Monday, 3 November 2014

A lot of people ask me why I do what I do. It is a question that comes up frequently, from everyday life situations to blogger conferences like the Food Bloggers of Canada conference that I attended recently in Vancouver. It might seem like a simple question. After all, I wouldn't be doing what I do, if I didn't know why I was doing it, would I? This simple question, however, is incredibly hard to answer. Why do I do what I do? Money (ha!), attention (yes no), to learn (yes), to create (yes), to express myself through writing (yes), to share (yes)... and the most important of all? Because I love it. Cooking, creating recipes, learning about food, sharing my recipes and my food - I love it. It inspires me, it keeps me passionate, it makes me feel alive and happy. An important part of this joy comes from the act of sharing.

Sharing is a concept that has been talked about across cultures, whether it be sharing food or knowledge, it is integral to us and to our well being. I grew up in a culture where recipes were passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. Oral traditions were very important, and the only way that would ensure that the next generation possessed the same knowledge and understanding of the older generations. My mother's generation was the transitional one in India. Oral traditions started to be overlooked, and written traditions started to take their place. My mom never relied on cookbooks to make her food, however, she started writing down her recipes, with careful notes on where each came from and the modifications she made to these recipes. My aunts are the same, and in many ways my work is cut out for me. Except - that one ingredient they always leave out - but that's another story.

I put these recipes on the internet instead. It is my way of sharing.

If you live in Alberta, chances are you'll have heard of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology's (NAIT) Culinary Arts programme. NAIT has its own restaurant, Ernest's and I was invited, along with a few other bloggers, to experience its cuisine, and the efforts of its students. 

If you know me, you'll know about my sweet tooth, so it was no surprise when I went straight for the desserts. And I fell in love with the beautiful white chocolate crème brûlée with macerated berries. It was perfectly creamy, smoky, sticky, crisp, light, tangy and I may or may not have stood over it for a while and drooled over photographed it. I finally dragged myself away from it, but with soulful backwards glances. 

One of the things that stuck with me, from the FBC conference was the keynote address. Robin Esrock, erstwhile writer, explorer, traveller and all around amazing person, talked about a lot of inspirational things. I was live tweeting for a while, and then I guess, I got caught up in everything that he was saying, and I just dropped my phone down and gave myself up to the experience. One of the key points he made was how little we ask for help, or just ask anything, in general. There is no shame in asking. The worst that can happen is that the person we ask says no. 

And then again, they may say yes. Still in a dessert haze, I sought out the chef making the brûlée, and, in the spirit of sharing, asked her for the recipe. I'll be honest, I had little hope I would get this recipe. Chefs are not known for sharing. But I'd misjudged the chefs at NAIT. Off she went, in search of Chef Ganesh Subramanyam, whose recipe this was. Chef Ganesh didn't eve hesitate, he just walked in, found the recipe and handed it to me. The recipe was obviously well used, the top was singed off. It only added to the character. Chef Ganesh is proud of sharing his culinary expertise with his students. It's evident in the photograph below, where he gathers all his students for the picture.  

I understand the power of asking now. I also salute the amazing generosity of the NAIT chefs. As Chef Ganesh put it - 'We share everyday'. 

If you live in Edmonton, I urge you to try out NAIT's Ernest's Dining Room. Filled with classic dishes from NAIT's kitchens, it's perfect for an elegant meal out, or a casual evening with friends. Every single dish I tried was exceptional, and my personal favourite was the scallops (pictured earlier in the post). I also enjoyed the flambeed prawns with Pernod (Opa! I love fire!), the duck confit, and all the bread, and most of the cheese is house made.

Recipe (de-cheffed for us non-culinary students :))
(Printable Recipe)

Recipe courtesy Chef Ganesh Subramanyam and NAIT) 

100 g white chocolate, broken into pieces
500 ml (2 cups) whipping cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks
150g sugar (3/4 cup)
Extra granulated sugar, to sprinkle on top
6 - 8 fresh raspberries or blackberries
1 teaspoon sugar


Place the chocolate pieces in a double boiler, and melt on a low heat. Keep warm.

Place the cream and vanilla in a saucepan, and heat gently, until just steaming. Slowly fold in the melted white chocolate.

Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar. Slowly pour in some of the hot cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking all the time, to temper the yolks. Whisk well, until the yolks are incorporated into the cream mixture.

Strain into a clean saucepan.

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Place 6 - 8 ramekins in a shallow baking dish. Pour in the custard into the ramekins. Gently pour in boiling water into the baking dish, so that the water comes three quarters of the way up the sides of the ramekins. Carefully transfer to the oven.

Bake for 35 - 40 minutes, until set. Take out of the oven, and chill the creams, until ready to serve.

Meanwhile, place the berries in a small bowl, and sprinkle over the sugar. Leave to macerate for a while. 

To serve, sprinkle over the granulated sugar, and using a domestic blowtorch, brûlée until the sugar caramelizes. You can also use the grill, but be careful not to melt the white chocolate creams.

Serve immediately, topped with a macerated berry.

Friday, 24 October 2014

I killed my first chicken when I was five. Well, my Aba (grandfather) thrust its feet at me, and told me hold on tight and with one smooth, practiced motion he twisted its neck off, drained the blood and dunked the whole bird into a vat of boiling water. Fast, clean, precise - and I didn't even blink through the whole process. I'll admit plucking the bird afterwards wasn't great, but my little fingers made fast work of those little pin feathers, much faster than Aba's gnarly, work weathered hands. Showing that dexterity may have been a mistake, though, since I was always, thereafter, made to do the feather plucking - easily the most boring job ever, especially for a hyperactive five year old.

After that, Aba and I have killed more chickens. He was a wedding chef, and a master butcher. I didn't see him all that much, as we lived in town and he lived in the small village he called home. But every summer my sister and I were unceremoniously bundled off to my grandparents' place, and there we ran wild with all the other neighbourhood kids. Our school holidays were during April and May, and May was wedding season. Aba was out almost every night, if it wasn't a wedding, it was a christening, a jubilee celebration, a church event.

My grandmother would also be invited, and a lot of the time we tagged along. The wedding feast usually started with a ceremonious parade of all the animals and birds that would be served at the feast. They would be taken to a nearby farm, or abattoir, where my grandfather would butcher them. He would then expertly chop everything up, and start the cooking. Everyone had a job, and with the precision of a seasoned chef, he made sure everything was being sauteed, simmered and salted to perfection. The cooking went late into the night. We wandered around, bored, but excited at the same time. Around midnight or so, we would usually be found curled into a ball somewhere, fast asleep. We almost always woke up at home, and for the life of me, I don't know who carried us back and tucked us up into our sleeping straw mats. Aba came back the next afternoon, once the wedding was done and all the food was served. We would be up and chirpy, we knew there were leftover wedding food  in his bags that we would eagerly dive into. We were then dispatched outside so Aba could sleep in peace, and the process started all over again the next day.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Oh this soup! This beautiful, bright, clean, fresh, spicy-hot, sour soup. Tom yum soup, or simply translated, hot and sour soup. When winter arrives - and mark my words, it's coming - this is the soup I turn to all the time. I first tasted this soup when I was living in Delhi, and a date took me to this place called Turquoise Cottage. I was fresh off the first-time-out-of-home boat, and the flavours of Thailand were a revelation to me. I was pretty addicted to Thai food from the get go, and  when I had the opportunity to backpack around South East Asia, my first stop was Thailand and it's fabulous street markets.

While this soup might seem pretty ubiquitous, with a version in every Thai place, for me this is the ultimate comfort food. And it's certainly addictive with its clear spicy soup broth and is also a great vehicle for a lot of proteins. The most popular version of this soup is tom yum goong, or with shrimp, but a lot of places serve it with other meats as well. When my brief from the Turkey Farmers of Canada arrived for this month, with it's request for soup, I knew immediately that this was the soup I was going to make, especially with the leaves floating down from the trees, that characteristic nip in the air and the birds flying south (take me with you, birds...)

The recipe for tom yum soup varies from family to family, and this is my version of it. The Thais are all about balancing flavours, and this soup is certainly a prime example. I start with a chicken or turkey stock, preferably unsalted. I then add the classic aromatics of Thai food, lemongrass, hot red bird's eye chillies, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, kaffir lime zest, lime juice and fish sauce. I let the aromatics infuse, after which I poached the turkey straight in the broth, to maximise its flavour. Once the turkey is cooked, and the broth strained, I add freshly shredded lime leaves, lemongrass hearts and shimeji mushrooms (my favourite kind, though you can substitute these with pretty much any other variety of mushrooms) and then it's all about balancing the soup the way you like it. You can stir in the chilli sauce for added heat and spice, and a pinch of palm sugar calms everything down beautifully.

The ingredients may feel like they are difficult to source, but any Asian grocery will have them, and I have also seen them in larger Superstores. A lot of these ingredients can be bought fresh, then frozen. The strained broth can also be frozen, just thaw, season and add your fresh ingredients for the perfect easy supper.

So what are you waiting for? Head on over to the Tasty Turkey website to download your recipe now.

Click for the recipe - Turkey Tom Yum Soup (Thai Hot and Sour Soup)

And as usual, if you have any questions, mosey on back and I'll be more than happy to answer them for you :) Enjoy!

Sunday, 5 October 2014

 I hereby decree October as month-of-the-soup. Or at least, tear-my-hair-out-at-all-the -produce-landing-on-my-doorstep-and-winter-is-coming month. Okay, soup month it is. With the leaves turning and falling off, and the first frost already here, I've been airing out my sweaters and winter coat, and trying hard to find a hat to fit my large head. It's sad to see Kay's garden being bedded down for the winter, and to know that soon, the vibrant green lawn is going to covered under a blanket of that fluffy stuff. So in many ways, I've been frantically trying to hold on to the last few days of autumn and the waning daylight hours.

I've found that one of the best ways to preserve our harvest bounty is to soup it up. I've made jars and jars of salsa, tomato sauce, pickles, jams and preserves. So much so, that I've run out of jars and cupboard space, so my eyes fell on the freezer. I freeze a fair bit, mainly beets for soups later on, and butternut squashes, but this time round I decided that soup was where it was at.  

So I am all souped up. A delicious leek, fennel and potato soup,  sunchoke soup, lots of beet soup, my favourite curried butternut squash soup, and this yummy Moroccan spiced carrot soup - which means that my freezer is pretty full of these warming comfort foods to keep us going through winter. Let's just hope it's not a long one like last year!

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Image Credit: Dove Canada and Sandy Nicholson
If you are following me on Facebook, you might have seen this article in the Edmonton Journal and the photo that I posted about the Dove Beautiful Age campaign I was involved in this summer.

The campaign launched on the 9th of September, and my photo was released today, on my birthday, and I am turning thirty five. As the only representative from Alberta, I got a fair amount of attention when the campaign launched. The comments were interesting - quite a few messages of support and congratulations, but also many negative ones (which, to be honest, is to be expected.) I decided to write a post on my involvement on my blog, even though it's not directly related to food, not because I need to explain my involvement, but because I want to share this with my readers and friends and this was a quite a significant event in my life.

The thing about writing for this website is, a lot of the time I tend to focus on the positive. I never show the anxieties that lie in my every day life, and I certainly don't write about all the difficult parts of life. In many ways, The Tiffin Box has taken a life of it's own, and while I am the voice behind it, I worry a lot about if it's hitting the right notes or not. A while ago, around the time of the redesign of the site, I decided to stop worrying all the time, and take the time to enjoy what I've created here. I love this space. It's my happy place and I hope that when readers come here, they go away feeling great too.