Inject some joy into yet another difficult month by sending friends a thoughtfully curated dinner, or treating yourself to an evening away from the sink

Celebrations are hard this year, hollowed by loss. Battered by the second wave of COVID-19, it is difficult to drum up enthusiasm for locked down birthdays, anniversary dinners and Zoom parties.

Yet, now more than ever, it is important to reach out. To celebrate milestones, despite the seemingly endless physical isolation of lockdown. Last year, when the pandemic began, Instagram was bright with home made meals, fuelled by energy and optimism. This year, we lean on the hospitality industry again, as they find ways to pack fuel and comfort into lunchboxes.

When you don’t have the energy to orchestrate yet another virtual party, or bake a cake, here’s one more option: send a festive meal. To make it easier, popular city restaurants — also fighting to keep their doors open and staff employed — have been tweaking menus every month to continue to serve customers though an unpredictable year.

DumBir by KCK

Butter chicken is a surprising offering from Kappa Chakka Kandhari, popular for its Kerala food. But then, the brand has made multiple changes to its delivery menu over the past year, in response to customer demands.

After temporarily closing in March 2020, they reopened with KCK food pack, delivering familiar classics from the southern states. Realising that biryani is Chennai’s favourite comfort blanket, they have now launched DumBir. Run with a team of specialised biryani cooks, this launch offers popular versions from Hyderabad, Lucknow and Thalassery in single portions, family packs and party packs.

Or, you can curl up with your own Bento Box. A cheeky tribute to the Japanese tradition, the curated meal pairs biryani with starters, parathas, gravies and dessert. The Lucknowi offering, for instance, includes butter chicken and shammi kebabs (or paneer butter masala and yam galouti if you are vegetarian), along with mint chutney, date pickle and raita.

And always, to end, there is that reliable hug from dinner parties in the 1980s: sweet, wobbly caramel custard.

To order, call 9940499404

ITC gourmet couch

If you are sick of scouring the Internet for a gift, send a memory instead. ITC’s gourmet couch has been conjuring up treats for special occasions since lockdown began, finding ways to package some luxury along with lunch.

Beginning with elaborate meals from their signature restaurants, they moved to biryani packs on Swiggy and Zomato, in an attempt to reach more people. Last month, at the peak of the second wave, the group introduced a kitchen takeover plan, offering subscription meals packages for a week, to up to a month, to make it easier for families to quarantine at home.

This week, inspired by World Environment Day, ITC’s gourmet couch is launching a ‘Feel Good’ menu focussed on slow cooking, seasonal ingredients and responsible sourcing. Expect chia muffins, moringa chicken and gooseberry launji, as the chefs weave super foods into every meal.

However, since we are on the topic of lockdown celebrations, their ‘chaat & chat’ offering makes for a fun gift. Spread out the golgappas, kachodis, khasta papdi and gulab jamuns on your terrace for a suitably socially distanced picnic, and conjure up the joy of street food from the safety of home.

To order, call ITC Grand Chola at 044 49065271/9599049580

Chennai restaurants add cheer to lockdown birthdays

Thilis Cookies

There have been an avalanche of cookies by home bakers over the past year — and predictably enough, quality has been very variable. Inspired photography and an enthusiastic presence on social media may be great for sales, but do little for flavour.

Cookies seem simple: which is exactly why they are tough. To stand out, flavours need to have depth and complexity.

Thilis cookies score here because the baker, Mythili Reddy, leans on high quality ingredients and sensibly keeps the menu succinct, choosing quality over quantity. Made with stone-milled whole wheat flour, natural vanilla, and pink Himalayan salt, her chocolate chip cookies are studded with generous chunks of couverture chocolate.

With a higher percentage of cocoa butter, the chocolate is dark with fruity notes and a pleasing depth: it pairs especially well with her deeply caramelised brown butter version of the cookie.

Treat yourself, or a friend, to a bag. And watch out for Thili’s next launch: a double chocolate cookie, studded with roasted hazelnut and laced with orange zest.

To order, message @thiliscookies on Instagram or call 9884042517

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