Lunch at Her Name Is Ming


My 100th blog post and I'm thrilled as the brief was to review the ongoing Pan Asian Street Food promotion at Her Name Is Ming.

This unusual name evokes the usual question- who is Ming? Well, Her Name Is Ming is the Asian restaurant at President Hotel on Radhakrishna Salai.

Chef Shivajee has done many things since he came back to Chennai from Singapore. And it's good to know that he's in charge here. Asian food is his forte and I was curious to see how authentic he would go in this setting.

The restaurant itself is located towards the back of the hotel, a quiet place and I love the soothing blues of the interiors. For some reason, whenever I step in, it reminds me of being in a birdcage, minus the noise of course.

And I love the the lush accents too.

The 2 page menu was all about typical street food - roti John, satay, popiah, chee cheong fun, murtabak, mee goreng, chicken rice, kway teow.  Ok ok, got only one stomach, choose well.

And so, for starters, we opted for roti John, chicken satay and chee cheong fun.

Roti John is mince meat, onions and egg slathered over half a baguette which is plonked face down on a griddle and cooked. It was served with tomato sauce and a pepper mayonnaise. I usually avoid tomato sauce, however this dish needed a little pep and zing.
The satay was cooked to perfection. Chef has a satay grill and the meat had the aroma of hawker style satay though the marinade lacked the flavour of lemongrass. It was served with lontong - compressed rice cakes, cucumber, onion slices and a tangy peanut sauce.

Chee cheong fun is part of a dim sum set, a translucent steamed rice roll, sliced and served with a dipping sauce and fried shallots. This one didn't have the traditional translucency but then again, the flavour was all there. It was a vegetarian rendition, sesame oil, soya and hoisin sauces adding their subtle notes.

For mains, we had nasi kandar, the Malay version of a thali- a bowl of steamed rice, lamb rendang, ayam masak lemak(chicken in coconut milk), assam pedas(fish in tamarind sauce), stir fried vegetable, prawn sambal and achar(veg pickle). The rendang was outstanding, the lamb could have been a little more tender. The chicken was well cooked, redolent with the flavour of lemongrass, the gravy the perfect accompaniment for rice. The stir fry with its hint of sesame oil was a winner. The fish was disappointing, the prawn sambal while good, lacked the hit that a bit of belachan (prawn paste) could have given it. The achar could have done with a bit more acidity which would have cut down on the richness of the coconut milk.

Another main was the mee siam- thin rice noodles in tamarind chilli sauce. With the accompaniments of boiled egg, tofu, beansprouts and prawns. Spot on with the flavours and my personal favourite.

The char kway teow came highly recommended. Now, when you see calamansi limes, you know that's the real deal. Chef had a secret ingredient in this dish- chicken lap cheong( Chinese sausages). Our dish also had prawns and chicken strips, and the slightly charred flavour. The flat and the thin rice noodles were perfectly cooked and springy, but again the belachan was missing. I do understand belachan is an alien flavour for the Indian palate- it has even been mistaken for toxic gas leak.

Stuffed to the gills, we had to try the chendol. My eternal gratitude to the chef- all it had was coconut milk, bits of ice, jaggery syrup and worms- not really! The green stuff is made from mung bean flour, cooked and passed through a sieve into iced water where the paste falls in shreds. I so dislike anything else in my chendol. Though I did miss the date palm jaggery that would have given it a flavour more akin to the original.

Would we go back? In a heartbeat. About the best Asian food at Chennai right now.
The service is impeccable, Chinese tea was served throughout the meal.

A meal for 2 would cost about Rs. 2500/- and that's a lot cheaper than catching a flight to any Asian destination. And like us, you will be stuffed to the gills.

The Asian Street Food promotion is on till November 15th.

The restaurant has now shut down. 

Creating Cakes- a workshop


Watching the movie "Steel Magnolias", I learnt about red velvet cakes. And shaping it into an armadillo for a groom's cake, an intriguing idea.  But until I made one, I didn't realise how much of my life would be taken over by this red devil. A soft and moist cake, an icing that had to be light and fluffy and not too tangy, one that had a little oomph. And yes, it finally all came together.

So at the next workshop, Creating Cakes- red velvet will be on the menu, along with a checkerboard cake, a fabulous chocolate terrine and a strawberry charlotte cake.

At Kottivakkam on April 27th, 2016, 10.30am - 2.30 pm.  

Lunch at Shiraz Cafe


We found this gem of a place a few years ago. It wasn't too far from where we lived and the best part was that we didn't have to fight traffic headed into the city. Shiraz Art Cafe, located in the Cholamandal Artists Village on the ECR, is just the place for a lazy Sunday lunch. The family that runs it is from Iran and naturally, they showcase Iranian and Middle Eastern food at their popular lunch buffet.

The buffet spread is laid out inside the cafe but you fill your plates and sit outside under the trees. It was sultry the day we went but fans had been set up which cooled the space.

A grape sorbet was first served at the table. Quite sweet but the iced treat was perfect for the weather and the outdoor seating.

The tables in the cafe were laden with food- soups, mezze, rice, naan and Shiraz's signature main courses.

We skipped the soup and feasted on hummus, lavash, spring rolls  and all this-

A selection of rice-

Saffron rice, orange peel rice, dill flavoured rice and naan

 Vibrant gravies, so full of flavour-

and Shiraz Cafe's special roast chicken

And on another table, a selection of desserts, including Indian sweets, fresh cut fruits, cake and ice cream puddings.

The food is full of flavour and lightly spiced, the dishes are replenished frequently and the atmosphere is akin to sitting in your favourite relative's home and enjoying a lazy Sunday lunch. The dining area is surrounded by stone sculptures and somewhere in the distance, the cawing of crows...

Nisrin Karimi brought me back to wakefulness with a glass of refreshing Shiraz tea.  Hot, sweet and lemony.

The buffet is priced at Rs. 735/- nett.
Cafe Shiraz will function at its present premises till October 27th. After a month's break, they will move to a new location at Neelangkarai.

Birthdays in October


In my house, the baking rush starts in October. The son has his birthday and every year, I try to come up with a new flavour. This year, I decided to do 2 cakes as he wanted to take one to work.

The checkerboard cake is an old favourite. Now of course, cake pans for making this are available but there's something about cutting out rings of cake, plastering them with icing and reassembling them. Not to mention the mess that it leaves behind!! This cake was held together with Italian meringue buttercream.

But slice them and that's when the pattern is revealed. But let me tell you one thing- use a knife to slice this cake. A cake server is not an appropriate slicing tool!! Learnt that the hard way.

The second cake was a red velvet. Red velvet cakes are basically chocolate cakes with red food colour. I experimented with a few recipes till I got one which I liked, and then tried out an icing which would complement it.

Both these cakes will be taught in an upcoming class.

Crepes 2 ways


Pancakes have been a favourite breakfast food at home. In Singapore, we have kueh dadar- green coloured pancakes filled with coconut, date palm jaggery syrup and flavoured with pandan leaves. Green coloured?? Nonya style ones had pandan juice and coconut milk mixed into the flour. Those pancakes were about the best I've ever had- soft pancakes encasing a juicy, pandan coconut filling. At a workshop done at a store a year ago, I did the same thing and a friend who walked in a little later told me the entire street was filled with the aroma of those leaves.

My mother had a crepe maker which a cousin from Australia had sent. It was a nifty little electrical gadget- you make and pour the batter into a shallow dish, switch on the crepe maker and when hot, turn it upside down and dip the top surface into the batter. Put it down on its legs and a minute later, lift off the crepe and repeat the process. All the crepes were the same size and thickness. The fun would start when the level of the batter went down and the rim of the dish and the handle of the crepe maker would have a stand off- the crepe maker could no longer access the batter. Then there would start a search for shallower dishes. No, you couldn't pour the batter onto the crepe maker.

My favourite crepe is from Marche at Singapore. Crepes stuffed with roast chicken and mushrooms, utter deliciousness.

And then, on a trip to Canada, eating hot crepes on a cold day, the recipe search started. Oh, and I did pick up a crepe spreader. My largest flat pan is a big 12 inch square, but I persevered and got pretty decent looking ones. I made 2 kinds of crepes, the more butter you add in your batter, the softer they will be.  I wanted mine crisp and non stick surfaces are not ideal for this. Oh well, a little wrist exercise won't hurt anyone.

Crepes with mushrooms and cheese
2 eggs
165 ml milk
150 ml water
125 gm flour
A pinch of salt
30 gm melted butter
Extra butter for greasing the pan

Place all the ingredients into a bowl and whip up with an electric beater. If you do not get a smooth batter, pass it through a sieve.
Keep aside for 30 minutes.
Heat a non stick pan, about 8" diameter. Or a larger size will be ideal.
Fold a paper towel, swipe it on the butter and rub the pan with it.
Turn the heat to medium, pour a ladleful of batter into the pan, with your other hand, swirl the batter about to cover the base of the pan.
Pour any extra batter back into the remaining batter.
When bubbles appear on the base, flip the crepe over. Cook for another 40 seconds or so.
(Use a flat blade to help the process. After 3 or 4 of them have been done, you might even get the hang of flipping them!)
Just remember to cook the crepes on a medium heat!
Repeat with the remaining batter, spreading the finished crepes on a wire rack to cool.
If you like your crepes to stay crisp, assemble them as soon as they are done and serve immediately.
Fold the edges of the crepe, turn it upside down and place on a plate.
I piled mine with slices of sausage tossed through white sauce, chunky sauteed mushrooms, diced spring onion and a scrape of cheese.

Makes 8-12 large crepes.

Classic crepes
In this recipe, the butter is browned to a light gold colour. The nutty flavour it imparts to the crepe is simply spectacular.

6 tablespoons butter
2 eggs
About 330 ml milk
90 gm flour
A pinch of salt
Place the butter into a small pan, melt it over medium heat till it turns a light gold colour.

Remove the foam as it rises, and 3-5 minutes later, it would have turned a light gold colour and smell nutty.
Remove from the heat and leave to cool a little.
Mix all the ingredients for the crepe, whisk it well with a hand blender, pass through a sieve if necessary.
Stir the butter into the mix, leave for about half an hour and then make crepes.

Serve the crepes with jam, sauce, curry, whipped cream, lemon curd, chocolate sauce...get the drift?

Makes about 15.

At the Petits Fours workshop


Dainty pink little cakes, tiny nutty tarts in their brown shells, gooey chocolate slathered over eclairs, now who wouldn't want to choose from a trayful of these beauties?

The workshop on petits fours saw the participants trying their piping skills on the mochas,

and iced treats.

The delightful walnut delights were a breeze to make-

- and the eclairs, filled with cream and dipped into chocolaty goodness, definitely on everyone's to do list.

 Talk about irresistible forces meeting immovable objects:

 Nope, these petits fours won't remain immovable for too long.

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