Tagged: Original/ Family recipe

Minty Coconut Burfi with pistachios

The erstwhile cutest kid on the planet turned 18 this month. The year that marks adulthood. But to me, he’ll always be the kid who gave hugs on demand, loved Speed Racer and Winnie the Pooh, and waited for the moment I stepped out of the room to climb on top of my drafting table and add orange smiley faces, blue flowers and purple grass on my architecture school work sheets. Got to love a kid who leaves you smiley faces with oblivious equanimity, but it was only because he was so cute and cuddly (and because his other aunt had me in a death grip) that he survived.

This kid had a sweet tooth the size of Kentucky. His love of all things sweet has not waned at all through his teenage years. I love when he comes to visit as it gives me license to have honeyed somethings in the house all the time. I made him brownies when he was last here. And now, as Diwali is nearing, when I miss my family more than ever, I’m thinking of him and how much he loved the festival and was frightened by it in equal measure.

Every year at Diwali, mom made the traditional faral. This made our little guy very happy. One of the first things he learned to do a year after he was walking was make his way to the kitchen and pull on my mom’s pallu while asking for a laddoo or pedha. He’d insist on a piece for each hand and then scamper away to his toys. He talked to the toy dog and little bear and you could see he was torn between eating the sweets himself and trying to feed them to his toy partners. The toys never got to them though because, after much cajoling, he ended up handing at least one piece over to a hungry aunt. Then the firecrackers would start going off all around the neighbourhood. The loud ones scared him, and made him cry. That’s when more sweets would be produced to calm the fright. Yes, he made those festivals memorable.
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Spiced Coconut & Cashew Chicken

Conventional wisdom about entertaining at home indicates that practice is key to being a successful cook and host. There are unending volumes written on the subject filled with well-heeled advice that stress on planning menus, organizing your ingredients and having practice runs well in advance of the big event. They especially espouse caution when trying out new recipes. There is talk of the importance of being a relaxed host or hostess, and how you are unlikely to be one if you have been channeling the Road Runner right up the moment your guests arrive. All this running around is simply not done, they tell us earnestly.

Do you do everything you are told? Yeah, me neither. I used to, once, a long time ago. Back then, there was an implied threat of getting rid of reading time. But now? There isn’t a chance in hell I’ll do what I’m told. No way, no how.

That’s right. I listen to own tune, chart my course, pave my road. I’m a rebel, baby!!

Sigh. Who am I kidding? Let me proceed to ruin that rather defiant impression I just painted of myself with this carefully annotated bullet-point list…
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Rose and cardamom scented Truffle Brownies

Our garden is currently a study in schizophrenic behaviour. While it should be responding to autumn and preparing for a nice long sleep, it is frantic with activity.  The strawberry plant is turning out fruit like a plant possessed. The hibiscus has decided that now is the time to burst into riotous scarlet explosion. (I’m deeply thankful for this since no other flower reminds me of home more. We used to have several of these plants in constant bloom all around my building.) The Indian summer of this region has everything to do with this madness. The biggest surprise are the Gerbera daisies, which we thought had breathed their last gasp end of July. The plant had all but disappeared, but it then surprised us by bursting out in a brave show of health. It has begun throwing out several blooms a week.

The air is charged with a cold streak,  the kind that makes you reach for a jacket even though you look outside your window and see brilliant sunshine. Perhaps, it is because that sunshine is slow to show up and low in its bearings, its fiery gold reminiscent of early sunsets and late sun rises. Nevertheless it makes you want for the substantial things. The fresh fruits that were more than enough as dessert in their raw, unadorned form only recently simply won’t do now. I find myself reaching for the ghee or some spices to cook them into warm things. Those are the nature of dishes we’re starting to crave; the oozing unctousness of a spiced pie, the savoury headiness of a steaming bean stew, the joyous rich comfort of a perfect chocolate brownie.

I have a pan in my kitchen that I use specifically for brownies. It is a basic thing, made of cooking grade aluminium. We bought it on an impulse at a sale because of the fact that it came with a lid, making it a perfect cook-and-store utensil. This pan has proven its worth to me more than anything else in the kitchen. It has lost its sheen and has taken on scratches of careless cutting over the years, but it still bakes fantastic bread puddings and cakes. It excels at its primary purpose, rich brownies with a crisp-ish edge.
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Strawberry Ice-cream with thyme & lemon verbena

Blue cheese. Nutella. Lavender. Burrata. Habenero.

This could be a list of things I’m crazy about. What it is, is a list of things Amey dislikes, with a healthy dose of disdain thrown in for good measure.

Aside from his insidious proclivity to all things lime and my prodigious tendency to all things chilli, there not much my other half and I disagree about food-wise. Unless we get to this bunch of things. Then we get to how-on-earth-can-this-be-the-person-I-chose-to-marry territory.  The territory where one can have a polarized relationship about Nutella.

He’s a better eater than I am, despite his embargo on soft, fresh cheese and burn-your-tongue-off peppers. He eats all kinds of vegetables I won’t touch with a ten-foot pole – bitter gourd, horseradish, rajma – with a fair amount of gusto. He also respects the fact that you cooked for him and will most likely eat any of these ingredients if you invite us over for dinner. There are then these very rare times where he sticks his hands in his pockets, clamps his mouth shut and does the best impression I know of a two-year old discovering kale for the first time. Times when I’m trying to prove to him, with a piece of toast in one hand and a spoonful of Nutella in the other, just how irrational his not liking it is. I plead “But you like hazelnuts.” He agrees “Sure”. I further posit “…and you love chocolate”. and he’s all “What’s not to like?” Then I go for the jugular with “So this is chocolate and hazelnuts. Together. In one handy, dandy smooth, creamy spoonful”. At which he gets that glazed look in his eyes that he gets when I’m trying to get him to watch The Nine Lives of Chloe King and is all like “What’s your point?” At which juncture I stick the spoonful of Nutella in my mouth, spread his toast with peanut-butter and loathing, and settle down to a lonely lifetime of solitary Nutella love.

So all in all, his quasi-erratic food preferences  should have prepared me to his reaction to this ice-cream flavour I made up. If I’d thought it through, I would have inaugurated my brand-new ice-cream maker with some thing safe, like vanilla. But I was all “vanilla? How boring!” (I love vanilla. I was just caught up in new appliance high.) I’ve dreamed of my own ice-cream maker all my life. Ever since I saw the two guys lug this big barrel around on a bicycle with another barrel in it and rock salt and ice in between, set with a humongous crank that one of them industriously turned. It made the best strawberry ice-cream. I pleaded with my dad who was all “Where on earth do you see room for a giant barrel in this flat?” and my mom who said “I’ll move out and then you’ll have room for your ice-cream barrel”. I was eight. Like I’d have any problem making that choice. But I digress.

I had conviction that the first ice-cream I’d make when I finally got my mitts on an ice-cream maker of my very own would involve strawberries. It was the first ice-cream flavour I ever tasted. It was so good I didn’t stop to think it involved artificial flavouring. I didn’t care. I clung to the strawberry-is-my-favourite-ice-cream-flavour idea with a true limpet touch. A limpet with a plan.

The strawberries at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market are some of the best you can find. The wonderful folk at Dirty Girl Produce (I love them) hooked me up with some of their A-grade stash. They would have been best just eaten by themselves, but they had a date with some sugar and a very cold bowl. In his very comprehensive book, How to cook everything Vegetarian, Mark Bittman has a lovely short chapter on ice-cream and how you can put together your own flavour combination by following some simple ratio rules. We had some lovely flowering thyme in the garden which I’d just picked and the colour was so gorgeous next to the strawberries. Without thinking much about it, I found myself tossing the thyme into a pot with some sugar, macerated strawberries and some lemon verbena leaves. A squeeze of orange juice to enhance the lovely tang in the strawberries and I found myself in possession of some delicious strawberry puree with a note of something in it that you couldn’t quite put your finger on. I thought it was heavenly. Making the ice-cream with it was so simple, I couldn’t believe we hadn’t owned an ice-cream maker any sooner. Amey was going to love this. I was sure. I was also wrong.

He had a couple of spoonfuls, put the spoon down carefully and told me I was taking my obsession with salt entirely too far and why on earth had I salted his ice-cream that he’d been looking forward to all day. Then he went looking for some Pringles, because by Yoda if he was going to eat salty foods then it would be stuff not pretending to be sweet. I cautiously tasted the ice-cream again. I tasted no salt. There was no salt in the recipe. No, I hadn’t mistaken the salt for sugar. Not.one.pinch.of.salt. I don’t get it. I loved it. A friend of mine who tried it loved it. All Amey tasted was salt. I wonder if it’s like that phenomenon where to some people cilantro tastes like soap.

Strawberry Ice-cream with Thyme and Lemon Verbena
Based on Mark Bittman’s method from How to cook everything Vegetarian.
Makes about 1 pint

For the puree:
Strawberries – 2 cups, washed, hulled and halved
Sugar – 3/4 cup
Thyme – 1 3″ sprig
Lemon Verbena – 5 large leaves
Orange – 1/2, juice of

For the ice-cream:
Milk – 1 cup (2%)
Cream – 1 cup
Strawberry puree – 1 cup
Eggs yolks – 5
Sugar – 1/3 cup

To make the puree:
– Toss the strawberry halves and sugar into a saucepan at medium heat.
– Pour in the juice of half an orange along with a cup of water.  Stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a boil.
– Turn the heat down when mixture reaches a boil and then add the thyme sprigs and lemon verbena leaves.
– Roughly mash in the strawberries against the side of the container, using a large fork or potato masher.
– Simmer until the liquid has slightly reduced and mixture has thickened about 25-30 minutes.
– Skim off the foam. Fish out the woody bit of the thyme sprig and the lemon verbena leaves.
– Pour into a jar and let cool to room temperature. (Will make more puree than you need for one batch of ice-cream)

To make the ice-cream:
– Pour the cream and milk into a saucepan and heat at medium-high, just bringing it to a boil, stirring occasionally. Move off heat.
– In a separate bowl, beat the yolks and sugar together until mixture is thickened and light yellow.
– Slowly add 1/2 cup of the warmed milk and cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking continuously, to temper the yolks.
– Whisk the egg and milk mixture gently back into the rest of the hot milk.
– Cool mixture down to room temperature then place in the fridge for 30 minutes or so.
– Take out of the fridge and add in the berry puree. Stir to mix then follow your ice-cream machine’s instructions to make your ice-cream.

Cook’s notes:-
Mark Bittman instructs the use of 6 egg yolks and 1/2 cup of sugar for strawberry ice-cream. That just scared me but I didn’t want the ice-cream to be ruined (apparently it was anyway; my husband hated it) so I reduced those numbers slightly. I think I shouldn’t have. A bit more sugar may have gone some way in helping Amey’s palate.
I really don’t know what happened with this ice-cream. I love the honey-thyme ice-cream that Humphrey Slocombe makes and somewhere in the back of my mind that’s what I was thinking of while making this. Truly, I thought it was delicious. On a normal day, Amey loves strawberries. And thyme. And lemon verbena. Clearly, he has a problem with them together. Or he doesn’t like them cold. Or something. Wish I knew what it was. Then I could make a tweaked batch of this again. As of now, I have to wait for him to take a week’s trip somewhere. Or catch a cold. Either option will do. I get petty when my ice-cream is insulted.

Three awesome masala (desi) omelets

Before chat rooms and MySpace, there were pen friends. Did
you have one? I had several between the ages of nine and fourteen,
who I wrote to diligently every month. We exchanged news and
factoids on our country, school, what we read and where are lives
were. Then life and school got hectic, took priority and I had no
time to keep in touch. Neither did they, and the inevitable parting
of ways took place without us even knowing it. Every once so often,
I found myself missing that like-minded interaction with fun
individuals I knew only through their words. I missed that, until a
few more years passed. Then there was Twitter.

Among all the social media prevalent
today, Twitter is the one that I find most creatively inspiring. It
facilitates connections so easily that finding someone interesting
and inspiring requires only that you start. This was where I
connected with Manisha. Not only is she an interesting follow on
twitter, but her blog never
ceases to inspire me. When my half-Kashmiri husband had a sudden
yearning for Haak,
it was her blog that led me to salvation. I despair using collard
greens, what one would traditionally use here. I embraced, and
enjoyed, her dandelion greens version with a sigh of relief. Her
travel photos on India go a long way in assuaging that homesick
feeling I still get sometimes.

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