Drumsticks in November

It is awfully silent in here, isn’t it?

I do not want to start off with an apology, considering the numerous times I have in the past following months of shamelessly ignoring my blog. Instead, let me start off with a happy ‘Hi!’ and ‘How have you been?!’

I took this picture below a day before I was leaving Nottingham. It was a quiet day, even when I was silently rushing through the empty three-storey house trying to gather my things and pack for India. I hadn’t had any sleep for about 48 hours at the time and my head was buzzing with thoughts of caffeine and home. I couldn’t wait to be home. I’ve gifted that scarf to a friend of mine and I don’t think I’ll ever forgot how my room looked at dusk and the loud whirr of the oven in the kitchen downstairs.

I, in a matter of speaking, have been great. In spite of a few ups and downs, loss of a friend and a family member, in spite of emotions hurtling through the roof and dropping to rocky depths, I have been well. Through food.

I’ve eaten and eaten away happily through the last two months. And yes, I admit to a few pounds that I’ve gained which are, to my despair, extremely visible.

But am I going to give up a chocolate-pistachio cube from Flurys’ glass box of pastries that looks like it was dropped off a delivery truck headed straight from some Pastry Paradise? Not till my teeth rot and die.

The last two months were that time of the year, when there’s a whiff of nostalgia in the air and a rush of festivities that keep you in a constant state of intoxication. It’s almost winter, but autumn is holding on for dear life and its still sweltering hot. You cannot keep off eating Bengali sweats (and we’re GOOD at it), you cannot stop yourself from splurging on that gorgeous pair of wedges or the Burberry bag, and God save you if you said ‘no’ to any of your Girls’ Day Outs. I caught up with a couple of old friends, one of whom shares my passion for multiplex chicken sandwiches (yes, sometimes I have unbelievably cheap taste). I also made a new friend, blissfully someone who knows all the yummy eateries in Kolkata (that’s right, I’ve spent 18 years in the city and can only come up with five or six good places…not anymore though). It is also that time of the year, when you very quickly start feeling guilty about your work and how you’ve been indulging yourself too much, which automatically leads to a nagging little voice at the back of your head that bombards you with questions like “Shouldn’t you be looking for a job now that you’re done with masters?” or something like “Umm…will you be taking care of that ungainly paunch anytime soon?” And all that, my love, is not good for your appetite.

However, I’m going to be honest and say that I missed all of it last year, busy with course work and have been thanking all my Gods that I got to spend the last couple of months with my family this year. Happy Autumn everyone!

No, I haven’t come empty-handed today. I have been doing a wee bit of cooking, although I am ashamed to admit that it hasn’t really been the all-pots-and-pans-on-the-counter-and-sink kind of cooking that I did back in Nottingham. That is because, things here are civilized under my mother’s watchful eyes as I work in her precious kitchen. I do have spicy drumsticks on a grill pan with extra juices to mop up with some seed-studded bread or a bowl of lemony cous-cous. All the delight is in the caramelized skin balanced by some parsley. There is a crunch factor provided by toasted sesame seeds which offers a pleasantly different texture that is offset by the nuttiness of sesame seed oil. It’s definitely Asian, but also has a healthy touch of that quintessentially English Worcestershire sauce.

The chicken is marinated in a mixture of vegetable oil, sesame seeds, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, coriander powder, red chilli powder, rice wine vinegar, minced ginger and minced garlic. Marinating time can vary from anywhere between an hour to overnight. The drumsticks are grilled till the juices run clear; the marinade is added in the end to make a sticky, sweet and sour sauce. To add a bit of punch, lemon juice or dry mango powder can also be delightful in the marinade. Sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley and hand-cracked black pepper before serving.

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Sugar High and Tipsy

My blood sugar levels have hit the roof.

Well, no…not technically. But it seems so obvious considering the fact that I can’t come up with food that has absolutely no sugar in it (or honey,or molasses, or syrup, or…well you know the rest). And I’m not even talking about desserts.

I’m currently in a phase where I get fits everytime I see the sugar jar…and automatically give in to the temptation of dumping a spoonful of it into anything that’s stewing, or roasting, or boiling, or frying in the pan. I have started craving for sugary sweetness, which is unlike me in totality, after lunch, after dinner and even before bedtime.

Forget about being terrified of turning into my mother, I’m practically turning into all the women in my family. They love their sweets, believe me.

Now, I feel like a traitor after just blogging about how I stay away from ghee or syrup-dunked sweets. No excuse. I’ve even, to my own horror, found myself wondering how recipes are only totally and completely 100% savory, seasoned with only salt and pepper!

So, this is what the family GP had warned me about….hmmm.

And the rate at which Fauri keeps replacing the empty jar, all the while wondering where exactly was all the sugar magically disappearing to, is almost obscene.

Well, what can I say…I’m trying.

Continue reading “Sugar High and Tipsy”

Routine and Saturday Morning Chicken

Yellow Bell Pepper

Its become routine now. After six months, anybody would expect it to.

Wake up. Cook food. Nag after the maid. Take a shower. Get dressed. Talk to the Lieutenant. Rush to the office.

All the resolutions that we had made in college, that we would not be living regualr lives like our folks or other people, and get stuck in the tight clasps of “routine” have all flown out of the window.
The biggest concerns that we face now is which call to answer first on reaching the office, or which course to opt for (in relation to Post-Graduation, which is now looming like an obvious monster in the very near future).

The “tiffin wala” I had assigned to bring me stacked stainless steel boxes stuffed with saabzi, roti, rice and dal (thats veggie-curry, Indian flat breads, rice and lentil curry for everyone who’s not desi) got himself fired a long time back, almost after a month of delivering food at my doorstep at the right time. His food was tasty no doubt to most Marathis (who happened to be the bulk of his clients). Unfortunately it was spicy enough to put my mouth (and certain other parts of my body) on fire. And the curry never varied. Ever.
I understand that cooking the same curry everyday is easy and exceptionally economical from his angle, all thanks to Readymade Curry Maker. However, I found it unbearable. No offence Mr. Tiffin Wala.
I went through the same ordeal back during my college days in Baroda. I’m just not a “lunchbox” person.

The dilemma I faced, after I’d fired him, was that I had no idea where I’d get lunch from, unless I planned to order in everyday from all the eat-outs and restaurants near the vicinity of the office. The idea of oily chilli chicken, and overcooked Hyderabadi Biriyani with zero traces of “Hyderabad” in them seemed unbearable. Again.
I finally, forced myself to get into the habit of getting up early (compared to my standards…I’m not a morning person…at all) and whipping up simple dishes to pack for lunch and store in the refrigerator for re-heated-dinner purposes.
Its become routine now.

Weekend cooking requires a little amount of thought and can get tricky depending on the day. If its a Friday or Saturday, I have to go through the entire fridge checking available items and leftovers and spending time staring at them silently, trying to go over combinations in my head.
Sunday’s better, since the pantry and refrigerator is replenished with food for the whole week.
The chicken below, is a Saturday morning creation, with the last remaining yellow bell pepper.

Saturday Chicken

Chicken with Pepper and Sour Curd

What you Need:

– 2 chicken breasts, cleaned and skin ripped off

– 1 tablespoon of olive oil

– 1 yellow bell pepper (by all means, use any bell pepper, green or red, but somehow yellow has a sweet mellowness to it than the others), sliced

– 3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme

– 2-3 sprigs fresh sage

– Half a red onion, chopped

– 2 cloves of garlic, minced

– 80-100gms cherry tomatoes, halved

– Half a cup of sour curd (I used homemade, and hung it in 4 layers of cheesecloth to drain out extra liquid for a thicker texture)

– Salt and ground black pepper to taste

How-To:

– Wrap the chicken breasts between two plastic sheets and beat ’em flat, till they’re like 1/4 ” in thickness.

– Scour the surface of the chicken breats with diagonal knife cuts.

– Heat the oil in a non-stick pan. Saute the onions and garlic till golden brown.

– Add the tomatoes, bell pepper, sage and thyme and cook covered, on low heat till the pepper slices soften. This will take about 3-4 minutes.

– Add the chicken and cook till it starts to brown at the edges.

– Pour in the sour curd. Mix well and leave on low heat, covered, for 10 minutes.

– Uncover and season with salt and ground black pepper according to taste.

– Cook for another 5-10 minutes till the chiken is soft enough to slice into strips. If the dish is too dry for you, pour in half a cup of water (or chicken stock) and cook for another couple of minutes.

– Serve hot with steamed rice.

Almost Lazy Sunday

Saturday afternoon proudly declared that Sunday was going to be even more sleepy and droopy-woozy-gloopy. It was almost six in the evening and I just couldn’t wait to wrap-up all the drawings and samples and rush home to sleep through the weekend. Two feet away from me, Kunsh slept snoring softly and clutching his stick (constructed painfully out of straws) and I was surprised to find myself envying a little child.

Saturday evening went by softly, with a quick visit to one of our favorite coffee hangouts, Mocha. Fauri and I went back home excited about all the lazying around that we were sure was awaiting us.

Don’t know what went wrong, but we woke up to the doorbell. The maid.

The gardener followed in an hour. The neighbor came up for help another hour later. The watchman. The newspaper guy’s assistant. The cable guy.

So much for sleeping through Sunday.

Finally, I decided that chopping mushrooms would let out some of the irritation. And I was right.

Just the color, texture and simplicity of them got me excited and ambitious enough to cook up a complicated gourmet something…ah, well…

In the end though, I made a simple, super-easy lunch of pan-seared chicken (for me) and aloo ke parathe (for Fauri), before we headed out to catch Monsters vs. Aliens at Fun Cinemas. Very grown-up, I know.

Earlier last week, we got a mound of button mushrooms and had used up most of them in two very high-calorie batches of pasta and a mushroom risotto. And we’re still left with a small box. Well, not anymore.

Ultra-simple Chicken in Mushroom Sauce

What You Need:

– 400gms boneless chicken pieces

– three tablespoons of vegetable oil to fry

– 150gms button mushrooms , sliced or chopped (I prefer, sliced)

– 3 medium-sized scallions, chopped finely or pureed (pureed scallions obviously make the sauce smoother)

– 8-9 cloves of garlic, smashed with a side of your knife

– 1 tablespoon of whole peppercorns

– Half a teaspoon of dry basil

– Half a teaspoon of chili flakes (depends on how hot you like it)

– 1 bay leaf

– Quarter cup of white wine

– Half a cup of fresh cream

– Salt, pepper and sugar, to taste

– Half a cup of chicken stock or water, this is optional, depending on the kind of consistency you want your sauce to have.

– Chopped cilantro leaves to garnish

How-To:

Heat oil and sear the chicken till brown. Do this in batches, depending on the size of your pan/skillet.

– Remove from the pan. In the remaining oil, add the chopped scallions, garlic, bay leaf and peppercorns and saute till soft and translucent. Alternatively, if you’ve pureed the scallions, saute the garlic, bay leaf and peppercorns for about a minute on high heat and then add the puree and cook till the mixture turns slightly golden brown.

– Add the mushroom. Lower the heat, cover and cook till the mushrooms become spongy.

– Add the white wine and basil.

– Wait till the alcohol evaporates. Then add the cream and ultimately season with salt, sugar and pepper to taste.

– Cover and cook till the mixture comes to a boil.

– Add this point, is the sauce seems too thick, add half a cup of chicken stock or just plain water,or more till you get the consistency you like. Cook for another 5-10 minutes.

– Add in the seared chicken pieces and toss lightly.

– Take it off the heat. Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve with steamed rice.

Foram’s parathas were a little more spicy than I would have liked them to be….but yummy all the same!

The Potato filling:

Peel and boil a couple of big potatoes. Mash them when cool. Heat a little oil in a skillet. Fry chopped red onions with ginger-garlic paste. Add in the potatoes and season.

Meanwhile mix water and flour together to form a soft and springy dough. Divide in equal-sized balls. Roll out in circles. Place a handful of potato filling in the middle. Wrap the edges of the rolled out dough on top of the filling. And carefully roll out the stuffed ball again.

Heat a little oil in a flat pan (tava) and place one of the stuffed parathas on it. Turn about a minute later till both sides are golden brown and the flour is cooked thtough. Serve hot with mint chutney or chilled cucumber raita.

Overloaded Dinner and an Introduction

There are those days when I just have to whip up lunch in a jiffy and stuff it into a box to carry to office…that’s almost everyday.

And then there are those days when you feel like taking time and concoct something wonderful and complicated and feel chef-like! Well, almost chef-like.

My current sous-chef, by the virtue of being half-vegetarian (I’ll come to the “half-vegetarian” part later) insisted on a mushrom and spinach risotto for dinner yesterday, whereas I felt like c-h-i-c-k-e-n.

Nothing new there.

So we settled on both, shared the chores and all the chopping and peeling went to her.

The risotto has white wine (but obvious) in it and turned out slightly spicy for my taste and totally-not-hot for my sous-chef.

The chicken has a poppy-seed crust, needs no egg or buttermilk or bread crumbs or flour……and is shallow fried.

That’s right, you heard me — shallow fried, in just a couple of tablespoons of veggie oil.
Spinach and Mushroom Risotto

What You Need:
– 1 cup of rice
– 3 tablespoons of olive oil
– 6 big garlic cloves, crushed
– 3 Spanish onions, chopped finely
– a sprig of rosemary
– 1 cup of portobello mushrooms, sliced (a nice and stronger-tasting alternative would be porcini)
– 1 cup of chopped spinach
– Half a teaspoon of dried basil
– 1 teaspoon of chilli flakes (epends on how hot you like your food)
– Half a cup of chopped black olives
– Half a cup of white wine
– Salt and pepper to taste

How to:
– Heat oil in a pan.
– Add the garlic, rosemary and onions and cook on medium heat till the onions turn glossy and translucent.
– Add in the spinach, mushrooms, olives, chilli flakes and dried basil. Cover and cook on low heat for two minutes or till the mushrooms are soaked through with oil.
– Add the rice and stir well to mix.
– Pour in the wine and cook till all of it absorbed by the rice.
– Add salt and pepper to taste.
– Pour water at regular intervals to cook the rice.
I added 1 cup of water and let it cook till it was absorbed by the rice, before adding the next cup. I needed two cps of water.

– Continue this process till the rice is cooked through and the risotto has a sticky (but not gummy) consistency.

– Do a taste check and adjust salt and pepper accordingly.
– Garnish with chopped cilantro or parsley leaves.

Poppy-seed Crusted Chicken

What you need:
– I cooked for two, so I used two chicken breasts
– Oil to shallow fry (I used about 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil)

for the marinade:

– 4 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
– 1 tablespoon of ginger-garlic paste

for the crust:

– Half cup of poppy seeds
– Half a tablespoon of cayenne pepper
– 1 teaspoon of dry mango powder
– 1 teaspoon of coriander powder
– 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
– salt and pepper to taste

How To:
– To prepare the chicken breasts, put them between plastic sheets/wraps (or cheesecloth works well too) and beat with a rolling pin to flatten them into 1/2 inch thick steaks.
– Marinate them in a mixture of apple cider vinegar and ginger-garlic paste for two hours n the refrigerator (if you don’t have two hours, fifteen minutes of marination will do just fine. The two hour marination just softens the chicken a little more)
– Mix the dry coating ingredients and spread evenly on a flat surface.
– Lay out the chicken fillets on this mixture. Drag through it to coat well on both sides.
– Heat oil in a frying pan. (You need super-hot oil in a super-hot pan)
– Turn the heat to low, and shallow fry the fillets, flipping them in intervals. It takes about 3-4 minutes for each side. (I kept flipping every minute and a half to prevent the crust from sticking to the surface of the pan).
– Fry till golden brown.
– Serve with a side of tomato-cucumber-dill salad, or a salsa dip….or better yet, just do what we did…eat it with the risotto….

Bon apetite!

I”ll leave you with a random snap of me and my “sous-chef”, in the lift. She also happens to be my room-mate, classmate from University, best friend for the last six years, super-efficient help in the kitchen, excellent in ruthlessly judging me, a kind soul who lets me borrow her T-shirts…and I repay her by stretching them out of shape.

She’s originally vegetarian. Has been all her life, till she met me.

She spent the first year of our friendship by getting accustomed to my non-veg habits. The second year was spent in tasting, I repeat…tasting, various preparations of chicken. Six years later and she can eat any chicken dish without batting an eyelash (though she says she prefers not to), but has managed to refrain herself from turning into a full-fledged carnivore.

Ladies and gentlemen…(drumroll)….Foram Vakani.