Gourmet Grub

There has been a lot of talk and a lot is being written about gourmet food lately. While I have been trying to follow recipes from many celebrated chefs over the years, this is one department that has failed to form a clear picture in my mind.

Wikipedia defines Gourmet as, a cultural ideal associated with the culinary arts of fine food and drink, or haute cuisine, which is characterized by refined, even elaborate preparations and presentations of aesthetically balanced meals of several contrasting, often quite rich courses.

I have been playing around this definition in my head from a very long time. The reason being, while it highlights the exotic character of gourmet food, it actually gifts us the liberty to fit in any food preparation within this definition to certify it as gourmet.

While I was juggling this idea, my cousin visited us. She is an explorer at heart and has traveled far and wide to be deemed an expert at fine dining. However, there was a minor glitch. She can’t cook anything except instant noodles and heavily relies on takeaways.

Our conversation started on the lines of discussing fine dining in the countries I have been fortunate enough to have traveled. As our conversation slowly turned towards gourmet food and steered to my intention of trying those exotic recipes at home, my sister got up from the couch.

I was a bit startled to be honest (for I take immense pride in cooking up recipes by the best chefs in the world in my kitchen twisting them to suit the resources at hand and seldom failing). She was in no way ready to be convinced that gourmet food, cooked at home, can remotely taste as it does in an exquisite restaurant.

I was ready to take up the challenge, but there were two major roadblocks. One, I had no clue what should I cook and second, once I had an exciting recipe at hand, will I be able to find the needed ingredients.

What started with a cordial discussion over gourmet food ended up with me taking up a challenge where I was left panic stuck. That was when I decided to look for an online supermarket. It was amazing to note that all the fancy ingredients international chefs use are conveniently available online in India.

My sister agreed to help me choose her favorite ingredients. So the only onus on my shoulders was to cook up a meal that tasted at par if not better than what she has been eating at her favorite restaurants. In the heat of the moment, I agreed.

We ordered quite a few ingredients in our online grocery shopping spree. But now that the ingredients have landed on my kitchen bench, I am too confused what to cook with them. I am tired of browsing online, because I simply can’t find a convincing recipe yet.

This is the real reason for this post. I’d love to hear from you what simple yet lip-smacking recipes can be created using the ingredients below. They include a Thai Coriander paste, Jamie Oliver’s Italian Herb Pesto, Light Soy Sauce and Rice Vinegar (for Thai cooking).

My Gourmet Cart
My Gourmet Cart

I have a reputation to keep and yes, a challenge to win. Your recipe suggestions and links to recipes are most welcome.

The hearty breakfast

We are a morning lover family. Waking up before the Sun rises has been more of our passion than a habit or a family rule. This is why mornings are among the most productive hours of our day, making breakfast an important meal to keep us going with gusto.

In the limited time mornings allow, there is no room to experiment new recipes (mostly) nor for risk to stir up a dish only to watch everyone skip it for it’s not tasty. Though there exist a zillion recipes that can pass for a healthy, tasty breakfast, finding the handful that matches the liking of everyone in the family is a must.

The biggest challenge has been making Pari have more than milk for breakfast. She is a fussy eater who leaves no opportunity to avoid eating on pretext of one excuse or the other. Cooking the same breakfast everyday being a strict no-no. Not eating proper breakfast sparks in her the vicious circle of lack of attention, fatigue and crankiness all day.

The other aspect being, my parents love food from all over, but demand it to be Indianised to suit their palate. This basically leaves me with just two options. Either cook a different breakfast for everyone in the family or cook parathas, poori, fried eggs and the like. This solves the problem of one type of breakfast suiting all palates to some extent, but ruins my diet plan leaving me frustrated in the long run.

To beat this, I switched to eating corn flakes in breakfast. I cook up an Indian breakfast for my parents and serve myself corn flakes with variety of fruits to keep it exciting. This was when our neighbor showed us what Guptaji’s family is up to. 

Aunty has been trying most of exciting recipes and I was amazed to note that all these recipes can be made in matter of minutes, taste delicious and gift variety to breakfast to keep the family looking forward to it. The Walnut Corn flakes Choco balls are a pure delight so are the Corn flake Coconut Ladoos.

Inspired by over 100 recipes, I tried a few and was happy that now I had happy reasons to eat corn flakes in breakfast with tasty modifications to beat monotony. But the treat doesn’t end at this.

Guptaji’s family has cooked up tasty surprises keeping liking of the whole family in mind such that I just can’t stop adding corn flakes to food all day while trying the sumptuous, healthy twists in the traditional recipes. The Cornflakes Chana Chaat is one of them. The corn flakes pack in a healthy kick to this tangy delight.

The major reason of my jubilation is, because Pari tasted these in our neighbor’s home first, she couldn’t act her fussy self and had to eat a decent serving in the presence of other kids who are in love with these recipes. That’s where I struck gold. Competition made Pari want to have more of these recipes.

This treasure trove of quick-to-make recipes made by Guptaji’s family, has come as a savior for my breakfast and is giving me endless ideas to stir up tasty snacks that my child eats happily. As for my parents, they are enjoying the mouth-watering Indian delights packed with the goodness of corn flakes.

Jo breakfast se kare pyar, wo Kellogg’s wale Guptaji ke ghar ke nashte ko kaise kare inkaar? (It roughly translates to: How can someone who loves his breakfast say no to the breakfast prepared by Guptaji of Kellogg’s fame?)

Celebrating life

I have for the most part of my life believed that happiness is a state of mind, that is achieved when goals set by our mind are achieved. The goals may be big or small, but the crux was relating happiness with achievement. It took me many severe blows and failures in life to realize that tying happiness with the shackles of conditions is not the right way to achieve it.

Among many wrong habits and beliefs, the one that I have been constantly working on has been, scrutinizing my priorities in life. It may come across as a habit we should naturally be in control of, but for some people, like yours truly, it takes a mammoth effort to achieve.

I am leaving the thought process I went through to make it happen, for another post. Today, I wish to record the joys, changes in my priority list brought my way.

1. Pari has been fond of dancing right from the time she started crawling. I have been well aware of her passion but on most occasions I have been too occupied (in my cluttered head than physically) to sit and watch her dance for longer than a minute.

On analysis, I realized, I was missing out on precious moments, worrying about problems that didn’t solve even on my endless mulling. From that moment on, Pari and I turn on the music at whim and dance away like there’s no tomorrow. On many occasions we shoot videos to watch later. I must add, its fun, has helped me bond with Pari like never before and beats stress wonderfully.

Happiness is excitement that has found a settling down place. But there is always a little corner that keeps flapping around. ~E.L. Konigsburg

2. My love for cooking and baking has always amazed Pari. From indulging in creating beautiful food using play-dough, she often raids the kitchen, playing with the bake-ware and the dough and imitating me. My mom’s love for watching cookery shows had added to Pari’s fascination for food. You can see her do pretend cooking singing “Namak shamak, namak shamak daal dete hain” (that’s the catch line chef Harpal Singh Sokhi uses in his show on FoodFood).

Not very long ago, you could see me get irked with Pari constantly messing the kitchen, raiding the pantry like a mouse and spilling everything she got hold of. While I had full understanding it was child’s play, letting her indulge in play with forks, glassware, china and more used to get on my nerves. Not anymore. With introspection, I have learnt to take a deep breath and join her. This has yielded miraculous results.

Pari has stopped being stubborn. She lets go of the glassware, china or anything I request her to (most of the times). Ever since I have joined her play in kitchen I have learnt a lot about my cooking skills seeing things from her point-of-view. The joy of cooking has doubled ever since I have teamed up with my little helper. The tiny rotis she rolls out, make a tasty treat when I roast them on the griddle, gifting us delicious reasons to smile.

The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us. ~Ashley Montagu

3. If you know me or have read about my OCD for cleaning you’d be well aware how much I love to keep my world clean, orderly and clutter-free. This (bad) habit too has died a slow, painful death owing to the fact I gave birth to one of the naughtiest brats born in her time.

From scribbling on our freshly painted walls, to coloring with crayons on any paper, to doodling with flour and painting the mirrors, glass surfaces or the fridge with milk, to tearing apart wrapping papers, Pari is capable of creating mess even in an empty room.

Initially, I tried chasing the disarray, the mayhem. Tried beating the fatigue and re-arranging the house many times in a day just to feed my OCD for cleanliness. The result was the obvious. I ended up being dead tired, cranky and pouring my agitation on my baby. The worst bit was, this was in no way helping the situation. It was only adding fuel to Pari’s stubbornness.

This was when I decided to let go. Let go of my mania for cleanliness. I let go of my strictness for things to be in order. I started letting Pari have things her way, gradually but with set rules. It was a bitter pill to swallow but it did work wonders. I started being less tired, learnt to see the genius in a three-year old’s mess and most importantly learnt the much-needed lesson to be a patient parent.

I have to confess, I still get the overwhelming urge to clean up the clutter and yell at my child, but I have learnt to tame these cravings, slowly and steadily. Now I can calmly sit with a book rack having books lying in a disarray (for longer than an hour), have the Lego set pieces all over the floor while Pari is playing, resisting the urge to put things back in place. As a return gift, my little one takes extra care to put things back in place in an attempt to please me.

At the risk of repeating myself a hundredth time I have to say, I am a slow learner. Lessons that come naturally to people, take years to make an impression in my mind. But, I am not giving up. I am enjoying learning to being open to happiness in every form, laying foundation for a content life for me and my family.

Happiness depends upon ourselves. ~ Aristotle

The song on my mind: Aati rahengi baharein ~ Kasme Vaade 

 

Clicking Together

My life has been at its craziest lately. Actually, it is me, who has an erratic pattern of working, being a freelance writer. The flexibility my work offers also hampers my family time by letting assignments pop up anytime of the day, deadlines to be chased when I could well be sleeping. This vicious circle has been going on for way too long. Every time I think today I have all chores sorted, food ready and kitchen tidied up, I can sit-back and relax with my family, invariably a phone call or an email steals the peace of my mind and I return to the grind.

While we do eat all meals together, get fair bit of time to chit-chat here and there, but those moments when we all could leave all worries of the chores, Pari’s school-work, my parent’s illnesses behind is what we had come to long for. It was then my love for photography came to our respite. I have inherited my love for photography from my father and I look up to my mom for creative suggestions of finding beautiful frames in mundane life. In our team of three, Pari came as a perfect addition with her craze to have photographs clicked in a variety of poses and settings. She is our perfect model on most occasions.

Last month, I had just finished my assignment and my laptop’s battery was alarmingly low when the power went off. With pari wide awake and no distractions (rather excuses) to keep me busy, we decided to visit the famous lake in our city. Initially, my mother was a little reluctant for she was in no mood to go outdoors. But, after little cajoling by Pari she agreed to go ahead with the outing. It was a crisp afternoon hour and though the spot is quite popular  in my city there were only a handful of people. The cool breeze blowing from over the lake water, the quacking ducks and flocks of beautiful migratory birds, swimming, flapping and fishing were a treat for our eyes.

Besides, my family’s love for photography, we share our passion for wildlife. During the winter months the migratory birds make for a wonderful reason for us to visit the lake that we often cross past, but never stop by to feel the breeze, pay attention to the birds or enjoy the spray of water the fountains spray on us. What initially started with us taking pictures, extended to having fun strolling in the beautiful garden along the lake. We spent a hearty time, with my mom and dad sharing fond memories of their college life, how they used to visit the lake with friends and the fun they had eating the corn on the cob, peanuts and pop-corns together.

On occasions like this, I many times feel Pari and I are more of sisters than mother and daughter. You can see us both enjoy the anecdotes and tales my parents narrate with same awe and curiosity, even when I’ve heard them all many times before. Amidst the happy banter, fussing over how spicy the Pani-Puri was and having fun with the balloons and flute Pari bought from the vendor, we spent a handful of relaxed, happy moments together that recharged our determination to carry on with life with a renewed zest. Not forgetting, the beautiful addition to our family moments and the family album.

Sharing a few of the many pictures shot that afternoon. If you recognize any of the birds, please do share their names.

* All pictures have been taken by me and are copyright protected. Please enlarge the pictures for better viewing and follow me on Instagram to see more pictures from my lens.

Yellow beak duck
Solitude

 

In flight
In Flight

 

The Yellow Bird
The Yellow Bird
Meditating
Meditating

My thoughts on Thoughtbuzz

If you are following me on social media platforms, you must be well aware of my love for Twitter. Facebook and Instagram appeal to me, but nowhere close to my attraction towards Twitter. My Twitter journey started almost 7 years ago and ever since I have been trying, testing and using various tools and softwares that help me tweet more effectively. By effective usage, I imply, scheduling tweets while also gauging their impact and reach (the analytics) among other things.

Recently, Blogadda introduced me to an interactive social media management tool, Thoughtbuzz . Though I am not a geek and nowhere close to a pro in understanding social media or brand promotion strategies, but being a prolific user of social networking sites, such products never fail to attract my attention. I am checking out Thoughtbuzz as a part of an activity at BlogAdda.

ThoughtBuzz is a Singapore based creative digital agency, established in 2008. ThoughtBuzz has a network of offices in India, Manila, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, providing leading technology and methodology for businesses worldwide. They serve clients ranging from small enterprises to government bodies, from risk management to marketing management.  Thoughtbuzz has worked with some of the big names in the industry such as Toyota, P&G and Myntra to name a few.

In today’s era social marketing holds immense importance. From PM Modi’s tweets during election period to brands working at strategies to trend on Twitter and Facebook, all involve social media strategies and use of analytical tools to gauge their impact. Instagram isn’t too far behind in helping brands for promotional purposes. At such times, Thoughtbuzz comes across as a very handy tool.

Overview: The very first thing I noticed while browsing Thoughtbuzz was its ability to collect data from multiple platforms using a single dashboard. While signing up, we come across this page.

The plans at offer on Thoughtbuzz
The plans at offer on Thoughtbuzz

 

Besides, showcasing the ‘basic’ and ‘premium’ plans, you can see that Thoughtbuzz (premium) allows collating data from 4 major platforms.

a. Twitter

b. Facebook

c. Instagram

d. YouTube

That is indeed handy and something I haven’t come across on any tools I have used before. As I was still exploring Thoughtbuzz, I signed up for the basic version in quick, easy steps. This provided me the freedom to work on my social media profiles. I am a novice with Instagram and don’t use YouTube as a channel to broadcast, so the basic plan actually worked perfectly for me.

Sharing: Thoughtbuzz has an easy to use, user-friendly, self-explanatory interface. As you browse, you come across sections where you can check for trends across various platforms,  view notifications, know your top fans and share updates too. All from the same platform.

Access all your feeds on one page.
Access all your feeds on one page.

 

TB Slide-4
Twitter Stats

 

TB Slide-5
Facebook Page Stats

 

 

 

The best feature is, it allows scheduling tweets and Facebook updates all from the same page. Though scheduling features exist on many platforms but the ability to schedule for Facebook as well as Twitter from one tool comes handy for people like me who post multiple updates all day.

Easy Scheduling of tweets and updates.
Easy Scheduling of tweets and updates.

 

Identify: Thoughtbuzz gives this wonderful opportunity to import contacts from any of our social profiles to help analyse and identify influencers. To brands, it could translate to finding the people who are helping in brand endorsements via ‘likes’ ‘mentions’ and ‘re-tweets’. Identifying influencers can go a long way in strengthening brand image. Having walked in those shoes a few times, I could well appreciate the importance of this feature.

TB Slide-7
Import of contacts to help recognize the influencers.

 

In my case, I could browse across all contacts to recognize top community members on the small social media community I have built for myself across Twitter and Facebook. The best bit is Thoughtbuzz doesn’t import all contacts but the ones who have been interacting or bringing about a noteworthy influence, helping cut down on the time spent in browsing for results  that matter.

Analysis: This is the most powerful section of Thoughtbuzz because it provides detailed insight about all aspects of social marketing and crunching numbers for easy comparison of data. From fetching the most retweeted tweets and their retweet counts to graphical representation of likes, shares, follower counts, top user locations and more all can be accessed easily and understood easily by a layperson like yours truly.

Facebook Fan Page stats to give me a clear picture of reader engagement.
Facebook Fan Page stats to give me a clear picture of reader engagement.

 

There’s more to the goodness of Thoughtbuzz.

It is fully mobile optimized, enabling you to keep track of important updates and activity on your social accounts. All graphs, charts that you see on the web are available on mobile and tablet screens as well. That keeps you updated on the go.

Customer Care: I had a couple of queries about Thoughtbuzz, to seek answers I shot an email to the customer care service and received a satisfactory reply in under four hours. This is a huge plus, given the fact that the need to contact the team can arise anytime.

As part of my communication with the team at Thoughtbuzz I have been informed, that their team is in the process of rolling out a native mobile app, soon. I am sure it will significantly add to the freedom of accessing it quickly on the go.

Pricing: The current pricing of the premium version is $4.99 per month.

Room for improvement: One of the principle issues I faced with Thoughtbuzz was the delay in loading the data and the slow speed of processing the same. I have a fast speed Internet connection, so slow speed cause of that is totally ruled out. The slow speed has been quite distracting and I am sure it is one issue that needs to be worked upon.

The second, minor issue is the absence of a login tab at the homepage. Every time I visit Thoughtbuzz I have to click on ‘Create a free account now’ option to be directed to a ‘Sign In’ option. These extra steps can be easily avoided to enhance the experience for its users.

Verdict: I found Thoughtbuzz impressive with a clean, user-friendly and self-explanatory interface. It has been designed to be accessed easily by the professionals and the novice analysts (like yours truly) with same ease. The convenience of monitoring performance while updating and scheduling updates on various platforms is surely a futuristic approach by Thoughtbuzz.

I’d highly recommend Thoughtbuzz to everyone who’d like to analyse his performance on social networking sites. Begin with the basic plan and maybe upgrade it to premium with time and as per need.

Pari’s School Diary- V

Please read the School Diary – IV to get an understanding of Pari’s school life so far.

The very foundation of school life is based on trust, just like any other relationship. It is the bond of love and trust in the school staff that gives a young mind wings of aspiration, helping them soar high above the desire to be at home in the proximity of their parents.

When the initial exposure at school has been traumatic, the onward journey can be pretty daunting for a young mind. In our search for a new school for Pari, I had re-analysed my priorities and pushed the need of the school to be close to home to a comparatively less important slot. A friendly school with a caring staff was my top priority and perhaps the only one at that time.

After much discussion with other parents and grandparents about the best available schools in our area, we shortlisted two. One was a popular primary school and the second was a relatively new school, less known but had a positive feedback.

Both schools were around 5 km from where we live. We reached the popular one first. After initial formalities, we were comfortably seated in the principal’s office. The elderly principal greeted Pari, but my anxious child kept mum. A behavior that I would pass as normal for a 3-year-old, was taken differently by the school principal.

He at once asked me “Does your child have any problem?” I immediately brushed off his concerns saying Pari was feeling nervous in the new surroundings. But he wasn’t satisfied with my answer and decided to re-frame his question. This time around, he asked us “I want to know if your child has any disability.”

The question came like a severe blow leaving me too stunned to respond. My silence was taken as a ‘yes’ and then started the probing on my marital life and Pari’s health status. I couldn’t have kept quiet any longer. As a parent, I had to speak up. I had to clear the air no-matter what the outcome. That’s exactly what I did. In a firm yet polite tone I answered all his questions. There was no way the principal was ready to believe that a 3-year-old could be so shy to not warm up to him and begin talking. According to him kids of Pari’s age are pretty talkative and her being quiet definitely needed medical intervention.

The air was uncomfortable (for me) and I could hear an alarm ring loud in my head. This school was definitely not where I could possibly let my precious child study. The talk about my marital status or Pari being a special child wasn’t alone where my discomfort found its roots, because the elderly principal didn’t just stop at that. But, for the sake of sanity, I choose not to go into any further details.

We then visited the second school. This relatively new school was a pleasant contrast to the previous one. The school campus was many times smaller, yet full of happy faces, flowers and fresh air. The principal was a polite lady who was gentle with Pari and surprisingly managed to have her (Pari) warm up and open up to her almost instantly. No unusual questions (about intricate details of my married life, Pari’s father, etc.) were asked and I quite liked everything about this school.

This was how Pari found her present school. But, my journey of being amazed didn’t end at that. The loving, caring staff at Pari’s new school,  made her look forward to going to school. Not a single day was spent crying and Pari was her happy, mischievous self all day. As a parent, I could see these as positive signs. In my heart I knew, this was the best school for my daughter.

Time moved on, Pari grew up to enjoy her time at school. She loved the dance classes, participating in every activity with enthusiasm was a clear sign, she had finally come to love her school life. However, Pari took a little longer than other kids of her class to pick up writing. We struggled with the standing, sleeping and slanting lines. Learning to write Hindi was tougher.

On one of the PTM (Parent Teacher Meetings) I expressed my concern to her class teacher and the principal of her school, regarding Pari’s writing skills. I was amazed by the calm composure of them both (I’d like to add that Pari’s class teacher is almost my age, on the younger side). They gently reassured me that Pari was a hard-working child and the school shall leave no stone unturned to help her learn to write well.

I knew it in my heart that Pari was indeed in good hands. Over time, I have seen my little angel learn to write beautifully, recite poems like never before, leave stage fright behind and emerge as a confident, bright child.

It’s again time for Pari to change school. But, this time, I am confident that the wonderful, confident start her current school gave her, will keep her going on in life with a smile.

Read about Pari’s life at school in my series – School Diary 

 

Strawberry Cake

Strawberries are a delightful accompaniment with cakes. Their beautiful color and inherent sourness cuts into the sweet of a cake to add to the punch in every bite. This cake is my first experiment of adding strawberries to a cake before baking.

I am proud to announce that I am absolutely in love with the outcome. The best bit is, this cake looks special without requiring any extra effort. A simple sponge cake with a pretty look.

The Strawberry Cake:

Strawberry Cake (edited)
The Strawberry Cake

Servings: 10 to 12

Difficulty Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • All Purpose Flour (Maida) – 1.5 cups
  • Strawberries – 1 punnet
  • Baking Powder – 1.5 tsp
  • Butter – 90 gram
  • Salt ( if using unsalted butter) – 1/2 tsp
  • Egg – 1
  • Milk – 1/2 cup
  • Vanilla Essence – 1 tsp
  • Sugar – 1 cup and 3 tbsp of granulated sugar

Method:

  • Pre-Heat the oven at 170 degree centigrade.
  • I used a 10″ spring pan to bake this cake but ideally for this volume an 8″ pan would be ideal. Grease the baking with butter, dust little all-purpose flour and set aside.
  • Wash the strawberries well, drain and halve them before setting them aside.

    Strawberries (edited) -2
    Punnet of Strawberries
  • In a bowl sieve the flour, baking powder and salt (if using unsalted butter).
  • In another larger mixing bowl beat the butter and one cup of granulated butter until light and fluffy. With an electric beater it usually takes 3 to 4 minutes.
  • Mix in the milk, egg and vanilla essence until just combined.
  • Add the dry mixture gradually mixing gently until all the ingredients just combine. Do not beat too hard. Try the cut and fold technique to add air to the mixture till a smooth mixture is obtained.
  • Pour the prepared mixture in the set aside baking dish and arrange the strawberries with the cut surface down.

    Strawberris in Batter
    Pour the mixture & decorate the Strawberries cut side down.
  • Sprinkle the remaining 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar over the strawberries.

    Strawberries in oven (edited)
    Granulated sugar sprinkled over Strawberries
  • Bake in oven at 170 degrees for 10 minutes then reduce the temperature to 150 degrees to bake till the cake turns golden brown and the tester comes out clean.

    Strawberry Cake
    Freshly out of the oven
  • Please note, ensure the tester is not piercing a strawberry cause they would caramelize and give a squishy touch to the tester, which is normal.
  • Cool the cake on a rack and slice into wedges.

    Strawberry Cake Slice
    Strawberry Cake Slice

Serving Suggestion: The cake tastes best when served with dusted icing sugar or whipped cream as an accompaniment.

For more recipes from my kitchen, visit my food corner.