Sharmi on the Trot

Travelling, Exploring, Eating…

Archive for the month “September, 2014”

Homemade chicken and mushroom puffs

Do you know exactly how easy it is to make puff pastry at home? It is, I assure you. I never like making a dough (rotis are an Indian staple and I’d rather buy them than make them from scratch because something always ends up going wrong with the dough. But with my new-found confidence, that’s about to change, I say).
I was craving, and I really mean craving, for meat puffs that you find in little bakeries. Something you come across after a long walk or jog and as you bite into them, everything seems all right with the world. Since it was a sudden craving, and as they go, it’s difficult to find something you crave on such short notice, I asked myself ‘why not make them at home?’
I’m so glad I made them because as the buttery smell engulfed the kitchen and I saw the puffs turning golden brown in the oven, I couldn’t help but feel proud.

Homemade chicken and mushroom puffs
(Makes 4)
For filling
200g boneless chicken (cut into bite sized pieces)
150g button mushrooms (chopped)
1 small onion (sliced finely)
3 cloves of garlic (chopped)
1 tbs vegetable oil
1 tbs dried oregano
1 tbs dried thyme
Half glass Merlot
salt and pepper to taste
Handful chopped coriander

For pastry
250g rice flour
75g cold butter (if unsalted, add salt to the dough)
1cup water
1 egg (beaten)

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees C.

Start by mixing the flour with cold butter with your fingers in a bowl. Once the butter is mixed properly, bring the dough together with the water. Don’t overwork it. Make 4 disks of equal proportions.

Heat the oil in a pan. Add the chopped onion and garlic cloves. When soft, add the chopped chicken, mushrooms, dried herbs, salt and pepper. Add the Merlot after cooking the mixture for 10 minutes. Put on a lid and let it come together. It would take about another 10-15 minutes for the filling to cook well. Add the coriander and mix together at the end.

Roll out each of the disks with an extra dusting of flour to a nice round shape about the size of your palm.

Divide the filling in four parts and place each in the centre of a disk. Brush the sides of the disk with egg and fold them in half like a calzone. Brush the top of the puff with the beaten egg. Do the remaining three puffs like the first and place on a baking tray.

Bake in the oven for 30 minutes till nice and crisp. Serve with a salad!

Hot from the oven!

Hot from the oven!

PS: The filling tastes just as good with hot rice. Secondly, feel free to experiment with any sort of filling!

A Nigella-inspired weekday lunch

I don’t know about you, but I love leafing through cook books or surf online for inspiring recipes. In a way, thanks to TLC, Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson came into our homes a few years ago and thus began the love affair. What was really interesting about the two was they emphasised on easy. You don’t need to be a professional to make something unique and creative.
Then, Masterchef Australia had all our tastebuds tingling from season 1. In fact, when I was in Sydney last summer, the home section in QVB had the Nigella range. If I wasn’t travelling with just the backpack or had enough dough, I think I would have bought everything they had. Seriously, the pans and pots are gorgeous!
I’m digressing. I recently came across Nigella’s Vietnamese dressing. It is just so versatile that one can use it for a number of salads and main courses and it’s easy to add ingredients to it to make it different. Vietnam is a country I’m yet to visit but the first time I made the dressing, it invoked flavours similar to what I had tasted in Thailand.
I was pressed for time today and needed something quick and satisfying for lunch. Hey, presto! Thus was created a Thai salad inspired by Nigella but perfect for vegetarians!



Thai salad with cottage cheese

For salad
200 g fresh cottage cheese i.e paneer (cut into bite-sized cubes)
2 tbs sesame oil (this can be substituted with vegetable oil and a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds)
1 small white cabbage (finely shredded)
2 small carrots (finely shredded)
Handful of chopped coriander

For dressing
1 small onion (chopped)
2 cloves of garlic (chopped)
1 green/red chilly (chopped)
2 tbs vinegar
2 tbs light soy (use fish sauce for a non-vegetarian option)
1 tsp sugar
2 tbs lime juice

In a bowl, add the onion, garlic, chilly, vinegar, soy, sugar and lime juice. Soak everything for about 10 minutes.

Mix the cabbage, carrots and coriander in a bowl. Toss the dressing in and coat every bit of the raw salad with it. You don’t need a lot of dressing for it.

Heat the sesame oil in a small flat pan. Once hot, add the cubes of cottage cheese. When one side starts browning, turn over. Once browned, it would take about 5 minutes, toss the browned cubes onto the salad with whatever sesame oil still remains in the pan.

Serve immediately with some fresh coriander.
PS: Tastes great with Tom Yum Soup !

A side view!

A side view!

A meeting with Bond, Ruskin Bond

It’s funny really, looking back, thinking of the first time I got tongue tied. Have you ever met someone whom you admire, get inspiration from? And then when you come face to face with the person, you’re unable to speak but just stupidly smile? Well, it happened to me for the first time.

I had been planning to go to Dehradun for a while now. One of my close friends has set up house there and had been asking me to visit for over a year. While the fact I would be meeting my friend had my backpack packed, it was also a meeting with a certain Mr Bond which kept me awake two straight nights!

Ruskin Bond. We’ve all heard of him growing up, reading his stories where he weaves magic with words. Whether you’re hooked onto every word of The Blue Umbrella, dream with The Room on the Roof, keep pace with Vagrants in the Valley or had to re-read Time Stops at Shamli in school, you could never get out of Ruskin Bond’s stranglehold over your childhood literature. His style is so simple yet elegant, funny with hints of naughty, sincere, straightforward and hauntingly beautiful, I pick up his books even today from bookshops.

If you decide to visit Dehradun, do head up to the hills from the valley to Mussoorie on a Saturday afternoon. Mr Bond sits at the Cambridge Book Depot on Mall Road, ever ready to autograph books and discuss anything under the sun.

My friend Anamika and I reached Mussoorie by 4pm from Dehradun (it’s about an hour and a half away) and after that, it was a race to reach the end of the Mall Road in time to meet Mr Bond. Like all popular hill stations in India, the Mall Road is where everything happens. You’ll find tourists strolling hand in hand, families with children in tow munching on popcorn or even boisterous groups of friends digging into warm plates of momos. We passed all of them, literally ran-walked to reach the small bookstore.

A happy me with Ruskin Bond

A happy me with Ruskin Bond

As you halt right in front and if the store is not mobbed by fans, you can clearly see a bespectacled portly gentleman sitting surrounded with books, chatting away to glory. There is a smile on his face as he glances at you. The deep brown sweater and black trousers keep with the image you’ve had of him. The hair is receding but the twinkle in his eye hasn’t diminished at 80. In one of his books, a child says, “‘You were born in 1934? And you’re still here?’ Bond reflects and says, ‘I guess I’m lucky.'”

On that misty Saturday afternoon, I was lucky having got a chance to come face to face with him. To be honest, I’ve had the chance to meet and interview the world’s best sportspersons — from badminton to tennis, cricket to hockey, golf to motorsports… yet as I stood in front of Ruskin Bond with two of his novels in my hand, I couldn’t utter a word.

“Could I please ask you to sign these for me?” is all I could muster as Mr Bond looked up and smiled.”Of course. Whom should I make it out to?” he asked. “Sharmi, please.” I don’t think I stopped smiling for those minutes. “Why don’t you sit down?” he asked and I was floored.

Could you please sign these for me Mr Bond?

Could you please sign these for me Mr Bond?

Thankfully Anamika was there to make me not look like such a star struck fan. She asked him if he was reading anything new. “Writing or reading?” Mr Bond asked confused. “Reading.” “Well there are some books I keep going back to like Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre. But I try to read at least something new every month. I was recently reading Somerset Maugham’s new biography (I think he meant The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham: A Biography). I used to like him but he seems rather naughty. I don’t think I like this fellow anymore,” he chuckled. His deep voice with that slight drawl will stay with me for a long time. ( Read about Anamika’s experience )

My sister, who was introduced to reading thanks to Mr Bond’s Biniya, didn’t speak to me for two days because I went to meet him without her. But I do hope she gets to meet him one day. Because she’ll cherish it for the rest of her life.

It wasn’t possible to keep sitting next to him all day lest he thought me a stalker but I was inclined to follow him to his house. Maybe he would invite me in for tea? Thankfully better sense prevailed as Anamika and I bought tarts and warm coffee, sat on a bench overlooking the whiteness of the mountains, happy in our thoughts as we discussed the meeting. It was a wonderful Saturday after all!

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