After my article on homemade Gourmet gifts was published in the current issue of Joy Magazine published by Readers Digest, I came to the conclusion that it was high time I practice what I preach.
When you are as food obsessed as I am, with time you acquire a reputation. And I am not embarrassed to say, that I have! And it’s a solidly eccentric one too! Not only can I talk about food endlessly, but I will shamelessly pursue you if you have a recipe I want to learn or access to ingredients that I covet! Luckily for me I am also that person that people bring home all sorts of foodie assortments for; beautiful (and bizarre) cookbooks, exotic ingredients, nifty (and not so) gadgets. And I love every single one of them (fortunately for me, but perhaps my husband will disagree).
But I have a redeeming quality to me as well. I love to cook for people. I love having people over for meals and you will never have me visit your home without a bottle or two of some sort of home made treat. And I have an infallible foodie memory. Tell me once and I will remember to my dying day and predilections toward food you might have. If Kunal likes olives, Naresh likes Garlic, Christina Likes Chamomile tea and Ashu loves stir fried Capsicums, not only will I remember it but I will probably even go ahead and create a recipe or gift with that ingredient, especially for that person!
I studied art at school and when I shifted focus to food, I would often despair that I was not creating anything anymore. Untill one day I realized, only my tools had changed, I was still creating. I wielded a ladle, instead of a brush these days, and my spice box had become my palate as I put together interesting new combinations of tastes, flavours and colours. So I was always cooking up something or the other and it is more often than not in HUGE batches! As a result, by this time of year, my shelves are usually teeming with myriad basket stuffers. This time, however I have been on a hiatus of sorts from the usual kitchen routine the last couple of years (first because I was pregnant and then because my baby daughter took up all my time and attention). I had no reserves of sauces, sprinkles, marinades and rubs to fall back on. So when I set about putting together things for my Christmas hampers, I had to make everything fro scratch. At first Inspiration was slow in coming but some things that go into my hamper are a given and I began with those.
Like the ‘Spice of life’ my mom makes. This is my mom's patented chutney that we, her kids christened "the spice of life" because it’s hot, sweet, spicy, sour absolute deliciousness enlivened endless insipid hostel meals and saved many an amateur cooking attempt. The fact that it is also the secret ingredient in a myriad dishes from Dum Aloo to Schezwan chicken makes it an added attraction and this is something I coerce my mother into making in large batches of every year for her loyal fan following amongst my friends!
The other given in my basket was jam. I love making jam and make small quantities of seasonal jam round the year but my festive jams are usually opulent ones. This year I did a decadent apple, fig and red wine jam scented with star anise, cinnamon and vanilla. The house smelt so delicious as it simmered on the gas that I went and did a whole second batch for that love spicy smell that I associate with this time of the holidays!
As it simmered I systematically went through my kitchen cupboards and freezer and pulled out everything that I had loved working with in the past year.
The first thing I put together was a simple vinaigrette using zest and herbs I had dried at home, cane vinegar from Vasai and organic olive oil from my favourite company Soler Romero. I am divided on the organic debate, but I maintain that good ingredients make all the difference to any dish and this dressing proved my point to myself!
Then my hands landed on a bottle of chilli flakes. I love chilies and I knew I had to do something with these for my hampers. Made from Thai chillies my sister in law brought me from Thailand these were roasted and flaked, very spicy and somewhat smoky from being slightly charred. They needed a strong base of something to carry them. I stirred in a packet full of organic sea salt thinking to myself I needed something robust. Then it came to mind – Coffee beans! I dry roasted a cup of dark roast coffee beans till the kitchen was redolent of that special coffee smell and the beans had acquired a bit of a sheen from their oils being released. Once they had cooled I processed them to a coarse powder and added them to the chilli salt mix. We tried out this crusty mix the very same night. I marinated some chicken breasts in ginger garlic-chilli-paste and dipped them in the mix so they were properly coated and grilled them till they were done. Nice!
I got a whiff of pure vanilla when I opened the jar of vanilla sugar that I had macerating for more than six months. I wanted to do something special with it. I added dried roses in place of green tea and pistachio flakes instead of almonds and got an unusual take on Kehwa, the Kashmiri tea that I love to sip at on leisurely Sunday mornings.
Next on my palate was loomi, the dried lemons used in Irani cuisine. It is used in Bhaji ghosht and Chana dal keema and also goes well in masoor dal (though I have not tried that). I have also used them in a walnut and zaresht berry dip with pita bread and to add tang to delicate roulades of swiss chard leaves spread with hazelnut paste. Limoo have a smoky sour flavor that lends well to green dishes so I decided to make a salad sprinkle by crushing them with white pepper and toasted cumin. To this mix I added toasted sesame seeds. It simply needs to be sprinkled over steamed or stirfried greens or salads. Its also great over paneer that has been marinated in dahi and grilled.
And the last thing to go in were little fridge magnets like the one above that i had found on a Crawford tour.
It’s been a marathon of cooking the last couple of weeks and I have just about managed to finish things up in time to go off to Goa for the New year but I have savoured every second !
Have a Merry Christmas and a great 2009. But do remember to come back soon because 2009 will bring lots of fun things here on A Perfect Bite.