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The International Writers Magazine: Cook, Eat & Make Love

Recipes for Life
Kunal Ghose
According to my mother I came out screaming "Hungry!"

When pondering my insatiable appetite for things I can put in my mouth, I’m convinced it all goes back to my grandfather’s Jamaican funeral feast. There I was, a chubby-cheeked two-year-old, standing in the middle of the dinner table announcing with great excitement: "Smells delicious!" to a room of grief-stricken mourners. Despite the somberness of the occasion, everyone burst into laughter, which triggered in me a lasting connection between comfort food and lifting spirits. A sort of toddler table-grace, I suppose.

From then on my playpen was the kitchen, the room where my precious food was prepared by a string of very able cookers. I grew up blessed with a globally inspired diet authentically consistent with the great culinary regions of the world. These years instilled in me a need to orally explore all its edible treasures.

I tossed my first salad at 13. Not long after, I began working weekends as a kitchen grunt, saving up for a smooth marble rolling pin, or a Cuisinart with an extra-large pulse button… and dreaming of the day when I could stir my own silky seafood bisques and sear-grill marks into fine cuts of meat.

Then there were the waitresses. [Showtime!] A string [more like a rope] of restaurant-related flings started my fun-ball rolling. By the time this boy-toy pulled himself to safety, I was 19 and the boss of the kitchen-side of a very good restaurant.

I’ve cooked professionally for 20 years now and I’m always searching for ways to stretch my own envelope. I’ve cooked for myself, my daughter, my family, friends, lovers, and over the years, thousands and thousands of people I don’t even know. What else can I do with my superpowers?

Recently, I decided to share some of my food-inspired experiences: only the very best stuff, of course.
My preference would be to use a different approach than conventional cookbooks. Everyone and their dog have cookbooks: 2 cups of woof and an ounce and a half of whimpery slobber . . . . Literally. But, given all the options, I thought I’d start here. However, once you get into it, you’ll find it isn’t really all that "conventional."

Personally, I’ve never used a cookbook in any meaningful way. At times I’ve glanced at one for creative inspiration but never to follow someone else’s epic procedure for some basic dish that every cookbook carries. I’m the kind of cook that likes to wing it in my own kitchen (or someone else’s)… to seek out new culinary combinations and to boldly go where no tongue has gone before.

Of course, within the confines of my chosen profession and for consistency’s sake, a more calculated approach is required. Nevertheless, my most wonderful recipes have been the result of exploration and experimentation. In fact, pretty much every recipe in this book was derived from culinary improv. Eating is required! People have been feeding themselves since…well, since people figured out that it’s a prerequisite for survival. And fine cooking definitely helps you get eating done right.

That doesn’t mean it has to involve grueling acts of intimidating or complicated procedures. It’s just cooking! With easier access to the finest and freshest of global ingredients than ever before, it’s time to get started.Mix:
1 part desire to please
1 part hunger
Stir gently and behold:
The Pantry Raider Pantryraid
To provide culinary creations that induce feelings of pleasure and sustenance in a target person, even one selected nearly at random, and most often in their kitchen. Pantry Raiding is an act as mischievous as it sounds. I love creating something out of nearly nothing while conveying the ease with which really good food can be prepared. In this form of raiding, the Raidee (in my case, almost always attractive women) gets something in return, while I absolutely get off on the reactions I elicit from the simple act of feeding.

Most popular cookbooks are sectioned up into categories like ingredients or food groups, and/or methods of cookery. The Pantry Raider is not. Every chapter is about a remarkable woman and the extraordinary menu that coincided with the experience we had together.
Starting with a solid pantry base, you can quickly conjure up edibles for yourself and for the ones you love to feed. [Hopefully, for the ones you would love to feed as well.] But more importantly, Pantry Raiding exemplifies the premise that you can always make it work.

The Bottom Line: With a bit of creativity inspired by a desire to please, and a glance at The Pantry Raider Cookbook, you, too, can be serving up women-pleasing fare in your kitchen or hers, or just about anywhere. You’ll be amazed how many ask to come back for more, or as we call it in the restaurant industry, how much repeat business you’ll get.
Try raiding some of the menus to follow and simmer in their courses of social encounters. You’ll learn a lot about how the art of feeding, not to mention the act of eating, has bettered people’s lives.
This is why I cook. And why you all should, too.
Peace, Love and Nourishment.

Raidee #8: Aurora (Travel Tip) Star Anise, Spice-Infused Sangria
Crostini with Olive-Chili Tapenade & Goat’s Cheese
Blackened Eggplant & Garbanzo Baba Ganoush
Candied Lemon & Herb Tabouleh
Orzo Paella
Poached Pears with Pomegranate/Maple Glaze

The almost forgotten -- in need of revival -- socially interactive orgy that is:
The Dinner Party
My parent’s had them all the time. I was the sharpest six-year-old bartender ever. I frequently have them because, on weekends, with my daughter, it’s so much easier to have my friends come to me. And then there’s always the advantage of home court with its familiar pantry.
However, this particular DP was held elsewhere. It could have been deemed catering except that I, the help, had so much fun. A longtime friend wanted to have a going away party for her little sister, Aurora. She had finished her B.A. at some university down south and was taking off indefinitely for the Mediterranean-Middle East following a stopover at home. The girls were of Spanish-Greek descent, so when I was asked to raid their family’s home, DP-style, I knew in which direction I should aim the menu. I have always had a true love for Euro-Persian flavors, but when I set googlies on Aurora, I developed a true lust for this sweet young thing. I envisioned the flavours of Greece, Spain, and Morocco entwining for a menu representing things that are, and things that could be.
Always liking a challenge, I pre-planned a menu fully anticipating that all of the ingredients I usually use may not be present at their parent’s upscale townhouse. Yet given their ethnicity, I took the chance that at least the critical ones would be. However, to improv is to impress. I love working with what you have, or, in this case, what they had. I mean if it’s in their pantry, it’s obvious they like the stuff. What they’re crying out for is somebody to do something different and unique with their ingredients, not to repeat the stuff they consume every day.

That, my friends, is how to impress the parents, and perhaps their daughter, too. Especially if the finished meal is a palate-pleaser. Armed with my PantryRaider Kit and clad in my blackest covert chef’s jacket, I showed up at the raid site.

Nothing gets a party started better than spiking the punch.
Star Anise, Spice-Infused Sangria
For five adults to get well-lubed.
1/2 litre citrus juice infused with:
whole star anise and allspice
A palmful of each spice in 95% orange and 1 or 2 limes. Heat to boil and let sit to cool.
2 bottles of fruity red wine
Lotsa thinly sliced fruit, such as apples, oranges, pears, apricots, nectarines or star fruit (nothing soft or mushy)
Toss fruit in a big pitcher or punch bowl with the juice and wine to both infuse flavour and to prevent the fruit from browning.
4-6 ounces Triple Sec or Cointreau
4-6 ounces brandy (cheaper stuff)
1 litre soda
1 litre 7 Up
ice ice ice
Serve up this Sangria with a little fruit in each goblet or your vessel of choice.With the family’s mouths lighting up with the refreshing nectar, a satisfactory distraction was created, allowing me time to move into position. With no pre-briefed intelligence, I had to move aggressively to locate and extract the necessary ingredients. I quickly rooted through the cupboards and the fridge, pulling out anything of interest. I struck gold everywhere I looked. This pantry was laden like a Mediterranean emporium. It may seem silly that I often do the desserts first, but then I’m just a silly, silly man. And it’s always nice to have it out of the way.

Poached Pears with Pomegranate/Maple Glaze
Actually, I needed to prepare this dessert first because the pears need ample time to soak in the poaching liquid. Realizing I could kill two courses with one recipe (dessert and the bevvies), I cored and cut:
6 larger, firmer pears (Anjou or Bartlett will suffice nicely)
submerged them in a pot with 1 cup Star Anise Spice-Infused Sangria and 1 cup water
I let the pears come to a boil, and then reduced them to a simmer. Meanwhile, I had put another large pot of water on for orzo (tiny rice-like pasta), and couscous (even tinier -- but come on: does size really matter?).
And then I set about mixing up the glaze:
Pear Glaze
I was lucky to find Pomegranate molasses and real Canadian Maple Syrup. [Aurora’s last taste of home. Well, one of them at least.].
1/4 cup Pomegranate molasses
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/16 cup water
Heat in a small pot or pan to boil, then lower the heat to minimum and reduce this until syrupy.The sisters’ angelic mother, forewarned of the Pantry Raid, wanted to give me a head start. The sweet lady had raided the fishmonger. Salmon, prawns, mussels -- perfect for PAELLA.
Paella is a traditional Spanish seafood-rice casserole of sorts, usually flavoured with spicy sausage and saffron, which is the priciest spice on Planet Earth and outlying galaxies. I, however, wanted to throw a little of myself into the tradition. I’d use orzo instead of rice and no sausage, ‘cause -- well, there wasn’t any.
But because I wanted to get something in their mouths, I turned on the broiler to 450 and grabbed the food processor.

Crostini’s with Olive-Chili Tapenade & Goat’s Cheese
12 thin-style pita, cut in sixths
2 cloves garlic (I peeled a whole bulb and crushed it all in the food processor to be used in different applications.)
No need to clean the machine because in goes:
1 cup green Manzilla olives
1 bunch parsley
2 chilies (The girls’ dad requested spicy dishes. My kinda guy. But you could seed the chilies since they hold most of the heat, if your subjects can’t handle the intensity.)
juice of 1 lemon
cup extra-virgin olive oil

I called Aurora over to show her all about Kunal… I mean Quenelles, a little two-spoon three-side dollop technique for the goat’s cheese.
We used a good bit of soft, creamy and fresh goat’s cheese and I think our hand’s met as we topped the 16th pita triangle. I gazed at her big browns and whispered in her ear:
Put the same amount of olive tapenade on each.
A minute on a tray under the broiler with the oven door slightly ajar and again mouths were getting fresh with their bad selves.
With more pita warming in the now turned-off oven, I needed a sexy dip. Something like:
Blackened Eggplant & Garbanzo Baba Ganoush
This on-the-spot idea to splice humus and baba ganoush, a Middle Eastern eggplant dip, came as a result of discovering eggplant and tahini (sesame seed paste) in the pantry.
First I cut 1 inch slices of eggplant (2 eggplants in total), which I liberally S&P’d. In a very hot pan I seared each slice first. Keep the exhaust on because it can get a little smoky. Then on a lower heat, I cooked them ‘til soft.
I then blended the following ingredients in the food processor:
1 large can garbanzos or chick peas
4 oz. tahini
juice of one lemon
one bunch parsley
8 oz. extra-virgin olive oil
S&P (not too much cause you dusted the eggplant quite heavily)
2 oz. sambal oelek (it always rides as software in the hardware kit)
1 oz. uncooked garlic
the cooked eggplant slices
Blend everything up until it’s smooth and serve with pita.
The blackened eggplant gave the ganoush a wonderful, smoky overtone and acted as a tasty decoy as I prepared the final assault.
With the couscous liquid-free and fluffy, I folded in a chiffonade of the leafy parts of the parsley and mint.

Candied Lemon &Herb Tabouleh
Multitasking, I carefully removed:
1 litre of near-boiling water from the pot and poured it in a medium-sized bowl with
2 litres of couscous
the preserved lemon mixture.
Let the coochy-couscous sit and absorb the liquid while covered.
Preserved Lemon Mixture
3 preserved lemons
the stalks from 2 bunches of parsley and 2 bunches of mint
Whirl in food processor, then push though sieve.

On to the rest of the going away feast:
Orzo Paella
I cooked 3 cups of dry orzo in the remainder of the boiling water for five minutes, draining and rinsing the pasta under cool water.
In the same large frying pan the eggplant had been blackened in, I started the Paella.

1 large onion, diced
4 oz. crushed garlic
3 oz. olive oil
3 oz. butter
Sauté the onion and garlic until nice and soft, then add:
2 oz. sambal oelek
a healthy pinch of saffron
2 cups white wine (to deglaze)
juice of one lemon
Reduce liquid by half then toss in:
3 cups mussels, cleaned and de-bearded [You got to keep it trimmed in this day and age.]
1 lb. peeled and de-veined tiger prawns
One cubed, pin-boned and skinned salmon (sounds like a job for the monger)
Cover for 2 minutes, then add the cooked orzo and:
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 bunch parsley
1 bunch basil
S&P to taste
The trick is to have the liquid sopped up and the seafood not over-cooked.
Add more parmesan if you have to.We ate the mains buffet-style. The fresh herbed dishes and sweet and tangy pomegranate pears with vanilla gelato foreshadowed the flavours awaiting Aurora in her upcoming journeys.
The whole family was enamored with the spread. The Paella won their hearts’ and stomachs’ applause.
Having extensive culinary knowledge of the areas to which she would travel — or so I let on — intrigue for the black-clad Raider ensued. I had the great fortune of spending much of the week preceding her departure with the lovely Aurora. With her parents consent to boot.
Yes she was shipped off, PantryRaider style. Mission achieved.

© Kunal Ghose December 2007

Kunal lives and cooks in Vancouver
and is preparing a book ' The Pantry Raider' on his recipes.

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