Monthly Archives: May 2012

Instantaneous disappointment in eighty seven easy steps…


Although I like to cook and use fresh ingredients to sustain myself, there are times when a boxed, overly processed, banal foodstuff is the order of the day. These were originally made in the fifties, to save time for the person who didn’t have time to cook a fourteen course meal complete with soup, salad, and desert. The first of these were the famous TV Dinners and the Swanson Salisbury Steak, which included a tasteless pancake of ground animal with a congealed brown liquid added for taste. They were simple, fairly inexpensive, and introduced westerners to the complex flavours of Salisbury, which is apparently, brown and salt.

Vast portions of the grocery stores are dedicated to the instant cuisine of questionable nutritional value. Most of them are incredibly easy to prepare, with instructions like: “Put box in microwave for 2 minutes, enjoy” or “Peel back foil, pour in boiling water, consume” or “Unwrap. Ingest”. These simple instructions make them exceedingly popular with our large population of college students who are learning the complex variations of our world like hexadecimal calculus, theoretical atomic physics, and the works of Chaucer, but have to be TOLD to “enjoy” that box of unimaginative noodles in a day-glow orange sauce that tastes nothing like cheese.

It was these simple instructions that made them so popular, and I have to admit, that is why I occasionally buy them… but then something evil happened. Cable cooking channels.

“Celebrity” cooks started to appeal to the college and university crowd and influence their eating habits. Jim Bob, who is a second year engineering student, started watching Rachael Ray make Crab Arancini with a risotto milanese in a truffle reduction covered with a saffron dusting, and looked down at his bowl of Mechelina’s Flavourless Slime Noodles with Hot Dog Pieces, and with an explosion of vocabulary that can only be attributed to today’s students of higher education, he pointed to the television and exclaimed “I WANT THAT!”.

So, of course, the purveyors of the processed boxed meal had to do something to satisfy the drooling masses that watch Gordon Ramsey cook haute cuisine while screaming profanities at the camera. Suddenly, there were a variety of fancy boxes in the freezer section that promised four course gourmet meals, just like we saw on last week’s edition of Top Chef, and for the low low price of twenty eight dollars.

The problem is, these new “Instant meals” are not so instant and don’t include the remedial instructions of the past. Now when you buy “Paula Dean’s® Punjabi Puffed Pastry™ with Purple Pakora, Poppadom, and Pickled Parwal” there is a longer set of instructions printed on the box:

  • Preheat oven to 505° Kelvin.
  • Grease a platinum baking sheet with truffle oil.
  • Open the blue package, and place the Punjabi Puffed Pastry™ on baking sheet in a helix pattern.
  • Place baking sheet on top shelf of oven and bake for 4 minutes and 11 seconds.
  • Set stovetop to mark 17.
  • Place an inverted brass frying pan over flame and heat until it glows red.
  • Flip pastry in oven, reduce temperature to 437° Kelvin and bake for 14 minutes and 2 seconds.
  • Open the purple package and pour powdered contents into a medium-large bowl.
  • Add 1/14 of a tablespoon of low fructose maize syrup, 1/2 a cup of Pellegrino, and 5 tears from a baby panda.
  • Stir mixture.
  • Open oven and flip pastry.
  • Raise temperature to 439° Kelvin and bake for 9 seconds.
  • Using a Patented Paula Dean Poppadom Persuader (sold separately), place a dollop of mixture to glowing pan on stove.
  • Fry until sepia brown.
  • Repeat last two steps until mixture is depleted.
  • Open the green package and remove Purple Pakora.
  • Grease a separate silver baking sheet with extra whorish olive oil.
  • Arrange pakora on a silver baking sheet and place on lower shelf in oven.
  • Flip pastry and bake both trays at 680° Kelvin for 4 hours.
  • Open khaki package and place parwal on cutting board.
  • Cut parwal into rhombus shapes, careful to adhere to Euclid’s definition of an equilateral quadrilateral.
  • In a jar, pour in 1/10 of a decalitre of Paula Dean’s® Powerful Pickling Potion™ with Parwal, and set aside.
  • Flip half of the Purple Pakora and most of the pastry and bake at 290° Kelvin for a nanosecond.
  • On a serving platter in the shape of the Louvre, arrange Pastry, Pakora, Popadoms, and pickled parwal in the pattern of the Venus de Milo.
  • Saffron to taste, and serve.

Needless to say, lunch kitchens in offices and dorm rooms are going to need a redesign.

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Jacob Two Two and the Cup of Tea


It’s been almost five months since I’ve been in Asia, and I find myself thinking about it often. Sometimes I look at pictures and am reminded about an aspect of the trip, and sometimes a sound or smell will pull me back to a place in Mumbai or a hillside in Panauti. A few days ago, while on the bus going through Osborne Village, there was a traffic jam and suddenly the air was filled with a cacophony of car horns and I was instantly transported to Chennai. I wanted to grab the wheel of the bus and go down the wrong side of the road while looking back at the passengers and asking if they wanted to go shopping or maybe go to the beach. I think I was the only one smiling on the bus.

But there is one aspect of India and Nepal that I can recreate, to a fairly accurate facsimile, here in Canada. I can make the food… or at least attempt to.

I’ve been experimenting over the last few months with a variety of recipes with some success (and a few dismal failures). I’ve gathered some from books, friends, and from all over the internet, then tried and modified until I found the closest thing to the dishes I remember from over seas. This entry will be the first of my findings that I will share.

There is a western misconception, perpetuated by the big western coffee houses, that chai is a flavour. Chai actually just means tea, and the word masala means spices, spiced, or spice mixture. So the next time you are in a Starbucks and you ask for a spiced masala chai tea, you are actually asking for a spiced spiced tea tea, and you should probably watch out for the Hooded Fang.

Another misnomer is that masala is a set mixture of spices and chai is a type of tea, therefore all masala chai will be the same. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Every restaurant, vendor stand, and wallah had a different recipe, most good, some fantastic. My favourites include the Ananda Cafe and Guest House blend in Panauti Nepal (made by the delightful wife of the proprietor), the Hotel Central Tower in Chennai, and the Hotel Hari-Piorko in New Delhi.

I ended up drinking a LOT of chai when I was over there, partially because it was boiled and fairly safe, but mostly because it was yummy! Even the small paper cups from the chaiwallahs on the Indian trains or chowpatty beach in Mumbai were tasty.

However, there was one cup of tea that I had in Haridwar that I will never forget, it came at the end of my first day after the evening aarti and a delightful day of dunking in the Ganges and mingling with the sadhus at the ghats. On the way back to my hotel I stopped in at a ramshackle stand that had a fresh batch of samosa frying in oil and I ordered a masala chai, and watched the cook make it.

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He started with COLD water (a bottle of Aquafina in this case) and threw in a handful of whole spices and then a spoon full of tea leaves. Then he brought the whole thing to a rolling boil and let it bubble for about 5 minutes. Then he added some honey and milk, strained it into a glass, and served it.

This technique is very different than the steeping we do in the west where we boil the water first and then let a perforated bag filled with lawn clippings, sawdust, and a single tiny tea leaf, sit in the water for ten minutes (I’m looking at you Tetley).

Now, I’m not sure whether it was the actual taste of that Haridwar chai, or the surroundings and circumstances that were a part of the day that I had it, but it was one of the best cups of tea I have ever had… and of course I wasn’t watching close enough to see which spices or kind of tea he used to make it… so I’ve been trying to recreate it ever since.

And with a combination of recipes, I think I’ve found a very close rendition:

Masala Milk Chai inspired by the Ghats of Haridwar

Ingredients

3 whole star anise seeds (alternatively 1/2 tbsp of fennel seed)
3 green cardamom pods
6 cloves
1 cinnamon stick broken up
1/4″ fresh ginger root, sliced thin
1/4 tsp whole black pepper corns (about 10)
1 bay leaf
3 1/2 cups COLD water
1 tbsp black tea
1-2 tbsp honey or brown sugar (2 is more authentic, but might be too sweet for some)
1/2 cup milk

Use whole spice wherever you can, if you need to use a ground alternative, you should have a coffee filter handy for straining, otherwise you’ll get a strange sludge at the bottom of your final cup.

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Also try to use a loose Indian black tea like Darjeeling or Assam. Right now I’m using a Nepalese black tea that I found at an Asian market here in Winnipeg, and it really lends itself to this recipe. I’ve since found out that David’s Tea carries a black Nepal tea too.

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Method

In a pot, pour in water, spices, and tea, leaving the sweetener and milk aside.

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Bring to a rolling boil and let it bubble away for 5 minutes

Add the sugar or honey first, and then immediately add the milk and let it simmer for 2 or 3 minutes more. (The reason you add the sugar first is that it stops the boil momentarily so when you add the milk there is less chance of curdling. Also, the lower the fat content of the milk, the less chance of curdling.)

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If you used whole spices, strain mixture through a sieve or colander into cups. If you used ground spices, put a basket coffee filter in your strainer.

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This recipe makes 2 latte sized cups (pictured), or 4 tea cups or mugs worth.

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When ever I make this recipe, I sit back and watch this video to make the experience complete.

 

 

It’s either that or pour the mixture into dixie cups while straddling my couch and yelling “All aboard! Next stop Agra! Get your Chai and Chaat!”… but that might confuse the cats…

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