kitchen confessions.

mix flour with butter. you get crumbs. beat egg whites into soufflés. it rises. knead flour, sugar and yeast. it gets a life of its own. fine sugar meets brawny cinnamon. heavenly.

for me, there is more to cooking than ingredients. i cook with the elements. the greasy softness of butter. the glistening egg whites that slide through my fingers. the crumbling meringue.

i met the elements half way through my life. at 30. out of nowhere. that made the approach interesting and the variations spontaneous, I believe.

i speak to my sea salt. i treasure wooden spoons.
i tweak. i twist. and bend the scales.

i confess.

silly chili bam of a jam!

bottled liquid ruby.

smear it on a char grilled drumstick. pass it on as a dip for roasted veggies. glaze crumb fried nuggets. doesn’t impress the malayali in you? behold. pairing the molten lava with deep fried leftover idli quarters could just be the thing for you. whichever way, it’s guaranteed that you will use it up. with just 2 more months to fairy lights and ding dong bells, the liquid ruby will sparkle on a red and white Christmas give-away goodies list too. but you never know, unless you try it.

so here goes:

red capsicum            –       11/2 kilos (around 12 numbers)
dried red chillies      –       8-10 chopped (this is enough to provide bearable heat)
ginger                  –       1 inch
garlic                  –       8-10 cloves
sugar                   –       750g
canned tomatoes –       400g ( better than fresh ones as they are slushy and concentrated)
apple cider vinegar     –       250 ml

boil together. keep stirring. scum will collect on the surface, remove as much as possible. Once boiled, simmer for close to an hour. bottle in sterilized jars and keep refrigerated.

yield – fills two 500ml mason jars, roughly.

an ode to a pizza.

a pizza would be the ideal comfort food, finger food or even a date food. but how on earth can it be home food? of course it can be. so says my 10 year old, as she plasters her portion of dough ball on to the kitchen counter. i don’t disagree a bit, why compromise on a doughy flat bread topped with stingy bits of meat and clumps of cheese that come in soggy boxed cartons. move on. let’s take our pizza home.

what goes in:

all purpose flour   –       250g
fresh yeast     –       13g
gluten          –       4g
improver        –       4g
water           –       140ml

about what goes in:

i used to make dough without gluten and improver. i was quite satisfied with the results. but i should tell you this. i get this satiny finish dough with proper rise after using improver and gluten. i prefer fresh yeast to active dry yeast. just enquire at your local baker. i use the brand ‘Tower’ which comes in 500g blocks. it should be refrigerated. it doesn’t keep well. so use it up. my last block started to bloom after a month or so in the refrigerator. blame the power cuts for that. about improver and gluten, they give power to the dough, help it rise properly and hold it’s shape while oven spring. always use a digital scale to measure the ingredients. 4g approximately translates into just less than a teaspoon.

kneading:

no. you can’t skip this step. forget all those no-knead-breads. Our breads should rise, fall, and rise again. just like us. and who would miss a chance to feel the flour as it transforms into an elastic pliable dough with your every stretch. The satiny yolk, as it slides through your fingers. Who wouldn’t want to be one with the elements. So knead.

in an electric stand mixer (or for that matter, in any food processor with a dough hook) mix up the dry ingredients first in speed 1 and after a few seconds, start pouring in the water little by little. pour half of the water and let the machine run in speed 2. pour in more water and increase the speed to 4. add rest of the water and keep it going for say 5 – 7 minutes. the dough should be elastic and should have this glossy finish.

in hand kneading, the process is technically the same. gradually mix in the water. it would be slightly loose than a chappathi (indian flat bread) dough. its fun and very therapeutic as you get to beat in your stress and mix it with the dough. knead for around 8 minutes or so. pushing the dough out with your palm and bringing it together.

proofing:

just slide the dough bowl inside a fresh garbage bin liner, puff it up and tuck the edges in. leave it there for say around one to one and a half hr. the dough should rise double in volume at least. once you touch it, it shouldn’t stick to your finger and should spring back slowly.

turn the bowl over and let the dough fall on a floured work surface. the 250g flour dough should give you 4 medium pizza bases. so divide the rolled up dough into 4. roll up the dough into a circle as thin as possible with a rolling pin. and leave on the floured counter top for another half n hour.

drizzle olive oil on your baking tray and straight away pop in the base. you can freeze this base for about a month or so also, for instant pizza.

about filling:

i use whatever left over stuff in the refrigerator. improvise on your toppings. just take care to drain out all the water content from the topping.

the sauce:

you can buy it off shelf. Better still, make your own with fresh basil, parsley, rosemary, dil, and all those exotic herbs and veggies everyday!

tomato-basil pizza sauce

tomato          –       blanched, 1kg
fresh basil     –       some 50 g or as much as u like
garlic          –       as much u like
olive oil

blitz the blanched, skinned tomatoes with half basil in a blender. chop up the garlic. saute the garlic in olive oil and pour in the tomato puree. season with salt. let it simmer for half n hour and add in the rest of chopped basil. substitute basil with the herb/herbs of your choice. cool the sauce and bottle it after topping it up with a good layer of olive oil. use it up in 2 weeks or so.

baking:

top the base only just before baking. pour a good dollop of sauce, tip in the toppings, grate in the cheese. season the toppings accordingly. bake in a preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes at 200 degree.

to freeze the base, bake one base at a time in a preheated oven at 200 degree for 5 minutes or so. the dough will firm up but wont cook completely. cool the dough and freeze it in ziplock pouch.

invest in a pizza cutter. don’t shy. trust me.

coffee with cinnamon churros and chocolate dip.

Churros. Saw it first on some television channel. As someone dunked that long brown stick of fried something into a frothy cup of latte, I tasted it for the first time virtually sitting here in Cochin. Till date the churros I have had is what I have made. Trust me. I loved them, so did my loyal tasting crew.

1 cup water
1/4th cup canola oil
½ tsp salt
1 1/4th cup flour
2 eggs
1 tbsp butter
canola oil for deep drying
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp ground cinnamon

that’s it. recipe? really? will you try it? am happy that you asked, whether you try it or not! so here goes.

home bound.

Zen and Buddhist philosophy see attachment as the worst enemy of peace of mind. practice detachment to calm your nerves and soothe your soul, they say. makes sense. but when you have put your soul into something, a well researched 4 years browsing through architectural magazines, have touched and felt it at every stage of its growth, it gets difficult to separate yourself from it. the ‘it’ in question here being our home. welcome. to a place like no other.

sun fell in love with the sea. salt was born.

born of the purest of parents, salt is the prime taste that our tongue distinguishes. Indian cuisine predominantly rides on this excess salt, in all our curries and gravies, to make them appealing to the taste buds. while we all know sea salt aka ‘kalluppu’ is the best among the lot, the free flowing table salt had our brains and minds washed squeaky white in its brilliance ages back. so why this whole salt gyan now? reason is, one of the most trending food topics in the world right now is salt. and the gyan is not on salt but on gourmet salts. so wake up. and smell your salt. is it smoky? is it flaky? is it rosemary ish? or is it from Bali? there is much more to your salt connoisseur, smack on.

 

the call came. i had to answer.

They say, ‘We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.’ One thing which I learned from Cochin Adventure Foundation (CAF) through the treks and team is to seek more from nature through seeing more and listening more. The professional trek team went beyond their usual followed-to-the-tee trekking professionalism and organized a fun-trek, for the first time, to Avalanche Ootty.

The trek announcement came one afternoon in Watsapp and I literally jumped from my office desk and declared to our Chief, Noushad, that am in. ‘Sorry Veena, its not for ladies!’ I sank into my ergonomically designed office chair that revolves! Funny right? You sit in a chair and without moving you can go round and round. I told myself ‘Fool, you are not going anywhere if you are going to sit in this chair. Instead, get up and chase the Chief!’ I did just that. I answered the call.

Photo courtesy: https://www.facebook.com/ronny.augustine.1?fref=hovercard

 

From top left to right: the CAF mates give a retro hunter gang feel; the lonely languor silhouette; the chocolate dusting on Wagon R – i couldn’t resist scribbling; the ghee roasted chappathi and vegetable curry breaky.