I have a big announcement, and a huge request to make of you. You see, the Pootler Chef has expanded her horizons and decided to explore new vistas. I am discontinuing this blog and retiring her for good. Thanks a mill for reading my posts and encouraging me to cook, bake and write. I have had the time of my life!
Now for the favour, do come get acquainted with my new avatar, over at The Pootle List. This bucket list blog chronicles my life pootles through all things which I am passionate about – books, travel, crafts amongst others. The themes of cooking and baking, of course, find their due place and making the perfect vanilla souffle continues to be one of the top items in my bucket list.
I have had another week of being a cereal-killer. This time courtesy a band of bacteria brothers who are partying their way through my digestive system. Everyone I know seems to be laid up with a tummy infection. Since I ignored mine for a couple of weeks, and compounded it with hypochondria and a low threshold of pain, I was reduced to silently mouthing my favorite childhood song
“Got a stomach ache, got a stomach ache,
Got a stomach just now,
Called the doctor, called the doctor,
Called the doctor just now,
Operation just now,
Just now an operation,
An operation just now.”
(Aside: You should pity my family. I was given to belting this out, loud and raucous, each time there was even a hint of childhood tummy ache.)
I did not have the energy to do anything but make guttural pain induced noises, while sipping on water and occasionally eating a bowl of cereal or yogurt. Tough and merciless times.
If it was music and being fit that helped me through the last week, it was books and cats to the rescue this week. I would have spent 6,392 minutes this week looking at cat pictures and videos (everything from cat shows, to small cats, large cats, confused cats, cats taking a bath, eejit cats). Once the universe cottoned on to my cat obsession, I was inundated with cat links. Friends sent me links and pictures, and Facebook’s algorithms spewed cats on my newsfeed. One of my favorites is from Brain Pickings.
The other savior were books. I discovered – fell in love – with two authors this week, Kate Atkinson and Maeve Binchy. Kate writes as if she swallowed a couple of limes for breakfast and then laconically abetted a few murders before lunch. Her characters, in even very minor roles, jump out of the pages and sit by your side while you read – that’s how powerful her writing is. Maeve, on the other hand, writes frothy light stuff, like a long gentle bath with scented bubbles. Her books are set in Ireland, and given my obsession with the country, they make for delightful reading. The one I read, Quentins, was about a restaurant and Dublin, and there is something delicious about relating to ‘getting a coffee by the Liffey’. So tummy ache keeping you awake till wee hours of the morning ceases to become a problem and instead becomes an opportunity for a reading marathon. I get thrilled when I experiment with reading, discover an author I like, and realize that he or she has written tons of books already. The start of a beautiful friendship, when you know that there are many long and joyous days awaiting the both of you!
There were occasional period of lucidity – remember how we had folks over for dinner last week? As a nod to my days working in the middle east, I dished up babaghanoush, hummus and tzatziki, all David Lebovitz recipes. Served with lightly toasted pita bread. There was also a creamy corn in bread muffin cups, which you don’t see here. Will put up a pic and recipe for that when I make it next. Meanwhile, let me know if you need help sourcing Tahini. The friends brought the main meal and dessert to our place. The cinnamon swirl cake was the most delicious ever, and on enquiring, they told us it was baked from a box. Determined to figure out how to make it from scratch sans a pre-mix. This sounds close.
Anyhow, I should experiment this week. SG is packing his bags for the work week, and I am looking forward to some more cereal, cats, and reading.
…before I realized it was just an introverted pizza” – Jarod Kintz
This week was that sort of a week. The family is away, and SG packed his bags and left Monday morning for several days on the road. Determined to eat healthy, I stocked up all manners of fruits and vegetables, and bookmarked several tasty recipes which were easy to do for one person. I planned this delicious soup involving basil leaves, celery and spaghetti and a proteinilicious broth with red lentils and barley. I bought all the makings of pad thai noodles, and lovingly picked out sprouts for all the salads I was going to throw together. You get the picture, all aglow with health and happiness and home-made nutritious meals.
When it came down to it, I subsisted on cornflakes.
You know you are depressed when you find yourself having cereal for dinner, clutching the TV shawl and remote for company. (If you don’t have a TV shawl, or a TV throw, or a TV something warm, may I suggest a semi-lie-down on my couch?). On a typical day, I put in some thought into my cereal bowl – perhaps some chopped nuts or almond flakes, with dates or a sliced banana, drizzle over some honey, chill the milk to the right temperature. But no fancy-schmancy, this week. Dump cereal into bowl, pour milk, grab spoon.
You know you are quite depressed when it is it is 7 PM in the evening, and you are having cereal straight from the box.
You know you are very depressed when it is 7 PM in the evening, and you don’t even have the energy to have cereal.
I stopped short of cereal from the box stage, thanks to the lovely pick-me-up supplied by Nutella straight from the jar. May Fererro rest in peace knowing he has made the world a much happier place.
A couple of other factors which broke my headlong fall into slovenly and lonely despair – exercise endorphins and music. The daily act of finding a clean pair of socks, doing up the laces, and finding the right tunes to accompany me on my 5K steps plucked me off the couch and into the fresh air. As for the music, I listened to everything from hard rock, teenage pop, some really good old Bollywood, Coke Studio, barely tolerable Bollywood, old favorites and new discoveries. Keep it reasonably peppy and the feet and spirit soon follow suit.
One evening, tired of hearing the basil quietly wilt their last, and the baby-corn yellowing to a sad death, I put together this Tarla Dalal’s paneer (cottage cheese) baby-corn jalfrazie, a simple recipe and quite doable for one person: Heat a teaspoon of oil in a pan and add some cumin seeds, wait for them to crackle. Add chopped spring onion whites and capsicum along with some ginger. Saute for two minutes. Add sliced babycorn, turmeric powder, chilli powder, tomato puree and some salt. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally till the babycorn is cooked (about five minutes). Add the cubed paneer and spring onions greens towards the end.
I ran out of energy for the fresh coriander garnish. I trust you to do better.
Anyhoo, am back on track now. SG returned and am merrily planning the menu cooking for a whole bunch of friends expected for dinner. Yay!
We’ll just have to re-stock the ice-cream and keep quiet as to how several tubs seem to have disappeared during the week.
Nibbling a bar of chocolate, over a delightfully fat book, tucked into the window seat by the frangipani and bougainvillea. Heralding the various seasons of childhood – lightly salted and deliciously sour jamuns, biting into the year’s first mango or green apple, shelling water chestnut by the dozen. Standing by the ice-cream truck, making the all-important decision of which flavor to choose. The meal cooked by my grandma especially for me. Street food and ice lollies with friends, graduating to midnight feasts and food experiments gone wonderfully off-track. A hot cup of tea after being drenched in a sudden monsoon shower. The perfect afternoon, a languid picnic or a late lunch, with the setting sun lingering on to share the laughter. My best memories invariably involve some form of food, the clink of glasses, good conversation, broad smiles, and being perfectly content in the moment. As I am sure do yours. Do share, in the comments, would love to listen to your favorite food memories.
This weekend was spent adding to list of good moments over home-made meals. The family got together over drinks and dinner, followed by a sleep-in breakfast and some lazy splashing in the first swim of the summers. While the brother-in-law put together the Bloody Marys, I made grilled zucchini nachos topped with roasted tomato salsa, refried beans and a cheesy yoghurt dip. The salsa and the dip have sort of become my signature potluck dishes and this weekend also marked a first in which a neighbor friend asked for my recipe. For the record, I wrote them out on pretty paper, and successfully resisted the strong temptation to stick on cut-outs of golden stars and hearts. It is not every day that I get asked for my recipes.
Roasted tomato salsa. Adapted from here.
Roast over an open flame, three large tomatoes, till charred. Peel and chop. Heat some oil in a pan and cook till soft, one chopped onion and some green chilies. Add the tomatoes along with some vinegar, salt, pepper, tomato puree, and chopped coriander. Cook for two minutes. Chill till serving.
Refried beans. Adapted from here.
Soak overnight 1 cup of red-kidney beans. Pressure cook, for five whistles, the beans along with one tomato (chopped), half an onion (chopped), some green chillies and salt. Drain and reserve the water. Heat some oil in a pan and fry the remaining half of onion (chopped). Add some chili powder, cumin seed powder, a dash of butter, and the cooked beans. I blended the hot mix into a puree, adding the reserved water, for a smooth consistency. You may choose to mash it by hand. Leave some beans whole to add to the texture.
Grilled zucchini nachos from here.
The simplest recipe ever. Slice into ¼ inch thick rounds, some zucchini. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill for a couple of minutes each side, in a hot pan.
To assemble, layer the nachos and top with the salsa, refried beans, some yoghurt dip. Grate over some cheese, if feeling indulgent.
I wanted to experiment with grilled potato nachos as well. Something for next time, I guess. Will tell you how it goes.
Meanwhile, write in with your favorite food memories.
Two seemingly disparate events, in the last week, have conspired to result in this post. In one, I promised a friend that I shall be more open to poetry. A big fan of poetry, music and cricket, she and I have only chocolate in common, which is a lot to build a friendship on, if you ask me. Regardless, after a particularly rude and dense moment in which I refused to understand something finer she was trying to explain, I resolved to make more of an effort to understand poetry. Alas, this art is such that if you need an explanation, you will never get it. It also has it fair share of pretension masquerading as deep emotion and pain, which plain annoys me. But, as I said, am determined to keep my mind open and sincerely try to be less “prosaic.”
The other event was being visiting my sister for a day on a work trip. I bunked at her place – one that she shares with a flat-mate. Both are terribly young and keeping home for the first time. Blessed with the boundless energy of youth, which mysteriously appears only after noon or thereabout, they move happily from domestic mishaps, to midnight girl gossip sessions and alarm clocks which ‘fail’ to ring. What was impressive about the girls, is their resolution to do something new every day. Last seen, after a long day at work, they were learning the Chinese and Greek alphabets respectively. With chalk and little slates, no less. Inspiring, right?
My something new for today was reading Yeats – specifically this poem.
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
I chose this primarily because I ‘get’ it courtesy a long ago two-hour conversation about this during my university days. Quite a few of my friends have been determined to educate me, you see. The other reason is that Yeats reminds me of Ireland, always a welcome memory. And last, because it brought to my mind this photograph snapped on my evening walk – sprigs of pink against the blue permanence – my version of cloths of heaven.
On the food front, sharing today’s lunch with you – heavenly because of the taste and the ease – the potato omelette. Heat some butter in a pan, and add a sliced onion and a thinly sliced potato (peeled). Add some chili powder (or cayenne, if you will) and cover and cook till the potatoes are done. Meanwhile, whisk two eggs with 2 tbsp of milk and some salt and pepper. Spread some finely chopped coriander over the potatoes and pour in the egg. Cover and cook for a few minutes more. Voila! Erm, poetry on a plate. Or rather, a quick rhyme.
Shall keep you posted on my ‘news’. For the record, am drawing the line at appreciating cricket. Just.not.happening.
There are numerous subjects I could blog about today. Should I talk about the wanderlust induced by reading Dan Brown’s Inferno, which frustratingly (for a thriller), I can read only few pages of, before I get thoroughly bored. How, during impressionable teenage, I read Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy and started building my bucket list. Or should I talk to you about more earthly matters such as my expertly curated list of the best nacho recipes, involving tater tots, grilled zucchini, roasted tomato salsa, pressure cooked refried beans, and a creamy cheesy yoghurt dip to bind it all together into a bite of heaven? Or I could tell you about the orange chocolate cake baked two weekends in a row and that practice does make perfect but does not care of zested but whole oranges which take over all the fridge space. Or we could talk about my shocking discovery of the number of calories in a pint of beer which takes me 10 minutes to drink but 20 minutes on the treadmill to burn, which in turn has led me to intensely dislike the people who invented calories and math.
All of it – my love for travel, nachos, orange-chocolate, beer – pales in comparison when stacked against my one true and forever soul-mate *drumroll* Nutella. God made those people who invented calories, and then as repentance created Nutella. You can feel the love in every ooh-and-aah creating spoonful. We can continue to be friends if you don’t like little puppies and kittens, even if you don’t care for watching cooking shows ad-nauseum. But if you don’t intensely love Nutella, am afraid, we’ll have to have a ‘conversation’ followed by an unfriend request. We don’t have anything in common, in fact we don’t even orbit the same sun. Go away.
If you are still here, you would know that the world celebrated World Nutella Day this week. In fact, since serendipity has such a crucial role to play in soul-mates meeting, it is no co-incidence that I rediscovered Nutella in a department store aisle exactly on Feb 5, four years ago – making it our anniversary day. The rest, as they say, is history. We have not looked back since.
As a reminder of the good times, dug into my archives, to share this Nutella Mascarpone Cheesecake with you. A simple chocolate biscuit base, topped with whipped mascarpone and Nutella. Hits the spot like nothing else does. If you are feeling ambitious, you can always make your own chocolate wafers – a dozen times better the store-bought version.
Don’t have Mascarpone at hand? Don’t possess a regular oven? Fear not, for you have this four-ingredient Nutella Mug Cake, ready in exactly five minutes, from conceptualization to paradise.
Don’t have Nutella at home?! Remind me again, why are we friends?
I was forced to let the anniversary pass by this year, unmarked. To make up, I plan to spend some quality time with the Nutella jar this evening. What did you do to celebrate? If you missed it, please join me this evening. I’ll get the mugs ready.
I wanted to bake today. Truly. A dear friend is in town and I wanted to bake a treat for her. So I read a few recipes, watched a few cat videos, read completely unrelated articles, did some on-line window shopping and hankered after kitchen gadgets that I neither need, nor do I have any place to store. I don’t even know how to use this 2 in 1 Pop Up Vegetables & Fruits Peeler, but now my life is incomplete without one. Truly.
In other words, I have nothing to show for the past hour except the new-found knowledge that tomatoes need peeling, and there exists in this world, is a special device which can do such a task. How have I reached middle age without peeled tomatoes?! Truly blasphemous.
So there, no baking. If I had baked, for the record, it would have been this dulce de leche cheesecake. Perhaps tomorrow, if the internet does not ruin my evening by broadening my horizons.
Between my dreams of baking and of this mini-cat blackboard, I have left myself 15 minutes to put dinner together. So what’s it going to be? Super-fast creamy spinach toast, I say. Chop some onions and fry with some green chillies in butter. Add some chopped spinach with a pinch of soda bi-carb. Dissolve a tablespoon of cornflour in about a cup of milk and add with some salt. Turn the heat up to medium and stir till the mix thickens. Spread on some toasted whole-wheat bread and grate on some cheese. Bake for a few minutes. Or just serve with some toast on the side.
Ciao for now. I need to go look at cookware sets for a bit and hum a Kenny Loggins favorite
“So help me if you can, I’ve got to get
Back to the house at Pooh Corner by one You’d be surprised, there’s so much to be done Count all the bees in the hive Chase all the clouds from the sky“
Some mid-week serendipitous resonance earned me a few moments of day-dreaming, and you a bonus blog post.
I got off early from work, and instead of scurrying back home, I stopped at a neighborhood café (which you must check out if you live/visit Bangalore, for its quaint charm and cream of mushroom soup!). Ordered myself some soup and presently there was the aroma of sizzling garlic, which can warm even the coldest day. And this is how it came to pass, that I found myself, in an island of calm, in a busy city in the middle of the week, reading Bill Bryson’s “Neither Here Nor There” and day dreaming of the Northern Lights.
“I had an itch to roam.
I wanted to wander through Europe, to see movie posters for films that would never come to (my country), gaze wonderingly at billboards and shop notices full of exotic umlauts and cedillas and No Parking sign O’s, hear pop songs that could not by even the most charitable stretch of the imagination be a hit in any country but their own, encounter people whose lives would never again intersect with mine, be hopelessly unfamiliar with everything, from the workings of a phone box to the identity of a foodstuff. I wanted to be puzzled and charmed, to experience the endless, beguiling variety of a continent where you can board a train and an hour later be somewhere where the inhabitants speak a different language, eat different foods, work different hours, live lives that are at once so different and yet so oddly similar.
I wanted to be a tourist.”
On wanting to share the extract with you, I stumbled across the Homesick Wanderlust blog, proving yet again, that technology like the internet can unite, more than it can divide.
Grease a nine inch baking pan, and get some buttermilk going by adding a teaspoon of lemon juice to about 3/8 cup of whole milk. Grate 1 ½ cup of carrot. Whisk together a cup of whole wheat flour, about a teaspoon of baking soda, a pinch of salt, and some cinnamon powder and nutmeg (1 combined teaspoon). Using your stand/electric mixer, whip together 2 small eggs and ¾ cup of Demerara sugar. Add the buttermilk and ½ teaspoon of vanilla. Fold the dry and wet and add the carrots. Sprinkle on some optional almond. Bake for 30 minutes and check for done-ness.
Easy, right? We will not mention the spring-form tin which I failed to fit properly, resulting in carrot cake batter oozing across my kitchen counter. Not when we are thinking positive thoughts.
A good book to read, a café to eat at, a blog to visit, a cake to bake, and inspiration to day dream – now that you have several choices, what is it going to be? Am returning to Paris, where I left Bill attempting to navigate the traffic.
I thought of this: I thought of how every day each of us experiences a few little moments that have just a bit more resonance than other moments – Douglas Coupland
Last weekend, I awoke, the first in the house to stir, after a late night spent catching up with SG’s brother and his wife, over drinks and food at their place. I spent an hour or so, in the winter sun, reading the newspaper and listening to the flowers dancing in the breeze. My six-year niece woke up next, in a whirlwind of instant energy and with the absolute determination to make the most of every moment that only children possess. We chatted, by her pet goldfish, as she explained their feeding and cleaning routine. Just a few moments of nothing spectacular, no grand thoughts or epiphanies. Just a few moments of sipping the early morning sunshine and being content in the resonance.
Such simplicity requires comfort food, which by definition is no-fuss and easy to throw together. That weekend morning, the BIL took care of breakfast and dished up grilled sandwiches while I sat with my feet up a little longer. Yesterday, for my second breakfast (there are indulgent days when you require two), I put this bread dish together in exactly ten minutes. The other definition of comfort food is that it should bring back childhood memories and this was practically a staple while growing up. I think my mom made it differently, this has kind of devolved in my kitchen, becoming simpler and super-easy to do. Chop some green chillies, onions and tomatoes. In some ghee/oil, heat some cumin seeds, chuck in the onion and chillies, and sauté for a bit. Add the tomatoes, some red chili powder and turmeric, salt, and chopped ginger if you have any handy. Roughly chop up some sliced bread (I had some which were floating at their best by eat) and mix in. Saute some more and garnish with coriander. You can add diced bell peppers or spring onion (greens and all) or even grate in some carrot. Comfort food is also very forgiving and difficult to screw up.
Here’s wishing you some comfort food, resonance and perfect moments. XO.
Being a colleague and unapologetic admirer of the blog and the person that is, The Pootler Chef, has its advantages. A periodic stream of her delightful witticisms (Bridget Jones in Gujarat a.k.a. Bridget Ben comes foremost to mind) and a very personal, unpretentious insight into her latest food escapades- be it Ahmedabad, Ireland or in her own kitchen in Bangalore. Over the course of the past few months I’d be audacious enough to also say that I’ve found in her a like-minded friend, with a common love of David Lebovitz and Neil Gaiman, although as she once pointed out, we belong to different generations and have vastly disparate tastes in music. I can live with that though – I tell myself that a complete package with those elements included would be the kind of anomaly, the absence of which makes the world go round; or at least makes our complex web of equations and inter-relationships thrive and prosper.
When she asked me if I’d write a guest column right here, in this space, I swear, for a while I felt like a Nobel laureate – or contextualizing it further, like Julia Child had said she liked my soup or something.
Anyway, the workings of my head aside – having thought about what I’d like to present here for a while, I decided to focus on a few safe bets – seasons and family. Propagated by the likes of my food idols like Alice Waters and Darina Allen, not to forget the new and very endearing kids on the block like Jamie (Oliver), seasonal cooking is as much a philosophy as it is a habit. Stone fruits in summer, spindly long red carrots in winter, flavourful hilsa fish during the monsoon – the list is endless, when viewed within the culinary radar I have been exposed to through my childhood in Calcutta and Jamshedpur and currently in Bombay. Cooking for family is a pleasure and an enabling laboratory of sorts, when your family like mine, lives to eat and never shies away from exploring new flavour combinations.
There are a number of ingredients that are in wonderful plenty whilst cooking in India, and others that one pines for, wishing that they were more readily available across geography and season. Strawberries are one such luxury, that you have access to in plenty during ‘season’ in Maharashtra (and some parts of the hills in the North, I’ve heard). I am not sure about the precise start and end date of strawberry season here – ‘here’ being primarily Mahabaleshwar and neighbouring areas – but I’m banking on whenever I start seeing cartfuls of little red piles appearing in the markets, beginning roughly around November.
Strawberries are flamboyant, with consistent allusions to bowlfuls of accompanying cream or dunkings in champagne and the likes. Their primary allure being the dense splotch of red colour, they can be equally pleasing when baked into a rustic strawberry pie or whizzed into a yoghurt smoothie. While the hipsters can pulverize them into avocado-flax seed-coconut water-almond milk-chia seed concoctions of ‘health’, I find that leaving them whole and unexposed to heat and too much flavour, harnesses their best (Note: I embrace the occasional smoothie binge, so excuse the hypocrisy here).
One of my favourite pairings with tart fleshy berries are a) gently whipped cream to soothe, and b) crumbly sweet meringue to shatter in your mouth and add some incredible textural contrast. Hence, I baked – The Pavlova.
Originally conceived in New Zealand, a pavlova or ‘pav’ is essentially a large meringue, that is crisp and brittle on the outside and chewy and marshmallow-like on the inside, owing to an acidic addition like vinegar (and typically some cornflour as well).
You start off with whisking egg whites to stiff peaks and then proceed to hold the bowl upside down over your head, displaying appropriate chef-like theatrics to your kitchen wall. Standard rules apply such as ensuring that the bowl and whisk / beater are completely dry and free of impurities, failing which chemistry will humble you with its might and your eggs will not fluff. I adhered to proportions indicated by the biblical BBC Good Food (a Gregg Wallace recipe – link below) using four egg whites. I did reduce the 250g of castor sugar to a more conservative 180g, and it worked. If no castor sugar is at hand, you can pulverize regular sugar in a grinder like I did, but do pulverize it, since it seems risky to use large granules for something as delicate as a pav. The sugar turns your egg whites glossy and luscious, following which you add a teaspoon each of vinegar, corn flour and vanilla extract (not essence). This step elevates a standard meringue to a pavlova.
Now the catch is that this recipe gave me a very runny pav batter, as a result of which it is difficult to bake a ‘deep’ pav. You could alternatively bake smaller individual pavs, since the batter spreads to form a large flat one. It is also highly likely that I botched up my whisking of the egg whites – so do notify me if your batter emerges thick and holds itself like it should.
You bake the pav at 150 degrees Celsius on a flat tray lined with foil. It is advisable to lightly oil the sheet beforehand, as the pav did stick and the foil had to be peeled off carefully.
This is where I deviate from the BBC GF recipe. For the topping I sliced about 10 large strawberries and macerated them in a little powdered sugar to cut the tartness. The cream is whipped to soft peaks (stiff whipped cream reminds me unpleasantly of pasty cream cakes in small town bakeries) with a tablespoon of sugar (optional). I also blitzed about 8-10 large strawberries in a blender with a little sugar and lemon juice. I then reduced the puree with some red wine to form a dark pouring coulis. You can knock yourself out and add a splash of Cointreau to the whipped cream, but having dowsed my family in liquor (marmalade-vodka sodas and espresso martinis to be precise) the past few weeks with the excuse of ‘holiday season’, I refrained.
And that’s about it. Ensure that the pav dries out well – switch off the oven and keep it inside for about an hour to cool or else the center might remain raw. Ladle on the chilled cream and fresh strawberries – and keep the sauce at the table for people to pour over as per taste.