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Chinese Takeaway Style ~ Sweet and Sour Five Jewel Vegetable

I have a confession to make! I have my neighborhood bar & restaurant on speed dial. They are essentially a mid sized bar, but they make such good food that I would recommend them to anyone craving cheap(er than a restaurant) and cheerful takeaways. Nothing ordered in the last 5+ years has disappointed. They make the best non typical Hyderabadi Biryani (which is spicy of-course, but also boneless), melt in your mouth Paneer Tikka and Palak Paneer and totally soul satisfying (oily) Indian Chinese. I do ask for the oil to be toned down.

Why am I waxing eloquent about Holi Bar and Restaurant in a post on home made Chinese(y) food? Because although takeaway is a speed dial away, I generally try not to order food more than once a month. When the craving hits and my fridge is suitably stocked, I find ways to experiment and make it at home. Pair a saucy hot and spicy gravy with simple Sesame noodles or Rice steamed with one pod of star anise, and we are set.

Cooking at the Escapades kitchen happens quite quickly. The most tedious chore however is chopping vegetables. So about once a week, when I shop for vegetables, I try and prep most of the vegetables which won’t wilt or spoil when cut, to speed up the cooking process during weekdays. Harder vegetables like beans, carrots, cauliflower etc get chopped up and stored. There was an assortment of vegetables chopped into bite sized chunks which I intended to make a stir fry out of, which I used for this dish.

Sweet and Sour Five Jewel Vegetables

Sweet and Sour Five Jewel Vegetables

Sweet and Sour Five Jewel Vegetables (Serves 2)

4-5 florets Cauliflower

1 medium Carrot, peeled and sliced

½ Red bell pepper, sliced

½ Yellow bell pepper, sliced

10-12 French beans, stringed and cut into 2 inch sticks

1 large Onion, sliced

½ inch Ginger, grated

2 tablespoons Tomato Sauce

1 teaspoon Vinegar

1 teaspoon Sugar

1 tablespoon Chilli sauce

1 teaspoon Soya sauce

2 tablespoon Corn flour

½ teaspoon Freshly ground black pepper

Salt to taste

2 tablespoons Sesame oil (or vegetable oil)

1 teaspoon Sesame seeds (for the garnish)

one sprig spring onions, sliced for garnish

Method

Steam the cauliflower, carrot and beans in a microwave for 5 minutes.

Heat the oil in a pan and add the grated ginger and sliced onions together. Stir fry the onions till they have barely turned translucent.

Add the sliced red and yellow bell peppers and stir, cover and cook for 2 minutes.

Add the rest of the steamed vegetables after draining the water, cover and steam everything for about 2 minutes. The vegetables should be cooked but still retain crunch and colour.

Stir together in a small bowl, the soya sauce, tomato ketchup, chilli sauce, sugar, vinegar and corn flour. Add ¼ cup of water to this and mix well, ensuring there are no lumps. Add this mixture to the steamed vegetables and mix.

Simmer for another 2 minutes, while covered, till the gravy has thickened, sprinkle the pepper. Turn off the heat, check for salt and add if needed (the sauces have salt). Sprinkle some sesame seeds, sliced spring onions and serve hot with steamed rice or noodles.

Death by Chocolate

Right in time for Valentine’s day! This is a sinful, decadent and totally indulgent cake. Four layers of moist rich chocolate cake, slathered on and finished with Chocolate Ganache.

Make the cake sponges a couple of days ahead, cling wrap them and leave them in the fridge. Even the butter cream and ganache can be made ahead and assembled a day ahead. This cake tastes best after it has been refrigerated and left to soak in all the flavours. If you love all things Chocolatey, this is the cake for you!

Death by Chocolate Cake

Death by Chocolate Cake

Death By Chocolate Cake (Makes 2 – 8 inch cakes)

1+1/2 cups Sugar

1-3/4 cups All-purpose flour

3/4 cup Cocoa Powder

1-1/2 teaspoons Baking Powder

1-1/2 teaspoons Baking Soda

1 teaspoon Salt

2   Eggs

2/3 cup Milk

1/2 cup Vegetable oil

2 teaspoons Vanilla essence

1/2 cup Boiling water

1 cup Soaking syrup (recipe below)

3 cups   Chocolate ganache (recipe below)

Method

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 8-inch round baking pans.

Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl.

Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter equally into prepared pans.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely before frosting. If not frosting the same day, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate till needed.

Soaking syrup:

1/2 cup Water

2 tablespoons Sugar

1 teaspoon Instant coffee

1 teaspoon Coffee liqueur (optional)

Heat the water with the sugar and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and cool completely. Mix in the coffee and liqueur if using and set aside till required.

PS: This cake is a very moist cake, the soaking syrup is optional.

Chocolate Ganache Frosting (Makes 4 cups)

500 grams Chocolate Chunks

200 grams Cream (one small tetrapack, regular cream, not heavy cream)

1 teaspoon Instant Coffee Powder (optional)

Chop the chocolate into chunks and melt in the MW for 60 seconds.

Heat the cream on low heat till it begins to come to a boil. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate pieces, cover and set aside for 10 minutes. Stir gently without creating any air, add the coffee powder at this stage and mix till glossy.

After the ganache cools down, it will become firm, to loosen the ganache, heat gently in the microwave for 30 seconds and stir.

Cool to room temperature before using.

Note: Prepared ganache can be stored in the fridge for a month in an airtight box. Reheat to use.

Assemble the cake:

Once the cakes have cooled, trim off the tops to level them and slit each cake into two horizontally. Or use the whole cakes as they are for a more rustic looking cake.

Place one slice of the cake on the cake board. Sprinkle a few tablespoons of the syrup to soak it. Wait for a minute and add ¼ cup of ganache in the middle and spread evenly.

Leave ½ inch of the corners free. Place another slice of the cake on top and repeat till the fourth slice is placed. Do not soak the fourth layer.

Add a thick layer of ganache in the middle of the cake and spread with a pallette knife to smoothen it. repeat over the sides.

Let it sit in the fridge for atleast 30 minutes or upto a day. Retouch with some more ganache if there are any gaps. Dip the blade of a palette knife in hot water, quickly wipe the blade and with the hot knife, smoothen out any bulges on the cake to get a smooth finish.

Decorate with chocolate sprinkles or shavings or nuts. Set it in the fridge for at least 2 hours before serving. Before serving, place at room temperature for 20 minutes for best results.

 

Valentine Day Recipes

heartcupcake

Chocolate lovers rejoice!

Mini Chocolate and Strawberry Trifles

Boozey Chocolate Tarts (yes booze makes everything better)

Oreo Brownies

Cake Pops

Chocolate Cheese Cake

Chocolate Valentino Cake 

Deep Dark Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Frosting 

Chocolate Truffles

 

Non Chocolatey stuff but still terrific!

Sweetheart Cookies 

Orange and Vanilla Cupcakes

Vanilla Custard with Pears poached in Orange Sauce

White Chocolate Pannacotta with Raspberry Sauce

Eggless Star Anise Icecream with Strawberry Compote

Valentine’s Breakfast Ideas

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

Multigrain herb and cheese rolls

Sweetheart Cookies

Sweetheart Cookies

Sweetheart Cookies

There is a brand of cookies that sells heart shaped cookies made of puff pastry. Sprinkled with sugar, these were quite the rage. I decided to try my hand at them with ready made puff pastry. If you want to make them from scratch, there is an easy to do puff pastry recipe here. I use this quite often, but chill the butter just a bit (because our room temperature is not the same as room temperature in the recipe’s country of origin)

There is puff pastry available in my neighborhood super market and I buy it sometimes to try various bakes. I want to attempt a pot pie with puff pastry  as the topping next.

These are good as a quick snack to serve with tea/ coffee, if you have last minute guests, or even as a valentine treat (since the great festival of love is almost upon us)

Sweetheart Cookies

Sweetheart Cookies

Sweet Heart Cookies (Makes about 20)

10x 8 rectangle of Puff pastry (depends on the size of the sheet that is available. I used half of the sheet I get in a roll)

2 tablespoons Granulated white sugar

2 tablespoons Milk

Spread out the puff pastry on a piece of aluminum foil or butter paper, smoothen it with your hands.

Roll the left part inwards to the right, and the right part towards the left. It should look like a pair of binoculars.

Slice the rolled up dough into ¼ inch slices using a sharp knife and lay them flat on a baking tray lined with aluminum foil.

Brush all the cookies with the milk and sprinkle the granulated sugar.

Bake in an oven preheated to 180 degrees celsius for 12-13 minutes or till they are golden brown. Cool before serving

These cookies taste best fresh. Store in an airtight container if keeping.

They can also be dipped in melted chocolate for a more indulgent treat.

{Eating Out ~ Afternoon High Tea} at The Grill, Vivanta by Taj

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Afternoon High Tea Spread at Vivanta by Taj

Afternoon High Tea Spread at Vivanta by Taj

In a bid to serve guests with the afternoon tea experience, food rooted in nostalgia and served with a twist, Vivanta by Taj have introduced Afternoon High Tea at The Grill, beside the pool. The high tea experience is served beside the rooftop pool and offers a beautiful view of the otherwise busy Begumpet area. Seating is either indoors, outdoors beside the pool or under a cabana nicely placed at the end of the pool.

I love the concept of a high tea. The only issue being, Indian meals are so filling and heavy on most days, that having and indulgent little snack at tea time leaves me no room for dinner. It’s a good idea to have a small snack early in the evening, to keep you going till dinner time.

Executive Sous Chef Arjun Yadav

Executive Sous Chef Arjun Yadav

I was invited for a special demonstration and to experience the offerings. Hosted by the enthusiastic Executive Sous Chef Arjun Yadav and ably supported by his team, the cooking demonstration involved showing us the making of one of their signature offerings – Lazeez Kumbh Galouti (which is a griddle cooked minced mushroom patty) and a deep fried Lady fish preparation.

We began with a round of introductions and the thought behind putting this kind of Afternoon High tea together. According to Chef Arjun Yadav, “The afternoon high tea is a stylized affair with an edge of the plate dining experience, offering petite sandwiches, tarts, tea bread, chocolate truffles along with Nizami delicacies, specially crafted to enchant our guests”

We were served pucca Hyderabadi chai in glass tumblers. Hyderabadi chai is characterised by a very strong decoction that has been boiled and not brewed. The milk is thick and sweetened with condensed milk in addition to sugar. This is the Irani chai that the city so loves. There is also an array of imported teas, soft beverages or even a pint of beer.

The demonstration for the Lazeez Khubh Galouti was very interesting. It is a multi step dish which involves boiling and grinding the mushrooms to a paste, adding a paste of cashews and a paste of deep fried onions, masalas and chick pea flour is used for binding the delicate mixture. Which is shaped into a patty and fried on the griddle. And the spice coated and deep fried Lady fish (it is also called Kane fish) was fresh, the subtle spices and rice flour give it a crisp exterior and keeps the inside very soft. These two items tho demonstrated are not part of the high tea spread.

The Grill boasts of a large menu for both vegetarian and non vegetarian and some dishes like the Tandoori Peri Peri Baby Potato served with a sprinkling of sev sounded very interesting.

The tea spread was colourful and a lot of the items on display piqued my interest. The Chef mentioned Pinwheel sandwiches which used typically Hyderabadi Potli Masala for flavouring the filling. While the sandwiches were very pretty, I couldn’t really taste the potli masala and it was a bit of a let down.

What stood out for me was the open sandwich that had fresh fig a poached pear, on rocket leaves. The mild sweetness from the pear and fig, complemented the rocket and crisp bread beautifully. And the fresh mozzarella topped with pesto and a cherry tomato – crisp bread, soft fresh creamy mozzarella and just a hint of pesto! Yum! There was a delightfully fresh broccoli sandwich too with steamed and lightly spiced broccoli.

The spread also included some Coleslaw sandwiches made with wheat bread, herbed chicken turnovers (a mild form of the crowd pleasing chicken curry puff), paneer tortilla wraps which I found rather dry, tho the salsa served with it was tangy and hit the right spots.

The spread is a sweet fiend’s dream! from the bite sized and perfectly made Almond financiers, Indulgent chocolate eclairs, simple fruit studded tea cakes, and an array of fresh fruit tarts.

My heart was set on the very apt Chai in a kettle set up complete with the glass tumblers and Osmania biscuits to go with it.

Kettle and chai set up with Osmania biscuits

Kettle and chai set up with Osmania biscuits

The refreshing seating under a cabana by the pool

The refreshing seating under a cabana by the pool

The Afternoon High Tea experience is open from 3:30 p.m to 5:30 p.m on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The buffet spread is prices at Rs. 500 + Taxes per person. If you would like to enjoy a relaxing dip in the pool along with your tea spread, the charges per person are Rs. 1000 + taxes.

Details

Afternoon High Tea at The Grill, Vivanta by Taj, Begumpet, Hyderabad

Price: Rs. 1000+ taxes (includes a dip in the pool) for one and Rs. 500 + taxes (excluding the use of the pool)

Hours:  03:30 PM to 5:30 PM – Friday, Saturday and Sunday

Location: Vivanta by Taj, Begumpet, Hyderabad

Credit Card Accepted: Yes

Valet Parking: Available
Telephone: 040 67253647 or 9818354494

PS: I was invited for the cooking demonstration and to sample the spread by the hotel. The views however are unbiased and are my own.

Strawberry Cake

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Strawberry Cake

Strawberry Cake

No cake has haunted me as much as this one. Also no post has disappeared 3 times after being written and saved!

Four weeks ago, the interwebs starting popping pictures of a beautiful strawberry cake. First one avid baker/blogger posted it and an avalanche was set off. Since we are a small incestuous group of bloggers who are connected on multiple social media platforms, I began seeing versions of cake all through the week and with each cake my anxiousness to make it increased. Sunken berries, wheat and other flours, egg-less and versions with egg, round, rectangular and square. There is a whole album dedicated to this cake if you want to check out the other versions. I stockpiled strawberries because I feared they would not be available as the season here is just a few weeks. And oh! I commented on how much I wanted to make this cake on every single picture that I saw.

I think everyone who saw my “OMG I need to make this cake” comment gave me the eyeroll.

the various stages of the cake

the various stages of the cake

I’ve now made this cake thrice over two weeks. The post has mysteriously disappeared thrice and the cake gets eaten so rapidly that I do not have pictures worthy of posting. But it is a fabulous cake, the sponge is gorgeous and I cannot wait to try it with other fruit. It comes together in no time and the most tedious thing to do if you ask me is to hull and slice the strawberries and then arrange them symmetrically on the batter before baking

The original recipe is from the famed blog Smitten Kitchen.  I used home made white butter and the flavour was so deep that I saved the rest of the home made butter to make this cake again a few days later. I reduced the quantity of sugar and surprisingly, my cake took only 35 minutes to bake as against 50 mentioned in the original recipe. To stop the strawberries from sinking into the batter, I baked the cake at 200 degrees C for the first 10 minutes on Anand’s recommendation.  This also gave me a beautiful golden crust on top and the sides.

Golden brown edges

Golden brown edges

Strawberry Cake (Makes a 9 inch cake)

Note: The batter rises quite a bit while baking and using a smaller tin will cause the fruit to be buried under the batter. So please use a 9 inch tin.

Original recipe is here

6 tablespoons – Unsalted butter, at room temperature

1+1/2 cup – Maida (or All purpose flour)

1+1/2 teaspoon – Baking Powder

1/2 teaspoon – Salt

2/3 cup – White sugar (pulsed in a food processor for ease of mixing)

1 tablespoon – Granualated sugar

1 egg

1/2 cup – Milk (at room temperature)

1 teaspoon – Vanilla essence

250 grams – Strawberries, hulled and halved

Preheat the oven to 200 Degrees. Butter a 9 inch baking pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Sift the flour, salt and baking powder and set aside.

Beat the butter and the sugar till pale and fluffy, takes about 2 minutes. Add egg, vanilla & milk and beat till combined.

Add the flour mixture in 2-3 batches, mixing gently with a spatula. Do not overmix the batter.

Pour this batter into the buttered and lined cake pan, smoothen the top with the spatula. Arrange the halved strawberries, cut side down close together till most of the batter is covered. Sprinkle the cake with the granulated sugar.

Bake in a preheated oven at 200 Degrees Celsius for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 175 degrees and bake for 20-25 minutes or till a cake tester comes out clean. The original recipe calls for 50 minutes.

Remove the cake from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Unmould and slice.

This cake is best eaten fresh and still warm from the oven. If you have any leftovers, refrigerate it in a covered box.

 

{Eating Out ~ Khasa Dastarkhwan} at Kanak, Trident Hyderabad

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There is a special food festival happening at Kanak, the Indian specialty restaurant at Trident Hyderabad. Called Khasa Dastarkhwan which loosely translated from Urdu means, Special ceremonial dining and showcases Mughlai cuisine.

Pretty Table Setting

Pretty Table Setting

Being from Hyderabad, the raging debate about which city does Mughlai food better between Hyderabad and Lucknow is tough to escape. To be very honest, I find debates on authenticity and ratings of food from various places and communities extremely tiring. Each place and every interpretation of a recipe is dependent on so many things which include but are not limited to the geography and weather to the availability of ingredients. I would like to believe that each place brings to the table, its own version of a dish and can therefore not be compared.

This food festival is special because it brings to hardcore Hyderabad a version of the food so loved by the city and its people. Awadhi cuisine, largely represented by Lucknow and some parts of old Delhi is a richly documented and well-loved cuisine. The chefs from the Trident hotels across India were specially trained by some of the most famous cooks of Awadhi cuisine, both from Lucknow and the Jama Masjid area of Delhi even to maintain authenticity. Each recipe has been standardised to ensure the end product is the same no matter which hotel of the Trident one eats at. Chef Sandeep Bhattacharya is heading the kitchen here in Hyderabad and has done a wonderful job of putting together a menu with some of the most loved dishes and introducing new ones for the festival.

With this as the background, and having eaten on numerous occasions at the various restaurants at Trident, I was excited to join my dinner companion and fellow blogger Preethi to try out some of the dishes.

Chilli Martini and Kadak Roomali

Chilli Martini and Kadak Roomali

We began with a delightfully sharp Chilli vodka martini for me and a Pina colada for Preethi. The chilli martini had a nice kick from the green chilli and was a good accompaniment to the Kadak Roomali – a crisp version of the roomali roti, served with toppings of freshly shredded onion, tomato, coriander and herbs with a generous sprinkling of cheese.

Galouti Kebab and Seekh Nilofari

Galouti Kebab and Seekh Nilofari

For the appetizers, we had the Seekh Nilofari – a seekh kabab made of khoya which is reduced milk and finely minced vegetables, a generous amount of nuts and subtle spices, grilled on a skewer. The sweetness of the reduced milk khoya (khoa) which is generously used in mughlai cooking both in sweet and savoury dishes, the crunch of the nuts and the very subtle flavours of the carefully chosen spices of which cardamom and mace stood out. Usually Mughlai cuisine is partial to meat eaters, but this kebab was delightful.

For the non vegetarian appetizer, we sampled the famed Galouti kebab, soft succulent lamb meat, pounded till the texture becomes buttery and cooked with kebab spices on a heated griddle. This was served on small discs of Tava paratha and one needs a few moments of silence to savour this brilliant rendition of the Galouti kebab.

Amrood Ki Sabzi

Amrood Ki Sabzi

For the main course we were served Amrood ki Subzi which piqued my interest when I glanced at the menu. So far, I had only eaten guavas raw as fruit, or the occasional jelly or guava cheese. I had never eaten it cooked as a vegetable in a savoury curry. The gravy was thick and rich with a nut paste, almost like a qorma, and the distinctive flavour and aroma of saffron was hard to miss, but the flesh of the guava was the most surprising. Firm and yet moist, with a light hint of sweetness, the guava did not feel out-of-place in the sabzi and went well with the Sheermal that I ate it with.

Main Course Offerings

Main Course Offerings

The Mahar Paneer was large chunks of paneer, stuffed with nuts and cooked in a rich tomato gravy. This was the least impressive dish of the evening for me.

For the Non vegetarians, Mughlai cuisine is synonymous with tasty qormas and gravies that are rich and indulgent. And the two dishes that were presented did not disappoint.

The Murgh Handi Qorma which was a gravy similar to the Amrood ki sabzi. Chicken drumsticks simmered in a gravy that was fragrant with saffron and rose-water and rich with a nut paste. The qorma is best eaten with lightly sweet Sheermal which is a flat bread, the dough kneaded with milk for its softness and mild sweetness.

The  stand out dish of the meal was the Shahi Nihari which is slow cooked lamb with a rich yogurt and saffron gravy. The lamb was succulent and almost falling off the bone, the gravy flavoured with the juices of the lamb and rich from the slow cooked spices, it was a terrific combination with the pudina paratha.

The Lacknawi dal similar to the kaali dal, but less rich and therefore not so heavy. I had this dal on its own and it was very good.

Rampuri Murg Biryani

Rampuri Murg Biryani

How can one have a Mughlai feast and not taste some biryani right? The Rampuri murgh biryani, subtle and yet full of flavour at the same time, succulent chicken cooked to perfection with minimal spices and chilli was fabulous. Even though I desperately love Hyderabadi biryani for it’s in your face spice and flavour kick, it was a delightful little detour to eat an almost delicate version of this much-loved dish.

Kesar Phirni and Rampuri Gulathi

Kesar Phirni and Rampuri Gulathi

We ended the meal with two beautiful desserts, the Kesar Phirni which is a rice pudding flavoured with saffron and a Rampuri Gulathi which is a semolina and Khoa pudding, from the royal kitchens of Rampur. I personally preferred the Kesar phirni because it was just the right balance of sweet and richness.

The festival ends on the 28th of January and they have a four course preset menu that one can choose from, that highlights this cuisine. The dishes are also available to be ordered A la Carte.

The preset menu is priced at ₹ 1975 + taxes per person.

We were invited for this meal and it we were served a tasting menu which was complimentary. The views are my own.

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