Thursday, 24 December 2009

Breakfast, lunch or dinner: 'baked' ham, eggs and cheese

I eat this for lunch on holidays, because if it's a holiday I'll probably be too lazy to cook proper meals. This serves wonderfully for brunch around noon, keeping me full till late evening. At which point I order pizza for dinner :-)

Eggs--2 per person.
Ham ends (or just cut finely diced pieces off a slab)
Cheese--I use sharp cheddar.
Salt, pepper.
Oil/butter/bacon grease.

Heat about half a teaspoon of butter/oil/grease on a thick-bottomed pan (we use a cast iron skillet). Cut the ham ends in half and put them in . They will splutter a bit, so keep away. After a couple of minutes, when one side turns nicely brown, turn them and cook the other side.

Now place cheese slices on the ham slices. Cook on a low flame for a minute or two. The cheese should be nice and melty. Now break the eggs in the skillet. Tilt to spread them all over the pan. Using a fork, mess the yolks (actually, *I* like my yolks whole, but company demands otherwise). The whole thing should look like a massive fried egg.

Sprinkle oregano, flavoured salt and pepper on top. Cover the pan. Keep the flame alive for about half a minute more, and then turn it off. Keep the cover on for another couple of minutes. The egg, cheese and ham will be 'baked' together in the pan. This is why this recipe uses so little oil/butter. If you use a thin bottomed pan, however, the whole thing will char. So be careful.


Eat with toast, or by itself. With maybe a cup of hot chocolate :-)

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

The Scraps-to-Dinner Story

This recipe is dinner, my friend Tegan's style. It's a simple cleaning-out-the-fridge stir-fry, or, as she puts it, "throwing shit together in a pan". That, in fact, is a wonderfully succulent summing up of this surpisingly delicious and quick-to-prep dinner.

Anything you have in the fridge, with one green and one meat. Not comfy with that approach? All right then:
1. A slab of meat, preferably ham (or beef, or chicken, or lamb. We're not particular. You shouldn't be either).
2. Green beans (sheem).
3. Onions--chopped lengthwise.
4. Corn/potato starch.
5. Soya sauce.
6. Mushrooms--if you like them.
7. Eggs--also optional, but I like using them.
8. Broccoli--cut in small florets (optional)
9. Carrots--peeled and diced (optional)
10. Peas in pods--chopped in pods, with the two ends cut off.
11. Shallots--chopped (optional)
12. Celery--chopped (optional).
13. Watercress--cut in halves (optional).
13. Garlic--minced (optional).
14. Pineapple juice (comletely optional. But if you want to substitute, please don't use anything other than lemon juice).
15. Chicken stock (optional)--not to be used if using pineapple juice.

The number of 'optionals' should give you an idea of the kind of recipe this is :D

How it works:

If using broccoli and/or carrots, steam them till they're nice and soft, but not falling-apart soggy-mess soft. Fifteen to twenty minutes over a medium flame with a cover should do the trick, depending on the strength of the flame. Do not boil, as some of the flavour and goodness of the veggies go away with the drained water.

Mushrooms, onions, peapods.

Heat oil (Tegan uses olive, I use canola :-] ) in a wok/broad-based pan. When the oil is hot, add garlic (if using), turn flame down to low and fry them till you can smell that yum! frying garlic smell. Now add the onions. You may need to turn up the flame a little, otherwise the onions are likely to lie in the oil, soaking it up but not changing colour.

Once the onions change colour, become transparent and start smelling like frying onions (plus frying garlic) add the ham, diced. If using any other meat--particularly chicken--make sure it had been marinated in lemon juice and salt for at least an hour. Fry well. When the meat begins to acquire brown spots, it's time for the stage 3.

Potato intervention: while the meat browns, dice a few potatoes, put them in a broad pan, fill
with water, add salt, and set to cook over a low flame (see left). This will be done by the time the gravy-stir-fry is done.

Now, in a orderly queue, add each vegetable (except shallots). The ones that take the longest to cook go in first. Forrexumple, carrots and broccoli (which take so long to cook that we had to steam them first). Toss these about a bit so they don't end up with just one side cooked and the other bland and raw. You may even cover for a couple minutes to make sure the 'hard' vegetables are cooked well. Then add the other vegetables--beans and mushrooms, in our case--and stir fry them on a medium flame so that all the vegetables mix well with the oil. Check to see if the meat has been nicely browned (or in the case of chicken, nicely white-and-gold)--it should be by now. If it is brown crisply fried enough for your tastes, stir in the chopped shallots.

If using eggs, now is the time to add them. Break and whisk all the eggs into a cup. In a separate pan, scramble them well--not the softly scrambled eggs you have for breakfast but well scrambled eggs. Tip this second pan into the first. Some people like to scramble their eggs in the same big wok/pan before they start the cooking proper, and while this is otherwise fine, scrambled eggs left aside for too long tend to congeal and be generally rather unappetising. Just use a second pan, all right?

To the vegetable-meat-egg mixture, add a small tin of pineapple juice. There's going to be an almighty sizzle. When the sizzle dies down, venture forth and mix the liquid well with the meats abd veg. If using lemon juice, mix with a little water before adding. If using chicken stock, add and stir in. If not using any juice, proceed to next step.

In a bowl of water, add about half a teaspoon of
starch. To this mix some soya sauce (check to see how sweet/salty the soya is). Now add this mixture to the wok/pan. Lower flame, fold in well. Add salt, sugar, ground black pepper. Mix well. Add about two regular teacups of water. Cover. Let it cook over a medium flame till the gravy thickens.

Eat with rice and boiled/salt-potatoes.

And then, exhausted by all the cooking, this is what we did during dinner, plates on our laps. The desserts, alas, are from Dunkin' Donuts. Even we know better than to try make our own donuts. Why waste effort worth 69 cents?

Better Than Chocolate (buttery nutty brownies)

Hee hee hee. I can barely hide my glee. First attempt at baking, and a thumping success. However, since my camera batteries were blinking red I couldn't take pictures.

Extremely buttery nutty (chocolately) thingummies ahoy!

1. Lots of butter--500gms, easy (that's about three sticks).
2. All purpose flour, sifted.
3. Salt, brown sugar if you can get it or plain refined sugar if you can't. To my friend who suggested honey as a substitute, no, thank you. Why don't you try baking honey and let me know how it goes.
4. Any kind of nuts you fancy. I like chopped pecans, my baking-mate likes chopped walnuts. Some people also like dates and raisins. I hate dates, and like raisins only in polau.
5. Baking soda.
6. Eggs (three or four). Keep out of fridge for at least 40 mins before using.
7. Flavouring agent: we used vanilla essence, but plan on using cinnamon+nutmeg powder and chopped apples for our next two batches, respectively (and I don't see why one couldn't use apples and cinnamon and nutmeg in the same batch).

If you want chocolate brownies: use no other flavouring agent. You could go with either cocoa or cooking chocolate, and I suggest going with bars of cooking chocolate, melted over a low slow flame, and added to the batter after step 4 in 'Batter' below.

The Batter:
1. Melt butter over a low-medium flame so that it doesn't acquire that charred smell. Cool, but don't let resolidify.
2. In the cool liquid butter, frisk in the brown sugar (keep adding till it's sweet enough, should take about 1.5-2 cups). Frisk till completely dissolved.
3. Add eggs, one by one. Fold each egg in well before adding the next.
4. To the sifted flour, add salt and baking powder. Shake well together.
5. Add this flour (shouldn't be more than 2 cups) mixture to the butter, little by little. As with the eggs, fold in each little bit of mixture well before adding the next bit.
6. Whisk the thick butter+sugar+flour mixture till smooth and fluffy. Since I don't have a whisker, I use a strong wooden spatula and my own muscle-power. Nearly gave me a frozen shoulder and dead elbows.
7. Add the flavouring agent and give a final few whisks.
8. Now shake a little flour into the chopped nuts and things. Add them to the butter mixture. Again, mix well.

1. Preheat the oven at about 350 F for ten minutes or so.
2. Grease the baking pan (I don't even know the measurements of my baking pan. If I need smaller pans in the future, I shall buy use-and-throw aluminium ones from the shop) with butter. I scrape the butter sticking to the butter-wrap, because I'm cheap. I also save on butter a little by using canola/sunflower oil to grease the pan. My greatuncle the amateur baker used to use greased brown paper.
3. Now fill the pan with batter, but make sure to leave at least two inches at the top for the batter to rise. In other words, do not fill the pan with batter to the brim.
4. Pop into the oven for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, dip a fork into the centre. It it meets little resistance and comes out covered with goo, you're not done yet. Pop back in for another 5 minutes. Keep doing this in a loop till the fork comes out clean, with only a few bits of crumbs sticking to it.
5. Let it cool completely before cutting. Gobbling it straight out of the oven will burn your tongues for the next week (and I speak from experience).

'appy bakin' :D

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Noodles + superquick sauce

I keep trying to recreate the deliciousness of greasy pan-fried chowmein from back home, and fail miserably every time (fried pasta tastes awful). Still, if for a moment I can make myself forget the flavour of thin Chinatown noodles stir-fried with chopped onions and green chillies and shallots and carrots and pieces of chicken and prawn and thick chillie sauce and mmmm... if manage to forget all of that, I mean, then I find that the stuff I make is actually not half bad. By foreign standards, of course (insert obligatory snooty remark about foreign food). Half the trick of enjoying cooking in foreign shores is to make yourself forget what food tasted like back home. And I try. God knows I try. And here's the product of said trying.

1. Noodles: long egg noodles--needs to be boiled and then washed under cold tap water.
Japanese noodles--ditto.
Bean-starch noodles--soaked in hot water for a few minutes and then drained.
Plain old chowmein in Rs. 8 packets--boiled and washed under tap water.

2. Thick soy sauce.
3. Shallots or pNyeajkoli, washed and chopped (I also use finely diced green/yellow onions).
4. A little sugar, salt (flavoured salt is a good idea).
5. Garlic, minced (I toast my garlic on a tawa/flat bottomed pan because I don't like the taste of raw garlic, but you might. Give it a go).
6. Seasame oil, or, if unavailable, plain sunflower/canola oil.
7. Rice wine vinegar--optional. If you like a slightly sour tang.
8. Oyester sauce OR chillie sauce--the first is completely optional. I've used it just once and never again. I like the latter though.
8. Green chillies--also optional, but I use green chillies in everything. I'm Bengali that way.
9. Chillie flakes--yes, I use chillie flakes and green chillies and chillie sauce together, because what the hell.

Making the sauce:
1. Pour some soya sauce in a bowl. If using oyester or chillie sauce, first mix a little soya and the other to see how it tastes. If it tastes fine, add the oyester sauce and blend well.
2. Taste to see if the soya sauce (or the mixture of sauces) is sweet (some are). Add sugar accordingly. Add salt. Mix well. The mixing may take some patience, but it won't do to leave a layer of salt and sugar lying at the bottom. Taste again and adjust salt/sugar/sauce as required. 3. If it has mixed well, add the minced garlic. Cover and let it stand for about an hour.
4. During the same hour, let finely chopped green chillies stand in a small amount of rice wine/plain old vinegar. With a spatula or spoon, squash the garlic and chillies into their respective sauces before covering the bowls.
5. At the end of the hour, add the hot vinegar to the soya sauce. Blend well. Taste to see if there's something you could add. Voila! Sauce all done.

Boil/soak the noodles. If boiling, add noodles only AFTER the water has started boiling. Keep poking with a fork to make sure they don't overcook and become a soft gooey mess. When done, wash both kinds under running cold water and then let them drain in a colander, drainer, whatever you've got. When completely drained, toss it with seasame or canola/sunflower oil and chopped shallots (and onions, if you're using them). You can add chillie flakes and a tiny little bit of salt to add flavour.

Final step:
Take the amount of noodles you want. Pour as much sauce as you like. Mix well with your fork or chopstick. Add a little crushed pepper if it isn't spicy enough. Eat.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

The perfect mashed potatoes

I was astonished to hear last week that people didn't know--well, some people didn't know--how to make mashed potatoes. In fact, the person who disclosed this to me was under the impression boiling potatoes and mashing them with your fork = mashed potatoes, and didn't understand what the fuss about them was. Well! Here's how one makes *proper* mashed potatoes, or the kind of mashies that taste wonderful, anyway.

Potatoes, peeled and diced (see picture).
Milk (preferably whole).
Salt (I use standard flavoured salt here, but if I
were at home I'd use plain iodised salt).

How to:
Wash the starch off the diced potatoes and put them in a pan with about an inch of water topping them, and set to boil. Cover, because they cook faster in the steam. After a few minutes put a fork through all the pieces to make sure the entire batch is soft and boiled. Drain. Now, using a fork or a mashing-thing, mash the potatoes. You can transfer them to a bowl before mashing if you like, but I don't bother, because it means more washing-up later.

Now, when the potates have been roughly mashed into a lumpy mass, add a dollop of butter. Blend this in well. Taste. If it isn't buttery enough, add more butter, and a little milk. Use your own discretion about the milk. Some people like their mashed potatoes tight and on the drier side, some people don't mind it moist. Blend in well, really giving the mashing-thing a go. The potatoes should no longer be lumpy, but a smooth melt-in-the-mouth mass.

Finally, add the salt and blend this in well to. I always add a smaller amount of salt than I think I will need, because you can always add salt after but you can't take added salt away. If you're heavy handed with salt, make sure you keep one or two diced pieces of potatoes aside. Mix them in only if the final mashies have too much salt. Sometimes though, even that won't cure the extra saltiness. So just be careful.

Yum! Buttery goodness!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

That egg-batter thing

My mum, never ecstatic in the kitchen, was blessed in that she had completely non-fussy eaters in the hubby and child. However, as small rewards for not making trouble at dinner, she would whip up little treats for us every now and then (which is to say, fairly often). They were mostly uncomplicated, easy-to-make things that no one bothered giving a name to, and were yum. Especially if you have a taste for the crisply fried. Here's one of our favourites, with my nips and tucks.

1. Eggs:People = 2:1.
2. Red onions, peeled and reasonably finely chopped. Don't make them so thin that they're transparent. Not making a fancy salad here.
3. Green chillies (kNachalonka), chopped. Don't substitute with green peppers (capsicum). Really, they're not the same thing.
4. All purpose flour/moida.
5. Tomatoes--chopped into very small pieces and cleaned completely of the soggy bits. The final pieces should be dry to the touch.
6. Fresh ginger, skinned and chopped to tiny pieces.
7. Rimi's addition--sharp chedder cheese, cut into small thin slices or shredded. Also, if you like, chopped or hand-shredded cold cuts or left-over roast/curried chicken. Do not use uncooked meat.
8. Milk, a tiny little bit. About two tablespoons.
9. Salt, pepper.
10. Oil/butter to fry.

Keep the eggs out of the fridge for at least forty minutes before cooking them in any way. And when I say "keep them out for forty minutes" I do NOT mean take them out of the fridge and pop them into the microwave for two minutes and they're ready to go.

Whisk room-temp. eggs well. Once fluffy, add milk, chopped onions, green chillies, ginger and a little salt, and whisk some more. When the egg+veg+milk+salt is fluffy again, add a small fistful of flour (don't kill this with whole wheat, please), whisking all the time so the flour folds in well with the rest of the batter.

Meanwhile, heat oil/butter in a frying pan. Spread the oil/butter so all the base is well-greased and about half an centimeter of the sides as well. If the sides aren't greased the batter tends to stick to it.

Drop a little batter into the oil to see it if sizzles. If it does, turn the flame to low immediately (or the oil will reach burning temperature and there goes you dinner) and pour the batter in, covering as much surface as you can. A circular motion of the wrist as you slowly pour the batter in is always useful.

Now hold the pan firmly and swill the batter inside it so it's spread out even more evenly. Turn the flame up to medium-low, and lift one of the corners of the frying batter with a spatula to see if the other side is turning golden brown. From here you can go two ways: either fry this circle of batter well, one side then the other, and skip straight to serving, or continue to the next step. My mum used to do the former.

Once the side lying on the pan turns golden brown, turn the flame down again and evenly cover one half of the batter-circle with the cheese. It shouldn't be a thick layer or it will ooze and stick to the pan and be generally unpleasant. Add the meats too, if you have them. Remember to leave a margin along the edge of the half circle--the cheese and meats shouldn't be falling over the edges onto the pan.

Now with the spatula lift the non-covered half and place it carefully over the covered half, so that the entire thing resembles a bulgy half-moon. Press the edges of the non-covered half to the edges of the covered half, sealing the cheese and meats in. If you want to be sure of your sealing, you can use a blunt butter knife (I use the spatula) to fold the joined edge in on itself and press it down.

Now the turn heat up just a little and turn the whole thing over. The other side should be nicely goldened by now. If this... thing looks like it's charring, add more oil or butter. After sometime push a fork inside the half-moon to see if uncooked batter sticks to it. Keep flipping sides till the inside is well cooked.

Serve, if taste allows, garnished with lemon juice and a little salt. I used to eat it with thick yellowish-brown Chinatown chillie sauce, I remember :-)

Pasta sauce (tomato-garlic-meat)

Fittingly, the first post on Sauce (The Food Blog)--and hopefully the only post on the subject--is a recipe for a basic spicy tomato sauce to pour over your pasta. I don't actually much like pasta, or tomato based sauces, for that matter, but I have to admit they make a convenient meal. Plus, the sauce can be made in batches and stored in glass jars of plastic bowls with tight lids (which is what I do). Given half a chance, though, I'd make myself some good Indian-Chinese style chowmein with the killing ajinamoto seasoning. Yum yum! Pasta, alas, makes bloody awful chowmein substitute.

Anyway. Ingredients:

1. A jar of tomato-basil or tomato-garlic ready-to-eat pasta sauce OR a tin of peeled preserved tomatoes OR about ten medium-sized thoroughly washed and cleaned dishi tomatoes.
2. Peeled and crushed garlic, as many as you like (I like at least ten Indian or six American cloves).
3. Chillie flakes OR chopped dry red chillies (shukno lonka).
4. Salt, sugar, ground pepper.
5. 2 large onions, peeled and roughly (if you want your sauce to be chunky) or finely (if you don't) chopped. If in America, please use just one large red onion. It will be quite enough.
6. Vegetable or canola/rapeseed or sunflower oil. I'm sure most people would prefer olive, however, this is a blog for the financially challenged.

1. Oregano and fresh basil (tulshi leaves).
2. Meatballs/boneless pieces of meat/sausages.
3. Parmesan to garnish.

How to do eet:
1. If using tinned or whole tomatoes, chop them into little pieces. The better chopped, the more easily they will integrate. But if completely minced, they won't have time to acquire the fried flavour before disintegtrating into a semi-solid mass.
2. Heat oil in a spacious saucepan or wok. Add the onions and stir fry till they turn transparent and begin to smell (of lightly fried onions). Add the crushed garlic--and even if you have a garlic crusher, I prefer adding the actual garlic as well as the juice--and keep frying over a low-medium flame. It should be smelling quite delicious in about a minute or so. The onions should also be turning caramel brown.
3. If using whole or tinned tomatoes, add them now, turn up the heat to medium, and continue to fry. If adding ready-made sauce only, wait for the onions and garlic to be better fried (about one more minute).
4. Once the tomatoes are well fried (they will have let most of their water out by now, so there should a shallow broth in the pan), add the chopped basil, stir fry for about twenty seconds, and then add water. If adding only sauce, pour the whole jar before adding water, and mix well with onions and garlic.
5. Add salt, sugar and pepper. Stir the pan gently but well, folding all ingredients in thoroughly. Turn the flame up to medium-high and cover the pan. Make sure you've added enough water to keep the pan from charring and leaving you with one hell of a wash-up.

(Meat Intervention) if using meatballs or sausages, fry them well--and I mean well, no pink meat should be visible anywhere, then chope the sausages into as large or small pieces as you want (the meatballs will disintegrate by themselves in the sauce, no chopping required). If using pieces of meat, make sure they have been marinated in lemon juice and salt for at least an hour (I prefer three) before chopping them into tiny pieces and frying them well too. Drain all fried meat and keep aside (end meat intervention).

6. Check back after about fifteen minutes. The sauce will very likely still be watery and will need some more boiling BUT, this is the time when you liberally (or not so liberally) layer the top of the sauce with chillie flakes/chopped shukno lonka and then fold it in well. Adding shukno lonka later adds that special bite to the sauce.
7. Add fried and drained meat. Fold in well. Sprinkle oregano on top. Fold in well again.
8. Cover and let it cook on medium-low for as long as it takes. I prefer a lower flame because that softens the meat and mixes the flavour better, but you may not have the time.
9. In the meanwhile, bring water to a boil. Add pasta. Cook till however well done you like your pasta. Drain the pasta on a colandar, chaalni, drainer. Let it stay that way while the sauce is being cooked. Flip it occasionally with a fork to make sure it doesn't get soggy inside.
10. Serve with a sprinkling of grated parmesan on top.