Men Can Cook: Hubby Dear’s Famous Nachos

Hubby Dear rarely cooks. In fact, the only time he ever enters the kitchen is to peek over my shoulder to see what’s cooking. There was this one time a couple of years ago where I threw Hubby Dear a surprise birthday party with some of our closest friends and family. There were over 12 adults plus kids, and I had, as usual, planned a huge menu that included a super large Eggplant Parmesan as one of the main dishes. In order to make the recipe large enough to feed a hungry crowd, I bought 8 giant eggplants and stored them in the fridge for about two days before the party. And the man had no idea! Not even once in that week did he open the fridge. Thank God for that, or else I would’ve been stumped on what to say if he asked about the sudden over stocking of eggplants and the numerous jars of mixed olives and marinated mushrooms. So yea, the kitchen is pretty much my domain.

Recipe for Nachos taken from www.hookedonheat.com

Well, except for when a strong craving of Nachos suddenly hits! That’s when Hubby Dear takes over, and rightly so. You see, he has this gift when it comes to making THE best, cheesy, finger-licking Nachos. Anyone and everyone who’s ever had a bite of Hubby Dear’s Special Nachos swears by it! Friends and family request it anytime we get together and Baby Dear and I demand it for dinner 2-3 times a month. It is that good.

I’ve watched him make it a zillion times; shopped for the ingredients he needs, even helped in chopping them up. Trust me when I say this – it’s the most simple and easiest way to make a platter of nachos. All the ingredients used are readily available and almost all can usually be found in your kitchen any given day. There’s no “secret” ingredient. No “special” technique. Its just regular, everyday ingredients chopped up, layered and baked. So what makes it THAT good, you ask? I honestly don’t know. Maybe it’s the smile on his face when he proudly brings the platter to the table. Or maybe, just maybe, its the love that he puts in it – from the way he patiently tries to chop everything the same size, to carefully spreading it all out evenly so that each bite is a party in your mouth. I guess, now that I think of it, there may be a “secret” to it after all!
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Pantry Cooking: Tawa Pulao

It’s been hot and I think I’m melting! I could’ve sworn I was an inch taller just two weeks ago!! Thank goodness for the rain Gods, it’s been much cooler the past two days. I feel that I can now actually enter my beloved kitchen, without getting cooked myself. Although I enjoy making elaborate meals and spending precious time creating culinary art, there are times when I just want to come home and not take more than a few minutes to whip up a delicious yet wholesome meal.

Recipe for Tawa Pulao taken from www.hookedonheat.com

It is often at such times when I find retreat in my always over-stocked pantry. I love my pantry, and I sincerely believe that if I happen to have an unexpected emergency at hand, I’ll most probably be very well prepared to cook up a meal for 10 people using just the contents from it. I always make sure my shelves are well stocked with a variety of pasta, flour, canned beans, sauces and quick eats.

I’ve always loved grocery shopping, which only added to my pantry stock. I love losing myself in the aisles with the variety of oils, sauces and international fares. Learning to grocery shop the right way is an acquired art. It takes brain power and perfect precision to buy things in just the right amount to stock a pantry. There were times when I would find myself staring at 5 cans of tuna, each with an expiry date well past.

It took time, and a lot of practice, but I learnt. I now have the perfect pantry to help me build my meals each day. And at times like tonight, when all I want is a quick fix and hours in front of the TV, my pantry is what I can count on!
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Quick, Quick, Slow: Sukhe Alu (Sauteed Potatoes)

If you ever happen to just drop by my home on short notice or unannounced, chances are high that you will be served a meal that would definitely star one of my go-to potato recipes. This humble vegetable is a boon to home cooks everywhere, and I consider it a part of the Indian kitchen trinity alongside onion and tomatoes. In fact, even on days when my fridge is almost bare and I need to make a desperate run to store, I can always count on falling back on these three. Combined with a pantry full of various lentils, beans and grains, and variety of spices on hand, the options for a simple healthy dinner are endless!

Recipe of Sukhe Alu (Sauteed Potatoes) taken from www.hookedonheat.com

Hubby Dear is the die-hard potato fan in our home. So much so, that I often say all I have to do is throw him the tuber when he starts to whine in hunger and he’s a happy camper! I guess it makes us the perfect match since I’m known as the potato magician in the family. It’s been said that my potato recipes are finger-lickin’ and we have friends and family who always request them at every meal they eat at our table. But I digress.

Potatoes are definitely very versatile and take on any flavor added to them with ease. They’re simple to prep and even easier to handle while cooking, so what’s not to love! The recipe I’m sharing with you today is one I keep in my back pocket. If you have the few ingredients it asks for on hand, which I always do, this dish is perfect to throw together as that final side to bring the whole meal together. Leftovers work wonderfully slightly mashed up and sandwiched between toasted bread. Or serve it by self warm with toothpicks alongside some iced drinks! No matter which way you decide to bring it to the table, I can guarantee that your family will linger around till its all gone!
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Food for Kids: “Revamped” Instant Ramen Noodles

Since summer’s here, I’ve gotten quite a few requests to post recipes on food for kids. No doubt, for me it comes at the perfect time – right when I’m trying to increase my repertoire to include lunch box and snack ideas for my little one. Baby Dear has never been a picky or fussy eater and will happily down a hearty serving of Egg Sambal and Ginger-Chilli Shrimp anytime of day. But, ever since he turned 3 some months ago, I’ve been very excited to try out and experiment on new kid-friendly recipes. You see, the wee prince is all set to start preschool at the end of summer and I’m beside myself thinking up ideas on what I can pack for his lunch boxes.

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

When I think of kid-friendly recipes, what comes to my mind is anything but the usual nuggets & fries. To me personally, food catered to kids needs to be nutritious as well as tasty. I also believe in serving up a variety of foods and flavours and introducing them to different cuisines. Having said that, it doesn’t have to be nerve-wracking and make you spend hours on end by a stove. You can easily make a tasty, healthy and quick meal for you child with anything you have on hand. All it takes is a little creativity and practice.

Instant noodles is a staple in probably every pantry that exists. As much as we all like to shun it for its’ lack of health benefits, we can’t deny that we’ve all spent at least some part of our lives going through packets of them. No doubt, they definitely are a quick and budget-friendly solution to dinner time. But just because we are in a time or money crunch, doesn’t mean that we can’t look out for our health and especially our kids’. I have to admit, a few packets of ramen often find their way into my shopping cart each month, but I’m happy to say that when I serve up a plate of these instant noodles, I know that no harm is being done to my family. I always throw out the sodium laden seasoning sachet that it comes with and add in a ton of fresh veggies to amp up the nutritional value of the meal.

Ask almost any kid, and they’ll agree that noodles of any form is one of their all time favourite foods. Baby Dear is no different. Which is why, this recipe is just perfect as a hearty snack when they walk in the door all tired and hungry after playing at the park, or to pack in their lunch once the school year begins.
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Indian Food: C is for… Chatpati Bharwaan Bhindi

Over six years ago when I first introduced the Intro to Indian Food series of this very blog, I had no idea I was about to start a cult following. What started as a simple desire to help a few of my friends and readers learn the basics of Indian cooking, enabling them to enjoy good food cooked in the comforts of home using fresh, readily available, and healthy ingredients, turned out to be one of THE best decisions I ever made in my writing/blogging career. The series was soon picked up by The Mississauga News as a monthly feature in their food section. Over the years, I’ve received a ton of emails and comments on those posts from folks eager to learn more, much more, about Indian food. And it has been a true pleasure for me responding to each and every one of those queries.

I’ve been reading through a lot of feedback from you guys on the kind of content you’d like me to showcase more of on HoH. Let me just say that I have a couple of fun features/ideas that should take off soon that I’m sure you’ll enjoy very much. One of them that makes me giddy with excitement is a spin off from my Indian 101 series. I know that a lot of you have asked me to bring that back, but I think I can offer you something a step further. Join me, as I cook my way from A to Z of Indian Food. Each post in this series will showcase a recipe of a dish that begins with a letter from the alphabet. I’ll try my best to pick a variety of vegetarian, non-vegetarian and vegan recipes – both restaurant favourites, and simple home cook secrets.

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

Bhindi, or Okra as we all know it, is quite a tricky vegetable when it comes to cooking. Although it certainly is one of the most popular vegetables in an Indian vegetarian menu, there are a huge chunk of us who wring our noses on its slimy characteristics. Hubby Dear loves this dainty vegetable to death and can eat it at any meal, but serve it up even with the slightest of moisture in it and he’s off! I’m the same way. For me, the okra must always be cooked absolutely dry, with lots of spices added in. A quick way to cook bhindi is by stir-frying the chopped pieces with lots of onions and some spices. My tried and tested trick to get rid of any trace of slime while cooking is to add in a hefty pinch of amchoor powder.

Today’s recipe is another way to jazz up this humble vegetable and create a dish that’s perfect for entertaining. Chatpati simply means tangy and in this recipe, the addition of amchoor powder also known as dried mango, takes kicks it up a notch. In my book, this recipe is an absolute win since it’s simple to prep, easy to cook and a definite crowd pleaser. Because this is a pretty dry vegetable side dish, I would suggest pairing it up with a side of Curry or Dal served alongside some Rice and Rotis.

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What to Cook: Confused Cook

Here is an email I received a few weeks ago that got me thinking, testing and dreaming recipes. Until last night, when I finally saw the table clearly laid out in mind waiting for hungry mouths to dig in, I was seeing ginger, garlic and onions everywhere! I tell you people, the things I do for the love of cooking!

Dear Meena,

I have a co-worker from India who is Jain. I’d like to invite him and his wife to dinner one of these days. Now the problem is I have no idea how to make anything without onion, ginger, potato etc! They are very strict about their food. Help! I want to serve at least three entrees and rice and/or roti. Can you give me suggestions and/or recipes?

– Confused Cook

Dear Confused Cook,

Truth be told, I’ve never attempted to cook Jain food, much less ever had a chance to eat it. So the scary thought of creating a menu for you without any ginger, garlic and onions, without which my kitchen would seem barren and in need of a desperate makeover, turned me into a mad woman that surprised even sweet little Hubby Dear. Ever little thing I cooked and ate over the past few days was scrutinized in hopes of finding a way to recreate it without the bare essentials of my cooking. But as they say, prespiration gives way to perfection (I can swear I heard that somewhere!), and I’m happy to note that your very first Jain dinner party will soon take shape.

– Meena

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

The menu I designed for this dinner includes the classic favourites like Pulao, Dal, and Rotis. The vegetable dishes I’ve picked for this menu are either traditionally cooked without onions and garlic, or can easily be made without them, without compromising much on flavour.

  • Dal: Cook your choice of Dal in the normal way, omitting the addition of onions, ginger and garlic. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves.
  • Kadhi-Pakodi: This wonderful dish, prepared from yoghurt and gram flour is a personal favourite of mine. While in most cases onions are used in the end as a tempering with dried chillies, it can easily be avoided to accommodate a Jain diet. Bring a mixture of 2 tbsp gram flour, I cup yoghurt and 2 cups water to a boil, stirring occasionally to avoid forming lumps. Season with salt, turmeric and chili powder. Add in pakodas made with vegetables of choice, and stir in a tempering of cumin seeds, dried red chillies and a pinch of dried fenugreek leaves for added flavour.
  • Paneer Tak-a-tak: recipe follows
  • Dahi Bhindi: Follow the recipe avoiding the addition of onions and ginger powder.
  • Fried Baingan
  • Peas Pulao: Again, omit the addition of onions.
  • Plain Rotis and/or Puris

Add in a Raita, salad and Papad, and there you have it CC, a wonderful, Jain accommodated hearty meal! For dessert I suggest the usual favourites, kheer, gulab jamun or halwa.

Do you have any trouble planning a menu or fixing a meal? I’m only a few lines away

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Go Green: Palak Paneer

Being born and bred in the Arabian Gulf, everyone simply assumes I am the Guru when it comes to Mid-Eastern fare. But, in fact, I’ve only tasted hummus (and can now gulp down bowls of it!) a mere 10 years ago. In Canada. Yes, strange I know, but also true! You see, when we were growing up, hummus was almost a weekly guest at our table. My parents and siblings loved it, and relished every mouthful. I, on the other hand, thought it to be gooey (my husband would scorn with gooey not being a word!), and hence, never dared to give it a try.

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

But since being with Hubby Dear, the adventurous soul that he is, I’ve begun to mellow down a lot. It was with him that I took my first scoop of hummus, and decided, that though being gooey, I quite liked it. In fact, now it very easily makes it’s way into my kitchen every week!

Ever since I’ve started this blog, I’ve begun cooking things that I normally wouldn’t. I now see my weekly grocery trips as a chance for me to explore and learn. I pick up veggies that I would run away from and try and create new ways of enjoying it.

When we were growing up, spinach was one such vegetable that I would often hide from. I would cry and cry until my Mom got tired enough to allow me to leave it aside. Then I moved to India and was introduced to a dish I can now swear by. Till today, it’s one of the few ways I will eat spinach without a gun on my head.

So today, as I was scanning my fridge and freezer, thinking of what to make for dinner, my eyes set upon the block of frozen spinach lying there, bought only a few days ago. And what do you know, the rest as they say, is history!

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Not so Rich Anymore: Paneer Makhani

Whoever invented the ever-so-rich-finger-licking-melt-in-your-mouth delicious Butter Chicken, truly did not take my whims and fancies into consideration! Let me explain…

I’ve 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 dining at my table often look at me like I’m from out of space. But it’s true, I don’t quite care much for this dish that is considered to be the epitome of the Indian cuisine. Though Hubby Dear has been seen wiping his plate clean of this dish whenever he gets the (good) fortune to dig into it, being the sweetheart that he is, he 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.

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

But then now, I also have Baby Dear’s whims and fancies to cater to. This roly-poly little person is infamous for watching The Food Network (I only have myself to blame of course!!), pointing to anything that looks even remotely delicious on the screen,and request that I serve him that for dinner. Need I add, his way of requesting something to be cooked sounds much like this, “I WANT THIS DINNER!!!!”. Yes, the letters in caps are there to make a point. Just the other day, I was catching up on one of my favourite Indian cooking shows by Sanjeev Kapoor and he just happened to be making Butter Chicken. Being an ardent fan of chicken, Baby Dear almost fell off his 2-foot car. I just had to oblige.

It was already too late to defrost the chicken, so I used paneer instead and created my low-fat version of this crowd pleaser. Paneer Makhani is the vegetarian version of Butter Chicken and the sauce for both dishes can be used interchangeably. Try this recipe once, and I promise you that you’ll come back asking for more. Just remember to leave all that butter and cream at the door!

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The Fast and the Famished: Jeera Pulao

When it comes to cooking a fulfilling dinner on weeknights, my keyword, or should I say keywords, are QUICK and SIMPLE! I have many a times blogged on how much I love easy recipes that hardly take any of my time and effort and yet seem to please our over-demanding palates. Truly, coming home in the evening after a long and tiring day doesn’t leave me even in the slightest mood to cook anything. But eat we must and that’s where I make use of my instincts. A little bit of this, a splash of that, and dinner is on the table!

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

I always wonder why people look at cooking Indian food with such disdain. According to so many non-Indians I’ve come accross, they all have the same thing to say – it takes a lot of time and many more ingredients to cook a traditional Indian meal! Well, all I can say yet again is that you, my dear are mistaken! Now, if you are one of those who thinks that the traditional Indian meal comprises of exotic dishes such as, Briyani, Butter Chicken, Dal Makhani and Naans, then, well, I think you need to invite yourself to an Indian home for a simple dinner.

When it comes to food, we Indians know how to make a gala of the mere act of eating. But at the same time, we have our home-grown secrets of making a simple “Dal-Chawal” meal seem fit for a King, or Queen of course! One look at my long list of recipes and you can easily see that many of them are simple to the touch. Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook. Infact, I am known to spend an entire day in the kitchen cooking for parties a day in advance. But sometimes, I just want to take it easy. After all, even the greatest rulers of all-time needed to take a break!

This recipe for a simple Cumin-scented Pulao will do just that! Pair it with a side of Dal and some spiced Jeera Alu, maybe a salad, and you’ll have a delicious well balanced, nutritious meal. At times when I’m in a real crunch, I’ll quickly whip up a mixed veggie Raita and call it day – no other sides needed! Try this for your next dinner party and watch your guests swoon over the aroma and flavor.

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Dip, Spread, Scoop: Paneer Burji

For as long as I can remember, I have always been a muncher. You know, the kinds who can nosh through meal times over little bites of delicious finger food. Growing up in a home where tea-time was treated with the greatest pleasure must have had something to do with it, I’m sure. I clearly remember warm summer afternoons, or even cold winter ones for that matter, where we would often substitute our dinner for a platter of the most guilt-ridden snacks. Lovely fritters deep fried till crisp and drowned in a tangy chutney, smoky char-grilled tikkas and kebabs, scrumptious sandwiches with the most amazing toppings, and of course, my personal favourites of deliciously spiced street foods. As I grew older, my love for noshing grew wider, incorporating in it varied flavours, from every cuisine I ever had a go at. Friday nights for me meant junk night – wherein, strictly avoiding a proper 3-course meal for dinner, I would instead opt for a plateful of wings, fries, or on many occasions, samosas. It was the only way I knew how to have a Friday night meal. Anything else seemed totally hideous.

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

When I first met Hubby Dear, my excitement knew no bounds to find that like me, he too grew up in a household where good food, and especially noshing was of high priority. I’ve heard of many stories from friends on how marriage makes one change your habits and adapt to the other’s way of life. For me, it was a matter of simply combining the two. It wasn’t hard for me to fuse my love for all things spicy with Hubby Dear’s undying addiction to all things edible. Truly, matches are made in Heaven, but I’d like to believe that ours was cooked up in a 5-star kitchen filled with all things a culinary goddess could only dream of having.

With Baby Dear in tow now, our Friday nights are not much different from a few years ago. There’s no denying the kid is a foodie, and good, tasty food is just what gets him going! With the celebratory season upon us, I wanted to indulge in something that wouldn’t leave me feel guilt ridden. Also, it had to be something that fill the little growing tummy of my Bumble Bee and be nutritious and not to mention, easy for him to eat. Paneer Burji sounded perfect. Use it as a filling for sandwiches, scoop it up with tortilla or pita chips, or serve it as a side with rotis or naan.

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