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Archive for the ‘Cooking (the easy way)’ Category

The Cook who Cooks (for you)

Posted by Rani on December 18, 2009

Nothing beats having someone handle the cooking for you. I feel lucky and truly blessed that I finally have a cook – the cooking sessions after work were getting too much to handle!

And oddly, I didn’t feel more relaxed. Over a month, I realized a few do’s and dont’s when it comes to that new found happy addition in your life (ahem):

1. Basic supplies can be bought in bulk (of the 1-person kind) – cooking oil, condiments, masalas, rice, atta (for chappattis), riceflour etc, semolina etc, and a reasonable quantity of onions, tomatoes, potatoes, and garlic.

2. You’re safer off not buying veggies in bulk – it breaks your heart to see any go bad (since most Indian cooking needs the veggies listed in point 1, bulk-ish buying is often warranted there – but not for the rest!). The ideal is purchasing everyday, if you have a store close on by. This is especially true for curry leaves, and chillies. And  coriander leaves never last even a day, and no, I don’t trust Tupperware ‘air sealed containers’ to take care of that for me. If there’s no friendly neighborhood store, buy every three days.

3. YOU do the veg shopping. Trustworthy as they may be, the help is not going to care if the tomatoes aren’t firm. Even if you don’t care, at least do the shopping at the start, till things get into a routine.

4. Give them a menu, so they know exactly what is expected. Be very clear on how much, especially if they come in every day. You don’t want a weekload of sambar in your fridge! And now, don’t tell them how to make the dishes. Let them be, not just to give them space but also for you to not have to still end up in the kitchen. Duhhh. Nevertheless, it may be a good idea to check in on them once in a way, at least initially.

5. At least in the first month, it helped for me to list each day’s menu. I didn’t plan except on a daily basis (and that’s gotta be done the previous night, btw) but I did keep the list so I could revisit it any time.

6. If you’re working, its best to have them come in before you leave for work. That leaves my evenings free, and all the cooking gets done in the morning itself. I’m not a fan of having them in the house when I’m not there, but to each their own. Keep in mind that if you’re going to be away when the cook is in, it might be good to hand-hold the transition for the first one week at the least.

7. Have enough utensils! The basics might cover one saucepan, one or two frying pans, at least one pressure cooker, a cutting board, rolling pin and board, dish-specific tools (like an idli rack), and then the usual suspects — spoons, knives, ladles etc.

Remember – wooden spoons for teflon-coated dishes (my favorite kind). Also have tongs, and pot holders or mittens for the poor cook’s fingers. Them paper bits hardly work.

8. Any cook will subtly (or not) tell you how to buy a better saucepan, a new mixer, a new oven…the works. Handle subtly, and with due respect. You don’t want too much salt in your food, just to spite you (!!). But act with prudence – buy or change only what you know is really necessary.

Just like with any other change, even of the good kind, a little planning and a little thinking go a long way.

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The Art of Cooking

Posted by Rani on May 3, 2009

As a good friend once said, you can go on about gourmet cooking but when it comes to your daily meal requirements and you’re the designated (usually by force) cook, it has to be a sustainable and replicable process, as should all processes be. Add time-bound, and we have the usual operational suspects.

I enjoy cooking but only “fun cooking”, as I put it. The kind you whip up in style, and lets you finish with not a drop of sweat on your brow. But since I am mostly home-bound (literally) now, the fun cooking quickly petered out to mandatory ward-off hunger-pangs gigs. Read I was in the kitchen a lot more. Also read I felt “domesticated”, a feeling I have resisted too long to succumb to now. And hence was devised my 5-point plan:

1. Lose the coconut. Raised on coastal cuisine, I love it. But it’s just too much work. Yes, even the break-into-chunks-and-blend “shortcut”. The only shortcut I allow is when I can buy the coconut, scraped and ready, with the only work being to add it to the poriyal (or thoran, depending on where you’re from).

Alternative: onions are your friend – make good use of them. Duhh, not in your poriyal, in your sautéed veggie dish.

2. Go Continental, or any cuisine that has more all-in-one meals. Pasta with its sauce base, steak (albeit usually accompanied by mashed potatoes and blanched veggies – how difficult is that?), chinese noodles (all veggies thrown in), chicken biriyani….you get a wholesome meal with usually less than half the effort of a typical Indian meal.

On single-dish complete meals, we don’t feel short-changed, as it were, if we ensure the following:
a. a mix of nutrients
b. a mix of textures: crunchy, silky, chewy (in a good way) – its all got to be there. Even your single-dish pasta provides exactly that with its mix of pasta (obviously), cheese, peas n’ carrots etc.
c. a mix of colors: continuing with the pasta example, we have the green peas, orange carrots, green leaves adding color to an otherwise “bland” looking dish. And red ketchup (ugh! but it works for many) for the finale.

3. Keep it balanced – don’t forget the carbs: an “easy” breakfast of eggs, bacon, veggies, and juice seems fuller (that means the next meal can come that much later) if you throw in some bread even. Mashed potatoes if you want it fancy.

And then, don’t forget the vitamin givers. Read salad. Proteins usually manage to sneak in through some lentil, meat, or egg.

4. Cook wisely: if you do want to go Indian, make more rice at one go. Yeah, you Northies – rice. I love chappattis but not the time it takes! With enough rice to last at least 3 meals, you only need to worry about the rest and not the “main dish”, again

Keep a base of onion-tomato gravy, chicken (or veggie) stock and the like ready, always. These go into more than one dish usually, and it’s so much more culinary when you can just mix all the ingredients in a pre-prepared base.

5. Love your pressure cooker. Yes, the noise gets to you and it is a little scary sometimes (!!) but besides saving cooking gas, it means that much lesser time in the kitchen.

And God help you if you’re the one who has to do the dishes finally (I don’t, much to my domestic help’s chagrin). Invest in those stovetop casseroles and pans – you cook in them, serve in them, and leftovers are stored directly in the fridge in..you guessed it, them. If this breaks the bank, then just go with steel dishes that serve all the above functions.

Cooking, I have found, can be enjoyable even when it’s of the mandatory kind. But I strongly believe (as is my credo when it comes to other things also) that working smart, not hard, is the answer. And really, if the people around you are the kind who appreciate a dish better when so many more hours were put into it…then, fake it!

More is not always more, but not everyone has to know your less is more. Don’t be apologetic about your “shortcuts”, proclaim it. You’re just not allowing the stove to reign. You do.

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