Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Food Revolution Ambassador Monthly Challenge: November 2014

Hello lovely people. It is that time of the month when I get to share the monthly challenges that we as Food Revolution Ambassadors aspire to do. 

October Challenges. Check. 
November Challenges. Check. 
Double whoa.

(I had so much fun attempting the October challenges, read my experiences here and jump right here to read how my tryst with making pasta from scratch made the entire world conspire in helping me mastering fresh pasta

If you are new here: At the beginning of each month the challenges are announced. These challenges are for inspiring the entire team and to make deeper connections with everyone (fellow food ambassadors, friends and family, anyone who wants to be a part of this challenge too), share our stories , whether we failed or conquered and more. The idea is to complete as many challenges as one can.

Challenge One: Slow Cooking! We live in a fast food world, but this month we’re asking you to slow things down, try out and share your slow cooked food recipes with us. 

I agree we are all pressed for time. There are household responsibilities that we can't look away from, children who we want to do everything for, work where we need to show up each morning, interests and passions that I think everyone in life needs to develop for sanity and give meaning to our lives and more. In between all this we need to feed our tummies. Feeding our souls isn't enough. So we begin to look for shortcuts in the kitchen and rightly so. Frozen peas, ready to roll out pastry, tomato purees all become our friends. They help us put a meal on table in under thirty minutes.

But sometimes it is nice to slow down things. Endlessly stirring that pot of risotto with music in the background is my favourite thing to do when the mind needs some calm. Have you tried it? Getting the oven ready to dry tomatoes that will be used across meals is another. The oven does the work here, slowly; while we get to enjoy the results.

The pleasant weather here at Dubai called for a slow cooked lamb and date tagine. I cooked it in pomegranate juice with mejdool dates for company. It was slowcooked and after three hours of being on low heat it was exactly what I had imagined; rich, sweet and sour. Tender too. We had it with spiced couscous sprinkled with generous quantities of dried barberries and an onion and pomegranate relish.

Challenge Two: N is for November, and nectarines, and nutmeg… we want to see your recipes for dishes beginning with the letter N or using ingredients with the letter N. 

A for Apple, B for Ball, C for Cat and D for Dog. This challenge for it took me back to my kindergarten class. Wasn't singing the alphabet a lot of fun? Only this time it was double the fun for it we were singing food. Sara and I often play this game at home and in the past I have had the kids loving this exercise in some of my food workshops when asked to name fruits and vegetables for each alphabet. So I decided to play this challenge with Sara.  N was a tough one for. She stopped at Nectarine. That is when I gave her a hint. Who do you like watching on TV, I asked. She rattled all the names that came to her mind. Siba, George and Gary, Ina, Jamie. Aannd I asked? N for! Nigella mamma. Nigella she screamed. I showed her the ingredient that matched the name. She was quite amused. How can she share her name with some seeds? :) May be one day we will come across seeds that are called Sara I laughed.

N is for Nigella Seeds: With Christmas around the corner I tested a batch of tomato and raisin chutney tempered with "Nigella Seeds". I also added ginger and red chilli powder for that little kick. I love giving edible gifts to all our loved ones on festivals and I am hoping this little jar of red garnet chutney dotted with black nigella seeds will make everyone around me happy. Trust me no store bought gift can ever match up to handmade love.

Challenge Three: Share your holiday traditions. Holiday season is almost upon and we want to know what your holiday traditions are and what food makes it to the table for your family gatherings.

My favourite challenge for the month. Celebrations, company and the customs. There is something so magical about the festival season. Be it Diwali, Holi, Thanksgiving or Christmas...I heart them all. Observing family traditions some that my parents made and we love to observe and some that we are creating for my little chefling each year.

Each festival comes with its own customs and rituals but certain tradition remains constant; making edible presents for loved ones, filling up our home with candles & flowers, setting up the "welcome table", making sure there is abundant home cooked food for everyone and that essential element; the spirit of sharing that for me translates into going overboard when it comes to dips, mezze, platters and fondues. That and more.

But what I love most about the festivities is seeing the happiness shining on my little girl's face, yet somehow reliving my own childhood memories.

Thank you lovely readers. For being there and motivating me to show up here; each time I a little voice in my head whispers hey is any one even reading this? For the kindest emails and messages you send me. For making Orange Kitchens a part of your lives. 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. 

Eat real. Stay healthy.

Images: If you like any of the pictures on the blog and would like to use those please write to me. I put in hours of work behind each post and would love to share it with you but it would hurt me if  use those without my permission.Just ask! 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Gifts for food lovers: Cookbooks

My bookshelf is bursting with cookbooks (we are talking three digits) and though in an ideal world I would be using all of them in a real world very far away I often end up revisiting my old favourites.

When the year began I set some food goals for myself. One of them was:

"Use more cookbooks rather than using the same ones over and over again: I own several cookbooks. But you know what like a lot of you out there (please tell me you belong to this group) I end up using the same ones each time for they and I have made this little bond over the years. They are familiar and I trust them. They help me when life takes over and I have to get a meal on the table each night. But this year I am going to get to know my other “friends” a little better".

I would say I did okay on that front. This year I was determined to dive into more of my collection. Some I cooked from, some I opened for inspiration, some helped in my work and some made my bedtime happier. 

I am often asked which ones are my favourite, which ones would you recommend, which ones make thoughtful gifts and more. Last year I did attempt to share little notes on some of them on the Orange Kitchens Facebook page here and here but I realized only a handful  of crazy cookbook lovers and more importantly readers with immense patience were actually going to work their way through the mammoth album and reading each note. 

With Christmas just around the corner and 2015 almost here this post will give you a quick tour on books that have worked for me (it could be different for each one of us and some of you cookbook junkies please do give your opinions I'd appreciate that), those I think would make memorable gifts this Christmas and some that I think would be nice to include in your collection to expand your repertoire of recipes in 2015.

Some were and are my bibles and some I decided to have a casual fling with this year. Looking back I think we are in for a long lasting relationship now.

Without further ado.

Indian Cuisine.

50 great curries of India: I have lost count of the number of times I have cooked from this book. I have tried and tested almost all the recipes and each one is a keeper. My favourites have to be the dalcha (meat with lentils), kaali mirch cha mutton (lamb with herbs and black pepper), kori gashi (chicken in thick coconut gravy) and the annas curry (pineapple curry, really love this one!). The book gives you a taste of some of the finest recipes from India and a good book to have in your collection.

India Cookbook: Don't let the size of this book intimidate you. True to what is written on the cover if there is only one book that you can have in your kitchen library then this is the only one you'll ever need. Written by Pushpesh Pant, a noted Indian academic, food critic and historian India this book was named by The New York Times as one of the best cookbooks of the year and rightly so. It takes you through the length and the width of the country and makes you marvel how flavours changes every hundred miles in India.

Indian Cuisine (regional) 

Hajra's recipes of life, for life: This is not a book that you buy for pictures. You buy this one solely for the recipes. Cutchi Memon food straight from the heart. khatti dal gosht (Tangy lentils with mutton), kadhai keema (Open pan cooked mince), ande ki kari (Egg curry), kofte ke salan ( Spicy meatball curry), baghare baingan ( aubergines in a piquant sauce), aam ki khatti mithi chutney (sweet and sour mango chutney) and ofcourse the many many biryanis. If you love Muslim cooking then this is a must have. Also the book comes in the form of menus which is awesome because someone has already taken care of all the menu planning.

Kashmiri Cuisine: I got this one on a friend’s recommendation and find myself going back to it time and again. I recommend this book not only for the recipes but also the gorgeous pictures of Kashmir and its people. I especially love the section on chutneys and pickles. Muj Chetin Doud Dhar (Grated radish in yogurt), Doon Chetin ( walnut chutney) , Talith Muj Chetin ( Fried radish chutney) are often eaten as maincourse at our home

Calcutta Kitchen: The book is about Bengalis and their love for food and more. It carries many a stories and recipes from the heart of a Bengali kitchen but also talks about the Raj era, the Muslim culture and the Portuguese influence when it comes to food. A mesmerizing read from Simon Parkes. Kosho Mangsho, shorshe baata maach (fish with mustard and chillies), doi maach ( fish with yogurt), chingri maacher malai curry (shrimp and coconut curry), begun shorshe (eggplant with yogurt and mustard) and cholar dal (yellow split peas with coconut and raisins) appear very often on our dinner table.

The Suriani Kitchen: Latika starts with a great foreword on Syrian Christian Cuisine and takes you to her grandmother’s home and narrates magical family tales. Paddy fields, palm trees, ferrys,kappi...you get the idea. I heart the black and white illustrations and her memories of family that are interwoven with the recipes. Avial (mixed vegetable curry), kaalen (Mango & yogurt curry), parippu (lentils with coconut milk), meen arapu roast (spiced fish roast), meen vevichathu (yesterday’s fish curry), meen molee are some that we have often at home.

French Cuisine

My Paris Kitchen: Recently added to my ever growing collection of books this one is lush beautiful. One that you read because over the years you've fallen in love with a man called David Lebovitz. His stories and his life in his tiny kitchen at Paris and how he celebrates his life, his friends and each day through food. The bread, the cheese, the wine and the chocolate. Fresh produce too. If you want to travel to Paris sitting in your room this book is what I would recommend. 

Mastering the art of french cooking: Want to study (Study with a capital S) French cuisine then get the two volumes. Very intimidating no doubt. I marvel at the amount of work and the years Julia Child put into making these two volumes happen. Read “Dearie” to know more about her life and that will make you appreciate each lesson even more. Wearing a string of pearls around your neck is highly recommended :)

Around my French Table: If it has Dorie’s name written on it then it really doesn't require any explanation. Does it? France has always intrigued me and Paris happens to be my favourite city in the world. I would give anything to live there. Years back when we went there I had a tough time coming back:) Dorie writes the book in such a beautiful and personal tone. It’s my ambition to cook my way through this one. The lovely photographs, the coffee table like look and Dorie’s to-die for recipes keep tempting me to come back to it. Oh! Butter!

Italian Cuisine

The Silver Spoon: Want to get acquainted with all the elements that come together to make a great Italian meal...the ingredients,the sauces, produce, et al then this massive book is a must have in your cookbook library. It is a classic. But not a book if you like stories behind each recipe. This is straightforward with directions and ingredients from all over Italy and really very easy to use.

Nigellissima: This isn't the book if you want authentic Italian Food. But if you love Italian food, simple and quick recipes and prefer to work around the ingredients you have on hand then this book is for you. Lets just say it is Italian with a British accent and it is for Nigella fans really. 

Recipes and dreams from an Italian Life: There is something so beautiful about Tessa Kiros...the way she talks, the way she cooks and the way she puts her books together. I had the pleasure of meeting her early this year and it made my love for her stronger. This book is the kind of heirloom you want to leave for your children, It is the kind of book I want to write for my girl. Family recipes, stunning pictures and that  Tessa stamp all over the book. 

Middle Eastern Cuisine

The new book of middle eastern food: It is my bible-my encyclopedia on Middle Eastern cuisine. Its an old classic printed originally in 1972 and has been called “the landmark in the field of cookery” by James Beard. The book has very simple and very healthy recipes from all the four regions; Iran, Arab cooking from Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, Turkish cuisine and North African cooking ( Morocco). If you like to see pictures then this is not the one for you. It has over 800 recipes but only about 24 pictures. But if you like the idea of reading all about the middle eastern cuisine...the history of the food, classic cooking tales, eating habits, many many snippets from literature and more. I have cooked so much from the book that I am not sure which recipes I like the best. Having said that the salad section in my favourite.

The mezze cookbook: As a child I would often dream of hosting pretty tea parties complete with delicate china, doilies, sandwiches and teacakes. As I grew up I realized I disliked tea and coffee was made for me. But I still lived with the romantic idea of enjoying little bites with friends and families. Only they were not very British but middle eastern. If you love mezze, get this one. The hummus beiruty ( Beirut style chickpea dip) gets made by kilos at our home and so is the Mohamra (walnut dip). Gemista (stuffed vegetables) is another gem. Over 90 delicious appetizers from Greece, Lebanon and Turkey.

Asian Cuisine (excluding Indian)

Bill's everyday Asian: A big favourite once again. Whenever I don’t have any energy or the enthusiasm to cook I turn to this one. It instantly gets me all excited plus I like the fact that when it says Everyday Asian it really means recipes for everyday cooking. Almost all of the recipes ask for very little chopping, very few ingredients, cooking time is very little (well most cook on their own in the oven) and are very healthy.

Seoultown Kitchen: I adore kimchi. I can eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner and then again the next day. Crazy right? And when someone shows me how to make not one but several types and how to pair it with different foods then I love it! Classic napa baechu kimchi, daikon kimchi, cucumber kimchi, a kimchi aioli, kimchee broth, kimchi salsa...all yum!

Vietnamese Food: I like this one more for his journey than the recipes (the recipes are good too); from the corporate world and for taking that leap of faith and following his food dream. Resonates with me, each time I read it. If ingredients like crispy fried shallots, roasted peanuts, marinated chillies, fish sauce and lemon oil make you salivate then go and get this one now.


Baking: Dorie visits me kitchen again. Love love love the book. Not your night time reading book simply for the fact that this one will definitely require some muscle to lift. Blondies and brownies, cookies and cakes, pies and tarts...each needs to be tried at least once. They never ever fail to deliver. A must have if you love baking and she gives you so many variations of the same recipe (playing around) which is what I love about the book the most.

Chocolat: Love chocolate? Is it a BIG yes?  Then I can guarantee that you will appreciate this book. I added this to my library early this year and since then have baked my way through it and every little thing from this book has come out perfect. Now that is a sign of a good book. So much so when it is chocolate now I don't find myself going to other books at all. By the way that cake on the cover you see up there is going to be made in my kitchen this afternoon:) 

Booze Cakes: Is there a better than thing in life than booze plus cake? Really, I ask you? A match made in heaven. Classic cakes like the honey spice beer cake,golden rum cake, trifles. Cake shots like the pina colada cake shots,rum and cake or the long island iced tea cakes. Wait there is more...homemade booze! Oh and all the recipes are rated on the booze meter Lightweight, feeling it and totally tipsy. Got to love a book like this.

Vegetarian Food

Plenty: This man taught me how eggplants can be so much more than baigan bhartha. With buttermilk sauce, with soba noodles, with lentils, with tahini. Spectacular recipes. Some recipes are pretty straightforward and some I should mention require special ingredients, time and skill. Is it worth the effort? Yes. The next time someone tells you vegetarian food is boring and you can't do much with just vegetables show them a recipe or two from this one.

World Vegetarian: Over the years I have constantly made an effort to include more veggies in our diet and just when you think there are only so many ways one can cook okra or beans or even the humble potato. enters Madhur Jaffrey. A thug book weighing as much as my daughter and with virtually no photographs but indispensable in my kitchen. The book is neatly organized by ingredients (vegetables,lentils, and has the name of the country where the recipe is from. 

River Cottage Veg Everyday: I adore this one for its easy and clean recipes and its watercolour like illustrations. Vegetarian dishes that have such great flavours and depth. Once again a book that stays more in my kitchen than on the bookshelf.

This and that.

Encylopedia of sandwiches: A book that comes in the shape of a sandwich, has the history and hundreds of recipes for sandwiches from all over the world and is my savior so many times a month when all we want to eat is a sandwich for lunch. Written by blogger Susan Russo of Foodblogga; a blog that I was introduced by another fellow blogger; the book makes you look at the humble sandwich with new eyes.

The perfect scoop: You’ve got to love a man who has a great sense of humour, creates luscious icecreams, gelatos, sorbets and granitas,writes well and umm...lives in Paris(?). Another book from which I have tried nearly everything and has never disappointed me. The perfect scoop and my ice cream maker are my best friends. Oh and if you haven’t read his book The sweet life in Paris then you must.

The best little marinades cookbook: Most days when I stand in front of the refrigerator praying that dinner should materialize on its own, this book always comes to my rescue. Don’t be fooled by its size. Tons of inspiring, zesty marinades, dry rubs, pastes and more that have often helped me to put together a meal with whatever I have in my fridge and my pantry.

Kitchen wisdom.

The flavour thesaurus: An essential on any food lover's bookshelf. It inspires you,surprises you, provokes you, teaches you...and more.

Larousse Gastronomique: Want to know ANYTHING & EVERYTHING about food and cooking? Go to this one.

Julia's Kitchen Wisdom: For Julia lovers. 

Nigella love. 

You can either love this woman or loathe her. I obviously love her. Love her for the ease with which she cooks, how forgiving she is of herself and others who cook for her, how butter and chocolate are her best friends and she isn’t ashamed to admit it (though in her latest avatar she seems to have lost a lot of weight and is clearly staying away from both). I love her for the beautiful stories she tells about her family and friends. 

Feast: I like how the book has been divided by festivals/occasions and gives menus for kinds of get togethers. The chapter on Chocolate (Chocolate cake hall of fame) is used the most at our home.

Nigella Chrismas: If you need a good reason to buy this one it has to be for the incredibly easy chocolate fruit cake. Its part of out Christmas menu every year (along with many other desserts and hot spiced cider ofcourse) and no one seems to get tired of it. Aah..and also the christmassy pics that put you in "it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas" mood immediately.

Kitchen: The book is comprehensive, cozy and gives great comfort.

Just because.

Ottolenghi the cookbook: I couldn't have hit publish without including this one. The thing is I couldn't decide which category to fit this one in. It has a little of everything. You will obviously notice a strong influence from Jerusalem but  there is also Italy, North Africa, Lebanon and more. Chocolate fudge cake. Check. Apple and Olive oil cake. Check. Orange polenta cake. Check. Carrot and walnut cake.Check. Almond and orange florentines. Check. Unusual and innovative combinations and each one works. 

So there you have it...some of my favourite cookbooks. I'd love to hear your recommendations.  

Do you like gifting cookbooks? Which book is on your wishlist this Christmas? 

Visit my cookbook library here.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

My tryst with pasta and the Italian Cuisine World Summit

They say when you really really want something, the entire universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. Bear with me and my melodrama please. When you know the complete story you will understand this melodrama better. Note: I used the word "understand" not appreciate or agree :)

This is a story of one lonely pasta maker. One fine day, a little more than three years ago I got home a metal contraption that I just couldn't say no to; a manual pasta maker. My reasons were solid. There is something so romantic about making pasta from scratch I thought; making that well of flour and eggs, pulling in the flour till it all comes together, kneading the dough just enough and then running it through the pasta maker. With the large chunks in one hand you pass them through the machine, flour flying in the air, with pearls around your neck was the picture I dreamt about when I bought the machine. Ofcourse a dress with a pretty apron that had lace on it completed the picture.

Pity that none of the above happened. The machine intimidated me. I don’t have the time to make it from scratch I would tell myself especially when I can get whole wheat dry pasta everywhere. Why should I spend my energy making fresh one and to be fair these days you get really good dry pasta off the shelf. But you bought this saying you will be making all those raviolis and lasagnas I would hear a little voice in my head.

The pasta maker travelled across countries when we moved from Delhi to Dubai.  In its new home too it sat ever so patiently in a box behind all the baking and cooking paraphernalia I have accumulated over these years.

Until one day last month when I was asked to make one thing that really scares me as part of the monthly challenges for Jamie Oliver’s Food revolution Ambassadors.

I loved this take on Halloween. Do one thing that scares you every day they say. What a beautiful thought to make Halloween more meaningful! You know where it is going, right? Yes, it took me straight to my past maker. Infact this had been on mind when the year began when I set out some food resolutions for myself and one of them was to finally open that box and use that pasta maker. This challenge made me conquer my fear and meet my resolution as well.

I decided to make this pumpkin goat cheese pasta. It was Halloween after all :) I struggled but in the end I did manage to put something on the table. I also wished someone would just appear and teach me how to master fresh pasta so that I could do this more often.

Looks like a little birdie heard my wish and I got invited by the ever so talented and lovely Dima to attend a masterclass (part of the Italian Cuisine World Summit) to learn fresh pasta! Told you that melodrama was required :)

The master class would be taught by Chef Walter Potenza. He would be helping me master the white magic art of flour I was told. Lasagne, tagliatelle, tagliolini, pappardelle ravioli, tortellini, agnolotti and potato gnocchi; all with the help of a pasta extrision machine.
The class was calling out my name and I wasn't disappointed. 

The class was held at the very scenic Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management which looks into the gorgeous Burj Al Arab. Sigh! What a location.

We began the session learning the fundamentals of making pasta from scratch. How to build that well of flour and egg, how you have to let the egg pull in the flour and not the other way round and should listen to the mixture and know when to stop. That Chef Walter had a great sense of humour helped. He did advice us to either go marry men who knew how to make pasta or master it ourselves. Pity his advice came ten years too late. I would have to master this I told myself.

The session was very informative and gave me the much required confidence of making pasta from scratch. Chef Walter took us through making pasta with various combinations; flour, egg and oil, flour and oil, semolina, a bit of flour and eggs. The last combination is something I am really looking forward to trying. He also mentioned that the Italian obsession of using the double zero flour was something that he didn't quite adhere to and the regular all purpose flour worked just fine. Told you he knew how to keep his students interested.

We talked about how to understand what the dough was telling us…be it allowing it to let it rest, or listen to it when it was springing back or falling apart. It was like paying attention to a friend.

We also learnt how to put together a Swiss chard and cheese ravioli, potato gnocchi and were also given a demonstration of a professional pasta maker machine which made some beautiful spaghetti in a matter of few minutes. What made the session memorable was that Chef Walter shared his experiences, his life and anecdotes about his work with everyone.

Would I recommend the course? Big Yes! Considering at the end of the sixty hours you get a professional certificate (Note: I only attended a single module) and more importantly you are learning from Master Italian Michelin Chefs, cuisine educators and experts as well as renowned food producers and also from Italian Cuisine Master Chefs with extensive experience in Italian Restaurant Management Abroad.

A big thank you to Dima for the warm invitation (run her to blog now to know everything about the summit for her blog is the official blog for the summit), the Emirates Academy for hosting it and Chef Walter and his entire team for imparting this skill to us. Now that I have made friends with my pasta maker and I know that the pasta dough is very forgiving I will be certainly getting my hands dirty often. Oops I meant dusty.

Find everything about the Italian Cuisine World Summit here and the courses offered by them here. The full course is available twice throughout November you can choose the course that best suits your schedule.

The Course fees: Originally AED 9500.00, but Dima is offering her readers a 40% discount making it for AED 5700.00 only (applicable only for the early bookings).

Leaving you with this poem that always makes me laugh out loud.

Spaghetti, spaghetti, all over the place,
Up to my elbows--up to my face,
Over the carpet and under the chairs,
Into the hammock and wound round the stairs,
Filling the bathtub and covering the desk,
Making the sofa a mad mushy mess.
The party is ruined, I'm terribly worried,
The guests have all left (unless they're all buried).
I told them, "Bring presents." I said, "Throw confettii."
I guess they heard wrong
'Cause they all threw spaghetti!

Images: If you like any of the pictures on the blog and would like to use those please write to me. I put in hours of work behind each post and would love to share it with you but it would hurt me if  use those without my permission.Just ask! 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Food Revolution Ambassador Monthly Challenge: October 2014

A lot of you may be aware that a couple of weeks back I became part of the Food RevolutionAmbassador team and I can’t be happier. I am looking forward to working towards food education for children and already making my little game plan to achieve the same.

One of the many things that we as Food Ambassadors aspire to do are the monthly challengesAt the beginning of each month the challenges are announced. These challenges are for inspiring the entire team and to make deeper connections with everyone (fellow food ambassadors, friends and family, anyone who wants to be a part of this challenge too), share our stories , whether we failed or conquered and more. The idea is to complete as many challenges as one can.

This was my first time and YAY I completed all three. Each of the three challenges come with a specific reason those that make you stop and think. Let me explain.

Challenge One: Using leftovers: Challenge submitted by Ambassador Alex in Cheltenham, UK. Make something awesome from what you have left in your fridge and/or cupboards without heading to the shops.

As a child I was always taught that wasting food was a complete no. Sure there will be leftovers but there is no reason why they can’t be turned into bestovers. This is one of the many things I learnt from my parents and would like to pass the same to my little chefling. Plus, clearing up the fridge before getting in fresh produce feels like therapy, right? Show off hands if you agree. Infact when it came to my mum, there was a designated day of the week (which would always be before she did her weekly groceries) when she would fill up this yellow round tupperware box with numerous compartments she had (still has!) with all the leftovers and announce dinner was ready. It is a grand buffet she would add. 

Do you turn your leftovers into bestovers or serve up a buffet for your family or freeze it for a later date? I’d love to hear how you minimize food wastage at your homes.

For the leftover challenge, I put together this lettuce chicken wrap. With Diwali just two days away I was on a mission to finish all the leftovers to make space for Mithai (Indian Sweets) in our refrigerator. The Lettuce Chicken Wrap made from leftover roast chicken from the last night’s dinner, two halves of bell peppers threatening to go bad, a lonely onion caramelized, pomegranate seeds and pinenuts for some crunch and a yoghurt dip. I am now addicted to lettuce wraps of any kind.

Challenge Two: Scare yourself this Halloween. With Halloween just around the corner, why not try out a recipe that has always scared you, whether it is because you are not sure your family will like it, or it uses techniques that you have never tried before. Halloween doesn’t just have to be about scary ghouls and junk food; let us know what real food recipes you’ll be conquering for the first time!

I loved this take on Halloween. Do one thing that scares you every day they say. What a beautiful thought to make Halloween more meaningful! The thing is I cook and bake a lot and more often than not people assume that when you write food stories and put out all of your cooking out on the blog you must be able to make everything. Right? Wrong. We all have our fears when it comes to the kitchen and mine is making pasta from scratch. Three years back (honestly, three years back) I got home a pasta maker and till date it has been in one little corner of my cupboard packed. When the year began I set out some food resolutions for myself and one of them was to finally open that box and use that pasta maker. This challenge made me conquer my fear and meet my resolution as well.

I decided to make this pumpkin goat cheese pasta. It is Halloween after all :) So much more better than the candy and sugar and salt loaded Halloween goodies out there. The scariest thing about Halloween for me is this sugar overload and ever since we started being part of Halloween last year I have made little attempts to give the kids a chance to observe it with real food. Sweet mandarins last year, boiled eggs with scary faces this year. This pasta too.

Challenge Three: Corn chowder. Make our recipe of the month, the hearty corn chowder. We have been talking about comfort food recently with the launch of Jamie’s new book and we think that this corn chowder is up there with some of the best comfort foods! Try it at home, teach it to friends,take it to work to share with colleagues… however you make it and whatever variations you use due to culture, season or taste preference – let us know by sharing your photos and recipes.

Like so many of you, I too am huge fan of Jamie’s approach to real food and how if we decide to eat healthy cooking up a complete meal is a matter of few minutes. We often eat unhealthy food in the garb of comforting our hearts and souls. Tired after long hours at work lets order in a cheesy thing,  fought with a friend time for a tub of icecream, nursing a cold the ghee laden paranatha is a must and more. While there is nothing wrong in eating any of the above but making it a bit healthier is always a big YES in my dictionary.

This chowder was really simple to put together and just what I needed after a stream of guests at home and nonstop cooking & hosting post Diwali. I wanted something effortless, filling and comforting, something that would literally come together on its own and I could just put my feet up on the coffee table and watch reruns of MasterChef on TV all alone. A one pot meal that used milk and not cream that a corn chowder usually would have. That made me happier. I added some bacon for some crunch and well because bacon either you love bacon or you are wrong :)

Till we meet again. Eat real. Stay healthy.

Images: If you like any of the pictures on the blog and would like to use those please write to me. I put in hours of work behind each post and would love to share it with you but it would hurt me if  use those without my permission.Just ask! 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Diwali memories and eating fire crackers.

Three days to go and it will be Diwali. Diwali always evokes beautiful and cherished memories of childhood and home (especially now that we are far away from both home and loved ones).

Clay Diyas, mithais, strings of marigolds and mango leaves, rangolis, torans and more. Walking down the memory lane this Diwali (If you’ve grown up in India some of these will definitely take you back to your childhood).

  • Helping dad fix the electric “ladis” (fairy lights) a day before “Dhanteras”.
  • Going out with mum and dad to get a silver coin on the day of Dhanteras.
  • Polishing the brass lamps and candle stands with “Brasso” till they begin to shine like gold.  
  • Buying new traditional clothes way in advance for the big day. Silk saree for mum, a kurta for dad and lehengas or churidar kurtis for us. Matching bangles too.
  • Going to the local potters to buy clay diyas (smaller ones for the whole house and one large one that mum would fill up with ghee to last the whole night long).
  • While at the potter picking up a clay urli to float flowers and a few terracotta lanterns too.
  • Debating on which Ganesh-Lakshmi clay idol was the prettiest and choosing that with mum and dad.
  • Picking up mithai dabbas for all the loved ones and wrapping them up in shimmery silver and gold gift wraps those that flew and were so difficult to handle if the fan was on. Switch off the fan someone would say and that helped.
  • Gifts too. Thoughtful ones. Ones that our parents knew would make our loved ones happy. Sarees and shirts for the help at home.
  • Spending hours making detailed grocery lists with mum for all the mithai to be made; laddoos, barfis, namak pare and more. She made the list and we just hung around dreaming about the mithai.
  • Waking up on Diwali morning and jumping out of bed to make a rangoli. Sometimes floral, sometimes geometric.
  • Making tiny feet (“S” with five tiny dots for toes) at the entrance of the house and all the way inside (representing Goddess Lakshmi’s feet) just in case the Goddess lost her way.
  • Visiting the phoolwali mandi to buy ladis of gendas and aam patte by the kilos. Some loose flowers and two garlands for the pooja too, mum would always say.
  • Filling up all the vases and nooks and corners with flowers of all sorts and getting that sense of pride looking at how festive and gorgeous “our” home looked and felt.
  • Filling up the plates with mithai and bowls with almonds, cashews, raisins and pistachios in anticipation of all the guests and relatives who would visit us during the day and in the evening.
  • Setting up the pooja place. Cleaning that white marble slab in our living room till it began to gleam. Placing the Idols (but wash your hands first, we would be gently reminded). Thali full of diyas , kacha doodh in a silver katori, tikka with grains of rice and a few drops of water, sandalwood agarbattis in the silver agarbatti stand, dhoop shaped into a cone, khulle phool, mala and the prasad.
  • Carefully filling up all the clay diyas with ghee and oil and putting in cotton wicks way before the pooja.
  • Singing the aarti together while waiting eagerly for the pooja to get over so that we could run out and light diyas and burn fire crackers.
  • Making sure each and every corner of the house, balcony, verandah, even the window sills were lined up with the diyas.
  • Dad bending down with us to light them all after the pooja with candles that were lit from the bada diya in the pooja thali.
  • Melting the rear end of the candle with a lighted one and then sticking it on the window sills.
  • Getting disappointed and frustrated when the lit candle would die because of the strong breeze.
  • Writing my name in the air with the phooljhadis.
  • Jumping over the chakris.
  • Feeling mesmerized by the gorgeous streaks of fireworks from the anars.
  • Cautiously bending over to light a bomb and running away from it at the first sight of spark.
  • Covering my ears with my hands as someone lighted up the red ladi of bijli bombs.
  • Filling up those obnoxious toy guns with dot bombs and irritating the hell out of my parents with its high pitched sound.
  • Lighting up those “saanp” tablets and strategizing on how to throw them in one over the other to make the longest snake. Oh it was so gross but we seemed to enjoy it back then.
  • Awestruck at the sight in the sky. Glimmer, glitter, sparkle everywhere.
  • Walking down the road with mum and dad and looking at all the houses sparkling due to the brightness lent by string lights and the gentle flicker of the diyas.
  • Wishing it could look this festive all year round.
  • Coming back home to mum’s scrumptious and traditional dinner of kali daal, allu gobhi, shahi paneer, lauki ke kofte, dahi bhalle and more.
  • Eating countless mithais till our tummies began to hurt. Then popping in one more for it was Diwali after all.
  • Tired. Happy. Content. Finally getting into our beds with a prayer on our lips asking for blessings and thanking someone up there for illuminating our lives with love and togetherness.

Did these take you back to your childhood and your home? What are some of your much loved Diwali memories?

As we grew up we became aware how children our age and younger were being forced to make fire crackers since demand for fire crackers swelled during Diwali and ofcourse the pollution it caused and slowly fire crackers went away from our lives. Strangely we didn't miss them. For Diwali was always much more than burning a cracker.

One sparkler for “shagun” remained.

From observing my parents, celebrating in the house that I grew up in, learning traditions that my parents passed on I started making traditions of my own with my partner. Sara joined us a couple of years later. Now I make mithais and plan our dinner, he fixes the lights and she makes the rangolis and the cards. Just like that the roles have changed.

This Diwali my little girl will wear her pretty lehenga with a tikka on her head. Sparkly bangles are a must she says. We will get that one sparkler for shagun and watch her write “Sara” with it and celebrate this festival of lights.

Wishing you all a very happy Diwali. Sparkle. Glitter. Shine.

Oh and just because we are saying no to firecrackers doesn't mean we won’t be having any. We just ate some “Firecrackers” and they were delicious and made my little chefling squeal with delight. 

Fruit crackers 


For the fire crackers:
  • Water
  • Sugar
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Cloves
  • Star anise
  • Vanilla extract
  • A squeeze of lemon
  • One peach, peeled but stem intact
  • One plum
  • One apple
  • One clove
  • Squeeze of a lemon or any juice
  • Chocolate ganache to dip (I make mine with 70% dark chocolate, cream and vanilla extract)
  • Golden star sprinkles (or any other glittery ones if you have on hand)
  • Piping bag

For the matchbox:
  • Pretzel sticks
  • Chocolate ganache to dip
  • An old and clean matchbox

  1. For the anar (flower pot sparkler): Peel the pear and poach it with some sugar, cinnamon sticks, star anise, cloves, vanilla and a squeeze of lemon. Remember it to turn it around midways. Allow it to cool and dip it in chocolate sauce and sprinkle gold stars.
  2. For the gola bomb(Round bomb): Poach the plum with some sugar, cinnamon sticks, star anise, cloves, vanilla and a squeeze of lemon. Remember it to turn it around midways. Allow it to cool and dip it in chocolate sauce and sprinkle gold stars. Add the clove on top for the wick.
  3. For the chakri (spiral sparkler): Cut round slices of apple and coat it with any juice you have on hand. This will prevent discolouration. Fill the piping bag with the chocolate sauce and make spirals on it.
  4. For the matchbox: Dip several small pretzel sticks chocolate sauce and let the chocolate set. Line the inside of the matchbox with foil or butterpaper and transfer the “matchsticks” to the matchbox.

Boom.Boom .Boom. Enjoy your firecrackers. I can assure you these will light up any little girl/boy’s Diwali day.

p.s. If you’d like to make an edible gift with your little one then you might enjoy this post, here.

Images: If you like any of the pictures on the blog and would like to use those please write to me. I put in hours of work behind each post and would love to share it with you but it would hurt me if  use those without my permission. Just ask!
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