Monday, June 20, 2011

Pasta Veggies and Chicken - Dinner at Home

Spent the day (yesterday) doing a lot of nothing ... and spent the evening supervisong the boys from work cleaning the windows and window ledges. Suddenly decided that I was going to whip up dinner.

Looked around and decided to make a healthy dinner - as healthy as I could whilst still being tasty. Quickly cubed some carrots, cut some beans into one inch lengths and chopped some celery finely. Cut some boneless (Godrej) chicken breast into strips and marinated it in some salt, pepper, some superb Portuguese olive oil and a dash of white wine vinegar. Drained the beans, sprinkled in the celery and then drained the carrots over that to release the celery flavours whilst keeping the little bits crisp. Quickly put some bow-tie pasta to boil and grilled the marinated chicken strips (with a spriknle of dried parseley) in some more of the Portuguese olive oil. Slapped all the ingredients together in a large glass bowl, drizzled a spoonful of melted butter over the top and - Voila!! - dinner.

Monday evening comfort food ... nothing spectacular, just solid, healthy one bowl dinner. Farfelle with Carrots, Beans, Celery and Pan fried strips of Chicken.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lunch with Appu and then dinner with Sagar - Potpourri, Inorbit Mall, Vashi

One of our favourite eating out places in Navi Mumbai is Potpourri at the Inorbit Mall at Vashi.Rhea and I are willing to accept any excuse however trivial to dine there. There are 2 main reasons for this; the food is excellent and the Chef (Raunak) has become a good friend and 'cause we enjoy our food he goes out of his way with specials, recommendations and service.

Some days back our friend Appu reminded us that she had promised to take us there for lunch and was fed up of postponing the event ... so Rhea and I gleefully agreed and went over to Vashi. 

Potpourri usually has a buffet lunch which is simple but delicious and most importantly ridiculously under-priced. Yes you read it right - Under-priced! Agreed that the non-veg dishes are chicken and never any other meat but still  - A salad counter (that has ingredients changing every day), veg/non-veg pizza, usually a live pasta counter, 4 mains, 2 desserts, 1 glass of complimentary Iced tea and all this for just Rs 350/-. They also have a very well stocked bar which we have discovered makes a mean Mandarin Mojito.

We got there early and proceeded to chat up the chef and buy some of the gorgeous bread that he makes on the premises .... we settled for a Sundried Tomato and Onion Plait.

We had decided to go A la catre and called for some Mandarin Mojitos (sugarfree version for diabetics available on request!!) and we called for Raunak's famous Spicy Pork Sausage with Beef Bits and Baby potatoes for starters and we

The first batch was made for us with Raunak outside the kitchen and his sous chef substituted regular sausages instead of spicy chorizo ... Raunak was aghast and immediately went into the kitchen to remedy the mistake.

Chorizos with Beef Chunks and Baby Potatoes in a spicy sauce

When Rhea heard that Appu and I were going in for the Steak she opted for the Farmer's Pizza ... thin crust, stone base oven pizza with spicy suasage, ham and bacon bits.

My Steak Medium Rare ... pink on the inside with nice peppery wine reduction, Cajun potato wedges, grilled veggies and salad.

Appu's steak .. rarer ... with a gorgeous mashed potato topped with an olive puree butter, veggies and salad.

The ladies finished with the Philadelphia Cheese Cake ... of which there was sadly only a single serving!

I decided to boldly try something new and went in for the Gooey Chocolate Pie ... It was downright awesome and I didn't even miss the Cheesecake one little bit!


To my surprise I was back at Potpourri the next night itself catching up with an old boarding school buddy - Sagar Ronghe who work as a Petroleum Geologist in Perth and was down to train our ONGC boys in a Marine Geo software that his company develops. He was being put up at the Four Points at Vashi and didn't even have something remotely charitable to say about the food.

Dr Sagar Ronghe, Marine Geologist, Husband, Father, Friend and Old School Buddy

We called for drinks ... beer for my Aussie friend and Mandarin Mojitos for me ... with  them we called for some Oriental Prawns (Top) and Bacon Wrapped Herbed Chicken (Foreground) with a really nice dipping sauce ... which was seriously appreciated. 

For the main course I went with the Farmer's Pizza (Above) and Sagar decided to go for the Roast Chicken in a Beer Gravy ... whilst the pizza was great the chicken was a truly delightful dish (Below) and was not just pan fried to perfection but superbly complimented by a simple beer gravy that appeared to have been made by 'deglazing' the pan in which the chicken had been slowly fried.

We finished of course with the Baked Philadelphia Cheese Cake! :) 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Double cooked slices of Roast Beef with an Onion and 'Tater Gravy

27th May 2011

My old Friend Jubal and his sister Gia came down to Kharghar to spend a couple of days with us. In true old style she brought something with her - Roast Beef the way her grandma made it!

Whilst Jubal and I did our best to gently imbibe some single malt (a 10yr old Ardbeg) Gia whizzed into our kitchen and soon made some superb sliced roast beef for us to nibble on with our booze.

Gia and Jubal

Gia slicing one of the two roasts to her spec

Gia slow frying the slices till they are almost charred ... slowly bringing out all the flavours.


8th  June 2011 

Inspired by her craftsmanship I decided yesterday to do the other roast in the other manner she had recommended ... she recommended cooking thick cut onions with potatoes in the leftover gravy before re-introducing the roast beef sliced slightly thick.

So I sliced up the onions and ecided to go with sliced rounds of the taters (for max flavour absorption), sliced the Beef and then put the gravy to heat with some water and the onions, and a good dash of freshly crushed pepper and half teaspoon of salt, on a very low flame.

When the onions had been in for 15 minutes i added the taters and let it cook for a further 15 minutes.

We served the the gravy with the onions and potatoes as a sauce with a  gorgeous Onion and Sundried Tomato Bread Plait from Chef Raunak at Potpourri (Vashi).

Needless to say it was superb ..... Thank u Gia!!

Gia Fernandes ... Baker and Confectioner Extraordinaire and Goddess of Roast Beef.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Coorgi dinner in the bylanes of Bandora (old Bandra) village: One of the best meals I've eaten this year

Went out last night to try something new .... an exclusive dinner, specialised menu, small 'elite' crowd and absolutely homely setting.

Thanx to Rushina and her FB links one came across a very interesting group called CORAL ... who advertise the concept called a 'networking dinner'. 

What leapt straight out of the page were the word Pandi Curry - for the uninitiated it is the very pinnacle of southern Indian pork dishes and is a speciality of the Coorg (Kodagu) Hills in tamil Nadu and bordering on the eastern edges of Kerala. The Coorgis are a proud martial race and are known as much for their hospitality to friends as their implacable hostility to foes. One of India's only two field-marshal's, Cariappa, was a Coorgi! 

Their cuisine is quite unlike any other part of the South of India and the autochthons of Coorg - the Kodavas are famous (or infamous) for their passion for meat and liquor. The food is an amazing blend of local tribal traditions with influences from the neighbouring regions of Tamil Nadu and Kerala and the subtle influence of Manglorean Christian refugees and Muslims traders that came from the Keralite coast.

Their most well known and perhaps most popular dish is Pandi Curry a pork preparation that uniquely identifies them. It is a spicy albeit not fiery slow cooked preparation that is made for all weddings and other auspicious occasions. Its secret though lies in a special souring agent called kachampuli which is seldom available outside Coorg and is carefully couriered to the diaspora by hand. It is a unique fruit based souring syrup which whilst following the raison d'etre  of its other cousins like tamarind and kokum deviates by not just changing flavour but also add an unmistakeable texture to the dish.  It is usually served with an unleavened  rice bread made by mixing cooked rice paste with dry rice flour and is known as Akki-roti

Our host and chef Megha had made the Pandi Curry with the authentic Akki-roti which she made after we got there. All of us (Rushina, Rhea and I) crowded around and made a general nuisance of ourselves in her kitchen. 

We, Rhea and I, arrived in Bandra earlier than expected and spent two happy hours driving down streets that we had played and ploughed through in our childhood, Rhea's family lived in Bandra and it was my maternal grandparents home - where I spent most of my holidays. I keep wondering whether we ever passed one another in those days without the slightest inkling that we'd meet up in College and the fall in love in Pune!

It poured in Bandra and we had a lovely time driving around (including a short recce to confirm the address). We arrived at Pawan and Megha's at 9.15 and they were quite surprised that we had found thier place which is nestled deep inside the little gallis of Bandra village. Rushina arrived a few minutes later and pawan went off to the main road to fetch her. 

We had a little wine and some gorgeous tiny murukkus and some Superb pepper Chicken as starters, the chicken was interspersed with crunch kadipatta leaves that exploded flavour in the mouth.

We were soon fed an amazing meal of the BEST Pandi Curry (with akki-roti) I have ever eaten followed by a very interesting preparation of gauti (free range) chicken called Nati Kori (which translates as scrawny chicken) with rice. As though this gastronomic event wasn't enough Megha topped it off with some absolutely mind numbing fantastic dessert made with bananas, ghee and finely chopped coconut. She then served us some lovely light filter kaapi (coffee) to round up one of the best meals I have had this year.

I have eaten Pandi Curry at two other places, enjoyed it thoroughly and now realised how much better the authentic version is. The main difference apart from the TLC is the kachampuli which was missing in the previous versions.

Three more guests rolled in a bit later and we had an amazing 'salon' where we trawled the depths  the food business and shared food and kitchen and catering related anecdotes .... before we knew it - it was 2 am and we apologised to our perfect hosts and made a speedy getaway back to Kharghar. But not before they plied us with takeaway bottles of Megha's home-made home-style Peanut Butter (which I am eating as I write this). 

We returned home sated in mind and body.

(The only tragedy of the evening was that both me and Rhea forgot to take along a camera)

PS Pawan and Megha do this with a different cuisine almost every week!!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Excavations at Sanjan 2002-2004: Part 2 - Explorations at Bahrot and Sanjan

Having located the mound(s) and having done a quick survey I was content that I would have something to show  Dr SP Gupta when he came down a few days later.

Dr Gupta did not come alone but brought along Prof VN Misra (Ex Director, Deccan College), Shri RC Agarwal (Director ASI), Shri KN Dixit (Ex Director ASI) and proceeded  with Dr Dhalla, Mr Porus Master (Architect) and me to visit the caves at Bahrot and then the site at Sanjan.

The Bahrot Caves are essentially a line of seven (extant) water cisterns carved onto the cliff face of the Bahrot Hill a large basalt outlier of the Western Ghats. The hill lies in a Scheduled forest and the acess to it is via a moderately steep 4km long trek. To reach the caves one need to go to the town of Gholvad, roughly 140 km north of Mumbai. From Gholvad town (which is on the beach) you need to take a turn inland towards Aswali village which lies near a small dam of the same name. From this village at the foot of the hills its a good 2 to 3 hour climb to the top/caves. The caves are situated on top of a very steep cliff on the eastern edge of Bahrot hill, there is a small plateau on the top and in the past it was fortified by the construction of a three sided wall with the cliff needing no protection. There are remains of a small bastion on its northern end and it is from here that the trail enters the plateau and goes on to the caves. There are also the remnants and stone outlines of other structures within the fort. The Bahrot Peak was referred to by the British as St John's peak. The cisterns are mainly simple rectangular shaped tanks with the exceptions of two which have been quarried into the overhang and have been supported by pillars carved out of the living rock. Sadly only one of these holds water today and that too only till end January - early February. The largest of the cisterns remains dry for almost the entire year and it was this one with two pillars that the Parsis claim was the 'cave' in which their most sacred icon the Iranshah fire was hidden after the fall of Sanjan. The top of the hill was covered in scrub and the structures and fortification became clear only after Shri Pankaj Joshi (Architect) and his team cleared the top and conducted a complete survey some months later.

THE IRANSHAH - The Iranshah is the sacred Parsi Zoroastrian flame that burns inside the Fire Temple (Atash Behram) of the same name at Udvada (Dist Valsad, Gujarat). This flame according to the oral traditions of the Parsis was first lit on their successful landing on mainland India at Sanjan and has been kept burning ever since by the Sanjan priests. After the fall of Sanjan this fire was moved into hiding in the Bahrot caves for 12 years and then into the forests of Bansada from which it eventually was rescued and taken to Navsari. It was taken to Surat for a few years when it was at Navsari as the Mughal campaigns threatened its existence ..... finally in 1741-2 it arrived at its present location in Udvada. 

The Iranshah is perhaps the most powerful religious icon of the Parsi Zoroastrian community and is considered of primary importance to the well being of the faith. All newly initiated Zoroastrians and newly wed Zoroastrian make an almost mandatory pilgrimage here. It is also otherwise an active pilgrimage locus for the community and droves of Parsis are seen there on all auspicious days. Some Parsis in Mumbai and Surat even make monthly pilgrimages and there are a few new colonies for retired Parsis who would like to live near the Iranshah.

Udvada in turn is famous for its Parsi Guesthouses and their food and also for its bakeries making Wine biscuits, Nankhatai and Batasa .... in recent years the Potato garlic papads of Udvada have also become quite popular. The most popular Hotels/Geusthouses/Eateries are the Globe and Ashishvangh.

After making the ascent to the caves we were greeted by a truly panoramic view .... to our west we could see the sea, too our east the plains and the old trade route which is todays highway (NH 8) and to our north we could see the modern town of Sanjan. A little to the farthest north I was sure I could see the ancient site.

After this trip to Bahrot (more on the 'caves' another day) we then proceeded (I think it was the next day) to visit the site at Sanjan. We stopped at the vad tree and proceeded uphill into the machchhivaad we found the site covered in debris and dried leaves, we then proceeded to the Well and the Mazaar (tomb/shrine) of Shamsuddin Baba. The local Muslim communities believe that the Baba was present here upon the site to welcome the Parsis others believe that he died at the Battle of Sanjan. The well is supposed to be his 'gift' and has never been known to run dry, its is roughly 6 metres in diameter and built of well fired burnt bricks, a leaded weight sent down by us recorded a depth of almost 20 metres from the top. Adjacent to this well was a privately owned field and the owner had just plowed the top metre or so of soil to plant a rose garden. We asked and received permission to go through the freshly upturned soil. We quickly started collecting a wide variety of potsherds and a few fragments of weathered glass. Amongst the pottery were the usual unslipped red and grey wares along with a large number of buff cored sherds of glazed ware, many of these were a deep turquoise green in colour. There were also a few porcelain sherds. Shri KN Dixit promptly informed us that these were most probably of Mughal origin. We were elated by this as the upper horizons of the site could well have been Moghul. We asked the gentleman who owned the plot if he would refrain from digging up the other half of his plot and allow us to excavate here ..... he said sure thing any digging you do will be good for my  roses!

We went back to Mumbai and I handed over the surface collection to Dr Abhijit Dandekar in Pune. Abhijit was to be our Ceramic Expert and had agreed to take on the job of running the onsite pottery yard during excavations and to study the ceramics in the post excavation phase.

He surprised me a few days later by telling me that they were no parallels to our blue-green glazed sherds in any collection of Islamic ceramics of the Moghul period. I was as perplexed by this as him when one of those chances that archaeology is full off occurred. A visiting archaeologist presented a paper with identical sherds! The ceramic was called Sassanian Islamiic Turquoise Glazed Ware or just Turquoise Glazed Ware and it was made in Persia between the 7th and 10th centuries AD. We were finally in business.

The Late Dr Swaraj Prakash Gupta, IAS, New Delhi - Director Sanjan Excavations and the Late Prof. Mani Kamerkar, Historian. 

Sassanian Islamic Turqouise Glazed ware sherds from the pre-excavation explorations (that refit) with applique motif identical to similar vessel excavated at Susa from late Sassanian levels.

TGW Jar from the Excavations at Susa, Iran - Note the identical design of the spiral motif ending in a sort of flower-like design.

To be continued ......