Posted in Food

Crisp, Light to Thick, Buttery

Being in the phase, where the quiet routine prevails; shaking up things a bit is required every now and then, to prevent the monotonous run. Which is when the flour along with a couple of eggs and a pack of butter with other staples and add-ons come to the rescue. To add a change to the regular, few recipes around the world were trudged and substituted a little, when being made.

Most of our childhood is stored not in photos, but in certain biscuits, lights of day, smells, textures of carpet.” Alain de Botton

Sticking to the basics, first was the attempt to make homemade biscochitos. Also known as bizcochitos, these crisp butter (or lard) based cookies, are made from the traditional biscuit dough, flavoured with cinnamon and anise. With minimum handling, the dough is rolled and cut into the traditional shapes of stars and crescent moons, and then baked. Served with a fine icing of sugar and sparkles, these were brought over to the New Mexico area from the first Spanish colonists centuries ago. For a change, one can cut into the dough and filled the cavity with homemade jam, making it a little like a tart.

Alternatively, these cookies, or even the regular cookie can be given “an apple cider finish”. To make a change to the regular batch, the usual cookie dough can have a little of apple cider added to the typical ingredients of flour, brown sugar, butter, spices and baking soda. For an added “apple touch” one can put in dried or chopped apples along with dates, nuts and a little of vanilla essence to bring a touch of varied flavours. For those who just want a subtle feel of the apple or keep it to a minimum, apple cider can be used as a glaze or icing to he baked biscuits or cookie. To get a more chewy feel to the regular biscuits, one can substitute a share of the wheat flour by almonds crushed, powdered to make the traditional Turkish “Acıbadem kurabiyesi” or a version of the traditional Italian amaretto cookie. Preferring to keep the taste of almonds on a lighter note, a touch of the almond essence gives an almost similar effect.

“The symmetry was perfect, each triangle a perfect replica of its neighbor. Cashews, hazelnuts, and blanched almonds peeked out of their baptism in caramel jam, a sea of creamy browns punctuated by green pistachios. The tart shell formed a precise circle of pastry around the caramel and nuts.” Kimberly Stuart

Interestingly, biscuits made are not all baked. Originally from the Central Asian, Mongolian and Middle East cuisine, the ” boortsog or bawïrsaq” are a type of fried dough food that gives a feel similar to the tea-time biscuits. Made from flour based dough, simple to a sweeter crispier version, the latter is flattened and cut into pieces. In some areas, these pieces are bent and knotted into various shapes, from triangles to spheres or decorated with crisscross patterns, before being fried. Not simply as a tea-snack, but also as a dessert, boortsog can be had as a dessert eaten with sugar, butter, jam or honey. Though similar to doughnuts, they are dipped into tea and are an essential tea-time accompaniment.

Another traditional recipe is that of ” Reshteh khoshkar”, a Persian cookie made from the rice flour along with wheat flour, sugar, almonds, walnuts and cinnamon. What makes it interesting is the way they are prepared. This rice-flour based batter is poured into a sieved container such that the rice batter runs out of it as a fountain Making a pattern on the hot skillet with rice batter running through, a thin patterned sheet of rice pastry is made. Then a filling of crushed walnuts, sugar and other toppings are placed inside the pastry, rolled securely and then fried in oil.

“Powdermilk biscuits: Heavens, they’re tasty and expeditious! They’re made from whole wheat, to give shy persons the strength to get up and do what needs to be done.” Garrison Keillor

Making cookies is always something special. A fresh batch of cookies always brings to mind the childhood memories of staying with grandmother in the kitchen, sneaking up into the jar for the occasional biscuit and the feel of being a child all over again. The best part is, the biscuit dough with all its’ different shapes, can keep the young hands busy for sometime. With plenty of indigenous and local recipes at hand, the regular can be spiced up with a little experimentation whenever the mood strikes for the same.

Posted in Food

Of Outdoors, Simplicity and Style

With the turn of summer, the tradition of outdoor cooking is beckoning one. Though the lock-down may be in effect, to start off in own backyard is good enough, before the rains set in their full swing.

“To barbecue is a way of life rather than a desirable method of cooking.” Clement Freud

One of the perks of cooking outside, is that even with the basics, one can throw a meal quite simple, though basic. From s’mores to hot-dogs or even baked vegetables, the taste of outdoors gives an elemental feel to the dish.

While the indigenous method involves the tandoor, exploring the various techniques of outdoor cooking around the world gives one plenty of ideas to work on. Interestingly, the Mongolians have several barbecue methods, one of which is Khokhog. First palm-sized stones are heated to a high temperature over a fire. Then lamb is placed in alternate layers with stone in the pot. As far as the cooking time is concerned, it depends on the amount of lamb used as well as how well done one wants it.

Switching over to the Alpine area, the communal cooking of meats is mostly done on a hot stone, known as the “pierrade”, situated on the serving table. In contrast, the Mediterranean barbecue recipes involve both grilling with braising for a different variety. Not just with olive oil, herbs, spices or even persillade, adding citrus juice to the mix gives an added zing. With their basic ingredients of chicken, halloumi cheese, pita bread one can make simple soulakis, with a different twist every time, even with the garnishing on.

Trying the Chilean method, any simple dish can be spiced up by a condiment made from pureed herbs, garlic and mildly hot peppers, known as pebre. Changing tunes, the Singaporeans don’t start off their barbecues with the typical lighter fluid or charcoal chimney starter; but with a box of small rolled up briquettes made of sawdust and wax, which is lit up and then placed under a stack of charcoal briquettes.

“The question is not whether we will barbecue, but how we will barbecue.” Joan Z. Borysenko

Be it breakfast recipes or dinner, outdoors is a welcome change from usual routine. From breakfast burgers to egg and sausage mix, one can go simply with the mood of the moment. As far as desserts are concerned, they too have a say. Thrown in a chocolate, melted or half solid and a couple of sweetened diced berries, it will do wonder for the sweet tooth in us. The art of outdoor cooking is always in it’s simplicity, ingenuity and a healthy dose of mix and match.

Posted in Food, Stories Around the World

A Little of all, or More

With all at home, attempting their hand at “a little something”, especially in the kitchen arena; there was an assortment of sorts for dinner. With the leftovers from lunch, the cookies of last weekend and a little of the experimentation (definitely edible) left from the past two days in the refrigerator, supper was more like a picnic meal, of sorts.

Laying down the table, reminded one of the college days, wherein the complete meal was more or less, like garbage plate. One of the first life lessons on managing college life and the budget at hand, was to make do with a “garbage plate”. Originally started off at Nick Tahou Hots, a restaurant based in Rochester which had featured their signature dish of “the Garbage Plate”. With the crowd consisting f mainly college students, the dish was concocted to meet the demand of a meal with a little of everything on it.

“What is the famous Nick Tahou’s Garbage Plate™? We start with a base of any combination of home fries, macaroni salad, baked beans, or french fries topped by your choice of meats and dressed to your liking with spicy mustard, chopped onions, and our signature Nick Tahou’s hot sauce. Each plate comes with two thick slices of fresh Italian bread and butter.” (2010, Archived from the offical website

Though other records state that the first original plate was concocted from two hamburger patties with a choice of two sides, from home fries, macaroni salad or beans, laced with a heavy layer of ketchup and hot sauce. Despite the high carbohydrate laden meal, this dish stayed quite popular, even in the present college campus.Maybe the fact that this plate accounts for a little comfort in every bite, a reminder of our home makes it one of the “at least once must haves”, during college days.

Bringing it down to a more simpler or tone version, plate the salad (macaroni, pasta, baked beans or even greens) and then add the next layer of homemade french fries (or any fries, vary it with baked beet-fries). Still adding on, the next layer is for the protein with grilled, fried or baked patties (meat, fish, chicken, hamburgers, hot-dogs or maybe soya-keema and paneer for the vegetarian version). The final touch is made by the sauce slathered over it and then being topped with the classic garnishing of chopped onions, yellow mustard and not forget to add the tomato ketchup to the lot. Ranging from the hot sauce (meat, chilli and hot) to a toned down vegan chilli, the final plate can change with every serve, though the basic ingredients may remain the same. Also not to miss out on the side dish, choose the pick from traditional garlic bread, rolls or even roti and naan to mop out the sauce,

Trying to recreate a similar version didn’t work out in the typical “garbage plate manner”. Though the next attempt, to go heavy on the carbs is on the agenda. The dinner of “bits and pieces” had some other weird food combinations like the tuna and spaghetti, rice with beans, soy and chopped meat or cheese and chocolate and the running favourite for now, two slices of bread with aloo bhujia ( an Indian potato snack), butter, sugar and sprinkles between them, to list a few of the experiments when the chefs run amok in the kitchen. Also not to forget the latest invention of pancake batter with slices of all berries, bananas, essence of maple syrup, crushed nuts with whipped cream on top. Cleaning out all the leftovers (best though weird), the supper of these ” odds and ends” (little higher on the carbs) wasn’t the typical garbage plate but, oddly an interesting combination and completely satisfying.

Posted in Food

Of Basics, Simple and a little Salsa

Still in the stay-at-home (literally includes work-eat-sleep-dine-exercise and so on) phase, the availability of doing a little of the sudden whims do happen; unless it happens during the clocked in work-hours. Which is why, when the mood strikes, the entire brood gets to indulge in the experimentation. After setting the pace for the morning till noon to go smooth; the extra time towards the evening was used to add a little spice to the known recipes. Though the spice later blended to the little salsa mix that was there at home, it was fun trying tot improvise two of the Mexican dishes to the Indian tune.

One of the easier recipes to try at home, was the Chilaquiles. The typical recipe basis are the corn tortillas cut into quarters and lightly fried. To the crisp tortilla triangles, the salsa (green or red) is poured over and the mix is simmered until the tortilla starts softening. To spice up the mix, one can add pulled chicken is sometimes added to the mix. Commonly garnished with crema (cream and buttermilk), crumbled queso fresco (white cheese), raw onion rings or avocado slices; the chilaquiles is usually had with refried beans, eggs (scrambled or fried), beef and guacamole as side dishes. Twisting the traditional recipe a bit, one can used a bit of wheat or maize tortillas, while adding a little of diced vegetables (saute them earlier if desired) and just had like that.

Next in line was the Chalupa. This specialty dish is made by pressing a thin layer of masa dough around a mould to create a tiny boat like (concave) container. These shallow corn cups are deep fried and filled with various ingredients such as shredded chicken, re-fried beans, cheese (classic), salsa, chopped onions, pepper and lettuce toppings. For the home version, one can experiment with wheat or maize (or chickpea flour) and just add on the mix of choice to be served in the “boats”.

Modifying these two simple and basic Mexican recipes was fun. With the added advantage of them being simple, one can recreate varied versions of the same with whatever ingredients are available at hand. As the craving for a little change strikes hard, that bottle of salsa is definitely going to add the much needed spice to the regular dishes.

 

Posted in Food

To Whisk, Pour and Savour

Staying at home, one can savour the taste of caffeine or theophylline when the thought takes over the mind. With going to the cafe’ out of question, bringing the cafe home is an alternative. As long as milk, cream and sugar are at hand; there are a couple of concoctions that can be attempted and recorded in the “annals of the kitchen experiments”. After a couple of days with black tea and espresso shots, it was time to tone down a bit of them both.

Taking a break from all the caffeine, today was a soft coffee day. Also known as “desi-coffee” or whipped coffee, this is akin to a hand-beaten Indian home-style version of the cappuccino. Taking a spoon of instant coffee and sugar with just a spoonful of milk, beat the mix vigorously to bring out a light fluffy paste-like froth. Add a few drops of milk, getting the froth thick, creamy and rich. With the final froth coming after a minimum of five minutes of vigorous whisking; one can add the warm (or cold) milk to the mix, either at a go or in a layered manner. The best part is each glass of beaten coffee brigs out not just an array of flavours, but a special smell, feel and texture of the coffee.

In the scattered attempts to recreate the different styles of coffee, one interesting point lies in the sequence and the amount in which each proportion is added. When the milk is stirred or beaten and then added to the single concentrated shot of black coffee or the vice versa, it doesn’t result in them both being the same. While trying out the popular quarantine coffee challenge doing its’ rounds on social media, it felt like making this hand-beaten Indian cappuccino or desi-whipped coffee in a reverse manner. While the latter involves milk being added to the mix to get the thick froth on top; the former involves added the whipped instant coffee powder, sugar and hot water (in equal proportions) to the creamy texture and adding that to the milk (hot or cold). Done either way, both styles have a varied feel of their own.

Continuing in the same, vein of making the evening tea session interesting for both the kids and the rest of us, the experiments will be on the creation of homemade chai latte, seven layer chai or the noon tea with the story behind them to add the finishing touch. Experimenting with these simple and uncomplicated variations helps one to not just bring a spark to these trying days; but also to savour and fun the lightness of each day in life.

“I wake up some mornings and sit and have my coffee and look out at my beautiful garden, and I go, ‘Remember how good this is. Because you can lose it.” Jim Carrey

Posted in Food

Of Stuffed, Rolled and Creativity

If anyone had ever said that working from home would be a must for the next couple of weeks; that would be one of the sole reasons to go royally insane. When those little minds are hungry or craving for a snack, the clocked in “office hours” go for a six as the whines of “snack time” reach the grey and white matter. Which is why after repeated snacks of various creations with biscuits, cake (made earlier), fritters and ready to eat snacks, being “boring”; the need to spice things up becomes a necessity. So out goes the rolling pin, a plate of stuffing mix (meat and herbs) and we are good to go.

Interestingly, there are many recipes which can be tweaked a bit to provide their entry into the snack hour. One of the favorites and easy to work with is the “wrapped in the blanket concept”. The popularity is summarized by one of the most favoured recipes for cocktail parties or large luncheons to serve as an appetizer, are the “pigs in blankets” or “franks in blanks”. Essentially made of a frank rolled in a piece of bread -bun or pastry, this can range from a small snack to a large jumbo sized meal. While the rule is to put in small franks or breakfast sausages in a bit of dough, one can spice up the dish by own choice.

Delving into the global variations through various cuisines, the sausage can be wrapped up in a tortilla and deep fried in vegetable oil, going by the name “salchitaco” by the Mexican cuisine. Or one can prepare it as Moshe Ba’Teiva (Moses in the basket), an Israeli dish made by rolling up the kosher hot dog in a ketchup-covered sheet of puff pastry or phyllo dough and serve it baked. On similar lines, Argentinians wrap up the sausage topped with ketchup and bake it. For those who want to keep on the far side of added calories, the sausage wrapped in pastry can be steamed to; like the Chinese Lap Cheong Bo. For the home kitchen, one can simply use puff pastry or a tortilla to just wrap up the filling and fry or bake it.

Another popular snack food is the Italian arancini. Made of a ball of rice coated with bread crumbs and then deep-fried; these snack food can be prepared in raw and stored in the fridge, to be made on demand and as required. The fillings can be made of meat (minced slow-cooked with spices), cheese (mozarella or caciocavallp) or filled with both (like ham and mozarella).

One of the advantages of knowing these different styles, is that they come to the rescue especially when caught unawares. The plus part lies in the fact that they use the simple ingredients available in the pantry, which may be modified as per own requirement. As always said, the fun part of “kitchen experimentation” lies when tweaking old recipes a bit and adding a little imagination and creativity to the mix.

Posted in Food

Topsy, Up-turned and Sweet

If today’s entry went into the kitchen journal, it would be under the set of “kitchen disasters nearly rescued.” With the lock-down still in effect, the demand for dessert is quite strong. So with a share of the pineapple crop from home, going for an pineapple pie was a quick and easy solution. Yet has anyone wondered what happens next, when one has planned to make the puree for an apple pie, but got the cuts turned to the near brown-black? While on one hand, the litany of “not now” goes on and the contents get thrown out; the other side is to improvise and make it into a palatable dessert.

Entering into the scenes behind one of the famous dishes, history teaches that some of the best creations happen with quick thinking, courage, improvisation and a whole dash of creativity, all occurring in a short span of time. One such dish, is the Tarte Tatin.

As the records go, the 188os saw a special dish created at the Hôtel Tatin, Lamotte-Beuvron, Loir-et-Cher which is south of Paris, which was run by two sisters, Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin. Records of the popular legend state that, Stephanie Tatin had left the apples cooking in butter and sugar for a long time, beyond the required effect meant for an apple pie. To salvage the dish, the pastry base was put on top of the pan of apples and then the whole set into the oven. The dish when turned out as an upside down tart was a welcome addition to the menu, which stayed on since then.

Not known as the Tarte Tatin of now, these upside down dishes were a specialty of the Sologne region. Whether it was the forerunner of the recipe of today’s, food historians still debate on these points, especially with the lack of historical evidence at hand. Regardless, it is adventures like these that give one inspiration to salvage the contents at hand, and make a dish for the love of cooking and for own pleasure.

Keeping to the upside theme, one dessert cake would be the “pineapple upside down”cake. The cake is baked in a single pan with toppings, which can range from chopped or sliced (glazed, plain or caramelized) apples, cherries peaches or pineapple placed at the bottom of the pan. When served, the upside-down cake is de-panned, thus righting it to the “right-side up”. The fruits form a baked topping after the cake is inverted. Sticking to the traditional upside-down desserts, the choice ranges form the regular American pineapple upside-down cake to the French Tarte Tatin or the Brazilian or Portuguese bolo de ananás.

While many local cuisines may have their own set of similar dishes or recipes, getting inventive sure helps one to savour the other side of the globe. When travelling is out of the question, creating the dish is a voyage worth embarking on.