Potato passion: Potato Parcels

Written by Meena Agarwal on September 25th, 2007 | 34 Comments


Potato Parcels

Me and Hubby Dear are what some might call munchers. You know, the kinds that could live on finger foods alone. Yes, now that I think back a little, we most certainly are one of those kinds.

The first time we went out, ever, we unsuccesfully tried to share a plate of french fries. I say we tried, because truly, I was was the one trying my best to get my fork into the plate while Hubby Dear conviniently walked at a much faster pace covering it with his arms. (Walking, since unlike the tradional way of going out to dinner for a first date, we chose to spend a day at the CNE.) Yes, the guy does like his fries, sometimes, I believe, even more than his pretty little wife. We spent the rest of the day bouncing between samosas, popcorn and fiery wings.

When we’re not having friends over, our Friday nights usually turn out the same each week – a bunch of movies enjoyed over a platter of assorted mini treats. As much as our choice of movies may differ, the only variable constant to our evening would be the finger food. Constant, because they mostly always find themselves to be potato-based. And variable, because they almost never taste the same.

I love experimenting with different flavours, and what better way to try a new flavour than to toss it over a bowl of plain boiled and mashed potatoes. From chat masala to chipotle-lime, the list of flavourings is endless, and the combinations one can come up with is overwhelming. We made this a couple of weeks ago. We, because while I fried, Hubby Dear ate, much to the dismay of his burning tongue. The things men do for food, or should I say, potatoes!

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In the Kitchen with: Laura Calder

Written by Meena Agarwal on September 17th, 2007 | 7 Comments


laura-with-food.jpgIf you, like me, cannot go a day without turning on the Food Network, then you must’ve surely gotten a glimpse of the fabulously homely show, French Food at Home with Laura Calder. Like many I know, I always thought of French cuisine as one that oozes out elegance, which automatically went on to mean laborious planning and cooking techniques. Once I got taste of Laura’s show, I was forced to change my pre-concieved notion of fancy French food. She makes the most elegant dishes seem so comforting and so very doable.

I recently had a chance to catchup with her over an essay she wrote for ‘Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant‘, that I thoroughly enjoyed, and decided to quiz her on kitchen routine…

What did you eat today?

Well… not what I normally eat.  During a shoot, my eating habits change completely because I burn up so much energy.  I have a smoothie every morning + an egg on toast (whereas, normally, I just drink tea).  Then, all through the day as I cook my way through a show, I devour each of my recipes.  This is great when I do a menu show; but it is torture when I do, say, a chocolate show or a pastry-only show.  I get home quite late, so I don’t eat anything at night.  I go straight to bed.  In normal life, however, I always have an excellent dinner. It’s my favourite meal of the day.

What do most enjoy cooking?

There is no one thing that I most enjoy cooking.  I like being in the kitchen generally, so pretty much anything goes, although I don’t like things that demand too much perfection and finicky work.  I’m not detail-oriented enough for that kind of thing.

In your fridge, we can always find…

Milk, butter, cream, creme fraiche, cheese…  Capers, dijon mustard, eggs, cornichons….  a bottle of white wine, probably… And lots of vegetables.

Your most cherished kitchen tool?

I get asked this a lot…  I don’t have a lot of kitchen tools, because I am a basic cook, but those microplane graters are pretty indispensible. I also love my metal pastry scraper.

The last cookbook you enjoyed?

I use my Larousse Gastronomique constantly, and I can’t wait for Anne Willan’s new book to hit the stands:  The Country Cooking of France.  It is excellent.

Where does your love for food come from?

I’ll have to ask a shrink that some day.

When was the last time you cooked for a loved one? What did you make?

I cook for people I love all the time, but the shoot has been in my way all summer, so I can’t remember…  I do recall a recent strawberry galette which I made about 15 times trying to perfect.  It’s in season two so watch for it!

What is your guilty food pleasure?

I have no guilt when it comes to food, just pleasure.

What according to you is the one dish that everyone should try at least once?

You can’t dictate this kind of thing:  appetites differ and I respect that. What I do think everyone should be forced to try, however, is a proper carrot straight from a garden, corn straight off the stalks and thrown into a pot, an excellent butter croissant straight out of a wood oven…  The best of whatever it is we like, in other words, so that we raise our standards.

* Photograph courtesy LauraCalder.com



Kitchen Essentials, Part 1

Written by Meena Agarwal on September 10th, 2007 | 17 Comments


utensils.jpgOver the past couple of months, I’ve received a slew of emails from readers asking me share with them all the tools, equipment and staples in my kitchen. So instead of replying individually to each and every one of them, I thought it would be better to share it here on my blog with all of you. I’ve decided to break up this list into installments, each time concentrating on a few particular components. The following list is one that I’ve designed based on my preferences and what I actually use on a regular basis. Most of them, if not all, can easily be found in regular kitchen stores or kitchen sections of any department store.

What I list here are items that I mostly can’t imagine cooking without, but that doesn’t mean that you have to go all out and grab each of them for yourself. Think of what will work for you and what simply won’t fit into your cooking ritual. We all have our own style of cooking and there’s nothing worse than trying to imitate one that just isn’t cut out for you. As an enthusiastic cook, I love sharing kitchen and cooking ideas with like-minded folks, so don’t hesitate to leave a note on your kitchen staples in the comments section. The kitchen Gods surely know how much I would enjoy reading them!

Cooking Utensils

  • Two deep pans, with lids, and preferably one of them non-stick. It’s always best to get two different sizes, one small (1 litre/quart) and one large (3 litres/quarts). When selecting, I would go with a smaller non-stick one and large regular pot.
  • One heavy bottom pot, 6 to 8 litres/quarts, for all those wonderful slow cooking soups, stews and curriesthat we seem to fill ourselves with during the colder months. Also perfect for thet big pot of Biryani you’re planning for your next dinner party.
  • One pressure cooker, 3 to 6 litres/quarts in capacity. I love my pressure cooker and don’t know what I’d do without it. It’s amazing in cooking lentils, dried beans and meat in considerably lesser time. If you need to avoid this purchase, I’d suggest investing in a good heavy bottom pot to enable the long, slow cooking process for these ingredients.
  • Two round skillets, or frying pans, preferably one non-stick. I would go with one medium and one large size, both with lids.
  • One non-stick flat skillet, or tawa: perfect for flipping rotis, as well as frying parathas. If you need to improvise, you can definitely go with the non-stick frying when making rotis and parathas, but in that case try and get one that’s flat at the bottom as opposed to a more rounder one.
  • Two deep kadhais, or the Indian wok, one preferably non-stick with lids. These are perfect for deep frying as well as stir frying. Classic dishes like Kadhai Chicken got its name due to the cooking method that explicitly requires it being cooked in a kadhai. For deep frying, I personally love thick aluminium ones, that give out perfectly crisp puris, kachoris and samosas. If you have to choose between the two, I would definitely stick with the aluminium one since it is the more traditional option.
  • One small saute pan, perfect for tadka or tempering.

Other utensils in my kitchen that are not essential, but definitely nice to have, include,

  • A cast iron skillet, perfect to sear meat on a high heat and shoving it into the oven for a slow cook wonderful flavour.
  • A steamer. Before I bought one for myself, I easily did with placing a round baking dish on a small grill stand inside a large pot, tightly covered with a lid. Worked perfectly!

To be continued…

* Photograph courtesy Gettyimages.com



Comfort on a weeknight: Chicken and Mushrooms

Written by Meena Agarwal on September 6th, 2007 | 14 Comments


Chicken & Mushrooms

After two whole of months of regaling in a house brimming with lively conversation and spilts of laughter, amidst the usual occasional rolling of the eyes of course, I finally find myself in an empty one. My parents recently left after enjoying a what I’d like to believe, a blissful vacation with us. With them, my sister – who for the duration of their stay moved in bag and baggage, went too. And if that was not enough, Hubby Dear had to take his business related trip within days of their departure. Which leaves me fending for myself.

But of course, like most artistic types, I use that time to dwell in my creativity. I can sleep as late as I want to, watching reruns of ‘What Not to Wear’ (what is it with that show that I can never get enough of?), work on my writing commitments into the wee hours of the morning, and the best part yet, experiment with food and test new recipes. Which is not to say that I look forward to this time, but it’s much easier getting rid of a recipe gone horribly bad and turning to a cup of fruit yoghurt for dinner rather than trying to convince a famished husband to do the same.

I woke up this morning with a deep longing for some good comfort food. So after a quick breakfast of coffee and toast (yes, I know, how boring!), I decided to head out and see what I could find of fresh produce. As I strolled down the aisles of fresh fruits and greens, ideas kept popping into my head. One look at the abundance of fresh mushrooms reminded me of a sinfully delicious chicken and mushroom stew I had recently. It was warm and comforting, a treat for a lonely week night. The short flashback was all I needed to add it to my basket. Once the mushrooms were in, my hands just moved to pick up the rest of the ingredients. The pot was already simmering in my head, and by the time I got home, I could already taste it.

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