12 August 2014

Lunchbox Ideas : Vegetable Peanut Noodles

Lunchbox ideas : Veggie and peanut noodles

"So what's for my lunchbox today?" 
The son comes running upstairs when I am clicking a photo of something (food, of course). 
"Oh, noooooodles! I can't wait for lunch time, mummy."

And just like that this post lands up on the blog, a kid approved lunchbox - noodles tossed in a bunch of colourful vegetables and a special dressing that makes it all juicy and slurpy and literally snowed over by crushed peanuts.

I teach this recipe of an Asian noodle salad in my Zesty Salads workshop, but I must say the inspiration of this is a recipe from Hungry and Excited, Revati's foodblog. The difference being, the vegetables here are sautéed instead of the raw veggies in my salad. Kids find it difficult to digest too much raw food and the sautéed- slightly softened vegetables work best, while also tasting even better, especially when it comes to bell peppers. 

The dressing that I've used here is so versatile, it goes as a topping on noodles, as a salad dressing, as a dipping sauce for Vietnamese rice paper rolls and even for the fried spring rolls. Get the balance of sweet-sour-salty-sweet (and spicy, if you wish) right and you are ready to roll!

Veggie - Peanut noodles

I got a whole bunch of stuff from local Asian stores in the China Town area of Melbourne during my trip in March, and it's time I stopped hoarding them and started using them up, or it will be just another case of expired food going into the land-fills. 

I've used what's called dan-dan noodles for this dish. They are super thin, cook very quickly and very light and delicate. The are called dandan because in earlier times, vendors (in China) would hang them from poles (dan dan) and walk around to sell them. I quite like this little story behind the noodles, reminds me of 'Banana walas' in Matunga who would hang two baskets from a pole, which was supported on their shoulders and they would sell all varieties of bananas, banana flower, stem etc, peddling their wares from building to building.

You can use whatever noodles you have readily available - regular hakka / egg noodles / soba (buckwheat) noodles / rice noodles or even our South Indian instant rice vermicelli (sevai).

Now coming to the best part about this dish. It tastes great cold too, which makes it perfect for lunch boxes, make ahead lunches and even dinner parties. A huge platter of this noodle dish is such an eye pleaser with its rich colours and textures.

For lots more lunchbox ideas, do follow my Facebook Page - Saffron Trail and Instagram (@saffrontrail) - these are updated more regularly on a real time basis :)

Lunchbox, lunch, dinner or snack - a dish for any meal

Recipe for Vegetable and Peanut Noodles / Noodles for lunchbox
Serves 2

200 grams noodles 
1 tbsp peanut oil
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 small red bell pepper
1 small onion
1 small green bell pepper
1 small carrot
1/4 tsp salt

2-3 tbsp finely chopped coriander
2 tbsp soy sauce (if light soy, then use 3 tbsp)
3-4 tbsp lemon juice or 2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp honey
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp chilli flakes 
1 tsp sesame oil (optional)

1/4 cup crushed peanuts (roasted and then coarsely powdered or crushed)


Finely chop the garlic. Peel, halve and slice the onions. Chop the bell pepper and carrot into sticks.

Place a wok / kadai on the flame with 1 tbsp oil. Once oil is heated through, add garlic, onions, bell peppers and carrots. Add a pinch of salt and allow them to soften a bit, but not fully cooked. They should retain their colour and some of the texture. Remove from flame and keep aside. Transfer the veggies into a large bowl.

Fill a big pot or wok with water. Once it comes to a boil, add 1 tsp salt, the noodles and bring to a boil again. Cook as per instructions on the packet. In this case, after boiling for 2 minutes, drain the noodles and wash under running cold water, so they stop cooking and don't stick to each other. Add this to the veggies in the bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients for the dressing.

Pour this dressing on top of the noodles and veggies and toss gently using finger tips.
Top with crushed peanuts and toss once more. 

If serving on a platter then reserve some of the peanuts and coriander and add on the top as a garnish. If not serving immediately, keep the noodles and veggies tossed in dressing in an airtight container in the fridge. Toss in peanuts just before serving.

10 August 2014

Tomatoes: Photography, Recipes and Quotes

"Learn to shoot in Manual mode," said Aparna, in her session on Food Photography in our Indian Food Bloggers' Meet. And I have taken it quite seriously. My camera setting has been on Manual for the last few days. 

Today, when a small basketful of tomatoes, plucked from the garden, needed a good wash before stowing them away carefully, I decided to click a few pictures of them. And at 80 Rs a kilo, tomatoes have become precious commodity, a treasure quite deserving their own little photo shoot. I have not edited the photos, thereby trying to preserve the mood and the light they have been shot in, one odd photo has been cropped though. All photos have been shot in natural light, of course :)

It's difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.
Lewis Grizzard

Tried this 2 minute, 2-ingredient pasta sauce

“You're always such a disappointment, Augustus. Couldn't you have at least gotten orange tomatoes?”

This South Indian tomato chutney promises to make your idlis, dosas and even curd-rice taste so much better!

I don't care what anybody says: Nothing is better than a tomato you grow. There's something about it that's different than a tomato you can buy. It's a great thing.
Tom Vilsack

Beautifully imperfect

When you cut that eggplant up and you roast it in the oven and you make the tomato sauce and you put it on top, your soul is in that food, and there's something about that that can never be made by a company that has three million employees.
Mario Batali
Basking in the mellow morning light

Given that tomato prices are sky-rocketing in most parts of India, I know that this is not the best time to be sharing tomato recipes. When there was a similar crazy price hike last year, I wrote a column for Mint on alternatives to tomatoes in Indian cooking and we did come up with quite a list which you may find useful. 

8 August 2014

Inspirations from Indian FoodBloggers' Meet 2014

If you follow even a few Indian foodbloggers on any of the social media platforms, or even know any personally, you would have heard of our event- IFBM2014 that happened on 1st and 2nd August, 2014. The first of it's kind in India, bringing together passionate Indian foodbloggers from around the country (and even outside of it), was something my fellow foodbloggers dreamt about and I was honoured to be a part of the team that executed this event, taking it from a dream to a reality.

The organising team - Photo credit: Jayashree Mudaliar / cookingepisodes.com

Check all the photos from the event on our Facebook Page 

Some bytes from the media -
Pre-event coverage by Mint Lounge
Event coverage by New Indian Express
Event coverage by The Hindu - Metro Plus - Hyderabad

Your's truly gave a talk on Social Media for Foodbloggers, which I will be sharing as a document for anyone who cares to know more about this. Despite the hustle-bustle of being one of the organisers, I managed to gather a lot of inspirations from the sessions and speakers. Being a foodblogger for 8+ years can really get you in a jaded spot for lack of ideas, inspirations and more. Here, I got the push to style food better, shoot outside of your comfort zone in food photography, be more inspired in food writing and of course, the all important SEO tips and tricks. 

 The panel discussion on Beyond Blogging was really enlightening in terms of the the opportunities for foodbloggers wherein we can actually turn into paid professionals in a field of our calling such as writing / photography / styling / recipe development and so on. This was especially useful for the relatively newer bloggers, getting inspiration from the others who have been there-done that. 

It felt wonderful to put a face to the names of so many bloggers we've been interacting with over the years, but never got a chance to meet face to face. And our venue partner, Aloft Bengaluru, Cessna Business Park pulled out all the stops to keep foodbloggers happy with each meal laid out around a beautiful theme and a hospitality like we've never experienced before. Our 24 odd brand partners totally showered the participants with goodies and prizes for contests, which they had a tough time packing and lugging back to their houses. All in all, a superb time full of warm bonding and many learnings was what IFBM2014 was all about and much more.

You can expect to see some better photography and better writing from me thanks to IFBM2014, that's for sure :) Please hold me to that promise!!

28 July 2014

An open letter to those who think my business is their business

So I attended the Tata Zest bloggers' meet 'Zest up your life' organised by Blogadda over the weekend, to test drive the car and live blog the experience. That, once again brought the animositical tweets crawling out of the word-work. 

While the above tweet was merely a speculation, the one that follows, by a talented female photographer, was clearly judgmental on how foodbloggers can only cook or eat. 
 And the one below shows that even so called friends don't care about etiquette in the online world. After all, this is India and you can freely go around asking people -"So what is your package?" and they are not even supposed to feel taken aback. 

The first two tweets were featured in Karthik's post reacting to the (over)reactions around the Tata Zest event hashtag that was merrily doing the rounds on the Twitter timeline over the weekend. I even complimented him on his balanced analysis, despite him using me as an example in his post (not naming me, of course).

A tirade was launched against me when I did a contest for a brand, a couple of years ago. Quite a few people I loved and respected unfollowed me for good. I've learnt to move on quickly, often ignoring such caustic comments and remarks, thinking these are the people who are either bitter by nature, or they are generally having a bad day and need to take it out somewhere. But sometimes, I don't want to ignore.

This is for those of you who were itching to ask or did ask one of the following questions:
"Why did she get invited to this event?"
"Why did a food-blogger go for a car event?"
 "She should stick to cooking and eating. Driving? Bah!"
 "How much did these guys pay her to get her to Goa?"
"Oh, she's a sellout, a free trip to Goa and a free lunch at Zuri, how can she refuse?"
"How much were you paid per tweet on that hashtag?"
"Are these paid tweets?"

I'm in a generous frame of mind today (from the millions I earned over the weekend, of course) and hence I shall answer your questions. 

In the days before you started watching stuff downloaded off torrents, you might have watched television commercials. Even today, if you listen to FM radio on your way to work, chances are you listen to more ads and less music. Ads are inevitable if you are not pirating content or buying a DVD / CD. Heck even those DVDs come with ads of other movies / series.

If you thought social media was born as a philanthropic idea of the internet for the sole purpose of sharing photos with your extended family or for having philosophical conversations and pun making in 140 characters, I am sorry to break your bubble. Social media platforms are built by companies whose primary monetizing strategy is advertising. Heard of Google and Facebook? 

Having been around on Twitter for around 6 years now, like it or not, I am a part of this advertising ecosystem. We are in a changing world. Apart from spending millions of $$ on celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan or Priyanka Chopra, brands are keen on focussing on micro-advertising, with small or no budgets, using what they call influencers in different fields. You can surely question my knowledge on cars just as you can question Mr.Bachchan's knowledge of jewelery or Basmati rice. The wide range of products he endorses may well mean he is the most knowledgable person on earth in every existing field. Unfortunately it doesn't work that way. People don't want to buy a car after listening to an automobile engineer's spiel on the kerb weight of the car or the maximum torque of the engine. They buy a product because they connect with the experiences and emotions of a common man. I'm talking about lay people here, not people who start their day with Jalopnik. You can well doubt the intelligence of the marketing team at Tata Motors for choosing dumb food bloggers or irritating mommy bloggers to talk about their car to their follower and fan base. You can even diss us for taking up this assignment, whatever our reasons for taking it up may be. But then you have to be prepared to take the only answer that is apt for all your comments and questions - which in polite words would be "none of your business" or in slightly harsher terms "fuck off".

I am an ethical person. I extend that to my blog. If I have eaten a meal sponsored by a restaurant, I label it as 'By Invitation'. If you're really curious to see how many free meals I've eaten in my 8 years of foodblogging, feel free to click on 'By Invitation' tag. 
Even on external websites, a sponsored meal, is clearly labelled as just that. I don't gush in any review even if it is a sponsored one. I will say it like it is, and I often make it clear to the person inviting me, that inviting me doesn't guarantee a glowing review. A lot of PR companies, do not want to invite me after that, which I am completely happy with. At least this way we have our stands clear and no one is in for any surprises. I do this all for myself, and my conscience. 

I am most definitely not obliged to do any disclosures on Twitter that so-and-so brand has hired me for 'x' amount of money. It's Twitter, not the Income Tax Department of India. And you have no business expecting me to. Just the way, I don't ask you, "Hey, how much is your take home salary?" or "What is your bra size?". What I do with my social media is entirely my business. I don't charge you a fee for reading my tweets, so I'm sorry you don't get to have a say in what I tweet. If I'm tweeting for a brand or doing an activity for them, I'm only giving my opinion and sharing my experiences. If you take that as holding you by your collar and forcing you to buy that product, I can only say "LOL". 

Dear Tata Motors, please tell me how many of my Twitter followers have already booked the car thanks to my tweeting your hashtag over the weekend! And don't forget to give me my percentage in the sales. LOL!!

What was amusing was, one gentleman was diligently following the hashtag we used at the event over the weekend, and then he was cribbing "Oh my God, these guys are spamming so much." How different is this from watching a saas-bahu megaserial and then cribbing "Oh damn, this is so terribly regressive and boring." And now, to those traumatised by contests and hashtag deluge on your timeline, I have four suggestions to save yourself from the wrath of advertising on social media.
  1. Even us sell-outs have some ethics. We always use hashtags. Right click on the hashtag and mute it. Don't know how to mute? Here, let me direct you to a helpful link
  2. Too lazy to mute or learn how to mute? There's always the Unfollow button. 
  3. You hate ads in general? Read up on Adblock plus and install it.
  4. Not up for any of the above? I have the best solution for you. Get off the internet :) 
Coming back to the question that's been eating your insides- what did I get for attending the event?
I got the thrill of driving the first all-Indian Diesel AMT car on the streets of Goa. 
I got the pleasure of networking with some amazing people and making a few friends. 
I got 15 precious minutes on the beach. 
Oh, I forgot about the 2 tee-shirts, which I'm willing to ship to anyone to asks for it (only within India, please). 
I would like to keep the customised Blogadda badge though. 
Yes, ALL THIS, at the cost of losing a weekend with my family, but they welcomed me with a warm meal and lots of hugs, that nearly made up for it.

Feel free to follow/unfollow me @saffrontrail :)


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