Breakfast Basics


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This is a first recipe and therefore a free one! Happy cooking!

V

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A concoction, like a potpourri, is a mixture of herbs, dried flowers, fragrance and spices kept in a jar, tied in muslin and kept under the pillow,conjured up in your dreams or in your makeshift kitchen.

Depends on how you look at it and when you want to make it.

The four-meals-a-day has idea is now an ancient practice, no longer suited to the 22nd century workday. One must be able to think out of the box, break the 4-meal-a-day regime, just for the pleasure and convenience.This is something I have never been in doubt about.

Some people’s days begin at 4 a.m. , other’s end at 4 a.m. Breakfast is a good idea if the work day begins around 8 a.m. otherwise, it is not.

BREAKFAST: If you have a filling meal at the beginning of the day, it might help to get you down to work right away. All my school and college days though, I have just rushed out with a glass of milk, or a toast dipped in tea. So, who am I to say whether you should or should not have breakfast. If u have a fridge, Breakfast becomes that much easier. Try stocking up on breakfast foods.

Oats, Cornflakes, Milk, Bread, Jam, Cheese or Butter and Orange juice…all the routine stuff.

Making breakfast more interesting:

Cornflakes and milk can be boring. Use milk cold or boiling hot milk, whichever way you like it. In a bowl cut up a banana, add some resin, crumble a cookie, add sugar or honey. Consider adding scoops of grapefruit (butter-fruit), add some nuts–almonds, cashew nuts, pea nuts even–add corn flakes, add milk. This will definitely taste better than plain cornflakes and milk. You can conjure up as you go along. Invent.

Varna’s Tip [My favorite addition to cornflakes has been a pinch of instant coffee powder and fresh strawberries!]

Oats: For one tea cup of oats — boil 1 and a 1/2 cup of water, add a pinch of salt. When the water begins to boil, pour the oats, stir quickly for 2 minutes. Its done. Add milk and sugar to eat.Yes, its that easy. you can add honey. Nuts, resins, chopped bananas if you want.

Puffed or pounded rice: In most Asian countries you get puffed rice or pounded rice (muri or murmura/podi and aval or chira/chura). Puffed rice with milk is a good breakfast too, consider it a rice-variant.

Bread: Comes in a variety of shapes sizes. Flat bread, unleavened bread, Roti and Chapatis these days often come in packets, available in supermarkets. They can also be obtained from the local markets. This – warmed over a brazier, is good to eat dipped in tea or milk. Can be warmed on a hot pan.

A Chapati is not too difficult to make. Get wheat flour. To make half a dozen chapatis you would need about half a kilo of flour. Put the flour in a flat surface. Mix a pinch of salt and a tea spoon of oil with the flour. Make a hole in the middle, pour water slowly from a cup. Keep a tight control over the water. Kneed it at the same time…moving from the center of the flour outwardly, making the dough. Let the dough be of medium softness, not too watery and slimy, not to tough. Batter the dough for five minutes nicely.

Make fist sized balls. Roll it out on a wooden board, or flat surface. If you don’t have a rolling pin, you can use a longish tin. You can also use your hands to roll out the Chapati. It is not rocket science, just a matter of practice. Don’t get intimidated if the first few look like the map of Africa! It only has to be eaten.

In some countries, you get to buy metal presses to press out the Chapati. You can place it on a flat ceramic dish in a micro-oven for a few seconds and it will get cooked. If you have a wire-mesh, you can cook a Chapati on a open gas flame. You can place it on a frying pan without oil and let it cook in a medium flame, cooking both sides well, then take it out and flip it over a open flame a few seconds. It will rise nicely.

If you are not sure of doing this, turn it into a Paratha. Put the Chapati  on the pan, roast it for a few minutes. Add a spoon of  oil (olive oil, groundnut oil or any cooking oil, Ghee or even butter) any cooking medium, let it get a little hot and brown. Its done.

A bread and butter toast can be boring. A slice of toast with marmalade, a pickle, a slice of ham, a scrambled egg and such will taste better. Even left over vegetables will do. It makes all the difference to the toast. Pineapple on toast is good. Caviar is okay, though not everyone likes it. Mashed potato on toast is great.

Finally, remember Oranges are as good as orange juice!

Concoctix

Grad School Cooking


The feedback I got first was …it rambles on and on…so where is the recipe? Feed-back, remember, is the word..eating your word is another. We have just begun, so I sat us down and put on the thinking cap.

While a kitchen is not absolutely necessary to begin cooking, thinking through is necessary.  In the 1980s, money was always a rare commodity…between two people there was just about $20 a week. Naturally, the rum and whiskey was divided between two people, without buying more…and the incentive to cook was to get more time to write, cooking can be inspirational, to say the least. Like while rolling over an intro in your mind, one might like to rustles up a pudding.

But yes, pots and pans definitely are necessary. However, if you think one can’t cook without an well ordained array of utensils, wrong again. Just a few will do. Always go for medium sized cooking utensils. The small ones are a waste of hard earned money. Generally I am cooking for myself or two people. Occasionally, there are friends to cook for, generally two/three…a medium size utensil can be used for both occasions.

It is a good idea to get a Wok or a  ‘Kadai’ as we in South Asia call it. That’s an universal pan. In the West, a flat frying pan is used but it is a good idea to buy one with a rim, that is a pan that has a depth of your thumb, about  5 cms deep. Either of the three will do. They all work in a similar manner!

Teflon and other non-stick pans are generally not recommended. Iron skillets are Grandma’s tried and tested stuff. A Stainless steel or aluminium (Hindalium, an offshoot of the aircraft industry, I presume) one will do. In certain countries, the heavy Russian skillet made of very thick steel is available. They too do just as well.

For a cooking pan one should not go in for a thin surface, because the chances of the utensil burning along with the food is greater. Buy a pan that is easily available in the local market and what the local people use…no matter which part of the world you are in.

The second item is a ladle. It can be wooden, or a large steel spoon with a long handle, or a spatula/spathe. Any one kind will do…you don’t need a dozen different kinds really. All it does is turns things over in the pan.  If you don’t have this, you can very well use a knife and a fork , holding the knife in the left hand and the fork in the right to turn things over. You can use a chopstick too, but don’t ever use a green branch. All the juices ooooozzzz out of the branch into your concoction, and the taste can be quite disgusting. I did that once, learning the easy way!

A medium size pot to boil things in. Preferably with a lid and a handle. If not, a steel plate can be used to cover. It can be used for eating from too. A pressure cooker is one thing you will never find being used in television cookery programme. It is more handy than the boiling pot. If you are traveling to a foreign country and expected to cook, carry a medium sized pressure cooker about 3 liters. Don’t imagine that if you are going from China or India to the USA, you will be able to easily lay hands on a vessel called the pressure cooker. You won’t.

Think of it like an autoclave of Lilliputian size! It is one of the most universal and useful gadgets you can lay your hands on if you intend to cook. Two/three bowls to keep food in. Not too large, assorted sizes. The Chinese, Japanese and many south Asians use bowls to drink tea. The same can be used to drink soup, and eat noodles and rice from,and as a measuring cup. So one does not need separate cups/plates etc. To begin with:just buy utensils that you absolutely need. Plates, glasses,cups, if you must, not really necessary.

One good general knife and a few tea spoons and forks are enough. A fork, I soon learned, is an useful weapon. A multifaceted thing. I could beat an omelette with it, I could use it to stir, to turn over, to pin down, and to eat with, saving my fingers while I am typing!

Get utensils and crockery gradually, as you need, as your expertise grows. It is good to get an electric kettle, if you are in a place where there is electricity/and if you are in a cold country.

We raided our meager savings to buy a medium sized fridge.Not only for some ice and cold water and beer, also to save money and time. The idea was if I cooked one day, I could feed myself for two days at least. Again a medium size is recommended. A fridge is not necessary if you are in a cold or very cold country. But if you are in Asia and Africa, it is a good idea to get a refrigerator, saves a lot of food.

Especially if you are finicky about wasting food. My parents never allowed me to, as they saw starvation, hunger drought…the Great Bengal Famine of 1943. And I am never allowed to forget that there are places in the world still where people are eating leaves and worms to stay alive.

You also need Fire, this could be a kerosene stove/a gas burner/a electric heater/a hotplate. Spend ten minutes finding out how the fire stone works. Especially if it is a micro-oven, you have to deal with. A electric oven can be set. A micro-oven has to be tested. The simplest way of doing this is by toasting a bread. Just note how many seconds it takes the bread to turn deep brown. Put a half full bowl (non breaking glass) of water in the oven and see when it starts to bubble. Either of these experiments, will give you an idea of how long it takes to warm/heat/boil/cook/toast etc.

You must check out the fire before you start cooking. At one point in time, I had to cook on wood fire, at another, on a bukhari, so getting hang of the fire is essential. A gas burner or an electric heater are the easiest to control.

Check out the closest local market. Just window shop for an hour or two to  find out what is easily available and what is cheapest. While this could seem like a waste of time, it can be fun. Begin keeping a notebook where the grocer’s telephone number is a must.

I began cooking by taking it on like a Gradschool project. Do some background checking, get some basic material/data etc.

Concoctix

Cooking With Concoctix – The Beginnings


I never went to the market to shop for vegetables and food before I got married. Not even with my mother, as a tiny tot! My Dad and Mom always went together. When we were older, my sister and my brother did the shopping, if my Dad did not. Me, I wasn’t going to leave my Barbara Cartland and Georgette Heyer to go and buy aubergines and bitter gourds! As I grew older Perry Mason and James Bond held all my attention. Of course, even when I began going to college, there were days and days, when I would be reading while eating and my Mom or Dad would tell me to put my book away or leave the table!

The first time I went shopping to cook a meal was perhaps when I got married and set up house. Ah! You think, I am one of those lucky ones with a husband who knows how to cook! Not so. And he wasn’t the lucky one with a wife who cooked wonderfully. He claimed, he had eaten out for 20 years! Since he was 15, first at college hostels, then in ‘messes’ when he began to first work, then when he earned enough, he ate at restaurants, beginning his first meal with rum or whiskey, at about 11 a.m., eating his first meal at about 1 p.m., his second at about 12 a.m., past midnight. In between he smoked, had these intimate conversations with the cat on his table, cursed his typewriter, and flirted with words!

I have told you what kind of a girl I was.

Since one day, we decided to and got married, we found we didn’t have enough money to eat out every day. It was quite a bore to have to get dressed and go out to eat every meal! That, I am sure, is a perennial truth for most of you who I hope are reading me. Married or single. Not enough money to eat out every day.

Then, of course, are all those logical reasons, good health, time saving, don’t want to eat out alone…etc…etc…etc… So do I cook ? First I had to grapple with that. What do I know about cooking? Eventually, I came to the conclusion I may not know much about cooking but it wasn’t something that could not be learned. Once I had sorted this out in my mind, I took the next step…It would be I who had to cook. Not anyone else. Did I need to learn it professionally? Did I have to buy cookbooks? did I have to call up my Mom and ask? Or should I ask Dad? I decided it wouldn’t be a bad idea to call Mom for recipes but that could be done later. I sat me down and did some thinking.

We lived in a large room with a large bathroom and a veranda filled with roses trailing down over the single window. We had a typewriter and a table, two boxes of clothes, several dozen books and a bed. There was no kitchen. A Kitchen is not absolutely necessary, you know, to cook. The table, I decided, could serve as the kitchen.

After I finished cooking each day. I put the electric heater I used, down on the floor, spread newspaper on the table, rehabilitated the Remington and each one drifted into our respective creative realms! Before I cooked a meal for the first time, I sat down and thought out things for several hours. PLANNING we call it these days. Getting the heebeejeebies, my Grandma would have said!

Concoctix

Cooking With Concoctix – A Story


Let me tell you a story. A story is essentially what one gets after cooking up words, and what better way to start talking about cooking than with a tall tale?

My father always tells me my mother never taught me to cook. Well, I still can’t cook as well as he can! He is 85 years old and still believes in cooking for the connoisseur, taking a lot of trouble and being very particular. I come from a family where most of the men know how to cook.

I remember festivals and gatherings at my grandparents’ house, when I was about five years old. I had a dozen uncles and aunts. Really, not literary! There was a rectangular space, a courtyard inside the L-shaped house. Opposite the larger arm of the house was a separate kitchen. We had to cross the courtyard to go and eat our meals, and if it was raining, dashing across was an adventure in itself!

The kitchen was the cook’s domain, the cook changed several times in a year and generally there were about 30 people eating in that kitchen, all relatives. Festival times were different. My uncles got down to do the cooking, and the cook turned into an assistant. There were several fires burning in the courtyard, several mud ovens, traditional, all of which took considerable skill to light. They got going after much huffing and puffing, but by the time I was ten, I had learnt how to light that kind of a traditional mud stove, also how to light a hookah which my grandfather puffed.

Most difficult was, of course, learning how to light a match stick, the way we Asians do. Lighting a lighter is child’s play compared to lighting a match and if you can do that — cooking is darn easy.

Why my Dad still says I wasn’t taught how to cook by my mother like all little girls are, is because my mother and my aunts never saw cooking as anything more than something that has to be done. One has to eat, so one has to cook.

I began life watching my uncles tie a ‘gaamcha’, a red piece of wiping cloth, around their waist and, often another around their heads, and stirring large aluminum pots over hot mud stoves. The smells of meat and spice that wafted out of those pots is a lifelong memory. And the fish,  a meter long, its dead eye looking at all the going ons, waiting its turn to be addressed, sometimes, smaller ones, live and jumping. At the same time, arriving after long and very crowded train journey to a village where my aunt taught in a school. We reached home in a rickshaw, pulled by a rickshaw puller, after yet another of trundling through narrow  mud tracks, ravenously hungry.

My aunt would have worked all day, and then cooked us a meal, that was better than anything I have ever tasted. boiled rice, lots of butter, boiled potatoes and eggs, all mashed and eaten with our hands. When I was a little older, we often ate what my father cooked at the end of a hard long day at office. My mother was bed-ridden for many long years, and could not get up from her bed. Those days it was my Dad, the finicky cook who produced quick meals that surpassed all that he made at leisure.

So, I claim to understand how dreadful it is if one has to cook at the end of a long hard day at work and is ravenously hungry. It seems easier to  open ready-made packets, or go and get pickups, or go out to eat.

BUT IT ISN’T

This is perhaps why, I have chosen to write about how to rustle up a meal at the most disadvantageous moment. When you are tired, hungry, lonely, wishing your mom or girl friend or wife was around, a hot meal was ready on the table.

Concoctix

Cooking with Concoctix


Introducing my friend ‘Concoctix’ who has great culinary talents. Visit her new home on the web right here on Una Voce – just click the page tab titled ‘Feed Me’ on the upper-right corner. Or just click here.

Feed Me is a new read- and-cook service brought to you by by Concoctix and Una Voce. The idea is simple, Concoctix blogs about cooking and you get to learn cooking with her. She’ll post here with a recipe every alternate day. Her posts are fun too, tales of small adventures in the kitchen- which you get to read for free.

The recipes cost a wee little dollar each, and there is some fabulous stuff we promise you. Every ingredient shall be available in America and India too, no recipe will require supreme cooking efforts and if you follow the directions right- the taste will be awesome too.

Posts and Recipes will be tagged ‘Cooking With Concoctix’ just as this on is. You can view older recipes (to order access) or see older posts, by searching within the ‘Cooking With Concoctix’ category on the sidebar.

Click here, to find out more about Concoctix and the Feed Me service.

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