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.

The 189

189

Dear Ma,

I’ve reached safely. Sort of sorry that its taken me a whole of three weeks to let you know. This letter follows up with more.

The journey uptil Birmingham was comfortable and I made the mistake of imagining that every thing would go smoothly further on. Its me, Ma…can anything be right?

Nothing much went wrong though, except that I got lost.

Boarded the wrong bus, got off at the wrong bus stop and was almost heading towards the wrong city. I managed. You taught me well.

What I did learn from the incident though, was that bus drivers in the East Midlands are possibly the most helpful people on the face of the planet and people here in general are frightfully polite and impossibly patient. Can you imagine me starting and ending each and every utterable sentence with ‘thank you’s and generously scattering a few ‘please’s in between words? All those years you spent patiently correcting my tongue, has finally paid off. I don’t know how long it’ll be before I burst into colorful linguistics in the middle of a conversation. I’ll let you know when that happens.

I also learnt that its perfectly normal for a strange, balding 45-year old man in a fluorescent uniform to utter the words “Last stop, love!”, with me in his mind.

Rows of sloped-roofed brick houses, a chilly bite in the air, cheerful old ladies in cardigans with checked shopping carts and unmistakable accents.

After three tumultuous weeks, I have finally been able to settle down a wee bit. A wee bit.

Moving into the house had been easy, not without a slight hitch concerning the wrong code to the keyhold. I’m garaged in the 189 on Station Road.

Meeting my housemates was even easier and much more fun, considering the fact that we’re a group of four including a German, a Vietnamese, an Italian and me, of course. We’ve already been out on ‘pub-night’ and Guiness won the day. I’ve already done some cooking with it, by the way…a sumptious lamb stew, that left a characteristic bitter taste in my mouth — I think I still need to get used to the concepts surrounding slow-cooking and roasting. But I did oven up a batch of slightly-burned and juicy breasts of chicken, smothered in olive oil and herbs….they came out with extra-crispy, extra-dark and extra-salty skins. Not sure I’ll be making that anytime soon. I did try Alejandra’s chestnut-bacon-green apple soup too….bursting with flavor. Donata (German, if you please), has started swearing by it.

But what I will be making soon….at least, I’ve started  researching it, if you can believe that…is a pork and ham pie. Its spiffingly marvelous!

The all-covering pastry crust is wonderfully crunchy against the salty pork filling and jelly. And I like it cold. And yes, I’ve added a few inches to my hips too. What? Don’t look at me like that!

Pork and Ham PieThe first thing that grabbed me when I took the bus (the right one) to the University, was the size of the campus. You can walk yourself to death, honestly and you still won’t be able to cover the whole thing. And if you’re in heels (like I was) then don’t even try. Apart from that, Nottingham is downright beautiful. The cite centre reeks of party hubs, fish n chips and a large gong that chimes to the tune of the Big Ben. No doubt, the city’s much quieter than London…and more studious in a way.

We’ve already had a social trip to London, where we trailed behind Prof Lau….and no, I could’nt go down to Battersea, unfortunately (since we were busy loitering around the Bridge for quite a large part of the day).

me_barbican

I’ve made friends from 9 different countries, I’ve already worked with a group of them, I’ve been quick to discover the nearest Hindu temple, have found myself knee deep in post-grad shit (sorry) and haven’t been able to get myself a decent amount of Indian spices. Don’t give me that eye again, I plan to do that very soon.

And yes, you read that right….9 different countries, not many Indian spices in the kitchen yet.

More interestingly, I have come across a seafood pasta dish that I want to tell you about.

Its not utterly special or anything, but the simplicity of it made me wonder why I hadn’t tried it before. It comes from Hana, my surprisingly Vietnamese housemate, and the dish itself made Stefan, the oh-so-Italian, smile and slurp up every last morsel of it.

hana

sphagetti salmon

Spaghetti with stir-fried Salmon and Portobello Mushrooms

Ingredients:

  • 2 salmon fillets cut up into bite-sized chunks (no bones or skins please)
  • Half a cup of chopped portobello mushrooms (I prefer them quartered for a more robust flavor)
  • 1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce
  • 2 smallish spring onions, chopped finely
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic, smashed
  • Spaghetti – 2 portions (the size of these may vary according to who would be eating)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil to fry
  • Chopped parsley to garnish with

How-to:

  • Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet, and save 2 tablespoons of the starch water the paste boils in, before draining teh rest of.
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the garlic and onions and fry till translucent and soft.
  • Add the mushrooms and saute for three minutes on medium heat, before adding in the salmon and soy sauce.
  • Cook the salmon till the pices start losing the pink color. We want light pink though, not white.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste and pour in the starchy water along with the drained pasta. Toss everything toether for a minute.
  • Serve with sprinkles of parsley on top.

salmon spaghetti

I hope you and Dad enjoy this one. The salmon melts in your mouth really…oh, the Scottish salmon, rather. 🙂

I’ll leave you now to get back to my daily run to the Library.

Lots of love,

Amrita

P.S.:- Shreya’s invited me to Milan for Christmas and now I don’t know whether I’ll be spending it there or at Cardiff! Will let you know!

An Old Friend

Being completely honest would help here, I think. I might be a raging carnivore, but I have a strange relationship with potatoes.

They feature in every one of my happy memories. From home, hostel, college and now. (It really has nothing to do with how I’m surrounded by resolute but tolerant vegetarians.)

I don’t need to tell anyone how staple this vegetable happens to be and how frequently and purposefully it is a part of Indian cuisine. Fish curries and mutton patties. Grated and deep-fried to perfection. Aloo dum and aloo pakoras. Sauteed with cumin and coriander or curried with peas in a tomato gravy. Well, the list goes on for miles.

Back home (Kolkata), potatoes are a must in most fish curries. Most.

A very spicy potato curry (which was more water than vegetables) was one of the very first things I learnt to cook. Nobody ate it. It was too spicy. My first try at making fries at home was a disaster too. I was stingy with the vegetable oil and was left with brown curled-up wedges which would disintegrate into ash-like substances on touch. I know.

I continued to be in love with potatoes, and never got tired of trying something new with them, burnt pots and pans aside. My friends and I spent Holi every year roasting purple sweet potatoes on an open-fire till their skins burst open revealing deliciously sweet, meaty insides. Just a sprinkle of salt and we would settle down munching contentedly. My brother and I still go crazy about breakfasts which would include Mum’s famous “french fries’ sandwiches” – just deep-fried potato wedges with turmeric and salt, fried till golden, with a sprinkle of chaat masala on top, sandwiched between two pieces of generously buttered white bread! We have a name for it — Heaven.

I just don’t like looking at them. They somehow, in a very sarcastic manner, seem to remind me of…me.
I don’t know…maybe its the shape, or the skin….or maybe even the green stuff that grows on the older ones.

And now, I’ve started hiding behind them literally. I use them to mask a badly made dish. I run to something potato when I need something quick to feed seven hungry mouths within a short notice. I serve a side of it when I doubt the sufficiency of available cooked rice. Baked in their jackets, boiled and cooled and pealed in peace, golden fried in sesame oil or mashed up, potatoes will always have a special place in my life.

The weather in Mumbai has been a let down for quite sometime now. Humid and irritatingly hot. We’re still waiting for the rains to bring in the smell of freshly wet earth, lush greens and the characteristic nip in the air. And waiting for my brother’s arrival. His finals took a toll on him and he’s dropping by to vacation in Mumbai. My precious stash of chocolates is in danger. And I’m not even thinking of  how much fruit I’ve to buy.

He also happens to be very fond of potato wedges in a hot chili-garlic sauce.

chili garlic potato

Chilli Garlic Potatoes

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 medium-sized potatoes, sliced into wedges
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of sesame oil
  • 4 big cloves of garlic, chopped
  • Half a ginger, slivered
  • 2 tablespoons of dark soy
  • 2 tablespoons of red chili sauce
  • 1 whole green chili, deseeded (slit the chili and scrape out the seeds, but leave ’em in if you want the dish to be super spicy)
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato puree (you could use tomato ketchup which would add a little sweetness to the dish)
  • 1 tablespoon of Chinese rice wine vinegar (any other type will do too, honestly)
  • 1 teaspoon of brown sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Chopped coriander to garnish (optional)

How-To:

  • Heat 2 tablespoons of sesame oil in a wok.
  • Add the garlic, ginger, slit green chili and onions and fry on high heat till the onions start to brown at the edges.
  • Add the potatoes and toss to coat well with the oil.
  • Reduce heat to low and cook for a minute.
  • Meanwhile mix the soy, chili sauce, tomato puree (or ketchup), vinegar and sugar in a small bowl. Stir till the sugar dissolves.
  • Add this mixture to the potatoes. Toss well. Conduct a taste check and season accordingly with salt and pepper.
  • Cook covered, on low heat till the potatoes are cooked through, soft and can be cut in half easily with a fork.
  • Garnish with freshly chopped coriander, sprinkle freshly ground pepper on top and serve.

chili garlic potatoes

Disaster and dessert later

Ok, I’m done.

No, really. I’m close to giving up. Learning how to cook, I mean.

(And yeah, I’m still learning…I haven’t baked any cinnamon rolls yet, or barbequed chicken or anything….)

A heated up kitchen, the smell of fish defrosting, one huge kitchen knife and a fork.

I spent quite a significant part of Friday evening trying to slice fish evenly, to make fish chiplets. And ended up at my wits’ end and hurling profanity at the poor fillet.

And I only learnt to boil water a little more than a year back. I mean, c’mawn!

Remember the Ghol fillets I got last week, and I had kept one of those aside to make cakes? Well, I got it out and behaved like myself, that is, I got bored to wait around letting it defrost. I dunked it in simmering water till it was workable….or so I thought it would be. Ignorant and a sad lazy-ass, that’s what I am. Armed with a knife too dull and a flimsy fork, I set on cutting thin finger-like pieces from the monster of a fillet. Why does it have to be so damn big!

By the end of it, profanities aside, I slumped on the couch drenched in sweat and fishy water and made up my mind to forget all about cooking, food, recipes and all the stupid hoopla I’ve been doing since last year over them.

A little while, notched up air-conditioning and a few scenes from Charlie’s Angels later, I was reluctantly ready to go back to frying the damn chiplets. I’m decidedly not sharing the recipe with you, because its beyond worse and a total mood-kill. I tried salvaging the rest of my Friday by eating panna cotta.

OK, I have to confess – I’m not a big fan of panna cotta. Mostly because I’m not comfortable with gelatin. I get this weird feeling every time I have to use it in some jelly or panna cotta recipe, that I’m taking a shortcut. Shortcut from what, don’t ask. Its like you add gelatin and it sets. No technique, not much physical effort, no timing or rules, like its a magic ingredient.

White Chocolate and Mint Panna Cotta

I still prefer the dark-chocolate and mint combination. Always refreshing and surprising every time. White-chocolate has never been my style, although change is good.

Continue reading “Disaster and dessert later”

Fish : a new one

 

I grew up Bengali.

Having fish for lunch and dinner, prefering rice over roti, fond of monsoon and very unlike a Bengali, running at the mention of sweets packed in khoya or paneer and deep-fried in ghee. Bengalis love their sweets. Period.

I’m still fond of monsoon…especially the extra-stormy ones. And I’d choose rice over roti anyday.

I still run at the mention of “ghee”.

And I’m still totally fishy.

Uh, ok….that didn’t come out right. What I mean is, I still slobber at the thought of fish (or any kind of seafood for that matter)…any kind. Salmon, Hilsa, Cod, Pomfret especially.

I reached the Sunday market early to get a load of fresh fish. Wasn’t disappointed.

Continue reading “Fish : a new one”

What the fudge…?!?!

terrace_floor

The first droplets of rain in Mumbai, left streaks across the tiled terrace floor, almost washing away the dirt my gardener leaves behind every alternate afternoon. You could hardly call it “rainfall” since the drizzle was nothing compared to what Mumbai usually faces.

We’re all gearing up for the washout due 23rd or 24th of the next month. How lovely.

Meanwhile, I’m getting deliciously absent-minded, day by day.

I released the wrong set of drawings to the wrong consultant yesterday and then made his assistant drive back to the office and collect the right set. Not to mention the madness with which I cursed at myself while he was paying full attention to my instructions. His spectacles almost fell off the edge of his nose, I swear.

I typed a fantastically raunchy text message meant for the Lieutenant and then sent it to his best friend. Don’t ask me how that happened. I’m only thankful that M. is a very understanding guy and wasn’t really scandalized by the message.

I got inspired by the new book on chocolate that I bought and decided to try out the orangette recipe….I know, I know its technically not orange-season in India, but the tangy green ones are out. I just couldn’t help it.

It was destined to get all fucked fudged up really. Sorry Mom.

And hurriedly read through the directions, and instead of letting the peel strips cool in the sugar solution for 6 hours, I strained them out and left them in the open. By the time I came back from office, red ants were yelling out “Thank You Amrita!”

I know, I’m smart.

And if you’re wondering, then no, green peels don’t work as well as orange ones…they’re just not as sweet or easy.

Continue reading “What the fudge…?!?!”

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.