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The recipe for love

By Abdullah tareq
Head Chef Cilantro

They say the best way to a man's heart is through his stomach. What they fail to mention is the same applies for the fairer sex as well. Whichever the gender, nothing makes an event more memorable than when your loved one takes the effort to make a meal just for you. This week Abdullah tells you what to serve this 14 February, providing these recipes just for the two of you. Always remember to add the secret ingredient though; it's love.

Poached Pear with Panna Cotta
Some people say it's hard for fruit-based desserts to hit that pleasure spot in the same way a cake or pudding can, but honestly these poached pears are really heavenly. Serve this with panna cotta and you have a really fancy dessert. Panna cotta is incredibly easy to make, and it takes less than 10 minutes to put it together. And you can make it up to 2 days before and store in the fridge.

The poaching time depends on the type of pear you use. The large, golden ones commonly found everywhere takes a lot more time than the green slim ones.

Poached Pears
Servings: 8 servings
1 litre good-quality apple juice
1 cup sugar
3 or 4 fresh bay leaves
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthways, seeds scraped out or 2 tsp extract
2 cloves
1 small lemon or orange
8 firm pears

In a deep-sided pan, heat the apple juice and the sugar together on a high heat with the bay leaves, the vanilla bean and seeds, the cloves and a few strips of peel cut from the lemon or orange. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the sugar has dissolved into a light, thin syrup.

While that's happening, carefully peel the pears so they look beautiful, leaving their stalks on if you can. Take the pan off the heat and sit the pears inside, taking care not to splash the hot syrup but making sure the pears get covered.

Scrunch and wet a piece of parchment paper and place it on top of the pears, forming a sort of lid, so they are completely covered. Turn the heat down to low and simmer slowly for about 20 minutes, or until the pears are lovely and soft but still holding their shape nicely. To test whether they're done, just poke one with a small knife until you hit the core -- if the knife slides in easily, they're good to go.

Carefully move the pears to the middle of a serving platter using a slotted spoon, and just pop in the oven at the lowest temperature to keep warm.

Turn the heat under the pan up to high and reduce the syrup down for 30 minutes, or until it's just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Stir it occasionally to make sure it isn't catching. At this point, if you want,you can add strawberries and cook for 5 minutes, or until the syrup turns a reddish colour.

To serve, take the platter out of the oven and carefully pour the syrup all over the top of the pears.

Panna Cotta
You can use any other flavours instead of vanilla if you want. Strawberry extract was used for the photo shoot.
Serves 8
4 cups (1l) heavy cream (or half-and-half)
1/2 cup (100g) sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract, or 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 packets powdered gelatin (about 4 1/2 teaspoons)
6 tbsp (90ml) cold water

Heat the heavy cream and sugar in a saucepan or microwave. Once the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract.

(If using a vanilla bean, scrape the seeds from the bean into the cream and add the bean pod. Cover, and let infuse for 30 minutes. Remove the bean then rewarm the mixture before continuing.)

Lightly oil eight custard cups with a neutral-tasting oil.

Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a medium-sized bowl and let stand 5 to 10 minutes.

Pour the very warm panna cotta mixture over the gelatin and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.

Divide the panna cotta mixture into the prepared cups, then chill them until firm, which will take at least two hours but I let them stand at least four hours.

If you're pressed for time, pour the panna cotta mixture into goblets so you can serve them in the glasses, without unmoulding.

Run a sharp knife around the edge of each panna cotta and unmoud each onto a serving plate, and garnish as desired.

Stuffed Chicken Breast with Mushroom
Sauce served with Roast Potatoes and Grilled Aubergine Rolls Stuffed with Cheese and Mint
For the Stuffed Chicken
4 skinless chicken breasts
1 ball mozzarella , cut into strips
8 slices of beef bacon or pepperoni

For the sauce
3 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
8 ounces fresh button mushrooms, sliced
1/4 tsp pepper
2 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp flour

Make a slit down 1 side of each chicken breast to form a pocket. Season insides. Stuff each pocket with slices of mozzarella wrapped in beef bacon or pepperoni and season. Sear in a pan till u get a nice colour and then put on a baking tray and cook for 20-25 minutes or until cooked through in an oven, 180 C. Meanwhile for the mushroom sauce: In a large pan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter with olive oil. Add onions, mushrooms and pepper. Sautee until onions are translucent and mushrooms are tender, about 8 minutes. Add chicken stock and simmer until reduced by one third. In a small bowl press together remaining butter and flour with fingertips until well blended, then slowly add to the sauce while stirring with a wooden spoon. Simmer until sauce resembles loose gravy, about 5 minutes. Serve warm with the chicken.

Grilled Aubergines stuffed with Cheese and Mint
2 aubergines or eggplants (each cut thinly lengthwise into about 10 slices)
4 tbsp olive oil
250 g cottage cheese
1 large red chilli (finely chopped & deseeded or not depending how hot you require it)
1 bunch mint (finely chopped )
1 lemon (juice)
1 pinch of black pepper

Preheat the griddle pan to a high heat. Brush both sides of the aubergine slices with the oil, and cook them for about 2 minutes each side until golden and tender.

Crumble the cheese into a bowl and stir in the chilli, mint and lemon juice and grind in some black pepper. You don't need salt, as our deshi paneers are salty enough. Pile the end third of each warm aubergine slice with a heaped teaspoon of the cheese mixture and roll each slice up as you go to form a soft, stuffed bundle.

Place side down on a plate.

Roast Potatoes
1.5 kg large potatoes, peeled
freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
1 bulb garlic, broken into cloves
2 good splashes of olive oil
2 tsp rosemary

Preheat your oven to 190ºC/375ºF/gas 5. Peel your potatoes with a knife or peeler and cut any larger ones so they're all an even-size. Wash your potatoes in cold water to get rid of any extra starch, then tip into a large pot, cover with cold water and season well.

Bring to the boil and cook for about 6 to 7 minutes so that they're parboiled, then drain in a colander and leave to steam dry for 3 minutes. Give the colander a bit of a shake to help rough up the surface of the potatoes; this will help to make them crisp later on.

Tip your potatoes into a tray or pan in one layer, and add olive oil or butter, then season really well with salt and pepper. Add a good lug of olive oil to a small bowl and add the herbs, garlic and a splash of vinegar, then mix it all up.

Put your potatoes in the hot oven to cook for about 1 hour 20 minutes until golden and cooked.

Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Food prepared By Abdullah Tareq


Tea for one on Valentine

By Neeman Sobhan

Valentine's Day is upon us, whether we like it or not. Love in its many avatars, not just romantic love, will soon be celebrated. I consider myself a loving human being who spends the greater part of her year thinking of others. This 14 February I propose to myself a day spent in focusing on the source of all my love: my own neglected self.

Self-love, translated not just as a little pampering at the neighbourhood salon getting one's tired feet soaked and attended to and head massaged with hot oil, but also as giving oneself the gift of an open-ended chunk of quiet, quality time (created with special orchestration days ahead) to spend in one's own company.

Time to reconnect with oneself: this doesn't have to be only on St. Valentine's Day. We can sanctify any day and create a little space to love and rediscover ourselves. In Rome, I often take myself out on a date, spend the day doing things for myself, by myself. Here in Dhaka, the other day, I ended up spending a most enjoyable hour at a delightful café with the person I am most comfortable with and who never bores me: Moi!

I was out doing some errands for others and also shopping for gifts for my friends, ending up at Aranya crafts on Kamal Ataturk, when I felt a pang of mid-morning hunger. My reflection in the shop mirror also registered a fleeting frown on my brow. I realised that I had been ignoring my tired and cranky inner self that was trying to tell me to just stop and give her some attention. I decided she deserved to be taken for a long and luxurious tea-break.

The year before, I had noticed the inviting looking Aranya Café at the ground level. Now, I decided to check it out. Upon entering, I realised that the name had changed to Haritaki Lounge. I first thought it was a Japanese name till I saw the name in Bangla. It is 'Horitoki', the fruit used in Ayurveda, and possibly in natural dyes.

I was the only person there at that hour and I felt I had entered a sanctuary from the busy world. The natural décor, the rattan ceiling and furniture, the ethnic print cushions in organic colours, the green plants abounding and the soothing piped Bangla music were ideal for my mood.

I sat down at a table and was pleased to see a pile of Bengali and English literary and art magazines. The sunny walls had framed art work and the windows were covered in floral prints. The rooms inside had brickwork walls; one, leading to an inner courtyard, filled with potted plants. The whole ambience had a serene, Zen-like quality.

The mouth-watering 'deshi' menu in such a charming place, and the reasonable prices, made me pull all the stops. I glanced at items that one normally does not see in other coffee shops and fast food joints, like my favourite 'bakorkhani'.

Of course, one can eat this at home for a cheaper cost, but to have the option to order that with the first rate Gajor/Carrot Halua, warm and not too sweet that I tasted later, or in combo with something salty while on an outing, is a wonderful surprise.

I debated pairing the parata with omelette against pairing it with vegetables and the Mughlai parata against a kebab roll. I am normally a small eater and know my eyes are bigger than my capacity to eat. Still, I gave in to the exaggerations of a spontaneous and special moment with myself.

The waiter raised nary an eyebrow as he scribbled and read out: “One order of luchi, halua and poneer with tea; one Bakorkhani, one chicken jhal fry”. He wickedly hinted: “Our aloo puri is special.” I asked him to bring it on, laughing to myself and feeling like the gluttonous lady in Maugham's story 'The Luncheon' about the impoverished writer who is forced by the unholy alliance of the overly solicitous waiter and the greedy guest, to end up ordering a staggering feast.

Order over, I leaned back and began to relax. I took out my Kindle from my bag to skim over a book review; I turned the pages of Kali o Kolom; I levitated on the wings of a Bangla song floating around me; I eavesdropped on the group that walked in and sat down nearby, obviously some Indian businessmen with their local partner who ordered for them a vegetarian menu from which I ear-marked for future the 'Daal butter-fry'.

Just as the first line of a future short story was proposed by my inner companion, my food arrived. The sight of the bulging cheeks of the two huge luchis on my plate made me giggle. It was far too much and too tasty to eat even by my twin selves. The aloo puri and the jhal fry were delicious, but the halua was outstanding, as was the tea served in a delicate white porcelain cup, piping hot.

I saw the look of understanding when I asked Sarwar, the waiter, to pack my half-eaten food along with a chicken kebab roll that I ordered just to taste it on the premises for future reference. He told me that they are open for Brunch (including western items like Pancakes, and Eggs Benedict) on Fridays and Saturdays from 9-12, though on weekdays the café does not open till 11 and closes at 10.

I lingered over a second cup in reflective silence. For me anytime is a good time to mull over a cup of tea. At home, tea breaks are the best part of my writing day, crowning the achievement of a well executed page, or consoling when an entire paragraph has to be trashed. And, of course, the first cup of the morning, whether at day-break or at breakfast, is sacrosanct.

Equally sacred is the element of solitude. As much as I love sharing a cup with friends, nothing beats a solitary tea with my own self. I had not been on a date with myself in Dhaka, and the Haritaki Lounge will now be a place for me to come again after an hour of browsing books and music upstairs. Or I might come for brunch with friends or family.

Photo: Neeman Sobhan

Neeman Sobhan is a writer and journalist, living in Italy and teaching at the University of Rome. She also writes the fortnightly 'A Roman Column' that appears in the Star Weekend Magazine of Fridays.


Pocket full of love

It's two days before Valentine's Day. The manly men have already done one of two reasonable things: 1) Broke up or 2) Refuse to celebrate love for only one day a year. Whichever option the manly man has chosen will result in them becoming single. Why? Because manly men can be real stupid. Valentine's Day is not our day, guys; it's solely for the ladies and the marketers and we are the suckers as usual.

Now your woman will tell you how she hates Valentine's Day over and over again and will go through the usual list of how one day isn't enough, it's a marketing scam, St. Valentine's was nothing but a Casanova, etc. but heed not her words. This is her way of testing how much you love her. She also wants to be surprised so she wants to force herself to believe not to expect anything from you come the 14th. Why would she go through the trouble, you ask? Because she's a woman, that's why.

No one is saying Valentine's Day is an actual celebration of love. It's nothing but a contest really. Whatever you get your girlfriend, she will compare it with what her friends got. Then, she'll conclude how much you love her. Remember when a wise man once said that 'money cannot buy love'? Well, now recall that it was a MAN who said it. Even men will at one point get in on the contest, just to express their love. Hence, this 14th will also be a puke-fest of rose, teddy bears and chocolates.

Of course, Valentine's Day is manipulating us. In the USA alone, consumers are expected to spend 18.6 billion dollars and that too during the so-called recession. 14 February is Peer Pressure at its finest, with all the 'best deals' being dangled in your significant other's face and you have no option but to give in really. Buy the couple dress, eat the couple's meal, take the couple picture, buy the gifts and then make sure to be seen at all the happening couple places. Don't question the sanity behind the day; this is how consumerism works.

We won't ask you to not indulge this Valentine's Day. However, we will make a few requests. First, don't wear matching colours, patterns or anything that matches with your girlfriend's wear; it's disgusting. Secondly, don't Facebook your love unless you message privately. Nobody cares about the love you have for your munchkin. The third thing to avoid is carrying around roses. If you got roses, go home, put them there and then go to work. Do not bring your gifts to work. Nobody cares you have a boyfriend or girlfriend. The last rule to follow is to not propose or flash a ring anytime during this day.

With everything said and done, let's really understand that Valentine's Day is just not that big of a deal. In a serious relationship full of love, neither partner gives Valentine's Day much significance. Anything pure should thus be a private celebration. Unless you are a movie star. Therefore, this Valentine's Day, celebrate all you like but keep your DA in your rooms.

By Osama Rahman


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