Friday, October 28, 2011

Perfect Pasta

I love pasta. It's one of the first things I learnt to cook when I moved away from home. Before that, all I made were brownies and various varieties of egg dishes! :P The person I learned pasta from wasn't really that into making the sauces, though, or fussy about whether the pasta turned sticky or not, so I had to figure all that out for myself over the next year or so. The result being that I almost never eat pasta at restaurants because I like my own better. ;) It's pretty much tailor-made for my tastebuds, but other people seem to like it too, so I thought I'd share.


- Dried pasta (a handful or two per person - it expands quite a lot)
- Boiling water, about twice the volume of your dried pasta
- Half a tablespoon of olive oil
- A couple of pinches of salt

The main reason people chicken out of cooking pasta is that it turns sticky. Here's how to bypass the glutinous route. Mix in a couple of pinches of salt and a half tablespoon of olive oil with the boiling water, and then gently drop in the dried pasta. Do not turn down the heat - let the water keep boiling. Do not cover the pan. It will take approximately 9 minutes to cook, but keep checking on it anyways (try to cut a piece of pasta with a fork). When the pasta is soft enough to cut, but still firm to the bite (you can try biting a piece if you can't judge with the! You should be able to tell, though) turn off the heat and drain IMMEDIATELY in a colander. As soon as it has drained, dunk the pasta into a pan of cold water. Again, drain immediately. Make sure water doesn't collect at the bottom. Voila! Non-sticky pasta :) Serve ASAP.

If you're serving the pasta and the sauce separately, serve the pasta in a wide, flat serving bowl as far as possible, rather than a tall, narrow one which will make it press together. Don't cover it while it's very hot, unless you're serving it immediately, otherwise all the accumulated condensation will make it sticky.


I make several different types of sauce but they all follow roughly the same recipe, so I'll give you options where the ingredients are concerned and of course you can cut down/increase the spiciness as you see fit.

- A couple of green chillies
- Garlic acc. to taste (I say 5-6 cloves at least)
- Spring onions OR shallots OR red onions OR regular onions
- One or two red/yellow bell peppers (capsicum)
- Dried mixed herbs OR fresh basil/other seasoning. I like to try whatever I can find
- A jar of pasta sauce - the thick pureed tomato thing. I just get the cheapest, most basic one.
- MEAT. This can be anything. Diced chicken and bacon, mince, prawns - these are just a few of your options. If you must use fish, don't get a 'fishy' fish like mackerel. Use chunks of salmon or kingfish, and don't overcook it or it'll disintegrate. My personal favourite is mince, because the flavour gets in nicely. You can use chicken, lamb, beef or ground pork sausage.

(Oh if you're vegetarian, you can leave out the meat. The peppers and onions will be delicious on their own too, or with mushrooms added - yum.)

- OPTIONAL - fresh cream, mushrooms, grated cheddar

Finely chop the green chillies and garlic (if you want to pick out the chillies later, of course make the pieces bigger). If you're using spring onions or shallots, finely chop them as well. If you're using red or white onions, you can finely slice them - this works especially well with fusilli and rotini, since they wrap nicely around the pieces of pasta. If you're making penne, canneloni, spaghetti etc, chopped works well.
Slice the bell peppers into long, thin pieces or chop them into small pieces, whatever suits your fancy. The same if you're using mushrooms. If you're using fresh herbs, chop those up small too.
Sautee the green chillies and garlic in a little olive oil or butter. When they're fizzling nicely, add your onions and sautee till transparent. This is the point at which I usually add salt to taste. Add the fresh basil and/or dried mixed herbs and mix. Some ground black pepper would not go amiss, too. Add the bell peppers and stir. After a minute or so, add the meat and stir. When the meat and peppers are half cooked, you can add mushrooms (if you're using them) and cook for another couple of minutes before adding the tomato puree - as much or as little as you'd like. I use the equivalent of a coffee mug full. Mix and cover. Let cook on a low flame. How much you want to cook it after this depends on how cooked you like your meat. Check it every few minutes to see if the meat and tomato paste are cooked. (This is the point at which I sometimes like to add some grated sharp cheddar, which melts into the sauce and adds a wonderful flavour - but you don't need to use this). Check for salt, and add more if necessary.
When the sauce is done, you can serve it as it is or add some cream - I use the equivalent of a tablespoonful or two if I haven't used cheddar. It blends the flavours nicely and adds a nice texture.

Cream is also very useful to cover over errors, such as if your sauce has turned out too spicy/too salty/too 'tomato-ey' for your taste.

Mix with the pasta and serve, or serve seperately :)

Alternate serving option:
Mix the sauce evenly with the pasta and place in a shallow microwavable glass container. Sprinkle cheese (mozarella or cheddar work well) thickly over the top, and microwave for a minute.

And there you have it. I much prefer this home-made sauce to the plain store-bought varieties, and the whole process of pasta and sauce takes less than an hour. And it's so versatile. :) Enjoy!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Kanjamolaga (Dried Red Chilli) Chicken

I thought that, to kick this blog off, I'd share one of my favourite recipes from home :) It's become a family recipe after my grandmother found it in a newspaper and modified it, and it's always been one of my absolute favourite dishes. It was the first real recipe I followed, after I learnt to cook - I asked Mom to send it to me so I could make it for New Year's in England!

Having eaten it - and loved it - all my life, the first time I cooked it, I couldn't believe how easy it was. In fact, I was sure Mom had forgotten to tell me half the ingredients! It came out perfect, despite too many kanjamolagas (dried red chillies) and that was when I first realised that it's sometimes the simplest dishes that are the tastiest.

This has always been popular among my friends, and it's my standard dish for pot-luck gatherings. :) Modify the quantity for the chillies depending on what sort you use and how spicy you like it!

1 tsp saunf (fennel seeds)
7-10 dried red chillies
4-6 medium red onions, chopped
1 medium-sized tomato
1 small chicken, skinned and cut
Haldi (turmeric)

Marinate the chicken with haldi and salt. It doesn't matter how long for...I generally do this before I start chopping the onions. I like it when the quantity of the onions is approx. the same as that of the chicken, since they get all brown and delicious. Heat a little oil in a kadai (wok) and add the saunf and red chillies. When the saunf pops, add the onions and a little salt (it helps them fry evenly). When the onions turn light brown, add the tomato and the chicken together, mix everything together and cook covered, over a medium flame, stirring occasionally. Check for salt. Cook until brown and well done.

Sprinkle a little water over it if it becomes too dry, and if it's not dry enough, cook open for a while until the water evaporates, stirring occasionally so that it doesn't burn.

This is a quick and easy recipe, and goes rrrreally well with daal and jeera rice! Though I'm sure it would be lovely with something unconventional as well, like mashed potatoes.

ETA: Would anyone like me to put up recipes for daal and jeera rice? Let me know in the comments. Oh and it would be lovely if you try this and let me know how it turned out :) Commenting = showing love!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Purpose

 I love cooking. I do. And, much to people's initial astonishment (hmph!) I am good at it. I always loved making my own snacks at home (usually, something to do with eggs or brownies) and of course I could always make the tea my body demands at regular intervals during the day. But I learnt to actually cook actual food when I left home for the first time, wandered off to England, and decided I didn't really fancy living on fish-and-chips for the next three years. And of course, since my mommy wasn't around to help (read:cook) for me, I had to improvise.

Therefore, aside from when I'm trying to make something very specific (like my aachi's kanjamolaga chicken) I experiment, going by sense of smell and accumulated knowledge of spice flavours. Cooking is an absolute joy. There is nothing really like the joy of creating something, and having your creation be appreciated by others - whether it be a painting, a song, a poem, or a delicious curry. Mmm. *slurp* And if you're a foodie, of course, there's the added joy of eating... :P

BUT...the advantage to following an actual recipe is, you can keep the recipe, and follow it again. And you know you'll be making the same delicious thing you did last time. For those of us who cook by instinct, and don't have a pen handy...well, that's the first and the last time you make that dish. And if your food comes out tasty enough for someone to ask you for the recipe? You look sheepish, and mutter something along the lines of "Umm...I have no idea. *eyedart*"

If you're reading this blog, I'm sure you know the feeling - someone's coming over for dinner. You have nothing in the house. You throw some random ingredients together and somehow, it turns out brilliant! Everyone loves it, but by the next day you have no freaking idea what you did. And of course, you can never make it again. No matter how hard you try. It's never quite the same. It's some tiny key ingredient you've forgotten...a pinch of kalonji or asafoetida, or maybe a couple of curry leaves. Or maybe even that extra garlic paste that accidentally slopped out of the jar. Who knows.

So, this blog's purpose is to document those things I make which turn out good enough for me to want to make them again. And anyone else's 'creations' which they share with me.

Because there are some dishes that should get made a second time. And a third...and a...