Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Recipe of the Month: Baingan Bhartha (Indian-Style Fire Roasted Eggplants)

Eggplant also known as brinjal, aubergine or baingan in hindi is the gorgeous shiny purple-skinned vegetable that is familiar to most of us. Eggplants are used commonly in Indian cooking. As far back as I can remember, I have always nurtured a fondness for eggplants. A lot of people carry a great deal of dislike for this versatile vegetable and I for one cannot fathom why! 

Eggplants are widely used in my native cuisine. There are quite a few dishes made from eggplant that are my absolute favourites. I love our traditional Udupi-style gulla bolu huli or kodhel (eggplant sambhar), gulla bajji (smoky eggplant mash), gulla palya (stir-fried eggplant) & gulla dosa (eggplant pancake). My paternal grandmother would make the most scrumptious dishes out of mattu gulla (the green round variety of eggplant). If you were wondering, eggplant is called gulla in my mother tongue Tulu. My husband shares my love for this vegetable so the afore-mentioned items feature heavily in my routine day-to-day cooking.  Apart from that, I love eggplant in vangi bhath (eggplant rice), badane ennegayi (stuffed eggplant in a peanut-based gravy), baingan bhartha (Indian-style fire roasted eggplants), bharwan baingan (stuffed baby eggplants), any other form of eggplant curry/side-dish and also in International dishes like moussaka, eggplant parmigiana, ratatouille, Chinese-style stir-fried eggplant with garlic sauce,  & baba ganoush. I may be missing a few more stellar eggplant dishes but they'll come back to me later. Come to think of it, there is no form of eggplant that I have not liked so far. This vegetable can do no wrong in my books!

Now that my long-standing affinity to this vegetable has been firmly established, let me tell you a bit more about this recipe. Baingan bhartha is the Indian cousin of the Middle Eastern baba ganoush. The origins of this dish can be attributed to Punjabi cuisine. To make this dish, eggplants are roasted on an open flame until the surface is charred and the insides are soft and then they are skinned. mashed and cooked along with onions, tomatoes, garlic, fresh chillies and spices. The end product looks like a exotic dip and has a heady smoky aroma. Although the traditional method calls for a charcoal based tandoor to roast the eggplant, that isn't feasible in our everyday kitchen so the recipe has been adapted to suit the stove-top method of roasting. 

Before leaving to India, I was scouting around the fridge wondering what to cook for dinner when I came across three slim purple eggplants (that I had forgotten all about). I wanted to make something new or else something I hadn't made in a very long time so the idea of making baingan bhartha popped into my mind. I wasn't even able to remember the last time I made this dish. The main reason is because I'm a little lazy when it comes to roasting veggies on an open flame. It takes time and it is a little messy so I try to avoid it whenever possible. In our household, it is my hubby who is the fire-roaster (if that even is a word). He is the one who will take the time to patiently char the vegetables (mainly eggplant & bell peppers) on an open flame until they get cooked and turn smokily awesome and then cool, peel and chop them to be used in the dish of our choice. Anyway, on that particular day, I was feeling rather motivated so even though he wasn't around to do the dirty work, I went ahead with making this dish. 

I wanted the smoky flavour of the eggplant to be the highlight of this recipe so I didn't mask it with any spice powders. This recipe is simple to put together and showcases the amazing flavour of the fire roasted eggplant. I served it with freshly made phulkas and it was super yummy! 


I will be making this dish more often since I realized that open flame roasting isn't such a big deal as I made it out to be after all. It didn't even take as much time as I thought. So if you have some of the same concerns that I did, I hope I have coaxed you to change your mind!

If you love eggplants, you will love this dish and if you don't love eggplants, you might just become a convert so try it either way! 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Product review: StickerKid - Personalized Name Labels & Stickers For Kids

Something interesting arrived in the mail a few weeks ago!

I was fortunate to receive a Swiss-made customised gift package from StickerKid, a company dealing with unique and premium quality stickers to identify your child's belongings.

Spearheaded by a Swiss-German couple, StickerKid was established in 2004. 'Label everything you love' - is the motto behind StickerKid. With their well-crafted & durable labels, they make sure innocent mix-ups are avoided, personalized products stand out and everything returns home.
These are some of the attributes of their products,

Impressive eh?

The package I received consisted of the following labels and stickers:

1. Small stickers which are suitable for toothbrushes, pencils, eye glasses or other thin items

I chose bright pink as the background color for these stickers.

The application is simple. All you have to do is place the sticker on a clean and dry surface avoiding any air bubbles between the sticker and the object. These labels stick on glass, plastic, metal and wood but are not suitable for clothes or fabric.

Keep in mind that you have to wait 24 hours before placing the labelled item in the dishwasher, microwave or freezer for the first time.

2. Shoe stickers designed to fit snugly into shoes thanks to their shape, with three lines of text plus a logo 

The good thing about these stickers is there is an option to include a contact number in case the little one(s) gets lost (shudder!).

Note: I've blanked out the number just for the sake of maintaining privacy.

3. Iron-on labels for clothes - removable

These labels are rather plain looking when compared to the others but since they go on the inner aspect of the clothes, I guess it isn't that important.

These labels can be easily applied with an iron heated to 180 deg C. You have to place the label on the fabric and protect it with baking paper before ironing. Press the iron on the baking paper/label for 30 seconds.

You need to wait 48h before the first wash. If the label does not hold, your iron was probably not hot enough. The labels can also be removed by reheating which is convenient if you are going to pass on the clothes to a sibling or another child.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Letter To My Daughters On Their First Birthday

My little girls turn ONE today! On this special day, I am sharing with you some photos from their birthday party and my thoughts on the year gone by.

There are few occasions more monumental in a child’s life than his/her first birthday. It is not only a once-in-a-lifetime affair but also a huge milestone. For many babies, a first birthday is the first time they will get to sample cake and the resulting pictures brings so much joy to look back on. Although no one remembers their first birthday, it marks a special time for family and friends to gather together to celebrate this new little person in their lives. Agreed, a baby's first birthday is really for the parents and their loved ones. It marks a day of celebration for making it through a year of ups and downs, challenges and personal growth. Essentially it is a day to celebrate a year of parenthood.

The journey of transformation from newborn to infant and then to toddler is not an easy one for either parent - mothers in particular. I had heard that grappling with motherhood makes you stronger but I never fully understood the magnitude of that statement until I got to experience it myself. This past year (two years actually) has taught me more than the entire rest of my life put together. I was surprised by how I coped with my high-risk pregnancy and protracted delivery, I struggled with breastfeeding so much that I didn't think it would last three months but here I am having reached my one year target and I never imagined that I could look after my girls without assistance but turns out I was wrong yet again! I now know that nothing is impossible and the only thing that prevents you from doing anything is the nagging voice of self-doubt in your head. I have emerged a stronger and more patient individual and I have only my girls to thank for that.

Me and my husband wanted to celebrate our daughters first birthday in India. We wanted to share the special day with our parents, siblings, closest family members and friends. I love birthday parties having several fond memories of my own. Flipping through pages of bygone birthday albums gives me joy even to this day! As a couple, we feel like our girls 1st, 5th, 10th, 16th and 18th birthdays should be made memorable.

On a Sunday evening, the party was held at a recreational club in Bangalore. The theme of the party was "Two Little Strawberries Turn One" (since my babies looked just like a pair of strawberries when they were born). It turned out to be a wonderful evening with the girls interacting exuberantly with the guests, delicious food, fun games and activities for the kids and most importantly yummy cake! My daughters will not remember any of it but I am going to preserve the memories from this day and show it to them when they are older. The guests also left lovely and touching messages for them in the guest book which they can read in a couple of years. That is bound to make them feel special!

On the occasion of my girls first birthday, I thought I should write them a letter. I need to do this because motherhood has resulted in serious memory lapses ('Mumnesia' it's called apparently). Forget the little details (no pun intended), it terrifies me that I may not even remember the big ones! I want recollections of it all - the good, the bad & the ugly. I'll write them a letter every year until they are old enough to understand how much they mean to me (and hopefully by then my memory will have made a comeback!).


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Baker's Corner: Easy Bread Pizza Pockets

As you read this post, I will be rushing around my home like a headless chicken trying to get everything packed and sorted in time for my trip to India. This is going to be a longer-than-usual visit and I'll be back in Singapore only in January next year. As is the case with all our visits, this one is going to be action-packed too but the part I'm looking forward most to is spending time with my sister and newborn nephew in Mysore. An eventful social calendar is not going to stop me from blogging though. I managed to squeeze time to prepare some draft posts in the last two weeks so that should take care of this year's blogging quota.

I've been on an Italian food-high since last week so this post is inspired from there. If you have been following my blog on a regular basis, you will know that I posted a recipe for Margherita Pizza some time ago. This is one of my favourite pizzas and my husband's speciality so I look forward to it all the more! But I have to admit that making this pizza is quite tedious since we make the pizza dough and pizza sauce from scratch. It isn't something we can make in a jiffy when the pizza craving strikes. To overcome that snag, the idea for these bread pizza pockets took shape.

There are endless possibilities when it comes to pizza. You can make the same combinations of toppings that you love on a pizza work in calzones, stromboli, bagels, stuffed buns, rolls & open-faced sandwiches. This variation is easier than making most of them. Since I've already told you that I am a Margherita pizza lover, for this recipe, all you need is store-bought fresh bread and the three classic Margherita ingredients namely basil, mozzarella and tomatoes (in the form of sauce).

Allow me to break it down for you - you slather bread slices with butter followed by pizza sauce (I used the ready-made kind), layer a few leaves of fresh basil, scatter a few slices of fresh mozzarella, press the sandwich down and crimp the edges with a fork, brush with an egg wash and bake till golden brown. That's IT. Done! It takes less than half an hour from start to finish. You get the same familiar and oh so delicious flavours of a Margherita Pizza in less than half the time and effort. Gotta love that!

Me and hubby wholeheartedly approved of these pizza pockets. It is going to feature as a regular on our weekend brunch or quick weekday dinner menu hereafter. It is a great dish to make when you have guests, to take on picnics or to pack in your child's lunchbox. Quite the all-rounder this one! 

Here is the recipe. Make it for your family and friends and you will be making it again soon. I promise! 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Restaurant review: Caruso Italian Restaurant and Bar, Singapore

Invited Review
Last week, the good folks at Caruso Italian Restaurant and Bar extended a kind invitation to sample their lunch menu. Italian cuisine is my most favourite International cuisine (aside from my own native cuisine) so it didn't take much persuasion to say yes. And nowadays, any opportunity to get out of the house is welcomed with keen enthusiasm! Since I knew I couldn't do full justice to the menu considering my dietary restrictions, I took along a trusty local friend and fellow foodie (who conveniently lives across the street from me) to evaluate the meat-based dishes.

Bukit Timah offers some of the best dining options in Singapore and being fortunate to live around the area, it has been a familiar haunt for me over the years. Joining the row of shophouses along Bukit Timah road near the junction of sixth avenue, Caruso Restaurant and Bar is an authentic Italian restaurant showcasing the strong flavor of southern Italian cuisine. The chefs at Caruso use the finest ingredients imported from Italy and classic cooking techniques focussing on authenticity and perfection in their culinary creations. Caruso marked its foray into the local Italian dining scene in August 2013 so is still a relatively new restaurant.

The name of the restaurant is inspired by the first legendary Italian opera singer Enrico Caruso, originally from Naples.

The interiors reflects the rich Italian heritage that the restaurant draws inspiration from. It has a rustic elegance yet lends a homely and cozy vibe. The crisp white stone arches amidst tangerine orange hued walls make the space look eye-catching and inviting. The walls are adorned with photographs proudly depicting the food culture in the Puglia region.

I love going to restaurants that have a culinary history. The hallmark of a good restaurant is the pride they take in their culture and food and Caruso scores major points in this area.

The owner, Leonardo Palmisano hails from Locorotondo, a picturesque little town surrounded by the ancient Trulli in the region of Puglia in Southern Italy. Puglia is famous for its healthy & tasty cuisine, focussing on hand-made pasta such as the orecchiette.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

My All-Time Most and Least Favourite Television Characters

The medium of television has given us some gems in the form of tv shows over the years. Many of the modern dramas can easily rival Hollywood's best releases in terms of their immersive and cinematic style. Unlike a movie which is only a few hours long, TV shows run for an extended period of time (some spanning several years) so the connection to the characters is far more deep and personal. TV characters, more than movie characters are tricky to get right. But when they do, they become familiar and never wear out their welcome. On the other hand, if a character is not embraced by fans, it can even sever a long-standing love affair with the show.

I compiled this post just for laughs so if I come across as too intense, it is not because I can't separate reality from fiction! I just happen to be an emotionally involved tv viewer. I can both love and accept a flawed character but not when it gets past my level of tolerance. My picks for most favourite and least favourite characters are from dramas and sitcoms that cater to my interest and obviously from those I have watched till date. There are several acclaimed shows that I haven't watched yet (and hence you may feel certain characters are missing) but this post will be updated when I come across characters that I feel need to be included. I have a lineup of shows that I have yet to watch  - Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Office, House and The Sopranos. By the time I'm done with them, there will be a whole lot more to watch - a never ending cycle of entertainment! 

What makes a character a fan favourite? Most of the time, it is a combination of the actor's talent along with the amount of depth that the show's writers and creators were able to bring to the character consistently over the course of the series. Some characters are so memorable that years after a show has ended, they still play in the hearts and minds of the public. These are the characters that shape the culture that we live in. The best tv characters are the ones who you find fascinating, you want to see more of and/or the ones you want to be friends with (although not necessarily).

These are some of the characters that help me stay hooked on to a television series from start to finish. Note that these are in no particular order of preference.