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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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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Simply summer: Mediterranean Kebabs

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

What is with people who graciously accept your dinner invitation, arrive two hours late without so much as an apology or look of regret on their face, eat merely two bites of the delicious spread you took hours to lay out and declare that they’re just not that hungry! Huh? Wha…?

A few years ago, when I was a newbie in town, I had decided to invite a few people over for a nice dinner so that we could all mingle and get to know each other over mounds of spiked jello shots. The list of invited guests included a few of my colleagues, neighbours, the friendly dude from my dance class and a close friend on mine I’ve known since we were barely in our teens. A weird bunch to bring together no doubt, but I figured that if I ever intended on having a close knit circle of friends to run to over the weekends, then they should at the very least meet each other in person.

I had decided on serving Mexican food. Mainly, because they were such a diverse bunch and I figured that bringing them together over a Taco/Fajita bar laden with fixin’s and over-flowing pitchers of Sangria would definitely lighten everyone’s spirits. And also of course, who doesn’t like Mexican food? I mean, seriously, isn’t it illegal to frown upon it in some parts of the world? Mexico included?

The table was set, plates, glasses and cutlery laid out, and a Mariachi band was serenading away on my second-hand stereo. Slowly, the crowd started to pour in. The music continued to play, folks laughed at each other’s jokes and I couldn’t empty out tortilla chips into the bowls fast enough! It was all going well, until this person made his entrance. He seemed to be in a real bad mood, which made me wonder why he didn’t just call me up and say that he wasn’t able to make it. He sulked in a remote corner all night, nibbling on a handful of chips dipped in about a teaspoon of salsa. Did I mention I actually roasted tomatoes for the first time to make that delicious batch? Needless to say, he hardly even kept a conversation with me – summarizing his answers to my questions in monosyllables. And you’d think he would call me up the next day to apologize, but I’m yet to hear his reasons for his insane behaviour – and it’s been almost seven years now. Not that we’re still in touch though. I somehow find it very hard to maintain my cool with people who show no consideration for others. Which is why I hardly ever cook dinner for them more than once.

When it comes to having friends over, and I mean those people who you really love to spend your time with and not those that you hope to spend some time with – I almost, always, cook whatever they enjoy most. I recently had a close friend over for lunch who is simply smitten by anything Mediterranean! Her love for this eclectic cuisine knows no bounds, and she’s not one to let a good meal pass her by. Since it’s that time of year when I love throw anything on the grill and enjoy a nice lunch outdoors - I wanted to create a cool, calm and simple summer menu, the highlight of which were these deliciously lovely kebabs.
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To market, to market: Tamarind Fish

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

You know how sometimes, no matter what you do, you get the feeling as if your life is running on repeat mode? Day in and day out, things seem to take on a ridiculously standard routine – you read similar topics in the paper every morning, you watch reruns of the same TV show each day, you drive to same store to shop for the same produce each time, and the worst of all, you eat the same thing for your meals every other day! For the past couple of days, this has been exactly the feeling I find myself going through. No matter how hard I tried, it seemed like my meals were boringly repetitive. The inspiration had disappeared to a remote corner of my creative mind somewhere, and all attempts to revive it had been failing tremendously. That is until Hubby Dear (the sweet caring soul that he is!) decided to whisk me away on a foodie adventure.

We drove down a short distance to the nearby town of Hamilton to visit one of its indoor farmer markets. The ride there was surely scenic, but what took my breath away was the array of fresh, vibrant vegetables! Being the ardent carnivore that I usually am, it was almost surreal to feel my excitement at the sight of rich green broccoli. And I don’t even eat broccoli, no matter how delicious it may look! I was smitten, to say the very least, and within a couple of minutes found myself buzzing around from vendor to vendor picking up a colourful assortment of plump, juicy, fresh produce. Eggplants of different colours, tomatoes of various shapes and sizes, robust bunches of radiant greens, bread, fruits and spices – you name it and I bought it. Bagfuls of it. But the highlight of my shopping would have to be the huge bunch of baby Bok Choy that I picked up for a ridiculously nominal price of a couple of cents. Yes, cents!

Once the veggies were washed, prepped and duly packed in the fridge, I couldn’t wait to plan my week’s menu. Inspiration came flooding back and my mind whizzed with fantastic new recipes waiting to be created and played with. Although I mentally created new flavour combos for all the veggies I had in store, I knew exactly how I wanted to savour the Bok Choy. I went with my classic favourite – simple, quick and satisfying. But I had to pair it up with something that could lift its humble spirit to new heights, and this is what I came up with.
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