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.