Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year and all that...

Every year, I am kind of tongue tied at New Year. All I can think of is "Groan, the holiday season is over. Kohl's is no longer open until midnight, there is no valid reason to switch on the fairy lights every evening and I have to go back and finish all the work I had pushed aside to be done 'after the holidays'." You can see that trend in last year's post and in the year before when I had actually thought I should keep shut and not blog much anymore. Thankfully, I woke out of that. I love to be here, to blog and I have also realized that it is okay to do it at my own pace. I have been blogging for 6 years now and I don't even have 500 posts to boast about but I think I have kind of found the balance so that is fine.

I do not have any resolutions for the next year or any looking back to the last and this sign is what I will try to live my life by every day (though I have no clue what citi pond is).

This other picture that I took in the city last week kind of reflects what I expect every year or rather day to be. I hope it is tall and glamorous with shiny windows and hanging verandahs but I also know that it can just be chipped walls and cracked window panes. In that case I at least want it to be happy, bright and colorful.

Hope your and mine New Year is filled with color, brightness, good health, happiness.

Here is a recap of recipes from each month of this year that was most liked by someone or the other(read myself, family, friends, readers, spammers).

January -- Pati Shapta

February -- Peyaajkoli Maach and Methi Begun

March -- Niramish Alu dom and this

April -- Ilish Maacher Tauk and T's Eggless Tiramisu

May -- Paneer Korma and Tel Koi

June -- Green Beans Bhorta and Chicken in Mint, Coriander and coconut gravy

July -- Potol Posto and Roshun Murgi

August -- Ahona's Methi Machchi and A's Saturday Night Mutton Biriyani

September -- Ma-in-law's Robibarer Mangshor Jhol

October -- Sondesh

November -- Chicken Keema Chop and Cranberry relish

December -- Chocolate Sheet Cake

See you again in a few days. There are some exciting recipes like a Thai fish and a wonderful cake baked by friend T that I want to share. Till then happy everything

Sunday, December 23, 2012

PW's Chocolate Sheet Cake-- ooyey gooey

The last few days I have been reeling under a sense of  helplessness. As have been many others. A school in Connecticut, a bus in Delhi, different situations, different countries and the same loathsome, monstrous nature of the human rearing its head. Being in a position where I can do little except e-mailing the principal of my daughters' school or voicing my opinion in certain online places, the helpless feeling has been gnawing my innards. I question my existence, my inability to do something to better the situations and all I have been feeling is immense sadness. Every time I have tried to sit down to write something here, words have seemed inadequate and meaningless.

However when you are a parent, you learn to have faith, to hope, to look forward and then make a cake for the one who turned nine. You also learn that cooking and using a lot of butter helps in that direction. Now husband-man says that it is the banana which has the chemicals to make you happy but I think it is butter aided with loads of sugar which actually does the trick.

In the last 21 days of my attempt to make more inglish-vinglish recipes, I have bought and used as much butter as I would have probably done in a whole hunk of a year. I have never really been a very "butter" kind of person. Those creamy sticks do not turn me on and except for a lick of  Amul butter here or a smear on my toast, I choose to stay away from them. Of course if I had chosen salads instead of cookies and brownies, the butter story would be different. But then what is inglish-vinglish if not an ooey gooey chocolate cake or a buttery cookie? For everything else there is alu posto.

Now many of you who read me know that I not the best of bakers, nor am I the worst of bakers. I mean I was worst, but not anymore. I have mastered enough control on my ADD to stick to 1 Cup of AP flour if the recipe says "1 Cup of AP Flour". Earlier I would have translated it to 1/2 Cup of Wheat Flour plus 1/4th Cup of Flaxseed Flour and then skipped the baking soda.

But I still have enough fear of beating butter and sugar to creamy or egg whites to stiff peaks. I try to avoid any recipe that asks for egg whites to be separated and dutch processed cocoa to be bought. Well, I also try to blame my incompetency to the absence of  a shiny Kitchen Aid but guess no one has fallen for that yet.

Last week I baked this Chocolate sheet cake from Pioneer Woman.And I tell you it  is the easiest and best chocolate cake I have ever made. It has loads of butter but not a single step that instructs you to beat butter and sugar. Easily my kind of cake. It is also really, really, really good. And that frosting on it is to die for. Being a sheet cake it is not that thick and makes 20 to 30 squares depending on which size you cut it. I think it is the best cake you can take to a party or potluck.

We kept a large portion of the cake cut in squares in the refrigerator and ate it over 5 days. I would warm mine to make the frosting ooze. BS , LS and the Dad like the cake cold though. If you have not soaked your dry fruits in rum (like me), give this cake a chance. Chances are Santa might just fall for it.

What you Need For the Chocolate Sheet Cake

AP Flour -- 2 cup
Sugar -- 2 cup
Salt -- 1/4tsp

Cocoa -- 4 tbsp heaped
Butter -- 2 sticks (1 stick Butter=8 tbsp=1/2 cup=4oz=113gm)
Boiling Water -- 1 cup

Buttermilk -- 1/2 cup
Eggs -- 2 whole beaten
Baking Soda -- 1 tsp
Vanilla -- 1tsp

Note: If you do not have buttermilk, the original recipe suggests you make your own. Here is how --
Mix 1 tbsp of vinegar or lime juice with 1 cup of whole Milk. Let it sit until it curdles about 8-10 minutes

What you Need for Frosting

Pecans --  1/2 cup Finely Chopped
Butter -- 1-3/4th stick
Cocoa -- 4 tbsp
Milk -- 6 tbsp
Vanilla -- 1 tsp
Powdered Sugar -- 1 cup less than 1 pound
Semi-sweet chocolate chip -- 1/4th cup

Baked it in a 18 x 13 sheet cake pan

How I Did It

In a wide mouthed mixing bowl, add 2 cups of flour, 2 cups of sugar, and 1/4tsp salt. See, no sieve or anything. Cool isn't it.

In a saucepan, melt 2 sticks of butter. To it add 4 heaped tbsp cocoa. Stir together.

While butter is melting, start boiling a little more than 1 cup of water. Once you have mixed the butter+cocoa, add to it 1 cup of boiling water. Allow the whole mixture to boil for 30 seconds, then turn off heat. Pour over flour mixture, and stir. Mix so that the flour mixture mixes uniformly with the coco mixture.

In a measuring cup, pour 1/2cup buttermilk. To it add 2 beaten eggs,  1 tsp baking soda, and 1 tsp vanilla. Stir buttermilk mixture into flour+chocolate mixture. Pour into sheet cake pan(18 x 13) and bake at 350-degrees for 20 minutes.

Make Frosting

While cake is baking, make the frosting/icing. I started around 10 mins after the cake went in the oven.

Chop pecans finely. Melt 1 whole stick + 3/4th of another stick of butter in a saucepan. Add 4 tbsp cocoa. Add the chocolate chips. Stir to combine, then turn off heat. Add 6 tbsp milk, 1 tsp vanilla.
Now add the sugar. Now this cake is pretty sweet so I went less on the sugar in frosting. I used about 1&1/2 cup less than 1 lb of confectioners sugar. You can adjust this according to your taste. The original recipe asks for 1/2 cup less than 1 lb sugar. Mix uniformly to make a ooyey gooey chocolate frosting. Add the pecans and mix again.

Once the cake is done, take it out and pour frosting over warm cake.

You can eat the cake warm or cold. We liked it both ways.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies -- thick chewy cookie byte

This holiday season I have decided to take a resolution. Yes, it is better to have a resolution for just one month than the dreaded life long one in January. This way I can always concentrate on better stuff in January, like the chocolate covered cupcakes.

So I have resolved to cook more inglish kind of dishes this month. Now inglish does not necessarily mean English; it can be Italian or Moroccan or anything but Bengali. Inglish as in stuff my Grandmother had never heard of and would probably refuse to eat otherwise, stuff my Mother might have heard but never been interested to try them at home, stuff I have heard, probably tasted, some not tasted but never been too enthu to try them out at home.

But all that is going to change for I have had enough of being the "Bong Mom" and cooking or at least blogging about more or less "Bong Food". Six or some uncountable years ago when I started this blog I couldn't cook a charchari from a labra. I couldn't make an ossobuco or pasta carbonara either. But true to my family roots and some crap about passing on my Bengali legacy to my daughters, I went the charchari route. And now see what has happened ? Every person from Madhyamgram to Mangalore and Patuli to Patna is cooking Beef Burgenoff (or maybe stroganoff) and Mushroom Risotto with a flourish and baking perfect pots of de la creme or something. And what am I doing ? Cooking bandhakopir ghonto and still trying to figure out how or why a dessert spoon is different from regular spoon. See what a disgrace I am to my Mother, the poor thing who not only sent me to a inglish school but spent a good part of her life to get me the perfect bloomers for phys ed ? Instead of apple crumble I write posts on kopir datar charchari. And it is not that my finesse in those stuff is exemplary or something and can be compared to anyone's grandmother.

Just plain ordinary, everyday.

But let me also tell you. The entire thing is not my fault alone. Now that I look around, I see grandmothers in Malda were apparently making tarts and vanilla bean cookies at the time mine was merely stirring a Paayesh. No wonder I have no heirloom recipe for such delicacies and am forced to write sentimental posts about Ilish Maacher Tauk. Chhayh !!!

So enough of all that ghyyant-charchari-jhaal-jhol-ombol for December. Ossobuco here I come. Wait, that is too much of a leap for me. For now we will take baby steps with cookies. So oatmeal raisin cookies here I come. And since I have no hand-me-down recipe for such I am following exactly what Smitten Kitchen has.

The larger part of Saturday, I spent making cookies which failed miserably batch after batch. That story I will tell you in the next post. It was this batch of oatmeal raisin cookies which saved us and led to the source of the problem. The wrong oven. As in our new toaster oven which due to its newness or something was blaring off heat at 400F when we set the temp at 350F. No doubt the cookies crumbled or rather burned. The oatmeal raisin cookies being larger in number were baked in the larger, regular oven and that seemed to solve all our troubles.

Though I must say here that we had many self-doubts while beating the butter and sugar, while mixing the flour with the butter and sugar, while adding the oats at which point I asked the husband-man to come and lend his expert hand and also Alton Brown-esque knowledge. He said something about the dough not having enough elasticity.

Loads of crap.

They made pretty good, golden colored oatmeal cookies. They were thick and chewy. They did not taste as good as a Pepperidge Farm Soft-baked oatmeal raisin cookies but then I am partial to soft-baked cookies and I have not grown up with oatmeal cookies to compare against. Given that this recipe was from Smitten Kitchen and looked like hers , I am sure this is how oatmeal cookies should be. BigSis loved and ate many. LS merely liked and used them to draw imperfect circles.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Original Recipe

AP Flour -- 3/4th Cup
Baking Soda -- 1/2 tsp

Salt -- 1/4th tsp

Quaker Oats -- 1&1/2 cup

Butter -- 1 stick (at room temperature. This is important)
Egg -- 1 large (at room temp)
Brown Sugar -- 1/3 Cup
Regular White Sugar -- 1/3 Cup
Vanilla Extract -- 1 tsp

Raisins -- 1/2 cup

* I added about 1/4th cup of chocolate chips though the recipe did not ask for it

1. In a bowl whisk together the AP Flour, baking soda and salt.

2. In a wide mouthed bowl cream together the butter and sugar. I used my hand mixer for this which I am not very prone to use. Once the butter and sugar have come together to a creamy consistency and tastes smooth and sweet add the egg. Now beat again until you get a smooth end result.

3. To the wet ingredients aka butter+sugar+egg, add the flour mix gradually. I mixed with a rubber spatula until the flour blended into the buttery goodness

4. By this time the dough was pretty tight and it seemed impossible for 1& 1/2 cup of oat to mix into it. But voila !!! As you mix the oat in with the spatula it does all go in. Be patient. Stir in the raisins next. And the chocolate chips if using.

5.Chill the dough for half hour.

6. Pre-heat oven to 350F. Meanwhile scoop out portions of dough on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Don't crowd them and give them enough space, for those blobs will expand.

7. Bake them for 10-12 minutes. Now this time will totally depend on your oven. In my larger regular oven by 12 minutes the cookies started having a golden edge. However in my new toaster oven, by 8-9 minutes the edges were getting burned.

8. Take out the cookies when the edges are golden but the center is still a tad soft. As Smitten Kitchen's Deb says, let them remain on the hot cookie sheet for 5 mins. Only after that cool them in a rack.

These oatmeal raisin cookies were thick, chewy, very oatmeal-y. The two adults and the almost 9 year old loved it. The four year old was more in love with the baking process than the cookie itself.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Easy Tomato Soup with chunks of bread

The days have become real cold here. There are some beautiful warmer days scattered in between but mostly it is cold. My Mother says this winter in Kolkata is unusually cold too. But I am sure it is nothing like here. There, the cold has a distinct fragrance. If trapped in a bottle and named "Le Winter" it would smell like wood smoke, laced with sweet nolen gur, spiked with a hint of citrus-y komla-lebu, all layered on an undertone of napthalene scented kashmiri shawls.

Okay, you might also bring in smog but I like to think that the winters I spent in my Dida's house years ago almost always smelt like this. Also of slightly burn toast with orange marmalade.

Here, it just smells clean and crisp and not cold at all if you are indoors on a sunny winter day. But then you slide open the glass door to the backyard an inch and through the fine wire mesh comes the cold, brutal and sharp. But we have gotten used to it. Except for the gloomy cold days, which I dread, we kind of like the sunny wintry days. It is always about the sun , isn't it ? We get by, neither fearing winter as much as I did earlier nor looking forward to snow with as much excitement as my first  time.

Of course the kids bicker about wearing jackets and boots and ear muffs and zipping the jacket all the way and other such clothing issues, I bicker about cold tiled floors and not having enough drapes for the windows yet, the husband bickers about my need to rush outside or rather make him rush outside for all kinds of groceries at odd hours.

"Why do you need vine ripened tomatoes at 8 in the evening ?", he asks.

As if, there is a time for such things.
As if the need for firm, ripe on the vine tomatoes arises after consulting the Ponjika for the right muhurtam.
As if just because tomato soup was never my thing, I can't crave a bowl of warm tomato soup now.
As if just because the only tomato soup I would ever have was the creamy deliciousness at Nagarjuna in Banglaore and whose recipe I do not know, I can never try to make another one.
As if, if a recipe is easy and can translate to quick dinner I will let that opportunity pass. 

Do I look like a fool ?

But this day I had only one tomato in my refrigerator and half a can of Hunt's Diced tomatoes. And I craved a tomato soup, a hot (as in the temperature) one. Of course no sympathetic soul was venturing to get me vine ripened tomatoes shipped from Florida and currently in residence at the neighborhood grocery store.  So when I saw this tomato soup, I took the plunge. And good I did, and good I had the canned version too, for this soup with a Michelin tire tomato would have not tasted half as good. Too many "good" there but that is how this soup is. The bread makes it special.

And surprisingly both the girls ate it with much eagerness. Either they were very hungry for it was a school day or this soup was good. I am sure they will refuse to eat it by the fourth time or the fifth. I can't stretch my luck. But hopefully by then I will move on to another soup.

Tomato Soup with chunks of Bread

Adapted from here

Heat some Olive oil in a deep, heavy bottomed pot.

Add 2 cloves of garlic minced  and a medium sized onion finely chopped.

Saute till the onion has turned soft and pink. I also added a carrot peeled and cubed to add some sweetness to the soup but it is not in the original recipe.

Now add the tomato. I added 1 medium sized tomato chopped and about 3-4 cups of diced tomatoes from a can. Note: In an alternate version you can cut plump, juicy tomatoes in half, dust them with salt, drizzle with olive oil and bake for 30 minutes in the oven for 350F. I throw in some cloves of garlic along with the tomatoes. Yellow and Red sweet peppers are another great choice.

Sprinkle salt to taste, a little paprika, 1/2 tsp of brown sugar and mix. I also added a bit of cajun seasoning which I happened to have.

Now let the tomatoes cook at a low medium heat. Stir in between and wait for the raw smell to just go evaporate.

Next add a cup of water and about 1/2cup of milk and stir to mix everything. With an immersion blender, blend the soup. Let the soup simmer to a boil. Taste at this point and adjust for seasoning.

Meanwhile, cut chunks of bread, douse them with olive oil and throw them in the toaster oven to toast. Lightly toasted is what you want, not crisp like croutons.

While serving ladle the soup out in a bowl, add grated parmesan and toss in the chunks of toasted bread. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste and eat it to warm your chilled bones.

Pressure Cooker Version: Updated on March,16th, 2017

Heat some Olive oil in a pressure cooker.

Add 2 cloves of garlic minced  and a medium sized onion finely chopped.

Saute till the onion has turned soft and pink. I also added a carrot peeled and cubed to add some sweetness to the soup but it is not necessary.

Now add the tomato. I added 1 medium sized tomato chopped and about 3-4 cups of diced organic tomatoes from a can. NoteIn an alternate version you can cut plump, juicy tomatoes in half, dust them with salt, drizzle with olive oil and bake for 30 minutes in the oven for 350F. I throw in some cloves of garlic along with the tomatoes. Yellow and Red sweet peppers are another great choice.

Sprinkle salt to taste, a little paprika, 1/2 tsp of brown sugar and mix. I also added a bit of cajun seasoning (optional) which I happened to have.

Saute for a couple of minutes for the raw smell to just go evaporate.

Next add 2-3 cups of organic vegetable stock, salt to taste and close the lid of the pressure cooker. If you don't have stock, go with water.
Cook until -- In a whistling pressure cooker, 3 whistles and in the other kind, 3 mins after full steam.

Once it cools and you can open the pressure cooker lid, with an immersion blender, blend the soup.

Taste at this point and adjust for seasoning. Add 1/2 Cup of milk and let the soup simmer for 2 more minutes.

Meanwhile, cut chunks of bread, douse them with olive oil and throw them in the toaster oven to toast. Lightly toasted is what you want, not crisp like croutons.

While serving ladle the soup out in a bowl, add grated parmesan and toss in the chunks of toasted bread. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste and eat it to warm your chilled bones.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Sunday Night Kitchen Post

It has been almost two months since we left our old kitchen and moved into the current one and slowly I am settling into its ways. I still get confused that the cutlery drawer is not to my right when I am making tea but on the left. On the right is the spice drawer which I keep opening absent minded looking for the odd spoon.

Also the sink faucet is the exact opposite of the standard for hot and cold. We can change it but haven't yet and once in a while I am thrown off by the left which is cold while right is hot ! This has helped me get further confused when I am visiting friend's where the faucet has the standard setting. So officially my brain is addled with which is which and now I can never trust myself to open a faucet and get water at the temperature I want.

But there are things I love about this new kitchen. The first is of course the sun, the sun which this side of the house gets in plenty, all through the day. Next is the lazy susan in the corner cabinet.I have always loved that arrangement in other homes and I really like it filled with all my spices.Also the fact that now I have an ample pantry right in the kitchen is a big bonus.

The kitchen as always is not entirely mine and shared by everyone. The girls do their homework and painting/coloring on the kitchen island all the time. I had this blank wall which I thought I would set up as a display of the girls' art work. Whatever picture they draw can be put into those frames and we can have fresh new art on the wall every week almost.Don't you think that is a great idea ? I am planning to do the same for their bedroom too. Earlier I had a cork board and the refrigerator was the major place for all art display. But the framing fills my walls and so serves double purpose.

As we put in our own touches and cook more I will post more pictures and I am sure you will grow to love this kitchen as will I.

Leaving you today with some links to enjoy

I loved this post of Pia's so much that her statement "Creativity is Subtraction" is etched in my mind.

This holiday I want to try my hand at baking cookies, simple ones, even probably nankhatai or nankatai. We will see.

A friend who is a talented designer, has worked with the weavers of South 24 Parganas to design and create a new line of sarees. Each of those pieces are so beautiful and the color palette is so rich and striking that you must take a look at her Facebook Page. Since the sarees are designed by her, each is a unique piece. You can e-mail her with questions about the sarees.

See you all soon with an easy Tomato soup just right for the cold weather here.