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 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, 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

An Oven, a Mug and Basics

Being in the downsides of having a craving of the “cacao plus” variety and no delivery options at hand, the need of the hour is to get resourceful in seconds. That’s when the old microwavable coffee sugar, a scoop of flour, sugar, baking soda and chocolate work wonders for the soul.

Of the many works of the ancient civilizations, especially in the culinary arena, which has been imbibed into the various indigenous cuisines and culture over the ages, perfected over the passage of time, is the dessert of “cake”. As the early records say of unleavened cakes, the last few centuries have created a huge and pleasant culinary surprises with the advent of baking soda. With assistance from modern technology, the cake making as come down to the bare minimum, with a shot of cake being ready in a matter of minutes.

Thus began the journey of the cakes. Interestingly the original “shots of cake” was baked as a cupcake in coffee cups, as “mini testers” to determine whether the oven temperature was right for a large batch. Though this trend had changed with the invention of the thermostats and temperature regulators for the oven, these mini testers took shape as the modern cupcakes, bringing in their own fleet into the kitchen. With creativity on the rise and the dawn of the “microwave era” resulted in the “mugs of cake of today”.

The microwave based “cake-in-a-mug” simply needs the flour, sugar, seasonings, baking powder along with butter or oil (some even use cream) in the right amounts. With the temperature heating up, the cake just fluffs out; being a perfect touch to have a piece of cake while on the go. The nest part is that a single ingredient to change the flavour is enough. From the essence of vanilla to cinnamon or honey, each cup can have it’s own special zing.

With the minimum requirement being that of a microwave at hand and basic ingredients, this recipe is a must for those days when the thought of cake flits in the mind. For the experimenters, this would be a lifesaver when the unexpected request of cake for dessert sets in. With this, there can be another header for that “book of kitchen experiments” to be enjoyed now and then, eventually handed over to the next generations making life beautiful with the sweet taste of such moments.

“Spice Cake in a Cup Ingredients: 4 tablespoons of all-purpose flour 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar 2 teaspoons of spice-cinnamon or ginger (whichever you prefer) 1/8 of a teaspoon of baking powder 1 medium-sized egg white – lightly-beaten 3 tablespoons of either milk or soy-milk 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil 1/4 of a teaspoon of vanilla extract Directions: You will need 1 microwavable coffee cup Mix-together the flour, spice, sugar, & baking powder in the coffee cup. Now mix-in the egg white. Add the milk, vanilla & oil and mix-well Place the cup into a microwave set on HIGH & cook for about 2&1/2 minutes. (The cake should be done when it stops rising and sets)” ― Coleen Montgomery, Cake in a Cup, Mug Cake, Cake in a Jar and Pie in a Jar Recipe Cookbook. Collection of 60+ Recipes

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

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.