I suppose it is only natural that your cooking repertoire changes as does your age. I remember when I first got married, I would try and stick to the simple recipes and found Tarla Dalal’s “Joys of Vegetarian Cooking” almost indispensable.Even though my father terms this culinary tradition as most pedestrian and terms it the Cheese Tomato – Ghatkopar Ville Parle axis, I love her recipes which have clear instructions and render perfect results. Another book which I strongly relied on was Mrs. Balbir Singh’s “Indian Cookery”. Alas, while Mrs. Singh’s book remains a classic that is hard to find, I also find the recipes a bit tedious and I must admit to tweaking the recipes to a large extent – combining a few, deleting a few steps and all in all making it really cooking-on-the-go. I would still strongly recommend these two books for fledgling cooks to test their skills on.
Spurred by my initial culinary successes, I began analysing and dissecting foods as I ate them. Hence I would look forward to our daily dinners outside – especially in fancy restaurants because that gave me a chance to hone my otherwise naive palate. In the good old days when we could easily sip a Mai Tai in the bar a top the Taj while we waited for our table at the Rendezvous to get ready, or when I demanded a chicken vol au vent to satisfy my midnight pregnancy cravings at the Shamiana or the only place where we could have a genuine Shark Fin soup was at the Golden Dragon dining at Five Star Restaurants was par for the course. Of course they were expensive but not prohibitively so………Today they have become not only unaffordable but down right obscene with the 40% tax that the Government so unfairly levies.
Apart from the Fiver Stars, the only other dining option was Kwalitys with it pan-Indian presence and appeal, Delhi Durbar for Moghlai, Thakkars for Gujerati, Gaylords for “Continental” some stand alone Chinese joints like Fredericks and Kamling and the hundreds of small eateries that specialised in particular cuisines. The flight of the cooks from the clubs to the Gulf meant the demise of Club food which was genuinely good Anglo Indian stuff that was otherwise seen in Railway menus.
When the children came along (which was almost instantly) my repertoire became more nursery than haute cuisine. With staples like Khichadi, pureed spinach, cheese macaroni, roast chicken and fish and chips, I restricted my experimentation to cakes and puddings. For a while my Chocolate Brownies were a prized item in my girls’ lunch box and even during her MBBS days was a “must have before going to the exam ritual”. With packed lunches taking over my kitchen, I became a Recycle Queen with last night’s dinner becoming today’s Lunch Special. Not only did it take ingenuity but also guts to pass off yesterday’s left overs as today’s to die for meals and the children invented a new game of Discovery – trying to identify the origins of the dish of the day.
With growing confidence my cooking became faster and faster and I could whip up meals for 40 people without much help. This was quite a feat considering my very basic kitchen – a small OTG for an oven, a gas tandoor for a grill, a two stove gas cooking range, a small fridge that was totally inadequate for a party and just about two large pots to cook in. But somehow I managed to cook copious quantities ,entertain hundreds of guests and acquire the reputation of being a good cook ( much to my mother’s chagrin who would rather her daughter be known for some scientific discovery of an un-pronounceable name or the Managing Director of a large corporation. For a while, I too felt the frustration of a trapped housewife ( before it became the pretentious HOME MAKER) and rebelliously labelled myself as a Home Management Consultant. After all, I was being called from time to time for all kinds of information regarding the home right from where to source ingredients to which bus to catch to Borivili.
Ever since the girls flew the coop, I’ve become into a lazy cook and find it hard to even make a cup of tea. When asked for a recipe, I have to scratch my head and try and remember which one it was – the real original, the tweaked original or the truly original which originated in my head……..And unfortunately it never is the same because I actually cook with whatever ingredients I have at hand. This year I had to replace my trusty old oven and bought myself a Morphy Richards OTG. The OTG is a misnomer because I have never ever used it as a Toaster and very rarely as a Grill – for me this has been primarily an oven – a work horse if ever there was one. The new stainless steel wonder remains new because I hardly ever use it since baking is a thing of the past, dinner guests are few and far between and children don’t come home at all. With Anna Shetty’s return to the city this weekend, I hope to be able to familiarize myself with the oven and develop a relationship I had with my old Sunflame . I would have loved to go back to the newer version of my old oven but Sunflame has stopped manufacturing OTG’s altogether. At least this is what I was told by all the cookware distributors at Lohar Chawl – my favourite place to source kitchen ware. My failing eyesight and new equipment made cooking quite a challenge last night and I actually found that I had beaten up the entire cake mix without the sugar even though the cake was not sugar free! I also found that I had left the lasagne to bake in an ice cold oven that remained cold for a good half hour before I realised that I had not set the temperature.
Luckily in Mumbai dinners are late and protracted and this delay was considered part of the evening. My guests were happy with my take on Italian and I was happy to see my efforts appreciated. But I now realise that with more sophisticated diners exposed to the fancy cheeses and desserts thanks to the various Master Chef programmes, the easy availability of genuine ingredients like Parmagiano and Pasta, Udon noodles and Thai Ginger, Ricotta and EVO, I had better start experimenting again to produce newer and more magical dishes in my kitchen. I want to now graduate from nursery to basic to more sophisticated cuisine.