Kitchen Diary: November 2013


I recently stopped by Nupur’s blog and was inspired by her monthly ‘The List’ series, where she jots down memorable tidbits of life for the month that just passed by. I think it’s a wonderful way to journal all the meaningful things that happened to you and your family. Imagine looking back at the end of the year, or even a couple of months later, and refreshing your memory with the things that really mattered. Most often than not, it’s the little things that make the most impact and its nice to get reminded of that once in a while. Here’s my list for this past November – a fun-filled month indeed!

COOKING: The month began with a bang with the onset of Diwali. We had an impromptu dinner party, which made me realize that with a few tricks up my sleeve, I could pull off a fantastic evening for over 15 people with Baby Dear  in tow. I wanted to break free from the standard Indian dinner party menu, and decided to host a chaat/street food buffet. We had Ragda Tikkis, Kachori Chole and Corn Chaat, with accompanying chutneys and toppings, all made from scratch. I also served fresh baked frozen Samosas and Pakodas, and an assortment of Namkeen. The night was a blast (literally speaking, since we even had fireworks outside), and the food was both – fun to cook and delicious of eat! I’ll definitely be hosting more Chaat Nights in the coming future.

LOVING: The weather! I’m a big fan of winter – even with all the snow we get. There’s absolutely no better feeling that walking into a warm home from the chilling cold outside, and cuddling under soft fleece blankets on the couch infront of a fireplace. Add to that a mug of decadent Hot Chocolate, and I’m in my happy place.

EATING: Home made baked goods! I’ve never been a baker, but this month, I suddenly had this strong urge to shower my family with delicious, warm goodies straight out of my oven. I’ve baked a Choco-Chip Banana Bread twice, a Pumpkin Loaf and a batch of Almond cookies. I also decided to make care packages of home-baked goodies for some of our close friends as well as Hubby Dear’s colleagues during the Holiday season. I can’t wait to try out some of the recipes I’ve bookmarked.

DOING: A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from The Dr. Oz Show, asking me if I’d be interested in sharing a recipe video for their Soups of the World’ series. They wanted me to cook Rajma and send them a clip of myself cooking it. It was such a fun learning experience for me! From figuring out the lighting, to how to adjust the angles on the tripod – I did it all by myself. You can catch a glimpse of me on the January 10th episode.

FAMILY TIME: The 3 of us took an impromptu getaway across the border to Buffalo for a weekend to just shop, eat and enjoy some quality time. We also visited the newly opened Trader Joe’s and came home with a bunch of treats that we’ve been rationing carefully!



Easy Entertaining: Matar Paneer


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

The Holiday season is fast approaching and most often than not, it’s already here banging on my door before I can even bat an eyelid. Oh, who am I kidding! My Holiday season began early this month with the onset of Diwali. What started as a simple family brunch, quickly turned into a full fledged dinner party that included some close friends as well. What can I say, I LOVE entertaining and feeding people, and when the opportunity arose – I just couldn’t stop myself from playing hostess. You see, the past couple of years have been pretty lowkey for us on the dinner party front – mainly because it was hard to cater to a baby and guests at the same time. So while we still had friends over, it was mainly for lunch or brunch. With Thanksgiving just peeking around the corner, I thought I’d take the time to address the topic of entertaining with baby in tow.

I’ve had a few readers ask me tips on how to throw a decent party while still managing the demands of a baby/toddler. Although it may seem like an impossible task to take on, I promise you that with a few tips and tricks, you can definitely make it happen. And look like a pro while you do it! Here are some of the few things I did as a new mom that helped me keep sane by not alienating my friends altogether.

Do Lunch Instead: For the past 2-3 years, I always hosted people before 7PM. Sunday lunch was my favourite time pick. That way, I had enough time on Saturday to prep and cook a large part of the menu as well as tidy up the house. I planned my menus in such a way that come Sunday morning, all that was left for me to do was reheat a few things, put some in the oven to bake and add finishing touches like garnishes to the rest. I made sure not to serve anything that needed extra care or undivided attention. Most Indian dishes taste even better the next day, and I solely relied on this when I mapped out my menus. Lunch is generally considered a lighter fare than dinner, so it’s easy to get away with 3 hearty options as opposed to 5. Here is my general rule of thumb: Pick two curries that you can cook the previous day and refrigerate. Add in a dry dish that can be made a day ahead too, or something quick enough to whip up in the morning. Cook the Pulao fresh in the morning, adding in a bunch of pre-chopped frozen veggies for more oomph. Chop up a large bowl of salad and refrigerate, tossing in the dressing when you’re ready to serve. Pick a few bags of frozen Naan/Rotis and warm them in the oven right before serving. Add a few bowls of store bought pickles and some yogurt/Raita on the table, and you’ve got a feast! Dessert is always store bought; take your pick from the huge variety of cakes, ice creams or chocolates readily available at your finger tips. Here are some of my favourite meal combos that always prove to be a hit around here:

Lunch Menu A:
- Dahiwali Chicken Curry
- Palak Paneer
- Jeera Alu

Lunch Menu B:
- Matar Paneer (recipe follows)
- Chana Dal Masala
- Baingan Patiala

Lunch Menu C:
- Dal Makhani
- Achari Mushroom
- Ginger-Chilli Shrimp

Opt for Tea/Coffee with Snacks: On most weekends, 4 PM in India is a widely popular time to meet up with friends and socialize over endless cups of hot steaming tea or coffee. Throw in a few plates of fresh baked goodies, some store bought savouries and you’ve got a party started! I loved having friends over for coffee when Baby Dear was teeny weeny because it was easy and made me feel empowered. All I had to do was bake a simple, delicious banana or cranberry loaf, fry up a mix of veggie pakodas, and reheat some store bought or frozen Samosas. It’s plain, no fuss entertaining where you can bake your cake and eat it to – literally!

This year, Baby Dear just turned 3 and is now old enough to allow me to manage a dinner party. Only difference is, our dinner parties now start and end at a much earlier time than pre-baby! But who cares, as long as I can cook a feast and feed my village (you all know who you are!) I’m a happy camper. This Diwali was a memorable one – my first big party since Baby Dear was born and it was a soaring success. Since it was a Sunday, I wanted to do an early dinner since everyone had to prep for the dreaded Monday morning start of the week. I decided to go with an Indian street food theme – my all time favourite!

I’d love to hear any tips you have that helped you entertain as a new mom, ‘coz we all know there always new things to learn. So please, do share!

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A Thanksgiving Feast: Rajma


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

This year, Thanksgiving just whizzed by me. Mostly because this time around, Canadian Thanksgiving, which normally falls on the second Monday in October, plopped itself right on Baby Dear’s third birthday! So while the rest of the country feasted on mouthwatering seasonal fare, we folks in the HoH household celebrated the tiny tot’s big  day with things that made him most happy – cake, toys and Biryani.

I’ve always loved the idea of Thanksgiving. After all, what’s there to complain about? A whole day dedicated to spending time with loved ones and eating good, comfort food – count me in! Roasting an entire bird large enough to feed half of my neighbourhood has never been my kinda thing, so I always went for something else. Over the last couple of years, my sister volunteered roasting a whole chicken (something I can never manage to do successfully, no matter how many kinds of recipes I tried!), while I’ve been more than happy to lay out a spread of delicious sides ranging from luscious pulaos, creamy rich curries and a variety of assorted vegetable dishes.

Early on this year, without glancing at the calendar of course, I had decided that I wanted to host a wonderful Indian-inspired Thanksgiving feast.  Well, Thanksgiving came and went. And now here I am still caressing the desire to feed my family and friends.  So like I always do in most cases, I just decided to throw caution to the wind and host a dinner anyway. Folks in the US can say I celebrated with them, while rest of the world can take this as my pre Holiday Season bash. The menu I had in mind definitely resonates with a traditional Thanksgiving feast seasoned with an Indian touch. Here is what my ideal Indian-inspired Thanksgiving dinner table will look like, good enough for a gathering of 12-15 hungry tummies:

Appertizers

Mini Samosa Puffs with Tamarind and Mint-Coriander Chutneys

Tandoori Chicken Pops with Minty Yogurt Dipping Sauce

Dinner

Indian Roast Chicken Legs

Rajma (recipe follows)

Paneer Makhani

Baingan Patiala

Spinach Saag

Mushroom & Peas Pulao

Garlic Naans

Cucumber Raita

Chopped Salad

Dessert

Gajar Halwa

Vanilla Ice-cream

What does your Thanksgiving menu look like? I’d love to hear some of your favourite dishes and traditions around this holiday, so please do share!

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A is for… Achari Mushroom


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

Over six years ago when I first introduced the Intro to Indian Cooking 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.

Since the past few weeks, 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 Home Cooking. 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.

Today we will start with the first letter: A. And with that, the lip-smacking delicacy Achari Mushroom comes to mind. Growing up, I was hardly ever exposed to fresh  mushrooms much. In fact, when I think of all the ways we ate it when I was kid, this is what I remember – drained from a can, sliced and generously topped on a homemade pizza with lots of cheese! Funny as it may seem, I loved every bite and always requested my Mom to add more the next time she made pizza again. Imagine my surprise when I tasted a fresh mushroom for the very first time. Needless to say, it was succulent, absolutely delicious and coated in a delightful sauce that with slightly spicy and tangy at the same time. There was no turning back back then. I never went near a can of mushrooms again!

Achari Mushroom is one of those splendid dishes that is perfect to serve when you want to impress. It is simple enough to whip up in a moment’s notice (provided you have all the ingredients on hand, of course!), yet the flavours are so profound that those eating will praise you for slaving over the stove. It also works great as a weeknight meal and apart from Panch Phoran (a blend of spices traditionally used in Bengali cooking), uses pretty much all other ingredients that can be found in an Indian pantry. Trust me when I say this, do not hesitate when buying a packet of Panch Phoran. This spice blend can make a simple stir-fry of potatoes taste divine, and is now a staple in my spice box. It’s totally worth that extra jar space in the spice cabinet.

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Ask Meena: Quick, Healthy Weeknight Meal


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

So… in my last post I had asked you all to come clean and tell me what you’d like me to write/change/do on the blog; and I loved reading all the comments and personal emails that I received from you. A lot of you (almost everyone that wrote in, actually) said that you’d like to see more frequent posts from me. And boy did I hear ya! I had just received my new Erin Condren planner a few days prior, and immediately set to work on my blog editorial calendar. I mapped out posts I have stockpiled as drafts, and dedicated days to developing, cooking and testing new recipes. So keep those emails and comments coming in and let me know what kind of recipes you’d like me to dish out. One of the emails I received came from Supriya, who had this to say:

Hi Meena, I’ve been a long time reader of your blog and have enjoyed a ton of your recipes. Many of them appear on my dinner table on a weekly basis and have become family favourites. Although I’m proud that my kids enjoy and readily eat almost anything I put on their plates, they’ve recently started to get a bit fussy when it comes to dinner. They’ve been requesting pasta a lot lately, and while I do indulge them most times, I’m not too happy about serving them a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs each week. I’d like to try something more whole with a ton of veggies. They do enjoy eggplant and spinach lasagna, but frankly I need something that is quick, simple and delicious! Can you help? An over-worked mom, Supriya

Well Supriya, first off, let me congratulate you on having such good eaters as kids. If your kids will readily relish a helping of eggplant and spinach lasagna – that’s half the battle won! Personally, I love having pasta on my weekly meal rotation as well. Let’s face it – it’s fast, easy, and with a little creativity, can be made wholesome as well. I made this recipe sometime ago for a surprise b’day party I threw Hubby Dear. It was one of the sides with the main Eggplant Parmesan dish I made. The crowd loved it, and needless to say, Hubby and Baby Dear as well! It’s quite easy to prep and can be enjoyed either warm or cold. I’ve made with various pasta shapes (macaroni being Baby Dear’s favourite, and rotini or penne, ours), and whatever veggies I have on hand. Give it a try, and I’m sure you and your family will keep asking for more!

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(RE)Thinking Green: Halloumi, Mango & Chickpea Salad


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

I’ve never been one to have salads as my main meal. For me, dinners always mean a well-rounded, balanced plate decorated with a serving of protein, a generous helping of vegetables and a side of carbs. Using this rule of thumb, I create fresh dinners for us almost every night. The theme, menu and flavours differ each night – but the essence often remains the same.

A couple weeks ago, I decided to spend a rare quiet Sunday huddle in a corner of our family room, equipped with my laptop and a large mug of steaming hot chocolate. It’s been so long since I made the time to just sit and read my favourite food blogs. I decided to start with some oldies that I have since lost touch with. Saffron Trail, One Hot Stove and Rasa Malaysia were once blogs that I would never miss reading each week. Blame it on a rambunctious toddler who seems to get into trouble every 5 minutes, or just me trying to put more on my plate than I can possibly manage; but somehow, I’ve missed visiting these sites for the past few months. And my, what a joy it was to revisit these old but gold friends! I came out that evening refreshed, full of new inspiration and more than a boat full of recipes bookmarked to try before this year ends in exactly three measly months!

One such recipe that I just had to run into the kitchen and give a go at was Nandita’s Curried Chickpea Salad with Mango – which she herself was inspired to make by Yotam Ottolenghi. It sounded absolutely delicious! I had planned on making Sloppy Joes that night for dinner, and this salad seemed like it would pair wonderfully with it. I used my own spin and made my version of the salad to suit mine, Hubby Dear’s and of course, the notorious Baby Dear’s tastes. I kid you not when I say that this kid knows good food. Following right in his mom’s footsteps I guess!

Here’s my version of the salad inspired by Nandita, who was inspired by the great Ottolenghi. Serve this along side a simple grilled chicken and some toasted garlic bread for a truly delicious, comforting meal.

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What to Cook: Quick, Simple Family Dinner


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

I love getting emails from all of you, especially ones that request help with planning a menu. I’m a big advocate of hosting regular family-style dinner parties, and love to see others do the same. Here is an email I received from Dana a few days ago:

Hi Meena,

I have been following your blog for quite some while now and absolutely love it. You delight my foodie heart! :)

I am hosting a family party this weekend (there are around 6-7 of us) and I can’t think of a suitable menu. I’m keen on doing an Indian themed dinner, since we’re all into Indian food big time! I would prefer it to be healthy (with possibly, one “unhealthy” item) and without any naans/parathas/ rotis. I don’t want to sweat it out in the kitchen in this hot weather. If you any suggestions, they are very much welcome. Please help!!

Thanks so  much!

- Dana

Well Dana, what can I say. You spoke to my heart! Whenever I plan a meal for my closest friends or family, I always go for recipes that are simple, wholesome and delicious. Comfort food is definitely a crowd-pleaser, and not to mention pretty easy on the cook too, in most cases. 6 is a nice intimate number for a dinner party, and here is what I suggest:

For appetizers, you can never go wrong by laying out a platter of bite-sized treats. I would pick an assortment of Alu Dahi Puri, Corn Chaat, and Potato Parcels. If you’d like to keep it really simple however, then a tray full of piping hot Samosas served with Chutney will definitely please your guests. Most of these recipes are fairly easy to prepare and the Potato Parcels and Samosas can even be prepped a few days ahead, frozen, and fried fresh to serve. Just remember to thaw them out in the refrigerator overnight though.

For the main course, lay out a buffet to served family-style. My go-to combination always consists of one main curry like, Coconut-Lime Chicken Curry (recipe follows), or Lamb & Potato Curry, or Hot & Sour Fish Curry. Again, all these dishes are a breeze to cook and taste even better a day later. So they are all perfect candidates for cooking a day in advance!

You can then pick any dried vegetarian dish like, PaneerTak-a-Tak, Baingan Patiala, Masala Mushrooms, or Alu Palak; a lentil/bean dish like, Chana Dal Masala or Chana Masala; and top that off with a side of rice like, Mushroom & Peas Pulao.

Dessert can always be plain good ‘ol ice cream, or something fancier like, Gajar Halwa.

Hope this helps you Dana. I’d love to hear details on your party planning process. Happy cooking!

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The Web this Week: Apr 15-21, 2013


Happy Sunday! It’s been a fun, yet busy weekend here at the HoH casa. Cars have been taken in for servicing, house has been cleaned top to bottom with every nook and cranny dusted, and elegant meals have been cooked and devoured. We also managed to sneak in a movie or two. Boy am I glad the sun has set and I can finally sit down with my nightly tea and stack of books waiting to be dug into. For those of you looking for some good reads, here are few links that piqued my interest this week. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

If you’ve written/read a food related article that you’d like me to post in my next weekly review, then please emails me at meena@hookedonheat.com. See you next week with more delicious links!



The Art of Food: Gajar (Carrot) Halwa


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

I woke up this morning, a head bursting full of fresh ideas, inspiration and knowledge. I had just gotten back from a wonderful weekend spent with 100 people I’ve never met before, yet some I’ve felt like I’ve known since ages. We were all there for a purpose, some more focused than others. And the one common thread that strung us all together was our combined love for eating and sharing of food. It was the first ever Food Bloggers of Canada Conference, and I know it can’t be the last. It has open many more doors of opportunity and learning, and there can only be ways to climb up from that.

I tuck away my laptop neatly into my backpack. Alongside, I place my notebook, a sticky pad, some markers, a pencil and a pen. And the cookbook I’m currently reviewing. Yes, can’t leave without it. Ends of tiny sticky notes proudly display themselves from pages in between. Evidence that the book has been prodded, probed, and not to mention, picked and marked for its must-try recipes. Just as I’m about to step out the door, I decide to take my camera along as well. I walk the short distance to the cozy cafe around the corner. The air is crisp and birds chirp in almost a sing-song. Finally, signs of Spring. I find myself humming along only to realize a while later, that my IPod in still in its casing in the bag’s front pocket. The song I hear and hum along to must be in my heart then.

I order myself a large cup of Mint Hot Chocolate (the best I’ve had in a long, long time), and a muffin. As I grab my cup, I spot a cozy chair at the corner by the window. Perfect, I say to myself. I set up my laptop, open my notebook to a fresh page and take out my favourite pen. I comfortably settle on the plush leather chair and browse away on my laptop. I make notes as I sip on my drink and nibble at my muffin. It’s been so long since I did it this way that I’d forgotten how much I loved it.

Minutes went by, and before I knew it, I was getting messages from my stomach. I had hardly noticed that it was almost time for lunch. I had spent the past few hours working, just doing what I considered play. An old man walked up to me and asked if I was a writer. I beamed. It’s been long since I was asked that question. I smiled and said yes, along with a few other things. I’m a writer in a more broader sense of the word, I told him. I explained to him that I write about food, simple food, exotic food, everyday food. Food that brings us comfort and pleasure, and also about food in general. I take pictures of everything I cook and most of what I eat, I photograph moments and capture memories. I create and design and make things pretty. Yes, I like having pretty things to look at.

Well then, you must be a food-artist, he said as he smiled and trailed away. Food Artist. Is that what I am? Is there even such a thing? I’d never thought of it that way. A smile lingered on my face as I packed up my things. It was time to head to my kitchen.

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The Web this Week: Apr 8-14, 2013


Happy Sunday! Was it just me or did this week just whiz by? I just returned home from a wonderful weekend at the very first Food Blogger’s of Canada Conference, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. It was eye-opening and so much fun to finally put faces to all the wonderful Canadian food blogs I’ve been following the past few years. Along with a suitcase bursting with delicious swag, I also brought back with me a deeper understanding of how I can connect with you, my lovely readers, on a more personal level and make a difference from what I do. I can’t even begin to explain how much 3 days with a room full of like-minded, creative and passionate foodies has done for me. I’m now even more charged up and motivated than I ever was.

Here are a few links that I’ve enjoyed this and want to share with you. Hope they bring you as much inspiration and learning as they brought me.

  • Hubby Dear and me had a delicous, finger-licking meal here to celebrate our anniversary. A definte repeat is in order.
  • Here’s the book I’ve been cooking from all week. It’s simply un-put-down-able!
  • How to talk to kids about healthy eating.
  • Ever thought of serving Samosas as dessert? Try these delicous looking Rhubarb-Cardamom ones.
  • A lovely post by Nupur on what’s in her kitchen.
  • Throwing a brunch party? Follow this time-line and tips to help you give your guests something to talk about.

If you’ve written/read a food related article that you’d like me to post in my next weekly review, then please emails me the link(s) at meena@hookedonheat.com. See you next week with more delicious links!