Odds and Ends Sandwich

What do you do when you feel like eating something nice, have odds and ends of ingredients left in your fridge, and are too lazy to go out and shop? You order food delivery from a restaurant of course. Ha! You thought I was going to say creative cooking, right? Admit it!

Actually I did both. Ordered food (onion soup and fried chicken tenders) and then did some culinary khichdi as well. My way of using fried chicken that the restaurant had ruined by over-frying. Presenting, in what might be the first recorded appearance this century (or ever!)… The Fried Chicken and Mango Sandwich!

 

Ingredients

100 g fried chicken

1 medium mango

1 tsp sugar

2 tbsp mayo

1 small white onion

1/2 tsp lemon juice

salt, pepper and cumin powder to taste

bread

Since the chicken was a little tough, I decided to chop it up into small pieces, added the mayo, lemon juice and sugar and left it to soak while I prepped the rest of the things. Dice the mango (make sure the mango is a sweet one) and chop the white onion very fine. Red/ pink onions won’t work as they are too sharp. Add to the chicken and season to taste. Leave in the fridge for at least an hour to allow the flavours to blend, and then sandwich into your favourite bread. Or whatever you have available.

Plans for next time: adding some mango juice/ pulp to the mix, layering some lettuce into the sandwich.

Just another bit of food nostalgia… sort of

For years I watched my mother cook and pack lunch for dad to take to work. For perhaps the same number of years, my brother and I received a pack of food as well to take to school. She never complained about having to get up early to cook for everyone. But she did complain about having to decide what to cook! I sympathized, but rarely helped. I do remember one instance where we sat down and made a list of all the foods that I didn’t mind taking to school, that she could make in the morning and she thought were appropriate for a school lunch. We got 22 items down that met all the requirements – perfect for one month.

It has been a long time since mom packed a tiffin for me, but it has been on my mind since I started my first job a few days ago. A 9 to 6 work day, plus travel time, translates to the need for a packed lunch as well as a breakfast and a dinner that require no time or effort to cook. Or eat (especially in the case of breakfast.) Everyday. And the meal I keep forgetting – the evening snack. And all of it should be nutritious and low-calorie, and should have milk and fruit and all the other things that are so essential. And every day and every night as I try to decide what my next meal should be, I wonder how mom did it for all those years. And everyday, my love and respect and gratitude towards her goes up a notch.

On Cravings

What is it about cravings that they hit you at moments when you absolutely can’t get what you are craving for? Is there some really perverse part of the brain that keeps track of the exact moment (and I do mean the EXACT moment) when going out isn’t an option anymore (because the shops are closed, or closing) and then stands up and demands satisfaction? I can’t be the only one familiar with the frantic calculation that occurs when you feel like some pizza maybe, check the time only to find out it is, say, ten minutes to closing, or twenty, and then you start wondering just how fast you can get to the pizza place and whether they’d even take your order if you got there with only five minutes to spare or they’d just say sorry, too late? What exactly is closing time anyway? The time they stop cooking? The time they stop taking orders? The time they stop letting people in? The time they shut the door and/or start pushing people out? But I’m meandering, and I better return to my topic before I lose my way completely.

So, cravings. My major recurrent ones are pizza, chocolate cake, and chicken 65. But the interesting thing is, its not really about pizza or chicken 65. The chocolate cake craving though, is a pure chocolate cake craving. There’s nothing more to it. Dark, moist chocolate cake, preferably crumbled into some ice-cream. No substitutions, no replacements, no satisfaction without. But as for the other cravings, once I thought about it, I realized they weren’t cravings for those foods, but for specific ingredients that went into making those foods. Pizza? its about the cheese. And not even mozzarella, any cheese. And the chicken 65 one is all about the fried garlic and curry leaves usually, although sometimes its simply for something hot and spicy.

The revelation actually did come to me during a chicken 65 craving. I had a craving (during the day time, fortunately) and went out to get some, only to find out that the eatery was out of chicken 65. The waiter suggested Chilli Chicken, but I knew that wasn’t what I wanted. And then I started wondering why, since I usually consider them almost interchangeable. Pieces of boneless chicken dipped in batter and deep fried, then cooked dry in a spicy, garlicky masala. One major flavour missing was the curry leaves, and I wanted that! But lemon rice has plenty of curry leaves and that wasn’t what I wanted either. That’s when I realized that I needed both garlic and curry leaves. After that it was a simple matter of asking for curry leaves to be added to the chilli chicken, and I was happy.

And so I’ve noticed that I can quite easily satisfy my cravings with foods which, at first sight, have absolutely nothing to do with what I was originally craving. I’ve actually appeased what started out as a chicken 65 craving, with an egg poached in tomatoes and garlic and crushed curry leaves. It doesn’t always work, I mean just like with the chocolate cake, some things just can’t be substituted. And of course there are those cravings that are more nostalgia than anything else. If its one of those desires driving you nuts, I’m afraid nothing but the real thing will work. But as for the rest… At least for me, its a great comfort knowing that a midnight pizza craving can be assuaged by a tomato and cheese sandwich that takes less than 5 minutes to prep.

Putting the Tea back into Tea

Any Indian would tell you how important tea is for the continuance of life as we know it. Every household has their own recipe. Tea at our home was always black tea, steeped with water, milk and sugar. A range of spices were added to it in winter – ginger, cloves, pepper, tulsi – for their heating properties. Especially when it was made for someone suffering from a cold, or a fever, the heat from the temperature of the tea would often be surpassed by the heat from the spices. I remember gasping over countless cups where the sting and burn of the spices (ginger and pepper, especially) would last for several minutes afterwards.
Company tea, or party tea, always had a little more milk and a little more sugar, and cardamom. All in an attempt to make it ‘richer’ and more worthy of being served to guests. Then, of course, there were alterations specific to certain guests. A particular aunt liked her tea with very little milk, so when she was visiting, the milk to water ratio was altered. But try as she might, mom couldn’t manage to stop at the tiny amount of milk my aunt liked, and the result would be tea that would be unsatisfactory to both of them – too milky for the one and not enough for the other. The same process was reversed when my mother visited her. It was possible, of course, to go the tea bag way, or the tea service way with pots of milk, sugar and brewed tea (or hot water and tea bags) available for assembly right at the table, but fancy as that might be, the flavour was never deemed satisfactory enough to be desired. Everything in the right quantity had to be steeped together for several minutes, till it achieved an undefinable perfect colour and consistency. I don’t think I ever managed to learn to make tea just the way my mother liked it. I did accidentally hit upon the ‘perfect’ cup of tea a few times, but it was pure fluke.Recently I’ve been wondering about all the amazing ways to make tea (Cranberry Iced Tea, or Cucumber Ginger Tea, for example) in which people forget to put one very important ingredient – TEA! I mean, what you cook and the way you cook it is entirely a matter of taste, and I respect everyone’s right to cook exactly what they want. But for the sake of clarity, if nothing else, shouldn’t tea-less teas be called something other than tea? And yes, I’m equally against seviyan kheer without the seviyan, or sarson ka saag without the sarson. Its like going to a restaurant and saying, “I’d like some onion pakoras, but skip the onions.” That’s not to say that recipe adaptations are at all problematic, but please acknowledge that its an adaptation. If you were inspired by a recipe for Achari Alu and decided to use cauliflower instead of the potatoes, you’re not going to still call it Achari Alu, are you? I’m sure there must be some people out there who will think me an insufferable puritan for this, but I’d like to reclaim the word tea for beverages that actually contain tea! And in case you were beginning to wonder if I’m a racist as well as a puritan, not at all, all colours of tea are equally welcome. Black, Green, White, Yellow and any other shades I don’t know about, so long as it be tea. That’s all I want. Or is that too much to ask for?
So you don’t like tea (or you do like and just need a break or a change, whatever), go ahead and make your novelty concoction. Let your creativity run wild as you experiment with flavour and colour and temperature and ingredients and everything else that can be experimented with. The only think I ask of you is if your Ultimate, Tongue-Tingling, Glow-in-the-Dark, Raspberry Flavoured, Lemon Coloured, Fizzy Tea doesn’t have tea, please call it something else.

Midnight Quesadilla, aka The Cheese Factor

I love cheese.  In India, of course, cheese generally means processed cheese. Usually Amul, or maybe Brittania. Paneer is also called cottage cheese, but mostly it’s just called paneer. In my childhood, my parents enforced a ration of one 400g tin of Amul cheese per month, and I remember how exciting it was when we bought a new tin, and how disappointing when it got over. Those were the days when you had to use a can opener and work your way around the tin, then use a knife to lift up the cut metal sheet (which would have gotten wedged in the cheese). Usually, and this is where the fun began, some of the cheese would get broken off in the process. Slightly yellow in colour, soft and crumbly, that cheese was one of the best things I’d ever tasted. Some 20 years later, I still cannot resist the sight of a freshly opened pack of Amul cheese, or what I encounter more frequently now – a freshly peeled cheese cube. It is for that reason alone that I prefer cheese cubes rather than bigger packs.
Cheese spread is handy enough, but it doesn’t taste like the real thing. Cheeslings, on the other hand, I can eat by the pack. It was such a great ‘event’ when Mozzarella cheese (pizza cheese) became available in the retail market. It is rather lacking in flavor, I think, but melts easily and gives your homemade pizzas a fresh-from-a-pizzeria look! The best pizza I made used a combination of mozzarella and parmesan cheese, where the texture of one and the flavor of the other made a good balance. I don’t know if parmesan cheese is made in India. For me, it’s one of the items I request my brother to bring from the U.S. If it has to be imported, might as well do the importing yourself!
On a recent trip to a supermarket though, I was thrilled to see several varieties of cheese produced by something called Kodai Dairy. Being handmade cheese, it was quite pricey (still cheaper than the imported varieties available), but seemed to have a decent range – Cheddar cheese, flavoured cheeses (like green chilly), etc. Milky Mist also had a cheddar cheese. Bought to pack to try it out. Another new item available in the cheese section was grated cheese blends from Gowerdhan Dairy (GO Cheese!). Along with Cheddar, they had a Mexican blend, an Italian pasta blend and an Italian pizza one. When I had visited my brother a couple of years ago, he had a pack of Mexican four-cheese blend in his freezer and it seemed like a very useful thing to have on hand. And I had mourned that it wasn’t available in India…
So yeah, I picked up a pack as soon as I saw it yesterday! And then I couldn’t wait to try it out. Ever notice how you get hungry at odd times when you have bought a new snack/ food you want to try? My hunger-moment hit at 11:45 in the night, when I was in bed, about to fall asleep. For a few minutes I debated whether to try to fall asleep anyway or to get up and eat something. The moment I remembered the cheese, though, I HAD to get up! With very few ingredients on hand, and considering the lateness of the hour, I wanted something easy and quick. That’s where the Midnight Quesadilla came in. It is something I concocted in a hungry, sleepy moment!

Midnight Quesadilla
        –   Leftover dough to make 1 roti
        –   1 egg
        –   2 tbsp chopped onion
        –  1 tbsp chopped tomato
        –  1 clove garlic, chopped
        –  1 tsp oil
        –   Salt and pepper (I used red chilly powder for colour. And because it was kept closer to the salt!)
And, of course
        – 1 tbsp grated cheese (I used Mexican cheese blend)
Heat a flat non-stick pan. Add a little oil.
Roll out the roti and cook one side.
Flip over.  Break an egg onto the roti, and spread it with a spoon/fork. Quickly sprinkle the chopped vegetables, salt and pepper, and the cheese.
Fold it in half, but don’t press down. Otherwise all the egg will ooze out.
Let it cook on a low heat till the egg is done. Flip once to make sure both sides cook evenly.
Cut into wedges and eat/serve with tomato sauce.
I am a little paranoid about eating raw egg, so before I added the cheese, I flipped mine over and cooked the egg directly. Then flipped back, added the cheese, folded, and cooked till crisp. You can even cover the pan with a lid to speed up cooking. Mine was done in about 12 minutes from start to finish.
This is what the inside looked like. 
 
It was perfect for satisfying midnight cravings, and reinforced my belief that everything tastes better with a little cheese on top!

Almost-Anniversary Celebration!

I was planning to do a ‘one year of NOT blogging’ celebratory post, but I’m going to have to settle for an almost… Manu’s non-stop pestering to blog, blog, BLOG finally got to me. Every time I cooked anything even slightly out of my normal routine, his first reaction would be, “You should write a blog about this.” So yes, I gave in. I rarely remember to photograph my food – usually by the time I finish cooking, its half past the time for eating! But over the almost-one-year, I did plan a few posts and out of them perhaps managed to photograph half. Hopefully, I’ll catch up on those! (Although knowing me, that’s probably too much to hope for.)
Today being St. Patrick’s Day, I too played at being Irish for a day, or rather for a meal. Dinner for two :- Soda Farls, Fried Cabbage, and Irish Chicken. Oh yeah, orange slices for dessert!

The farls I had tried once before, and the cabbage was a very basic recipe with just oil, salt, pepper and parmesan. The show-stopper, at least I hope so, was the chicken. Not too complicated or time consuming, but definitely finger-lickin’ good. Inspired by a recipe from the Food Network, here’s how I did it…

300 g chicken (with bone)
2 carrots (sliced)
1 medium potato (cubed)
1/4 cup green peas
1 medium onion (chopped)
2 cloves garlic (minced)
salt, pepper to taste
2 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
2 tbsp oil
AND….
1 cup Strong beer (I used Tuborg, simple because that had a smaller bottle available)

Heat the oil in a non-stick pan and fry the onion and garlic. Remove from oil and set aside. In the same oil, add the chicken pieces and cook on medium high. Make sure to turn the chicken so that all sides are evenly browned. Once the chicken browns, add the onion and garlic, carrot, potato, salt, pepper, and coriander. Pour the beer over it, bring to a boil.

Then turn down heat and cover and cook for 30 minutes. Add the green peas, cook for another 10 minutes. By then, the chicken should be done, and only a little bit of sauce left. (If you like more sauce, you can always add more beer… or water).

I was slightly apprehensive about cooking this one since I don’t like the taste of beer, but somehow the cooking process took the unpleasantness away, while still leaving a recognisable flavour behind. I’ve never cooked chicken with vegetables before (except onion and capsicum for tikka), but the carrots and peas added a nice colour to it, I think. My test subject did clean up his plate very very thoroughly, so I’m guessing it was a hit!