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Mexican Breakfast

8 Feb

I am in love with Mexican cuisine. As a self-proclaimed foodie I am ashamed to say that the extent of my exposure to Mexican food before I came to the UK was restricted to four things – Salsa (like the dance), Nachos (like Senõr Pepito’s masala triangles), Tacos with black beans (as in, rajma, right?) and Tortillas (don’t pronounce the ‘r’ ), none of which I truly liked. Yes, I had tried jalapenos and of course I loved chorizo, but in my mind these individual things didn’t map up to make ‘cuisine’. At most, they were snacks that you bought at the movies and avoided at restaurants.

Until, that was, the evening when I saw this programme on the Food Network channel. I was bored with eating the regular stuff, and was looking for something easy and exciting when I saw Thomasina Meirs make this simple Mexican breakfast dish.

My version of Mexican breakfast

As I watched, I realised that I already had most of the ingredients at home. I didn’t waste time in putting knife to  red pepper, and soon, this amazingly tasty dinner-breakfast was ready.

Fried egg replaced with goat’s cheese

Truth is, I had been waiting for this ‘intervention’ all my life, and immediately followed it up with a meal at Taqueria where I tried

Flautas deep fried rolled tortillas filled with refry (v) or chicken, with tomatillo salsa, crema, lettuce, sliced onion, queso fresco. The sauce on this one is super awesome

and

Quesadillas toasty corn tortillas folded around melted cheese with mushroom and house made Mexican chorizo. Woah. Died and went to food heaven, and was glad to be alive to be able to try it before going to heaven

and some other things I don’t remember.

And then of course, I went to Wahaca, where I tried

Fish a la Pimienta Grilled mullet with a melting onion, black pepper, fresh lime and pumpkin seed sauce, served with green rice and salad. It grows on you till you cant get enough

and

Tostadas with Chicken guajillo Chunks of marinated chicken, lettuce,
guacamole and a smoky guajillo oil. *Want to out of the house at this moment and sinking my teeth into some *

You can find the original recipe for Mexican Breakfast  here.

If you want to make my version though, replace the egg with some goats cheese or semi-hard cow’s milk cheese (I usually use the plain Apetina), and switch the Worcester sauce with sweet smoked paprika.

If you’ve had great Mexican food experiences elsewhere in London, I’d love to know, so drop me a line with your suggestions!

Plain or pretentious?

1 Feb

I read this article today in the Guardian about how the innocence of the potato crisp must be preserved i.e. it should be seasoned only with salt, instead of dousing the fried delight in fancy flavours (read ‘Pizza’, ‘Chargrilled Steak’, ‘Chicken Tikka’). I personally love to break up the boring routine, espcially when its a flavour like Lay’s Masala Magic.

Here’s a link to the article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2012/feb/01/walkers-crisps-gourmet-chipsnk

What is your opinion?

Fried Baby Eggplant with Salad

4 Oct

And we’re BACK! Has it really been more than a month?!

Between relocating and getting my kitchen set back up, I haven’t been able to do much cooking, but here’s a little something to get me started again and to give you a taste of the exciting stuff that’s to come.

Making Fried Baby Eggplant is quite simply the easiest-tastiest thing there is and can be passed off as a regular meal after a hard day’s work, or be dressed up on your party table to impress guests. My mother makes another version of this at home, which has a more complex seasoning, but for now, let us work with really simple ingredients and let the eggplant do its smoky flavoured magic!

What you need (serves 2):

4-5 baby eggplants

Oil for frying (about 4-5 tbsp)

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp garlic powder

Salt to taste

For the garnish,

1 large red onion, thinly diced

1 large tomato, chopped

a handful of coriander, finely chopped

What to do:

Combine the smoked paprika, salt, oregano and garlic powder and keep aside.

In a shallow pan, heat oil for frying.

Now take the baby eggplants, wash and slice off the green heads. Now carefully make two cuts going downwards to the base of the eggplant, so it forms a cross.

Take a pinch full of the prepared seasoning, and stuff it inside the baby eggplants. Make sure that it is spread evenly on all four of the segments we’ve just made.

Once this is done, pop in the eggplants into the heated oil, and turn the flame to medium. Fry until the purple skin turns very dark indigo.

Serve hot with sliced onions, tomatoes and coriander for garnish.

Hiding under an avalanche of onions and tomatoes!

Here served with pita bread and leafy salad

Healthy for 2 weeks and counting…

10 Aug

For the last two weeks, I’ve been on this somewhat-diet that I made from a hotchpotch of advise from women’s magazines, some serious examination of calorie charts and titbits of common sense. Just for fun (and I’m not advocating ANY of this) I thought I’d share this diet with you. I still don’t know how well I’ve fared on the weight loss front, but I am feeling a lot less “loose” and a bit more “tight” if you know what I mean  🙂

So up first, Breakfast. Most important meal of the day for me, and I like to think the most healthiest as well. I never have meat in the mornings anyway, so it wasn’t really that much of a struggle. I usually have bran flakes and a cup of coffee. Although fruits do get a bit heavy on the student pocket, they are totally worth it.

Bran flakes with raisins, blue berries and watermellon

In between breakfast and lunch. When I was in boarding school, they used to call this period between breakfast and lunch “juice break” where we used to get a glass of juice (if we were lucky to get there before everybody else did) and two biscuits. When my parents first heard about this, they found the idea ridiculous. How can one eat so much and constantly? But the idea behind it was this – to keep your metabolism going, so you wouldn’t go overboard at lunch time (not that it stopped us :P). So mid-morning, when the breakfast effect has worn off, I have a few almonds (about 6 to 8) and some swigs of a yoghurt drink. Its both refreshing and nutritious!

Lunch. I discovered this really cool, cheap and tasty option that would leave me feeling full AND help me lose some of that extra flab. Its called Rye Bread. Tada!! My friend Shuli who I suggested it to (and who is a willing consumer of it) fondly calls it “cardboard”. It is. But its healthy, fibrous, nearly no calories cardboard. Now for the fun part: go crazy on the dip that accompanies the rye bread. There’s a whole host of flavours out there that I didn’t even know about! In 2 weeks I’ve discovered 3 types of hummous (all low fat), tzatziki (which is so wonderully like raita), and an aubergine dip that has a lovely smokey flavour combined with a smooth texture. Along with the rye bread, I have stalks of celery or carrots, or some fruit to give me a break from the bread. And sometimes sometimes when I’m feeling really generous with myself, I throw in a stick of cheese 😛

In between Lunch and Dinner. At about 6 in the evening, I get really hungry, and its usually for things like chocolate and chips and other fattening stuff that I should stay far away from. To placate my pangs at this hour, I usually whip up some tea which is usually loose-leaf Assam tea and have it with 2 ginger-nut biscuits (only) and perhaps a handful of peanuts. This combination usually keeps me covered until dinner time : )

Dinner. This is probably totally anti traditional diet, but I let myself go slightly over the top for dinner as compared to my other meals during the day. I don’t know why that is. Maybe I’m used to this pattern because I’ve followed it for most of my life. Even back at home in India, dinner was always the heaviest meal because at the end of the day, you could just relax and enjoy it (plus the family was all sitting together!). So for dinner, I’ve come up with a few options that range from grilled fish, to boiled vegetables and noodle soup (with only salt and pepper!) or just a vegetable stir-fry with egg (sometimes I eat the yoke, at other times I don’t).

Sweet chilli roasted salmon (from Tesco, absolutely delicious) and Noodle soup with celery

So that’s it. Don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep this up, but I’m hoping it’ll be long enough to get fit!

Healthy Udon Noodle with Crunchy Vegetables in Black Bean Sauce & Chinese Chilli Oil

2 Aug

EEEeeeeek! I’m sooo excited! This is my very first guest post and it’s by none other than Soapsuds and Doodles who happens to be my classmate at Warwick and also a recently converted health freak! Here she is sharing a recipe from her very own customised diet. It’s an absolutely delicious  and experimental (yet simple) dish and her descriptions+ photographs will want to make you eat the screen! A complete winner in my opinion 🙂 I hope you enjoy it just as much as I have! ♥

After devouring a giant bar of Toblerone for both breakfast and lunch a couple of weeks ago (you know – the kind that’s compulsory for everyone going through airport duty free), something told me it was time for a major diet revamp.  I love salads, fresh vegetables and low fat Japanese cuisine but by-and-large, I’m not a health food person so for me to switch to eating wholesome things permanently, they’d have to be pretty darn tasty.  Live to eat, am I right?

Shriya gave me a great idea when she mentioned that one of her kitchenmates constantly eats stark meals of noodles and boiled vegetables with a little seasoning for taste.  I figured that with the right sauces and herbs, such a dish could be a really quick, healthy lunch option and set out to recreate it my own way.

The secret ingredients in this are a fermented black bean sauce and a traditional Chinese chilli oil (make sure you buy a really tasty version because some brands they sell in the West can be quite bland – I recommend Lao Gan Ma.  You know you can’t go wrong when it has a man’s face on it).

The black bean sauce gives it a nutty, salty soy flavour and the chilli oil adds a garlicky kick.  And the thing I love about this meal idea is that you can do almost anything with it.  Jonesing for meat?  Throw in some shredded chicken breast.  Want it cold?  Boil up some soba and soak in dashi.  And I’m sure it’ll be just as amazing with dried chillis and fried onions on top for some added crunch.

My specific recipe uses mushrooms, pak choi, spinach, cucumber, fresh coriander and chilli for a zesty, fresh flavour.  I make it with chewy udon and the resulting dish is a bright, fragrant tangle of firm, earthy noodles and mushrooms, juicy pak choi stems and crunchy vegetables that won’t make you feel guilty about dessert – if you still have space for it!



What you need:

A deep pan or saucepan

A big noodle bowl (I love this pretty pyrex bowl that I found at Tesco for £3 because I can see the colourful veggies right the way down and it makes me feel extra healthy.  Whatever works, right?)

A colander (I made one batch without this and everything was swimming in icky oily water.)

Fresh udon (or noodle of choice.  I use a brand that comes with pre-packed portions.)


A quarter of a cucumber

One bunch of pak choi

A handful of mushrooms

A fresh red chilli

Handful of coriander

Handful of spinach

Half a teaspoon of chilli oil

Half a teaspoon of fermented black bean sauce (The amounts for the last two condiments are estimates – adjust them to regulate saltiness and spiciness.)

What to do:

1)  Cut the bottom off the pak choi.  Slice the cucumber, chilli, coriander and mushrooms.

2)  Put the raw cucumber, coriander and chilli in your bowl.

3)  Put in half a teaspoon of black bean sauce.  Drain the oil from half a teaspoon of the chilli oil mixture and put in the remaining chilli flakes and bits.  It’s important to drain the oil and just use the bits or it completely defeats the “healthy” intention.

4)  Heat water in your deep pan or saucepan.  Bring to the boil, put in the udon, mushrooms and pak choi and let boil for about three minutes.




5)  It’s ready when the pak choi turns a deeper green and the udon strands seperate when you stir them with a fork.  (About three minutes.)

6)  Throw in the spinach to wilt then immediately turn the heat off.

7)  Drain, toss in bowl with raw veggies and condiments.


8)  Eat like you’ve never eaten before.  At least, that’s what I do!  Enjoy!

An evening at Jamie Oliver’s Italian

27 Jul

I’ve already done two posts on Jamie Oliver (is that right?) and one might think that that would be more than enough, but the thing about running a food blog is that you just cannot avoid the man. He’s everywhere – in the supermarket, on the internet, television. He’s even in the book (and app) best-seller list since he released his 30-minute meal manual at the end of last year!

In fact it is surprising that it took me so long to finally get to his restaurant here in Birmingham. A bunch of friends and I decided to pop in for dinner, and when I broke the news back to my sister in India, she behaved responded exactly like a star-struck, celebrity starved giggling girl. “What!”, she said, “You’re going to Jamie Oliver’s Restaurant? Do you know how lucky you are!” And then she went on describe in full detail how even former US President Clinton had trouble meeting the man because he came with a larger than expected party of people. This happened of course at JO’s ‘Fifteen’ restaurant in London. Regardless, I made nothing of it on the phone, but was secretly feeling the butterflies in my stomach. People who’ve known me for a while will also know that I am a big follower of the Chef and more so for his work in revolutionising food in schools (he even inspired me to write a few food-based stories for children).

So when the day finally came, I was very excited. We got there on time, entered and then were shocked at the kind of crazy crowd that had gathered. Our original reservation was for 9 pm, but I think we finally got our table around 9.45. We sat ourselves down, were handed the menus which were surprisingly simple. I know this is his speciality and I also know that on the website he had stated very clearly that the restaurant was all about home-like Italian food. But I have to say that my expectations were so high, that I felt a little disappointed. Although the ambiance was very warm and welcoming (with yellow lighting and wooden panelling), the place was too busy for us to feel like we were sitting in a speciality restaurant.

We ordered the white house wine, which was the right amount of spritzy and fruity for someone who is a wine-amateur like me, and then went on to the main course. The specials that day like the 15-hour cooked lamb risotto and the pork chop with roasted apple turned out to be the best dishes, apart from the sea bass that one of my friends said was delicious. I also tried *wild boar* pepperoni for the first time in my life, which was a bit chewy but subtly spicy and oily (part of the pleasure of eating any pepperoni is the fat it comes with, isnt it?)

The stars however were the desserts. I especially *loved* the chocolate and espresso tart that was served with figs (what a sexy combination!) and orange cream fraiche and dusted lightly with cocoa powder. Wah!

I guess overall everyone was quite happy. Put together – the ambiance, the culinary highlights, a few glasses of wine and fine company made for a wonderful evening. I wouldn’t mind paying another visit, and this time they better have their JO aprons on sale!

Palm Hearts in Wine Sauce with Shredded Chicken

9 Jul

This has got to be one of the wackiest combinations I have come up with, but one that I am happy to add has turned out delightfully appetizing.

Let me take a moment here to talk about Palm Hearts, because really, these succulent yet crisp little melt-in-the-mouth things are quite spectacular. You might think they’re limp and unpleasant when you see the tin can they come in and the idea of eating palm hearts itself can be quite daunting, but I beg you to give them a chance. This was my first encounter with them, and I am completely bowled over by just how versatile and exotic they are. On the outside, they’re a bit crunchy, but on the inside (which is spiralled) they’re soft and creamy (like hearts!).

So anyway, here I’ve combined them with shredded chicken and wine sauce. Remember not to mess around too much with the palm hearts because they can be very delicate and pretty much have a taste of their own which would be cruel of us to mask.

Recipe for Palm Hearts in wine Sauce with Shredded Chicken

For the Wine Sauce

What you need:

250 gm  shallots, chopped

1 sachet of mulled wine spice

250 ml red wine

1 tsp garlic paste

1 cube of vegetable stock (you are welcome to use chicken or beef stock as well)

1 cup water

4 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp butter

3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

What to do:

On a high flame, heat the olive oil and fry the shallots until golden brown. Now add the vinegar and mix it in till it evaporates.

Boil the 1 cup water and dissolve the cube of stock in it. Add this water to the mixture and simmer on a medium flame. Add the sachet of spice and simmer for another 5 minutes.

Remove the sachet, add the garlic paste and pour in half the red wine. Simmer until it reduces by a third. Now add the remaining wine and again reduce by a third. The sour taste will also reduce considerably. Add salt and pepper as required.

The sauce should be quite thick by now. Add the dollop of butter and swirl it in slowly till it melts.  Your warm, wholesome sauce is now ready to serve! Mmmm…

For the Palm Hearts and Shredded Chicken (serves 2)

What you need:

1 chicken breast

1 tsp garlic paste

1/2 tsp mixed Italian seasoning

1/2 tsp pepper

salt to taste

4-5 whole stocks of palm hearts, diced

1 tbsp butter

Water for boiling

What to do:

In a shallow pan, heat the butter on a medium heat and add the diced palm hearts and sauté gently for 4-5 minutes. Keep aside.

Steam the chicken in a double-boil arrangement. This ensures that the moisture is retained and the meat remains soft. Once cooked, shred it roughly with a knife.

Add the garlic paste, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper to the chicken and mix. Now press the mixture into a sort-of circular cake.

Before serving, add the palm hearts to the plate and pour the doll a nice helping of warm wine sauce over it. Ah, delicious!

In Sickness and in Health: Sweet & sour Spinach soup with nuts

6 Jun

This is a wonderful recipe that belongs to my mum. I have never been an avid eater of spinach. Actually, I mostly try and avoid it. But this particular dish is so yummy that I can help but eat a few bowlfuls.

If you are somebody who cannot stand that distinct smell and taste of spinach, then this dish is worth a try, because by the end you will really not be able to tell that you’re eating spinach! It’s tangy-ness  hits the back of your palate, the balance of sweet and salty and the crunch of the nuts under your teeth, is a delight both taste and texture wise.

This is a great soup when you’re feeling sick (spinach is great for strength. Remember Popeye? Its full of anti-oxidants, vitamins and iron) or when you’re looking for something exciting to go with your meal.

(Although I’m calling it a soup, back home in India this is a ‘bhaji’ or vegetable to be eaten either with roti or rice.)

What you need:

300 gm of Spinach leaves (stalks cut)

7-8  cloves of garlic pounded/ finely sliced

a small piece of ginger grated / finely sliced

half a cup of cashew nuts (I personally prefer peanuts instead of cashews)

2 tbsp gram flour (if gram flour is hard to find, you can use regular flour instead, but it will compromise on the flavour a little)

2 tbsp tamarind pulp (or better still, a lemon-sized portion of fresh tamarind)

4 cups of water

Salt to taste

Sugar to taste

1 tsp fennel seeds

For the Tadka (or garnish)

2 tbsp oil

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp fennel seeds

1/2 tsp chilli powder

1/2 tsp hing

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp garlic paste (or 2 cloves of garlic pounded)

1/2 tsp dried corriander powder

1/2 tsp fennel powder

1/2 tsp coriander seeds

(when giving the tadka, try to follow the sequence in which the ingredients are listed)

What to do:

Boil the spinach leaves in 4 cups of water with garlic, ginger and fennel seeds in a pot until soft. Leave it aside to cool.

When cooled, crush the leaves with the back of a wooden spoon (or anything else that is strong) to make them  more fine. Add gram flour, tamrind pulp, cashews , salt and sugar. Keep it on sim till the cashews cook.

For the Tadka, heat oil in a saucepan until its really hot. Now add the ingredients in the same order as given above. Switch off the heat when the spices are sufficiently fried (this usually takes a minute).

Now add the the tadka to the soup. Done!

Serve it hot on its own, or as we traditionally do with plain steamed rice or warm rotis.

(Note: Since the soup tends to get thicker as it cools down, add sufficient water and heat the next time you want to eat it. )

Kazak Chak-chak!

29 May

I walked into the hostel kitchen the other day to find my Kazak flatmate Diana and her friend Anastasia (don’t both of them sound like princesses? : ) ) making a traditional Kazak dessert for their department’s final function to mark the end of the academic year ( 😦 ).

This dish is called chak-chak (I discovered that if you say Kazak chak-chak enough times, it becomes a tongue-twister) and is a bit complicated to make, but totally worthwhile.

The two girls pose for the camera.

What you need:

For the strips,

3 eggs

2 cups flour

1 tbsp vodka

1 tsp salt

Oil for frying

For the syrup,

300 gms honey (usually one squeezy bottle)

250 gms dried apricot pieces

a handful of raisins

almond powder (to go the extra mile)

What to do

In a deep mixing bowl, combine eggs, flour, salt and vodka and bind it into a dough. Divide the dough into tiny balls, and on a clean, flat surface, roll it into a thin round sheet using a rolling-pin. A good indicator of whether it is the right thinness, is to see if the rolled out dough is transparent enough for you to see the surface underneath.

Like in the picture below, for example. If I tried to roll our dough, I usually end up with the map of a country, as my mother likes to say.

Now make horizontal cuts on the circle to make strips, and further cut these to make really tiny strips.

(Such well manicured hands!)

(As you can tell, it’ll take a while to make this pile)

Heat oil on a high flame and once heated, reduce it to medium. Fry the strips in batches till golden brown and keep aside.

I love the smell of hot oil. It reminds me of home.

I could crunch on these forever...

In another pot, pour the honey and heat it on medium flame, till it boils.

Now combine the honey, the strips, apricot and almond powder into any shape you like. Remember to work fast, because the honey can crystallize very quickly.

Diana and — decided to spell out “Warwick” with the chak-chak. Cute isn’t it?

Once its cooled, you can cut it into pieces and serve. Enjoy!

Saxon summer and Feaster Sunday

8 May

The sun’s come out! I don’t know about you guys but I’ve been starving for some sunshine and as you can imagine, I am savouring every minute of it. In fact, the assurance that it’s here to stay for at least the next few months, even makes me love the rain we’ve been getting the last two days. It’s all so beautiful!

I’ve already had some amazing times in the sun, and here’s a few I’d like to share with you-

Picnic Shicnic

I especially like lying in the sun with my girl friends, curled up on a towel with a book in hand (study material, I promise!) and chomping on some share-friendly finger food -chips, grapes, chocolate, wafers etc etc

Keeping it light!

Easter-Feaster

Barbecues are a wonderful idea, especially if they’re done well. And because the sun goes down to so late, you have an excuse to make them go on endlessly!

On Easter Sunday, some friends made some wonderful Tandoori chicken and Lamb straight on the BBQ grill.

For Vegetarians, there was a skewered cottage cheese and vegetables option.

And if that didn’t satisfy your appetite, there were yummy poppadums, chicken curry and biriyani (just the thought of it makes my mouth water!)

Saxon Summer

If you are blessed with *good food luck* , you will often times discover the type of place that not only serves great food, but also gives you a great ambience. Fortunately for me, a couple of friends took us to a place just like that near Leamington called the Saxon Mill.

Apart from breathtaking views of castles and flowing rivers…

…they also make very yummy cocktails.

And if you’re looking for summery food, they can fix you something really light but really yummy!

Mediterranean Platter, or some such

Fish cakes with Mango, rocket and tomato salad

Hope you’re enjoying your summer too. I’d love to hear about some of your fun times!

 
Picnic and Easter pictures courtesy: Shuli Sud