Casseroles and one-dish meals - a workshop


In the movies, one of the kids or the husband asks the lady of the house, "What's for dinner?" And she replies, "Oh, there's a casserole in the oven. Dinner will be ready very soon," ...or something like that. (Think I could become a scriptwriter??)

Hmm...that must be a nice dinner that family has that night - a hot casserole straight out of the oven is comfort food at its best. One could make a casserole out of anything- meat, fish or vegetables. And what do you serve with a casserole? A crusty loaf of bread and a salad. Yes, essentially a one-dish meal.  

At the workshop on "Casseroles and One-Dish Meals",  the menu has:
Chicken and vegetable casserole - a scrumptious casserole that you can even carry along to your next pot luck party;
Picnic meat loaf - a moist chicken loaf, delicious to have on its own or sliced and stuffed into a sandwich;
Tuna loaf - even if you don't like tuna, you'll love this loaf. And it's served with a tangy dressing;
Pasta and chicken bake - the quintessential one dish meal and
Croque monsieur- a fancy version of a ham and cheese sandwich. Just the thing when midnight hunger pangs strike.

The workshop is on September 23, 2015, from 10.30am - 2.30pm. At Kottivakkam.

Anglo Indian Snack Box at Navaratna


In Singapore, we had Eurasian neighbours. Every now and then, the lady would send across something she had cooked -a devil curry, country captain chicken or yellow rice. In return, my mother would send across a pie, a freshly baked cake or even appam and curry and recipes would be exchanged. In course of time, the neighbours migrated to Australia and the local food exchange programme came to an end.

Earlier this week, I was invited to review the Anglo Indian Snack Box food fest at Navaratna, the speciality Indian restaurant at Le Royal Meridien. My cookery class textbook from my school days, written by a Eurasian food expert, has a few Eurasian recipes in it (yes, I still have the book!). Looking at Navaratna's food festival menu, I was amazed at the familiar names and wondered if the flavours too were familiar. Is there a connect between Eurasian  and Anglo Indian food?

Chef Nandakumar, sous chef at Le Royal Meridien told me that the area around St. Thomas Mount is home to a number of Anglo Indians. Obviously, the most authentic recipes would be from the people who are experts at it. Eurasian curries use onions, garlic, cloves, cinnamon, fennel, nutmeg, mild curry powder, coconut milk, vinegar and tamarind. And lemongrass, shrimp paste and candlenuts. Anglo Indian cuisine uses almost the same ingredients, except for lemongrass, shrimp paste and candlenuts. 

Anglo Indian cuisine evolved when Indian cooks mixed elements of British cooking with Indian ingredients to serve their English masters. Hence soups were made from thin stock, tempered with pepper and cloves, meats were roasted with Indian spices, rice and meat curries were cooked in coconut milk to tone down spice levels. 

Kenny Boy's Kanjee

Two soups are on offer at the festival- Kenny Boy's Kanjee and Anglo Indian Pepper Water (mulligatawny soup). I chose the former. Such a catchy name and oh...what a soup. Chicken and barley in a flavourful light yellow broth garnished with coriander leaves, the soup was one of the best I've had in the longest time. It was served with soft bread rolls.

Anglo Indian Pepper Water

Chilli Fish Nuggets

Chilli Fish Nuggets had generous cubes of seer fish, a generous amount of red colour as well. The flavour of cumin was dominant but the fish was moist and fresh.

Liver Onion Fry

I don't like lamb liver but for the sake of tasting, I did have a piece. Liver is one of those things that you need to cook right, otherwise it turns rubbery and tough. This one had the colour of Kerala style pepper fried liver only it wasn't that spicy. And it had been cooked just right- tender all the way with just the right amount of spice to make it a great starter.

Mushroom Milagapodi Balls

Mushroom stuffed with cheese, coated with a spicy chilly rub and fried. Don't miss this one. So delicious, the coating was crisp, the mushrooms juicy and the burst of heat was toned down by the cheese.

East India vegetable croquets

The East India vegetable croquets were so-so. There was potato and boiled vegetable in the filling but the saving grace was the crunchy exterior. All the starters are beautifully plated with slices of cucumber, tomato, sliced onions and French fries.

Yellow coconut rice and railway mutton curry

Railway mutton curry and yellow coconut rice - what a combination. If you're wondering how this name came to be, it's because in the days of the British Raj, similar curries were served in railway retiring rooms. The curry was a thin gravy, always had vinegar as one of the ingredients to prevent spoilage, and was served with rolls. Navaratna's curry had a mild flavour, the meat was tender and the rice fragrant with spices. The curry is also served with buns.

Dessert was bread and butter pudding, sprinkled with brown sugar and blow-torched. Thankfully, there was no sugar overdose and the bruleed top was the perfect play of textures with soft cubes of bread and the crunchy sugar coat. My waiter asked me if I could taste egg in the pudding- definitely no.

Bread and butter pudding

Why is it called a Snack Box food festival. Chef Nandakumar says it's because the food is light, use of spices and curry powders restrained and one doesn't feel heavy after eating. I'm inclined to agree with him.

The festival is on till August 31, only for dinner. A meal for 2, inclusive of taxes, costs around 2500/.

A taste of Punjab at Sheraton Park Towers


It all starts with an onion. A unpeeled onion.

The weary farmer is tilling his field. It's a hot day and he stops to wipe the sweat off his brow. Looking up, he sees a welcome sight - his wife walking towards him carrying his lunch. He puts down his tools, washes his hands and sits down on the ground. His wife opens the basket and takes from it various dubbas. Today she has brought a simple daal (a dish of lentils) with greens and thick rotis (flatbread) that she made in the sanjha chulha (a communal earthen oven), a subzi (a dry vegetable dish) and an onion. He gulps down half a glassful of lassi then places the onion on his plate and smashes it open with his fist, peels off the skin. He dips pieces of the roti into the daal, tears off a layer of onion and eats it, savouring every bit of the crunch and crispness. His eyes he relishes the flavours of this simple lunch...    

The Residency at Sheraton Park Towers is the venue of Punjabi Khana da Jashn. Invited to review the dinner only festival, I was a trifle disappointed with the decor - three mud pots covered with pink net placed at the entrance to the restaurant. And the music, by a duo, while pleasant and enjoyable, was definitely not Punjabi.

But the food... aah... the food...

Chef Rajdeep Kapoor, executive chef of Sheraton New Delhi, is a good raconteur. And a fantastic chef. Passionate about the cuisine of his native Punjab, he tells us how food is cooked according to the seasons. For example, gajrela (carrot halwa) is always made with red carrots, also called Delhi carrots, that are available only in winter, so it is essentially a winter dish. As is sarson ka saag (a dish made with mustard leaves). Nowadays, spinach comes in cans so it can be made any time of the year. It was when I asked him if salads were on the Punjabi table, that he told me about the onion!!

The concept of sanjha chulha is quite interesting. Women make atta ( wholewheat flatbread dough) at home and bring it to the community oven to cook as they do not have ovens at home. Thus, it was a time to bond with friends and neighbours and over time, evolved into a social ritual.

Punjabi food is robust and not really fine dining. The food Chef Rajdeep cooks is exactly how his mother would cook at home. For him, eggplant has to be roasted over a gas flame and not in the oven.

So what's different about Punjabi food? For one, being an agricultural state, wheat, rice and dairy are staples. The food is not rich, unlike Mughlai food, and ghee is used mainly for tempering or to spread on rotis. Imagine a blob of white butter that sits atop a bowl of steaming hot sarson ka saag. Or that tantalising aroma of a pulao made with fragrant basmati rice. And all those dishes that have paneer as the star ingredient...sigh...I could go on and on...

Tandoori lamb ribs, murgh pakoda, paneer tikka, green peas tikka, mint chutney

The starters were served at the table. Tandoori lamb ribs, beautifully marinated and cooked to perfection, were tender, so also the murgh pakoda. The paneer tikka had nothing to say for itself but the green pea tikka was delicious.

Sohare wali daal, teekha masala paneer, laisooni palak

If you're a vegetarian, pile your plate up high because almost everything is delectable. Sohare wali daal - black lentils cooked with dates, was creamy and not as sweet as I expected, the vibrantly green laisooni palak was outstanding and tasted just like mum would have made it. There were a variety of Indian breads but we decided to try the soft makki ki roti (corn flatbread). What an incredible combination. And once again, the paneer was disappointing, dry and lacking in flavour.

Shahi baingan ka bharta, rajmaa masala, dahi bhalla

Another winner was the shahi baingan. I loved its smoky flavour but I think the green peas detracted from its smoothness. And whatever you do, don't forget to have the dahi bhalla. Quite like curd vada, the curd in this is sweeter, as we were warned.

Kadai wali macchi, makkhan wala kukkad, Amritsari nalli

The non veg section had kadai cooked bekti, with a base of perfectly cooked onion and tomato, makkhan wala kukkad - the placard simply read "the most famous butter chicken" [sic] and fork-tender lamb shanks. Every one of these flavours was different and I particularly liked the clever use of spices that allowed the taste of the meat and fish to come through.

Subz pulao, fragrant plain rice,tangri da chol 

As for rice, there was a delicately flavoured vegetable pulao, a mildly spiced chicken drumstick biryani and plain rice. They paired well with every one of the gravies we tried.

The desserts were pretty standard offerings. But there were also these -

The crispiest jilabis ever made

Melt in the mouth pinni, mawa cake, til laddu, chenna toast

There was also a fig and ginger halwa. It was exceptionally good and I could have had a bowlful of this. Not at all oily but smooth with little bursts of crunchy fig seeds.

The courteous service staff wouldn't let us leave until we had tried three glasses of lassi (a blended yoghurt drink). Lassi, apparently, is always had before sunset. We were told to drink up so we'd have a good night's sleep.

From right- plain salted, cumin flavoured and nutty sweet 

The Punjabi Khana da Jashn festival is on only till August 31st and is priced at 1350/++ per head.

Cheese and wine conversations at the Park Hyatt


I love white wines, maybe it has something to do with the temperature it's served at. And if there are some bubbles in it, even better. However, for this review at the Park Hyatt, as part of the ongoing Masters of Food and Wine Season 3 series, I had to foray into more unfamiliar territory and deal with a couple of reds as well and wine's popular pairing- cheese. I'm no wine connoisseur, and so this review is only about my impression of the wines I tasted and of course, the cheeses.

View from the Terrace Deck

The Terrace Deck of the Dining Room was set out with wine and cheese stations; at the centre, a large table piled high with breads, lavash sticks, green apples, grapes and figs, jars of mustard, dry fruit and delicious preserves. Refreshing the palate between wine courses is indeed serious business.

The wines were from France, Spain and California, the organic and artisanal cheeses from Mango Hill, Pondicherry.

We started with Laroche Petit Chablis. A pale, lemon coloured Burgundy, it tasted fresh, fruity and had a slight hint of acidity. A perfect aperitif that whetted the appetite.

It was paired with La Buchette. I do like blue cheeses but this one had a slightly chalky aftertaste.
Moving on to Vinasol Torres, a product of Spain, I enjoyed the crispness of the sauvignon blanc. Clear and lemon coloured, the wine was acidic, yet fresh and fruity with quite a lively character and a wonderful fragrance.

If you like Boursin, then you will like Borsalino, Mango Hill's take on the soft cheese. Made of cow's milk, it had flecks of coriander leaves and spicy notes from green chilli. Delicious on its own or smeared on a slice of bread.


For me, the dark ruby Sangre de Toro was Spain in a bottle. One sip of the slightly dry wine and I could feel my taste buds do the flamenco in my mouth. The flavours were complex with hints of spices and berries. The wine expert beside me explained the role a bit of bright sunshine plays in developing the bouquet in a wine. Paired with batons of Gruyere cheese, the combination was fabulous. But then again, I'm partial to Gruyere- love its savoriness.

Gruyere with Sangre de Toro

Conversation flowed and it was nice to hear what the others thought of the wines. By now, I was in a happy place and decided to try out some of the breads.

Lavash, baguettes and a delicious rye with chunks of dried fig

And some fresh and dried fruit...

Back to the tasting, Zinfandel is made from a variety of grape that has a dark skin. This offering from Ravenswood was a smooth wine with full bodied flavour. It tasted of raspberries and blueberries and had hints of spice.

Le Pondicheri

Sharing space with this wine from California was Le Pondicheri, a curry leaf crusted cheese. The cheese was tasty, the curry leaf flavour was barely perceptible but a good combination with the wine.

Even wine tastings finish on a sweet note. Torres Floralis Moscatel Oro is a Spanish dessert wine made from Muscat grapes. Served chilled, the wine was a beautiful golden yellow, intense, aromatic and exuded the scents of rose and orange. I found it far too sweet, though I would have loved to have used it in a dessert.

And with it, Camembert, a washed rind cheese made of cow's milk with a pale, creamy interior and a white rind. It was easily one of the best cheeses of the night.


All in all, an enjoyable evening spent sipping fine wines and nibbling on some great tasting cheeses.

Disclaimer: all opinions mentioned here are my own and need not agree with those of others.

At the Biscuits and Traybakes workshop


Home baked biscuits. There's something so irresistibly delicious about them. Here's what we baked:

Oatmeal raisin; tiny burger biscuits

Butter biscuits; thumbprint biscuits

Melting moments, surprise chocolate and cheese & chilli biscuits

Brownie biscuits

Almond & orange bars, sesame biscuits

And as for the traybakes -
Almond bars

Choco peanutty slices

A repeat of "Biscuits and Traybakes" on July 23, 10.30am - 2.30 pm at Kottivakkam.

Les éclairs at Le Royal Meridien


In French, éclair means lightning. Why? The Chamber's dictionary has an apt definition - 'a cake, long in shape but short in duration'. Bite into one and you will know exactly how true that is.

Who hasn't heard of éclairs? Choux dough piped into an oblong and baked. When cooled, it is filled with a delicious pastry cream and finished with a fondant topping or chocolate glaze. Of course, Paris is the birthplace of this wonderfully decadent bit of confection.

Le Royal Meridien at Guindy has recently launched its global éclair festival. Each of their properties has introduced a speciality line of 3 éclairs, using ingredients which define that particular city. Here's a quick question - what's an ingredient that Chennai (or Madras) is synonymous with? If you said filter coffee, give yourself a pat on the back!

I spent half an hour talking to Le Meridien's pastry chef where I learnt that they bake the 3 signature speciality flavours and 10 classic flavours every day. Classic flavours include strawberry mascapone, fig and cashew, amaretto orange and of course, chocolate truffle. He took me through the making of the choux shells and the fillings.

So what are the 3 signature flavours that represent Chennai? Filter coffee in Salted Caramel and Filter Coffee Éclair, khoa in Golden Éclair and tamarind in Hazelnut Tamarind Éclair.

The Salted Caramel and Filter Coffee Éclair had shavings of white chocolate sprinkled over the top. Quite simply, I loved it. The éclairs were beautifully piped and baked to an even colour. The filling was luscious and substantial, and the combination of caramel and coffee sang in perfect harmony.

Not surprisingly, this is the top selling flavour.

The second one is appropriately called Golden Éclair. The éclair is coated in white chocolate and brushed with golden luster dust. The filling is a creamy mixture of khoa and saffron.

It was a play of textures- a hard chocolate top and the soft cream, saffron and khoa filling. The flavour of saffron was almost imperceptible but biting into the éclair, it tasted mildly like a milk sweet. The richness of the filling perfectly complemented the crisp, chocolaty pastry shell.

The third was the most intriguing. Lines of dark and white chocolate piped over the éclair and presented with a chocolate tile over the top, there was no hint whatsoever as to what lay within.

And then...

At first bite, the tamarind flavour in the Hazelnut Tamarind Éclair stood out, then the hazelnut took over. Both are dominant flavours and the combination grows on you as you progress with the eating- fusion at its best.

I found the choux pastry shells a little too thick. It would be nice if they could be made a bit thinner so one gets to enjoy the flavour of the fillings. As for the fillings themselves, innovation deserves top scores. All 3 flavours certainly do represent Chennai.

These éclairs will be available every day. They are quite substantial and cost about 120/ each. Pick them up at Le Gourmandise, the pastry counter at Le Meridien or try them at the buffet at Cilantro, the all day dining restaurant.

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