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Friday, 30 March 2018




A Quick Announcement: 

Robyn Eckhardt, the author of the book 'Istanbul and Beyond' that I am giving away here, will be in Montreal on Saturday, April 14, 2 PM at Appetite for Books, to talk about the book and sign copies. This is her first appearance in Canada and I would love my friends and readers in Montreal to meet and visit with her. She's such an incredible person, and I am sure you'll be learning a lot from her.

There is also a four course dinner at Restaurant Su on April 13. (It’s currently sold out, but there a waiting list and a weekend brunch may be happening. Please get on Restaurant Su’s list to be notified before it goes public.) 

In the meantime... 

Who would you consider your food hero? This is a question I've been asked many times, particularly when it comes to the food world. Who do you admire? Who do you want to be like? Who is your inspiration?

Most of the time, I never really have an answer to this question, because, simply put, I like to follow my own path. But if I had to pick a food hero? My usual answer would be, I don't know – because I like different people at different points in my life. My grandfather, the wedding chef, for example, is one of my enduring food heroes. My mom... well, sometimes, when she's not wildly experimenting, as is her new hobby, with recipes off the internet! Yotam Ottolenghi, and Richard Bertinet, at other times.

But for the past few years, if anyone has asked me who my food heroes (and inspirations for life, in general) are, I would, without hesitation, say Robyn Eckhardt and David Hagerman. Several of you have probably heard of them. Robyn writes the popular blog, Eating Asia and has featured publications in some of the best newspapers and magazines in the world, as has her photographer husband, David Hagerman. David's photos of India were the inspiration behind my own pictures when I went home. I look forward to Robyn's articles and pieces, and devour them when they are published.

If you ask me to put my feelings towards these two remarkable people in a sentence, I'd say that Robyn and Dave are who I want to be when I grow up.



I became acquainted with Robyn via Twitter, of all things. I followed her, and to m absolute surprise and delight, she followed me back, and we had a few conversations about her trips to India and the street food scene in Asia. Robyn and Dave left behind jobs in the United States to move to Malaysia where they lived a life travelling, food-ing and writing. For most people this is a dream life, but it wasn't without its drawbacks, but it can also be incredibly fulfilling. It was Robyn's definition of success though, that rang true for me, and became the cornerstone philosophy of my own career. As she puts it,

“I define success as being able to support yourself living a life that makes you happy.” (Source: Barbara at The Dropout Diaries

I followed Robyn and Dave's journey across the world on social media, from Georgetown in Malaysia, to their Turkish adventures, to their new adventures in Italy.

Gradually our relationship progressed to Facebook, and when she announced her first cookbook, I was so excited. I quickly volunteered myself as a recipe tester and spent about a year happily testing recipes as she sent them out. I recipe test for many cookbooks and authors, and to be completely honest, I have never found another recipe and food writer who's been as committed to the testing process and writing the perfect recipes as Robyn is. Pretty much every one of her recipes worked, and it was amazing for me to be able to share feedback to an author I admired immensely. I learned a great deal about the writing process and improved my own recipe writing in the process.



I'll place a disclaimer here – this post is not a cookbook review. Let me just call it what it is, a cookbook love-in.

What makes a truly great cookbook?

For me, the number one thing is warmth and an approachable writing style, a style Robyn offers in spades in 'Istanbul and Beyond'. There are lives and stories in this book, there are insights into a world that was originally unfamiliar to me, but gradually worked its way into my heart, as I read the book. This book, for me, is not just a cookbook, it is a book I read when I am feeling uninspired and down. I look to the lives of the people and their relationship to their culture and food. Robyn takes us on a journey to places familiar and unfamiliar, into the households and streets of Turkey, into the lives of the people that work at their food and make it their livelihood. Dave's evocative photography adds to the charm and magic of the book. It draws us, not just into the lives of Robyn and Dave, but also into all the people and their food that makes up this book. I keep it on my cookbook shelf, but more often than not, it also makes its way to my bedroom table.

To me, this book represents hope that one day I'll be able to work on my own. Right now, things aren't the greatest when it comes to my writing, but I haven't given up on the cooking. I cook, read, and am constantly inspired by this book and others, and reclaiming that sheer joy and love of cooking and sharing stories is what will eventually bring me back to this life.



Not only was I lucky enough to be a recipe tester for Istanbul and Beyond, I was also lucky enough to be offered a chance to host a recipe and a giveaway of a signed copy of Istanbul and Beyond on here.

This recipe for the spicy okra sauté is one of my absolute favourite from the book. When I was first testing recipes for Robyn, she asked me if I liked okra. Now, I am Indian. Of course, I love okra. So she sent me the recipe for this spicy okra and lamb saute and I fell in love with the incredible flavours of this dish almost right away. The original recipe has lamb in it, but since the first time I tested it, I have made it numerous times, and most of the time I keep it vegetarian as my family loves it. Not only does it have simple, easily accessible ingredients, it is also incredibly fast to make. So fast, that it has now become one of my go-to dishes for those days when I am feeling lazy. This saute, a bowlful of herbed bulgur and a swish of garlicky yogurt, and our dinner is on the table in less than half an hour.



The picture above is high resolution and is the original recipe (with lamb)  shared with permission from Robyn. The recipe below is my adaptation for my vegetarian family. The giveaway rules are below the recipe.

I hope you enjoy this dish as much as my family and I do. Please check out the notes for my ingredient sourcing.


Recipe: Spicy Turkish Okra Sauté 

Adapted from Istanbul and Beyond by Robyn Eckhardt

1 pound small whole okra, stalks trimmed a little
2 tablespoons olive oil 
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 mild green chilis, sliced 
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon hot pepper paste 
1 cup water 
Urfa peppers, to serve 

Method: 

Wash the okra and dry thoroughly. 

Place the olive oil in a heavy based pot or skillet, and heat gently. Add the garlic and chilies, along with the salt, and saute for a minute until the garlic is fragrant. 

Add the tomato and hot pepper paste and saute for another minute. Add the okra to the pot, along with the water, stir everything together and simmer for 10 - 15 minutes, or until the okra are tender and the sauce is rich and flavorful. 

Taste and adjust seasoning. 

Place a bowl of either Urfa biber or any other Turkish chili flakes on the table, for people to sprinkle over. Serve with herbed bulgur wheat and garlicky yogurt.  

Notes -  

I find all my ingredients in either Al Salam Pita, here in Edmonton, or the Anatolia Food Market. 

I found beautiful small fresh okra in T and T supermarket, but you should be able to find them in any Asian grocery.  Robyn gives directions in her original recipe, if you can't find smaller okra.

Silk Road Spices, both online and here in Edmonton, stock Urfa biber, as well as other Turkish chili flakes.


GIVEAWAY! (Closed)

Congratulations, Phil. You've won yourself another cookbook for your collection. I'll be in touch to arrange delivery.

I have a original signed copy of Istanbul and Beyond by Robyn Eckhardt to give away. 

To  enter the giveaway, please answer the question below, as a comment on this post. 
"What would your dream life include, in three words?" Please leave an email address so that I can contact you if you are the winner.

The giveaway is international, and I will ship the book to you via Signed For Canada Post. Customs and any fees in your country are your responsibility.  

The giveaway ends on Sunday, April 8, 2018 at 5 PM Mountain Time. 

I will also include Twitter entries as separate entries. Please follow me, @michpetersjones and @EatingAsia plus please tweet the following, or something similar, to be entered into the draw.

I'd love to win the cookbook 'Istanbul and Beyond' shortlisted for a 2018 Art of Eating  Prize and an NPR 'Best Reads of 2017' by @EatingAsia. For a special recipe from the book, check out this post by @michpetersjones. http://www.thetiffinbox.ca/2018/03/spicy-okra-saute-istandbul-and-beyond-robyn-eckhardt.html #giveaway #istanbulandbeyond

I will pick a winner once the giveaway end and contact the winner directly to arrange shipping/ delivery of the book. Don't forget to include your email (it will only be used to contact you, if you win).




Monday, 22 January 2018




This week actually marks the tenth anniversary of this blog. However, somewhere along the way, in the past year and a half, I seem to have lost my way a little. My pregnancy with Baby Sky wasn't the greatest, and all I wanted to do was sleep, as opposed to cook or eat, or feed anyone else, for that matter. I think I might have survived on ginger biscuits and mangoes.

Ennui comes in many forms. As someone who has struggled with being motivated, it can be a death knell for the creative side. It doesn't help that I work a job in real life that fulfills me professionally and financially. It has just made it easier to not nurture the creative side of me. I was also so disappointed with internet algorithms. All these beautiful niche recipes that I had carefully worked on were now disappearing from search results, in favour of generic recipes from sites like Genius Kitchen or Allrecipes. I mean, what's the point in continuing to compete in such a lopsided market with zero motivation for smaller bloggers? All that work, developing recipes, cooking, styling the food, taking photographs, writing, coming up with a cool SEO friendly title, marketing non-stop, social media, submitting to food porn sites... and it all disappears down a deep, dark black hole because large sites with unlimited marketing budgets know how to fuck you over with their fancy SEO shite and manipulation of search algorithms.

So I made a decision to stop blogging creatively. I continued doing social media – the bite sized formats are easier to work with, plus the financial rewards are a lot better than the crazy workload of the blog, I made more money working with companies for purely social media exposure than I did with blogging or writing – I did a few photo essays, and created a few recipes for agricultural groups that valued my hard work creating and testing (over and over again) recipes that are delicious and work.

I never set out to be a huge blogger or a celebrity. I worked my ass off for the last ten years, and as a result, was able to claim some moderate success for this site. But I've reached the point where I am seriously questioning the point of food blogs and the work they entail, as opposed to the rewards they generate. Some people will claim that the creativity of blogging is a reward in itself. This was me for a long time. But you know what?

I am fucking tired. Tired of competing in an unequal world. Tired of running round and round on this never ending hamster wheel of a little success, and a lot of failure and disappointment. I am tired of having to be a jack-of-all-trades. I am tired of wanting to make a difference. I am exhausted being the little person. I don't want to learn new technology. I hate being on video or doing video or being told I need to do video to stay relevant. I hate having to keep up with the gazillion social media platforms that keep popping up. I hate that other bloggers and websites think it is okay to plagiarise my stuff and I am tired of sending out DMCA and take-down notices. I am bloody tired of those self same plagiarist bloggers and YouTube personalities being featured on the fucking BBC and national media and gaining more and more success. I am tired of telling people to stop sharing their recipes and getting responses ranging from "eh, what does it matter though, the video is good, no?" or "are you jealous"? I am tired of short attention spans and people like me being told to "just get to the fucking recipe..." and don't write your life story (you know, the very memories that people relate to on this site, and the writing that made this site a success in the first place!)

Honestly? Stick a fork in me. I am fucking done. Where does this leave the Tiffin Box? I don't know. I'll let you know when I am not so angry.



But here's a recipe for aloo gobi. I can pretty much cook this with my eyes closed, without any cups, or tablespoons, or teaspoons. I make this for my family all the time. Loosely translated to potato-cauliflower, this curry is a mainstay of almost half of India's not inconsiderable population and in my own household. It is good. It's easy. I've tweaked it to make it a perfect recipe that works in every bloody kitchen and for all levels of experience. It is well written. I have taken good pictures of what it looks like and what you should expect it to look like.

It's not SEO friendly, and it probably won't show up at the top of Google search but it is fucking tasty and it won't disappoint you. That's all.

Recipe: Aloo Gobi 
(Printable Recipe

2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks 
1 – 2 tablespoons canola oil 
1 teaspoon mustard seeds 
½ teaspoon cumin seeds 
1 small onion, finely diced 
1 clove garlic, crushed 
½ inch piece of ginger, crushed 
2 tomatoes, chopped 
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric 
½ - 1 teaspoon garam masala 
1 large cauliflower, chopped into the same size florets as the potato chunks 
Hot water, as needed 
Salt to taste 
Small handful fresh cilantro, chopped 
Rice or roti, to serve 

Method: 

Place the potatoes in salted water, and boil until just tender. 

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. When hot, add the mustard and cumin seeds. Stir for 30 seconds, then add the onion. 

Fry the onion for about 5 minutes, until just beginning to go golden around the edges. Add the garlic and ginger, and stir for a minute. 

Add the tomatoes, turmeric and garam masala with a little bit of salt. Stir and cook together for about 5 – 7 minutes, until the masala is thick-ish. 

Add the cauliflower to the above mixture along with a splash of hot water to loosen and stir gently, then add the cooked potatoes and stir everything together well. 

Season to taste with salt.

Cover and cook for about 10 – 15 minutes, adding a little more water, if the mixture looks too dry (this is a fairly dry dish, so go easy on the water) until the cauliflower is just tender and the potatoes have absorbed the spices.

Stir in fresh, chopped cilantro and serve with rice or roti.

Friday, 13 October 2017




My birthday is at the end of September. Growing up, I hated the timing, as it pretty much always fell bang in the middle of mid-term exams in the school year. Mid-terms were really important exams, and the whole middle school would be crammed into the gigantic assembly room to write them. I did get to hand out chocolates to the kids, but my poor folks had to spend way more, as I usually had to give them to the whole of the middle school (some five hundred kids) as opposed to just my class.

Thankfully, October was round the corner, and we had the entire month off, to celebrate Navarathri, Dusshera and Diwali. We take our festivals seriously in India, and different states have differing festival schedules, although, Diwali tends to be universally celebrated. Calcutta, and West Bengal (in the East of India), for example, celebrated Durga Puja, Maharashtra in the West had Ganesh Chathurthi, Assam has Bihu, and Kerala has Onam. Karnataka, my state, celebrated Dusshera all October.

Being kids, however, the story of the festivals mattered a lot less to us, and the whole joie de vivre of the month was more our jam. We spent the month eagerly planning decorations, little diyas (clay oil lamps), stringing lights, enviously checking out our neighbours' fancy clothes and sampling sweets, finding the best fireworks in the 'hood and waiting for the huli vesha to come to our yards. It was a magical time of the year and we loved every second of it.



After I moved to England, though, Diwali was one of the few festivals I celebrated at university (mostly, because we lived so close to Wembley and Southall). The expat Indian community in London is huge, and always had a bright, light and colour filled celebration, with so much food that we'd roll back to residences so full that we could barely move. 

Canada was a little different, mainly because I didn't really have many East Indian friends that I could celebrate with. Canadian Indian communities tend to either be first or second generation immigrants, or students, and me having moved from England, and being in a mixed-race marriage, meant fewer opportunities to connect with the community as a whole. However, I still make a big effort for a festival like Diwali, mainly because I want my mixed race children to grow up with knowledge of their heritage and my own culture. 



Every Diwali, I like to make a special treat for my family. While I tend to stay traditional with my main courses, with dishes like butter paneer, navratan korma, dal bukhara, biriyani and naan, I like to play around with my desserts. Now, as an Indian with a very sweet tooth, I love my desserts creamy, filled with dairy, sweet and very, very indulgent - which is why my secret pleasure is always the Nanak Rasmalai. 

But I also like to add an Indian twist to some of my favourite desserts, and crème brûlée has always been one of the desserts I love. I mean... as an Indian, how can I even resist the creamy, sugary, goodness? Plus, add to it the flashy showiness of burning the sugar with my fancy blowtorch (thanks to my friends K and L for this awesome present). So this year, for Diwali, I infused a classic French brûlée recipe with cardamom and saffron for a truly indulgent dessert that hits all the right notes for a celebration. 

If I am feeling fancier, I sprinkle freshly toasted pistachio nuts on top, for a very Indian touch. The sweet fragrance of the cardamom and bitter-sweet notes of saffron combine perfectly with the crisp burnt sugar topping with the textures blending together for the perfect French-Indian fusion. The best part is, I can find all the ingredients needed to make my crème brûlée and the traditional meals mentioned above, at the Real Canadian Superstore for low prices.





Back to Diwali, though, and here are a few tips from me, in partnership with the Real Canadian Superstore and No Frills, to make your Diwali a fun-filled celebration of food, lights and fun. 

Celebrating Diwali in Canada with the Real Canadian Superstore and No Frills

One of the most amazing things about being in Canada is the diversity of people and the wonderful sense of togetherness and celebrating multi-culturalism, while also being Canadian. In many ways, I think that one of my favourite Indian slogans, growing up, puts it best, "Unity in Diversity". When I think of Canada, I feel comfortable in the fact that my mixed race, mixed culture kids will grow up with the best of both worlds, both of them uniquely Canadian, tolerant and accepting, yet without losing their East Indian heritage. So why not join me in celebrating Diwali on October 19th? 

Diwali is the festival of lights and we pray for peace and prosperity during this festival. Start with decorating your homes with lights. The more lights, the merrier. Bonus - you can keep them on all the way until Christmas. Even better - keep them all winter to glow up our Edmonton brrrrr times. They look magical in the snow. Put out tea-lights and diyas on your porches for some extra light. 

Throw multi-coloured jewelled scarves over couches to add a festive atmosphere to homes. Place candles and tealights in arrangements all over the house. Add sparkle by placing them in brightly coloured glass holders. If you have mischief making kids, like my little guy, try LED tea-lights instead of flames. 

Wear sparkling Indian clothes. We East Indians love to dress up our friends of all colours and races in beautiful Indian clothes. Go crazy with bangles, and jewellery, and pretty silk shawls. 

Cook a hearty Indian meal, and invite family and friends to partake. You can check out some of the recipes here on The Tiffin Box for ideas. A lot of my recipes have been adapted for the North American audience, and my philosophy is to keep my ingredients as authentic possible. A lot of people ask me where I source my Indian groceries here in Edmonton. What’s great is that, grocery stores like the Real Canadian Superstore (I shop at the one on Calgary Trail) carry a variety of authentic South Asian brands and ingredients, all at low prices. People always raise their eyebrows at me when I say so, but it's true. I am always grateful that a mainstream supermarket carries most of the ingredients and spices I need, particularly as a transit rider and a stroller mom, I don't have the time and the energy to go to several different stores all the time in search of elusive ingredients. My more frugal mom prefers the No Frills a couple blocks from our home, and she is always raving about the quality of produce and the fact that you can pretty much pick up anything that she needs to make us our everyday Indian meals. My even thriftier dad checks both supermarkets, and then picks the one with the better deals – he is truly a shopping ninja, that man! 

As kids, we loved fireworks. While India is easing back on fireworks for environmental reasons, I always think that Diwali is never complete without a sparkler or two, and you don't have to go overboard. Hit up your local fireworks store and grab a sparkler, and light up your kids' faces! 

And finally, embrace the season of festivals. As kids, this was one of the best times of our lives. Everybody was happy, we embraced our neighbours whatever religion they might be, and the joy of the season spilled over into the rest of the month and all the way into New Years. 

Happy Diwali!



Recipe: Saffron and Cardamom Crème Brûlée
(Printable Recipe)

1 cup half and half (10%)
1 cup whipping cream (35%)
Pinch of salt
6 green cardamom pods, crushed lightly
Small pinch of high quality saffron threads
5 egg yolks
1/2 - 3/4 cup of sugar (to taste, I go on the higher side) + 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar (for the brûlée)
Toasted, unsalted pistachios, to garnish (optional)

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 F. 

Place the half and half and the whipping cream in a heavy based pot, and add the salt, and the crushed cardamom pods. Heat gently, until the cream is scalding, take off the heat and leave to infuse for about 30 minutes.

Strain the cardamom pods out of the cream, and gently reheat it. Add the saffron threads.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and the 1/2 - 3/4 cup of sugar until creamy. Gently pour the hot cream into the egg yolk and sugar mixture, whisking all the time, until the cream is all incorporated.

Pour the custard into four oven and grill safe ramekins and place the ramekins in a roasting tin with high sides. Gently pour in water into the roasting tin, until it comes up to about three quarters the side of the ramekins (we're basically using a bain marie here).

Place in the oven and bake for 45 - 50 minutes, until the custard is just set, and slight wobbly in the middle. Take out of the oven, and carefully transfer the ramekins out of the roasting tin.

Cool, then chill in the fridge for at least 4 - 6 hours, ideally overnight.

When ready to serve, sprinkle half a tablespoon of  granulated sugar on top of the creme. Use a domestic blowtorch and caramelize the sugar on top, until golden brown and crisp. Serve immediately.

If you don't have a blowtorch, heat your grill up until hot. Sprinkle the sugar on top of the creme and place the ramekins on flat oven tray (I like using my rimmed cookie sheet) Place under the grill and remove as soon as the sugar is golden.


Disclosure: This post is sponsored by the Real Canadian Superstore and No Frills. Like any one of my sponsored posts, any opinions, the recipes and stories are all my own.


Monday, 24 July 2017



What came first, the biriyani or the chickens?
I have never been squeamish about knowing where my meat comes from. My grandfather and uncles made sure of that, and I have killed chickens and watched pigs being slaughtered and methodically broken down to be distributed among family and friends. In childhood, it was rare for us to have any meat that didn't come from a known and trusted source, be it from my aunt's farm or a local neighbour.

There was a practicality to the killing of animals for meat, though. Animal welfare was not at the heart of it, and it was rare that humane killing was even a consideration. Animals were food, not friends. And while they were taken care of in the farms, they were never considered anything more than food sources, and this informed the whole philosophy of animal husbandry. It was a philosophy that trickled down to my generation. There was no sentimentality associated with eating meat from animals we'd raised or seen being raised. And while a huge portion of the country was vegetarian, it was down to religious beliefs and not necessarily animal welfare. It seems like a heartless way to look at meat-eating, but when you have a country of billions, it is a practical way of living.
As a child, I didn't think much of it. Eating meat was a way of life in my Catholic family, and every Sunday, we religiously ate our chicken, pork and mutton curries. A quick look at this website will give you an indication of our love for meat. Every recipe had memories associated with it, be it our traditional pork curry or the more 'exotic' chili chicken, or North Indian taar korma.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017




There is so much advice out there on weaning babies, and every generation has its own rules and regulations. These rules might be always changing (the advice on feeding babies peanuts, for example), but when it comes to babies, I've always held by my mother-in-law's advice that mommy knows best. Yes, mommy might need a bit of help from Dear Mother Google, but by and large, we are always aware of our babies' needs and the best way to fulfil them.

When it comes to food, babies are such a blank slate, but at the same time, pretty strong minded. Adz, for example, never ate potatoes as a baby. I remember feeding her a pilau once that had the tiniest bits of potatoes, and when I looked over, that child had picked out every since scrap of potatoes (from rice!) and put them aside. Baby Sky, on the other hand, is a little food monster and will gobble up everything you feed him, and then whine for more. Adz and I thought we would have a little bit of fun with him, and gave him a slice of lime one day. That little creature sucked the entire lime, and then looked at us with a big smile and went, mmm!

So, considering that he seemed pretty happy with experimenting with food, I decided to start spice early on. I am Indian, after all, and spice is a huge part of my life and cooking. I came up with quite a few combinations to include spices in his everyday food, and the ten recipes below are an unusual, yet, perfect spice primer for your little gourmet.

If you need more information on any of the spices I use, I write The Spice Box column on FBC, which has  information on every spice and herb you need.