Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Chocolate, Chocolate & More Chocolate

How do card carrying members of chocoholics-r-us spend a lazy afternoon? Why, with a chocolate tasting party!
We (the members of the aforementioned club) eat much chocolate on a regular basis and spend a lot of time talking about all things chocolate and looking for unsual types and brands. Often we let the brands influence our perception and liking.

So it was time for a blind taste test.

Here is what we did: filled bowls with the chocolate bars broken into bite sized pieces. Each bowl was numbered and a label with the matching number was inserted in the empty chocolate bar wrapper. I held on to the wrappers to prevent any cheating!
Each taster was given a piece of paper that listed the numbers for each category and all they had to circle the one they liked the best.

I have to mention here that we did not evaluate the chocolate on the basis of the smell, colour, snap etc. the way chocolate is usually evaluated.....we used a simple way: did we like it? Liked it more than the others in the category? Were there any overtones that we liked or disliked?

Our tasting tray:

Extra dark (>70% cocoa)
Villars 72% Swiss dark chocolate
Unique Origin 71% Ocumare
Trader Joe's Swiss 71% Dark

Dark (>60% & <70%)
Vintage Plantation 2006 Harvest Equador 65%
Lindt Madagascar 65%
Chocolatour Grenada 2005 60%

Scharffen Berger 41% Milk
Villars Swiss Milk
Trader Joe's Swiss Milk

(National brands that start with H and N were not included; we are such chocolate snobs. )

The Results?

There were no clear winners.

But these brands got the most votes:
In the extra dark category: Trader Joe's Swiss 71% Dark (Some detected fruity undertones, some liked the texture, but overall this was most liked.)
In the dark category: Chocolatour Grenada 2005 60% (This was by far the smoothest.)
In the milk chocolate category: Villars Swiss Milk (This one had more 'personality' that the others.)

One surprising discovery was that no one picked the Scharffen Berger Milk chocolate! In fact some of the comments on the evaluation sheet were quite negative.

We all had a lot of fun and the only thing we all unanimously agreed upon was that we should do this again, using more chocolates.

When (not 'if') we do this again, I want to include Guittard, Valhrohna (I use it very often for baking though), and any Cadburys (manufactured outside the US).

The kids, too, had a wonderful time. So much chocolate, so little time!

It is oddly amusing to see a 6 year old pop a piece of 71% dark chocolate in her mouth, close her eyes and go 'Hmmmmm hmmm'!

What are some of your favourite chocolates?

Manisha, Richa, Tee, and Manasi think I Rock and Schmooze. Ahem!
Thanks a lot. Something like this is partcularly encouraging for a new blogger like me.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Who is Mohan and What is He Doing In My Puri?

The small amount of oil that is usually added to fried foods such as puris, chaklis, sev, bhaji (pakoda) batter etc. is called mohan. During frying season Diwali, the ladies in the kitchen would always talk about mohan. If the quality of the fried goodies was not satisfactory, it was mohan's fault....either too much mohan or not enough mohan. As kids, we found this incredibly hilarious.

I was reminded of this when at first what emerged from the frying pan were cluris and not puris.
Yes, I was frying puris today. The last time I fried anything was almost six months ago. A pretty good run, huh?
But when the lady in Delhi (not Madam President) issues an edict to either fry puris or consider yourself uninvited from the party you are left with no choice.

So here I was frying puris in the kitchen while the kids (who couldn't believe their good fortune) were doing the jig in the family room.

We enjoyed tikhat mithachi puri (masala puri). My aai usually pierces the puri with a fork before frying them. This results in a lovely crunchy puri; one that doesn't puff much.

Anita, hope there is place on your table for these?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Orissa: Food & Images

Last month we spent a couple of days visiting Puri and Bhuvaneshwar in Orissa.
In addition to sightseeing, sampling the local cuisine were the only things on our agenda. OK, the local food part was only on my agenda.
While the first part was a total success (more on that later), I was unable to sample anything local.
We stayed in a very lovely resort. It was very well done, rooms were spacious, had it's own private beach etc.
But the restaurant menu was quite disappointing. It had the typical run of the mill, national integration type menu. It had everything: idli-dosa-naan-kulcha-paneer tikka-chole-avial-macher jhol-gobi manchurian. You know what I mean?
"What about any Odiya specialties?", I asked the waiter.
"Sorry we don't carry any.".
What really annoyed was that he wasn't even apologetic about it.
Since we were there for two short days, didn't get a chance to hunt out the local foods. So the second part of my agenda was a total flop show!

Since I wasn't able to bring back a book on Oriya cuisine, I was glad Swapna provided several pointers.
Using these resources I prepared Tomato-Khajur Khatta and Jhanni Posta.

The khatta was wonderful, tomato and dates made a wonderful combination. Though it wasn't too sweet, next time I'll skip the jaggery and maybe add more chillies. Will it still be an Oriya-style khatta?
The real surprise was the posta; it is such a tasty and minimalistic dish. In retrospect I shouldn't have been been so surprised as the other well known version of the posta, the alu-posto, is a favourite Bengali comfort food.

Here is our Odiya thali. In the background is an ikat stole bought in Puri.

Here are some pictures taken in Orissa.
The Rath carrying Lord Jagannath, Balaram, and Subhadra, waiting to enter the Jagannath Puri temple. The atmosphere outside the temple was drenched in bhakti rasa. We passed several folks standing there facing the Rath, singing aloud, tears rolling down their cheeks.

One of the twelve wheels, each of which works as a sun dial.

The entrance to the temple.

This is my entry for Regional Cuisines of India: Oriya Food, hosted by Swapna. This incredible food blog event is Lakshmi's idea.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Great Grandmother's Recipe

Sprouted Methi Bhaat

Last month my mother's aunt had invited us for dinner. Amongst all the fabulous food that were served, the rice really stood out as it was unsual and unlike anything I've had so far. It was a spicy sprouted methi (fenugreek) pulao/bhaat. As soon as I started raving about it I noticed all the you-didn't-know-about-this looks directed towards me. Turns out that this rice dish was greatly favoured by my great grandmother and one that she made frequently. But I didn't know all this; thanks to a certain someone.
The only thing I could do that this point was direct how-could-you-not-tell looks glares at my mother.

Methi, the seeds and the greens, are an all time favourite with us. Sprouted methi seeds are slightly sweet and bitter all at the same time. A lot of folks(including mine) routinely eat a couple tablespoons of sprouted methi with their morning tea. Read more on the nutritional benefits of methi here.

Coming back to the methi bhaat: this simple bhaat is a perfect accompaniment for any meal but is also quite satisfying on it own with some raita/ salad. Initially it seems quite ordinary (it certainly looks that way), but that is only till you bite into a methi seed; sweet bitterness!

As the cumin-corriander powder is the only masala used, ideally it is freshly made as it makes a huge difference if it is. But if the powder is slightly old, roast it on a pan for about a minute to wake it up.

1 cup rice, wash and drain
½ cup sprouted methi seeds (Unf. I didn't measure how much of the dry methi seeds yield ½ cup sprouted methi seeds.)
1-2 (or more) chillies, finely chopped
½ medium sized or 1 small onion, finely chopped
6-7 stalks cilantro, chopped
1 tsp cumin-corriander powder
phodni kit (oil, mustard seeds, asafetida, turmeric)
6-7 cashews (optional)
salt, to taste

Do the phodni (heat 1 tbsp oil, add mustard seeds, when they start dancing add the asefetida and turmeric).
Add the chillies and the onions. Cook still the onions start browning.
Add the methi seeds; cover and cook for 1-2 minutes.
Add cashews, if using.
Add the rice, half of the cumin-corriander powder, and 1.5 cups warm water.
Mix well. Cover and cook for about 15-20 minutes.
After all the water is absorbed, add salt and the rest of the cumin-corriander powder.
Cover and cook for additional 5 minutes.
Before serving add the cilantro and mix gently.

I'm sending this to Sharmi who is hosting the JFI-Rice food blog event. Jihva For Ingredients is the brainchild of Indira of Mahanandi.
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