Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Alton Brown's Fruit cake -- for Christmas and New Year

This is my last post for 2013. As per the "last-post-of-the-year" norm, this should be a post looking back, evaluating the days past and making resolutions for the coming year. But I will do none of that.I don't take stock and no longer make resolutions at the start of a new year. All I do is hang a fresh new calendar on my wall.

As I grow in age I have realized that I no longer bound my life by the beginning and end of a single year. The end and beginning are fluid with days merely spilling into each other. As months, days and hours, march in to fill the empty year ahead, I know that some days will follow the same pattern as in the past years, some a little worse, many a little better and only a few with a streak of rebel in them. Those are the ones that will be different. And for both you and me I wish that those days bloom into something good to remember them by.

Like this fruitcake which I had made for Christmas and then again not for Christmas. Sweet, rich, and filled with plump drunken fruits. The kind you look back on the next year and say "Oh, remember that fruit cake last year, the Alton Brown Fruit Cake ? It was so good". May most of your days in the coming year be just like that. Sweet, rich, and good enough to fondly look back at. And if you want to fill them with drunken fruits, so be it.

Most of you have rich, moist, raisin and nuts studded memories of the Christmas cake. At least from the way, everyone on my FB timeline waxed nostalgic about the Fruit Cake, it looks like it was a family tradition for many.

Not so in my home though. I mean we did have a cake on Christmas for how can you celebrate a birthday without a cake. But my mother did not soak dry fruits in rum for weeks to make that cake. Actually she did not even make that cake. We lived in the suburbs and on most winter holidays we visited my grandparents who lived in North Calcutta. Nahoum, the famous New Market bakery, was not  known to them and Flury's was a long distance away.

So on 25th December, my grandfather, who was a believer in everything from Poush Sankranti to Christmas, that is everything that involved good food and cheer, would get us a cake from the local bajaar. In those crisp Christmas mornings, the best kind of mornings in Kolkata, the air would be a delicious cold and the egg yolk watery sun, just the right kind of warm. A hand-knit full sweater would be too warm and prickly but had to be worn anyway. My Mother or grandmother would have knit it sometime in November, carefully selecting patterns of knits and purls from a magazine called Manorama and then spending many a afternoon in the comforting sound of clickety-clack of the needles, creating cardigans and turtlenecks right in time for December.I was lucky enough that my Mother didn't force me to wear a monkey cap or wrapped a scarf around my throat .We were used to more severe winters where we lived and so she took winter in Kolkata much less seriously than most Bengalis did.

I loved going to that local bajaar with my grandfather when I was the same age as my youngest. Later however, I would feel embarrassed as my grandfather had the tendency to stop each and every person there and strike up a conversation, every time mentioning my visit and my report card which he thought was stellar.

On Christmas day, however, the mundane bajaar donned a festive look.People in bright colorful woolens spilled from its various alley ways and the air smelled of  sweet "notun gur" -- date palm jaggery. The local bakeries who supplied the daily loaves of bread and buns dressed up in festive buntings. Yellow, red and green cellophane wrapped pyramids bedazzled their front counter. Wrapped in those colored cellophanes were deep brown fruit cakes, dense and speckled with tutti-frutties, currants and nuts. They weren't as rich or moist as the best and I didn't really like them a lot. I liked the fluffy Britannia cakes much more. But those store bought, yellow cellophane wrapped, brown fruit cakes were a Christmas tradition and my grandfather always brought one home.

Strangely those fruitcakes never made much of an impression on me. I remember the cellophane wrapping of the cake more vividly than the taste of the cake itself.

Naturally in all these years I have never really craved a Christmas Fruit cake. This year, however I remembered that dense taste on my tongue, the sweetness of raisins, the crunch of red-green tutti frutties. That is how memory plays its tricks as one grows older. The taste was so strong that I had no choice but to bake myself a fruit cake. But before that I needed to find a recipe. An easy one. For as you know any baking recipe that says "beat butter and sugar" or "separate egg white", numbs my brain and makes my heart grow cold.

So when I found Alton Brown's recipe for Fruit Cake, I looked no further. Well I watched the video and read the reviews on that cake, but that's it. No further than that. Alton Brown is the husband-man's cooking guru and after the great success he had with his Thanksgiving Turkey following Brown Saheb's recipe, I knew that even if the  cake turned out less than right, it would all be devoured just in the name of Mr.Brown.

The cake in fact turned out to be delicious. Just like I think fruit cakes should be.Sweet, rich, and filled with plump drunken fruits.

Since the original recipe and video are good enough, I will not re-write the recipe again. However I took many pics so I will share a photo tutorial of the cake as we made it at home.

The most important part of this cake is the dry fruits. Raisins, Currants, Cranberries, Cherries, Blueberries, Apricot, Candied ginger -- all of which lends its own special taste to the cake

4 Cups of dry fruits is needed in all. I did not have the dry blueberries and so used 1 cup of chopped apricot

Freshly ground spices work better and instead of a tsp of dry ginger powder I used 1 tsp grated ginger

Remember to keep a tray of warm water in the lower rack of the oven. That keeps the cake moist. The cake will bake for an hour. Do not, and I repeat, do not open the oven in between. After an hour do the toothpick test i.e. insert a clean toothpick in the cake and see if it comes out clean. If it does not come out clean, leave the cake in the oven for 5 -10 more minutes until done.

Once the cake is done, take it out of the oven and cool on a wire rack. Then spritz or baste the cake with brandy and keep in an air-tight container. Every three days take it out and spritz with brandy to keep it moist. The cake tastes better as it ages.

Now honestly it is very hard to keep your hands off this cake for two weeks, the recommended time for aging.I suggest you eat a thin slice every time your spritz it. That will keep you in good spirits and make you feel far better. With a slice of it by your side, you will forget all your resolutions.

Happy New year to all of You See you again on the other side.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Chicken Keema in Mint-Coriander Paste

Keema with Mint and Coriander
I have had this recipe in my draft for more than two months now. Almost since summer when the sun was warm and the backyard bereft of snow. For the last two months, I have been thinking of sharing it with you. It deserves sharing for it is really good and it has found its way in our home because someone I barely know had shared it with me.

But all these days I have had nothing to say fitting with the recipe. Seriously I have to learn to post without going "yadda yadda yadda" every time.

Anyway, what with winter and the first snow of the season, there is something to chat about today.

With the early morning call from the school announcing a snow day today, I had an inkling of how the day would roll out and fill up the 14 hours which lay ahead; hours bare of any per-destined activity or schedule or gathering. I had a hunch that the girls might want to make a snowman or at least a snow angel or if nothing have a snow ball fight. I usually stay far from such activities as snow is definitely not on my favorite list and I would much rather stay inside and click pictures than wear mittens and jackets and indulge in making snowmen.

As predicted, they started on that chant way before lunch, soon after we had the upma I made. And finally when the snow had trickled down, they went out on the deck to make a snow man. The girls showed a lot of interest initially as is their wont but eventually the grunt work was done all by Dad. The snowman was made toothless and looked kind of cute, but then with a brilliant stroke of creativity, the husband-man decided to make its teeth out of dried amla and boom it became a snow goon. Or a "deranged mutant killer monster snow goon" as Calvin would have said.

We also put up the Christmas Tree, a fake affair which looks gorgeous when the lights and shiny trinkets are on. And then the husband-man fried crispy pakoras which we gulped down with tea and with friends who could drop by once the roads were clear.

Now though technically I am not a big fan of cold winter, there is something about staying home on winter evenings that I enjoy.

A cup of tea.

The flicker of flames in the fireplace.

The Christmas tree.

The special movies on for Christmas.

It seems like a time to put away your worries and dust away the mundane to put up shiny baubles and bask in small pleasures of glittery tchotchke.

And to share one's favorite recipe for a Keema made with Mint Coriander paste. A recipe that was inspired by Rini's (who blogs on non-food topics ) recipe in a Facebook Group many months ago. A recipe whose taste lingers on though I last made it about a month ago. Peppery with a hint of mint and fresh coriander. A spicy after note. A silent thank you for people who are generous enough to share their recipes and make your dinner that much special.

That is the spirit of the season.

Keema in a Mint Coriander Paste

Start off with 2lb of Chicken keema.  You can of course use lamb/mutton keema and the result will be better but I went with the leaner option.

Put the keema in a bowl. To it add
1/4th cup of thick yogurt
1 tbsp loosley packed Cumin powder
1 tbsp loosley packed Coriander powder
1 tsp Kashmiri Mirch
salt to taste
Mix well and keep aside for an hour.

Meanwhile make the mint-coriander paste:
Add the following to the blender jar and make a smooth paste
Coriander Leaves -- 1 cup chopped
Mint leaves -- 1/2 cup chopped (If you don't have fresh, use the dried mint but use only 2 tbsp)
Garlic -- 4 fat clove
Ginger -- 1" peeled and chopped
Hot Indian green chilli -- 4
Whole Black Peppercorns -- 1 tbsp
This greenish paste can be stored for future use and as base for many other curries.

Now start making the Keema Curry

Heat 2tsp of Vegetable oil in a frying pan/kadhai. Start with a frying pan or kadhai with a wide base.

Fry about 3 tbsp of cashew and 1 tbsp of golden raisins until the cashew turns brown. Remove and keep aside.

To the same pan, now add 2 tbsp of Mustard Oil

When the Oil is sufficiently hot, temper the oil with
2 Tej Patta
one 2" stick of cinnamon
2 Big Black Cardamom lightly bruised

To the flavored oil add
1 medium sized onion thinly sliced

Fry the onion until they are soft and light brown and then follow with
2tsp of garlic paste.

Add about 1 tbsp of Tomato paste(substitute with Ketchup) and the green paste that you have made. At medium heat, fry the masala till oil separetes.

Now add the keema. 
Sprinkle on it about 1/2 tbsp of Bhaja Masla. You can also use Garam masala or some Meat masala but this particular Bhaja Masla gives a very nice taste.

Keep stirring the keema, breaking up any lumps until the keema loses its raw color. The keema will also release water, keep on frying until the water dries up and the keema is cooked and crumbled. Once the keema is done, taste and adjust for spices.

In a separate pan, heat some more mustard oil, say 2tsp. When the oil is hot, add 1 tbsp of black pepper powder. Add this pepper flavored oil to the keema in the other pan.

Now add about 1/2 cup of warm water for gravy, salt to taste and let the gravy simmer for 5 minutes at low heat.

Add the fried kaju-kismish to the keema and mix well. Add some more chpped mint. Switch off heat and cover the fry pan.Let it sit for half an hour before serving.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Banana Bread with Orange zest, Fractions and Happiness

Banana Bread is becoming a frequent bake at our home these days.

We deliberately leave out two bananas from the bunch we pick every morning from our luscious banana tree to decompose to a state that calls for serious FDA intervention. Also since I am a procrastinator, the one with good intentions of making a banana bread, the bananas are first left to decay in the fruit bowl. Right there on the kitchen island. Two over-ripe, brown spotted, sweet smelling bananas.

When they are sufficiently soft and brown and almost ready to be trashed, the moment when I should have cranked up the oven and actually made the bread, I put them 'bananas" in the refrigerator. There they decay further.Albeit at a slower pace and in a cooler environment. I am sure the bananas are ever grateful to me for that.

Then when the FDA arrival looms large and I am pretty sure that I can do with some happiness in life I make the banana bread

You all know that banana has "serotonin", right ? The neurotransmitter which is thought to be a contributor of happiness. Well, I don't know about banana but carbs like white rice with musurir dal and buttered toast with sprinkle of sugar on it defintely makes me happy. The banana bread does too and that is why we finish off all of that loaf in a single day. All in pursuit of happiness.

This weekend, 80% of the baking work was done by BS and LS. They measured, mixed and did the clean up. I put it in the oven. And then I took it out.

LS wrote out the instructions saying Stir, Mix, Clean

I don't have a family hand-me-down recipe for banana bread as my Mother never ever made one for my or anyone else's happiness. She made "kolar bora"-- sweet fritters -- with over ripened bananas instead. So the laurels of success of my banana bread now currently rests on Food Network. This is the recipe I have been following like a zombie for sometime now. So far it has failed me only once. Which is a good sign.Also the fact that the recipe calls for oil and not butter gives me some kind of relief.

Now given that there is already a recipe, why you think, I need to replicate and write it down again here. Well, the reason is FractionsBaking recipes are a good way to introduce kids to fractions and that is what we did some years ago. That 4 of the 1/4th cups make 1 whole cup was a revelation in Arithmetic. Ahem. Scoff, Scoff. Of course, my generation got introduced to fractions without any cake to bake and we are darn good at it but then that was "tomader shomoy"(your time) as the girls like to say.

Without being cynical though, cups and measures and letting the kids handle them does give them a real life example of fractions. The fact that 2 of the quarter cups fill up a half cup or that 5/4th cup actually fills up 1 whole cup with 1/4th left over becomes more real when done with flour and sugar.

Recently for her fractions class, BS's math teacher gave them a homework, where they were supposed to get recipes of cookies and cakes and then quarter them, halve them, triple them or do some fraction conversion on them. Only of course she mentioned that the recipes should include mixed numbers. Which means the recipe should call for 11&3/8 th cup of flour and 3&2/5 th tbsp of butter. Which also means recipes I stay miles away from.

So, what I did is, I took my simple banana bread recipe, an awesome Lemon Yogurt cake recipe and this Hershey's Chocolate recipe and then changed around all the ingredient measures so that the banana bread now asked for 4&11/18th of bananas and 18/16th tsp of baking powder. She did her homework. I breathed easy.

I am eternally grateful that we didn't use those measures to bake. While baking the bread we stuck to the base recipe and asked BS to merely halve it. That was like child's play for her. Just like baking the bread was.

Original Recipe

Banana Bread

Dry Ingredient

1 cup of AP Flour
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp salt

To make Wet Ingredient

1 egg
1/2 cup Sugar
2 very ripe bananas
1/4th Cup Vegetable Oil
1/2 tsp Vanilla

How I Did It

Pre-heat oven to 350F

Wet Ingredients

In my Magic Bullet Blender jar put
1 egg cracked
1/2 cup Sugar
Mix for a minute, at 30 sec steps

To the above put
2 very ripe bananas
Give a whizz until bananas is mushed up

To the above add
1/4th Cup Vegetable Oil
1/2 tsp Vanilla
Mix again for about 2 minutes, at 30 sec step

You have your wet ingredient ready

Dry Ingredient

In a separate bowl add
1 cup of AP Flour
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp salt
Combine lightly

Slowly add the wet ingredient to the dry, mixing gently with a spatula. If you are adding walnuts, add 2 tbsp of chopped walnuts to the batter.

Add  1 tsp of orange zest if possible and pinch of cinnamon. The orange zest lends a very nice flavor to the bread so do try if you have.

Pour out in a 9x5 loaf pan, put in the oven and bake for 40 mins to 1 hr. Chances are after 40 mins, you will see the top has browned and has started to crack.
Then check the bread for done-ness by inserting a toothpick at 2-3 points.

Different ovens and different material loaf pans kind of change the bake time so I suggest this after 40 mins:
If inside is raw, cover the bread lightly with an aluminum foil and bake for the rest 20 mins.
If inside is done, take it out and let it cool.

Now take out of the oven and let it cool. The oven part needs to be handled by the adults but all else can be done by 9-10yrs old and up with little supervision.

Eat. All of it.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Bengali Rasgulla or Roshogolla

Bengali Rasgulla or Roshogolla
Bengali Rasgulla or Rosogolla
Every year around late October, early November; when the leaves turn on their color spray to dress up in gorgeous red and blinding yellows, the wind picks up tugging at the branches and blowing away the pretty colored leaves to the land of warm sun, the tip of the nose turns cold and nice to touch and all you want from life is a few extra minutes under the warm quilt in the morning, I have this sense of foreboding thinking of approaching winter. "Babba, sheet eshe gelo, abar sei March obdi thanda," I complain, with a melancholy look at the calendar.

You know by now, that I am not one of the cheerful optimists out there. I don't see the glass half full.

It is for people like me however, that pre-historic or maybe historic men and women, had decided to plug in the months of October, November and December with all kinds of festivities that involve heavy eating, superfluous drinking, colorful lights and butter-ghee-sugar. Those are the best antidotes for any kind of depression or sense of foreboding one might have in life. Of course they did not tout the festival as orgies or as "days of abundant revelry". That might not have sold it to the intelligentsia. So they said, it is all because Lord Rama came back a winner from fourteen years of exile and the people of Ayodhya made mysore pak and lit a hundred lamps to celebrate Diwali, that sisters should dot their brother's forehead and ply them with food on Bhai Phonta because  in some mythical tale Yamuna had done the same for Yam, that the Pilgrims wanted to thank someone on Thanksgiving by eating Turkey and a bearded old man from North Pole wants to give gifts to all children in the dead of winter.

That is enough reason to convince me. I forget the impending doom a la winter for the moment. So we string on twinkling fairy lights that shine as the night gets dark and neighborhood quiet, the girls dress up as a fairy and a witch and collect enough candy to last a lifetime on Halloween, we dust old diyas that the girls had once painted and light up fourteen lights on Bhoot Chaturdashi. And then I also try my hand at making Roshogolla. It is Diwali after all. There has to be some sweet.

Now, Roshogolla or how it is famously known as Bengali rasgulla was not a dessert after my heart. Maybe because , it was the one sweet which my parents thought was safe and healthy enough to be consumed by the gallons. While I craved a gulab jamun or jalebi, it was the roshogolla which appeared much more frequently in our home, bobbing in sweet syrup, waiting to be picked from an earthenware pot. Since it was not fried in oil and was made of nothing but pure chhana, it was assumed that fresh warm roshogolla from the mishtir dokan was the best thing for a child to have almost everyday.If you were down with a fever, or were recuperating from a bad stomach, warm roshogolla straight off the bhiyen was what was served to bring back the taste.

One would think, being around the rasgulla day in and day out, I would grow some interest towards it. But I actually completely ignored it. Many years later when I started working and moved to B'lore, I realized the power of this sweet. Fellow Indians, who had very little idea of Bengal or a Bangali, were quick to familiarize themselves by saying "I simply love rasgulla". They probably thought the same when I said, "I loved Masala Dosa way more that any Rasgulla".

Soon we were carrying tins of K.C.dass's rasgulla as a return gift from Calcutta and even the first time we came to US, we carried a couple of those Rasgulla tins. I secretly laughed at people who thought this as a dessert to hanker after. Really, Roshogolla ?

I also assumed that it was a very difficult thing to make, given that my Mother who always made sweets like narkel naru, paayesh, malpoa or even sondesh at home, bought roshogolla from mishti'r dokan. The first time that a friend in the US, made it for her daughter's birthday, I was bowled over. She was a wonderful cook and so I naturally thought that making rasgulla at home was something that only someone as good a cook as J could do.

And then a couple of years ago, another friend K whom we have known since ages, non-chalantly made us a batch of roshogolla when we were visiting. Not only that, he also mentioned in a very matter of fact way, that  he makes roshogolla almost every week. Now, K was not someone who was hugely interested in cooking until like 3 years back. All of a sudden, he has discovered this culinary mojo and has been on a roll ever since. He is more in the league of people like me. His making roshogolla, gave me enough confidence that this was a sweet that could be easily done at home. However, since he always made us a big batch when we visited, I did not feel the urge to do the same again in my kitchen.

This is the point where the blog comes in. Several people wrote to me asking for a Roshogolla recipe. I always asked them to follow Manjula's Video. After all that is how K had learned too. And then came Diwali. There was pressure to post a Mishti recipe even if I did not want to eat it. I tried to coax the husband-man to make roshogolla citing the shining example of K who makes like billions of them for his wife. Husband-man refused point blank. And he did not even have enough reasons. He said he would rather make Mysore pak or even Biriyani. Dude, really ? Mysore Pak and Biriyani, when I am asking you to make Roshogolla ? What is the logic ? But husband-man rarely lives life by logic. So there was war and smoke and finally a resolution was reached, he would make only the chhana, rest was my responsibility. Calls were made to K and instructions duly noted.

Ultimately the husband-man got around doing more, including the syrup but honestly after the part called "Make Chhana", there is hardly anything to do. So, get going and make your own roshogolla at home. If like me, you have been putting it off for all these years, take the plunge, it is really really easy. The best part of making them at home was to see the happiness in dessert loving LittleSis's face who devoured them morning and night.

Sometimes, all one needs in life is a little light, to show the way. This Diwali may you find your light and also light up the way for others.
Happy Diwali and may your life be as sweet and pure as the Rasgulla
Bengali Rasgulla or Roshogolla

There is enough dispute about this sweet cheese balls being discovered in Orissa or West Bengal and as to who discovered the original form and who modified it. This sweet has its origin in Orissa but the soft, spongy version I have made is the the kind that Nobin Chondro Das of Bengal popularized and is now famously known as Bengali rasgulla.

Step 1-- Curdle Milk

Mix 4 Tbsp of Lime juice or 4 Tbsp Vinegar in 1/4th cup of hot water

Bring 1/2 gallon(8 cups or 1.89 lt) of Whole/Full Fat Milk to a rolling boil. Don't go on a diet and use anything less that Full fat Whole Milk.
When the milk is boiling add the diluted lemon juice/vinegar. Lower the heat. Almost in seconds you will see the milk curdle and clumps of white milk solids forming.When you see the greenish water separating take it off from heat. Add some ice to stop the cooking. Let it sit for 30 secs or so.

Note: If the lime is not sour enough, you might see that the milk is not curdling. In that case add 1 more tbsp of Vinegar to aid the curdling. 

Step 2 -- Drain chhana

Now line a colander with cheesecloth and drain the chhana/chenna/paneer. The greenish hued whey is great for making roti dough says my Ma. Next lightly rinse the chhana with water to remove the lemony taste and let it drain.

After few minutes gather the ends of the cheesecloth to form a purse like shape and squeeze out the remaining water from the chhana. Next put it on a flat plate and weigh it with a slightly heavier object and let it remain like that for the next hour.I used my mortar for weighing down, I remember my mother using her nora.You can also weigh it down with a pot filled with water.

It is very important that the chhana is drained of all excess water. After an hour, try squeezing the chhana again. If there is still some water, weigh it down with a heavy object for some more time. If you can take a little of the chana and roll it into a ball and it is not crumbling, then the water has been drained.

Almost 1 hour 30 minutes needed to drain.

Step 3 -- Knead Chhana

Now we have to knead the chhana. This is a important step for the roshogolla to be right. Knead the chhana with the heel of your palm for about 8-10 minutes.
Note: I sometimes add 1 tsp of Sooji/Rawa to the chhana and then knead. Too much sooji/rawa will make the roshogolla harder so don't add much. But 1-2 tsp sooji/rawa helps me get firmer roshogollas.

At the end of this the chhana will look like a smooth dough and your palm will be greasy from the fat of the chhana. Take small portion of it and roll into small balls between your palm. The balls should be smooth and firm. To make the balls thus, first apply a little pressure between your palm and then let go, rolling the ball very lightly by a circular motion of your palms.

Approximately 22-24 balls will be made from this measure

Step 4 -- Make syrup

We did the rasgulla in a pressure cooker as K said. He also does it in an open pot but then he has more experience so we went with the pressure cooker.
Mix 3 cups of Water + 2 Cup sugar (3:2 ratio) in a pressure cooker to make the syrup. Add a few small cardamom and few strands of saffron to the syrup. The saffron will make the rasgullas a pale yellow, so if you want pristine white rasgullas DO NOT add saffron.

Keep it at medium high heat and bring to simmer.

Note: To make Khejur gur er roshogolla, make the syrup with 1 cup of Khejur Gur(Palm jaggery) and 1 cup sugar.

Step 5 -- Make Rasgullas

Pressure Cooker 

Add about 10 raw chhana/paneer balls to the syrup and close the pressure cooker. If you have a bigger pressure cooker, add all together. However, make sure that they are not crowded. Rasgullas will swell up, so remember that while estimating.

After the pressure cooker starts steaming, turn the heat to medium and cook for about 12 minutes.
Switch off heat and wait for 2 minutes. Now release the pressure of the cooker by putting it under running cold tap water. Open the pressure cooker lid and you will see your rasgullas all puffed up and sweet, floating in the syrup.

Now remove these rasgullas along with some of the syrup in a bowl.

Note:I did only 10 at a time as my pressure cooker was smaller and as the rasgulla swells up on cooking, I did not want to crowd them. Also I found the syrup was enough for the first batch but got diluted later. So I made another batch of syrup for the next one.

Open Pot Method

Bring the syrup to simmer in an open pot. Add the raw chhena balls to the syrup. Cover the lid and boil for 30 minutes at high and 20 minutes simmer in medium heat. Best if you have a glass lid and you can see the rasgullas puffing up.

Serve warm. The best way. Serve chilled. The next best way. Make Roshogollar Paayesh. The third best way.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Shubho Bijoya, a Winner and Giveaway #2

Sorry, Sorry, I am not only fashionably late but also embarrassingly late to wish you all a Shubho Bijoya. Though ideally one can extend the Shubho Bijoya greetings for a fortnight after Durga Pujo, all the way until Kali Pujo or Diwali, we always rushed around the myriad relatives' home trying to finish the pronams by Lokkhi Pujo, the day of the first full moon after Durga Pujo.

Ghugni and Narkel Naru for Bijoya

There were always a few people who came after Lokkhi pujo to finish the Bijoya formalities and Thama, my grandmother, had very little regard for them. She usually dismissed them as "ajkalkar chele pule" aka the modern generation which in her language meant people with little respect for tradition. "Eto dine shomoy holo ?", she would say in a disenchanted voice and utter a cursory blessing making very clear her displeasure. Not that her criticism or grumbling affected the latecomers in any way, except that they were given much inferior snacks as compared to those who had come in early. The quality of the snacks in most homes was inversely proportional to the number of days that had passed since the day of Dashami and this was one of the important reasons why we tried to finish off the pronam formalities early. I think the latecomers were not really fond of food or at least not what was served on "Bijoya", mainly variety of sweets and nimki and risked being late.

Sometimes however the wind blew in favor of the procrastinators. If Thama happened to be in the Puja room or had retired early to bed, my Mother and aunt would ensure that luchis were fried and sweets were bought from the Sweet store, half a block away to feed the guest.

Now, since procrastinators are always welcome on this blog, I have two happy news for them

The important news is that we have a winner from the last draw. A certain "RRDutta" whose real name I am unaware of and who left this comment "To make an Indian lunch for my single colleague who has just joined the workforce and doesn't seem to think he has enough money to buy lunch for himself everyday.", was the one picked by random.org. Now, I have sent her an e-mail but am yet to get a reply. Maybe my mail went into the spam folder or something. If I don't hear from her in the next two days, the prize will go to the second winner picked which is "Mausumi Ray" whose random act of kindness is "My random act of kindness was and will be donating money to CRY to sponsor food, education etc. for kids."

The far more important news is we have another Giveaway. yehhh. This time I am giving away Devapriya Roy's latest book "The Weightloss Club". Now, don't get mislead by the title. This is not a book to lead you through a guilt path while you are devouring a pound of Diwali laddos. "The Weight Loss Club" has nothing to do with weight loss unless you are reading it while running on the tread mill, which I suggest you better not do. For this book, is to be read in a proper setting, by the window, with a cup of tea, cell phone switched off, some hot off the fryer pakoris by the side.
It has been my great pleasure, to know the residents of the Nancy housing colony better as they go about their daily life spiked with love, anxieties, pettiness, joys and sorrows and to be a part of their journey with a touch of mystic and now you have a chance to win your copy.

I will select two winners for this giveaway. To win your copy tell me, if you have ever lived in a housing colony, then what was the best food memory or any other memory you carry from there.

Below is an interview with the intelligent, young author. More about her here 

You have published 2 books, writing your 3rd and as I gather from the author's page in your book "Devapriya Roy is pursuing a PhD on the Natyashastra (at least, that is what she says when asked what she does). Once upon a time, she was the Keo Karpin girl." Tell us then who you really are or what defines you?

Oh dear. This is definitely the toughest question. If I were to be entirely honest. I think, before all else, I am a reader. And I am a romantic. I mean, I have written the novels, I am working on the third book which has gouged out a large chunk of my twenties, but to me it still seems that the writerliness is incidental; an extension of the two things above – being a reader and a romantic. And also, being not very good at much else. I am hopelessly bad at management and stuff. I write because I cannot not write – there is that deep internal compulsion – but I am also aware of the uncertainties of writing. But one can always read; that world is abiding.

And perhaps because I see the world filtered through a novelist’s narrative (a very dangerous thing, I admit) I am often shocked and amused at the moral high ground that is claimed by our intellectuals. You know? I mean, if we were reading about them as characters in good novels, there would be so many other details about them, defining them, that the moral high ground would have a deeper perspective. That is not the case, of course, in contemporary discourse. So, strange as it sounds, in a manner of speaking then, I think I am defined by books and by narratives.

2. Your first book was "The Vague Woman's Handbook". A charming read if I might add. What made you throw Keo Karpin aside and write it? Was there a story brewing inside you for long?

The thing about the Keo Karpin business was that it was a one-off. I mean I could never really have moved to Bombay and followed up on it and eaten carrot sticks to become that person. I don’t think I am ambitious in that way. Instead, I got married on a whim and got a job as an editor. And that is when The Vague Woman’s Handbook happened. When I was younger, I always thought I would write The Book first. Yet another stab at the Great Indian Novel. Something that would take years and years to research. And basically never get written. 

Fortunately, I had a wise mentor. He told me to write something already; something closer to my life and impulses. And that was the finest piece of advice really. I was able to use all the autobiographical stuff in obvious ways first. So with The Weight Loss Club, these were characters I knew intimately. But none of them were from my own life. So that’s how The Vague Woman’s Handbook was written. It helped that I was no longer a student of literature. I had shifted to theatre and performance studies. I was now reading loads of popular fiction. But at the same time, I wanted to do things differently even within the realm of popular fiction. Mil might be a very young but rather acceptable chick lit heroine, a bit ditzy, but hers is not a quest for love. She has already found it. 

So, in a way, the Handbook begins where most chick-lit ends. Abhimanyu Mishra, with his eccentricities, idealism and poverty is not the ‘hero’ out of a typical chick lit either. Indira Sen is at least twenty years older than the usual best friend. And so on.  

3. Tell us a little about the process from writing to publishing. Were you knocking at doors with a jhola and manuscript in hand or was it the other way round and publishers were pursuing you waving Guccis and Louis Vuittons?

Luckily, I have been in the middle. The Handbook was commissioned on the basis of the first chapter and the proposal, so I was very fortunate. Did not have to knock doors with jhola and manuscript! It can be SO harrowing. However, I have never had publishers chasing me with Guccis or Louis Vuittons or more importantly Big Fat Advances. Sigh. I wonder if that will ever be. The only time I had someone from the publishing house chasing me was the editor of my second novel, Pradipta Sarkar, because she wanted the manuscript which had been delayed beyond belief. However, I must confess, my publisher Karthika does gift me many books. Better than bags, no?

4. Your second book The Weight Loss Club has an interesting set of characters and relations and an undertone of spirituality. Did you find it more difficult to write this book? From a technical point of view, how did you manage to manipulate all these characters so seamlessly like an expert puppeteer? I mean at any point would you get confused between Monalisa and Meera?

From a technical point of view, yes, certainly, it was more difficult than The Vague Woman’s Handbook. All the characters became demanding, and I felt guilty because some were obviously getting more airtime and some were more fun to write. But the truth is, they became like relatives. Mind you, not like friends but relatives. We are likely to be more blind to our friends than to our relatives. So I got to know them all really well. I had all their details charted out too, in notebooks. Their back stories and family trees. So there was never any confusion about the people in the book, who were all very different. But there was definitely a great challenge in moving their stories forward, keeping the individual climaxes secondary to the larger narrative and most of all, in keeping it pacy and readable. I do remember calling Pradipta and telling her, ‘Never ever ever let me write a book with so many people in it!.’

5.  There was a time when we read books because so-and-so said it was terrific and so-and-so's neighbor did not sleep all night to finish it. There were no videos or book advertisements as far as I remember. We just discovered books or books found us. On your blog at IBN Live you recently wrote couple of posts about the prolific young writers of India who come equipped with sharp marketing skills. Do you think "a lack of it" hampers your book sale in any way?

Certainly one’s willingness to be out there on social media, connecting and networking, and one’s fungibility in marketing oneself through traditional media are very important factors in books selling. In my case, my grapes-are-sourish blog posts are based truthfully – and bitterly – on what I feel about this conundrum.    

Some people have fantastic selling skills. They can sell refrigerators to Eskimos. These writers fall in the first category. They are building their own refrigerators now. But it is also true that they are finding new readers too. However, there are some people who can build excellent refrigerators, sustainable refrigerators, hell, they might build talking refrigerators but not be able to sell them to a Delhi consumer. 

So that is why they need others to do that for them. But unfortunately, the world needs refrigerators more than books it seems. Publishing houses do not operate on margins that will invest in fantastic and sustained marketing for new authors. Their large-scale marketing efforts are earmarked for the Big Names. Because the marketing budgets for books are based on the print-runs. So in a way, the Bengali proverb ‘tela maathaay tel’ is entirely accurate in the publishing context. Now, thanks to the example set by these clever MBA authors, the publishing houses also expect the authors to do the marketing themselves if they want to really sell their books.

My problem with this is that it directly dilutes the culture of writing. Time being limited, you can only spend so much of it to improve yourself as a writer, through reading and writing, or you can think up marketing strategies and shooting videos and jumping through hoops in the same time. It’s like telling a serious singer to learn the tango to star in their music videos or telling sportspeople to attend acting classes to perform better in their ads. All in the spirit of very good business sense. But it means that those without business sense will remain minor. Nothing wrong with that. But it is important to embrace this.  

6. What keeps you ticking and writing?
I think it is the world of ideas and books that keeps me writing; my husband who keeps me ticking. And of course, the sense of larger failure that one feels growing up and engaging with reality in a country like India, a young country but with so much to be done, that also contributes to perseverance. You know? It comes from that mishmash – failure and hope – hope and failure.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

To Cook or Not to Cook during Durga Pujo

It is fun making menus when you don't have to cook them.

Of course it is more fun when you also get to eat them. And at times it is also fun to cook them.

But today when I decided to draw up menus for the three days of Pujo, it was with a feeling of liberation and lightheartedness, the kind that comes with "thinking of doing fanciful things" without actually doing any. Of course there are people who get no such feeling from "thinking and not doing" but fortunately I don't belong there. I am the one who "thinks-fancy-worries-a-lot-and-does-nothing". That gives me peace. Amen.

You, my dear friend, are very welcome to cook any or multiple of these to make the three days of Durga Pujo isspecial.You can also choose to not cook and have an eat out session instead. Makes it as special.

Start the morning with some Kolkata Egg Roll from book

Lunch with
Cholar Dal (another version in book)
Oven baked Begun Bhaja
Doi Dharosh
Chicken in Mint, Coriander, Coconut gravy
Rui Maacher Dumpukht
Cranberry Relish

Snack with Chicken Keemar Chop

Dinner eat out


Start with Hing er Kochuri and Alur Tarkari

Lunch with
Bhoger Khichuri
Niramish Aloor Dom
Paneer Korma
Anarosher Chaatni
Homemade Sondesh

Snack with some Bhejetebil Chop or Beguni from book

Dinner at Pujo Bari


Start the day with Keema stuffed Tomatoes

Lunch with
Bengali Fish Fry
Chingri Dhan Dhana Dhan
Halka Mangshor Jhol or Railway Mutton Curry
Tomato Khejur Chaatni from book
Narkel Naru

Dinner == Eno

দূর্গা পুজোর শুভেচ্ছা

Wish you all joy, peace and happiness of the season and don't forget the giveaway in my last post.

Devapriya Roy; famous author, Keo-karpin girl, scholar and lovely lovely person is also doing a giveaway of two of my books on her Heat and Dust project page. Statistically your chance of winning now is more.

Monday, October 07, 2013

The Giveaway # 1 -- paying it forward

This post was to be written on Mahalaya. But wasn't.

That is okay.

That does not take away the joy from this post. We are still hanging around Tritiya, the 3rd day of Navratri, which I think is a good time to say what I want to say. Which is that I wanted to talk about this guy.

I live in a bubble and had not heard of  Nipun Mehta until his recent speech at Harker's. His motto in life "to live simply, love purely, and give fearlessly" , seems to be so simple that you might think, "Yeah. So?" But then when you read about his "gift-economy" you might roll your eyes at his Utopian ideals and yet understand deep within that what he has done is not easy to pursue. Now, I really don't know the details beyond Wikipedia and his site of how he sustains himself  in this mode and if he already has some kind of a support structure to do what he does. What I know is,  I will never have the courage to do what he has done. And yet, I would love to.

His idea of "doing a small act of kindness" and "paying-it-forward"  is something that is probably imbibed in all of us but might be so deeply hidden that we don't get to show it everyday. This festive season, let us try to dig up that hidden gem and do just that. Small acts. Random nice acts. Anything to put a smile on the face of a stranger.

You all have shown me enough kindness when you supported me from all corners of the world for my book. You reviewed, left comments, constructively criticized and spread the word. You bought copies of my book, gifted them and came back to tell me all about it. To a bystander it might all seem very natural and matter-of-fact. But for a first time author, you all showed me immense kindness.

Now is my time to say "Thank You". If you want to play the "Pay-It-Forward" game, you are very welcome to spread your random act of kindness to people around you.

Here is all that you are going to do:

1. Leave a comment on this post. Mention your e-mail id and finish this statement "My random act of kindness was/will be   _________"
2. If you don't want to finish the statement, that is okay too, just leave a comment and your e-mail id.
3. Tell your friends and get them to join too.
4. Giveaway closes on October 14th.

Here is what I am going to do:

1. I will pick one random person from the ones who comment on this post.

2. That person will get a signed copy of my book

3....and an Amazon gift card worth $25

4. I will also contribute $25 towards the charity selected by him/her. The contribution will be made under the winner's name and not mine. Note: The charity should be a registered one, non-religious and should be able to receive online payment.

**The Amazon gift card is a global card and can be used wherever you are. However depending on your location Amazon may or may not ship certain things. That you can check with Amazon.You can also use it for buying digital entertainment stuff like apps and books for kindle.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Hing er Kochuri and Alur Tarkari

Hing er Kochuri
Hing er Kochuri and Alur Tarkari. The HaatPakha i,e the Palm Leaf fans that you see in this picture are decorated by my Aunt. Aren't they gorgeous ?

Durga Pujo is almost here. Mahalaya is this Friday. The gorgeous blue sky, the kaash phool, the lazy cotton clouds and the fragile shiuli with their orange stem and fragrant notes is making it all very real. As if! The only thing missing is the "Sharodiya PujoShonkhya "which my Ma brought along with her way back in August. Now that is what I call "blasphemy". You should not have a "PujoShonkhya" in summer.  No, No. NO! In August you can only have trembling hopes for one or two. You have to wait and wait some more and then wait until Mahalaya to get your copy. For what is Pujo without its Pujo Shonkhyas.

The annual Pujo numbers -- Anandomela

Many, many years ago when I was a timid kindergartner, still struggling to read fluent Bengali, my Ma had given me the best gift on Durga Pujo. She bought me a shiny, thick, colorful book. It was the Pujoshonkhya Anandomela, the annual number of the popular Bengali children’s magazine published every year during DurgaPujo. I don't know what spurred her in doing this when I could just about manage to read the "juktakhors", the Bengali conjugant, but that single book set me on a path of loving to read and read more. When I try to think of that Pujo, from a long time back, I do not have clear pictures of Durga or the Asur. All I see is snippets of a well lit mandap reverberating with the beat of the Dhaak and a fat book with glossy cover plonked onto my satin frock's lap.

Since that day, Pujo for me has always meant waiting for the PujoShonkhya. While others waited for the squeaky clean blue sky of Sharat, the swaying kaash phool or the latest cut in salwar kamiz that the local tailor would reveal, I waited for my annual Puja number of Anandomela.

The full page advertisement announcing the book would adorn the pages of the biweekly magazine as early as April or May. Gradually the list of writers who would write for the year's number would be revealed. Satyajit Ray, Shirshendu, Sunil Ganguly…the list was rich and endless. Around end of August, my mother would book a copy for me along with a couple of Desh and Bartoman for herself, with the newspaper delivery guy.

From early September, my heart would take a dip and start beating faster every time I heard the ringing bell of the newspaper guy further down the street. "Esheche? Is it here?" I would shout as he skillfully tossed the rolled newspaper on the front porch. As he rode away shaking his head in the crisp Sharat air, I would be dejected only to live in hope and again ask him the same question the next day. You see we lived in a small town far from Kolkata and the magazines usually arrived late there. So the "pujoshonkhya" published in Kolkata would take a while to make its appearance in our mofussil market and even then there was no certainty to that.

And then one school morning, a week or two before Mahalaya, he would announce "Aaj Bikel e. Today afternoon". That day would be the most exciting one and I would rush home in the afternoon, my strides back home faster than others. Tossing my school shoes and book bag aside I would pick up the thick colorful book that sat on the center table. I held it close to my nose taking a deep whiff, I admired the nifty bookmark dangling on a thin lace and I quickly sneaked in to see the cartoon they had this year.

That afternoon I refused the call of my friends for a round of hide and seek or playing tag on the terrace. Instead I went to bed, tucked two pillows under myself and carefully opened the thick Anandomela to be lost in the next adventure of Shontu ar Kakababu or the quirky inventions of Professor Shonku.

Waiting for Anandomela was probably the best part of my pujo and that is the only part I miss these days. I also miss the fact that my daughters will never experience that yearning and eventually the deluge of happiness. For waiting for something is much more exciting than finally getting it.


Last weekend we made Hing er Kochuri at home. It seemed a very Pujo-isque thing to do. Also I am ashamed to say, it was my first time. Yes, I have sailed through half of my life without making a single Hing er Kochuri and the experience or rather the lack of it has not harmed me in anyway, as I see it. For, I have ate enough of them. And that is what really matters.

The thing is, I don't "deep fry" much. I kind of have a mental block which makes me eat "deep-fried" goodness by the kilos as long as someone else is "deep-frying". The moment I see all that oil, something in my brain goes "Twang" and I hyperventilate. I was not always like this. There was a time when I loved deep frying. But at that time, I feared anything that had to do with "dough" unless of course it was "play-doh" which "Duh! is not dough". But lately and specifically after my "small organ where bile is stored" had to be removed, I don't seem to work well after a meal of "deep-fried goodness". Of course it would be okay, if I did so in moderation. But moderation is never the keyword when things are being dunked in hot oil.

So anyway since Ma is here to give expert advice and all, I felt it was the right moment to make Hing er Kochuri because you know my girls need to remember their Mother's kitchen as one where kochuri puffed up and yadda, yadda, yadda. But what is Hing er Kochuri, you ask ? Well it is a deep fried savory snack almost like a luchi or puri but with stuffing made of spiced Urad Dal paste and with a strong and beautiful aroma of hing or asafoetida. It is usually served with a side of Cholar Dal or Alur Dom. But in this recipe I served it with a Aloor Tarkari or a Potato Dish inspired by A Mad Tea Party

Usually I don't write up a recipe unless I have tried it a couple of times. But I figured that would make it 2016 until I put up this recipe. And really the recipe is perfect, it is the expertise which many of us need to gather to make stuff like this, that needs to be worked on. And we can all do that until 2016 strikes. Until then here is the recipe to follow.

Hing er Kochuri

Make the Stuffing 

Soak 1 cup of Urad Dal/Kalai er Dal/Biulir Dal overnight in water. Yep. Shuddh nirmal paani aka H2O aka water.

Next morning forget that you have soaked urad dal

Then in the afternoon when other folks in the house ask you why is there some dal soaking in a container, it all comes back. **Ting**. You have to grind the Dal. To make Hing er Kochuri.

All enthu, you put the dal in a blender along with
3 green chillies
1" ginger chopped

With aid of very little water, make a coarse paste. Not very coarse but not smooth like a Vada batter either.

Now you heat some mustard oil in a kadhai. I would suggest to use non-stick.

To the hot oil add
1/4 tsp of Hing/Asafoetida
1 tbsp of grated ginger
1/4 tsp of ground fennel seeds

Add the dal/lentil paste that you made. Add salt to taste and a pinch of sugar. Mix well.

Now comes the part where you have to keep stirring like a maniac. Okay, maybe not maniac but still considerable stirring as the st***d paste tries to stick to the kadhai. You might also have to add some more oil in the process.

Eventually your hard work will show some result. The paste will slowly start coming off from the sides and will get drier. It will also no longer taste or smell raw and will actually taste pretty good on eating. If it does not taste right, adjust the spices and keep stirring. Add little more Hing/Asafoetida if you feel the aroma is missing.
But take heart, this whole process takes a mere 20-30 minutes of your lifetime and life gets better after this.

Once you have the stuffing, keep it aside and make the dough for the kochuri. You could also have made the dough earlier, while the dal was soaking and all but then such foresight is not my plus point.

Make the Dough

In a wide mouthed bowl add
1 cup of AP Flour/Maida
1 cup of Whole Wheat
pinch of salt
1.5 tbsp of Vegetable Oil

With your fingers rub the oil in the flour. Then gradually add warm water to knead the dough until the dough is soft. Cover the dough with a damp towel and let it rest.

Note: My Mother later said that she also adds a sprinkle of hing to the dough for a more Hing-y flavor, so try that.

Make the Kochuri

Take a small ball of the dough. It might take 2-3 tries until you settle at the right size. The size should be like a gooseberry/amla. Roughly make about 20 dough balls out of this dough.

Dip the tip of the ball in oil and then flatten it between your palm.

Now roll it out to a 2" circle. Take a little of the stuffing and put it in the center. bunch up the sides of the dough disc now to form a purse like formation. With your fingers, close the top of the purse so that the stuffing does not come out. Flatten it between your palm and you are ready to roll.
Note: You can also stuff it the traditional way by making small dent in the flat disc, putting the stuffing in and then sealing the dough disc

Roll out the stuffed ball into small discs about 3" in diameter, same size and thickness as that of a luchi or poori. Well maybe a wee bit thicker than luchi

Heat enough oil for frying in a Kadhai. When the oil is hot, dip the rolled out disc to see if the oil bubbles. If it does, slowly release the disc in oil and press with a slotted spoon coaxing the kochuri to puff. Once the kochuri puffs up and takes a shad of pale brown, take it out and get ready for the next.
Note: Now honestly, I might write all the theory but this step takes some practice and mine fails to puff up 40% of the time. So it is okay. Even if it does not puff up, it tastes really delicious.

Kochuri needs some Alu Torkari and different homes make it different way. Another favorite to go with Kochuri is the Cholar dal, a hot favorite to be precise. However, having made Anita's station aloo a couple of times, I have fallen in love with it and so that is what I made to go with these Kochuri.

Alur Torkari inspired by A Mad Tea Party

Chop 4-5 large potatoes in quarters and put to boil in the pressure cooker. We will peel them later.

Once the potatoes are done and have cooled down, peel the jackets and crumble the potatoes by hand. Don't mash them, just gently crumble.

Now heat some mustard oil in a Kadhai.

Temper the Oil with
1/4th tsp Hing
1/2 tsp Cumin seeds
2 Tej-Patta

Follow with a tbsp of grated ginger.
Once the ginger sizzles, add 1 small chopped tomatoe and 5-6 broken green chillies.
Fry till the tomatoes are all mushed up.

Add 1 tbsp of Coriander powder, Turmeric powder, salt to taste and saute for a minute.

Add the potatoes and then add about 2 cups of water. Stir around and let it come to  a boil.

Let it simmer for about say, 10 -12 minutes. In between break up some of the potatoes to give a thick texture to the gravy. Taste and adjust the spices.

Both my daughters enjoyed the Hing er Kochuri and Torakri a lot and I think I have to make it soon, if only for then.