Posted in Daily, Food

Flavoured Hot and Spicy

“Great cooking is about being inspired by the simple things around you – fresh markets, various spices. It doesn’t necessarily have to look fancy.” G. Garvin

The Latin root “spec” became Old French of espice or epice, what we now commonly call as “spice”. Add to it the original Nahuatl “chilli” of today and voila, we are ready for the International Hot and Spicy Food Day tomorrow. The origins of both happened quite exclusive of each other, although when we blend the hot and spicy, a whole new palatal feast is experienced.

“Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I’m taking with me when I go.” Erma Bombeck

Spice trade had developed in Middle East, South and East Asia as early as 2000 BCE with predominant use of cinnamon, black pepper and herbs. As the Egyptians practised mummification, the constant demand for imported spices and herbs kept the “spice trade” alive. The earliest written records from the Egyptian, Chinese and Indian cultures connect spices with magic, medicine, religion and tradition. On the other hand, capsicum and chilli peppers were originally in wide spread use in the Americas primarily, Central and South America as well as Mexico around 6000 to 7500 years ago. With the advent of Portuguese trade and spread of the chilli peppers to Asia around the 15th century, the cooking of hot and spicy food took onto newer shores.

“A good spicy challenge strikes a balance between flavour and fear.” Adam Richman

For every food enthusiast, celebrating ” International Hot and Spicy Food Day” ( January 16th) is different every year as each spicy cuisine ranging from the Indian masala to spicy Mexican tortas or Vietnamese Bun bo Hue to Cajun cooking and so on; no cuisine mimics the taste of the other. As for those who have been challenged to enter the hot and spicy waters on this day, keeping the spice to low numbers as per the Scoville scale ( the spiciness or heat scale) helps to ace the test. An additional tip would be to keep starch rich food like bread or “naan” with cold water to combat the heat and spice. Hot and spicy can be tuned to one’s own taste bud, for the beauty lies in experience, experimentation, fun and art of cooking and dining.

“From a young age, I understood the idea of balanced flavor – the reason you put ketchup on a hamburger. I was that kid who wouldn’t eat something if there was something missing. I never really understood it until I began cooking professionally, balancing acids, sweets, spicy flavors and fat.” Michael Mina

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Posted in Daily, Food

Origin of “Curry”

On experimenting with various recipes, one interesting fact I had realized that there are so many things about “curry” that we take for being true or ascertained facts, when they may not be so.

Curry applies to dishes with gravy, spicy origins and can range to a variety of South Asian as well as South East Asian dishes, based on the type of spices. Curry technically is not a word actually used in most vernacular Indian languages. Each of the Indian states have their own terminology for “curry” ranging from “shaak” of Gujarat to “saaru” in Karnataka and “jhol” of Bangal. Historians noted that the word had been into common use when the British had tasted and brought the South Asian dishes to the west.

Curry is not a spice but a mixture of spices (often sold grounded as curry powder, mostly of turmeric, cumin, coriander, chilli and ginger) which can used with a variety of vegetables or meat, even seafood to make a variety of dishes, each having their own name in the region. Depending on the addition of water, milk or even curd, the base can be liquid or kept dry.

Curry powder has been one of the world’s oldest medicinal and cooking mixtures ranging back to Mesopotamian era (1700 BC). Although the roots of curry powder may be traced to Asia, documents and books on English cooking as early as 1300s mention the use of this concoction.

“Curreier” vs. “kari” The word “curry” has different meanings when used as a verb and noun. The Vulgar Latin “conredare”, Middle English “currayen” or Old French word “correier” had given roots to the Anglo-French “curreier” which later gave rise to the verb of “currying” meaning to seek favour by flattery or attention. Whereas, the noun “curry” was derived from Tamil “kari” (or a cognate word in a Dravidian language) as states in the Marrian-Webster dictionary. Another derivation I had read online was that the word curry was derived from a South-Asian word “Kori”; a sauce with cooked meat or fish.

Another reasoning behind everything “stew based being called curry” was based on the first English cookbook. In the 1300?s, King Richard II had summoned several cooks and philosophers to produce the first English cookery book known as ‘The Forme of Cury’ (1390). The old English word “Cury” was used to describe cuisine based on French ‘cuire’ meaning: to cook, boil or grill. The word “Cury” became associated with stew.

Either way, “curry” has come a long way especially with the advent of trade and later on travel, led to the exchange of cuisines, culinary ideas as well mixing of flavours with local available ingredients. Soon the indigenous recipes became globalized. Whichever dish it may be especially today as National Curried Chicken Day (January 12th); for an exotic, spicy and different blend of curried chicken; try making the sauce with ghee (clarified butter), onions, garlic, cumin, coriander, cinnamon and turmeric powder with a dash of ginger or just add the right amount of “curry powder” and get the taste buds going.

Posted in Daily, Food, Personal Musings

All in Moderation

“If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have the safest way to health.” – Hippocrates

One of the most conflicting emotions that often run in the mind, especially the woman’s mind is whether one is fat or thin ? To be honest, fat is essential to diet and all products or diets that state to eliminate fat is dangerous. Besides being good energy sources and cushioning the internal body organs, certain fats are essential to the brain cells, nerves as well as to fight infection and inflammation. The key lies in moderation and to recognize the bad fats namely “trans-fat” and “saturated fats”. Besides these highlights to look for in the food labels, remember that the more processed, the more sparingly we should eat it. Yet that doesn’t mean we have to avoid the occasional splurge once in a while, not daily.

“These small things – nutrition, place, climate, recreation, the whole casuistry of selfishness – are inconceivably more important than everything one has taken to be important so far.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

When the USDA declared January as the “fat free living month”, it was a little weird decision to make as we can’t live without fats. Yet we can regulate the fat intake especially the bad types. Unfortunately weight loss, fad diets and abstinence from fat doesn’t solve our problems unless we find out what makes us unhappy or dissatisfied or triggers the emotional eating binge.

“Weight loss is not the key to your dreams. The truth is there is no lock and the door is flimsy.” Golda Poretsky

We are all beautiful the way we are. Healthy doesn’t mean thin sized nor does it mean running between the goalposts of diet and binge eating. The easiest way to healthy eating is to be mentally happy and enjoy the food. Food serves to sustain and to revel in the tastes offered, but too much of anything honey or salt spoils the beauty.

Posted in Daily, Food, Photography Art

Art of Chantilly Cream

Whipped cream also known as Chantilly cream or crème chantilly, is one of those discoveries whose origins have been lost in obscurity. From being attributed to accidental discovery in the ancient times, to whipping instead of churning the cream for butter or the common folk tale of a fast horse ride with a half filled container of cream, whipped cream has become an answer to transform the boring mundane to fresh, new and exciting view.

Essentially whipped cream is made by whipping the cream by a whisk or mixer until it is light and fluffy. It is often sweetened and flavored with vanilla, coffee, chocolate, orange to mention a few. The colder the equipment, ingredients and the cream, the easier to whip and better the results. Cream must be below 50 degrees to whip, for at 50 degrees or above it gets churned into butter. From whipping siphons to food processors and electric mixers, the hand whipped cream has progressed with time and technology.

Popularized from the 16th century onward, whipped cream became aromatized and sweetened. Then it was added to various desserts from pyramidal shapes with coffee, liqueurs, chocolate, fruits and so on, to make either as a mixture or poured on top known as crème en mousse (‘cream in a foam’), crème fouettée, crème mousseuse and fromage à la Chantilly. Modern mousses including “mousse au chocolat” have continued this tradition. As written, “Mousses are made with sweet cream, not very thick; one whips it, which makes it foam, and it is this foam that one uses: one may give it whatever flavor one wants, with aromatics, flours, fruits, wines, or liqueurs.” M. Emy, 1768

Continuing through the years, whipped cream still remains a popular topping from fruit to desserts of pie, ice cream, cake, puddings, waffles and even to beverages ranging from coffee to milk or plain hot chocolate. These days imitations of whipped cream, for those with milk allergies or vegan diets, extended shelf life and convenience have been made available as whipped topping or squirty cream. Although the original whipped cream is the best, whichever way it may be made, whipped cream makes a good treat for the eyes as well as the palate. So in honour of National Whipped Cream Day (January 5th), I’m planning to shut down the inner calorie counter, to have whipped cream on any topping like, cake, pie or even coffee for a delicious weekend splurge.

Posted in Daily, Food, Photography Art

Oatmeal Art

“The oat is the Horatio Alger of cereals, which progressed, if not from rags to riches, at least from weed to health food.” Waverley Root, ‘Food’ (1980)

From being a weed, oats has been transformed to being one of the essential health foods, so much so as to declare January as the month of oatmeal as per “foodimentarians”. From its’ origin as early as 3000 years ago, oats were a common occurrence among the cultivation of other crops. Greeks and Romans considered oats to be a diseased form of wheat. Though most of the Scottish and the Germanic tribes would disagree with that thought.

Slowly over the years, oats has been embraced as a part of dining, especially for breakfast. The slow acceptance can be attributed to the fact that oats was and still is a primary fodder as pasturage and hay crops especially for cattle and horses. Additionally oats can turn rancid pretty quickly if not processed immediately after harvesting.

It truly amazes me all the things you can add and mix in to truly transform a plain old bowl of oatmeal. Ayesha Curry

Nevertheless the acceptance of oats especially as oatmeal (made of hulled oat grains, groats which have either been milled or ground, steel-cut or rolled) is on the rise. From the least to most processed oatmeal can be prepared from oat groats or whole oats, oat bran, steel cut (Irish) oats, rolled oats ( known as old fashioned oats), quick oats as well as instant oats and oat flour. From simple oatmeal to protein bars, brownies, oatmeal bread and cakes; the experimentation with oats is endless.

Oats are great – you can make meatloaf and use oats instead of bread as the binder, or you can make oatmeal cookies, my husband’s favorite. Ree Drummond

Besides being wonderful art decor for foodists, oats can be mixed with an “n” number of ingredients to make weird combination like oats dosa, oats and chicken salads, oats “upma”, to shakshuka, medley of vegetable or meat and even into stuffed bell peppers or spicy seasoned stuffed bitter-gourds. Try an online search, there would be numerous recipes including the addition of oats.

There is no doubt that some plant food, such as oatmeal, is more economical than meat, and superior to it in regard to both mechanical and mental performance. Such food, moreover, taxes our digestive organs decidedly less, and, in making us more contented and sociable, produces an amount of good difficult to estimate. Nikola Tesla

Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

Winter, Soup and Holidays

“What a marvelous resource soup is for the thrifty cook – it solves the ham-bone and lamb-bone problems, the everlasting Thanksgiving turkey, the extra vegetables.” Julia Child

With the season’s celebrations underway, one of the ideal ways to put the extra meat and vegetables to good use is to make them into soup. From the clear soups ( bouillon, consomme) to thick (purees, bisques, veloutes) soups are a consistent favourite with many. Its origins can be traced back to the Roman Era as evidenced by use of the middle English word “soup” from the Old French “soupe” which in turn is derived from “suppa” of Late Latin of Germanic roots. Additionally evidence of existence of soup can be found to as early as 20,000 BC with the discovery of the technique of “boiling” and waterproof jars. Yet since then, soup has been revolutionized to the traditions, customs, flavours, taste as well as style of the local cuisine to the extent that soup is not simply a starter or appetizer but also eaten as dessert or with fruit, as well as being served hot or cold.

“Soup is a lot like a family. Each ingredient enhances the others; each batch has its own characteristics; and it needs time to simmer to reach full flavor.” Marge Kennedy

Come December with the cold and snow, there’s nothing more apt than having pepper pot soup. This soup made from scraps meat and peppercorn had gained mass popularity during the Revolutionary War days in Colonial America. As the legend goes, during the battle of Valley Forge in an exceptionally cold harsh winter of 1777-78, food was often scarce and conditions deplorable. The soldiers were low on food and Christopher Ludwick, a baker general of the Continental Army, gathered whatever food he could scrounge together to feed the cold and frail soldiers. Gathering scraps of tripe, meat, and some peppercorn, he mixed the ingredients together with some other seasonings and created the hot, thick, and spicy soup we now know as pepper pot soup. It quickly became known as “the soup that won the war” as the soup gave the soldiers the warmth and strength that they needed to push the enemies back through the harsh winter weather.

It is impossible to think of any good meal, no matter how plain or elegant, without soup or bread in it. M. F. K. Fisher

From the Belgian Waterzool to the Russian Solyanka, Vietnamese Pho, Partan bree of Scotland; each country, place and local cuisine have their own version of soup of meat and vegetables. Whichever name it may be by, essentially soups ward off the wintry chill satisfying not just the palate and hunger, but also keep us simply warm, comfortable and nice.

Posted in Daily, Food, Quotes

Balancing the Scale

Post Christmas and as a part of the year end festive, some of us may discover that a new wardrobe might come in order if the continue on the path of festive eating. The whole point of holidays is to have fun and enjoy. Yet the post-holiday guilt is disheartening and clings onto to our conscience, taunting us with every bite we take, unless we learn to numb it or have a back up plan in place to keep us still healthy and fit. There are a few tips and tricks that I plan to put into place before the guilt strikes with a fury.

Don’t dig your grave with your own knife and fork. ~English proverb

Remember the old dictum for healthy eating, eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a peasant. While it may be difficult putting this into daily practice, there are ways around it. For holidays try proportioning the meals as well as desserts; then we would be able to stick to the rule.

The key of having fun with food and controlling our portions is to experiment a bit as well as sit down to mindful eating. Even though you are alone for lunch or dinner, instead of mindless snacking or eating from the fridge, set the table for a meal for one and enjoy your food with plenty of light and proper cutlery. When the whole family is in, set the table and sit down for a proper meal.

While many of us hit the gym or workout during the week, instead of over indulging over the weekends, plan ahead for your weekend parties, trips and drives so as to downsize the calorie intake before the celebratory eating phase.

I definitely try to eat a healthy diet, but I am the first person to say I love unhealthy food. I would never tell you I don’t. I love fried chicken or mac and cheese. Do I order them all the time when I’m out at restaurants? No, though I do have one splurge meal a week. Rachel Nichols

Mix up the healthy and unhealthy foods. For instance try having fried chicken with one serving of rice or bread, adding some colour to the plate with greens or other vegetables. Another mix-up would be having the pizza homemade with a healthy topping of vegetables, meat as well as cheese but limit the portions. Enjoy the large serving of homemade desserts but then remove any added sugars ( especially in tea, coffee and juices) for the rest of the day, limit the remaining portion of carbohydrates and go more for protein and cellulose rich foods to feel full.

Mindless eating whether we are eating to finish off and not waste food, or even munching while talking nineteen to the dozen kills the taste of food and delight of eating. Instead sit down at a place and eat quietly. Even when in a group, occasional comments may be passed but mindless chatter ceases when we concentrate and eat. In this case I try to take a leaf from my toddler’s book of chewing. Ideally when we chew our dense foods thirty times, we discover that the little portion was enough.

Homemade fries, potato wedges and fried snacks are way better than always getting them delivered. Even though the holiday season is in full swing, try not to make too much.

If nature had intended our skeletons to be visible it would have put them on the outside of our bodies. Elmer Rice

When food is delivered, first lay them on your plate and then pack up the rest away. Once when we settle done to eat, the chances of getting up and adding on are slim when we have already packed away the extras.

With all the excess food delivered and leftovers from the party, outings or fellowship meets and neighbourhood dinners, distribute them among neighbours and friends or even better, donate them to the nearby orphanage, old age or retirement home or even the homeless shelters.

Instead of eating straight out of the containers or box, pre-portion your snacks  and meals too, into small individual containers or bag them for a ready to eat snack.

Food feeds both the body and soul – there are clear reasons to eat a balanced diet, but there are also reasons you cling to your mom’s secret chicken noodle soup recipe when you’re sick. Michael Mina

Add spice to food when possible, for spicy food tends to make us feel full faster. Another trick that I had read and tried was to stock some red pepper flakes. When eaten early in the day, red pepper can reduce the amount of food you consumer later.

If you remember the good old saying, “Good things come in small packages”, then apply them to food and treats as well.

For those of us who love our desserts, enjoy the decadent delights in bite sizes savouring the taste and not eating in a hurry, or when doing any other work or in front of any entertainment. When we focus on the taste and flavour we realize that the little portion was enough.

If hunger is not the problem, then eating is not the solution. Author unknown

Most importantly stay active, enjoy your food without guilt and engage in the pleasure as well as mindful eating even if they are comfort foods. A little of everything never hurts but the catch is in our definition of the extent of “little”. When we decide to eat because we are hungry is not the same when we eat for the sake of it. Being on the top of the food chain, gives us the right to decide from the pyramid of choices, but it doesn’t mean that we have to end up being a large hamper ourselves.