Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cookery Books Versus Cookbooks

I stopped by the Cookbook Store here in Toronto, and found this section of used cookbooks that I'd never seen before (it's right opposite the cash register). It was by looking through this section that I bought my very first cookery book.
As you can see by the picture, it's by Madhur Jaffrey, a well-known Indian food chef. It was published in 1982; I bought it for $10.00, and it was in mint condition. Ah, cookery books. According to the Merriam Webster Online, the term "cookery book" is chiefly a British term, and dates back to 1639. The word "cookery" dates back to the 14th century and is "the art or practice of cooking". Nowadays, we have a plethora of cookbooks on the market, and this got me thinking about the difference between the two, or maybe a dichotomy that can be found in food culture today.
Cookbooks are often written by celebrity chefs. They sometimes have witty exclamations and catch phrases, to brand their recipes, their cookbook, and their cable tv show. For example, they might yell something like "Boom!" every time they toss seasoning into a pan. Or they might call extra virgin olive oil "evoo". Did that really need an acronym? Who doesn't like saying extra virgin olive oil. It's practically an onomatopoeia.
Cookery books, on the other hand, have been passed down by your mamma or auntie. They might be written in Italian or Armenian or Punjabi, and you will have the darndest time figuring out what the recipes say. Cookery books call for butter. Lots of butter. And cream. And yes, cookery books will put you on Lipitor if you're not careful.
One thing I've noticed about cookbook authors recently, is that a core group of them are getting hotter and hotter. Now, I must say, Jaffrey has quite a striking picture on the back of the cookery book I bought, but do you ever get the feeling that some cookbook authors are Calvin Klein models in their spare time? And yes, I'm looking the way of a certain chef from the Mediterranean. Sure the food looks good, but who can concentrate with all those winning smiles and all that tanned skin?
Cookery books might require you to buy a kitchen scale. It might require you to do things you've never done before, maybe push your skills as a chef. Cookbooks sell a lifestyle. People who buy a Jaime Oliver book often want to be the type of people who buy Jaime Oliver books.
So far, my adventures with Jaffrey have gone quite well. I made a lemony, coriandery chicken dish that had a curry that was heaven. And she does interesting things with raitas (yoghurt salads). Her trick is to beat the yoghurt with a fork so it's smooth and silky.
If you're searching for cookery books you might raid family's bookshelves (if they'll let you), or go here.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Nimbu Pani

The heat wave (or what passed for one) here in Toronto last week, combined with monsoon rains, got the Mixmaster and I thinking of cool, tasty summer drinks that were easy on the budget. This is a recipe that we've tested several times. "Nimbu Pani" translates to lime water in English, as in India the drink is usually made with small yellow limes. You can substitute either fruit, lemon or lime, to make the drink. It is usually made and drunk in the afternoon. It might seem a bit odd to add salt to a sweet drink, but the combination of dissolved sugar and salt in water helps to re-balance one's electrolytes, especially in a country where temperatures sometimes reach 40 degrees C. While we're heading for temps in the low twenties dehydration might not be an issue, but the combination of salty and sweet can be quite nice. There are three options for the fluid of the "pani," depending if you want fizz or not; be sure to try all three.

Recipe (for one drink):

1 lemon (4 T juice)
3 t white sugar
smigden of salt (optional)
250ml water/half water, half club soda/club soda
a few grinds of black pepper (optional)
mint leaves or a slice of lemon for garnish

Roll lemon against a cutting board, and cut it in half; juice and remove seeds. Take 4 Tablespoons of the juice and mix it with the white sugar until dissolved. Add the fluid. Add the smidgen of salt and mix again. Add the black pepper and give a quick stir. Garnish with mint leaves or a slice of lemon.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

In Crustum Veritas (In Bread, The Truth), Part 1

So, my first blog post got me thinking about baguettes in Toronto. Perhaps I was a bit harsh, after all, there are several French bakeries scattered around the city. So, I decided to test and rate some of the more popular baguettes. I'm probably going to stay away from grocery store varieties (though I've heard that quintessential Montrealais bakers Premiere Moisson are now serving their baguettes at Toronto area Metro stores).
There are a few things that one should know about a good French baguette. It should be very hard and crusty on the outside, and on the inside should have very soft doughy bread, with medium-large air holes. A good baguette should be a serious time commitment; none of this easy-chew Dempsters stuff. It should be a workout for your teeth and your jaws. It should "snap" when you break it apart, and it should have a mild flavour to it.
You should finish your baguette on the day that you buy it, as the bread is only meant to last one day. Most bakeries throw out their day olds, as you can't sell a second day baguette. If you do have leftovers, put it in a tight plastic bag (a Ziploc Freezer Bag would work), and put it in the fridge. It will probably lose its lovely crust, but c'est la vie.

Contestant 1:Pain Perdu
This baguette was on the economical side; it only cost $2.20. Pain Perdu is found at 736 St Clair Ave. West near Christie Street, and has been at that location for 5 years. Their baguette was dappled a white and fawn colour, and had several slashes on it. It had the satisfying snap of a good baguette, a hard, mostly golden crust, and the insides were soft and filled with air pockets. One criticism that I do have, lovely as it was, is that it was a little on the small side; though the length was fine, the width was a little over an inch in some places. The taste is a little on the mild side; I kept wondering if there was adequate salt in it. But overall, it's a solid stick, and tastes fabulous with butter. If you're in the St Clair West area, do make the trip to this bakery, because the grocery stores in the neighbourhood won't do you any favours in the French bread department. Check out their website for the times that they're open. Overall rating: 8.5 Nostalgia for Montreal Factor: 9

Monday, August 10, 2009

Khumun Dhokla, or Spilling Gujarati Culinary Secrets Like Coins From a Purse

So, I had guests of the familial kind this past weekend. After the cleaning, and the hiding of what needed to be hid, I got down to the decision of what to make to eat. My family is from the western part of India, a state called Gujarat, so I thought that making a "traditional" snack might be a good option. This recipe is my mom's, and I was rather nervous at having her taste and critique it, but I guess it passed the test. A good dhokla is spongy, spicy, and a juxtaposition of varied tastes: the bitterness of the mustard seeds, the freshness of the coriander leaves, and the ginger and green chili taste of the dhokla.
You'll need steamer set up for cooking the dhokla (which I guess can best be described as a savoury, spicy cake, which is sometimes served to guests as an appetizer). I use a big pot, filled with 3/4 of an inch of water, and three small steel bowls (found at Gerrard India Bazaar, or most Indian housewares stores) also half filled with water, to balance the pans. Use handle-less cake pans that fit in the stock pot, and can be removed easily with a strong set of tongs.


for Dhokla(two 8 inch pans):
2 cups chick pea flour (besan)
1/4 cup wheat germ (sugi)
3 1/2 t grated ginger
3 t chopped small green chilies
1 1/4 t salt
1/2 t tumeric
3 heaping T yoghurt
a little more than 3/4 C of water
oil for greasing 2 cake pans
a little less than 2 T of Eno (unusual, yes, but it's needed to make it rise. Buy the unflavoured one, of course)

for Turka and topping:
2 1/2 T oil, canola or sunflower
1 t fenugreek seeds
3 t mustard seeds
1 1/2 t shredded coconut, unsweetened (or to taste)
1T chopped fresh coriander leaves (or to taste)

The Batter:
  • Mix all ingredients for the dhokla. The batter should be a little thicker than cake batter. Stir well.
  • Let stand for 10 minutes.
  • Grease cake pans with an oil like canola or sunflower (olive oil and Indian cooking are a no go).
  • Pour the batter into the pans. Assemble the steamer and set flame to boil. Just before putting pan in, add Eno to the first pan you're going to steam (less than 1 T), stir well, and steam, with the lid covered, for 10-12 minutes.
  • You can check the done-ness with a toothpick.
  • Repeat Eno mixing and steaming with next pan.
  • Remove dhokla from pans and cut into squares. Serve on a plate or tray.
Turka (Spice fry) and Dressing:
  • Heat oil in a pan (that you have a lid to). Add fenugreek seeds and cook for 30 seconds.
  • Add mustard seeds and cover. The seeds will pop, which could get a little dangerous. When they have all popped, remove them from the flame, and pour over dhokla.
  • Dress the dhokla with coconut and fresh coriander.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Cooking Music, and Hello

Everything I do I do to music. So when it comes time to cook a meal, I can't function unless the stereo is on and a favorite CD is playing. In the last year, this station, here in Toronto, has been my standard for whatever I'm making, whether it's a shepherd's pie, sweet potato gnocchi from scratch, or one of my mom's Gujarati recipes. Everything is better with jazz.
Some other great CDs that I listen to that are smooth and mellow and great to cook to are:
  • Feist- The Remainder (2007). My honey and I used to listen to this CD non-stop early 2008 when making brunches and getting ready to go to Grapefruit Moon. Every time I hear "1234," I crave scrambled eggs.
  • zaki ibrahim- Eclectica (episodes in purple) (2008). zaki is a Toronto area artist, who sometimes sings in French! How cool is that?
  • Anything and everything Sade. Enough said.
The trick to good cooking music, in my opinion, is that it is soothing after a long day, it has a nice melody, and it's upifting. It may be just me, but cooking to Radiohead... a little depressing. And it might be time to put your loud, poppy albums, like the Cure away, at least for the time being. You might also try Francophonie, like Edith Piaf, or maybe some fado.


Lastly, I'd like to say welcome to my blog. It took me a good long while to think of a suitable name, one that encompassed all that I want to do. My first forays into blog-naming either erased my south asian identity, or highlighted it in an essentializing way. Having grown up in Montreal in a south asian family, I was raised to enjoy everything from croissants to creton to chicken curry to daal. I hope my name attempts to cover multiple diasporic longings; for both the recipes of my grandparents, and for a really good baguette (which I've sadly yet to find in Toronto).

I'll be covering all sorts of topics, from restaurant reviews, to "cooking school basics" for people just starting out in the kitchen, to food culture and politics. I hope to be having "culinary adventures". There are many things I've always been dying to make. Like Baklava. And Bibim bap. And Yorkshire pudding. Hopefully this blog will give me the venue to do so. This is kinda exciting...