on growing up at 27

I’m trying to get away from turning 27.

Yes, it was my birthday on the 6th, Tuesday. And like last year, it was a quiet one.

Now, in my circle, birthdays usually come with a butter-loaded cake, waves of tequila and lots of arse-to-arse dancing. But after my quarter-life crisis drama a couple of years back, I’ve tuned it down, choosing to hang out with my family for the whole day (much preferable, I might add). The craziness is reserved for the next day, when my friends take me out.

Note: the quarter-life crisis drama included freaking out on meeting this 22-yr old co-ed dating a 29-yr old doctor for whom I had the proverbial “hots”.

Yesterday started off with a breakfast-almost-brunch with family and family friends, at Flury’s — an eternal favourite and a classic symbol for Calcutta. A must-visit for anybody who steps foot in the city.

That led to a shopping spree with my folks. Now has always the perfect time to glam up for Christmas.

And against my better judgement, I went for flat shoes. Flat, sequined, ankle tie-backs from Metro. And that was a shocker for my mother, considering the fact that she has never seen me without high heeled shoes in the last 4-5 years. I may not wear the shortest skirts, my face may not be made up 24/7, I may not have the shoulders to carry off a sleek halter-neck, but I would literally sleep & run for errands, in my heels. And I have.

But, I saw these flats on the window and fell in love…more so with the half-suede half-satin ribbon ties than the sequined panels. I guess, I’m going to consider this as my ‘something different’ for this year. The other ‘something different’ would be my departure from red and wine coloured nail varnishes, that I have been faithful to all these years. I got myself some gold luxe.

This is suddenly starting to seem like the more older I grow, the more bling-iness I crave. Yeow.

Anyways, I think I can work these two as my Christmas pieces. For now, just have some sinfully dark brownies I made to start the day.

Under normal circumstances I would go for a rich Fondant Au Chocolat…but these brownies have been a keeper ever since the first gorgeous batch I made during a Slovenia vs England FIFA match last year. Their dense, overpowered with cocoa, with a shot of coffee, addictive and almost a comfort to an ageing 27-yr old.

Sinful Chocolate Brownies

160gm 70% cocoa powder
120gm all-purpose flour
240gm caster sugar
120gm unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs
2 tsp instant coffee powder
A big fat pinch of salt

Pre-heat the oven to 180 deg C. Prepare a 9″ x 9″ tin by greasing the bottom and sides with some butter. Sift the dry ingredients in a bowl. Beat in the butter and eggs, till the lumps disappear and the mixture is thick and spreadable. Pour batter in the prepared tin and level the surface. Bake for 18-20 minutes or till the center is slightly greasy. Cool and cut into pieces.

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store bought without apologies

Not a very good way to start this post would be by saying that I’m not fond of puff pastry. Just something about the flakes that scatter when I bite into it and then proceed to stick to my lips when I pull away. Ultimately, I keep wiping myself after every bite.

And this has kept me away from freshly-made croissants and cream puffs. I only eat the stale ones. Less flakes.

And all this hostility towards puff pastry, till I made it myself last week.

Well, being the lazy big-buttocks that I am, I had never imagined having the patience to roll, pat and fold over and over again. But I did. And yes, I could go on about how I achieved a sense of accomplishment and yada yada yada. But I didn’t. To say that the pastry I made went on to become lovely flaky chutney tarts, would be a lie.

After all the hard work, sweat and toil and unlimited glances at the recipe did not result in success. The first batch did not rise and came out half-cooked and soggy…sort of like sad deflated bread slices. It can’t get any worse, I thought foolishly as I raised the temperature hoping the even hotter air would make it rise. Then the second batch came out. Brown and burnt to a crisp with an even under-cooked center.

So I gave up. I went to the store and bought ready-rolled puff-pastry sheets. And no, I’m not ashamed of it. All you with your noses turned up can stick it really, because, the next time I’m trying my hand at puff pastry would be if I’m in either one of the following situations:

1) my children, off-springs of my own flesh and blood, request me to make some, or

2) someone has a gun pointed at my head.

That’s it for now. If you want a really good puff-pastry making guide try Keiko’s recipe.

Tomato & Pineapple Chutney

500 gm of tomatoes, diced
1 pineapple, diced
1/2 cup muscovado sugar
1/2 cup of honey
Pinch of salt
5 cloves
5 crushed cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup of sultanas

Combine everything in a deep-bottomed pan and put on low heat. Cover and cook for 15 minutes till the fruits have started breaking down. Add 1 cup of water. Raise the heat to medium. Cover and cook till the mixtures starts resembling a chutney, i.e., all the fruit has turned into mush and a thick syrup has formed. Take the cover off, and boil on high heat till most of the moisture boils off. Cool and serve with or after meals, especially Indian ones. Great on toast or cream-crackers as a snack…or just by itself, straight from the fridge. Keeps in the fridge for 3-4 days covered with cling film.

For the tarts:

Store-bought puff-pastry sheet, either ready-rolled or in a block
1 egg, lightly beaten
Tomato & Pineapple Chutney
Strawberries
Peanuts or Toasted Almonds or Pistachios, slivered or roughly chopped, to garnish
Lightly whipped double cream , to garnish

Pre-heat the oven to 180 deg C. Line a tray with baking parchment or greased aluminum foil. Cut the sheets into rectangular tart-sizes. I can get about 8 pieces out of one sheet. Make a grooved border all around, about 1/2 an inch away from the edges. Use a pastry brush to brush the borders with the beaten egg. Lay the tarts on the tray. Arrange the chutney, or strawberries on the inside of the egg-washed edges and bake in the oven till the pastry is all puffed-up and the edges are a crispy golden colour. It takes about 18-20 minutes. Serve immediately topped with the nuts or with lightly whipped cream.

chili-crusted chicken or how to juice up a breast

Alright. Grab your coffee and pull up a chair because we need to talk about this chicken.

This chicken is hot property. In fact, I can still hear the two leftover pieces sizzling in the baking dish in the kitchen. And its been at least three hours since I’ve had dinner.

Every time I roast whole chickens, I whip up a concoction of ginger-garlic paste, soya sauce, white sugar and Xiaoxing wine and pour it over the chicken and under its skin. And I’ve always served it with roasted red peppers and cucumber salad.

I’ve always felt that as an Indian I should automatically tip towards khichdi or daal as comfort food. But as much as I hate to admit it, it is true — roast chicken calms me down.

If my mother’s reading this, then we’ll have a lot to talk about very soon.

And yes, coming to the subject of breasts and thighs; I’m a thigh-person through and through. I go straight for the dark meat. No apologies. Besides, what is it with all the oohing over chicken breasts? Unless cooked sous vide or doused in sauce, those breasts usually have a tough time staying plump and juicy. I worry about that.

And that is exactly the reason I winced when I read a recipe of black-pepper crusted chicken breasts. I wanted to try making something “crusted” and the recipe seemed appropriate. Except those breasts. They loomed before me with a sneer in their faces.

In the end I settled for smoky chili and garlic instead of black pepper. And to keep the breasts moist, some orange juice. That’s right. You heard me. Orange juice.

Kind of a botched very-weak poulet version of duck a l’orange.

P.S. – If you’re wondering about the strawberries swimming in cream….well, as an homage to my grandmothers who moved to England 70 years back at the tender age of 16 or 17, I decided to have their favourite dessert for breakfast. And also, I had a ton of strawberries lying lonely in the fridge.

Chili-garlic crusted chicken

4 chicken breasts
1-2 tsp of unsalted butter
1-2 tbsp of olive sauce
2 tbsp of minced red chili (leave the seeds in, if like me you like it hot. For a milder taste, remove the seeds)
1 tbsp of dried chili flakes
2 tbsp of minced garlic
1 cup of orange juice (with pulp)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 160 deg C. Prepare a baking tray by greasing it.
Make diagonal cuts on the skin-side of the breasts; each cut just about quarter of an inch deep. Rub in the garlic, chili flakes, minced chili and butter into the cuts. Drizzle orange juice and olive oil over the breasts after placing them in the tray. Add salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast for about 30-40 minutes, or till the juices run clear.

In the picture I’ve served it alongside a watercress and arugula salad dressed in a mint-pecorino dressing.

of crossroads and chocolate

It doesn’t feel like October here. I’m reporting dank, drowsy and drizzly from London. And here I am, with the first full-fledged food post on The Subjectivist.

I need a place to store everything that catches my eye. Everything that sounds in my ears and fills my tummy to the brim. I need to write. I need to photograph. I need to cook and make. I need to sketch and dance every one in a while. And I need to share it with all of you. But there is only so much a single girl can do or remember. And hence, a blog.

While I drool over Ralph Lauren’s fall-winter collection this year, I sit in my white-washed room trying to chose between two crossroads. Should I continue walking alone along the platforms of Liverpool Street, straight to my day-job as an Architect? Or should I head back to India, back to my family, back to my old friends? Back to an old life?

But while I contemplate all that over a steaming hot cup of coffee and a virus-infected laptop, let me tell you how Nigella Lawson has helped me improve my mood.

Strawberries still dot the shelf at the supermarkets. So I stuffed a couple of boxes in my bag and came home trying to decide between a berry crumble or a strawberry sauce to accompany cakes and meringues. In the end, the weather convinced me to go for something hot, gooey and chocolatey (insert sarcastic quip about fickle-mindedness here).

The strawberries stared up at me forlornly from the shopper bag. So as an immense act of gluttony, I dunked all of them in a lusciously honeyed serving of cream. Some of them even made it to the top of the hot pots. The recipe can make about 4 hot pots, although I had to downsize the quantities to make for one.

Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Hot Pots

1 cup of chocolate chips (or chopped dark chocolate about one and a half 100gm bars)
1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
3/4 cup caster sugar
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
Icing sugar, to dust
Strawberries and cream, to garnish

(The original recipe calls for 3/4 cup of dark chocolate chips and 1/4 cup of white chocolate chips, but since my addiction to dark chocolate leaves no room for its white cousin, I’ve used up a whole cup of dark)

Pre-heat the oven to 170-180 deg C. Grease 4 ramekins and place them on a baking tray. I find that leftover butter-wrappers, or fingers dipped in olive oil work best for greasing ramekins/tins.
Melt the chocolate and butter in a double-boiler and set aside to cool a little. Combine eggs, sugar and flour in a bowl and mix in the chocolate mixture.
Divide the mixture equally into the ramekins and pop the tray into the oven. bake for about 15-20 minutes or till the tops are cracked . On inserting a toothpick or skewer, it should come out greasy and smothered in chocolate goop.
Sprinkle the tops with icing sugar. Garnish with strawberries and serve with some lightly whipped cream.