Sunday, 29 April 2012

Nole - Nadal's Nemesis No More

Will I be able to do that well? Am I going to retain my position as the class topper? Can I take a bite of that medal one last time? These and many similar thoughts go through the mind of any person, whether it is a simpleton school-going kid or a zestful sports person or a dynamic entrepreneur before any major event in their lives, an event which is of great significance not just to them, but to all those around them. Winning the ultimate prize is what everyone dreams of. On losing, one may conciliate their brooding selves by saying that at least they were second best amongst hundreds of others, but deep down they know that it is the prime position they truly yearn, and how difficult it is to put on a brave smiling face. If you have finished holding a medal that gleams less, or a smaller sadder trophy, a number of times, the momentousness of the victory swells further. And if all those losses are to one person, your nemesis and archrival, but your friend nonetheless, someone you can't seem to get past no matter what, the feeling you get on finally winning cannot be elucidated; it is to be experienced!

[Success, finally!! (His shadow looks so funny!)]
Rafael 'Rafa' Nadal, the second best player in the world for quite some time now, must have felt the same when he finally, after seven straight losses in finals, three of which were at Grand Slams, thrashed Novak 'Nole' Djokovic and clinched the final within 78 minutes, wrapping it up with an ace. The score line read 6-3 6-1. Not since an early round match at the 2010 ATP Finals in London had Rafa beaten Nole, and so convincingly, not in a long long time. He improved his head-to-head against Nole to 17-14. With the 2012 Monte Carlo Masters title, Rafa captured his 20th Masters 1000 Title, a new record, edging past Roger Federer's 19; it was his 47th career title, of which 33 have been on clay. This was his 8th straight win at Monte Carlo, which also happens to be the residence of Nole, although Rafa is the one who can truly call it his home; he owns the place!  He set a new record of sorts by becoming the only tennis player to win at an event an unprecedented 8 consecutive times, going unbeaten in 42 matches! That takes a lot of gut and endurance, to beat the top players year after year and to be fit enough to play each year.

This Final was also significant as he obliterated the mental block that he had for nearly a year, that he could probably never beat Nole again. Such a clog could have been disastrous for his career, for once set in, it just refuses to detach itself, clinging onto your game like a tenacious tapeworm does a digestive track, sucking the life-force out of you. Federer has a similar block against Rafa, and despite the records he has set and the tag of being the greatest tennis player of all time, capable of conjuring magic on any surface, he just does not seem to get past Rafa, on any surface. In the Final, Rafa looked spectacular, firing great serves, running and chasing down every ball, sliding and gliding on the red clay and kicking up a dust storm with his play and looks and flamboyant fluorescent clothes and down-to-earth spirit (maybe that's why he plays so well on the earthy clay), like he did all tournament-long, like he does always.

[Two great champions hugging it out after a short battle.]
However, Nole looked a shadow of his former self, desolate, dejected and in despair. He had an extremely close semi-final against Berdych. This seemed to be most definitely because of the death of his beloved grandfather, Vladimir, the news of which he had received just hours before his third round match versus Alexandr Dolgopolov and he burst into tears on winning it (for some strange reason that reminded me of Priyanka Chopra's character Meghna in the film Fashion receiving news of Shonali, played by Kangana Ranaut, minutes before the all-important fashion show). He seemed extremely unfocused, and understandably so. Grandparents hold a special place. Having my grandmother live with us all my life, I know what grandparents mean to you, especially when you are growing up. They are the ones who teach you a lot of things, tell you stories of a different time and put you off to bed, look after you when your parents aren't around and undoubtedly side with you in a quarrel between you and your parents and also spoil and indulge you a little, which is why we love them oh so much. It was a wonder Nole even got to the Final, after the emotional blow. He seemed so distracted and tired; he was spent emotionally, and had no further energy to expend physically. The Prince, Albert II, and Princess Charlene of Monaco, who had earlier in the month awarded Nole with the Vermeil Sport Medal of Monaco for Physical Education and Sport, "extended their support" to him on learning of his grandfather's passing, not that it makes a penny's difference, but coming from friendly royalty it was a nice gesture. But the show must go on and you take your wins and losses as they come. And for Nadal it was a deserved win nonetheless.

[Rafa grabbing a bite of victory, something that eluded him for nearly a year!]
Had he lost again, it would have further depressed him and suppressed his game, considering that it was his favourite surface and he would think that if a tired Nole could beat him on his off day on clay, he could definitely have beaten him on any other given day. After losing two Masters Finals on clay last year to Nole, at Rome and in his own country in Madrid, he definitely did not want to come short this time. Now we can very much expect Rafa to explode, which he is set to, in this hectic European clay and grass leg of the tennis calendar. He rolled into the finals at the Barcelona Open in his homeland, blasting off the court compatriot Fernando Verdasco, the 2010 winner and a feisty opponent, well usually, but not today, with a 6-0 6-4 victory. That win took his career tally of wins and losses on clay to 240-18, that is an unimaginably high winning percentage of 93.02. He  next faces another countrymen, David Ferrer, a player whom Rafa has denied the title in three previous finals. Nadal looks hungry to capture the title for a record seventh time and then take back home the Madrid title on its blue clay, that is new and weird (although we do have coloured clay at the WTA Family Circle Cup in Charleston, where it dons a vibrant green), and then Rome and finally cap the 'Clay Slam' by winning the French Open, a feat he achieved in 2010, when he won titles at Monte Carlo, Rome, Madrid and Rolland Garros - the French Open in Paris. Hope this is a Rafa year, not that I have anything against Nole, he is my second favourite, but I want Rafa to shine considering that it is an 'Olympics year'. I want him to successfully defend his 2008 Beijing Olympic Gold. Now that the mental block seems to have vanished, great things can be expected from an already exciting year, the start of which was with an smashing Australian Open Final, which was my previous tennis related post. May the balls be in Rafa's court and may he court fewer injuries and troubles.

[The undoubted deserved King of Clay, with a stupendous win percentage of 93.02 on the red dirt.]

[And may Serena Williams come back and regain the top spot in women's tennis, she is even capable of giving most of the players in the men's draw a run for their money, and bring some power and some semblance of order in the women's game.
I missed the live telecast of this Final, as I was busy watching scary movies with cousins and friends, though scarily none actually scared me, but I was lucky enough to catch the highlights of the match and watch my idol win!]

Monday, 9 April 2012

Desserts - Double Chocolate Cheesecake

[My own Double Chocolate Cheesecake with an unconventional thick base, 'cause I want it that way]
Being a Gujarati, means you're born with two things - one - a sharp business mind, that is never put to rest, seeing money and profits everywhere, and second - an undying love for food that dies with you, sometimes causing your death, thanks to the various lifestyle diseases that you have accumulated with each rich yummy bite. And being a Gujarati and Jain, the latter only in name now, also implies that you are going to be pure vegetarians, if there can be something like impure too! I mean come on, you're either on this side of the fence or that, you can't be a fence-sitter when it comes to vegetarianism; eggetarians or ovo-vegetarians are in effect non-vegetarians. Anyway, we find it difficult, not so much in India, but most certainly abroad, to find food that does not contain animal products or eggs or gelatin, not to mention the language barrier there, and the fact that different countries have varying definitions of vegetarianism, considering eggs, gelatin, and some even fish to be vegetarian, just because it is white meat! When it comes to non-Indian desserts, it is next to impossible to find vegetarian ones, even in India. Eggs are an indispensable ingredient in nearly all desserts and so is gelatin, acting as a strong binding agent. The new "Egg Replacers" are like a breath of fresh air, an ingredient which is made from no animal products, and does what eggs do in traditional desserts, lending a rich creamy texture and holding the ingredients together; but they are not available everywhere and cost a lot. Inevitably, we always end up making desserts at home or going to those select few patisseries, bakeries and restaurants where we are certain we shall be served what we need.

Since the last couple of years, cooking seems to have interested me, and having a tongue that appreciates all flavours and foods, it is always convenient if you can whip something up for yourself. So here is my first recipe on the blog, for a Double Chocolate Cheesecake, which I have adapted from the recently launched GoodFood India magazine's March 2012 issue. The magazine, which is from the BBC group, which has some amazing recipes and being the Indian version, has a wider variety of vegetarian and spicy dishes.

General Information
 Serves: 8
 Preparation Time: 30 minutes
 Difficulty Level: Easy

 Cream Cheese: 300 g (The most commonly available ones are Zanetti and Arla Buko)
[Tip: Don't try to use the Cream Cheesespread, it has a high salt content and other ingredients, that you do not need.]
 Marcarpone Cheese: 200 g (Again the Zanetti one is easily available)
 Digestive Biscuits: 150 g (I used the Brittania NutriChoice Hi Fibre Digestive Biscuits)
 Unsalted/White Butter (Melted): 75 g (The one by Parsi Dairy Farm is the most commonly available Unsalted/White variant)
[Tip: Since it is a dessert, avoid using Salted Butter, but if you can't find Unsalted, it you can use the Salted one as well.]
 Milk Chocolate (Melted): 300 g
 Dark Chocolate (Melted): 100 g
[Note: The higher the cocoa content, the darker and more grown-up the flavour of the chocolate, that is to say it will taste that much bitter.]
(One of the best quality chocolate slabs is of Selbourne, or you can also use Morde or Marco, in that order, and their prices and quality also decrease in that order.)
 Springform Tin: 1 (Not a necessity, but having one makes it so much easier to serve the cheesecake the way it is set, rather than having to turn it upside down or trying weird methods to extract the cheesecake intact from the container.)

 Mix the Cream Cheese with the Marcarpone in a container and continue until you have achieved a homogenous mixture. There may appear some tiny lumps in the mixture like some lumps of curd in buttermilk or cream in milk, but it will not affect the taste of the cheesecake. The lumps are primarily due to the cheeses not mixing well; you may use a wooden spatula to beat it well or an egg-beater, but using the latter may be going overboard a bit, as it could alter the taste of the cheese. The mix should taste like a cross between mild curd and your breakfast cheesespread.
[Tips Do not drain out the water that the cheese may have let out as it helps in mixing the cheeses (Is the plural of cheese cheese or cheeses?).
 I like tasting every different ingredient to get acquaint myself with new tastes and combinations and appreciating every ingredient at different stages, and would recommend the same, especially if you are a novice like me, so that you can identify what went wrong, if god forbid anything does go wrong.]

 In another bowl, crush/grind the digestive biscuits and evenly add to that the unsalted butter which should be melted until it appears runny and watery.
[Tips Do not pour the melted butter all in one place, as it gets absorbed by the biscuits pretty quickly and would result in lumps in some places, leaving the rest devoid of any butter; add it evenly, trying to cover all the areas.
 I would recommend grinding the biscuits with your hands as it gives the perfect texture for the base, not too finely ground and not too coarse, somewhere in between the two. In this particular case, hands work much better than a mixer grinder or mortar and pestle. However, it must be kept in mind that grinding with my hands took the most time in this recipe, so if you are a little pressed for time, use the machine.
 If your base does not seem to hold together, it is better to add some more melted butter to it.]

 Press the biscuit mixture into the base of a springform tin. I used one that was 8½ inches or 21½ centimetres in diameter. Also, I like a thicker crust, so I added more of the mixture and increasing its height to 1 centimetre, but ¼ to ½ of a centimetre crust is usually the norm. The thicker bases separate later. To avoid this, increase the butter content or go for a thinner base, as a thinner base will stick well to the cheese-chocolate mix.

 Slowly, fold the milk chocolate into the cheese mix and then also add the dark chocolate. Try to not mix it evenly, so that the mixture looks streaky and within each bite there is an explosion of flavours.
[Tip• I prefer to mix it evenly and then do make the top of the cheesecake streaky, by adding separately an unevenly mixed layer.]

[Well my top layer might not look like the picture below, but I'm sure it tastes just as good!]
[An extract from the March 2012 issue of the GoodFood magazine. This is how mine should have looked; I got the texture, but not the colour. Maybe next time...]
 Spoon the mixture into the tin and level the top, trying to make it streaky. If you're using my last mentioned tip, just add the separately mixed streaky mix here and try to make random patterns and not an evenly levelled layer.
[Tip: • My top layer did not look like the one in the picture, no matter how hard I tried. I think next time, I ought to first layer the top with the cheese mix, then add the melted milk chocolate in a few places and lastly the dark chocolate. If the chocolate seems too viscous, add a little melted unsalted butter to it and mix it evenly, as it lends a certain liquidity to the chocolate, which wouldn't be retained on freezing.]

 Keep the container to chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. It is better if it left for 4 hours or overnight.

→ The cheesecake is best served chilled.

Other Serving Options
[Whipped cream and caramel enhance the taste of any dessert. I just love it when the cream melts and dribbles down the cake like a waterfall, which crashes into a plunge pool of caramel.]
You can serve it with vanilla ice-cream or top it with whipped cream layered with caramel sauce (The Hershey's Caramel Syrup is just awesome!)

One slice of the cheesecake is also really filling, given the high fat content in the cream cheese and mascarpone cheese, so be prepared to exercise, as it is nigh impossible to keep your hands off it.
Happy cooking!