Monday, December 31, 2012

Chocolate Bread Loaf

"Nine out of ten people like chocolate. The tenth person always lies." - John Q. Tullius
Be Calm and Eat Chocolate.
I read this recently and thought of Ak.  Not that I don’t think of him otherwise, but this was one of those moments which made me remember how a simple object like Chocolate, can provide instant gratification. A bad day, a headache, post drink, a visit do someone’s house, ill-health or simply, post dinner- All It takes is a piece of chocolate to make Ak happy. I wish that there was something as unassuming and straightforward and effortless that would be a solution to my happiness. Women are just that much more complicated I guess. Although I was quite fixated on chocolate in the early years, as I have grown older- for some reason, my love for chocolate has reduced and I can only eat in extreme moderation. The husband, the brother and the parents however completely compensate.

So, what if one could begin their day with chocolate for Breakfast? I had eaten something similar on a trip to Italy, and this recipe that I had seen in a book on Italian cooking, had been calling out to me for months. Freezing winters, seemed to be the perfect time to test it out and hence, on a cold winter morning, I set out to bake this Chocolate Bread Loaf. I had also been graciously sent some wonderful packets of instant yeast from across the seas by SIL, of which some were still left. The recipe hence, seemed to be good use. The bread turned out to be quite wonderful, almost cakeish- but not a cake. I do think, bread-making practice would have yielded better results, as I kneaded a bit too much maybe- But those, who have delved deeply into the art of bread-making; do give this one a try. You will love it.
This chocolate bread can be a wholesome Breakfast, if toasted and served with butter or cream cheese or even post dinner, with dinner or any other meal. Traditionally in Italy, it is served with Mascarpone or Gorgonzola cheese and a glass of red wine.
p.s Bread making tips would be more than welcome.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Cheer

“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.”

Merry Xmas.
For some reason, Christmas is a festival that I have always cherished, right through the early years of my childhood- thanks to my schooling. While the longer vacation was an added plus, the carols, the plays, the entire spirit of festivities always made that little corner in my heart extremely happy. We never really celebrated Christmas at home, but I Would make it a point to decorate my own little Christmas tree- and that itself would be extremely therapeutic. There is something about this festival, that is exceedingly modest and unpretentious; the spirit really is about the giving, about connecting, and sharing the love. (and that just sounded like the episode of Friends- where Joey is giving  his speech at Monika and Chandler’s wedding!)
Anyhow, for various logistical reasons- I don’t have a recipe to share today (even though there are a few in my drafts), But what I will share is a recent experience that I had, which I think is in line with the Festive spirit of Xmas, and of exceptionally good service. Usually, as bloggers, we get invited to review books, and restaurants and new products quite often. I know, for a fact that that the really popular bloggers, sometimes are requested for reviews almost once a week or fortnight. Sometimes, the experience is good, the products are great and then there are times, when the service is horrible or the food is just average, and one is really caught in a situation- that can end up being quite harsh. However, there are moments, when one is NOT invited for a review, but is out somewhere for a casual coffee in the middle of a weekday, meeting an old friend, and IF the service is exceptional, it really calls for a post.  The experience that I will share today- was hence, not a planned review or a post- I am quite sure that they did not expect me to blog about it, and therefore there are no pictures. But it has found its way here, because it really is symbolic of what counts as brilliant service, which many a times, one does not even get at the best of places.
           I was meeting an old friend for coffee at the 361 Coffee Shop at The New Oberoi, Gurgaon, post lunch at around 330. I had undergone some dental treatment earlier that day, and hence could not eat much. I ordered some coconut waffles and ice-cream to sooth my hurting jaw, while she ordered some Kaava, which she said was fabulous and a vegetarian quiche. As we were meeting at the odd hour post lunch, all she wanted was a small bite. The kava came, and while we were waiting for our food, the server who served us (Deepak- here onwards referred to as D), came and informed us that the vegetarian quiche would not be available until the next hour or so, and can only provide us with one that has bacon. My friend M, didn’t mind the meat, and opted for it. Another 10 minutes later, when my dessert came, we were informed that even the bacon quiche was unavailable as an unexpected guest had just picked up all the party snacks that were in the patisserie. The ‘after lunch hours’ menu was offered again, and M was asked to opt for another dish. It is worth mentioning, that the menu was extensive, but it didn’t have too many options for a smaller course for 1 person; and on a cold winter day, a salad would just not have seemed right. M was a bit unhappy at the lack of choices, and decided to skip the food altogether. The manager came and apologized, and so did D- and offered to bring her any other food that she would like. They really insisted that she picked out something. After a detailed discussion of what was available, M decided to stick to an assorted sushi platter, which would be leftovers from the lunch buffet. The sushi came quite instantly, and was really a diverse assortment- so diverse, that I hadn’t seen some of the variations. We continued to chat, whilst I was hogging on my large plate of waffles and ice-cream. Almost 15 minutes later, D came, along with a freshly baked, very appetizing quiche. The process had taken so long, that the chef had managed to bake a quiche by then- just for us. M was pleasantly surprised, but declined, as she did not have much of an appetite by then. But they insisted on her tasting it, and despite her not being too hungry, she devoured the quiche. We really felt that they had done more than their bit in offering us whatever we had wished to order and ensuring that they delivered. The experience and service had turned out to be pleasant after all. And it was all not over yet.
                 When we asked for the cheque, we were quietly informed that the payment had been taken care of. We were quite surprised, called for D, and insisted to pay. We had, after all, eaten, and got all that we had ordered for. And then, we were humbly informed that they had not been able to deliver what we had asked for- and could only do it much later than desired. These were the service standards that they subscribed to, and anything lesser, was not acceptable and did not account for 361 service.
                 For me, it is not the fact that they did not ask for money; what strikes me is that they continued to try and ensure that we got what we wanted, right till the very last minute. While some people may not find this unique, I felt special and taken care of. They stuck to the 360/361 reputation of delivering prime quality and exceptional service; something that can be easily slipped on, and cost/payment did not have a bearing on the experience and on what they offered. It is very easy for people to come back and write a stinker email to the management, and complain about the horrible experience that they have had- but it is rare for us to be grateful for when are offered a great one instead. So, here is my thanks to the 361 management, for ensuring me a wonderful afternoon; this was precisely why I had opted to be there.
            I have a concluding thought though- How often is it that we continue to strive for perfection; or deliver quality in whatever it is that we may do; or sticking to our fundamental beliefs and values? We let it slip by too often; and that maybe is just not acceptable. Here is a lesson possibly to be learnt.
Merry Xmas. Enjoy the Christmas cheer and spread the love and light.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Blueberry Crumble

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”
― Ana├»s Nin
My world has been extremely hectic. From Family weddings back to back for a couple of weeks- to festivals, gift shopping, gift exchanging, all the finery and finally with travel across the seas, It has been a frenzied two months. A lot of action, a lot of thinking, a lot of doing, and yet- a lot still needs to be done.
In the midst of all of this chaos, a lot of cooking and tasting took place as well; especially, as an ode to the festive season. And of course, some wonderful dishes were concocted as a result. This recipe for a Blueberry crumble was fed to family for breakfast, lunch, evening tea (a traditional Swedish fika for our new Swedish family) and even dinner. The fika is a distinguished meal, and personally, I thought it was the perfect way to bond with family/friends and of course, eat some wonderful food in the process. More information on a traditional fika can be found here.
Coming back to the crumble, Batches were prepared, and then again, more batches were prepared. In fact even post the festivities, I made a batch yesterday again. We constantly had people over, through the course of a few days around Diwali and I don’t think I have ever used a recipe in a manner like this. Easy to prepare in advance- and all one has to do is just pop in the oven when the guests arrive. The fillings can last up to 15 days, when refrigerated. Although Blueberries are not so easily available here, I used the dried ones that my SIL had kindly sent about a month back. To get them closer to taste like the fresh ones, I usually soak them in milk for about 15 minutes, until they swell up and are ready to be used. What is remarkable about this crumble is how healthy it is. I adapted the recipe from the crumble topping by the fabulous Deeba @ Passionate about Baking- and of course, one of her recipes could never go wrong. Her crumble recipe can be found here and the filling was adapted from another of my favourite blogs- How Sweet Eats. A beautiful blog, with great writing, and of course, brilliant recipes.
The oats add just the right crunch to the moist blueberry filling and the warmth is ideal for a cold winter day. One of those flawless desserts- the flavours are precise. For variations, and if blueberries are not available, strawberries can easily be used to replace the blueberries. Served with ice-cream or whipped cream, the crumble is a delectable dessert. For anyone who loves fruity desserts and likes to serve individual dessert servings, This one is a must try- Now!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

chocolate cake shots

There are no mistakes. The events we bring upon ourselves, no matter how unpleasant, are necessary in order to learn what we need to learn; whatever steps we take, they're necessary to reach the places we've chosen to go. - Richard Bach

Life has a funny way of making one realize what is important. The old adage of not knowing what one values, unless it’s far away from them is- really- true. The last few months have made me realize the same. Only through my last trip, I have had the opportunity to apprehend what I have, how lucky I am to have it, and that despite failures and troubles- Life is good.
Sometimes one does accomplish a few Good things, even by making mistakes- and this pending recipe is in line with my thoughts, just perfect for this post.

Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.
Steve Jobs

And that’s exactly what I did. I had tried a new recipe for a chocolate cake- hoping to find that perfect chocolate cake. The cake turned out to be a disappointment- The taste was perfect- but it just crumbled its way through. An imperfect cake recipe, set grounds for innovation. Instead of serving it in the traditional manner, with some ice-cream, I decided to make some cake shots. For handy desserts- this is a great recipe that I will surely repeat- with hopefully a more perfect cake.

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