Posted in Food, Stories Around the World

Pull of the “P”

One of the new trends in the home kitchen as a sequelae of the incessant intermittent snacking, is the preference to single dish setting for the three main meals. While breakfast may be limited by steamed foods; it’s the lunch and dinner that has seen a drastic shift from elaborate meals to the glow of the “single pie” almost every now and then. As long as this trend lasts, the hours off the kitchen have increased.

“The idea of enclosing meat inside a sort of pastry made from flour and oil originated in ancient Rome, but it was the northern European use of lard and butter to make a pastry shell that could be rolled out and moulded that led to the advent of true pie.” An A-Z of Food & Drink, John Ayto [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 2002 (p. 254)

As often said, the entire outcome of when filling and pastry meet up in different grades and variations, make up for one of the simple and well-loved dish, the pie. Though essentially had as desserts, at home now the trend is to the savoury variants. While the shepherd’s pie, pot pies and related variants often grace the table; there have been a lot more experimentation from the varied recipes found online.

One of the newer pie versions learnt was the “homity pie”, a traditional British open vegetable pie. Covered with a filling of potatoes, onion and leek mixture (though, the choice of vegetables can be changed) covered with cheese on an open pastry base; this pie is one for those who want a little bit of vegetarianism in their diet. Extrapolating the recipe, a lot of leftovers can be used, especially if they are less curryish in nature. For the rich gravy ones, there’s always the curry pie to look forward to. Giving into the urge to top up the pastry base with onions and potato, voila one has a version of the “butter pie” (aka the “Air Pie”).

Alternatively, trying to opt for a more pie preparation for an early dinner, one of the recent add-ons was the “alooe pie”. Popular in cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago, this pie is made by frying dumplings of soft pastry (flour and water), splitting and filling them with boiled, spiced and mashed potatoes, green peas or chana dal. Essentially similar to a calazone and larger than the samosa. Coming to the samosa (or singara, sambusac), this is one of the “mini pies”, a go-to for short meetings and quick filling snacks. More than the regular pie, these samosas (or pies) are indigenous to the local Indian cuisine.

Each pie version has it’s own special story behind it. From potato pies, “keema pie” to “Chicken balti pie”, the variety is endless and the best part, is one can use the simple curry to make up the pie stuffing. Such a lot of history and potential in this dish. Savoury or sweet, this dish can swing both ways. But above all, it can be elaborate and rich or just a simple and wholesome fare. Sometimes that’s what one needs after a dry washed out day, a simple and wholesome piece of savoury pie.

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 Crisp, Soft to Crunchy or Curls

With snack time being in the savoury category for the past one week (courtesy of the fresh crop of plantain and cassava), the urge to indulge in something sweet was running quiet strong. For the change, it was “churros” that got the pick and making it at home, was quite an interesting experience.

Predominantly a choux based snack, made of fried pastry dough; “churros” are synonymous to the Spanish and Portuguese food traditions. Made from flour, these thin spirally, knotted or neat, long or thick pieces of dough (all purpose flour or wheat mixed) are more of a breakfast tradition, had dipped in champurrado (chocolate based atole) or hot choclate, dulce de leche with sugar sprinkled on top.

Tracing their origins, the making of churros were credited to the Spanish shepherds, who had fried the dough of flour, water, salt with a little butter and eggs, as a substitute for fresh bread. Interestingly, the name churros was adapted from the ridged horns of the native Churra sheep, which kind of resembled the ridges on this snack. On the other hand, some food historians state that the Spanish churro is an adaptation of the Chinese pastry “youtiao” whic was pastry fried in oil with their shape being as two long conjoined breadsticks. As the legend goes, the “youtiao” was brought back to Iberia by Portuguese explorers. From therein, the distinct star-edged shaped took root and the dish became famed for its’ sweetness on the breakfast tables across Spain and Portugal. With colonization and spread of travel, churros soon found there way to the Americas, both Norht and South; and gradually across the globe.

As with all popular dishes, churros too have been adapted to their indigenous cuisine. Known as calientes in Andalusia, these pastry dough are fried as a continuous spiral which is then cut into portions. The delicacy and art of these lie in the thick and soft centers. Another variation is made with a thinner dough and smooth non-ridged surface (no star shaped nozzle on the piping bag). For filled, straight churros; the Cuban cuisine has made with fruit fillings like guava; while chocolate, vanilla or cajeta (caramelized goat’s milk) are the preferred fillings across Argentina, Mexico and Brazil. Alternatively churros may be had glazed with sweetened condensed milk, rolled in cinnamon or other sugars, or made savoury with a filling of melted cheese. From being made straight or bent into the typical “U” or other shapes, churros can be had as a meal, snack or party dip.

One of the best parts of churro, is their ease and simplicity in the make and style. For a quick snack when getting out of the kitchen isn’t an option and minimum stock of “packaged snacks” in the pantry, “churros” are a go-to option during the days like this. After all, it just comes down to pastry and sugar; missing out on a try would be a miss at the chance to travel down the food lane, not worth the miss.

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 Crunch or Munch on a Stick

With summer slowly climbing it’s peak, school on vacation mode and indoors being stifling, impromptu midday lawn picnics followed by the noon siesta is what cools down the hot days. While packing for picnics, the whole concept is to keep it simple, less messy, wholesome and in own backyard. When almost every other day, mid-day becomes a family picnic or tree house lunch for the kids, getting innovative is what makes lunch hour fun for them.

Up the tree house, where plates and cutlery are out of question; it will be something dry, in bite-sized pieces or filling but in neat pieces which can be had at one go and less mess. On days like these, one can borrow plenty of ideas from the favoured street vendors and summer stand owners. From the caramels pops to candy apples on sticks, corn dogs, funnel cake swirls, hot dogs on sticks or swirls of saratoga chips on sticks. Fusing a bit of common ideas with their favoured list of foods or snacks; the mid-day picnic basket contains plenty of surprises.

From waffles on sticks (stuffed or plain), bite sized peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on sticks, solled pizza slices, marshmallows interlaced with crackers and cinnamon squares melted on the stick or corn dogs with pieces of hot dogs or bacon in between, assorted fruit salad or vegetable pasta salad, donuts and rolls in bite-sized servings to the more elaborate “nuggets on sticks”; these are just few of the many ideas that can go into the menu for “food on sticks”. The most recent addition to the kids’ recipe book was “macarons melted in chocolate, dipped in sprinkles and a small stick at the base”. From toothpicks to full or half sized skewers, one can go into the full blast of creativity.

Interestingly the concept of using sticks or skewers can be dated back to the prehistoric years of the Lower Palaeolithic Era. Archaelologial excavation have unearthed stone “fire dogs” used in the early 17th century BCE. Writings of the Greek classic Iliad mention the obeliskos, a small spit or skewer with pieces of meat roasted on it. Legends and tales often passed over the centuries, mention of medieval soldiers especially Middle Eastern, who cooked meat skewered on their swords. In fact, one of the most well loved skewered foods, the shish kebab may well have an evolution of the earlier skewered meat. As per the records of Mahmud of Kashgar (11th century), the shish (Turkish şiş) was used as a skewer and ‘tool for arranging noodles’. As the years progressed, wars fought, mixing of cuisines, modernization and social revolution leads to the occasion of small to large scale celebrations, leading to the need of a set of recipes with minimal fast, large scale access and widespread acceptance as far as taste and ingredients are concerned. Which is maybe why the social gatherings of today, have their special set of “food on stick” recipes.

While these ideas have always made their entry into cocktail parties and cookouts, bringing them into the family picnic menu with minimum work is what makes cooking and experimentation fun. Even better would be to try something new, exotic or wildly different taking the special national “Food on a Stick” Day (March 28th) into consideration. As all foodimentarians believe, sustenance isn’t for mere existence, but is an art to the eye and creative buds, beyond the wildest imagination.

Posted in Food

Being Sloppy, Fun and Creativity

One of the benefits of having out-of-town meetings is that lunch is of the local flavour. Experimenting at the local delis gives burst to a whole new set of flavours. The other point in favour of delis is that one can indulge in that occasional binge food, quite popular in the college days but lost out in the later years. Maybe this would account for the lunch order of sloppy joes with plenty of fries alongside.

Sloppy joe is basically just a loose meat sandwich, often going by fancier names like Toasted Deviled Hamburgers, Chopped Meat Sandwiches or Hamburg a la Creole. Originating somewhere around the mid-20th century, these sandwiches came into popularity as they were both filling and economical. Meat was stretched by the addition of bread crumbs, tomato paste, eggs, sweet peppers, minced onions, Worcestershire sauce, bottled horseradish, pickle relish and the like; which was then served between bread or as meatballs, meat loaves or hamburger stew. The trend of these loose meat sandwiches caught on. Alternate meat substitutes of late include canned tuna, diced chicken, ground turkey or soyabean mash.

“The origins of this dish are unknown, but recipes for the dish date back at least to the 1940s. It dates in print to 1935. There is probably no Joe after whom it is named–but its rather messy appearance and tendency to drip off plate or roll makes “sloppy” an adequate description, and “Joe” is an American name of proletarian character and unassailable genuineness. There are many individual and regional variations on the dish. In Sioux City, Iowa, a dish of this type is called a “loose meat sandwich,” created in 1934 at Ye Olde Tavern Inn by Abraham and Bertha Kaled.” Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink, John F. Mariani [Lebhar-Friedman:New York] 1999 (p.297).

Varied recipes of sloppy joe, include the pain à la viande and pain fourré gumbo (Quebec) wherein the stewed ground meat are usually served on hot dog buns. Around the Woonsocket area (Rhode Island) the addition of onions, bell peppers and sometimes celery makes it “the dynamite” sandwich. One of the distinction of sloppy joe from the traditional loose meat or tavern sandwiches is the tomato-based sauces used lavishly as the base. Similar meat sandwiches are found in the Chinese cuisine with rou jia mo ( steamed meat on a steamed bun) and the Indian Keema pav which is minced, stewed and curried meat (keema) served in the bread roll (latter known as pav).

Either these loose meat sandwiches are a good substitute for having lunch on the go, or simply a saving tip for student days. Adapting it to the later adult life, these sandwiches can have the meat and mix of choice, the only point is to keep it saucy enough for the sloppy feel. With plenty of ingredients and flavours to choose from, the creativity of the taste buds can go for a ride.

“Sloppy Joes…I remember eating these in the 1940s and suspect they may have been a way of stretching precious ground beef during World War II. Apparently not. My friend and colleague Jim Fobel tells me that in his own quest to trace the origin of the Sloppy Joe, he talked to Marilyn Brown, Director of the Consumer Test Kitchen at H.K. Heinz in Pittsburgh (the Heinz “Joe,” not surprisingly, is reddened with ketchup). Brown says their research at the Carnegie Library suggests that the Sloppy Joe began in a Sioux City, Iowa, cafe as a “loose meat sandwich” in 1930, the creation of a cook named Joe…” The American Century Cookbook: The Most Popular Recipes of the 20th Century, Jean Anderson [Clarkson Potter:New York] 1997 (p. 349)