…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.
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.
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.
Last week, the world celebrated Christmas and ate plum cake along with ginger bread and wine. Those who bake dished out chocolate crinkles and thumbprint cookies. People sat around Christmas trees and kids left out milk for Santa Claus.
I was vacationing in Ahmedabad, where my baby sister has recently set up home. The trip was expressly made with the purpose of imparting basic cooking skills to her. Instead, it somehow became one long binge of eating out. I ended up chronicling the food scene in the city, which I insist on sharing with you, through some interesting quantitative data, facts and figures.
#Eateries in every square meter: 3
Every foot or so, you shall encounter a joint where you can get some buttermilk and a bite to eat. Folks in the state are mostly vegetarian, and Jain to boot, which means no garlic, no onions, certainly no meat or eggs. Curiously, every restaurant, no matter what size, scale or location has vegetarian food from all over India (read North Indian, and Dosas). Strangely enough, many will also have Chinese, Italian, Thai and Mexican. You would think with so many eateries, places will be mostly empty, and you will be quickly seated. On the contrary, not one single time that we ate out, did we not wait in queue. We had occasion to stroll through Khao Gali (literally Eat Street) which is miles and miles of street food complete with endless rows of plastic chairs, and hawkers selling everything from plastic toys, balloons to giant blow ups of angry birds and soap bubbles. On an average evening, or so my sister tells me, there isn’t an inch to move for the thronging crowds. We reached just when the sun was dipping over the horizon, and the river of people had barely started trickling in. You could see vendors all over doing their mis en place in preparation of the deluge. The mind boggles, takes a vacation, while the stomach takes over and happily goes to town.
# Pounds of butter consumed: 300 KG.
When in Ahmedabad, you have to eat at gastronomical heaven aka Jassi De Parathe. A genuine and buttery piece of the North in the very heart of Gujrat, this restaurant easily serves the best parathas I have had outside of homes of Punjabi grandmothers. A distinguishing trademark of Jassi is fresh white butter, garlic chutney and green chilli pickle; accoutrements which take the parathas from good to great. The jewel in the crown is, without a smidgen of doubt, the butter. Not having ever made fresh butter the old fashioned way, it is not like I am transported to childhood memories of sitting by the charpoi, winter sunshine warming the face, churning pats of the good stuff from milk of cows grazing yonder. Instead, I go straight to silky buttery heaven and repeatedly thank god for mercies bestowed.
# Pounds of cheese: 500 KG.
The only reason they are not picking bits of exploded fat me (300 KG butter and 500 KG cheese!) off the highway is that I put in my 10000 steps daily. You see, Christmas Eve was spent at Tomato’s gorging on their chilli con queso, which is nothing but oodles and oodles of melted cheese, kept bubbling at the table, along with tortilla chips, nachos, bread sticks, carrot and cucumber slices. Even if you are beyond sick and ready to forswear food for 3 days, you shall continue gorging on the cheese. Gluttony is one of the seven for good reason. Tip: when eating at Tomato’s, be wary of the large portions and do not over-order, else the doggie bag will be breakfast, lunch and dinner the next day. You would think that after the cheese overdose, I would stay clear of all milk products for a month. Do not estimate the power of whey. Boxing Day saw us at Toritos, another charming restaurant, where the queues snake around the block. The 30 minutes of waiting was quite forgiven, with the arrival of the fusion nachos. I believe that fusion should never be attempted or ordered. Happily, these were outstandingly good, wafer thin potato slice, deep fried, and smothered in cheese, beans and salsa. A definite must try both at the restaurant and to re-create at home.
# unlikely Christmas celebrations: 1
The city is not big on Christmas, and apart from token decorations and a few festive stars, the festival goes largely unnoticed. Of course, it did mean abnormally crowded restaurants, though not a pre-soaked raisin was in sight. Christmas being sandwiched between our cheese binges, we traipsed on a street food exploration of the new city. Beginning with vada pav and dabeli drenched in butter, at Jay Bhavani, we wound our way to the vendor selling sev puri in-front of the nearby mall.
Then came the walk to Khao gali, an encounter with an unlikely Christmas tree, wolfing down pani puri and winding the day up with some wonderful sapota or chikoo kulfi. The next time I am in town, I am determined to try the roadside maggi and wood-fired pizza from this tiny van across the road from sis’s college campus. And the rice pulav, and the special dosas, oily Chinese (though sis did try delicately telling me that I am too old for so much grease) and the ubiquitous sandwiches. I wish there was a way to super-size the appetite.
Alcohol units consumed: 0
Let’s just say that Bridget Jones would have had very different diary entries, if she had happened to live in Gujrat, a dry state. Though she could have legally obtained a liquor permit as a foreign tourist residing there. Turns out even those visiting from other Indian states can also obtain alcohol legally by producing proof of domicile. I found this pretty late into the trip, thankfully, else the cheese and butter would have had beer for company, and you would HAVE TO pick bits of exploded me off the highway.
# popcorn binges: 4
We caught two movies and with an average of two binges per movie, I was drowning in butter and caramel popcorn my third day into the stay. When your eyes are hypnotically trained on the big screen and the poor brain is frantically signaling you to stop eating, the dratted stomach forces you to keep going like the goblin driving the hobbits deep into the caves, with the help of whips and other deadly weapons. As you can guess, we watched Hobbit 3. While Azog the Defiler (killed by Dain in the battle of Battle of Azanulbizar, but given a new cinematic lease of life by Peter Jackson) struck terror on screen, the butter popcorn coated my alimentary canal and wound its wicked way into my arteries. Why don’t movie theaters serve carrot and celery sticks?!
My last meal in the city ended with a big bowl of cake smothered in warm chocolate sauce. At this point, my stomach grudgingly accepted defeat and hopefully, retired for the rest of the year. The brain, with considerably weaker and greasier synapses took charge again. I went back to the original (and healthier) Hobbit that I was reading. To end, I quote:
The Tookish part was getting very tired and, and the Baggins was daily getting stronger. “I wish now only to be in my own arm-chair”
After the long post last week, you deserve a short one. Further, given that these are the months to drink, eat and make merry, don’t spend it staring at a screen. Make some thumbprint cookies, mix the Christmas cake, dress up for the party in the evening, warm some spiced ale, or simply laze in the winter sunshine. We have a bright red lounger nestled among the garden greens, perfect to watch the sun travel the sky. So come on over, depending on the time of the day, we can read a book out where the hibiscus grows, or bake something with cinnamon and apples, or open the bottle which is nicely chilling, (or we could do all three). It is the season to celebrate, exchange gifts and wishes, and embrace the world in one giant hug.
Looking for something simple to make, a little sweet, and preferably ‘healthy’, to tide you over to the onslaught of the cookies? Here is something super from the Ovenderful kitchen. I was looking for something to bake for the dad-in-law’s birthday, he is off eggs, and none of my usual recipes would work. Hence, out came the semolina and the wheat to make this grand dessert. Simran recommends that you put them into cupcake liners and make them to be muffins. I went the cake way and regretted it. The shape does not hold up while de-tinning and I had to scrape it out, pile the crumbs into a glass dish and pretend that I wanted it that-a-away. It was hitting-it-out-of-the-park delish, so no one cared.
Ingredients: 1 cup wheat flour, 1 cup semolina flour, 1 cup white sugar, ½ cup brown sugar, 1 ½ teaspoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon baking powder, 1 cup curd/yoghurt, ½ cup water, 1 tsp instant coffee mixed in 1 tbsp hot water, 2/3 cup oil (Simran recommends rice bran, I used olive oil), some crushed roasted cashews for the batter and halves to decorate.
To make: In a large bowl, mix together the flours, sugars, baking powder and soda. Mix the liquids in another bowl. Add the crushed cashews. Pour into cupcake liners and bake in a preheated 150 degrees oven for thirty odd minutes.
The door is open, the welcome mat is out, something warm is simmering on the stove, and I am dreaming desserts. Come on, troop in!
This pleasant Saturday evening, I wanted to go watch a stand-up comedy with the following description: “Having turned 40 this year, Vaz (the comedienne) focuses her wit on the challenges of ageing in a culture that worships youth, her decision not to have children and the stress that accompanies this choice, as well as her constant struggle to overcome her obsession with housework.”
First, I spent half an hour on the phone convincing my recently turned 40 friend (with an obsessive compulsive cleaning disorder) to do a girls’ night out. Despite my earnest promises to get out of my pajamas and get into a presentable dress and heels (the things we do as trade-offs), she refused. Turns out that she had to stay at home and tutor her son before his history exam. And probably obsess over cleaning the dinner dishes.
Next, I dished up my husband’s favorite snack, trying to persuade him into being company. I would never ask someone to accompany me if I did not think they would enjoy themselves more than I would. Given our decision to be part-time aunt and uncle and not full time mom and dad, and his absolute belief in cleanliness coming before godliness, you would think that he would jump at the offer. But no, he would rather play a round of tennis and then do a round of dusting around the house.
My plans to laugh hysterically scuttled, I decided to spend the evening baking. Yesterday, I had resolved, that this weekend I would learn to bake layered cakes and had was looking forward to trying the hummingbird cake. Going out to buy the cake pans (which I have been meaning to for a long time), I ended up purchasing additionally a bundt pan (which I have been resisting to for a long time). Side note: Was psycho-ecstatic at seeing the first mangoes of the season at the departmental store.
Fact: If you have a newly bought bundt pan, you shall day dream about and google/food blog search gorgeous looking bundt cakes and fail to do a single thing about buying any of the ingredients you need to actually make them. Not wanting to give up hummingbird cake dreams, I found the perfect sounding bundt recipe for it. Only to be unable to make it, not having either pineapple or cream cheese at home. Darn. Not to be so easily dissuaded, after some feverish browsing, I stumbled across this delicious looking chocolate chunk orange cake. Now normally, not being big fans of the fruit, we never ever have fresh oranges lying around. But lo and behold, we have today, the exact number needed to make the cake. I sighed, because I was certain I was out of fresh cream. I bet you can imagine my excitement, when my desultory poking around in the kitchen cupboard, actually unearthed a tetrapack of usable cream and some dark chocolate. Hallelujah! I could practically smell the organgey-chocolatey baking aromas.
Except we are out of eggs. Or rather, we have only egg nestled in its container, lonely and morose. Like someone else’s friends, the egg’s near and dear ones were probably doing housework (in that special heaven where eggs went, after they became omelets.)
I have settled, therefore, to blog. Having no exciting or new recipes or pictures or baking stories to share with you – I turn to an old one from last year. I had meant to blog about mango kulfi last year, but missed doing so during the mango season. This is seriously too great a summer dessert to not sample, at least once in your life. And so easy-peasy, I bet you will not get it wrong, even if you tried to.
To make this, simply combine 2 ½ cups (500 ml) whole milk, ¼ cup milk powder, ½ cup condensed milk and ¼ cup sugar in a pan and bring it to a boil. Reduce and simmer for a while, till the mix thickens. Though the recipe does not call for you to do, I kept stirring it and anxiously peering at it and sniffing it. It smells divine, by the way. Once the mix has thickened (mine took twenty minutes), take it off heat and let it cool completely. If you get onto the phone with your mom, at this point, like I did, to share kulfi making excitement, she will stress on the cooling part, like mine did. You see, if you add an acidic fruit like mango to anything hot, it will instantly split. Now don’t say you already knew that. I did not, so was quite taken in by the science of it all. While waiting for the mix to cool, chop and puree some mangoes. You need about 1 cup of pulp. Mix the pulp in. At this stage you can add some chopped or slivered almonds and some saffron infused milk. Set into kulfi moulds (6 as per the recipe) – or pour into ramekins or porcelain dishes. If using the latter, cover with some foil. Freeze. Resist opening the freezer every ten minutes to check whether it has set.
So there you have it. A great dessert to usher in the summers. Go get some mangoes now. And let me know if you are free tomorrow evening and do not have any plans to lovingly vacuum the house. Game for tomorrow’s show?
Cooking, like cycling and swimming, has what I call a ‘step-learning curve’. For a long time you wallow in the shallow end, flailing your arms and legs helplessly – pretty much resembling a drowned rat. And then after days of swallowing lungfuls of chlorinated water, you suddenly start gliding gracefully and doing multiple laps of the swimming pool. Till ten years back, I could barely brew a decent cup of tea and the height of my culinary expertise was potato sandwiches. So I started with a few books which taught me the basics of cooking – right from selecting and storing various types of vegetables, telling the various types of lentils and flours apart, and the fundamentals of cooking with eggs. I will never be close to being the Michael Phelps of the cooking world; however, I can now comfortably feed myself (and family and friends) mostly healthy and occasionally decadent meals and dishes.
A large portion of my cooking prowess is owed to Tarla Dalal. With her passing away the week before last, the media – print, electronic, and social – has been inundated with obituaries and tributes. As a tribute and a big thank you, I did what she taught me – I cooked. This last ten days have been both a walk down the memory corridor, recreating my favorite recipes from her books, as well as a journey into experiments and learning new techniques. While flipping through the often food-spattered pages, to find my tried and tested recipes, I came upon some new ones which I have discovered to be keepers.
Read more to find highlights of the food which came out of my kitchen last week, the details of the books I picked these from and the slight modifications which I make to the recipes to a) hasten the process and b) decrease the washing up.
By the best thing that happened to me in terms of recipe books is this 6 by 3 inch wonder. A well-made hot bowl of lentils warms the heart, delights the taste buds and gives you all the protein you need for the day. Practically every recipe in this book is a winner and I have bought, owned and gifted several copies. I made a couple of dal dishes this last week, both with spinach – Palak Toovar Dal, and Masoor Dal with Spinach. Easy to put together on a weeknight, especially if you have some spinach cleaned and refrigerated to be used. With all lentils, I pressure cook them with a wee bit of turmeric and very little water. Most other ingredients are fried up along with the tempering (in a wee little tempering pan I own) and added to the dal along with the water, brought to a boil and then simmered. Instead of using tomatoes and amchur, my version of masoor dal used a large dollop of tamarind paste.
Another treasure trove of rice recipes is this little book. Bread Kofta Biryani graced my table, not once but twice the last week – because it is the perfect way to use up left over bread, it is easy to scale for several people, and it is something you can assemble before a party, ready to be put into the oven minutes before serving dinner. Ah, I baked the Koftas instead of frying them – 200 degrees c for about 25 minutes with turning them around occasionally to ensure even baking.
My tribute to Tarla Dalal will be incomplete without due mention of Badshahi Khichdi. If you like potatoes, curd and rice, I suggest you drop everything you are doing and rush to make this now.
Parathas After dal and rice, we have to have some parathas. I am sadly, still at that stage, where all my rotis and parathas resemble, as the cliché goes, the map of India or Africa, whichever one is your favorite. However, with this Paneer and Vegetable Parathas, there is very little rolling as the parathas are quite small but extremely tasty, healthy and filling
And since the rest are one recipe from each book..
…I am going to put them together.
The delicious Chettinad Curry, in which I left out the cabbage/cauliflower and instead added some partially steamed broccoli while simmering the curry.
The Creamy Spinach Toast which was breakfast yesterday, sans the cheese and the additional baking.
The Tandoor Paneer Tikkas which are staple finger food – where the taste is determined by the quality of the paneer and the grilling technique. The marinade of this can be used for pretty much any vegetable – including cauliflower and broccoli.
Needless to say, this is but a miniscule sample from the thousands of recipes Tarla Dalal has written out. While I can chronicle the number of recipes and cookbooks she has churned out, the millions of bucks her empire has earned, or even the entire generations of women she has taught to cook, nothing indicates a life well lived better than the fact that long after her passing, she will continue to make a significant difference in people’s lives. I look forward to discovering more of the world, Ms. Tarla Dalal created – one which is redolent not only with spices and aromatics, but also with the unmistakable love which characterizes dishes cooked for people we care for.
Rest in peace, Mrs. Dalal – you shall be missed and thanked every time I open a book of yours.