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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Meal Time Madness: Mango Chicken with Red Peppers

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

I am a firm believer of meal planning. So much so, that every weekend I take a few hours to carefully plan our meals for the coming week. I grab a handful of cookbooks from my ever increasing library, a couple of sticky page tabs, my favourite pen and meal planning notebook (yes, I keep a notebook!), and get down to work.

First, I skim through the pages of various cookbooks for inspiration and ideas. Then I make a list of what I think we’d like to eat that week. I then go about designating a theme for each day of the week. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, I’m not one to cook a 4-course dinner everyday! Usually my themes would look something like this:

Monday: Chicken
Tuesday: Pasta Night
Wednesday: Dal, Roti, Sabzi
Thursday: Soup & Sandwich
Friday: Movie & Munchie Night

Having set themes for each night of the week makes it easier for me to decide and plan a meal, ensuring I maintain a good balance between protein, carbs and vegetables. I usually leave weekends free which allows us play it by ear. After all, it’s good to some amount of spontaneity thrown in!

Once my meals have been decided upon (after due consulting with Hubby Dear on whether he promises to eat the Bok choy I have planned for one day), I create my grocery list. Now, as much as this may make me seem a very organized person, I assure you that it’s not always the case. There are often days when I don’t feel like keeping with the plan, when I absolutely refuse to have a cous cous salad for dinner, or days when all we want is some take-out pizza. It’s especially when days like those happen, that my so-called organization gets thrown out the window.

Today was one such particular day. I had a lovely looking mango sitting lonely in my fridge since I had a mango salsa planned sometime during last week. Well, that didn’t quite work out, so the darned fruit was shoved into this week’s menu. As I sat to plan my meals for this week, I realized I felt a little adventurous and wanted to take a new recipe for a test drive. And thus this Mango Chicken was born. All I have to say about it though, is that if Hubby Dear comes home even a tad bit late tonight, I can’t promise he’ll have any left for him. I’m starving already, and the dish bubbling away seems to be calling my name. Oh how will I ever resist!

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Eating Lunch with Rachael Ray: Curry Noodle Bowl

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

It had come to my notice a few days ago that I was spending a lot more time cooking than actually eating. This is not to say that I have been burdening myself with tedious and slow-cooking meals. In fact, it was quite the contrary. While my meals have been loaded with quick and simple salads, soups and the occasional sandwich, it seemed strange to me that I was eating in less than half the time I took to prepare the meal at hand.

I have recently begun to have lunch at my desk, if only to try and get as much work done as I possibly could cram int my day. With my food sitting on my right and my laptop on the left, it’s almost impossible for me to sit back and actually take a moment to even look at my plate, let alone enjoy it. And this, my dear friends has been bugging me since the time I started doing it.

There are piles of emails flagged for responses, a ton of article ideas bookmarked for research, a growing tower of books (which I now use as a side table to hold my morning cup of coffee) for review, and the odd request or two for help with a menu plan, that are all screaming for my undivided attention. Well, what can I say but that it’s hard trying to balance your work and hobby at the same time. Even harder when they both are interlinked, like in my case. That was until I found Rachael Ray.

I was first introduced to the great RR a few years ago with her show 30-Minute Meals. Like many, I thought she was too perky to be sane. I thought it was crazy of her to bang pots and pans to flatten meat, and create acronyms like EVOO and GB (which I must add is a wonderful trick I learnt from her!). But what I did admire was her penchant to get real creative in the kitchen and make everyday food seem exotic and exciting.

A few days ago, as I got ready to take my lunch into my home office, I had the sudden urge to stop and see what was on TV. A quick scan and I found myself taking a seat with The Rachael Ray Show. She was just as I remembered her: quirky, overly excited and bubbly. But even then, I found myself grinning at her silly jokes. She passed around the ‘snack of the day’ to her audience as I took the first bite of my lunch. By the end of the episode, I had polished my plate, relishing every bite and enjoying what I ate. I tried doing the same the next day. And the day after. And the day after that.

It’s been more than a week since, and my lunches, though take hardly any time to cook, seem to take a whole hour to be eaten. And not to mention, enjoyed. All thanks to the Queen of Quick!
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Winter Warmer: Black Pepper Lamb

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

Okay. I know. It’s been long. Oh so long!

I won’t bore you with the details of my long disappearance, except to say that we were on a wonderfully long vacation, and then back to the dreadful weather here which kind of took me off guard and made me sick to my core. And while the recovery has been slow, I kept my bored self busy by coming up with some creative ideas for HoH. I hope to share some fantastic news with you soon, so stay tuned!

The past few weeks have been, to put it straight, simply dreadful! The snow just keeps accumulating and I shudder to think of what one more snow fall would bring. We’ve tried to keep ourselves warm by cranking up the heat inside, and not to mention, eating lots of warm soothing comfort food. Aah food. There’s always a good time for food.

It’s funny to note that I may have made more soups and stews over the past two weeks than I would’ve made all of last year. And yet, when I think back, none of them seemed extraordinary enough to pass on to you. Most of my soups are made with whatever I have in the fridge, and so it’s very rare that I’m able to replicate the flavours exactly the next time I attempt to. And maybe that’s just how I like it to be. Nothing beats throwing a bunch of things into a big pot and watching it simmer into a bowl full of delicious goodness.

One dish I did most enjoy recently, was this spicy lamb creation. It started out like most of my dinner rush meals. I open up the fridge, stare into it for a long couple of minutes, and then start mixing and matching flavours into a pot. I would suggest saving this for a sunny winter Sunday afternoon, when all you want to do is cuddle up with a good book while your stove slowly hums the sweet music of lunch in the making. Or maybe save it for that special dinner by the fireplace with a soft serenade in the background. No matter how and when you decide to try it, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. But may I insist you tackle it when the temperatures are low into its negatives. ‘Coz that maybe the only way I can defend it’s heat level.

BLACK PEPPER LAMB
Prep time: 15 min | Cooking time: 45 min | Serves: 2

Ingredients:

1 lb lean boneless lamb, cubed
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
5-6 curry leaves
1 tbsp garlic, finely crushed
1 tbsp black pepper, freshly ground
1/2 cup plain yoghurt, beaten
1 tbsp light cooking oil
salt, to taste
fresh coriander leaves and lemon wedges, for garnish
water, as needed

Directions:

Marinate lamb in yogurt and garlic for atleast two hours.

Heat oil in a heavy bottomed pan, and add cumin, coriander and fennel seeds along with curry leaves, allowing them to sizzle. Add in onions and saute till brown. Add in black pepper and marinated lamb along with any remaining marinade. Cook covered on low heat for 45 minutes or till lamb is tender and cooked through, stirring occasionally and adding little water if it begins to stick to bottom of the pan.

Season with salt, add in green peppers and cook covered for another 5-10 minutes.

Garnish with coriander leaves and a sprinkle of lemon juice. Serve warm with fresh pitas.



A perfect bite: spicy honey garlic spring rolls

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

As a child, I remember giving out handmade gifts often. Be it friends or family, I almost always had something made out of my own creativity to hand out to them on their special day. I especially remember making gigantic heart-shaped cardboard cut-out greeting card smothered with glitter and little silver star stickers, to give to my teacher when I was in the 3rd grade. I could swear her face lit up with joy, or maybe it was from the sheer pleasure of seeing one of her favourite students suck up to her. That moment stayed with me in my memories and I began making a point to always create something to gift as often as I could.

Even after all these years I still try and continue to keep up with the practice I started eons ago. A few weeks ago, I had a gang of girls over from our book club meet. I always look forward to these all-girl meetings, especially when it’s my turn to host. I get to experiment with fun menus and love the fact that we girls can totally agree on chocolate cake as a filling dinner option.

For the past few months I’ve been toying with the idea of throwing an appetizer sampler party. According to me, it’s probably the best party you could get invited to, second of course only to a chocolate themed night. This book meet was the perfect setting for what I had in mind. We were meeting to discuss the book, Cooking for Mr. Latte, and though I enjoyed the read, I knew that planning the party was going to be even more fun.

It was obvious that I was going to serve tiny bites and mini morsels of divine finger food, in all shapes, sizes and forms. My centerpiece comprised of a huge platter flavoured oven-roasted pita chips and deep bowl overflowing with cool creamy hummus. It was to be the decoy for those health conscious skinny ones. Neatly arranged around that were the actual sinners. Melt-in-your mouth Tandoori wings, my simply-to-die-for Ginger-Chilli Shrimp, and to mention petite little squares of a rich dark chocolate almond fudge cake that I had baked for the first time in my life, among many other delicious treats.

The cake was delicious, to say the very least, and if I were locked alone in a room with it, you’d probably find me digging into it with my bare hands and stuffing large chunks of it into my face. I also made sure I catered to every palate by dishing out a variety of sweet and savoury treats, including, mini quiches, spiced potato wedges, and spiked hot chocolate in mini espresso cups for that something extra after dinner. But the highlight of my evening had to be the warm crisp rolls that simply had me wishing I were in the Orient somewhere, digging into a bowl full of slurpy noodles to go with it.
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‘Tis the season to be jolly: Lamb with Green Peppers

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

I’m almost embarrassed to say what I’m going to say: I LOVE winter! Yes, I really, really, do. I love everything about it: the snow covered roof tops, cashmere sweaters and scarfs, hot chocolate dunked biscotti, Hubby Dear moaning while scraping ice off his windshield… Okay, scratch that, maybe I don’t truly enjoy watching him do that, but it’s just a part of the season I’ve come to reckon with, like baking cookies. Yes, quite like that, except not so rewarding. Well, you get what I mean!The reason for my embarrassment is because I seem to invite such odd looks from people when I say it. They all look at me in a ‘are-you-serious-or-just-plain-crazy’ kinda way. But I beg to differ! I mean, wouldn’t you prefer engulfing yourself in soft warm fabrics and eating rich stews as opposed to sweating through the day? I do at least.

Which brings me back to my favourite season: the Holidays! With the lighting of the city Christmas tree last weekend in Toronto, the official holiday season has begun. The lights have gone up, and huge cuddly Santas can be seen around town taking letters from little kids. Which also means, it’s about time I get into my Holiday skin. And to kick things off, I thought, what better than to start here. Yes, right here! On this blog. The one place I seem to spend most of my waking time at.

So I gathered all my little elves, in my case that would simply mean my brain cells, and put together a fabulous treat for you all. There will be some wonderful new features on the blog, a fantabulous Holiday Gift Guide for food lovers of all kinds, and a bunch of bewitching prizes to be won! And need I mention, a load of delicious holiday recipes to lure your friends and family with. So watch this space in the coming week when I’ll dig into my goody bag and throw a celebration your way. Until then, there’s always lamb…

LAMB WITH GREEN PEPPERS
Prep time: 10 min | Cooking time: 45 min | Serves: 4

Ingredients:

2 lbs boneless lamb, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large onion, finely sliced
1 green pepper, chopped
1 cup plain yogurt
1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp red chili powder
1 tbsp coriander powder
1 tsp garam masala powder
1 tsp nigella seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp cooking oil
fresh coriander leaves, chopped for garnish
water, as needed
salt, to taste

Directions:

Marinate lamb for at least an hour in a blend of yogurt and ginger-garlic paste.

Heat oil in a deep pan and add nigella and cumin seeds. Once they start to sizzle, add in sliced onions and fry till lightly browned.

Stir in spices and tomato paste, and add in the marinated lamb along with the yogurt.

Cook covered on low heat for 35-40 minutes till lamb is tender, adding water in between if it starts to dry up and stick to the pan. Season with salt and add in chopped peppers, letting it cook for another 5-10 minutes.

Garnish with chopped coriander leaves and serve warm.



Craving Comfort: Chicken Chili with Black Beans

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

I woke up this morning and went straight to the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee and looked out the window. And what do I see? FOG!It’s been chilly, wet and foggy the past couple of days, which makes me happy knowing that my favourite season has finally made it’s way! Just looking at wet ground gave me a cozy feeling. I was so glad for being home and not having to drag myself through the chill to go someplace. It was a treat to look forward to spending the next hour or two enjoying my hot cup over the books and magazines I’d gathered a few weeks ago to aid me in my impending writing assignments.

There’s something about Fall that just brings me to a good place. The lovely hues of orange and red in the trees, the crisp chill in the air, and especially the warmth from cranking up the stove and oven to begin a long period of rich comfort food. I always welcome the cooler weather by making an array of rich spicy curries, aromatic stews and tantalizing soups. Most of our dinners during these colder months are enjoyed on the warm comfy couch over our favourite movies, with the softness of a fleece blanket wrapped around us.

Of all things I enjoy cooking in the Fall, one of my most favourite meal would have be a big bowl of Chili with fresh rustic Italian bread on the side. This dish is such a hit in my home, that I almost always make a big batch and freeze it, to savour over the coming weeks. Like any rustic dish, it’s very versatile to work with. When I want to give it more depth, I always opt to add in a cup or two of mixed beans and meatier vegetables like mushrooms.

Although this may not be the traditional Chili recipe we Canadians are so used to, it definitely is worth trying! And for those with little time on their hands and a big craving for easy comfort foods, its definitely a winner. It hardly took me about 30-35 minutes to get done and doesn’t differ much from the original.

CHICKEN CHILI WITH BLACK BEANS
Prep time: 10 min | Cooking time: 30 min | Serves: 4

Ingredients:

1 lb lean ground chicken
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can beans in tomato sauce
1 can black beans
1 tbsp finely chopped garlic
1 jalapeno, finely chopped
1 tsp read chilli powder
1 tbsp cumin powder
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp olive oil
fresh coriander leaves, chopped for garnish
water, as needed
salt, to taste

Directions:

Heat oil in a deep pan and saute onions, jalapeno and garlic till onions become transparent and soft. Add ground chicken, and fry till moisture dries up.

Season with salt, chili powder, oregano and cumin powder and cook for another minute, stirring constantly. Add in the canned tomatoes and tomato paste, and cook for a few minutes to combine well.

Add in canned beans and about a half cup of water, and let it simmer for 10-15 minutes on low heat.

Garnish with fresh coriander and serve warm with bread.



Comfort on a weeknight: Chicken and Mushrooms

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

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

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

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

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