One afternoon at Sandy's


A few years ago, my niece and I went to Sandy's Chocolate Laboratory in RA Puram. It was a tiny place with two or three tables. There was a display case that ran along the width of the room and in it, some really interesting chocolate desserts on show. We were in a hurry to finish our main course just so we could try out the desserts. And we were not disappointed.

Sandy's now occupies prime space at Chennai's tony neighbourhood- Wallace Gardens. An invitation from Sandesh to visit the restaurant was an unexpected surprise.


I love clean well lit interiors and that is exactly what I walked into. And like a magnet, I was drawn to the display case. Sandesh has certainly been a busy chef, the results of many more laboratory experiments now filled the case.

True to its name, the desserts at Sandy's Chocolate Laboratory are all chocolate based. Maybe not the cheesecake, or maybe the cheesecake base is made with chocolate biscuits. But if you want to see chocolate at its best in Chennai, this is the place.

An assortment of petit fours

Blueberry cheesecake with the original cheese
Can anyone ever od on chocolate? 
Anything but tiny- That Really Tiny Chocolate Cake!
Another experiment with Nutella-  the absolutely sinful  Nutella Chocolate bar

Lucky me- while chatting with Sandesh, a glass of ice cold coffee materialised on the table. Great coffee with no frills. Very refreshing...and not in some lab equipment but in a proper glass. Then, one of these:

L- Chocolate peanut butter tart, C-Chocolate caramel tart. R- close up of the choc peanut tart

Silly me-too busy admiring the beautifully plated dessert, I forgot to click a picture of the chocolate peanut tart. Let me try and do justice to it thus- lines of crunchy praline and molten chocolate sauce drawn straight across the platter. In the middle, in a tart shell, a limpid pool of chocolate and peanut butter ganache. Beside it, a single scoop of smooth vanilla ice cream with flecks of vanilla caviar. The tart shell was tender and chocolaty, the chocolate and peanut flavours of the filling combining seamlessly and even when the pastry was cut into, the filling did not ooze out. Definitely major chemistry at work!!

I was invited into the kitchen. As restaurants kitchens go, this was smallish but the work flow area is well defined. And this is only one of the three kitchens that cater to Sandy's. Needless to say, it was very clean. Personally, I was thrilled to see lettuce being washed so thoroughly.

Then a look see into a room where meat is prepared  before cooking. Clean work tables, and some really mean knives that lined the wall. I also got a lesson on honing a knife.

The kitchen was a busy place- a cheeseburger being constructed,  an order for takeaway fish steaks and another, a dine in order for pasta with mushroom and broccoli in a cheese sauce. Quick, practiced hands at work and in a couple of minutes, the dishes were ready to be served.

Another room housed the deck oven. Sandesh showed a sous chef how to hand roll dough into a pizza base. A quick spread of pizza sauce, some spinach, meat sauce, potatoes and cheese and lo and behold- the meat and potato pizza.

This one had a thin crust and was absolutely delicious. Every flavour was balanced and there is no greater pleasure than eating a slice of pizza that has come straight out of the oven.

At Sandy's there is no compromise on quality. Lasagna sheets are made with the best flour, so also the pizza dough. One can't separate Sandy's from Sandesh, the man is knowledgeable about food, cooking methods, ingredients and willing to experiment to take flavour and presentation to the next level. It all shows in the food and the way the staff is treated.

Remember a while ago, deconstructed food was the rage? Thankfully, that phase is now over and we can all go back to seeing a finished product on a plate, admire the plating and enjoy food as it is meant to be.  

Chocolate fudge squares


In college, I had a classmate whose family lived in Hyderabad. Her father worked in the Southern Railways and every time she returned to college after the holidays, she would bring a huge tin full of chocolate fudge squares. What impressed me most was her telling me that it was something she could close her eyes and make. That's how simple it was.

A while ago, I had to make fudge for a friend. I trawled through several recipes wondering how on earth some people found it such an easy thing to make. I finally found a recipe that seemed easy. It needed cans of condensed milk and chocolate. I made a test batch which turned out quite well but surely there was another way of doing it?

Today was fudge trial day for me. I dredged up an old recipe, the ingredients were all at hand- a bit of chocolate, some milk, sugar, butter, salt and vanilla essence. The milk had to be heated with the chocolate and stirred till completely smooth, then sugar and salt added and stirred on a low flame till completely melted and the mixture came to a boil.

Well, the sugar refused to dissolve even though I had used fine grained crystals. I carried on with the recipe and finally poured it into the tin to set, knowing fully well that it would have to be binned.

Attempt No. 2 and this time, I decided that I would be be unconventional and dissolve the sugar in the milk. The chocolate was melted in the microwave, then mixed into the hot milk. I got a smooth mix and with the candy thermometer clamped on the side of the pan, the mix soon started boiling.

Temperature should 236°

After 10 minutes, I started testing the consistency by putting drops of it into a bowl of cold water. It took another 10 minutes to reach the soft ball stage that is required for fudge. If you can form the the chocolate drop into a ball, it has reached the soft ball stage.

Soft ball stage

With the thermometer reading 236°F, the pan was removed from the flame and butter and vanilla essence added. The fudge should not be stirred as the melting butter forms a layer over over the top and prevents a crust from forming.

From then on, it was all quite simple. Wait for the temperature to read 110°F, then use either an electric beater or sheer muscle power and a wooden spoon to beat it. With an electric beater, a few whips should be sufficient. When you see the colour changing to a lighter shade of brown, stop and scoop it all into a grease proof paper or foil lined pan and press it down as firm as you can. And that's it. Allow it to cool, slice into 1" squares.

Fudge squares

Chocolate fudge
150 ml milk
420 gm sugar
55 gm chopped chocolate
1 teaspoon salt
30 gm butter
3/4 teaspoon vanilla essence

Place milk and sugar in a saucepan, bring to a boil, turn down the heat to the lowest setting and stir till sugar dissolves completely.
Melt chocolate over a double boiler or in a microwave, mix to a smooth paste.
Pour some of the milk syrup into the chocolate and mix well. Keep adding more liquid till it is a smooth paste.
Pour it into the rest of the liquid, add the salt and place the pan back on the fire. 
Clamp a sugar thermometer onto the pan and when the mix boils, reduce the heat to the lowest and do not stir. Cook till it reaches  236°F.
(If you don't have one, have a dish with cold water beside you. As the mix thickens, it may take up to 20 minutes, put a drop of the fudge liquid into the water. When it forms a soft ball, it is ready.)
Remove the pan from the heat immediately, add the butter and vanilla essence. Do not stir.
When it cools to 110°F, (it should reach this temperature in 20 minutes or so) beat with a beater or a wooden spoon till quite thick. Do not overbeat or it will turn grainy.
Pour into a lined tin (mine was 7.5"x 3.5"). Pess down to compact it, level the surface.
Cool to room temperature then cut into 21 squares.

Chocolate ganache boats


A few months ago, a magazine contacted me. They wanted recipes with chocolate and it would be followed with a photoshoot.

As long as you follow the rules of working with chocolate, the going will be good.

These ganache tarts are easy to make. The pastry is soft and has the tendency to crumble. Chill it for a bit and then roll it out, cut it and line your tart pans with it. I baked my tarts in boat shaped moulds, the usual scalloped moulds should be fine for these tarts.

Another suggestion is to make the ganache filling a day earlier so that the tarts can be assembled on the day the pastry is baked.

Chocolate ganache boats

Ingredients for ganache
150 gm Amul cream
1 teaspoon sugar
150 gm dark or semi sweet chocolate, chopped
20 gm butter

Ingredients for pastry
145 gm flour
20 gm cocoa
1/2 teaspoon salt
110 gm unsalted butter
55 gm sugar
1 egg, beaten

1 cup sweetened whipped cream
Chocolate rice or almond flakes for decorating


To make the ganache, heat the cream and sugar in a saucepan till it just reaches a boil.
Remove from heat and drop in the chocolate pieces. Do not stir.
After 5 minutes, add in the butter and gently stir the contents till smooth.
Leave to cool, then refrigerate for about 6 hours.
Whip it with an electric beater till light and fluffy.
Keep refrigerated.

Make the pastry by sifting flour, cocoa and salt into bowl.
Place butter and sugar into a mixing bowl, cream till fluffy.
Fold in the sifted flour mixture and use enough egg to bind it all together.
Wrap in clingfilm and chill the dough for about 30 minutes.
Roll out the pastry between two sheets of plastic.
Use a cutter to cut out circles about 1/2" larger than your tart moulds.
Fit the pastry into the moulds, prick the bases with a fork and chill for about 20 minutes.
Place all the moulds on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated  180°C oven for about 15- 20 minutes or till the edges of the shells are cooked.
Remove from the oven and when they are cool, unmould carefully.

To assemble, put a star nozzle into a piping bag, fill with ganache.
Put a star nozzle into a second piping bag and fill with whipped cream.
Pipe the ganache into the tart shells, pipe a cream rosette over it.
Decorate with chocolate rice or almond flakes.
The  filled tarts can be refrigerated.
Makes about 12-15.

Effortless Continental- a workshop


How does the idea of an edible soup bowl sound?

I, for one, have always been fascinated with the idea of edible plates and cutlery. Saves on washing up, right?

Another Continental cooking workshop and this one features a bread bowl. And in it, a creamy chicken soup. Definitely a hot topic of conversation at any dinner party.

Also, lamb moussaka and a layered macaroni bake.

At Kottivakkam, February 23 from 10.30 am-2.30 pm.

Lunch at Crust


Crust is a deli situated in a quiet lane in RA Puram opposite the police station. I had read reviews about it and two months ago we did go there as we were in the neighbourhood and a friend had suggested we try it out. Oh, we liked the food and last week, I went there again with a couple of close friends.

We met Joe who runs the show, a plain talking man who knows his onions. And his meat. I've read articles he's written for a Chennai newspaper and Goan food is definitely his forte. A Manglorean, we had an interesting lunch peppered with anecdotes of a trip he had made recently to Bangalore to get supplies. In between, he left us to talk to a German couple in, what else, but fluent German. Hmm...a polyglot as well.

The dining area is a cute space and in a little alcove, the desserts sit in their display counters. Tiramisu, chocolate mud pie, pannacotta, cheesecake, key lime pie, brownies...

Finally seated, we ordered freshly squeezed orange juice.

How fresh can a glass of orange juice be?

And then for the main course:

Pork belly with hash browns and a fresh salad

The pork was well cooked in a tasty Oriental sauce. The salad with balsamic vinegar was a perfect foil and the acid cut beautifully through the richness of the sauce. This one scored full marks.

Bangalore beef tenderloin with steamed vegetables and salad

The tenderloin was a little chewy but again, the sauce more than made up for it. A wonderful combination with the steamed vegetables and olive oil infused bread.

German meatloaf with a mushroom sauce, herb rice and salad

Our favourite was the German meatloaf. Sourced from Bangalore, the loaf and the mushroom sauce served with it was delicious and the herb rice, the perfect accompaniment.

Goan sausage with supersoft sannas

We were being greedy but couldn't help ordering Goan sausage with sannas. No way to describe it but yummy. We even got a lesson on what goes into the sausages.

And you've got to love Crust's desserts. We ordered:

Baked cheesecake

Baked yoghurt 

Vegan chocolate mud pie. The base was crumbly but the topping was spot on. 

All the three desserts were fabulous, not too sweet and the portions generous.

The place is unpretentious, as is Joe. What you see is what you get. The menu is quite extensive and includes international fare. In all, great food made with fresh ingredients. The service is fairly quick though you might have a little trouble in catching the waiter's eye if the place is busy.

Crust sells sandwiches, pasta and cheese. Also an interesting range of meats and cold cuts at Christmas. And Christmas cake. They also cater for parties but will not deliver. And they will be coming out with a tapas menu very soon. We bought a few slices of the German meatloaf and will be going back for more.


Lunch at Chap Chay


Chap chye is a soupy mixed vegetable dish popular in Singapore. It is usually a vegetarian dish, but some like to make it with pork and prawns. Most the ingredients that go into it are what can be picked up in the dry goods section of a supermarket. These include dried moss, dried lily buds, dried mushrooms, cellophane noodles etc. Some of the fresh ingredients that go in are cabbage and ginko. Each of these ingredients has an auspicious meaning so it is a must have dish during the Lunar New Year.

Chap Chay, on the other hand, is a restaurant at The Raintree Hotel at Alwarpet. In an earlier avatar, the space used to host a Mongolian barbeque. We used to go there occasionally but could never figure out what was Mongolian about the food or the decor. Thank goodness for small changes.

Ever since it became Chap Chay, a restaurant that specialises in stir fried food, I wanted to try it out. We did go three months ago and were most impressed with the service. The food was good, nothing outstanding, but a nice place for a Sunday lunch with the family. Quite healthy, if you choose to make it so.
We went there a second time a couple of weeks ago. Glad to report the standard is still the same, the same outstanding service and thankfully, the food hasn't taken a nosedive!!

Fresh vegetables sit neatly arranged in their trays. One only needs to choose the vegetable of choice and place them in the bowl provided. So glad  they even had  beansprouts and lotus stems.

A choice of noodles-egg, rice sticks and even tomato!

The non vegetarian selection-

For starters, we were served Mandarin prawns. They were flavoured with kaffir lime bits and wrapped in wantan skins and fried. Served with  a minty sauce, it tasted unbelievably good. The other starter was a chicken ziaoji.  Nothing remarkable about this steamed bite.

Then came the self explanatory Sour and Spicy soup. Again, nothing exciting about it but the stock was quite  flavourful and the portion was just right.

The concept is quite straightforward- choose your veg, choose your noodle, choose your proteins, choose your sauce and hand it to the chef who will stir fry it with a few additional ingredients and in a few minutes, your dish is placed in front of you.

The range of sauces is good, Shaohsing, Teriyaki, Kungpao, Hunan, black pepper and their signature chap chay sauce among them.

Shaohsing sauce with rice sticks, Kungpao sauce with egg noodles
Hunan and pepper sauce stir fry.

The work station.

Our only grouse was the dessert menu. Just half a dozen items and nothing appealing. We had the water chestnut in coconut milk the last time too. We were assured the dessert menu would be changed in a month's time.

Loved the ambiance, the unobtrusive service and quality and freshness of the food. 

The Baker Showcase Part 3


The Baker Showcase Edition 3 was held on February 2 at the auditorium of the Asan Memorial School. This time, the venue was spacious and the the hungry crowds could browse through all the goodies at the various stalls. But browsing was not a very good idea as many soon found out. By the time they returned to the stall where they had mentally reserved their chosen goody, it had been sold out. Oh, it will be a long wait for the next showcase.

Yours truly was part of the Soul Food Sisters, a group of 3 with age and some experience on our side. My stall-mates were two formidable cooks and bakers- Girija Menon and Tasneem Ayub.

Girija brought yummy cheesy classic and mushroom quiche, finger lickin' date cream cheese pie, roasted vegetable lasagna and apple strudel muffins. Tasneem, with her vast experience in Muslim cuisine and the keeper of her family's heirloom recipes, had made mutton biriyani and fish pickle. Also two sweets that you won't find in any shop- the Nurjehani lauz khajoor, a cookie redolent with ghee, khoa, and generous amounts of almonds and the divine zafrani badam ka meetha. She had packed the sweets in cute little bags that became the topic of conversation the whole evening.

My menu was quite simple:

Nankhatai and cheddar chilli biscuits. 
Fondant carrot toppers

Carrot cupcake and the mini ooey gooey cake

Hainanese chicken pie, citrus drizzle slice and nankhatai

Chocolate batik slices

Chicken pies

And this was the whole spread.

The photograph below was taken by the youngest  blogger at the showcase- little Nayonika.

Photo credits
*Shyma Mathai
*Dramaswamy Archana

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