Judging a Masterchef competition + Flourless Chocolate Orange cake

An exciting opportunity came my way when I was asked to be a guest judge for an Italian Masterchef competition. This competition was being hosted by Cucina Italiana in Bahrain. I have always enjoyed Cucina’s food and drinks and this was an opportunity I really looked forward to.

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It was alright being invited to be a judge and all but I was completely ill prepared. Come to think of it, I didn’t really know how I could prepare myself. I ran myself some youtube videos of Masterchef Australia and observed a few judging scenes for the kind of questions to ask. I reached the venue dot on time to meet the participants and to understand the format of the competition.

The participants were to choose from the fresh ingredients provided by Cucina within 10 minutes and prepare a main course in 45 minutes in the restaurant’s kitchen. Most of the contestants, including me have never been inside a commercial kitchen let alone cook in one of them. It did feel daunting to me and I was wondering how the contestants were going to cope with the task.  But the restaurants Head Chef (who was also one of the judges for the evening) gave all the contestants a good brief about how to use the various appliances and some safety guidelines.

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The contestants looked very confident and well prepared. They seemed determined to get past this ‘heat’ to go to the semi finals. I wouldn’t wonder at their eagerness because the grand prizes were that alluring. The prizes included a splendid trophy, a Masterchef apron, 6 months of free cooking classes at Cucina, the winning dish was to be added on the 2014 menu of Cucina Italian and much more.

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It turned to be a lot of fun with the host of evening Peter Lyons (also a judge) at his sarcastic and funny best. He asked all the contestants difficult questions and put them in the spot a lot of times.The kitchen, where the contestants were busy working was being video shot so that the diners, guests and the supporters of the contestants could see them all in action on a big screen display in the dining area. I was thrilled to see the participants preparing different kinds of Italian style dishes which meant sampling and judging was going to be so interesting. The dishes that were being prepared included:

1) Stuffed chicken breast with sun dried tomatoes and mozzarella with a side of blanched spinach in  lemon and orange zest, garlic bread etc

2) Baked hammour (fish) and spaghetti Alfredo

3) Pumpkin rissotto

4) Tagliatelle pasta in tomato sauce and minced bacon

photo (3)The judging was to be done on the parameters of presentation, authenticity, balance of flavours, taste and portion size.

The stuffed chicken with sun dried tomatoes and mozzarella won the contest for the day. It was heartening to see the crowd cheer for the winners as the competition drew to a close. As a judge, perhaps I learnt a lot more than the contestants themselves. I appreciate their guts and their wits to be able to draw out a dish of such high calibre in 45 minutes. It is no easy task and I have observed it first hand. It would be interesting to note who goes through to the finals to win the grand prize. I sure hope it is one of the contestants from the qualifying rounds that I judged.

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All this excitement wouldn’t mean anything without something as spectacular- sounding as a flour-less chocolate orange cake. This beautiful and truly beautiful cake has been unjustly languishing in my drafts for a long time. I thought there was no better time to bring it out to celebrate the glory of the culinary arts. Being flour-less renders this cake light and slightly guilt free. But then I shall back track and say that some things in life ought to be outright indulgent. This cake is indulgent from all the wonderful Valrhona French cocoa and baking chocolate it uses. It makes me so so sad that I used the last of them few months back and I can’t seem to find them anywhere in Bahrain. Flour is replaced by almond powder which gives the cake a generous nutty flavour which is oh-so addictive.

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And, I almost forgot to mention that this beautiful, beautiful cake is a creation of my favourite cookbook author – Nigella Lawson. Only she can come up with techniques which sound dodgy— like boiling whole oranges and then pulping it all up to incorporate in the cake. Yet the outcome of such drastic actions is beyond amazing and then you realize that after all it is Nigella’s recipe and it can’t go wrong.

COC5I made this cake for my husband’s birthday in July this year ( and hence the candles in the pictures) and it is a pity that it has seen the light of day only through this post. Well it was destined to be posted with a special event as far as my culinary adventures go. Judging a Masterchef competition is certainly a feather on my culinary cap. I wish to participate in this competition as a participant in the near future to see what it takes to be a Masterchef.

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My feature in the “What to expect” website + a Quail egg salad

Pregnancy was the best time of my life.

Largely because I was in beautiful country (UK) during the best of weather (the English Summers), busy moving houses ( 3 in total in the span of 8 months) and reading. I read a lot books and one of them never left my bedside – What To Expect When You are Expecting  . This book has been my friend and my guide during all the times I felt unsure about several things during my pregnancy. Soon after Mimi was born, I got the sequel to it called What to expect in the first year which was equally helpful. Every topic, question, discussion is covered in these books which is comprehensive and so easy to read. I gave my book away to another couple who were expecting and I am sure they would have found very useful too.

I was very excited when  What to Expect contacted me to contribute to their ” Word of Mum ” column. They wanted me to do a piece about my life as a food blogger mum in Bahrain. I have regularly chronicled my life as an expat on the pages of this blog and to put it all in 600 word format was quite interesting a challenge for me. I tried to highlight my transition from someone who felt lost to someone who enjoys doing a multitude of things. Here is an excerpt from the article and for the rest of the article you can go to the website.

“What would you do in a situation where there are too many variables out of your control? We experienced this firsthand four years ago when we moved to Bahrain, a tiny island country in the Middle East. As consultants, my husband and I had experienced several episodes of settling and unsettling in new countries for work, but now the crucial difference was: We had a six-month-old baby. Also, after several years of working, I had chosen to become a stay-at-home mum.

Therefore, I was forced to solve a complex equation: my new role as a mum plus a new baby plus a new stay-at-home status plus a new country…how would it all add up?”

For the rest of the article, click here

Now for a beautiful salad recipe that I would like to share here. It is healthy and oh-so- yummy.

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I always wanted to taste Quail eggs but never got around doing it. So I put it up on my culinary bucketlist and this is my opportunity to tick it off.

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This salad recipe has very few ingredients but it is full of flavour from the toasted walnuts, mandarin pieces and a tantalizing sweet chilli vinaigrette. Addition of Quail eggs makes it nutritious and filling and I did not think it any different from normal chicken eggs. So I would recommend Quail eggs to anyone who loves chicken eggs.

Hope you enjoy reading the article and let me know your thoughts in the  comments section.

All photos courtesy – Namit Bhatia

My debut as a Web TV Presenter on MyBahrain.ME (RESTAURANT REVIEW : VILLA MAMAS)

Suzanne from MyBahrain.ME asked me if I would like to become a web tv anchor for their food channel. I took my time to evaluate if it was possible to do it with my hectic work schedule, chores and above all Mimi-time. But with support and encouragement from my husband, my parents and  my friends, I decided to give it a go. Never really faced a camera before except on my wedding day, it was nerve wrecking. But the super-cool Suzanne made it sound all smooth and chirpy.  The video was shot on an unhurried Friday at Villa Mamas – the restaurant that I was supposed to review. With little preparation and not knowing what to expect, I fumbled my way through zillion takes. Finally after 3 long hours, (hugely exasperated) Suzanne and the cameraman decided they had enough material to do a short restaurant review video.

I went back home, beaming with pleasure and excitement and eagerly waited for the edited version of the video to come out. When the video was uploaded on the MyBahrain.ME website, the first thing that crossed my mind while watching my video was it is really unnatural to see yourself from the outside. It is quite like an outer body experience  to hear and see myself talk to the camera like it was a real person.

I say this with confidence because I have had an outer body experience before but that is a story for another time.

Being in front of the camera, when you are not used to be the focal point can bring forth all the oddities that you have never known about yourself. For me, it was  like a 360 degree feedback session in the 2.57 minutes. But for a debut, I was told, I did well. That makes me happy. In  this post I share some behind the scene moments and the video of the restaurant –  Villa Mamas that I reviewed for MyBahrain.ME

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All photos courtesy – Namit Bhatia

The food at Villa Mamas was top-notch. Villa Mamas takes pride in serving traditional Bahraini cuisine with a modern and contemporary twist. Here are some of the photographs from the shoot.

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The starter - eggplant explosion ( discs of egg plant cooked until tender, dressed with white sauce and flavoured with cumin and other spices)
The starter – eggplant explosion served with soft and freshly baked arabic bread( discs of egg plant cooked until tender, dressed with white sauce and flavoured with cumin and other spices)
Main course - Sayadia Hammour ( Lightly spiced rice with caramelized onions, tender hammour fillet with brown sauce)
Main course – Sayadia Hammour ( Lightly spiced rice with caramelized onions, tender hammour fillet with brown sauce)
The rainbow smoothie ( very tangy and super refreshing)
The rainbow smoothie ( very tangy and super refreshing)

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Suzanne helping me out with my lines. Truly admire her patience
Suzanne helping me out with my lines. Truly admire her patience
Delivering the last set of lines
Delivering the last set of lines
Loved the Villa Mamma's decor - a comfortable setting with a contemporary twist. Matches the food perfectly
Loved the Villa Mama’s decor – a comfortable setting with a contemporary twist. Matches the food perfectly

Can’t wait to hear your feedback about the video and my presentation! Do take time out and write down your thoughts in the comments section.

Celebrating Deepawali with Jalebis

Another one bites the dust!

Well, not literally.

These days I am obsessed about my culinary bucket-list and am focusing on getting them done before the year ends. I finished with the Pavlova and the bbq, done with the oysters too. Then I thought since its festival time, why not attempt jalebis and see how I fare. I googled plenty of recipes – with yeast and without yeast.  Finally I settled for a recipe on Showmethecurry site. If you haven’t seen this site before, you should definitely see what a treasure cove of video-recipes it is.

Jalebi is “made by deep frying maida (all purpose flour) batter in pretzel or circular shapes, which are then soaked in sugar syrup”

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A good jalebi depends on:

1. The consistency of the batter

2. The temperature at which it is deep fried

3. The sugar syrup’s richness and flavour ( cardamom /saffron)

I read about all the dos and the don’ts before attempting the recipe to be very sure about getting it right the first time. The only investment I made was in on an empty squeezy bottle ( the ones that you would use for filling up ketchup and mayo)

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Dipped in saffron infused sugar syrup

Just before I get on with the recipe and other formalities, I would love to wish each one of you a beautiful Deepawali. I hope this Deepawali ushers in light, joy, prosperity and luck to all your lives. Usually during Deepawali we are in Delhi where we celebrate it with my in laws and extended family. It is a wonderful time to have family get togethers, dinners, shopping, gifts and food. Delhi is a land of wonderful food and once you get a flavour of Delhi food, its difficult to love food anywhere else ( Ahmedabad comes a close second). This year we aren’t travelling to Delhi and we will miss the crackers, the sweets and all the family gatherings. Mimi will miss being with her cousins and bursting crackers.

But munching on this juicy, crunchy jalebis provides succor to our Delhi-Deepawali-deprived souls.

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Click on the image to view the recipe
Click on the image to view the recipe

The only hitch I thought was that the sugar syrup wasn’t enough. Otherwise the recipe is top notch.

 

Once again, a very happy Deepawali!!!