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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

A mock carbonara

One to the dishes you won't be able to recreate at a decent price at home, is what is considered a nice comfort food dish in the west: Spaghetti Alla carbonara.
The reason being that a true carbonara calls for pork bacon. Pork is mostly eaten by Christian in India and you won't find it easily in store, and when you do find bacon, it is generally frozen, and at a premium price, imported or not. I not only don't feel like buying something that pricey for a comfort fuss free dish, but I also can't bring myself to trust that the pork has been kept at an adequate temperature along the supply chain for it to still be fit for consumption.
For years, that was the pasta dish I would only really order in quality restaurants as an more. I found a way to make a sauce that comes close to the real deal, without the pork bacon, or even the Parmesan cheese (another pricey ingredients).
A year ago or so, I found a chicken rasher bacon made by the brand Prabhat (found commonly in Mumbai, can't vouch for the rest of the country). This chicken bacon has a rich smokey flavour that makes it come as close as you can get to the taste of pork bacon without it being pork. The only downside is that it lacks the little fat bits that lend flavour to a dish, but this is as good as it's gonna get.
With that little discovery, I came up with that carbonara like sauce very quickly. It is ridiculously easy to pull, and the whole dish, pasta cooking including will not keep you busy more than 20 minutes in the kitchen.
You'll need:
- Half a pack of Prabhat rasher bacon (or more if you like it meaty)
- 2 small packs of Amul fresh cream (total 500ml cream)
- 1 or 2 egg yolks
- a little mild cheddar, grated
- salt and pepper to taste
- Your choice of pasta
What to do :
1) Bring water to a boil with salt and olive oil added to it. Add the pasta to the water once it is boiling, and cook according to packet instructions, or until al dente if you are familiar with pasta cooking.
2) While the water boils and pasta cook, quickly cut your bacon into little strips, heat oil in another pan and sauté for about 2-3 minutes, add salt and stir. Add the cream and bring to a boil, as soon as it does boil, switch off the flame, the sauce is cooked, add the grated cheddar to taste. Wait for the pasta to finish cooking at this point.
3) Once the pasta is cooked and drained, take your egg yolks and add them to the creamy sauce and stir, one egg will make it a bit more liquid than if you use two. Plate your pasta and pour the sauce on top, garnish with crushed pepper and serve.
This recipe serves 4, and you can serve rocket leaves salad on the side, it pairs great with the rich creamy sauce.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Ganesh Chaturthi

This Sunday instead of a picture, let me share a video of India. Ganesh Chaturthi, which celebrate the birth of Lord Ganesh, the beloved elephant god and crusher of obstacles is celebrated with great pomp in Mumbai. This is THE major festival in the city and the celebration last for 10 days, at which point the Ganesha idols are brought to the sea or other water bodies for immersion.
This year, Ganesh Chaturthi fell on Friday 29th, and the society accross the street from mine has a big Ganesh Shrine on for the occasion. The whole festival starts with bringing Ganesh home, and it is usually done in big fanfare and oomph, in the case of the society in question, they brought him home the night before (Thursday Night). The video I am sharing below was however NOT taken on that day. But before I continue with my rambling, here is what I filmed on Saturday night from my bedroom window :
This particular housing society always take Ganesh for a tour of the neighbourhood after the first day Puja has been done. in an even grander, louder and oophier (is that a word?) manner than they brought him home. Tonight, he went on a big float decorated with lights and an escort of drums and trumpets. The rain was no bar, and it kept going. Bear with me about the quality of the video, I was house bound. Ishita was asleep (and didn't wake up despite the loud music), DH's was out and I couldn't just leave the house to get a closer look.
DH and several other people told me that Ganesh Chaturthi in Mumbai is a very specific ritual, and once you started bringing The Lord home, he must be brought back to the same place every year. Which is why a lot of appartment building, and neighbourhood usually put a communal shine up for people to bless Ganesh if they can't bring him in their home instead. DH personally don't celebrate the festival as such, nothing special goes in our home. Ishita learns about it in school, and they have a couple of Ganpati themed activities (including making idols out of modelling clay) and she loves the festival.
This post goes live on Sunday morning, but I am typing it Saturday night, over an hour after Ganesh left for his tour, there is a lashing rain, lightning, thunder, and the drums and trumpets still audible in the distance.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

10 pantry must have

The festive season is there, the public holidays vortex is about to suck me in. From then until Diwali there is pretty much one school holiday a week, and thanks to a few politicos, this year we are seeing a repeat of the extended Ganesh Utsav, which will be a whole 5 days long thanks to a weekend that falls in the line up. On top of it, a vast majority of Ishita's friends are born between July and September. So much so that until The end of the Diwali break, my life is a succession of social engagement, parties, meet ups, and plots to keep my little monster occupied on those days off.
This is the time of the year I try to simplify things even more than usual, especially in the kitchen. As you all know, I love to cook...and eat. However, cooking is an activity that should remain stress free, and hassle free. So, when I find myself on edge, running from A to B, I'd rather put something simpler and far less time consuming to pull on the table than exhaust myself cooking a multi course meal. I cut corner, find shortcuts, and save myself oodles of times and sanity with a few essentials my kitchen is never without :

1) Always have the ingredients to make a cake on hand and a recipe you can do by heart. I have a basic sponge recipe that need only 5 ingredients. I can from that base make any flavour, and even turn them into cup cakes. If you don't have an oven, find a cold microwave mug cake recipe. Why? because on a stressed out day, a cake can fix anything.

2) Maggi Noodles, or any ramen type noodles really. Do I need to say more?

3) Your favourite tea, or selection of favourite teas. Because a cup of tea and a few munchies makes for the perfect stress relieving snack.

4) A pack of pasta, because this has been a houshold staple in Switzerland for ages. You are always guaranteed to have enough veggies on hand to toss together into a healthy topping. You can toss pasta with just about anything...ANYTHING and a meal on the table in 15-20 minutes. Toss a salad on the side if you feel the need to and you are good to go...tension free.

5) A few bags of frozen things in the freezer. There always be days of chaos, frustration and hair tearing in your life, especially if you have children. These days it is actually simpler to just pull a few cutlets, nuggets, meatballs out of the freezer, cut a few tomatoes and steam some broccoli than attempt a complicated recipe. My favourites are the chicken meat balls from Venky's that just go with anything. I can make them in a creamy sauce, a desi tomato gravy, an oyster sauce, grill them to use I a wrap or sandwich, add them chopped to a soup.

6) Ready to use masala paste mix to pull an Indian dish in minutes. Don't give me the stink eye, or protest that those ready to eat packs are disgusting just yet...hear me out. There is no question that those MTR meal pouch are tasting bad. These, are NOT the one I am talking about here. I am talking about these new masala mix that just help you make your gravy faster. You still have to chop your veggies, paneer or chicken. I have tried a few of these, and they all end up pretty much cutting the prep time in half, freeing as much as 15 minutes of my time in the process. Always have a few handy, a paneer dish will then pretty much be about just buying the paneer from your kirana store.

7) Instant soup packages. It is the same idea as above, saves you time, and you can always garnish then with fresh add ons like chopped carrots, corn kernels, toasted bread cubes or prawns. Serve it with fresh toasted bread and you have a light minutes. This has been a favourite of Ishita's for dinner this monsoon.

8) Corn flour (known as corn starch by some). All it takes is one teaspoon diluted in a little water to give a new dimension to any gravy or sauce. ONE TEASPOON! You can turn a watery Chloe gravy to a thick velvety one with it, or pull a creamy sauce out of the cooking juice from your chicken if you are cooking continental.

9) An assortment of basic seasoning from all the cuisines you cook the most. I always have olive oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, fish sauce, barbecue sauce, oyster sauce, chicken and veggie stock cubes and fresh cream around. With all these I can pull any seasoning I need for the dishes I usually cook often.

10) Last but not least, a stack of take out menus. Yes! Because there are days that will be so hectic, that cooking will not be an all. Days it will be safer for all involved if you don't cook. And that is fine, don't feel guilty of that, we are all only human after all.

Cooking everything from scratch, at every single meal and on every single day is an idea that should die once and for all. Our lifestyle has envolved drastically over the decades, people in cities are living hectic lives. Taking a few shortcuts on occasion has never killed anybody, and if the worth of a woman was only measured by her excellence in the kitchen, she would have been a chef, not a homemaker.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Learning Center

Last year, I came up with a tool to teach Ishita the days of the week and the notion of time passing which you can see here.
That tool has sailed, and while she still isn't remembering all the days of the week in order, it has helped a lot. The poor thing got so abused and distorted and discoloured I just hat to let it go. Beside, this year she has to learn sight words in school. Words that she needs to be able to read just by looking at them. The list of them is likely to grow as we progress into the academic year, so I decided to find a way to rotate them on my kitchen door. This is what I came up with:
I took a big sheet of craft paper I had left from a previous project, taped little plastic pockets I cut out of page protector sleeves and used pretty masking/Washi tape to make it look good. And, because we aren't yet quite done with the days of the week, I used some duplicate princess stickers from her Princess album to assign one Princess picture to each day of the week. I also added a pocket for the Months and pasted a little square of transparent plastic on which we can write the date with a white board marker.
I wrote the sight words given to us by the school on business card sized paper and keep them in a basket nearby, every other day, I change the sight words by placing a new card in each pocket for Ishita to see and learn.
So far it is working great, and she is learning her sight words quickly enough and can now help me read some of her story books already.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Coconut Attack

Another week, another picture of India. This week, again, I will share something else than just a other landscape. Coconut trees usually spell tropical vacations and relaxation to many of my friends and family in colder climate where the only thing that will fall from trees are pine cones, acorns or chest nuts.
What they don't know is that coconut trees can pose a real hazard. Above, is the picture of our car and its broken windshield.
In our apartment building, our allocated parking spot is near a coconut tree. We never had a problem before, and to be fair the car is not directly sitting under the tree. The society management hired guys before the monsoon to trim all the trees and remove the big coconuts to prevent such accidents during the monsoon. Sadly, they forgot to trim that tree and all it took was a strong wind last weekend to dislodge one single coconut and send it flying on our car...smash!
Fortunately, it was our car and not someone's head that took the blow. A car can be fixed, it is inconvenient, and a bit costly, but our car insurance took care of most of the cost and a week later our car is as good as new. If that bad boy fell on someone's head...well I think it would be safe to say that this someone would no longer be part of this world.
These trees need a lot of maintenance, and regular trimming because even if a palm leaf falls it could hurt someone. I have seen branches fall right behind me or in front of me a couple of time in the park, this is scary enough. It is kind of ironic that the fruit that has so many health benefits be it in flesh or in oil could as easily kill you don't you think?