Homemade Gummy Bears

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Who doesn’t love a gummy candy? This stretchy, chewy concoction is a staple in our household and my kids are absolutely nuts about it. As hands-on parents, my wife and I prefer homemade treats whenever possible; that way, we know exactly what and how much of it is going on in the preparation.

For the past year or so, I’ve been trying to find a good candy recipe that has the right ‘gumminess’ to it; most recipes rely on store-bought flavored gelatin, which, to be honest, doesn’t ‘feel’ that good. Obviously, I took the Gummy Challenge head-on and came up with this really good (and somewhat healthy) recipe after a few failed attempts. The gummies turned out surprisingly chewy and tangy, with a good stretchy consistency. Here, I am presenting two variations of the recipe; ‘Citrus Blast’ and ‘Very Berry’. But before you proceed any further, pay heed to my words: once you pop, you can’t stop!

Tools and Utensils:

  • Silicone molds (easy to remove the gummies once set and no need to grease – available online or in stores)
  • Plastic molds/ice-cube trays (apply some cooking spray/oil before pouring the gummy mixture)
  • Dropper
  • Saucepan
  • Measuring cups & spoons
  • Bowls (if you wish to mix in different food colors)
  • Whisk
  • Ziploc bags
  • Airtight container

Ingredients for Citrus Blast:

  • 1 cup cold juice comprising of:
    • 1 cup minus 3 tbsp fresh orange juice (without pulp)
    • 2 tbsp lemon juice (without pulp)
    • 1 tbsp lime juice (without pulp)
  • 6-8 drops orange oil
  • 4-5 drops lemon essence

Ingredients for Very Berry:

  • 1 cup cold juice comprising of:
    • 1 cup minus 1 tbsp mixed berry juice (without pulp)
    • 1 tbsp lemon juice (without pulp)
  • 4-5 drops strawberry essence

Common ingredients:

  • 30 gms gelatin (I got 3 sachets of 10 gms each)
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 pinch citric acid powder
  • a few drops of natural food colors (optional)

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Method:

  1. Pour cold juice into a saucepan and add corn syrup to it; mix well till both are uniformly combined
  2. Add gelatin to the juice and whisk it all up so that no lumps are visible
  3. Set the mixture aside for 5 to 7 minutes to let the gelatin bloom
  4. Put the saucepan on a medium-low flame and add the sugar to the gelatin mixture; cook for 8 to 9 mins, stirring constantly
  5. Take the pan off the heat and mix in the oil, essence and citric acid powder
  6. If you want to use food colors, divide the liquid into separate bowls, add a few drops of color to each bowl and mix well
  7. Using a tablespoon or a dropper, pour in the hot mixture into silicone molds; work fast as you don’t want the liquid to start solidifying
  8. Refrigerate the molds for 90 minutes
  9. Remove gummies from the molds and place them on a tray
  10. Keep the tray in an open place, covered with a thin cloth, for 36 hours (larger candies) or 8 hours (tiny candies/gummy bears) to let the sugar crystallize – this will give the gummies their stretchy texture
  11. Keep them in a cool dry place (use a ziploc bag or an airtight container) to preserve freshness; for the gummies to really feel like the store-bought ones, consume them after 7-8 days
  12. Consume them within 1 week

Try going insane with whatever tickles your fancy; just substitute the juice, oil, and essence to experiment with interesting combos. Do share your exploits in the comments section below so that others can try them too. Enjoy!

NOTE FOR VEGETARIANS: Try using 10 grams Agar-Agar (also known as China Grass) powder as a substitute for the gelatin. The texture of the gummies would be slightly brittle as agar coagulates differently. Alternatively, you can use vegetarian gelatin/gels available in the market. I haven’t tried china grass for this recipe but I’m sure they’d taste great. If you do try a vegetarian variant, please let me know!

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Zesty Orange Chicken

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Oranges taste great on their own; I hardly know anyone who doesn’t like them. They are a mind-blowing combination with chocolate, second only to mint, and are used extensively in desserts. But never in a million years had I expected to fall head-over-heals in love with oranges in an entrée. I’ve been obsessed with Orange Chicken ever since I tried it some four odd years ago at a Chinese Restaurant.

Like all recipes I’m obsessed with, I tried recreating this sweet and sour concoction with a hint (subjective) of spice last weekend. After some experimentation, I got the flavor profile I was looking for; in retrospect, I should have left out a few ingredients that gave the dish some outlandish undertones, a clashing after-taste, if you may. The recipe below doesn’t include those ingredients so you should be able to enjoy a mouth-watering Orange Chicken. I strongly recommend serving this gravy with Chinese Fried Rice (leave me a comment if you want me to post a recipe).

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Ingredients:

  • ½ kg chicken (cut into one-inch cubes)
  • ½ cup + ½ cup fresh orange juice (I used navel oranges)
  • ½ tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp fresh orange zest
  • 5 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
  • 1” cube of ginger (finely chopped)
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp chili sauce
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar
  • I tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ tsp white pepper powder
  • ½ tsp chili flakes (optional)
  • ½ tsp black pepper powder
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp chicken powder
  • 1 tbsp corn flour
  • 5-7 dried red chilies (optional – I used African bird’s eye chili)
  • 1 tbsp peanuts (salted and roasted)
  • 2-3 spring onion stalks (one-inch pieces)
  • ½ green bell pepper (medium sized – cut into cubes)
  • 1 onion (medium sized – cut into cubes)
  • ¼ tsp MSG (a.k.a. ajino moto)
  • 3 tbsp sesame oil
  • Pinch of salt (optional)
  • 2 tsp honey (optional)

Method:

  1. Mix chicken, black pepper and corn flour and set it aside
  2. Heat sesame oil in a pan and add in garlic and ginger
  3. After a minute or so, add chicken to the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes
  4. Mix in chili flakes, onion powder, garlic powder, MSG, and white pepper and let it sit for a minute
  5. Add in ½ cup orange juice and lemon juice and let it cook for 2 minutes
  6. Add soy sauce, chili sauce and vinegar to the chicken and cook on high flame
  7. Once the sauces have dried out a bit, add in peanuts, dried chilies and the remaining ½ cup orange juice to it
  8. When the juice evaporates again, add in Worcestershire sauce, chicken powder, green peppers, onions and the spring onion
  9. At this point, taste the chicken and see if you need salt (as the sauces used are already salty) or honey (if you feel the chicken is a bit on the sour side – mainly because of the oranges used)
  10. Give the chicken a good mix and turn off the flame
  11. Take out in a serving bowl and garnish with some fresh orange zest

Serve without waiting another second – make sure you have the Fried Rice ready beforehand. Any comments and suggestions are always welcome.

Enjoy!

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My Quest For Peri-fection: Your Guide To Perfect Home-made Nando’s-style Peri Bites

Perfectly crunchy and crispy Nando's style Peri-bites

Perfectly crunchy and crispy Nando’s style Peri-bites

Obsession is a dangerous thing to have and once you get something in your head, it is impossible to let go of. For me, recreating restaurant recipes at home is one such obsession and at times, it drives me to the edge of insanity.

Nando’s Peri-bites has been an OCD of mine ever since I first tried it some five years back. These are deep-fried green chilies stuffed with a succulent, cheesy chicken filling that just melts in your mouth (and sets it ablaze). A few years back, I successfully created a Peri-bites recipe that tasted much better than the original; there were two problems I consistently faced:

  • the coating kept falling off
  • the filling kept oozing out

Not all chilies were affected, though, but a sizeable percentage (around 60-70%) had one or both of these flaws. Therefore, I kept on going back to Nando’s for my Peri-bites fix – my fellow Peri-junkies should be able to relate to this. On one of my more recent visits to Nando’s, I found several issues with my appetizer:

  • lack of chicken in the filling
  • the taste was a bit ‘off’
  • the coating wasn’t as crisp as it should be

With a broken heart and a huge disappointment (that would put Mt. Everest to shame), I put my culinary skills to the test and gave the recipe one more try. This recipe that I’m about to share is an absolute 110% improvement on the Nando’s original. I promise you will not be disappointed with the results.

Prep Time: 30 mins

Serves: 3-4 people

Ingredients

  • 1 medium egg
  • ½ cup milk
  • ¾ tablespoon corn flour
  • ¾ tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups bread crumbs (for dry coat)
  • ½ chicken breast (1-inch strips)
  • 2 teaspoon peri-peri sauce for cooking (hot or wild flavor)
  • 1 tablespoon peri-peri sauce for mixing in
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoon grated mozzarella
  • 1 tablespoon grated cheddar
  • 1 tablespoon cream cheese
  • 8-10 green chilies (approx. 3-4 inches in length – use banana peppers for a milder flavor)
  • Canola oil (for deep-frying)

Method

  1. In a sauce pan, put a teaspoon of oil and add the chicken breast
  2. Mix in the peri-peri sauce once the chicken is tender and turn off the heat after cooking for a minute; let the chicken cool
  3. After the chicken has cooled, add in cream cheese, mayonnaise, cheddar, mozzarella, and peri-peri sauce; mix well
  4. To fill the chilies, make a T-shaped incision from the base of the chili (as shown in the picture below) and take out the seeds
  5. Take about 1-2 teaspoon of the chicken filling (make sure there are chicken chunks in each portion) and stuff it gently into the chili; do not over stuff as the incision may not close and the filling may come out during frying
  6. In a bowl, mix the egg, milk, corn flour and all-purpose flour
  7. Dip each stuffed chili into the egg mix and roll it into the bread-crumbs; repeat this step twice for each chili
  8. Put a pan with oil on medium heat for deep-frying
  9. Gently drop each chili into the oil; try not to touch them for a minute to let the coating stick to the chili
  10. Cook them for a few more minutes till the chilies are crisp and golden
  11. Serve them immediately with a peri-peri sauce of your liking!

So what are you waiting for? Get started on a batch right away; it’s sure to knock your socks off and set your head steamin’. I hope you enjoy this recipe; comments would be appreciated!

 

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The Incision – ‘T’ marks the spot

 

A Lemony Twist On Fresa Colada

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What a typical Londoner might call a bright sunny day, we, the residents of Dubai, call a well-deserved break from the blistering summer sun that beats (mercilessly) down upon us for a good six months each year (five-and-a-half if we’re lucky). I personally love the Dubai winter, especially because it brings with it, a plethora of fresh seasonal fruits from the Middle eastern region, the most noteworthy of which are the strawberries flown in daily from Egypt.

I couldn’t resist myself from buying a kilogram of these tantalizing berries when I last went grocery shopping. Needless to say, we got tired of eating all these strawberries pretty soon, so I thought of making a refreshing drink out of it. I added some coconut water and lemon syrup to compliment the sweet and sour berries and the drink turned out better than expected.

Here’s the recipe if you want to replicate it at home. It serves two people.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups fresh coconut water (I use yellow Srilankan coconuts as they are a bit on the sweet side)
  • 6-8 medium strawberries
  • 2 tablespoon lemon syrup (alternately, you can use 1 tsp lemon juice and 2 tsp honey)
  • For garnish:
    • 2 medium strawberries (coarsely chopped)
    • 3-4 mint leaves
    • 5-6 ice cubes

Method

  1. Wash the strawberries and remove the leafy part; add them to a blender
  2. Add coconut water and lemon syrup the blender and mix well
  3. Pour the juice into mason jars and add in some ice
  4. Top the jars with chopped strawberries and mint
  5. Serve immediately

Hope you enjoy this drink as much as I did making it. I’d appreciate your comments if you do try this at home!

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Ramadan Recipes: Chicken Box Patties

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Ramadan is finally upon us, and with it, the culinary experiences we typically associate with this holy month. The activity in and around the kitchen increases significantly, owing to the maddening aromas emanating from the kitchen right around iftaar (time to break the fast). Family members who usually don’t even bother with the food-prep start hovering around to see what’s on the menu.

I belong to a family of food-lovers. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of my mother planning her iftaar menu weeks before Ramadan. I still remember how she wrote everything on a wall calendar; everything from appetizers to desserts. She made rainbow-colored jelly eggs and lip-smacking kukray (D-shaped samosas with mung daal and minced meat filling),  always on the hunt for new recipes to try. Watching her make those things was the highlight of my day and I have only her to thank for my culinary passion.

The Ramadan dastarkhwan (floor mats/carpets on which food is served) is empty without a selection of appetizers. I know of some families who absolutely positively need to have samosas and pakoras at iftaar, whereas others try different things. Luckily, I belong to the latter group. For me, an appetizer is the most important course, as it is the first thing you attack after breaking the fast. Thinking about first impressions, it can make or break your entire dining experience.

This Ramadan, I shall be sharing with you some appetizers handed down to me and others acquired along the way. The first entrant in this series is Box Patties. These perfect squares, created using samosa strips, are filled with a savory shredded chicken mixture that instantly satiates your spice cravings.

Prep time: 35 minutes for the filling and the box patties + 4 minutes for frying (per batch)

Yields: 18-20 patties

Serving size: 2 patties per person

Ingredients

  • 250 grams chicken breast
  • 1 tablespoon ginger paste
  • 1 tablespoon garlic paste
  • 1 tablespoon green chili paste
  • 1 tsp salt (for chicken)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 medium potato (boiled and diced)
  • 1 medium green bell pepper (capsicum – diced)
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoon all-purpose flour (stirred in with 1 tablespoon water – for filling)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (for filling)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (for paste)
  • 1 cup water
  • 40-50 samosa pastry strips

Method

  1. Add chicken, ginger paste, garlic paste, green chili paste, salt (for chicken) and water to a pot and cook it till the chicken is tender and the water has dried up
  2. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it and keep it aside
  3. Heat butter in a pan and add the green bell peppers to it; stir-fry for 1 minute
  4. Add soy sauce, salt (for filling), black pepper and red chili flakes to the capsicum and stir for a minute
  5. Add potatoes and the shredded chicken and mix it well
  6. Finally, add the flour and water mixture to the chicken; mix it immediately to prevent the flour from turning the filling too sticky
  7. Cook for a minute before turning the stove off
  8. In a bowl, mix the flour (for paste) in water; microwave for 40-50 seconds to get a thick glue-like consistency
  9. Fold the box patties as instructed in the video
  10. Deep fry in hot oil till the patties are crisp and golden-brown
  11. Serve with your favorite dipping sauce and enjoy!

Note: Ramadan is an ideal time to get in touch with your spiritual self, but sometimes, we just get too fixated on food and what to make for iftaar. I prefer making these appetizers in a larger batch and freezing them; they can be used for up to 15 days. This will give you plenty of time to reflect on yourself and significantly lessen your kitchen workload.

Please remember me in your prayers!

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Bananas for Bananas: My Obsession With Spicy Banana Chips

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Cravings are a natural part of life, primarily influenced by the feel-good sensation you have after you’ve consumed the coveted item to your heart’s content (or your stomach’s). But let me ask you a question: has your craving ever turned into an obsession – like Gollum’s my-precious-one-ring obsession? Just say it out loud; you know you want to!

My fixation doesn’t end with having this dish over and over again. I have to recreate it within the confines of my own kitchen with the ingredients that I happen to own so that I can have it whenever and wherever – no strings attached (apologies for this borderline OCD rant). It takes me days, sometimes even months, to come up with a recipe that’s 80 to 90 percent close to its original counterpart. The results are satisfying, to say the least; what’s even better is being able to share that recipe with the rest of the world. But the cherry on the top is when someone actually tries the recipe and gives me feedback on how it tastes and/or can be improved.

A brief list of some recent obsessions along with their current statuses follows:

Spicy Banana Chips are the latest addition to the list above. Ever since I first tried this snack in 2007, I’ve been head-over-heels in love with them. Originally from India (Kerala, to be precise), these delightfully crispy chips are a perfect mid-afternoon snack to help during those hunger pangs. The traditional Indian spicy chips are fried in coconut oil, topped with salt, pepper, and powdered curry leaves. I did find a tastier version more suited to my Karachiite palate at a bakery but the bakery doesn’t have them anymore; ergo, the obsession.

I decided to give the recipe a try at home and luckily, got it right the very first time; having said that,it wasn’t until the third try that I finally got a version tastier than any banana-chip variation I had ever tried before. So before you drool all over your favourite t-shirt, let me dive straight into the recipe.

Prep Time: 35-50 minutes (depending on how many batches you have to fry them in)

Servings: 5-6 (yields approx. 200 grams)

Serving Size: 30-40 grams

Ingredients

  • 1 kg raw bananas or plantains (characterized by their tough exterior)
  • ½ teaspoon chat masala (can be found at any Pakistani grocery store)
  • ½ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • ½ teaspoon red chili powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon black pepper powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon citric acid powder (or granules)
  • ⅛ teaspoon turmeric powder for seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder for soaking the bananas
  • 2 cups water
  • Oil for deep frying

Method

  1. Take a bowl and prepare the seasoning; mix the chat masala, salt, red chilli powder, black pepper powder, turmeric powder and citric acid powder – in case you have citric acid granules, you may need a mortar and pestle to powder it
  2. Prepare a water and turmeric solution and soak the peeled bananas in it for 5 minutes; peeling raw bananas can be a bit tricky so here’s a video that shows you how to do it
  3. In a deep pan, add canola oil for deep frying and heat it on a medium flame
  4. Once the oil is hot, make 2-3 mm thick slices of the banana using a slicer directly over the pan; please be very careful while doing this
  5. Let the chips sit for 45 seconds before tossing and turning them around; keep moving them till they are nice and golden to get an even color on both sides
  6. When these turn golden brown (it takes around 9-12 minutes), take them out in a bowl and liberally sprinkle the seasoning; toss them around for an even coat and then spread them on a paper towel
  7. Serve after they have cooled down somewhat
  8. Keep in a zip-lock bag for up to 5 days (good luck if they last that long) to preserve freshness

Now don’t just sit there and watch; go get some raw bananas and get slicing!

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Jammin’ Juice Lollies

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Who doesn’t love ice lollies? It’s easy to buy one from a supermarket freezer if you’re OK feeding artificial content (refined sugars, colours and flavours) to your kids. I prefer making one of these insanely delicious coolers, filling the lolly moulds with whatever’s left over. Three hours and a thousand are-they-done-yets later, I have happy smiling kids devouring refreshing/hygienic lollies. These especially come in handy during the summer months and are ideal as an after-school treat for kids.

You can try experimenting with other fruit juice combinations; some that work well together include:

  • Orange and mango
  • Orange and carrot
  • Pineapple and coconut
  • Lemon and honey
  • Mint and lime
  • Apple and pomegranate
  • Raspberry, strawberry and blueberry
  • Watermelon and strawberry