milk in this region is used to make one of the only two sheep milk cheese of France with an AOC certification. Roquefort from Midi-Pyrenees being one and Ossau-Iraty being the other. Ossau-Iraty originated from the Ossau valley and the Iraty forest of the Basque region. Made from raw, unpasteurized milk, this cheese is medium soft and has a very delicately smooth flavor. This smooth flavor makes it a favorite to be used for appetizers and starters. I used this cheese to create a simple but tasty starter, with it being wrapped inside the famous Italian ham, the Prosciutto of Parma.  

Ossau-Iraty cheese
Prosciutto of Parma

Cut the cheese into bite-size pieces. Now take the ham and place the cheese in the middle. Wrap the ham around the cheese. Line the baking tray with baking sheet. Now place the pieces of ham and bake them in a pre-heated oven for 10 minutes at 180°C. Serve it with grilled vegetables.

Crottin de Chavignol- Goat milk cheese from the Loire valley

Picture from Wikipedia
France is famous all over the world for its goat milk cheese called the Chèvre (the french word for goat). Crottin de Chavignol is the most famous type of Chèvre. It originates from a small village, Chavignol with a population of just around 200, about 5 km west of the river Loire in central France.The cheese takes its name from the term "crot" which means "hole" in the local Berrichon dialect. The crots designated places located along rivers where the laundry was washed. The clay from these banks was used to make oil lamps and the cheese molds which was in turn used to make this cheese. The AOC appellation now applies to the cheese produced in the 550,000 hectares of land around this village. The cheese is subtle with a nutty flavor and can be used to prepare a traditional French starter called Chèvre chaud au Miel. Miel is the french word for honey and this dish is prepared with honey and Chèvre. Here is my version of Chèvre chaud au Miel with Crottin de Chavignol.

Crottin de Chavignol
Honey-1/2 cup
Wine Vinegar- 2tbsp
Thyme-1/3 tsp
Rosemary-1/3 tsp

Wrap the cheese nicely in aluminium foil. Pre-heat the oven at 220°C. Place the cheese in the oven. Bake it for 14 minutes at 180°C. Change the side after 7 minutes. Meanwhile prepare the honey topping. Pour the honey in a sauce pan. Add vinegar and the herbs. Mix it nicely with an egg-beater. Now start heating it at a very low temperature and keep beating it with an egg-beater. After around 3 minutes you will start getting the smell of the herbs getting incorporated in the honey. Stop beating and let it thicken at a very low temperature. Take out the cheese from the oven. Cut it into thick slices and place it on the dish. Now pour the honey on top of it and let it stand for 1 minute. Serve it warm.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

24 Hours in Paris : A Photo Tribute

I have often wondered what is it in Paris that attracts me so much. Is it just the city, its culture, its landmarks, or the ever smiling but never content people around me. What is Paris anyway. It is one city you would find high up on any "Most visited city" list. A true cosmopolitan, it is one city where if you stand long enough at one place you are sure to hear all known languages of the world. A celebrated city, a lot has been said over twenty centuries and anything I write will not be enough. I, however on my part would present here how I have seen this city for the last few years and what a normal Parisian day means to me. 

  The first word that comes to my mind about Paris is chaos. But there is a charm in all forms of disorder that goes on in this city. Hemingway had famously called Paris a movable feast and this is so evident in everything around you in this dynamic city.
 A day however in Paris starts like a day in any city of the world. The markets, the people gathering their energy to live through the day, the sea of feet boarding the transports and then hurrying off on their way. But in the midst of it all, one can find the beauty that Paris has to offer.
Reading runs deep into the Parisian culture. Bouquinistes selling used books along the banks of the Seine, have been a part of that culture since the 16th century. 
A city where art and science has been coalesced for centuries and it is aptly represented by Jules Blanchard in the statue that represents Science but is also a grand form of art. People here are always hungry to know more and this hunger often vents in reproaching the system around them no matter how perfect it might be. 
But at the end of the day, they know how to respect the ones who have made Paris and France proud. The Pantheon built originally as a church, now is a burial place with the inscription "To the great men, the grateful homeland" adorning its doors. It stands tall in the famous Latin Quarter representing a city that considers its people more important than the gods.
Through all the chaos of the day you can always find serenity in the heart of the city. The Notre Dame of Paris represents the belief amidst the sea of responsibilities, of unknown quests, of la vie.
And the candles there can be offered irrespective of one's religion. Its not the trust in God that represents the city, but a belief in oneself, the belief in the equality of Paris and the love for her, the rose window and the two towers.
The eternal city, its largest and most celebrated cemetery Pere Lachaise is where the dead rest but budding love can also be found there if that is what one is looking for. 
And love is everywhere to be found in the Ville de l'amour. Pont des Arts embodies love with  padlocks adorning it which were attached there by couples to glorify their union.

And then the sun sets, over the Ile de la Cité, over the Eiffel and the city continues on.
Place de la Concorde, the place where the Guillotine once stood and exemplifies the turmoil the city has faced. The name itself was coined as a gesture to the turmoil brought about by the French Revolution of 1789. But Paris knows how to bring out the beauty in all its gestures and so does Place de la Concorde. 
As the darkness of the evening descends upon Paris, it lights up even more. The city is called the 'City of Lights', because it was one of the first cities in the world to have street lamps. The lights still dazzle and will surely continue for eternity.
The Louvre, one of the largest museums in the world was built for the powerful kings of France. The french belief in Equality, Liberty and Fraternity is glorified in this landmark. The structure, once belonging to a single monarch now is open to all as a symbol of not only french culture but also all civilizations of the world. 
And grace is everywhere, in every corner of Paris, even in the harshest of times and in the worst weather.
and even when the mist blinds ones view, or obstructions block ones path, Paris can shine through.
Pont Alexandre III built in 1892 as a symbol of Franco-Russian alliance. Deep into the darkness of the night as the moon shines on, the city as the capital of France continues to forge unity in the diverse world.
Dinner in Paris is often a feast. The gastronomical capital of the world, Paris is an ensemble of all the culinary pleasures of France. The Brasseries of Paris with their relaxing settings and affordable prices enhance the tastes of those delights. 
The word Brasserie comes from the old french word  'brasser' which means to brew. No meal in Paris is thus complete without wine, which is also the first thing that comes to the minds of most people when they hear the word France. 
The city also has its golden glitters, the Champs Elysses which reflects the wealth and the fame. The Arc de Triomph at its end, commissioned to mark the success of the Battle of Austerlitz and Napoleon Bonaparte's ambitious campaign, reflects the ambition of the Parisians for that fame and wealth. 
The French director Jean Cocteau once said "In Paris, everybody wants to be an actor; nobody is content to be a spectator." As the hopes, dreams and ambitions of the Parisians settles down for the night, the Eiffel with its beacon looks on, waiting for the day to break.
And thus the sun rises once again and Paris starts all over again with its chaos, its energy, its culture and arts, its ambitions, its serenity, its love and its glory. As Thomas Jefferson had once said "a walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life." Yes Paris is always a "good idea" as Audrey Hepburn would have said. It is a movable feast and it is a celebration of humanity.