Saturday, February 27, 2016

Prepare now: Sunday morning pancake breakfast

In my head, I want Sunday breakfasts to be special. 
I also want Sunday lunches to be special, but I also don’t want to slog on Sunday or dress up to go out, so…
Still, Sunday morning breakfasts…
Today, I remembered Nigella Lawson’s pancake mix. You make up the dry mix in advance. When you want to make pancakes, you just add egg, milk and melted butter and that is that.
And, of course, you add bacon, sausages, stewed fruit, maple syrup, butter, and sugar and lemon to be eaten with the pancakes.
Makes Sunday mornings special – but easily…

Nigella’s Pancakes

Nigella Lawson's pancakes
For the pancake mix:

4 cups plain flour
3 tbsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp caster sugar
Mix together and store in a jar.

To make the pancakes:
1 cup prepared pancake mix
1 large egg
1 cup milk 
1 tbsp melted butter

To prepare the pancakes, mix together the pancake mix, egg, milk and melted butter.
Heat a pan without oil.
Place spoonfuls of the pancake batter on the pan to make small rounds. When bubbles appear on the surface of the pancakes, flip over and cook on the other side till both sides are golden brown. 
Serve hot.

The proof-of-the-making photograph!

Main photograph: fotek/123rf 

Monday, February 22, 2016

My Five Faves for February - all Foodie!

So, I’m still rather preoccupied with feeding and watering the family. It’s getting better, I’m getting better at it, though I must admit the tension does rear its head occasionally. Still, yesterday, we had an impromptu lunch for friends – impromptu as in we decided to ask them at around 9.30am; two said yes, and it was on. We didn’t cook all of it – we made the rice, a stir-fry, roasted garlic-butter mushrooms and a dessert of apple pie rolls and whipped cream, and jelly – and ordered in a Thai yellow curry and pad Thai, but it did happen.
Which works a little to reassure me that we might still master this no-maid situation. 
I tell you all this so you will understand why all my five faves this month have something to do with food and cooking (click on the links to go to the recipes and sites).

Haute Chef

Cooking with Haute Chef is my weekend indulgence. 
Haute Chef is a service that sends you ingredients for dishes listed on the website, clearly marked with the level of difficulty. The whole kit lands up at your door with an ice pack to keep the set chilled. 
The landing-up-at-your-door is the only difficult part here. Because they have to prep each box on order, you have to pre-order, often up to a day in advance, though they also have an express order option at an extra Rs 50 if you want it within three hours. They seem to be based in Malad and we are in Colaba, so I do tend to get strange – though admittedly always polite – calls explaining why the delivery boy will be late or even early by a couple of hours. 
That apart, your box comes with extremely fresh and clean ingredients, carefully measured and packed, down to butter and olive oil, and a recipe instruction sheet that is carefully detailed. All you need is a knife and cutting board to prep the fresh ingredients, a pan or two, and salt and pepper, though, sometimes, you even get sent freshly-ground pepper. You get credit of Rs 25 each time you order. 
We’ve successfully put together a restaurant-quality Goat Cheese & Red Bell Pepper Salad with Pine Nuts & Sundried Tomato Pesto, and an excellent Gnocchi Salsa Rosa with Wild Mushrooms, as well as a Beetroot Risotto with Chives and Pine Nuts  (full disclosure: I found the chives under the microwave two days later and it was still brilliant without it). We have not been as successful with the oriental dishes – the Nasi Goreng, Massaman Curry and Burmese Khao Soi were just okay.  
Haute Chef is from Chef Ranveer Brar, whom I’ve never met, though Shraddha from my office, who used to be with BBC Good Food (how I miss that magazine!), tells me he is very nice and very well-put-together too!

Big Basket

Yes, I know it’s been around forever, but it’s currently a lifesaver. I’ve never been a fan of cut fruit and veg (not as healthy, more expensive), but I order it weekly now because I have to use it once it appears – unlike the whole fruit and veg that wilts away before I get to it.

Big Basket also has special perforated plastic covers for coriander, mint and curry leaves that really do keep them fresher than if I removed them and stored them loose, and what really works for me is that I can just keep adding to the basket on my phone app as I run out of stuff through the week, so it’s almost like a traditional shopping list.

My Spice Rack

Both Kevin and I hate assorted spice and condiment bottles cluttering up the window sill, so this spice rack with 16 little jars on a revolving base is ideal. It’s great to have everything at hand when you’re cooking, and you can instantly tell when anything is running low. Each bottle comes with three ways to pour out the ingredient – small holes, bigger holes and a large hole (I’m sure there is a word to describe these holes, but it escapes me just now). The quality is not the best; we had to send the first piece back to LimeRoad, who replaced it without any quibbles, and we’ve since discovered a shop in Lohar Chawl, Crawford Market, where we can get replacements for the little jars. 
We bought our spice rack off but Ive found it on other sites as well.

Ruchik Randap

This website, largely for Mangalorean food, has redeemed me from the shame of being able to cook just one Mangalorean dish (an eggplant salad, if you must know). Ruchik Randap – which means tasty cooking in Konkani – is a trove of very simple recipes that evoke so much nostalgia in me that I have to force myself to cook cuisines other than Mangy.
From the site, I have cooked, among other things, the Kadale Manoli  (the channa and tendli dish with coconut that is served at Mangalorean roces), an excellent mutton stew, and a Sonay Sukke (chana with coconut). 

I also love Shireen Sequeira’s stories about Mangalore, Lent and how the kitchens used to be laid out in the good old days.

Pedro Pao

So, it’s the wrong time of the year to say this – but I’m loving the idea of a Made-in-Goa website. A friend at work told me about Pedro Pao, and I got onto the site and ordered rosary bead Goa sausages, prawn balchao, vindalho paste and racheado paste. The balchao was excellent. Lent crept up on me, so the sausages await being used in a pulao (I’m thinking with this recipe) and I think every day of contacting the site and asking their advice on how to use the pastes. 
It’s worth talking about Pedro Pao’s system of payment  –  though it may have changed since I used the site. Elton (I think that’s his name) calls when you order on the site, takes down your address, and sends your parcel along. No, you can’t pay cash on delivery. You need to do a money transfer; the bank details are pasted on your parcel. I asked Elton if this was not an unnecessarily risky way to conduct business – no, he said, we are a very small enterprise and no one has cheated us.

Main photograph: Ruth Black/ 123rf

Saturday, February 13, 2016

This Valentine’s Day, you don’t need anyone else

We have no plans for Valentine’s Day.
No, not even our parish dinner and dance.
I’m not even going to be mushy and say every day is Valentine’s Day. It’s not.

Valentine’s Day for us is just another day. 

When Zach was younger, I would make valentines for his friends – which I know they accepted more for the candy-of-the-day than the unnecessary sentiment. And, in recent years, the ‘female humans’ of Lonely Planet Magazine India have been celebrating each other, but issue closing has caught up with us after six years. This year, it’s going to be just a lunch on Monday. Sigh.

So, who’s the person you can rely on for all that loving? Yourself. 

(Yeah, I know I have Kevin and you have, or do not have, xyz; and they’re all wonderful...)

You have you.

This Valentine’s Day, indulge yourself.
Be kinder to yourself.
Decide to travel  – if that would make you happy.
Look after your health.
Dare to push your boundaries.
Live a little… more.
Laugh a lot.

Like the most wise Maya Angelou said:
“Always laugh; it is the sweetest thing one can do for oneself and one’s fellow human being. When people see the laughing face, even if they’re jealous of it, their burden is lightened. But do it first for yourself.
Laugh and dare to try to love somebody, starting with yourself. 
You must love yourself first, of course, and you must protect yourself when you can. You say, Just a minute! I’m worth everything, dear.

Happy Valentine’s Day to you!

Photograph: Maridav/ 123rf

Saturday, February 06, 2016

The reluctant homemaker and the baked chicken

So a new phase began in our lives in the new year. Yes, I do know it’s February, but it feels very new :)
This new phase… it began with my dear Sumitra reluctantly going back to Jharkhand because they had found a good boy for her. We really miss her; she was a true housekeeper and was even found yelling at very irate workmen for slacking off just because “didi aur bhaiya nahin dekh rehe hai.
After she went, we found ourselves the very sweet and efficient Lalita to do the top work, and we got down to the routine of running a house. 
The last time we did this, Zach was tiny – maybe three years old – and we were in the other, smaller, more-manageable house. This time around, Kevin rearranged the kitchen, moved all the little-used utensils to the loft, and cleared the platforms to be always user-ready. We also acquired a hand blender that he loves and uses thrice a day. He found out how to make smooth yoghurt on a trip to Orissa and he makes his own soya milk from scratch.  
Me, I’m a more reluctant homemaker. I’ve gotten used to cooking every day, but it’s certainly not the fun it used to be when I cooked only on weekends, especially with Sumitra’s willing assistance. The worst part, for me, is the non-vegetarian side of this whole shebang. I hate the raw state of any meat – and I’m obsessed with keeping the cutting boards and knives from touching anything else. And obsession with anything, as I’m sure you know, is tiring.
On the positive side, I’ve finally got a hang of how it’s all done. I order most of my produce from Big Basket (moving from Strand has deprived us of the market at our doorstep), I order fish from Harbour Exports in nearby Sassoon Dock, and I spend Saturday mornings  happily plotting meals for the week. Admittedly, I’m a good plotter and planner. And, because my housemates are very accommodating, I can play around with the planning the whole week. By Thursday or Friday, I’m on to what is fashionably called the “Pantry Challenge” – only here, it’s the fridge that I clear out. 
The best part of all this is that I’ve been cooking Mangalorean food. I’ve always worried that I had never learned this, but yay, that’s worked itself out now. More in another post.  
Anyway, Pinterest is my best friend these days – source of both the easy Mangy recipes and a whole gamut of other dishes that break the monotony.
Yesterday, I tried the Baked Sweet & Sour Chicken from Carlsbad Cravings, and it turned out real good. Admittedly, the chicken is first fried and then baked, but the end result is well worth the effort. As with most of Jen’s recipes, the ingredients list is long-ish and we had to acquire ginger powder and onion powder, but, no doubt, Kevin will find other uses for them. 
Anyway, here goes: 

Baked Sweet & Sour Chicken with Pineapple and Bell Peppers
From Carlsbad Cravings
Baked Sweet & Sour Chicken
from Carlsbad Cravings

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
3 eggs
½ cup flour
Oil for frying
Pineapple slices from 1 large tin, diced 
1 capsicum, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup thinly sliced carrot

For the cornflour mixture: 
1 1/3 cup cornflour 
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
¼ tsp ginger powder
¼ tsp onion powder

For the sweet and sour sauce:
½ cup pineapple juice 
1 cup red wine vinegar
1½ cups sugar (see note below)
6 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 small onion, diced
2 tbsp soya sauce
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
½ tsp red pepper flakes
½ tsp ginger powder

1. Place all the ingredients for the sweet and sour sauce in a large saucepan, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Allow to simmer for up to 20 minutes. This is to soften the onions and blend the flavours; the sauce will not thicken.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

3. Grease a large baking dish, about 9 X 13 inches, and set aside.

4. Whisk the eggs together in a large bowl and set aside.

5. Add the flour to a large freezer bag and set aside.

6. Mix together the ingredients for the cornflour mixture. Set aside.

7. Dip the diced chicken in batches into the whisked egg, remove, allow the excess egg to drip off, and place in the freezer bag with the flour. Repeat this egg-and-flour step till all the diced chicken is in the freezer bag. Toss within the bag till the chicken is evenly coated with the flour.

8. Add the cornflour mixture to the freezer bag and shake till all the chicken is, again, evenly coated.

9. Heat the oil in a large skillet until very hot. Add the chicken in two batches and cook till browned on all sides (about two minutes) but not cooked through.

10. Transfer the fried chicken nuggets to the prepared baking dish.

11. Add the carrots, pineapple, capsicum and red pepper to the cooked sweet and sour sauce and mix until well combined. 

12. Pour the sauce over the chicken in the baking dish and stir gently to combine.

13. Bake, uncovered, for 45 to 50 minutes, stirring occasionally.

14. Serve with rice. 

Note: This is a very sweet mixture, so reduce the sugar accordingly. 

Main photograph:  kazakphoto/123rf

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Christmas DIYs: An easy, last-minute advent calendar

I know I’m late, it’s December 1.
Of course, I had decided I was not doing my usual Christmas-sy things this year.
Of course, I had to do them – but last minute.

This is an easy – if slightly time-consuming – advent calendar that kids can help you with. It makes a cool decoration as it waits for each of its boxes to be opened. We added sweets to each box, and – because I try very hard to keep Christmas about Christ – a little snippet from the Gospels which, together, tell the story of Christmas, with a suggestion to parents on how to initiate discussions on Christmas beyond the cake and gifts. (You can add fun suggestions  – “Let’s make hot chocolate”, “Let’s watch a Christmas movie”  or “Let’s give some toys to the orphanage” instead.)

This advent calendar is a free printable straight from Nicolette at Powerful Mothering  – our only addition is the sweets and the scripture passages, which I had first used in 2011 from Sweeter than Sweets.

Make it today – counting down the days till Christmas.   

Or try these links to other advent calendars from other years

The Advent Calendar Tree – also from 2013 (that seems to have been a great year for me!)

and the first Advent Calendar I featured – in 2011

Sunday, September 20, 2015

We tried it: Microwave lime bars

Amazing Microwave Lemon Bars from Mom on Timeout

This is for you only if you love the tart life. 
I love all things sour. I kidnap all Zach’s Sour Punks, I’m a sucker for imli (tamarind) sweets; hell, I used to pick fallen tamarind off the ground under the trees on my grandparents’ farm in Mangalore and suck the pods silly.
In adult life, the kidnapped Sour Punks notwithstanding, I try to sate my need for the sour with lemony desserts – lemon tarts, key lime pie, you get the drift.
I’ve lost my recipe for lemon curd, but what I now have is a quick fix: these microwave lemon bars from Mom on Timeout.
They’re made with our local limes, and they didn’t last long on the platter…
It’s a two-step recipe: you first make the crust, and then the topping.
Again: these are very sweet and very sour and a little eggy. You have been warned.

Microwave Lemon Bars
Adapted very slightly from Mom on Timeout

For the crust:
1 cup flour
3 tbsp powdered sugar
1 tbsp lime zest (from one lime)
6 tbsp melted butter

For the topping:
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp lime zest (from two limes)
3 large eggs at room temperature
cup fresh lime juice (from the zested limes)
1 tbsp flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt

To make the crust: Lightly grease a 9x9 inch microwave-safe baking dish. Whisk together the flour, powdered sugar and lime zest. Stir in the melted butter. Press the crust into the prepared dish. Microwave for three minutes at 80% power. Check to make sure the crust is firm. If not, heat for an additional 30 seconds at 80% power. Set aside.

To make the topping: Beat the granulated sugar, lime zest, eggs and lime juice together. Beat in the flour, baking powder and salt and continue beating for two to three minutes. Pour the topping over the crust and microwave for three minutes at 80% power. Check the topping. It should be set with just a little jiggle, like a good jelly. If it hasn't set, microwave for an additional minute at 80% power and check again.

Let the lemon squares cool completely and then refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
Cut into squares, dust with powdered sugar and sprinkle with additional lime zest if desired.

Keep refrigerated.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Fewer selfies, more usies!

Or, why you need to take family photos – now!

I don’t like having my photograph taken. The five-pounds-added rule doesn’t seem to apply to me; I feel at least 20 pounds heavier in photographs. I’m happiest when I can hide behind a row of people and just have my head peek out between two.

It’s not always been like that. When I think back to when Mohan and I were kids, I realise how many photographs of us our father took. So many! And that at a time when it was considerably more difficult and complicated to take and print photographs – not the easy-as-pie, point-and-shoot process of today. If someone ever needed to document the statues that were strewn through the Bombay Zoo in the 1970s, all they would need to do is unearth my father’s contact sheets of the time – you could built a minor catalogue of the many poses I struck on a seated stone gentleman’s lap, all immortalised in black and white.

And there are so many photographs of Zach. We had to discard the out-of-focus ones when moving home, and the duplicates and triplicates, but we have enough to document the growing up of a much-loved child, the centre of our lives. I even have so many photographs with Maya, that baby who came late into my life… but is almost like my own.

Why, then, do we stop taking photographs when we grow older and as the people around us grow older? For me, it’s because I’m conscious of my weight, of bad angles, of my double chin and my tummy being recorded once more. For others, it could be that they’re not wearing what they would like to be seen in in a photograph. I think the discomfort grows with age.

But, this year, I’ve decided to persevere with photographs of family or friends. Too often in recent times have I helped grieving family members try to find a photograph to place in obituaries or to frame and realised that we don’t have enough – enough to record how important our loved ones are to us, or to document how precious a quick meeting with transiting cousins or old friends has been.

In these super-fast times, there is no such thing as too many memories, or too many photographs. Sure, you meet your parents every other week, or your siblings. You’re with your kids all the time. Sadly, these are not circumstances you can take for granted forever.

Make the time to take photographs – candid ones, yes, but even ones in which you sit as a family or as a couple or a group of friends. Get yourself a digital memory – many of them – that will sustain you in more difficult times.

Of course, there is another side to all this – the key to having a collection of photographic memories is two-fold:
one, keep editing and pruning, so you have only a few, well-chosen pictures of any given situation, and
two, keep it personal – don’t inflict it on guests who have no interest in it at all :) 

And to help, here’s a post  from I Heart Faces, a photography site I love. They have great tutorials to help you take better photographs.