Archive | March 2016

‘TUSCAN CHICKEN WITH CAPERS’ or memories of Le Celle!

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Once again, Easter came and went. Life here has turned very quickly back to its normal hectic happening, and with that for me the question “what to cook for the family and what to post on my Blog” became a sort of minor issue.

Instead of going to sleep at night I lay awake thinking what to shop, cook etc. etc. I wanted to go away for a little while from my Indian dishes – like going international; to places where we had been in the past and where we sampled the local food.

So, Chicken jumped into my mind (I love chicken, cooked any which way!) So, one quick look into my freezer and having found a pack of Drumsticks I then opened my fridge and found a freshly opened bottle of Capers. And with that my memory jumped back just a few years ago when Jo and I once again were staying in Florence, this beautiful city. During that holiday friends took us in their car out into the Tuscan country site past the little town of Cortona to the beautiful Convent de Le Celle, which is a 13th-century Franciscan Convent located in Le Celle, just outside Cortona. A visit never to be forgotten – so beautiful and peaceful.
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On the way back we then briefly stopped in Cortona for a light lunch and when I saw this dish, Chicken with Capers, I simply had to try it. I love Capers and use it quite often in my cooking, especially with fish, eggs, etc. And also I had just seen the courtyard walls at Le Celle covered with Capparis spinosa, the caper bush but unfortunately for me the fruit was not matured enough to be picked.
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Now back home here in Kerala I now like to cook this dish whenever I am able to find a jar of capers.
So, not to leave you too long in suspense, here is my re-creation of this delicious dish, which I named simply:

‘TUSCAN CHICKEN WITH CAPERS’ or memories of Le Celle!
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For 2 people you will need:

4 chicken drumsticks (or more, if you are hungry)
1 large Onion, finely minced in your Mixy
Some salt and black pepper
Minced parsley, a very generous amount, app. ½ cup or so
2-3 Tbsp. of well-rinsed capers (whole)
Chicken broth, app. 1 ½ cup
3 Tbsp. of white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
Some extra parsley for decoration.
How to cook:
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Heat your Wok with ½ the oil over medium heat, add the minced onions with a sprinkling of salt, and cook until soft. Stir once in a while.
When cooked transfer onions to a plate. Add remaining oil to Wok and turn up heat slightly.
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Now add your Chicken drumsticks (I like to rub them lightly with a mixture of salt and black pepper) and gently fry those all around until they are nicely golden. Remove and also keep on a plate.

Add onion puree, parsley and the capers to Wok, stir and cook for 2-3 minutes. After this add broth and vinegar (check, you might want to use a bit more or less of vinegar – depending on your personal taste), followed by the chicken drumsticks and their juices.
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Gently stir, cover, keep heat on low and simmer until cooked to your liking.
Creamy mashed potatoes and some slightly steamed vegetables taste particularly good with this.
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Guten Appetit, my friends,
Carina

Kerala Style “Pachadi”

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( ….. and how to beat the heat!)

No doubt about it, summer is here; the days are still getting hotter and I am dreaming (yes, it has to be a dream for now!) of a dip into the clear cool waters of the Sea or if that’s not possible, at least into a swimming pool.

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And everywhere I go; people keep talking about the heat and how they long for June when the Monsoon is due to arrive here in our State, bringing the long-awaited rain and coolness.

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But to be more realistic for now I have to just be contend with a good working air conditioner (set to near ‘freezing’) hoping as usual that there will be not another powercut and a nice big bowl of delicious Sambar Cucumber (Vellarikka) Pachadi.

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What is this, you who never had this, might ask. To put it simply: lightly boiled yellow/green striped Cucumber mixed with tasty (sour) Yoghurt (Curd) and only a very few spices. And it is made literally in a jiffy – JS and I always have a jar of this ready in our fridge especially now during this hot season.
Pachadi is not only sooo very cooling, but healthy, too. I can easily give you a long list of health benefits using this vegetable, from keeping you obviously hydrated – after all a cucumber is 96 % water!

Cucumbers help to relieve stress, since they are extremely rich in Vitamins B and for Energy lavishes you with Vitamins A, B and C which give you energy and keep you looking radiant.

Of course for all of us with find we have those dreaded “bags-under- the-eyes” – from sitting much too long at the computer staring at our screen and thereby straining our eyes far too much, the age-old remedy of putting a slice of cool cucumber on your eyes whilst resting, really works!!!!

Cucumbers are a wonderful aid in weight loss – and don’t we love our healthy salads with plenty of this vegetable?

Cucumbers contain Erepsin, which is an enzyme that helps in protein digestion and also supplies your body with skin-friendly minerals like magnesium, potassium, silicon. This is maybe one of the reasons why Spa’s use plenty of cucumber based treatments.

The list is “endless” – it is even said, that to cope with the dreadful hangover the morning after it is advisable to eat a cucumber before going to bed!?
I suggest that you make double the amount of Pachadi since you will find that this dish is quite Moorish and you will want more and more.

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Follow my guiding steps – it’s easy:

1. Peel skin of a Vellarikka, cut in half lengthwise, discard seeds with the help of a small spoon and then cut into cubes. Wash and cook the cucumber with just a little water, salt and some curry leaves for appr. 10 minutes or until they are soft, but don’t overcook them, since a little ‘bite’ is just nice. Keep aside.

2. Now in your Mixy grind ½ cup of grated coconut, 3 green chillies, ½ tsp of mustard seeds and 4-5 peeled pearl onions (Ullis) to a fine paste using maybe a little bit of yoghurt (Curd) or water. Keep aside.

3. Take a Wok (or any other deep pan) and on low heat gently fry the coconut- etc. paste, for appr. 5 minutes, stirring all the time.

4. When done, remove from heat and let it cool down (I switch on my ceiling fan for this to speed things up).

5. Take 1.5 to 2 cups of Yoghurt (Curd), add to a bowl with ¾ cup of water and with a small whisk ‘beat’ the yoghurt until nice and smooth.

6. Now mix all his with your cooked cucumber and gently stir. Check on salt.

7. In a small pan heat not more than 2 Tbsp. of coconut oil, add ¾ tsp of mustard seeds and let them splutter (avoid your eyes – the seeds are like dangerous little ‘bullets’ and can hurt); 1/3 tsp of Fenugreek seeds and then add 2-3 red dried chillies (stalk removed and halved) and some curry leaves, stir only for a few seconds and finally pour all this over the Pachadi.

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That’s it, dear friends. I do so hope that you enjoy this as much as we do.

Carina

Speedy Mock Fish Biriyani

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Speedy Mock Fish Biriyani

Mock Biriyani! What is that, you may well ask. It is just what it says; a ‘Biriyani’ without all the many procedures involved in making “the real McCoy”; which by the way I do actually make on the odd occasion, but with mutton.
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So therefor let me say here right from the start this is NOT a proper Biriyani, but my own version of a ‘biriyani’ whenever one or the other family member asks for one and there is no time at all to go through the proper preparations.

This dish needs very few ingredients, only a tiny bit of preparation and little time in my (hot!) kitchen.
But the end result nevertheless is a tasty dish to be enjoyed by all.

This recipe is for 2 people with a good appetite or for 3 ‘on a diet’.

Ingredients
For marination, pref. 1-2 hours before cooking,
1 Tbsp of Ginger/Garlic paste
1 Tbsp of Chilli powder
1 generous pinch of Turmeric powder
1-2 tsp of lemon juice
Mix all of this together and then add
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¼ kg (or more!) of nice firm fish, (I used Red Snapper, filleted by the fishmonger in the picture) de-boned, cut into largish cubes and marinate for some time.
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½ hour before you start cooking, wash and soak 1 cup of Basmati rice and keep aside.
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Take a big wide pot and add 1 tsp (or maybe even 2) of vegetable oil, and on medium heat sauté 2 large onions, finely chopped (I just ‘blitz’ the peeled onions in my “Mixi” for just a second), until they turn a nice golden colour as well as a cinnamon stick, 1 bay leaf, 5 peppercorns, 1 Staranis and 4 Cardamom. Stir and then layer the marinated fish gently (so the pieces don’t break) on this before adding the pre-soaked rice with the water and a dash of salt. Stir gently again.
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Cover and let this cook for 15-20 minutes, only then lift your lid and check that your rice is cooked. My own version only takes 15 minutes cooking time on medium heat.

Before bringing your Biriyani to your table, decorate with some previously well fried small onions (Ullis), some golden Raisins (Kismis) and chopped Coriander leafs.
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Serve with a nice refreshing cool raita and some pappadums and maybe a fish fry for extra luxury.
Note:
We do like spices in our family, but you may want to adjust to your very own taste.
We try to use oil very sparingly, especially ghee!
Instead of fish you can also use prawns; lobster etc., which all will taste delicious!
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I have also previously added a pinch of turmeric, for colour, to the soaking rice, but JS likes to ‘ring the changes’ and so sometimes I just leave the rice white.

To be honest, I have made this dish many times in the past, alternating between prawns and fish, whatever is readily available from the freezer at the time of need and nobody so far has found out my little ‘speedy Gonzales’ secret, yet!

So my friends, why not give it a try and maybe you like to let me know how you liked this dish.

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Guten Appetit…………
Carina

Divine Intervention……. or not !?

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As I mentioned in my previous Umbrella article, the Monsoon brings much needed respite from the scorching heat to farmers, animals, humans etc.

When I heard the hour-long rumbling of thunder the other night, I did not think that there would be any damage to houses or trees in our city – the ‘thunder’ sounded more like the noise which normally comes with weather lightening in the tropics, but…… I obviously was wrong.

And just so that you know, I dislike shopping; I really do and always did. Normally I more or less know what I want when I ‘breeze’ into the shop and if the Assistant tells me the item I am looking for is not available I am normally out immediately. No hanging around, being followed at every step I take by the said Assistant trying to sell me something I really do not want or need, for that matter.

Shopping for food items is a slightly different matter – after all this is a necessity to one’s daily life.

I think we all have our favourite Supermarket/Shop and I am no different in that respect. Although there are Supermarkets and Shops not too far from my area, I still like to do my fortnightly food shopping in Ernakulam itself, at the “Supermercato Ashis”, which is managed and run by a very nice group of people for many many years.

But even here, where I am really well looked after regarding ‘customer service’ and where certain members of staff know my shopping list more or less in advance (!) I do not like to linger around for too long.

It is a very busy place, right on one of the most important roads in our city; finding a car parking space is like trying to win the lottery and for walking on the pavement…….

There are not too many fully grown trees gracing our city streets any more due to partially much needed developments, like the METRO.
But this tree, like all the others, gave slight shade to pedestrians, birds etc. and now, I found this …..
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When I talked to Security –on- Duty I was told, that the storm a few days previously had brought this tree crashing down, but….no one got hurt, nor a car damaged. Sheer luck!

I will miss that tree!
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Carina

Scheiss Wetter! . . . and the friendly Umbrella

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Something woke me up in the middle of the night – it was a noise I had not heard for many months – the sound of rolling thunder, sometimes near, sometimes a bit further away so it seems and then……Rain!!!

A quick peek at my bedside table clock told me that it was just after 2 am – and the thunder and the heavy rain ‘stayed’ over our area for the next few hours, bringing the temperature from the previous day down quite a bit to a more tolerable level – oh, what Bliss!!!

We are at the end of February (by the time of writing) and it normally never rains in February – after all the refreshing Monsoon does not arrive here until June and then normally stays with us for 4 months, bringing much relief from the scorching heat to the farmers, their cattle and for us humans too (never mind the chaos on the waterlogged roads etc.).

Lying now half-awake on my bed I started “daydreaming” (I do not think the word “night dreaming” really exists in this context, or?).

Many many years ago, in my previous life in fact, we had just arrived in Berlin/Germany from a nearly 5-year posting to a certain West-African country. Berlin – this beautiful city I had visited so many times during Fashion Week and on other occasions seemed to welcome us with open arms.
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Our official house, smaller than all the previous ones but very comfortable, was near the famous Olympic Stadium in a very nice area, the streets lined with plenty of beautiful trees, a sight which pleased our eyes tremendously.
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The house had a standard sized city garden at the back and I could not wait to get “my hands dirty” digging in the soil and planting roses, roses and more roses. But my hopes for a lovely ‘English rose garden’ were soon to be shattered, due to the extremely poor i.e. neglected soil condition.

In the first few days after arriving in the house I used to sit quite frequently on the terrace nurturing a decent cup of hot German coffee and trying to visualise 2 main things; who were our neighbours right and left of the property and where should I plant this and that.

The neighbour on our left turned out to be an old lady who lived all alone in her big house and who’s main concern was a possibility of a number of small children running freely in our garden screaming their heads off (she softened a bit when she realised that there were no children to disturb her precious peace!) She softened even more over the following months when she found out that in fact I was born in Germany and therefore actually spoke her language.
But it was the property on our right which stirred up my curiosity somewhat. And before I actually ever saw my neighbours our dogs, their 2 beautiful German Shepherds and our big black Labrador, whom we had flown in from West-Africa, had made friends, ‘talking’ through the dividing chain-link fencing. Then one day I saw her, a nice looking blond woman my own age, standing in one of her upstairs windows and when she saw me looking she waved with a big welcoming smile, signalling me to come down to our mutual fence, so we could talk.

Herzlich willkommen, Frau Nachbarin (welcome, Mrs Neighbour) I am Heidi “ she said extending her hand over the fence. And then something very strange indeed happened to me (and to her as well, as she later told me) by shaking her hand and introducing myself to her I suddenly had this feeling, like I had known her most of my life – something I only had felt with one other person previously.

Of course I invited her immediately to my house for “Kaffee und Kuchen” (Coffee and Cake) according to German custom. The next day she came over and we sat, chatted and generally enjoyed each other’s company.

By the time she had to leave and walk just a few steps to her own house next door, the heavens had opened and it was pouring with rain – so I lent her one of our big golf umbrellas to see her home safely.

The next morning our Security –on- duty brought me a nice little thank you note returning my own umbrella and a gift. What was it? Wrapped tightly, decorated with a big big bow and suspiciously looking like a stick of some sort.

But, when we unwrapped this ‘stick’ it turned out to be yet another umbrella.

Quickly I rushed into the garden and only there did I open the gift, since I was brought up that one must never open an umbrella inside the house – bad luck indeed!! And then seeing the writing I just burst into laughter, so much in fact, that a tear or two ran down my cheek, since I had neither heard nor seen this quite standard phrase “Scheiss Wetter” for what seemed to be an eternity, but soon I got used to hearing this every time the rain, snow, fog or just cold came.

In fact it seemed that all the Foreigners posted to Berlin have learned this phrase right from day one of their arrival in the city.

Over the years this umbrella has brought so many happy smiles and even comments while living in London and now here, too. After all we do get quite a number of German speaking tourists into Kerala.

Of course all this is now a long time ago, the umbrella is still with me, having survived all those years, all those moves but most of all, my friendship with Heidi and her lovely family. We do write to each other frequently and talk occasionally on the telephone. She is still very much in my heart and I pray that one day JS and I can fly over to Berlin and we can all meet again

Tschuess for now, Carina

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PS
According to the German/English Dictionary “Scheiss Wetter” literally means “Shit weather
…so ein Scheißwetter! what awful etc weather! …