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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Quick Retreat: Fish Masala

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

It’s been a crazy and not to mention very trying past few days. Baby Dear caught one bug after another; and not the kinds you find out in the backyard! The poor ‘lil thing has been having on and off fever, equipped with a side of runny nose and cough for the last three weeks. First it was one virus, and now another. Sigh! The perils of daycare! And with him, I’ve not been spared either. A stuffy nose and an itchy throat are what I’ve been waking upto lately.

The book writing is moving along on high steam! The fridge and freezer is overflowing with food – raw ingredients to cook with as well as storage containers filled with the testing results. I’ve also given out a cry of desperation for anyone wanting good home-cooked desi khana to come and pick some up, in exchange for good dark chocolate and fine wine, of course!

With all this mayhem in the HoH household, I needed to take some time out and just sit. Breathe. Relax. Unwind. Although, being a mom of a toddler has taught me to pick my battles. So I patiently wait for Baby Dear’s nap-time to roll in, and like clock-work, he’s down for two hours after downing a warm bottle. As I rush to my office downstairs and quickly shoot off emails that have been flagged and waiting for replies, a quick glance at the clock tells me it’s almost lunch time. Perfect, I say to myself. Time to rustle up something quick, comforting and delicious! And this recipe hits all notes.

The fish defrosted over-night in the fridge, so I just let it hang out in the marinade while I set the rice to cook, and prepped the ingredients for the sauce and a quick salad. Twenty minutes later, I was on the couch – feet up on the ottoman, plate on lap, fork in hand and The Rachael Ray Show on TV. Bliss, finally. Until of course the munchkin wakes up and then it’s back to the grind!

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Begging for Mercy: Lamb & Potato Curry

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

Let me start by saying that I love receiving your comments and emails. And although I try to respond to them as frequently as I can, many do manage to slip through the cracks – and for that, I apologize. However, although I may not reply to some of your comments, requests or suggestions, you can be assured that I do take each and every one of them into consideration. Well, almost all of them.

Of all the legitimate requests I get for recipes, Lamb & Potato Curry has to be one that most frequently occurs. But not just any lamb curry, many of you want to know how to make this rich and creamy restaurant classic a tad bit healthier, simpler and quick enough for a regular weeknight meal. Well, my friends, I hear ya! This may come as a surprise, but I’m not a fan of restaurant lamb curries myself. I find most restaurant versions too bland and not to mention, oily for my taste. So when a craving of something rich and sinful hits me, I head to my kitchen instead of the Punjabi take-out next door. I created this recipe on one such day when I was desperate to find something that feed my need. I wouldn’t call this a classic Lamb and Potato Curry recipe, but it does come fairly close to feeling rich and creamy, without the added dose of extra fat. On days when I’m feeling extra healthy, I also throw in a bunch of chopped spinach for some added green. Blasphemy yes, delicious – you bet!

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Savouring Summer: Mediterranean Chicken Burgers

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

Hooked on Heat has always been more than just a hobby for me. Since the fall of 2005, when I wrote my first post, this blog has been my outlet to voice my creativity. What started out on a whim one lazy day, gave me the opportunity and freedom to finally realize my dream that I had been nursing since I can even remember. As it grew in readership, I grew along with it; breathing in every slice of good fortune that it brought my way. The icing on the cake of course, was my first cookbook published in the spring of last year.

Then, life took it’s toll. I was creatively burnt out for a while after creating over a 100 new recipes for the book. Then we got busy planning for Baby Dear’s arrival. And once the darling ‘lil monster was here, well, let’s just say that I now consider a 5 minute shower every morning to be a luxury! I’ll be honest here, life has been a crazy roller coaster the last few months. And it’s only just getting started. We recently found out that Baby Dear is severely allergic to wheat. We have yet to test his tolerance to gluten on the whole, but wheat and it’s by-products for now are absolutely off limits! We’ve been told that most kids grow out of these kinds of allergies in a few years, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed. This has dramatically changed the way Hubby Dear and I look at food now. So where does this leave the blog, you ask?

Well, for starters, a huge change in on the menu. Hooked on Heat, like our home, will officially be GLUTEN-FREE from this day forth. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been busy scouring speciality food stores and trying many new gluten-free products. If you haven’t already realized, most of my recipes are naturally gluten-free; save for any bread and baking related ones. I’ve also been busy coming up with creative dinners that would create a wholesome, balanced meal. I’m not a fan of eating rice with every meal, and since we have completely eliminated Indian breads (or ANY bread, for that matter!) from our dinner plates, it’s been a fun challenge to come up with comforting, satisfying results.

Although I have so far taken a positive outlook to this one drawback in Baby Dear’s diet plan, I find myself sometimes saddened by all the delicious goodness he would miss that I enjoyed as child. Crispy puris dunked in a rich potato curry, piping hot samosas and stuffed parathas; all the delicacies he won’t be able to savour. To this, all Hubby Dear says is that everything happens for a reason. And he truly believes that’s the reason I do what I do, so that Baby Dear won’t be deprived of any flavour in life. Because his mama will create all that and more for him. And for that, I am truly grateful.

Ever since Hubby Dear invested on a great BBQ grill last fall, we have been basking in its glory. I can’t even begin to count how many times we’ve gotten outside and enjoyed our dinners fresh off the grill. While most times we love having friends and family over for deliciously grilled dinners, we also love to indulge ourselves with some quality together-time, just the three of us, by the fire. We’ve had some yummy taco/fajita nites, evenings filled with kababs and spicy tikkas, and even the not-so-usual-but-surprisingly-delicious grilled corn on the cob! But one of our personal favourites just has to be our big burger nights. Deliciously thick and juicy burgers, sandwiched between toasted buns and topped with your choice of veggies. Sounds good? Then what are you waiting for? Hop on and let’s get grillin’!!

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Confession time: Honey-garlic Noodles with Shrimp & Greens

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

The second I panic that I’m running out of ideas for a blog post and rattle my brains to think of a quick, funny tale to tell you lovely readers, up pops a story opportunity that’s often quite hard to resist. Take today, for example. I’ve been driving myself up the wall since I woke up (read: woken up by a starving, wailing Baby Dear!) this morning for content for a post. I knew I wanted to update today at any cost and I had the perfect recipe for this dreadful weather to boot; but nothing I came up with sounded even the least bit interesting. That is of course, until I logged on and checked my emails. There it was – a lovely note from one of you!

I’m often asked by readers, friends, and even family, if I ever get embarrassed putting myself and my life “out there” for everyone else to read. Truth be told, I rarely ever think of my life as something other than juicy material for this lovely ‘ol blog! A day hardly goes by without me beaming and declaring that a certain incident would make a wonderful precedent to a recipe I had planned. I honestly believe my mind works this way for TWO main reasons:

  1. I was painfully shy and the biggest introvert I know as a teen, and was easily embarrassed even when I was complimented on anything I had done well. As an adult, I now know who I am as a person and am confident enough to show my true self more often. I am still a bit of an introvert, but trust me when I say this is a huge improvement of what I once was!
  2. Hubby Dear LOVES, and I use that word strongly – hence the caps and bold font, having a post revolve around him. Even the mere mention of him in a post makes him beam! And since he does play a MAJOR part in my life, it’s hard to not have an anecdote without him.

Talking about this has inspired me to share some of my not-so-embarrassing-to-me things that I do often. So here goes:

  • I talk to myself ALL THE TIME! And not just a word here and there – I mean I have real conversations with myself, two sided ones even. Which I why I’m rarely ever bored when alone. I am awesome company, if I may say so myself!
  • Every now and then I imagine myself being a rock star and rock on to my own tunes in the bathroom with a shampoo bottle as my mic!
  • Even though I grew up and spent the first 16 years of my life in Kuwait, I never tasted Hummus till I moved to Canada when Hubby Dear took me out for Lebanese food on one of our initial dates. I decided to give it a try to make him stop looking at me funny when I told him about it and found it delicious! Growing up, Hummus was a once-a-week show at our dinner table, but I always thought it looked gooey and honestly, how could a mash of beans EVER taste good? I kick myself every time I take a spoonful now for having to miss out on all those years of Hummus heaven.
  • When I wake up in the middle of the night and Hubby Dear is snoring away to glory, I always whisper “I love you” into his ear – just so he never forgets!
  • I love to dance. Not at a club or a party like all normal people do – but in all places considered odd; like at the mall, on the street, or in the car. I’m always doing a jig when I’m happy; and I try to be that most of the time.
  • I sometimes lightly kick Hubby Dear when he snores at night, keeping me up because of it. Then when he wakes up with a jerk, I pretend to be asleep. It almost always works and he goes back to sleep without snoring again!
  • Although it’s been over five years since I started this blog, I still get overly excited and gush every time I receive a comment.
  • I must’ve erased at least three more confessions that I wrote before publishing this post. See, I told you I was still a bit introverted!

My, confessions sure make me hungry and I have just the thing for you today. Hubby Dear is away on business, and Baby Dear and his lovely Mama have been cuddled up in front of the fireplace in their jammies all day. One look at the dreary, snowy weather outside, and I knew I needed a big bowl of something warm and comforting! I’ve had a lot of you ask me for this recipe after seeing the pic posted on my header. Try it, and you won’t be sorry!

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A whole new world: Easy Enchilladas

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

Oh hi! Happy New Year!!

It’s me. Yes, I know I promised to be back a while ago. Well, what can I say – life happened! I won’t go about making any excuses for my absence ‘coz there’s so much that I’m dying to share with you! And really, who actually cares why I was gone? The important thing is that I’m back – and I’m here to stay!

Okay, so where do I start? How about that I finally have my own cookbook? I know, right! I was contacted by The Globe Pequot Press asking if I was interested in writing an Indian cookbook for the Knack series. Was I ever! That was Spring 2009. The rest for the year whizzed by under piles and piles of paper with recipe ideas and actual recipes that made the cut, draft deadlines, edits, edits and even more edits, and of course, the cherry to top it all (especially for Hubby Dear!), each and every recipe tested and re-tested for perfection! I’m not kidding when I say we had food coming out through our noses. The fridge was full, the freezer was full, and the stove was always on high gear! We even had friends come over and take weeks worth of meals for themselves. Needless to say, it was a summer where I was blessed well by friends who could manage to take a few days off cooking thanks to my new project! The book finally came out on the stands early 2010, and although I haven’t been able to update my blog about it since, I do have a few copies up for grabs. But more on that later!

So well, my childhood dream of being an author finally saw the light of day. And as much as I still gush every time Hubby Dear tells an acquaintance about my book, I just can’t get over the fact that we now have something even more sweeter to brag about! Our little munchkin! Yup, we had a cute little chubby boy exactly three months ago. So while I know for a fact that one of the things you enjoy most reading about on my posts are the antics of silly ‘ol Hubby Dear, I’m sure that from now on Baby Dear will have his own fan following! With only three measly months of life under his belt, the little guy has already started to show signs of becoming a foodie soon. Neither me nor Hubby Dear, or for that matter, anyone who eats anything good around him, can get away without him drooling and giving us the evil eye! Show him a bowl of cereal or a banana and he won’t bat an eyelid. But have him look at you enjoy a large platter of nachos and spicy wings, or a plate of Biryani, and he’ll make you want to crawl to a corner and hide!

As much as I’m enjoying exploring this new role as a mom (of a budding food enthusiast, I might add!), I’m also limited to the amount of time I can spend cooking our weeknight dinners. Weekends still have me whipping up a big batch of spicy Chicken Curry and Pulao when both my boys are busy entertaining each other. But weeknights, oh don’t ask! Quick cooking has taken on a whole new meaning! But I’ve learnt to tweek some of our favourite dinner meals to incorporate easy short cuts and substitutions so that we can still enjoy them without having me bawling on the floor while Baby Dear looks on amusedly! This recipe is one of those that’s pretty much assembly only and delicious enough to fall back on any day.

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Warming tones: Make-your-Own Chicken Noodle Soup

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

Colder weather means more time indoors. More time indoors for me can only mean ONE thing: Cooking. And lots of it! The last few weeks saw me hover from one ethnic market to another lugging back bagfuls of spices, sauces, condiments and flavourings, amidst baskets of colourful fresh produce. Yes, you could definitely say that the Holidays bring about the creative cook in me. I find myself waking up with my head full of ideas and flavour pairings. Then, a few minutes later, I’m dressed in my warmest layers running off to the store to pick up the items needed for my experiment.

This of course, has got Hubby Dear beaming with pleasure. Our dinners for the past few days have included the exotic flavours of various cuisines, fused together in a style that I deem myself an expert of. Warm velvety curries with hints of hot, sour, salty and sweet tones tease our palate. Vegetables have found new tasty ways to welcome themselves on our table. And soups, oh what can I say about the soups!

As I kid, I always connected soups to the kind of food one has when you’re sick in bed with a pounding headache and a runny nose. Our winter meals, although consisting of richly warm comfort food, somehow failed to include this food group altogether. As a busy working student stuck in the cold Canadian winter devoid of a mother’s culinary touch, I found throwing in a can of beans with some veggies and spices in a pot full of bubbling chicken stock made for a fairly quick, nutritious and decent enough meal. Over the years, my soup repertoire has grown immensely from the sorry state it once was, and now I can’t imagine going a week in the cold months without a bowl or two of soup to comfort me.

This chicken-noodle soup is as simple as it can get. And yet, has the ability to carry flavours as complex as you wish it to. My favourite way to serve this dish is to lay out all the ingredients in individual bowls to enable each of your guests to design their own meal. Add in what you like, as much as you like; and no matter how you do it, there’s no wrong way to enjoy it.

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