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.

I was at the second annual Food Bloggers of Canada conference last weekend, and I was inspired by all that the amazing speakers had to say. There was so much to take in, so many people to meet, so much food to eat. I was overwhelmed, to some extent, but then once I got back, I collected my thoughts, and began the process of absorbing everything that made me unique. Finding one's niche is important in the blogging world. I know my niche, yet I feel like I want to move away from it sometimes. When things get hectic, I don't always ask for help or support, I stubbornly feel like I can do it all on my own. But the conference made me realise that it's okay to reach out to people, and talk to them, and ask for support.

Aba never did everything by himself. I held the chicken's feet and plucked feathers. My sister ran around like a headless chicken (baby!) Aba had specific jobs for everyone. He supervised, but he let everyone do what they were supposed to. I have to learn that - and the conference brought to me - that life is a team effort. We rely on so many people, we have to trust people to look out for us too, just as we would do the same for them.

These memories don't come by that often anymore. My life is busy, and stressful, with deadlines, journal issues, recipes and family. I worry about everything, and wonder how I am going to continue juggling all these balls in the air, while making sure that nothing gets overlooked. Which is when I start writing. Writing takes my demons away. Thinking back on a slower time, a simpler life, helps me take a deep breath, prioritise, listen to others and calm myself down. It's important for my sanity, and I just haven't been doing enough of the writing and memories in the past few month. It's time to go back home. It's time to write for the joy of writing again.

Mom and I devoured these spicy-sweet tikka wings. Once we were done and were licking the stickiness off of our fingers, mom turns to me and says, 'You are your Aba's granddaughter after all'. I want to cry, because I miss him so much. There was so much more I had to do with him, that I didn't. But it's taught me an important lesson and I now cherish every moment with my loved ones. I learn, I listen, and I understand. And I love.

(Printable Recipe)

Tikka Wings and Drumettes

1 kilo chicken wings, drumettes separated
2 tablespoons neutral oil (I use canola or grapeseed) 
3 tablespoons plain greek style yogurt
3 tablespoons (or to taste) tandoori masala
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 inch piece of ginger, crushed
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt to taste 
Neutral oil, to brush grilling pan

Mango-Chilli Chutney 

1 tablespoon neutral oil
1 small garlic clove, crushed
1 inch piece of ginger, grated
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
1 cup chopped mango
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon (or to taste) salt

Yogurt Raita 

1/2 cup plain, greek style yogurt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 small garlic clove, crushed
Salt to taste


Cut the tips off the chicken wings. Trim any excess skin off the wings and drumettes and keep aside. 

Whisk together the oil, yogurt, tandoori masala, garlic, ginger, lemon juice and salt in a large bowl. Taste and add more salt, if required.

Add the chicken wings and drumettes to the bowl, and rub marinade into the pieces, until well coated. Let the wings marinate for at least 4 hours, ideally overnight.

Make the mango-chili chutney.

Place the oil in a small saucepan, and add the garlic, ginger and chili flakes. Saute for about 30 seconds, until fragrant, then add the mango chunks, sugar, vinegar and salt. Cook together on a medium low heat for about 20 minutes, until the mango is very soft. Crush everything together, using a potato masher, then cook for an additional 5 minutes. Taste, and adjust seasoning. Keep aside until ready to use. 

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400 F.

Brush a heavy duty grill with oil, and place the wings and drumettes in a single layer (do this in batches, if necessary, and you can also line the grill pan with oiled parchment paper)

Bake for 40 minutes, turning once. In the last ten minutes of baking, brush the chicken all over with the mango-chili chutney and continue to bake.

To make the yogurt raita, whisk the yogurt with the cumin, garlic and salt. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Serve the tikka wings hot with any remaining mango chutney and the yogurt raita.

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.
The Moser's Dinner Bus
When we first decided to move to Alberta, I wasn't sure what to expect. My only previous visit to the prairies had been that time when Kay and I took the Via Rail all the way across from Toronto through to Jasper - I think it may have been on my second visit to Canada. It certainly brought to me the vastness of this country I now call home.

When we moved to Edmonton, Kay came up ahead. I remember a conversation with him, in which he told me that the first thing I would notice about the prairies was the big sky. I honestly couldn't understand what he meant by that until I stood under the said big sky one summer afternoon... all the way out in the Albertan prairies.