Warming Tones: Chilli Paneer

Recipe for Chilli Paneer taken from www.hookedonheat.com

What is it with the weather lately? One week it’s super hot, then it’s rainy and now it’s back to having me want to spend my day under the covers with umpteen cups of coffee and a good book. The recipe I have for you today, namely Chilli Paneer, is perfect for this slightly chilly, damp weather. It’s quick, tasty and fits the bill in giving you that warm, cozy feeling in your tummy on a day like this.

I shared my recipe of Chilli Paneer on this blog many years ago, but decided to update you with another one today since I’ve now changed the way I make it for us at home. Chilli Paneer is a crowd favourite that pleases adults and kids alike. You’ll probably find it on any Indo-Chinese menu as the vegetarian companion to Chilli Chicken. Don’t you just love it when different cultures come together and produce a lip-smacking plate of food. Almost like a perfect marriage.

In India, Chinese food is nothing like what you get, well, in China. It’s loaded with chillies, garlic, ginger, onions, a ton of various spices and a generous splash of soy sauce to finish off! Hubby Dear fondly tells me of the first time he walked into an authentic Chinese restaurant in Canada craving his regular favourites – Chilli Paneer, Gobi Manchurian and Pepper Chicken. Not only was he disappointed to find out that they didn’t serve either of these, but that whatever he ordered, lacked the familiarity of so-called Chinese dishes that he was used to back in India. It was only much later that he learned that restaurants serving Indianized Chinese food did exist and here in the GTA, they are often referred to as Hakka joints. We do have our go-to Hakka places that we like to venture into a few times a month, but for the most part, I prefer making these dishes at home. That way, I can easily control the sodium and spice level that goes into it. Not to mention, my home-cooked recipes are very rarely deep fried, not laden with copious amounts of oil and equally, finger-lickin’ good.

I urge you to try this recipe if you’re new to Indo-Chinese food. And if, like me, you can’t get enough of this amazing cuisine, then what’s your excuse to not get cooking?
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Men Can Cook: Hubby Dear’s Famous Nachos

Recipe for Nachos taken from www.hookedonheat.com

Hubby Dear rarely cooks. In fact, the only time he ever enters the kitchen is to peek over my shoulder to see what’s cooking. There was this one time a couple of years ago where I threw Hubby Dear a surprise birthday party with some of our closest friends and family. There were over 12 adults plus kids, and I had, as usual, planned a huge menu that included a super large Eggplant Parmesan as one of the main dishes. In order to make the recipe large enough to feed a hungry crowd, I bought 8 giant eggplants and stored them in the fridge for about two days before the party. And the man had no idea! Not even once in that week did he open the fridge. Thank God for that, or else I would’ve been stumped on what to say if he asked about the sudden over stocking of eggplants and the numerous jars of mixed olives and marinated mushrooms. So yea, the kitchen is pretty much my domain.

Well, except for when a strong craving of Nachos suddenly hits! That’s when Hubby Dear takes over, and rightly so. You see, he has this gift when it comes to making THE best, cheesy, finger-licking Nachos. Anyone and everyone who’s ever had a bite of Hubby Dear’s Special Nachos swears by it! Friends and family request it anytime we get together and Baby Dear and I demand it for dinner 2-3 times a month. It is that good.

I’ve watched him make it a zillion times; shopped for the ingredients he needs, even helped in chopping them up. Trust me when I say this – it’s the most simple and easiest way to make a platter of nachos. All the ingredients used are readily available and almost all can usually be found in your kitchen any given day. There’s no “secret” ingredient. No “special” technique. Its just regular, everyday ingredients chopped up, layered and baked. So what makes it THAT good, you ask? I honestly don’t know. Maybe it’s the smile on his face when he proudly brings the platter to the table. Or maybe, just maybe, its the love that he puts in it - from the way he patiently tries to chop everything the same size, to carefully spreading it all out evenly so that each bite is a party in your mouth. I guess, now that I think of it, there may be a “secret” to it after all!
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Pantry Cooking: Tawa Pulao

Recipe for Tawa Pulao taken from www.hookedonheat.com

It’s been hot and I think I’m melting! I could’ve sworn I was an inch taller just two weeks ago!! Thank goodness for the rain Gods, it’s been much cooler the past two days. I feel that I can now actually enter my beloved kitchen, without getting cooked myself. Although I enjoy making elaborate meals and spending precious time creating culinary art, there are times when I just want to come home and not take more than a few minutes to whip up a delicious yet wholesome meal.

It is often at such times when I find retreat in my always over-stocked pantry. I love my pantry, and I sincerely believe that if I happen to have an unexpected emergency at hand, I’ll most probably be very well prepared to cook up a meal for 10 people using just the contents from it. I always make sure my shelves are well stocked with a variety of pasta, flour, canned beans, sauces and quick eats.

I’ve always loved grocery shopping, which only added to my pantry stock. I love losing myself in the aisles with the variety of oils, sauces and international fares. Learning to grocery shop the right way is an acquired art. It takes brain power and perfect precision to buy things in just the right amount to stock a pantry. There were times when I would find myself staring at 5 cans of tuna, each with an expiry date well past.

It took time, and a lot of practice, but I learnt. I now have the perfect pantry to help me build my meals each day. And at times like tonight, when all I want is a quick fix and hours in front of the TV, my pantry is what I can count on!
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Quick, Quick, Slow: Sukhe Alu (Sauteed Potatoes)

Recipe of Sukhe Alu (Sauteed Potatoes) taken from www.hookedonheat.com

If you ever happen to just drop by my home on short notice or unannounced, chances are high that you will be served a meal that would definitely star one of my go-to potato recipes. This humble vegetable is a boon to home cooks everywhere, and I consider it a part of the Indian kitchen trinity alongside onion and tomatoes. In fact, even on days when my fridge is almost bare and I need to make a desperate run to store, I can always count on falling back on these three. Combined with a pantry full of various lentils, beans and grains, and variety of spices on hand, the options for a simple healthy dinner are endless!

Hubby Dear is the die-hard potato fan in our home. So much so, that I often say all I have to do is throw him the tuber when he starts to whine in hunger and he’s a happy camper! I guess it makes us the perfect match since I’m known as the potato magician in the family. It’s been said that my potato recipes are finger-lickin’ and we have friends and family who always request them at every meal they eat at our table. But I digress.

Potatoes are definitely very versatile and take on any flavor added to them with ease. They’re simple to prep and even easier to handle while cooking, so what’s not to love! The recipe I’m sharing with you today is one I keep in my back pocket. If you have the few ingredients it asks for on hand, which I always do, this dish is perfect to throw together as that final side to bring the whole meal together. Leftovers work wonderfully slightly mashed up and sandwiched between toasted bread. Or serve it by self warm with toothpicks alongside some iced drinks! No matter which way you decide to bring it to the table, I can guarantee that your family will linger around till its all gone!
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A Hearty Feast: Goat Curry

Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

I have a love-hate relationship with my pressure cooker. While most Indian home cooks swear by it to dish out family dinners every night, I often shy away from mine. I haven’t much gotten the hang of using one for my everyday cooking. The problem for me is trying to keep track and remember how much time or how many whistles is needed to cook a certain thing. I either simmer the food for too long and turn it to mush, or release the pressure too soon and have to start over again to let it completely cook through.

A couple of weeks ago, Hubby Dear was away on a 12-day business trip leaving me and Baby Dear at the mercy of each other. He left early Sunday morning and by the time Friday rolled around, I was ready to wave my white flag. We’d both had it with the week’s routine, missed our team mate terribly and were in a dire need of some strong comfort. As we dragged our feet into the house after I picked him up from preschool, something clicked. There’s nothing that a good home cooked meal can’t cure, and I’d decided that Baby Dear and I were going to spend our Friday night with a good movie and some amazing food.

I had just picked up some fresh cut meat from the butchers’ earlier that day and figured it was as perfect a time as any to turn it into something lip-smacking. Goat curry is something I always, always have to order when we eat out at an Indian restaurant. It’s my absolute favourite curry dish and something I don’t normally cook at home simply because it can take quite a while to soften the meat so that it just melts in your mouth. As I took a peek at the clock across my kitchen, it occurred to me that it was either the pressure cook way or no way that I was going to get dinner on the table before Baby Dear would turn into Baby-Zilla out of hunger!

So I busted out the beast and got to work. When it came time to lock the lid and place the whistle on it, I said a little prayer and crossed my fingers. And whaddaya know! 30 minutes later, we were laughing over the antics of those silly Minions and digging into our luscious and super delicious dinner.
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Indian Food: C is for… Chatpati Bharwaan Bhindi

Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

Over six years ago when I first introduced the Intro to Indian Food series of this very blog, I had no idea I was about to start a cult following. What started as a simple desire to help a few of my friends and readers learn the basics of Indian cooking, enabling them to enjoy good food cooked in the comforts of home using fresh, readily available, and healthy ingredients, turned out to be one of THE best decisions I ever made in my writing/blogging career. The series was soon picked up by The Mississauga News as a monthly feature in their food section. Over the years, I’ve received a ton of emails and comments on those posts from folks eager to learn more, much more, about Indian food. And it has been a true pleasure for me responding to each and every one of those queries.

I’ve been reading through a lot of feedback from you guys on the kind of content you’d like me to showcase more of on HoH. Let me just say that I have a couple of fun features/ideas that should take off soon that I’m sure you’ll enjoy very much. One of them that makes me giddy with excitement is a spin off from my Indian 101 series. I know that a lot of you have asked me to bring that back, but I think I can offer you something a step further. Join me, as I cook my way from A to Z of Indian Food. Each post in this series will showcase a recipe of a dish that begins with a letter from the alphabet. I’ll try my best to pick a variety of vegetarian, non-vegetarian and vegan recipes – both restaurant favourites, and simple home cook secrets.

MORE POSTS ON INDIAN FOOD: A-Z

POSTS ON INTRO TO INDIAN COOKING

Bhindi, or Okra as we all know it, is quite a tricky vegetable when it comes to cooking. Although it certainly is one of the most popular vegetables in an Indian vegetarian menu, there are a huge chunk of us who wring our noses on its slimy characteristics. Hubby Dear loves this dainty vegetable to death and can eat it at any meal, but serve it up even with the slightest of moisture in it and he’s off! I’m the same way. For me, the okra must always be cooked absolutely dry, with lots of spices added in. A quick way to cook bhindi is by stir-frying the chopped pieces with lots of onions and some spices. My tried and tested trick to get rid of any trace of slime while cooking is to add in a hefty pinch of amchoor powder.

Today’s recipe is another way to jazz up this humble vegetable and create a dish that’s perfect for entertaining. Chatpati simply means tangy and in this recipe, the addition of amchoor powder also known as dried mango, takes kicks it up a notch. In my book, this recipe is an absolute win since it’s simple to prep, easy to cook and a definite crowd pleaser. Because this is a pretty dry vegetable side dish, I would suggest pairing it up with a side of Curry or Dal served alongside some Rice and Rotis.

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Quick Dinner Ideas: Thai Basil Chicken

Recipe for Thai Basil Chicken taken from www.hookedonheat.com

I remember the very first time I was introduced to Thai food. I was about 13 and on our family vacation in Bangkok. I have fond memories of those five days; most of which revolve around the culture and shopping in Thailand and none, unfortunately of its cuisine. You see, my Dad is not in the least adventurous when it comes to his food. The man wants his Dal-Roti-Sabzi no matter where he is, and will stop at nothing to find it! So needless to say, while in Thailand we religiously avoided all the street food and ate a lot of meals of our meals at Mrs. Balbir’s. The food there, from what I remember was absolutely delicious. Authentic north Indian cuisine in the heart of Bangkok.

It was on one such visit that my Mom decided she wanted to try something representative of the country we were visiting and opted for a bowl of Tom Yum Soup while the rest of us dug into our Chicken Curry and Dal Makhani. Now, for those of you who’ve followed my blog since the very beginning, know that my Mom is a Malaysian. And Malaysians are nothing if not known for their lip-smacking spicy food – for the most part at least. So my Mom, like a true-bred Malay took and big slurp of the piping hot soup and almost cried in pain! I couldn’t resist and HAD to see what the hoopla was all about. But I wanted to be careful, so only took about a third of the spoon. Boy, were my ears on fire! It was probably the spiciest thing I’ve eaten my entire life!! But that was years ago in Thailand. Thai food in other countries is much more tamed in spice level but just as authentic and delicious in flavour.

Hubby Dear and I have always been huge fans of Thai food and love to try out any new establishment that opens near to where we are. Over the years, we’ve settled on our favourites and are now quite critical on how the dishes we prefer taste. Baby Dear, being the budding food connoisseur that he is, is a die-hard fan of Pad Thai – the tangier, the better. I love my Green Curry with tons of gravy and veggies, and Hubby Dear often shuttles between Pad Thai loaded with peanuts (at times even more nuts than noodles!) or a spicy Cashew Chicken. But one dish that we MUST always order for the table is Basil Chicken. That is, of course, until I tried my hand at making it this week. I can now honestly say that we can cross out Basil Chicken from our future orders and substitute it with an extra plate of Papaya Salad.

This recipe is also a perfect candidate for a quick week-night meal served with some plain rice and sliced fresh cucumbers on the side.
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Spare the Spice: Nasi Goreng

Recipe for Nasi Goreng taken from www.hookedonheat.com

I remember the first time I introduced Hubby Dear to Malaysian food. It was during our initial dating days and I’d read about this family-run Malaysian restaurant in Toronto which seemed to have great reviews. Now, the only Malaysian food I’ve ever been exposed to are the dishes that either came out of my Mom’s kitchen or that of her family’s back in Malaysia as well as the road side stalls over there. Needless to say, up until then, I’d only had the good fortune of eating authentic, homemade Malaysian cuisine. So like Hubby Dear, I was equally excited and intrigued to eat at this particular joint.

The menu looked promising – all the popular favourites that I had briefed Hubby Dear about were available, and I started to order us a scrumptious sounding meal. Then came the dreaded question from our server: “What spice level did we prefer?”

For those not in the know, typical Malay food tends to be on the spicier side – even more than the average Indian heat level. Most of the time it really depends on the dish itself, but if you’re a first timer to this delicious cuisine, I’d suggest going a milder route. I had already mentioned this to Hubby Dear prior that if in any case they were serving authentic versions of the dishes then it would be quite spicy. But he was to have none of it! As an Indian, he prided himself on the number of chillies he could muster in a meal. With a broad smile on his face, he proceeded to ask the server to make our food “spicy”.

The rest as they say, is history! The food was absolutely delicious, no doubt, and thanks to Hubby Dear we managed to put out the fire on our tongues after every spoonful with a glass of water. It was a lot of water we had that evening, but the flavours triggered a new found love for him like no other. Malay food is a favourite in our house – even Baby Dear is a fan, and the go-to cuisine whenever we go out to celebrate. So it’s only fitting that I tried and replicate a classic dish on the event of our 9th marriage anniversary. It’s by no means claimed as authentic, but it does come pretty close in flavour to real thang.

So here’s to you Hubby Dear – for 9 years, over a million laughs and countless acts of love. And also to many more to come. May the spice level never die down!

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Indian Food: B is for… Bhuna Chicken

Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

Over six years ago when I first introduced the Intro to Indian Food series of this very blog, I had no idea I was about to start a cult following. What started as a simple desire to help a few of my friends and readers learn the basics of Indian cooking, enabling them to enjoy good food cooked in the comforts of home using fresh, readily available, and healthy ingredients, turned out to be one of THE best decisions I ever made in my writing/blogging career. The series was soon picked up by The Mississauga News as a monthly feature in their food section. Over the years, I’ve received  a ton of emails and comments on those posts from folks eager to learn more, much more, about Indian food. And it has been a true pleasure for me responding to each and every one of those queries.

I’ve been reading through a lot of feedback from you guys on the kind of content you’d like me to showcase more of on HoH. Let me just say that I have a couple of fun features/ideas that should take off soon that I’m sure you’ll enjoy very much. One of them that makes me giddy with excitement is a spin off from my Indian 101 series. I know that a lot of you have asked me to bring that back,  but I think I can offer you something a step further. Join me, as I cook my way from A to Z of Indian Food. Each post in this series will showcase a recipe of a dish that begins with a letter from the alphabet. I’ll try my best to pick a variety of vegetarian, non-vegetarian and vegan recipes – both restaurant favourites, and simple home cook secrets.

MORE POSTS ON INDIAN FOOD: A-Z

POSTS ON INTRO TO INDIAN COOKING

Okay, so I’m back with the next episode in this series and today we’re on to the letter B. B for Bhuna Chicken. Bhuna is technique of cooking, which simply means to fry the flavour base or masala really well till it starts to caramelize and give out oil along the sides. This method of cooking ensures a robust burst of flavour in the dish and the end result is always a warm, comforting bite. It does take a bit of extra time and a watchful eye to make sure that the masala is cooking well without getting burnt. The secret to this, I believe, is low and slow. Keep the heat low and stir slowly every now and then.

This recipe is perfect for a weekend meal when you have the time and mood to putter about  in the kitchen with nothing much else to tug at your attention. It also tastes even better the next day since the spices and flavour and enough time to penetrate and mingle through. Because of this, I love to serve this dish at dinner parties when I know I can cook it either the previous night or early that morning. Other than the little bit of extra time it takes to bhuno the masala, this recipe is fairly simple and a treat to eat.

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Go Green: Palak Paneer

Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

Being born and bred in the Arabian Gulf, everyone simply assumes I am the Guru when it comes to Mid-Eastern fare. But, in fact, I’ve only tasted hummus (and can now gulp down bowls of it!) a mere 10 years ago. In Canada. Yes, strange I know, but also true! You see, when we were growing up, hummus was almost a weekly guest at our table. My parents and siblings loved it, and relished every mouthful. I, on the other hand, thought it to be gooey (my husband would scorn with gooey not being a word!), and hence, never dared to give it a try.

But since being with Hubby Dear, the adventurous soul that he is, I’ve begun to mellow down a lot. It was with him that I took my first scoop of hummus, and decided, that though being gooey, I quite liked it. In fact, now it very easily makes it’s way into my kitchen every week!

Ever since I’ve started this blog, I’ve begun cooking things that I normally wouldn’t. I now see my weekly grocery trips as a chance for me to explore and learn. I pick up veggies that I would run away from and try and create new ways of enjoying it.

When we were growing up, spinach was one such vegetable that I would often hide from. I would cry and cry until my Mom got tired enough to allow me to leave it aside. Then I moved to India and was introduced to a dish I can now swear by. Till today, it’s one of the few ways I will eat spinach without a gun on my head.

So today, as I was scanning my fridge and freezer, thinking of what to make for dinner, my eyes set upon the block of frozen spinach lying there, bought only a few days ago. And what do you know, the rest as they say, is history!

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