Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Bollywood Cooking: The Basics of an Indian Chicken Curry

Chicken Curry by Meeta K. Wolff (2)
Craving a curry for dinner perhaps?  A hot chicken curry is probably just what you need to tickle those taste buds and nothing beats a plate of curry atop a bed of steaming rice on a cold Autumn night. While curry has become a mainstream dish, the Pan-Asian versions of the curry has very little to do with the authentic dishes you will find in India or Pakistan. Furthermore, many of the curries found in restaurants across Europe offer at times, tame and altered versions or have extremely rich components making them a heavy affair.

The curries in Indian homes are simple, depending more on the flavors achieved by combining a variety of spices rather than drowning the dish in cream and oil.

Bollywood Cooking_1
To show you how we make curries at home I share the recipe for my favorite curry and have broken it down in all its components. This is the basic method to almost any meat based curry, where you can substitute the chicken with beef, lamb or pork. For those who are venturing into curry making for the first time - have no fear - while the ingredient list looks long you will find all the items in any well stocked supermarket and Indian grocery store.

In an Indian kitchen a chicken curry would not be based solely on the breasts. We are all about the bones. The bones of the meat secure all the good stuff in it, giving the curry the flavor boost that chicken breasts or boneless meat just cannot. For flavors to be imparted in an aromatic curry, the flavors need to be added into the curry. A chicken breast is essentially quite a terse piece of meat, rather bland and does not offer much in terms of flavor to transfer into the curry. The flavor from meat on a bone however, is not only within the flesh but you are getting all the big, hidden and glorious flavors from within the bones. As the curry simmers gently on the stove, those flavors that are exuded from the bones is what transforms your curry from a plain tasting curry to an explosive Indian curry.
The Cornerstones of a Curry
Even if you are very much about chicken breasts, bring yourself to throw a few extra pieces of chicken on a bone, like the wings, to add more powerful flavor to the curry. That is the most fundamental secret to an exceptional Indian curry.

Once the meat on a bone issue is sorted, the three principal ingredients to any Indian meat curry are onion, ginger and garlic. These are usually finely chopped or pureed into a paste.
Tip: When I make curries I usually throw additional onions, garlic cloves and ginger into the food processor and process to give me finely chopped pieces. I reserve what I need for the curry and transfer the rest into ice trays, freezing them into cubes. Once frozen I simply place the cubes in a Ziploc freezer bag. Perfect, portioned cubes of onion, ginger and garlic ready to go whenever you crave a curry.
As you sauté the onion, ginger and garlic, melting it down to a slightly golden color we need to create the gravy or the masala for the curry. Enter the wonderful piquant array of Indian spices. India boasts a massive variety of spices and for those of you who are unfamiliar with many of the spices the selection can become a giddying experience.
Tip: I have broken down many of the spices used in the Indian kitchen in my Indian spice guide  The guide gives an overview of all the spices we use in our kitchens, making it easier to understand how basic spices are combined with complementary or secondary spices for a different balance of flavors in your curries.
A pivotal spice blend in the Indian kitchen is garam masala, which uses a mix of different spices, from cumin, coriander, cardamom to poppy seeds and saffron. No two spice blends are alike and each cook has his own secret mixture.

Garam masala in the chicken curry is added to the onion, ginger and garlic mixture and allowed to release its aromas in the pan for a few minutes. In theory this would be all you need in terms of spices to form the basis of a curry. However we Indians like complex and intricate flavors, demanding a lot from our taste buds, we elevate some of the different flavors that are contained in the garam masala. Depending on how you would like your curry to taste, you simply add a little more of the individual spices found in the garam masala. For a floral and herby flavored curry increase the level of ground coriander and/or for a piquant and strong flavored curry add more ground cumin and/or for a slightly softer, sweeter note a dash more of cinnamon should do the trick.

As the spices heat up with the onion, ginger and garlic mixture, the aromatic oils are drawn out of all the perfumed woody spices added to the curry. If you were to add these spices later, with the tomatoes for example, they would not have the opportunity to unfold their flavors and give the vibrant performance in the curry.

Fresh or canned tomatoes are then added to the pan and left to simmer down and caramelize. This is an important stage in a curry. The tomatoes need to be allowed the time to bubble through and the perfumed oils to emerge to the top and turn the mixture golden. At this point another essential spice is added to the curry - turmeric.
Turmeric Spice by Meeta K. Wolff
In every curry I cook I use three cardinal spices - the key spice in meat curries is garam masala, to every curry I also add turmeric and chili. Turmeric is the quintessential spice in the Indian spice kitchen and as a ground root it brings the essence of earthy flavors to the curry. Besides lending its vivid yellow color to the curries it is added to, turmeric is a wonder spice with incredible healing properties.

Once the oils begin to separate in the tomato mixture it is time to add the chicken (or meat) pieces, covering them with the masala mixture and water and then left to simmer for a good 40 minutes. Often I will add a pinch of sugar to enhance the caramelized taste of the onions and tomatoes.
Tip: Do not add too much water as once you have salted the curry the meat will begin to release its juices adding more liquid to the curry. You do not want thin watery curry but rather a curry with a thick gravy coating the meat. 
Add a handful of chopped coriander leaves to the curry to give it a refreshing, slightly lemony and minty flavor, rounding off the curry perfectly.
Chicken Curry by Meeta K. Wolff
This is not a fancy type of chicken curry nor will you find this kind of curry on the menu of a restaurant. This is the curry we cook at home on any night of the week - if needed - on every night of the week!

I like marinating my chicken in a yogurt and buttermilk spice mixture allowing the meat not only more time with the spices but also the yogurt-buttermilk tenderizes the meat making it more succulent. This is optional and you can leave it out if you are pressed for time.
Besides adding garam masala, I up the levels of ground coriander, cumin and add a pinch of cinnamon. A few crushed cardamom pods also go into my curry - what can I say I am a true spice girl.

Give your taste buds a real party!

Recipe: The Basic Chicken Curry
Printable version of recipe here
Chicken Curry by Meeta K. Wolff
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes plus marination overnight
Serves: 8

Ingredients:
  • 3 tablespoons Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 8-10 chicken drumsticks and thighs, skinned
  • 2 tablespoons rape seed oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 large onions, finely chopped
  • large thumb size ginger, finely chopped
  • 3 teaspoon garam masala
  • 2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 4 cardamom pods, cracked
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 800g fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 small red chili, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • Salt to taste
  • Handful of coriander, chopped
Method:
  1. For the marination mix together the yogurt, buttermilk, 1 teaspoon turmeric, 2 teaspoon garam masala, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon ground cumin. Prick the chicken pieces with a knife. Place the pieces in a large dish and pour the marinade over the chicken. Make sure the pieces are nicely coated then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  2. Bring the chicken to room temperature. Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion, garlic, ginger and sauté gently until transparent. Add the 3 teaspoons garam masala, 2 teaspoon cumin, 2 teaspoon coriander, cardamom and cinnamon. Continue to sauté the onion mixture until golden and caramelized. Add the tomato paste and the chopped tomatoes. Mix well and allow the mixture to simmer until the oils begin to separate - about 8-10 minutes.
  3. Once the mixture comes together add the chili, turmeric and salt and simmer for another few minutes, then add the chicken, reserving the marinade.
  4. Cook chicken in the masala for a few minutes. Pour about a cup of water to just about cover the the pieces. Simmer uncovered for 40-45 minutes, adding the marinade to the mixture 15 minutes before the end of the cooking time. The chicken should be cooked to the bone and the gravy should be thick. Adjust the seasoning, sprinkle with fresh coriander leaves and serve hot with steamed spiced basmati rice.
Notes:
The Indian kitchen is a treasure of spices and we use the colorful palate to create aromatic and explosive curries. We’re not about the heat but about the art of blending a mixture of spices together to bring out intriguing flavors. In my Indian Spice Guide I talk you through the basic spices used in Indian kitchen, the complementary spices and the aromatic secondary spices.

Cooking fluffy, scented rice to accompany the curries is as important on the Indian dinner table as the curry itself. Indians use the elegant long grained basmati rice, adding whole spices like cloves, cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks or bay leaves to gently perfume it or golden fried onions, peas and coriander leaves for more flavor. Check out Rosa’s helpful guide to cooking the perfect steamed basmati rice.

Verdict
Chicken Curry by Meeta K. Wolff (3)
Having travelled and lived all across the globe I find delight in all kinds of cuisines, but I always come back to my own simple Indian dishes the way my mum, my nani (grandmother) and my dad makes them, adding my own touch. My dad’s easy no-fuss version of chicken curry is a dish I turn to on weeknights when the curry craving kicks in and we all are really looking forward to a hassle-free curry. Yes my dad is a breast-man (sounds naughty) but over the years I have convinced him to throw in a few pieces of wings for the extra flavor.

Dubai Workshop UpdateTavola
A few exciting updates on the upcoming Dubai Food Photography and Styling Workshop today. We’ve integrated a new session to the programme and I am really excited that my dear friend Sally Prosser (the incredible hostess behind the workshop) will be holding a session on “Social Media Strategy for Food Blogging.” Sally will give us tips and share secrets on how to optimize our social media know-how for best results. As a Marketing Communications Consultant, specializing in Social Media Strategy, she has all the experience to lead this session.

A vital part of food styling is the props! Finding the right selection of props to match the mood and atmosphere of the image is an important factor. That is why I am extremely thrilled to announce our collaboration with Tavola ME. The folks at Tavola have literally opened their store for us and will be sponsoring all the props we need to set the perfect scene for our assignments.

With the lovely Dima Sharif creating an impressive Moroccan menu for us, a field trip to the amazing Atlantis,The Palm for a tasting and meeting a surprise celebrity chef (more on that next week) this workshop is on the roll! More details here.

Monthly Mingle October
MonthlyMingleBannerOctober2012
Over on Jenn Cuisine you can check out the amazing roundup for September’s mingle “Americana”. Check it out.

This month we are heading over to Utah to join the delightful Dara of Cookin Canuk, who will be hosting October’s Monthly Mingle. Her theme is “Squash” the perfect ingredient for October!

You have the whole of October to present your incredible squash dishes. Deadline is 31 October. Hope to see you there!


You might like these curry ideas from WFLH:
ChickenTikkaMasala02 framed[2] Butter Chicken 01 framed[4] MutterPaneer_0041CRMeetaK2a_thumb
Chicken Tikka Masala Creamy Butter Chicken Mutter Paneer – Indian Cheese with Peas in a Creamy Tomato Sauce



All photographs and written content on What's For Lunch, Honey? © 2006-2012 Meeta Khurana Wolff unless otherwise indicated. | All rights reserved | Please Ask First

57 comments :

  1. A mouthwatering dish and informative post! I am a sucker for Indian curries. Simply beautiful.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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    1. Yes i love curries too LOL! Glad you like this Rosa! I loved your article about cooking rice. Spot on!

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  2. I love it! At home, we hardly ever use ground spices. Usually my dad dry roasts the spices (or toasts it, can't remember the right term), and adds them to the onions/hot oil. But that means you shouldn't have a problem biting into a whole spice. And he has his tiny jar of ground spices, a bit of which he adds to the curry AFTER it is cooked. Gives it a nice finish.

    Loved the pics, looks quite different from what your usual ones.

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    1. I do roast and grind my own garam masala at home too but buy small quantities of ground spices from my organic store.
      Glad you liked the post and the images! Thank you.

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  3. Incredible photos of a dish I could eat every day. I love the colors and can't wait to try your recipe, Meeta. xx

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    1. Lora I would love to cook for you. We seem to have a date for cocktails and curry now ;o)

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  4. Your pics are such an inspiration Meeta. I can feel your energy and passion from 9300K away!

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    1. HA! Oh this made my day. Thank you ... it's what I really try to do, get my friends and readers feeling enough energy to want to go and make this ;o) xo

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  5. What a great post, Meeta! I am totally in love with your pictures and the dish is looking divine. Thank you very much for sharing these helpful information - I am a fan of curries and would love to try the recipe.
    Hugs, Sandy

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    1. Maybe we should have a curry night at my place Sandy. Thanks for the comment!

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  6. Incredible photographs. I love stopping by your blog every time. Coincidentally, I made a chicken curry too last night.

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  7. I have always , always preferred chicken with bones and for some reason I enjoy home made, simple, uncomplicated chicken curry more than the restaurant ones. Beautiful styling Meeta, with the gorgeous red fabric!

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    1. Thanks! Yes he bones possess the secret flavors. On weeknights when I make a quick version of this I will use breasts but still buy wings and throw it in for the flavor!

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  8. Meeta love how you have broken down curry in a way that everyone can understand and replicate. We too use chicken and meat on the bones for curries and other stews because of the flavour and the longer cooking process requires meat that can hold up. In a typical Jamaican home, the entire chicken is curried but hardly anyone wants the breast meat! Gorgeous images as usual! The workshop sounds very promising indeed! Lots of great material for any food blogger wishing to get his/her blog to the next level!

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    1. I for one am thrilled that you are part of the workshop. Cannot wait to work with your lovely tableware!

      I love Jamaican cuisine but have to admit that i do not cook it very often at home. Would love to try some of your cooking ;o)

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  9. Great breakdown of why ingredients are used. Although I don't cook meat, this was a fantastic read and full of lovely tips. Great stuff Meeta. Thank you!

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    1. I guess that is a sign of a good recipe/post when one gets commended by a person not eating meat. Love it! Thanks! I have made similar versions using cauliflower, potatoes and pumpkin too.

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  10. Great tip about freezing the chopped onion, garlic etc. Can't wait for the workshop - it's going to be so brilliant.

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    1. Yeah the extra few minutes it takes to chop the onions in the processor is worth it. YOu have curries for a few dishes with that ;o)

      Yes looking forward to Dubai and the workshop and meeting everyone again.

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  11. I am a vegetarian, but i know how much my husband and daughter digs for a bone in a curry. I love how simple ingredients make a beautifully aromatic dish. Love your photographs.

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    1. Thank you. I hope they will. Come back and tell me how they liked it.

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  12. Well explained! And the chicken looks wonderful! I remember a breakfast at Kaleidoscope restaurant at the Atlantis...it was awesome...!

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    1. The Atlantis is very impressive and offers superlatives in everything. Glad you like the curry and the tips!

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  13. That's a good looking curry. I bet it also taste good as it looks. Thanks for the tips for making a great curry, Indian style.
    Ecommerce Australia

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  14. The curry looks perfect. My fav. Its always so flavorful and spicy for me.

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    1. With regards to the spiciness I tend to keep the heat low for a few reasons: my son is not fond food that is too hot and I personally prefer having the flavors of other spices than just heat from the chili. It depends on your taste so you can add more if you like.

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  15. You are right about using meat on a bone instead of boneless. Adds so much more flavor to any curry.

    So delicious, Meeta. I am drooling even at past midnight :D

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    1. A mignight curry meal sounds nice to me. Thanks for the comment Kiran and glad you liked the post/recipe!

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  16. Thanks ever so much for speaking about my rice post and linking to it! :-)

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  17. Awesome post Meeta! As one who has had her share of curry failures I've come to realize that the power is all in the spices. No more preground spices for me!

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    1. Simone yes it's the spices that makes a big difference. However I have to say buying small amounts of quality ground spices is fine. But for the garam masala - yes always grind your own spice mixture.

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  18. I really enjoyed reading how you explained each spice. Your blog is a must save to my favorites!! Thank you.

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    1. Thank you! I am so glad you like what I am doing here. Enjoy browsing and stay in touch!

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  19. Brilliant post and so informative for people like me who love curry but don't have the instinct of the knowledge to cook a curry easily like you do. And you know your other chicken curry dish is a favorite in my house and gets cooked regularly. Now you just gave me a second one. It looks out of this world good!

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    1. I just love knowing that my curries are a hit with you and your men! I'd love it even more if I could cook for you all! Hugs!

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  20. Yuuuuummmmmyyy.. This is what I call my comfort food. A simple chicken curry with beautiful flavors and a bowl of hot steaming rice. I want that Kadai (with the chicken) ;P

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    1. Yes - totally right! Me too a simple chicken curry always rocks here too. Glad you like this one Soma!

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  21. I've always wanted to cook more Indian food but I've hesitated... This post, with the beautiful pictures and informative tips has given me the confidence to try.

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    1. Oh Sarah I do hope the post encourages you. I wish I could cook it for you :o) Maybe one day!

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  22. Great post. Your tips really add to the recipe...makes it less intimidating for me for sure! (It is true, the more ingredients the more intimidating.) Your photos in the post are absolutely fantastic!!

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    1. Thank you so much! Do not let that intimidate you at all. Like I said in the post for the beginning you are fine with just garam masala. Then simply play with other spices to adjust the levels as you like.

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  23. Oh how I love Indian cuisine! I fell in love while living in England (it was certainly the more tastier food choice), then my daughter went to India for 1 month, had scads of Indian friends and taught me the "real" Indian cooking. Of course no recipes....I've been searching for one that was just like the ones I was shown and tada, here is your post...an almost exact match.

    Now some dahl and roti and I'm all set!

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    1. Oh yes what a lovely comment. Thrilled that this matches the recipe you were looking for. I so hope you enjoy it and maybe cook it for your daughter as a surprise.

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  24. Oh I do love a good curry & this one sounds wonderful....so fragrant. Just reading it has my taste buds tantalized!

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  25. Found my way over here by a picture of this dish on Pinterest. Not only does it sound wonderful, it looks so great...especially in that fabulous dish. May I ask where you found these? Thanks!

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  26. Hi Meeta! I'm glad to have found this recipe at a timely manner. I was looking for an Indian recipe that features spices like turmeric, and your recipe perfectly fits. Big thanks! :)

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  27. when curry is being preapared simmering is under a lid or in open pan?

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  28. And one more question, cardamon pods - brown or green?

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  29. I am using the lid only to prevent the dish to loose too much water... and with cardamom I go for the green ones.
    That curry is a really good everyday-curry! When I make a curry, usually coriander and cumin is the basis, plus some garam masala. It tastes too much like Christmas when I put cinnamon and gloves into.
    Regards,
    Dippegucker from Frankfurt

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  30. There are many chicken curry recipes around but yours was so informative and everything was really clearly explained - especially about garam masala. I use it but I never really knew how important it was. thanks!

    saritaagerman.blogspot.it

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  31. this is a great explanation of what a simple, delicious, comforting curries should be like. I agree with your above comment on how restaurants make it thick with cream. Home cooked curries are the best :)your photographs are beautiful and looking forward to read more of your posts.

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  32. I made this dish and it was absolutely amazing. Thanks so much!

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  33. beautiful post and looks very delicious recipe absolutely amazing experience with this dish thank you so much for this recipes..

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  34. Nice post, I bookmark your blog because I found very good information on your blog, Thanks for sharing more informatiom
    http://goo.gl/tGqfRs




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  35. Your description of your chicken curry recipe is tantalizing. Not only are you an excellent writer but, obviously, a wonderful cook and consummate photographer! I thoroughly enjoyed your post and look forward to enjoying more on entries on your blog.

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Thank you for visiting What's For Lunch, Honey? and taking time to browse through my recipes, listen to my ramblings and enjoy my photographs. I appreciate all your comments, feedback and input. I will answer your questions to my best knowledge and respond to your comments as soon as possible.

In the meantime I hope you enjoy your stay here and that I was able to make this an experience for your senses.

Hugs
Meeta