Posted in Daily, Food

An “In-dul-gence”

More than forty eight hours, still the excuse to indulge in a little of the delectable sweetness of “c” stays on. On a frank note, the gift from the simple cacao seeds don’t really need any special day to be enjoyed; yet on the need for a reason to binge on it, these special choclate based days are noted and celebrated. On such a note, a couple of us “chocolate-fanatics” decided to give the online chocolataire a whirl and oh what a visual treat was it. Though obsolete now, a chocolate themed social gathering gives a boost tot he low morale during these “locked in periods”.

“Chocolate Wine. Take a pint of Sherry, or a pint and a half of Port, four ounces and a half of chocolate, six ounces of fine sugar, and half an ounce of white starch, or find flour; mix, dissolve, and boil all these together for about ten or twelve minutes. But if your chocolate is made with sugar, take double the quantity of chocolate, and half the quantity of sugar.” (The Cook’s Own Book: Being a Culinary Encyclopedia, Mrs. N.K.M. Lee, facsimile 1832 edition [Arno Press:New York] 1972 (p. 51))

From being processed, blended, conched, tempered and stored, chocolate has undergone a bit more changes, primarily to the percentages of cocoa solid, fats or both along with added ingredients, to give the many varieties of today. Interestingly cocoa can be combined with vegetable fat (tropical or hydrogenated fats) to give the confection of compound chocolate. Though not legally “chocolate”, it can be used as a dipping sauce, candy bar coatings or just to give the feel of chocolate to a simple dessert, biscuits or even pie. Alternatively for amateur home experimenters (like yours truly); melting chocolate with glucose, golden or corn syrup to make the modeling chocolate for homemade decorations to sponge cakes, cupcakes and the like brings a feeling of bringing a bit of the delicatessen home. On a very sweet and sour note, chocolate too has its’ own tune with the creation of Callebaut’s Ruby chocolate. Made from the Ruby cocoa bean, the distinct red colour gives a flair to the dramatic taste.

The quest to find a “cool and practical recipe” for the impromptu chocolataire has opened up a whole range of ideas and range of experimentation. With many recipes being borrowed, jotted and modified; chocolate will be one of the musts for cacao based desert crazy folks. As they say old is gold; with a little bit of “this and that”, it gives a good feel for the taste buds and an enjoyable ride for the memory cells especially as they age over time.

[1957]
“Chocolate Fondue: Hot Dessert
2 squares (ounces) unsweetened chocolate, 1 cup milk, 1 cup soft breadcrumbs, 1 tablespoon butter, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 3 eggs separated. Add chocolate, broken in pieces, to milk. Heat till chocolate melts; stir till blended. Add crumbs, butter, sugar, salt. Beat egg yolks slightly. Stir in a little of the hot milk, add to milk mixture, cool. Beat egg whites till stiff; fold into cooled mixture. Turn into a five-cup greased baking dish. Bake in moderate oven (350 degrees F.) about forty minutes. Serve hot with whipped cream. Yield: Four servings.” (“Our Daily Bread,” Jane Nickerson New York Times, September 8, 1957 (p. SM46))

Posted in Food, Stories Around the World

Of Iced, Sweet and Tannin

Approaching the mid-rays of the summer, there is something about the lure of a sip from the chilled glass. Whether the drink be of the canned variety, or the iced feel of Java or the lighter tones of crushed infused leaves, that sip brings out a volume of emotions from within. The best part is the memories of childhood that come along with it. Also the fact that one can switch from the java to tannins anytime, with each recipe being different with every make, results in one reaching out for that glass. Learning the stories behind the iced tea, opens a whole new chapter in the kitchen experimentation.

Surprisingly iced tea was initially made as a medicinal drink. As the drink gained popularity beyond this, varied experimentation with different herbs and varieties of tea leaves were tried. With the combination of ice, tea and sugar doing wonders, the slow evolution of sweet tea began; though it was more of an item of luxury during the initial period. Tracing back to late 1870s wherein the oldest known recipe for sweet iced tea was published, the base was of green tea as the latter was the most popular tea leaves being used then. With the WWII and the availability of only black tea in the market; flavours were switched and then on it just stayed.

[1861]
“Balm and Burrage Tea
These, as well as all other medicinal herbs, may easily be cultivated in a corner of your garden…Take a balm and burrage a small handful each, put this into a jug, pour in upon the herbs a quart of boiling water, allow the tea to stand for ten minutes, and then strain it off into another jug, and let it become cold. This cooling drink is recommended as a beverage for persons whose system has become heated for any cause.” —A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes, Charles Elme Francatelli, London [1861] (p. 92) [Note: Mr. Francatelli was the head chef for Queen Victoria. He is often credited for introducing many popular Victorian food dishes and trends.]

Graduating from the simple iced tea, one of the cultural iced teas which may be tried at the home kitchen is the Thai Iced tea. Also known as “cha yen”, this drink is made from strongly brewed black tea, laced with condensed milk and sugar and served chilled. To give the creamy taste and look, evaporated milk, coconut milk or even whole milk may be poured over the iced tea For the “cha dem ya” (Dark Thai iced tea) the milk is out and the iced tea is sweetened with sugar alone. To get the “cha manao” (Lime Thai iced tea), the flavourings of lime and ice maybe added..

“Unlike water or wine or even Coca-Cola, sweet tea means something. It is a tell, a tradition. Sweet tea isn’t a drink, really. It’s culture in a glass.” Allison Glock

To get a kick in the evening hours, sweet iced tea can be had as a punch mixed with liquor with a dash of cream and mint julep for the flavour. Or one could try out he Tortuga cocktail, home to the Haitian island Tortuga. Made primarily from iced tea sweetened with brown sugar, it is garnished by cinnamon and a lime wedge. Though an alternate recipe of the Tortuga cocktail involves Cuban rum, curacao and creme de cacao for an additional flavour.

With each blend having a story of own to be told; trying out different varieties brings various cultures across the globe to the kitchen. Little wonder why then, there are two pitchers kept chilled, round the clock. With a new twist to the old known recipes, that pitcher is always a welcome surprise for the summer heat.

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, Stories Around the World

Of “Chai” Times

One of the highlights of the weekdays used to be the fifteen minute “chai session” that used to happen in the break room. As we weren’t allowed to carry over beverages to our desks, the break was a well anticipated event; not only for those who love “chai” but the camaraderie that went along with it. The experience of “chai time” started into the early days of college, where the campus canteen used to be the centre of “chai and biscuits” at any time of the day or evening. With the hot brew comforting each of us, the woes, worries, near-misses and the best highlights as the day ends. Through the years, these sessions had stayed on in the campus life and eventually even into the office.

“Tea time is a chance to slow down, pull back and appreciate our surroundings.” Letitia Baldrige

Delving into the history and tradition of tea, each area and country have their own special styles and customs. Bringing these styles home feels like sharing a . Known as “shai” in Egypt, the widely preferred tea is the black tea. It is prepared as “Koshary tea” wherein the black tea is steeped in boiled water, letting it set for a few minutes, sweetened with cane sugar or flavoured with fresh mint leaves with milk, the latter being by choice. The other variety is the “Saiidi tea” which is prepared by boiling black tea over a strong flame for five minutes or longer. Being extremely bitter, it needs plenty of cane sugar to go along with it.

Coming over to East Frisia, the traditional tea preparation is a special art in itself. A white rock candy sugar, known as “kluntje” is added to an empty cup. Then tea is poured over the Kluntje, with a heavy cream “cloud” added on. Served without a spoon or being stirred, this tea is had un-stirred in three tiers. Initially it tastes predominantly of cream, then the taste of tea with the final sweet taste of kluntje at the bottom of the cup. As the kluntje melts slowly, it allows multiple cups of tea to be sweetened. Stirring the tea would merge all the tiers as one, thereby missing out on the traditional beauty of the tea savouring. Being a guest, less than three cups of tea is being rude tot he host. Once done, the cup has to be placed upside down on the saucer or the spoon in the cup to signal that one is done and satisfied.

The Sahelian region of the Sahara, green gunpowder tea is had with a session of storytelling and heartfelt conversation. The tea is poured into the glasses and back, with a foam building on top of it. Had with plenty of sugar and little milk, the Sahelian tea has the first infusion as bitter as death, the second as flavourful as life (go in between) and the third sweet as love.

“A thoughtful cup of tea brought to your bedside each morning means more to me than the huge bouquet of flowers bought once a year.” Penny Jordan

With the lock-down on and the friendly “chai” sessions out of the equation, sharing tea in a special through video chats makes the circle of friendship fun, endearing and lovely. Besides having plenty of tea customs to choose from, each weekend session of tea, feels like bringing another part of the world home.

Posted in Food, Stories Around the World

Coffee, Sugar and a Twist

One of the big benefits of work-from-home option, are the ease of getting a slow mornings. With a large chunk of time, saved from missing the commute, one can savour the first bite of coffee, the afternoon aroma of the beans and the night experimentation with newer styles. Though one downside is that, too many regular coffee or the plain espresso, makes one want to grab for a cafe made latte for a change. With the present situation, as one can’t go to the cafe, the quest is on to bring the cafe home. The subsequent research for cafe-made coffees to be experimented at home lead to plenty of “aha” moments.

“Come on, don’t you ever stop and smell the coffee?” Justina Chen Headley

Getting into mood of completing the daily work requirements, the daily shot in different shades of black to brown is what keeps the morning work to the grind. So with the home espresso machine in tow, the regular morning shot was had with a small twist the past couple of days. When the bite of coffee needs to be mellowed a tinge, the regular shot of espresso can be diluted by little milk (less than 100ml) for the Manilo, which is actually a flat-white but lot smaller.

Going towards the Cuban tradition to drink coffee strong and sweet where the sugar is often mixed with the coffee beans prior to the latter being brewed, making the homemade Cuban espresso involves knowing the traditional way. The traditional method of brewing coffee was the filter method using a cloth cone; but the modern brewing recipes prefer a moka pot than the espresso machine. Made best using the darker roasts (preferably Italian or Spanish), a little of the the espresso shot is taken, sweetened with natural brown sugar and then the whole mix whipped. The mixture is then added to the remaining espresso and vigorously mixed into a creamy foam, the espuma or espumita. A sweeter and more viscous coffee is made by this method, than by adding the normal brown sugar to the espresso. This espresso brewed with sugar goes by various cafe names like the Café Cubano, Cuban coffee, Cuban espresso, cafecito, Cuban pull, or Cuban shot. Another technique is to place the sugar (white or brown) in the cup as the coffee is dripped into it; the whole mix then stirred into a froth. Adapting to the takeaway option, “the Cuban Colada” is 3–6 shots of Cuban-style espresso in a cup along with small demitasses to take to work.

Though deceptively simple, this Miami café Cubano has few variations. One is the cortado, made of an espresso mixed with a roughly equal amount of warm or steamed milk to reduce the acidity. The milk is not frothy and “texturized”. The Cuban cortadito is generally mixed with heated sweetened condensed milk. Other styles include the café con leche condensada or bombón (espresso with condensed milk) and the leche y leche. The latter is made with condensed milk integrated throughout and a dollop of cream resting on top. The café cortado (espresso with a dash of milk) is almost similar to the Italian macchiato or the French noisette (hot milk to espresso is 1:2 ratio).

Another style is the Café con leche which literally translated from Spanish means “coffee with milk”. Originating as an Spanish coffee beverage, the espresso (strong and bold) is mixed with scalded milk in an approximate 1:1 ratio. If the amount of milk is higher, it becomes the café con leche en vaso or café con leche de desayuno. This preparation is closer to the Italian caffè latte or latte, than the French café au lait. The Cuban “Café con leche” is made when the espresso (without the sugar) is poured to the desired darkness into the cup of hot or steamed milk.

Researching on the Cuban coffee style alone resulted a whole new set of recipes and ideas being unlocked. Adding a personal variation based on the time of the day, especially iced for the noon makes for an nice twist to the usual. In the midst of all these concoctions, the only requirement is the mix being drinkable. That being the must, the rest is purely on the recipe, imagination and what is at hand. With all this being there, little reason why the lock-down hasn’t resulted in being a drag so far. Letting this first phase of the “espresso specialties” sink in, the next few days would result in plenty of interesting trials as well as errors.

Posted in Food, Photography Art, Quotes, Random Thoughts, Stories Around the World

Green, Leap and Fun

“Please send something green for snack time during the first break tomorrow.”
(School diary, as read on February 28,2020)

On seeing the note above, the eyebrows went up and a quick glance at the clock ensured a quick browse through the recipes. As night was approaching, a solution had to be reached before the shops were shut for the day. The quick trip downtown resulted in meeting a couple of parents rushing in. With the queue being long, a quick round of talk and news exchange, left me feeling grateful that my task was just in the food arena. To mark the leap year, the kinder-gardeners and primary schoolers were tasked with bringing something green for snack hour and “the world around us” hour; while the middle schoolers had to present projects, fun facts and presentations to mark the history, science and special for the Leap Day.

Leap Day, technically was first observed by those who followed the Gregorian calendar marking the extra-revolutionary hours of six, cumulatively every four years by making it a special day, marked at the end of February. While popular folk traditions first used to mark this day as Bachelor’s Day, various traditions and customs were added on over the years. The concept of “leap day” has been associated with frogs (re-read as leaping frogs) or as to do something “green”. More popular towards the early 21st century, the latter “green” was meant as an initiative by multinational companies so that employees could use the extra day to improve the environment. Those added twenty four hours were meant for change to energy efficient measures, create compost heaps, going green, a “no” to plastic as well as practicing the concept of “reuse, reduce and recycle”.

Moving over to the kitchen preparations for leap day, it was thin brown mint sandwiches, couple of cucumbers and a green apple that made my morning light, quick and green.

For others out there on the same boat of experimentation with something “green and edible”, there are numerous options ranging from green coloured cupcakes to crepes with a heavy dose of crushed mint, coriander or even basil in the batter, the green smoothies, the green cookies, pistachio flavoured ice-cream or even the good old pickles and peas for lunch.

Either way leap day is meant to that extra-something not done previously. As for “the non-edible going-green” process, sticking to it for this year and on, would be wonderful step to enjoy more future leap years on this land that we live on.

“Today is an ephemeral ghost… A strange amazing day that comes only once every four years. For the rest of the time it does not “exist.” In mundane terms, it marks a “leap” in time, when the calendar is adjusted to make up for extra seconds accumulated over the preceding three years due to the rotation of the earth. A day of temporal tune up! But this day holds another secret—it contains one of those truly rare moments of delightful transience and light uncertainty that only exist on the razor edge of things, along a buzzing plane of quantum probability…
A day of unlocked potential.
Will you or won’t you? Should you or shouldn’t you?
Use this day to do something daring, extraordinary and unlike yourself. Take a chance and shape a different pattern in your personal cloud of probability!”
Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

Posted in Daily, Food

Food, Flame and Wine

When the major Sunday luncheon is hosted at home, cooking for the week seems like a drag, especially when it includes packing school lunches. While lunch is managed by sandwiches, with esurient appetites dinner isn’t so light an affair. Moreover when one has an unexpected surprise when good old family friends pop over for a visit long overdue; the topic of dinner has to be a quick, palatable meal with few but good dishes. That’s when a couple of wine bottles ( in lieu of the holiday season), rice and chicken came in handy. The adding of wine to the flavours of food is like a sharp edged sword. Wine has the potential to enhance a meal or completely ruin it with a debatable concoction of flavours.

“If you do not have a good wine to use, it is far better to omit it, for a poor one can spoil a simple dish and utterly debase a noble one.” Julia Child

As far as wine is concerned, the drinking wine is good enough to be added to the cooking process instead of solely investing in cooking wine. In short if you like to drink it, then use it in meals. Else, just don’t. The drinkable wine should be clean, fresh and if it’s stored in the refrigerator uncorked even for two weeks, it can be used as long as long it is drinkable wine. Sweeter the wine, better in sauces and recipes, even desserts as well.

Wine acts as a partial substitute for the use of oil in cooking. While the usual method is to saute vegetables in butter or oil (good for kids); a smaller amount of oil with some wine for flavor and moisture can do a subtle twist to the regular flavour. For marinades, most of the times decreasing the oil to half of the regular and replacing that amount with wine makes a good substitute for the dietary fat watchers.

As wine connoisseurs know, there are different types of drinking wines. They are the light and dark ones, the white and red wines as well as the sweet wines and dry ones as well. All these wines make their difference to the regular meals by their subtle flavours. Which is why, some wines are paired with certain foods. For instance, white wine works best with dishes based on melon, apple, mushrooms, pineapples, citrus and the vanilla flavoured desserts, whereas red wine goes well with cherries, peaches, plums, chocolate and coffee.

Another general rule is that a light-flavored wine is paired best with delicately flavored foods. As far as meat is concerned, white wine works well dishes of chicken, turkey, fish or veal; white dark coloured wines especially red wine goes well with highly seasoned foods like beef, pork, duck or even goose. For the main course rice or pasta, it is question of light (or white) or dark (like red) wines, though the latter is best for heavier or spicier preparations. A less good wine is better for slow cooking recipes like stew than quick pan meals when deglazing which happens in minutes is the final touch. Another technique used by seasoned chefs is to add a small dash of better wine at the end of a long braise. The quandary in choosing which is the better wine will be solved when the entire recipe is taken into consideration.

As far as desserts are concerned, the cake batter can be given a more airy sweeter feel when a cup of white wine is added to it, replacing a little of the regular proportion of oil. Only concern with wine based desserts or even meals, is that it’s off limits for children, pregnancy and non-alcohol drinkers. In short, wine provides a delicious twist to the regular meal. Learning through experimentation during the quiet meals, helps one keep wine as a handy measure to add the twist when required. Which is why wine has a role in the simple, basic dishes of the kitchen to the major role between, before and after meals as well.