Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fancy Fennel, Simple Salad

This past week, I undertook something that I hadn't ever. I invited a large number of people over for dinner. Eight, to be exact. (And yes, that is a large number for me.) I was very nervous as I haven't cooked for that large a number in all these years. It was a day off from work and I spent about 6-7 hours prepping and cooking and assembling, with a break of about two hours for shopping and lunch.

There is a hypermarket at the far end of the road we live on and getting there is a journey. But the reward for it were some small (read relatively inexpensive) boxes of strawberries, good black grapes and a bulb of fennel (which produces the saunf we Indians are familiar with) that I've never seen here earlier. I took the smallest of those, which cost Rs 40, knowing I would make a salad that I'd eaten I don't remember where earlier.

The fennel stayed in my fridge for three days - naturally, I'd forgotten all about it as I'd not opened the vegetable crisper as I hadn't needed to cook because there were lots of leftovers from The Dinner for Eight People - till I remembered about it yesterday. (In the process, I also noticed a big bunch of greens, which I converted into two stir fries, one with the leaves and one with the stalks.) Then I set about looking for recipes and then for sites which would tell me how to process fennel into paper-thin shavings. I realised rapidly it wouldn't be a simple case of taking the peeler and shaving it - it involved 'removing tough outer portions', 'cutting off the stalks and saving them for use in soups later' and such.

I regret to say my fennel didn't come with any 'ferns' or 'fronds' (just a few tiny, ragged, blackening-at-the-tips leaves) and the inner portions seemed as tough as the outer portions. My bulb of fennel was rapidly attenuating as I attempted to remove the Tough Outer Portions, so I simply stopped discarding the T. O. P. after a minute or so and cut it into thin strips.

'Aromatic' is an understatement, and, I think, rather inaccurate. My fennel smelt of an entity that could straddle the paint and petroleum derivatives categories and yet be pleasant - I can't be more accurate than that myself.

I looked for recipes for simple fennel salad and chose this though I didn't have half the ingredients with me. (I had powdered Parmesan cheese in a tin, which I didn't want to risk using.) So I made it with just fennel, lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper but felt that it lacked something, so added a sliced onion to the mix. It was just right.

Fennel bulb, cut into strips: 150-200 gm
Onion, small/medium: 1, sliced thin and well separated
Olive oil: 2 tbsp
Lime juice: from 1 big lime
Salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste

Mix the olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper and whisk a little with a fork till it begins to emulsify. Pour it over the fennel and onion and mix. It tastes good a couple of hours later.

I read that India produces about 30,000 tonnes of fennel (not sure how recent the link is) but I do wonder, what happens to all those bulbs?

I'm sending this off to Astrid who's hosting Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging this week, now managed by Haalo.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Dragon's Teeth

That's what Uncle, the creator of this pudding, called it. "You can take a picture of it and use it on your blog," he said. The Spouse said it was indeed a work of art and that I should see it. So off we went after a Thai dinner to behold his creation.

When they said "art", I had assumed Uncle had done some finger painting on it, like he is wont to once in a while. I've seen him make a checkerboard pudding in pink and yellow, draw a star in vanilla yellow amidst a top layer of chocolate. One of his favourite pastimes is to call an ordinary jelly and custard pudding a 'blood and gore' pudding and serve it to people who are so sensitive they cannot bear to see a wobbly entity such as jelly, even one sans the slightest quiver - it's the knowledge that it could have quivered, not that it actually did, that puts them off.

So when I entered the house, I thought I'd see some pudding in fantastic shades of flaming orange and red with pointy motifs around the edges but what I saw was this:

Once I got over the surprise of seeing the strawberry and black grape creation, I could do nothing but photograph it with my mobile camera. The Spouse then extracted his big camera from its case and took just two shots, and this is one of them. I couldn't bring myself to disturb it so Uncle finally took a spoon and a bowl, dug into it and served himself some, after which The Spouse and I followed.

This is actually a rather simple layered pudding put together with various flavours of custard powder, sponge cake, raspberry syrup, milk and sugar. I've never attempted to make it myself but one useful trick that I have picked up from Uncle is what he calls his secret to thick curds (yoghurt) from standard-issue slim milk. He is full of (mock) indignation over my stealing all his secrets so I won't share that with you, though it's not really rocket science - it's just that when I was all green and younger and a cook with little experience, it seemed like a big deal to me, but it was common sense, really!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

When My Soup Runneth Over ...

May I speak to Mr Sra ji, on the so-&-so section ...?"

"I am Sra, who's this?"

"I want to speak to Mr Sra ji, on the so-&-so section, and it's a male."

"I am Sra, and I am very much female."

"No, the other day I called and spoke to someone called Mr Sra, it was a male, and he gave me his e-mail ID and I wanted to send some info and anyway the ID was not appropriate maybe I am mistaken or something but I want to ..."

"Who is speaking, where are you calling from and what do you want to talk to me about?"

"Haan, I wanted to speak to Mr Sra ji, about ..."

"I am Sra, and I assure you there's no one else by that name here ..."

"Haan anyway, I want to know ki agar ... (lapses into Hindi - now should we discuss how she assumes I know Hindi, but it's okay, I'm not too bothered about these things unless someone tells me - they actually did - that they thought all the South Indian languages were one and the same ...)

This exchange took place today but I go through this every other day as someone or the other gets confused with my name and it's become a spectator sport, even though I'm a participant. I love seeing the variations my name goes through and have a hearty laugh at its metamorphoses from time to time. Yesterday, there was a similar funny moment in the gym which had me howling with laughter.

P, whom I've come to know over the last few months, is a fellow worker-outer at the gym. We've shared several moments of wild laughter, philosophical discussion and my-(body part)-refuses-to-shrink kind of talk, all perched on exercycles, treadmills and such.

Recently, I told her I write a blog. I told her its name and then we got on with our lives and our exercising. It was only yesterday that she said, "Hey, I still haven't visited your blog, what's it called? My Soup Runneth Over?"

"P, you're thinking of my cup runneth over ... It's called ..."

"Oh yes, hah hah hah (by now, both of us are laughing hard), I knew it had something to do with ..."

" ...When My Soup ..."

" ... soup, I knew it had something to do with soup ..."

I just checked Google to see if the words "my soup runneth over" brought people over to my blog. They don't, not in the first few pages at least. But here are some search terms that did bring people over, over the last couple of months:

1. Famous hostess alive

2. Can you extract capsicum from chilli to make painkilling paste?

3. Vegan qurbani (Vegan sacrifice? Nah, they must have meant qubani ka meetha)

4. Big qurbani knife photo

5. Where can I find Phalsa berries in NYC? (Where can I find phalsa in India, besides Hyderabad?)

6. Kinowa recipes (You can find quinoa, not kinowa, here and here)

7. South indianpuking (What the hell! But it's probably this, and other associated searches)

Saturday, January 01, 2011

May The Year Ahead Be Full Of Gifts

Here is wishing you an exciting, prosperous, recession-controlled, job-secure, promotion-assured, hike-replete, war-free, quake/flood/tsunami-
free, fun-filled, air/water/rail/road-safe, terrorist-free, friends-filled,
romance-blooming, healthy NEW YEAR!!!

May you get no bills from you dentist, your cardiologist, your
gastroentereologist, your psychiatrist, your plumber and income-tax
folks ...

May your hair, teeth, abs, your face-lift and your stocks not fall, may your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and your mortgage interest
not rise and may someone love you, forgive your faults, be blind to your
blemishes and tell the world about your virtues.

May what you see in the mirror delight you and what others see in you delight them ...

(From a forwarded e-mail)

May the coming years be full of gifts of all kinds - may they give you what you need, what you want, what you deserve. Happy New Year!