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!



A Day in the Life: Quick Fried Rice


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

As much as I’d like to show to the world what a Super Mom and Power Girl I am, having everything under control all of the time is far from it. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are the days that Baby Dear is whisked off to daycare bright and early in the morning. These are the days where I can run errands, get most of my freelance work done and enjoy a cuppa ‘Joe with my feet up at 3PM. Tuesdays and Thursdays, we take it easy and have fun by going to the library for story time, watching a lot of Disney Jr., and just playing and doing mundane things around the house! Of course, no two days of mine are ever alike. Here is just a glimpse of what my Monday looked like:

7:45 – Drove Baby Dear off to daycare.
8:45-9:45 – Headed to the gym and worked out for an hour while watching CityLine.
10:00 – Took a shower, made the bed, started a load of laundry and prepared breakfast.
10:30-1:30 – Sat down to a working breakfast while catching up on emails and other blog related things on my to-do list.
1:30 – Made a quick bite to eat from last night’s leftovers and watched some Food TV.
2:00-3:00 – Quick clean up around the house, another load of laundry, checked on emails and a to-do list for tomorrow.
3:00-4:00 – Sat down to my afternoon cup of coffee with some delicious homemade chocolate-oatmeal cookies, while I worked on a few blog posts for the upcoming week.
4:00-4:30 – Prepped for dinner.
4:45 – Off to pick up Baby Dear while battling the crazy weather!
5:30 – Finally home, changed into jammies and settled Baby Dear with his toys while I prepped his dinner.
6:30 – Fed Baby Dear his dinner of Spinach Parathas, Dal and Baingan Bharta.
6:45-7:30 – Snuggled on the couch with Baby Dear; he watches some TV and I read a new cookbook I just received in the mail.
7:30 – Hubby Dear swoops in, Baby Dear jumps to greet his daddy and follows him upstairs to get changed while I heat up andset the table for dinner.
8:00 – We all sit down to a family dinner. Yes, Baby Dear is on dinner #2!
8:30-9:30 – Hubby Dear and Baby Dear are whisked away from the kitchen and spend some quality play time while I clean up the kitchen, pack Hubby Dear’s lunch and run the dishwasher. I almost never turn off the lights until my kitchen counters and sink are empty and clean; makes starting off the next morning so much more peacefully!
9:30 – We’re off upstairs to read Baby Dear his bed time story and tuck him in.
9:45 – We drag out feet to bed. Hubby Dear does a final check on his emails for the nightand I catch up on some TV or Youtube. We both then pick up our reading material of choice, he’s currently on a Sherlock Holmes kick and I go through my never-ending blog feeds. Within minutes, it’s lights off!

Wow! Just typing that out makes me want to take a nap. But it’s Wednesday today – Baby’s day out and Mommy’s day to attend her weekly cooking class. It’ll probably be mid-afternoon by the time I’m home and not much time left to prep a big dinner before I have to leave to pick up my ‘lil prince. Day like these are perfect for a quick one-dish meal that’s got a little of everything in it. This Fried Rice is what’s for our dinner tonight. This is another easy breezy recipe that hardly takes anytime at all and can be put together in minutes. I can’t even remember how many times I’ve cooked this up at the end of a long tiring day. And it never fails to please me!

So tell me, what do you feed your family on a busy day?

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From One to Another: Peanut Noodles


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

I taught my first hands-on cooking class last night at one of the amazing LCBO kitchens. The class was called ‘Tasty Bites’, and comprised of mainly finger foods and appetizers – my absolute favourite kind of meal! Some of the recipes we worked on during the class included Skewered Chicken Tikkas with Raita, Roasted Red Pepper Hummus with Spiced Pita Chips, Mint Kebabs with Tatziki and the ever-so-popular Ginger-Chilli Shrimp served along side a Tangy Corn Salsa.

Throughout the class, as I was giving tips and tricks on how to cook a quick, healthy and delicious meal on a busy weeknight, it suddenly dawned on me that it would be very easy to turn any one of the recipe pairings being taught in the class into a complete and nutritious meal. For example, the Mint Kebabs could be rolled into a pita with a dollop of Tatziki and some lettuce and tomato, to make a delicious Mediterranean-inspired sandwich. The Chicken Tikkas could be served along side some rice and Raita, for a delicious Indian flair. Throw in some chopped cucumbers and tomatoes into the Corn Salsa, top it with the Shrimp and you’ll have a filling and tasty salad in a jiffy. The best though, is that each and every recipe does not take more than 30 minutes from start to finish – prep time included!

It was fun watching the guests getting busy in their work stations, eager to perfect the recipe picked out for their respective table. I’ve taught a number of cooking classes, all in the format of a demonstration, but never a hands-on where the students follow the recipes and make it themselves. All in all, it was fun time had by all – the food was devoured, cooking techniques were learnt and perfected, wine was paired with every course, and I came home with a happy heart. And a rumbling tummy.

Taking cue from all the wisdom I had just shared mere minutes ago, I decided to whip myself a big bowl of yumminess. The noodles were set to boil while the sauce warmed up in the microwave and the veggies were being chopped. 20 minutes in, I was snuggled on the couch with my feet up, enjoying my well-deserved hot dinner.

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Our Dinners this Week: Whole Foods


I started the ODTW series with good intentions at heart. But, life happens! The main reasons I haven’t updated our weekly meal plans the past few weeks is not just sheer slacking, but also because Hubby Dear has been away on business for most days of the week. Although I love planning a completely balanced and varied meal for our dinners every night, I tend to take it easy when it’s just me and Baby Dear at the table. So for the last couple of weeks, we’ve been having a lot of pasta, stir-frys, sandwiches/wraps and grilled meat and veggies for dinner.

I also missed my regular Friday grocery day last week, which is why I had to shop today. This week is another ballgame altogether! I’ve started going to the gym in earnest, and this is made me become more consious of what and when we eat. My grocery cart today is a tesmament of that – no bag of chips hiding in there! It’s not hard to me to eat healthy (our meals are almost always whole foods, with a few helpers thrown in when necessary!) or curb my sweet cravings. And Lord knows how I instantly turn to mush at the sight of a rich, dark chocolate cake! My problem lies with the dreaded bag of chips – no matter how hard I try, if it’s there then I’m eating it. All of it. Sometimes, all at once. So my solution – just don’t buy it. Out of sight is definitely out of mind for me!

Back to this week’s meal plan. I like to have a variety when it comes to our dinners. I always try to plan in different meats and veggies, cuisines and also cooking techniques. Here’s what we’ll be eating this week, if all goes as planned:

MONDAY: Roast Tandoori Chicken, Grilled Veggies (Mushrooms, Peppers, Fennel, Cauliflower), Tabbouleh Quinoa Salad

TUESDAY: Kadhi, Karela (Bittergourd) Masala, Rice, Salad

WEDNESDAY: Egg Sambal, Bok Choy in Coconut Milk, Rice

THURSDAY: Pesto Pasta Salad, Sauteed Perogies

FRIDAY: Grilled Paneer & Veggie Paninis, Soup

SATURDAY: Fajitas, Hubby Dear’s Famous Nachos

SUNDAY: Hubby’s travelling again, so maybe burgers for Baby Dear and me!

Follow me on Instagram (hookedonheat) and Twitter (@hookedonheat) for more tid-bits and pics from my kitchen.



The Working Cook: Masala Macaroni


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

If I told you that I whip up amazingly gourmet meals at the drop of a hat for my everyday dinners, I’d have to be lying. Quite the contrary, 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 and unfortunately for Hubby  and Baby Dear it has only worsened over the years. 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 my 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, especially now that you have a baby at home?

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!

This recipe will prove my point exactly. It’s a definite crowd pleaser – appealing to adults and toddlers alike! I like to add in a huge salad and maybe some buttery garlic bread for a more rounded out meal. Try it, I’m sure it’ll end up in your book of favourites!

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Our Dinners this Week: Winter Wonderland?


The week ahead looks like it’ll be bringing some unwanted snow to our neck of the woods. Baby Dear will be going back to preschool on Monday, after being home all of last week due to the flu. What can I say, I’m actually looking forward to time alone at home just so I can get some actual work done around the house. The laundry’s been piling up, and the family room looks like a tornado just came and said hi. So yea, it would be nice to be able to vacuum the house without having a toddler begging to try it out!

I’ve also planned to do a lot of work on the blog this week, so watch out for some exciting new content coming your way. 2013, let’s get to work! Here ‘s what we’ll be eating this week for our dinners. Since many of you asked, yes – Baby Dear does eat whatever we eat. I’m not an advocate of making separate dinners, except when we’re having something extra spicy that he can’t possible have. But otherwise, it’s almost always the same meal for the three of us. Follow me on Instagram (hookedonheat) and Twitter (@hookedonheat) for more tid-bits and pics from my kitchen.

SATURDAY: We’re having a family movie and munchie night, so a mish-mash of finger foods will keep us all happy. There’ll be an assortment of Cheese (Tomato & Basil Havarti, Caramelized Cheddar and Gouda) with Crackers & Grapes, Crispy Oven Fries, Taquitos (store-bought, frozen) and Paneer Tikka.

SUNDAY: I like to take it easy on Sunday nights with a quick nourishing and comforting meal to get us ready for the week ahead. A big bowl of Dal with some rice and Veggie Cutlets will be on the table tonight.

MONDAY: It’s going to be a long, busy day (aren’t all Mondays?). I have a ton of chores for the home, as well as a few freelance assignments to take care of; so dinner has to be something quick, simple and pleasing. Did I also mention we’re expecting a bad snow day? So definitely something to warm up our cold, tired bodies. Masala Scrambled Eggs with home-made Parathas it is!

TUESDAY: I have a few recipes ideas I’ve been dying to try out, so maybe today I’ll work on a Veggie Pulao recipe I’m been dreaming up. Will probably serve it along side some Spinach Dal and Raita.

WEDNESDAY: Sounds like a perfect day for a Soup & Sammie Nite. We have a big batch of Minestrone Soup in the freezer, which should pair perfectly well with some Tuna Melts.

THURSDAY: A roti night – fresh hot Rotis from the stove with some Paneer Burji.

FRIDAY: Grocery shopping day! I can’t tell you how much I look forward to hitting up the markets and picking out what we’ll be eating the coming week. It just gives me so much inspiration when I look at the abundance of fresh produce. It’s also a perfect day for me to whip up a fun meal that gets up excited for the weekend ahead. I’m thinking Tex-Mex Meatballs, Mexican Rice and side of Corn Salad should just get us in the mood. Maybe Hubby Dear will be game enough to whip up his famous Margaritas as well!!

What’s on your menu this week?



Take-out Cooked-in: Vegetable Hakka Chowmein


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

Until a few years ago, I adored Indian-Chinese cuisine. So much so, that I would gladly stop by our nearby Hakka joint to pick up an order of Chowmein, Chilli Chicken and Spring Rolls, every other week. But over the past two years or so, nothing I’ve tried from their menu has seemed to tantalize my taste buds. I don’t blame the particular restaurant however, since I’ve had the same disappointing feeling no matter which Hakka restaurant we go to – and no matter how highly recommended it comes. Almost anything we’ve ordered has been a flavourless, salty plate of mush. I’ve come to realize that since I’ve started to reduce our salt intake through healthier cooking and eating habits, a lot of the take-out options we used to love don’t quite appeal to us anymore. Just goes to prove that if you reduce the amounts of oil and salt in many of these fast-food items, there’s not much left to be desired.

Now that Baby Dear is an independant ‘lil brat who chooses to entertain himself by nosying around the house, I find myself with enough time to whip up a delicious wholesome dinner almost every evening. Almost. The last couple weeks had been a whirlwind of hot summer days outside, impromtu BBQs, and lawn maintainence. So when this past weekend rolled by as a long one for Canada Day, we were delighted to take it slow and make full use of the heat advisory warning by chilling indoors with the AC cranked up and a bunch of fun movies. It was the perfect excuse and occasion for me to spend some quality tiime in my kitchen. Baby Dear is a big fan of noodles made anyway, and we were craving some Hakka food ourselves – that definitely called for some wok time!

This recipe is simple, quick and delicious. It’s a definite crowd pleaser and can surely be catered to suit your tastes. I kept it vegetarian since I had a wonderful stock of fresh veggies in my fridge and served it along side some Honey-Garlic Chicken Wings. If you’re up for it, toss in some sliced chicken or shrimp to take this a step further. I’ve also kept the heat level on the mild side since Baby Dear was eating it as well; but if you’d like a slight kick, then add in some finely chopped green chillies. On a lazy weekend afternoon or a busy weeknight, this would make a wonderful meal served by itself. Try it, and I hope you enjoy it as much we did.

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A never-ending learning process: Fried Egg Sambal


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

A few days ago I had a wonderful lunch meeting with an editor of a local magazine. Over a slew of emails deciding on what time and day would best suit the both of us, she suggested we meet for Thai food. That’s when I knew I was going to really like her. And the moment she asked for her Tom Yum soup to be extra-spicy, I knew we were going to be best friends! Lunch was delightful, and the conversation we shared over fresh salad rolls, Pad Thai and Fried Bananas with ice cream was simply exceptional. Being the food editor of the magazine, she undoubtedly shared my obsession with all things culinary. We bonded over our favourite childhood snacks (who knew that ketchup on toast with a dash of pepper was not something that only weird ‘ol me enjoyed! I know, I know, it sounds like a hideous combination; but in my defence, I was 14, breaking out in pimples and was going through a phase where anything out of the ordinary was thought to be “in”…), how we usually plan our vacations based on places that are mostly know for their food more than anything else, and our dislike for broccoli! It was going great until she asked me the dreaded question – when and how did I learn to cook?

I can’t even begin to count the amount of times I’ve been faced with that very question. If only I had a penny for each time I was asked, well, I guess I’d have a lot of pennies by now! As far as I can remember, I actually started cooking when I moved out of home for college; the food there sucked, and since I had an inbuilt kitchen in my room, I figured I could at least try and salvage my hunger and save some money in the process. But I wouldn’t be lying if I said that wasn’t really when I learned to cook. My mom didn’t think much of having me and sister learn to cook the real way. Sure, she’d often have us help her at dinner time by setting the table, making the salad, frying puris while she rolled them out splendidly, and of course, doing the dreaded dishes once everyone was fed. There were days during holidays and weekends, when I would spend time talking to her in the kitchen while she prepped meals. In the process I often took note of how she added one ingredient after the other, roasted spices in dry heat to bring out their aroma, and took special care to avoid any extra gravy while layering Biryani. Little did I know that these special sessions we shared would one day be the basis of my career.

Truth be told, I can’t really point an exact time frame in my life when I actually learned to cook. It kind of just happened, maybe it was always there somewhere. In fact, I’m on a constant learning curve. Each day I educate myself with something new – be it how to make the perfect hard-boiled egg without having the shells stick to it, or that soft, delicious naans could actually be made at home in a flash. Without a tandoor. Who knew! What I can tell you honestly though is that the one thing I actually learned to cook was fried egg. My mom decided to teach me so that I could make my own breakfast without her having to leave the laundry halfway to feed me. It wasn’t a fun experience at all. I must’ve had thrown away a couple dozen before I could manage to crack them just right without thrusting my thumb in and breaking the yolk. But it was all for a good cause. How else could I have made myself this delicious Egg Sambal had it not been for that fateful day.

So, now I ask you – when did you learn to cook?

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Quick Retreat: Fish Masala


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

It’s been a crazy and not to mention very trying past few days. Baby Dear caught one bug after another; and not the kinds you find out in the backyard! The poor ‘lil thing has been having on and off fever, equipped with a side of runny nose and cough for the last three weeks. First it was one virus, and now another. Sigh! The perils of daycare! And with him, I’ve not been spared either. A stuffy nose and an itchy throat are what I’ve been waking upto lately.

The book writing is moving along on high steam! The fridge and freezer is overflowing with food – raw ingredients to cook with as well as storage containers filled with the testing results. I’ve also given out a cry of desperation for anyone wanting good home-cooked desi khana to come and pick some up, in exchange for good dark chocolate and fine wine, of course!

With all this mayhem in the HoH household, I needed to take some time out and just sit. Breathe. Relax. Unwind. Although, being a mom of a toddler has taught me to pick my battles. So I patiently wait for Baby Dear’s nap-time to roll in, and like clock-work, he’s down for two hours after downing a warm bottle. As I rush to my office downstairs and quickly shoot off emails that have been flagged and waiting for replies, a quick glance at the clock tells me it’s almost lunch time. Perfect, I say to myself. Time to rustle up something quick, comforting and delicious! And this recipe hits all notes.

The fish defrosted over-night in the fridge, so I just let it hang out in the marinade while I set the rice to cook, and prepped the ingredients for the sauce and a quick salad. Twenty minutes later, I was on the couch – feet up on the ottoman, plate on lap, fork in hand and The Rachael Ray Show on TV. Bliss, finally. Until of course the munchkin wakes up and then it’s back to the grind!

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