A meal at Shivajee Mess

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The tag line of Shivajee Mess sums it up - "Small Place Great Taste". It's on the ECR, just before the Road Transport Office if you're coming from Thiruvanmiyur. It's quite easy to spot too - the name board is a large one. The 14-seater "mess" seems to be quite popular - even at 3 pm on a Sunday afternoon, the place is full.  

Inside the mess

The mess is a small, functional space, a large glass window along one wall lets in plenty of light but you can still hear the sound of traffic; the menu is prominently displayed along another wall and they've even managed to fit in a wash basin. It's Chef Shivajee's baby,  the food is Tanjore-style, quite a change from the  Asian food he usually dishes out.
 


Non-veg meal

Banana leaves are laid out in front of us, water is served in disposable glasses. We opt for the non-veg meal. Kootu (lentil and spinach), poriyal (bottlegourd with coconut) are served directly on the leaf.  There's rice, an omelette, a fried fish and appalam along with katories that hold fish curry, chicken curry, sambar, rasam and buttermilk.

Appalam; fried mackerel, rice & omelette; buttermilk; rasam; sambar; chicken curry; fish curry; kootu & poriyal

Each plate holds a huge serving of rice so we send one back. One itself is plenty for the both of us. The fish curry of the day is made with mackerel, it's fresh and the gravy is deliciously tangy, the chicken gravy comes with a piece of chicken.  In keeping with the Thanjavur provenance, coconut paste thickens the gravies and the food is not very spicy. The sambar is quite ordinary. Both the kootu and poriyal are tasty, the fried mackerel is very fresh. The rasam too is tangy while the buttermilk is light and refreshing.

Kadai fry; prawn masala; mutton chukka

Kadai (quail) fry, mutton chukka (dry mutton) and prawn fry are the other sides we ordered. I'm not too fond of quail as in most places, the meat tastes quite gamey but at Shivajee Mess, the meat is tender and yeah - tastes like chicken!. The mutton chukka is really good - chunks of meat in a dark brown masala that is not too spicy. The prawns are disappointing, a little rubbery and though the masala looked enticing, it didn't taste so.

Kozhi masala rice & prawn masala

A couple of weeks earlier, we had ordered the kozhi masala rice from the Mess. It's a biryani lookalike - the rice is long, slender and golden, cooked in a thick chicken curry. It comes with a piece of chicken, a boiled egg and raita and is quite spicy. The prawn masala that day was absolutely delicious. At 90/ for a serving, the masala rice is a good deal and the portion is generous.

Veg meals cost 60/ and for non veg, it's 120/. The flavours are simple, homely and tasty. As of now, they are open at 12.30 in the afternoon and serve only lunch but by next month, they will be open longer. They do have home delivery and next time, I'm going to try the Tanjore special vatha kulambu.


Shivajee Mess
99, ECR, Thiruvanmiyur.
Chennai 600041.

Phone: 8870708014, 7299951166.

No-egg cupcakes

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Three words scare the baker in me - "make it eggless". "Eggless" or egg-free cakes are pretty popular in India as many people do not eat eggs for religious reasons; some folk cannot tolerate the taste and smell of egg in cakes and there are those who are allergic to egg. Enterprising bakers have got past that roadblock; many recipes by Indian bakers omit eggs and instead, rely on various substitutes like egg replacer, yoghurt, vinegar, condensed milk or even ground flaxseed. In fact, there are recipes for cakes without butter, sugar and flour too! There are substitutes for everything!

I have nothing against cakes without eggs, it's just that when you compare a cake that has been baked with eggs and one without, the differences are quite evident both in texture and taste. And at times, in the looks department too. But that's just me.  


Most recipes for no-egg cakes call for soda bicarb among other ingredients, which tends to leave a slightly metallic aftertaste on the palate.

Rummaging through a sheaf of notes, I found this recipe for a cake that uses neither egg nor baking soda. I used this recipe to bake a batch of cupcakes and they tasted quite nice, although a tad dry. Maybe that was because of the missing eggs. I'm still trying to figure out what it is that holds the crumb together - that's what happens if you don't study chemistry!
I sense chemistry emoticon (Flirting emoticons)
Quite thrilled with the outcome, I got my baker friend Smitha Kuttayya to make a vegan version of the cake. Luck was on my side as she had just been gifted a brand new loaf pan and she was looking around for a new recipe try out. This was all the impetus she needed. She substituted the milk in the recipe with water, used oil instead of butter and went a step further by substituting the plain flour with wholewheat flour. It baked into a beautiful loaf. Cake in hand, she went around her apartment complex looking for tasters. Of the 6 she managed to corral, 3 didn't think much of it, 2 said it was ok and 1 person loved it.

Not one to give up easily, she made another cake two days later. She used orange juice and some rind instead of water and prettied it up with orange buttercream. Volunteers were aplenty this time and the cake was a hit!

As for my cupcakes, most of them went into a trifle and I sent the remaining to my niece who is a temporary vegetarian. She loved them. Mission accomplished!


No egg cupcakes

Ingredients
250 gm plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
225 gm fine sugar (not powdered)
85 gm butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Grated rind of 1 lime
225 ml milk

Method
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl.
Stir in sugar, butter, vanilla extract, lime rind and milk.
Using an electric beater, beat on high speed for a minute. The mixture will become slightly gooey.
Spoon into cupcake cases and bake in a preheated 180°C oven for about 25 minutes or till the tops of the cakes bake to a golden brown and a skewer test shows they are done.
Remove from the oven and place on a wire grid to cool.
Ice the cupcakes if required.

Makes 18 cupcakes.

*The batter can be baked in an 8" lined pan instead of cupcake moulds.  

Grill Nights at the Madras Wok

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Green Meadows Resort at Palavakkam is one of those places that doesn't need to advertise its existence. It's an almost well-kept secret that its restaurant, The Madras Wok, serves some of the best South East Asian food this side of, well, South East Asia!
Grill Nights is the latest addition to the ethnic resort's dining experience and we were invited to review it.


Grill Nights on the lawn

Every Saturday evening, tables are set on the lawn and fairy lights twinkle. The outdoor grill is fired up and an array of marinated meats, seafood and vegetables laid out, chafing dishes hold gravies and rice and there's an appam station dishing out hot hot appams! There's even a live band but on the day we went, the band had not turned up and but there was music via the system. It's breezy and the mosquitoes have been kept at bay  

Ready to be grilled

Marinated meats included chicken drumsticks, chicken fillets, whole pomfret, fish fillets, Syrian beef fry with coconut, squid rings, cottage cheese, baby potatoes and corn cobs. Choose your meats and/or veg combination and the chef will grill it for you and that's it - start tucking in. By the way, it's unlimited!

Pork shashlik; chicken & veg skewers; Syrian beef fry; cottage cheese sticks

We chose mutton shorba over the cream of veg soup. The Madras Wok's version is a tame one but flavourful enough.
We asked the chef to grill us a mixed platter. Squid rings, fish fillets and the pork shashlik (ask if available) were outstanding. So too the cottage cheese though the cheese was a little dry. The beef fry could do with more salt and that's why it didn't make it to the outstanding list. The curry pastes that coated the meats had a wonderfully earthy and aromatic flavour, one that a mix of pepper and spices impart, definitely a "nadan" touch. Quite a change from the usual grill marinades.    

Salads
  Fish moilee
                                                                                 Making appam

For the main course, it was appam and fish moilee. While the appam was delicious and its lacy edges a visual delight, the bland fish curry was a let down.


Corn au gratin; bhindi masala
For die hard bake lovers, there is a cheesy corn au gratin. It's a nice combination with the salads but I did wish there was some bread to go with it. Pad Thai was disappointing in terms of flavour and sitting in a chafing dish made things worse. The team is open to feedback and when we brought it to their notice, it was corrected but by then, we had stuffed ourselves to the gills.

Chicken saagwala; lamb biryani

The lamb biryani was the culprit. It was fabulous - long grains of basmati rice enveloped by the fragrance of the spices and tender meat. It was so moist that it didn't need any accompaniment.

Bun parrota & chicken saagwala

We were urged to try a bun parrota - a parrota that looked like a bun -  a tall fellow, crisp and flaky around the edges, soft in the middle and probably worth a zillion calories as it had been deep-fried! But it was so good though I wish there was a thin curry to dip it into, I tried it with the chicken saagwala but then realised it tasted better on its own.

Watalappam & banana crumble; malpua; carrot cake

There was smooth and creamy wattalappam for dessert that tasted like a cardamom-infused caramel custard. Cardamom is not a spice I am on particularly good terms with but the hint of its presence in this dessert was lovely. The one that took the cake was not a cake but the malpua. Unlike its usual flat shape, the ones made at Madras Wok were puffed up. It had soaked in the sugar syrup but the edges were crisp and the inside soft. Served with rabdi, it was the perfect way to end the meal.

Grill Nights at The Madras Wok is on every Saturday from 7 - 11 pm and costs 999/- per head (inclusive of taxes). They have a liquor package at 1599/- (inclusive of taxes) that offers 4 glasses of domestic liquor or 4 glasses of beer.

Green Meadows
4/364, Anna Salai, Palavakkam
Chennai 600041.
+91 9944990955
+91 9940471113

Chefs on Tour and Sunday Social at TFE

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The humitas were deliciously cheesy, the timballo is a fantastic way of disguising eggplant while the turmeric chocolate fondant was more proof why the yellow spice is gaining in popularity all around the world! Yes, a chocolate and turmeric dessert!

Miles of oceans separate Argentina, Italy and Indonesia. When the cuisines of these 3 continents meet at Park Hyatt Chennai's The Flying Elephant, who says food is not a great unifier?

Chefs on Tour: Executive Chefs Franco, Teuku and Michele

The ongoing Masters of Food and Wine series organised by the Park Hyatt hotels in India has Executive Chefs Franco Canzano, Park Hyatt from Goa, Michele Prevedello from Park Hyatt Hyderabad and Teuku Syafrulsyah of Park Hyatt Chennai as the Chefs On Tour who travel to these 3 cities on a rotational basis to host interactive culinary experiences. This included a wine dinner, the family-style brunch at TFE called Sunday Social and a cooking class.

Making humitas

At the class, Chef Franco showed us how to make two Argentinian appetisers - steamed corn cakes or humitas and chicken empanadas. Humitas, with their filling of corn, peppers and pumpkin were a breeze to make; he portioned them out onto corn husks, tied them up and steamed them. Empanadas can be filled with different kinds of meats or even cheese. Depending on the filling, the folds differ; Chef Franco showed us three ways of folding them.

Making empanadas

Making gnocchi
Making tomato pesto and timballo 

Chef Michele's gnocchi, served in a chicken sauce, were pillowy soft. However, it was the vegetable timballo layered with fried strips of eggplant, zucchini, peppers and cheese, baked and served with a divine tomato pesto that had us queueing up for seconds. And thirds!!

Turmeric chocolate fondant

Chef Teuku showed us how to create a turmeric chocolate fondant with Asian fruit salad which had some of us wondering what the outcome would be. But when he cut into the soft chocolate cake that had been paired with a coconut turmeric sauce, all doubts were put at rest - the dessert was a riot of colours and flavours.

Argentinian grilled meats with dips

We couldn't quite let go of the Chefs on Tour so soon, so on Sunday, went across for TFE's brunch, Sunday Social. Each of the chefs had his own station. The Argentinian counter, in true gaucho style, had lots of meat - pork ribs, chicken, beef, lamb chops, fish fillets and prawns and some vegetables. Chef Franco threw one of everything onto his grill and and served them with criolla, chimichurri and provencal dips. My verdict - the prawns and fish with all 3 dips - muy bien!  

Siu mai; cabbage with tofu, stuffed tofu, delicious sambals and bebek betutu
Kari ayam; nasi goreng

Chef Teuku's Indonesian stall had things you wouldn't normally see on a Chennai restaurant menu. Pretty little siu mai, steamed tofu in cabbage, stuffed tofu, incredibly moist roast duck - bebek betutu, nasi goreng and Indonesian chicken curry heady with the flavour of kaffir lime. And a selection of sambals that are perfect accompaniments.

Lasagna; roast pork belly with bean stew; squid ink risotto

Chef Michele had baked a pan of about the best tasting lasagne I've had in the longest time. Vegetarian, but still the best. He also had roast pork belly with a bean stew. And as icing on the cake, squid ink risotto which had flavours literally popping out of the grains of rice... mamma mia!!

Sushi


There's also a chaat counter and one with salads and tableful of sushi. You can make your own cocktail or mocktail or ask the guys at the bar to make one for you. Like this:
Rum, kiwi & coconut cocktail

Green tea choux buns; churros; dadar gulung; fruit-based pastries

As for desserts, you'll simply be spoilt for choice - the entire end of the restaurant just for desserts! The Flying Elephant's recipe for churros is a winner, the fried dough strips are served with a choice of apple cinnamon, chocolate and salted caramel sauces. The chef's special that day was dadar gulung - a green pancake that held together a filling of jackfruit and coconut cooked in pandan flavoured jaggery. Simply sedap!

The Chefs have toured Goa and Chennai, they will be at Park Hyatt Hyderabad for the conclusion of the series this weekend. However, Sunday Social is on every week at TFE and every Sunday is Family Day Out with live music and where the cost of the brunch includes the use of the pool. Kids get their own space as well. The cost of the buffet is 2295/++ (non alcoholic), 3295/++ (with alcohol) and 7295/++ (champagne brunch).


Nasi and Mee - Asian on my plate

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The collapsible gate at the entrance seals the deal - Nasi and Mee Asian Canteen has a hawker centre-ish, canteen-ish vibe to it. It's bright with colours and laughter and a queue's outside waiting to be seated. Seating is a mix of chairs, banquettes and benches and wooden tables hold metal pails with cutlery and napkins, condiments arranged beside them. There's an open kitchen where you can watch the chefs plating their creations and beside it, the bar that serves mocktails and other interesting drinks. The menu is a melange of South East Asian favourites - from nasi goreng to hor fun to pad thai to rendang. The Bengaluru-based restaurant has now set up shop at Chennai!


Nasi and Mee (rice and noodles in Bahasa) invited us over for a tasting session. They have a rather large menu that spans favourites from Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and China and lots for the vegetarians too.  About 16 dishes had been selected for us to try, each of us were given a copy of the menu with a phrase of welcome in Bahasa. Nice touch!

Condiments at the table

Iced Milo; ABC; cendol

We sampled 3 of their drinks - ABC (apple, beetroot carrot), iced Milo, a popular drink in those parts and the cendol with lots of green worms aka hoen kwe (mung bean flour) strips. The hands down winner was Iced Milo - made just the way it's made back home 😊

Winter melon soup

The chicken winter melon soup was delicious, the stock was extremely flavoursome. Pak choy and cubes of the gourd added to the health quotient while chunks of fresh shiitake mushroom infused the soup with oodles of earthiness.

Mushroom & water chestnut dumpling
The dim sums were very well made, generous amounts of mushroom and  crunchy water chestnut were stuffed into the translucent skin of the all-veg dumpling while the sesame oil in the prawn hargao gave it a lovely nutty flavour.  It takes years of practice and skill in making Xiao long bao - inside the beautifully pleated skin is a soupy filling with crabmeat. You pick it up very carefully with chopsticks, dip it into the ginger soy sauce and pop it whole into your mouth. The trick is to not break the skin and also to not burn your mouth! Yummy!!

Crab-filled xiao long bao

Son Tam

The fresh and zesty Son Tam doubled as palate cleanser, followed by sambal prawns. While the prawns were large in size, fresh and grilled to perfect doneness, the flavour of sambal was missing, possibly because the key ingredient in any sambal - belacan (shrimp paste), was missing. The chicken satay looked and smelt good but the flavours were far too mild.

Hot off the grill - satay and sambal prawns

Nasi lemak istimewa

Nasi Lemak Istimewa is a plate of fragrant rice with accompanying sides arranged all around - and a fried egg wrapped around the cone of rice. The sambal was more an onion paste and once again, the missing belacan left the dish bereft of its identity. The rendang was well done and those anchovies added a nice texture and crunch to the dish.  

Steamed sea bass Cantonese style

Char kway teow; Pad Thai

For me, the standout dish was the Cantonese-style steamed sea bass. The fish was fresh and the stock light and delicious. Peranakan style Ayam Pongteh - stewed chicken in soya sauce was a close contender. Both these mains are the perfect accompaniment to steamed rice. Char kway teow missed the mark - the noodles were pale, the pak choy was almost raw and the smokiness of the noodles that gives it its soul was missing. However, the Pad Thai with the generous topping of crushed peanuts and chilli flakes on the side was quite good. Laksa curry was perhaps the most disappointing dish. The green curry had some nice prawns which had been batter coated and fried but bore no resemblance to laksa; we were wondering if there had been a mix up of sorts in the kitchen.

Red Ruby; Ais Kachang; fried ice cream

Nasi and Mee has some interesting desserts - Red Ruby with mock pomegranate seeds that was deliciously crunchy but the coconut milk was not thick enough. Ais Kachang is just the thing to cool your mouth down after some spicy food; as for the fried ice cream, take my word that it is about the best in the city. The crust was still crisp when we cut into it after several photographs were taken.


You can't go wrong if you order a coffee at the end of the meal.
The food, on the whole is Asian-inspired, well made, portions are generous and pricing is reasonable. How much nicer if Nasi and Mee makes a version of Asian food for those who crave the authentic flavours.
A meal for 2 would cost 1100/++.
The timings are a huge plus point - noon to 11 pm. 

Nasi and Mee
18/24 Yafa Tower 1st Floor
Khader Nawaz Khan Road
Nungambakkam.
044 48548222; +91 7550067035.


 
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