Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Plate that Party platter!

Almost before Christmas is over, the New year is winking at you! Party season continues! Everyone loves a good reason to celebrate, but this  week brings more celebrations than any other time of the year!  Impromptu parties, sudden guests, food can get terribly repetitive! At such times a selection of unique low-effort platters are the perfect answer. You can arrange them ahead of time, so they require no effort. (The beauty of a party platter lies in the fact that it can all be put together quickly, using a handfull of gourmet ingredients.)

And there is a world of inspiration to pick from! Middle Eastern, Spanish, Italian all of the popular cuisines of the world have a history of serving small foods to whet the appetite prior to a meal. The objective is to linger over varied bite sized offerings, sharing food and conversation with pleasant company, Here are a few ideas for grazing platters inspired byt cuisines from around the world.

Large Italian style Antipasti platters are the first that come to mind.  Antipasto literally means “before the meal” and play a very important part in a celebrations in Italy. For an Italian Antipasto Platter, arrange a selection of Italian meats and cheeses,and augment with marinated vegetables. Dress with a simple balsamic vinaigrette and a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Try marinated roasted red bell peppers, artichoke hearts, pepperoncini peppers, Mozzarella and Provolone cheese, a selection of meats such as salamis and Parma ham. Drizzle with a good extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar and serve.

In some parts of Spain, like León and Granada, your drink will usually come with a Tapa or a small quantity of food included in the price of your drinks (usually a beer or wine not soft drinks or spirits). Tapas are said to have evolved from the tradition of a “tapa” pr cover –usually a piece of bread or a flat card- that would be placed on top of a drink to protect it, which at some juncture began to be topped with a little snack. This snack has today evolved into a tradition of small quantities of food usually sold or served complimentary with drinks in Spain. For a Spanish Tapas Inspired platter place a box of quince paste in the middle, add olives, shavings of manchego cheese, rolls of Iberico Ham, Smoked tinned shellfish, spicy smoked meats on a platter and serve.

Mezze, meze, maza or mezethes, depending on where they are being served, are the small plates of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Found everywhere, be it public eating places or dining rooms at home, these small plates are intrinsic element of the culture and dining of these countries For a Middle Eastern Mezze style platter place bowls of Tzatziki, Hummus and Tahina dip in the middle. Mound a coupls of salads in large lettuce leaf 'bowls' filled with cult-classic Tabbouleh (soak bulghur wheat in hot water until it swells, squeeze dry, toss with plenty of tomatoes, spring onion, chopped flat-leafed parsley and cucumber and dress with oodles of extra virgin olive oil, lemon, salt and freshly ground black pepper. For Color add this salad to your platter as well, toss a couple of cans of Mandarin segments with thinly sliced red onion, feta cheese, black olives and Olive oil. Add grilled veges such as artichokes and asparagus, olives, some Lemon pepper Salami black, green and stuffed olives assorted cheeses, walnuts and pistachios Lavoush, pita and/or other crusty breads, dried fruit like apricots and prunes, fresh fruit wedges.

Or go with a them, just a meat platter or simply Cheese, even just Olives! If you have ever served olives to nibble on as starters you will know how popular they are. Olives, may seem useless additions but they offer a palate cleansing, lighter option to fatty meats and cheeses. And nothing beats an Olive Platter for this. Natures Basket offers one of the largest selections of olives. Pick from whole, marinated and stuffed olive and arrange Kalamata olives, Rose olives and green olives alternately with their marinated stuffed versions. Our favourits are orange rind, hazelnut, garlic, jalapeno, prawn, feta and tuna stuffed versions. Place a pot of Olive tepanade in the middle and serve with a crusty foccacia. Perfect for wine and even better with beer! (The saltiness compliments the sweet caremel tones of the beers.)

Of course Christmas being as much a festival for children, perhaps more so, we must not forget them. Children might not care for the strong tasting meats and cheeses so assemble things they will like; fruit such as grapes and berries and other fruit on skewers, dried fruit such as raisins, sultanas and cranberries, honey, Child friendly cheese such as  chedder (or a tube of Primula they can squiggle onto crackers), nutella, marshmallows, cookies, pieces of cake, in fact, we think this platter will be a surefire pleaser for the bigger 'children' as well!

Of Christmas Cakes and Bakes!

Cakes and bakes of all shapes and sizes from the Fruitcake to cookies have been part of festive holiday rituals long before Christmas. Ancient cooks prepared sweet baked goods to mark significant occasions and over the years, these were enriched with new and exotic highly prized ingredients like cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, almonds, dried fruits that were introduced to Europe in the Middle ages.

The contemporary Christmas cookie traces its roots to these Medieval European recipes. By the 1500s, Christmas cookies had caught on all over Europe In fact Gingerbread was probably the first cookie traditionally linked with Christmas. The first gingerbread man was baked in the court of Queen Elizabeth I, who honoured important visitors to with flattering gingerbread reproductions of themselves. After the success of the Grimm Brothers' fairytale Hansel and Gretel in which there was a house made of bread, with cake for a roof and windows of barley, German bakeries began selling intricate gingerbread houses embellished with icing snow, edible gingerbread Christmas cards and finely detailed moulded cookies that were hung on nineteenth-century Christmas trees.

The practice of making cakes with dried fruits, honey and nuts goes back to ancient times but the fruitcake as we know it only came into existence much later - sometime in the Middle ages - since dried fruit only made an appearance in Britain in the 13th century. Early versions of the rich fruit cake, were indulgences for special occasions since their making in the 18th century was a monumental task. Ingredients we take for granted today  required careful preparation at the time; fruit required washing, drying and cleaning, sugar which came in loaves was cut, powdered and sieved, butter was rinsed in water and again in rosewater and eggs were beaten for at least half an hour. Even the yeast that comes out of a packet today had to be coaxed to life! And after all this was done came the onerous task of fighting tempremental wood-fired ovens!

Christmas pudding, is the decadent rich zenith of the evolution of plum puddings that can be traced to the early 15th century. Initial versions were not specifically associated with Christmas and like the first mince pies, they contained meat, but as the name suggests, they were a fairly liquid preparation and were served PRIOR to the meal. When exotic varieties of dry fruit like raisins and prunes became available in Britain these were incorporated, the meat and root vegetables removed and the version we know today was created. (The name plum originally meant prune but eventually came to mean any dried fruit). A charming tradition that evolved along with the recipe is that of six objects being mixed into the pudding: 2 rings for love, a sixpence for prosperity, a trouser button for bachelors, a thimble for spinsters, and a little pig for the glutton!

Cooking with Fruit

Get creative with fruit this winter; it’s a healthier way to get a sugar high!

Fruit are good for us, storehouses of vitamins, minerals and plant phytochemicals they provide fiber and natural sugars to the body. But when there is a nip in the air like we have these days and one longs for warm comforting food, the same chilled fruit we loved in Summer inspires little desire – all that chewing is too much work.

But wait! Consider a dusting of sugar, a sprinkling of spice, or a splash of wine and you will see how fruit is instantly 'uplifted' to a new level (no pun intended).

The easiest, quickest thing you can do with fruit is drizzle a warm sauce such as a spiced caramel sauce or a warm vanilla scented custard over them. Fruit by themselves can also make sweet salads to eat as or accompany spicy dishes, rather like a raita. Slice up a selection of whatever fruit you have handy oranges, green apples, fresh figs, halved grapes, dust with icing sugar and cinnamon and set aside so the sugar draws out the natural juices stir in some hung yoghurt a spoonful or two of cream and dig in! Or sprinkle fruit with sugar and zap in the oven or microwave this works especially well with citrus fruit such as pomelos, grapefruit and even oranges. Take it one step further with a dusting of cinnamon and a drizzle of wine prior to cooking and you have a party piece! Just pour on some spiced custard! Or add a sweet accent to winter salads by tossing in some briefly cooked fruit.

Failing an oven or microwave and if you want to avoid adding sugar, grilling or pan roasting fruit caramelizes its natural sugars on the surface, intensifying inherant flavours and softening it up.

Whatever fruit is handy tossed into a mélange like a salad are great but individual fruit have their own special pairings, marriages made in heaven as they say and to help you gently orchestrate the bounty of the season here are some suggestions...

Strawberries with their vibrant colors are hard to walk past. Chocolate, cream, mint, champagne… strawberries pair well with a number of fine things and there is no best way to savour them. If you manage to resist eating them as is, top breakfast pancakes or stuff desert crepes with them.
Hull and quarter them, mascerate them in a bit of sugar and put into martini glasses, top with a generous swirl of Reddi Wip Whipped cream (also available in a low fat version) and dust with bitter chocolate flakes. Another way to savour strawberries is to cook them into your favourite pudding or cake. Even Indian desserts – strawberry Basundi is like strawberries and cream in a glass for instance and strawberries chopped into gulgulas prior to frying add a lovely tart accent.

Apples might lack the physical oomph of strawberries, but they are also far more versatile, easily marrying into savoury as well as sweet dishes. Skewer chunks of apple and cheese on toothpicks for healthy finger food – beer drinkers will love them because the salty sweet mix of flavours complement the caramel tones of beer. Toss cored apples, cheese and cucumber chunks with celery, a clove of chopped garlic, mint and raisins in olive or a nut based oil, salt and lemon juice for a great salad to accompany a heavy roast. Stewing apples with a little ghee, sugar and a stick of cinnamon results in a silky puree that might look like baby food bu is loved by adults as well. Just spoon into our handy quiche or tart shells and top with ice-cream or sweet cream cheese. Or try this layer peeled, sliced apples in a baking dish, drizzle with a little sweet red wine or orange juice and sugar and spread over a layer of thick sour cream (whip 1 part sour yoghurt with 3 parts cream). Top it all with an additional sprinkle of sugar, place in a 190 degree oven for about 30-40 minutes or until the apples are soft sugar is caramelised. Now while it is still hot sprinkle the merest amount of grated parmesan or other hard salty cheese over it and serve. Be prepared for that special silence at your table that signifies people lost in overwhelming flavours.

Like apples fresh figs can enhance both sweet and savory dishes and rich as they are in potassium, iron, fiber and plant calcium, they are a happ addition to any meal. The jury is still out on whether figs are the sweetest fruit, but they certainly are one of the oldest fruits recognized by man. The fig has been enjoyed for centuries and it sweet, delicious flesh, was used as a sweetener before the advent of refined sugars. In fact cooked figs were used as sweeteners in lieu of sugar in historical times, and this usage still continues today in North Africa and the Middle East. Because they spoil quite easily plan on using your figs the day you buy them. Serving them as they are at the end of the meal obviously comes to mind -- they are, after all, fruit and are a great addition to a cheese platter -- but they also pair well with thinly sliced prosciutto as a starter. Serve them like they do in Italy, cut and wrapped in prosciutto or serve them the french way wrapped in prosciutto and grilled. Skewer Figs on toothpicks with cheese and serve with a caramel sauce spiced with crushed brined green peppercorns.The combination of sweet juicy figs and salty cheese is offset with the herby green peppercorn and caramel flavours leaving a lingering aftertaste and a pleasant back of the throat warmth.

If you can’t use figs right away, one way to make them last is by placing them in a wide mouthed jar and covering them with good red wine. Cover with a lid and leave to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 3 weeks. When you want to use them drain, (reserve the wine which can be used for another batch of figs and will become more and more syrupy with each use) and stuff each fig with a teaspoonful of cream cheese. Serve as a starter with wine or as part of a cheese platter.

Here is gastronomist Rushina's recipe for Figs and Strawberries in Red Wine reduction
She says, I love this simple yet elegant dish in which the red wine reduces to a dark and syrupy texture with the sugar and the marriage of intensely musky figs and tart strawberries is heavenly. Serve hot or warm with cream or warm cinnamony custard on a cold evening.

16 ripe figs
16 Strawberries
1/3 cup sugar
red wine
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees centigrade. Cut a cross down, but not through, each fig so you can spread them enough to stuff each one with a strawberry and place them in a baking dish just large enough so they are packed tight enough to stand. Sprinkle over sugar, and pour over enough good red wine to the base of the dish. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the figs are cooked through but hold their shape.

Gourmet Hampers

December is here and it is time to start thinking about Christmas presents!

For those who love to cook, the kitchen is a treasure trove of raw material ready to be transformed into delicious meals! Which is why Gourmet Hampers make ideal gifts for food lovers! They also make very timely thoughtful gifts for busy people who just seem to get busier in the festive season. Consider a gourmet hamper for your Christmas gifts, here are a few ideas to help you out. There is nothing more traditional that Christmas Cake for Christmas.

Why not create a traditional Christmas hamper of Christmas cake and or Christmas pudding with a bottle of fine Red Wine? Only so much of sweet treats you can handle? Consider doing things a little differently, this festive season. Try putting together a hamper of ingredients for a simple Italian dinner; a packet of Pasta, a bottle of Pasta Sauce, some Italian seasoning, flavoured Olive oil and really good bread, basically everything that is required to put together a great meal for in minutes. And you needn't stop at Italian, if you have friends that love Thai cuisine gift them a hamper of Thai essentials; curry paste, cans of coconut milk, Pad Thai noodles and so on. The variations are as limitless as the cuisines in the worls, Try Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Mexican. Perhaps add a recipe book on the cuisine if the fancy strikes.

Theme based hampers work especially well if you know someone who loves a specific ingredient; mushrooms, garlic, chillies or a dish; soup, salad, pasta or even for someone has specific diet needs like a low sugar or low cholesterol diet. With a definite nip in the air nothing goes down as well as a cup of your favourite hot beverage on a cold evening! Put together hampers for coffee lovers, tea lovers, and even soup lovers! Arrange favourite Teas or coffees in a box or basket with a teacup or coffee mug, honey, flavoured sugars, cookies, teacakes.For a soup lover pack soup mixes, stock cubes, a bottle of thick Basil Tomato Sauce (can be diluted with stock or water), herbed croutons, flavoured salts and olive oils, breadsticks, cream cheeses and flavoure oils into attractive hampers... Know someone who is resolving to eat healthier? Try a salad lovers hamper. The least temptation inducing, and most appreciated gift you could give at this time of heavy eating. Mayonnaise, Mustards, (or low fat dressing for weight watchers), a selection of flavoured oils, vinegars salts, dried herbs. Failing all, just call us at Nature's Basket our Food Specialist elves look forward to putting together gift hampers every festive season and are just teaming with ideas, just give us a call!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

The colourful flavours of Thai Cuisine

It may be nippy outside, but it is delicious and festive inside our shops! Perfect to warm the occaissional wet evenings of the lingering monsoon of this month are the myriad colours and flavours of Thai cuisine. Evolving through the melding of Chinese, Indian, Malay, Portuguese and Dutch cuisines, Thai cuisine is a complex, vibrant showcase of an intricate medley of taste and texture. A colourful, aromatic, flavourful whirl of the senses that we Indians have taken to with a vengeance.

Their famous curries – red and green, are well known. For those of you who like to make dishes from scratch, Godrej Nature’s Basket stocks all the raw ingredients for thai curry paste but if you’re hard pressed for time, we recommend some of our ready versions, simmer our succulent Godrej chicken pre cut pieces in Real Thai in green curry paste or stir roasted eggplant into a more robust red curry using Blue elephant’s spicy red curry paste! But it is the lesser celebrated iconic Massaman curry - a complex and layered combination of coconut milk, tamarind, peanuts, kaffir lime leaves spiced with a harmonious mix of cardamom, cumin, turmeric and cloves that transforms both meat and vegetables into an incredibly luxuriant broth to battle the sniffles rainy days bring. For a wholesome meal serve it with the unbelievably fragrant red rice from Conscious Foods.

In fact talking about fresh ingredients from fresh, there is nothing like the spicy notes of kaffir lime to invigorate one. Kaffir limes are versatile and add a touch of uniqueness to any dish. You only have to take one sip of aromatic tom yam soup to experience a moment of pure foodie bliss. Sharp and sour first, then mellow and savoury, then prickly and hot, all at once but also in steps. Then there is the blend of aromas, of lemon grass, galangal, fish, kaffir lime leaves, chilli, separate but together. Try readymade Tom yum paste by Blue Dragon for a fragrant pick me up before you ding into you Thai Curry!

Aromatic prawn and lemon grass soup (Serves: 4, Preparation time: 20m)

225 g. raw prawns peeled and deveined washed and drained. (Vegetarians may substitute Prawn with Tofu and mushrooms)
Peel of 1 Kaffir Lime
2 stalks lemongrass peeled to obtain tender white centre, crushed and sliced into 7.5- cm pieces.
1.2 lts. Stock (fish is best but vegetable or chicken stock may be used, if unavailable use 1 stock cube for every 2 lts of water)
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp. lime juice
2 tsp. Tom yum paste by Blue Dragon
5 sprigs fresh coriander
1 tsp. salt

Bring stock to a simmer and add lemongrass. Turn heat down to low, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Remove and discard lemongrass with slotted spoon. Add paste, simmer for 3 minutes. Add prawns to pot, cover and remove from heat. Allow to sit for 10 minutes. Stir in lime juice, fish sauce, and coriander, transfer to large soup tureen or individual bowls and serve immediately.

Mexican hot Chili Salsa

Mexican food, specifically Tex Mex sort of food, is favoured by the Indian Palate. No wonder seeing as Mexican fare is spicy and colourful, much like its Indian counterpart. Favourite Mexican foods include Tacos and Enchiladas (Tortillas stuffed with chilli pepper sauce and combinations of meat, beans, potatoes, vegetables or seafood). Popular sauces and dips include Salsa (pureed tomatoes with garlic, onion and jalapenos) or Guacamole (an avocado based dip). Why don’t you take inspiration from this colourful cuisine to brighten up snack time today.  We carry a complete range of Mexican ingredients at out store. To get you in the mood here is a recipe for Mexican hot Chili Salsa to spoon over over cheese toast for a colorful kick or serve as a spicy accompaniment to Tostitos low fat wholegrain nachos!

Mexican hot Chili Salsa (serves 4-6, Time 20 mins)

4 cups tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup fresh chilli peppers, roasted and chopped
1/2 cup red capsicums roasted, peeled and chopped
1 cup onions, chopped
1/2 cup vinegar
3 tbsp tomato kethchup
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

To roast fresh red chillies and capsicums slit so steam can escape and place on an oven rack, broil, turning occasionally for 20 - 30 minutes until the skins darken & blister. Cover with a damp cloth, allow to cool and peel. Discard skin and seeds, if any. Chop and combine with tomatoes and onions. In another bowl combine vinegar, ketchup, garlic, salt and pepper. Mix with tomato mixture and refrigerate.

Why don't you .... Melt some cheese?

There is nothing like Hot melty cheese on a nippy evening. Take a generous helping of cheese, add the dangerous element of spicy chillies, subject to heat and forge a weapon of mass destruction - The Melty Cheese Sandwich!

Hot, crispy and dripping with molten cheese, that if eaten too quickly will drip and burn fingers. Cheese melts are a return to childhood heaven! But for an adult twist try using different cheeses!

Our Toffee cheese offers a sweet seduction of the senses with its blend of subtly sweet toffee and salty cheesiness...
Or try our Cinnamon cheese for its glowing subtle warmth and mouth watering aroma....
For stronger flavours try our Gouda with Nettles and Garlic, a subtle garlicky invasion of your senses....
Our Smoked Cheese (Scarmosa) will bring a touch of savoury smokiness to your Cheese melt, but throw in a few pickled jalapenos and you will have extra fortification and flavour!
But for a full on attack nothing can beat our Fire Spice cheddar with spicy chillies!
Bread and cheese, married in a marvellously melting mixture of mouth-watering flavour... is there anything that can beat it?
A hot cup of cheesy pasta, maybe? MMMMM! What could be more delicious?

Try this Four Cheese Sauce especially designed for us by our favourite gastronome Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal.
Four Cheese Sauce (Time 20 mins, Serves 4-6)
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup white butter
2 tbsp fresch green chillies minced
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup shredded provolone cheese
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese

In a medium saucepan combine whipping cream and butter. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently until butter melts. Add Green chillies and stir well. Gradually stir in grated Parmesan cheese, grated mozzarella cheese, grated provolone cheese, and grated Romano cheese. Reduce heat to low, and continue to stir just until all cheese is melted. Serve immediately, over gnocchi, fettuccini, or your choice of pasta. Please note the sauce will thicken upon standing.

Serving suggestions - Serve with garlicky French bread, and a selection of antipasti such as olives, brined vegetables and vinegary pearl onions to cut through the cheesiness of the sauce.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Welcome to the Natures Basket Blog.

Welcome to the official Godrej Nature’s Basket blog, our newest endeavour of reaching out to all our valued customers.  With this new initiative we at Nature's Basket can't help counting our blessings. We work hard every day to add new and wonderful flavours to our shelves, to equip you for a comprehensive cooking experience, whether you are making Mexican, Thai, Italian, French, or Japanese and to wash it all down, we carry wines from the finest vineyards the world over to satisfy both the curious and the connoisseur. Our Food Specialists at the stores are trained in the complexities of food and wine to assist patrons in their choices.

You'll be delighted to discover new ingredients to set your dishes apart. With a veritable treasure trove of the world's best gourmet products, we understand that navigating our stores and choosing what to buy can be quite exhausting. So we are proud to have some of India’s finest chefs and food names come in and share their knowledge in our Gourmet Guide sessions that we frequently organise at our stores. We encourage our patrons to come and talk to them and take back a whole lot of zany, delicious new ideas.

So do make a date to check in regularly for delicious updates from us on new offerings, tips on recipes and ideas for using the finest of exotic ingredients from around the world in fabulous new ways!  Bon Appétit!

Mohit Khattar

Managing Director

Godrej Nature's Basket