Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Very Quick Butter Paneer and Rainbow Loom homemade

Paneer Butter Masala -- How to make Butter Paneer

Okay, who ever discovered Butter Paneer is a genius. "Sirji, tussi great ho". I had never ever thought I would utter these words and always dissed butter paneer aka paneer makhani as a misconstrued representation of the rich Indian cuisine. I am sure I have said things to that effect in my earlier posts too.

Paneer Makhni | Butter Paneer Masala | How to make Butter Paneer

But that was when I had not foreseen a future where hoardes of bengali kids(including mine), age ranging from 5 to 15, who might have otherwise complained about  dal-bhaat-mangshor jhol, would eat butter paneer with rice in rapt silence. That was when I had no idea that the biggest fan of this dish, is being nurtured in my own home, until now fed on a  careful and involved diet of chhanar dalna, charchari and murgir jhol . Yes, that is my nine year old, more frequently referred to as BigSis. She has always liked orange glo paneer makhni with naan at Indian restuarants, her favorite thing to order. I had thought she would get over it. Apparently she didn't and the fondness just grew stronger.

So, I took matters in my own hand and started making a Paneer Butter Masala at home. It was much appreciated and I started making it more frequently.

The more, I made it, the more I streamlined.

I cut corners and butter and heavy cream. I pared down the recipe to bare basics, something that could be done in 15-20 minutes flat whether you were cooking for 2 or 20. Yes, 5 main ingredients, few spices, 15 minutes and you have the easiest, quickest dish which is guaranteed to please loads of kids if not their finicky parents. I started adding vegetables along with paneer to the gravy and calling it my version of Navratan Korma. Instead of paneer, I added Eggs and called it Egg Masala. The horizon holds many possibilities with this dish but before I share the recipe, I have to tell you about another genius.

The discoverer of Rainbow Loom, a contraption which lets you make you bracelets with rubber bands. "Whaat??", you might ask. But I think, you won't. Almost everyone with school going kids have experienced the Loom fever.

Way back in Spring when my 9 yr. old oldest, BigSis came back from school and showed me a bracelet made of rubber band, I honestly did not understand what was so special about it. She and her friends are always making pretty bracelets or necklace out of beads and the rubber band ones seemed pretty flimsy in their comparison. Soon, however every other kid I came upon was making rubber brand bracelets and every other kid seemed to possess a "Rainbow Loom".

"Can I get a Rainbow loom?", BigSis asked in June. Now, I am not the kind of Mother who right away buys anything that the kids will ask for unless it is a book, again in which case I will first check the library. A kit that makes rubber brand bracelets and sells for $25 seemed a bit too much to me and I said, I will consider it only later.

Soon however BS learned to make a basic pattern with her two fingers and started making bracelets by the dozens on her fingers. Around end of summer she took one of her Taekwondo wood boards(the ones she breaks in class), pushed 3 thumbtacks in it and started using that to make more patterns. Some of her friends who did not have the loom yet did the same. Her neighborhood friends who had the store bought loom would pop in every other day and she used theirs to make the more difficult patterns that she and her friends learned from YouTube. Now, BigSis has a very rare quality where she doesn't really ask for toys or clothes or anything much. It is also a drawback in the sense that rarely there are incentives that excite her. So, in this case though most of her friends possessed the Rainbow Loom, she didn't feel deprived and did not ask me for one again. Almost all of August, she and her friends made bracelets of rubber band like crazy. The husband-man referred to it as "Kutir Shilpo" -- a burgeoning cottage industry.

Until that is a few weeks back. "I cannot make the complicated patterns using my 3-pin board," she grumbled. "I want to make more designs as they show on YouTube". Now, in our home, I am the more indulgent parent in such commercial product matters and so this time I was just this two clicks away from ordering on Amazon. The Dad is the one who thinks that kids these days anyway get too much and will learn to improvise only when they don't get desired stuff easily. So I held off buying the loom, mentally making a note to put it in as a December gift.

Finally tired of not having the complete loom, last week on her 4 day holiday, BigSis sat down to make a complete template board. She painted and glittered the wooden board. Then went on to replicate the full template with thumbtacks. There were a few trials with the pin placements as there needs to be a certain pattern and distance for optimal bracelet making. The hook posed a problem and so I bought a crochet hook which served the purpose. Finally the Rainbow Loom worth twenty-five dollar was made at home at almost no cost. It was cheap, sustainable and looked far better than the plastic ones made in China.

BigSis was also very proud of her home made loom as her friends and teachers praised her effort. Some of her friends wanted to make their own hand painted loom too.

As I read the story of Rainbow Loom's success and how its inventor had initially done the design using push pins on a wooden board, it seems the loom has come a full circle. As I see it, kids are immensely resourceful and if they want something, they will put in all their efforts to do it. How to excite them is the question and I am really amazed that these rubber brand bracelets were motivation enough.

Disclaimer: Now that BigSis is older, she does not want me to write much about her. However she particularly wanted me to take pics of her loom and share her hand made loom with you all.

Very Quick Butter Paneer


Buy a block of Nanak Paneer if in US and Canada. In other countries buy the best brand of paneer. With Nanak, the paneer is really soft and no soaking in hot water is necessary.

Cut up the paneer block in cubes.

Puree fresh juicy tomato to make about 2 cups of pureed tomato. OR use canned tomatoes and make two cups of pureed tomato.

Start Cooking

Heat 1/2 tbsp Vegetable Oil in a deep bottomed pan or kadhai. Add 1/2 tbsp of butter.
On occasions that call for rich gravies, I increase butter to 1tbsp. For only family meals I often skip the butter totally.

Temper the warm oil+butter with
2 Tej Patta
2 Black Cardamom lightly bruised in the mortar
1/4 tsp of methi seeds

Once the methi seeds start sputtering, switch off the heat for a minute and let the oil soak in the flavor of methi seeds. I don't think switching off is necessary but I like to give the oil a little time to absorb flavor of methi seeds and cardamom while I make tomato puree.

Now put the pan back on heat again and add
1.5 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp garlic paste

Fry for a few secs and then add
1 tbsp of tomato paste
If you don't have tomato paste, it is okay to skip

Next goes in
2 Cups of pureed tomato

Mix well with a spatula and add
1 tsp Kashmiri mirch powder
1 tsp Coriander powder
1/4 tsp of homemade Garam masala

Now stir and mix and let the tomato puree cook for about 7-8 mins at medium heat until the raw smell is gone. Keep stirring in between else it will char.

Add salt to taste and about 1/2tsp sugar and mix. As a reader Hasina Ahmed said, the sugar prevents the milk from breaking up later so make sure you add it.

Once the tomato is cooked and you see the oil seeping around the edges, lower the heat and add
2 Cups of Evaporated Milk(from can)
+ 1 cup of warm water
If you don't have Evaporated Milk, substitute with Whole Milk.
Remember to simmer at low heat as milk will break if you cook the gravy at high heat

Mix well and let the gravy simmer at low medium heat for 3-4 minutes. Adjust for taste and fine tune salt/sugar. You can add little more Garam masala and kashmiri mirch at this point if you think the dish needs more

Now add the paneer cubes and about 2 tsp of Kasoori methi crushed between your palm. Ahhh...the fragrance

Let it simmer for 3-4 more minutes at medium heat.  Check that paneer is cooked and does not taste raw. Switch off heat. Cover and serve after 15 minutes.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Ranga Alur Mishti with Chocolate and War in the Kitchen

There has been no posts in this blog for a long time and I wish there was good enough reason for it. Something like "Ta Da, I have been busy publishing my second book and third, so the blog has been given a period of rest". Or even better, something like "I have been on a world tour and that is taking up all my time you know, so things on the blog have been a bit slow". At least anything better than "It has been cold and I have been lazy to even wiggle my fingers out of the throw, wrapped in which I sit at the corner of my couch, and watch back-to-back episodes of Big Bang Theory".

But that is the truth.The last bit. I have been lazy. And it has been cold. Bitter cold and plenty of snow.What else do you expect January to be at 40.0000° N, 74.5000° W anyway ? To top it all the husband-man had kind of taken over the kitchen in the last couple of months. If you have known me for some time via blog, book or real life you surely know the brilliance of husband-man around the kitchen. He was the one who started early in the culinary department, is a better cook than me and has far better knife skills. Now all of this is really great things to have in a spouse until that is some 8-9 years back I myself found some interest in cooking. Initially the husband-man took my pottering around the kitchen mildly. He has a high faluting standard and a lot of the time I fell far short of it. That did not deter me though. I was finding cooking very enjoyable and tried to take away the ladle and spoon from him. I know, I know, you would think of it as the most un-feministic stance but hey, a girl gotta do what she wants.

Now, you would also say, why couldn't we cook together in there ? A valid question and it works fine when I can bark orders and he acts as merely the sous chef. But  when he is in charge, let me tell you it is not easy to cook with someone who thinks your onions are not sliced the right thin and who judges you for charring the all-clad stainless steel saucier. Given that I was the one one guilty of those acts, you can well imagine, why I wanted to be left to cook in peace and asymmetric onion slices. 

At this point, I have to take a breather and say, my heart goes out to a lot of the husbands who beat a quick retreat from the kitchen under such remarks. Guys, I am with you. Learn from me. Stand your own ground. If you are passionate about cooking, your time will come.

So anyway, what with his long days at work and such related travels, I could eventually redeem my place in the kitchen and write this blog and then the book and so forth. He cooked occasionally, worked as a sous-chef(which was a good thing), but mostly I was in control. You would think that would secure my place by the stove and kitchen island ? Right ? But nope. Did not happen.

In the last couple of months, the husband-man found himself with some extra time and his passion was rekindled in full force. There he was wielding the frying pan, whipping up one delicious dish after the other and looking wearily anytime I tried to chop a potato. 

"Why don't you relax while I whip up dinner?", he suggested sweetly on most evenings. 
"Remember, it is the tempering of jeera in hot oil that is supposed to help me relax", I tried to remind him.
He paid no heed to my relaxation technique and with an edge of steel in his voice declared, "I am making posto. Your favorite."
"Heck, I want to make posto", I would try to put up a losing war.
He would then aim the final arrow in a war that he had almost won, "No one makes better posto. Than me".

And there was no denying it. I would sulk a bit and finally find my spot in the couch and watch television. Anything from Peppa Pig to Modern Family. I even learned to operate the DVR and found that "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" can be quite entertaining. And then of course there is Big Bang Theory and this channel which plays re-runs of BBT for two hours almost every day. At the end of which there is a sumptuous meal without my lifting a finger. Things weren't too bad after all. I soon got sucked into this vortex of comfort and though the heart often missed the excitement over creation of a kasundi murgi, Howard and Raj more than made up for it.

So now that you know why posts have been so few and far in between do you understand my plight? If you are a married female reader, do you understand how your excruciatingly detailed knowledge as to how the luchi should puff can turn away your partner from the kitchen for ever ? Unless of course the other half is a passionate foodie too and then there is a war in the kitchen over how much "puffing" is the right puffing.

This Ranga Aloor Mishti or Sweet Potato something was made when I could snatch a huge sweet potato and some sole time in the kitchen. I had started out wanting to make Ranga Aloor Puli Pithe since it was Sankranti. But since laziness now sat permanently in my bones, I found that to be too much work. So I settled for a Ranga Alur Pantua instead. But then again didn't want to make the syrup as I myself am not very fond of  Ranga Alur Pantua. 

Incidentally in between all the BBTs, I had also watched several episodes of "Chopped" on Food Network and realized that innovation is the key to cooking. If you can pair Japanese mayo with khejur gur, you win!

So I thought I would make sweet potato fritters and instead of sugar syrup, drizzle it with Maple Syrup . Eventually I found more inspiration in Mahanadi's brilliant recipe and instead of making the coconut kheer stuffing I used a chocolate chips stuffing. Innovation, here I come.

This is how I made the Ranga Alur Mishti or Sweet Potato Fritters with Chocolate stuffing:

First, boil the sweet potato until just tender. Pressure cooker is your best friend in this case. You can also boil it any other way deemed fit.
Once that thing is cooked, cool, peel and then mash it up smoothly.

Take 1 cup of mashed sweet potato. If the mashed potato looks a little watery dry it in the microwave.
To it add 1/2 cup of grated coconut. Use the frozen one or freshly grated. Don't use the dry grated coconut.
Then add 2-3 tbsp of grated khejur gur. Substitute with sugar in absence of gur.
A sprinkle of little salt  and a teeny bit of black pepper powder.
Mix well.

Now add to it about 4 tbsp of AP Flour/Maida. Mix everything well so that you get a dough like mixture.

Leave it covered in the refrigerator for an hour.

Now take out the sweet potato dough and make about 18-20 marble sized balls. Flatten the balls on the palm of your hand and press a chocolate chip at the center. If you have really small ones put more than one. Cover the center with dough from all sides and make small rounds. Repeat the process for all the dough balls.

Heat enough oil in kadhai for deep frying.

To test if oil is hot enough, put a teeny piece of the dough and see if it bubbles and rises in the oil. If yes, the oil is ready. Now drop in the sweet potato balls in the hot oil and fry both sides brown. At medium heat, it takes about 4-5 minutes to get brown after which you flip and do the other side. Medium heat ensures that the dough is cooked through.

Take out the fried balls and drain excess oil on a paper towel.

Ideally the fried balls should be dunked in syrup now. But since I had skipped the syrup making, I drizzled the fried balls with Maple Syrup.

Now honestly, I am not a fan of ranga aloor puli but I liked this sweet. I thought it was a pretty good as innovation goes. The husband-man however took the oozing chocolate to be a sign of  things gone wrong. "Poche geche" he declared confidently. He clearly did not like it as much as I did. I have no idea if he would have liked it dunked in syrup. I usually tend to cook things, I feel I will like and so I ate up most of this sweet potato balls. BigSis said she liked them too. I say, why don't you try to see how it goes with you ? You can also dunk them in sugar syrup if  you so wish.

And the good news is, I am slowly gaining more time in the kitchen as the husband-man's vacation time is almost over. So keep your fingers crossed, you will see more posts here soon. Yippee.

Desserts from previous Sankranti:

Poush Parbon er Pati Shapta

Pati Shapta Original 

Gokul Pithe