Sherlock, Ooty

This isn’t the place where the great Sherlock Holmes once lived. Or ever lived. Boy! he was fiction. But, I’m sure he would have given an arm and leg to buy this eponymous mansion as his post-retirement home. After all, even an eccentric detective like him covets this kind of haven to rest his deerstalking hat, stretch his legs and puff his calabash pipe.

So captivating is the charm of Sherlock, a century old mansion that hasn’t aged a day since it’s birth in the Raaj era.

Driving uphill the narrow winding road and no trace of the hotel, Oniel blurts out his anxiety, “wonder how the place is gonna be”. I pretend to have not heard, rather ignore, thinking to myself, “it better be good. After all that micro-research, it has to be”.
All those apprehensions rest in peace the moment we enter the gates of Sherlock. It’s heaven up there. It is.

Cocooned within the soothing confines of Pine dotted hills, the property shares its neighborhood with a terraced farmland splashed with the greens and aroma of the seasonal cabbages.

We are received by Mr. Sanjay and Ms. Shabnam, two wonderful people who manage the property. It’s 3.15 by the time we complete the check-in. Kitchen is about to close. The three hour long journey has us aching and famished. Michael and Godwin are accommodating enough to cook us some creamy Chettinad Chicken Curry and rice after which we are escorted to the Honeymoon Suite named Gloria Scott.

Honeymoon? you ask. Well, i know, we are way past that …like, more than a decade past. But, for a five day stay laced with comfort, tranquility, spectacular views and most importantly…memories, why not?

The room is large and painted in happy warm hues. It’s adorned with the same century old furniture, sepia toned photographs of Mr. Holmes grace the walls, a walk-in wardrobe, a fireplace and an extremely spacious bathroom. That jar plonked atop the fireplace is filled and refilled with melt-in-your-mouth buttery Shrewsburry Biscuits.
Can this get more English!!!

Thaw yourself in this charming patio, dunking those buttery biscuits in your steaming hot coffee and catching up with some reading, while the bone-chilling winds blow outside.

And, when the sun comes out, go sit in your private little, flower dotted garden, breathing in the fragrant mountain air. Lend your ears to the faint birdsong that’s emerging from somewhere in the woods.

Then again, hold your breath as you witness the dark rainy clouds push the sun behind and the eerie mist comes undulating down the hills, accompanied by strong gushing winds, straight at you. Let out a terrified scream and run back to the room.

Apart from the Honeymoon Suite, there are nine other spacious rooms named after some or character the other from the Holmes diaries.

Taking a walk around the property is something you must not miss. Impeccably manicured lawns peppered with most beautiful flowers are all worthy of appreciation. Two really old uncles are the ones who pamper these babies with their tender love and care.

The kitchen prides itself in various cuisines and equally delicious food. Buffet breakfast is wholesome with South Indian fare like Idlis, Dosas, Uttappam and a touch of Continental like pancakes with maple syrup. Lunch and dinner are served a la carte with host of options to choose from.

If you wish to stay warm, there’s the Adler dining room, named after Mr. Holmes’ muse, the beautiful Irene Adler,

Then there’s the Sunroom, where you can get a little chilly while devouring your food and the stunning views of the piney peaks, both at the same time.

Evenings will never be the same once you are here. Ours were mostly in the lounge area, warming by the fireplace as soft music played on. Conversations just flowed with Sanjay, his unforgettable anecdotes, his giggles and the lip-smacking Onion Pakoras, yummy Chicken Satay and piping hot Masala Chai… unbeknownst to any of us, when the burning wood turned to ember.
Service is extraordinary, whether it’s the reception, the housekeeping or the cheerful kitchen team. It was incredibly kind of them to pack us some yummy mayonnaisey sandwiches at 7 in the morning for our journey back to the airport.

After all this in-house pampering, when you decide on going about Ooty, which you should, because it has plethora of insanely gorgeous sights to offer; dial Sanjay. He’ll help you plan your day and make all the necessary arrangements to get you going. If it wasn’t for him, our plans of doing the Mudumulai Tiger Safari would have gone for a toss.

After soaking in the stunning views of the Kamraj Lake, clicking countless pictures in the Rose Garden, sampling numerous teas and homemade chocolates, walking up the windy Doddabetta Peak and various other captivating sights, you are sure to work up an appetite for dinner. So, loosen your belts and let Adler serve you some of her most delectable dishes.
Later, ask Yuvraj to light up the fireplace in your room and sink in the warm cozy bed, looking forward to yet another wonderful Ooty day.

Sanjay, Shabnam, Marshall, Michael, Godwin, Andrew, Sabri, Yuvraj, Carlton, Thangaraj aren’t just names. They are memories we brought back home. These are real good friends we made during those five days at Sherlock…

How To Get There –
By Air: Coimbatore International Airport is about 95 kms, around 3 hours drive. Airport taxis charge fixed rate of Rs. 2500. The hotel too can arrange a pickup and drop at the same cost.

By Rail: The Udhagamandalam Railway Station is only fifteen minutes drive away. It’s linked with the major cities like New Delhi, Bangalore, Coimbatore, Chennai, Kochi, Mysore, Lucknow, Chennai, Kanyakumari, Puri, Ahmedabad and Jaipur.
Autos charge Rs. 250/- from the hotel till the station. 

For bookings and other details hit:
http://www.littlearth.in/sherlock/contact.php

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Arco Iris, Curtorim, South Goa

I remember coming across a similar picture of a courtyard in one of the travel magazines. I also remember how it yanked me from my chair and ricocheted me decades back, playing in my grandma’s Malvan home, with a bunch of cousins.
How I miss those days…
That picture never really left me. The longing to be there followed and kept following until I cajoled my dear husband to celebrate our anniversary in Goa. And, he instantly agreed. That’s very rare of him. May be the universe-to-your-rescue funda worked or something 😉

So, Arco Iris…
There are sounds you must like before you get here. Sounds of rustling trees, chirping avians, sounds of bow-wow, sounds of wind chimes, sounds of absolutely nothing… quietude!
Perched atop a tableland, smiling at the seasonal Zuari river is this 200 year old colonial Portuguese manor restored to an unimaginable glory.

Plonked happily on a sprawling 1.5 acres of verdant upland, Arco Iris, is located in the sleepy village of Curtorim, away from the city hustle-bustle and yet close to Margao, the capital city of South Goa.
A good 50 minutes drive from Panjim airport later, we arrive at our destination. The car halts right at the steps and down comes Feni, tottering and sashaying, along with the rest of her family; a twig in her mouth, her style of welcoming her guests.
Feni, the cutesy, roly-poly lab is the biggest highlight of the home-stay. She’s warm, social and well-mannered than most of the kids would be. Her demeanor is so infectious that she can turn even the biggest animal-intolerant to an ardent animal lover.
Here… Isn’t she adorable!
Arco Iris means ‘Rainbow’ in Spanish. Which is why the colour of the five rooms – Indigo, Orange, Violet, Yellow and Blue. We stayed in the Yellow Room.
All of these are Wi-fi enabled and spacious. Well, spacious will be an understatement.
Unobstructed sublime views of the lush greens come rushing in through the large wood-paneled windows.
One of the doors opens into the balcony.
The lobby of yore, primordial courtyard, mighty high ceilings, four poster beds, rocking chairs, antique furniture take you through the time warp to an era gone by.
Ensuite bathrooms are so spacious you can stick a DJ in one corner and turn the place into a dance floor.
Everything here is an intricate blend of traditional grandeur and modern comforts… threads of the past delicately woven into a gorgeous carpet it is today.

Mobile phones barely receive signal. But that’s exactly what we want, don’t we? Be far, far…far away from all the noise… noise of the ringtones, alarms, beeping messages, noises in our head that remind us of the cacophonous cities we live in.

Fret not if you’ve forgotten your kindle back home. This is a place that’ll spoil you with literary options. Curl up in your rocking chair, plonk down on the veranda or sunbathe on the hammock. Evoke the reader in you and keep him awake with endless cups of coffee… without making rounds of the kitchen yourself. If this ain’t your idea of perfect relaxation, don’t know what is.
Bennita, the lady of the house runs the show along with her better half, Ganesh. She’s warm, friendly, kind and very very helpful. One email before our check-in and she had everything organised… the room, pickup, two-wheeler… She’s more than happy to share her Goan anecdotes and enlighten you with stuff to do, places to eat, thus make your stay a memorable one.

Lunch and dinner are arranged with prior notice. Buffet breakfast is complimentary with a limited menu -fluffy idlis, fresh cut fruits, jam-bread-butter and tea / coffee. The super-soft, yummy cake deserves a special mention. It’s that one time of the day when and where everyone gathers before heading out to hit the sands of Goa. And it’s this time when you make new friends from across the globe 🙂
The wishing well; you wish you never grew up…
Amidst all that holiday-spa and pampering, if you ever decide to peel your slothful self out, there are hoards of activities to indulge you.
If you are adept at spotting birds, the early mornings are totally for you. Stroll in the property gardens while soaking in the morning sun. Or take a walk along the winding roads, marvel at the beautiful old houses and admire the locals going about their daily lives.
Stone’s throw away is the Zuari river. You’ll most certainly spot the kingfishers in their beautiful, bright plumage. Amble along the banks or take a cruise when the skies are painted with sunset hues that reflect off the shimmering waters.
Benaulim, Colva and other beaches are a short ride away and offer a platter full of beach activities.
Primeval churches, archaic chapels, ceremonial temples are things you just don’t want to miss. Then, there are spice plantations, wildlife sanctuaries, museums and heritage buildings that mirror the life of the Portuguese days.
The home-stay can also arrange travel packages for you.

While you are on the wheels, exploring and eating, you obviously lose the track of time. This is when the dark slowly creeps in and it’s time to head home. South Goa goes to bed early. Really early. There isn’t a soul outside, just the Google Maps to guide you home. The dark, never-ending roads illuminated by the glistening moon and very few street lights, may feel eerie, but are totally safe.

You park your scooter in a corner of the facade and are ready to take the first step when… the mighty Feni comes charging. She’s sensed an intruder who’s about to enter her home at those freaking hours of night. 10 o’clock is not really a night in cities like Mumbai, is it.
It’s only when you smile and call out her name, does she apply her brakes and starts to nudge you. She’s welcomed you home.

Members of the house are in deep slumber. Hallway lights are dimmed. Candles at the alter are still burning. The courtyard is quiet. You tip-toe into your room, rather stealthily, so no one wakes up. You dust off the sands and shower off the fatigue, craving to sink into the cozy, cuddly bed. Instead, you make your way to the veranda. Consumed by the deafening tranquility, you sit there, on those cold, red-washed steps and let your mind wander into the night, again, through those by-lanes you just returned.

Crisp Fried Bombay Duck – Bombil Fry

Now, Bombay Duck is not a duck from Bombay, okay. Rather, it’s a fish. Lizard Fish, to be scientifically precise. Weird, no. So is its unusual, slimy appearance. But the history, I tell you, is a lot more amusing… dates back to the British times. You have to Google it 🙂
Commonly known as Bombil, this peculiar fish has made Maharastrian kitchens its home.
And, this is one fish in particular that has intimidated me all these years. I somehow, couldn’t muster courage even to touch it. Bombil is wobbly, slippery and doesn’t have a taste of its own. It needs to be flavored with a really nice marinade and believe me, it’ll love you right back 🙂
Posting a link that shows how to clean and cut the fish. I followed it too.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D53lpR_GJ2g

Ingredients:
8-10 medium size Bombay Ducks
8 cloves of garlic
1 inch ginger
2 green chilies
4 tsp Kashmiri chili powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
Juice of 1 lemon / 2 tbsp tamarind extract
1 cup rice flour (if you don’t have the flour, blitz the rice in the mixer to a really fine powder)
4 tbsp semolina
Sal as per taste
Oil for frying

Method:
1. Slit and pat dry the fish as per the link above and place them in a bowl.
2. Grind together ginger, garlic, green chilies, turmeric powder, red chili powder, salt and lemon juice to a smooth paste.
3. Apply the marinade and 1 tsp of rice flour to the fish. Leave it aside for 30 minutes.
I believe in marinating a little longer. I have it in my head that more the marinating time, the more flavored the fish will be.
4. Heat oil in a non-stick pan.
5. Mix the balance rice flour and semolina together.
6. Now dip the marinated fish in the flour+semolina mixture so it’s coated well on both sides. Dust off the extra bits and shallow fry till crisp and golden brown on both the sides.
7. Drain the excess oil on absorbent paper.
8. Serve with steaming hot rice and curry or just like that with green chutney or ketchup.

P.S.:
1. Oil has to be really hot for the fish to fry properly and turn crisp. Reduce the flame if you feel the crumbs are burning.
2. There’s one central bone or thorn in the fish that is soft and tender. And it cooks well while frying the fish. So don’t bother to chuck it out while slitting the fish. I too didn’t.
3. It’s best to fry the fish when you are ready to serve. That’s when you really enjoy the crispness. Keep it for long and it wears off and turns flat.
May be you can try warming it up in the OTG. I’m yet to try it.

I believe in my heart, whatever dish you cook with all your love and care, it will be the most celebrated dish ever…

Goan Sausage Pulao

A visit to Goa doesn’t need an itinerary or a plan. Because, here things just happen. You don’t plan stuff when you visit your home, do you? Goa is home. Home to its locals and tourists alike. Hire a bike or a car and jet off to make the most of its beaches, nightlife, shopping and food.
I have a proclivity to markets – the bustling Mapusa, Margaon and Panjim markets and their cheeky vendors are the places where I feel, is the actual essence of Goa.

Goan cuisine is a magical amalgamation of the Hindu, Muslim and the Portuguese influence. The indigenous Pork Sausages are a typical reflection of the Indo-Portuguese cuisine. These long, entwined, fiery red and aromatic beaded necklaces dangling from the stalls have always caught my fancy.
The ubiquitous Pork Sausage Pulao is practically every restaurant’s sweetheart and so is my husband’s.

So, I decided to try it back home. It was as inviting, gorgeous and bursting with flavors, as it did in the restaurants in Goa.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Serves: 3

Ingredients:
1 cup (250 gms) Basmati rice
2 cups of water
14 beads of homemade Goan Sausages
2 medium size onions, finely chopped
2 medium size tomatoes, finely chopped
2 green chilies, slit
8 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp sugar
Salt as per taste
Oil for frying
Chopped coriander for garnish
Whole Spices:
2 bay leaves
4 green cardamoms
1 black cardamom
4 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
4 black pepper corns
1 tsp cumin seeds

Method:
1. Wash, drain and soak the basmati rice for about 15 minutes
2. Remove the sausages off their casings.
3. Heat oil in a non-stick pan and add the whole spices. Fry till aromatic.
4. Toss in the onions and fry till translucent and golden brown.
5. Add minced garlic and slit green chilies and saute.
6. Tumble in the chopped tomatoes and cook till they are soft.
7. Add turmeric powder and stir.
8. Now add the sausages and saute till aromatic and the oil starts leaving from the sides.
9. Add the soaked rice and mix well.
10. Pour in the water, sprinkle salt, sugar and stir gently.
11. When it comes to boil, cover it up and cook on low for about 15 minutes or till done.
12. When cooked, leave it covered for about 10 minutes. This helps the flavors and aroma to permeate through.
13. Gently toss the pulao with a fork, so you don’t harm the long, beautiful grains of rice.
14. Garnish with fresh coriander and serve with a wedge of lime.

P.S.: Here, simplicity is the key. The tangy vinegar, smoked paprika, a dash of garam masala, spicy pepper and few other ingredients together add an intense flavor to the minced pork.
The Pulao is nothing but heaven sizzling on your plate 🙂

Quinoa with Garlic, Mushrooms and Thai Basil

‘Quinoa’ – ‘Kinwa’ as it is rightly pronounced, is one such super-food that has achieved a rapid global stardom… television, websites, food magazines, blogs, it’s everywhere. Dietitians are raving about the benefits and it has found a stellar place on almost every celebrity’s menu. Intriguing!
And rightly so. This health food is gluten-free, high in proteins, fiber, iron, vitamin B, calcium, vitamin E and is packed with antioxidants.
With summer glaring from a distance, it’s time to come up with dishes that are easy on stomach, loaded with nutrition and most importantly, adored by the taste-buds.

Thus Quinoa entered my kitchen… for the very first time. And, pairing it with Mushrooms, tonnes of Garlic and Thai Basil has totally blown me away.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Soaking time: 20 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
Serves: 3

Ingredients:
1/2 cup Quinoa
1 cup water for cooking Quinoa
7-8 Thai basil leaves, finely chopped
7 cloves of garlic, minced
100 gms mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp Olive oil
Salt as per taste

Method:
1. Rinse, soak and cook the Quinoa as per the packet instructions and leave it aside.
2. Heat olive oil in a non-stick pan, add minced garlic and saute for a minute.
3. Add chopped Thai Basil leaves and stir for a bit.
4. Toss in the mushrooms and saute. Then cover and cook till the mushrooms are done.
5. Season with salt, stir and cook for another couple of minutes.
6. Now add the cooked quinoa and mix it all up. Cook on low for a minute. Add more salt if needed.
7. Drizzle in the lemon juice, stir and turn off the flame.
8. Serve hot garnished with chopped coriander and Thai basil leaves.

P.S.: Quinoa can also be cooked in Chicken/Fish/Vegetable stock instead of plain water.
Garnish with grated Parmesan, if desired.

 

Exotic Dal Makhani

Makhani, literally translates to Buttery in Punjabi. Dal Makhani, the North Indian sweetheart, is a delightful melange of whole Urad Dal (Black Lentils) and Rajma (Red Kidney Beans), laden with butter, butter, more butter and… cream 🙂
This dish is a buffet-regular in almost every restaurant you visit. Its thick, smooth consistency and buttery goodness has always intrigued me.
Last week, a friend sent me a bowl of it to taste. It started with a spoon and ended with me licking the bowl clean… at 1.15 am.
It was about time I made it myself.

So I did…today. After serving my dear husband, I stared at him in anticipation. And he blurted, “just one word…EXOTIC!”
So, here it is… my Exotic Dal Makhni, slow cooked to perfection.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 35 minutes
Soaking time: overnight / 8-9 hours
Serves: 5

Ingredients:
3/4 cup whole urad dal (black lentils)
1/4 cup rajma (red kidney beans)
4 cups water for pressure cooking dal and rajma
2 medium size onions, finely chopped
2 large tomatoes, pureed
2 green chilies, finely chopped
2 tsps ginger-garlic paste
1 tsp kasuri methi, crushed (dried fenugreek leaves)
1 tsp cumin seeds
4 cloves
3 green cardamoms
1 black cardamom
1 bay leaf
1 medium cinnamon stick
2 tsps, red chili powder. I use Kashmiri chili powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp garam masala powder
3 heaped tbsps butter
1 tsp oil. So the butter doesn’t burn
2 tbsp cream. I don’t mind a tbsp more 🙂
Chopped coriander to garnish
Wedges of a lime while serving
Salt as per taste

Method:
Soaking and Cooking:
1. Wash thoroughly and soak the lentils and rajma in enough water overnight or for 8-9 hours at least. Soaking reduces the cooking time, thereby saving the fuel.
2. Drain them well. Rinse again a couple of times before pressure cooking in 4 cups of water.
3. Pressure cook on high flame for about 10 minutes or until the lentils and rajma are soft. They should be melt-in-mouth soft and not resistant or tough when eaten.

Dal Makhani:
1. Heat oil, then add butter in a kadhai or a non-stick heavy bottomed pan.
2. Add cumin seeds and let them splutter.
3. Add all the whole spices – cloves, cinnamon, green and black cardamom and bay leaf. Fry for few seconds till aromatic.
4. Toss in the onions and fry till translucent and golden brown.
5. Add chopped green chilies and fry a bit.
6. Then add the ginger-garlic paste and saute for a minute. The raw smell should go away.
7. Add the pureed tomatoes and stir for another minute.
8. Now add the spice powders – chili and turmeric and saute on medium till the oil starts leaving from sides.
9. Add the cooked lentils and rajma and stir.
10. Add salt and water as required.
11. Cook on low and let it simmer for another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, so the lentils don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Do not put the lid.
12. Add garam masala and fenugreek. Stir and cook on medium for another 2-3 minutes.
13. Lastly, drizzle over the cream and mix well. Switch off the flame.
14. Garnish with chopped fresh coriander, wedge of lime and serve with Naan, Tandoori Roti, Jeera Rice or plain rice.

Dollop more butter while serving… yourself. Pure foodgasm!
You can always run an extra mile and burn those newly piled calories. But, who cares about them when the food is so yummm, isn’t it 🙂

Crispy Lamb Chops

Hello Everyone!
Greetings!!!

Sorry, haven’t posted since long. Had been busy with few other assignments. Made a short, fun-filled trip to Goa, para-sailed, ambled the golden, serene beaches and stuffed my face with tonnes of fish.
Then a long long drive to Pune. It’s definitely an adventure to try out new recipes at home. But it’s an entirely different experience to relish and cherish them in the place they were born. Steaming hot, spicy and gorgeously red Misal with Paav is one such. A specialty of Pune, every Punekar takes utmost pride in.
Cooking ran parallel as well…perhaps, not as frequently. But yes, it did 🙂

Did I mention, I participated in a beauty pageant and made it to the top six… 🙂 🙂

Coming back to business…Tried Nigella’s Crisp Lamb Chops yesterday. Fun to cook, fun to eat. The sound when you dig your teeth into them, is totally rewarding. I tweaked it a little, as I didn’t have all of her ingredients. But, they were super super yummm!
Ingredients:
5 lamb chops (with bone in)
2 tsp red chili powder (you can also use smoked paprika or chili flakes)
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried rosemary (optional)
zest of a lemon
1 tsp lemon juice
A pinch of black pepper
Salt as per taste

For frying:
100 grams fresh white breadcrumbs (or as required)
1 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
1 large egg (beaten with salt and pepper)
Oil for frying

Method:
1. Remove the thick layer of fat from around the edge of each little chop, either by tearing it off by hand, or with a pair of scissors. Be careful not to lose the shape of the chop, though, or it will fall to pieces on frying.
2. Layer the chops between two sheets of clingfilm, and whack them vigorously with a mallet or rolling pin so that they are flattened a little. Be careful not to massacre them 😛
3. Rub the chops well with all of the marinating ingredients. Cover the bowl with a cling film and leave it in the fridge for at least two hours. This tenderizes and flavors the meat really well.
4. Then, in a wide, shallow bowl, combine the breadcrumbs and parmesan.
5. In another bowl, beat the egg and season it with salt and pepper.
6. Pour some oil, about 1cm / ½ inch deep, in a fry ban and heat it.
7. Dip the lamb chops first in the egg mixture and then press them well in the cheese and breadcrumbs before frying them in the hot oil.
8. Cook the chops for about 3 minutes each side. Adjust the flame, so that they are cooked through. They should be a deep golden brown and crunchy on the outside, tender and pinkish on the inside.
9. Serve hot with mint chutney or tomato ketchup. They taste equally good at room temperature or even cold.
10. Pack them up in an airtight container and they’ll last a good 3-4 days.