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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Intro to Indian Food, Part 4 – Indian Street Food: Tandoori Chicken Pops

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

Growing up, I seldom remember a weekend where we had the house to ourselves. While few weekends were spent hosting visiting family and friends from far off places, most of our Saturday nights was spent amidst mighty morsels of succulent bites of food. My parents, like most true-blood Indians, love to shower people with their hospitality and feed them till they’re almost ready to burst. We Indians are known for our need to treat our guests with the utmost care and generosity, and one common way we all seem to achieve in doing so is through our food. Food holds a very special place in any Indian household. No festivity is complete without a table laden with colourful dishes end to end, enough to please a king. It’s no wonder that out of all the rooms in a home, many Indians take the most pride in showing you their kitchens. Truly, we love food, and our life surrounds it. Our conversations, no matter how they begin always seem to divert to the food related with the topic in question. A simple wedding announcement would automatically lead to the designing of the menu. Even meeting up with a long lost friend would be done over lunch or dinner, over food they could reminisce about.

While our meals may be laced with rich aromatic flavours, what I look forward to the most at any Indian-inspired party is the platter of appetizers. Indian hors d’oeuvres range from savoury street food, like the most loved samosas (deep fried pastry filled with potatoes) and pakodas (spiced fritters), to the ever famous tandoori tikkas (marinated meat grilled in a clay oven). They are steamed, grilled and fried. They come in various sizes and shapes, some that can be daintily picked by two fingers, and others that require a spoon and lots of napkins. No matter in what form, they each have something special to offer, and no cocktail party would regret having them.

Ask any one who has ever walked the streets of any major Indian city, be it Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore; and they will attest to the fact that no evening stroll is complete without making a stop at one of the many hawker stalls that surround every busy area in these cities. Street after street, stall after stall, you will be greeted by smiling faces and tempting plates that urge you to come and give it a try. Smothered with spicy and tangy chutneys, yogurt and tons of other fixings, each plate creates a whole new tale in your mouth. My fondest memories of my days spent in India involve sneaking out of the house on the pretext of an evening walk while I actually skipped to hawker next door and enjoyed deep fried savoury chips drowned in tangy yogurt and sweet tamarind chutney, running through the rain to buy a big batch of jalapeno fritters, and waiting in long lines to savour a bite of the best kebabs I had ever tasted on the face of this planet.

A friend recently asked me to make a list of some of my favourite food joints that I strongly feel she should try on her visit to Delhi. My response was simply: if she could stomach it, nothing beats the spicy street food.

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It can only get better: Ayam Masak Merah (Red Chilli Chicken)

Ayam Masak Merah (Red Chilli Chicken)

For someone who writes and manages a food blog felicitously named, Hooked on Heat, it comes as a surprise to many when I confess that until very recently, say a couple of years ago, I belonged to the clan of folks who shied away from all things spicy. Ironically, it always petrified my Mom how her first-born could ever be averesed to eating spicy food. Being one who can’t swallow a meal that lacks in the redness that can only be born out of the addition of hand-ground chillies, not once did she smile while separating my portion of the daily meal before spicing it up for the rest of the family.

As the years passed, I began to discover my taste preferance and my spice level tolerance grew along with it. So much so, that it surprised my Mom a few days ago, how much heat I can actually tolerate when it comes to my favourite foods. Malay food, obviously being one of them. Like two long lost best friends, Mom and I have been spending lots of time bonding in the kitchen over gossip and spice bottles. She, imparting her wisdom and showing me the tricks of the trade, and me, trying to grasp as much information as I can during the six short weeks that she’s here. And amidst it all, Hubby Dear has been his most happiest with the wide spread Malay dishes that Mom lays on the dinner table with such ease.

A few days ago, much to her delight, she discovered a jar of Sambal Olek in my fridge, which only motivated her more to enter the kitchen and whip something up. Over a discussion of what we could try next, I thought of a dish that I chanced upon a few years ago on our trip to Malaysia. Whenever I find a recipe that works for me, I know that it can only get better from there. Whether it’s one concocted from my very own imagination, a desperate attempt to imitate something I happened to come across that just took my breath away, or one that a close friend solemnly swears by, I know that if I like it on my first try, then there won’t be any looking back. It took me only a few seconds before I could describe what I had in mind, and Mom was set to get to work.

The verdict, I licked my plate clean, and now have another favourite to add to my repertoire!

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Sweet Beginnings: Rainbow Cupcakes

Rainbow Cupcakes

What can I say. I caved. I didn’t want to. But I did.

Growing up, I remember spending most of my vacation time in the summers pouring over mouth-wateringly tempting photographs of intricately designed cakes, cookies and other baked goodies. My mom had (or must I say, still does) this tendency to pick up wonderfully photographed cookbooks cramped with an even more delicious assortment of recipes. It’s no wonder where I’ve caught the bug from.

One look at the many overstocked shelves throughout my home will give you a slight idea of my fixation to them. Heck, who am I kidding! I have cookbooks peeping out from my pantry shelves, kitchen cabinets, on top of the fridge, and not to mention a few prized possessions that I deem only fit to snuggle on my bedside table. Yes, it’s shameful I know. I’m addicted. Hi, I’m Meena, and I’m a cookbook addict. There, I said it. Now hopefully, we can all get on with our very normal or some not-so-normal lives!

Coming back to my Mom. I must say her favourites to collect included books on baking. And unlike me, who mostly drool over pages and pages of food talk, she actually dons her apron and puts those words into action. It’s no surprise then to point out that she bakes some of the best cakes I know. And not one to let Mr. Opportunity walk past my door without so much as grabing him with both arms and giving him a tight hug, I decided to learn a few tricks from her while she’s here visiting me.

It’s been good so far. The food comes out from the kitchen faster than I can request them, and I find myself ravishing every spoonful with such passion. But the baking, oh the baking! I always thought of myself as not-a-baker. But she’s adamant on making me one. She’s even intent on getting me my very own stand mixer. So now I’ll have no excuse for not trying out those wonderful holiday cookie recipes I set aside since two years ago.

What can I say? I caved. And I’m adamant to succeed.

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What to Cook: Distressed over Dinner

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

Every now and then I emails from readers requesting me for a particular recipe. Some I’m quite familiar with and readily try and post about. Then are those requests of dishes that for the life of me, I had no idea even existed. I especially love these email where I get a chance to learn about something new. And then there are a few mails wherein I’m asked to help plan a party, with a fully designed menu. Now these are mails that I especially enjoy! That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate those lovely thank you notes I get from fabulous readers who’ve tried my recipes and taken the time to send me feedback. You all have a special place in my heart, so keep ‘em coming folks! And just in case you have this silly notion that I don’t value what you have to say since I haven’t responded to your email/comment, then please don’t think that way. All I can say is that it’s hard for me to juggle all the things I tend to do at the same time. Most times I have more on my plate than I can conviniently handle, due to which I have to miss out on responding to your lovely words.Now, getting back to those emails on menu planning, yes, I just love those! Part of the excitement must come from my obessively complusive behaviour to always host the perfect party, and the rest I’m sure derives itself from my need to entertain on a regular basis. Yes, as Hubby Dear has time and again stated, I have a disease. And the only way to live with it is to accept the fact that I need to have frends and family over on a regular basis who I can feed and smother with goodies from my kitchen.

One such request arrived a few days ago from a regular reader of mine. This young lady always has something smart to discuss on food, and I’ve always enjoyed the conversations that we cultivated through our web correspondence. So I was highly surprised to see this frantic email from her sitting in my inbox:

Dear Meena,

Me and my girlfriends get together every month for our Book Club Meeting. Each month, the selected host designs a meal inspired by the book we are currently reading. This month, the task of hosting the dinner has come on me. We have been reading Kiran Desai’s Inheritance of Loss, and I’d really love to serve a simple meal of everyday Indian food that you would serve to family and friends on a regular basis. While I’m used to making the customary party food like Butter Chicken and Chicken Tikka, this time I wanted to go for something more wholesome and comforting. I’ve promised the girls a meal they’ll remember forever and now I’m practically kicking myself for doing that. The meeting is in a week’s time, and I have no clue where to begin. HELP!

- Distressed over Dinner

 

Dear Distressed over Dinner,

I know sometimes cooking a simple meal for friends may seem appalling. No matter how hard we try, we always seem to go a bit overboard when entertaining our dearest friends. Maybe it’s the desire to impress them and keep them coming for more. Or maybe it’s our need to show a little flair and style that’s easily missed in our everyday meals. But that surely doesn’t mean that we have to torture ourselves over the stove, cooking a 3-course meal. Sometimes, the simplest food can also be the best and most appreciated. I’ve designed for you a menu which I think would simply floor your guests. Each dish is simple to prepare and a delight to eat. Trust me, lay all this out on the table and watch them lick their fingers. And I promise, the next time you host a party, they’ll surely want to be a part of it.

- Meena

The menu I’ve designed for this Book Club Meeting consists some of the classic favourites of every Indian home. The preparation methods are simple, cooking times are quick, and most if not all of them can easily be done a few days ahead of time. I’d suggest leaving the rice for the very last minute to ensure a wonderful aroma to fill your home, but of course, you could always have it ready before hand and re-heat in the microwave.

There you go DD, hope your friends will love this one! I would definitely go very light on appetizers, maybe just chips and dips, since you’ll want to save enough of space for the main meal. For dessert I’d suggest a tub of traditional Indian ice cream called Kulfi, which can be easily picked up at any Indian grocery store, and from what I recently noticed, many of our regular ones as well.

Anyone else out there need help planning a fabulous Indo-inspired meal? Well then, what are you waiting for, drop me a line!

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