Category: Cooking

Ma ke haath ka khana #Mother’sDay

Ma ke haath ka khana #Mother’sDay

One Sunday the Husband said he wanted to eat aloo puri for lunch. The children chimed in their yays and I was game too. Not too tough to put together, thought I, as I put the potatoes to boil and got the dough going for the puris.

Half an hour later I checked on the bubbling curry on the stove. As the spicy whiff of fresh gram masala reached me I thought I’d done a decent job. I dipped a spoon into the pan and tasted the gravy. It was good but a tad less tangy. Also, it wasn’t the ‘right’ orange. So back I went to the fridge, got out some tomatoes, ground them, sautéed them separately then added them to the gravy. I’m not sure that’s the right way to do it but that’s just how I cook – tasting and adjusting, adding spices and ingredients till I get the flavour I like.

Finally lunch was done – a thick rich orange potato gravy, perfectly puffed up puris with dahi and salad. As the children helped lay the table I was happy with myself. Tucking into the food the Husband remarked, ‘We used to have aloo puri every Sunday but that used to be a yellow gravy, it wasn’t so thick nor so tangy but it was way spicier.’

Seriously!

After all the trouble I took to turn it from yellow to orange he says he wanted yellow? And ‘way spicier’? Would the children eat ‘way spicier’?

See, that’s the trouble with ma ke haath ka khana. While I was attempting to get as close as possible to my ma ke haath ka food the Husband was dreaming about a replication of his ma’s.

This, I’m sure, has been the undoing of many a happy marriage.

Mercifully ours stands on sturdier ground than the quality of aaloo-puri I turn out and thank goodness for that. All the Husband got for his pains was my routine dagger look. Gratifyingly enough the children ate on, unaware of this exchange of visual weaponry, gushing all the way.

I wonder now, if I was laying the grounds for more battles when they grew up.

Cooking has never been my forte but H and N don’t seem to think so. They happily eat up whatever I serve. When my dosas stick to the pan they fight for the broken bits insisting they’re the crunchiest, when my cake turns out hard they christen it biscuit-cake and munch on it and when my atta laddoos don’t bind well they scoop up the mixture with a spoon relishing every last bit.

They have made friends with all the various gourds and pumpkins I put on the table no matter how they’re cooked. Sometimes I wonder how they will reminisce about my food when they grow up.
Perhaps one of them will say something like, ‘You remember mom’s lauki?’ 
And the other one will reply, ‘Oh yeah that delicious watery gravy and the smoky smell (from the burnt bits)’.
‘Remember the time we had to scrape off the rice from the pan and it turned all crispy?’
‘Oh yeah,’ the other one will reply and then they’ll shake their heads together ruing that no maid could ever match the flavours of their childhood.

Quite unlike me, my mother is a talented cook, a really talented cook. From delicately flavoured Navratan Pulaos to cheesy Veg Au Gratins she has a knack for them all. Her melt-in-the-mouth pineapple pastries are the stuff of family legends. Once when I remarked to my friend that my mom was a great cook, she casually, rather patronisingly, dismissed it saying ‘all moms are great cooks’ implying that all children thought their moms were great cooks. That incensed me so much that I launched into a huge argument with her.

Now however, I wonder if there’s more truth in her statement that I cared to admit that day. Perhaps we just get used to what we eat through our growing up years. Or perhaps there really is something special in the flavours of our childhood, something that transcends the science and skill of cooking.

What do you say? Is there one thing no one can make quite like your mom?

PS: I still maintain my mom’s a great cook and I love H and N to bits for believing I’m one too.

Eat Seasonal, Eat Local

Eat Seasonal, Eat Local

I never really was fond of winters. They’re just so cold, no? (Reminds me of Ross who doesn’t like ice-cream because it’s too cold!) They’re supposed to be cold I know, but that’s just me.

The one saving grace was food. And I’m not talking of Nawabi winter desserts like malai pan or malai makkhan I grew up on.

I’m talking regular everyday food.

Winter brightened up our daily dinner table

There was delicious matar aloo, my absolute favourite, peas and potatoes in a thick rich tomato gravy. Or we had peas simply sautéed with ginger and topped with lemon and coriander that could be had a side dish or a snack. Sometimes they teamed with carrots for the sweetish gajar-matar.

There was cauliflower made with potatoes or cooked elaborately into a dum gobhi. There were green chick peas to be made into an aromatic nimona or just roasted to be ready to munch on.

We had capsicums and tomatoes stuffed with paneer or potatoes and baked to perfection; not to mention a variety of greens – spinach and fenugreek and mustard greens made into a saag.

Even the salad dish looked brighter with brilliant white radishes, sweet with a tiny hint of bitterness, deep red beets, tomatoes and carrots.

There were peanuts to pass the time and til laddoos or gajak for dessert.

The rotis tasted better too. Besan ki roti with gur and ghee or makki ki roti with sarson ka saag were couples made in food-heaven.

It was such a relief from the entire gourd horde of the summer – bottle gourd, sponge gourd, bitter gourd, white gourd – lauki, torai, karela. Seriously!!

So why am I talking in the past tense?

Because it isn’t so any longer.

Now we get everything in every season

I find cauliflower throughout the year, the red carrots might disappear but the orange ones happily take their place and we have frozen peas if fresh ones get too expensive. And wonder of wonders I can even get kairis, raw mangoes, in December if I want to make a chutney.

However, it isn’t the same, is it? The peas aren’t as sweet, the carrots not so flavourful and the radish not crisp enough.

The other day I was at a hotel and they served watermelon for breakfast. I didn’t even feel like going close to it. Come  summer and it becomes the fastest vanishing fruit in our refrigerator. The Husband would go to the wholesale market and stock it up because we just couldn’t have enough of it.

There really is something to be said about having food in the right season. Click To Tweet

I’m not going to launch into a lengthy ‘Why’ of it because it is quite obvious. Seasonal food is fresher, cheaper, more nutritious and with fewer preservatives, as also so much more delicious, when had in the correct season. In the larger perspective, it is often sourced locally and good for your local farmer. Besides, half the excitement of it all is not getting it all year through.

And while on that, I have to take back the insults I heaped on the gourd family. They are perfect for the summer – cool and light and easy on the stomach.

It’s rather sad that the children don’t even know that specific vegetables are available in specific seasons, except perhaps mangoes. And that is why they remain an absolute premium fruit for them.

I’m no cook but prompted by Rachna’s recipe I tried sarson ka saag. It turned out really easy to make once I got all the ingredients together and absolutely scrumptious. Wonder of wonders, the children loved it, tucking into it with gusto, first with the makki ki roti and then with rice. It is set to become a regular at our table.

The makke ki roti looks like tiger pugmarks. I struggled to keep even this small a roti together.

Do drop by Rachna’s blog if you’re a non-cook like me and are looking for easy-to-make recipes.

Do you have a favourite food memory linked to a season? A favourite winter staple, perhaps?

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Linking up with Shilpa for #FlavoursomeTuesdays

New Learnings and Kitchen Adventures

New Learnings and Kitchen Adventures

Last week I went down with a bad back. After the initial shock had worn off I settled down with my current read on my kindle. I was just beginning to enjoy the experience when the cook called to say she wasn’t coming. That was the worst kind of spoke in the wheel of my happiness.

As I sat there feeling rather helpless, the children offered to take up the cooking. It might have been the result of a phone call from the sister, which turned them from busy-without-business-tweens to Santa’s hardworking little elves.

Of course there’s much difference between good intentions and actually getting down to work. After staking claim to each task and fighting tooth and nail for each one, H disappeared behind his book leaving N to handle it all.

Glad to have him out of the way, we made up the simplest menu of Egg Curry and Rice. No cutting, no chopping and no need for the dreaded pressure cooker. N, dear little, careful, meticulous N went to work and did a pretty good job of following my instructions to a tee. H appeared from behind his book (after much coaxing) to cut the salad and lay the table.

H is rather unconventional when it comes to doing up the salad plate.

In the end we had a pretty decent meal.

While I prayed the maid would come back, an inspired H prayed harder that she wouldn’t, so he could prove his powers as a chef too. God, as they say, listens to the prayers of children. The maid didn’t turn up.

And so come evening, we chose another simple recipe – paneer in a ready-spice mix. The only tricky part was grinding the tomatoes which H said he’d manage given that he’s comfortable with the food processor (because he uses the juicer all the time).

They’re so very different, these two. While N is overly cautious, stopping at each step, confirming and reconfirming, checking with me and cross checking again, H blunders in full of confidence even when he hasn’t the foggiest idea about things.

And so it was that before I could give him a single instruction he had chopped the tomatoes, dropped them into the mixer and switched it on. Forgetting to put his hand on the lid. Yeah, you know what happened next. The kitchen looked like the site of a tomato tornado! H stood there, tomato pulp splattered on his spectacles trying to figure out the way to the kitchen sink.

I blew my top worse than any food processor and a rather remorseful H got down to retrieving the bits and washing and grinding them all over again.

Finally he did handle the paneer, completely on his own, while I managed the chapatis and we were good. He was so very proud as was I.

I told them to go write down the recipes in their recipe books and guess what was the first thing H wrote – “Never forget to take your hand off the top of the mixer while grinding tomatoes”!

So there, that’s my silver lining. Thanks to my bad back, the children took a small step forward in their culinary journey.

All Four Stars – A Book Review

All Four Stars – A Book Review

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman

Here’s a scrumptiously wonderful book every tween is going to love. All Four Stars is the story of Gladys Gatsby, an eleven-year-old who is passionate about cooking. Her parents, on the other hand, are not. They are both working and don’t have the time or inclination to cook. The family lives on terrible takeaways.

However, Gladys cooks up complicated delicacies in secret, when her parents are away at work. All is well until one day when her parents walk in just as she accidentally sets fire to the kitchen curtains while making Creme Brûlée. As a result of that singularly bad piece of luck, she’s banned from further cooking experiments and her allowance is taken away.

Then, through a quirk of fate, she lands an assignment as a food critic in a frontline newspaper. The catch is – getting to that restaurant which is a train-ride away from the suburb where Gladys lives. Confiding in her parents and asking for help is out of the question. So how does she do it?

This is a story delicious enough to sate the most demanding of gourmands.

It’s a perfect read-aloud book
Each night after dinner, we’d sit with this one, the children and I, reading it aloud. The descriptions of food made H hungry while N started dreaming of a career as a food critic.

What I liked
The descriptions of food were absolutely delectable. The good ones (that she had at Parm’s house or out at restaurants) were mouth-watering but it’s the bad ones that H and N enjoyed most because they were hilariously funny.

I loved that Gladys sampled and enjoyed all kinds of food – African, Malaysian and Indian too. She has an Indian friend and the rather foreign descriptions of familiar Indian foods like chhole and raita and palak paneer had the children completely thrilled.

If you’ve read any of my earlier reviews you’ll know I love a book with great side-characters. All Four Stars had many of them – Sandy, Gladys’ friend and neighbour, Parm, her Indian friend, Charissa the most popular girl at school, the kind Mr Eng who runs a cosy grocery and patisserie and Mrs Anderson, Sandy’s adorable mom. Although some of them are rather stereotypical they all manage to do something to redeem themselves, to break the stereotype. That, I was grateful for.

There are bits on friendship – on making and keeping friends – on shared secrets and making plans which the children completely loved.

If I have one complaint it would be that the author didn’t do justice to the parents. They come across as uni-dimensional, too taken up with their work, barely bothered about their daughter and rather unkind. They did get better towards the end of the book, though, so that was something.

We talked about
Whether the punishment Gladys got was fair/unfair.
Could Gladys have done things differently? Perhaps, taken the help of other sympathetic adults.

What we did
– We read up all kinds of cuisines that Gladys talks of.
– We pored (and salivated) endlessly over food pictures.
– We made up a game of trying to describe a food to someone who had never known Indian cuisine.
– And we tried baking.

This book came to us through Enchantico – a delightful book-activity box we subscribed to. Read my review of the box here. It came with a cookie recipe, premixed flour as well as cookie cutters.

With all that help we had to try our hand at baking. The first batch came out near perfect. But then we got caught up in something and ended up burning down the next one and had to rush around dousing the flames in the oven.

So you see, there really is never any guarantee with cookies but the book – that’s a sure shot winner.

 

Linking up with the Write Tribe Problogger October 2017 Blogging Challenge #writebravely #writetribeproblogger

7 reasons being a bad cook is cool

7 reasons being a bad cook is cool

I’m no cook. It was only after I had the twins that I tried any kind of cooking. I mastered the art of making the perfect bottle of milk (Hey it’s not easy okay, the temperature has to be just so and the amount of powder all measured and the water just that much). I learnt to dish out a mean Cerelac too. 

As the kids grew so did my cooking repertoire. Stewed apples, soups, khichdis, kheers – I learnt them all moving onto idlis and dosas. Then a few years back, unable to find a decent cook, the entire chore fell to me. I went about it in a pretty scientific manner balancing out the carbs, proteins, vitamins and minerals. The only casualty I presume, was ‘taste’. But I persisted, to The Husband’s dismay and continued dissatisfaction. 

That pretty much summed up our situation.

The kids of course knew no better since they’d been brought up on my cooking all along. They plied me with compliments as they crunched up cakes as hard as biscuits and happily ate up my lopsided chapatis

Sometimes I wondered if N grows up to be a famous actress (which is her current ambition) and some inane paper like apna ToI asks her for a favourite dish and she says (with that world-weary air typical of celebrities), ‘I love ghar ka khana. Specially my mum’s watery lauki with her special burnt-aroma rice.‘ Would that be a cringe-worthy moment for me or one of pride? 
Ummm… I’m not sure at all.

But I’m rambling. The thing is recently, fed up with the daily chore, I finally got a cook again and what bliss it has been. Check out the top seven reasons why being a bad cook works for me.

1. The most obvious one of course – you get to hire a cook and are free to do more reading or writing or just about anything else.

2. You are playing your part in boosting the economy by providing employment.

3. When you have a cook and the food is not so good, instead of going in defensive mode you can shake your head like the rest of the family and before anyone else can say it you pipe up, “Someone really needs to talk to the cook.” (without any intention whatsoever of doing it of course. You do not want to annoy her now, do you?) And when she does a good job you puff up your chest with pride and say, “It’s an art you know, finding the perfect cook.”
4. When you do make something decent it’s such happiness. Even after having made hundreds of dosas over the past years, when the batter spreads out perfectly and comes off without sticking It’s like a miracle unfolding. Watching that chapati puff up makes you feel like a total domestic goddess, each and every time.

5. Then there’s everyone else’s sense of awe and wonder when you land that perfect dish once in a long long while.

6. Your cool aprons always remain spotless because all you’ve done in them is mixed the salad.

7. You never take anyone else’s cooking for granted and hence are a favourite dinner guest at all your friends’ parties.

So are you the ‘cooking’ kind or the ‘get-a-cook’ kind?

On my other blog: Beat About The Book

Ghosts and Writers #BookBytes 12

Ghosts and Writers #BookBytes 12

I am currently reading Eating Wasps by Anita Nair. Here’s a quote that caught my eye, specially as a writer. “Ghosts and writers are more alike than you think. We can be what you want us to be. We can hear your thoughts even if you don’t tell us. We can read the silences and […]