Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Sizzing Succotash!

If you live in Mumbai (and a few other parts of the world), your childhood is intrinsically linked to memories of burning hot, steaming plates of meat, vegetables and fat french fries all covered in oozing cheese being rushed to your table. Ducking behind napkins while you wait for the plate to stop sputtering, and burning the top of your palate and tongue because you didn’t wait long enough. The sizzler has a prominent place in my memories, and in my present too. 

Home made amazingness
The origins of this dish are probably based around the teppanyaki style sizzling dishes in Japan. Sizzlers became popular during world war 2, and then in the US in the 50s. The sizzler’s Indian story began in Bombay in the early 1960s, when a man called Firoz Erani opened a restaurant called ‘The Sizzler’. The Sizzler was closely followed by Touché also in Bombay, and spawned the generation of sizzler restaurants that we know and love today - Kobe, Yoko’s, Fountain Sizzlers, Gondola and Cafe Royal to name a few. The Sizzler and Touché now exist as The Place: Touché, in Pune. 

Cafe Royal
While sizzlers are amazing food and so much fun to eat, it’s not always the healthiest thing for you. We love them so much though that I decided to try making them at home. This isn’t easy either, since the base of the sizzler is a cast iron plate that needs to be heated until it’s red hot, which is extremely problematic on a home stove and takes almost 30 minutes and a TON of gas. 

Nevertheless, I tried, and the result was not bad. The secret to making a good sizzler is to have everything cooked and ready, so that when you place it on the plate it start charring. There’s no point to a sizzler without a good layer of burnt sauce and chips at the bottom! You’ll need to buy sizzler plates that are of decent quality - the first one I tried out had an aluminium coating that came off on the food after we heated it. You can get good ones on Amazon here and here

My teeny tiny sizzler plates

Sizzlers for Two

You will need
2 carrots
2 onions
1/2 cabbage, sautéed  and thinly sliced
1 cup green peas, boiled
A huge handful of French fries
2 tenderloin fillets
A handful of grated cheese 

For the brown sauce
2 tablespoons butter 
1 large onion, julienne 
1 tablespoon plain flour
1/2 teaspoon white pepper 
1 - 2 cups good chicken or beef stock
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 

Step 1
Boil the carrots and cut them into thin slices. Set aside. 
Slice the cabbage thinly, and sauté it in a little bit of oil, with some salt and pepper. You need it to stay slightly crunchy, so make sure you don’t overcook it. Set aside.
Slice the onions thinly, and sauté it in a little bit of oil, with some salt and pepper till soft and brown. Set aside.

Step 2
Slice the tenderloin fillets into cubes, and marinade in olive oil, salt and pepper. You can marinade this any way you like - I add garlic pods and rosemary sometimes. 

Step 3
Turn your oven onto maximum and place the sizzler pans inside. 

Step 4
Make your brown sauce. Add a tablespoon of butter in a pan followed by a little oil. Once the butter has melted, add the chopped onions and allow them to brown. 

Step 5
Add the brown sugar and stir well, this gives you great colour in your sauce. Slowly add the flour, white pepper and salt and stir well, allowing the flour to coat the onions. 

Step 6
Next comes the Worcestershire sauce and stock. Add the stock a little at a time, stirring constantly until you get the thickness you want. 

Step 7
Once the sauce is done, turn your stove up on high, and take the sizzler pans out of the oven and put them on the flame. They need to really heat up. Now turn to your steak. 

Warming up
Step 8
Cook the steak in a pan for 4 to 5 minutes, and set aside. You’re now ready to assemble your sizzlers. 

Ready to assemble
Step 9
While the sizzlers are still on the stove, place the fresh french fries on the plate, followed quickly by the cabbage, carrots, onions and green peas. Top off with pieces of steak and cover with the delicious brown sauce. 

Step 10
Turn off the gas and very very very carefully put the sizzling plates onto their wooden bottoms. Serve and eat immediately, careful not to burn your tongue! 

There are lots of different ways one can eat sizzler. You can add different veggies to the mix - I use french beans, onion, green and red peppers, cabbage, pak choi, spinach and lots of others to switch things up. You can put rice drenched in brown sauce on the plate, substitute paneer for the meat, or even skewers of prawns. 

This is not a meal I’d make every week, or even every 2 weeks, but it’s definitely a fun thing to do once in a while! 

Friday, 18 March 2016

By The River at Corbett Riverside Resort

I’ve been on a ton of safaris last year, all to Pench and Kanha and centred around Madhya Pradesh. Going to another jungle, another state was super exciting. I was packed four days before we had to leave, my camera was charged, the binoculars cleaned and my jungle books packed. We were off to Corbett National Park to discover the wonders within! 

We stayed at Corbett Riverside Resort, which is a charmingly beautiful place nestled on the banks of the Kosi River. The resort is spread over 23 acres and has about 45 rooms, each with its own stunning view of the river and part of the Kosi Hills. It’s a great place to visit as a new couple or even with family - there’s lots to do at the resort other than going on safari. 

Our Villa
Most hotels I’ve stayed at are quite geared towards going on safari only. There’s very little else to do on the property if you decide to sleep in or skip the afternoon jaunt. There’s a lovely space set up for kids complete with a climbing rope, jungle gym, swings and an obstacle course. 

We stayed in a villa on the property that had 6 rooms and its very own pool. The water was beautiful and looked so inviting, unfortunately it was so cold that the most I could do was dip my feet in there after every safari. 

The view from our rooms
Huge comfy rooms!
Testing the water out
I’m not really fond of wearing closed shoes all the time, so the chilled water was heaven sent. It was cold enough that we needed light jackets on once the sun went down and spent our evenings around a gorgeous bonfire drinking whisky, eating dosa khakra and some yummy tikkas the hotel sent down for us. It’s magical sitting and watching a fire burn, spitting brilliant colours out into the night. 


The best part of being out of town in a beautiful resort is the presence of a spa. This one was a tiny little cottage at the bottom of the stairs where a girl with magic fingers lives. Its amazing having the kinks worked out of your legs after a long day of being bounced around in a jeep. The massages are decently priced and you’ll walk out of there with a dreamy relaxed smile on your face. 

The villa has its own little kitchenette complete with a dining table, stove, fridge and a sink to wash up. You can pretty much cook your own meals here if you'd like. The view out of the kitchen window is to die for - it's my dream view! 

View from the kitchen
I had the distinct pleasure of going horse riding for the first time since I was 8 years old. I remember the basics in my head, but actually swinging myself into the saddle was extremely daunting given how uncoordinated I have become over the years! 

Check us out
It was a great half an hour, where my friend and I were led across the property by the mahouts. There was a fantastic Lord of the Rings-esque moment where they led us into the river to go to the other bank. We clip clopped over beautiful stones and stopped in the middle of the water, with the resort on one side, the hills on the other and the river Kosi spreading endlessly on both sides. From there, we took a walk along the river bank, and I swear if you listen close enough you’ll hear faint horns from the approaching Uruk-hai and Orcs. 

Pretending to be the queen

Corbett Riverside Resort boasts their own organic farm, which i think is wonderful. It means that the onions, the radish, the potatoes and the cabbage in our parathas were grown at the hotel. They have beds and beds of red and white onion growing, coriander in bloom, spinach, methi, potatoes, radish, mustard, cabbage and lots of other herbs. I was chatting with the women who tend the fields asking questions about what vegetable this was, and what herb that was, and ended up picking spinach fresh from the plant and having myself a little snack after breakfast. None of that yucky iron taste when its fresh! Our hosts were so amused with our excitement over simple vegetables that they insisted on sending us back home with bags of cabbage, onion and coriander. That one was funny plane ride. 

Spinach for breakfast
Pretty Cabbage
The food at the resort is wonderful, heart warming and homely food. It’s made fresh every day, and you get a whole range of options from their buffet. You can ask for breakfast to be packed to go on safari, or come back in the morning and gorge on upma, parathas, idli, puri bhaji and freshly made omelettes and fried eggs. 

I love upma
Corbett Riverside Resort is the kind of place I would come back to again and again, and I’m going to! Three nights is just not enough - if you're going to travel from Mumbai like we did, then you need to get the most out of it! I'd love to go back and stay for at least 5 days, so I can explore the area properly. 

You can find them online at and on Facebook here and Instagram here.  

Inside Corbett National Park - 2

If you're planning to visit Corbett National Park, and you haven't been on safari before, you need to be prepared. 

Corbett is gigantic - it's some 1000 square kilometres with a population of only around 215 tigers. The forest is extremely dense, and we saw fewer animals than I was expecting. In fact one morning, we only saw 5 deer and a single monkey. This is largely due to the lack of open meadows and fields in places that are accessible for tourists - I’m sure they’re around, I’m just not sure where! There are birds by the thousands, migratory birds, huge flocks flying to and fro - a big change from what we’re used to seeing, which is just a bird in hand (or two in the bush hehe). 

Including Corbett, I have now been to four national parks in India - and there are so many! 

Zones to go into are the Birjani Zone, Dhikala, Durgadevi, Jhirna and maybe Sitavani. I would avoid the Dhela zone, it is basically the road that takes you into Jhirna. It was pretty, but we finished the whole thing in under an hour. I’d wait a few years before going back to this zone it's just been developed and borders a village called Dhela (which is why it’s named that). It’ll be a while before animals move into this area, and with the road cutting through it any chance you have of seeing something is GONE because jeeps are roaring up and down every five minutes from 6.30 to 8.30 am. 

You can opt to stay inside the jungle in a few zones, in fact in the Dhikala zone, the only way to see any animals is to stay inside for a night, so you're first into the forest in the morning. 

I carried my safari books with me - both to identify birds as well as the beasts and managed to tick off quite a few birds, and one new mammal - the Golden Jackal. It's fun going through books at the end of the day, reading up on what we've just seen and reminding ourselves what to look for the next day. 

I was really happy with the number of birds we saw, even though I'm not crazy about birds. You kind of have to be excited about birds if you're only seeing one or two herbivores every half hour! 

I’m desperately searching for a book that will give us information about birds, their habits and habitats, as well as a more comprehensive book on mammals. Suggestions anyone? 

Spotted - BIRDS: 
Kali Pheasant
Red Junglefowl
Indian Peacock
Black Stork
Indian Pond Heron
Oriental Honey Buzzard
White Rumped Vulture
Red Headed Vulture
Cinerous Vulture
Himalayan Vulture
Griffon Vulture
White Eyed Buzzard
Honey Buzzard
Crested Hawk Eagle
Changeable Hawk Eagle
Red Wattled Lapwing
Oriental Turtle Dove
Spotted Dove
Yellow Footed Green Pigeon
Emerald Dove
Greater Coucal/ Brainfever
Indian Roller
Stork Billed Kingfisher
Common Kingfisher
White Throated Kingfisher
Green Bee Eater
Chesnut Headed Bee Eater
Blue Bearded Bee Eater
Jungle Babbler
Yellow Eyed Babbler
Indian Grey Hornbill
Himalayan Bulbul
Blue Whistling Thrush
Giant Hornbill
Oriental Pied Hornbilll
Crested Tree Swift
Jungle Crow
Common stonechat
Pied bushchat
Common Sandpiper
Pond Heron
Wall Creeper
Lineated Barbett
Himalayan Woodpecker
Scarlet Minivet
Black Drongo
Great Tit

Spotted - MAMMALS:
Spotted Deer
Wild Board
Indian Jackal
Golden Jackal