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{Eating out ~ New Menu} at Firdaus, Taj Krishna

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The Indian fine dining restaurant Firdaus at Taj Krishna in Hyderabad has always served up dishes to best showcase Deccan and North West Frontier cuisine that it represents. Guests have always come back with an experience to remember, with great food and terrific luxurious service. I was invited a couple of weeks ago to sample the new menu. Chef Nitin Mathur and his team have spent a lot of time and passion researching dishes that would be worthy of representation. Several signature and star dishes from the original menu remain, while new ones to regale guests have been added.

We started with Murgh Jahangiri Shorba which is a creamy chicken broth, flavoured with tomatoes and Indian spices. Served with a small bite of a tava paratha on the side, it was a god start to the meal. I am not very fond of soups and consider them appetite killers contrary to them being touted as appetizers. But this soup with its deep flavours was quite nice. The vegetarian offering was a Bhuni Mirch Makai ka Shorba and quite honestly this was the better of the soups. The flavours of the roasted Mirch and Makai (corn) added so much depth of flavour to the soup.

Sangri Lal Mirch Ka Kabab

Sangri Lal Mirch Ka Kabab

My favourite part of the meal is the appetizer course. I almost always enjoy starters and dessert much more than the main course. From the vegetarian selection, we had the Sangri lal mirch ka kebab. Sangri is a sort of bean or a pod that grows in the desserts and is dried for future use. In this dish, the rehydrated sangri is combined with special fiery mathania chillies from Rajasthan and made into kebabs and pan fried. The Sangri takes on a meaty texture and is very robust, lending this kebab good body.

Makai Motiya Seekh

Makai Motiya Seekh

The next item was the Makai Motiya Seekh. Seekh kebabs made out of corn. These kebabs were well spiced and the texture was creamy unlike the dry vegetable seekhs one usually has. The Jaituni Malai Paneer was a disappointment. Chunks of paneer, coated in a marinade that was almost akin to a tapanede, the olives were lost on me and what remained was just oven cooked paneer chunks. I gave this one a miss for seconds.

Kakori Kebab

Kakori Kebab

Non vegetarians always have prized pickings at the appetizers especially with Deccan and North Western cuisine, both well known for their meat heavy kebabs. Kebabs were meant to be made with meat anyway, so the variety that is available is always good. We were served three different starters from their selection. The Kakori Kebab always has me drooling. Meat pounded and almost creamy, mixed spices, rose petals and the nutmeg shining through. This was to be my favourite non vegetarian starter. The Pathar ka gosht, looked good, but did not deliver. The spice rub and the meat seemed to be miffed with each other, while the meat was cooked to a succulent, lending itself completely to the stone it is cooked on, the spices had a mind of their own. I was disappointed, which I told Chef Nitin Kumar about and he promised to check on it. The Kebab-e-Firdaus was a chicken starter amidst the other mutton preparations. Succulent thigh pieces marinated in yogurt and spices and cooked to perfection in the tandoor. This was my second most favourite starter after the kakori kabab.

The other guests at the table included very senior journalists and I always enjoy conversations with them about food and the ever bewildering traffic situation. When the main course arrived, I was more than ready. Firdaus has a live roti trolley, equipped with a gas burner with a chef who rolls it over to a table and doles out freshly made rotis of choice, smeared of course with ghee. Chef Nitin Kumar told us that this is one of the most endearing aspects of the restaurant and guests often exclaim that getting hot puffed up rotis at the table is a luxury reserved only for trips back to the home town, as busy lives make most of us accustomed to eating cold food.

Chef Nitin Mathur

Chef Nitin Mathur

The vegetarian dishes that comprised the main course included Laal Mirchi ka paneer, the gravy drew its intense flavours from the red chillies, Chowgra which is a well known Hyderabadi dish of mixed vegetables and the absolutely outstanding Aloo Wadi Bharta. I am not a big fan of potatoes, but the flavour and character of this dish was entirely from the home made wadis, mashed into it. How can they be homemade despite coming out of a five star restaurant kitchen you may ask. That is because the recipe is from the home of Chef Nitin Mathur’s wife. The recipe was extracted from her grandfather and after consultations with a few other members of the family, the wadis were made. This attention to detail and the dedication to get the ingredients, recipe and the preparation right is something that reflects in the menu at Firdaus.

The non vegetarian main course consisted of Murgh Tarmezi Korma which in my opinion is one of the best kormas I have eaten. Usually kormas are flavoured with fried onions, and that is a flavour which dominates. This one was a korma with flavours so subtle, I was afraid to taint it with roti and actually spooned it into my mouth as is. The white gravy in total contrast to the usual brown and orange ones we are so used to, is delicate and creamy with the ground cashew paste. The Korma was to be my favourite main course dish of the day.

Next we sampled the Kaddu ka Dalcha. Now let me tell you, if one has grown up around a Hyderabadi house one has had many encounters with this Hyderabadi staple. I for one, am very critical of all the dalchas I encounter, only because my mother makes a really fabulous one and two because I’ve been surrounded by families who make terrific ones. Being spoilt for choice, it is rather rare to settle for anything less. I am happy to report that the Kaddu Dalcha was outstanding. It tasted of home, which I suppose is a compliment to a Five star hotel kitchen – just the right tang from the tamarind extract, pieces of bottle gourd and creamy lentils.  Again Chef Nitin Mathur informed us, that a detailed discussion on the preparation methods, the use of lentils etc. led the team to choose this variant over the others. I have always had dalcha that uses a combination of chana and tur dal and I find that the flavour is much deeper and the chana also acts as a thickening agent. This was the same combination and I ate the dalcha as is. Usually mutton is added to the non vegetarian version which again adds to the flavour, but this one was terrific even at the cost of repeating myself.

I gave a cursory taste nod to the Subz Biryani and the Kache Gosht ki Biryani. Both good, and have been firm favourites on their menu, and why not, we are in Hyderabad afterall! The biryanis were accompanied by Mirchi ka salan and raita.

Melt in the mouth Dahi Wada

Melt in the mouth Dahi Wada

There was also ‘melt in the mouth’ Dahi Wada garnished with chutney.

The menu offers many more well recognised dishes such as Paya Shorba (broth of roasted lamb trotters), Dum ka paneer (Paneer cubes cooked in a gravy that’s rich with cream and flavoured with brown onions). There is also the classic Shikampuri (Lamb kebabs with yogurt, mint and finely chopped onions stuffed into the centre) and of course the much loved Gongura Mamsam (lamb cooked with tangy sorrel leaves)

Dessert Platter

Dessert Platter

The Dessert platter that was served had some classics – Double ka Meetha which is one of my favourite Hyderabadi desserts. Again the twist here was that it was firmer than it usually is and much less sweet and the distinctive flavour of saffron that was used in the soaking syrup. Sometimes Indian sweets can be overwhelmingly sweet and it was good that this one wasn’t because it was a delight. We also had some Badam ka Kund, which was very similar in taste and texture to the Moongdal halwa (which I don’t much care for). But the best was the Kulfi – Handmade Kulfi, rich and creamy with all the goodness of malai (cream), decadent and the hint of Chikki (peanut and sugar brittle) elevating it completely. Topped with good old Rabdi and Sabja (basil) seeds which give it a very Falooda on a plate feel. There was also freshly cut fruit.

For me, this delightful meal felt special because of the attention to detail with the selection and construction of recipes. Each one carefully chosen, well researched and ingredients sourced carefully. This is a reflection of the passion of the Chef. He spoke to us about each recipe in great detail and there was no question that went unanswered.

Firdaus at Taj Krishna, Banjara Hills

Recommendations:

Appetizers:Sangri lal mirch ka kebab, Kakori Kebab

Main course: Aloo Wadi Bharta, Murgh Tarmezi Korma, Kaddu ka Dalcha

Desserts: Double ka Meetha

Hours: Lunch: 12:30 PM To 03:30 PM
Dinner: 07:30 PM To 11:30 PM

Location: Taj Krishna, Banjara Hills, Hyderabad

Credit Card Accepted: Yes

Valet Parking: Available

Telephone: 040-66293306  (Reservations are recommended)

PS: The meal was complimentary as I was invited by the hotel to the restaurant, however the views are my own.

Spiced Pumpkin and Carrot Multigrain Loaf

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garam masala spiced pumpkin loaf

garam masala spiced pumpkin loaf

I posted this picture to my instagram account and a lot of friends asked for the recipe. I thought I would do a quick post. I teach this in my healthy baking workshop and students are usually quite surprised at the soft texture which I believe is largely due to pumpkin puree.

I have a special love for yellow pumpkin. I love it as a vegetable, made into a really tangy curry, the way we make it in the south, stir fried with minimal spices and eaten with roti, and as a base for creamy soups minus any cream. But I love baking with pumpkin. The puree of yellow pumpkin lends itself beautifully to rolls and loaves and makes eggless baking particularly moist and soft. Fruit and vegetable purees are great if one wants to do any of the following:

1) Bake eggless versions of cakes and loaves

2) Cut back on sugar and fat

3) Bake with wholegrain flours because coarser flours need more moisture and purees are perfect for this

So this is a recipe that has very little fat, I used vegetable oil, but feel free to use melted butter in the same amount. I’ve used powdered organic jaggery for sweetness. I love using garam masala to bake with, for one it is easily accessible on the kitchen shelf and has great depth of flavour due to the blend of spices over a single spice like nutmeg (to which I am very partial) or cinnamon.

Spiced Pumpkin and Carrot Multigrain Loaf

(Makes one 9 inch loaf)

1+1/4  cup Whole wheat flour

1/2 cup Powdered oats (I use quick cooking oats, powdered in the blender)

¼ cup Ragi flour

2 teaspoons Baking powder

1 teaspoon Baking soda/ soda bi carb

½ teaspoon Salt

2 teaspoons Garam masala powder (or a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and a pinch of pepper)

3/4 cup Grated Jaggery/ palm sugar/ brown sugar

½ cup Vegetable oil

1 Egg (replace with 1/4 cup milk+ 1/2 teaspoon vinegar)

2/3 cup Pumpkin puree (pressure cook or boil chunks of peeled and deseeded yellow pumpkin till fully cooked and puree in a blender with a splash of water)

½ cup Grated yellow pumpkin

½ cup Grated carrot

½ cup raisins

½ cup Walnuts/ Almonds (optional, I did’nt add them)

  • Sift the flours with the salt, baking powder, baking soda, garam masala powder and set aside. Mix in the grated carrot and pumpkin with the flour.
  • Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and grease a 9 inch loaf pan / baking pan.
  • Beat together the oil, egg, pumpkin puree. Add the jaggery/ brown sugar to the wet ingredients and whisk till well mixed.
  • Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients in 3 batches and fold in gently.
  • Bake for 45-55 minutes or till a tester comes out clean.
  • Cool in the pan  for 10 minutes and transfer to  a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.

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.

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