When it comes to cooking, I hardly ever follow a recipe. I often give it a quick read, making a mental note of the spices, and then just play by instinct. But baking, now that’s a whole different post altogether! Coming back to cooking, apart from my daily ritual of pouring through endless mounds of paper scattered all over my floor, I also make time to decide what would be on the day’s menu. Some days, I plan in advance, like say the night before, while most other days, I go by my mood.
Take today for instance, I woke up craving for shrimp. While I don’t often cook seafood, I do however, have tons of recipe ideas for them. And today was just the day to try one out, I thought. As I sipped my morning cuppa and went through my regular rounds of email, I heard a little voice in my head – “Ginger… Chili… Shrimp…”! As I read an email from a fabulous lady requesting me to review her latest cookbook, I heard it again – “Ginger… Chili… Shrimp…”! Half an hour later, drooling over an episode of Ina’s where she made the most delicious looking lemon loaf, there it was again – “Ginger… Chili… Shrimp…”! By the time it was mid-morning, I could take it no longer and set off to cook myself some lunch – “Ginger… Chili… Shrimp…”! There it was again!
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If I told you that I whip up amazingly gourmet meals at the drop of a hat for my everyday dinners, that I’d have to be lying. Truth be told, 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. 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 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?
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!
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When it comes to simple everyday meals, I find it hard to succumb myself to the traditional Indian daily routine of Dal-Sabzi, translated, simply meaning a lentil and vegetable preparation. A simple Indian lunch would mainly consist of a lentil and a side of some vegetable, cooked in different variations everyday. These are then relished with warm rotis, rice, a dollop of pickle, and some fresh yogurt. demanding palate.
Often, when I talk to people on the topic of curries, the most common concern I get confronted with is the amount of time, and not to mention effort that comes with it. I for one, beg to differ. For me, a curry is nothing but a smooth blend of flavours brought together to highlight a star ingredient. True, you can spend hours toasting, pounding, and grinding spices to form the smoothest of pastes; you can spend days marinating and chopping to achieve the most delicate blend possible; and you can also lose yourself in a cloud of spices and herbs that would fill your kitchen and your home with an aroma almost so ambrosial, you would think you woke up in a foreign land. But then again, you could do what I do on days when all I have at my disposal are a few measly minutes at the brink of lunch-time with a rumbling tummy to cater to.
As I see it, curries are not something one should be afraid of. Neither are they something to look at with such cynicism or vengeance. A curry is a curry, and like any other can be easily tamed to suit ones tastes and preferences. I like mine to be quick and robust with flavour, and I don’t stop till I find my way with it.
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… I make stew!
There are only so many days in the dreaded Canadian winter when the white blanket of snow is lovingly caressed by the intense warmth of the sun’s rays. It is often on days like these, which if accidentally fall on a weekend like today, that all I wish to do is have endless cups of hot cocoa and surround myself with the many sections of the bulky weekend newspaper. It is also on days like these, where I bitterly sulk over Hubby Dear’s absence due to his frequent business trips. And that too just a day after returning from our fabulous vacation filled with sun, sand and laughter. Need I add how much I miss him already? And it’s just been a measly few hours since we bid adieu!
While my appetite tends to take a downward stroll while Hubby Dear is away, I still can’t quite refrain from spending most of my time in my kitchen. The time spent in prepping, visualizing and finally creating the meal is what enables me to unwind and reflect on my thoughts. I love listening to the sharp crunches from chopping an onion, the sizzling of chopped garlic in hot oil, or the whistles of the pressure cooker; each of which can be easily substituted for any form of melody in my mind.
By allowing myself to sleep in today, and waking up to a wonderfully warm sunny afternoon, the idea of a lunch that would summon me to stand over a hot stove didn’t quite make an inviting prospect. But good food on a day like this was something I was desperately craving for. So I took the slow and easy way out. The thought of having my lunch slowly simmer on the stove was tempting enough to compel me to get my lazy self into the kitchen and prep for it. And that’s all I needed to do. The rest as they say, will take care of itself!
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There are certain times in a year when all I want to do is nothing more than cuddle up with a great book and nibble on some extra-spicy food. Throw in a few cold winds my way, and the mood is set. With Hubby Dear out on one of his business tours, leaving me all alone to face the dilemma of what to pack for our upcoming tropical vacation, I was definitely in the need for some spiced up comfort.
While I successfully managed to pick certain favourites from my existing wardrobe, and shopped for what I deemed as must-haves for a holiday by the beach, I was still to face the toughest part – fitting it all into one lousy teeny-tiny suitcase. Okay, so maybe it’s not all that teeny-tiny, but it’s still too small for the 27 various outfit combinations I solemnly swear I need for the 7-day trip. And that’s not including all the coordinating shoes and accessories! Well, what can I say, I like to travel Bollywood style.
I suddenly realized as I emerged from the pile of clothes I was almost buried under, that I had spent the last four hours rummaging through my closet, getting all my “to-pack” things in order. Long past my regular lunch time, it had just occured to me how hungry I actually was. So I lazily stolled into my kitchen with no inspiration what-so-ever. Then, as if something called out to me, I recalled how I had left some chicken to defrost the night before. Okay, so I had chicken on my mind. What to do with it, I still had no idea.
And then I just began to play. A slight variation to this classic favourite, this recipe can leave you sprinting to the nearest bottle of cold water. But nonetheless, it’s a perfect call for a cold late winter afternoon. So ahead, don’t be afreaid, definitely give it a try. But then don’t go about saying I didn’t warn you!
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With the temperatures decreasing at a considerably ridiculous rate, I find myself constantly looking for something warm enough to melt my insides. Now these are not one of those simple craving of comfort that could easily be taken care of by a steaming cup of rich hot chocolate or some spiced infused tea. No sir, these longings call for something more that compels me to take the extra tiny step further.
When I think of soups, my mind always seek the ones filled with lots of vegetables and other bites of goodness like dumplings or bits of meat floating in a light flavourful broth. Seldom ever do I desire one that is thick and rich, and made with dashes of cream. Infact, to be honest, I almost never do. You see, for me, soups are best when they come in a clear broth, and that’s eactly always the way I prefer to make them.
I’ve been having a hard time the past few weeks what with being buried in reports and deadlines. With all that finally taken care of and set aside, I was happy to find some quite time in my kitchen on this cold friday evening. With a few hours to spare before Hubby Dear came home, I had enough of time and a lot of energy to make a big pot bubbling with the most fragrant and aromatic flavours that would warm up our home and give me the comfort I so needed.
A few hours later we were nestled on the couch infront of the TV with a big bowl as we slurped and cuddled, of course all warm and cosy together!
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Whoever invented the ever-so-rich-finger-lickin’-melt-in-your-mouth delicious Butter Chicken, truly did not take my whims and fancies into consideration! Let me explain…
I never enjoyed eating Butter Chicken. Yes, you heard me right, and no, I’m not kidding! Whenever I refuse to order this age-old dish at any restaurant, people didning at my table often look at me like I’m from out of space. But it’s true, I do not enjoy this dish that is considered to be the epitome of the Indian cuisine. Infact, I think it is way too rich to my liking, if I may say so.
Though Hubby Dear has been seen wiping his plate clean of this dish whenever he gets the (good) fortune to dip into it, being the sweetheart that he is, has not once asked me to cook it at home. You see, I hate cooking with cream and/or milk. There’s something about adding cream/milk to my food that makes me look at it with such torment. While I happily add dollops of cream to make my own chocolate desserts, adding it to my actual meal gives me the jitters. So clearly, Butter Chicken, which is as rich as the amount of cream and/or milk added to it, steered clear from my palate.
Until today that is. I woke up this morning with my mind made. I was going to invent a rich Chicken Curry, and cream would be nowhere near the picture!
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I can never stress enough how quick and simple meals are important in my household. Though we love our slow-cooking wonders over the weekends, we often come home during the week with little less than just a craving of good food, with no energy what so ever to deal with it’s creation.
Call me crazy but even scramble eggs can be made to look elegant by me. Yes, I have a sickness. I’m somehow very uncomfortable with the fact of showing off simple food just the way it is. When Hubby Dear comes home each evening to a table laden with the best of flavours on a platter, he often thinks that I’ve slaved over the hot stove for hours. I always smile a cunning smile, because even though my food looks and tastes like it’s been simmering for hours, only my stove knows how long it’s actually been running to bring our dinner from pot to plate.
I always glorify myself in the thought of having made a splendid meal that looks like I’ve spent half my life over. But I know how much I resent having to actually make a slow-cooked meal from scratch! I can’t even remember the last time I made my own stock.
A couple of days ago, when we were having our usual “something different for dinner” mood swing, it only seemed reasonable to make something out of the ordinary. Elegant, yes. Simple, definitely!
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It’s funny how the palette knows of season change even before the mind is ready and willing to accept it. A week ago, I found myself craving for soup. No matter how much I tried talking myself out of it, it only grew stronger. Suddenly visions of warm spicy curry drowned rice began dancing in front of my eyes.
Growing up, I remember coming home to the warm comforting aroma of Mom’s chicken soup simmering on the stove on cold winter evenings. She would throw in a variety of vegetables and serve ladles of it over warm rice. It was a sure shot way to melt away the frozen senses.
The minute I walk in from the wet cold air outside, I can’t help but be overcome with a calmness that’s only characteristic of ambience in my home. As I stroll into my kitchen and look at my stove, as if waiting for some kind of sign for tonight’s dinner, I picture Mom pouring ladles full of warm hearty soup in big bowls around the dining table. That was it then, it had to be done. That was the sign and there would be no ignoring it. We were having soup, that would be hearty enough to double up as curry. I set out my ingredients and got to work.
A couple of minutes later as Hubby Dear walked in through the door, he was greeted with a warm aroma floating in the air. And I couldn’t help but notice the smirk on his face when he walked into the kitchen and saw a big pot of hearty goodness simmering on the stove.
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It was a Sunday…
… not like any Sunday!
We were tired (from a really late Saturday night), a bit lethargic, and the pouring rain outside didn’t help liven up our spirits.
While Hubby Dear and me love to keep our Sundays free of any commitments, there are times when we wished we were doing something adventurous, really adventurous. Even if it concerns our palates.
I’ve always talked about my love and appreciation for Indo-Chinese fision cuisine, so much so that even dear Barbara decided to name a slightly influenced creation of hers after me. While we craved for the spicy goodness that it offers on this rainy droopy day, we were in no mood to drive through the bad weather to get a bite. No matter how strong a craving, I always feel that there must be a solution to it. And on this day, I found it in my kitchen.
Not one to be let down by the weather, I decided to brave the challenge and attempt to create my very own versions of our favourite Indo-Chinese spicy fare. Aah, I could already taste the flavours. Simple enough, I thought. And boy was I right! Don’t believe me? Well then, you’ll just have to try it out then!
Prep time: 10 min, Cooking time: 15 min | Serves: 4Â Â Â Â
2-3 chicken breasts,Â cut into 1-inch cubes
1 medium-sizedÂ onion, sliced thin
1 tbsp ginger, finely chopped
1 tbsp garlic, finely chopped
2-3 green chillies, finely chopped
2 tbsp green onion, chopped
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp corn starch mixed with 3 tbsp water
salt, to taste
1/2 tsp crushed black pepper
1/2 tsp red chili powder
1 cup water
2 tbsp cooking oil
HEAT oil in a non-stick pan and saute chopped green chillies, ginger and garlic till fragrant. Add chopped onions and fry till lightly brown.
ADD chicken pieces, and stir-fry till chicken gets cooked.
ADD salt, pepper, chili powder and soya sauce and cook for a minute. Add water and allow to come to a boil.
ADD corn starch mixture and stir till sauce thickens. Cover cook for 2-3 minutes, and garnish with chopped green onions.
Serve over warm steaned rice. NeedÂ to warn you though, eat with caution, for this can be very, very spicy!