The Glory Of Saffron

Order tandoori chicken in an Indian restaurant anywhere in the world, and you will find it colored a bright orange. Ask the chef, “Why orange?” and he will probably say that it is tradition – it has always been prepared so.

To understand why tandoori chicken is orange you must go back more than a thousand years, to the days when the great Arab alchemists labored to convert base metals into gold. They discarded one formula after another until they found a magical substance that colored anything it touched gold. They called it zafaran; the English modified the name only slightly, to saffron.

Saffron comes from crocus bulbs that flower two weeks in a year, each violet blossom enclosing three orange stigmas. Delicately plucked by hand and dried, a stigma becomes an inch long strand of saffron. A million strands weigh only a little over four pounds, making saffron the most expensive spice known.

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Arab alchemists also developed theories of dietetics, using scientific principles to develop healing sauces. Saffron was the most important ingredient in their repertoire, believed to possess miraculous powers. It had brought them the closest they ever got to creating gold; surely, they reasoned, it had therapeutic properties as well. Saffron became essential to Arab cuisine and the most highly regarded dishes were those with a golden hue. All shades of yellow were thought auspicious: cookbooks recommended using turmeric or safflower if saffron was too expensive.

Medieval Europeans adopted many Arab theories, including those on alchemy, dietetics and cooking. Saffron grew well in temperate western climates and became the most popular spice for cooking. All chefs learned the technique of endoring, basting meats with saffron and egg yolks to give them a golden glow.

India’s Muslim rulers developed a taste for Arab and Persian cuisine, including their fondness for saffron. The seventeenth century emperor Jahangir personally inspected saffron fields in Kashmir. Saffron became the hallmark of royal kitchens, symbolizing richness and sophistication. Indian restaurants still carry on that tradition, striving to obtain the color of saffron even if they have to resort to food colouring when the spice itself is too expensive to use. And they will never, ever, serve tandoori chicken that is not the right shade of orange.

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Although saffron is expensive, a little bit goes a long way, especially if your saffron is of good quality. The traditional, and still the best, way to use saffron in cooking is by soaking it in some warm milk to draw out it's colour, aroma and flavour. Keep your saffron in a sealed bag in the freezer and it will remain fresh for a very long time.

Saffron Rosewater Ice Cream With Pistachios

This addictive ice cream is wonderful served with fresh berries too. If you wish to make it egg-less, substitute a can of condensed milk for the egg custard base. For more recipes cooking with saffron, try grilled Saffron Chicken Tikka or this delicious Chicken Biryani.

1 can (354ml) evaporated milk

1 cup whipping cream

1/4 tsp saffron threads

1/4 cup + 3 tbsp sugar, divided

3 large egg yolks

3 tbsp rosewater

2 tbsp unsalted, unroasted pistachios, coarsely chopped

Combine evaporated milk, whipping cream, saffron and 1/4 cup sugar in heavy saucepan. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low and keep warm, stirring occasionally. Don't worry if a skin starts forming over milk, it will be integrated into the ice cream later.

Meanwhile, half fill a large saucepan with water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Combine egg yolks, remaining 3 tbsp sugar and the rosewater in a rounded bowl big enough to fit over the saucepan without touching the water.

Beat with a whisk until thickened, increased in volume and lightened in colour, about 4 min. Remove from heat and continue beating for 1 more min until smooth.

One by one, add 2 ladles of the warm saffron milk mixture into the egg yolk mixture, whisking gently after each addition to bring it up to temperature.

Pour the egg yolk mixture into the saucepan containing remainder of the warm saffron milk, whisking gently to incorporate. Increase heat to medium low and continue whisking for about 5-7 min until milk thickens slightly. Remove from heat and stir in the chopped pistachios.

Cool ice cream mixture at room temperature for 30 minutes. Transfer to a rounded bowl, cover tightly and freeze overnight.

Remove from freezer, uncover and rest at room temperature for 1 hour or until ice cream is starting to thaw and soften. Break up ice cream into smaller pieces with a knife. Using a hand blender, blend ice cream until it is smooth and no lumps remain. It is OK to have the pistachios remain chunky.

Cover and freeze again for another 2 hours or longer.

Alternatively you can churn ice cream in an ice cream maker, following manufacturer's directions.

Scoop into serving bowls and serve.

Serves Four

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The Story Of Pepper

“Bales of pepper are brought to market from each house, and gold received in exchange from the Roman ships is brought to shore in sackfuls” wrote a second century Tamil poet. Pepper was the most eagerly sought after spice in ancient Rome, and could be obtained in only one place: southern India. The word ‘pepper’ also comes from the same source: it is derived from the Sanskrit pippali. Both black and white pepper were prized in ancient Rome, but only the more expensive white variety was taxed. Black pepper was considered such an essential commodity, used by even the poorest citizens, that it was exempt from all customs duties.

Black Peppercorn

 Though Europeans ate a great deal of pepper, they knew little about how it was grown. A fourteenth century book claimed that:  "Serpents keep the woods that pepper groweth in and when the woods of pepper are ripe, men of that country set them on fire and chase away the serpents by violence of fire. And by burning the grain of pepper that was white by kind, is made black."
Reality is a little less exciting. Peppercorns are the berries of a climbing vine that grows over 50 feet tall in lush tropical jungles, twining itself around trees for support.

Green unripe berries are picked and boiled in water, after which they are sun-dried until they shrivel and turn black. Pepper vines were first cultivated millennia ago in the hills along the coast of southern India, and some of the best varieties such as Malabar and Tellicherry still come from Kerala where pepper is an important spice in local cuisine.

Fresh green peppercorns, picked right off the vine are often used in Kerala curries for their crisp, spicy bite.

Green Peppercorn

Green peppercorns are produced by picking and drying pepper berries well before they are fully mature. Their flavour is much milder than that of black pepper.

White Peppercorn

To produce white pepper, berries are picked when ripe, soaked for several days in water until soft, and the outer skin and pulp rubbed off leaving only the white seed. White pepper is much less aromatic than black, but some cooks prefer using it to avoid having unseemly black specks in light colored sauces.

Red Peppercorn

Pink or rose peppers create much confusion, because they are not related to pepper vines at all. They are bright red berries that grow on trees that are part of the cashew tree family,   and have a mildly peppery taste when dried.
Different preparation techniques - frying, toasting or grinding, bring out widely different flavours from pepper. Pepper grinders filled with a blend of whole peppercorn in all four colours can be found in supermarkets for adding a final flourish of colour and flavour to a finished dish.

Crispy, peppery paneer skewers make delicious appetizers for a summer barbecue. Eat 'em right off the grill while their insides are still soft and gooey!
If you're looking for variety, try Tandoori Paneer, Pepper Roast Chicken or Saffron Chicken Tikka With Black Pepper

Pepper Paneer Tikka

400g Paneer (Indian cottage cheese)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 inch piece ginger, minced

2 tbsp each: oil, lemon juice, plain Greek/Balkan style yogurt

Salt to taste

1 tbsp coarsely ground black pepper or mixed pepper blend, divided

1/2 tsp each: garam masala, paprika

2 tbsp each: all purpose flour, fine breadcrumbs

1 lemon, cut into wedges

Cut paneer into 2 inch long X 1/2 inch thick slices (about 10-12 slices) or cube into bite sized squares. Place in deep mixing bowl.

Combine garlic, ginger, oil, lemon juice, yogurt, salt, garam masala, paprika and 1 tsp of the pepper in small bowl, mix well to blend.

Pour over paneer in bowl, tossing gently to coat completely. Cover and refrigerate for one hour or longer up to overnight.
Note: Let paneer soften at room temperature an hour before grilling, to make it easier to thread onto skewers.

When ready to grill, heat barbecue to medium high. Soak small sized bamboo skewers for 15 min in cold water.

Thread paneer onto skewers without overcrowding.

Combine flour, breadcrumbs and remaining 1 tsp pepper in small flat plate.

Roll each skewer of paneer in prepared breadcrumb pepper mixture till lightly coated all over.

Place on grill and cook covered until lightly browned and slightly crisp, about 7 min per side, turning skewers once. Brush lightly with additional oil at the end of cooking, if necessary.
Note: Paneer can also be cooked in the oven without skewers. Heat oven to 450F. Place paneer pieces on parchment lined tray and bake for 12 min. Place under the broiler for 2 min to brown tops lightly.

Serve right away with wedges of lemon.

Serves four

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Puerto Rican Baked Chicken In San Francisco

San Francisco is a city I've always wanted to visit. Recently there to attend our son's wedding, we had just three magical, whirlwind days to see it all and we crammed them full of experiences we will never forget! (Read more about San Francisco in our blog post here)

Walking around, exploring and seeing the sights, we managed to cover a lot of ground. Starting from Union Square we toiled uphill along Powell Street, meandered through Chinatown, walked along the Embarcadero and ended up in Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf.  It was a great way to experience the city even though I couldn't feel my feet by the end of the evening!

Since we were in San Francisco over the weekend, we decided to spend a leisurely Saturday morning exploring the popular farmer's market located in and around the Ferry Building.

We spent hours browsing stalls by artists and craftsmen, visiting farm stands selling fresh local produce and stocking up on unusual preserves (strawberry marmalade), vinegars (blood orange vinegar) as well as dried and smoked vegetables and fruit (smoked plum tomatoes, dried Meyer lemon segments) - all the things I can never find in Toronto! The espresso almond brittle (from G.L.Alfieri farms) alone is worth the trip; stock up on plenty because it is never enough!

If you plan to visit the market, best not to eat breakfast before going, for every vendor has something for you to taste. As you sample your way through to the inside and rear of the building, you will find many cafes, restaurants and food trucks where you can try even more food!

We got beef tamales and fish tacos from an outdoor Mexican food stall and picnicked on a bench overlooking the Bay, while soaking up the sun (yes, the sun was out, however briefly!). In that perfect moment everything tasted so good and all was right with the world!

Sol food Restaurant serves amazing Puerto Rican food, so of course we had to eat there! The highlight was Pollo Al Horno (baked chicken), black beans and garlic fried plantains. Doused liberally with their special Pique Sauce of vinegar and red chilies, and washed down with copious amounts of fresh orange juice, it was one of the most enjoyable and memorable meals we had during our trip!

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The saucy marinade enveloping the chicken and steam generated by covering it during the first half of baking, keeps our Pollo Al Horno incredibly moist and tender. When the weather is good I simply throw the marinated chicken onto the barbecue for some summery grilled flavour!

Puerto Rican Baked Chicken (Pollo Al Horno)

1 1/2 lb bone in chicken drumsticks or boneless thighs (about 6), skin removed

2 cloves garlic, minced

Salt to taste

1/4 cup each: olive oil, water

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp each: oregano, ground cumin, paprika, ground black pepper, onion powder (or use 1 tbsp finely chopped onions)

Make a few deep slashes in each piece of chicken and place in a large mixing bowl.

Combine all of the remaining ingredients and mix well with the chicken.

Cover and marinate chicken, preferably overnight in refrigerator for flavours to develop.

Preheat oven to 400F. Transfer chicken with all of it's marinade (scrape it all onto the chicken) to a lightly greased, deep baking pan large enough to hold pieces in single layer. Cover tightly with aluminum foil.

Bake for 30 min, then remove foil and continue baking chicken uncovered until it is golden and cooked through, another 30 min.

Transfer to a serving platter and drizzle pan juices over top. Serve with a wedge of lemon if desired.

Serves four

Read more about San Francisco in our blog post here.

Wedding Cake In San Francisco

"I Left My Heart in San Francisco" goes the old song and it perfectly expresses our feelings, for so did we! There recently to see our son Rohan wed his lovely new bride Adora, we fell in love with this charming city and the momentous occasion that brought us together.

The ceremony took place in the rotunda of beautiful San Francisco City Hall, with family members from both sides in attendance. Adora has been a part of our lives for many years, during which we have come to know her and love her, but officially welcoming her into our family was an especially joyful moment for us. Another foodie is just what we needed!

A trip to San Francisco is always a good excuse to see the sights of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The Golden Gate Bridge is such an iconic scene that it is well worth driving out of town to see it. We were even lucky to get some sunshine during our drive!

San Francisco is such a compact city that you can see most of it on foot. The steep hills require you to be in good shape if you are planning to do much walking. Toiling up Powell Street can give you quite a workout, and you still need to have enough energy to skip out of the way of cable cars hurtling down the hill!

The gracious row houses lining the streets are another sight synonymous with San Francisco. The Painted Ladies, a row of historic Victorian houses are the most famous and the most photographed. Their beautiful, intricate painted designs and detailing are worth a trip to Alamo Square.

And for shoppers, the stores surrounding Union Square are an irresistible draw. I was spoiled for choice with so many big name flagship stores in one place! And when shopping gets tiring, there is a huge granite plaza bordered with swaying palm trees and cafes in which to relax and watch the world go by.  

San Francisco also has the largest and oldest Chinatown in North America. It still sprawls over a large area, combining restaurants,  grocery stores and herbal medicine shops with historic churches, buildings and even the famous Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory!
The best known dim sum restaurant, Yank Sing is worth visiting for fantastic food. It is one of few restaurants that still have carts trundling around, filled to the brim with delicately steamed, delicious dumplings.

A joyous wedding is best followed by a memorable meal and our celebration continued at renowned chef Michael Mina's award winning restaurant. His delicious, contemporary, creative dishes such as sesame oil infused ahi tuna tartare, seared fish with mushrooms in dashi broth and succulent beef wrapped in puff pastry filled us with even more joy!

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What's a wedding without cake? Adora, an avid, accomplished baker has created this gorgeous roll cake just for this blog. Easy to make at home, these delicious slices of soft orange scented sponge cake with saffron cream will fill you with happiness!

Orange Cardamom Roll Cake With Saffron Cream Filling

For the filling:

80 ml whipping cream

30g white chocolate chips

A pinch of saffron

For the cake:

25g unsalted butter

1 tbsp fresh orange zest

25g cake flour

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

3 large egg yolks, at room temperature

50g sugar

2 large egg whites, at room temperature

To prepare the filling, warm cream in microwave until scalding, about 1 min. Stir in chocolate chips and saffron until completely melted. Cover and refrigerate until chilled.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400F. Lightly grease an 8X8 baking pan and line with parchment, creating an overlap on all sides to help lift cake. Set aside an extra 8X12 sheet of parchment, (for later use in the recipe).

To make cake, melt butter in microwave for about 30 sec. Add orange zest.

Combine flour and ground cardamom in separate bowl.

Combine egg yolks and half of sugar with hand mixer until thickened and pale in colour, about 2 min.

In separate bowl, beat egg whites (with clean mixer blades) and remaining sugar, until soft peaks form, about 2-3 min. Add egg yolk mixture and beat until combined, about 1 min.

Sift in half the flour mixture, folding it in with a spatula and lifting it from the bottom to keep it light and aerated. Add remaining flour mixture, folding and lifting to aerate.

Fold in orange zest butter until just combined (melt it again if necessary).

Pour batter into center of cake pan, spreading it into an even layer with spatula. Tap pan on counter to remove any air bubbles.

Bake cake for 10-12 min until golden and spongy to the touch. Immediately lift cake onto work surface using parchment overlap handles (keep parchment under cake).

Working while cake is still warm, place extra sheet of parchment on top of cake, sandwiching it between the two sheets of parchment. Flip cake upside down and peel off top sheet of parchment. Roll cake tightly (like a sushi roll), using bottom parchment as guide. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, whip reserved chilled saffron cream chocolate mixture with hand mixer until stiff peaks form.

Unroll cake and spread cream filling evenly over top, leaving a 2 cm border all around. Roll cake tightly (without squeezing out the filling!) and wrap in parchment, pressing gently to shape it. Refrigerate for 30 min.

Unwrap cake, trim edges and cut into 1 inch thick slices, wiping excess cream off knife for neat edges.

Serves Eight
Many thanks to Adora for cake recipe and photos!

Congratulations Rohan and Adora!

Peas And Rice In Bermuda

When Britannia ruled the waves, Bermuda was the principal base for the ships that maintained British control of the Atlantic ocean. Warships sailed forth from the Royal Naval Dockyard in Bermuda, and returned there for repairs and resupply. The former house of the port commissioner is now a museum, and the sweeping veranda that wraps around the building offers a stunning vista of the ocean. Standing there It is easy to imagine lookouts scanning the horizon for battle scarred vessels returning to harbour.

After the second world war the naval dockyard was abandoned and fell into disrepair, but as tourism became popular in Bermuda, the port was reborn as a tourist attraction. Cruise vessels now occupy the berths that were formerly built for battleships, and the invading armies that disembark from them everyday are welcomed with open arms!

The old dockyard buildings and barracks have been converted to boutiques and restaurants. The former victualling yards, which at one time were piled high with barrels of biscuits and salt beef waiting to be loaded on ships, are now manicured lawns across which visitors stroll.

In Bermuda, you are never very far from a beach. Snorkel Park Beach with pristine, clear waters is just off the Dockyards and is ideal for snorkelling. And if you've come unprepared, there are plenty of stylish apparel shops just around the corner to outfit you! 

This area also has wonderful restaurants. Our cabbie told us to eat at The Anchor Restaurant and she did not lead us astray! The fish grilled just right, the flavourful peas and rice and the sticky pudding with rum ice cream for dessert were just fabulous. 

Peas n Rice or Hoppin' John as this dish is sometimes known, is the standard accompaniment to most Island dishes. Hearty and satisfying, it took me back to my mother's kitchen - her black eyed peas curry was legendary! Simmered for hours with tomatoes and spices, it allowed the black eyed peas to become soft, almost creamy and just bursting with flavour. I'd spoon some all over my rice and be in heaven!

Black eyed peas are a great way to add protein to your rice.  This flavourful peas and rice dish is good to eat by itself but gets even better when paired with Spiced grilled fish or Coconut curry vegetables.

Peas And Rice

2 tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

4 sprigs fresh thyme

1/2 cup each, finely chopped: celery, sweet green bell pepper, sweet red bell pepper, carrot

4 large canned plum tomatoes, lightly crushed

Salt to taste

1 tsp each: Herbes de Provence, Sherry pepper hot sauce or any hot sauce

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1 cup cooked Black eyed peas

2 cups chicken broth

1 cup Basmati rice, washed and drained

Warm oil in deep heavy pot set over medium heat.

Add onions, garlic, thyme, celery, sweet green and red peppers and carrots. Saute until lightly browned and softened, about 7 min.

Add tomatoes, salt, herbes de Provence, hot sauce and pepper. Saute until tomatoes are slightly thickened into the sauce, about 5 min.

Add cooked black eyed peas and broth. Bring to a boil, cover reduce heat to low and cook for 20 min.

Add drained rice to pot, stirring gently to mix. Bring to a gentle boil again and then cook covered on low heat for 15-17 min until rice is fluffy and dry.

Mix gently and serve.

Serves four

Spiced Grilled Fish In St.George's, Bermuda

When a group of settlers left England in 1609 for the newly established colony of Jamestown in Virginia, a stopover in Bermuda was probably the last thing that they wanted. A storm that drove their ship on to the reefs surrounding the island led to an unavoidable change of plans.

The survivors managed to build new ships and finish their voyage nine months later, but noting the beauty of Bermuda, two of them stayed behind to mark their possession of this new territory. 

Three years later a group of permanent colonists arrived from England and selected a sheltered bay to build their first settlement - St. George's. This town survived even after Jamestown was abandoned, making it the oldest English town in the Americas. St Peter's Church, in the picture above, is believed to be the oldest continually used Anglican church in the Western hemisphere.

Today St. George's is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a charming place to visit. The town is centred around King's Square with it's lovely Town Hall.

A short distance from that is a replica of one of the original ships built by the shipwrecked settlers.

Much of the town is preserved in its original form, and walking around on the narrow cobbled streets of St.George's you can almost see the 17th century sailors disembarking from their ships and heading for one of the taverns that still overlook the port!

As we meandered our way out of the centre of town to Fort St.Catherine at it's northern end, we came across an intriguing pile of ruins that might once have been a Gothic church. Upon exploring we discovered that this church was never finished, having fallen into disrepair due to a lack of funds in 1847. It still has an air of calm about it and is a good place to rest your feet for the long trek ahead to the fort.

Fort St.Catherine with it's imposing stone walls, sweeping driveway and a lovely sandy beach, has some of the best views from it's ramparts and is worth the trek! It has a well preserved interior that also houses a museum. Nearby, is the place where the first shipwrecked sailors landed ashore and formed this historic town.  

A short distance from St.George's are Bermuda's famous Crystal caves. Formed millions of years ago, these subterranean caves are breathtakingly beautiful with lagoons of clear blue water and crystallised white stalactites hanging low everywhere. Said to have been accidentally discovered in 1907 by two young boys looking for their lost ball, these unusual caves are a marvel worth visiting.

Bermuda is well known for it's seafood and local chefs excel in deftly cooking lightly spiced fish in many delicious ways. Although spiny lobster season was just starting when we were there, it was the grilled fish we ate most often. Served grilled, panfried or baked with salad, mashed potatoes, steamed vegetables or my favourite Peas and Rice, it was always fantastic!

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You can use any fish that is easily available. I've used salmon here but Red Snapper, Halibut or Sea Bass would work real well too. Serve this fish with the traditional side dish of Peas and Rice and garnish with a crunchy, juicy chopped salad to brighten up all the flavours.

Spiced Grilled Fish

1 lb. fish fillet

2 tbsp oil

Salt to taste

1/4 tsp each, ground spices: black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, paprika, Herbes de Provence

1 tbsp each: lemon juice, Outerbridge's sherry pepper hot sauce or any hot sauce

Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking tray with parchment.

Lay fish fillets on tray. Brush tops with oil.

Sprinkle salt and all of the ground spices over top of fish.

Bake for 15-18 min just until fish is cooked through and flaking easily.

Sprinkle with lemon juice and hot sauce, serve.

Serves four

Coconut Curry Vegetables In Hamilton, Bermuda

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Hamilton, the capital of Bermuda, has the appearance of a small town, and you can stroll across it in half-an-hour. However, its size belies its charm and sophistication, for Hamilton is a major commercial hub, home to a large number of international banks and insurance companies. The downtown consists mostly of office buildings, none of which are allowed to rise so high as to obstruct the view of the cathedral that dominates the skyline. In the commercial district it is quite usual to see a banker, dressed in business attire consisting of Bermuda shorts, knee-high stockings and a tie, stepping out for lunch.

Hamilton also has a vibrant night-life, making it a fun place to visit after a day spent lazing on the beach. Getting to Hamilton from anywhere on the island is easy. You can take a cab or a scenic ferry ride or hop on a rented scooter. Zipping up and down those curvy, mountain roads on a little red scooter is an experience you won't soon forget!

Front Street, running along the length of the harbour is where most of the action is. Lined with shops, boutiques, restaurants and cafes, it is a great place to explore, people watch and buy that souvenir.

Since the main downtown area of Hamilton is quite small, it is easy to walk around and see the lovely pastel coloured, colonial style buildings, straight out of a picture postcard!

A short stroll from Front Street, up a gently sloping, meandering path lies Fort Hamilton. Built in the 1870s as a possible defense against American attacks, it is a lovely green, serene place with wonderful views of the city and harbour below.

Dotted about all over the island you see these unusual arches built into boundary walls . Known as Moon Gates, they were first brought to Bermuda from China in the 19th century. Locals believe that newly weds will be blessed with good luck when they walk through them. I just love the way they frame the scene around them, and I never missed a chance to walk through them!

I have long been a fan of celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson's food. When we discovered that he recently opened a new restaurant in Hamilton called Marcus', we had to eat there. His creative spin on Bermuda's classic favourites is like none other and the restaurant's beautiful location in the Hamilton Princess Hotel doesn't hurt either!

Sitting out in the shady veranda of the restaurant, gazing at the impossibly blue waters, with boats bobbing around in the harbour, sampling dishes like Fish Chowder Bites, Grilled Fish Tacos and Bermuda Vegetable Curry was a fantastic experience. This is my version of that delicious curry and every bite takes me back to sunny Bermuda!

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Roasting the vegetables adds a smoky dimension to this curry, which lifts it out of the ordinary. It is a fairly thick curry; if you'd like a thinner sauce, add some water. Pair it with Coconut Rice for a delicious meal.

Coconut Curry Vegetables

1 cup each, 1/2 inch size diced vegetables: carrots, sweet potato or pumpkin, sweet red and green peppers, zucchini, cauliflower and onions

1/4 cup olive oil, divided

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 inch piece ginger, finely chopped

8 large canned whole plum tomatoes (San Marzano variety preferably), pureed

1 cup canned tomato puree or juices from above can of tomatoes

400 ml can of coconut milk

Salt to taste

1/2 tsp each: ground black pepper, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, cayenne pepper, turmeric

2 tbsp each: chopped fresh coriander leaves, mint leaves, lemon juice

Preheat oven to 450F. Line a rimmed baking tray with parchment.

Combine diced vegetables with 2 tbsp oil and salt to taste. Spread evenly on tray. Bake for 20 - 25 min until lightly browned and roasted. Reserve for later use in the recipe.

Warm remaining oil in deep heavy skillet set over medium heat. Add garlic and ginger. Saute for about 30 sec until lightly browned.

Add pureed tomatoes, saute 5 min, until slightly thickened.

Add tomato puree or juices, coconut milk, salt to taste and all the spices. Cook 5-7 min until thickened slightly.

Add roasted vegetables. Stir gently to mix, bring to a gentle boil, cover skillet and cook on low heat 20 min, stirring occasionally.

Fold in the chopped coriander, mint and lemon juice.

Serves four - six

Fish Chowder In Bermuda

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Bermuda has long been associated with stormy weather. The first permanent settlers arrived rather unceremoniously after their ship, en route from England to Virginia in 1609, was blown by a hurricane onto the reefs that surround the island. Shakespeare, writing "The Tempest" two years later, referred to "the still-vex'd Bermoothes". In more recent times it has given its name to the infamous Bermuda Triangle, that sinister region of ocean in which ships are said to disappear mysteriously.

All this history seems rather hard to believe when you walk under a brilliant blue sky, powdery pink sand under your feet, gazing out at the tranquil waters lapping the beach. At such a moment it is easy to understand why Mark Twain once said, “You can go to heaven if you want. I’d rather stay in Bermuda.”

Heaven is exactly what Bermuda seemed like during our recent visit. Walking on those blushing pink soft sand beaches, dipping our toes in the cerulean waters and admiring the gorgeous rugged, mountainous scenery made us want to move there permanently! Our celebratory family get together was made even more special by being in Bermuda together and we all left with warm memories that will never fade.

The food that we ate and the lovely hospitality that we encountered on the island definitely added to our wonderful experience. One of our most favourite dishes was the local fish chowder and we ate it every chance we got!

Decidedly Bermuda's most famous national dish, with many an interesting legend attached to it, this chowder was first introduced centuries ago by British settlers. Over time, it grew into something uniquely Bermudian with the addition of local fish and vegetables, many herbs and spices and the taste boosting sherry pepper sauce. This addictive sauce, which improves the taste of anything it is sprinkled on, was brought to Bermuda by sailors who pickled hot peppers in barrels of sherry on board ship to improve the flavour of their rations.

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My favourite legend is one where the chowder used to be cooked right on the beach, in huge cauldrons set over a bonfire. This was a good way to make the most of the day's catch and relax with a glass of black rum, after throwing some into the soup pot. That is a scene I would have liked to come across in my wanderings on the beach!

That first taste of authentic Bermuda fish chowder is like none other! The rich, smoky flavours of caramelized vegetables, black rum, fragrant island spices and fresh local fish simmered long and slow in a tomato based fish broth, all of it doused liberally with sherry pepper sauce will leave you craving more!

Bermudians take great pride in preparing their secret family recipe, handed down through the generations. I was fortunate to get the recipe from the chef of Barracuda Restaurant, where we had a delicious meal.

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The fish generally used in this chowder is local Wahoo, Rockfish or Red Snapper. However, any of the ones listed below or a combination works just as well. Although fish heads are generally used to make the flavourful broth, my recipe is a simplified version. Serve with a wedge of lemon, some crusty bread and a bottle of sherry pepper sauce (of course!).

Bermuda Fish Chowder

1 lb white fleshed fish fillets such as Cod, Sea Bass, Haddock or Halibut

2 tbsp each: butter, olive oil

1/2 cup each, finely chopped: onions, sweet red or green bell peppers, carrots, celery, potatoes

2 each: thyme sprigs, bay leaves, garlic cloves (chopped)

Salt to taste

1/2 tsp each: ground black pepper, oregano, smoked paprika,

1/4 tsp each, ground spices: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice

1 cup dry white wine

4 large canned whole plum tomatoes packed in puree (preferably San Marzano variety), lightly drained and mashed

1 cup tomato puree from above canned tomatoes

1 tbsp each: hot pepper sauce, Worcestershire sauce

2 tbsp each: Black rum, sherry (optional)

Rinse fish, place in a deep saucepan and cover with 4 cups of water. Bring to a gentle boil, cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer 15 min.

Gently lift all of the fish pieces out of the broth and remove skin and bones, if any. Flake fish gently with a fork, leaving in a few bigger pieces for texture. Reserve flaked fish and fish broth separately for later use in the recipe.

Meanwhile, warm butter and oil in deep, heavy soup pot set over medium high heat. Add onions, peppers, carrots, celery, potatoes, thyme, bay leaves and garlic. Saute, stirring for 10 min, then reduce heat to medium low and continue sauteing for another 20 min until vegetables are tender and golden in colour.

Add salt, pepper, oregano, smoked paprika, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice. Saute 1 min.

Add wine, cook 1 min until it starts to bubble.

Add tomatoes, puree, hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Stir to mix.

Add reserved fish broth, cover pot and bring to a gentle simmer on medium high heat. Reduce heat to low and cook for 30 min, stirring occasionally.

Add flaked fish, stir gently to mix and continue cooking covered on low heat for another 30 min.

Fold in the rum and sherry, if using.

Serve immediately.

Serves four

Egg Curry In Coorg, India

The mere thought of visiting India brings such a flood of warm memories that I can hardly wait to go back! India, and especially Bangalore will always be home to me. This is where I grew up, where my mother still lives and where my brothers and I gather once a year for a much needed, much looked forward to reunion!

This yearly ritual of reconnecting with family in Bangalore is very life affirming since I live in Canada. Quite often, I feel like I am straddling the divide with one foot 'back home' and one abroad. But as soon as I'm with my brothers, the years slip away and I thoroughly enjoy that easygoing childhood banter once more! So every year we all gather, have a lot of laughs, create new memories and enjoy the fabulous food that Bangalore has to offer.

 A trip to Bangalore wouldn't be complete without a visit to one of our favourite restaurants - Punjab Grill. The food here is excellent and the chefs create amazing new dishes to keep us coming back! Executive chef Bipin Kumar is always very welcoming and generous with sharing his wonderful recipes. The lamb seekh kababs in the picture below are my absolute favourite and you can find chef Bipin's unique recipe over here.

On our recent visit this year, we took a short trip to Coorg, a charming little hill station set in the Western Ghats of Karnataka. As we neared the lush green mountains with many coffee and spice plantations nestled in between, passed by waterfalls and wild life sanctuaries set beside steep winding roads and breathed in the cool refreshing breeze, we were glad to leave behind the heat, noise and hectic pace of Bangalore.

We stayed at Cinnamon Cottages, a bed and breakfast homestay on a family owned coffee and spice plantation belonging to my brother's late friend K.S Raj and his wife Asha. This sprawling, oasis of a plantation with beautiful flowering shrubs and trees lining it's driveway, grows a variety of spices, fruits and coffee.

Asha's son Mahavir, a young man of 24 is now in charge of the plantation. Charming, full of enthusiasm with innovative new ideas for the future, he graciously showed us around the plantation. This huge, majestic, centuries old Banyan tree (seen in the picture above) grabbed our attention and Mahavir told us how he used to swing on it's sturdy rope like branches as a child, a lot like Tarzan!

In addition to cinnamon, cardamom and pepper, coffee is the major crop grown here. Mahavir is showing us his prized Arabica coffee beans, still green and not yet ready for picking, in the picture above.

I found Asha's old fashioned, traditional Coorgi kitchen (seen in the picture above) absolutely fascinating. With it's huge wood burning stove lining the entire length of one wall, shiny copper cooking pots bubbling over in one corner and exotic aromas wafting around, it reminded me of days gone by when a lot of homes in India had kitchens like this!

Asha also has a modern kitchen with a gas stove where she does most of her cooking. She served us delicious egg curry for breakfast, which was paired with Puttu (a steamed rice and coconut dish). We enjoyed this traditional Coorgi breakfast by spooning the curry over the puttu, letting it become all spongy and flavourful and devouring several helpings of it!

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Here is Asha's recipe for Coorg style egg curry. Serve it with basmati rice as puttu is hard to come by! And if you are serving this for breakfast, have some Masala Chai to go with it.

Egg Curry

4 large eggs

2 tbsp oil

1/4 tsp black mustard seeds

20 fresh curry leaves

2 green chilies, sliced

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 inch piece ginger, minced

5 large canned whole plum tomatoes (San Marzano variety), pureed

Salt to taste

1/2 tsp each, ground spices: turmeric, black pepper, cayenne pepper, garam masala, cumin, coriander, dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi)      or use  - 1 tbsp Malabar Masala Powder

1 can (400 ml) premium coconut milk, divided

1 medium potato, peeled and cubed into bite sized pieces

1/4 cup frozen peas

2 tbsp each: lemon juice, chopped fresh coriander

Place eggs in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook for 6 min, then cool, peel and reserve eggs.

Warm oil in deep skillet set over medium heat.

Add mustard seeds, curry leaves and green chilies. Saute for 1 min.

Add onions, garlic and ginger to skillet, saute 5-7 min until lightly browned and softened.

Add pureed tomatoes, salt and all the spices. Saute, stirring for about 5 min until slightly thickened.

Skim off about 6 tbsp of cream from the top of the can of coconut milk and reserve. Pour remainder of the can into skillet, stirring well. Cook 2 min.

Add potatoes, peas and 1/2 cup water. Bring to a gentle boil, then cover skillet and reduce heat to low. Cook for 20 min until potatoes are soft, peas are cooked and sauce has thickened slightly. Stir occasionally.

Add eggs and cook uncovered for 10 min, stirring occasionally.

Add reserved coconut cream, lemon juice and fresh coriander to curry. Turn up heat to medium and cook uncovered for 5 min. If sauce is too thin for your liking, turn up the heat and boil it off for a few more min.

Gently slice each egg in half, transfer to a serving bowl and then spoon the curry sauce over top.

Serves four

Coorg photographs taken by Ajay Tewari

Grilled Corn Chowder In Ontario

Ontario is at it's prettiest in the Fall, when changing colours burnish the landscape with shades of red and gold. This is the time to go on a long road trip to admire the scenery!

One of the most popular places to see the gorgeous colours of Fall is at Algonquin Park, in Ontario. This park is teeming with visitors from around the globe who come to marvel at the stunning and constantly changing foliage. Here you can hike the trails, canoe on the tranquil waters, camp out in the wilderness or enjoy a picnic while savouring the majesty of nature.

Fall is also when Ontario's markets are flooded with fresh farm produce, making me want to come up with new and creative ways to use them in my cooking!  The best place to buy fresh picked vegetables, smoked meats, home made preserves, pickles, baked goods and so much more is at St. Jacob's market, in Ontario. I love going there to stock up on loads of fresh produce and other goodies. And when I get back home, this grilled corn chowder is the first thing that I make. It is warming and hearty for the cooler weather and grilling adds a new dimension of flavour to the soup.

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When corn is in season, I like to grill up lots of it on the barbecue, then take the kernels off the cobs and freeze them in ziploc bags. This way, we get to enjoy that grilled corn flavour all year around!
This is an all vegetarian recipe but you can add about 2-3 slices of chopped smoked bacon if you wish. Sauteed shrimp folded in at the very end are also great add ins! Serve with some crusty bread and a salad.

Grilled Corn Chowder

3 cobs of corn, grilled

2 tbsp olive oil

2 long sprigs fresh thyme

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 each, finely chopped: carrot, celery, zucchini, red pepper

4 mushrooms, finely chopped

1 medium potato, peeled and finely chopped

2 tbsp all purpose flour

3 cups milk

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

1 cup whipping cream

2 tbsp each: grated Parmesan cheese, chopped fresh parsley

Take the kernels off the cobs of corn and place in a food processor. Pulse a few times until corn is minced but not turned into a paste. Some texture is important here. Transfer to a bowl and reserve.

Warm oil in deep skillet over medium heat. Add thyme, onions, garlic, carrot, celery, zucchini, red pepper, mushrooms and potato. Saute, stirring occasionally for about 10 min or until vegetables are lightly browned and slightly softened. 

Add flour to skillet, saute 1 min.

Add milk, stirring all the while. Add salt and pepper as well as the reserved minced corn. Cover skillet and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to low and cook covered for 15 min for flavours to blend and soup to thicken.

Add cream, cook 2 min. Turn off heat, then fold in the Parmesan cheese and parsley.

Serve right away.

Serves four

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