Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Why don’t you… Stock up for the festive season!

So after I filed the book - which I would like to say for the last time, but like a child not wanting to leave its parent, it keeps coming back- I was staring at my computer for the 5thday in a row, attempting a sixth rewrite on a blogpost (thank God for computers and the delete key or I would have made a serious dent in the environment by chucking wads of paper into the bin!) I wailed out loud to my husband looking for direction. 10 years of knowing me have stood him in good stead however because, without missing a beat he said “You  know how we always say that quickly prepared dishes sometimes turn out better than the most elaborately prepared recipes? Maybe you are just trying too hard.”

Maybe I was… There is so much similarity between writing and cooking. Both are activities that come easily to some, who seem to have thrive in the kitchen, but are harder for others who have to keep at it. And the best writers and the finest cooks have probably had that moment when all the elements are present in a piece of writing or a dish and yet it lacks that one element that will take it from just plain good to superlative. And in both cases, there comes a point when one should just let things happen by themselves. Let the chemistry happen as they say. So until something more appetizing comes along I thought I would share some kitchen basics that are routine for me.

I have made it routine to spend a couple of hours on weekends stocking up on essential base preparations. That way there is always something in the refrigerator to fall back on if I don’t want to do a meal from scratch or help doesn’t turn up. It also allows one to quickly put together dishes for impromptu guests, a regular feature in the coming festive season. And they also offer a light option for days when we OD on those Festive sweets and savouries. Here are two tried and tested recipes for things I like to keep handy. 
Good Homemade Stock is VERY handy. As I say in all my cooking classes and demos, adding stock to a dish that asks for “water or stock” is a better choice rather than water because the stock brings its own flavour to the dish as opposed to water which dilutes the flavours of a dish. Stock is essentially flavored liquid. Besides dedicated recipes, stocks an be used to; thin out curries, sauces and gravies, add flavour to rice, pasta or any grain that needs to be boiled adding marvelous flavor, 'saute' in use the same amount of liquid as oil required in the recipe carefully watching because stock evaporates while oil doesn't and to make gravies for dishes and pasta sauces.
I used to shy away from commercial Indian stock cubes because they contain MSG but organic stock is now easily found as is my favourite Massels stock cubes. These cubes work in a pinch so they are good to have on hand but I usually have a pot of spicy stock bubbling away on the back burner as I sort through other veges on market day. 

Vegetarian stock - Coarsely chop vegetables ½ kg celery, 750g onions, ½ kg carrot, ½ kg capsicum, 25 g turnip and place in a 5 litre pot add 25g crushed garlic, 3 whole cloves, 1 bay leaf, 6 whole peppercorns, 60 g coriander, a few green chillies (as spicy as you want), 1 inch piece ginger crushed and if handy a full bulb of lemon grass crushed with the leaves. Cover all of this with cold water (upto 5 l) and bring to a full boil, then reduce to simmer and cook uncovered until liquid is reduced to half. For a chicken version add two packets of soup bones - available from Godrej and one whole chicken curry cut. When done, use cooked chicken meat in a chicken salad or sandwiches and discard bones. Strain, divide into a couple of muffin trays and freeze. Unmould resulting blocks of frozen stock and place in a zip-lock. This will allow you to use as many as you need at a meal. The leftover vegetables need not be discarded pick out the spices and lemongrass, whiz in the mixer, season add a little cream and have as a cream of vegetable soup!

And here is an idea for a quick weekday meal I put together with stock. Take 1 chicken breast and 400 ml stock (per diner). Poach chicken in stock for 12-15 mins, strain out and set aside. Add 80 gms noodles per diner to the boiling stock and while they are cooking slice chicken breasts and dress in 2 tsp soy sauce, 4 tbsp sesame oil, ½ cup each of green onion and coriander chopped fine and allow to stand. When noodles are done, divide into individual bowls per diner, top with 1 sliced chicken breast each, divide leftover stock into each bowl and serve with dressing spooned over. Lemon wedges, sliced green chillies, fried onions and chilli oil on the side allow everyone to tweak individual servings to taste. 

Here is a tried and true pasta sauce that I always have handy. It also has tons of vegetables camouflaged into it so kids get their quota of veggies.

Whizz 3 green chillies, 1 inch piece of ginger, ½ cup garlic, 1 cup each of chopped green onion, capsicum, coriander and celery stalks and all in the mixer to a fine paste. Heat 1 cup oil in a large pot and add this mix in. Cook until oil rises to the top and moisture is dried out. Add 2 cups finely chopped onions and cook till they begin to brown. Add 2 cups each of grated carrot, cabbage and cauliflower and cook till moisture is dried out of vegetables. Blitz 2 kgs tomatoes in the microwave or blanch in water, puree in mixer strain and add to cooking sauce. Cook till water is dried out and oil rises to the top. Season with salt and pepper. This sauce refrigerates well for a week – if it lasts that long.

For pasta heat up ½ cup sauce per person thin out with 200 ml stock, add 80 gms cooked pasta and heat through. Eat as is or topped with cheese. You could add 200 gms sautéed  chicke to the pasta. Besides using it for pasta I use it as a handy sandwich spread or dip as it is or with a little cheese mashed in, in place of pizza puree, to thin into soup with stock, to sauté chicken in, add boiled potatoes or cooked dal and garam masalla for a quick subzi.

Have a happy healthy and safe Diwali !

No comments: