Author: The Incurable Cook

Same-Same-But-Different

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Very few foods love you back the way a burger does. It smears sauce over your face as you bite into it. It spills and drips over your shirt. And it can sometimes even make your eyes roll back and your toes curl up.

However, my last brush with a burger took this lovin’ back a tad too far. It all started with me feeling peckish at the airport. I weighed all the options and decided to go with greed and the Zinger burger from KFC. The first bite of the burger was familiar. It smeared my lips with sauce. The chicken piece hiding inside was plump and crispy. I even dropped a few lettuce leaves over my shirt as I brought the burger towards my mouth. Expecting every bite to be the same, a quick service restaurant motto, I dug into the burger for a second bite. But instead of my teeth gliding through the soft, crispy inner, it stopped midway when it hit something hard and plasticy. To my horror, it was a plastic cap of the sauce gun KFC uses. Apparently, this one had unscrewed itself as someone behind the counter carelessly slathered my burger with the white mayo like sauce.

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When I brought this up with the counter staff and the store manager, they apologised profusely. So did the company over a tweet and an email. Their response felt like good customer service, but somehow the apologies didn’t make up for their carelessness. The kind of loving back I got from this particular Zinger killed KFC for me and their burgers.

For starters… the Zinger isn’t a very special burger per se. But of the fast-food chain lot in India, it was a favourite. What it had got right was the fat piece of whole muscle fried chicken. It felt wholesome and sinful at the same time. Added to that, it didn’t hurt that it also checked the boxes on the smear as you bite and the dripping and falling over the shirt bit.

Now, I’m not one to hold a grudge for too long, especially when it involves food I like. But this incident wasn’t going to get me to hop into the nearest KFC for their Zinger anytime soon either. So to keep the option open of being able to have a Zinger every now and then, I decided to recreate it.

As I thought about how I’d recreate it, I knew I would keep one thing the same i.e. I’d use a piece of whole chicken muscle in my version too. That’s what made the Zinger a Zinger to me. The rest was all up for modification.

For inspiration on the rest, I thought about a few of my favourite burgers. Two in particular stood out for this Zinger recreation.

The first was a burger from my childhood from this bakery / fast-food chain called Croissant’s, etc. While they retailed all kinds of breads, buns, puffs, pastries and cakes, my favourite thing there was the burger counter where they made your burger the way you wanted it. I was undiscriminating, so I’d always get mine with everything. But what made their burgers special to me wasn’t the amount of stuff they put inside; it was their ginormous toasted buns with crisp brown edges. The toasting added a layer of taste and texture that just plain untoasted buns didn’t have. So my version of the Zinger was going to have a big toasted bun.

The other burger was the Whopper. I adore the combination of the smoky flame grilled beef patty with slices of plump tomatoes and crisp onions. The tomatoes give it a nice juiciness while the onions cut the smoky, fatty tastes beautifully. When I can, I always get mine with mustard. So I was going to have mustard in my version of the Zinger along with slices of tomatoes, onions and something smoky (bacon *happy face*).

Thus was born my same-same-but-different Zinger. What makes it same-same is the piece of whole chicken muscle. And what makes it different is everything else.

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The Same-Same-But-Different Zinger (or the bacon wrapped spicy chicken bagel with onions, tomatoes and grainy Dijon mustard)

Ingredients for 1 burger:
1 chicken breast
2 strips of bacon
1 slice of emmental cheese
4 thick slices of a nice juicy tomato
3-4 thin slices of onion, cut into rings
1 generous teaspoon of grainy Dijon mustard
1-2 lettuce leaves (I am not a big fan of lettuce in my burger, but they work to keep the bun sogg free)
1 bagel bun
a pinch of chilli flakes
salt and pepper to taste

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Step 1: Dust the chicken breast with a generous pinch of salt, pepper and chilli flakes . Keep this away for about 10-20 minutes in a cool corner or the refrigerator to marinate (you can call it that).

Step 2: Once the chicken has had 10-20 minutes to get to know Mr. Salt, Pepper and Chilli, wrap the 2 bacon strips around the chicken breast. Now, grill the bacon wrapped chicken breast on a hot skillet on medium-high. The fat from the bacon will render into the skillet so you really don’t need to add any oil. Grill the chicken for about 5-6 minutes on each side. When both sides are nicely browned, turn the heat off and place a slice of emmental over the bacon wrapped chicken. Cover it with a lid for 2-3 minutes to let the cheese melt all over it. In the mean time you can get the other things ready and start assembling the burger.

Step 3: Cut your bagel through the centre and toast the two slices over a hot pan. If you like, use some butter to make it nice and golden. Once it’s browned and crispy around the edges, you’re ready to start assembling your burger.

Step 4: On the bottom slice slather on a generous teaspoon of grainy Dijon mustard. Next layer on the lettuce. It will act as a rain coat holding back the juices from the tomato slices to keep the bun sogg-free. Now layer on the tomato slices. Sprinkle some salt and pepper to season it. Next place the bacon rapped chicken breast with melted cheese. Follow it up with the thin slices of onions. Sprinkle on some salt and pepper to season the onions. Finally, cap the burger with the other half of the bagel and serve.

Enjoy!

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From foe to friend: Spaghetti Carbonara with Poached Egg, Shiitake and Button Mushrooms

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The last time I had a spaghetti carbonara was at the Sheraton in Bangkok after a long day at work. The thought of a hearty bowl of piping hot spaghetti with eggs, bacon and cheese was rather comforting. As it arrived, I looked longingly at that beautiful bowl. It seemed to have the right colour. I could see the flakes of crispy bacon. I had the server crack some black pepper over it. It looked perfect. But as the first fork full reached my waiting mouth, I was suddenly reminded of every bad run in with the carbonara. While most had been either too runny, smelly or gloopy; this one was drippy and had the distinct taste of raw eggs.

Since then, the carbonara and I have been foes. And thats a sad thing for me because I love eggs; the runnier and eggier the better. I love bacon (who doesn’t). I love cheese. And only a few things are more satisfying to me than a bowl of warm spaghetti.

Now, having started this blog and having declared my love for food, it just didn’t feel right to have a food foe. So with some inspiration and a little thought for my belly I extended a hand of friendship.  I made a spaghetti carbonara with shiitake and button mushrooms instead of bacon or pancetta and I substituted raw eggs with a poached egg to get that same creaminess but without the scare of tasting runny, raw eggs.

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Poached Egg Spaghetti Carbonara with Shiitake and Button Mushrooms

Serves 2

Ingredients:
2 eggs
6 large to medium button mushrooms
a small fist full of dried shiitake (soak them in a cup of boiling hot water for 15 mins. keep the resultant broth. we will use it to pump up the umami taste)
spaghetti, cooked as per the instructions on the packet
1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese
a few sprigs of thyme
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

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Directions:

Step 1: Chop the button mushrooms and the rehydrated shiitake into thin slices.  saute them.

Step 2: In a hot pan, put some olive oil. Add the shiitake and saute it in the pan for 2-3 minutes. Then add the button mushrooms and continue to saute the 2 for another 5-8mins on medium-high heat. The idea is to let the mushroom lose their moisture and have a few crispy bits.

Step 3: Add half a cup of the shiitake broth into the mushroom mixture and let it reduce for about 2-3 minutes. This is a good time to add the thyme. I love mushrooms and thyme together.

Step 4: Add the grated parmesan cheese to the mix. It will almost immediately melt into the mushroom broth.

Step 5: Now add the spaghetti. Add salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste. Toss well making sure the spaghetti is nicely coated and the mushrooms are evenly distributed.

Step 6: For the poached eggs, boil a large quantity of water with salt. As soon as the water comes to a boil reduce the heat and let the water simmer. Crack an egg into a oiled heatproof bowl. If you have the silicon egg poachers, nothing like it. Now carefully lower the blow into the simmering water. The idea is to let the bowl be submerged in the hot water. Don’t worry, the egg will be fine. Just make sure you don’t let the water boil or disturb the water too much otherwise the egg will come out of the bowl and spread in the water. Let the egg poach in the hot water for about 3 minutes. Now carefully pull out the bowl from the water and let the water drain out out of the bowl over a slotted spoon. Be gentle while handling the egg. As the water pours out of the bowl the poached egg will slip into the slotted spoon. Let it drain some more. Now do the same with the other egg.

Step 7: Make yourself 2 bowls of spaghetti. Place the poached egg over  the bed of spaghetti. Sprinkle some grated parmesan over the top and serve.

Break the egg and let the yoke spill into the spaghetti. Mix it in and enjoy!

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I. Love. Food.

Cooking it. Learning about it. Experimenting with it. Exploring people and cultures through it. And relishing every bite and taste of every morsel that enters my mouth.

For me it is a love like no other. My first memory is of me as a 2 year old feeling happy about my bottle of vanilla favoured eggnog, virgin of course. My mum thought it was nutritious and I supposedly thought it was yummy. Growing up, no amount of bribing could get me to read the Famous Fives or Hardy Boys lining the shelves. But my mum’s copy of Tarla Dala’s cookbook got me to read my first book cover to cover. I made Hakka noodles when I was 12. I baked a pound cake in my grandfather’s vintage Wee Baby Belling when I was 13. Every inch of my expanding waistline, at that time, was testament to my love of food.

But at 17, when I had an opportunity to do something more with this love, I gave it up. I gave up on an opportunity to study at a premier culinary school, because I thought I needed to study something more substantive. Do an MBA and get that great job.

I did all of that and a little more. I lost the pounds and food, cooking and everything around it was relegated to an on-off weekend hobby.

But now, many years later, I find myself wanting to connect back with that original love of food. That love that had me so consumed during my growing years. So this blog is my action towards that. I have much to catch up on, so I would love for you to share your views with me as I share my food journey with you.

Cheers!

A sudden afternoon: Caramel and Peanut Butter Choco-Pies with Sea Salt

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Last evening I was chatting with M, a very dear friend who recently moved to Germany. During the course of the chat she sent me picture after picture of Easter eggs that she and her husband had spent the day painting by hand. They were beautiful, but strangely, all those pictures left me with a strong craving for something sweet.

By the morning, the craving escalated to me wanting a very specific kind of sweet – the kind that you can taste and feel at the back of your throat even hours after you’ve devoured it.

I wanted caramel.

So while I thought about what to do about this craving and my next blog post, I put a can of condensed milk in a pot of boiling water . 2 hours later with the condensed milk having turned into golden brown caramel, I knew what I was going to do.

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I was going to make Caramel and Peanut Butter Choco-Pies with Sea Salt (inspired by Choco-pies, but nothing like them).

My version was going to have a thick layer of caramel and chunky peanut butter (because nothing goes better together) sandwiched between flaky biscuits (store bought) and covered in dark chocolate with a sprinkling of sea salt on top.

The thought of it got me super excited. With the caramel already done, it was going to be all assembly and no fuss.

Here is how you can make it…

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Ingredients:
1/2 a slab of dark chocolate
1 packet of any flaky biscuit (I used a digestive biscuit)
1 can of condensed milk for the caramel
Chunky peanut butter
A pinch of sea salt to sprinkle on top of the choco-pies

Step 1: To make the caramel, put a can of condensed milk, in a pot of water and let the water boil for about 2 to 2.5 hours. Make sure you keep adding water from time to time to make sure the can is always submerged underwater. After 2-2.5 hours pull the can out of the water and let it cool for a good 30 mins before you try and open it.

Step 2: Chop up the dark chocolate into tiny pieces. Microwave it in a bowl on high for about a minute. Stir to see if it has melted properly. If not, put the bowl back in the microwave for 30 secs. Repeat this till the chocolate is fully melted.

Step 3: Slather a generous amount of caramel on the underside of half the biscuits in the pack. Do the same thing with the peanut butter on the remaining biscuits. Now put the two together to make a nice plump caramel peanut butter sandwich.

Step 4: Dip these plump sandwiches in the warm melted chocolate. Make sure you get coat all the sides evenly. Now sprinkle some sea salt flakes over the still wet chocolate surface and let it set on a cooling rack or in the fridge. After 30 mins its done and ready to devour.

Enjoy!

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The comfort of a Fried Egg

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I adore eggs. I could eat them any way. But my favorite has to be a warm oozy runny fried egg.

Having said that, its a love I’ve grown into. Growing up, a runny yolk would make me squirm. The lingering eggy smell (especially around the rim of a glass or mug I was sipping milk or tea out off) would make my stomach churn. But now, if its a fried egg, I can’t have it any other way. It has to be runny and it has to be oozy.

This love was taken to a whole other level when I discovered Nasi Goreng many years back on my first trip to Indonesia. For the first time, I saw my beloved served without toast. It sat atop a steaming pile of sweet and spicy rice, with a side of sambal ulek, fried onions, cucumber and krupuk kulit. I squished the yolk into the rice, let the gooey mess run in and coat every grain. I scooped it up with the crispy krupuk and mopped its every last trace at the very end from the plate with the cucumber. I was in heaven.

I had only loved fried eggs until then, but that meal I discovered the delightful and comfort of it.

From then on I’ve tried to experiment with various starchy beds to crown with a fried egg. I’ve sat it atop the usual Hakka noodles and fried rice. I’ve even gone as far as putting it on top of poha and upma. (It works brilliantly, trust me. You wont need a chutney or sauce ever again)

But on this particularly long day, I needed some eggy comfort. Plus I had been teased by post after post of eggy beauties by thedelicious on instagram. I needed to crown a more worthy bed of flavours and textures, than what I had been doing so far.

Thats how this stir fried noodles with mushrooms and purple cabbage, chilli chicken with cashews, chargrilled French beans and shallots on the side, finished off with a runny oozy fried egg, happened.

This was made with whatever I could find in my pantry and fridge.

Ingredients for the stir fried noodles:
3 nests of egg noodles
1/2 an onion, sliced thinly (I used the white part of 4-5 shallots)
1/2 a head of purple cabbage, sliced thinly
4-5 mushrooms, cut into chunks
1 tsp ginger, chopped finely
1 tsp, garlic, chopped finely
2-3 tsp of oil
Soy sauce (I like Kikkoman)
Rice wine vinegar
Salt and pepper

Ingredients for the chilli chicken with cashews:
250 gms of chicken breast, sliced thinly
2-3 chillies, i used some local green peppers
1 1/2 tsp ginger (I like the stronger flavour of ginger here, you can adjust it as you like)
1 tsp garlic
1 tbs cornstarch
2-3 tsp of oil
7-8 cashews
Soy sauce
Rice wine vinegar
Salt and pepper

Ingredients for the side of shallots and french beans:
10 french beans, cut into bite size pieces
4-5 the green part of the shallots

Finally, 2 eggs!

Step 1: Heat a pot of water with plenty of salt and cook the noodles as per the instructions on the packet. I usually like to take it off the stove a little before its done because the noodles will cook some more in the wok.

Step 2: Now while that’s happening, chop everything up and marinate the chicken with some soy sauce, 1/2 tsp of ginger, the cornstarch and some salt and pepper. Make sure the chicken is evenly coated. Set aside for 10-15 minutes.

Step 3: For the stir fried noodles, heat a wok with the oil until it almost starts smoking. Now you need to be quick… add the onions, toss a bit until it starts changing colour. Add the ginger and garlic. Cook till you can smell the perfume of the two. Now add the mushrooms and a few seconds later, the cabbage. Toss them around a bit. The idea is to soften the cabbage a touch, but not wilt it down. Now add some salt and pepper to season the base along with a touch of soy sauce and rice wine vinegar. Now add the drained noodles. Toss the whole thing together. Add a touch more soy sauce to coat the noodles well. Check and adjust the salt and pepper. Voila, the noodles are ready.

Step 4: In another wok or pan heat some oil on medium heat. Add the cashews, toast them for a bit until they are golden. Now raise the temperature of the pan. Add the ginger and garlic. Let it splatter about for a bit. Add the chillies and toss for a few seconds. Now add the marinated chicken. Keep stirring. The chicken will tend to stick because of the cornstarch. After about 2-3 minutes, add a touch of water, some soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Let it cook for a little longer. It should take another 5-7 mins.

Step 5: On a lightly oiled hot skillet grill the french beans and the shallots for 2-3 minutes. The idea is to get some brown edges. Season with some salt and pepper.

Step 6: Put it all together in a bowl – the stir fried noodles on one side and the chilli chicken on the other. You’ll be able to make two big bowls out of this.

Step 7: Crack open the 2 eggs on a medium hot skillet with some oil in it. Let the egg cook for a minute at this temperature, then bring down the heat. The latter will cook the whites through while making the yolk nice and creamy. Add some oil to the sides if you think the edges are seeming dry. Divide the eggs into 2 and serve them on top of the heap of stir fried noodles and chilli chicken.

Enjoy!