Monday, November 14, 2011

Book Review: The Tulleeho! Book of Cocktails

I first started writing (non-academic prose & to someone else's specifications and guidelines) way back in 1999, for a new dotcom venture called Tulleeho!.com. Chanty (Vikram Achanta), Venky (P Venkatesh) and I soon bonded online over our fascination for alcohol and penchant for drinking. I even met up with them while on a business trip (for my full time job) to Delhi and made it to the Tulleeho! Wall of Shame - the only woman to do so :)

The years passed by, Krishna Nagaraj joined them, Venky got back into the corporate world, they hired more staff, the website changed from being a set of reviews of places to drink at, to include cocktail recipes, coverage of new launches of alcohol related products in India and an online shop for bartending accessories among other things. They moved offline into cocktail workshops, wine and whisky tasting sessions and  wine trails in India. I moved from India to the US and back, then to Egypt and Dubai before coming back again. In between, I attended their Cocktail workshops in Hyderabad, conducted by Shatbi Basu and kept bumping into them at the JLF and in Delhi. while staying updated via Tulleeho!.com and facebook.

I was very excited, when I heard that they had finally compiled the cocktail recipes on their website into a book and were due for launch just around the time, I was moving to Guwahati. I did not order the book off flipkart, because I was hoping to buy myself an autographed copy at a book launch while travelling to Delhi or Bombay. However, earlier last week, I was contacted by Blog Adda to review this book and I jumped at the opportunity. Scroll to the bottom of this post for details on how to join their book review program.

I had to wait longer than normal for the book to arrive, because the whole of Assam was closed for almost a week for the State Mourning and funeral of Dr. Bhupen Hazarika.The book came in the post yesterday and I eagerly tore it open to dive right in.

You can read this book like a regular book and start from page 1 and continue until the end or you can treat it like a cookbook and immediately jump to a recipe that catches your fancy. But its more than just a book of recipes, its a jewel of information regarding alcohol and all its attendant paraphernalia.

In the introduction, the authors say that they hope to make anyone who reads the book knowledgeable about alcohol, even if they have never taken a sip in their lives. I think they have succeded in this objective.

The Tulleeho! Book of Cocktails - instant karma, anarkali and other mouthwatering mixes starts with an introduction on different kinds of alcohol, barware, glassware, mixers, condiments and garnishes needed to stock a home bar. It then moves on to mixology - types of cocktails, bartending techniques, tips & tricks. There is a section in the middle which provides basic information about different liqueurs and other popular spirits. The bulk of the book is the recipes and the last few pages have valuable information, like where to shop for home bar requirements in the metros, alcohol calorie counter, hangover prevention and smart drinking.

The book is sponsored in part by Bacardi & Monin Syrups, so each get a few dedicated pages of cocktails revolving around their products in particular. Their logos also pop up across the book, but its easier to ignore than scroll bar ads on TV. However, their sponsorship also means that the reader only pays 395Rs (even less if you buy on flipkart or the Tulleeho website) for this bartending guide that is in full colour with an accompanying picture for each recipe, so its a great deal.

Grouped into different subsections depending on the primary alcoholic base (vodka, tequila, gin, rum, whiskey, brandy, beer, wine) each recipe includes its classification, the kind of glass that it should be served in, the skill level required to prepare it and the recipe. My favourite section most definitely is the dessert cocktails - cocktails that can be served instead of dessert. Most recipes also have a photo of what the finished product should ideally look like. There are also suggestions on which cocktails work best for particular occassions - holi, valentines day, monsoons, diwali and christmas.

The book has plenty of tips and trivia sprinkled across it, like how for the instant karma you can substitute 15ml Amaretto with 15ml almond syrup and up the vodka from 30 to 45ml. I especially loved the detailed information on tequila.

A lot of the recipes use fresh market produce - fruits and herbs.

The USP of this book is that almost all ingredients can be easily bought in India, of course some of them may be more reasonable if sourced from "duty free", but they are available in most well stocked stores too. There are a few recipes with Absinthe, Aquavit, Cachaca, Limoncello and Pisco which can only be bought from the countries of their origin. But these comprise hardly 5% of  the recipes on offer. The other difficult to source syrups/liqueurs come with good substitute options.

My other concern was that some of the recipes call for Monin purees. Monin syrups are easily available, but I've never come across Monin purees in a shop which makes me wonder if these products are only available to bartenders. (in case you didn't know, there are plenty of processed food products in India that are only available to bulk buyers) I'll need to check on that. However in the meantime, I'm sure home made purees will suffice and be fresher and healthier - the only problem is that they oxidise quickly.

Most of the recipes in the book are easy or moderate and can be fixed by anyone who knows how to pour stuff out of a bottle and shake or stir. A few recipes are categorised difficult and this usually means that some form of fire or heating is involved. So they are still quite easy to fix at home.

The recipes in this book are completely geared for the home bartender and is such a huge and welcome improvement from the imported cocktail books I've seen in bookstores here. Those imported books are normally really thick and huge, but once you start scanning the list of ingredients, you realise that you can barely try to make even 25% of them at home. Either the ingredients are unavailable in India or the techniques involved require much higher skill levels.

So go ahead, pick this one up, who knows the bartending bug may bite so hard, that you may find yourself registering for a flair bartending workshop with Tulleeho!
Rating: 4.5/5

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

Also available at The Tulleeho Online Shop

Monday, October 31, 2011

Guest Chef: Mr Shankar Nagendra - the GoTo guy for Ribs!

Shankaranna is my dads youngest sisters husband. As a Sri Lankan, he shares our love for food in general and spicy food in particular. When they visited India earlier this year, we were fortunate enough to celebrate Holi with them and we got to meet them again in August, when we visited Canada.

Shankar makes the most amazing pork ribs I have ever eaten in my life. Honestly if I lived closer to these uncles of mine, I would never ever visit a restaurant again. The food they cook is so mindblowing, that restaurant food can never match up.

Their son Avinash assured me that it was his mum Yasmin who did all the hard work of going to the market, buying the ingredients, prepping and marinating them, while dad just hovered over the grill, sipping beer and  turning stuff over. Even if I were to believe him, his dad still possesses the formidable skill of being able to cook ribs that just melt away from the bone. 3 months down the line, I'm still salivating at the memories of these ribs.

The Ribs

The chicken was just smoking on the top rack while everything else was cooking below.

With some of the salads

A Fattoush kinda of salad with sprouted gram added too

I promise you, there were some veggies under all that cheese :)

The smoked chicken

Blueberry trifle for dessert

Masterchef Shankaranna

It was wonderful to be able to spend time with Yasmin, Shankar and their kids - my youngest cousins on my dads side. This was my husbands first visit to Canada and he was meeting a lot of my family for the first time. They all made him feel so welcome, that he says he will consider the option of retiring there on the condition that my family keeps cooking and I let him buy a vineyard in the Niagra region. LOL

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Guest Chef: Mr Ossie Rosario - BBQ Specialist

Most of my aunts (moms & dads sisters) have chosen husbands very wisely. These uncles of mine are excellent cooks and in many cases, churn out better food than their wives. :) Although the wives help out a lot in the prep and mis en place.

On our trip to Canada in August, it was a fantastic opportunity to eat meals that they had lovingly prepared for us and I hope to be able to dedicate a blog post to each.

Uncle Ossie is the husband of one of my dads sisters and all my cousins in Canada wait for an invitation for a meal at their house. Uncle Ossie's Xmas cake is a marvel, in how it stays together with hardly any flour in the mix. It lasts for years in the refrigerator, as we zealously hoard our portions until assured that another batch is on its way to wherever we are currently located.

August is lovely weather in Canada every meetup was an occassion for a Barbeque. So here are the pictures from Uncle Ossies Barbeque. No recipes, because the secret to this food is not in the recipes, its in the love put into its preparation. The massaging and curing of the meat, the slicing of steaks of equal size and the cooking to perfection. The husband and I resoundingly agree that these steaks were the best we have ever had, firmly pushing our previous favourite "Ruths Chris Steakhouse" to Second Place.

Unfortunately steaks don't keep as well as Xmas cake does, so we couldn't carry any back with us :(

The marinating meat

Is gently placed on the grill

Well done for most of the family

Medium rare for us - it still melted in our mouth

Uncle Aussie gets some veggies on the grill

The vegetables getting grilled in their pans

The meal, once laid out

Some freshly tossed Ceasar salad

My first plate - I lost count of how many steaks I ate
The orange sticks are butternut squash made by another Aunt -  Belinda - which reminds me that I have to get that recipe from her and try it out with the local pumpkins

Sticking to the theme the dessert was also grilled

First Uncle Ossie grilled some cake and then some pineapple rings

1 layer of BBQ'ed sponge cake, followed with a layer of BBQed pineapple and a scoop of lovely ice cream

The next day, Uncle Ossie took us sightseeing and still brought us home and feed us home made burgers before dropping us to the station for our onward journey to Montreal.

A huge thanks to Uncle Ossie and Aunty Aureen for being such wonderfully warm and welcoming hosts and amazing cooks. We wish we stayed closer to you guys, even though it would be terrible for our waist lines.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Recipe : Home Made Stuffed Naan on a Gas Stove Tandoor

In the run up to Diwali, my husbands mom and maami are beseiged with menu requests from their husbands and visiting children. On Chhoti Diwali, the final consensus was for stuffed naan and paneer ki sabji.

I have to mention here, that my husbands mom and maami cook almost identically to each other without the aid of any written recipes. On a blind taste test it would be almost impossible to identify who cooked what. So its equally difficult to identify whom to attribute a recipe to and hence I will alwasy attribute it to them both.

There are 2 ways to make naan at home. The instant way is to mix maida (plain flour) with a bit of sugar and salt and then make the dough using only soda water. The dough is ready for rolling after resting for 5-10 minutes. You can also rest this dough for a couple of hours if you prefer.

But if you have enough time to rest the dough, you will get tastier naans by mixing maida (plain flour) with a bit of sugar and salt, a teaspoon of ghee or butter, a little cream, a little yoghurt and a bit of yeast. If you do not want to use yeast, you can again just make a dough with soda water. Rest this dough in a warmish place, so it can rise. If using yeast, let it rise for at least 8 hours.

The main equipment you need, to make authentic naan at home is a tandoor. A coal burning tandoor isn't practical for most homes and the electric tandoors take up too much place if you live in an apartment and only use it occassionally. My mom-in-law has an ingenious contraption that fits over a regular gas burner but works like a tandoor. This needs to be preheated before you can start using it, much like how an oven would operate.

This time they decided to stuff the naans with paneer or grated cheese, so there were 2 varieties of stuffed naans that were being rolled out simultaneously.

Mami was working so quickly with her hands, I had to get her to stop and work in extreme slow motion so I could capture the basic steps.

Flatten out a ball of dough.

Drop some stuffing on it.

Draw the edges to the top and crimp shut.

Carefully flatten again, so the stuffing does not pop out.

Roll out the naans.

There are 2 ways of doing the next step. The traditional method would be to lightly moisten the inside of the dome of the tandoor contraption and stick the naan onto that. Giventhat it is burning hot, the easier option is to lightly pre fry the naans on a tawa kept on a low flame.

Then place the pre fried naans on the grill of the tandoor.

Keep turning over every minute or so until done.

Dot lightly with melted butter and serve hot with a bowl of steaming curry/korma like the paneer gravy below.

Edited on 29 Oct 2011 to add:

My friend Michelle from Food, Football and a Baby asked for better quantities, so upon checking, its roughly
1 cup maida (plain flour), salt to taste, sugar about a teaspoon or more if you want it sweeter, cream 1 teaspoon, yoghurt 1 tablespoon, ghee/butter - 1 tsp and enough soda water to make the dough (no other liquid at all). They prefer not to use yeast in general.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Recipe: Food made from Prashad of Gaay-Bachde ki Puja

The day before Dhanteras (i.e. 3 days before Diwali) is celebrated as Gaay-Bachde ki Puja - veneration of cows and calves by some families in UP. My husbands Naani (maternal grandmother) and Maami (mothers brother's wife) observe this, while his mother doesn't. (From what I have come to understand, married women here, observe the rites and rituals followed by the matriarchs of their husbands family and add on any rites and rituals from their own families if they feel very strongly about them - There are so many festivals and rituals in the UPite Hindu Calendar that there is ample choice to pick and choose.)

On this day, the women offer various kinds of grams/dhals/lentils to a cow and her calf and for the whole day, they only eat foods made from grams/dhals/lentils or their flours (primarily besan). While lentil soup/dhal seems the most straight forward option, it feels weird to eat just that without rice or rotis. So pakodas (deep fried balls) are what tends to be made of these dhals.

We reached after the puja was over, so I unfortunately don't have any pictures of that, but I do have plenty of pictures of the food.

Any kind of dhal needs to be soaked before it can be ground for pakodas. Urad dhal needs the longest time 6-8 hours. Channa dhal needs 4-6 hours and moong dhal can be soaked for an hour or so.

To make the pakodas, the soaked dhal is ground to a paste with enough water. You can then add flavourings like onions, green chilli, coriander leaves, ginger. But technically you only mix enough for them to be flavourings, but not so much that they turn into onion pakodas.

Urad dhal pakodas aren't very tasty on their own or even with cuttings, so these get turned into dahi vadas. Just grind soaked urad dhal, you can add a little ginger and green chilli if you like. Personally I also like to split a few raisins in half and add it to the batter. Drop little balls of batter into hot oil and deep fry.

As soon as you take them out of the pan, they are dropped into a bowl of water. If you want to cool them first, then they need to be soaked in hot water later. Soak for about 5-10 minutes (depending on size of your pakodas/vadas). Then squeeze out all the liquid from the soaked vadas.

Layer them in a deep bowl. Pour lightly whipped curd/yoghurt over these vadas.

Sprinkle with chilli and jeera powder.

Serve topped with sweet and sour chutneys.

Mamiji made some pakodas with channa dhal and some with moong dhal, some with onions and some without.

While most of us kept merrily popping these golden balls of deep fried goodness into our mouths, those who wanted a slightly more substantial snack, smashed them between slices of bread for a more filling option.

Guest Chef - Mrs Anju Mishra


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