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Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Scrambling For My Life!


Well, the truth is, folks that I don’t like breakfast.

I know, I know. It’s a terrible thing to say. And just by saying it, I know I’ve offered up my name to be added to the hit list of every Nutritionist out there.

Well, I’m sorry – don’t shoot please. Because while I believe you when you say that eating breakfast is a matter of national importance, I still don’t like it.

I’ve thought about this. A lot. Because face it, it’s not very often that I put anything to do with food and the words “not like” in the same sentence.  So, I have thought about it. And come to the conclusion that I don’t like breakfast because breakfast (to me) is mind-numbingly boring.  I’m talking about breakfast at home, mind you. Not brunch. Now, brunch, I adore. Brunch like the kind you get at a New York City diner on a glorious Sunday morning, with plates of Eggs Royale and endless glasses of Bellini and a jazz band and a view of the Park. Now, that stuff is good enough to actually make waking up on weekends worth it. Nah, I’m talking about the everyday, normal (read: boring) breakfast one eats at home.

Take, for instance, the following common breakfast foods:

Toast: boring

Cereal: boring (although they make something called Cranberry Nut Crunch in the Land where George Bush lives.  Which more than compensates.)

Porridge: (oh-so) boring

Fruit and yogurt: Very virtuous, but every day? Ho hum.

Croissants etc: can be (highly) interesting, but unless you’re French (or my Mother-in-law), you’ll rapidly outgrow your clothes if you make a habit of routinely consuming these innocent looking, butter-laden monsters.

Muffins/Bagels/Pancakes/Waffles: as above - just replace “French” with “American.” Who it turns out, are actually quite happy to routinely outgrow their clothes. And (based on my limited understanding of the financial hole we’re all in right now) replace them with new ones by spending money they think they have.

(Yikes. Given how high my readership is from the North American continent, I think I may have just killed the goose that lays the golden eggs - and effectively put myself on plenty more hit lists...)

Right. Moving swiftly on.

Eggs.

Now, I love eggs. Eggs are not boring. Eggs are amazing.

But it takes time and effort (and tlc) to make eggs.

And most mornings, I’m usually running thin on all of the above.

Which is why, as you know from my post here, breakfast is usually always Sid’s domain. He’s got more tlc than you can imagine. In fact he’s brimming over with tlc. That’s why I married him. That, and because he brings me Snoopy-slippers from Hongkong. Ears sticking out from the sides and all. Adorable (the slippers, I mean...)

Anyhow, today is one of those oh-so-rare mornings, where I’ve thrown my hands up in the air and succumbed. To time, and effort, and, argh - tlc.

Because my child has turned his nose up at most everything else I’ve offered him: toast, cereal, porridge, fruit & yogurt, (boring, all boring) and being neither French, nor American, and nor, for that matter, my mother-in law – I don’t stock the rest at home.

And because my heinous habit of skipping breakfast notwithstanding, he must eat breakfast.

And because if I make something sufficiently yummy, maybe I can eat some too.

There.  You can all nod approvingly and strike my name off your hit lists now. Well, at least all the Nutritionists can. The Americans can keep me on their most-wanted. Since it takes them, oh about 10 years, to hunt down the really scary ones anyway, I think I have enough time to scope out a neat little hideaway somewhere in the Afghan mountains.

More pressingly however, in the here and now, I’m left with no choice but to make eggs.

And while I’m at it (and because I’m worth it J) I decide to go the whole hog and make Indian style scrambled eggs. Tomatoes, chillies, and all. Which of course, simply by virtue of being Indian, takes even more time, effort (and tlc) than normal. But then, simply by virtue of being Indian, is utterly and totally delicious.

This is the stuff I grew up with, see. You ask for scrambled eggs in India, and this is usually the stuff you get. The cooks there have gotten so used to chopping up onions and tomatoes and chillies all the time that the idea of a meal without them – the very idea that you can make and actually consume eggs cooked in a splash of milk and a little bit of butter, that’s all, – is unfathomable.

So when you’re in India and you want scrambled eggs, whether at a road side food stall (my favourite kind of establishment) or a restaurant, or the train station or on the dining table at home on a lazy Sunday morning – in your pyjamas and glasses, coffee mug in your hands, dog at your feet – odds are, this is the stuff you’ll be served.

Here’s what you need

- 4 eggs
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 tomato, chopped
- 1 green chilly (Id have used more if it was just for me)
- ¾ inch ginger, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup coriander leaves
- 2 tbsp oil
- Salt, to taste

Here’s how you do it:

Heat oil and add chopped onions and fry them until they turn translucent. Now add in the chopped chillies and ginger and stir well at medium heat. Add the tomatoes, and salt and stir well.

Separately, beat the eggs in a bowl and add to the onion-chilly-tomato mixture and cook evenly. You are done once the eggs have set. You don’t want the eggs to be runny, but you don’t want them to be dry either. Hence the constant allusion to tlc. This dish does need one to pay attention. Anyhow, when all ready, top with coriander leaves (that truly magical stuff) and serve immediately!

I’m loath to admit it, but this is one of the most scrumptious and elaborate breakfasts I have had in ages. That is, excluding eating breadomlate on the street at 4am, Sunday breakfasts with my family, and that one time – long, long ago, in a Kingdom Far Away – that my husband made me breakfast.

And...it would seem that I’m now on yet another most-wanted. And my husband’s far deadlier than any other special-interest group! The snowy peaks of the Afghan mountains beckon – so I’d better scramble for my life, while I let you scramble those eggs. 

Happy Scrambling!

Monday, 27 February 2012

A Spring in My Step



Food writing is my guilty pleasure. I write in snatched time. When Life pauses long enough to let me.  But when I do, it is the best part of my day. I lose myself in words, and there is nothing in the world that gives me greater pleasure than this – turning into Yummyami and losing myself in words.

I’ve just handed in a large project for work that’s consumed me for the last two weeks. So, I am free again for a bit and it feels soooo good!  

Besides work, my latest preoccupation  has been trying to get Ranbir to walk! He’s got my lazy gene, it seems. The very thought of moving is a chore.  And so, much to his dismay, I’ve turned into Cruella de Vil, and we’ve been practicing every opportunity we get.

Like today.

Today, I decide not to take the pram when I go to pick him up from school. I’m hopeful that we can try and walk back home, at least part of the way. It seems like a good day to do it. The sun is out and it is – dare I say it – warm!!?  After weeks of unceasing, unforgiving chill – cold, dark days and colder, darker nights – this feels like a holiday by the sea. 

So I pick him up. He seems in good spirits, all smiles and twinkly-eyed.  And why not? It is truly glorious out today. Blue skies. Gentle breeze. Birds chirping. And the sun.

And so we walk. I face him, walking backwards, bending my knees, holding both his little hands firmly in mine, as he takes steps forward, tentatively, lurching sideways, tottering like a drunk.

Baby steps.

How amazing that we all start like this.

We have many adventures on our short walk home, Ranbir and I. Everything is a source of awe and wonderment. When a car goes by, he points and says, “Caaa...”  When a big red van goes by, he points and says, “Baaa...” - although it’s not a bus at all! And when a scooter passes, fast as lightening, faster than his little brain can work out, he says, “Uh oh”

He’s gotten bolder, in just minutes, as he grows to trust me, trust my grip. He’s walking in a straight line now, gallantly, like a little warrior – Ranbir, his namesake.

He’s going faster to match my pace. I’m going slower to match his. We carry on like this, until we are locked in our own little rhythm. Me facing him, holding his hands, walking backwards. In tempo. We are dancing, little Ranbir and I. To the melody of birds.

Strangers smile as they pass.

Suddenly he stops in mid stride and I almost lose my balance. “What?” I ask, faintly annoyed. Eyes open wide, he points to something behind me. I turn around and follow his gaze.

He is pointing at something beautiful, dark green and red – a single burst of colour amidst a brown sea of bare branches.

It is a cherry tree. Covered in its entirety with bright red fruit. They are growing together in little clusters, each tiny and perfectly round.  

Baby cherries.

Ranbir doesn’t know this of course but he has discovered something profound. He has discovered the start of Spring.

I bend down so that I am on my knees now, side by side, next to my little warrior. When I do this, we are roughly the same height! How close the ground seems, and how far away the sky. And we are under the branches of the cherry tree, surrounded by little red fruit. They are everywhere, tickling our ears, and the tops of our heads - close enough to stick our tongues out and grab a few right into our mouths! It is a new and utterly delightful perspective.  

And suddenly, standing there with him, under this budding Cherry blossom, I find myself inside his little body, and I look at the world with his eyes.  

I smile.

And I know.

I know that as slowly but surely as Spring will come, that soon, very soon - slowly but surely - Ranbir will walk, alone and unaided, into the wild and wonderful world.

I pick him up - all chubby 16 months of him - into my arms, and run to the lovely fruit lady around the corner from my home. I buy cherries – grown-up ones, dark red and ripe, plump and juicy.

Here’s what we do:

For the Cherry Mix
- 4 cups fresh cherries
- 3/4 cup water
- 3/4 cup castor sugar
- 2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

For the Crumble
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Here’s how we do it:

Heat the oven to 190C/375F.
Lightly butter five, 5-ounce custard cups (or muffin molds or ramekins.) When buttering, coat the bottoms first, then butter the sides using upward strokes.

Meanwhile, pit the cherries – and please resist the temptation to go through the entire blessed lot while you’re at it!

In a medium saucepan, combine the cherries, water, 3/4 cup sugar, and 2 1/2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Stir well over medium heat. Bring to a simmer; reduce heat and let it cook uncovered for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Divide the cooked cherry mixture evenly into each buttered custard cup.

Now, combine all the crumble ingredients together and sprinkle evenly over each cherry-mix filled cup.  

Put the ramekins in the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the crumble is nicely browned and crunchy.

And listen when I tell you that there is nothing, nothing, nothing in the world that compares with the aroma of just-baked crumble!!

And so it’s time to eat.

Sid is away this evening. It is just Ranbir and me.

We eat the cherry crumble together. It becomes our dinner, 2 for him, 2 for me, and 1 (upon mutual agreement) put away for daddy. And as we lick our plates clean, I tell him that I’m going to spend the next 7 years in the gym. He doesn’t understand a single word of course, but nods solemnly all the same.

I put on some music on a whim, hold his hands and kneel down so I am back to being about Ranbir’s height. We twirl around once and he bursts into squeals of laughter.

So we do it again, simply because it makes us happy. We are full of Cherries. Spring is around the corner. My baby boy will walk soon, very soon. What’s there not to be happy about?

We twirl and we twirl and we twirl.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Norav's Adventures With Thai Food

As you know from my last post, The Red Carpet, I’ve been on an obsessive Thai food phase of late. It’s been a week now and all I ever want is Tom Kha Kai and Yam Ma Khuea Koong Pao and Choo Chee Koong Nang and Kai Phad Med Ma Muang Him Ma Parn. Like, all the time.

(By the way, I challenge you to say all that in one breath. Do it and you’re invited home to a Thai meal, cooked by Yours Truly. Scout’s honour!)

Anyhow, see - I’m usually not the kind to go on food phases. I don’t like phases. Phases are mucho-boring. Variety, on the other hand, keeps me on my toes. And it’s nice to be on my toes. I was born a little short.

But my Thai food kick? I just can’t seem to kick it!

So, naturally, I was beyond thrilled when, after weeks of hearing on the foodie-rumour-mill (yes, there is such a thing), that Norav had become a True Thai Masterchef, I finally got invited for an authentic Norav-cooked Thai meal! Yay!

I must confess, this was possibly due (in no small part) to the wistful look in my eyes every time I met Norav. Wistful eyes are an excellent strategy, by the way, if you’ve haven’t tried it. It is a strategy most subtle and ladylike. Much more effective than screaming in your loudest voice “When are you inviting me over?” That can (rarely) have the unintended effect of putting off your host for life.

Anyhow, before we go into Thai cooking and all its splendour,  in minute and excruciating detail, wanna know something funny?
Norav isn’t a person!
Now when I say Norav isn’t a person, I don’t mean Norav is a little green Martian with a big head. Or anything like that.
When I say Norav isn’t a person, what I mean is: Norav are two people!

Norav, the deserving protagonist(s) of this post are a wonderful soon-to-be-married couple, individually known as Nora and Gaurav, whose names have been lovingly (and inventively) united together by me.
So, Nora + Gaurav = Norav.

Beautiful.

Well, at least I think so. They don’t (incidentally). But that’s tough luck, because I won’t stop. Referring to them as ‘Nora and Gaurav’ when you can just use ‘Norav’ seems utterly wasteful to me. The only other alternative I will consider is ‘Gora.’
But you will all agree, I think, that Norav is infinitely more becoming.

Anyhow, this post is about the two of them, in unison, their joint culinary skills and their Adventures with Thai Cooking. And the two shall therefore, by decree, henceforth (and Till Kingdom Come) be referred to, as Norav.

Now, wanna know something else that’s funny?
Norav are not Thai. As in – neither Nora nor Gaurav is Thai.
Gaurav is Indian, and Nora is – Hungarian!
Would you ever in a million years have guessed it?

Which of course is what makes this all so exciting! Because cooking the kind of food you’ve grown up with is great. Because it’s familiar and comforting and nostalgic and it makes you think of your mother and your grandmother and there’s something rather special about that. I’d argue it’s perhaps what you do best.  But – venturing outside your comfort zone, this brave foray into unchartered waters, trying new, unfamiliar cuisines, testing your own boundaries - I love this!

And Norav are fantastic in this regard.
They are experimental and adventurous and worldly and interesting. They love to try new food and travel to new places and meet new people. I suppose the Indo-Hungarian combo says it all.  And I love this about them.

Sid and I and The Closet Gourmand (aka Pritam Basu) have spent many a memorable evening with this warm and welcoming and fun and loving (and fun loving!) couple over wine, cheese, Hungarian chorizo, Arabian dates (don’t ask), and the most divine chocolate coated cherries in the world (and I don’t even like chocolate). And we’ve sat down – in the garden under the stars on a warm summer evening, or cuddled up indoors under cosy blankets on a cold winter night – and talked. About everything. They are that rare combination of person that you can laugh with, uncontrollably, over things that you’d usually deem too childish to share, that challenges you intellectually, unafraid to question your preconceived notions and biases - all the while making you feel so completely comfortable .

Having you as friends, Norav, has been a pleasure.

And now, I think we’ve all had more than enough syrupy praise for a lifetime, thank you very much.

So zipping along to topics far more interesting...
(Not to say that Norav are not interesting. They are. Exceedingly so. But life, quite sadly, is relative.)

So, zipping along, then, I think it’s time to discuss the highly pleasurable, completely delectable, and mad-obsession causing meal that Norav created for us. I could pay a lot of good money for Thai food and not get any better that this. I mean, it was enough to set me off on a Thai phase. And I never go on phases. To my simple little brain, I think there is no higher praise.

So, here is what we ate:

We started off with a hot, spicy, creamy, coconuty chicken soup that they got just right. A harmonious coming together of the senses, it was the perfect balance of sweet and salt and spice and sour.  To follow, there was a shrimp and broccoli stir-fry – fresh, juicy, plump shrimp and perfectly cooked, broccoli - al dente and all. A bit of garlic and spring onion and chilli – and voila – a wonderfully light, tasty, satisfying dish. The final entre which totally blew me away, not only because it was so good, but because it was so maddeningly innovative, was a Thai stir-fried salmon. Alaskan salmon, soaked in flavours of lemon and olive oil and ginger, so fresh that it took me a few seconds to figure out that it was fish! Delicious!

Now, if I’ve accomplished what I’ve set out to accomplish with this post, then by now, you’re all gagging to know how Norav made all this.  So, here are the recipes (and the tips) directly from the Chefs.

But before I reveal all - here’s the thing with Thai food: It presupposes an ingredient list more formidable than other cuisine I can think of. I mean, things like Galangal and Kaffir lime are enough to make your eyes glaze over. But relax. You can find perfectly acceptable substitutes or do completely without it.  Naturally, nothing compares to chucking in the authentic stuff, but you’re not cooking for MasterChef, you’re just cooking for yourself.  And for a bit of fun!

So I’ve taken the liberty of putting an E next to the ingredients I consider Essential. And the others? If you have them, or can easily get your hands on them – great. If not, use whatever you have. Believe me, no ones going to be able to tell the difference.

So, here we go, adventuring!

1) Thai Tom Kha Soup

Here’s what you need:

-          Coconut Milk , 400ml - E
-          Water, 2 cups - E
-          Lemon Grass, 1 stalk, cut to 1″ pcs (use lime juice, it’s fine) - E
-          Galangal, 6 pcs.
-          Kaffir Lime Leaves (use lime juice or rind) - E
-          Baby Corn (small size) – 5
-          Bamboo Shoots – 10-15 slices 
-          Straw Mushrooms – 5-6
-          Thai Basil, 2 sprigs - E
-          Tomato , 1, med, cubed - E
-          Mushrooms , 5-6 , sliced
-          Chicken breast, 400g
-          Spring Onions, 1 stalk, chopped - E
-          Lime, 1 good squeeze - E
-          Cilantro, 5 sprigs - E
-          Soy Sauce or Fish Sauce , to taste - E
-          Palm Sugar,  to taste (use any sugar) - E
-          Thai Chilli, to taste (use any chilli) - E
-          Salt , to taste - E

Method:

In a sauce pan, pour out the coconut milk from their cans. Add water and allow the mixture to come to a boil on medium heat. Add in the galangal, lightly bashed lemon grass, lime leaves or rind, and Thai chillies. Mix and allow the soup to boil for 15 minutes. Now, add in the palm sugar, soy sauce and the salt. Taste to get the right balance. When you are satisfied, add in the chicken and a few minutes later the vegetables you choose to add. Norav used baby corn, bamboo shoots, straw mushrooms, regular mushrooms and tomatoes – which worked perfectly, but feel free to vary it around as you like. Add in a few basil leaves to the soup for flavour. Once the soup is boiling, add in the lime juice and the spring onions. Switch off the stove and pour in a serving bowl. Garnish with some more basil and cilantro, and serve piping hot!

Chef’s Tip:
1. It is very important to get the right balance of the sweet, sour and salt from the palm sugar, soy sauce and lime, respectively.
2. Do not add too much soy sauce or it may ruin the colour of the soup.

2) Stir-fried Prawns with Broccoli

Here’s what you need:

-          King prawns, 100-150g - E
-          Broccoli, 1 medium size - E
-          Mushroom, few slices
-          Spring onion, 1 stalk, chopped - E
-          Garlic, 2 pods, minced - E
-          Thai Chilli (or any chilli) - E
-          Oyster Sauce, 1tbsp
-          Olive oil, 1 tbsp - E
-          (Light) Butter, 1tbsp
-          Black pepper, to taste - E
-          Salt, to taste - E
-          Soy sauce, to taste, E

Method

In a sauce pan or wok, sauté the broccoli for a few minutes. Remove quickly from the fire and set aside. Now, with all Asian stir-fry’s, as I keep banging on about (see my post on Vegetable Stir Fry, here), you really need your wok to be hot enough to add smokiness to the flavour. This makes all the difference in the world. You’ll see!

So, heat your wok and get it smoking hot first. Now add some olive oil and the chopped garlic. When the garlic starts to sputter, add in the prawns and season with black pepper, salt, and chilli. Stir-fry slowly on medium heat. Now, add in the vegetables (broccoli and mushroom, in this case). Pour in some oyster sauce and soya sauce and cook everything for approx 8-10 min. Stir in the broccoli at the very end. To complete, add in some (light) butter and stir it very carefully until the butter completely melts in your dish. Take it off the flame and serve hot!

Chef’s Tip:
1. Try not to over-cook the Broccoli, the crunch is great.

3) Salmon with soy sauce and ginger

Here’s what you need:

-          (I've used Alaskan) Salmon, 300g - E
-          Ginger, to taste - E
-          Soy sauce, to taste - E
-          Olive oil, 1 tbsp - E
-          Lemon, to taste - E
-          Salt, to taste - E
-          Black pepper, to taste- E
-          Green salad leaves, to serve
-          Jasmine rice, to serve

Method

In a wok or pan, heat the ginger in some olive oil on medium heat. Once the ginger starts to give off a delicious, spicy aroma, increase the heat to high and add the chopped salmon. Fry it for 5 min.  Once the fish is fully cooked, add in salt, black pepper, soy sauce, and lemon juice and stir together for another 5 min.  To serve, place it on a "nest" of green salad leaves with some Jasmine rice on the side.

Now, on the wonderful evening in question, when Nora brought out all this fantastic food and laid it on the table, she made a little announcement. In her usual sweet, shy, soft-spoken manner, she said, “I hope you all enjoy everything, because it’s been cooked with a lot of love!”

Love.  Aah, the most elusive ingredient of all.
I don’t know where you find it, but our Chef says you can’t do without it.

So I’m adding it to the ingredient list:  
Love – E.  Essential!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

The Red Carpet


Alrighty folks, so this is the Part II of To Aimee, Bumbles, Max and Erma, Delaware, Ohio and The Great American Bird, where I promised you that I’d follow with some interesting and creative suggestions on how to adorn the Turkey Burgers that we’d previously cooked.

It might sound boring, but I promise to keep you entertained – and well, have I ever let you down?

So, don’t run away please!

And my Vegetarian friends (of which I have many, many) – Stay! Please! Because, a lot of the ideas below can definitely be adapted to go with a whole bunch of veggie fillings. Which of course has just given me some serious subject matter for a Part III of this wonderful series....(Once you get me started, I can’t stop. Such a problem!)

But, let’s do the impossible and try and stay in focus, shall we?

See, here is the conundrum:

The Burger is iconic. The Grand-daddy of all foods, if there were such a thing. Everybody knows and loves The Burger.

But: there is the burger, a dime a dozen, available everywhere for very little. And then, there is The Burger. Of the Gourmet Variety. You want The Burger. Without Question.

Just like the movies, really. There are scores of movies that come out each year, all hopeful of becoming The Movie. But very few do. Most get forgotten, lost in a black hole of movie-hopefuls. And the handful that do? Well, these become Classics. They go down in History. And we use all these fabulous adjectives in the English language to describe them: most loved, most remembered, top 5, best movie, greatest film, all-time favourite, etc.

So, just like a great Movie, what makes a great Burger?
Well, yes – the Director (i.e. the Chef) definitely deserves due credit, but the most important part, the part that is visible and on screen, is that of the lead actor and/or actress. In the case of the burger, this is undeniably, the part of the Pattie. The pattie is the indisputable Star of the Show. And for the pattie to work, the meat needs to be fresh, it needs to be seasoned creatively, and it needs to be cooked just right.  Mess up the pattie, and you’ve lost the plot. So hopefully, from my previous post, we’ve gotten past this bit.

But – and here’s what’s interesting – just like in the movies, no matter how brilliant the performance of the lead star, for the movie to be a runaway success, you need the rest of the cast to perform too. Think about all the great movies you’ve seen. Everyone stepped up. Everyone did a great job with their respective roles.

And so, even though the pattie forms the heart and soul of the burger, there’s really much more that goes into it that simply cannot be ignored. So, a good burger experience, like a good movie, depends not just on the pattie, but also on everything else that accompanies it.

In other words - a perfect pattie alone, maketh not a perfect burger.

The role of these other, less talked about characters – the bread, the relishes, the garnishes – is to enhance, enrich and enliven the flavour of the pattie. These are the supporting cast of characters, without which the leading actor or actress, is less effective. They may be less prominent, but they are essential, nonetheless.

And then of course, there is one other fairly important matter to consider: Who says burgers must always be eaten the same way?

Honestly, why must that poor old pattie just sit there on one half of a boring old sesame-seed bun, while we pile on the usual dull cast of characters on top of it – i.e. an octogenarian shred of lettuce, a lonely slice of beefsteak tomato and a sad looking ring of raw onion?

Doesn’t the burger deserve a little better?

Yes?

Right then. It’s time to roll out The Red Carpet!
So, without further ado, I present to you, my 5 movie ideas of the year!!

(All quantities below are meant to accompany the 8 Turkey Burgers I made here so if you’re making less of the patties, please adjust everything accordingly.)


1)      Casablanca

My first concept is a Moroccan inspired burger, stuffed into warm toasted pitas, and served with a generous dollop of tzatziki. I love this recipe because it really does redefine the traditional hamburger. Pita bread is wholesome and light, full of flavor (especially when toasted) and goes wonderfully with any kind of dense, cutlet-type stuffing, be it meat or vegetables or chickpeas (like falafel). As for tzatziki, I’ve always been a fan of this cool, creamy, garlicky dip. It’s one of those simple little dips, made in just a few minutes, that can skyrocket the taste of most things you add it to.

Here is what you need:

- 1 onion, cut into thick slices
- 4 wholemeal pitta breads, halved
- 1 tspn Olive oil
- Tzatziki sauce (recipe below)
 - Green salad leaves (please, the leaves should be fresh and young. Withering, eighty year old salad leaves do not taste good)

Heat a little oil in a skillet and cook the onion rounds so they are translucent and browned. The raw onion smell should no longer be there (very important if you want to have a conversation with another human being for the rest of the day).  Remove the onions, and in the same pan, lightly toast the pita bread so you get the heavenly aroma of just-baked bread. Do this for just a few seconds on either side, otherwise you risk the bread becoming hard.

Now, to make the tzatziki sauce, here’s what you need:

- 350g/12oz Greek yoghurt
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 cloves of garlic, grated finely
- dash of extra virgin olive oil
- paprika, for sprinkling

First, peel and de-seed the cucumber, then grate it finely. Now, squeeze out all the excess liquid from the grated cucumber. This is really important, otherwise your tzatziki will be watery, which is really no good! Combine the yoghurt, cucumber, lemon juice and garlic. Add a dash of olive oil and sprinkle with paprika.

Now, please resist the urge to zip through the whole pot of tzatziki with a basket of fresh bread!! It’s gonna be a hard one to resist, but I know your made of strong stuff!!

Instead, once your tzatziki is ready, go ahead and put your burger together. Simply stuff each pitta half with the burgers, onions and salad leaves and top it all a generous dollop of cool, refreshing tzatziki! Yum!


2)      Breakfast at Tiffany’s

My second concept is dedicated - no, not to the beautiful Audrey Hepburn, but - to a guy who sat next to me for 7 years and ate a variation of this for breakfast, everyday. Yup. You heard me. Every day, for 7 years. I don’t exaggerate.  

(Warning, this one’s rather indulgent, but if you do it once n a while, it won’t hurt. My muse for this recipe, though far from looking like Audrey Hepburn, is still in pretty good shape!!)

Here’s what you need:

- 4 tbsp tomato ketchup
- 4 tbsp light mayonnaise
- 8 Eggs
- 8 slices havarati (or any other spicy cheddar)
- 8 grilled rashers streaky smoked bacon  
- 8 croissants, halved

Here’s how you do it:

Heat a griddle or large frying pan, and without adding any extra oil, first fry the bacon. Remove from pan, when done, and use the same pan to fry the eggs as well. Next, heat the grill, place the croissants halves in it, insides down, so they get lightly toasted. Place the cooked burgers on a baking sheet, put a slice of havarati on each, then pop under the grill to melt. Sit the burgers on one croissant-half, place the bacon on top, and slide the fried eggs on top of the bacon.

Now, mix equal parts of ketchup and mayo together (this is divine stuff folks – try it as a dip for French Fries and you will just die and go to heaven), and spread on the other croissant half. Place it on top and dig in!

3)      The Godfather

My third concept is really where it all began. This is how I was introduced to the Turkey Burger, folks, so in my view, it’s a slam dunk at the Oscar’s – Best Movie, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Musical Score...you get my drift. But sentimentality aside, it definitely gets my vote for “Best Dressed On the Red Carpet!” Try it and let me know if you agree, cause honestly, dressing a Turkey Burger just doesn’t get better than this!

Here’s what you need:

- 8 multi-seeded bagels, halved
- 4 ounces soft cheese (cream cheese or goat cheese should work really well)
- 2 tbsp sun-dried tomato pesto
- 4 tomatoes, sliced
- 3 whole avocados, sliced
- One bunch fresh basil leaves
- Salt, pepper and lemon juice, to taste

Here’s how you do it:
Melt a teeny-weeny bit of butter in a frying over medium heat and toast the inside of the bagels until golden brown. The centre should be soft and the edges should be slightly crisp.
Stir together the goat cheese (or cream cheese) and the pesto until smooth. (By the way, this is an amaaaaaaaazing dip for some toasted pita bread or crackers. I’ve been known to blitz through an entire box in one go!). Spread a generous amount of the cheese spread on each bagel half. Place the burgers on the bottom half, then top with tomato slices and fresh basil leaves. Place the avocado slices on the top half. Sprinkle a little salt, pepper and lemon juice on the avocados, then bring the two bagel-halves together! Really Flippin’ Delicious!


4)      The Italian Job

My fourth concept is Italian inspired and combines roasted cherry tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, caramelized onion and fresh basil. This is a mucho delizioso recipe because it combines the different flavours together to really hit the spot. You have the rich caramel smokiness of the onions, the tartness of the tomatoes, the creaminess of the mozzarella and the subtle aromatic sweetness of the basil. Perfecto!!

Here’s what you need:

- 300g pack cherry tomatoes
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 3 onions , sliced
- 2 tbsp light muscovado sugar
- Bit of butter
- 1 tbsp mayonnaise
- 8 English Muffins, halved

Here’s how you do it:

Place the cherry tomatoes in a roasting tin. Drizzle over 1 tbsp of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 12-15 minutes until just soft

To caramelise the onions, cook them with the sugar and butter over a very gentle heat for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside. In the same pan, place the rolls downwards, so the insides get gently toasted.

Pepper the mayonnaise liberally and spread a good quantity of it on both halves of the roll. To assemble, place the burgers on the bottom half of the roll, then top with a thick slice of mozzarella, oven roasted cherry tomatoes and fresh basil leaves. Cover with the top half, and take a great big Italian-sized bite!

5)      The Road to Saigon

My fifth and final concept is an Asian twist on burgers, largely on account of the fact that I’ve become obsessed with Viet-Thai food of late. I want it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and at all times in between.  This is an absolute PITA of course and it’s all thanks to Norav. Hmph. And if that little sentence makes no sense, then, well, you’ll just have to wait for my next post, called Norav’s Adventures with Thai Food, that’s coming up in just a day or two! Stay tuned!

Anyway, here’s what you need:

- Small bunch coriander , chopped
- 1 mango , diced
- 1 red chilli , finely chopped
- ½ lime , juiced
- Little Gem lettuce , to serve

Here’s how you do it:

So, firstly, for all the calorie conscious, no-carb readers out there – this one should get you to jump up and down in high excitement, because it’s a totally breadless burger. All you do is make some mango salsa, by mixing the diced mango, chilli and coriander with the lime juice. To assemble, place the burger on top of some little gem leaves and spoon over some mango salsa. I don’t know about the Road to Saigon, but after getting through this tasty monster, you’ll definitely be on your Road to Nirvana!

Well, that’s all for now folks. Five really simple ideas that will hopefully liven up your burger experience. The beauty of it all of course is that you can mix and match and add and subtract, and make your own little variations and adjustments to my ideas, let the creativity run wild, and come up with your own perfect combo of breads, relishes and garnishes!

Anyway, I started this post at night, and I’ve come back to it this morning, and in the 10 hours in between, my garden’s been blanketed in a bed of snow! It looks pristine and pure and untouched and clean! Of course what this means, is that going out anywhere today is going to be a royal pain. And of course, what that means is that I get a whole day to monkey around my kitchen with a view of my snow-covered garden, and make some great burgers! And then, pile the said burgers onto a large platter, curl up in front of the fireplace, AND?

You got it – watch a Great Movie!

Laterz!!

Thursday, 2 February 2012

To Aimee, Bumbles, Max and Erma, Delaware, Ohio and The Great American Bird

I don’t have any photographs of my friends in the house.

I really should, but I don’t. I don’t know why this is. And this is not the time for conjecture. I’ve actually organized this post (ha!) with very serious and defined thoughts (haha!). So, really, this is not the forum for random musings.

But honestly, I’ve just about mustered up the energy to scatter around some pictures of my kid. And that too, after a lot of nagging from the mother-in-law. “What!” she exclaimed when she visited a few months ago, in distraught flabbergasted emotion (the kind that’s displayed exclusively by mothers-in-law and no other creatures on this Earth. I’m practicing already.)

Anyway: “What!” she exclaimed, “You don’t have a single picture of Ranbir in the house! What! Why! How!” Etc.

She was right of course. She often is. Sigh!  I really should have some pictures of my kid in the house. Most normal people do. Not that I consider myself evenly remotely normal, but you know what I mean. So I decided to get my act together.  And now, I have 5.

But pictures of friends? Haha. Now, that requires a whole new level of gusto...

But, I lie.

I do have a picture of a friend in my house. One picture.

I have a picture of Aimee on her wedding day. I’m there too. She is resplendent in full bridal glory. Her face is beautiful, alight with anticipation. My arm is around her shoulders; hers, across my waist.  We aren’t posing for the camera, I don’t know what we’re looking at. We’re both laughing.

I love this picture.

Now, the reason Aimee’s picture is in my house is because I actually did no work – Aimee very kindly gave it to me as a gift (edited, sized, framed and all).

Just Kidding.

The real reason Aimee’s picture is in my house is because she is more than my friend. Sometimes she’s even more than family.

Aimee is inimitable. Our relationship is inimitable.

And this is why I’ve taken this long to write about her.

Because words somehow aren’t enough.

I am doing so today because of one reason and one reason alone:  It’s because soon, very soon – today, tomorrow, in an hour or a few days, Bumbles will be born! (Babies, by the way, are totally inconsiderate like that. They just decide to show up without warning).  So, although I don’t know when exactly she’ll be here, I know she’ll be here soon!  And I am so happy for Aimee, I want to laugh and cry, all at once.

Which is also why, I wanted this post to be really good. I have no idea if it will be or not, but I will say that it took considerable thought and (argh!) planning. Structuring, order flow, section breakdowns. The toolkits of a serious writer. Ha! You believe me?? Please do! It’s true!

The other (and far less sappy) reason that this post took so long in the making, is that Aimee’s become bloomin’ vegetarian! Wouldja believe it?  And, for the life of me, I couldn’t think of a vegetarian recipe to associate with her.  Because it’s not how I think of her in my head, you know. Because, back when I first met her, she was a ruddy, mid-western, meat-loving cowgirl!

So, after much brain-racking and going back and forth, I arrived at the following considered opinion: Vegetarianism (for all its benefits) can step aside for just this once, because this one’s going to be about the Turkey Burger.

Now, this is not random. Nothing about this post is random. This is actually about as un-random as I’m ever going to get, so soak it in, folks.

I’m writing about the Turkey Burger, because the Turkey Burger is how we first met.

Just stay with me...

                                                         **
I’m taking you back in time now, to a sleepy little town called Delaware, somewhere in middle-America, right in the heart of the cornfields.  It was 2001, our sophomore year at college, and Aimee and I found ourselves together, in a drama class.

Neither of us had theatre on our minds (though in retrospect, it probably would have been far more enjoyable as a career choice than blah-blah-banking.) Anyhow, we were both there to satisfy our “distribution requirements” – this interesting concept, typical of Liberal Arts colleges in the United States, where one is required to take a certain number of classes outside of one’s core subject. There’s a whole wide world of such irrelevance-to-the-core. Such as Drama. Or Creative Writing. Or Spanish. Or Golf, if you so wish. All of which I did, by the way. And only one of which, if you care to know, has any bearing on my life.

So, yes, we both found ourselves by some miraculous feat of destiny in this 6:30pm drama class taught by an Elaine Someone (Denny??). See, I’m rubbish at names, but I’m great at faces. And expressions. Faces and expressions don’t just mildly interest me. They form my world. I read them. And then they become words. And words become memories. Faces and expressions are everything. There is no writing without them. And without food of course. That goes without saying.

Anyhow, Elaine Denny (so sorry if that’s not your last name, but it has a nice ring to it, so that’s what I’ve decided I’m going to call you) had one of the most incredible faces I have ever seen. Expressive, emotive, remarkable.  One that I will never forget. She was a petite woman, but when she walked into a room, she owned it. That was the power of her face.

Aimee and I met here for the first time. In Elaine Denny’s classroom.

I still remember what first drew me to Aimee. Even now, 11 years later, I can pinpoint the exact thing. She had eyes that twinkled.

I liked that.

We hit it off instantly. We talked effortlessly and incessantly. We laughed a lot. I noticed that when Aimee laughed, her eyes laughed with her. And suddenly, whispering to each other between role playing Rosalind and Portia, wasn’t enough.

You can’t fit a friendship like this into an hour.

So we took to going out for dinner after class every week. And we always did the same thing. Aimee would drive us to Max and Erma’s and we would both eat Turkey Burgers and talk for hours. It became “our thing.”

Now, I’ve got to tell you, having grown up in India, I had never had a Turkey Burger in my life. There aren’t any Turkeys in India, you know. Just chickens.  And random cows crossing busy, trafficked roads (which by the way, you're not supposed to eat.) 

So, frankly speaking, at first I was skeptical. I don’t think I ordered a Turkey Burger the first time.  But I think I stared so hard at Aimee’s food that I left her no choice but to offer me a bite. And then of course, there was no turning back. 

I don’t know if you’ve ever been a Max and Erma’s but man, do they know how to make a good Turkey Burger! Succulent, tender, cooked exactly right, seasoned perfectly – it is an absolutely flawless piece of work.  Plus, thanks to Max (or Erma, whoever the creative force is in that little relationship) they did away with the boring old sesame seed burger bun. Instead, the patty was served inside a multi-seeded bagel filled with some sort of cream cheese and pesto and avocado mush. It was flippin-delicious (no pun intended) ;0)

So, we’d eat our Turkey Burgers, Aimee and I, and talk and talk and talk. Until sometimes, they would have to throw us out. You know, when restaurants want you to leave, they first try to blind you by turning on all the lights to maximum brightness. And then they try to deafen you by moving furniture about randomly and clanking dishes etc. Yeah, we wouldn’t take the hint. We’d just sit there obtusely, sipping our pink lemonade, engrossed in conversation. Eventually they would physically throw us out. It’s great fun, if you haven’t tried it, this being thrown out business. I highly recommend it.

So, you see my friends, the Turkey Burger will always have a special place in my heart. Never, ever, do I see a Turkey Burger on a menu and not think of Aimee.

Here’s what you need (makes about 8 servings):
  • 2 pounds ground turkey
  • 3 teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce
  • Handful shredded coriander leaves
  • 1 whole Egg Yolk (optional, to bind)
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Here's how you do it:
Combine the turkey, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon, coriander leaves, salt, pepper and egg yolk (if using) in a large bowl. Knead together with your hands, then form into round, flattened patties.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the patties at least 5-7 minutes on each side, until totally done. That’s all! Easy Poosy!

I’m actually not going to go into adorning the burgers in this post. Mostly because I’m terribly hungry and I want to eat what I’ve just cooked. But also because I’ve tried (and failed) to keep this short and I hate anything that is too long. So, some of my suggestions on various bun, relish and topping choices for your burger, follow in (a much shorter) Part II. So, stay tuned.
Although eating these burgers just as is, is really not such a bad thing. Burger aficionados might pooh pooh these little suckers and say they don’t hold a candle to their beefy brethren, but trust me, these are absolutely juicy, delicious and full of flavor – and not to mention, a lot healthier too!

So for now, it’s Turkey Burgers. Pure and Untainted.  
To Bumbles: I hope one day I will get to meet you and tell you how special your mother is to me.
And so this is for you.

Because this is how we were brought together, your mother and me. In Delaware, Ohio. By Max. And by Erma. And by the Great American Bird.