To Live, Love and Learn: A Cookworm's Tale
(This entry is written for Shreyanjana as a little something I could do for her 27th birthday, with the fondest memories of my 24th birthday.)
I had to turn 24 years old to organize and cook my best birth day meal ever. And I never guessed shopping for groceries in Noida could be fun, or cooking in a friend’s kitchen so soothing. I am quite a food Nazi and a dictator in the kitchen, but cooking with my friends has taught me to cool down quite a lot. This meal was special not only because of two of my friends being there, but for the sheer size and duration of it.
Three appetizers, a main course with an accompaniment, a little dessert and a complete breakfast the next morning! That’s huge!
The first appetizer was Broccolli with cheese (doesn’t seem to be very appetizing? Well, the amount of butter I was using for everything suggested immense guilt later, so something green and healthy was totally called for.)
The recipe was the simplest ever: Wash and cut the broccoli. Blanch it in hot water for a minute or so. Then stir fry it in a bit of butter. Add the cheese before serving.
The second appetizer, Mushroom with cheese was cooked in a similar way. Mushrooms stir fried in butter, with cheese added before serving.
The third appetizer was ready made, just chicken salami to roll your broccoli or mushroom with.
The dessert, which I assembled along with the appetizers, was strawberry with cream. So here you have the key to an enjoyable meal: make sure you just have to assemble most things instead of elaborate cooking.
I can’t claim that the main course was assembled…it was slightly more complicated than simple stir fried food. The main dish was more of an invention of mine (and just three days ago I saw a version of it being aired on Zee Khana Khazana, something called soya with peppers. Ah well, food is funny that way! You think you’re inventing something and then as you read or watch more, you discover somebody’s already done a version of what you invented. *Sigh)
To make Chicken Three Bell Peppers, you need equal amounts of sliced onions, sliced red bell peppers/capsicum, sliced green bell peppers/capsicum and sliced yellow bell peppers/capsicum. In a pan, saute the onions till translucent and add some ginger-garlic paste. Add chicken cut in cubes once the paste is cooked. Cover the pan and cook for 20 minutes, stirring a few times in between. Add the three bell peppers and cook till the chicken is completely done ( the bell peppers will be tender by then). Finish with chopped coriander on top.
As an accompaniment, Penne in Bechamel/White sauce works well for most meals. I might as well mention here, white sauce is my favourite comfort food: give me anything cooked in white sauce and I’ll just sit with a bowl full of it for hours!
For a traditional Bechamel sauce you need about 60g of butter, 1/3 cup plain flour, 4 and a 1/2 cups milk, 75g grated cheese, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a good pinch of ground nutmeg. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until foaming. Add the flour and cook it, stirring for 1 to 2 minutes or until bubbling. Remove from heat. Slowly add milk, whisking constantly, until the mixture is smooth. Return it to heat and cook, stirring constantly, for 10 to 12 minutes or until sauce comes to the boil, thickens and coats the back of a spoon. All you need to do after this is to remove it from the heat and add the cheese, salt and nutmeg. You can have it hot or cold with most things.
In the case of my Penne in Bechamel sauce, I fried some chopped onions, tomatoes and corn with some Iltalian seasoning, and cooked the Penne pasta till al dente separately. Once the sauce was done, I just stirred in the fried goodies and the cooked pasta, checked the seasoning, served it with some chopped parsley.
It was a huge and satisfying meal, helped with a little bottle of red wine and three women gossiping! Unfortunately (for you, not me), I’m reserving the details of the breakfast next morning for some time to come. Here’s a teaser:
(All photographs taken by Shreyanjana Bhattacherjee and Juni Bahuguna. Thanks to you both for everything!)