Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Celebrating Good France Project at Hyatt Regency, Kolkata

Lamb Chops at La Cucina, Hyatt Regency, Kolkata 
La Cucina, Hyatt Regency is one of the cosiest places in town, and when J told me about the fact that it is participating in the Good France project along with 1300 other chefs, across five continents, I quietly anticipated a memorable meal. I entered on time to find the place packed with people, and when I asked, J blithely told me that they were all to participate in the event, and were pretty happy about the six-course curated meal. 

Wines at Hyatt
I was slightly late, but well, after seating, our server provided us with the meal menu and wine list. After a quick glance at the list of drinks available, I chose the Cardinal Prosecco Extra Dry, because I have a natural inclination towards bubbles and tang, and it goes nicely with fish (in my head at least). 

Cardinal Prosecco
A basket of warm bread was placed before us, and a little slice of herb butter begged to be slathered all over the round roll I picked up. I split it open, used my knife with vehement precision, and watched the butter melt. Basil and a touch of mint combined with the crunch of the crust, and the soft bread within was comforting. I decided to be demure and suppressed the need to reach for another roll, a move that I regretted as soon as they disappeared within moments.

bread basket
I had chosen the non-vegetarian fare, so the duck liver "au torchon", with pickled cherry started off, a perfect bite of creamy duck liver pâté over a thin slice of crunchy toast, topped with a tiny amount of pickled sour cherry. The pâté was creamy and decadent, with a faint metallic aftermath, making me long for a bowlful of the same, and a few slices of crunchy toast. 

Duck Liver "Au Torchon" with pickled cherry.
The Yellowfin Tuna was seared briefly on the outside, retaining the coveted pink flesh within, with a coat of dill and parsley, and served with a fine brunoise of tomatoes. There was a little half of a quail egg which I savored between bites of the fish, the pink flesh melting on my tongue.

Yellowfin Tuna. Herb-seared. Chilli Tomato Salsa. Boiled egg.
After the tuna, I was not expecting much out of the Kolkata Bekti, but it surprised me by being fork tender. It held itself well against the delicate red pepper sabayon, and the leek 'fondue' (Which wasn't as much a fondue as a creamy bed) added a touch of sweetness which showcased the perfectly grilled fish, which flaked at the first touch of my fork. A quick drizzle of lemon, and my world was a happy, joyful place.

Kolkata Bekti. Leek Fondue. Red Pepper Sabayon.
At this point, my stomach was starting to protest, but at that point, the Agneau Chops came in, with a side of perfectly executed Potato Dauphinoise, thin layers of potato and cream, with a gloriously charred top. The lamb was tender, juicy, and cooked for just the right amount of time, and the pairing was set off perfectly by the red wine jus which helped bring everything together. How I wished for added stomach space!

Agneau Chops. Tian of Ratatouille. Pommes Dauphinoise. Pinot Noir Jus.
Before moving to the desserts, the cheese course was served to us. Brie remains one of my favorite cheeses of all time, and when it is drizzled with Truffle honey, and served with fresh strawberries (instead of macerated, as mentioned in the menu), it makes the transition from the entree to the dessert so easy. There were thin, crunchy slivers of toast, which shattered into tiny shards as soon as I bit into it, and the creamy, salty brie, and the sweet truffle honey was a heady combination.

Brie de Meaux. White Truffle Honey. Telichhery Pepper. Macerated Strawberries.
The chef had promised a chocolate cake as dessert, and it came, with a side of beetroot ice cream set on a macaron, a ring of praline, and caramelized walnuts on one side of the plate. On the other side was a disc of chocolate which was somewhere similar to a mousse au chocolat. Although I was looking forward to the cake (I love cake!), the first bite of the rich, decadent chocolate, that was a delight for a hapless chocolate lover (me!) made me guard my plate carefully, and later, was directly responsible for my urge to make truly horrid jokes (which the other members of the table were tortured with). I did find the beetroot chip to be a bit superfluous, but nothing was more satisfying than shattering the ring of praline with a sharp rap of my spoon.

Chocolate Cake. Beetroot Ice Cream. Beetroot Chips. Caramelized Walnuts.
Priced at INR 2500/- per person (plus tax), this six-course meal was designed to tantalize the palate and add a French note to the evening. A set of wines from around the world was served at retail price.

Disclaimer: Poorna Banerjee dined at La Cucina at the kind invitation of the management. 

Sweet shops Not to Miss in Kolkata

When it comes to finding top quality Bengali desserts in Kolkata, you would be happy to know that there are a huge number of options for you to select from. Kolkata has an incredible heritage of great food, and the sweet shops are an integral part of it. Although many options are there, if asked for my personal favorite five, and why, I would choose the following places:
  1. Girish Chandra Dey and Nakur Chandra Nandy – This place specializes in making Bengali sweets in Kolkata, essentially, only sandesh. That means, no, this place will never serve you roshogolla. But, with the number of things they have on offer, you will be spoilt for choices. They also make a special sandesh cake on order, which is incredible.
  2. Banchharam – If you have a little soft spot for the humble jolbhora talshaansh sandesh, this is where you should go. In winter, the nolen gur talshaansh is filled with runny nolen gur, a form of molasses found in Bengal. Also, them make wonderful chhanar jilipi which are best served warm (I generally tend to heat them up slightly before consuming).
  3. Chittaranjan – If you want true blood Bengali dessert, try their abar khabo sandesh, or the madhuparka, which essentially looks like mishti doi, but is totally different, and absolutely amazingThe cham cham is also excellent – creamy and melt-in-your-mouth.  
  4. Balaram Mullick and Radharaman Mullick Sweets – Two words. Baked Mihidana. Okay, another two words. Baked Roshogolla. This is one of the most innovative sweet shops in the town, and most of their sweets and the mishti doi is incredible. If you are looking for great Bengali sweet shops in Kolkata, do not miss out on this one.
  5. Bhim Chandra Nag – Bhim Nag is one of those shops which contains wonderful gems like the gawja, or the nolen gur-er sandesh. Personally, the kalo jam, which is a version of the gulab jamun, is a major favorite too!

Of course – plenty of places are not going to be named here. But if you want to check out the sweet shops not to be missed in Kolkata, you have to try these places out. They are pretty incredible and are perfect for satisfying your sweet tooth.

Monday, March 23, 2015

How to Save on Online Shopping with Coupons

Image Courtesy: zoutons.com
One of the things that I am getting more and more addicted to is online shopping. Truly, it has a huge set of merits, which start with the fact – there is no fear of a store closing down, or going in too late or too early. Nowadays, online shops are getting smart, and you would see that apart from the description provided, detailed photographs from every angle, design details, and a thorough review of the features of the product are often provided.

Top online shopping sites are now also on mobile apps, so you have the option to do your shopping while travelling, or sitting with a bunch of peers in boring meeting! We always tend to look at great deals, and nowadays, it is not difficult to find a deal or a few if you look around the net for a few minutes. The best part is, most of these sites provide you the option for COD, so if you are not comfortable paying via your card, you can always pay cash when the product reaches you.

So, if you really want to save up on online shopping in India, why not choose great coupons which will help you pay less cash? If you don’t know what these are, well, simply put, from time to time, depending on the availability and other options, top websites give out exclusive codes which can be used to save up a lot of money. But, because they are exclusive, they often come to members of the website who have ordered before, or are regular customers, who buy a lot.

However, thanks to many portals, now getting coupon codes and availing offers is no longer an issue. For example, when you go online to a great portal like Jabong, you would see the coupon codes provided when you click on the ‘CLICK TO VIEW OFFER’ button, it shows the available coupons that can be applied to it, and the amount of money you save.

But, then again, not every site is the same. For some, you would really have to look. Like, for availing Flipkart coupon codes, you will find some exclusive discounts only through the mobile app, or through emails. However, there are portals which curate these codes and display them. Even in a portal which already provides the user with a great amount of discount, you would find secret codes that can actually reduce your cost down, and make it next to nothing. For example, Snapdeal coupon codes reduce the price of Snapdeal products very easily, and give special combination offers which are definitely hard to miss.

The best thing about online shopping is – it is hassle-free, easy-to-use, safe, and returns are nowadays made simple, so if you are not happy with your product, you can always return them, provided your product meets the exchange policy criteria which is written on the company returns policy page. 

More than Milk: Making Breakfast Healthy and Filling

There are many people who have asked me how I can survive eating out virtually every day, and not small, restricted quantities too! My only answer to them is this – I eat when I am hungry, and I eat breakfast without fail.

As I work through the night, often ending up going to sleep around 4-5 am in the morning, the first meal after I wake up from my sleep ends up being supremely important, because it fills me up, and I feel charged through the day. As I often have to go out for lunch engagements, I end up eating the food outside, and then I have a tendency of not eating until I feel hungry.

My grandmother told me once – eat only when you feel hungry, because your hunger is your stomach’s signal for wanting more food. She also told me never to starve myself, but to eat adequately, and make a combination of everything – protein, carbohydrates and fat, with plenty of fibers from green vegetables. As I love eating my greens, I don’t have any problem filling up on vegetables, both raw and cooked.

But when it comes to breakfast in my house, I am often picky. I like the meals I cook, but sometimes, I am lazy and then I just pop open a pack of corn flakes and add it to a bowl of cold milk, with a handful of nuts. I like adding slivers of almonds to my corn flakes. On the other hand, corn flakes are kept in my house because they are much more than breakfast food for me. My mother makes a cornflakes-crusted chicken which is crunchy and absolutely delicious.

Cornflakes are versatile and fun to use up, and you can make so many things with them! Check out https://www.facebook.com/anaajkanashta, where you can see so many different recipes that are being whipped up in the house of Guptaji. The idea that they have is simple – corn flakes can be jazzed up in many different manners, and all of them are tasty and easy to cook with. I checked out a few recipes, and loved the idea of making cornflakes balls with chocolate and walnuts. The chocolate adds a load of anti-oxidants to your body, and the walnuts are filled with good fat. The combination with corn flakes make them light, tasty, nutritious and crunchy. 

Also, if you check out the “Homework wala Nashta”, you will see an incredibly fun recipe where a savory salad is made with cornflakes, cabbage, celery, grapes, topped with a smooth, yogurt-laden dressing. A very different combination indeed!

So, if I would go to Guptaji’s house for a meal, there must be fun recipes like this in the menu! These are easy to make and tasty. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for me, and yes, of course I would love some good food! 

Disclaimer: This post is in association with Kellogg's India.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Low-Spice Mutton Curry: Mangsher Halka Jhol

Low-spice mutton curry 
My aunt used to make a mutton curry which would be without any spice, virtually, but it would taste so good that my father and I would gobble up plates of rice with it, adding nothing more than a couple of green chillies while mashing the rice with our hands. Every time I would go over to my aunt's place, I would request this dish because it was so simple, but tasty, and she would make it for me. Over time, I sat down in the kitchen, chopped onions, prepped potatoes, and watched her in action, and slowly realized how she made it. Today, my version is quite similar to what she makes, to the extent that my mother gave me a compliment - which is a rare feat indeed! If you are on the hunt for a low-spice mutton curry, this is it! We even serve it to the sick, especially when they are fresh out of a fever and complaining for something which will be tasty.

meat marinated
The key to this mutton dish is - okay, you guessed it - FAT. I generally add about 50 gm. of solid mutton fat per 500 gm. of meat, and thankfully, my butcher is nice enough to slice up a bit of solid mutton fat and give it to me when I am buying. For this dish, I like the ribs and the foreleg, but you can actually make this dish with virtually any part of mutton, and it will still be tasty.

Start with marinating about 750 gm. meat in 2 tablespoon plain yogurt, 1 large pinch red chilli powder, 1 large pinch pepper powder, 1 teaspoon ginger paste and 1 teaspoon garlic paste. You can also add a bit of salt, but I generally skip it.

all the vegetables.
Cut 3-4 potatoes and a couple of carrots into pieces, and add a few chunks of raw papaya. Also, observe here - I have peeled a couple of onions and a few large cloves of garlic. These are little flavor bombs which taste incredible. Do not miss out on these. They are also quite filling and nutritious, and is fantastic when you are consuming this with chunks of bread.

whole masalas frying
Heat a tablespoon of vegetable or mustard oil over medium-high heat in a pressure cooker. In case you don't have a pressure cooker, you can cook it in a heavy-bottomed vessel with a tight fitting lid. When the oil is hot, swirl it about, and then add 2-3 green cardamoms, a couple of sticks of cinnamon, about an inch wide, 10-12 peppercorns, 2 bay leaves, and 3-4 cloves. You can also add a couple of dry red chillies at this point. I like, so I add. Let this fry slightly, for about 30 seconds.

onions frying
Drop in about 200 gm. onions, sliced. I personally love these purple onions, they are perfect for this purpose. Once the onions are in, add a pinch of salt, and stir them about. Let this cook for 2-3 minutes.

mutton fat
Oh hello, mutton fat! For those of you who are already suffering from a cholesterol arrest, let me tell you, this step is going to enhance the food's taste so much! Just add fat, chopped up, to your mutton curry, and let it fry for a few minutes before introducing the meat. Stir the meat about over high heat, let the juices seal up. Then, add 2 cups of water, a few dashes of salt and sugar, 1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder (you can substitute with paprika). Let this come to a boil, then cover the pressure cooker with its lid, and let it come to full pressure. Once full pressure is attained, lower the heat and cook for 10-15 minutes, depending on your cooker's ability to soften the meat. Over low heat, this will take roughly 45 minutes to an hour.

Once the 10-15 minutes are up, turn off the heat and let the pressure cool down by itself, so that the lid can be opened by itself.

Half finished mutton curry
At this point, add the vegetables - the potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic and papaya. You can always be a bit of a purist and add nothing, but to be fair, this dish isn't complete without some vegetables. Once you add the vegetables, stir well, if required, add a bit more water, then cover the lid of the cooker, and let it come to full pressure. Once that is achieved, reduce heat and cook for 5-8 minutes. Turn off the pressure cooker, and let it cool down naturally till the lid comes off. Open the cooker, check the meat to see if it is properly seasoned. Then, pick out the meat, pieces of vegetables, and soft pieces of onions, because  Serve with rice or slices of toasted bread. I always pick out the soft cloves of garlic and smoosh it all over my toast before I dip it in the gravy. This is one low spice mutton curry which my father never can get enough of.

Non spicy mutton curry 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Gorgeous Destinations Uncovered through Cricket!

Although I would admit to the fact that I watch cricket mostly because of the performance, but I cannot help but admire the beauty of the surrounding area of the stadium. It is actually quite inspiring to see the gorgeous terrain sometimes, especially during the commentary, and when top commentators speak eloquently about the beauty of the sights around, it is always a pleasure to listen. As I am an inveterate traveler, being constantly in the move, I find gorgeous locations to be a major positive factor, which often make me sit through the course of a long test cricket match.

I attend matches in the Eden Gardens every once in a while. Being a Bengali, and from Kolkata, watching cricket matches live is a part of my existence. I believe that somehow, as people are more aware of the location, they do want to see it more, as well as what is around the grounds. That is probably one of the reasons why the beautification of my city has improved considerably, and people take much more care while designing new additions to the city.

Also, I love watching matches where I can see the match, and also feel the ambiance slightly. Take Melbourne, for example. One of the things that totally attracted me were the aerial views that were shot during the course of a match, and I was smitten by the beauty of it. I mean, who wouldn’t love the combination of lush greenery and muted shades of silver and steel is such a visual extravaganza, which made me gasp with pleasure. I never knew the city was so gorgeous, but now that I do, I cannot help but plan a vacation there. 

With the amount of attention paid to the beauty, I believe cricket has a really positive effect on finding out new cool destinations which we never had any idea about before. Previously, this was not very plausible, but now it is, and I believe it is a positive change.