Friday, January 29, 2016

Baker's Corner: Shakshuka

The first thing that popped into my head when I heard the name 'Shakshuka' was the image of a diabolical Bollywood villain sneezing violently! Lame jokes apart, I had bookmarked a recipe for Shakshuka years ago but never got around to it. The idea however, had always been lurking at the back of my mind. A final burst of inspiration came after a recent visit to The Egg Factory in Bangalore where I OD'd on at least half a dozen egg-based dishes including their rendition of Shakshuka.

Shakshuka or Shakshouka is a one-skillet recipe of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers and onions, often spiced with cumin, paprika and cayenne. Although under debate, it is widely believed to have a Tunisian origin. It can be the perfect dish for brunch lunch or even 'brinner' (breakfast disguised as dinner) though in Israel it is synonymous with breakfast served with a pile of pita or challah on the side to mop up the sauce. This is an easy dish to prepare at home and the recipe can be interpreted in many ways. The sauce comes together fairly quickly on top of the stove. After that it is only a matter of gently cracking each of the eggs on top of the skillet, nestling them into the sauce and then baking in a pre-heated oven for a few minutes. Or else you can do the whole thing on the stove-top.


Apart from being simple and satisfying, this dish is also wholesome and waistline-friendly. Eggs are a good source of protein, iron and essential vitamins; tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene (a strong antioxidant); bell peppers are known for their antioxidant and vitamin C content and parsley is an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K. You can tweak the ingredients to include spinach, okra, eggplant, mushrooms, zucchini, corn, peas, chickpeas etc thereby customizing it to your taste and enhancing the nutritional profile (at the cost of authenticity though!). Fresh ripe tomatoes can be used in this recipe but I prefer canned whole plum tomatoes because it gives a richer, more intense color and is more convenient. Most recipes call for the use of anaheim peppers (which is not a commonly available ingredient in this part of the world) but you can alternatively use jalapeños for some heat. Keep in mind that the anaheim pepper falls in line more with the bell pepper – a somewhat sweet pepper flavor whereas the jalapeño pepper has a bright grassy bite to it. And lastly, although different people like their eggs cooked differently, for this dish ideally, when served, the eggs should be still runny so that the yolks mingle with the spicy sauce.

I have adapted the recipe from The New York Times which strays from more traditional renditions of this North African dish by adding crumbled feta cheese. I love feta cheese (the husband not so much) so it is not a variety of cheese that features commonly in recipes that come out of our kitchen. But for this particular recipe, I made an exception because I made this dish all about me! tee...hee The feta softens into little creamy nuggets in the oven’s heat and makes this version moreish.

Me and the husband were very pleased with how this recipe turned out and this is going to be a keeper for sure! My only complaint was that for the size of my skillet, I should have used four or five eggs instead of six so the lovely red sauce would have been more visible underneath. But apart from that, stunning overall!

Update: Look how nice it looked when I tried this recipe a second time with only 4 eggs

Make this for your egg-loving family and/or friends and watch them slobber all over it! 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Recipe of the month: Karnataka Speciality - Neer Dosa

Neer dosa which literally translates to 'water dosa' is a crêpe prepared from rice batter. It is a South-Indian breakfast dish. Neer dosa is a delicacy from the Tulu nadu region in Karnataka and part of Udupi cuisine. 'Neer' is the word for water in Tulu and 'Neeru' is the word for water in Kannada.

To make this soft delicate dosa, rice is soaked in water for a few hours. It is then ground with water to make a runny batter. Most types of dosa require the batter to be fermented for a few hours or even a day. However, fermentation is not required while preparing this dosa. A thin layer of batter is poured onto a heated flat cast iron griddle pan (or a non-stick pan) greased with oil. The batter is spread with a ladle to form a crêpe and is typically cooked only on one side.

Being a native of Tulu nadu, this dosa is a breakfast staple in my family. We also refer to this dosa as 'bari akki dosa' or 'bajjar dosa'. I distinctly remember going through a childhood phase of intense liking for this dosa followed by a phase of intense dislike. Not proud of the latter! Since reaching adulthood, I have come to my senses and have realized how simple, versatile and delicious these neer dosas are.

The vegetarians enjoy neer dosa with coconut chutney, sambar, vegetable stew (saagu), rasayana (chopped mango  or banana in sweetened coconut milk) or a mixture of jaggery and fresh coconut. The non-vegetarians enjoy it with a meat-based curry, meat-based sukka or egg roast. In my household it has always been coconut chutney for the chutney-loving husband and mango (midi) pickle with coconut oil for the pickle-loving me. I prefer savoury accompaniments to this dosa rather than sweet but for the sake of my toddlers, this time round, I also prepared a mixture of jaggery with shredded fresh coconut. The extra effort paid off as they enthusiastically ate a few bites....phew!

Another wonderful attribute of these dosas is that one can enjoy these dosas hot or even after they have cooled down. My husband's mandate is that hot neer dosas are to be drizzled with ghee (clarified butter) and the cool ones are to be served with coconut oil. I don't argue and simply go with what he says....ghee....coconut oil....whatever!....these dosas taste yum to me any way!

My previous recipe for neer dosa had grated coconut in it. I also used only one kind of rice (regular sona masoori). I never owned a cast iron pan until recently so I used to make them in my non-stick pan. Somehow I was never satisfied with the outcome. They would be markedly inferior from the neer dosas I would relish back home. So this time, I watched my MIL preparing them in Bangalore and noticed that her recipe was quite different (and simpler). She also told me that neer dosas turn out best in a cast iron pan. After obtaining my new cast iron pan way back last year, I had chucked it away in a corner  of my kitchen cupboard because I lacked the know-how on how to season it. Whatever dosa I made in it would end up sticking to the pan and leave me frustrated. Fortunately things changed when my MIL visited us last year and guided me in seasoning the pan the right way. Now It works so well that I am in love with it! I tried this new way of making the neer dosa and it turned out just like my mom and MILs rendition. Hubby agreed too. Yay! 

I am sharing with you the recipe in this post. I hope you enjoy this pearly white gem from my very own Tulu nadu 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Restaurant review: The Egg Factory - Bangalore, India

So, my extended India trip has finally come to an end. After being amidst close family and friends for so long, we are back to being a family of four in Singapore. It is a bittersweet feeling as it always is following a trip back home 😐

I feel like I have completely forgotten how to cook (seriously!). After being fed well and looked after by mum and MIL, it is a little disheartening to realize that now that responsibility towards my family rests on my shoulders. Ho-hum! On the bright side, I got to dine at some good restaurants during my stint in Bangalore so I do have some review material to keep me occupied outside of my routine chores 😛

In this world, there are vegetarians, non-vegetarians and a third category of people in the grey area who can be labelled as 'eggetarians'. I personally know quite a few people who are egg-obsessed (myself included!). When it comes to eggs, my gluttony knows no bounds! I can incorporate this sunny spheroid into my diet every single day without getting sick of it. You know how I always say that I love breakfast for dinner (or brinner as it is called). Well....eggs have a major role to play in that statement!

Eggs feature in almost all cuisines from across the world. If you think about it, eggs not only appear on the menu of most cuisines but also are used at different meal occasions because of their versatility. The resultant plethora of choices facing an egg connoisseur is nothing short of inspiring. I personally think a restaurant featuring an egg-based menu is an (EGG)cellent concept! 👍

The Egg Factory brings to you a range of popular egg dishes from India and across the globe. This is an all-day diner serving eggs in various forms such as omelettes, frittatas, scrambled egg variants, french toasts, curries, sandwiches, pastas, flatbread, biryani and desserts. Some dishes have names that could be real tongue twisters! The people behind the restaurant decided to keep it simple and use recipes that they could replicate with some degree of authenticity based on familiar cooking methods and easily available ingredients. That mantra led to a egglicious menu which has simple yet hearty dishes.

Me and my hubby sauntered over to the nearest branch of The Egg Factory to us which is located at RMV 2nd stage. We visited the same restaurant for brunch on two different occasions.

The outside looks quite ordinary (more like someone's house rather than a restaurant) and tracking it down might be a task it itself but the inside is nice and cozy.

The restaurant offers a casual and relaxed ambience. The space is small but it has a cheery vibe. The interiors have somewhat of an industrial look with metal parts, wood benches, green glass bottles used as accents, yellow and black 'barricade tape' on the walls, a wrench like door knob, brick-like flooring, bright red AC duct and a painted black ceiling peppered by spotlights.

You can leave a message if you like!

The clever and creative menu is impressive with various sections such as Eggxpectations, Eggsamplers, Eggxamples, Eggxotica, Oyako Dishes & Eggxistential Desserts. There are two more sections called Eggucation (explaining the benefits of eggs) and Eggxplanations (explaining various signs and symbols seen throughout the restaurant) that provide for additional fun reading. There is a small section for non-egg eating vegetarians called 'Vegg Many Ways' as well.

With so many options, you will be spoilt for choices! I took a good 15 minutes to carefully scan the menu before making up my mind on what to order.

Check out the dishes we chose to start our day with  💪

Friday, January 8, 2016

The BIG 10!

Me and my husband have been married for a decade today. WOW. I swear it doesn’t seem that long! 

I never doubted we’d make it this far. I was only 23 when I got married and was apprehensive about leaving a wonderful life behind and relocate to Singapore to ‘begin’ a new life. I thought I was the epitome of composure as I waved goodbye to my beloved family and boarded the flight at Bangalore to depart to Singapore. But as the plane was taxiing off the runway, reality finally sunk in and I wept hysterically for a good 10 minutes as my husband did his best to comfort me. I had no clue about running a household. Back then, I didn’t even know how to cook that much. But his maturity came in handy when he stepped in and made things so much easier on me. One of the first memories I have of being a new bride are entering our tiny two-bedroom condo in Singapore for the first time. He had thoughtfully taken the time to thoroughly clean up the place so I would feel welcome (it is another thing that I began redecorating the minute after he left for work...LOL!). Our first home looked like a doll house to me and I loved it from the first sight. I made a lot of goofy new-bride blunders but we both had a good laugh about it. I think it’s safe to say I’ve matured a lot over the years. Becoming home owners and having kids will certainly do that to you (or at least it should!).

Those first years were blissful. I had decided to take a short break from my career so I dived head-first into the domestic scene. We went out for movies, dined at restaurants, had friends and family visiting every now and then, went on innumerable holidays and enjoyed life to the fullest. We wanted to have children but didn’t rush into it and that is something I have absolutely no regrets about. After the birth of our twins, our life has indeed changed. Things haven't always been rosy but as a couple I’d like to believe that our bond has become stronger and there is nothing we cannot handle together. They say marriage is hard work but it honestly never felt like that to me. It hasn't always been hearts and unicorns but it hasn't been daggers either. Raising kids is hard work I admit but marriage has been a fairly smooth journey so far. 

He is the kind who doesn’t talk much but is observant and considerate. He is the kind who will remember a casual remark about something I liked and then gift it to me months later. He is the kind who will pester me to sit with him and watch sports but also join me when I’m watching a cookery show, sappy drama, fashion police or a chick-flick. He is the kind who doesn’t say “I love you” everyday but will do something thoughtful every now and then that serves as a reminder that he does. He is the kind to understand my interests and capabilities and then motivate me in that direction sometimes even at the cost of his own comfort. He is the kind who loves and respects my family just as much as he does his own. He is the kind who will cook for my friends. He is the kind who will sweep and mop the floors while I am busy with other chores. He is the kind who will thoroughly research household cleaning products and techniques so that our home is always spic and span. He is the kind who will readily babysit the kids if I need time for myself. He is the one person who knows more about me than I do myself! He is smart, patient, resourceful and kind. Most importantly, he is a great listener and I enjoy his company. 

Sweetie, I know you will read this post so I would like to publicly declare that I love you more than words can say (which is so cliché, but so true). I don't care if this post embarasses you! You have made me feel like the single most important thing in your life for the last 10 years for which I feel blessed. We are opposite in a lot of respects - I am an extrovert, adaptable, dynamic, restless and impulsive whereas you are an introvert, resolute, laid-back, calm and contemplative. Like they say - opposites attract! I am so lucky to have found someone who is broad-minded, sensible, non-judgemental, respects women, helps around the house and shares parenting responsibilities. Although not many people are aware of this, but you can be quite witty and funny. You have made me laugh a lot and even though we have had our petty squabbles, I can honestly say that I can’t remember a single one as I’m writing this piece. I know that you love listening to me because I can be so animated and dramatic (and maybe even comical!) which I really love about you 

Thank you for being practical and balancing me out sometimes, when I get a little less-than-practical and emotional. We share a common love for movies, books, food & travel which has provided a treasure trove of memories over the years. I love that we can hang out together and be completely content even when some of our interests differ. Over the years, you have introduced me to many things and I would like to think that I have introduced to some things as well (you have turned out into such a good cook, haven't you?). Thank you for labelling all my spice jars with your label-maker even when I made fun of you and called you loony. Thank you for being our resident bug exterminator, handyman, plumber & indoor gardener. Thank you for supporting me when I was doing my Masters and used to come home at unearthly hours. Thank you for standing by me when I was struggling to get my first job after graduation. You provided a listening ear for all my rants and a shoulder to cry on during that frustrating period. Thank you for being my interior decorating partner when we did up our new home together. We had a blast didn't we? Thank you for looking after me during my roller coaster of a pregnancy. You have seen me throw-up all over myself in a crowded restaurant and that you didn't laugh or get embarrassed by it proves you are a nice fella (I personally think I would have laughed out loud if the roles were reversed!). Thank you for supporting my decision to take a temporary break from my job to look after our daughters. I know whatever decision I make in the future, you will be behind me a hundred percent so thank you in advance! Thank you for not just sharing a house with me, but for truly sharing your LIFE with me. You have shared with me your innermost secrets, thoughts, beliefs and dreams and I hope that even when we celebrate our 50th anniversary (if both of us are still around!), things remain the same. You are my best friend and there's no one I'd rather spend my life with than you. There are still many more things that I love about you but I'm going to stop here lest I sound like some silly love-struck school girl! 

Happy anniversary dearest. Here’s to many many more….

P.S. - I hope this post has inspired you to contribute more guest posts on the blog. I didn't mention even one of your exasperating traits (which you do have by the way!)  *laughs cheekily*


Friday, January 1, 2016

Welcoming 2016 with my All-time Top-10 dishes!

Happy New Year!

The year 2015 was a memorable one for me for a host of reasons. On the personal front, it bestowed a melange of happy occasions, treasured memories, character-building challenges & moments of reflection. It provided a platform to dig deep and bring out the best I had in me. From a blogger's perspective, the number of blog entries crossed 200 & my blog's Facebook page now has more than 4K followers (yay!). Moreover, favourable opportunities arose for blogger collaborations & working with talented guest bloggers. For all that, gracias 2015 and vamos 2016!

I hope the brand new year brings fresh beginnings, reaffirmations of love, novel opportunities, a spirit of giving & promises for a brighter future for one and all. I enter this new year with a new outlook and changed priorities. No more superficial resolutions of losing weight, getting into shape, taking up new hobbies, shaping career paths and the likes of it. I have made a few heartfelt and purposeful promises to myself which I am intent on keeping. Wish me luck! 

Right now, I am at my in-laws home in Bangalore celebrating new year's day with my family. My brother-in-law and his wife (who live in the US) are here and they are meeting the kids for the very first time. It is heart-warming to watch them play doting aunt and uncle! Yesterday we had an intimate family dinner at home with food ordered-in from one of our favourite restaurants and dessert made by my sister-in-law and me. There was cheerful banter, laughter, goofy antics by the kids followed by an inviting spread of scrumptious food and our in-house apple crumble turned out decent too. I can't think of a better way to have welcomed 2016 

I thought long and hard about how I would hail the new year in my virtual home (aka my blog if you hadn't figured that out already!) and I felt I should do a round-up of my all-time favourite 10 recipes on the blog. I get frequently asked by people what my favourite recipe is or else what recipe I would suggest them to try from here. I get a little stumped because I cannot answer that question on the spur of the moment.

So, after giving it considerable thought, here are my top 10. Note that these recipes are indeed ranked in order of my preference.

Presenting the 10 dishes that not only fill my belly but also fill my heart!