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Friday, 29 June 2012

Cheese croquets, Chrysanthemums and a bygone era

December evenings were ripe with anticipation in that house at the end of the sleepy little lane. Two little girls waited with bated breath for a certain white ambassador to roll down the sloping road and come to a halt in front of their gate.
I was one of those little girls, the years were the eighties and the place was Jamshedpur.
Nothing much happened in Jamshedpur in those days and I think it was the absence of events that engendered the happiness in the little things that did.
I remember tripping in my favourite ghagra several times as I ran to the gate when the white ambassador came to a halt in front of our gate and a beaming man stepped out to open the trunk. We gasped every year as he carefully lifted out two burgeoning flower pots of multi coloured Chrysanthemums grown by one of the most talented ladies in the city.
The pots were the pride of the garden for the rest of the winter. We lured friends into our garden and proudly showed off these priceless gifts from Ramalingam Aunty.
In my gardening stints in Jorhat I tried hard to recreate that mental picture that is still so vivid in my mind. I think it is superfluous to mention that of course I failed.
I am hoping for a Ramalingam Aunty for my daughter so that she can love Chrysanthemums the way I do.
Today’s recipe is Cheese croquets – needless to say a shortcut. I think I chose the recipe because of the Cs it has in common with Chrysanthemums.
Cheese Croquets
1.     Boil two potatoes and grate them. The easiest way is to seal them in a plastic bag and microwave for 5 minutes and then give them a standing time of 10 minutes before you take them out. The potatoes can be mashed instead of grating them but frankly I find mashing more tedious.
2.     Grate some cheese. The amount of cheese can be varied according to taste. We are a cheese loving family and so I like to mix in as much cheese as potato.
3.     Mix the potato and cheese together. Add salt if you like but usually the cheese makes it salty enough.
4.     Shape the mixture into little cutlets with your hands
5.     Now break an egg into a quarter plate.
6.     Spread bread crumbs onto another  quarter plate
7.     Heat oil for shallow frying in a frying pan
8.     Dip the cutlets in the egg and coat them well
9.     Roll the egg coated cutlets in the breadcrumbs so that all the surfaces are coated
10.                        Fry in hot oil.
The trick with frying cutlets in the frying pan without having burnt crumbs all over the frying pan and none on the cutlet is – to keep the oil hot enough through the frying. When you put the cutlet in, it cools the oil considerably so you have to quickly whack up the flame.
Also keep the cutlets small – it will be much easier to fry them.
Of course frying is an indulgence. On diet obsessed days – grill each side for 5 minutes in a grill pre -heated to 200°C for 10 minutes

Friday, 22 June 2012

Never mess with doctors - you may end up eating Taheri

Surprise and on some occasions shock, is the usual reaction when I tell people that I can cook and in fact enjoy cooking.
I am not sure whether this is true of women in other professions but I can safely say that doctors at least are never expected to know how to cook.
My Mother is a gynaecologist and her hilarious batch mates, even when they  come visiting her decades later, actually sneak into the kitchen to check if she is really cooking what they are eating. One of them even said that if he knew doctors could cook, he would’ve certainly married one.
My husband is on that batch mate’s side, and categorically states that he married me because I could cook. He has learnt not to mention this too often however, because when he does, he ends up cooking for the next whole week.
I’ve even had rookie technicians who knew nothing about working in the laboratory daring to trip me up with exotic culinary terms. One such guy who was the prized only son, used to rattle off his exotic lunch menu every day just to watch my bewildered look and gloat over the fact that I could not even identify many dishes, leave alone cook them. One such dish was “Taheri”.
He used to offer me “taheri” every day and I would politely decline. One day I decided to get to the bottom of the matter and asked him the recipe. Turned out it was just a vegetable pulao. Anyway I learnt how to cook it just to avenge myself.
What I now cook is a shortcut of course but it is a great lunch box idea any way.
For the uninitiated, taheri is actually a North Indian Pulao with lots of vegetables. Now in my kitchen the only vegetable that is unerringly present is in a bag in the freezer - frozen green peas. All the others need hard work from lazy me, to revamp into their pulao avatar. My strategy then on busy days is to substitute the sabjis with dal but keep the texture from becoming like khichri.
1.     Wash half a katori of moong (yellow)  dal well and soak it in water for an hour. If an hour is too much to wait, soak it in hot water for 5 minutes.
2.     When the soaking time is up, wash half a katori of rice. The rice has to be cooked immediately – no soaking.
3.     Take a pan and heat 2 tablespoons of oil in it.
4.     Add a teaspoon of jeera to the oil and fry it till it turns golden
5.     Now add the washed rice and the soaked dal. Fry these for a bit in the oil.
6.     Add some salt to taste
7.     Add a handful of frozen peas (more or less depending on your relationship with peas)
8.     If there are some other chopped vegetables like florets of cauliflower or cubes of carrots or chopped beans available add them now and fry them for a bit.
9.     Add 1 katori of water. Water added should be exactly double of the amount of rice used.
10.                        Cook until the rice gets cooked.
The dal and rice remain separate entities in this and do not merge to become a khichri. The end result is separate grains of rice as you get in a pulao.
Serve hot or pack away in your lunch box.
When I make this for my daughter I use ghee – that tastes heavenly.
Non vegetarians who want to make a meal out of it should take a boneless breast of chicken and chop it up into small pieces. Sprinkle a little salt on it and stir fry it in a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan for a minute. Add this to the taheri.

Friday, 15 June 2012

The smell of a new city in a Chicken sandwich

As a hostel fresher I lived for a long time on a steady diet of smuggled mess food. The just edible food was cold and unpalatable by the time it reached us and could only be salvaged by generous dollops of homemade pickle from all over the country.
This was Bangalore in the nineties. The city was just acquiring the reputation of being the Pub City with a great night life, and here we were stuck in an underground dormitory poring over Anatomy text books and shivering at the sound of footsteps. If there was a definition for anticlimax – this it would be.
A month into this dump, I remember sneaking out with a friend on the pretext of buying Air tickets and going to MG road. MG Road at that time was THE destination. It was the hippest part of town and the coolest hangout spot. Menial freshers attempting to even look at M G Road before the fresher’s night was over, was unheard of.
Dowdily clad we stepped out of the auto at MG Road, in the light drizzle that then characterized Bangalore. It was then that I first smelt the real Bangalore.
It was a heady irresistible smell. We were drawn to the smell as if we had heard the call of the Pied Piper. We moved towards it – oblivious of the disapproving upturned noses of the swish crowd that took in our dowdy appearance.
 The trance ended only when we sunk our teeth into the smell - that had converted into a Grilled Chicken Club Sandwich and it made its way down our throats and ended in nothingness.
When I close my eyes I can still taste that sandwich in my mouth. I have tried unsuccessfully to replicate that taste in the many sandwiches that I have assembled since that day. Maybe I have never been that hungry since.
Today’s recipe is the ubiquitous Chicken Sandwich. It is not grilled but it is super simple and a sure fire hit every time it is served.

Chicken Sandwich
1.     Open a pack of Boneless Breast of Chicken (250gms). Boil it with some salt (to taste). I always pressure cook it for one whistle, but then I have to be excused my idiosyncrasies as a Microbiologist. Anyway pressure cooking works just as well.
2.     Once the chicken is boiled, shred it. I just chop it up with the knife like I’m chopping onions.
3.     Now chop up a tomato as well
4.     Put the chicken and the tomato in a bowl and add 4 tablespoons of mayonnaise (I buy my mayonnaise)
5.     Mix all this well
6.     Now take the best sandwich bread you can find and layer this mixture on one slice and place another slice over it.
7.     With a sharp serrated knife, cut the sandwich up into two rectangles. You could make triangles but they are more prone to breaking and so I never try that shape.
8.     Repeat this until all the mixture is over. You should have at least ten sandwiches by then
9.     The sandwiches are now ready
10.  Until you serve them refrigerate them. It is a good idea to wrap the sandwiches in a moist kitchen towel and keep them like that even when you put them on the table to prevent the bread from becoming crusty.

Enjoy. ...........................

Friday, 8 June 2012

The quest for perfection in a bowl of pepper rice

Every time I served up mushy or crunchy rice I wished for a magic rice pot.
I was always a victim of the untrue promises on the packs of Basmati rice.
Precious minutes would be spent in the rice section of the departmental store playing inky pinky ponky with the various brands of rice in their shiny packaging. The busy crowded aisle would be braved at least four times (apologising to glaring fellow shoppers) to exchange the chosen rice packet for a different brand and a different packet colour. 
Back home the instructions on the pack would be replicated with scientific accuracy (God help the husband if he dared to discard the pack).
 Surprise! Surprise! The result would always be the same. There were two easy words to aptly sum up my efforts – overcooked or undercooked.
The Promised Land was far away. The land of long grains that miraculously fell away from each other with ease while being perfectly cooked inside and fluffy and white on the outside eluded me.
All the rice I had ever eaten, mocked me as I stared at my plate of squishy squashy rice that still had a few crunchy grains in between.
Then one day something magical happened. I was blessed with a neighbour whose rice was legendary. The aroma of her rice was a crowd puller and it was difficult to remind yourself that you were on a diet when she started cooking rice.
Many days of growling stomachs later I finally begged my neighbour for her secret. It was unbelievably simple – she just cooked rice in the rice cooker.
There was a mad dash to the market. The magical gadget – the rice cooker was bought and commissioned – and lo and behold – I was the rice queen too.
And now Dhruba – thanks to you – I can make the perfect bowl of rice too.
This recipe is dedicated to you my friend Dhruba.
Pepper Rice
1.     Measure out a cup of rice.
2.     Wash the rice well in two changes of water. Be gentle so that the grains don’t break
3.     Heat a tablespoon of oil in a kadhai
4.     Add a teaspoon full of whole black pepper and a teaspoonful of jeera to the oil.
5.     Add some salt ( to taste)
6.     Put the rice in the rice cooker and add exactly double the amount of water to the rice. In this case - two cups. Make sure it is the same cup that you used to measure out the rice.
7.     Now pour the oil with the spices over the water in the cooker
8.     Mix a bit
9.     Switch on the rice cooker. When the rice is done and the rice cooker switches off on its own, gently prod the rice with a fork. Some of the spices that remain on the surface can be pushed in deeper with this. Be careful not to mix too much otherwise you will break the grains.
Serve up! This goes really well with everything but my favourite pairing is either with chicken, or Dal Makhani or Boondi raita. Ah! Heavenly.
Thanks Dhruba.