(Yet Another) Foodie

food experiences in this lifetime ...

Lunch at Auroville

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We visited Pondicherry right on the year end. And one of the days was dedicated to visiting Auroville. Of course, we later found out that there isn’t much to do at Auroville if you are not part of the Auroville community. You can do a bit of shopping at their boutique shops and buy expensive organic and locally made stuff, and then you can go for a long walk and see the Matrimandir from a designated spot. You need a free pass to go see the Matrimandir.

However, we had not bothered to find out about timings of Auroville and landed 5 minutes after they break for lunch. So we had about an hour and half before they started distributing passes again.

Anyways, we had to have lunch too. And after fighting for a table at the crowded cafetaria (off peak hours it is not so crowded though), we finally got a seat and looked at the menu. It had a mix of north and south indian items, as well as several continental stuff, most probably for the large proportion of foreigners staying/visiting out here.

Continental food freaks as we were, we ordered some grilled fish and roasted chicken. As you can see, the food looked good and servings were generous. After a bite, I realized i was having one of the best food I had eaten at Pondicherry in my trip. The food was very fresh, with aromatic fresh herbs and was a delight to eat.

Next time I visit Pondicherry, there are two modifications to our trips plans that I am going to do – one is to get my own transportation, and two, to have as many meals here as possible.

I am really mean, no? :-P

Food Joint: Zoe, Indiranagar, Bangalore

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"Cafe Max"

Right on 7th main Indiranagar, the road connecting ESI hospital to 100ft. Virtually next door to Daily Bread.They serve euro and lebanese food.Some of their food is presented innovatively. Like the bruschetta below.

"Bruschetta"

Their falafel was quite nice, even though I must confess that since I have had it only once before I don’t really know how authentic it is.

"Falafel"

They serve really nice pasta. I have only tried spaghetti bolognese and primavera though. Both were nice. Though the bolognese taste keeps changing a bit.Their mocktails were a bit disappointing though.

Eggplant Parmesan

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"Our attempt at eggplant parmesan"

Our second attempt at eggplant Parmesan today. This time we got some basil from Namdhari’s and some fresh Italian mozzarella (as compared to the Britannia, Amul ones that we had earlier used) to make the dish.

The mozzarella cheese was a revelation. For just less than Rs. 100 a ball, this cheese, branded as Vallombrosa, was as fresh as it gets. Turned out that it was being made practically in our neighborhood by a Benedictine monastery, and used by all well known continental restaurants in Bangalore including our favorite Herbs and Spice. For more about the monastery which makes this cheese, read here and here.

The recipe we used was a variation of Elise’s recipe at Simply Recipes. However, we made some changes to the recipe. For curing the eggplant of it’s moisture, we used the microwave method given in the latest Cook’s Illustrated edition. The specific article is here. We also didn’t try breading the eggplant, as frankly we didn’t have the time to do that on a packed weekday night. I really don’t know what we missed by not breading(Crunchiness?). We also cooked the sauce, unlike Elise’s recipe, simply because it was too runny otherwise. To pair up we toasted some bread brushed with olive oil.

The basil and the mozarella lent a distinctiveness to the final outcome as compared to our last attempt. The sauce turned out really nice. The only problem was that one eggplant is too less for this recipe. You need at least two to have enough material to create the layers – we could barely create two layers. Also, by thickening the sauce, we ran a bit short of the sauce too. Oh well, we have to try this again to keep perfecting it. For a meat lover like me, this is one of those rare vegetarian dish that I look forward to.And yes, we used the convection mode in our microwave to actually make the dish. It turned out really well. Taking advantage of the heat, we toasted the bread in it too. It was those rare moments when we used the microwave for reasons other than reheating or defrosting food. :)

Wrestling With the OTG

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I need to get a real oven.

What passes off most commonly for an oven in India is what is known as OTG or Oven-Toaster-Grill. Needless to say, they way it is designed, the only thing it does best for me is toast. And sadly I already have a bread toaster, which we would rather use than this monstrosity.

The OTG has two heat coils – one at the top and one at the bottom, and can, at least as documented, heat upto 300 degrees centigrade (572 degrees Fahrenheit). However, I very much doubt whether it actually reaches that temperature. Since there are those bare coils hitting your food with direct heat all the time, there is no true convection mode. And there is no grill, it is just not designed to be. Or probably, it is termed that way to guise the fact that the contraption is actually trying to be a broiler, and most of the people around here don’t know the difference (heck, I didn’t till a few months back!). And since there are two coils – up and down, it is disappointing to be used as a true broiler too. And even in broiler mode, the thermostat stops it from getting too hot either.

It is not that you cannot use it for making food. Of course, you can. But you will have to have workarounds for every recipe. If the recipe calls for a convection kind of cooking, you will have to protect the food from the coils by wrapping it with foil or some utensil. If the recipe calls for broiling, you have to put a pan underneath to ensure that when you are moving the food away from the top coil, it doesn’t burn the food from below. In the photo above, I have shown how I have to broil chicken. I use the tray to catch the drip (I wrap it in foil beforehand so that it is easy to clean up). I don’t use the wire tray that came with the oven. It is too big for my food and is tougher to clean. Instead I use a smaller wire tray that came with my microwave, and use it upside down so that it lays flat on the tray below. Now I can adjust the tray to change the distance of the food from the coil. A lot of needless hacks, eh?

In fact the best convection oven I have in the house, is the very unused microwave oven. It’s convection mode is real convection. And it’s grill is real broiler, theoretically anyway. And I trust this electronic gizmo of being more temperature accurate than my cheap OTG anyway. But for some reason I rarely use it. I think the main reason is my hang up that I have a dedicated (and larger) oven/broiler now, and I have to use it to prove my investment. :P

The most common dishes I make in the OTG is broiled chicken, and sometimes fish. And this is where I suspect that either I am doing something wrong or the “oven” is really incapable.

I was watching an Youtube bootleg of Alton Brown’s Bird in the Pan.

The broiled chicken he cooks in the episode was done in 30 minutes. It took me more than one hour in the OTG, and even though the bird was done (from the meat thermometer reading), it never came close to the perfect roasted color of Alton’s bird. Now granted, I was using skinless meat, like most chicken meat found in the city, and that doesn’t crisp as well as skin. But at least there should be some effect on the flesh too when it is directly exposed so long to the grill heat? I could think of only one explanation – that the coils never get to the temperature that American broilers do. And my dish was mostly baked than broiled as a consequence.

There is very little information in the Net about OTG and “best practices” of using one. I know a few relatives and friends who make great food using it. But they don’t talk much. :) And write even lesser about their techniques.

Do you use an OTG? Do you think you have mastered how to cook on it? How about some tips?

Article Link: “Biryani Orgy” by Vir Sanghvi

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"Biryani"

Link: Biryani Orgy: Vir Sanghvi

  • Vir and Imtiaz Quereshi visit Karim’s In Old Delhi to try out their biryani and don’t like it.
  • Imtiaz cooks safed biryani – biryani with rice which though white, retain full flavor. He made it with olive oil!
  • Mohammed Rais makes lasooni pulao and biryani from raan or leg of a goat. Vir says this is rare. Hmm. What part is used to make regular biryani then? Have to read more on this?