Friday, December 16, 2011

Gniocci mish mash

In my effort to minimise wastage and use up any leftovers I possibly can in my kitchen, the other day I cooked something which I can only call "gniocci mish mash". If I had served this to Gordon Ramsey on MasterChef USA, he would have probably clobbered me. But boy I enjoyed it with all its stickiness, mushiness and messiness, and so did the kids!

So I just mixed boiled gniocci, with the following sauce:
- leftover cream of potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower soup (cauliflower is a natural thickening agent and there was already milk and butter in the soup)
- 1 finely chopped tomato
- some additional fried garlic
- dry parmesan

On top, I sprinkled some burnt garlic and onion flakes, left from a previous khawswe order.


Organic Shopping

There has been a shop in Doctor House, Pedder Road, for ages. The Helath Shop. It was a pioneer in health / organic retail and I remember travelling there every week to get my supplies of healthy snacks. It was a bit run down at that time, the packaging was quite sad and a lot of the products, of doubtful origin. I walked in, probably after an entire year, last week. And wow, what a transformation!

The variety of products is now incredible. They have added more shelves and more brands, including their own, displaying baked, oil free snacks and nibbles (I picked up some onion whole wheat sticks, baked tacos, amla candy and flaxseeds).

They also had a dizzying variety of health drinks and squashes, organic honeys, dry fruits, the entire range of Conscious Foods, organic beauty products, a small selection of health books, supplements, oils etc...

Spotted and noteworthy:

* chemicals free Stevia sugar substitute
* sugar free dark cooking chocolate
* baby organic food

Bean Casserole

A few days ago I bought a beautiful organic bean mix from Conscious Foods (, they do home delivery!!!). There were 6-7 varieties of beans inside - kidney beans, lobia, chickpeas, soya beans etc etc - the colours were beautiful and vibrant, like semi precious stones mixed up in a bag.

I love beans - it's one of the best comfort foods. My mother and grandfather used to make a beautiful beans soup (with butter beans). My grandfather grew beans on his farmhouse near Sofia and I remembering using beans as toys, going through the different shapes and colours (we even had some white coloured ones with red spots all over). Another dish my mother used to make was a bean casserole with smoked pork spareribs. She would cook the meat to perfection, so it actually slid off the bone and fell apart. The whole casserole would permeate the smokiness of the ribs - just too delicious for words!

So I decided to make my own version of a bean casserole.

First I soaked the beans for half a day, and cooked them in the pressure cooker until soft:

I threw away the water and rinsed them.
Then, in a saucepan, I fried chopped up onions and garlic till transparent, and added strips of ham. Fried some more, then added finely chopped carrot, green capsicum and tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste, and loads of dried basil. When it all started becoming a soft, fragrant mess, I added the beans, some extra water, and some leftover Amul tomato puree, and boiled everything on very slow fire for 10-15 minutes.

Served with garlic toast and some dried parmesan sprinkled on top... Bon appetit!

Next time I would love to do an improved version, possibly an original French cassoulet ( with bigger chunks of meat!

Also, I found some fascinating information on the origin of beans on Wikipedia:

Beans are one of the longest-cultivated plants. Broad beans, in their wild state are the size of a small fingernail, the seeds were gathered in Afghanistan and the Himalayan foothills. In a form improved from naturally occurring types, they were grown in Thailand already since the early seventh millennium (BC), predating ceramics. They were deposited with the dead in ancient Egypt. Not until the second millennium BC did cultivated, large-seeded broad beans appear in the Aegean, Iberia and transalpine Europe. In the Iliad (late-8th century) is a passing mention of beans and chickpeas cast on the threshing floor.
The oldest-known domesticated beans in the Americas were found in Guitarrero Cave, an archaeological site in Peru, and dated to around the second millennium BCE.
Beans were an important source of protein throughout Old and New World history, and still are today. There are over 4,000 cultivars of bean on record in the United States alone.
Most of the kinds commonly eaten fresh come from the Americas, being first seen by a European when Christopher Columbus, during his exploration, of what may have been the Bahamas, found them growing in fields. Five kinds of Phaseolus beans were domesticated[6] by pre-Columbian peoples: common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) grown from Chile to the northern part of what is now the United States, and lima and sieva beans (Phaseolus lunatus), as well as the less widely distributed teparies (Phaseolus acutifolius), scarlet runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) and polyanthus beans (Phaseolus polyanthus)[7] One especially famous use of beans by pre-Columbian people as far north as the Atlantic seaboard is the "Three Sisters" method of companion plant cultivation:
On the east coast of what would come to be called the United States, some tribes would grow maize (corn), beans, and squash intermingled together, a system which had originated in Mexico. The corn would not be planted in rows as it is today, but in a checkerboard/hex fashion across a field, in separate patches of one to four stalks each.
Beans would be planted around the base of the developing stalks, and would vine their way up as the stalks grew. All American beans at that time were vine plants, "bush beans" having been bred only more recently. The cornstalks would work as a trellis for the beans, and the beans would provide much-needed nitrogen for the corn.
Squash would then be planted in the spaces between the patches of corn in the field. They would be provided slight shelter from the sun by the corn, and would deter many animals from attacking the corn and beans because their coarse, hairy vines and broad, stiff leaves are difficult or uncomfortable for animals such as deer and raccoons to walk through, crows to land on, etc.
Dry beans come from both Old World varieties of broad beans (fava beans) and New World varieties (kidney, black, cranberry, pinto, navy/haricot).

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Lunch With my Darling T

There are some friends that come into your life and stay... No matter how often you communicate, no matter how often you don't manage to pick up the phone... They are just sent by a higher power to be your guardian angels and make your life better, more fun and more bearable. T is one such friend.

I had not seen her for ages and was so happy when we could finally coordinate lunch on a Friday afternoon. Of course, as it often happens, I got caught up in kids' stuff but this time it was serious - it was regarding my daughter's visa and I had to return to the FRRO office after a certain amount of time to collect it, and this was exactly the time we had planned our lunch!

I was on the verge of canceling when I decided that enough is enough and that I would move heaven and earth to make this lunch happen. That I don't need to be the perfect mother today and be home for the kids' lunch. And that if T could pre-pone our meeting, it would work.

And yes, we managed to meet an hour and a half earlier, have an amazing lunch, catch up (even her mom joined us for a few moments) and T even came with me to the FRRO to keep me company while waiting for the visa to be stamped into my baby's passport.... T, do I tell you enough that I love you??

So, back to our lunch... There is a chain of restaurants in Bombay called Spaghetti Kitchen with I love!! The menu is really extensive and loads of choices of salads, soups, side dishes, pastas, pizzas and mains. I have rarely been disappointed by the food. Their salads are generous, fresh and taste amazing. Their thin crust pizzas are some of the best I have tasted anywhere in the world (proscuitto and rucola, HIGHLY recommended!). I still remember a lunch that my mom and I shared there - grilled fish, salad, pizza, chilled beer, tiramisu and espresso - one of the best I have ever had!!).

So T and I landed at Spaghetti Kitchen at Nariman Point... She first ordered a starter of freshly baked ciabatta bread with white bean paste.

What a discovery!!! I had never tried it before and I just couldn't help digging in! The white bean paste was amazingly light and perfectly seasoned and drizzled with olive oil. The bread was fresh and warm and just what comfort food should be all about. I would go back to just have this dish and a nice little soup... Bliss!

T ordered a Caesar salad for herself, and I ordered a tomato soup and tabbouleh salad with added grilled chicken:

It looked sumptuous and appetising but it ended up being a bit too dry, so I ended up having some more bread and bean paste :-)

The best news was that T, a Cordon Bleu trained chef, who has taken a break from her career in advertising, has decided to try her hand at catering healthy desserts (yes I know it sounds almost absurd, these two words put together) and I can't wait for that to happen! I am sure she will do well. So watch this space...

A Moment of Bliss

Coffe Bean, Inox, Nariman Point, Mumbai... A sinful caramel shake with a huge dollop of "fat free" cream on top, and reading ELLE on my iPad... What more can a mother of two ask for??