Posted in Food, Stories Around the World

Pull of the “P”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Daily, Food

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)

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 gardenā€¦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 inventionĀ 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.

ā€œSpice 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)ā€ ā€• 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, Stories Around the World

A Little of all, or More

With all at home, attempting their hand at “a little something”, especially in the kitchen arena; there was an assortment of sorts for dinner. With the leftovers from lunch, the cookies of last weekend and a little of the experimentation (definitely edible) left from the past two days in the refrigerator, supper was more like a picnic meal, of sorts.

Laying down the table, reminded one of the college days, wherein the complete meal was more or less, like garbage plate. One of the first life lessons on managing college life and the budget at hand, was to make do with a “garbage plate”. Originally started off at Nick Tahou Hots, a restaurant based in Rochester which had featured their signature dish of “the Garbage Plate”. With the crowd consisting f mainly college students, the dish was concocted to meet the demand of a meal with a little of everything on it.

“What is the famous Nick Tahou’s Garbage Plateā„¢? We start with a base of any combination of home fries, macaroni salad, baked beans, or french fries topped by your choice of meats and dressed to your liking with spicy mustard, chopped onions, and our signature Nick Tahou’s hot sauce. Each plate comes with two thick slices of fresh Italian bread and butter.” (2010, Archived from the offical website)Ā 

Though other records state that the first original plate was concocted from two hamburger patties with a choice of two sides, from home fries, macaroni salad or beans, laced with a heavy layer of ketchup and hot sauce. Despite the high carbohydrate laden meal, this dish stayed quite popular, even in the present college campus.Maybe the fact that this plate accounts for a little comfort in every bite, a reminder of our home makes it one of the “at least once must haves”, during college days.

Bringing it down to a more simpler or tone version, plate the salad (macaroni, pasta, baked beans or even greens) and then add the next layer of homemade french fries (or any fries, vary it with baked beet-fries). Still adding on, the next layer is for the protein with grilled, fried or baked patties (meat, fish, chicken, hamburgers, hot-dogs or maybe soya-keema and paneer for the vegetarian version). The final touch is made by the sauce slathered over it and then being topped with the classic garnishing of chopped onions, yellow mustard and not forget to add the tomato ketchup to the lot. Ranging from the hot sauce (meat, chilli and hot) to a toned down vegan chilli, the final plate can change with every serve, though the basic ingredients may remain the same. Also not to miss out on the side dish, choose the pick from traditional garlic bread, rolls or even roti and naan to mop out the sauce,

Trying to recreate a similar version didn’t work out in the typical “garbage plate manner”. Though the next attempt, to go heavy on the carbs is on the agenda. The dinner of “bits and pieces” had some other weird food combinations like the tuna and spaghetti, rice with beans, soy and chopped meat or cheese and chocolate and the running favourite for now, two slices of bread with aloo bhujia ( an Indian potato snack), butter, sugar and sprinkles between them, to list a few of the experiments when the chefs run amok in the kitchen. Also not to forget the latest invention of pancake batter with slices of all berries, bananas, essence of maple syrup, crushed nuts with whipped cream on top. Cleaning out all the leftovers (best though weird), the supper of these ” odds and ends” (little higher on the carbs) wasn’t the typical garbage plate but, oddly an interesting combination and completely satisfying.

Posted in Food

Of 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.