Posted in Food

Of Crunch or Munch on a Stick

With summer slowly climbing it’s peak, school on vacation mode and indoors being stifling, impromptu midday lawn picnics followed by the noon siesta is what cools down the hot days. While packing for picnics, the whole concept is to keep it simple, less messy, wholesome and in own backyard. When almost every other day, mid-day becomes a family picnic or tree house lunch for the kids, getting innovative is what makes lunch hour fun for them.

Up the tree house, where plates and cutlery are out of question; it will be something dry, in bite-sized pieces or filling but in neat pieces which can be had at one go and less mess. On days like these, one can borrow plenty of ideas from the favoured street vendors and summer stand owners. From the caramels pops to candy apples on sticks, corn dogs, funnel cake swirls, hot dogs on sticks or swirls of saratoga chips on sticks. Fusing a bit of common ideas with their favoured list of foods or snacks; the mid-day picnic basket contains plenty of surprises.

From waffles on sticks (stuffed or plain), bite sized peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on sticks, solled pizza slices, marshmallows interlaced with crackers and cinnamon squares melted on the stick or corn dogs with pieces of hot dogs or bacon in between, assorted fruit salad or vegetable pasta salad, donuts and rolls in bite-sized servings to the more elaborate “nuggets on sticks”; these are just few of the many ideas that can go into the menu for “food on sticks”. The most recent addition to the kids’ recipe book was “macarons melted in chocolate, dipped in sprinkles and a small stick at the base”. From toothpicks to full or half sized skewers, one can go into the full blast of creativity.

Interestingly the concept of using sticks or skewers can be dated back to the prehistoric years of the Lower Palaeolithic Era. Archaelologial excavation have unearthed stone “fire dogs” used in the early 17th century BCE. Writings of the Greek classic Iliad mention the obeliskos, a small spit or skewer with pieces of meat roasted on it. Legends and tales often passed over the centuries, mention of medieval soldiers especially Middle Eastern, who cooked meat skewered on their swords. In fact, one of the most well loved skewered foods, the shish kebab may well have an evolution of the earlier skewered meat. As per the records of Mahmud of Kashgar (11th century), the shish (Turkish şiş) was used as a skewer and ‘tool for arranging noodles’. As the years progressed, wars fought, mixing of cuisines, modernization and social revolution leads to the occasion of small to large scale celebrations, leading to the need of a set of recipes with minimal fast, large scale access and widespread acceptance as far as taste and ingredients are concerned. Which is maybe why the social gatherings of today, have their special set of “food on stick” recipes.

While these ideas have always made their entry into cocktail parties and cookouts, bringing them into the family picnic menu with minimum work is what makes cooking and experimentation fun. Even better would be to try something new, exotic or wildly different taking the special national “Food on a Stick” Day (March 28th) into consideration. As all foodimentarians believe, sustenance isn’t for mere existence, but is an art to the eye and creative buds, beyond the wildest imagination.

Posted in Food

Thin or Thick, Stuffed or Impressed

With the Lenten period still on and more hours at home, the breakfast menu has been varied depending on the choice of each as well as the helping hands available on deck. Which is why there is plenty of batter made in the morning. From pancakes to waffles, there is plenty of fun and chaos to welcome the mornings.

Interestingly waffles aren’t a recent recipe, but can be traced to the ancient Greeks. Believed to have descended from the Ancient Greek obleios, it was flat cakes made by baking batter between two hot irons. For the impressed patterns, exclusive to places or establishments, had originated in the middle ages. The early Middle Ages (9th to 10th century) saw the simultaneous emergence of communion wafer irons (fer à hosties or hostieijzers) and the wafer irons (moule à oublies). While the former depicted typically the imagery of Jesus and His crucifixion; the latter had impressions of more trivial Biblical scenes or just simple impressed designs often serving as emblems.

Both the communion wafer and the oublie, was mostly made of grain flour and water. From the 11th century onward, flavorings like orange blossom water, sourced honey and other ingredients came to being and establishing themselves firmly in the list of ingredients. Eaten piping hot, the initial waffles were sold on great religious feasts days with the best quality waffles known as metiers.

“The ancient Greeks used to cook very flat cakes, which they called obleios, between two hot metal plates. This method of cooking continued to be used in the Middle Ages by the obloyeurs who made all sorts of oublies, which were flat or rolled into coronets. The oublie became the waffle in the 13th century, when a craftsman had the idea of forging some cookie plates reproducing the characteristic pattern of honeycombs, which at that time were called gaufres (from the Old French wafla).” Larousse Gastronomique, Completely Revised and Updated [Clarkson Potter:New York] 2001 (p. 1285)

Though the initial waffles had originated on one side of the world, it had crossed the continents to entrench themselves into the local cuisine. Exploring the flavour of waffles, the subtle or gross changes have been made in the various ingredients going into the batter.

Known locally as “grid cake” or “grid biscuits”, the Hong Kong style waffles are usually made on the streets. Large, round and divided into four quarters; these waffles served as snacks with peanut butter, butter and sugar spread on it. Sweetened by the addition of eggs, evaporated milk; these waffles have the rich flavour of yolk, chocolate or honey melon. Changing the pattern to the ball-shaped form, these waffles are then known as eggette or gai daan jai. Adding a little of pandan (herbaceous tropical plant) and coconut milk into the batter, Vietnamese pandan waffles gives the distinctive green and chewy feel inside, though brown and crispy look outside; often best eaten plain. Keeping the batter a little more spicy, one can add a little of wasabi to give the touch of Japanese cuisine. Coming to a more variant style are the Thailand hot-dog waffles. With the hot dog cooked within the long waffles, they bear their similarity to the corn dogs. Otherwise the essential batter remains the same.

At home, while adding the South East Asian flavour to the waffles, a little of fine chopped spring onion greens, couple of coriander chopped, a bit of mashed carrot and beets gave the waffles a burst of colour. With plenty of jam, honey and sugar; the colorful waffles may have found favour with the young eaters. If not, there are always plenty of pancake batter to go around.

Put two pints of rich milk into separate pans. Cut up and melt in one of them a quarter of a pound of butter, warming it slightly; then, when it is melted, stir it about, and set it away to cool. Beat eight eggs till very light, and mix them gradually into the other pan of milk, alternately with half a pound of flour. The mix it by degrees the milk that has the butter in it. Lastly, stir in a large table-spoonfull of strong fresh yeast. Cover the pan and set it near the fire to rise. When the batter is quite light, heat your waffle-iron, by putting it among the coals of a clear bright fire; grease the inside with butter tied in a rag, and then put in some batter. Shut the iron closely, and when the waffle is done on one side, turn the iron on the other. Take the cake out by slipping a knife underneath; and then heat and grease the iron for another waffle. Send them to table quite hot, four or six on a plage; having buttered them and strewed over each a mixture of powdered cinnamon, and white sugar. Or you may send the sugar and cinnamon in a little glass bowl.” 
-Directions for Cookery in its Various Branches, Miss Leslie [Philadelphia, 1849]. (p. 359)

Posted in Food

From Corn, Tacky and Baked

Entering the Lenten period, experimentation and going innovative is what makes the cooking in the kitchen interesting. As a part of bringing the Mexican cuisine home, yesterday evening was all about quesadilla.

Typically different from the famous Mexican dish of tacos, quesadilla consists of a Mexican tortilla (usually corn) filled primarily with cheese, with addition of beans, vegetables, spices or meats, depending on choice and then cooked on a griddle. Made into a full cheesy version (as two tortilla with a layer of cheese between them) or a half moon griddles version, the former is a dinner favourite.

With origins in colonial Mexico, this dish has evolved and adapted with plenty of variations. Though the usual typical filling is cheese, one can go with purred vegetables or meat fillings like chicharron or tinga. In addition they can be had with toppings of guacamole, salsas, chopped onion, tomatoes, serrano chillies or cilantro being most commonly used.

With slight twists on the preparation, one variation includes the entire package of cheese and additional ingredients sandwiched between two flour tortillas grilled on the oiled griddle and flipped so that both sides are cooked and the cheese is melted fusing it like a sealed pie, often cut into wedges and served.

“Cooking is at once child’s play and adult joy. And cooking done with care is an act of love.” Craig Claiborne

The quesadilla sincronizada, often found in the traditional Mexican recipes is a tortilla-based sandwich made by placing ham, re-fried beans or chorizo with a portion of cheese ( preferably Oaxaca) between two flour tortillas. Grilled or even lightly fried; these tortillas become crispy as the cheese melts. They are then cut into halves or wedges and served, usually with other toppings and condiments like salsa, pico de gallo, avocado or guacamole.

Served as a snack meal, main course or even as appetizers; each recipe calls for a subtle change depending on the chef’s choice. One variation is the pizzadilla, which has the ingredients and cooking technique of quesadilla, complete with pizza toppings. As for the tortilla base, with corn flour readily available; making the base is no longer a harried process. Giving the quesadilla a sweet touch with ingredients of chocolate, butterscotch or caramel; makes the dessert variant a beautiful addition to the regular bowl of ice-cream.

With plenty of recipes to choose from, home cooking in the holidays is what keeps the mischief makers at bay. As for family traditions, there is a new one to create for every holiday season. And the latter is what makes life fun, a little of variety with or without the spice.

Posted in Daily, Food

Thin, Crisp and Variant

Ever since kids come off their high-chair, they tend to tag along especially when it involves leaving the house and going grocery shopping. If it weren’t for the lure of riding the shopping cart, the aisle of the crisps would be the first stop for the tantrum of “give me more”. Like every other new age family, we do have our share of the “snack food” (translate it as the junk food) in the pantry. From the big bag of chips to the frozen rolls, the selection is highly variable and variant.

Coming back to these crisps, the origin could actually be means of making something nutritious and simple. Essentially crisps are nothing but are thin slices of potato that may have been deep fried or baked until crunchy. The early 19th century saw recipes involving potatoes fried in slices or shavings. Under various recipes titles like “Pommes de frites” these thinly sliced potatoes were fried in clarified butter or lard drippings. Across the Atlantic, these British and French recipes found their way into the common household kitchen.

Potatoes fried in Slices or Shavings. — (No. 1 04.)
Peel large Potatoes, slice them about a quarter of an inch thick, or cut them in shavings round and round as you would peel a lemon ; dry them well in a clean cloth, and fry them in lard or dripping. Take care that your fat and frying:pan are quite clean ; put it on a quick fire, watch it, and as soon as the lard boils, and is still, put in the slices of potatoe, and keep moving them till they are crisp ; take them up and lay them to drain on a sieve ; send them up with a very little salt sprinkled over them. (The Cook’s Oracle: Containing Receipts for Plain Cookery on the Most. By William Kitchiner. Pg. 208)

As with all snacks with wide acceptance, legends were associated with the creation of potato crisps, the favourite being the “Saratoga Springs legend” As the retelling goes, George Crum, a cook at Moon’s Lake House (Saratoga Springs, New York) was trying to appease an unhappy customer (August 24,1853). As the customer kept sending back his French-fried potatoes, with complaints of them being too thick, too “soggy” or not salted enough. In frustration, Crum fried several extremely thin slices of potatoes to a crisp, and seasoned them with extra salt. To his surprise, the customer loved them and they were known as “Saratoga Chips”.

Over the years, these chips were refined, processed and packaged to the numerous brands of crisps of today, though the original brand of saratoga chips or Smiths Potato Crisps (1950s) still exists today. Commonly served as snack, side dish or appetizers; these chips from being simple and salted are now manufactured in variant flavourings and topped with ingredients like herbs, spices, cheese and other natural or artificial flavours. Besides had direct, they are now as sandwiches between the bread and spreads, found in the cookie mix or on the crispy zuchinni coating. Looks like those bag of crisps can inspire creativity beyong the imagined.

“Potato Chip Cookies
Don’t put up your hands and your hands in awe because we recommend potato chips in cookies. Crush one cup of them. Buy a package of prepared pudding mix of butterscotch flavor, sift one cup flour, any kind that you can get, be sparing on the salt, just a pinch will do. Sift it with the flour and one-half teaspoon each of soda and baking powder. Put pudding mix into a bowl, add the chips and the flour mixture. Add one beaten egg and one-half cup shortening, melted. Form a dough in a roll and chill until firm. Slice one-fourth inch thick and arrange on a lightly greased cooky sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for from 10 to 12 minutes, or until done or drop from a spoon on to a cooky sheet, flatten to one-fourth inch thickness and bake as suggested.”
—Freeport Journal-Standard [IL], August 5, 1946 (p. 14)

Posted in Daily, Family and Society, Life, Personal Musings, Photography Art, poetry, Quotes, Reflections

Reality of Empowerment

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” Charlotte Brontë 

Entering into morning hours of the international day symbolizing the empowerment of women while bringing them to an equal footing with men (especially as far as civic rights are concerned); this day marks the long struggle in breaking down the barriers laid down by the society of then. While this day may or mayn’t be commemorated in a special manner, this day holds a significant meaning.

“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.” Coco Chanel

Empowerment by itself means, “the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.” While this may be used more in terms of social, civic and human rights; there is a bigger spectrum beyond this. While as a child we all dream big, of doing the daring, being adventurous and focusing on our own passions. Somewhere along the line, we loose track of all these and think of the future days on the society that we live of today. In order to provide the daily bread and butter, we often change tracks and off the path. Along the way, most of us may get stuck in the rut; while a few of us may take charge later and do a little of things that we all dreamt to do. Yet there are still some of us, who start off working on our dreams, but along the way the rut deepens and we get stuck again.

“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.” Steve Maraboli

Empowerment includes us finding ourselves a way out of the rut. Getting out of the confines of society and seeking own dreams, involves tremendous strength and courage. Our life is more or less like the train on the railway tracks. Some of the destinations are known but unexpected landslides do occur and detours are made. By empowering own-selves and getting around those rocks. makes each of our own views breathtaking and spectacular; than being mere copycats of a kind. While the tracks of the train may be set to prevent the derail; at times finding the smaller routes with due care and caution, gives a view better beyond our wildest imagination.

The Railway Train
by Emily Dickinson

I like to see it lap the miles,
And lick the valleys up,
And stop to feed itself at tanks;
And then, prodigious, step

Around a pile of mountains,
And, supercilious, peer
In shanties by the sides of roads;
And then a quarry pare

To fit its sides, and crawl between,
Complaining all the while
In horrid, hooting stanza;
Then chase itself down hill

And neigh like Boanerges;
Then, punctual as a star,
Stop — docile and omnipotent —
At its own stable door.

Posted in Food, Photography Art

In the “Or-e-o Craze”

“I need to go for a two day trainers workshop. Debbie has fallen sick with flu, so I am her replacement. Mom is coming to stay in for those two days. Rachel is coming too, she’s on study break at home; so don’t worry about the kids or anything else.” 

Before pressing the send icon near the above message, there were mixed emotions running through my mind. First thoughts were on the huge amount of pending office work to complete and the workshop preparation required, second the cleaning up chores required before I leave and the third, stocking up of the pantry.

As far as cooking is concerned, worries are less because not only their grandmother knows how to turn them around but with my cousin Rachel alone, it would be quite a chocolaty bribe. Knowing her fondness for anything chocolate and quick meals, her kitchen preparations especially in dessert area well loved by all. With physique never being a problem, her dinner revolves around a tub of ice-cream and a couple of Oreos. Which is why, I had to make a new shopping list, one with plenty of sugar on it.

“Oreos come in packages. Otherwise known as a gift. Cherish it.” Oreo Queen

Speaking of Oreos, there is something about them, which makes them a favourite. Whether had direct or as an add-on, Oreos provide a wonderful accompaniment to most desserts and even breakfast pancake batter, smoothies and summer shakes. Keeping nutrition and dietary restriction aside, Oreos are a lifesaver. When the breakfast cereal gets boring, it is those crushed Oreos that make the welcome change. When the groans surface at “dosa again for breakfast!!”, the added crushed Oreos to the batter make way for the change in their minds and the scramble for more.

Above all, like everything with chocolate, Oreos help to make bad days bearable. With plenty of happy moments, these biscuit sandwiches would occupy their fair share of the grocery list.

“Of course, that rationalization didn’t work at all. It would have helped if I’d had some Oreo cookie ice cream to eat that the same time. I’ve learned that self-delusion is much easier when there’s something sweet in your mouth.” Lee Goldberg

Posted in Food

Crêpe, Sweet, Savoury or Thalipeeth

Pancakes have always been an essential part of the weekly menu plans. There are lots of sides to a pancake, from the thick ones to stuffed or light paper-thin ones and the sweet or savoury ones. The ease of making delicious pancakes, as a quick morning breakfast, is what makes it a favourite for both the chef and the hungry mouths. One of the family favourites, is the crêpe or crepe.

These light thin pancakes were originally a part of the ancient Greek cuisine, which was one of the earliest creations made on the frying pan like vessels. Though etymologically speaking, the French “crêpe” can be traced to the Latin crispa, the latter means with “creases”. Made both sweet (crêpes sucrées) and savoury (crêpes salées), they can have a variety of fillings, as simple as sugar to the caramelized buttery crêpes Suzette or in flambé style.

Per the norm, sweet crêpes are made with wheat flour (farine de froment) with fillings of chocolate or fruit spread, preserves, sugar, maple or golden syrup, whipped cream, sliced soft fruits or confiture; usually had as a breakfast or dessert special. While savory crêpes though made usually with wheat flour, can be made with non-wheat flours such as buckwheat, rice flour, powdered oats flour, chickpea flour or even sago grains, especially for those who require gluten-free meals. Fillings for the savoury crêpes include cheese, mushrooms, egg products and various meat products.

With simple ingredients, batter can be made and voila crêpes are ready for meals time. Experimenting with diverse recipes, one of the special recipes used when my cousin comes down for a visit is the “thalipeeth”, A savoury multi-grain pancake prepared from roasted grains (rice, wheat, bajra, jowar), legumes (chickpea, black gram) and spices like cumin, crushed star anise or coriander. For the batter ingredients like finely diced onions, fresh coriander or finely chopped vegetables, depending on the mood of the hour. Other flour types include that of tapioca or amaranth seeds; though they all go by local names depending on the regional variations and local flavours. Often served with milk, yoghurt or ghee, it is popular as a breakfast dish or an early evening snack meal.

Made any way, crêpes make for a pleasant morning start or that light touch of sweetness after the lunch. Most of all, they are easy for busy dads and even children, especially when mothers are on the night shift or on out of the town work projects. Getting started with a family crêpes tradition, would be a good project to keep the small hands busy and for light delicious moments of laughter and fun.