Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Cook On Demand - Cooking for a crowd with no prior preparation.

The painful part in throwing a party is the hours spent in initial preparation and the heartburn when some of dishes go waste / untasted. So I have been working on a format which minimises the hassle - Cookout on Demand.

Absolutely nothing is prepared beforehand. The idea is to ask guests what they want, shop for only what's needed, cook it and give each guest what they'd asked for - all in under an hour.

The first COD was for Hagen and Inga from Germany, Brian from Canada and 3 other Madras Couchsurfers. It was a blast. Hagen had just discovered coconut chutney and had it with everything I cooked.

Yesterday we had our second COD. I had an interesting crowd - the budding author Kavitha, Morgane - a student from Paris, Vicki Milburn from Newcastle upon Tyne, the angelic Avery from Seattle, and the regulars - Rosh, Rajan and Kamal.

The only preparation I'd done was to boil a Kg of potatoes and buy a kg of wheat flour.

Kavitha and Morgane walk in and see me sharpening a wicked looking knife. The girls had a start ! After convincing Morgane I'm no Hannibal, we got on to the regular topics - on her couchsurfing experiences, favourite music and scams she'd been through. Soon, it was time for Cook on demand to start. Kavitha 'demands' stuffed parathas, Vicki and Morgane having never tried it, want the same. I enter the kitchen and get to work.

1. Knead a kg of flour - 7 minutes. Let it rest for 10 more minutes.
2. Peel and grate a cucumber, mix it with some yogurt and salt to make cucumber raita - 5 minutes
3. Mash up the boiled potatoes, mix in some salt, chili powder and garam masala and shape it into lemon sized balls - 5 minutes. By now the dough has rested enough.
4. Pinch off dough, shape into into a cup, add stuffing, seal it and roll it to a disc. - 2 minutes.
5. Cook on a hot skillet - 3 minutes.

So piping hot Aloo parathas from scratch in 20 minutes - the girls seemed to love it !

While they were eating, I blended some watermelon with a pinch of salt, a couple of spoons of sugar and a dash of lime juice. Strain and delicious watermelon juice was ready in under 2 mniutes.

Rosh walks in with some provisions - penne, frozen shrimps, frozen fish & chips, some cocktail sausages and a bottle of vodka. He asks for his favourite cocktail - Rosh Collins, which is a Tom collins with a long, slit - green chili serving as a swizzle stick. A round of cocktails later, it was cooking time again.

The easiest to cook were the sausages, which I cut up and stir fried with some oil, salt and chili powder. - 5 minutes

Defrost the shrimp, fish 'n' chips under running water

I then started on the marinara sauce - Add oil, sautee garlic, onions, tomatoes and red chilies and blend them to a paste. - 8 minutes

Boil water, and cook the pasta - 10 minutes

Heat a wok, add the sauce, add in the shrimp and cook for 4 minutes. One of the problems being a vegetarian is that I have to cook blind, never being able to taste or adjust seasonings when I'm cooking meat. So I had to have Kamal by my side to know when it is done. Once shrimp was done, I added in the pasta and thickened the sauce with corn starch - 8 minutes.

Meanwhile I heated up my super hot electric tandoor and baked the potato chips after drizzling them with oil. I then heated some oil and deep fried the defrosted fish. Fish and chips were ready in 5 minutes.

That fed Vicki, Kamal, Rosh and Avery but left Rajan who's allergic to shrimp.

Rajan wanted some Aloo paratha and I rolled one out for him, with cucumber raita - 3 minutes.

So there you go - Cooking on demand for 7 people, starting from scratch, takes less than a hour and a half, while having fun. I'm on a steep learning curve now and hope to reduce this time significantly.

So if you are in Madras on a sat, look at the Couchcurfing posts and walk in for the COD.

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"It is extraordinary to me that the idea of creating thousands of recipes by mixing building blocks takes immediately to people or it doesn’t take at all. .... If it doesn’t grab a person right away, ... you can talk to him for years and show him demos, and it doesn’t make any difference. They just don’t seem able to grasp the concept, simple as it is". ( Thanks Warren Buffett !)

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Chennai, Tamilnadu, India
Okay, let me start from the very beginning. 1500 crore years ago, with a Big Bang, the Universe is born. It expands dramatically. Hydrogen forms, contracts under gravity and lights up, forming stars. Some stars explode, dusting space with the building blocks of life. These condense into planets, one of which is Earth. Over time, self replicating molecules appear, multiply and become more complex. They create elaborate survival machines (cells, plants, animals). A variety of lifeforms evolve. Soon, humans arise, discover fire, invent language, agriculture and religion. Civilisations rise and fall. Alexander marches into India. Moguls establish an empire. Britain follows. Independence. Partition. Bloodshed. The license raj is in full sway. I'm born. India struggles to find its place. Liberalisation. The Internet arrives! I move from Tirupur to Chennai. Start a company. Expand into Malaysia, Singapore and the Middle East. Poof! Dot com bust. Funding dries up. Struggle. Retire. Discover the joy of cooking, giving, friendships and the pleasures of a simple life. Life seems less complicated. Pizza Republic, Pita Bite and Bhojan Express bloom !

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