June 28, 2017

Roaming Rome and Walking the Vatican!


The first segment of our travelogue - Italy-cised
Moving onto our second segment!


Rome is an architectural amass of several eras. Few still standing tall and proud and the rest bowing to time. This architectural extravaganza can be thoroughly enjoyed on foot - we know it because that is what we did. (Mainly because we didn’t know where to flag down a taxi or which bus to take)

We stayed at an Airbnb accommodation which is 20 minutes by foot from St Peters Basilica. On suggestion of our Airbnb host, we decided to take a bus to Piazza Venezia and begin our adventure there. This is the only time we used a vehicle for our transportation in our two day stay at Rome! 
Piazza Venezia is located at the heart of Rome and leads to the most talked of monument in Rome - the Colosseum.

Altare della Patria

The monument of Altare della Patria
Located on the right of the Piazza is Altare della Patria which hosts a museum and the tomb of the unknown soldier with an eternal flame. This monument is dedicated to King Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of unified Italy. Unfortunately this monument is quite controversial as this monument was built compromising many medieval structures. After spending about half an hour taking in the view, we made our way to the Colosseum.

Fountain by the monument

The street that leads to the Colosseum is adorned by artists - the ones who create beautiful paintings of the historical structures, musicians, street performers and vendors. 

We were also lucky to witness a parade by the Colosseum with men, women and children dressed in flamboyant costumes of the eras gone by. Every word was spoken in Italian, hence we could make out absolutely nothing of what they said and what the parade was for!
Roma Forum, Palantine Hill and Colosseum

The ideal way to reach the Colosseum is through the Roma Forum and Palantine hills. Do your booking in advance to avoid the long queues and ensure to take audio guide! Or even better book yourself a guided tour.  Without this although you would be gaping at the architectural extravaganza before your eyes yet you would not be sure what you are looking at! Roma forum houses the ruins of public speech and trial sites, gladiator matches, ancient temples and towering above them is the Palantine hill. Wild flowers growing amidst the ruins on these hills are the remnants of the Botanical garden it was in the 1500s.  After a stroll through the hills, we headed over to the mighty Colosseum that till date was only something that decked the covers of our history text book. Now it was right before our eyes in full glory. The queue to enter the Colosseum was unbelievably long but our advance booking got us through within minutes.

The statue of Julius Caesar
Ruins at the Roma Forum
Colosseum, the largest amphitheater to be ever built stands as a symbol of the imperial Rome. It started off as an entertainment place housing on an average 60,000 spectators witnessing gladiator fights and dramas, as centuries passed by the amphitheater was rebuilt as a shrine, for housing, workshop, and fortress and later fell prey to the stone robbers as well. Yet even today the building stands as yielding memory architecture marvel of centuries ago when no technology or any of the inventions of the modern era was in place. A tour of these three places could easily take you about three hours. 

A view of the Colosseum

Another view of the Colosseum

The inside of the Amphitheater


We stopped by at a small cafeteria and gorged on sandwiches decked with fresh mozarella cheese and cold cuts of meat for lunch. 
We then made our way to the Pantheon through the winding streets. Every street is a treat to the eye with the beautiful architecture, fountains welcoming you and also the souvenir stores that are simply hard to resist. 

Pantheon (Colosseum to pantheon is about 1.7 kms)


The entrance to the pantheon

The obelisk decked by fountain on all sides in front of the Pantheon
The pantheon is a former Roman Temple.. It is the only monument in Rome that is believed to have survived the Barbarian raids.   About thirty minutes is a good enough time at this ancient Roman architecture before heading over to the next destination. Piazza Navona, a popular square in Rome known for its eateries is just 500 metres from the Pantheon. Since it was only 4 in the evening - way too early for dinner, we decided to cover the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps before calling it a day at Piazza Navona.

Trevi fountain ( Pantheon to Trevi Fountain is about 800 mtrs)

We walked from Pantheon to Trevi via Piazza Colonna which has Marcus Aurelius obelisk ( a large pillar made of stone) and a beautiful fountain. 

We bought a TIM sim card on the way, which helped us a lot with the directions for the rest of our trip in Italy. As we near the Trevi Fountain, the streets got a little narrow and too many buildings came into sight and nothing prepared us for the beauty that is Trevi. The tourists were crowding around Trevi, yet there is a tranquility that precedes it all. It is not just a pleasure to the eyes but awakens your senses. The sound of the following water, the occasional mist of water that graces you brought by the winds - it is beyond what can be described in words. Traditional legend has it that if you throw a coin into the Trevi, you are sure to return to Rome. The Trevi was filled with coins for sure - people return or not, this is the money that is used for the upkeep of such a magnificence. We tossed in our coin to in the hope that we return to Rome!


The beauty that is Trevi

Sculptures at the Trevi
 Spanish Steps ( About 650 mtrs from Trevi)


Spanish steps facing the upmarket area in Rome
 About ten minutes from Trevi lies the 138 steps ascend to the church that faces the upmarket area in Rome which is bordered by house of John Keats on one side, the old Babingtons Tea Room on the other side. What fascinated me was the beautiful fountain at the base of the stairs in the shape of a boat. Years back after the water receded from flooding of River Tiber - a boat was left behind on this very spot where the fountain now stands.

The boat at the bottom of the Spanish steps
 If shopping is on your mind and splurging isn't an issue - you will find all possible brands here.

Piazza Navona ( About 1.5 kms from Spanish Steps)


Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona is a very beautiful square in Rome only next to Trastevere! Fountain of four rivers, Fountain of Moor and Fountain of Neptune along with a gigantic Egyptian Obelisk and countless eateries along the sides makes this square teeming with visitors.  Church of Sant'Agnese in this square is also a must visit - a serene and beautiful church that will leave you spellbound. We had our dinner here watching the fountains and the street performers. Our dinner for the night was Capricciosa pizza ( mushroom, egg, artichoke, tomato and mozarella cheese) and Spaghetti with egg and bacon. We had a good laugh over the pizza and we weren’t even sure how to eat it. The Spaghetti was very good!

The pizza we had a laugh over!
Sticking to our tradition to walk by foot, we began our one hour journey back to our stay abandoning our initial plans of taking a cab or bus. We are glad we did it because we got to take in the sights by the river Tiber, and also St Peters Basilica by night,  all lit up with no crowd in the way! The photo below says it all –
View of the Castel Sant'Angelo by River Tiber

A breath taking view of the St Peters Basilica
Since we have to leave early the next morning for the guided tour of the Vatican, we decided to stop by a resto on our way back, to buy some breakfast for the next morning. We stopped by a café named Sa. Ma Café which was on our way (near the San Pietro station) and ordered a focaccia. After waiting for quite some time, they gave us something which was thin and crisp, which left us wondering if it was really focaccia. They charged 5 euro for the focaccia, plus a 3 euro charge for take away!! That was a complete rip off. Since it was late night, we didn’t really want to argue. We took the focaccia and left. As expected, the “focaccia” tasted horrible.  We looked up reviews on this café, and they had plenty of horrible reviews too. Can’t believe our luck!

Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St Peters Basilica


The roof at the museum which makes
you wonder if it is painted or sculpted
Our day 2 began with an early morning jog to the Vatican museum to ensure that we were in time for the guided tour at 7:45am that we had booked through Viator. Not that we were fitness freaks, but the bus that was supposed to pass by our stop never arrived, hence the morning jog. Panting and puffing, we managed to reach on time. A very enthusiastic guide took us through the Vatican museum explaining the overwhelming architecture and paintings and how it evolved over years under different Popes to be what it is today. As history goes, Vatican City today stands on the burial site of Apostle St Peter. The tour of the museum was followed by the visit to the Sistine Chapel which stands as the testimony to the talent of Michelangelo. Michelangelo, originally a sculptor, was summoned to paint the walls of the chapel. It took him a good 4 years to complete, he swore never to return to Vatican but returned four years later to complete the Last Judgement painting! It is required to maintain complete silence in the chapel and no photographs are permitted probably owing to its sanctity. 







From here we moved on to the St Peters Basilica which was no less of an architecture marvel. It took us a good 4 hours but a well spent one. You could also climb upto the dome on an extra payment if you wish to. We skipped that part.

Michalangelo's Pieta - depicting body of Jesus on the lap of his Mother Mary

The altar in the chapel

The dome rising high

External view of the Vatican

Another view
 Campo di Fiori  and Jewish Ghetto ( 1.6 km from St Peters Basilica)


At Campo di Fiori
We then walked to Campo di Fiori, which is the place to go if you want to shop for fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, dried fruits etc. We bought some lovely fresh strawberries from two elderly ladies, and walked across stalls with vendors trying to lure us at every corner.  The Jewish Ghetto is also close by. This area was once walled off for only the Jewish settlement and being a low lying areas it was often flooded leading to widespread epidemics. The synagogue is a must visit, somehow we missed that part. Our last agenda for the day was Trastevere, another happening square at Rome. Since it was only afternoon, we decided to explore a bit more of Rome. We walked across River Tiber and reached a small island which hosts Bartholomew Church.  We said our prayers and walked along river Tiber for quite a while till we reached Testaccio. Now, Testaccio as per google is quite a happening place but unfortunately the mood sets in only in the evenings. Almost every store and restaurant is closed at noon. Thankfully, we found one that was open and we desperately needed to rest our legs! We feasted on beef brisket, grilled chicken and roasted potatoes ( the potatoes were the best!!) before heading to Trastevere.


Trastevere


Enroute - Trastevere


Basilica di Santa Maria
 At Trastevere stands the Basilica di Santa Maria overlooking cafes and a beautiful fountain where street performers were queued up for their turns. Also an ideal shopping area for jewellery, paintings and the like. We relaxed at one of the joints and over a cup of coffee, brushcetta and panini, we sat back contemplating on the two wonderful days spent at Rome and how the city made us fall in love with its architecture.

Coffee and Panini - ending our day at Rome



June 24, 2017

Mango Mint Lemonade

Mangoes always brings fond memories of summer vacations. After breakfast, we gather around in the backyard of my mother's house where grandmother had ready for us the mangoes. We called the bigger slices mettha (malayalam for mattress) and the smaller slices talayana (malayalam for pillow). Back home in Udupi, summers began with us racing out to drive away the monkeys from taste testing the mangoes on our tree! The monkeys are ever present around the house during summers jumping from roof to tree and the dogs run under the tree hoping to catch hold of one monkey ( if only one would fall) . The monkeys are very choosy, hard to please group! They taste test several mangoes and drop them to the ground with just a single bite. Obviously that renders the mango ill suited for consumption and leaves a broken hearted mom and two children staring at the useless mangoes underneath the tree. If not consuming the mango as is the other popular use of mango were the milkshakes we made in the evening! Summers also saw us making jar full of lemonade - I remember telling my Dad years back that I am going to start a lemonade business - he laughed it off!

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This summer in Dubai is killing. Despite being indoors most of the time, the heat seems to be getting the better of us. For the first time since moving here, we have started drinking refrigerated water. So it is invariable that we try out some cold drinks. So this time I combined the mango with lemonade and there we have the Mango mint lemonade.

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Ingredients
  1. Mango - 2 medium sized sliced
  2. Lemon juice - 2 tbsp
  3. Mint Leaves - a handful
  4. Ice cubes
  5. Sugar - 2 tbsp
Method
  • Blend together the sliced mango along with mint leaves, lemon juice and sugar. (add or reduce sugar as per the sweetness of the mango)
  • Pour into glass and serve chilled with ice cubes.
Check out other summer thirst quenchers on the blog - 


June 20, 2017

Kozhi Nirachathu / Stuffed Chicken with gravy

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We first ordered Kozhi Nirachathu at a popular restaurant in the UAE. We ended up with a butterflied chicken in a spicy masala along with a side of egg roast which absolutely did not complement each other that too at an exorbitant price! After almost a year we got to taste this dish again at another restaurant. This time the egg roast stuffed inside the chicken and the chicken was deep fried - it tasted heavenly.  I was skeptical of getting a whole chicken deep fried until I read up a few recipes and saw a couple of videos. Yes, you can actually cook a whole chicken on stove top without deep frying it! It is not all that time consuming either.

Kozhi Nirachathu or stuffed chicken with gravy is a dish from Kerala that involves cooking a whole chicken with gravy and egg roast stuffed in the cavity.  Egg roast is made separately and stuffed into the marinated whole chicken before cooking the chicken in the gravy. When you want a whole chicken on table and you do not have an oven to rely on this could be your go to recipe! 

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Ingredients
  1. Whole chicken - 900 gm
  2. Egg - 2 no.s
  3. Onion  - 4 big ones finely chopped
  4. Tomato - 2 finely chopped
  5. Green Chilly - 2 finely chopped
  6. Ginger garlic paste  - 2 tsp
  7. Chilly powder - 1 tbsp + ½ tsp +¼ tsp
  8. Coriander powder - 1 tbsp
  9. Turmeric powder - ¼ tsp
  10. Fennel powder - 1 tsp
  11. Garam Masala - 1 tsp
  12. Curry Leaves - 3 sprigs
  13. Water - ¼ cup
  14. Coconut Oil
To Marinate
  1. Chilly powder - 1 tbsp
  2. Turmeric powder - ¼ tsp
  3. Lime juice - 2 tbsp
  4. Salt
Method
  • Hard boil the eggs, shell and keep aside. Create cuts on the egg and roll it in ¼ tsp of chilly powder until well coated. Fry this for 2 minutes in a teaspoon of oil rotating until done on all sides
  • Remove the skin, clean and pat dry whole chicken. Create deep gashes on the chicken. Make a marinade by mixing together the chilly powder, turmeric powder, salt and lime juice.  Rub this well onto the chicken and the cavity too. Let it rest on counter top for about an hour.
  • Heat oil in a deep pan ( use extra oil than you would use for normal chicken curry). Add onions into the pan and saute till transparent.
  • Add ginger garlic paste, curry leaves and green chilly. Let it cook down.
  • At this point,separate 4 tbsp masala into another pan. Add ½ tsp of chilly powder to this and cook well.  Add 2 tbsp of chopped tomato and let it melt.  Add the fried eggs and coat the masala. Let it cook for another minute. Turn off the flame and set aside.
  • Meanwhile, add the remaining chilly powder, turmeric powder, coriander powder, fennel powder and garam masala into the main pan. Let the masala cook before adding tomato. Mix well and keep it covered until the tomato melts.
  • Add salt and water to this bring it to boil and turn off.
  • Stuff the egg masala into the cavity and using a twine tie together the legs of the chicken to close the cavity so that the masala stuffed in does not seep out. Tie together the wings as well. 
  • Place this in the deep bottomed pan. Spoon masala over the chicken and let it cook on high for 5 minutes. Reduce the flame and let the chicken cook. Flip over the chicken once a while ensuring that the chicken is always well coated in the masala. It takes about 30 minutes to an hour for the chicken to cook completely. Uncover and cook the chicken for the last ten minutes. The masala reduces and begins to change color to brownish red.
  • Transfer to a serving dish and serve it with choice of bread or rice.
You may also note - 
  • Turning over a whole chicken may be difficult, use two spatulas to support while turning it over.
  • Keep pouring spoonful of the gravy onto the chicken top and let the flavor seep in.
  • There are chances that the chicken may stick to the vessel and burn. So make sure to turn it over frequently!

June 15, 2017

Koshari - a popular dish from Egypt

With the MENA cooking club giving a free reign to cook something traditional to any of the MENA countries, the ball was completely in our court this month! I kept mulling on it for a few days and then my husband decided to ask one of his Egyptian friend from office - he gave us a list of popular items that included Kousa mahshi, Cabbage mahshi, Koshari and Hamam Mahshi which were popular during Ramadan. The same friend had once suggested a restaurant to try out the Egyptian cuisine. We had feasted on Koshari, Fattayer and kebabs that day. So when this came about, we only thought it was fitting to try out Koshari - an Egyptian dish; as traditional as it can get!

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Koshari is a popular Egyptian folk food and a look at the dish will definitely reveal the way it has come. Koshari comprises of lentils, rice, pasta, chickpea, crispy fried onions and a tomato based sauce. The influence of rice and lentils is believed to be from Indian cuisine. The pasta and the sauce reflect Italian influence as well.It was a popular food cart dish before it made its way into the restaurants. The dish is usually vegetarian but sometimes comes topped with chicken. This dish although comprises of various components is easy to make and assembled only while serving.

Here we go -

Ingredients
  1. Brown lentils - 1/2 cup
  2. Basmati rice - 1 cup
  3. Macaroni - 1 cup ( you could use any type of pasta)
  4. Cumin powder - 1/2 tsp
  5. Cinnamon - 1 inch stick
  6. Chickpea - 1 cup boiled
  7. Onions - 2 thinly sliced
  8. Vegetable oil
  9. Salt to taste
For the sauce
  1. Garlic - 1 tbsp chopped
  2. Tomato sauce - 1 cup
  3. Onions - 2 tbsp fried
  4. Vinegar - 1 tsp
  5. Cumin powder - 1 tsp
  6. Sugar - 1/2 tsp
  7. Pepper powder - 1/2 tsp
  8. Paprika - 1/2 tsp
Method
  • Soak the lentils in water for 2 hours and the rice for about 1/2 an hour. Rinse and clean until water runs clean.
  • Take oil in a pan and once hot, add the finely sliced onions. Fry them until brown and crisp. Set aside on kitchen towel to drain excess oil.
  •  Into the same pan add the cinnamon and cumin powder. Add the rice along with lentils and let the rice crackle. Pour in 3 cups of hot water to this, add salt and let the rice cook covered.
  • Cook the pasta separately until al-dente. Take off heat, drain the hot water and run it through cold water. Sprinkle salt , 1 tsp of oil and give it a good mix.
  • For the sauce: Heat oil in a pan and add the garlic. Cook until the raw smell disappears. Add the onions, cumin powder, pepper powder and paprika, Stir for a minute before adding the tomato sauce along with vinegar. Finally add the sugar and bring it to a boil before turning it off.
  • Serving - Layer the bottom of the plate with the rice and lentil mix. Top that with pasta. Drizzle the sauce over this. Top it with chickpea and finally the fried onions goes on top. End it with a cup of hot black tea!
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You may also note - 
  • Make sure not to overcook the rice. Once the rice is done, transfer to an open plate and fluff using a fork help it release the heat, making sure that the heat does not cook it further,
  • Coat the onions with a 1/2 a tsp of corn flour to help it get real crisp.


June 12, 2017

Irachi Petti - Malabar Iftar recipe

I always knew of Ramadan but it is only after moving to UAE, I realised how religiously it is observed and what iftar and suhoor mean! The world of blogging introduced me to a lot of Malabar snacks mostly fried but really mouth watering. I tend to stay away from deep fried stuff, primarily because I have pimples popping on my face as soon as I relish on anything fried. Since it is shorter office timings during Ramadan, my husband one day happened to come home with some snacks that he picked up from the local Kerala cafeteria for our evening tea together (that is a rarity too - happens only during Ramadan). It was all deep fried stuff and I could not resist it - pakoda, samosa, irachi petti, chatti pathiri, mulagu bajji, ulli vada. It was all there. I waited for two days after we had this - Yay! No pimples and that made my resolution to prepare a fried malabar snack stronger.

That is how I ended up making irachi petti with the minced meat I had in the fridge. Irachi means meat and petti means box. So basically this dish has meat filling that is sealed in a box made of crepe!
So here is a recipe to try this Ramadan!

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Ingredients

For the filling

  1. Minced meat - 400 gms (beef, mutton or chicken)
  2. Onion - 3 medium finely chopped
  3. Ginger - 2 tbsp
  4. Garlic - 2 tsp
  5. Green Chilli - 3 finely chopped
  6. Pepper powder - 1 tsp
  7. Turmeric powder - 1/4 tsp
  8. Coriander powder - 1 tbsp
  9. Garam masala - 1 tsp
  10. Lime juice - 1 tbsp
  11. Salt to taste
  12. Oil
For the crepe
  1. All purpose flour - 1 cup
  2. Egg - 1 beaten
  3. Salt to taste
  4. Water as needed
For coating
  1. Egg - 1 beaten
  2. Bread crumbs
  3. Oil
Method
  • Heat oil in a pan. Fry the onions until it softens and add the ginger, garlic and green chilly. Saute till the raw smell disappears.
  • Add the turmeric powder, corriander powder and pepper powder. Cook the masala and add the minced meat. Mix it well to coat.
  • Add salt and keep it covered until it is cooked. Adjust salt if need be and add lime juice. Turn off the flame.
  • Prepare the crepe batter by mixing together the flour, egg, water and salt in a bowl. Add water as needed to form a runny batter.
  • Heat a tawa and pour a laddle full of batter onto the hot tawa. Ensure that the flame is on medium and prepare the round crepe by running the laddle in a circular pattern on the batter.
  • Flip over once and cooked gently. Do not let it get crisp as it might break open while placing the filling.
  • This batter makes around 8 crepes.
How to fill the crepe and fry
  • Take one of the crepe and place two spoonful of filling on the center of the round crepe. Using the same spoon adjust the filling to form either a square shape or a rectangle shape. This is done just to make the irachi petti hold the shape.
  • In order to cover the filling, first fold over one side towards the top of the filling, such that the bend in the fold is at the point where the filling ends.Repeat the same with the opposite side.
  •  Now fold the other two ends one at a time thereby sealing the filling in ( may form a square or a rectangle shape). It is always better to have larger crepes made so that the folding is easy and it stays. Smaller folded flaps tend to open up while cooking.
  • Place this on a plate with the folded flaps facing down. Repeat the same with other crepes.
  • Heat oil in a pan,  Dip each of the petti in the beaten egg and coat it with bread crumbs. Then place the petti in the pan with the flap side facing down. Cook till it browns well on one side and then flip over.
  • Serve hot !!
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You may also note
  • You may add corriander leaves to the meat filling.
  • Once the crepe has been folded always place it with the flap facing downward so that the weight tends to hold the flap in place.
  • I prefer shallow frying but you may also deep fry it.


June 4, 2017

Kerala style beef ellu curry / Kerala style beef (with bones) curry

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India is in the middle of a beef debate and this post is in no way a protest against the ban. I just happened to make beef curry exactly on the day beef ban was declared in India. Yet, if the government of my country decides to ban beef I am liable to obey it, if it were only for the right reasons! Doesn't my country have so many other pressing issues that need attention? Hinduism reveres cows, but doesn't Hinduism and every other religion hold human beings in high value? Aren't Goddess' also worshiped? Then why on earth aren't women in our society held in high regard? Sexual harassment cases are on an unprecedented high and the culprits walk free or are meted with special treatment in jail. But it is ok to take law in hands when someone decides to transport cow? Even if it was not for slaughter? Don't we women deserve a bit more respect in the society and severe actions taken against those who wrong us? Despite all this, fear of punishment will hold us back from eating beef in India. I dream of a day when fear of punishment will stop people from committing atrocities against women. I envision a day when women in the society can walk as free as the cows do now! This is the least the government can do for our country! If the men who go out of their way to find out who is slaughtering cow and punish them could take a little of their time to ensure that country is a safe place for women, India would have been a much better place. Do we not deserve even so much? These are purely my thoughts and am not on for a debate on the ban:)

Having placed my thoughts on the beef ban, let me move to the recipe. This is from my family kitchen - when I say family, I have seen my mom and aunt make it and mostly served with puttu/steam cake. So that is what I did too - so here is the recipe for beef ellu curry.

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Ingredients
  1. Beef with bones - 1 kg
  2. Potato - 1/2 kg diced
  3. Tomato - 2 medium sliced
  4. Onion - 3 medium sliced a little thick
  5. Green Chilli - 5- 6 slit
  6. Ginger - 1 tbsp grated
  7. Garlic - 1 tbsp grated
  8. Garam masala - 1 tbsp
  9. Coriander powder - 2 tbsp
  10. Chilli powder - 1 tbsp
  11. Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp
  12. Coconut milk - 1/2 cup thick
  13. Coconut milk - 1 and 1/2 cup thin
  14. Cinnamon - 1 inch
  15. Green cardamom - 2
  16. Cloves - 3
  17. Curry leaves
  18. Shallots - 2 tbsp
  19. Peppercorns - 1 tbsp
  20. Salt to taste
  21. Oil
Method
  • Heat oil in pressure cooker and add the whole spices - cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. Saute till fragrant.
  • Add the onions and saute till transparent. Tip in the ginger, garlic and green chilli. Cook until done.
  • Add the masala powders - turmeric, corriander, chilly and garam masala one at a time, Stirring it well to combine and cook.
  • Add the beef, potato and the tomato. Stir well to combine the masala. Pour in the thin milk of coconut and pressure cook until the beef is done. The cooking time may vary according to the beef used.
  • Release the pressure of the cooker. Add salt and the thick milk of coconut. Let it simmer for 2 minutes and then turn off  the flame.
  • In a mortar and pestle, crush the chopped shallots ( alternatively onions) and pepper corn coarsely.
  • Heat oil in a separate pan , add the crushed pepper and shallots. Fry till the color of the shallots begin to darken and add curry leaves.
  • Garnish the beef ellu curry with this and serve hot with puttu.
You may also note
  • Do not boil the gravy once you add the thick milk of coconut.
  • You may make this with boneless beef as well but with the bones it gets more flavorful.

May 29, 2017

Chocolate Cherry Pudding

There are days when my mind wanders to my home country and my desire to go back there gets stronger. I am sure these thoughts resonate with atleast a few of the expats. Sometimes I busy myself with some work to shut away these thoughts and other days I whine and whine. After some whining, I turn to my laptop to cheer me up. The one show that makes all the worry lines cease to exist is FRIENDS. I just can't have enough of it. I have watched season by season and now go on to youtube to catch some scenes from it. All the characters have become so etched in me that I feel they live around me. Like any other Friends fan, I would love to see that Reunion happening till then I can continue to watch it in a loop. 

Cooking does cheer me up but imagine cooking and watching Friends at the same time :P I do it often these days.( I hate it when I have to turn on the blender, the noise is such a distraction:P) From Monica's jam to Ross' Fajita , Rachel's English Truffle to Joey's sandwich, Phoebe's chocolate chip cookies to Chandler's cheesecake - food becomes an integral part of Friends. Those who have watched Friends can sure co-relate.  Cooking these days is more fun that it used to be ( Hope my Dad doesn't read this - he was very particular that we do one task at a time and not multi task but I can't just help it!)
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Over to my recipe, a rarity on my blog - a dessert. I have adapted the recipe from Spinneys magazine - when I read this recipe two months back I knew I simply had to do it. I went hunting for cherries and came back empty handed - Cherries were available nowhere. The recipe lay forgotten until few days back when I saw cherries at a local supermarket - then I knew I had to make this desert. And I am quite pleased with the result:)

There you are - 

Ingredients
  1. Butter - 150 gm
  2. Semi sweet chocolate - 200 gm
  3. Powdered sugar - ½ cup
  4. All purpose flour - ¼ cup
  5. Cherry - 150 to 200 gm
  6. Egg - 2 no.s
Method
  • Preheat the oven to 200 degree centigrade.
  • Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl placed on top of simmering water. Mix using a spatula and combine well. Let it cool.
  • Beat the egg and fold in the powdered sugar and flour.
  • Add the chocolate mix to this along with pitted cherries.
  • Transfer the mixture into a baking tray and let it bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
  • Serve it warm along with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.
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May 25, 2017

Italy-cised

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Walk across the Tiber
I am not sure when the idea of travel blogging became a part of our vacation planning but now, it has become so embedded in us that everything we do and see needs to get immortalized ( too grand a word right!!) here. Visiting Italy was something we had on our minds since 2015 - somehow things never fell in place - it was either that it coincided with our India trip plans or finances never fell in place or our visa was getting renewed - something always ensured that our plans went down the drain. Everything did fit into the puzzle last month and our long awaited Italy trip was planned, executed and we are now reveling the glory. Oh, we are finally ‘Italy-cised’, that is our way of expressing our happiness in ultimately touring Italy. Well, it doesn’t mean that we toured the whole of Italy, we were able to fit in as much we could without rushing, and giving time to take in the fragrance of the blossoms.

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Italy is adorned by beautiful historic churches and other monuments

Our trip was just for a week but we could go on about our experiences - a single write up would be gross injustice to the trip and hence we have decided to break it up into parts and take you on a photo journey that could well describe our travel episodes.

Segment 1 - Italy-cised :We attempt to illustrate our planning, itinerary, provide tips, general        occurrences and insights into some amazing food.

Segment 2 - Roaming the Rome and Walking the Vatican : Our experiences on roaming Rome by   foot and the tour through Vatican

Segment 3 - Escapade to the countryside - Tuscany and Umbria : We take you a photo journey through the beautiful country side

Segment 4 - Trek the terre - Cinque Terre(pronounced ‘Cheenqui’ Terre, which means 5 lands): Recounting our trekking experiences in Cinque Terre along with glimpses of our stop at Pisa and Milan

For a country like Italy with a long Mediterranean coastline, bountiful countryside and renaissance masterpieces, no research proved worthy enough. Nevertheless, our main resort were the beautifully written travel blogs that virtually guided us through the Italian streets onto the beautiful piazzas that helped shape our itinerary including all that we wanted into an 8 day plan. The tips provided by the bloggers were in reality quite helpful. A simple example would be the repeated requests by many bloggers to join the queue at the Palantine hills and Roma Forum to see the Colosseum than join the never ending queue at Colosseum which will in turn take you to Roma Forum and Palantine Hill. If it wasn't for this piece of advice we would have ended up at the long queue at Colosseum whereas the queue at Roma Forum was quite short that enabled us a quick entry.

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Piazza Venezia

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The ruins

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A fountain welcomes you at every piazza
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Every Piazza has a church too!
Accommodation

Once you have decided on your places of visit, lay down your itinerary, get your travel reservations done, book your accommodation and apply for the visa. We chose airbnb and agriturismo websites for our stay bookings. Once you zero in on the location you want to stay, airbnb gives you a range of options to choose from - whether you want a shared room, a private room or an independent house along with the price ranges and photos of the stay. These stays are cheaper than the hotel stays and also you get to interact with the locals at a personal level.  If you are not sure of your place of stay and want to have the flexibility of cancelling it later - choose the accommodation that has flexible cancellation policy. Moderate and strict cancellation policy accommodation levy some amount as airbnb service fee on cancellation (Make sure you read and understand the cancellation policy). Yeah, we failed to read it well and did lose a couple of Dirhams :(  Agriturismo offers great farm stays in the beautiful Italian country side. If you want to stay away from the hush and rush of city life then head over to agriturismo to survey your options.  If public transport is your means of commute, always look for places where public transportation is easily accessible. Interact with your host even before your travel and establish a good bond that way you would get to live the life of a true local.


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An upmarket area at the Spanish steps

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Glimpse of St Peters Basilica


Things to carry

Make sure you check the weather forecast so you know what clothes to carry along with you. We did commit a huge blunder in that assessment of ours. Italy was colder than we thought it to be. Italian weather on average hits 12 to 15 degree centigrade through the month of April. We had situations where the temperature dipped to 7 degrees and I refused to step out of the car as my teeth kept chattering the moment I got out. My clothes were a little too thin for the weather, I learnt my lesson and I sure am going to take more of winter clothes the next time we plan to travel in the cold season. Travel as light as you possibly can, you may have to lug the luggage across streets, cobbled paths and may be even hill tops. So be prepared for the eventuality. Ensure that you have all your travel documents securely kept. If you are not comfortable carrying it around, have photocopies of it and the originals safe at your accommodation.

Our Itinerary

After several additions, cancellations and re-additions our itinerary looked as below -

Day 1 - Reach Rome and check into our accommodation.
Day 2 - Tour Rome
Day 3 - Roam Vatican
Day 4 - Take a train to Florence. Rent a car and drive to our stay in Tuscany
Day 5 - Explore Tuscany
Day 6 - Travel to Umbria and take cooking class
Day 7 - Train to La Spezia. Stop by Pisa.
Day 8 - Trek the Cinque Terre
Day 9 - Explore Milan in 4 hours. Take the return flight

Initially, we also wanted to spend a couple of days in Milan visiting Lake Como, Bellagio, Varenna and also wanted to take  the Bernina Express a.k.a the Little Red Train from Tirano (near Milan) to Chur (in Switzerland) which will take you through the breathtaking Swiss Alps, but due to time constraints, decided to save it for another time. That’s how we ended up returning from Milan, in case you were wondering.

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Along the Trastevere

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Drive through the countryside
Advance Bookings

We also did advance booking for the Colosseum entry here and also booked a guided tour of the Vatican through Viator. We regretted not having booked a guided tour for the Colosseum. Even if you are not into architecture, ruins or paintings, Rome is a city which will make you fall in love with it. Just like we did. We were never into architecture and our only idea for visiting Rome was just to see the so called famous ruins and buildings. In fact we were less excited about the Rome part of the trip. But today without doubt we can tell you that was the best part of our trip. We loved our walk through the ruins and the churches and we just fell in love with history. We would definitely recommend booking a guided tour of both the Colosseum and Vatican.

Getting around Italy

Rome definitely was not built in a day but surely can be conquered on foot that is if you are willing to walk! So forget renting a car in Rome - parking and driving can get a little messy. We saw vehicles moving in both directions on a single lane. We saw red lights being skipped and vehicles stopping for green lights and God alone knows how the owners managed to move the parked cars which seemed to be neatly wedged in between two cars without even an ounce of space in between. However, they were always patient for the crossing pedestrians.

ItalyDownload a metro map of Rome and it can get you almost anywhere. If not there are buses, the tickets for which can be brought from a Newspaper kiosk which is around every corner or you can also find them in the shops selling Tobacco ( always has T sign easy to recognize). It costs 1.50 euros a person and valid for 100 minutes from the time it is first punched. To move from one city to another there are trains available at frequent intervals. You could save a dime or may be two by pre booking on certain trains like the frecciarossa or frecciabianca (fast trains). Advance booking can also be done for inter city trains, however you do not have reserved seats, but that is okay as there are plenty of seats available. Intercity and regional train tickets need to be punched/validated at the slots on the platforms before entering the train. However the speed trains do not require punching and the ticket collectors would check it once you are in the train. At the platform, you have ticket kiosks that help you book - I found it interesting that you need not tender the exact amount while booking - the machine gives you back the exact change ( I loved the 'clunk clunk' noise of the change dropping). So book your tickets, search for your platform number on the digital display boards and head over to the right platform.

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Our companion touring the countryside - rental car
If you plan to explore the country side, renting a car is highly recommended. We highly endorse renting a car to explore the countryside as the scenery is spectacular. We researched, chose Hertz through Autoeurope and did the pre-booking. We compared the fares between autoeurope.com(which takes you to the US website) with autoeurope.eu. Autoeurope.eu got us a better fare. Always go with renowned rental agencies like Hertz, Europcar as they are spread out across multiple locations. Do not go with the cheaper options out there, as reviews aren’t as good. Booking through Hertz was a breeze.


Beware of pickpockets

You will have warning signs displayed almost everywhere. We made sure we had each other’s back. We carried backpacks and had our wallets and mobiles safely tucked in the interior pockets and ensured that we never left the bags unattended even the suitcases. One incident, which I assumed was an attempt at pick pocketing was at one of stations when a woman came over to us incessantly spoke in Italian asking us something pointing to her ticket. Even when we spoke English, she did not step away. At that moment, I felt a group of people gather around us and felt a tug at my bag, I swirled around, removed my bag and hugged it. One in the group, spoke in Italian seemingly helping the woman with the ticket and they eventually moved away from us. For all I know, I could be wrong, it would have been a genuine case but I learnt my lesson of possible ways a person distracts you and someone using the distraction to pick something out of your bag. Dad and Mom had given incidents about pick pockets that happened during their group tour, so we were always on the lookout!

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Learning Italian

Learning a few Italian words can go a long way. Despite being a tourist country most of the folks knew very little English, so it gets quite hard to communicate. We often had to end up using sign language to communicate. At Perugia, a very sweet old man desperately wanted to help us when we wanted help with directions, all we knew was English and all he knew was Italian. He tried his best explaining in Italian and Shibin happily nodded away not understanding a word of it for almost 10 minutes, not wanting to let him down.

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Get a SIM card! 

Our biggest saving grace was an Italian SIM card that we bought on the first day which gave us gave us internet access, so google was always a click away. The telecom companies do have special SIM cards for tourists that are activated on purchase, one of the cheapest service provider is TIM which we purchased for 20 Euros which had a data package of 10 GB and around 1000 mins of local calls.
 (cheaper plans could be out there) Absolutely never buy the SIM from the airport, they charge you a hefty price!! 120 euros was the cost they demanded at the airport for the SIM!

Drinking Water

Carry water bottles with you. In Rome there are plenty of springs available where you can refill water, rather than having to pay for mineral water bottles which definitely does not come any cheaper. Pizza, pasta, gelato, bread, Panini - you have heard it all but this is where you get to try the Originals. The ones available across the globe have often been revamped to suit the regional flavors. The true Italian pizza has just a combination of 2 to 3 flavors maximum topped with cheese but definitely not a humongous amount of it. The crust is much lighter and often browned at the sides rather than the whole white bases that is available elsewhere.

Food

Most of the places provide a basket of bread to go with the wine. This is not accompanied by olive oil or balsamic vinegar which apparently isn't Italian tradition but more of an updated version of the Italian food. The bread often comes with a hard crust - yeah yeah! Apparently that is the authentic bread, not the soft ones that we have from the bakers here. It can scar the roof of your mouth! Ouch!  Do not forget to try the ricotta cheese and the pecorino. I am in love with ricotta! Certain aged cheese could be too strong for your senses.
Pecorino goes absolutely well with honey!!

Focaccia is a must try in Cinque Terre - the freshly baked ones just out of the oven forms a lovely breakfast - have the ones topped with pesto; simply fabulous.  Pasta, ravioli, spaghetti - we dug our hands into all what we possibly could.

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Every corner you turn to, you are sure to find a gelato place - try their amazing flavors. Gelato usually comes in two kinds - the fruit based ones and the milk based ones in either cone or cup and in different sizes. We always went in for two flavors in our cup or cone - I cannot pin point a single flavor and say it was good. All the 10 flavors we had were good and I cannot possibly single out one.
(we did try 10 flavors!) You could pick your food and have it on the go instead of having it in a restaurant and every piazza has a fountain and some steps too were you can rest your legs and enjoy your food. This way you do not lose time for exploring and you get to eat too.  If you see an amount charged on your restaurant bill as Coperto - do not be in for a shock it is nothing you ate. It is simply the tip they charge, saves you time having to think about how much to tip.

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The beauty of Cinque Terre

With these tidbits, we are signing off on Italy-cised till we meet again Roaming the Rome and Walking the Vatican.

Please feel free to leave in your experiences during your travel in the comments below.

-Ria & Shibin
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