Ep2 : Chinese and Thai 400: Delicious Recipes for Healthy Living

Saturday evening, a handful of us got together for our second potluck dinner. The usual suspects and some new faces. The menu, when Sahil posted it to his Instagram, was drool worthy. The end products, pretty good. But far from the gloriousness that that Instagram picture had promised.

Sahil did a great job of posting several updates to his Instagram and Facebook accounts on the day of the potluck. Here are some pictures:

The second cookbook club dinner is going to be amaze.

A post shared by Sahil Khan (@sahilk88) on

 

Aromatic Pork with Basil. Died getting all the ingredients. Turned out okay, thankfully. I think.

A post shared by Sahil Khan (@sahilk88) on

 

 

Beef stew with a chicken broth, by @kalaraju1 at last night's dinner.

A post shared by Sahil Khan (@sahilk88) on

 

 

All in all, it was a successful potluck. But I did a lot of thinking after everyone left that night. And I think this blog post is going to be more about that. Along with the recipes we cooked, of course!

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As a host, what does an event like this entail?

  • How do you make sure you have enough dinner ware?
    • I knew what everyone was bringing. But I’d only seen my own recipe. So I had the requisite number of plates, one bowl each, a fork, a spoon and a pair of chopsticks for every person in attendance. I also had a handful of spoons and forks handy. The bowl was for dessert – a tapioca & taro pudding that Raunaq Gupta was bringing in. What I missed was that Kala Raju was bringing in a beef stew and that might need soup bowls. So, when it was time to serve dessert, I had to bring out mismatched bowls and scramble for spoons. Lesson learnt.
  • Do you want uniform serving bowls for pretty pictures? Or are you okay with serving your food in the bowls and containers that participants brought their food in? Does this also include certain dishes being served in a certain kind of vessel?
    • I cooked and served my claypot rice in a, well, clay pot, for instance. Asking participants what they might need to serve their food in might come handy in the future.
  • Is there a quick way you can heat the food, especially when you have 4 appetizers that need heating all at the same time?
    • Maybe you even need something to stay warm through the course of sitting around and eating. Crab cakes gone cold or pork gone a tad chewy because it’s now at room temperature and not nice and warm can be a downer. I guess I’m going to keep my stove top free of things and my kitchen counter better organized to manage this more efficiently next time onwards.
  • Is there enough drinking water? Well, yes. But is all of it cold? Or enough of it cold?
  • What’re the odds you’re going to run out of ice?
  • Is there enough room in your fridge to put any food that might need refrigeration?

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Now that that’s out of the way, I’d like to talk about what cooking for a larger number of people was this time around. I’ve had guests over several times. I’ve fed parties of 15 and 20 people and things have been great. But a cookbook potluck puts a different kind of pressure on you, as it turns out.

  • All of us seemed eager to please and had some performance pressure riding on us.
    • One of us re-did her dish. Another freaked out about his pork not defrosting in time. One bailed out altogether. And another brought in only 1 dish, instead of the two he originally thought he’d bring.
    • And all of us scuttled around from grocery store to grocery store hunting for that one ingredient we thought our dish just couldn’t do without.
    • The key is to not over-promise, then, I guess.
    • And plan better, perhaps? Know what you’ll need for the cook and where you can procure it from, fresh/frozen/however, at least 6 hours before hand?
    • Make sure you’re done cooking at least 2 hours before the time you’re scheduled to meet and plan backwards accordingly?
  • What quantity should one cook?
    • Most recipes are made with 1 lb of meat or 450-500g of meat. For a potluck where 6-8 dishes are being brought in, using anything more than a half kilo of meat might leave you with leftovers. We discussed on Whatsapp, about quantities we should bring in and we decided 500-750g of the core ingredient would suffice. And we had A LOT of leftovers.
    • While all starters and the stew were devoured, a considerable amount of the mains were left.
  • What accompaniments are needed with your dishes? Mains are typically served with rice or bread (Indian or otherwise) and most curry recipes end with suggestions for what to eat these curries with. Is the the responsibility of the participant making the curry to make the rice/roti as well? Or should the host ensure someone takes this up voluntarily?
    • We had two curries and no rice on our original menu, so Ana volunteered to do a simple chicken fried rice and I made some claypot chicken rice. While I only had enough to make sure my husband had his fair share of the rice as leftovers, Ana was left with about 2/3rds of her chicken fried rice uneaten. That’s just disappointing. It takes effort to cook, more so if it’s an extra dish you volunteered to make. I’m sure it hurts.
  • Does guesstimating when you’re using a cookbook help? Or must you follow recipes to the tee?
    • The recipe for the crab cakes asked that they be cooked for 3-4 minutes on each side. And my crab cakes ended up with charred tops. I was wary of straying away from the recipe because I’d had a tender coconut pudding disaster during the first pot luck, and didn’t want to screw up again. Oh well! I guess this is another recipe I’m going to have to re-do and post with perfect results.
    • A recipe might call for a broth to simmer 20 minutes until the meat is just done. And 20 minutes in, you don’t think it feels quite right. So you push it by another 10 minutes, at 3 minute intervals. And bam! That last minute probably just overcooks the meat? Or those 10 minutes extra were the right thing to do.
    • A baking recipe, on the other hand, might need you to follow instructions and measurements without any deviation.

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Next. The most important part of the event. The book.

  • You MUST take a picture of the book you cooked from! But that makes me wonder whether we need to have things done in such an organized fashion. The evening/meal is about meeting new, like-minded people and having a good time over some interesting and fun recipes, right?
  • Every book has a story. And everyone attending needs to know it. ūüôā
    • Did you buy it on the streets second-hand?
    • Or did your grandmum give it to your mum when she got married and was moving to a new family? (Following which you stole it shamelessly because it looked so amazing!)
    • Did a friend send it to you from another country where he lives and because he knows you’d appreciate something like this?
    • Or did you pick it up on a whim when you were travelling?
    • Maybe an ex-boyfriend gave it to you.
    • Maybe you borrowed it from someone and never returned it (you horrible, you!)
  • What book will we cook from next?
    • Bring a book along. Three, if you really want to. Show it/them to everyone around. Ask them what they think.
    • Have a handful of books around that evening. If you can’t arrive at a conclusive decision then, at least you’ve started a conversation about it. And thrown some ideas around. It should only get simpler.
    • We might cook from¬†Jerusalem: A Cookbook (by Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi) next time… if we can’t find a great book filled with all things mango, that is.

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Pictures of the food?

  • While I’m all for live-tweeting or putting up an Instagram story and taking pictures during the event, how much is too much?
    • As the host, I’m often too caught up to take pictures. Besides, I have this silly habit, where if I’m having a good time, I couldn’t care less to know where my phone is (so that throws tweets and phone camera pictures out of the window altogther)
  • When everybody comes in, get all the food together, mains, desserts everything and take one grand photo, possibly even with a good camera, perhaps?
  • A designated social-media person in the group can keep taking pictures and posting them through the event/evening?
    • No brainers, in our case, it’ll just always be Sahil.

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Just one last thing before I share the recipes with you. Feedback. Constructive criticism. I really need some ideas and suggestions on how to go about doing this. How does one do this exactly?

  • Take turns critiquing every dish?
  • Allow anonymous feedback forms after everyone’s gone home?
  • Make a little suggestion box and get everyone to write their thoughts out, if they’re not comfortable sharing their views up front?

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And finally, the recipes.

(The Chicken in Lemon Sauce recipe is missing, but I promise to put that in when I get my hands on it. In the meanwhile, I will graciously accept anything you wish to send my way – feedback, suggestions, rotten tomatoes, enthu cutlets for¬†the 3rd cook, a new cookbook…)

Bon Appétit!

Easy Kimchi and Other Noob Korean Cooking

I’ve been pouring over a couple of Asian cookbooks I have over the past few days, between conversations on what book we need to pick for our second potluck. Suraj has bought me Cook Korean! for my birthday, earlier this year, and I’d promised him we’d do a grill once we had our new place set up.¬†But we have two hyperactive kittens and we’re overprotective parents, like that, so we’re a little skeptical about setting the grill up just yet. Suraj was craving a good biryani, but I just wanted to spend hours cooking and prepping several things and decided to sample Cook Korean! instead. He readily agreed.

Cook Korean! by Robin Ha
Cook Korean! by Robin Ha

He picked the Sweet and Sour Pork and I picked the Pork Belly Lettuce Wraps. And we also decided to make some easy kimchi… because why not?

The book – it’s interesting. It’s very interesting. The author, Robin Ha, has interspersed Korean cultural and traditional tidbits along with detailed recipes on how to make most Korean dishes. It starts off with a little prologue of how the author spent some time in college¬†missing mom-made food from when she was little… until she figured it was high time she learnt how to do it herself, instead of relying on eating out all the time. That’s exactly how I started cooking too. When I moved away from home for the first time, I realized I’d have to learn how to cook, if I wanted to eat home-like meals. I’m pleased at how THAT¬†turned out.

The author introduces a little girl named Dengki then, and she takes us through the rest of the book Р a chapter on what a typical Korean pantry and refrigerator might contain, another on cooking styles and key ingredients and finally, a few dozen recipes.

What the book is missing, perhaps, is a section on dessert. I absolutely loved the look and feel of the book, how content was organized and how everything just read like a breeze. Cooking Korean looked easy. And fun. There had got to be a catch. So, being the sceptic that I am, I looked up similar recipes online and  the recipes in the book match some of the best rated recipes on the internet spot-on.

Since we’ve only just moved (back) to Pune and are not quite sure of where to buy pork from, we decided to order online at¬†http://meatroot.com/¬†and we weren’t disappointed one bit with their delivery timeline or the quality of the meat we got.

Cooking together with Suraj after several weeks (months, perhaps!) was fun. Our kitchen here is a little smaller than our Bangalore place (though far bigger than the one we cooked in before we got married, haha!), so we had a couple of nasty exchanges, but we’ll figure things out over the next few weeks, I’m sure.

The kimchi mix tasted great when I mixed it in with the napa cabbage and we opened the jar the following evening. It hadn’t fermented as much as I’d expected it to and didn’t tasted as awesome as I might’ve liked it to, so we’ve decided to let it sit around for a couple of days more and we’re hoping it’ll taste just the way we want it to. A few days later, it just didn’t seem right and we had to toss it away. Maybe the right way to do this, is to not use an “easy” recipe and just do it the authentic way it should be done. Or then, maybe there’s something out there waiting for my terrible kimchi streak to be broken!

I prepped everything Suraj needed for his sweet and sour pork because he was a little caught up with work. And at around 8 pm, when we started frying the pork, it tasted so good, we couldn’t keep our hands off it. We did behave like good kids though, and saved up enough to go with the veggies and the pineapple. We loved how it tasted. But there were leftovers, so we mixed them up with some spices and par-boiled rice for lunch the next afternoon and turned it into a yummy Asian rice! All is well that ends well, I guess.

The lettuce wraps were a mighty interesting experiment too. The pork belly was boiled in a yummy broth, which I warmed up and drank for breakfast the following morning because because everyone needs to start their mornings with something rich and wholesome, right? The belly took longer to cook through though, than the 30 minutes mentioned in the recipe. Adding another 15 minutes to our cooking time wasn’t really a problem at all though. I wish I’d kept aside more lettuce for the wraps though, because we ran out and then polished the pork belly off without folding it into wraps with lettuce and slaw. The radish slaw was almost like an instant kimchi without the napa cabbage, and at least THAT turned out awesome, even if my kimchi bombed.

Here’s a picture of the lettuce wraps and the sweet and sour pork. All in all, a fantastic dinner date at home – ¬†we cooked together, we drank some good beers, watched some TV and sat around talking until bedtime (okay, yeah, boring!).

Sweet and Sour Pork and Boiled Pork Belly Wraps
The Sweet and Sour Pork in the foreground and the various parts of the Pork Belly Lettuce Wraps behind

I hope to be cooking from the book again, probably after the monsoons kick in or towards the end of the year when the whether in Pune gets nice and chilly. The kids will be a little over a year old by winter, and hopefully a little well-behaved. That way, maybe we can get our little barbeque out and do some grilled Korean meats. I have a feeling it might be fun.

 

 

Happy BLR to me!

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3 years to the day, a (then)friend Bharath hauled two large suitcases out of a train at the Bangalore Cantonment station.

They’re the same bags I’d packed that’d taken me to USA on July 29th, 2008 and brought me back on May 19th, 2011.

Why I remember dates is still something I’ve never been able to understand, but these 3 years have taught me a lot.

My first year in Bangalore was mostly spent working very very hard. I also found time on weekends to watch plays, cook lots and lots of food and have friends over pretty much every weekend. I did up my matchbox-1-BHK in quaint little ways, filled with DIY and cheap furniture, to make it that place that for the next couple of years got “Oh, how cool!”, “Yaar, yeh toh GHAR jaisa lagta hai.”

Year 2, I had a boyfriend – the kind I wanted to marry. Life shifted from cooking a lot of seafood and baking pies to cooking red meats and baking all kinds of things he might enjoy eating. I backpacked for a couple of weeks in Europe in 2012 – came back a few kilos heavier. And then put on some more over the course of the year and the next. I worked even harder than I had in 2013 with the exact opposite outcome. I lost a bunch of my confidence at work, in the process.

Year 3, I thought I’d make my own pasta and brew my own beer. I did neither. I thought I’d get a new, cool job. I didn’t. I thought I’d travel more often. I did one trip to Gokarna, that ended on an utterly lousy note. I thought I’d save a lot more money. I failed on that count too.

Here I am, 3 years in a city that I, both, love and hate – 20 kilos heavier than what I was in 2013. And demotivated and under-confident in several ways. It’s not a feeling I’m used to. I’m used to being on top of things. I’m used to being ‘that awesome guy’.

Yet, I’ve grown up in ways I never thought I would.

  • I’ve been less frivolous
  • I’ve put on a whole bunch of weight, and also ended up with sleepless nights because of chronic backaches, as a result
  • I’ve tried looking for a new job, failed miserably and made peace on-and-off with my current job
  • I’ve calmed down at work, in the hope that it’ll help me get ahead
  • I’ve learnt that there are an unimaginable number of ¬†asshole-y people in the world
  • I’ve been broke more often than I’d ever imagined
  • I’ve read so little, I’m almost ashamed of myself
  • I’ve fallen in love
  • I’ve lost a large part of the friend in my mother after her sister passed away and become that person who listens to her, instead of being that person who cried to her
  • I’ve gotten married
  • I’ve put in my life’s savings and paid EMIs for a big home to keep people, who until 2 months ago weren’t even related to me, happy
  • I’ve put off travel plans like nobody’s tomorrow
  • I’ve pretty much given up cooking altogether

And today, right now, while I type, I feel sad. It’s not a feeling I like. But it’s a feeling I’ve been feeling for many months now.

As someone who enjoys cooking, not being able to try out new stuff in the kitchen hurt a lot 6 months ago. I claim I’ve made my peace with not cooking at all – except the odd time I’m asked¬†to make chapatis for lunch/dinner. But I know that every time a colleague asks how life is after marriage and how lucky I am to not have to cook because I live with my in-laws, my insides churn and my eyes tear up.

I’ve made my peace (or that’s the fancy term I like to use) by baking every other weekend. But I know, in my heart, that it’s a job half done. Because there’s invariably whipped cream sitting around in the fridge until a few days after, or cake batter that got made into cake pops to de-stress at 2 am, midweek.

I’ve made my peace with trying to do other stuff around the house ¬†– DIY mostly. I won’t say I’ve been entirely successful with that. But I’m trying very hard to not let that get to me.

So yeah, I’ll let this post be about something we got around to make every once in a while this last year – ramen. Or well, cheat’s ramen.

I don’t know if it came out of a very tired day at work or just a need to use up a bunch of green onions I had lying around in my fridge, and I cooked up a semi-spicy broth – with some miso paste and red chillies, tossed in some chicken and some noodles. That’s when I realized I had something that I could add an egg too, a little garnishing and turn into my very own ramen.

Since then, I’ve come across several articles on the web, about different recipes for ramen – most of which spoke about spending hours (days even!) brewing a broth, several ways of making soupy noodles:

  • Serious Eats has a really fun link on how to add hot water to pre-prepped noodles meals
  • This posts on Food52 was one of the first few I’d sent to my husband when he was looking for ideas on what he could add to make his own ramen. He ended up making his own schezwan sauce, a recipe for which deserves to be put up here, when he makes it next, and adding some shrimp into his super spicy broth.

Here’s what I usually do:

  1. Because I’m a sucker for one pot meals, I put some eggs to boil in a pot filled with drinking water. When the eggs are boiled, we usually do hard-boiled eggs at home, (though I’m quite a sucker for the soft-boiled variety too, and your ramen will taste great even with a soft-boiled yolk!), fish the eggs out and let them cool. Keep the water aside, so that you can re-use it to make your broth and boil your noodles!
  2. Toss a few pods of garlic into a half teaspoon of oil and let them brown. Burnt garlic is awesome. Of course, I make sure to not let it go black. Just a nice, rich, caramelized brown. You know when it’s done, really. It just smells great!
  3. Grill an onion on your gas stove, in quarters.
  4. Crush the garlic in with some fresh red chillies (the spicier, the better!)
  5. Add another half-teaspoon or so of oil to a large pot and add the chilli-garlic paste. Saute for a minute or so.
  6. Pick a meat. I’ve usually used bite sized pieces of chicken, or large prawns. Just using bacon, works to. Or if you’re vegetarian, you can skip the meat.
  7. Add the meat into the pot and let it cook for just a little bit. Remember, chicken and prawns both cook really fast and you don’t want to over cook your meat. It’s okay to take them off the heat, even if they’re a little under. They’ll spend a few minutes in the broth and cook later anyway
  8. Add in some halved mushrooms and slices of radish, if you like, as well. You can add just about any veggie in, really. We’ve done bok choy one time, we’ve done a mix of turnips and radishes another. We’ve omitted veggies altogether one time.
  9. Add a dash of pepper, and some salt to taste.
  10. Feel free to strain out the meat and the veggies at this point. I usually do so, to avoid over cooking them.
  11. Add in the water from your boiled eggs to the pot now.
  12. I usually have a few sachets of some miso soup powder lying around at home. I mix two sachets (each sachet makes a cup of soup), with a couple of teaspoons of water to make a thick paste and use those as miso paste addition, to my broth.
  13. Add in a teeny tiny bit of fish sauce, but make sure you don’t make your broth all salty, in the process.
  14. When the broth is just about to come to a boil, add in a few handfuls of noodles. I usually use a local variety of egg noodles I get at the grocer’s. The noodles usually take only 2-3 minutes to cook. Because the broth contains all of the chilli-garlic paste, the noodles cook in tasty broth too, making them all the more delicious.
  15. In a pan, add some sugar and a dash of vinegar. Add in the ginger juliennes and let them caramelize to a nice brown colour and take them off the heat immediate, to avoid burning them altogether. My husband came up with this, the first time he made his own ramen and we’ve been adding caramelized ginger to our ramen ever since.
  16. Add the meat and the veggies into the pot,  a minute or two before serving.
  17. Serve the soupy broth, noodles and meat out into a bowl.
  18. Garnish with chopped green onions, a few pieces of nori (I usually have some of those handy too!), half an egg, black sesame seeds (just for the colour contrast!)

I’ve written this out in a really goody way, where I’ve listed out the how-to bit and not listed out a generic set of ingredients. Hey, it’s been a while! So, here goes:

The ingredients below make ramen for 3 people.

  1. 2 cups of a meat of your choice
  2. 2 tablespoons of miso paste
  3. 8-10 garlic pods
  4. 8-10 red chillies
  5. 4 eggs
  6. 3 handfuls of egg noodles
  7. 4-6 cups of water
  8. A half cup of button mushrooms
  9. A half cup of thinly sliced rounds of radish
  10. 1 onion, cut into quarters
  11. Salt and pepper to taste
  12. A dash of fish sauce
  13. 1 cup of green onions, for garnish
  14. 1 teaspoon black sesame seeds, for garnish
  15. 3 tablespoons of fresh ginger, julienned
  16. 1 teaspoon of sugar
  17. 1 teaspoon of vinegar

So yeah, this has been a good way to get back to posting on the blog.

The picture at the beginning of this post is something we cooked up on Sunday evening, because my mum-in-law takes time off kitchen duties for Sunday dinner.

This one below is when @to_soham was visiting a few weeks ago.

Here’s one from when I tried my hand at summer rolls and made a broth with prawns.

 

And this last one is one of my first attempts at soupy noodles – ¬†a hazy picture with a book that I’ve *still* only read a hundred pages (or so) of.

 

I don’t know whether the first part of this post is a rant. I don’t mean to bitch about people or cry at my misfortune (which I d0n’t think this is, to begin with) or anything of that sort. I just wish I had been strong enough to have done some things differently last year.

This year, I promise to buy myself a pasta maker. I promise to do more holidays, even if it means doing the odd long drive alone or going for a weekend trip with friends.¬†I also hope to get around to lose those 20 kilos I’ve put on because of stress and poor eating habits. I hope to do better at work and make that jump to a new/better place, if that’s what it takes. I want to bake a lot more on weekends and try and be more productive. I want to read – like I used to in 2013 and 2014. I want to update the blog a lot more. And as hopeless as I sound, at the end of the year,¬†I may not be drastically happier than I am right now, but I’ll try to be a better person.

 

 

 

 

Chermoula Prawns at Fava versus my Chermoula Prawns

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The picture above is the Chermoula Prawns I ate at Fava when mum visited in March, earlier this year. A month or so later, I tried my hand at making them myself, with almost similar results (kindly ignore my lack of plating skills, at this point). While the former were tiger prawns, I used the regular medium-sized shrimp I get at the supermarket.

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Here’s my recipe for them Chermoula Prawns, y’all…