‘Her’ & Love in the time of Internet

Starting this year a little differently – with a blog about how internet has changed the way we love and, about ‘Her’. Will be waiting for your feedback, dear internet-friend…

Love in the time of Internet

A version of This was published in Dawn’s Spider Magazine last year.

To be honest when I first saw Spike Jonze’s Oscar winning Her, I really didn’t know how to feel. I was left strangely weirded out after the movie ended – to me, the scenario it pointed out didn’t really seem implausible.

Her closely echoes a time in a not-so-distant future, where more and more relationships, (yes more than now), would take place in the digital world. However, hopefully, more and more relationships would not be between owners like Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson’s sensual-voiced operating systems but rather actual humans.

If in doubt, love. From @gapingvoid

Online and on the internet now more than ever, plays a crucial role in the whole dating culture of the Generation Y. Generation Y, often termed as civic-minded, liberal but narcissistic generation is also the only generation that has grown up with computers and the internet. The internet then, for them is a place where they grew up, explored and it often plays the roles of the mediator, the mentor and the encyclopedia – among other things.

For us, the internet is revolutionary. Not just because it opened so many avenues and unchartered territories, but because the internet makes it easy for us to contact and connect with people we don’t know. It makes it easier for us to get in touch with people who we don’t live near, work with and those who we aren’t necessarily friends with.

One would think it becomes easy then to find people whom we share similar interests, similar likes and dislikes with, right? To be able to find love and stay in healthy relationships? Well, not really…

Ohatu and Tokube,Characters of Sonezakisinjyu (Sonezakisinjyu was written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon). Wikipedia

Researchers like Albert Mahrabian suggests that more than 60% of our communication takes place in a non-verbal format. In his book Body Language, author James Borg throws that number out of the window by suggesting that more than 90% of human communication takes place non-verbally and through body language. Where then, does this leave, the millennial? Continue reading

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Thomas Keller’s Simple Roast Chicken Is So Simple, It’s Genius!

desigourmand, roast chickenIf sometimes I give people the impression that all my experiments always go right and never-ever-wrong, then I’d like to apologize for it. Right now. Profusely.

Rarely, in the beginning, did anything go right. Even the simplest of things, like say boiling rice was a disaster. And even though I’ve vastly improved (there’s always room for more improvement) my sister likes to call my rice pins. ‘Hira,’ she’d shout, ‘I hope this time around the rice you’ve made are not like pins because I have no one kill.’ Essentially, what she was saying was that my cooked rice was so under-cooked that it was like thumb tacks – enough to kill and torture people. Lol.

Even now, cooking is more of an experiment than anything else. Like I said, I’ve vastly improved. But I’ve also had a lot of practice. I’ve learned a lot from YouTube – even though it’s still banned from Pakistan.

I’ve also had the time to improve my skill-set as a cook, thanks to the internet. I know everyone focuses on cutting and chopping skills but those aside, there’s so, so much to learn and I feel like I’ll always be a student. Maybe someday, even a professional student.

desigourmand, roast chicken

Can you believe that before this I’d never successfully roasted a chicken? My chicken was either too dry, the skin was soggy, it was a disaster or it was just too… blah. Yes, blah is worse than a disaster.

And then I came across this:

Thomas Keller’s Simple Roast Chicken.

Thomas Keller is a pioneer. He is a chef, a restaurateur, an author, has several Michelin stars under his belt and is always in everyone’s-top-everything-list.

The French Laundry Cookbook // Wikipedia

Oh and have you heard of Bouchon and The French Laundry? The highly acclaimed, always-present-in-every-guide-book restaurants where reservations are impossible to get and dinning is simply described as an experience because there’s no other word? Oh yeah, they’re Thomas’.

The thing is, Thomas Keller’s roast chicken is so simple, it’s a little unbelievable…

Continue reading

All apologies… sort of.

Oh dear. It has been a while.

garlic, whole

wonderful, gorgeous garlic

I feel like writing about food is a huge commitment and one that, despite my trying the hardest, I’m unable to adhere to. Frankly speaking, once you spend as much time as I spend in front of a computer screen, the last thing you want to do is plop in front of the screen (yes, I did say plop there, does the sound make a noise in your head? Does it sound like *plop*?), and write about things which you absolutely adore, but can’t seem to find time to do. Wow that was a long sentence.

desigourmand

ready to be devoured!

I’m still cooking, but Instagram has taken over from Twitter or tweeting which took over from Facebook photo posts. You can see what I’m up to here.

Although I must say, I can’t be the only one who feels like their attention span has shrunken to a size of a pore. Wait, some people have crater-sized pores on their faces, I just mean the attention span is gone. Kapoot. Finito. Almost non-existent.

Perhaps because everything is so real time these days, sitting down and writing a sort-of-a-diary seems like an indulgence. May be it is – and maybe it is one I need to indulge in a more often than I have done in the past two years.

Which brings me to ask myself why I’m not.

I’m actually from the time (ha, ha) when blogging was all the rage. I’ve been blogging both on and off for more than a *gasp* … a decade now – and it started as a joke. Really, at least my old blog[s] did.

Fast forward, and these days if I have to so much as sit down and write a 800-word piece I get a panic attack, stage fright because 800 words – words – when I say all I want to say in 140 characters or less makes me shudder.

A quickie is how someone once puntendedly described Twitter to me once – and something which did not leave a very good taste in one’s mouth. I know, I know – it’s laden with puns, but really that’s what life has become these. Fast paced and busy.

However that really is a post/question for another day, i.e., why has life suddenly become so busy? (Note: Please talk it out in the comments section because I really want to know if everyone else also finds themselves busy, or if it’s just I?)

desicrostini

ignore the baking sheet…

In any case, I mostly find myself in/around the kitchen post work if mother darling hasn’t cooked anything sufficiently interesting. What I do however is that I try and put together whatever I can from either the left overs, or start off something with ingredients already at hand – something which I can cook and put together in under 30 minutes.

So what does one do? One improvises and comes up with a way most desi things work – a cross between this and that, but mostly between a crostini and bruschetta!

Traditionally, for bruschetta, roasted bread is rubbed with olive oil and garlic and then topped with a variety of ingredients with the simplest ranging from tomato and olive oil to prosciutto, or ham – the simpler the better. However a crostini can be loaded up with whatever you want, and can be kept simple as you want it – with a little brush of butter or olive oil.

Keeping that in mind, here’s a desi take on the famous Italian antipasti.

desicorstini

topped with cheese, ready for the oven!

 

Ingredients

The mix:

  • chicken or any other cooked protein – pulled chicken which is either roasted or left over, or go wild and use a shredded chicken tikka
  • bread – any sort – I had some left over French and garlic bread
  • A mix of any freshly chopped vegetables. I used:
  • tomatoes
  • mushrooms – button, lightly fried in butter
  • cabbage
  • capsicum/ bell peppers
  • coriander
  • cabbage

For the sauce:

  • 3-4 tablespoons mayonnaise or strained yogurt if you’re staying away from mayo
  • 1/2 or 1 whole clove of garlic chopped and mashed with a pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp mustard – look for a good grainy mustard, preferably the Dijon kind
  • salt
  • pepper

To top it off:

  • Shredded cheese to top it off
  1. Toast the bread by brushing it with a little olive oil or butter. I played smart by whipping together some Lurpak butter with EVOO and adding a couple of cloves of crushed garlic in the food processor. I also usually have garlic oil, which I make myself, lying around, so I used that.
  2. Make sure the bread is crisp on both sides; take it out of the oven leave to cool a bit.
  3. Mix everything for the sauce in a small bowl, keep aside.
  4. In a big bowl, mix all the ingredients together like chicken (you can use any leftover meat), sliced/chopped veggies as well as the sauce.
  5. Load it up on toasted bread and top it with some cheese.
  6. Put under a broiler for 30 seconds to a minute until the cheese is just melting.
  7. These are good as it is, no need to accompany it with a sauce. Eat them straight away!

Happy cooking!

Easy BBQ Masala Prawns; Fit For A Queen!

It seems that after a few weeks of blistering heat the weather gods have finally decided to cut my city of Karachi some slack. The weather’s been absolutely gorgeous and I’ve been cooking like mad these days. Spent a whole Sunday slaving over making tea things and was quite surprised at how the new concoction for the chicken wings turned out. So, so fabulous. BUT, (there’s always a but :() I’ve forgotten what I put in there and am now cursing myself. And the reason I forgot what I put in the sauce (which is where the oven baked crispy wings went post baking) is because we had guests over (but that’s another post for another day!).

BBQ-1

In any case, I’m eating healthy these past few weeks and it’s a battle. In my family it’s easier to die than it is to diet – I kid you not! That, coupled with the fact I have the taste buds of a nawab and want everything with barah masalay doesn’t help. And when I’m faced with broiled chicken or soup I feel like cringing and crying butI’m making do and coming up with quite an array of things, so yay me! :)

In my family we’re  big on sea food and being in Karachi, literally everything is available – clams, shrimps, tiger prawns, lobster, mussels – everything! Here’s one of the easiest things I’ve put together – BBQ Masala Prawns.

BBQ-02

I’ve used a little of Shan packaged masala and I know some of you will vehemently disagree with my using packaged masala. But (there’s always a BUT!:)) why should you make your life difficult when there’s already so much help out there? It’s such a time saver and there’s just something in there which brings up the flavor several notches! Anyway, here’s how to make BBQ Masala prawns:

Ingredients

  • 1 KG prawns; tail on, deveined
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed, then chopped fine
  • 2 tbsp yogurt
  • 3 tsp Shan chicken tika masala
  • 2 tsp Shan boti masala
  • 1 tsp crushed chili flakes
  • ¼ tsp crushed, toasted cumin
  • Pinch of garam masala
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 tsp vinegar OR juice of ½ a lemon
  • Assorted veggies, I used tomatoes, lemon wedges and capsicum
  • Oil
  1. Mix all the ingredients except for oil and assorted vegetables in a large bowl – that’s your marinade!
  2. Add the deveined prawns to the bowl but make sure they’re thoroughly dried before adding them to the marinate.
  3. Do not leave for more than 30 minutes.
  4. Now get some  wooden skewers which have been soaked in water and  start putting the prawns on them, making sure you have some vegetables in the middle and end with a lemon wedge. (That awesome charred taste!)
  5. BBQ them on coals – take about 4-5 minutes, don’t overcook!
  6. You can try using the griddle pan and it works fine, but the smokiness from the coals add in its own flavor
  7. Serve hot with either na’an or some boiled rice. Or, just like that!

So, so good! Happy cooking!

It’s Always Chocolate O’Clock For Chocolate Truffles!

It has been much, much too long, dear blog.

I’ve been ridiculously busy with work, life, and just the general daily happenings and have, unfortunately, rescinded on my promise to update regularly again. But I will update. Promise.

And to make it up to all of you, I give you one of the easiest things to put together that will have everyone singing your praises! Chocolate truffles! Yay!

utensils

I’m a chocoholic. There, I’ve confessed. Give me chocolate and I’m a happy bunny – the darker the better! [Bonus points if you know the chocolate-men relationship quote ;) ] In any case, this is a classic recipe for those who enjoy their chocolate. The chocolate truffle is rich, decadent, pretty simple to make – in all honesty, it’s quite awesome.

mmmm

Chocolate truffles are basically bite-sized pieces of chocolate ganache rolled into small balls to resemble honest-to-god truffles – the fungus kind which grows under trees around France and Italy and are worth an arm and a leg! But worry not, these truffles will only cost you as much as you want to spend on the chocolate. Which if you take my advice, should be the best you can afford! The better your chocolate, the better the chocolate truffles would taste – easy peasy!

making truffles

Here’s another word of caution: invest in some disposable gloves. (Thankfully I have an aunt who’s a doctor so I borrowed stole quite a few of her latex gloves!) You can make it without the gloves too, but frankly cleaning up is not never very high on my agenda, so these worked out great for me.

truffle collage

You’d be tempted to start off with the mixture as soon as it comes together; but don’t. Half the fun gets lost if you try and do things before their time (this was my philosophy bit!). Let it set for a while and then really enjoy.

etc etc

Using a small melon scoop also helped me a lot because I have the attention span of a 2 year old boy. Add the fact that I had an issue with making shapes since the beginning of my life, the melon scoop does wonders. And really, a melon scoop is a wonderful investment and it’s a versatile tool to have!

different coatings

You can coat them with literally anything/everything you want – it depends on you, but remember the simpler the better!

truffles 1

Here’s how you put together some insanely awesome chocolate truffles:

Ingredients:

  • 225 grams of bitter-sweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces (I used Lindt 70% cacao)
  • 125 ml cream (the higher the fat content, the better)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Truffle coatings:

  • Cocoa powder
  • Toasted, desiccated coconut
  • Almond silvers
  • Brown sugar
  • Melted chocolate – both white and dark
  • (And really anything else you want!)
  1. Chop chocolate into small bits and place it in a medium sized, heatproof bowl.
  2.  Heat cream in a small pan over medium heat until it comes just to a boil.
  3. Add in vanilla extract to the cream.
  4. Pour immediately over the chocolate and stir with a rubber spatula for a couple of minutes until it comes together. (You can also microwave the mixture for 10 second intervals if it doesn’t melt completely, until it just melts)
  5. Cover and place in the fridge until the truffle mixture is set firm.
  6. This will take time. No really it will – your patience will be tested.
  7. Place your coatings in small bowls or plates
  8. Use a melon scoop, to scoop out the mixture and shape it into small bite-sized balls.
  9. Immediately roll them into the desired coating and place on lined baking sheets.
  10. Cover and let them set in the fridge. That’s it, you can eat them now!

Heh, share and spread some happiness!

Happy cooking!truffles 3

Review: The Noodle House Karachi

I don’t know about you, but one of the best things about trying food at a new place is the unknown. The lack of knowing what’s on their menu that will catch your eye and your taste buds, not knowing whether you’ll be surprised (pleasantly and otherwise!) with the choice of combinations they have up, or whether the entire experiment which you’re about to embark on will tank or succeed beyond your expectations.

So with all this bubbling in my mind, I was pretty excited to try the fare at The Noodle House that opens in Karachi in October. With The Noodle House brand getting rave reviews, I was curious to see whether the Karachi outlet, located in PC, would be up to the mark.

With their open kitchen which is both hip and trendy, The Noodle House is likely to be a permanent addition which Karachities would flock to, if for nothing else, than their duck-fix!

L-R clockwise: Drinks menu and Order pad, Wasabi prawns, Crystal shrimp dumplings, Roasted duck, Chicken satay with peanut sauce

The menu of The Noodle House is right on your table – you’re supposed to mark the items you want and hand it to the server, who presumably hands it straight to the kitchen. By the time we were ready to order our drinks (the drinks menu is separate), the hostess told us they were out of them and could only offer us mineral water or soft drinks.

Their menu comprises of Appetizers, Dim Sum, Wet noodles & soup, Wok fried noodles, House favorite, their Specialties, Side Dishes and desserts.

Wasabi prawns

We ordered the Wasabi prawns, which is the chef’s specialty and chicken satay with peanut sauce. The Wasabi prawns arrived on a bed of mixed lettuce and were cooked to perfection. However the Wasabi kick, which is what one would generally expect from Wasabi prawns, was missing and it was just a tad too sweet. The chicken satay, which arrived with a good portion of peanut sauce was spot on.

The Crystal shrimp dumplings which arrived with a dipping sauce looked a tad bit unappetizing – we honestly tried to give it another go later on, but they were nothing much to write about. Our friends from Lahore actually called us and told us to try the Pad Thai with prawns! Unfortunately our plate of Pad Thai smelled like something burnt – a lot! Which is such a shame really, because it looked absolutely gorgeous.

Now let’s talk about the two things that made all the above worth it and  would be the reason I’d return to The Noodle House: the Roasted duck – Singapore style with Hoision sauce served with pancakes and the Crispy prawn with honey and barbeque sauce.

Perfection: Roasted duck with Hoisin sauce

The duck was perfection. I don’t think I’ve ever had duck here which tasted this good, was this crisp and so, so perfectly cooked. The ducks are important, explained the owner to us, while we were marveling over how ‘gorgeous’ it was. He also very helpfully explained us how to make a duck pancake and properly eat it (LOL). The Noodle House gets the ducks from Brazil and don’t use the local ones, which he further explained, don’t taste as good. Since I haven’t had some which was this good, I think I’ll agree with him. In any case, half my kingdom for the recipe for that roasted duck!

Crispy prawns with honey and barbeque sauce

The duck was followed by the second highlight of our tasting: the Crispy prawns with honey and barbeque sauce. I don’t think any of us could stop ourselves from tucking into the dish. Immediately. It packs a punch to say the least. The vegetables and the mushrooms were tender and crisp and the combination of the barbeque sauce and honey was… heady to say the least.

We also ordered some roasted chicken and egg fried rice as a side, but even after asking the waiter for them twice, we didn’t get the side dish. No explanation was given. We didn’t get a chance to order any of the desserts (I would love to have tried the sticky bean doughnuts and the fried green tea ice cream!) since the closing time was pretty near.

Roasted duck, pancakes to build the wraps and Wasabi prawns in the background

The thing with a soft opening or a soft launch is that they usually happen so that the kitchen gets ample enough time to get in the rhythm of cooking. And of course, to get all these pesky little things out of the way for a smooth sailing.

All in all, I would definitely give The Noodle House another try once the kitchen settles in properly. The staff was courteous, and the owners were kind enough to make rounds to make sure everyone was settled in properly and the duck, the duck was brilliant.

The Noodle House Karachi opens its door to public on the 1st of October at Pearl Continental Hotel. The launch event was organized by Catwalk Productions and PR by Catalyst PR & Marketing.

Lasagna Love

This post is for Madiha. I think one of the possible reasons I got through the last couple of weeks is because of Madiha and the emails we exchanged. Most of them were downright silly and we shared our love and affection for shoes and bags. I think in the heat of the moment she even ordered a very expensive bag and vowed to eat yogurt until she could make up for it. In any case this goes out to her, for all the silly-serious conversations we have and have had!
I think I probably made lasagna for the first time a couple of year ago. For me, it was always one of those dishes which I, for some reason, thought was ridiculously complicated to make.

While it’s not ridiculously complicated to make, there is a fair amount of work that goes into putting together a really awesome dish of lasagna. I’ve used everything from cottage cheese and spinach to chicken, beef and well, a combination of chicken and beef!

3 basic components of lasagna

Getting ready to build a lasagna…

First of course is the sauce for it. My personal favorite still happens to be the good ole ground beef with a thick tomato sauce.  The reduced tomatoes, as well as the dash of soy sauce give it the acidity you want. The ladleful of ketchup (!!!) that I use gives it the sweetness that perfectly complements the acidity of the tomatoes. Additionally a handful of peppers, onion and green chilies give it the kick that we desis need in our food!

nutmeg in bechamel sauce

Nutmeg in Béchamel sauce

The second step is to make the béchamel sauce. I happen to be one of the few people who find making béchamel a joy to make. Yes there’s a whole science behind béchamel. A dash of nutmeg at the very end gives the béchamel sauce the nuttiness and smokiness that takes it just that one step further.

Layering the lasagna

Layering the lasagna

The last step is of course the pasta. A lot of people don’t cook the lasagna sheets before they put it together with the sauce. Umm, I’m not one of them. I par cook the lasagna sheets, making sure they’re al-dente and then line them up. Too soggy and soft pasta destroys the lasagna.

Since the cheeses that one get here are nothing much to write about, I use a combination of Cheddar, Mozzarella and some cottage cheese when available. Cottage cheese doesn’t melt all that well, but it lends the lasagna a great taste.

Smashed potatoes, Chicken lasagna – on a plate!

Here’s how you put together a perfect dish of lasagna:

Step 1: The ‘meat’ sauce

  • ½ kg diced chicken, OR minced beef
  • 3 large tomatoes – skinned, deseeded and chopped
  • 3 heaped tablespoons ketchup
  • Dash of soy sauce
  • 2 medium onions diced
  • 1 medium capsicum, cored and diced
  • Mushrooms, optional
  • 1 teaspoon ginger paste
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 tsp Red chili flakes
  • Pinch of oregano
  • Pinch of thyme
  • Fresh basil, or dried
  • 2 cloves of garlic chopped
  • Oil
  1. Heat oil and fry garlic, ginger paste and the meat at a high temperature until it’s caramelized.
  2. Add in the diced tomatoes, salt, chili flakes,  cover and let it simmer at a medium high flame.
  3. Once cooked through, add in the soy sauce, oregano, thyme, and ketchup. Stir.
  4. Add mushrooms, diced onions, peppers, top with green chili if you want.
  5. Turn the flame off, set aside.

Step 2: The Béchamel sauce

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • ½ teaspoon oil
  • 2 heaped tablespoon flour
  • 300ml milk
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg
  • Salt
  1. Melt butter and oil in pan
  2. Add flour and using a wooden spoon, stir them until a paste forms making sure it doesn’t burn or turn brown in color
  3. Add in ladleful of milk using a whisk – this helps with the lumps, until all the milk is added
  4. Season with salt, nutmeg and cook until thickened
  5. Remove from heat, set aside

Step 3: Pasta

  • Lasagna sheets as required
  • Boiling water
  • Pinch of salt
  1. Add salt to the water and bring to a rolling boil
  2. Cook lasagna sheets as indicated on the packet
  3. Wash and set aside

Step 4: Shred cheeses

  • Cheddar as required
  • Mozzarella, as required
  1. Shred, keep aside

Building the masterpiece…

Lasagna with smashed potatoes

Delicious! Lasagna with smashed potatoes

  1. Spoon a ladle of béchamel sauce in the base of an oven proof dish
  2. Line with lasagna sheets; make sure they don’t over lap
  3. Add the meat sauce
  4. Repeat!!
  5. Add the final layer of pasta and use the spatula to pour over the remaining cheese sauce.
  6.  Top with shredded cheese and a pinch of oregano
  7. Bake in a hot oven (20-25 minutes) until golden brown.
  8. Serve with either mashed potatoes or smashed potatoes (will blog about these later, they’re YUM!)

Happy cooking!