Monday, May 31, 2010

Chew on this - The Bread to my butter and breath to my life (with apologies to Paul Child)

I have been in Dehra Dun these last weeks, so the kids could get their summer holidays with their grandmother. And in between all the summer fun, I have been working on my book, specifically the first two sections that deal with a lot of family memories and are high on emotion. It has been a vulnerable phase, with extreme highs when things go well and horrible lows when you know what you want to wrtie but it just will not come out. And then when I was at my crochety worst Shekhar, my husband brought me a copy of Julie and Julia. He'd watched it on a flight recently and wanted me to watch it because it reminded him of me.

I saw why immediately, of course. While the movie is a celebration of Julia Child and her legendary influence on the culinary world it is also a celebration of food bloggers and aspiring writers and I drew a lot of parallels with myself as I watched. For example, when Julie (Adams) says to Eric (Messina) late in the film, “I’m going to be a writer,” he responds, without missing a beat, “You are a writer.” (the food blogger in me was cheering at this point!) I began as a blogger like Julie albeit without the challenge she had set herself, but just commiting to blogging regularly is a challenge in itself. I know I drive Shekhar nuts cooking all  sorts of exotic things, getting frustrated when they go wrong and even today I struggle to juggle everything I do so I can get that post out on the blog on schedule. And I am also a book author like Julia, I have made it my life's work to bring fun and creativity back to everyday traditional cooking plus I am also writing a book (two actually) that are taking their time to be born. Of course I was starving within moments! And there were so many moments that were like deja Vu, Meryl Streep was phenomenal playing Julia Child. And Amy Adams was so endearing.

But I digress this post is not about me, neither is it about the movie, (which by the way was everyhing I expected and more!) More than the women, I was watching the men and specifically both the marriages.  Both  women had wonderful, supportive husbands. Both husbands were really involved in whatever their wives were doing, just being in the kitchen with them as they cooked, being close to them & sharing their joy in the cooking process, eating the food when it was ready or offering shoulders to cry on after culinary disasters.

Most of those who know me, know that I am utterly, passionately and hopelessly in love with my husband but I seldom talk about my family in public spaces so people that meet him are often surprised at how much of a food lover he is. In fact at the pork party I hosted recently, I was accused of keeping him out of the limelight! I don't, really. It is just that Shekhar is a very private person. But he loves his food. He loves my cooking and most importantly he is the wing beneath my wings, the flame under my cooking pots, the olivo oil in my pesto, the chilli in my chutney.... (ok. ok I'll stop!)

Shekhar is back in Mumbai, (he has a steady job he needs to keep so I can travel the food fantastic). But lo and behold this lovely email I recieved yesterday, rounding up how he spent his solitary Sunday! I have been asking him to write here for a long time, sharing his humorous insights on being married to me and cooking experiances and although this is not a blog post, I was thrilled to read it. I thought I would give you a little glimpse of him through this lovely email I recieved yesterday, under protest from him. Please read it and do leave comments to encourage him to write more....


I made burgers again! The aim was to conjure up some of those 'juicy' burgers commonly found at Pubs in the US and UK, to be had with a chilled pint of beer, to beat the heat!

This time I chose to experiment with Lamb-mince instead of the Chicken that we did last time. The switch was not because I like Lamb better than Chicken, but because like any gullible novice, I used logic! I thought that red meat would result in a more authentic (read red) looking burger patty than my earlier (pale) Chicken burger. Needless to say, the results were not as expected, and the lamb a slightly darker pale version of the chicken. So much for color matching!

Why do I try this experiment time and again despite:

a) no access to authentic ingredients (beef, bar-b-que sauce etc.);
b) a handicap of a grilling pan (as against a charcoal grill); and
c) absolutely no experience in making anything with meat?

Let me see. The anticipation of sinking my teeth into a deliciously cheesy, crunchy, meaty burger goaded me into manufacturing one for myself. But honestly, after the last experiment, I would have been happy with anything edible.

So how did it go? Let me bore you with the details.

First let me tell you about the bread.

You know that my overconfidence in my abilities to make bread knows no bound. Despite repeated failed attempts at baking a good loaf, I still did not use standard measures. This was because I was sure that all the earlier disasters were because of the yeast. Yeah. I know what you're thinking. There has to be a fall guy in this somewhere, and the yeast is it. But seriously, the yeast we picked up from Crawford market is almost expired and that was probably why my bread was so dense. So this time, I added double the amount of yeast into the same quantity of bread.

I put the dough to rise for a couple of hours while we went to see Prince of Persia. Upon returning, I found that while the bread appeared to have risen like a dream, it had finally flattened out on the tray. This was probably due to the weight of the atta I had used in lieu of the maida.

Note to self. Stick to maida next time.

I fixed it up once again and then put it up for baking. You can see the results (attached images). The bread has risen beautifully, is lighter than any bread I have baked so far, and looks great. Unfortunately, it tastes quite bland. My sugar and salt proportions are the main culprits this time.

To summarize, my habit of not measuring has done me in once again. I now have two loaves of bland bread to finish in 3 days before I leave to return to you.

The burgers on the other hand were quite a success. But I had to do a bit of improvisations to make it work.

My earlier apprenticeship with Chachaji had given be sufficent confidence to deal with mince. So when I picked up 3 packets of Lamb mince from Nature's Basket, I thought I knew exactly what I had to do. But by the time I got back home, after a fairly elaborate lunch of Chole-Bhature from Gulati's, the plot was a bit muddled in the head.

All I recall is that the mince was prepared in stages. As and when I saw or remembered an ingredient, I added it, mixed it and then waited for the next inspiration. I think I put eggs, onions, garlic, salt, pepper sauce, green chillies, coriander, and chicken tikka masala into it. The last ingredient was pepper, which I'm sure would have been waiting patiently on the shelf for its turn.

So far so good.

The frying was a bit of a challenge as the patty started oozing some sort of creamy liquid which I wasn't sure came from the egg, the fat of the lamb, or the pepper sauce that I had added. But it was gooey, and it did not allow my burger patty to brown! So my burgers came out pale once again.
Unlike the bread, they tasted quite decent, but did not look like any burgers I had eaten.
So I sought the help of your Cookery Encyclopaedia (you know how often I end up with it?). And what a brilliant solution it gave me.

Caramelized onions!

The vinegar and honey helped create a nice brown layer on the pan with the onions. Upon putting the patty back on the pan after finishing the onions, they got a nice brown coating that improved the taste of the patty and gave it the look I wanted.

Since I had not managed to make any burger buns, and I did not have to appetite for anything heavy, I decided to improvise on the serving by using some of your ideas.
A bed of bright green lettuce for the nicely browned patties, with a center of caramelized onions!


Not bad for an amateur, huh :-).



Kim said...

Shekhar, you HAVE TO keep writing.

Rushina keeps talking about how you love food (when we meet in person), but its great to actually see what YOU do in the kitchen.

please, start a blog of your own, or if that feels like too much effort, do guest posts on this one.

and let us know when you guys are in Delhi, so we can all have dinner together.

Stuti said...

You guys make the Perfect pair and this post is TERRIFIC.............

dhivya said...

shekhar do blog more often...your love for food is evident in ur writing..

Wix & Wax said...

jij ... you rockk... i love the article ... please keep writting ... love ne