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Basil……A Yarn and a Recipe.

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My kids love Pasta Pesto. It is a lunch box staple, which I have always prepared using the bottled Organic Pesto from Auroville.

However on my recent visit to Econut for my Organic provisions, I struck it lucky with a big bag full of fresh basil. I just couldn’t resist. I picked up a bag full of organic walnuts and extra virgin olive oil as well.

Although pesto is traditionally made with Basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and a hard cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino, I decided to do a more economical version with walnuts and skipped the cheese altogether.

I guess here in India one would say I made a chutney.

Holy Basil or Tulsi is revered in India in every Hindu household, especially in those of Vishnu devotees.

Read this wonderful story from Hindu Mythology about the Tulsi plant here.

However the Christians, too, consider Basil holy especially the Greek Orthodox Church.

St.Helena, was born somewhere in the region of modern-day Turkey. Although just a stabularia or inn-keeper she married Constantius I Chlorus in 270 BC. They had a son Constantine.

As Constantius became co-regent or Ceasar, he had to, for political gain, forsake Helena and marry the step-daughter of the Emperor Maximinius Herculius.

Disgraced in a court that was full of intrigue and murder, Helena never fought her rival but faded into obscurity till her own son Constantine became Emperor. She then was bestowed with the title of Augusta or Empress.

Constantine was the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity. Legend says that he had a dream of a burning cross with a message that he should ‘in this sign conquer’. So he did, earning control over western Europe.

They say it was Constantine’s influence on his mother that made her too, embrace Christianity. She mingled freely with worshippers did many acts of charity and released prisoners too.

Although she was pretty advanced in age, Helena set out on a pilgrimage to Palestine, visiting Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Sinai. She built many churches and continued her charity work.

She was very keen to find the ‘True Cross’….the cross on which Jesus had been crucified.

She had been searching for many days, when on a barren hill outside Jerusalem she noticed a sweet-smelling plant. That plant happened to be Basil. She gave orders that the area under the plant be excavated and found the True Cross.

So to this day, especially in the Greek Orthodox Church,Sweet basil is used in the preparation of Holy water.

Two religions, both have reasons why this plant is so special…..and there are many more cultures that venerate the Basil. In many other cultures like Mexico, Romania and Italy it is associated with love.

Not just a ‘holy herb’, but also one which is full of health benefits!

It is one of the most highly regarded herbs in Ayurveda.

“Scientific research offers impressive evidence that Tulsi (basil) reduces stress, enhances stamina, relieves inflammation, lowers cholesterol, eliminates toxins, protects against radiation, prevents gastric ulcers, lowers fevers, improves digestion and provides a rich supply of antioxidants and other nutrients. Tulsi is especially effective in supporting the heart, blood vessels, liver and lungs and also regulates blood pressure and blood sugar.Dr. Ralph Miller, former Director of Research for the Canadian Dept. of Health and Welfare.

Makes me wonder at how religion often guided people towards what was good for them, not just spiritually but also physically and emotionally. The environment, too, benefited from many of the old rituals which ensured its protection.

Although I am not a regular church goer, my deeply Catholic upbringing, ensures that I have a prayer on my lips often. From this ability to just utter a silent prayer, I drawer a lot of strength. It has a calming meditative value about it which I treasure.

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So here is the recipe I used to make Basil and Walnut Pesto:

Adapted from http://cookieandkate.com

Ingredients

  • 2 lightly packed cup of basil
  • 2 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, lightly toasted
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt, to taste
  • squeeze of lemon juice
Instructions
  • Over medium high heat, toast the walnuts until fragrant, about three to five minutes.
  • Wash and dry the basil leaves
  • In a food processor, combine the basil, walnuts and garlic.
  • Pulse while drizzling in the olive oil. Do not over mix as I felt the pesto gets darker.
  • Remove the mixture from the processor and pour it into a bowl. Stir in salt and a squeeze of lemon (optional), to taste.

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I did not add in the cheese as I felt it would keep better this way.

When I made it for lunch, I added some grated cheese to the ready dish.

  • Pesto freezes well, so you can make a larger quantity and freeze for later use.
  • Traditionally made by hand in a mortar and pestle…..I did not have one large enough to take this quantity so I just made it in the mixie.
  • Make the pesto as soon as you get fresh basil.
  • I replaced the traditional pine nuts with walnuts…..it’s just as tasty.

Use it as:

  • A pasta sauce.
  • Marinade for grilled fish of chicken.
  • Stirred as a flavouring into soups.
  • Sandwich spread.
  • Healthy pizza sauce alternative.

Do you use pesto in any other way??

I’d love some new ideas

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Moroccan Magic…..Chicken with Parsley and Corriander.

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Morocco.

Just saying the word makes me think of all things exotic.

Spices and unusual flavour combinations.

Brightly coloured, intricately woven carpets.

The sensuous mud and clay architecture.

Mt. Atlas and the Sahara.

Romance……Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman….SIIIIGHH!…..in CASABLANCA.

Winding labyrinths of the souks and the whiff of mint tea.

But this post is not about Morrocco….but rather about a recipe which I find just as exotic.

I love the combination of Parsley and Corriander…..unusual for us in India who regularly use coriander and mint together.

When I think back to when I first heard about Parsley, I remember the characters out of the Asterix and Obelix comics who used bunches of it in theirs ears to block off Cacaphonix’s cacophony.

I have been making this recipe for ages….not too sure where I got it from, but we all love it.

MOROCCAN STYLE CHICKEN

500 gms boneless chicken. (this recipe was originally with jointed chicken or around 1kg 300 gms)

2 small shallots (use sambar onions)

1 bunch of parsley

1 bunch coriander(equal to the parsley)

2-3 cloves garlic

1 1/2 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper ( I use chili powder)

1 1/2 tsp ground cummin

3 tbs butter( I use olive oil instead)

1/2 -1 lime

Method:

Wash and cut the chicken into pieces.

Process the shallots, garlic, herbs, salt and spices in a food processor or mixer till finely chopped.

Add butter or olive oil and process to make a smooth paste.

Rub the chicken pieces with this paste and allow to marinade for @ 2 hours.

Squeeze lemon over and bake or broil till done.

Serve with Pita bread, humus and crudites

Enjoy!!

The Need to Knead (Wholewheat Pizza Base)

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The plan was pizza for dinner tonight.

Got my sauce done in the morning and planned to get the base done in the evening.

How I love to see the vibrant red sauce, so fragrant, simmering on the stove!

All food that needs to be simmered, slowly, patiently, intrigues me. Considering that by nature, I am not a patient person, I find this very interesting!

Soups, stews, simmering pots of stock and sauces, all have a special place in my foodie heart.

I love that the flavors intensify, bringing out multiple layers and interesting nuances.

Bread dough.….another favourite, is another ‘demand-er’ of tons of patience.

Yet this too, is me….all impatient me!

I love watching the yeast react with the sugar and bubble up……MAGICAL!

Watching the dough rise up and double in size……FASCINATING!

I love to knead, I find it mindfully MEDITATIVE.

That a tumble of flour, water, oil and yeast, rather messy looking, needs just a bit of kneading to turn into a smoothly polished ball of dough is fascinating.

Yet how much easier is it for me to do this, than knead gently into relationships with those around me.

My patience evaporates.

As I kneaded the dough for the base this evening, I could not help but dwell on this…..

……and work out my biceps at the same time. ; )

I had, for the longest time, been trying to zoom into a great wholewheat pizza base recipe…..I was really happy with the results of my experiment this evening.

The dough when baked was soft yet crusty on the edges, lending a beautiful texture to the pizza.

WHOLEWHEAT PIZZA BASE

( adapted from Oprah.com)

3 tsp fresh yeast

2 tsp honey

3 cups wholewheat flour

1 cup flour (maida)

2 tbs olive oil

2tsp salt

*Mix the yeast and honey in a bowl with @ 1/2 cup tepid water. Make sure you disperse the yeast completely.

Leave this yeast mixture aside and keep the other ingredients ready.

I prefer working directly on a clean kitchen counter.

*Measure out the flour and make a well in the center.

*Pour the oil into the center of the flour.

*Check the yeast mixture. It needs to have bubbled on the surface.

If it has, pour this into the well of flour and mix gently into the flour.

*Once you have mixed up the oil and yeast mixture with the flour, pour in the remaining water, bit by bit. Mixing well after each addition. (approx 1 cup)

Once you feel that you have a firm dough stop adding the water and begin to knead.

*Place your right hand to the top of the dough at a 12 o’clock position and your left at the 6 o’clock position.

Begin to knead with your right hand while holding the dough with the left. For some more tips click here.

Roll the dough and continue this action till you find the dough has developed a smooth texture.

Note the picture above and the one below to notice the difference in textures.

By kneading, the gluten strands are strengthened allowing for a more uniform crumb.

*Roll into a ball.

*Keep the dough ball aside in a bowl to prove. Make sure you cover it with a damp kitchen towel.

*Once the dough has doubled in size, knock it back down by punching the dough and dispelling the air.

*Leave it to prove once again.

*Once it doubles in size again, knock it down and roll out into the desired base size.

*You can wrap the extra dough in cling film and keep it in the freezer to use at a later date.

* Allow it to prove for 5-10 mins and then add the pizza sauce and toppings.

* Bake in a preheated oven at 200 deg C for about 10 minutes.

To ensure that the dough is cooked, press gently. If there is a small depression it is not yet ready. Bake till the dough pops back up when pressed.

“Everyone is kneaded out of the same dough but not baked in the same oven”

Yiddish Proverb quotes

Loved this proverb…………leads to an interesting story from African mythology. Iyadola’s Babies.
Resource guide for Chennai:

Organic Wholemeal flour – Econut and ReStore. Pro organics or Letter Mantra Brands available in Nilgiri’s

Fresh Yeast – Nilgiri’s…..look in the refrigerated section.

Satay Supreme

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Satay has been one of those things that everyone in my family loves.

My 7 year old D, has called it ‘Chicken on a Stick’, forever. Its always been a sure thing to get her to eat whenever we are out for a meal.

Yet for no particular reason, I had never attempted to try it out myself.

My first brush with Satay was when I was about 10 years old and had travelled with my Dad and siblings to Singapore for a Food trade fair.

We tried many varieties of food on that trip.

One that exposed and refined our palates to receive a variety of flavours as we grew up.

We went to a place called ‘Satay Club’, a hawker center which had the most finger-lickingly delicious Satay on offer.

Photo Credits Kirsten Dixon A Singapore Hawker Centre

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Being true blue Bombayites, hawker centers was right up our street.

But that was many moons ago.

Many, mannnnnyyy moons ago…….

We still enjoy our Satay. Hubby has even packed some from Malaysia and brought it back home for us to relish.

It is one of those dishes, I’m sure we all order at restaurants and relish at parties.

Yet for some reason, if you are like me, we are quite content to order it and have no reason at all to attempt making it.

Around 3 weeks ago, I had a strange compulsion to try out Satay. Since then I’ve made it thrice, always with great results.

I realised that it is soooo versatile.

My first attempt was just that…..an attempt. But it was delicious.

My second was when I had planned on Phad Thai for dinner. A friend decided to drop in that evening and I needed to a quick dish to add to the menu………Satay it was.

My third was for a picnic by the beach. I thought this would be a great crowd-pleaser along with chilled beers.

And what do you know, Satay is my new fav dish in my repertoire.

I’m sure it will be yours too.

Only once you have actually made it will you realise just how easy it actually is.

So JUST DO IT!!

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Chicken Satay with Peanut dipping sauce.

( Adapted from About.com)

8 Boneless Chicken Breasts

40-50 wooden skewers

For the marinade:

1/4 cup chopped lemon grass (white portion only)

3 Shallots or Sambar onions

3 cloves garlic

1tsp chilli powder

1 ” ginger,chopped

2 tbs corriander powder

2 tsp cummin powder

1 tsp turmeric

3 tbs dark soya sauce

4 tbs fish sauce

5 tbs brown sugar

2 tbs vegetable oil

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The first thing you need to do is to soak the wooden skewers in water. This is really important as if you don’t they will burn while grilling.

Cut the chicken breast into long strips. ( medium thin)

Using that part of the lemon grass which is closest to the root, the white part, chop roughly.

Place all the ingredients of the marinade in a food processor and mix well.

Taste your marinade. It should have a combination of sweet, salty and spicy, but should lead with sweet and salty for the best results when cooked.

Adjust the seasoning using the fish sauce for salty or sugar for sweet.

Add some more chilly powder if you like it spicy.

Strain the marinade through a sieve as the lemongrass tends to be a bit fibrous.

Marinade the chicken strips in this.

Even an hour is sufficient to marinade but 24 would be great!

When ready to cook, thread the meat onto the damp skewers.

Grill on a BBQ or in an oven.

I do it under the grill in my oven. 5 mins on one side and then another five after turning them over.

When you turn them over, baste with the remaining marinade.

Do not overcook or it will end up very dry.

Enjoy your satay with a peanut dipping sauce.

Somehow I feel a BBQ will take the Satay to a different level, but I make do with a gas grill.

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Peanut Butter Satay Sauce.

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Now I am not one to use packaged ingredients in my cooking……and I turn my nose up at shortcuts of the ‘packaged kind’.

But when I needed to make a dipping sauce for the satay, I needed peanut.

Unfortunately I did not have any in stock.

Fortunately I did have ‘Peanut Butter.’

Something I had bought to experiment with in my baking. It however seemed to have found another calling in my kitchen…..Satay Sauce.

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3/4 cup Peanut Butter ( the type that I used still has a few crunchy bits left in)

1/3 cup water

2 cloves garlic

1/2 tsp dark soya sauce

2 tsp sesame oil

2 tbs palm sugar or brown sugar

2 tsp fish sauce

1/2 tsp lime juice or tamarind paste.( I just use lime juice here)

1/2 tsp chilli powder

1/3 cup coconut milk

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Once again, easy-peasy.

Just chuck everything into a mixie/food processor and blend away!

Taste and adjust seasoning, using fish sauce for salt, lemon for tang or some more brown sugar for sweetness.

This sauce is just great. It thickens as it sits, so just add a little coconut milk or water if you need it thinner.

It will stay in the fridge for a couple of weeks and works really well as a dip or sandwich spread.

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These recipes are just up my street.

Throw everything together, blend and TAA DAA………..Finger lickingly, skewer gnawingly, lip smackingly delicioso…….

SATAY………..

Enjoy!

Jo

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Foodie Gyans and Yarns – 1 Peach Melba

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I have a fascination for culinary terms and love to know the origins of the names of dishes.

This obsession started from when I was quite young and I know precisely, the exact moment it did.

We are three siblings and all three of us have formally studied food. My sister and myself are HAFTies’ (Sophia Polytechnic, Mumbai) ….proud to be so too!

My brother a CRAFTie was formally trained as a baker and is currently working as one.

I remember many moons ago, when my sister ML, was at HAFT, she decided that she needed her own copy of the Larousse Gastronomique.’

The Larousse Gastronomique is probably THE cookery Bible.

Written by ‘Prosper Montagne’, it’s preface is written by Auguste Escoffier!

Schoolgirl me, tagged along to pick up her copy. A heavy tome, ML lugged it home like it was a chest full of gold.

She was very protective of her Larousse. But I would still manage to sneak a look very often.

Oh! The pages of the Larousse…..they held treasure!

Treasure in the form of knowledge….foodie knowledge!

I was in heaven. I did not know what the food I was reading about, was. I didn’t think I ever would.

But the stories within, of historical events, lovers, royalty and famous stars all having dishes created especially for them, fascinated me.

I did not realize that all this information was filed away, only to surface 8 years later when I myself became a proud HAFTie!

With my parents running a catering business, our house was filled with all kinds of cookery books as well as constant discussions about food.

So it was natural that I had unknowingly absorbed so much of foodie knowledge, that I was teased in college and called ‘The Walking Talking Larousse II ‘.( I had a senior who was the first)

But I love my Larousse and now have my own copy which I still browse through, eagerly.

As part of my this blog I’ve decided to write about ‘Foodie Gyans and Yarns’.

This will include foodie terms I find interesting as well as those that confuse me…..my gyans.

Sometimes I will write stories…..my yarns.

 

I hope you will enjoy this and would love to hear about what you would like to see on the blog.

 

Talking about Escoffier, its only natural that I should talk about his acclaimed dishThe Peach Melba.’

Nellie Melba was a renowned Australian opera singer who was very popular in the late 1800’s.

Whenever she performed in London she always stayed at the Savoy or the Ritz Carlton.

Escoffier was the chef at both these landmark hotels at different points in his career.

Once when Nellie Melba was unwell, Escoffier created a very dry, thin, crisp piece of toast for her to eat. This toast came to be known as ‘Melba Toast.’

Normally eaten with some pate or cheese, Melba Toast is often served with soup or salad.

In 1892, when Nellie Melba was performing Wagner’s opera Lohengrin in Covent Gardens, London, she sent her fan Escoffier 2 tickets for the show.

Escoffier was so grateful that he created a dish of poached peaches on a bed of vanilla ice cream for Melba.

Later he added a topping of raspberry sauce to the dessert and served it in a swan shaped bowl carved out of ice.

Lucky Melba!!

Although many of us may have never heard of her, she is alive in history every time your eyes skim over a dessert menu and spies a dish called ‘Peach Melba’.

Or whenever you are served a soup or salad with Melba Toast on the side.

Now you are ‘in the know’.

Picture credits……Cooking in Provence

Perfecting Phad Thai

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My 7 year old came home one day pleading with me to learn from her friend’s Mom,how to cook ‘phad thai’…..”its the most delicious, ‘awesomest’ noodle I’ve ever eaten!” she said.

Isn’t it curious how kids just love what they ate at someone else’s house? (I don’t know about yours, but my kids are pro’s at this.) Never mind that it is our standard order at our favorite Thai restaurant, ‘Benjarong’, here in Chennai.

Like any good Mom, I called up the expert “pad thai-ing” Mother. She gave a recipe using peanut butter, imli (tamarind)chutney and ready Thai red curry paste.

Now I’m sure this made a very tasty Phad Thai….but the food snob that I am, I thought, “What! Not from scratch?”

It took me a few weeks, but I dragged myself to the computer and trawled the net for Phad Thai recipes.

Now there are thousands, if not more, varieties of Phad Thai recipes. But very few seemed to be ‘authentic’ to me.

Many of them used all kinds of packaged ingredients, but then I chanced upon a blog http://chezpim.com where

Pim shares her secrets to the best Phad Thai.

Phad Thai needs to have 4 flavours:

1.Salty (fish sauce)

2.Sweet (palm sugar)

3.Spicy (chilly powder)

4.Sour (tamarind pulp)

The recipe I follow belongs to Pim, I make a larger quantity as it stays beautifully bottled in the fridge.

My kids love it in their lunch box and it works for me as well because I have a fingerlickingly good ingredient on hand all the time.

PHAD THAI SAUCE:

1/2 cup tamarind pulp ( start with less and add to taste)

1/2 cup palm sugar

1/2 cup fish sauce

1 tsp chilly powder

Put all the ingredients in a pan and bring to a gentle boil. Simmer till very slightly thickened and the palm sugar dissolved.

I like my sauce a little sweeter. Play around with the ingredients till you find the balance that is right for you.

( add less tamarind to begin with and keep adding more after tasting)

Strain the sauce as the palm sugar almost always has some grit in it.

Cool and keep it in a jar in the fridge.

Jo’s Phad Thai…..Full of veggies and protein so it’s a complete meal!!

(Once again I may not be preparing the most authentic version but rather a wholesome meal with what I have on hand)

1/2 packet of Rice Sticks

1 stalk celery, chopped fine

3-4 spring onion with leaves, chopped ( if I don’t have this, I use sambar onions/shallots or just plain old onion)

1 Carrot, julienne

A handful of French Beans, julienne

1/2 leek cut fine

1 cup cabbage, julienned

1-2 chicken breast, sliced

15- 20 prawns (optional)

Tofu(….if you like it…if used cut in cubes and fry before using)

1 cup Beansprouts

2 eggs

Oil

Salt

1/4 cup chopped peanuts

Lemon

The How To:

1.Boil up a pot of water. Take off the stove and soak the rice sticks in the hot water. Add a little salt to taste.

Cover.

Do not keep it for too long, just until the rice sticks are al dente.

Once done, drain in a colander and run cold water over it to stop the cooking process.

2.Heat a wok and add in some oil.

Make a thin omelette with the 2 eggs. When done cut it into strips and keep aside.

3. Heat some oil and toss in the sliced chicken along with a spoonful of Phad Thai sauce. Saute till done and keep aside.(repeat the same procedure if you are using prawn as well)

4.Heat some more oil and add in the chopped celery, sautee for about a minute.

5.Add in the onions, fry till they begin to change colour.

6.Add in the carrots and beans, sautee. ( I normally have a problem with the beans, so at this stage I cover the wok for a few seconds so that steam can help the beans along.)

7.The cabbage and leeks go in next.

Cook the veggies so that they are 3/4 done and still retain a bite.

8.Toss in the cooked chicken and stir fry.

9. At this point divide the veggie chicken mixture into 2 portions.

Keep one portion in the wok, add in half the cooked drained rice sticks.

10. Add in the Phad Thai sauce to taste.

11. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and add a squeeze of lime.

12.Then do the same with the other half of the veggies and rice sticks.

13. Serve garnished with the omelette strips. ( My kids prefer the egg like this….but you could also push aside the

chicken /veggie mix to one side of the wok and scramble the egg on the other half, once cooked mix it all together.)

Important tips to remember when making Phad Thai I picked up from Pim http://chezpim.com

* Soak the noodles/rice sticks till al dente only.

* Make small quantities of noodle at a time.

(Making smaller batches makes it easier to mix evenly. When you try to make a large batch in a hot wok, by the time you mix all the elements together, the noodles overcook. )

*You can keep the excess sauce bottled in the fridge.

Enjoy your Phad thai with a starter of Chicken Satay………recipe coming soon!! Watch this space!!

Where to find what in Chennai

Fish Sauce – Blue Elephant, Nilgiris, Mercado, Amma Nanna

Palm Sugar- Nilgiri’s, Econut

Rice Sticks- How How Brand, Nilgiri’s, Mercado

Tofu- Nilgiri’s

Celery and Leek- Veggie vendor outside Nilgiri’s Adyar, Besant Nagar and Cathedral Road.

A Surprisingly Healthy ‘Junk’ Meal

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This wasn’t something I’d planned to blog about AT ALL.

But my slap dashing about in the kitchen this evening turned up gold!

I was thrilled and so were the kids.

Trying to tackle the 41+C temperatures in Chennai at the moment can really muddle up my foodie brain.

As I tried to plan our menus this morning, all I could think of for dinner today was something that did not require too much effort and time in the ‘roasting’ kitchen.

So I pulled out a pack of frozen chicken breasts, flattened it with a mallet and marinated it very simply with:

Salt, pepper, mustard, olive oil, Worcestershire sauce and a splash of ketchup.

Put it away to rest in the fridge and thought……”what the heck, I’ll tackle that in the evening when it’s cooler.”

This evening, extremely disgruntled at having missed my daily swim, I decided that ‘Burgers and fries’ would be our dinner.

However the thought of the oily fries in this heat was not appealing at all, other than the guilt that I was offering my kids ‘junk’.

So I decided to experiment and bake a few fries.

I just used the McCain’s Frozen French Fries,

 

Spread them out on a baking tray,

drizzled some olive oil

and popped it in an oven pre-heated to 200C.

and baked it for 30 minutes.

The result was fabulous! I had crispy golden fries, without having to fry them.

Try it ……it was just superb.

Oven Baked French Fries, Crispy and Golden

The chicken breast, I popped under the grill for @ 10 minutes.

I turned them over midway so that each side was grilled for 5 minutes.

After toasting the burger buns, I topped them with

Lettuce, chicken breast, cheese, balsamic grilled onions (see recipe below), slices of tomato and gherkins.

It was delicioso!

Finger lickingly good.

( For my 7 year old, I made a wrap with the grilled chicken)


Grilled Onions

2 onions

1tbs balsamic vinegar

1tsp sugar ( brown or white)

1 tsp olive oil

 

Inspired by a fellow blogger Stephanie from Modern Christian Woman who made slow roasted raspberry balsamic onions today, I decided to use balsamic vinegar instead of my usual Worcestershire sauce in the grilled onions.

 

You can see Stephanie’s recipe at:

http://modernchristianwoman.wordpress.com/2012/05/19/slow-roasted-raspberry-balsamic-onions-and-garlic/

 

Although I call them ‘grilled’ onions, I just do them on the stove top, in a pan.

Heat the oil and saute the onions. Add in the sugar, balsamic vinegar and a pinch of salt.

Saute over low heat till the onions are translucent and just beginning to caramelize.

Use it in burgers, sandwiches or hot dogs.

Now if only I could source some wholewheat burger buns…..my ‘healthy junk’ would be truly healthy.

 

Resource guide for Chennai:

McCains French Fries – Nilgiri’s and Mercado.

Balsamic Vinegar, various brands – Nilgiri’s and Mercado

Worcestershire Sauce, Lea and Perrins – Nilgiri’s, Mercado, Amma Naana

Boneless Chicken Breast, Suguna Protein – Nilgiri’s

Burger Buns – Nilgiri’s, Winners Bakery, French Loaf

Olive Oil – Econut

Gherkins – Tify

Lettuce – Veggie vendors outside Nilgiri’s, Besant Nagar, Cathedral Road and Indira Nagar.

Anything to please the ‘Recipe Spirits’.

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Well, you know what they say about sharing recipes?

There are many of us….myself included, who hate to share recipes.

We hold them close to our chest much like cards in a game of poker. I don’t know why. Is it because we love a certain ‘special recipe’ to be just ours? It brings us so much pride and recognition that we can’t bear to have someone else bask in that same glory?

My husband takes many a dig at me, its something that just infuriates him. I was totally serious about not giving out my recipes and always joked about it, laughed it off as being a trait well embedded in my genes. I can’t help it. I’m EI……East Indian.

Our community is well known for its culinary prowess among the Catholic communities in Mumbai, especially our skills in ‘sweet’ making.

However, we are equally known for NOT sharing recipes……and if we do, there are many a doubt to its veracity.

So, why would E.I. me, decide to blog and disclose my favourite recipes? ( I can vouch that all the recipes I share are correct) ; )

My job as a storyteller, working with elementary age group children, linking topics from the school curriculum to stories from mythology and folklore brings me immense joy and creative satisfaction. This is one of the stories I tell them when I want them to share their own stories.

THE STORY SPIRITS

(A tale retold from Korean Folklore)

A long time ago there lived a young boy Kim.

Kim was very lucky because he had an old servant, called Jung, who used to look after him.

Jung was like a treasure trove full of stories and every night he would tell Kim a new one.

Kim was very proud of all the stories he heard and all the wonderous things he learnt from them.

At school or the playground he would boast about all the wonderful stories he knew.

His friends and cousins begged him to tell them some of the stories but Kim always refused, saying the stories were his and his alone.

As the years went by and Kim grew up, he continued to hold onto the stories.

Soon Kim’s marriage was arranged and a big ceremony was planned. As per the custom, Kim and his family had to journey to the brides house for it.

As Jung was packing up for Kim, he heard strange sounds coming from behind the door.

When he went investigate what was making the sounds, what he heard, stunned him.

For in that bag there seemed to be little spirits with sinister voices and what they said chilled old Jung to the bone.

The spirits were angry and upset that Kim was lucky enough to be happy and free and getting married, but because Kim had never shared his stories, the spirits of the stories were trapped in his room, unable to travel the world.

They wanted revenge.

One story, that had a poisoned well featured in it, decided to change itself into a poisoned well along the path that Kim had to pass. It was sure that Kim would stop for a drink of poisoned water.

Another into a field full of poisoned strawberries, just in case he did not drink along the way, he would definitely be unable to resist juicy strawberries.

The third into a red-hot poker in a cushioned footstool so that when he stepped on it to get off his horse, he would get seriously burnt and the fourth into a poisonous snake under the rug in the bedroom…..just incase all else fails.

Jung lunged for the bag, but when he opened it,he found that all the spirits had disappeared.

It was the custom for the bridegroom to ride on a horse and his Uncle would have the important role of leading the horse.

As the wedding party was ready to leave, old Jung pushed the Uncle out of the way and pulled the horse along.

He pleaded with all the family to let him lead the young boy he had looked after from birth. The family realising that Jung must be very emotional, let him do so.

Along the way, Kim saw the well and wanted to stop for water, but Jung insisted that he could have the cleanest water at the brides house. Kim was annoyed as it was not Jung’s place to disobey his master.

At the strawberry field, Jung put off Kim by telling him that the strawberries he wanted were really tiny and sour, while those at the brides house would be red and juicy.

At last Kim arrived at the brides house and the page brought forward cushioned footstool for Kim to step on. When Jung saw this he dived forward and pushed the stool out of the way causing Kim to tumbled to the ground.

Kim was really angry with Jung and asked his father to keep him away.

The wedding ceremony went of without further disruptions from Jung. But soon it was time for the couple to retire to their room.

As they were about to shut the door, Jung rushed in with a big bamboo stick.

He pushed past the bride and groom and began to turn over cushions and mattresses till at last he found the snake under the rug and killed it.

Kim was shocked.

Jung told him what the ‘Story Spirits’ had planned and all because he did not share the stories!

Kim promised to start sharing the stories immediately and did so by narrating one every night to his new bride.

 

Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts.”

—Salman Rushdie


Just like stories, yarns and gossip, that bring people together, constantly spinning a web of connections, of bonding, of roots, so does food.

All our celebrations to mark important occasions, involve food.

We treasure recipes which have been passed down through our families and friends, preparing them on special occasions and always thinking kind thoughts about the ‘giver’ of the recipe.

In both storytelling and cooking, we give so much of ourself, changing , adapting, refining to get the best results.

To me these are the two most powerful tools of connection.

So I wish that you share my story, just as you must share my recipes and my blog………..

ANYTHING TO KEEP THE RECIPE SPIRITS HAPPY!!

With their blessings I’m sure every dish will be perfect. : )

 

The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memory. This is how people care for each other.–Barry Lopez in Crow and Weasel.

My Official Family Dish

Standard

We hear about family motto’s and crests, maybe even an animal or color that identifies a family in certain ways, something that is so ‘my family’.

We all know musical families, sporty ones, adventurous families and quite ones, boisterous families and snobby ones, even organic ones…….attributes or activities that make us identify a family in a a certain way.

I don’t know how people identify my family, but if we had to assign official family themes, much like a national flower, sport, animal etc I would not have a clue what ours would be…..but I know what our official family dish would be.

A simple but extremely wholesome meal of ‘Hainanese Chicken Rice.”

We ALL loooove it.

I love to cook it coz it’s so easy, the kids go ‘AAAhhhh’…….never a protest, even the hubby smiles peacefully…..all is well !

Hainanese Chicken Rice is supposed to be the national dish of Singapore…..officially or not, I do not know.

All I know is that we love to eat it and prepare it any time.

There are tons of recipes for it all over the net ( read a very detailed description at http://steamykitchen.com/5068-hainanese-chicken-rice.html )

….but this is my simple version of it as taught to me by a friend in Malaysia.

I have adapted the traditional recipe to suit my family’s eating habits.

Traditionally a whole chicken is poached in water with soome ginger, garlic and onions. The stock is used to cook the rice.

However we rarely use the whole bird, but just buy boneless chicken breast.

Also, I always have chicken stock on hand in the freezer(recipe at the end of this page), so all I need to do is defrost a box full and use it in this recipe.

HAINANESE CHICKEN RICE

The Chicken

1/2 kg Boneless Chicken Breast

3-4 cloves garlic, crushed

1″ piece ginger, crushed

@ 2 tbs Light Soya Sauce

A dash of Chinese sesame oil

Salt (if needed)

-Marinade the chicken with the above ingredients and keep aside at least for an hour, more would be better.

-Place on a greased baking tray and grill for around 8 mins, then turn and grill the other side.

-Check with a fork to ensure it’s cooked.

( you could also steam the chicken, if you like)

Meanwhile, The Rice

2 cups rice

4-41/2 cups chicken stock (recipe below)

2-3 cloves garlic

1/2-1 ” ginger

1 long pandanus leaf*

Sesame Oil

– In a pan heat some sesame oil and sauteed the garlic till a little brown.

-Add ginger and the pandan leaf and sautee.

-Add rice and fry. Add salt if your stock does not have any.

-Add the stock and cook in a rice cooker till done.

The Sauce

I do not make a chilly sauce as some recipes mention, but make one by mixing,

2.5 parts light soya sauce : 2 parts sesame oil

( This more or less suits our taste, but play around with it and try what suits you. Also differnt brands of the sauce may differ in flavour)

Serve with

A boiled egg

Slices of cucumber

The above sauce, on the side

And a soup made with the chicken stock and some spring onion and cabbage.

Garnish the rice with some freshly chopped corriander leaves.

Sit back and enjoy………..

(Just to include some veggies in the meal, I normally make a Chinese greens stir fry along with this.)

Making Chicken Stock is super duper easy.

Start with @1/2 kg chicken bones.

( you could use the back and wings, if you use a whole bone-in chicken in your cooking)

2 lts water

1 bayleaf

6-8 whole peppercorn

Then remember this…..O-C-C-L

Onions-Carrot-Celery-Leek

1 large carrot, roughly chopped or cut into 3-4 pieces

1 large onion, quartered

1 stalk celery, with leaves

1/2 leek, roughly chopped

-Through all the ingredients into a large stock pot and bring to a boil.

-As the stock comes to a boil you will find a foam forming on the top. This is called the ‘scum’.

-Skim the scum of the surface of the stock and reduce to simmer.

-I simmer my stock for about 1 1/2 hours…..the longer you simmer it, the more intense the flavour.

Don’t even talk to me about doing it in a pressure cooker……it’s almost sacrilege!!!

Slowly simmered is the only way!

HOT TIP: Sautee the bones and veggies in a little oil or roast it in a low oven to caramelise before adding to the stock pot and you will have an even more intense flavour.

Once done, I cool the stock and put it into different boxes and freeze.

Defrost and use in soups, sauces and gravies…….and of course Hainanese Chicken Rice.

Resource Guide for Chennai:

Light Soya Sauce and Chinese Sesame Oil – Brand ‘Woh Hup’ or ‘Blue Elephant’ available at Nilgiris and Mercado

Pandanus Leaf * I have a stock of this from Singapore, but in Sri Lanka its called Rampe and it is called Screw Pine in English. In India we use Kewda water…..which comes from this leaf.

Of course, the idea is that you try it yourself…..but just incase your just too lazy, there’s always Bee’s Kopitiam in Chennai, with the bubbly Beebee Chong cooking up a yum version.