Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Down Memory Lane : Cooking With Mum

My friend Michelle from The Tiffin Box has written a beautiful post on Cooking along with her Mom and so much of it holds true for me too.

I started to comment on her post, but I had so much to say, that I decided, that I should blog about it too and since mum's birthday is coming up, I've scheduled this post to go up for the 9th.

My mum's attitude to cooking is pretty much like Michelle's mums - it was more practical and necessary to start with, than a pleasure (like it is for me). I got my initial love of cooking more from my grandma than my mum, because mum was too busy managing 4 of us kids on her own (dad sails with the Merchant Navy) to be able to "enjoy" cooking - in those days it was more about serving up a healthy balanced nutritious meal on the table. So she mostly needed us out of the kitchen, so she could focus on the multiple things that she had going on simultaneously in the kitchen.

The rare exception was when she baked cakes for special occasions, then we were all allowed to lick the spoons clean and we used to fight over who got the pots/pans/spatulas that had the maximum amount of raw cake mix on it (I know a lot of people would scream "salmonella poisoning", but those were simpler days and if I can eat mayonnaise, I can eat cake batter) She would ask us to help with sieving the flour or managing the hand beater and constantly remind whoever was wielding the beater, not to change direction.

Mum makes excellent cakes (not just tastewise, but also decorative ones) and in those days of 100% home made birthday parties, mum's were some of the best cakes around town. Even today, when my sister travels back to Mangalore, her whole office, requests her to beg mum to bake her chocolate cake with fudge icing. She makes a mean date and walnut cake too. I got my brother who is currently at home in Mangalore on vacation, to dig out some of the pictures of the cakes she baked for our birthdays.


I on the other hand, hate baking and shy away from it, because I hate following instructions accurately, the rebel in me can be quite stubborn, but I'm trying to get over the mental block.

I did however learn to cook some things from my mom, because as the eldest, I would sometimes help her in the kitchen if she had to leave to attend one of my wailing siblings, this often just meant stirring the pot or keeping an eye on something to check if it was done and turn it off at the right time, it later graduated to turning fish over when it was fried on one side, so yes, I did learn a few tricks from her.

Strangely, now when I think back, it was always me whom mum would turn to, to check the "hult" (perfect balance of flavours?) of whatever was being cooked and she still does that to this day.

Mum had done her home science at Nazareth Convent (after an MA in Economics) and she had learned how to cook "Chinese" and other "exotic" stuff for those days, which were only cooked when there was a "dinner party" at home and we got rationed quantities as the food was for the guests! Oh how we resented those guests - we would get 1 large prawn each or half a nargisi kofta (Scotch Egg) and the guests would be plied with unlimited quantities "Have more, have more, otherwise how will I know that you have liked it?" So many of my friends share similar stories with me about our mums in those days.

Normal fare however included basic meat/lentil curries, a vegetable fugath (stir fried with coconut) or tel piyao (simply cooked with onions), fish curry if dad was around or fish fry for us. Dad doesn't like spicy food and the rest of us LOVE it, so it would also mean taking a portion aside for him and adding more chillies to the rest of the food.


A real treat for us would be when she made bacon fried rice or prawn pulao. Mum's repertoire was hugely wider than my grandma's and mum managed her kitchen alone (grandma had maids to help her with prep in the kitchen), so she also looked for quicker recipes when she could find them. The simplest and fastest meal she would cooked at home would be red rice, bimbli saar (dhal with a sour fruit) or chilli saar (a thin heavily spiced soup), fish fry and a vegetable fugath. Even to this day, when I go home to Mangalore, this is what I request her to cook for me for dinner (after a meal of pork and sannas for lunch)

What she cooked, also depended on the tight monthly budget that my dad restricted her to. As the eldest of 13 siblings and his own father almost retired, a lot of his salary was spent on the education, clothing and maintenance of his siblings and the ancestral house. Of course, this realisation came much later, mum never let us feel that we couldn't eat something because it was too expensive, she would buy cheaper cuts of meat or cheaper fish to balance her household budget. Today when she sees the way I buy ingredients from across the globe (when I travel, my shopping is restricted to souvenir magnets, books and food), she shakes her head smiles and says "kai taun aila yeh, tuka?" (where have you got this habit from?)

Nowadays she loves watching the food programs on TV and trying out some of the recipes. She prefers TV recipes to looking at recipe books (she normally uses recipe books only for trying out a new cake)

She recently baked a variety of breads whose recipes she got from different shows. She loves cooking in my house because I have loads of ingredients that are sometimes difficult to find in Mangalore (however, I rarely give up control of my kitchen to her).


All said and done, mum and I have extremely different styles of cooking. I can assist her in the kitchen, or I will sometimes ask for her help if I'm in a rush to pack B's lunch, but its difficult for me to cook simultaneously with her. If I'm cooking something (esp if its in my house) I let her finish whatever she wants to make or I have requested her to cook, and then I scrub down the kitchen and only then do I begin my own cooking.

In my first job in Bangalore, I remember mum coming to visit and then reorganising my kitchen (while I was at office) in an order she thought made more sense and then I would have to re-re-organise my whole kitchen after she left, to be able to find anything and achieve any speed at cooking.

As we kids have grown up and left the nest, Mum has slowly discovered the joy of cooking and enjoys cooking for us or anyone who is visiting. However she hates washing up, whereas for me washing up is extremely therapeutic and calming.

We have extremely different attitudes to cooking, but have the same attitude when it comes to feeding others - the more the merrier. While I may not copy my mom in her attitude and style of cooking, it is she who has shaped me into the cook I am today. Love you mommy and Very Happy Birthday to You :)

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

#10foodbookchallenge - My Top 10

 There's a tagging round going on, on facebook asking friends to list their top 10 favourite books that are at the top of their mind and I too participated in that, my list is here.

My friend Rushina, also issued a #10foodbookchallenge, so in random order, here are the top 10 books that come to my mind :

1. Home Encyclopaedia - J B Lobo - I know I will never have to deworm a cow or convert royal blue ink to blue black or hide hemline marks while altering an outfit or prepare a pond for stocking baby fish - but this was the first cookbook I ever read, since this was the only cookbook my nana owned and occasionally referred to.

2. Mangalore Ladies Club cookbook - for its Manglorean recipe section

3. Korma, Kheer, Kismet - Pamela Timms - if I ever get around to writing a book - this is what I would aspire to - a blend of food memories, recipes, history and culture with loads of passion.

4. Savour Mumbai: A Culinary Journey Through India's Melting Pot - Vikas Khanna - the recipes are spot on and resemble the ones I have eaten at these famous restaurants in Mumbai.

5. Cooking with Pedatha - Jigyasa Giri & Pratibha Jain - Feels like I'm eating at Pedatha's table myself when I cook from this book.

6. Biryani - Pratibha Karan - the subject matter is reason enough for me to love this one and what an assortment of Biryanis it covers from all across the country!

7. Following Fish - Samanth Subramaniam - love the quirky yet brilliant travel tale

8. Rude Food - Vir Sanghvi - love his columns for the width and depth of information - the book is a great collection of his columns

9. Will Write For Food - Dianne Jacob - so much to learn from this book about Food Writing

10. Fat Duck Cookbook - Heston Blumenthal - I keep going back to it, just to look at the pictures

Monday, August 18, 2014

Book Review : Korma, Kheer & Kismet - Five Seasons in Old Delhi


I first heard of Pamela Timms, when I had just returned to India in December 2010. We were posted to Delhi and by February 2011, I had connected with local foodies and heard rave reviews of her Upar-Wali Chai's - the pop-up High Tea Parties - that she used to organise with her friend Laura. Sadly, by the time I could contact her, Laura left for the Netherlands and these pop-ups came to a full stop and I had to satisfy myself with drooling at the pictures on her blog - eat and dust.

Baking is something that is stressful for me as I am too much of a rebel at heart, especially when it comes to cooking. I'm more comfortable cooking by andaaz (touch, smell and feel), than in following exact measurements. I happily "adjust" recipes from blogs and recipe books when I cook for ourselves, but you see the potential for disaster when it comes to baking? Hence the need to be satisfied with drooling at pictures.

Pamela Timms is a Scottish Journalist who has been living in Delhi since the last 10 years. In 2005, her husband Dean moved to India as a foreign correspondent and she and their children accompanied him.

I saw so many similarities in Pamela's life as an expat in Delhi, with my life as an expat in Cairo and perhaps this is why I connected even more with the book. Except for the food, the monuments and the history of Delhi, there is little else that I love about the city (its just too aggressive, rude and in-your-face for me, I'm happier in a Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad or Mumbai than Delhi. Even living in Guwahati and Ahmedabad has been a 100 times more pleasant)

By a strange coincidence, the last book I read was : Ismail Merchant's - My Passage From India - and in that he recounts how one of the Rejection Letters that he received from a studio for their movie "Heat and Dust" (based on Ruth Prawer Jhabwalla Booker Prize Winning novel of the same name, the movie later won a BAFTA and was nominated for 7 others) was "we are not currently interested in your project of eat and dust" Mr, Merchant wasn't impressed with the production house getting the name of his movie wrong, but it has proved to be an apt name for Pamela's blog that is currently extremely popular.

Another strange connection between these 2 books is that Merchant Ivory productions, produced 3 movies based on books by E M Forster - A Room With A View, Maurice, and Howards End and Pamela was inspired by the heroine of another E M Forster Book - "A Passage to India" that she read shortly before she moved.

After a couple of disastrous rental accommodations (which made it difficult to cook) and the extra attention of being a fair skinned expat in Delhi (constantly besieged with "you want maid?", "you want driver?" and once even being bundled into an autorikshaw by policemen, when all she wanted to do was walk!), she found a refuge (from the stifling Expat Bubble of New Delhi) in Old Delhi.

To paraphrase Pamela, the people of Old Delhi were too busy with their business and their lives to give them any extra, unnecessary attention. Each one was caught up in their own routine and treated them as just another customer. Old Delhi was a sensory overload, but left them exhilarated. (I know the feeling: wandering around the Khan el Khalili in Cairo, in a long sleeved kurta and jeans, with my basic Arabic - as long as I didn't get into a conversation - I blended in as a local and was pretty much left alone to explore the area on my own whims.)

I completely empathise with and understand Pamela's experience of cooking Roast Chicken with Pasta and Tomatoes (an excellent recipe by the way), I've been through it myself.

In Egypt and Dubai (or even Mumbai or Bangalore), when I had a dinner party at home, I just had to visit one large hypermarket and get everything I needed from there. In Delhi, it was a trip to a large supermarket to buy staples, one to Godrej Nature Basket in Def Col to buy boneless meat, imported ingredients and cold meat, INA market for fresh fruit and vegetables and Jor Bagh Market for pork. This is manageable (except for the time taken to get from place to place) as long as you go with a fixed menu in mind and a list of ingredients, but a bit of a toughie for someone like me who looks at ingredients (which are the freshest and the most inspiring?)  and then decides what to cook. This turned out to be more of a mystery box challenge for every dinner party - as I never knew what I would get at the next shop and whether it would match with ingredients I had already picked, to make up a cohesive meal.

But this review is not about me, so to come back to this brilliant book :  Korma, Kheer and Kismet - Five Seasons in Old Delhi - is a a beautiful food memoir of Old Delhi / Puraani Dilli / sheher.  The book has history, culture, food, travel, recipes (just about 14-15) and personal stories all woven into each other. I absolutely LOVED it - if I ever get around to writing a book, this is the book that I would aspire to emulate, it has captured all my favourite interests.



I read this over last weekend and I loved it so much that I gave it to Brajesh and asked him to read it immediately and he also finished it at one shot. While he promised Rushina, that hers would be the first "food" book that he would read, he just read through the introductions of each chapter in "A Pinch of This, A Handful of That" and skimmed over the recipes. In "Korma, Kheer & Kismet" he again skimmed over the recipes, but as it is more memoir than recipe book, he felt that he had actually "read" it. He is now fixated on locating "Ashok & Ashok" on his next trip to Dilli.

As I was reading this book, I found that I was marking a few statements and underlining the names of restaurants and locations and other food writers mentioned in the book. Then I realised that this was the first time since college that I was doing this in a non-management book. (I hate having my books marked permanently in any way, I prefer to use post-its for the occasional note.) This is just a sign that I valued and wanted to emphasise all the new things that I learned in this book - even if it was just the name of a dhabha in Amritsar - but it serves the best cholle bhature in the world.

There is so much depth in this book

- a depth of knowledge of Indian food - Pamela is not just another "visitor" to India, penning a book after a 2 week holiday in the country, she has spent time, energy and effort into researching the topics that she writes about.
- a depth of research - into the families and people cooking up old favourites in this part of the City and into the history of food in general.
- a depth of passion and love - for food and the Old City.

My only issue with this book is the pictures. Being spoiled by the gorgeous technicolour / HD photos on her blog, the Black & White pictures in the book are a disappointment, some of them have become very blurry in grayscale. I understand that printing colour photos in a book, raises costs significantly, but I think a lot of them would have been better off as a link to a colour photo on her blog than as a grainy image in grayscale.

A lot of my Delhi friends have read this book over the long weekend and are already planning an eating expedition to the Old City, while also keeping Rahul Verma's tips for the monsoons in mind.

Charmaine O'Brien's - "Flavors of Delhi" is much more comprehensive and wide in its spectrum, but Pamela's book has a ton of passion - which clearly makes it a much more emotional and enjoyable book.

If you like (notice I don't say love) food and live in Delhi or are visiting Delhi, this is a book you MUST read. Its also a beautiful gift for someone moving to Delhi.

Rating : 4.5/ 5

Friday, August 15, 2014

Recipe : Corned Beef per Eedu (Parsi Inspired)

I've been dreaming of Grilled Hash & Eggs for a very very long time, but since we are doing our best to eat healthy at home (there's no moderation on food when we travel, and we travel 10-15 days a month) and husband has eliminated potatoes from his diet (along with white flour and a few other white carbs and sugars), it didn't seem worth the effort.

However, when I dreamed about it again, I put more thought into how I could adapt it to be faster and without the potatoes, and I remembered the string of Parsi Breakfast (or anytime dishes) of eggs on top of anything (per eedu). Eggs are put on top of anything from okra / bhindi / ladyfinger fry, onion, + tomato sauce, minced meat, potato wafers, and even jaggery+ghee.

So I adapted my older recipe for Grilled Hash & Eggs into a faster, slightly healthier version, which you can serve with bread for breakfast or dal & rotis for lunch or dinner.


Ingredients:
1 tin corned beef
2 medium onions chopped
2 medium tomatoes chopped
1-2 green chillies chopped
1 -2 tbsp kashundi (or any sharp mustard)
2 eggs
Pepper Powder (to taste)
Grated cheese (optional)

Method:
Choose a frying pan or flat bottomed shallow vessel (preferably non stick) which has a good lid that fits tight.

Heat the pan and add a few drops of oil.
Fry the onions, tomatoes and green chillies for a couple of minutes (I prefer the onions with a bite, but you can cook them till soft if you prefer)
If the tomatoes aren't juicy enough, add a tsp or so of tomato sauce.
Now add the kashundi and stir well.
Add the corned beef and mince it up a bit.
Stir and cook for a couple of minutes.
Now flatten/smoothen out the whole mixture in the pan.


Crack and drop 2 eggs on top of the mixture.

Sprinkle pepper on top.
Cover and cook till almost done. (soft or hard yolks of your choice)
If adding cheese, add at this stage.
Cover and cook again till done.

Serve hot with toast / pav  or rotis.

Note :
- Don't add salt, unless you absolutely need it, the corned beef will have enough salt.

- I used a brownish smoked cheese, that's why the topping looks brown rather than white or yellow

Monday, August 11, 2014

Book Review : The Essential Kodava Cookbook


C B Muthamma & P Gangamma Bopanna's - The Essential Kodava Cookbook has been out of print for a couple of years now, but I've constantly been keeping my eyes open for it. The other day there was an online offer of an old copy, but I immediately snapped it up.

The book starts with a brilliant introduction into Kodava Philosophy and Culture. What stands out especially is the role of a woman in Coorgi society. Even when she is married, she still is treated as an important and essential member of both households. Its an outstanding essay and definitely worth a read.

The Recipe Section is divided into Rice, Meat & Poultry, Fish & Prawns, Vegetables, Chutneys & Pickles and Desserts & Snacks.

Coorgi recipes do have a lot of local ingredients like Sannakki rice, kaachambuli etc which aren't easily available outside Coorg (although, recently Bangalore has had quite a few Coorgi ingredient shops open up). The authors have kindly provided alternate ingredients.

The Meat section focuses on mutton & pork with chicken only being advised as a substitute for mutton.

The number of recipes is quite limited (given the other titles in the Penguin - Essential Cookbook series), but it is quite comprehensive and the popularly known dishes are all in the cookbook.

The recipes are quite easy to reproduce at home for someone who is familiar with general cooking techniques and there isn't too much specialised equipment that is required to cook these dishes

While a lot of the rice based dishes are similar to what is cooked in Mangalore and Kerala, the meat and vegetable preparations have their own unique flavour.

If you are looking for something new, I would quite recommend this book to you, but there's no need to buy this book, if all you are looking for is - the famed Pandi Curry (there are enough online recipes for the dish)

Rating : 4 / 5

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Recipe : Pepper Chicken Stir Fry

This is a light recipe, quick to assemble, once you have the marinated chicken. It barely takes 15 minutes to get to the table once your marinated chicken is at room temperature. I used boneless chicken and this cooks much faster. If you use pieces with bone, you will need to cook it a little longer. You can make it less spicy, by decreasing the pepper powder and the chillies.


Ingredients:
500 gms chicken (boneless better)
1-2 tbsp pepper powder
1 tsp red chilli powder
1-2 tbsp ginger garlic paste
2-3 tbsp soya sauce
1 tbsp olive oil (or any healthy oil)
1 tbsp fennel seeds / saunf (optional - its good for digestion and iron content)
5-10 cloves garlic chopped
1 large onion chopped
4 green chillies chopped
2 - 3 red or yellow capsicums/ bell peppers in bite sized pieces
100 gms baby corn chopped same size as capsicum
natural vinegar / lime juice to taste

Method:
Clean and chop the chicken to bite sized pieces.
Marinate chicken in a paste of pepper powder, chilli powder, ginger garlic paste and soya sauce for an hour or longer. (if longer, then marinate it in the fridge)

When ready to cook, bring the chicken back to room temperature (otherwise you will have hard, stringy chicken)
In a pan, heat the oil, add the fennel seeds.
When the fennel seeds splutter, add garlic and brown lightly.
Then add the onions and cook it to your required level of doneness (we preferred a bit of crunch in our onions, but you can even caramelise them completely.
Add the chicken and stir fry on high heat.
When half cooked, add the green chillies.
When chicken is almost cooked, add the baby corn and capsicums and give one good toss in the pan, so it all reaches a good temperature, before turning off.
Add some vinegar or lemon juice to your taste, give a good stir and serve hot.

You do not need to add salt in this dish, as the soya sauce will provide the saltiness.

Kim's Tips:

We eat this dish as an entire meal, on the days that we are avoiding carbs. But you can serve it with noodles or fried rice.

You can experiment with other vegetables too - broccoli, green beans, carrots etc.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Recipe : Vegetable Stir Fry (Vegan)

Since we are now trying to be a bit cautious about our weight, whenever we have over indulged ( by eating out, eating late, eating heavy, eating dessert), the next day I keep the food really light and healthy. so most Mondays end up being fruit or salad days.


One of B's favourite dishes are stir fry's. He loves the fact that the veggies remain crisp, so he doesn't crave something fried for texture.

You can use any combination of vegetables for a stir fry, but the crisper ones are what work best - cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, baby corn, capsicum, beans, carrots are all great options. I love adding mushrooms too for their deeper, earthier flavours.

Your seasoning, can be anything that you like, I am partial to garlic, black pepper, star anise and sichuan pepper in various combinations.

I also tend to use soya sauce for flavouring at the end, so I don't add any salt. You can use your choice of homemade dressings or ready made stir fry / oyster sauce or any combination of sauces that you like. I often add some drops of tabasco sauce, just to up the heat a bit.

While I was making this stir fry last night, husband promised to help with taking some photos. He was very excited with his new phone and its camera features, hence there are some whacky images, that did look interesting, so I'm going to add them at the end. Let me know what you think.

Stir fry's are one of the few rare dishes that i prep for completely before I start to cook. Most times, I keep chopping, washing, cleaning through the process. But given how quickly the veggies cook in this dish, I like to keep my mis-en-place ready before i start.

The order in which the veggies go into the pan is dependent on how long each one needs to cook to your level of doneness.

Ingredients :
1 large bowl of mixed chopped vegetables of your choice
(in this instance I used broccoli, red & yellow peppers, baby corn, cabbage and mushrooms)

 1/2 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp chopped garlic
1" ginger grated
1 tsp pepper pounded coarsely
5-6 Sichuan Peppers pounded coarsely
1 star anise pounded coarsely
soya sauce to taste
natural vinegar / lime juice to taste

Method:
Warm the pan on high heat and add the oil
Drop the chopped garlic and pounded spices into the hot oil and let them splutter and the garlic brown a bit.
Now add the mushrooms, broccoli, cabbage, baby corn and bell peppers in order (intervals depend on how well you want each one cooked)
Keep stir frying on high heat until done.
Take the stir fry out into a serving bowl and season with soya sauce, vinegar or sauce of your choice.

Your meal is ready


Below are some of the pictures B took, using the special effects on his phone.







And my favourites of the lot - The Kaleidoscope Effect



This post is also submitted for the Indiblogger & Borosil #BeautifulFood contest

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