Monday, 29 December 2014

X'mas done and dusted... 2015, bring it on!

I'm back after quite a break...Christmas is over, and I'm always left a little sad once it's done. Hence all the introspecting :) It all rushes by so soon. I guess time flies when you are having fun. More than the day itself though, I think for me, it's the anticipation of Christmas day that I love. The planning and preparation. Christmas has always been a busy time of the year... busy making X'mas sweets, fruit cake, putting up decorations, planning parties, aside from getting done with work commitments. It's all one crazy mad rush! And then it's over! 

This year was especially hectic since the usual Menon X'mas bash that we have, which is an annual thing, took on life of its own. The guest list touched 45 and I was doing all the catering! The hubs ran off the Dublin :) Very smart he was!

Now I know that I love feeding people, but this was particularly ambitions, perhaps even bordering on crazy :) But what is X'mas if not feeding people and and seeing happy faces. I'm a little like Monica (from Friends) that way, I get a huge kick from people enjoying my food. Well that's not the only way I'm like Monica, but we won't go into that :) So the X'mas Party, though quite stressful, gave me a huge high once it was pulled off!

Getting back to the point, we had a pretty awesome X'mas. More that the presents, it's about being surrounded by friends, old and new. And I realise I have a lot to be grateful for. So this is sort of the last post of the year... I'm sharing images of a few of the goodies I made, the X'mas decorations put up and the festive spirit at home... I hope everyone had a wonderful X'mas. Here is hoping that 2015 is bigger, brighter and even more awesome. 

My candied spiced nuts were a huge hit, stay posted for the 
recipe which I will be sharing soon

You can see my Sangria recipe here

Oh and it was my birthday too!

HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone!!! 
See you on the otherside!

[All these images, except the last, were clicked by Jasmeen Kaur Malhotra of Cake Couture]

Monday, 8 December 2014

A Preview of Fork You Too... soon to open in Gurgaon

For all of us meat lovers, burger lovers and steak aficionados, looks like Christmas is coming a little early… and Priyank Sukhija, restaurateur extraordinaire, is playing Santa! So what is this present that’s got me so excited? Fork You Too, a burger joint and steakhouse, and younger sibling to Fork You, HKV, has come to Gurgaon! And this swanky, industrial styled restaurant, which is opening shortly, is located in the very happening sector 29, just next to Bikanerwalla.

The Writers Collective India (TWCI) which I am so happy to be a part of, was recently invited to preview Fork You Too. I had a work meeting tentatively set up for the same day and actually crossed my fingers that my client would cancel and, I was super duper happy that he obliged me :) 

I am a big fan of Fork You in HKV- I think they do some really great burgers. And I love the concept of being able to decide what you want in your burger. With this in mind, I have big expectations of Fork You Too. But I’m sure Priyank Sukhija is used to dealing with high expectations, considering the success of his other restaurants, Townhouse Café and Warehouse Café, both in Connaught Place, Out of the Box in HKV and Skooter in Chanakyapuri, to name just a few- quite a number of home runs for someone so young, and a real inspiration for anyone wanting to get into the hospitality business.

So getting to the setting, I liked the slightly grungy, industrial style look of the place, the exposed brick walls, the bar area with its backdrop of giant exhausts that make quite a statement. Only thing missing were the rows and rows of liquor bottles you associate with a bar, but that will be taken care of soon enough, once they get their liquor license.  

And now the most important part… THE FOOD!!! Ok, before I start, I have to say I am very picky, when it comes to my burgers and steaks… that being said, these guys do the most awesome tandoori chicken burger I have ever tasted! Truth be told, when the chicken burger was put in front of me, I almost didn’t want to try it, I was saving room for the big daddy of burgers, the tenderloin burger. But a little voice said just try it and boy was I happy I did! It was tender, so juicy and just bang on perfect! It came served with 2 sides and you can choose from a coleslaw or a light, fresh green salad and potato wedges, onion rings, fish fingers (divine!) or cheesy mozzarella sticks.

The burgers...

The tenderloin burger arrived a little later and was really good too, with the caramelized onion and bacon that topped the patty. The patty was done medium, and I prefer it medium rare, but that’s a personal preference really, and when I visit next, I’m going to ask for it to be done just the way I like it and I’m sure it’s going to be incredible. The best burger in town? Hmm… that could be endlessly debated by all of us burger lovers who think we are ‘experts’… but a really good burger, and that can’t be debated :) I also have to mention that there is a huge improvement in the quality of the bun, that was the one thing where I felt the Fork You burger lacked- the bun sort of fell apart in your hand, as you ate the burger. This has been completely rectified in Fork You Too. 

While we were gorging ourselves on these delicious burgers, Priyank told us about his plans to introduce a few fusion burgers on the menu, one in particular, with a distinctive Lal Maas filling, that sounds very interesting and definitely something I want to try.

Once the burgers were sorted, we tried some steak. The one I loved, and would keep going back for again and again, was their herbed garlic tenderloin steak served with a side of mash and grilled vegetables that were done to perfection. As I cut into the steak I could see it was medium rare and soft, juicy and the perfect morsel of meaty goodness! A real meat fest! I was in meaty heaven :) All I needed was a nice cold beer to wash things down… The only thing that could have possibly made the experience even better was if there had been some spicy, pungent mustard on the side. That would have given a nice punch to the entire meat experience.

Fork You Too is a must visit, for its ambiance, music and once its liquor license is sorted, it will be a great place to hang out in the evenings. It’s in a great location and is sure to attract a great evening, after office crowd, as is the case for most places in this area. So, if you love your meat, you will love Fork You Too, from the food, right down to the quirky, yellow coasters with their distinctive tongue in cheek humor. 

[All images by Shalini Pereira. Please do not use without prior written permission]

Thursday, 4 December 2014

'Tis the Season...

Christmas is my favorite time of the year... I'm sure you've heard me say this every year :) Don't know what it is about this time of the year, but I start getting a warm, excited feeling in the pit of my stomach when the Christmas season starts. So many things to do... lists to make and things to tick off said lists :) It's a planner's dream, especially if she also happens to have a mild case of OCD :) 

The carols have started playing btw, and the house is starting to smell like Christmas because of all the sweet making:) Now if it would only start getting colder! Winter seems to have stalled in Gurgaon and that's not helping with the Christmas spirit :)

Today I started slowly setting the house in order (it's been in a bit of a mess lately)and sorting through the decorations. In the middle of putting up a few decorations, I got a little distracted :) 

Are your decorations up? Or are still waiting to be bitten by the X'Mas bug?

To get everyone in the mood for my favorite time of the year, I thought I'd trying something interesting. Starting from today, I'm going to try and post one Christmassy vignette a day on the All Things Nice Facebook page... nothing too fancy, just using stuff that's probably lying around to create a Christmas themed arrangement. If you don't want to miss any of these ideas, hop on over to the All Things Nice Facebook page, hit like and make sure the notifications are turned on... that way you you won't miss any updates :) 

More soon... 

[All images by Shalini Pereira. Please do not use without prior written permission]

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Cake Mixing & a Brief History of Christmas Cake

Last Friday I attended the annual cake mixing ceremony on the Cafe Uno lawns at Shangri-La's - Eros Hotel. The cake mixing ceremony marks the beginning of the X'Mas festive season, where chopped dried fruit, nuts and spices are mixed together with a heady combination of booze. This mixture is then stored in an airtight container for about a month, allowing the fruit to soak up the alcohol, and then used to make Christmas fruit cake and Christmas pudding.

Executive Chef Martin Braecker, Executive Sous Chef Ravi Kumar 
and Farhat Jamal

Sangeeta and Kavita Bahuguna of Dine Out Club, 
who are also part of the TWCI

Some delicious Fig and goats cheese canapes

Smoked Salmon canapes... sooo good :)

It was a lovely afternoon, made even nicer with some wonderful company and delicious canapes and wine. Looking on while all the mixing was taking place, I started to think about how the tradition of Christmas fruit cake came to be. Avininder Singh whom I was there with as part of The Writers Collective India, seemed to read my mind and he mentioned the same thing to me. So I started doing a little research. And it was really quite interesting.

The TWCI team- Avininder Singh, Sangeeta & Kavita Bahuguna, 
Vicky Vickhram, Ravinder Pratap Singh. 
Also in this pic- Anjori Kumar, Jiggi Verma, Tania Bagai, 
Anupriya Bishnoi, Maneesh Srivastava

The Story of Christmas Fruit Cake 
Even from its humble beginnings, the fruit caked was a symbol of celebration, probably because of the decadence associated with dried fruit and spices. As a result it was traditionally served during Christmas, Easter or wedding celebrations. Fruit cake, in some form, can be traced back to ancient Roman times where pomegranate seeds and pine nuts were mixed into a barley mash

The modern fruit cake, as we know it today, can trace its roots back to sometime in the middle ages, when honey, dried fruit and spices were made into a sort of fruit bread in some places and a boiled plum cake in others.

From what I've read, the practice of making Christmas fruit cake comes from two customs that sort of merged during the Victorian era- the Plum Porridge and the Plum Cake. The Plum Porridge, which dates back to ancient Roman times, was in a way the precursor to the Christmas pudding. As the story goes, it was customary to observe a day of fasting on Christmas Eve and the fast was broken with this porridge. Overtime dried fruits, honey and spices were added as a mark of celebration. And eventually this porridge started being boiled after it was wrapped in a cloth... these boiled balls of oatmeal, honey, dried fruit and spices were the first Christmas puddings!

Around the 16th century butter started to be added and oatmeal was replaced with wheat flour. Eggs were also added to hold the mixture together and the Christmas cake was born!

For me Christmas has always been about family traditions- carrying on old ones and making a few new ones of our own. Making sweets with these old family recipes, recipes that have been handed down over generations, makes me feel connected with my history and fills me with such a sense of pride and nostalgia. Like I’m part of something bigger. I know it sounds a bit stupid, and the hubby will read this and roll his eyes, but it is how it is :)

We also had a little cake mixing ceremony of our own:) As per our family tradition, the fruit has been soaked and is waiting for one week before Christmas, which is when it will be added to the cake mix and baked. I won’t be sharing the fruit cake recipe... that’s a closely guarded secret :) Every home seems to have a slightly different recipe, a slightly different proportion of fruit, spices, alcohol, soaking periods... did you know some people soak the fruit for a whole year! The most amusing thing, and what I love most is that everyone thinks that theirs is the best :)   

[All images by Shalini Pereira. Please do not use without prior written permission] 

Monday, 1 December 2014

The Jujup Experiment

Today is December 1st and in our house it's the day when we start playing X'mas carols. Sort of officially ringing in the X'mas season. So to usher in the festive spirit on the blog, here is my first post of X'mas. Two new flavour combinations for jujups...

Jujup making has been a part of our family's Christmas tradition for years now. My mom is an expert and last year, when we decided to spend Christmas in Gurgaon instead of going home to Baroda, I tried my hand at them for the first time. They turned out pretty well. Personally, I have never been a fan of these jelly sweets, but the hubby is and well it's a tradition... 

This year I decided to experiment with some new flavour combinations. Last year I made strawberry and peppermint, but I find these flavours to taste very synthetic in jujups, although I know that kids, and a lot of grown ups love them :) This time, I wanted to gourmet things up a bit. I tried orange & cinnamon and mulled wine. They came out pretty nicely even if I do say so myself :) Even I found myself popping a few of these jellies into my mouth when no one was looking... These jujups actually taste like Christmas :)

Jujups are not too difficult to make actually, they are just a little messy and you need a little patience. You can see the basic jujup recipe that I made last year, here

Orange & Cinnamon Jujups

Follow the basic jujup recipe and when it comes time to add the flavouring, add 1 tsp cinnamon powder that has been sieved, 3 tsps of orange extract or essence and 2 tsps vanilla extract or essence. and for the colouring, I added half a tsp of black food coloring. This will give the mixture an amber color.

Follow the instructions for cooling as mentioned in the basic recipe. When coating with castor sugar, add 2 tsp of sieved cinnamon powder to the castor sugar. 

Mulled Wine Jujups

For the gelatin mixture...
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 water
50 g gelatin granules

For the sugar syrup
400 g sugar
1 cup dry red wine (use a really cheap one)
1 cup orange juice
1/4 cup water
1 tsp cinnamon powder (sieved) 
1/4 tsp clove powder (sieved) 
1/4 tsp cardamom powder
4 star anise 

For the sugar coating
Castor sugar
1 tsp cinnamon powder (sieved) 
1/4 tsp clove powder (sieved) 
1/4 tsp cardamom powder

Follow the instructions for making the gelatin mixture as in the basic recipe, except use the ingredients mentioned here.

For the sugar syrup mixture, add the sugar, wine, orange juice, star anise and water to a pot and heat on a low flame till the sugar dissolves. Once the sugar has dissolved, raise the heat and let it come to boil. Now add the spice powders and stir well. Strain this mixture and return to pot and reduce the heat to lowest flame. Carefully stir in the gelatin mixture and stir with whisk until the gelatin has dissolved completely. Raise the heat slightly and continue to stir. At this point you must keep watch on this mixture as it may start to boil over. 

Boil and continuously stir this mixture for about 30-45 minutes (this is the part that requires patience). Around the 30-40 minute mark you will notice that when you dip your spoon into the liquid and remove, a string of the syrup will form. If the string is still runny, continue to heat. Once the string starts forming and setting without immediately falling back into the pot, the mixture is ready. Pour into a greased tray as mentioned in the basic recipe and cool for a minimum of 12 hours. 

To cut and coat the jujups, once again follow the basic recipe, except instead of plain castor sugar, use ingredients mentioned in this recipe. Here are some pics to give you an idea of the coating process. Remember that you will need to keep the sugar coated jujups open in a plate for at least 12 hours so that they get a chance to dry a little more. Once this is done, pack in an airtight container. 

I use a brownie tin to set the jujups

Cut the set jelly into strips and coat with sugar like in the pic. 
The cut this sugar coated strip into squares and make sure 
to coat every surface with the sugar mixture. 

[All images by Shalini Pereira. Please do not use without prior written permission]

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