Replaying Leftovers: Chili Pot Pies

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

Baby Dear and I have an afternoon ritual of sorts, on days that he goes to preschool. As soon as I strap him into his car seat and settle in to begin our drive home, he always asks me what I’ve planned for dinner. After I tell him what’s on the menu for that night, I then ask him what he had for lunch. His answers always make me smile – partly from knowing that my ‘lil gourmand is being well fed, and part from the way he tries to string his words together. Like the time he had lasagna, and couldn’t remember what it was called. After a few minutes of pondering, he finally blurted out. “What’s Garfield’s favourite food?”. Yes, he’s super funny like that!

The daycare he goes to gets the kids’ lunches catered. When I first glanced at the menu, I got a wee bit jealous and not to mention, nervous. The list included dishes like Roasted Veggie Lasagna, Butter Chicken, Pasta in Kale Pesto and Fish Picata. Fish Picata? Really? For 3 year olds? As much as I absolutely loved the fact that Baby Dear would be fed a variety of gourmet meals ranging in taste and texture, it also worried me if my often simple home cooked meals would have him turn his nose up at it. How silly was I! Baby Dear enjoys the humble Grilled Cheese with Tomatoes with as much pleasure as he savours a slow-cooked Biryani. The kid loves good food – as long as its tasty, he’s game!

A few months ago, Baby Dear told me he had Chicken Pot Pie for lunch. Well, he actually said he had pie with chicken, peas and carrots. I kinda put the two and together and figured that’s what it meant. He had it again some weeks back and told me how much he liked it and wanted me to make it for dinner some day. Then, sometime last week, while I was watching the Food Network, Baby Dear happened to glance at the screen and see Chicken Pot Pie actually being made. He screamed with delight and demanded I make it as soon as possible. I finally promised him I would.

Well, as I was thinking about what to cook for dinner today, I peeked into the fridge and stared at a container of some leftover Chili from a few days ago. The idea suddenly hit me; and although it’s no REAL Chicken Pot Pie, it definitely made Baby Dear request me to make it again soon!
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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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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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Quick Dinner Ideas: Shrimp & Greens Curry

Recipe for Shrimp and Greens Curry taken from www.hookedonheat.com

I recently had a long chat with a friend who confessed to me that she absolutely dreaded the hour before it was dinnertime. She hates cooking, and the mere thought of “Whats’s for dinner tonight?”  can really drive  her up the wall. What she faces everyday is nothing new to most of us. Me included! I’ve been known to stare into the fridge, almost willing it to pop out a completely tasty, well balanced meal straight onto my dining table.

I’ve never been one to meal plan on weekly basis. I know its advantages and have sincerely tried to follow through many times. But, unless and until I hit the stores and check out the fresh produce they have to offer, I’m not motivated. I love feeling the freshness of the bright coloured fruits and veggies, checking out the cheese display and rummaging through the aisles for new spices and flavours. All this, the dedication and time I put into grocery shopping each week, is what inspires me and helps me creative in the kitchen.

As much as I love to play around with the ingredients I have to create a wonderful meal, there are many nights where all I want is something no-fuss, quick and healthy, and call it a night! It’s for nights like these that I save some of my go-to family favourite recipes that come together in a snap and satisfy our hungry tummies. Most of these recipes are either one-pot meals, or a mish-mash of some protein and veggies that can be easily served with rice/rotis/bread to complete the meal. Add a side salad, and you’re good to go!

Today’s recipe is one that fits the bill. Infact, it’s going to be dinner for Baby Dear and me tonight. Hubby Dear has dinner plans at work and I’m knee deep in house chores, so dinner needs to be quick. I always have a bag of frozen shrimp in my freezer and some form green leafy vegetable in the fridge. Be it bok choy, spinach or kale, they all work well in this recipe.

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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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The Simple Things: Quick & Easy Meat Sauce

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

As I sat down to write this post today, I was suddenly lost for words. No matter how hard I tried to concentrate, I simply could not find the perfect sentence to begin with. My mind wandered, and I found myself sifting through the archives of my blog. I began to read the posts one after another, and found myself smiling. Through all my years of blogging, I’ve hardly ever sat down to read a previous post once it’s been published. It was nice to see how I’ve evolved as a writer and blogger, but most importantly, how my voice has still remained the same.

When I started this blog, I had no idea what I was doing. No goals to reach, no plan in mind. I just dove in and got started. Slowly, with time, things happened – I found a path I wanted to take, I set goals to reach and I challenged myself with ne ideas and inspiration. And with all that, I was able to share with you creative recipes – recipes that I, my family and friends enjoy. But, scrolling down each post also made me realize what I haven’t shared with you enough - the simple, truly simple recipes that is the backbone of my repertoire. These are the recipes that I eat when I’m by myself. They are the ones I fall back on when pressed for time with a hungry baby and hubby in tow. They are the dishes I can whip up on auto-pilot, with my eyes closed and one hand tied behind my back. These are also the recipes I relied on as a college student, first time away from home with a tiny studio kitchen and a single burner stove.

If there’s anything I look back most fondly on during my college years, then it’s definitely cooking in that mouse hole of a kitchen. Armed with a deep skillet and two hungry bellies to feed besides myself, I created some pretty delicious meals. My friends H & M were my constant dinner companions and were always quick to praise anything I set on their plates. Now that I think back, had it not been for that single burner, I may never have found my niche and love for cooking.

This recipe I have for you today, is one from those olden times. Although I’ve used meat in it now, back then due to a limited budget, I always made it vegetarian. And trust me when I say it was equally delicious, if not better sans meat! It was my go to recipe (still is!), and never failed to please us three. Afterall, what’s better on a Friday night than three girls who are best friends, a bowl of pasta each and a stack full of trashy magazines!

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What to Cook: Quick, Simple Family Dinner

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

I love getting emails from all of you, especially ones that request help with planning a menu. I’m a big advocate of hosting regular family-style dinner parties, and love to see others do the same. Here is an email I received from Dana a few days ago:

Hi Meena,

I have been following your blog for quite some while now and absolutely love it. You delight my foodie heart! :)

I am hosting a family party this weekend (there are around 6-7 of us) and I can’t think of a suitable menu. I’m keen on doing an Indian themed dinner, since we’re all into Indian food big time! I would prefer it to be healthy (with possibly, one “unhealthy” item) and without any naans/parathas/ rotis. I don’t want to sweat it out in the kitchen in this hot weather. If you any suggestions, they are very much welcome. Please help!!

Thanks so  much!

- Dana

Well Dana, what can I say. You spoke to my heart! Whenever I plan a meal for my closest friends or family, I always go for recipes that are simple, wholesome and delicious. Comfort food is definitely a crowd-pleaser, and not to mention pretty easy on the cook too, in most cases. 6 is a nice intimate number for a dinner party, and here is what I suggest:

For appetizers, you can never go wrong by laying out a platter of bite-sized treats. I would pick an assortment of Alu Dahi Puri, Corn Chaat, and Potato Parcels. If you’d like to keep it really simple however, then a tray full of piping hot Samosas served with Chutney will definitely please your guests. Most of these recipes are fairly easy to prepare and the Potato Parcels and Samosas can even be prepped a few days ahead, frozen, and fried fresh to serve. Just remember to thaw them out in the refrigerator overnight though.

For the main course, lay out a buffet to served family-style. My go-to combination always consists of one main curry like, Coconut-Lime Chicken Curry (recipe follows), or Lamb & Potato Curry, or Hot & Sour Fish Curry. Again, all these dishes are a breeze to cook and taste even better a day later. So they are all perfect candidates for cooking a day in advance!

You can then pick any dried vegetarian dish like, PaneerTak-a-Tak, Baingan Patiala, Masala Mushrooms, or Alu Palak; a lentil/bean dish like, Chana Dal Masala or Chana Masala; and top that off with a side of rice like, Mushroom & Peas Pulao.

Dessert can always be plain good ‘ol ice cream, or something fancier like, Gajar Halwa.

Hope this helps you Dana. I’d love to hear details on your party planning process. Happy cooking!

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The Working Cook: Masala Macaroni

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

If I told you that I whip up amazingly gourmet meals at the drop of a hat for my everyday dinners, I’d have to be lying. Quite the contrary, I seldom ever cook something that would have me whisking away for hours on end. Except of course, when I have company coming! Now that’s a whole different story altogether. Even then, I’m not spending all those hours on one single dish, but instead, I’m actually going nuts fussing over a minimum of five main courses. Yes, I get like that while entertaining and unfortunately for Hubby  and Baby Dear it has only worsened over the years. But the diligent licking of everyone’s fingertips and perplexed weight-watching souls worrying over whether to go in for seconds (thirds, actually) more than makes up for all the effort.

When it comes to feeding my family, I like to go more easy on myself. It’s not that I don’t enjoy feeding loved ones with rich palate pleasing favourites, but I’d rather spend my time with them enjoying simple, yet equally delightful food made in minutes. A recent email from one of my readers posed a question I have been subjected to many a times. This compelled me to come all out talk about my regular at-home meals. She writes,

All your recipes appear as if they leaped out of glossy magazines. While many them are quite easy to follow, it’s hard to imagine myself cooking lavish meals every night. Do you really cook all these wonderful looking food on a daily basis, especially now that you have a baby at home?

Well, dear reader, all I can say is yes. Well, almost. You see, most of my recipes, no matter how elegantly sounding, are actually very simple and wholesome; and ones that I turn to on a weekly basis. While it may seem daunting to someone not so in tune with Indian cuisine, it’s not at all that hard. Most dishes can be made in a matter of minutes, whereas others, that seem to call for bucketfuls of spices, may just take a tad bit more time. But yes, sometimes even an adventurous cook like myself, wants to take a break and reach out to the nearest pack of instant noodles. And it’s often in times like these that I faithfully turn to my repertoire of quick fixes. And these, I assure you dear reader, can be whipped up real quick. Literally in minutes!

This recipe will prove my point exactly. It’s a definite crowd pleaser – appealing to adults and toddlers alike! I like to add in a huge salad and maybe some buttery garlic bread for a more rounded out meal. Try it, I’m sure it’ll end up in your book of favourites!

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A never-ending learning process: Fried Egg Sambal

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

A few days ago I had a wonderful lunch meeting with an editor of a local magazine. Over a slew of emails deciding on what time and day would best suit the both of us, she suggested we meet for Thai food. That’s when I knew I was going to really like her. And the moment she asked for her Tom Yum soup to be extra-spicy, I knew we were going to be best friends! Lunch was delightful, and the conversation we shared over fresh salad rolls, Pad Thai and Fried Bananas with ice cream was simply exceptional. Being the food editor of the magazine, she undoubtedly shared my obsession with all things culinary. We bonded over our favourite childhood snacks (who knew that ketchup on toast with a dash of pepper was not something that only weird ‘ol me enjoyed! I know, I know, it sounds like a hideous combination; but in my defence, I was 14, breaking out in pimples and was going through a phase where anything out of the ordinary was thought to be “in”…), how we usually plan our vacations based on places that are mostly know for their food more than anything else, and our dislike for broccoli! It was going great until she asked me the dreaded question – when and how did I learn to cook?

I can’t even begin to count the amount of times I’ve been faced with that very question. If only I had a penny for each time I was asked, well, I guess I’d have a lot of pennies by now! As far as I can remember, I actually started cooking when I moved out of home for college; the food there sucked, and since I had an inbuilt kitchen in my room, I figured I could at least try and salvage my hunger and save some money in the process. But I wouldn’t be lying if I said that wasn’t really when I learned to cook. My mom didn’t think much of having me and sister learn to cook the real way. Sure, she’d often have us help her at dinner time by setting the table, making the salad, frying puris while she rolled them out splendidly, and of course, doing the dreaded dishes once everyone was fed. There were days during holidays and weekends, when I would spend time talking to her in the kitchen while she prepped meals. In the process I often took note of how she added one ingredient after the other, roasted spices in dry heat to bring out their aroma, and took special care to avoid any extra gravy while layering Biryani. Little did I know that these special sessions we shared would one day be the basis of my career.

Truth be told, I can’t really point an exact time frame in my life when I actually learned to cook. It kind of just happened, maybe it was always there somewhere. In fact, I’m on a constant learning curve. Each day I educate myself with something new – be it how to make the perfect hard-boiled egg without having the shells stick to it, or that soft, delicious naans could actually be made at home in a flash. Without a tandoor. Who knew! What I can tell you honestly though is that the one thing I actually learned to cook was fried egg. My mom decided to teach me so that I could make my own breakfast without her having to leave the laundry halfway to feed me. It wasn’t a fun experience at all. I must’ve had thrown away a couple dozen before I could manage to crack them just right without thrusting my thumb in and breaking the yolk. But it was all for a good cause. How else could I have made myself this delicious Egg Sambal had it not been for that fateful day.

So, now I ask you – when did you learn to cook?

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