Friday, June 8, 2018

RIP Anthony Bourdain

Woke up this morning to read: Anthony Bourdain, chef and Emmy-award winning TV host, dies at 61. Apparent suicide. The immediate feeling was one of shock. I didn't know him personally, but I felt sad. Out of all the RIP messages going around on the internet, Tom Colicchio's tweet caught my eye: RIP doubtful. Tony's restless spirit will roam the earth in search of justice, truth and a great bowl of noodles. @Bourdain

I attended Bourdain's show, 'Close to the Bone,' back in 2015. A lot of what he spoke on that show was some real deep stuff. There was that, and his unabashed usage of the F word (haha!). I sat in row U seat #3. That was the closest I have ever been to THE Anthony Bourdain. The one picture of him I took turned out to be a fuzzy image too. I wrote the following after attending his show: 

July 31 2015: 

After Alton Brown, it's Anthony Bourdain, the "No Reservations" guy from Travel Channel. I got to see him live on stage at Paramount in Seattle on Monday night. I was smart this time as I bought the tickets well in advance and got pretty decent seats.


The Tickets

To be honest, I went for the show with no expectations- I wanted to be surprised. And indeed I was. The only props on the stage were a podium, a stool, and a beer bottle placed on the stool. At 7:30 sharp the lights dimmed and the audience applauded and cheered as Anthony Bourdain very casually walked on stage, clad in a pair of jeans, a gray-blue shirt with sleeves rolled up to reveal his tattoo sleeves, and this gorgeous pair of shoes. And he started talking.

That's him! 

2 Immediate Impressions that made me wonder if this was a good idea: 

1. His favorite word is the F-word. It seemed to me as if he started and ended every sentence with it and then threw in a few more in between.

2. He dislikes Food Network channel as well as some of the people on that channel. ;)

As he continued though, I got drawn in:

Curious Mind- The one virtue he relies on when he travels is his curious mind. He does not refrain from asking the stupidest of questions, because that's how he learns about the place, its people, their food, their culture, the history. That is true. If you don't ask questions, you don't learn. Period.

Food, an Intimate Gesture- He has traveled to over a 100 countries, and has been offered and eaten all kinds of food. Often times he has had to take heavy doses of antibiotics after eating some of that food. But over the years he has learned that when you are offered food by somebody, it is a very intimate gesture. By offering you their food, they are telling you their story, and opening themselves up to you- and to refuse that food is a very rude thing to do. I think that's profound.

Food Obsession- He talked about how much we have gone overboard with the whole food craze. We are obsessed with taking pictures of food (I am guilty of this myself) and posting on social media. We eat too much, exercise too little, and then complain about obesity, cardiac problems, diabetes, etc. Sure, let's eat good food, but let's also be fit enough to be able to walk a few steps without having to feel like our heart's going to pop out of our bodies! We are overdoing the whole organic thing too. Yes organic food is way better for the body, but how about making it more affordable?

He also mentioned the "farm to table" trend that has been going around lately and how he finds it ridiculous. He is right- "doesn't everything grow on the farm anyways, and then we eat at the table....!"

About the whole gluten intolerance insanity, what he said made sense- if you have celiac disease, you should first go see the doctor! Don't just decide that you are most definitely intolerant to gluten and then go looking for gluten free pizza!

Describing Food- When he eats something, he only uses simple terms such as good and very good. He doesn't get all fancy-shmancy because "there's only so many ways of describing a salad!"

Indian Food is Delicious! While joking about vegetarians, he said that when he traveled to India, he ate only vegetarian food because that's all they eat there. Well, he is wrong, because that's not all we eat in India, but yes, there is a wide variety of vegetarian options available there. He did say that he would be happy to eat that vegetarian food for as long as possible because "it is delicious!" He sure got that right!

Adoring Dad-  He very lovingly talked about his 8 year old daughter, and how she seems to have taken after him in terms of food. He said that becoming a Dad has completely changed him for the better. He also mentioned his jiu-jitsu marital artist wife a few times. So we got a tiny peek into his family life, which is always a nice touch.

And I thought hmm, he is good! This is a good show! 

The above, by the way, is just an excerpt. There was a lot more he said and most of it was pretty deep, I must say.

He did a little Q&A session in the end, answering questions from the audience. One of the questions was which is the "worst country" he has ever visited? With a little laugh he replied, "Probably East Europe." He said he didn't really like Romania, though Romanians are beautiful people. And when asked about the best country, his immediate answer was Iran. He said that in his experience, the Iranians were the friendliest of the lot. Finally when asked which is his favorite place to eat at in Seattle, he said he likes Salumi, and then he added that he'd rather dodge that question. ;)

Alton Brown Show Vs Bourdain Show: 

There was a lot more cheering and applauding that happened on Alton's show, as compared to this one. Perhaps because that was more of a cool cooking kinda show, with more audience interaction.... plus somehow Alton's personality just seems more likable. Well, Bourdain's style is very different- he seems unpretentious and blunt. And not a whole lot of people appreciate unpretentious and blunt. I was very excited at the Alton Brown show and wished that I could go meet him and talk to him, whereas at this show, I was very calm. I laughed here and there, but there was no crazy-fan-screaming-her-lungs-out scene going on.

Let's put it this way- after the Alton Brown show I was simply star-struck, whereas the Anthony Bourdain show got me thinking and my desire to travel the world has become stronger. I absolutely want to travel, meet new people, experience new cultures. And I want to try food that is offered to me by kind strangers in new foreign lands, because I want to know their story.


Close to the Bone 2015

Just in case you are wondering about the beer bottle on stage, that was for Anthony. That's what kept him hydrated!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Food Post #210: The Top Six Must-Have Spices You Need to Cook Indian Food

If you are an avid fan of Indian food, and are interested in learning how to cook Indian food, then here's a list of the top six spices you absolutely must acquire and keep handy before you begin your cooking adventure. A lot of these spices come with added health perks.

Asafetida, also spelled as Asafoetida, better known as Hing (or heeng)




Okay, asafetida stinks!! As soon as you open that container of hing, as a newbie, you are bound to find it stinky. It is beige or yellowish brown in color. It tastes very pungent too, and can be pretty off-putting to a novice. But not to worry, it's not going to kill you! ;)

If you were to ask any Indian elder what is asafetida, they will probably just say- it's hing!! Honestly, I too had no clue what it was, until I looked it up online. There's quite a bit of research done on the medicinal properties of hing. It is a gum resin extracted from the thick horizontal stem and root of the plant named Ferula asafetida. As with everything, it's all up there on the internet. If interested, you can look at images of this plant too. It's pretty cool.  

Benefits: 

1. As with most spices used in Indian cooking, asafetida works like magic for digestive issues

2. Regulates blood pressure

3. Helps ease menstrual issues such as horrendous cramps that a lot of women experience during their period

4. Useful for treating certain conditions of the Central Nervous System

5. Respiratory issues such as asthma, bronchitis

Grandma's Home Remedy for a Stomach Ache: 

Take some hot steamed rice in a bowl. Add a pinch of hing, a little bit of ghee, and a pinch of salt. Mix and mash it all up, and eat.


Mustard Seeds





Mustard seeds are tiny, round, ranging from black to brown color. There's also yellow colored mustard seeds. As far as taste goes, as the name indicates, it is mustardy (think wasabi), and bitter. The seeds come from mustard greens.

Benefits: 

1. Eye health

2. Alleviating pain caused by sore muscles, and stiff joints

3. To ease menstrual pain

4. For headaches, sinus issues, etc

5. Promoting healthy hair and skin

*Mustard oil is used for massage on infants, and children in north India. While in the south, they use sesame oil.

Grandma's Home Remedy for a Cold and Cough:   

Take a teaspoon of mustard seeds. Crush using a pestle and mortar. Add this to some hot steamed rice. Mix with ghee, and salt. Mix, and mash. And eat!


Cumin Seeds




These are tiny, brown colored oblong seeds, that taste almost peppery-nutty. Cumin seeds come from the cumin plant. I think this is my favorite spice. It's also used quite a bit in Mexican and North African cooking.

Health Benefits:

1. Just like hing, cumin helps alleviating gastrointestinal issues

2. Regulating cardiovascular health

3. Respiratory health

4. Regulates blood sugar level

5. Women's health

Grandma's Home Remedy for Nausea:

Roast a couple teaspoons of cumin seeds, until fragrant. Crush using a pestle and mortar. Mix with hot steamed rice, ghee, salt, and black pepper. Mix, mash up, and eat!


Green Cardamom




Green Cardamom is a truly ancient Indian spice, that grows abundantly in the southern coast of Malabar. It is related to ginger root. Good quality cardamom is a lovely green color, almost tender, and very fragrant. As it dries up, the green turns a bit brown, but the tiny seeds inside remain fragrant. The seeds are black in color. I would describe the taste as being blunt to a novice palate, but to a seasoned palate, it is blunt, yet flowery, almost lemony. Some prefer consuming just the seeds, and discard the skin. I think that's such a waste of the lovely spice.

Health Benefits: 

1. You guessed it- gastrointestinal health

2.  Cardiovascular health

3. Oral health- you can just pop a cardamom pod or two into your mouth instead of gum. Yes!

4. Respiratory health

5. Regulating blood sugar level

Every Indian Chai lover will swear by "elaichi waali chai," meaning Cardamom Tea. The recipe is simple. While brewing a cup of tea, add a couple pods of green cardamom, coarsely crushed. The tea will be elevated to a whole new level. Flowery, fragrant, and delicious!


Cinnamon 




Cinnamon is also an ancient spice originally from Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. It is obtained from the inner bark of a tree! Pure unprocessed cinnamon does in fact look like tree bark! This spice is spicy, woody (duh!), and sweet.

Health Benefits: 

1. Controlling blood sugar level

2. Oral health

3. Big time antioxidant

4. Cardiovascular health

5. Arthritis management

Quick fix for sore throat- Add a pinch of cinnamon powder into a cup of warm water, add some honey, and drink. It will soothe your throat.


Turmeric





How can we forget good old turmeric? That beautiful yellow colored spice used in so many Indian dishes. Fresh turmeric can often be mistaken for organic ginger root. Well, they are cousins after all!  The type used commonly in cooking is the dry powder form of turmeric. It tastes slightly bitter. It has a nice aroma to it. A word of caution, passed down by my grandma to my mother to me- do not use too much of turmeric as it can become toxic. Now I don't know what "too much" really means, but I just assume not more than 1-2 tsp in any dish. I am still alive and kicking, so I assume I have been using the right quantity all these years!!

Health Benefits: 

1. Antiseptic properties

2. Respiratory issues

3. Rheumatoid Arthritis

4. Digestive health

5. Extensive research has been done in the past on it's cancer therapy properties, and some positive results were found. Research continues.

Grandma's Home Remedy for that Nasty Cold and Cough: 

In a cup of milk, add a pinch of turmeric, some black pepper powder, and some sugar. Bring the milk to boil. Pour into cup, and sip away.

There are many more spices that are used in Indian cooking. This was just a snapshot, to get you started with. If you noticed, almost all of these spices are beneficial for overall digestive, cardiovascular, menstrual, and respiratory health, as well as diabetes, and arthritis management, and even in cancer therapy. Spices not only impart flavor to foods, but are in fact good for you.








 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Food Post #209: Green Mango Cilantro Coconut Green Chile Chutney

This is one vibrant green chutney, hot and spicy and tangy and deeeeelish! Goes very well with idlis, dosas, rotis, bread, etc. Bonus- you can whip it up in under 20 minutes!


Idli Chutney 


Ingredients: 

Green Mango 1, chopped into size good enough for your blender

Cilantro, fresh 1 bunch

Green Chilies (I prefer Thai) 4-6
*Adjust according to desired level of heat

Coconut, fresh grated 1/2 cup

Salt to taste

Jaggery 1/2 tsp

Oil 1 tbs

Mustard seeds 1/2 tsp

Cumin 1/2 tsp

Asafetida a pinch

Method: 

This is basically a 2-step process:

1. Blend green mango, cilantro, green chilies, coconut, jaggery, and salt into a chutney in your nifty blender.

2. Heat a tablespoon of oil, add a pinch of asafetida, followed by tempering some mustard and cumin seeds. Pour this onto the chutney.

Done! Mix and serve with hot spongy idlis, or crispy dosas, or make a sandwich. YUM!

Note: If you find that the green mango is not tangy enough, just squeeze some lemon juice. The chutney should taste tangy, hot, and spicy, with a very slight hint of sweetness.


Friday, January 5, 2018

Food Post #208: Bread Pudding- Hyderabadi Double ka Meetha

If you know me, you know that I am not too much into sweets. Gimme spice, gimme heat, and if you really want to give me something sweet, then I don't mind one of those Godiva dark chocolate bars. Well, and if you want to give me some ice cream, then make sure it has some chocolate, and some nuts, such as Baskin Robbins' Jamoca Almond Fudge. As far as Indian desserts go, I quite like rice kheer, and halwa. I also don't mind rasmalai, and perhaps hot gulab jamun. Oh, and hot jalebi. Oh, and obbattu. And shrikhand. And oh yeah, I like this Hyderabad specialty called double ka meetha- a delicious bread pudding made with deep fried bread, soaked in saffron milk, sugar syrup (or honey), spiced with cardamom, and topped off with some cream, nuts such as pistachio, and almonds, and some edible silver. Sometimes they also add figs to this pudding, and my oh my! It is rich, sweet, and delicious!!  Ahem, okay- so I just completely contradicted myself. Looks like I am not too much into sweets, but then I do like them, a lot of them, in fact, in small doses once in a while.

To start off the new year on a sweet note, I thought why not make some dessert for once? And so I made my own quick version of the regal, rich, sweet double ka meetha. It isn't as rich and decadent as the original recipe, but it sure is delicious. Bonus- it's way healthier.

Total time from start to finish: 30 minutes

Ingredients: 

White bread- 1 or 2 slices per person

Oil for shallow frying- 1-2 tbs per slice, adjust quantity according to number of slices of bread

Water- 1 cup

Sugar- 1/4 cup

*Adjust quantity of sugar according to preference

Cardamom- 2 pods

Saffron- a few strands

Nuts- a small handful. Cashews, almonds, pistachio all work well

Method:

1. Cut bread into desired shape, such as triangles, rectangles, or squares. Shallow fry until golden brown in color. Set aside on paper towel to blot off any excess oil.

2. Mix 1/4 cup of sugar into a cup of water, and bring to boil, stirring frequently. Add cardamom for flavor. Can also add saffron. Heat until the syrup thickens a little bit. It doesn't have to be as thick as honey. Turn off heat.

3. Take each fried piece of bread, dip into syrup, and place in serving dish. You can top each sweet fried bread piece with some nuts, and place another fried bread piece dipped in syrup on top, like a sandwich. Top with some more nuts. Drizzle syrup on top to finish off. Done!

Best to serve while it's still warm. The bread will still be crisp, and sweet, and yum!


Healthy and Delicious Quick Double Ka Meetha

Happy New Year!





   

   

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Food Post #207: And it's a Wrap

This year is almost over!! Just to wrap things up, here are my food highlights from this year:


1. January: Aam ki Sabzi or Raw Mango Relish





2. March: Salmon over Couscous, and Sautéed Veggies etc  Sunset Dinner Cruise





3. August: 

3.1. Outstanding Food (as ever!) in India!! India Trip 





3.2. Bitter Gourd "gojju"- delicious hot, sweet, and tangy preparation made with bitter gourd and spices. Bitter Gourd Gojju





4. November: 

4.1. Muhammara- delicious Mediterranean style dip made with roasted red bell peppers, walnuts, and pomegranate. Recipe for Muhammara





4.2. NOT Shrimp Vindaloo- shrimp in a delicious sauce made with poppy seeds, ginger, coconut, and other spices. Recipe





5. December: My very awesome "vegetarian" Lamb Curry. I think this is definitely My Dish of the Year. Lamb Curry without onions and garlic





So there, that's my food highlights for the year 2017. Let's see what I cook, and eat in the New Year! :)

Wait, I do want to end this post with a brilliant quote. This was uttered by my darling friend from school, Nanda. As with many such casual utterances, these words just came out. And man, was I amused!! Quick backdrop: we were both trying to encourage one another, and trying to lift up our spirits. You know, we too have had our share of heart breaks and heart aches..... and in trying to uplift one another, these brilliant words came out from her mouth: "We are ahead of time and human intelligence. That's why nobody understands us!" We both burst out laughing. Now that's some serious stuff.



  

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Food Post #206: Vegetarian Lamb Curry

Here's a lovely recipe for not-your-typical-lamb curry. Bengalis call it "vegetarian lamb," and I believe Kashmiri Pandits also make this dish. It is "vegetarian" because they don't use onions and garlic. Funny! How do you make lamb curry without onions and garlic?? Well you see, you can.

Yield: 4 adults 

Cooking time: 1 hour 30 minutes (in a pot) 

Ingredients: 

1. Lamb (cut for stew)- 2.5 lbs

2. Fennel Seeds- 4 tbs

3. Cumin- 4 tbs

4. Cinnamon powder- 1/2 tsp

5. Cardamom- 4 pods

6. Cloves- 4-6 

7. Bay Leaves- 2

8. Asafetida (hing)- 1/2 tsp

9. Ginger- 1.5 inch

10. Green Chilies- 8-10  

11. Buttermilk- 1 bowl (or yogurt- whipped)

12. Cooking oil- 8 tsp

13. Ghee (clarified butter)- 2-3 tsp

14. Water- 1 cup (adjustable) 

15. Saffron- a good pinch or two

*Soak saffron in buttermilk (or whipped yogurt) at the beginning of the cooking process

Method: 

1. Powder ingredients 2 to 8 in a small coffee grinder, and set aside. 






2. Make a coarse paste of ginger and green chilies, and set aside.  





3. With some cooking oil plus ghee in a thick bottomed pot, get the heat going, place lamb pieces one by one, allowing one side to brown up. Then turn over to brown up the other side. This shouldn't take too long- say about 5-7 minutes on high flame. 

4. Now add the dry spice mix we made in step 1 to this, and fry for a couple minutes, followed by the ginger green chili paste. Stir everything together. At this point, enticing aromas will begin to emanate from the lamb and spices. 



  

5. Now add a cup of water, or enough to barely cover the lamb pieces. Add salt to taste. Bring to boil, cover, reduce flame, and simmer for 30 minutes. 





6. At the end of 30 minutes, uncover. At this point, I like to break the lamb into smaller bite sized pieces with the help of the ladle itself. The lamb will still be a bit tough. Cover again, and simmer for another 30 minutes. Now the lamb will be nice and tender, just the way I like. Add some more water, as the liquid would have reduced at the end of 1 hour.  

7. Now slowly add the buttermilk with saffron, while stirring the curry as you pour the buttermilk. Bring to boil, reduce flame, cover, simmer for about 8-10  minutes.  


Buttermilk with Saffron 



Delicious Lamb Curry


8. For a final touch, add some freshly ground pepper, and a couple chilies slit lengthwise. Serve with steamed rice. A side of quickly sautéed greens such as swiss chard and spinach goes very well with this lovely lamb curry and rice. 


Lamb curry over a bed of rice, with some swiss chard on the side

See? You can in fact make curry, that too lamb curry (!!) without using onions and garlic, and red chili powder, and tomatoes. It's turns out as delicious as ever. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Food Post #205: Who Made These Rules Anyway

There's rules everywhere. All. The. Time. I have learned to make peace with most (unspoken) rules.... can't do much, that's how it is. But of late, I am having trouble understanding social rules. I have to be politically correct all the time, else someone might get offended. I have to watch what kind of jokes I cut around people, else someone might get offended. Even if something is bothering me, I have to fake it, and just shut up, because my saying anything, might result in someone getting offended. Even if someone offends me (I too have an ego, you see!), I have to just suck it up, else I might offend the offender. The only person I can really be me is with myself.

They have cooking rules too. And there's pasta rules as well. Yes, "pasta rules." Cook it al dente. Cook it in salt water. Do not use oil in that salt water when you cook that pasta. If it's pasta with fish, do not use cheese. Every pasta is to be cooked differently according to its shape. One time a friend commented- you put peas in your pasta?? He seemed to be appalled. I mean, what's wrong with putting peas in pasta? Heck, what's wrong with putting cheese on fish? I'll put peas, fish, and cheese in my pasta, for all I care! Cooking the pasta al dente seems like a reasonable tip; I say tip, not rule. But other than that, it's up to the cook, in this case- me, to use whatever ingredients I want in my pasta. I'll follow pasta rules if and only if a *true Italian cook* tells me that these are indeed the rules to cooking perfect pasta. Then again, maybe I won't! The only person that rules in my kitchen, is me!  


My No Rule Pasta with Mushrooms, Artichokes, Pimento Stuffed Olives, Corn, Capers, Crushed Hot Chili Garlic Sauce, and Torn Basil, topped off with Grated Parmesan 



Pasta a la Appi