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Whole and Toasted

Warm, toasted and sizzling; there’s something special about experiencing it. In fact, one of the best parts of the recipes of today, is that they can be blended to make a bit of the “old and the new”. Which is why for a quick snack, quesadillas have undergone a recent kitchen experimentation, though of a more outdoorsy nature.

Originally as per the Mexican cuisine, a “quesadilla” is a tortilla (flat circle of cooked corn masa) warmed, softened, folded in half and filled with the typical Oaxaca cheese, cooked on a comal till the cheese is melted and gooey. Usually cooked without any oil, had with green or red salsa or chopped onions; these days the fillings can be as varied as own choice. From cooked vegetables, like potatoes with chorizo, mushrooms, epazote or even different types of cooked meat (chicharron, tinga of chicken or beef or cooked pork) or even as simple as avocado or guacamole, chopped onions, tomato, serrano chiles and cilantro. In essence, a quesadilla is simply a turnover food, or a “special Mexican version of the portable pie”.

Modifying the quesadilla with pizza toppings to make the “pizzadilla” or even desert quesadilla with chocolate, butterscotch, caramel, candied fruits and the like, are just an eye-opener to the versatility and ease of turnover foods. Likewise the breakfast quesadillas are also made, using ingredients such as eggs, cheese and bacon. Trying to modify the recipe to a bit of the local Indian cuisine, the tortilla was substituted with a roti (wheat) and stuffed with paneer(Indian cottage cheese) and shredded chicken.Alternatively certain recipes substitute the wheat base with chickpea flour or even a combination of all-purpose flour and rice flour.

Making a blend of the Old World tradition and New World foods; these recipes bring not just a feeling of goodness with the meal, but also a wholesomeness to it. Somewhere along the lines, amateur food experimenters, too have added their little bit to the food culture around the world. And that brings a feeling of content, warmth and happiness, along with satitey; an experience which brings a pleasant feel to the end of any day.

[1944]
“Quesadilla (Tortilla Stuffed with Cheese)
Take fresh tortillas (bought in a Mexican store), place generous piece of Monterey cream cheese (or American cheese) in the center, and fold it over as you would a turnover. Pin top with toothpicks to hold. Place in hot, ungreased skillet and cook lightly, turing often until cheese is melted. Delicious with refried beans.” Elena’s Famous Mexican and Spanish Recipes, Elena Zelayeta [Dettners Printing House: San Francisco] October 1944 (p. 35)

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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“Bits, Flipped or Sunny Side Up”

Coming back home into the noon hours, the quiet inside suddenly turned into a boisterous clamouring of feet and run of words. Nevertheless this noise was a welcome respite after winding up the work schedule at the main company. With the lock-down phase going quite strong; to close a couple of financial year-end projects, it was necessary to touch the base and camp in there for the last two days.

Being back at home with my better-half who was holding the fort, it was quite interesting to hear the events of past hours. With pieces of tales of the movie night, “One-eyed Jacks”, “dad let us sleep in”, “we had tons of ice-cream” and “we won the match”, the last day and half saw them getting involved in something new. What made it more interesting was the plate of “Adam and Eve on a Raft” with a cup of iced tea to go with the “accounting”. With food already in the fridge for yesterday was told, “getting creative with bread, a couple of eggs and other stuff” was what made the morning hours go by till lunch.

[1947]
“Adam and Eve on a Raft
Rounds of bread, 2 eggs, Butter or lard, Salt and pepper to taste
Cut a large round of bread, and fry it in hot butter or lard until a golden brown. Then place it on a hot platter, and keep warm. Poach the eggs carefully, season and place on bread.” Blondie’s Soups Salads Sandwiches Cook Book, selected and illustrated by Chic Young [Bell Publishing Company:Drexel Hill PA] 1947 (p. 134)

A handful of eggs, flour based food as base and basic vegetables of onions, tomatoes and a dash of salt, pepper and spices opens up a whole new slot of recipes. Call them by any name, but eggs on toast can be extrapolated to being “in-the-basket”, “pirate-eye” or the indigenous dish of “huevos rancheros” or Huevos estrellados” to name two.

Technically “egg in a hole (or frame)”, known by numerous other names like “one-eyed Jack” or “popeye”, refers to an egg prepared in the circular or square hole cut into the piece of bread, or even a bagel or waffle. When the buttered bread browns in the pan, the egg is cracked into the “basket” carved out in the toast. Depending on when one chooses to place the egg, flip the bread or cover it, results in varying shades of the same dish living up to all of it’s titles names.

[1990]
“One-eyed Jacks.
Use an upside-down cup to cut a hole out of the center of a slice of bread. lay the bread in a hot, greased pan and crack an egg into the hole. Fry it a few minutes until the egg sets, then flip the bread and egg with a spatula and cook the other side. You’ll have an egg and toast all in one.” Boy Scout Handbook, Boy Scouts of America 1990 (p. 109)

Even fried eggs have their own set of indigenous recipes, based on the local and regional cuisine. From the Portugese bife a cavalo, German Strammer Max, Chilean lomo a lo pobre, the Danish uitsmijter ham (or spek) en kaas or the Russian yaichnitsa are just few of the many recipes to decide from. Delving into the Mexican cuisine, huevos rancehros is one of the large traditonal Mexican brunches that one can prepare as same or in a variation. Keeping it simple, the basic dish consists of fried eggs served on lightly fried or charred corn or flour tortillas topped with a salsa fresca made of tomatoes, chili peppers, onion, and cilantro. It can be served with rice, refried beans or slices of avocado. Shifting over to lunch hours, Huevos estrellados (Madrid) refers to pan-eggs fried with French fries, meat (ham, bacon) and served hot with potatoes. While one can alter the recipes as suited for self, the combinations available are endless.

With the lock-down till on, trying out something different but simple puts an interesting spin to weary days. The fact that eggs, bread (or even pita or roti) with added simple kitchen ingredients pave way for an endless process of creativity as well as satisfying the taste buds, allows one to don the apron and start off.

[2006]
“Eggs in a Basket
2 servings
Kids get a kick out of this dish, especially when they get to make the basket.
Using a 2 1/2 inch biscuit cutter or small glass, cut a hole out of the center of 2 slices sandwich bread. Melt in a large skillet over medium heat 2 tablespoons butter, plus more as needed. Add the bread and cook for about 30 seconds. Crack into the holes 2 eggs. Do not worry if some of the white remains on top of the bread or runs out from underneath. When the eggs begin to set, 2 or 3 minutes, flip the bread and eggs, using a spatula. Add more butter as needed. Fry the other side until the eggs are done to your liking. Grill the rounds of bread in butter and serve them as well.” Joy of Cooking, 75th anniversary edition, Irma S. Rombauer et all [Scribner:New York] 1997, 2006 (p. 196)

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Gooey, Melted and Dipped

Though holidays have been around the corner, the requirement to stay within the premises has taken the thrill out of it for the children. Quite often the early rays see them waking up eager to soak in the morning sunshine, by evening they are quite restless. Which is why calling it an early night, helps most of the time. If the indoors become too stifling, supper outside helps to get them in the mood right for bedtime. All one needs is an old crock-pot, plenty of cheese, long dipping forks, cut pieces of bread (or crackers, roti), a camping spot, a guitar and we are good to go.

Essentially a melted cheese dish served in the pot over a stove, eaten by dipping bread into the cheese using long stemmed forks; the fondue has been found initially in the Swiss cuisine, traced to around the early 19th century by food historians. This dish can be made as simple with melted cheese and seasonings (a little flour, tiny pinch of nutmeg) together with dry white wine, flavoured with kirsch, served as a hot dip for pieces of bread or as a dish of hot liquid in which small pieces of food are cooked or dipped and also as a baked souffle-like dish usually containing cheese and cracker crumbs or breadcrumbs.

“Give me a good sharp knife and a good sharp cheese and I’m a happy man.” George R.R. Martin

Often regarded as a peasant’s meal, the recipe required very simple ingredients and just a heavy earthenware or iron meant to distribute the heat evenly. In fact, Swiss recipes traced to the recipe can be found in the early 1600s. Obscure mention of the fondue can see in the Homer’s Iliad (around 800 BC) where it was referenced as a “mixture of goat’s cheese, wine, and flour.” Records mention of Swiss peasant families (1700s) eating aged bread and cheeses together as a wintertime food. The discovery of then, that if cheese was melted with a dash of added wine, garlic and herbs; the stale bread dipped into this flavorful mixture was a pretty enticing meal.

[1899]
“Cheese Fondu: Use one tablespoonful of butter, one cupful of fresh milk, one cupful of fine bread-crumbs, two cupfuls of grated cheese, a teaspoonful of dry mustard, two eggs, and a little cayenne. Melt the butter in a chafing-dish, add the milk, bread-crumbs, cheese, mustard, and cayenne. Stir constantly, and add two eggs, slightly beaten, just before serving. Serve on hot toast or crackers. Remember to have the plates hot.-A.R.” The American Pure Food Cook Book, David Chidlow et al [Geo. M. Hill Company:Chicago] 1899 (p.268)

From the change of ingredients to types of cheese used, cheese fondues vary based on style, region and local recipes.For instance, the Italian Fonduta alla valdostana is made of Fontina, milk, eggs, and truffles while the Swiss Vaudoise uses Gruyère cheese. Other Swiss recipes include Appenzeller cheese with cream added; Gruyère, Emmental, crushed tomatoes and wine or made spicy with Gruyère, red and green peppers, and chili; or with Gruyère, Fribourg vacherin and mushrooms.

Though known famously to the Swiss cuisine, similar recipes involving melted cheese have been seen in not just the French but the Mexican and Spanish cuisine (caldo de queso,chile con queso). And where table-side cooking has been the norm in Asian cooking, dishes involving melted cheese has been always a part of the indigenous cuisine like the ema datshi, chhena jhili, rasabali or churu.

Ever since the spread of recipes over to different cuisines, the term “fondue” is referred to food dipped into a communal pot of liquid kept hot in a fondue pot. From meat to tomatoes or potatoes as well as choclate, fondue is essentially more of a way of cooking.

More than the taste of the meal, it is the friendly and family feel that is shared by the meal. One of the best memories had during the childhood was when we used to gather around the crock-pot of melted cheese and tip off the bread from the other’s fork. The inner who tips the maximum gets a whole stash of candies from the losing side. With all this and simple ingredients, making a simple dish of cheese fondue can make for a welcome change, especially in the outdoor cooking. Little wonder why then experimentation with fondue recipes can drive the strain of the lock-down away.

Cheese Fondue
Basic Recipe
600 g (21 oz) shredded cheese (1/2 Gruyere, 1/2 Emmentaler), 1 garlic clove, 3 dl (1 1/4 C) dry white wine, 3 tsp cornstarch, 3 small glasses kirsch, ground pepper, nutmeg. Rub a heavy saucepan or heat proof clay fondue pot (Caquelon) with the split garlic clove. Dissolve the cornstarch in the kirsch. Put the cheese and wine into the pan and slowly bring to a boil, stirring constantly. When the cheese is completely melted, add the kirsch and cornstarch mixture, stirring vigourously. Continue to cook. Season with pepper and nutmeg. Serve over an alcohol lamp. The cooking should continue on low heat. Stir constantly with small pieces of bread speared on a fondue fork. There are several varieties of fondue:
In the Canton of Vaud, fondue is prepared with Gruyere cheese only, but at varying stages of ripeness. Sometimes it is mixed with cheese from the Jura. In the Jura, the fondue is made up of 1/2 Jura cheese and enhanced with 1-2 challots per person. The challots are eaten last.
In Geneva three kinds of cheese are used: Gruyere, Emmentaler and Vaudois cheese. Then, sauteed chopped morsels (fresh or dried and pre-soaked) or diced tomatoes are added.
Fondue is usually eaten with bite-sized pieces of crusty bread speared on a fondue fork. One can also, however, use small potatoes or potato slices. Fondue aficionados dunk their bread in kirsch before dipping it into the cheese. And don’t forget: whoever loses his bread in the pan must pay for a round of beer or a bottle of wine. If it happens to a lady she must kiss the man sitting next to her. On the whole, however, the former is more popular.”
Cooking in Switzerland, Marianne Kaltenbach [Wolfgang Holker:Zurich] 1984 (p. 84)