Posted in Daily, Food

Add the “Cheese”

Being the lone one in the house, as a result of over time and off hours being allotted accordingly, enough and more time was spent on the ads section and advertisements were marked. Imagine when the leaflet advertising the discounted cheeseburger rates for the whole week ( in lieu of the national cheeseburger day, Sept 18th) were seen. As the hunger cravings rose to a peak by noon, the big lunch was foregone with the craving for cheeseburger. With a sparsely stocked larder and takeaway not an option in the downpour (besides being miles away from the town roads), creative cooking was the only option. Considering the leftovers and the supplies in the fridge, it was time to make something light. What happens when one places two mince meat patties with sliced tomatoes, crisp onion rings with a nice helping of cheese between two bread slices (out of buns). Voila, the homemade version of cheese burger is ready.

“Man who invented the hamburger was smart; man who invented the cheeseburger was a genius.” Matthew McConaughey

Essentially, a cheeseburger is a hamburger topped with cheese. Although the slice of cheese is added to the cooking hamburger patty shortly before serving, which allows the cheese to melt; variations exist depending on choice of having it melted solid or double extra. As for the cheese, from processed to melt-able cheese, options range from cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella, blue Cheese or pepper jack being the popular ones.

With the rise of cattle ranching, fast food chains, commercialization of food industry and rise of fast food; hamburgers had risen in popularity. The late 1920s saw the adding of cheese to hamburgers. Though several competing claims exist as to who created the first cheeseburger. Records repute that Lionel Sternberger (1926) had introduced the cheeseburger at the age of 16 when he was working as a fry cook at his father’s sandwich shop (Pasadena, California) “The Rite Spot” and “experimentally dropped a slab of American cheese on a sizzling hamburger.” Another similar mention of a cheeseburger smothered with chili for 25 cents was listed on the menu of O’ Dell’s restaurant (Los Angeles, 1928). However the trademark for the name “cheeseburger” was awarded to Louis Ballast of the Humpty Dumpty Drive-In in Denver, Colorado.

“You dont have to eat a whole cheeseburger, just take a piece of the cheeseburger.” Guy Fieri

Variations like steamed cheeseburger, soy cheese and vegan versions have been seen across the globe, with the ingredients adapting to the local cuisine and customs. All said and done, the cheese part has stayed on. There’s something fun about indulging in the occasional cheese burger ( homemade, fast food franchise made or deli made) once in a while. No matter how old or busy one is, the delights of the cheeseburger do stay strong.

“I take pleasure in the little things. Double cheeseburgers, those are good, the sky ten minutes before it rains,the moment your laugh turns into a cackle. And I sit here, and smoke my Camel straights, and I ride my own melt.” Ethan Hawke

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Posted in Daily, Food

Of Apples, Pastry and Sugar

“It looked like the world was covered in a cobbler crust of brown sugar and cinnamon.” Sarah Addison Allen, First Frost

Peel the apples, uncore the slices and lay them on pastry crusts. The hole from the core may be filled with cinnamon, butter and sugar and sometimes dried fruit such as raisins, sultanas, or currants. Wrap the pastry crust around the apples and seal the seams to form them as dumplings. Place the dumplings on the pan, pour the spiced sauce over it and bake it in the oven. Voila, baked dumplings.
Lack of time or power outage for the electricity run oven.
Boil the dumplings and serve with brown sugar, cinnamon, berry preserve, maple syrup, honey, cottage cheese, chocolate syrup or any toppings of choice. That’s boiled dumplings for dessert.

These pastry-wrapped apple were among the earliest fruit puddings, being a popular add on at major social gatherings and had at all social levels. Served as breakfast, main side dish or dessert, there were popular and could be had cold, hot or just as it was. Although the boiled versions were the initial recipes, it was the baked ones that were more popular across the menus of established restaurants.

“A man cannot have a pure mind who refuses apple dumplings.” Charles Lamb

While the Austrians have their apfelnockerln (“large, soft” apple dumplings), Czech cuisine have their fruit dumplings, including apple known as ovocné knedlíky and are eaten with quark or tvaroh cheese, often served as a complete meal. The German Apfelklöße (1801) are elaborate “small pudding of apples,” cored and filled with jam or marmalade, sometimes raisins or nuts, wrapped in pastry, boiled, and topped with a sweetened sauce containing raisins, sugar, cinnamon, and wine. While in the United Kingdom, these apple dumplings were referred to as form of suet puddings with the prepared dumplings tied in cloth and boiled. On the other side of the western sphere, apple dumplings were considered as cultural staples (United States).

Seasonal fruits were used similarly to make fruit dumplings. Like the Austrian and Hungarian Knödel ( dumplings stuffed with plums), Crotian Knedle sa šljivama (dessert dish of plum dumpling with a potato dough), Austrian Marillenknödel (apricot dumplings) and the traditional Czech recipes of dumpling filled with plums, apricots, strawberries or blueberries. A similar dish is baked apples (minus the pastry shell). Unpeeled apples are cored (some preparations remove only the top part of the core leaving a half-inch at the bottom) and stuffed with fillings such as butter, brown sugar, currants, raisins, nuts, oatmeal, spices and other ingredients.

Made any way, boiled or baked, pastry covered or not, these perfect pocket sized simple desserts are perfect add-ons for simple, elaborate or too tired to cook days. With imagination running riot, what better way is there to make perfect use of the cold weather, indulge the sugar cravings with apples and sweet and make way for this traditional recipe not just simple and wholesome but a treat for the artistic eye and creative cooking.

Posted in Daily, Food, Musique, Stories Around the World

A Penny, A Bun…

Hot cross buns!
Hot cross buns!
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot cross buns!

If you have no daughters,
give them to your sons.
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot cross buns!
– Roud Folk Song Index Number (13029)

Almost every parent, guardian or caregiver has heard of the predefined set of nursery rhymes (ranging from Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to Ba Ba Black Sheep), especially when trying to make the young mind learn a bit of the English language, rhymes and songs. The above song “Hot Cross Bun” is no stranger to the set of these rhymes. However it was the smell of freshly baked buns (butter buns, fruit buns mainly) from the bakery near my workplace that would account for the sudden thoughts of “Hot Cross Bun” ( originally an English street cry) being dredged up from the grey cells. Like those memories that linger, thoughts of a pot of tea with fresh buns do enter the list of sudden urges for the taste buds occasionally.

This spiced sweet bun usually made with fruit and traditionally marked with a cross (as sugar toppings or partially sliced through) was associated with the end of Lent and is usually eaten on Good Friday. At times, spices are also added. These days hot cross buns are available all year round at most places, even in the supermarket chains with varieties like toffee, orange-cranberry, salted caramel and chocolate, apple-cinnamon, coffee flavoured, white chocolate and raspberry, banana and caramel, sticky date and the list goes on to being more creative and flavoured in certain bakeries and delis.

The exact origin of “hot cross buns” was historically believed to be associated with the rise of Christianity. During the Lent period, plain buns were made without any dairy products and eaten hot or toasted. Although archaeological evidence suggest that the Greeks (6th century) may have marked cakes with a cross. While one theory states that the Hot Cross Bun originated when where Brother Thomas Rodcliffe, a 14th Century monk at St Albans Abbey (1361), developed a recipe (similar to hot cross bun) called an ‘Alban Bun’ and distributed them to the local poor on Good Friday.  Though the London street cry,”Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs. With one or two a penny hot cross buns”, which had appeared in Poor Robin’s Almanac (1733) was the first ever definite record of hot cross buns. On trying to trace if these buns were made earlier than 18th century London, records of recipes come to a blank.

More of interest are the numerous traditions and beliefs surrounding these “hot cross” buns. While one says that buns baked and served on Good Friday will not spoil or grow mouldy during the subsequent year, others encourage keeping these buns purely for medicinal purposes or are carried along for long sea voyages to protect against shipwreck. Few kitchens may have a “hanging hot cross bun” which gets replaced every year, done so as to protect against fires and ensure that all breads turn out to be perfect and exquisite.

Be it the Lent season or not, hot cross buns are one of the best spiced buns are to have, especially hot or toasted ( or cold as per preference). The more the variety, the better. Moreover, one doesn’t need to wait for the right time to indulge that heavenly taste and flavour. With creative flavourings on the rise, these buns are definitely worth a try.

Posted in Daily, Food

Ice, Cream and Coffee

An impromptu get-together of classmates and families over the weekend, makes for a memorable time. With potluck lunch being the norm, cooking was never a hassle. Though the matter of settling the desserts takes up more time. Considering the higher proportion of sweet tooth among the adults and children alike, there was a huge batch of ice-cream, not just any but homemade coffee ice-cream to follow.

“There were some problems only coffee and ice cream could fix.” Amal El-Mohtar

There are few recipes and tricks that are handed down from one generation to the next. Among them desserts, especially those which can be made with regular ingredients; coffee ice cream along with the regular tarts, puddings, gulab jamuns and the like which require basic ingredients or minimum preparatory time are saved for the “dessert quandary“.

Interestingly, early records show that coffee ice cream (1869) was first used in the making of parfait. Few cookbooks (1919) had the recipe of an Egg Coffee consisting of cream, crushed ice and coffee syrup. By late 1900s, coffee ice-cream slowly rose to fame having it’s own secure place on the menu in the ice cream parlours.

While vanilla still is the most popular ice cream, with a regular supply often stocked up in the freezer; coffee ice cream makes way for a delicious change. With many recipes found online, subtle changes like adding beaten egg yolks to the cooling coffee/milk/cream mix and using dark-roast beans makes for the changing flavours each time coffee ice-cream is made at home. Though the longer the ice cream is frozen, the better it is; morning preparations are ready by noon with a minimum freeze time of four hours. The next time an impromptu meet is there, sprucing up the regular ice cream can make for more deliciously happy and fun memories.

“Personally, I like to mix and match–I prefer to get a couple of milk shakes, a banana split … a sundae or two. Then I top it off with a mocha chip in a cone. I don’t know why. I guess that’s like the dinner mint at the end of a meal to me. Know what I mean?” J.R. Ward, The Beast

Posted in Daily, Food

Back to “Mush Meal”

Spooning the porridge into my nephew’s mouth; while doing a short stint of baby-sitting at the family home, was indeed a remarkable experience. The mush meal of ragi with jaggery had lead to early memories of feeding my toddler and creative ways that were tried to mash the cereals, convert them into an exciting enticing gooey mush and trying to prevent the “spit battle” with these young people. While most of the gooey mesh landed in the little mouth (more than on the bib); surprisingly the porridge pot was emptied by the adults ranging from twelve years to fifty. Though it was not just gooey creamy mush but laced with a couple of raisin, honey, dried cranberries and dates as a post luncheon quick dessert.

And for anyone who thinks that these mush meals are just for these infants, think twice before refusing the wholesome meal of grits (ground corn meal), semolina and milk porridge or the good old oats or wheat porridge laced with plenty of fresh berries, treacle on top and caramelized sugar to go, all complete with an omelette and bread to satisfy the morning hunger pangs, especially when meals have to quick, simple, wholesome and varied.

From the very early days of primitive cooking, the making of these mush meals was what sustained them especially during the lean periods when meat was scare or inedible. Besides requiring very basic preparatory time, these meals could be prepared anywhere and everywhere as long as one had a supply of grains, water, a pan and the fire. Add-ons of sugar, wild berries, honey, vegetables and meat were something that had evolved over the years.

As for the good old porridge, there are plenty of varieties to be tried. From the South American Avena (drink prepared with stewed oatmeal, milk, water, cinnamon, clove and sugar), Malaysian and Indonesian preparation of Bubur ayam (rice congee with shredded chicken meat), Italian Polenta (cornmeal boiled into a porridge, eaten directly or baked, fried, grilled) and the Swedish or Finnish “Vispipuuro” ( sweet, wheat semolina (manna) dessert porridge made with berries) are just a few of the numerous varieties and styles of these mush meals or porridge.

If one still feels that these mush meals as breakfast are off the menu; modify them a bit and serve them as sweet puddings. Besides being quick and basic, these desserts have an easy way of keeping everyone, (small or big), happy and second helpings are often a battle, especially the more sweeter they get. For a change of breakfast scene, getting a start with porridge may bring back memories of the early childhood years, quick meals and less dish up effort and time.

Posted in Daily, Food

“Mix” Along the “Trail”

Couple of almonds or cashews. Legumes (peanuts or baked soybeans). Dried fruits like cranberries, raisins, apricots, apples pieces, gooseberries or candied orange peel. Throw in a few chocolate chips, chunks, and M&M’s or pretzels along with crystallized ginger. One is good to go.

Early morning and sugars low. Throw in dry breakfast cereal for the sugary crunch. More salty feel or crunchy feel, add in banana chips or carob chips. For high fibre effect, add in the rye chips. Enrich the antioxidant feel with pumpkin, chia or sunflower seeds.

Little did hiker and outdoors-man Horace Kephart, know that recommendation of “scroggin” or “trial mix” in his popular camping guide (1910s), would lead to the snack becoming ever popular or more varied over time. The original “trail mix” was more of a combination of granola, dried fruit, nuts, and sometimes chocolate developed as a food to be taken along on Besides being quick and easy to carry along, the wide variety of mixes as per as own personal choice makes it’s popularity still stay.

Interestingly, the name “scroggin” or “schmogle” as used in New Zealand may have arose as an acronym from it’s ingredients of sultanas, carob, raisins, orange peel, grains, glucose, imagination(?) and nuts or alternatively sultanas, chocolate, raisins and other goody-goodies including nuts; although these facts are up to debate. Across continents, America’s gorp ( acronym for “good old raisins and peanuts” or common ingredients “granola, oats, raisins, peanuts) and Europe’s “student fodder”, “student oats” or “student mix” in the local languages show essentially how the same thing stays across the different cultures.

For snackers globally, the National Trail Mix Day (August 31st) would give a reason to go the extra mile for an exotic, unusual trail mix style ( cranberries, gooseberries, gummy bears and cornflakes dried anyone ?)

Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

Of “Petit Pots”

“Heat the milk and cream. Make it a bit bubbly. Add the flavours, mix it into the whisked eggs and egg yolks. Strain the mixture and pour into cups. Bake these cups in a water bath at low heat. Depending on taste, one can flavour this dessert with pieces of broken or melted choclate, rum, add a base of crunchy texture or garnish with almond slivers, sliced berries, cinnamon, colorful sugar or sprinkles; all leading to a piece of art as well as of delectable taste.”

The above simple dessert similar to a lightly set baked custard, known as “Pot de crème” or “petit pots” was believed to have originated from France during the 17th century. While the name means “pot of custard” or “pot of cream”,referring to the porcelain cups which were used to make and serve the dessert; the latter concept may have evolved from the from English Syllabub.

Usually looser than other custards, crème brulee, flans or crème caramel; it requires minimal preparatory time and can be made with the ingredients at hand. Such that it can be prepared without milk or had frozen. Hardly surprising that, this delight has got its’ own special place and day (August 27th) in the foodimentarian’s heart. For all the dessert connoisseurs, it would be time to experiment the taste buds with the varieties of preparations. While for the experimental chefs, let the steps to make an artful and palatable creation begin.