Friday, December 21, 2012

Recipe at the End of the World

Some wise being who likes to not come out to the light told us that the world will end on May 12, 2012. We thought we should quickly post so that the last thing our readers (of which sub-species there are many...okay, so 4. 4 IS many in some parts of the world you know. Like the parts that are not big on numbers. Or technology. But we digress. But that stopped being news after our first post here. Even so, one must, one supposes, get back to track once in a while, at least so that one remembers where one lost it. So you may quickly want to rewind to 4 lines before to refresh your memory about why we started this sentence. Read it without the bracketed content this time to avoid being stuck in an infinite, vicious loop. One has to think of all loopholes when writing post, we tell you. It's not easy, this blogging business. No sir. Okay, off you go to the beginning of the sentence--but one thinks by now it's become 7 lines back.) say before they are blasted into the Great Wide Vaccum, is "How thoughtful, and delightfully adorable are these guys, at Cooking for Rocket Scientists!"


But alas, like all plans of women and weasel (one feels one must use a w-animal here for the whole dazzling alliterative effort, but please free feel to bring the mice back. We have nothing against them. Except that we are a food blog (or something close to it), and you know, speaking of mice would be, in some cultures, considered inappropriate. Thank god, we do not believe in those cultures. In fact, we do not believe in any cultures. In fact...oh right, the track, the track. Back to it then.), this came to naught, as we had this considerate and not at all self-serving thought precisely at 10.27 pm, on the 11th of May.

By the time we finished wiping the dust off our very neglected laptop and keyed in those last two paras, it was already way-hay past 12 in the night and it was May 12 already, and much to our disappointment, we found that the world didn’t end after all (even after we drank to it, tut tut. World has no value for its word we tell you. Bad world, no hot chocolate for you!) and we all will just have to grin and bare it (Before the spelling Nazi raise their formidable eyebrows and frown, allow us to clarify that we meant to use that spelling. We are punny, see? Don’t see? Get glasses. Those thick, Woody Allen types. Then come back and read the rest of the damn post.).

Anyhow, since this post that we crafted with so much distracted love was not going to be the last thing you wonderful peoples read, we thought we might as well take our time with it. Unfortunately, that time just happened to be a little over half a year. Heh, please say you still love us (puppy eyes)! But now that the end-of-world-maybe plan is back on track, we figured we might as well dust this post out, and publish. If the world ends, this could be the last thing on your mind (which is awesome), if it doesn’t, the first thought on your mind in the new world (or the old world, with a new timetable) would be, “Oooh, food!” (which is awesomer). All things considering, good time to post.

Anyway, since we have written about 500 words of absolutely useless, but entertaining excuses, you’d think that we’d skip raving about the recipe that we are going to provide you with, don’t you? And when you think that, we will act all hurt and indignantly claim that you don't know us still. We would never short change you like that. Ever. EVER.

Have we ever told you that we love the Internet? We are not going off the track again, we promise this will all make sense (in the end. If it does not make sense, remember, it is probably not the end.). We haven’t? Well, we do.  And why wouldn’t we, it’s awesome! You know what else we love? Food, that’s what. And why wouldn’t we, it’s awesome! We love eating it, making it, looking at it, reading about it, talking about it, breathing it, carrying it on our hips and other less flattering parts of our body, and of course, writing about it every once (or twice) in a while on this blog.

So one of those days when we were jumping from one food blog to the next and drooling all over our poor laptop looking at the gorgeous food that other people were making and eating, we stumbled across a certain post (which we cannot seem to be able to find out now, and it is driving us bloody nuts!) in this blog. And it called out to us. And since this was around the time when we were in our fight-the-December-induced-free-floating-depression-with-food phase, we decided to be brave and actually try this. The recipe was for baked fish with vegetables. There were only a few small hitches in our plan, namely:

a. The recipe was made in a tagine. We didn’t have a tagine or anything close to it. In fact, we had just googled tagine a very little while ago.

b. We didn’t really have an oven to use instead of the tagine.
c. Fish was really not our area of expertise. In fact, one of us (name withheld to protect the said one of us’ privacy, and ermmm, self worth) has always been mildly terrified at the thought of fish.

But then you folks know us well enough by now to realise that we don’t let minor glitches keep us from food. Our love for experimenting, coupled with a very low survival reflexes, and selective memory loss, uniquely qualify us to blow up our kitchen over and over again. The more risky an enterprise sounds, the more gung-ho we are. Such regular culinary daredevils. (This is the point, where Confused, who is wired to be accident-prone without having to try too hard, rolls her eyes at Crumb's enthusiasm. Fret not, this is an every-day occurrence around here--she is the voice of reason that shouts "Watch out" as the debris fly all around us.)

So we went ahead with the plan anyway. Once we started cooking, the recipe sort of decided to go on ways of  it’s own choosing though. It began with trying to be Moroccan, then jumped across the globe for a Thai twist, and then ended up being this citizen of the world kind of dish. Remember those movies/books where the story takes over the author and then the fictional world and the ‘real’ becomes all confused and then the author goes all schizophrenic? Kind of like that, except for warped reality thing and the schizophrenic thing, we ended up with a lovely dish, which was a little confused about its identity, and one very happy chef.

So before the Moroccan and the Thai peoples come for our throats, we give you, the global citizen of the seafood world,

The Identity Crisis Fish (yes, that is the name we are going with)

You will need:

Fish (big surprise): In the vicinity of half a kilo. Any large variety that does not have too many bones for you to choke on. The first time we tried, we used prawns in fact. They worked pretty well, wethinks. Since then we have used sear fish, which was really nice as well. Go on a limb and pick what speaks to you. But remember, fish with fewer bones, and something that does not crumble easily (By now you should have figured that expertise on sea food is not one of our numerous qualifications. Heh.).  You will need cleaned (Do not ask us how, there is YouTube/mothers/friendly supermarket fish mongers for that sort of thing.) and sliced into 1 cm thickness pieces. Avoid head bits and tail bits.

Assorted ‘bakable’ veggies: We have been going with onions (cut into thick, quarter cm circles), carrots (cut into thick, quarter cm circles), red, green and yellow peppers (cut into, you guessed it, thick, quarter cm circles) and tomatoes and potatoes (also cut in thick, quarter cm circles. We are such  sticklers for consistency. Also, laziness.) Each enough to layer your pan once.

For the marinade/spice base

Garlic: 6-7 large pods, crushed mercilessly under the ruthless power of a flat knife

Cumin, the good ol’ jeera: 1 tsp, powdered

Ginger: 1 inchish piece of the fat kind, also crushed ruthlessly

Parsley: These, for the uninitiated, are a certain kind of leaves of the herb variety. Fresh is referable, but dry once will also make do. About a sprig  if fresh, about 2 teaspoons if dry.

Coriander/ Cilantro leaves: These are also herb things. More commonly known in India as dhaniya, this is the standard garnish for pretty much every dish we make.

Chilli powder: So the original recipe said paprika. Which is not exactly chilli powder as we (the mango people) know it, but meh, this tasted fine to us.

Pepper: Whole, about 2 teaspoons' worth

Olive oil: About half a cup. One suppose one could tell you options to replace it if one has religious, political, economic, or financial objects to olive oil, but then it just might be the end of the world, and if we are not adventurous now, then when? So, we wont.

Lemon juice: Juice of about one lemon. Now, we didn’t have lemon at hand, so we went out on a limb and used two tablespoons of curd instead. Which, surprisingly, worked out well.

The big surprise ingredient: If we tell you know, we will have to kill you. Not actually, but it's fun to imagine such things.

So, you take all the marinade ingredients (which we learned later has a name: chermoula. But by then, we had changed it so much, we figured might as well not call it that), dump them into a small bowl of the mixer, with about a teaspoon of salt (or less, or more, depending on what your heart and cholesterol levels desire {we suspect we might have used that line before. Meh, oldage}), and pulse a few times till everything combines into a slightly (ever so slightly) chunky paste.

Scoop half the marinade over the fish pieces, and slather the fish bits with some marinade love. Quick tip: use your gentler side, fish are rather sensitive, and even though they are dead, they will not like the rough handling. Leave aside for at least half an hour.

Meanwhile, take a deepish bowl with a lid that fits—if you have a clay pan, (what in the land of the Malayalee is known as the meen chatti) use that. We discovered on our 4th attempt at this, is the probably the closest thing that comes to a tagine. But, if you do not possess such a contraption, fret not, our good ol’ pressure cooker will get the job done fine.

Grease the bottom of the pan with a little bit oil. Throw some pepper and salt over the potato slices, and toss them about. You could also pre-boil the potatoes for lesser cooking time. Layer them in circles. Place the fish in the center, and work your way towards the ends. Next, layer the onions over the fish, on the sides. And then the last layer of tomatoes, and peppers, and your tower of fishetables (making up words, one of our many talents) is done.

Water down the rest of the marinade, and pour over the tower of fishetables, so that you can see a bit of what would in sometime become gravy, through the gaps and cracks. You can throw in a few slices of lemon for extra zing, but that is not entirely necessary. Pop this on the stove, and close the lid. It is important that you pop the lid only after you pop the vessel on the stove—mostly because of the high likelihood of dropping the lid otherwise during the popping process. Turn your heat…er the flame’s heat, to medium, and let the whole thing cook for about 15-20 mins.

Open the pan, the veggies must look wilted, and the fish, crumbly. If you got there, you are almost done. Easiest thing to do is to poke the potatoes with a knife—if they are soft, you are done. We completely trust the potato’s judgement, particularly, in all matters food related (and in some other non-food matters too. That is why it is on our masthead, good chap, the potato.) If not done, close and try after another 5 mins.

Now at this point, you could possibly be done. But for us, as we tasted the gravy, strange sort of an inspiration struck. Coconut milk! For some unexplainable reasons, we wanted to add coconut milk to this. Told you this recipe sort of went away from us, didn’t we? So, to all that gorgeously tangy gravy, we added about quarter of cup of fresh coconut milk, and have the whole thing a gentle shake. We didn’t want to rigorously mix it, because that would just collapse the fish into tiny shards. Gentle did it, and viola! We had a strangely lovely fish curry that reminded us vaguely of Thai food, but with hints of what we hoped it was Moroccan spirits.

However, the many times we have dished out this to hungry friends, they have never really complained (at least not till we insisted on telling them the back story, again, for the 57th time). We have since then tried the same recipe without fish (okayish), with prawns again, with some caramalised onion on top, and spaghetti at the bottom (yum, yum, yum) and with mushrooms (also strangely yum). As the pictures will tell you, we really like it.

So go forth, loverly peoples. Experiment, live on the edge. And remember to get your end-of-the-world stories in place for the grandkids. (Don't forget to mention how a  bunch of lazy food bloggers saved the day.)



Saturday, January 7, 2012

The World is Ending, So Why Not Drink to It?

Remember September? You know, the month that Greenday wanted to be woken up at the end of? (Oh boy, there is a screwed up sentence. And we wonder why one of us sucks at her day job. But we digress. As always. And you love us for that, dontcha? Yes, you do. Oh, you do! Okay, now get back.) If you are not a Greenday fan, September also has a whole bunch of other stuff going. It is the late Mr Laden's favourite month, but we shall not make jokes about the dearly departed (it's rude and totally against Indian culture, you know. And what if Sapil Kibal is watching?). September gave the world Hugh Grant, Dev Anand, Will Smith, Asha Bhosle and Catherine Zeta Jones. It also gave us Nicole Ritchie and Aditya Pancholi, but then one presumes that into each month some idiots must fall.

September, apparently also has Fashion Weeks! Who knew?! Apart from a large section of the world that, you know, knows a thing or four about fashion. Which, of course, is not us.

Anywhoo, the reason why we are so meticulously trying to jog your memory about a relatively average month is so that we can also remind you that last year, it had Divali (the kind with the capital D)! And if you remember Divali, you will also remember how you were made to suffer through endless pictures and posts in all the other food blogs and Facebook and greeting cards about ALL the seemingly gorgeous food that people made and ate. Remember how you looked at those pictures, and wished that you had all that food on your table, while trying to navigate a spoonful of soggy cereal around that huge lump in your throat? We, being the sensitive little souls that we are, felt your pain as that singular tear dropped down your left cheek. And we, being the same sensitive little souls, vowed that WE would never contribute to that pain. Which is why we have been restraining from posting any pictures of our own divali (the kind without the capital d) table. Or even about the food we made and eated. THAT is how much we love you.

Just when we thought we’d survived, came December with all it's wintery longing and holidays-inspired feelings of emotional inadequacy. The cheerful world of food bloggers attacked with all their sugary, buttery, frost(ing)y vengeance and all of us whose roommates and other ‘loved’ ones abandoned us for greener pastures and yummier home-food were left nursing our fragile little hearts and big weeping tummies. But when faced with all that end-of-the-year pressure, self-doubt, and depression, did we crumble like a badly baked cookie? No, we kept calm and carried on. WE, looked at the world of pointless chipper-ness and unbounding optimism square in the eye and raised our glasses (or in this case, repurposed glass jars) of warm hot chocolate and said, “We don’t need your mountains of delicately created food, and cozy little parties and mid-night revelry. WE have hot chocolate.” After all, when faced with grave adversity how else does one fortify one’s defences if not with chocolate?

“Hot chocolate?” you ask. “That was your defence?” you wonder in surprise. “Why, yes!” we’d reply, in that ever confident tone of the calmly wise. “Hot chocolate. Because chocolate does not question. Chocolate does not make demands or have expectations. Chocolate, understands.”

And this is chocolate at its basic, undemanding best. Without its high-flying strawberry and butter friends. Without the fancy dress up of a cake, or truffle. This is chocolate at its roots. It needs only the little warmth of a splatter of cream, a few slivers of orange rind, and a whiff of cinnamon. But at the back of it, it carries the strength of sturdy dried red chillies. Or if you prefer, the robustness of ground black pepper. Like we said, chocolate does not question. It just knows.

Right now, as that the practical bitch in us is telling the whimsical fool to get on with the business already, ladies and gentlemen, allow us to present to you, Cinderella at the fancy-food ball, our long haired, frying-pan wielding rescuer from the New Year Monster, the untarnished awesomeness of a
Spicy Hot Chocolate.

You will need ingredients of 3 kinds:

1. The stars: Very predictably, milk and cocoa powder. Now one could, if one so wishes, use chocolate powder as well. But Crumbs who prefers her chocolate strong, dark and bitter, thinks cocoa is the purer choice. If you have to use chocolate, go easy on the sugar. Since we are making this for one, let’s go with one mug of milk, and 4 tbs of cocoa. (If you are making it for more than one, we hope you are good at math :P)

2. The faithful sidekicks: These are what take the cocoa and milk to the next level—namely, coffee and cream. Oh and sugar. Since, we (namely Crumbs) think that the coffee makes the world go round, we use 2 tablespoons. One would suffice for lesser mortals. About a quarter cup of cream—just to make the milk, well, creamier. Feel free to indulge and add more. Promise we won’t tell a soul. Neither will chocolate. About 1 tbs of sugar. And, errmmm, chocolate chips or chopped chocolate—you know, since, whoever said too much of a good thing is bad is a filthy liar.

3. The character actors: Now one can make a hot chocolate with just cocoa and water also. But that would not do much to lift up one’s downtrodden spirits, would it? So one adds various spices. The possibilities here are endless – What we give you in this recipe is what we think is the winner—one stick of cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, orange rind.cinnamon of about a finger’s length (we’d specify which finger but then, this is a family blog), one star anise, a quarter spoonful of orange rind and 3 dried red chillies. Yes, chillies. Nothing better to beat the blues with than chillies doused in chocolate. But since we didn’t have chillies on hand this photo session, we went with ground black pepper, which is pretty kickass too. But trust us on the chillies, will ya?

Now that we have the cast ready, let’s get ready to roll. Pour the milk in a deep pan worthy of milk-boiling. Add the cinnamon, star anise, orange rind and chillies. Pop it on the heat, and simmer. Kindly to note, we said simmer, DO NOT LET THIS BOIL. Keep the flame at low to medium all the time. Keep stirring every 34 seconds.

While this is happening, take your cocoa/chocolate powder, coffee and sugar in a small container. Spoon in a little bit (maybe one or 2 spoons) of the milk from the simmering pool and mix well to make a gorgeously gooey paste. We dare you to not nick a taste. Once this is thoroughly mixed, go check on the milk (you left it to simmer, remember?). Take it off the heat, and let the spices seep for another 10 mins. While the spices do that, go add the cream to the cocoa and whip the whole thing well to make it slightly fluffy. Don’t get ambitious, you are not whipping it to make chocolate snow castles, just a light beating will do. Check if you like the taste—you know, since it is very, very important to get this right. Very.

Once you are done licking your fingers, and er…washing you hands, go remove the spices from the milk. You could strain the milk but we just use a spoon. Less hassle. Then, pour the cocoa-cream into the milk all the while stirring vigorously. At this point, your heart should start beating a tad bit faster. But hold on, you are almost there.

Take this back to the stove, and simmer again. Again, DO NOT BOIL or bad things will happen. Add the chocolate chips, we like using both white and dark (we do not discriminate, see?), keep stirring until they dissolve all their differences in beautiful brownness of joyful hot chocolate.

Take off the heat. Scatter the ground pepper, if that is what your heart (and pantry) commands. If you are feeling a li'l adventurous, add a splash (or three) of liquor-- dark rum works the best wethinks, but hey, you are free to differ.

Pour into a warm mug, or whatever gives you comfort. Switch on the fairy lights, pull out a book, pull up your blanket, and sip. If you do not feel joy for the world, we suggest you rush to the hospital. Your taste buds might be as dead as your heart.

Harpy 2012, folks. We hope you enjoy your ride to the year at the end of the world.