My 10 commandments for food blogging!

I remember reading a story where a grandfather speaks to his kid grandson about two puppies living within each of us. These puppies are constantly involved in a duel to outdo each other. “And who wins?” asked the innocent grandson. “The one you feed” replied the wise old man.  Metaphoric as it may sound, I think this story holds true for all of us. Each of us holds within us a certain set of values. Some ingrained, some attained due to societal interactions. These values then go a long way to define who we become as individuals, manifesting themselves in our personality. The choices we make, the decisions we take are in some way or the other influenced by our values.

I have time and again mentioned that my blog is an extension of my personality. It is the second best way for me to express my love for food. The first being cooking.  In my personal life there are values that I live by some of which are non-negotiable.  So do these values extend to the blog? Yes, I’d say. Often, I am asked, what is the philosophy I follow for the blog? How do I decide what is good for the blog and what not? This becomes all the more important considering the fact that blogging is not monitored legally as yet. We (as bloggers) have to follow an unwritten code of conduct that makes the blogging ecosystem a liveable space for us and our blogging brethren. Now, coming back to my philosophy, I have worked out a set of rules that I follow and not mandated by any governing body.  And just like the ten commandments help us be a good human being, these help me be a better blogger

Let me know what you feel of these.

  1. Thy blog should be a reflection of thy love for food:  Its easy to hop on to the bandwagon because everyone these days wants to be or is already a food blogger. Start a blog only and only if you really have a love for food. P.S. Love for food doesn’t simply mean eating it.
  2. Thou shalt keep thy blog active: Blogging is a serious commitment and pretty much hard work. You will need to devote time and energy and time without the desired result. Are you willing to do it?
  3. Thou shalt always pay for your meals: Of course, you will be invited to dine at high end place and get access to exotic meals. But you must pay for your meals. Thats when you gain credibility as a food blogger.
  4. Thou shalt not steal: Ok. This one is borrowed from the lord. But it holds a lot of value. Try not taking work from any source or use something that is not your own. If ever you must, make sure you give credit to the guy whose work it is. Afterall, he’s worked hard on it, hasn’t he?
  5. Thou shalt not spam social media with images of everything you eat or drink throughout the day- Remember there is enough clutter there. So you post should be able add some value. Else, it will get lost in the vast internet space.
  6. Thou shalt not not blog in silo but share and interact: As a food blogger, you will interact with other food bloggers and the public in general; many of whom will help in sharing your posts on social media. You should return the favor too by sharing or commenting relevantly.
  7. Never, never ever take your audience for granted: Remember what Rajesh Khanna sang in that memorable song “Yeh public hai, yeh sab jaanti hai” (This is the audience and they know everything).
  8. Thou shalt be patient: Rome wasn’t built in a day and so wont your blog. It will require time so have the same patience like the prophet Job.
  9. Thou shalt be responsive at all times: There is a very high chance of someone leaving a comment on your post or writing you an email to congratulate you on a good blog. Make time and respond, ideally the response should be within 24 hours.
  10. Its your blog. So,take pride in your work: At any point in time, there will be someone who takes better pictures than you. Or someone who writes better than you. Never get demotivated learn from them and keep striving to improve.
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How to make Sichuan Chilli Oil

One of my favorite songs is from the movie Silsila. It is picturised on Amitabh Bachchan (who also narrates the song) playing a love lost poet is reminiscing about this lady love. The song goes  “Main aur meri tanhai, aksar yeh baatein karte hain, tum hoti to kaisa hota? tum hoti, toh aisa hota”. Which when roughly translated goes, In my lonelinessI often talk to myself, how wonderful it would be if you were here!.  A bit lengthy but at its peak, the song beautifully captures the emotions of a hopelessly lonely person. I think it is this loneliness that makes man step out of his realm to find love and fulfillment which make him complete.

Relationships are a difficult thing to manage. You have to give it your all. A little more or a little lesser is a sure formula for disaster. This philosophy can be applied to all relationships, be it a marriage, siblings or between friends. The trick is to find the right balance, between giving it your all and being able to stand your own. Yes, like i mentioned relationships take a lot to keep, but there is also no point in being in it if it is either emotionally or physically draining you.

So then, does this principle apply to food?  I’d say a yes, very confidently. Have you noticed how items on your plate seem incomplete if another item isn’t there. Take dal and chawal for instance. Its not that you can’t have them individually, but when had together they just make each other feel so complete. Or many times a simple spoonful of pickle can elevate a relatively boring meal to a soul satisfying one. Todays recipe is one such condiment that shows up on the dining table at every chinese restaurant. The piquant chilli oil which has the capacity to light up a meal just like Chinese fireworks light up the sky on the Chinese new year.

I have always loved Chinese or for that matter SouthEast Asian Cuisine. This to the extent that if I’ve found a dish or a concept worthy of emulating at home, I surely give it a try with a varying degree of results. The one thing I couldnt do is replicate the chilli oil. Honestly, the challenge was trying to come to a conclusion on what the flavour was. Sure it was spicy but it had that one ingredient which gave it that back of the palate flavour kick. Remember the chinese fireworks? Help came in the form of a friend who was posted in Beijing on a project and being a foodie made quite a few CHinese friends. She mentioned its a difficult recipe to formulate since each house had their own. But the secret was in the quantity of Sichuan peppercorns she reckoned. There was the answer I was looking for. In my head I formulated a rough recipe and thankfully the test experiment was successful in the first attempt. I was elated and proceeded to make a larger batch. This time, I was fairly confident of being able to post the recipe. Trust me, its a no fuss recipe and you can use your approximations to match your tolerance of heat and spice. Use Kashmir chillies for a bright red colour or the spicier chillies for the heat effect. Here is the recipe

Sichuan Chilli Oil

Ingredients

  • 500 ml unflavored oil (use canola, rice bran)
  • 10 chillies (I used equal amount of Kashmir and the spicier variety)
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice whole
  • 30 grams Sichuan peppercorns
  • 5-8 garlic cloves, roughly crushed
  • Salt – a small tablespoon

Procedure

  • In a flat bottomed pan, dry roast the red chili and Sichuan peppercorns on a low flame. Once they give out a toasted aroma, move of the heat and allow to cool for 5-8 minutes. Once cooled, pound it roughly with a mortar and pestle but not entirely powdered, add the salt and keep aside.
  • Now, heat the oil (preferably in a mud pot) along with the garlic and the Chinese 5 spice on the lowest flame. This will allow the oil to absorb all the flavours of the garlic and the spices. You need to give this step time approx an hour. DO NOT heat the oil on a high flame as the garlic may burn and render a bitter flavour to the oil.
  • After about an hour the oil will begin to sizzle. Heat up the flame a bit and let the oil just about reach a boiling point. When it does switch of the flame and allow the oil to cool down a bit. Roughly about 10-15 mins.
  • Once the oil is relatively cooler add the red chillies and sichuan peppercorns to the oil. BE EXTREMELY CAREFUL, the oil is still quite hot. At this point, you will hear a sizzle and your house will be filled with an intoxicating aroma.
  • Let it remain in the vessel for a while and then transfer it to a sterilized bottle. Dont not strain the oil. The longer the spices remain in the oil, the tastier it gets.

Sichuan Chilli Oil

So now that you’ve made the oil, here is a quick recipe for you that i tried and was pretty pleased with. Unfortunately, I missed taking a picture, but i will upload it soon.

Heat the chilli oil in a pan and add few cloves of garlic. When garlic is fragrant. add a chopped spring onion and give it a stir. Next add 8-10 medium sized prawns and stir for a minute till the prawns are cooked. Add salt and half a teaspoon of vinegar while giving it a good toss. Serve

Alternatively, you could use it in your salad dressings, or to drizzle over fried rice, or soups or thai green gravies or simply as my friend Dhanya Samuel from The Spice Adventuress suggested simply fry fish in this oil.

All said and done, once you made it you would never want it to get over from the pantry. Just like you would want a good relationship to end.

Red Snapper de-coded

Here is a recipe post after ages.

After beginning the year with a holiday, and attending quite a few family functions, I finally got the time and the breathing space to cook something. But after binge eating, it was time to go light so I did cook meals were comforting in nature and treated the tummy lightly.

Sometime back, I had a piece of red snapper sent to me by @Pescafresh cause i had won a twitter contest. What a wonderful piece of Fish that was. Perfectly skinned, deboned and no scales at all. I neatly packed it and refrigerated it waiting for the right moment to cook it. But there was a catch, I had never cooked with snapper before. I was apprehensive and didnt want such a piece to get wasted. I shared my apprehensions with a few foodie friends who chipped in their suggestions. But somewhere deep down, I wasn’t confident. Or may be I just letting apprehensions get the better of me. After playing on a sticky wicket I decided i needed to play on the front foot and go by my tried and tested method of keeping things simple. This way I could let the snapper speak for itself rather than the accompaniments beating the hell out of it. I did break my head over the exact formula for the recipe and from the looks of it, I seemed to have done a pretty good job.

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Here is the recipe for a

Nut Crusted Pan grilled Snapper with Herbed Sweet Potato chips and Strawberry Chutney

For the fish you will need

  • 2-3 large fillets of red snapper or any firm white fish.
  • 200 grams of mixed nuts, roasted and crushed ( I used almonds, pistachios, cashews and walnuts)
  • 100 ml Oil
  • 100 ml lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the potato chips

  • 1 or 2 medium sized sweet potatoes, parboiled
  • 2 tablespoons oil for frying
  • 1 teaspoon, mixed herbs (I used thyme, oregano, rosemary and chilli flakes)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the strawberry, ginger and raisin chutney,

  • 2-3 Fresh Strawberrys
  • 1/2 inch piece of ginger
  • 1 birds eye chilli
  • 8-10 raisins

For the salad

  • 1 large onion, roughly sliced
  • 1 large tomato, roughly sliced
  • 1 medium cucumber, sliced
  • few lettuce leaves
  • For the dressing Juice of 1/2 a lime, 2 teaspoons of olive oil, half teaspoon of honey, half teaspoon of mustard powder salt an pepper to taste.

To Assemble:

  • Its a good thing to make the chutney first, so in a blender add the strawberrys, ginger the chilli and give it a blitz. The texture of the chutney shouldn’t be entirely fine, but slightly chunky. Remove from the blender and keep aside.
  • For the potatoes: Once the potatoes are parboiled, cut into even sized roundels. Heat oil in a pan and gently fry on each side till a nice char appears. As the potatoes are frying, mix together the salt and the herbs. Once the potatoes are done, remove from flame and sprinkle with the salt and herb mixture. Once done arrange the potatoes as you like on the plate which you will use to serve.
  • Chop the ingredients for the salad and keep aside. DO NOT dress the salad now else will become soggy.
  • For the fish: Take two shallow plates. In one out the powdered nuts and in the other mix the oil, lime juice,salt and pepper. Parallely, heat some oil in a pan. Gently take a fillet of the snapper dip this into the oil emulsion and then on to the nuts mixture and coat it well. Place it on the pan and fry on medium heat till both sides are reddish brown. This should take approximately 5-7 minutes on each side. Once done, transfer to the serving plate; either over the potatoes or besides them.
  • For the salad dressing, mix other all the ingredients and give it a good whisk. Drizzle this over the salad and serve one portion of the salad on the plate.
  • Finally, serve a large helping of the chutney beside the fish.
  • Serve with love. 🙂