Posted in Daily, Food, Quotes

Lessons from the Kitchen

“Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.” Julia Child

The second week of August always results in a tussle for the television remote, especially during the evening hours, before dinner. Eventually one gets to watch the latest sports round up or the current political scenes; while the other ends up watching You Tube for the vintage episodes of Julia Child’s shows namely “The French Chef”. Marking the birth week of Julia Child who had made French cooking sound feasible, few shows presenting her famous recipes, episodes or the iconic movie Julie & Julia (2009), paying a tribute to this legendary chef. Though one mayn’t be an avid chef or interested in the art of cooking, there are a couple of lessons on the kitchen front that Julia Child had taught her viewers over the years.

“You’ll never know everything about anything, especially something you love.” Julia Child

“…no one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.” Julia Child, My Life in France

The first few years away from the home environment results in one learning the basic few cooking skills. As the years move on, with the intermixing of cuisines and experimentation, taste buds refine and the likes develop. Entering into relationships and the adult life of the family, cooking for loved ones including making or recreating dishes as per their taste. As one’s own family evolves, cooking comes from the heart. In sequence, what comes from the heart is born out of love, care and interest for the loved ones. Such purpose will conquer the fear of “the dish going bad or wrong”. Along with finesse, it is the dash of love that matters the most.

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” Julia Child

“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.” Julia Child

During the early years, kitchens were fun especially during the rainy days. Learning to mix the flour, knead it and make flatbread was more about fun and doing, than understanding what happens. Then as home science begins during the middle school and science is explored further, one begins to comprehend the science in the kitchen. Later once alone, cooking becomes an experimentation of flavours, mix of colours, interest and imagination. Eventually cooking evolves into a form of art and science, spiking the interest of the mind as well as the senses.

“The more you know, the more you can create. There’s no end to imagination in the kitchen.” Julia Child via Lynn Gilbert, Particular Passions: Talks With Women Who Have Shaped Our Times

“One of the secrets, and pleasures, of cooking is to learn to correct something if it goes awry; and one of the lessons is to grin and bear it if it cannot be fixed.” Julia Child, My Life in France

Over the years from a novice to learning to master the meals for family and friends, there have been epic disasters, emergency restaurant bookings, late night takeaways and unplanned visits for the family homestead dinners. Yet through the mess, mistakes have been understood and corrected. New recipes and cuisines experimented, modified and old, tested or tried recipes redone with one’s own signature style. Through the uphills and downhills in the kitchen, it is still the fun that stays in the memories made for the self, with children, family and friends around. Man mayn’t live by bread alone, but making it in style, from scratch and with own flavours gives a full sense of accomplishment, happiness within and fun memories to hold onto for a lifetime.

“This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook- try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!” Julia Child, My Life in France

Advertisements
Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

OF Fries, Origin and Evolution

Thin or thick, served hot, soft or crispy and had as snack food or in accompaniment to main course of lunch or dinner; french fries or just fries (known as chips or finger fries) are batonnet or allumette-cut deep fried potatoes. An all time favourite especially for children, foodies, surprise occasions; they can be had salted or plain, or with ketchup, vinegar, mayonnaise, local specialty sauces and dips, or even be topped more heavily as chilli cheese fries, poutine and the like.

“Even if I’m eating healthy, I let myself indulge with french fries. That’s my favorite thing. You only live once!” Kate Mara

Like all the best things in the “food dictionary”, the origin or creator of these “golden strips” aren’t exactly known. Although the general consensus is that the “French Fry” is more of “Belgian origin than French.”

Potatoes were first introduced to Europe through the Spanish. On the Spanish exploration of Americas, they had encountered potatoes among the native food supply. As accounts of Jimenez de Quesada and the Spanish forces ( 1537) detail the discovery of potatoes among the native villages of Colombia, where they were called as “truffles” initially. When potatoes were brought back to Spain and introduced to Italy too. Then these potatoes were quite small, bitter and didn’t grow well in both places. Over time, larger and less bitter varieties were cultivated and gradually accepted elsewhere in Europe. Spain then controlled much of the modern day Belgium. While historical accounts indicate that Belgians were frying up ( or sauteing) thin strips of potatoes ( 17th to 18th century) in the Meuse Valley between Dinat and Liege. This idea could possibly arise from the original Belgian cuisine which usually fried small fish as part of their staple meals. With shortage of fish in winter, potatoes were an alternative.

“I try to have no absolute nos. I love french fries, I like a good burger, and I like pie. And that’s okay.” Michelle Obama

To explain the “French” of the French fries would be possible when two historical events are taken into account. What once the French had considered as hog feed or cause of various diseases, the change in their opinion due to potatoes was largely credited to the French Army medical officer Antoine-Augustine Parmentier, who was a captive of the Seven Years War and had survived on potatoes as a part of his prison rations. On his return back to France, he had aggressively campaigned as well as cultivated potatoes, promoting it’s benefits to the upper classes as well.

Also during the Franco-Austrian War, which had taken place near around the modern day Belgium, the possibility that French soldiers were introduced to the potato fries by the Belgians exists. Although gradually potato was accepted and cultivated in France; the famine of 1785 made potatoes popular in France. Slowly newer recipes and modes of cooking these spuds were tried. Once discovered or invented or improvised (from Belgian fries?), these fries became popular, especially in Paris, where they were known as “frites” and sold by push-cart vendors on the streets.

“Show me a person who doesn’t like french fries and we’ll swap lies.” Joan Lunden

Whether from Belgium or France, once these “frites” became popular, through colonization, migration as well as wars; they had become a much loved food on the menus across Europe, Britain and Americas. With the spread of fast food chains, these “frites” began to be introduced to the world largely as “French Fries”.

“If I could eat French fries every day of my life, I would.” Adrienne C. Moore

The modern day french fries, though best loved when salted, spiced and fried in oil; for more healthier options can be baked (or even grilled) with seasonings, toppings and all. From the various types of cut fries (crinkle-cut or wavy, curly, shoestring, steak, tornado, waffle) to different preparations like french fry sandwiches, chilli cheese fries, chorrillana to mention a few as well as alternatives like sweet potatoes or potato wedges; one can go creative with these frites. To celebrate the National French Fry day ( July 13th) it would be fun to go on a limb and try the regular to the different combination of the modern fries. For the more experimental ones, it would be interesting to combine fries to the regular dishes. For those of us who dislike potatoes or want healthier options, try baking sweet potatoes, thinly sliced carrots or beetroot with seasoning and all. After all the whole point of food is to relish various flavours, experiment, enjoy and simply have fun.

Posted in Daily, Food

Puddings..of Chocolate and More

[1730]
“Chocolate Puddings. To a Pint of Cream take eight Eggs, the Whites of four, beat them well together, and mingle with your Cream; put in some Nutmeg, Cinnamon, and Ginger, a quarter of a Pound of Naples Bisket, and a quarter of a Pound of Chocolate grated very fine, put in a little Orange-Flower Water, and a little Citron minc’d; mingle it mighty well together, and if you bake it, put a Sheet of Puff-paste in your Dish, and raise a little Border in the Rim, put in your Pudding and cross-bar it, and ice it with thick Butter and Sugar, and bake it in a gentle Oven, and when bak’d serve it away, or you may boil it if you please.”
—The Complete Practical Cook, Charles Carter, facsimile 1730 edition [Gale Ecco Print Edition:Detroit] (p. 106)

One of the highlights of having warm weather is when impromptu visits are possible, especially on chance meeting of old friends or neighbours. With plenty of delivery services available at ” the fingertips or touch of thumb pads”; it’s often the desserts that need to be made or created in a jiffy. Which is why, certain desserts especially custard, ice cream, puddings to name few easy ones are one of the necessary knows for every “fledgling” cook.

 

One of the easiest desserts to make with the ingredients of cornstarch or flour, cream, milk, butter and vanilla for the most simple and basic puddings. Adding in cocoa, bananas, battered breadcrumbs and even eggs are the small variations that make an entirely new recipe and flavour of the “new pudding”. Few “pudding pointers” to keep in mind include:

  • Although easy to make, complete and whole attention is required from making the batter to setting it to chill or baking it.
  • Constant stirring is needed while cooking the pudding to avoid lumps or burning.
  • The flavours, texture and consistency is very adaptable, so don’t be afraid of experimenting.
  • Make sure the flour is sieved properly because no matter how it is whisked, if the flour is not smooth it will give you a lumpy texture.
  • To store it, cover it with a plastic wrap to avoid the formation of a layer. The same applies while chilling the pudding too.
  • For baked puddings, grease the tin with butter and then refrigerate it for few minutes. This will form a layer and avoid it from sticking to the base.

 

With National Chocolate Pudding Day tomorrow, one can go a step further with whole or shots of “pudding cakes” or “pudding shakes” with whipped cream, sprinkles and M &M’s to add on; not to forget the ice cream too.

“Life’s a pudding full of plums.” 
W.S. Gilbert (1836-1911)

 

Posted in Daily, Food, Musique, Stories Around the World

Evolution of the “Accidental Fudge”

“Sandra turned to the page with the title “Toklas’ Hashich Fudge.” The original hashish brownies. ‘Peppercorns, nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander, stone dates, dried figs, shelled almonds, peanuts,… A bunch of canibus sativa can be pulverized. This along with the spices should be dusted over the mixed fruit and nuts… it should be eaten with care. Two pieces are quite sufficient…” – Allegra Goodman, The Cookbook Collector

Like most of the “delectable sweet pleasures of the palate “, this sugar candy made flavoured with choclate, fruits, nuts and other flavours; had hot or cold has made its’ own mark in the sweet world. These days, various flavours of “fudge” are made, giving them a vibrant as well as visual appeal to the eyes and the palate.

Technically, fudge is made by mixing sugar, butter and milk, heating it to the soft-ball stage and then beating the mixture while it cools down to get a smooth, creamy consistency with fruits, nuts, chocolate, caramel, candies and other flavoring agents being added either inside or on top. Yet the true origins of “fudge” can’t be exactly traced, though it’s believed to have been originated and gained popularity in late 19th century America. However popular belief among food historians was that the first batch was an accidental “fudged” batch of caramels; hence the name “fudge”.

 

A letter in the archives of Vasser College (1921) written by Emelyn Battersby Hartridge reveals the first documentation of “fudge”. Emelyn wrote that her schoolmate’s cousin made fudge in Baltimore (1886) and sold it for 40 cents a pound. This was the first known sale of fudge. In 1888, Miss Hartridge asked for the fudge recipe, and made 30 pounds of fudge for the Vassar Senior Auction. The recipe was very popular at the school from that point forward. The diary of another student mentions making “fudges” in 1892.

What is it that we love the best,
Of all the candies east or west,
Although to make them is a pest?
Fudges. **

 

An 1893 letter from another Vassar College student describes “fudges” as containing sugar, chocolate, milk and butter. “Fudges at Vassar” was a recipe printed in The Sun (1895) describing the confections as “Vassar chocolates”, which comprises of sugar, milk, butter and vanilla extract. Fudge became a new confection after word spread to other women’s colleges of the tasty delight. Later, Smith and Wellesley schools each developed their own recipe for fudge. Later fudge-making evolved a variety of flavors and additives as it grew beyond its popularity at colleges.

What perches us upon a chair
To stir a sauce-pan held in air,
Which, tipping, pours upon our hair —
Fudges. **

While the first recipe specified butter, milk and sugar, today, American fudge often differs with whipped cream instead of butter and the addition of chocolate flavouring. There are different types of similar recipes to “fudge” across the globe with the Indian “Barfi”, Polish “Krówki” ( Polish fudge, semi-soft milk toffee candies), the Italian “Penuche” which is a fudge-like candy made from brown sugar, butter, milk and vanilla flavouring; as well as the Scottish “Tablet” (taiblet in Scots). Tablet is a medium-hard, sugary confection made from sugar, condensed milk and butter, brought boiled to a soft-ball stage and allowed to crystallise. It is often flavoured with vanilla or whisky, and sometimes has nut pieces in it.

The versatility of fudge is that it can be had alone cold, or served on top of sundaes,  ice cream and even cakes as hot fudge. With various assortment, variety and fun in the process of fudge making; little wonder then that “a set of ditties”  (**) were made by the college girls during and for the “fudge making process”. On the occasion of National Fudge Day (June 16th), it would be time for some fun, rhymes and sweet cooking for all the “home kitchen chefs” or tasting for the food connoisseurs.

What needs more stirring than oat-mush,
And more still when we’re in a rush,
But what’s e’en sweeter than a “crush”?
Fudges.

What subtle odor doth recall,
To artless minds that “long-owed call,”
On the sweet maiden up the hall?
Fudges. **

 

Posted in Daily, Food

Of “Burger” and Origins

“Fashion is like food! Some people like sushi, others think hamburgers are divine! People like different things!” Michael Kors

One of the most popular comfort foods, snack foods or a complete meal to splurge occasionally, or for fun and festive, is the hamburger or burger. Essentially a sandwich consisting of one or more cooked patties (pan fried, grilled or flame broiled) of meat placed inside a sliced bread roll or bun and often served with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and other adds ons, as well as condiments like ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, relish, or “special sauce”, these sandwiches or “burgers” have stormed the food industry ever since their introduction. While today, the patties can range from meat, fish, egg or vegan; hamburgers or burgers have evolved from being that of fast food joints or the regular diners to specialty or high end restaurants. Like all sandwiches, its’ what goes in and the entire taste and texture that counts.

“It requires a certain kind of mind to see beauty in a hamburger bun.” ~ Ray Kroc

 

Although the term, “hamburger” is originally derived from Hamburg, Germany’s second-largest city; its’ origins have been subject to much dispute, claim and uncertainty. Before the “disputed invention” of the hamburger in the United States, similar foods already existed in the culinary tradition of Europe. As recorded in The Apicius cookbook, a collection of ancient Roman recipes that may date to the early 4th century, “isicia omentata” preparation is detailed as a baked patty in which meat is mixed with pine kernels, black and green peppercorns, and white wine, considered to be the earliest precursor to the hamburger. Later on with various conquests, civilizations and trade, similar recipes were made with various varieties of the meat available then, like the “steak tartare” made of minced horse-meat of the 12th century.

The evolution of the name “Hamburg” came as the town was known for its’ ports famous for trade with the “New World” as well as then ” Old Europe”. With immigrants reminiscing about home, various dishes made with steak came to known with the name “Hamburg” added along side the dish name on the various menus especially when at sea or the ports, like the Hamburg-style American fillet.

 

However the exact origin of the hamburger may never be known with any certainty. While most historians believe it was invented by a cook who placed a Hamburg steak between two slices of bread in a small town in Texas; few others credit the founder of White Castle for developing the “Hamburger Sandwich.” With records being scarce, the stories and claims still remain as “legends”. With most claims for the invention occurring towards the early 19th century, common factors include large crowds like fairs, festivals, amusement parks as well as street vendors, who for simplicity, ease and increased sales had placed the steak between two buns filed with few vegetables to get the taste and the sales” going.

Yet by whichever origin, the “burgers” have been evolved across the globe adapting to the taste, local ingredients, culture and essence of the locality like the Vietnamese rice-burger. Varied experimentation with the ingredients can be made with ease, to give rise to a style or art with home cooking the “burgers” especially on the International Burger Day (May 28th). Depending on the mood or scene, from barbecues to cook-outs various combinations can be made, traded and shared with fun memories to treasure. Or one can ordering the good old regular “burger” for not just satisfying the hunger pangs but also for comfort in the memories of the good old times. As the old saying goes, “moderation is the key to having fun while eating”.

 

Posted in Daily, Food

Hummus: From “Then” to “Now”

From parties to the routine meals or for the dieters as well as snack food for the cravings time after work or before the ” big meal”, this dip has been popular across the world. Little wonder then that with International Hummus Day ( May 13th) gone by, one mayn’t know enough about this dip.

Known as “Hummus” or “hummus bi tahini”, this Levantine dip or spread, is made from cooked or mashed chickpeas or other beans, blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic. The word “Hummus” comes from the Arabic word meaning “chickpeas”. However likely from the Greek origins, hummus a part of the local cuisine in both Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities, it is known as “humoi” . While originally placed in the Middle East and Mediterranean cuisine, today it has been featured in many local cuisine and recipes around the globe.

While there are a number of different theories and claims of origins in various parts of the Middle East and the Mediterranean, there is insufficient evidence to determine the exact or precise details. The basic ingredients of chickpeas, sesame, lemon, and garlic have been combined and eaten in their local cuisine over centuries. While some food historians believe that variations of this recipe were there during the ancient Egyptian civilizations where then chickpeas were widely eaten as cooked in stews and other hot dishes; they had also been a part of the Greek cuisine and cooking. However records of pureed chickpeas eaten cold with tahini do not appear before the Abbasid period in Egypt and the Levant.

Cookbooks of 13th century Cairo record recipes for dish resembling hummus bi tahina; like the recipe of a cold puree of chickpeas with vinegar and pickled lemons with herbs, spices, and oil, but no tahini or garlic.  Over the years variations exists in the amount of ingredients of the beans, chickpeas pureed as well as mixing of vinegar or olive oil, tahini as well as different spices, herbs or nuts, with or without garlic; made or served by rolling it out and letting it sit overnight. With trade playing a significant role in the spread and share of cuisines, hummus may be one among the numerous foods that had crossed over during the historical periods across the Middle East and the Mediterranean.

Being used as an appetizer or dip, or served with meals; hummus can be had in an numerous ways. It can be scooped with flatbread, such as pita or served as part of a meze (selection of appetizers) or as an accompaniment to falafel, grilled chicken, fish or eggplant as well as with tortilla chips or crackers. Hummus can be garnished with numerous available ingredients like chopped tomato, cucumber, coriander, parsley, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, whole chickpeas, olive oil, hard-boiled eggs, paprika, sumac, olives, pickles and pine nuts. It can also be topped by a mixture of fava beans or can be made with yogurt, butter and topped with pieces of toasted bread ( Jordan and Palestine areas).

There are many variations to the preparation of “hummus” with the various changes of civilizations, culture mixing as well as immigration. Variations like hummus with fried eggplant and boiled eggs, as a chickpea soup or hummus with traditional skhug hot sauce to name a few, are popular in their locale areas. Of recent, African cuisine have brought specialties such as Sudanese Hummus Darfur with eggs, tomatoes, and grated cheese. Many restaurants offer varieties of warm hummus which may be served as chick peas softened with baking soda along with garlic, olive oil, cumin and tahini or as “msabbaha” made of whole chick peas garnishing the tahini (lemon spiked) with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkling of paprika.

With hummus being gluten free, nut-free, dairy free as well as a perfect spread or dip for snacks, fresh fruits, bread, meat, pita chips and the like; it has gained widespread acceptance across many cultures and cuisines as well for the weight watchers, medical reasons or just for its’ own unique taste and blend. Making hummus isn’t just a work of ingredients but also of art and creativity. With its’ quick and easy preparation with locally available ingredients; “hummus” is something that everyone should try at least once in a lifetime.

Posted in Daily, Family and Society, Food

“Food Fun”: Mix , Match and Experiment

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”  Virginia Woolf

Imagine a menu planned by kids. This was one of the tasks allotted to my child in his kindergarten class. On first hearing this; for all parents, this plan may set off alarm bells of the aftermath of a mass gastric upsets, whereas secretly many among us crave these foods on certain or many occasions. 

 

Imagine a list that ranges from Cheetos to ice cream, pancakes, sandwiches and all the sweet as well as the “street food” in the world. While this may sound too good to be true, some of these combinations though weird actually taste good.

Oreos and Orange Juice
Frosted Flakes and Cheese
Soya Sauce on Ice Cream
Apples with Salt, Pepper and Chilli Flakes
Cake of “Banana Pancakes with Nutella, Cream and Honey”
Avocados and Chocolate
Peanut Butter and Pickle Sandwiches
Bananas on Cheese Toastie
Butter and Sugar Sandwiches
Peanut Butter in Burgers
Rice and Ketchup
Grape Jelly on Scrambled Eggs or Omelettes ..and the list goes on, up to one’s choice of taste, artistic eye and palatable combinations.

 

Though everyday food involves eating healthy as well enjoying food that we love guilt free, the daily meals get a bit of livening up when we get free with the mix and match, go creative as well as enjoy surprising the taste senses.
With “Eat What You Want Day” (May 11th) is being celebrated today, which was initially started to enjoy a guilt free “indulge in your favourite food” day; this is one of the best days to try weird combinations or have breakfast for dinner, break the routine and let the young ones plan one meal for the day (few of us can tolerate Doritos, pizza and ice cream only to an extent).

Whether one wants to have sweet or sour, or indulge in the “mood for something different to taste” for the day; having fun while eating is the first along with being healthy, wise, happy and creative too.