My Kinda Oatmeal

When I was young we would spend the summers in Pakistan with my grandparents. My grandmother – well intentioned soul – would make us eat ‘porridge’. My memories of it may be skewed by the fact that I was a kid and by definition not open to anything new, but I remember it being a soupy gluey somewhat sweet mess. By the way, attempting to pour the oatmeal down the drain is not a good idea especially in a house full of people. Getting caught is far from pleasant.

The memory of that porridge/oatmeal stuck  with me for a long time and even while I was in college at good ol’ Washington and Lee I did not touch the stuff. Now years later, being the responsible role model of a mom that I am (laughing as I type this), I have gotten over that and try to eat oatmeal on a somewhat regular basis.

This variation of it though is by far my favorite for obvious reasons. For one, who doesn’t like to have cake for breakfast? For another it is just so good and in a happy coincidence good for you as well. Lastly – and this is a big deal for me – all I need to make it is one bowl, one measuring cup and a spatula.

These days it is not in heavy rotation here, but when it is I dial back the butter by a tablespoon and cut the brown sugar down to 1/3 of a cup. The original recipe is from Joy the Baker and can be found here. I have made only one real change. Since Zara usually eats this and I often make it in mini muffin tins I find that using quick oats along with rolled oats helps it stay together. I also don’t mix anything into it – the original recipe calls for dried cranberries – but instead top it with whatever is handy. Oh and cinnamon and I are friends, but not best friends so I usually put closer to half a teaspoon. Feel free to put a whole teaspoon 🙂

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Roasted Tomato Soup

Butter makes everything delicious. We know this, you and I. We may not like it, but it is the truth. Had I thought of putting it in soup? Nope, that idea is all Tyler Florence’s.

Tyler and I haven’t gotten along so well before. There was a mediocre stew and then there was a time that he totally misled me. Built me up and then disappointed me. Heartbreaking truly. So here is what happened – I was watching that show Best Thing I Ever Ate on Food Network and he talked about a White Chocolate Pretzel Spread from a place out in California. Then he mentioned that you can mail order it. Let’s not discuss what I, all the way in Canada, ended up paying for it because Daddy Jafri (wonderful man, my buddy, and no wastrel) would not be proud. Let’s discuss instead how disappointing it was. Sigh. I could not taste much of much.

roasted tomato soup

It’s okay Tyler, I forgive you. It is your soup you see, or rather my version of your soup.  And the butter.

Anyway, to get back on track if you want this soup to be over-the-top-good then I would suggest straining it through a sieve because that will give it a beautiful silky smooth texture. Also if you do plan to freeze it then add the cream whenever you warm it again, makes things easier. My current stock of red chili flakes is quite spicy so Zara (after consuming 1 ½ bowl) informed me that it was too spicy. Feel free to add chili flakes later in the game or not at all depending on what you prefer.

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Deliciously Easy – Buttermilk Skillet Cake with Praline Topping

There is a real problem with this cake. I have made it numerous times, sometimes I have buttermilk and sometimes I do not, sometimes I have cream and sometimes I do not, sometimes I have nuts and sometimes I do not. Yet every single time it turns out AMAZING. So amazing that after I eat 3 slices in alarmingly rapid succession I find the urge to give it away and then am immediately overcome by remorse when I do.

My consolation? That it can easily be made again. Oh and 35 minutes start to finish including bake time and a lovely slightly chewy caramel topping.

This recipe is from the Joy the Baker cookbook. You know how in my last post I had said that Flour is one of my top 3 recipe books, well Joy’s is another one of the top 3. If you have not checked out her blog yet then you absolutely should right here. I sometimes get the overwhelming urge to write her emails starting with a cheesy opener like “Dear Joy, you give me joy”. Luckily I have managed to contain the urge thus far and that despite the fact that she is the genius behind the Single Girl Melty Chocolate Cake.

Anyhow I digress. Back to this wonderful cake which is perfect at teatime or really any time. As said above I have made it with all sorts of substitutions and it is delicious no matter what, but I do find that when I use buttermilk (not the vinegar+milk version) then that is when I get the best results. Also, I don’t have the requisite skillet and just use my 9 inch glass bottom springform pan.

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Chocolate Chunk Cookies aka I Drown my Sorrows in Chocolate

See that below? That’s March in Toronto. Ick, ick, and ick.


Oh and I am out of soup. One of the mothers I know hosted a soup exchange recently, but now it’s gone, ALL gone. This is all my way of explaining why I had no choice, but to make the chocolatiest chocolate chunk cookie recipe in my arsenal. A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

This recipe is a slightly modified one from ‘Flour’ by Joanne Chang. She is the owner and baker extraordinaire behind Flour a successful Boston bakery. If you do not own it and are even remotely interested in baking some extremely delicious treats then go buy it. If you don’t bake then buy it for a friend, now that is a gift that will keep on giving. Because I m a little… crazy I think is the word… I actually had a friend of mine who was visiting me from Boston go to Flour (the bakery on which the book is based) and pick up an assortment of baked goods so I could compare my baked goods to the ‘originals’. Let’s just say I wasn’t disappointed. Now that, my friends, is the result of a well written cook book.

I love that her approach to baking is so scientific, makes me want to rush out and buy a weighing scale instead of using measuring cups. Anyway, when she tells me to do something I listen and so should you.

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Chicken Curry

You know that whole a rose by any other name stuff? Yeah well that’s how my husband, my mother in law and now even my two year old feel about Chicken Curry. It matters little which variation on the theme it is, the traditional spicy rich korma curry, the plain Jane chicken curry, the tomato-y chicken curry, or kalya a turmeric heavy curry, as far as they are considered it is the food of champions. This is why after spending my childhood successfully avoiding eating it for the most part I finally had to figure it out and I must say I have found a few versions I really like. Here is just one of them.

I like this one particularly much because I am a fan of all things tomato, plus even with the reduced red chillies (I only put in half a teaspoon when cooking for Zara) it still manages to be very flavourful. Also, for a dish with depth it does not take long or require for me to be standing at the stove anxiously the entire time. This recipe is an amalgamation of ones I have found on the internet and tips from one of my aunts. Did I ever tell you that my family is populated by amazing cooks? You would think it would mean I have some kind of natural talent… Anyhow, luckily for us, what I lack there I make up for with good note taking.

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Spicy White Beans

Creative cooking is generally not my thing. I am a baker you know – we don’t make up amounts as we go along.  Working with a tried and true flavor base – now that’s my jam so to speak. I recently soaked and boiled an absurd amount of northern beans and only have so much room in my freezer. By only so much room I mean I think I can jam one Ziploc bag worth of beans into my freezer if I try really hard. And never open the freezer door again. You get the picture.

Anyway so here is what I came up with, it is light and spicy at the same time and makes for a really good quick lunch.

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Beef Biryani

My husband is a good man. Really he is. No bias or anything. I am told that I used to know how to make biryani at the ripe old age of 12, but somehow over time I completely forgot how. And so for let’s say 4 years or so after we got married I served him biryani after biryani that was a 6.5/10 at best. Then, fortunately for him, my aunt who is my go- to person for recipes passed on her recipe for biryani and my husband suffers no more.

Biryani is essentially a meat and spices pilaf. The best biryanis in Pakistan are often found in places which would not survive any health inspection, but have managed to produce the most delicious of biryanis for decades. From the famous Student Biryani to newer (and cleaner) places like Biryani Centre it is definitely a big favourite of Pakistani people. When I was working in Karachi I think I had Biryani at least once a week if not more – clearly eating healthy wasn’t quite a priority back then 🙂

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The Baker Cooks

Baking makes sense to me. There are precise ingredients, straightforward instructions, and clear expectations. You do A and B right and C should taste reasonably good. Especially if you are me and your reading of 100+ reviews reveals that it’s worked out well for everyone else.

Cooking – cooking ‘desi’ (South Asian) food is another ball game. Precise recipes seem to have gone the way of unicorns and fairies and instructions are broad advisories at best. I have been baking since the age of 6 and technically cooking since 13, but not with any real regularity until a few years ago when I got married and moved to Canada to be with a man who often reminds me that for him even average tasting desi food is better than any other kind of food. The last 5 years (almost 6) have seen me try many many recipes and I recently realized that although there have been successes I never wrote them down and over time I forget the things that make each dish sing.


My little brother cutting the first cake that I remember baking, the pretty frosting was done by my mom

Two years ago I had the kind of baby girl that I always wanted, a tomboy who loves her tutus, proclaims that climbing is her ‘favorite’, cracks jokes (not the knock knock kind), and is generally a feisty little monkey. Now anyone who has ever known or seen a two year old knows that they aren’t always so charming and are somewhat time intensive. Being Zara’s mama has meant several things – for one, I think differently about food and for another, I have less time for it all. Doing the best I can in the time I have has become increasingly important.

So here is me attempting to be the kind of cook that I am a baker. The kind of cook that gets it right most of the time, the kind of cook that won’t giggle anxiously when someone asks her for a recipe thinking “holy crap, what did I put in there!”, and the kind of cook that thinks cooking is fun. So join me as I cook, bake and mama my way through life – not quite in that order 🙂