To New Beginnings….

I love writing and blogging and food, good food. . But it’s very difficult impossible, to write or enjoy a wonderful meal with a newborn. S and I welcomed our beautiful, baby girl, ‘A’ into this world in November 2015.  Since then things have been on an absolute roll!

I am happy to share that my tiny venture – Socially Influenced, a digital communications agency, has taken off well and I have some fabulous clients. I love my job because I get to meet passionate, hardworking and sincere individuals and learn more about other businesses and industries. It is one of the most exciting things and for me – it is as much fun to deliver great content to clients as it is to play & watch Baby Girl A grow! I am blessed that I can follow my passion and get paid for it!

Among other news, S and I are slowly and steadily moving into Ahmedabad from our current home in Baroda (or Vadodara). Since the distance is barely 2 hours, we have been dilly-dallying with the actual move and end up going to our Ahmedabad home for just 10 odd days in a month. We hope that with Baby Girl A starting a Parent-Toddler program in AMD, we are more motivated to stay there and enjoy what the city has to offer.

From cooking a meal, once in awhile, I now need to cook at least 3 meals a day for us! Making a so-called ‘simple meal’ of Dal, Bhaat (rice), Roti & Shaak (Sabzi), or as we have begun calling it “DBRS”, takes me at least 2 hours! I still don’t know a lot of vegetables and it must be amusing for vegetable vendors when I ask them for help to identify common vegetables like parwal. Moving into your own home is definitely a lot of hard work, planning and organizing especially when you want to have a professional life as well. But, millions of people do it and all it takes is time. I am sure we will get to a smoothly functioning home very soon.

It’s a beautiful thing that we have friends and family over who fill our home with laughter. The happiness rings through the house and we love the chatter and sounds of people in our home. We’ve had casual dinners, teas and coffee nights which is perfect!

Baby Girl A loves exploring the house and we’ve kept it sparsely furnished so she can drive her trike in the house, or run around, without a care in the world. I’ve found veggie vendors, fruitwalas, small grocers, large grocery stores everything very close to home since we’re located in Prahladnagar.

The only thing that has been absolutely horrid is finding an Internet Connection!! We’ve moved in about 5 months ago and we still are struggling to find an internet provider. A huge bummer from me. I hope S can find a way soon to get some connectivity!

That’s what my family and I have been upto, what about you?

Yummy Breakfast Bagels – New York Style!

Last night, S, his family and I were just sitting on the dinner table talking about all sorts of yummy food, after dinner, which made me feel hungry again.. Somehow we got talking about donuts. I loooved donuts! There was this absolutely fabulous donut shop in downtown Monterey, California called Red’s Donuts, that made the most amazing, fresh ones. They were pretty much sold out by 10 AM and shut shop at 1 PM.. Ohhh the days before calories really mattered! We would head straight to the donut store after a short gym workout and I would get the custard filled ones! And the chocolate cakes ones! And the plain chocolate ones! And the cinnamon sugar ones! If you saw me, you could tell I’ve definitely enjoyed a donut or two! 😀 Donuts are definitely my favorite kind of breakfast!

S preferred to have bagels with sundried tomato cream cheese, as a rare breakfast treat – just proving how opposite we really are! I thought bagels are the healthier breakfast option, perfect for a daily breakfast. But then again, I am comparing one bagel to 3 donuts..

S’s parents couldn’t help but remember the time they would take their twin granddaughters down the street to get some bagel and cream cheese, one of the twins’ favorite snacks! It seemed like there were many memories attached to bagels and since we don’t get them in Baroda, I decided to look into making some.

The first few recipes I researched were all traditional bagel recipes which needed a lot of proving time, a very specific starter yeast etc. Then I found this fabulous recipe which assured me I would have hot bagels on the table in under 2 hours! I cheated and even used instant yeast to get them faster and it worked! These bagels turned out chewy, yeasty and fresh! I even used all whole wheat flour to make them a tad bit healthier. Without any oil or butter, I could feel guilt free about eating these with some cream cheese and of course, butter!

New York Style Whole Wheat Bagels

Adapted slightly from here

Ingredients

2 teaspoons Instant Rise Yeast

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1 1/4 Cup warm water (you may need more)

3 1/2 cups Whole Wheat Flour

2 tablespoons vital gluten

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Toppings

Kalonji, Crushed Pepper, Sesame Seeds, Chilli Flakes, Shahi Jeera (Caraway Seeds)

Method

  • Mix the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle and pour in the yeast and sugar mixture.
  • Pour half of the remaining warm water into the well. Mix and stir in the rest of the water as needed. Depending on where you live, you may need to add anywhere from a couple tablespoons to about ¼ cup of water. You want to result in a moist and firm dough after you have mixed it.
  • On a floured countertop, knead the dough for about 10 minutes until it is smooth and elastic. Try working in as much flour as possible to form a firm and stiff dough.
  • Lightly brush a large bowl with oil and turn the dough to coat. Cover the bowl with a damp dish towel. Let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until the dough has doubled in size. Punch the dough down, and let it rest for another 10 minutes.
  • Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Shape each piece into a round. Now, take a dough ball, and press it gently against the countertop (or whatever work surface you’re using) moving your hand and the ball in a circular motion pulling the dough into itself while reducing the pressure on top of the dough slightly until a perfect dough ball forms. Repeat with 7 other dough rounds.
  • Coat a finger in flour, and gently press your finger into the center of each dough ball to form a ring. Stretch the ring to about ⅓ the diameter of the bagel and place on a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Repeat the same step with the remaining dough.

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  •  After shaping the dough rounds and placing them on the cookie sheet, cover with a damp kitchen towel and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 425ºF / 220ºC / Gas Mark 7.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Reduce the heat. Use a slotted spoon or skimmer to lower the bagels into the water. Boil as many as you are comfortable with boiling. Once the bagels are in, it shouldn’t take too long for them to float to the top (a couple seconds). Let them sit there for 1 minute, and them flip them over to boil for another minute. Extend the boiling times to 2 minutes each, if you’d prefer a chewier bagel (results will give you a more New York Style bagel with this option).
  • If you want to top your bagels with stuff, do so as you take them out of the water, you may use the “optional toppings” (listed above) to top the bagels.

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  • Once all the bagels have boiled (and have been topped with your choice of toppings), transfer them to a lightly oiled baking sheet.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown.

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We enjoyed these straight hot from the oven and they were so good! I definitely recommend spreading some delicious cream cheese (either plain or flavored like we did). I do hope S felt like he was back in New York and his parents back in Toronto. I wonder how I can improvise these. I am quite sure if I use only all purpose flour or if I add some gluten the texture will change, hopefully fluffier and lighter compared to the denseness of these bagels.

In either case, we really enjoyed eating these for breakfast the next day as well!

Happy Baking!

Mandap, Express Hotel – Baroda

Thalis. The name itself scares me because of the sheer amount of food that is put in front of you! I am also a little scarred by the experience that I’ve had where you have 15 servers hovering around you trying to dump things in your plate. It’s a little scary for a little to sit with a giant plate, 10 bowls and 15 people trying to fill up your plate as though it was the Guinness Book of World Records for the fastest plate serving! It also didn’t help that we would eat Gujarati food everyday at home and a thali place did not provide us with any novelty. I think I must have been to 2 thali places and that scarred me enough to never go back.

 

Coming to present day, we had a friend visiting Baroda and we were wondering where we could go for a nice lunch. He wanted to eat some Gujarati food and the only place that S knew of serving good Gujarati food was Mandap in Express Hotel.  I put aside my fears of a thali restaurant and we went ahead. Express Hotel was one of the first hotels that were set up in Baroda. They were the first ones to introduce éclairs and croissants in the city through their bakery. S also tells me that he’s been going to their restaurants since he was a kid and he has seen the servers age while they have seen him grow! I find that story absolutely adorable. Its kind of like the story I have in a Pune restaurant called Vaishali that we used to frequent so much that a lot of the servers knew our orders! Always good to be where people recognize you..

 

The restaurant has a lot of wood. They have old wooden jharokhas or windows decorating the walls, cloth tied up above tables to give you the feeling that you are in a tent, ‘sankheda’ chairs and wooden tables. I loved the thalis! Unlike a lot of other places that serve stainless steel thalis, their plates are made of ‘kaansa’ or bell metal. They are a light golden-ish color and you have the same kind of bowls and spoons. A refreshing change.  At the center of the tables, there is a dish with all kinds of condiments to help enhance the flavor of your meals. So colorful and beautiful! There was the standard mixed pickle, some fried chillies, fried capsicum, lemon wedges, imli chutney and green chutney. The colors were gorgeous and it all looked very inviting.

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As soon you enter and sit down, you are served plain chhaas and a mocktail. The mocktail, on the day we went, was ‘Blue Lagoon’. I typically don’t like it so did not bother to try it either. The chhaas was nice. Plain, with salt, and thin, like a gujarati chhaas. Very refreshing. As it is with all thali places, hoards of servers come asking you 50 questions to a minute, holding out all kinds of food! We were starting off with the quintessential Gujarati farsan, patra and samosas. The patras were ok, a little too firm and thick but the samosas were yummy! Simple potato filling, nothing fancy, just well fried and well-seasoned.

 

The person handing out vegetables followed the farsan. We had four vegetables- Punjabi Chhole, drumsticks in besan gravy, potato and peas vegetable and ladyfingers! It might seem strange to have chhole on a gujarati thali, but I really like the idea because I do not always enjoy all the Gujarati vegetables. This makes it possible to eat something that can be quite tasty. The chhole was good- nothing extraordinary but nothing to complain about either. The aloo-mutter subzi had a nice balance of spices and had a little bit of clear gravy. Normally this vegetable is very oily wherever I have had it before but this time, it wasn’t that bad. I actually appreciated the fact that most of things were lower in oil, comparatively. I love bhindi and was so glad to see some on my plate! Well cooked, and a little spicy but tasted good when eaten with the roti. My favorite was the drumstick vegetable! It is a ploy to put drumsticks on your plate because I don’t know of anyone who would be able to eat the drumsticks in a dignified manner outside. In any case, I love the besan gravy – spicy, tangy, sweetish and rich. I am a huge fan of anything made from besan so maybe my opinion is biased, but I still think it was very well made.

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Next came the person with the dals! If you’re in Gujarat, and eating a Gujarati thali, you have to have kadhi! Mandap offers your four choices of dals and kadhi and you can choose 2. Since we are Gujaratis and have the same flavored dal and kadhi at home every time, I went ahead and asked for the ‘Punjabi’ dal and kadhi. I put Punjabi in inverted commas because it is not really a Punjabi kadhi! I think its just kadhi and dal that has a little less sugar or jaggery, and has some more garam masala. I enjoyed it a lot more than the Gujarati kadhi or dal. I do think the Gujarati kadhi must have been really good because a friend relished a couple of cups! He said that it was the perfect impression he had of Gujarati kadhi – sweet and tangy.

 

After we were served the vegetables and our dals and kadhis, we were served rotis and theplas. The theplas are the cutest I have ever seen! They’re small, almost like mini puris, and thick! They were really tasty and I have never had anything like them. They had ghee rotis but when we asked for plain, they were happy to oblige.

 

Now my favorite part – the desserts! We had so many choices, I felt utterly lost. There some gajar ka halwa, gulab jamun, fruits in a custard sauce and ras malai. I decided to stick to the gajar ka halwa and the gulab jamun. The gulab jamun was not good. The syrup was fine, but the gulab jamun itself was very dense and heavy and was quite thick in the center. They were very passable. The gajar ka halwa on the other hand, was very good -Not very sweet, just right and rich. It didn’t have too many dry fruits, was pure and simple. I loved the consistency and sweetness in it and enjoyed it more because it was warm. The perfect winter dish!

 

The service at Mandap is better, it’s a slightly more fine dining place. The waiters are courteous and don’t look hurried. They will not give you 5 seconds to choose and then move on. They do a better job of pouring things in the correct bowls and don’t make it look like a mess, like other thali places. I have been told this is not the best thali experience you can get and there are others that are better, but I was extremely satisfied with this experience and the food.

 

For making me enjoy going to a thali restaurant, I give Mandap a 3.5 on 5!

Restaurant Timings: 12:00 pm-3 pm and 7:30 pm – 10:30 pm

Restaurant Contact: 0265-3055000

Fresh out of my oven! Delicious banana bread!

S and I went for tea to a friend’s place on Sunday. They live on this gorgeous farm, about 30 minutes away from the city, and right on the banks of the river Mahi. Its a gorgeous place, so quiet and peaceful. They do a lot of organic farming and even supply fresh milk which is completely untouched. I haven’t tried it yet but I am looking forward to it. In case you need more information about the farm and its products, the link is here.

His wife had made an absolutely delicious banana cake. It had no frosting but was so moist and delicious! I knew I had to make it.. She was gracious enough to share the recipe with me and I was super excited to try it out. It helps that I had extremely over ripe bananas which is exactly what I needed for this recipe. I decided  to make it in a loaf tin so that I can send it to Bombay easily. Here are some pictures of it fresh out of the oven! Recipe follows.
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Delicious Banana Cake

Recipe from a very gracious friend!

Ingredients

1 1/3rd cup of all-purpose flour or whole wheat flour

1/4 tsp Baking Soda

1 tsp Baking Powder

1/2 tsp salt

4 to 5 bananas, peeled and mashed

2/3rd cup melted butter (Use unsalted preferably)

1 cup brown sugar

2 eggs, beaten

2 tbsp honey

50 gms chopped walnuts (optional)

50gms cashew nut powder (optional)

1 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)

To Serve:

2 tbsp powdered sugar

1 tsp cinnamon powder

Method

Preheat an oven to 200 degrees celsius or 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Line a 8 1/2″ by 4 1/2″ loaf tin, with greaseproof paper and grease it lightly with some olive oil or butter

Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt and leave aside.

In another bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the beaten eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. If using, add the chopped walnuts and the cashew nut powder at this point. Add the honey and give the mixture a stir. I added 1 tsp of ground cinnamon to the batter to give it an extra cinnamon flavor.

Fold in the flour gently at this point until it is just moistened.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake it in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow the bread to cool in the loaf tin for 7 minutes and then turn out onto to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the bread is cooling, mix the powdered sugar and cinnamon in a separate bowl. Before serving, ensure that the banana bread is completely cooled. Dust the bread with the sugar and cinnamon mixture and cut into slices to serve!

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This is an absolutely delicious accompaniment to tea and coffee and is very child-friendly. Since it doesn’t have any frosting, it is relatively lower in fat. You can add less sugar if you wish to cut back on calories and want to have a slightly less sweet bread. This bread will freeze well and can stay for up to a month in the freezer. If you wish to unfreeze it, allow it to sit out for about an hour and a half and pop it into an oven at the ‘warm’ setting at 100 degrees Celsius for about an hour. Cover the bread in foil before popping into the oven.

Happy baking everyone!

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Salsa Habanero – Baroda

Mexican food and Indian food are so similar in many ways. They both use a lot of spices, whole grains and dried beans. The use of fresh produce is also prominent, even though a lot of the food has meat. Of course, what I am referring to as ‘Mexican Food’ is actually the more popular ‘Tex-Mex Food.’  It tastes delicious and blends into our Indian palate well. It does surprise me that it is not more popular in India. We have some wonderful restaurants that serve good and more or less authentic Tex-Mex food like Sancho’s in Bombay, which is a huge favorite of ours. I was very happy when I found out there is someone in Baroda who makes authentic burritos and a few other Mexican dishes. S, and so many of his friends, kept raving about his food. He only serves on weekends and I was never there for some reason on weekends.
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I finally got a chance to visit Salsa Habanero, a Mexican Taqueria, a few weeks ago. To be honest, everyone just referred to him as Paco; so when I saw the board for Salsa Habanero, I was a little surprised. The entrance is a cute little metal door, which is a part of the owner’s house. He has created a small open kitchen where you watch while Chef Paco makes your food right in front of you! Such an exciting and wonderful experience! It is always a delight to have a conversation with both Prakash and Rita. I found it very interesting that they are trying to grow Avocados and do grow habanero chilies themselves.  Habanero chilies are some of the spiciest in the world and Tabasco has a Habanero chili flavor. All I can say is, it is NOT for the weak of the tongue. But used correctly (and sparingly), they add so much flavor to the food! Yummm!
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But lets talk about Salsa Habanero and their food. It is every bit as good as everyone had been saying it was! I couldn’t believe I hadn’t had a chance to try it sooner! After a long time, I ate real Mexican food with authentic flavors. It seems like he does use authentic vegetables and spices that are traditionally used in Mexican food. Allow me to digress for a second.  A Taqueria is a small Mexican restaurant that would specialize in tacos and/or burritos. To those who like to try something new all the time and want a large, extensive menu, you will be a little disappointed with the variety offered. But rest assured, once you try the food, there is no turning back. You will keep going for more! Paco offers 3 different kinds of burritos, Nachos, soft tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, a very spicy salsa and a tortilla basket. The burritos are exactly the kind that they serve in the US. Huge and completely well filled. One burrito is more than enough for one person and I normally can’t even finish mine! They are beautifully stuffed with Mexican rice, beans and the stuffing you have decided upon. He adds some cheese and sour cream to it and rolls it up. I wish he would have a workshop where he would show you how to roll up a perfect burrito. I always seem to make a mess when I try to make them at home.
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Next is the Nachos Grande. True to their name, they are grand and loaded with beans, chips, cheese, sour cream and some Pico de Gallo. Delicious and a delightful treat! They taste best when they are eaten super fresh and I doubt you’ll want to share them. The tortilla basket was something we tried recently and really enjoyed it because of all the fresh lettuce in there. The basket itself stayed quite crisp because it was slightly on the thicker side. Had it been thinner, it would have become quite soggy from the entire filling. The soft tacos weren’t my favorite and I didn’t enjoy them as much only because I felt I could’ve done with more freshness in them. We have had the enchiladas on occasion and once you get them heated up perfectly, they taste wonderful! They come packed separately and Rita helps you understand how to heat them up to ensure you get the best out of them. The sauce has a wonderful smoky flavor to it and the beans and rice on the side taste wonderful. Now that I think of it, a lot of his vegetables, sauces and salsa have this gorgeous smoked flavor. I love that about his food! I think that is only possible when you make smaller quantities so you can maintain the consistency and quality of your food.  I almost forgot about the grilled salsa! The vegetable are grilled in it too and lend a gorgeous flavor, but let me warn you, it is spicy! Well, then again, I’m not very good with spicy food so I find it a little too spicy, but I love the flavors so much! It ‘jazzes’ up all the food and I tend to keep a little to eat with chips the next day.
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What I think I love most about Salsa Habanero is that he uses fresh produce. It also makes me content to know that his stuff will not have artificial preservatives. I love the whole experience and the uniqueness of it. Where in India would you find such a concept where the chef is not interested in commercial gains? Paco genuinely seems to enjoy sharing his food and feeding others.  Even though you end up being there for hardly 15 minutes, watching him and talking to him gets you inspired. I love their entire set up and it is definitely the next big concept in food.
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Salsa Habanero is only open for takeaways on the weekend between 6 pm to 10 pm. You must call them beforehand to let them know of your order and then choose a pick up time that is convenient to both parties. If you are from Baroda and enjoy authentic Mexican food, YOU HAVE TO GO HERE! I hate sounding like a groupie but its just so yummy!
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I need to go back next weekend to take better pictures of Paco and his yummy food, at least that is what my excuse is going to be! 😉 I am excited to begin my maiden restaurants in Baroda review with Salsa Habanero. Do let me know what you think about Salsa Habanero.

Telephone Number: 09714039119

Website (For menu and directions): http://salsahabanero.com