Posted in Food

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)

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)

Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

Third Wave and On…

“Coffee is a hug in a mug.” Anonymous

On a long postponed visit to the extended family line, we had to put in a three hour journey to-and-back. While waiting in the traffic and not being in the principal driver’s seat was an added incentive for window shopping. Naturally the sign of “discount” had your truly squinting to make out the deals. But it was the special offer of “The Flying Squirrel” (exclusively bought online) and Seven Beans that had snared my attention. After seconds of hedging, my husband had the car in park while I made a quick dash for it. With our luck in alignment, the buy didn’t take much time and we were on back homeward bound.

“It’s amazing how the world begins to change through the eyes of a cup of coffee.” Donna A. Favors

Interestingly “The Flying Squirrel” or “Seven Beans” is but two of the many brands caught in the “wave of coffee”. Entering into the artisanal food category, the third wave coffee movement is a retrospective entry of coffee wherein both coffee lovers and manufacturers share the joy and appreciation of high quality coffee. Like fine varieties of wine and cheese, the third wave of coffee explores the connoisseur-ship, stimulation of the senses and exploration of taste in a simple but buoyant cup of coffee. The unique characteristics of that simple coffee bean are highlighted, ranging from the diverse methods of growing, cultivation, processing, roasting as well as the practices and salient variables among the coffee bean cultivars and beverage preparation.

“The first wave of American coffee culture was probably the 19th-century surge that put Folgers on every table, and the second was the proliferation, starting in the 1960s at Peet’s and moving smartly through the Starbucks grande decaf latte, of espresso drinks and regionally labeled coffee. We are now in the third wave of coffee connoisseurship, where beans are sourced from farms instead of countries, roasting is about bringing out rather than incinerating the unique characteristics of each bean, and the flavor is clean and hard and pure.” Jonathan Gold, LA Weekly. (March 2008, Pulitzer Prize winning food critic on the third wave of coffee)

Technically the terminology of “third wave coffee” was most widely attributed to Trish Rothgeb, a coffee professional in an article for the Roasters Guild newsletter titled “Norway and Coffee,” (2003) with the first mainstream media mention in an National Public Radio piece about barista competitions. Although there is a lesser known reference in an obscure trade publication called “Tea & Coffee Trade Journal Asia” (1999) by specialty coffee pioneer Timothy Castle obliquely referring to the same. While the first and second waves dealt in the ready availability and highlight the countries of origin with (or not) of their signature dark roast profile (respectively), the third wave coffee is often associated with the concept of ‘specialty coffee’ with reference to the specialty grades of green (raw and unroasted) coffee beans (distinct from commercial grade coffee) or specialty coffee beverages of high quality and craft. Though coined earlier (1974), “specialty coffee” was meant to refer to high-quality beans scoring 80 points or more on a 100-point scale.

“It doesn’t matter where you’re from – or how you feel… There’s always peace in a strong cup of coffee.” Gabriel Bá

There is something in a cup of coffee that is dearly enjoyed across all age groups, from different countries, professions and cultures. To add to one’s own special highlight to that cup of coffee, along with the coffee wave, the addition of a tinge of vanilla, whisky, chocolate, cinnamon, cardamom or hot chocolate, can do wonders. Not to forget the ice-cream for the kids. Little wonder then, one would chose to miss an opportunity to ride “that coffee wave”.

Posted in Daily, Food

Add the “Cheese”

Being the lone one in the house, as a result of over time and off hours being allotted accordingly, enough and more time was spent on the ads section and advertisements were marked. Imagine when the leaflet advertising the discounted cheeseburger rates for the whole week ( in lieu of the national cheeseburger day, Sept 18th) were seen. As the hunger cravings rose to a peak by noon, the big lunch was foregone with the craving for cheeseburger. With a sparsely stocked larder and takeaway not an option in the downpour (besides being miles away from the town roads), creative cooking was the only option. Considering the leftovers and the supplies in the fridge, it was time to make something light. What happens when one places two mince meat patties with sliced tomatoes, crisp onion rings with a nice helping of cheese between two bread slices (out of buns). Voila, the homemade version of cheese burger is ready.

“Man who invented the hamburger was smart; man who invented the cheeseburger was a genius.” Matthew McConaughey

Essentially, a cheeseburger is a hamburger topped with cheese. Although the slice of cheese is added to the cooking hamburger patty shortly before serving, which allows the cheese to melt; variations exist depending on choice of having it melted solid or double extra. As for the cheese, from processed to melt-able cheese, options range from cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella, blue Cheese or pepper jack being the popular ones.

With the rise of cattle ranching, fast food chains, commercialization of food industry and rise of fast food; hamburgers had risen in popularity. The late 1920s saw the adding of cheese to hamburgers. Though several competing claims exist as to who created the first cheeseburger. Records repute that Lionel Sternberger (1926) had introduced the cheeseburger at the age of 16 when he was working as a fry cook at his father’s sandwich shop (Pasadena, California) “The Rite Spot” and “experimentally dropped a slab of American cheese on a sizzling hamburger.” Another similar mention of a cheeseburger smothered with chili for 25 cents was listed on the menu of O’ Dell’s restaurant (Los Angeles, 1928). However the trademark for the name “cheeseburger” was awarded to Louis Ballast of the Humpty Dumpty Drive-In in Denver, Colorado.

“You dont have to eat a whole cheeseburger, just take a piece of the cheeseburger.” Guy Fieri

Variations like steamed cheeseburger, soy cheese and vegan versions have been seen across the globe, with the ingredients adapting to the local cuisine and customs. All said and done, the cheese part has stayed on. There’s something fun about indulging in the occasional cheese burger ( homemade, fast food franchise made or deli made) once in a while. No matter how old or busy one is, the delights of the cheeseburger do stay strong.

“I take pleasure in the little things. Double cheeseburgers, those are good, the sky ten minutes before it rains,the moment your laugh turns into a cackle. And I sit here, and smoke my Camel straights, and I ride my own melt.” Ethan Hawke

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

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)