Sunday, April 30, 2017

Z: Zucchini Spice cake #AtoZChallenge


Ah, Z already. I think I have put on a few calories with all the desserts I have been talking about simply by thinking of them! Z was a bit of a problem... till google threw up the Zucchini Spice Cake at me.
You see, when we were young, I had never heard of a zucchini, much less seen or eaten one. Now with all the fancy vegetables coming in and all the fancy restaurants serving exotic vegetables,  our culinary experiments have become more adventurous and we are more likely to try something new. 
I actually love my vegetables. Not all of them and not all at once but I do. I like some vegetables on the side and fresh salads. Zucchini is pretty interesting in stir fries and salads and even more interesting as a side dish baked with tomatoes. But the husband and the girls don't eat their vegetables so happily... 
So why not try the cake and sneak in some? 
So here is the recipe, thanks to Martha Stewart. 
I'm going to bookmark this for future use. Will you? 


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Y: Yogurt AKA Mishti Doi #AtoZChallenge


No post on desserts is complete without yogurts. Fruity, flavourful yogurts. Raspberry and mango and what not. But the best yogurt is (ask anyone who has had it) the Mishti doi!!! 
Mishti (sweet) doi (yogurt) is the traditional Bengali yoghurt that has been sweetened with 'gur' or mollasses/black treacle. So it is not sweet as sugary sweet but has the flavour of gur. Hence, it is a beige colour (although I must admit my favourite one is white and comes from a shop called Mithai in Calcutta) and can also be made at home if you are adventurous enough. Nowadays they also make it in mango flavour in the mango season but I think I will stick to the traditional one. 
Mishti doi comes with a thick natural layer of fat on the top. That is the cream as it solidifies. Many Bengalis like the "matha" (head) as we call it and many don not. Me? I can have a whole bowl of just the head! 
And after teasing your palate with a full-on meal of shukto, bhaja, daal, fish fry, bhaat, maach, chingri, mangsho and chutney, mishti doi is definitely the perfect ending to any Bengali meal!



Friday, April 28, 2017

X: Xtras #AtoZChallenge


Let' face it. There are no desserts with X. Unless I go Chinese (they have a lot of food beginning with X, yes, almonds, watermelon and what-not) and copy paste from the internet. But that is not not this blog is about and I am not giving up on the challenge at this stage.
So... X is for the (e)xtras. The ladoos, the gulab-jamuns, the rabri, the jalebis, sohan halwa and all those other yummylicious Indian desserts that I have missed on this journey of desserts from A to Z.

I love laddos, Specially the Motichur ones. I can pop one after the other and not think twice about the fact that I am not a sweet person. Same goes for fresh, hot jalebis. Okay gulab-jamuns are never my dessert of choice but I will occasionally indulge. And anyone reading this and living in Delhi, know that the next time you visit, get me some sohan halwa. Yes, I will be your slave forever: never mind the diet or the ghee or whatever!

For anyone thinking I'm talking in Greek or Latin, try to google up some of these delicious Indian sweets. Or better still, visit India, if only to sample its desserts! India is huge and made up of people whose cultures and cuisines are at once different and diverse. Each region has it's own specialty, from the rava kesari of the south to the til patti of the East to the Chakhao kheer of the North East to the rewri of the North to the Balushahi of the West... we have something for every sweet tooth, whether its dairy or vegan or whatever! And you will find shops selling cupcakes and Black Forest Gateau alongside shops selling simai and phirni next to shops selling  sandesh and rasgolla and pedas. THIS is what I love about my country, the richness, the diversity, the co-existence of several cultures and creeds.

Unfortunately, recent political and social trends have tried to break this thread. Increasingly, as in the rest of the world, there is a tendency to try to make our worlds smaller. To incite people in the names of caste, of race, of religion. It makes me sad and I know this may not be the place to say it but that is not the India I grew up in. That is not the India I love or call my own.

Let us hope that good sense prevails... Till then, keep calm and feast on!  

Thursday, April 27, 2017

W: Watermelon Sorbet #AtoZChallenge


During my college days I 'discovered' watermelon juice. There were these juice bars all over the city and watermelon juice was an all time favourite. On a hot summer evening  in the dry heat of Pune, a watermelon juice was good for the soul. WE had this favourite juice bar area in Camp, where we had our pick of tiny  juice vendors. We would park our bikes after sundown and spend hours sipping on the sweet cold liquid. 
At home, as a child and later, watermelons were seeded and eaten as a fruit. My grandmother used to sprinkle a bit of sugar on the top and freeze it. That was how I enjoyed the fruit, or so I thought. 
But the fact is, that the secret is all in the sugar. That is what I discovered when I developed my love for fruit sorbets. And watermelon makes a brilliant sorbet. 
Try it. Read about it here 

P.S. if you do not have a ice-cream maker, (I don't) just use a good mixer/grinder and repeat it a few times. :)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

V: Vanilla Icecream #AtoZChallenge


As far as I am concerned, vanilla ice-cream is about the best thing ever. Just add a bit to any dessert and instantly your sweet-something has reached a new level.
Just the other day while I was at work some of my daughter's friends came over and brightly decided to while away the time by baking some cup-cakes. I must laud their efforts because the cup cakes were texture perfect with the right amount of springiness. However, they had lessened the sugar quantity given in the recipe and the cupcake was not really sweet. So what do you do?Simple. Add some Vanilla Ice-cream and some chocolate sauce or caramel viola.... you have a dessert fit for a king!
Likewise, I can add vanilla ice-cream to almost anything, even hot gulab jamuns and jalebis. Vanilla ice-cream is a fantastic addition in milkshakes and cold coffees, specially when the girls have been fussing over their milk. Serve vanilla ice-cream with fruits... mangoes and litchis... you have an awesome dessert. unexpected guests at the dining table? Serve some vanilla ice-cream with a splash of chocolate sauce or strawberry crush.Add nuts, cornflakes, ever muesli to give it that extra crunch! Or just a bit of Drambuie or Kahlua ... yummy.
Is it any wonder then, that come summer, we usually almost always have vanilla ice-cream at home!?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

U: Upside-down Cake #AtoZChallenge


Soon after my marriage my in-laws discovered I enjoyed baking.
And baking meant cakes, right?
Wrong.
For me, baking meant roasts and au gratin and lamb chops and fish Florentine and moussaka.
However, my in-laws did not know this. One day when we were visiting them in their house at Salt Lake, much to my surprise I found that they too had invested in an oven. It was a small OTG , nothing like the big one they had presented me but there it was staring at me. My father-in-law had also got a can of pineapples and was ready to rush out and get me whatever else I may need. I got the hint all right: a pineapple cake. Or in any case, some baked dessert with pineapple in it.
Sigh. Those were the days before the internet, my trusty Betty Crocker Cookbook was still a distant dream and I was a novice at baking cakes. I searched my head a remembered this pineapple upside down cake my Mom used to make. I called her and jotted down the recipe, the best she remembered it. And then I made it.
It was a disaster. I’m sure there was nothing wrong with the recipe but the whole thing fell flat, the upside down part was a complete fail and the thing looked like someone’s bad dream. Later I learnt that heat and humidity turns a cake flat if let out of the heat too soon. I learnt too many eggs are not always nice and there is a reason why you are supposed to sift the flour and add the ingredients one by one. Oh, my in-laws were very sporting about it. They all helped themselves to the collapsed pudding-like goo and declared it was wonderful. Only I still cringe at the thought of that upside down cake.
And no, I have never tried it since.
Maybe I should!
Here’s this recipe I found online.Yes, thanks to BettyCrocker! I’m saving it to try another day.


And you? Have you had any memorable baking disasters yet? 

Monday, April 24, 2017

T: Trifle Pudding #AtoZChallenge


Both my mother and her sister (my favourite aunt ever) made excellent trifle puddings. maybe some of it has rubbed off on me because, even tough I say it myself, the trifle pudding in our home is pretty delicious too. And our guests rarely refuse that second helping!

I do not make trifle puddings except in winter and that too only when I have had the time t plan ahead. It's a good sure-shot dessert and most of it can be prepared in advance for that party so that is one item out of the way.
Here's how I make my trifle for parties, 2 bowls:

Ingredients:

  • Sponge cake 8" diameter about 3" thickshould do, depending on the size of the bowl that you will make the trifle in. You can make it yourself but a store bought one works well too. 
  • Orange juice : 1 cup
  • Rum or Brandy (optional) 2 tbsp
  • Jelly; I packet, orange is preferred
  • Fresh oranges; 2 whole, the segments peeled and deseeded.
  • Kiwis: 2, peeled and cut in chunks, some thin slices for garnish. 
  • Strawberries: 1 cup, hulled and cut in chunks, some thin slices for garnish. 
  • Cherries: 1 tin, deseeded. With all the fresh fruits it's redundant but I keep it for the nostalgia factor, when we were kids we did not get kiwis or fresh strawberries. 
  • Custard powder, sugar, milk (as per the directions in the packet for setting custard)
  • Icing sugar: to taste
  • Fresh cream: 2 cups
Method: 
  1. Slice the cake so that you have two round cakes about 1& 1/2 inches thick. Place in two deep serving bowls, preferably transparent ones as a well made trifle is a thing of beauty to be admired. 
  2. Pour orange juice over the cake so as to soak the cake in the juice. Dampen it, do not pour all the juice. Add rum/brandy, one tbsp into each. Omit it if you have kids coming, or just put some in the one you will ear mark for the adults. 
  3. Make the jelly as per the directions on the packet. Pour over the soaked cake and add the oranges and some of the other fruits and the cherries. Reserve some fruits for garnishing. If you are making it a day ahead (like me) use fresh fruits for garnish. 
  4. Leave to set, keep it in the fridge. 
  5. When the jelly is completely set and firm, make the custard. When it is slightly cool, pour over the jelly and leave it to set. If you wish to make it fruitier you can add some more fruits over the custard after it has set. You can also add nuts or caramel if you wish. 
  6. On the day of the party, ( I do this in the early evening or late afternoon) whip the cream with sugar to taste (I do not like the cream to be too sweet) till soft peaks form. Pour a layer over the custard and spread thick. Any leftover cream is gobbled up by my girls. Pop it back in the fridge to set. 
  7. Garnish with sliced kiwis and/or strawberries or with sprinkles. 
  8. Serve chilled. remember to slice deeply from the bottom of the bowl for each serving. 
  9. Yup, its good. Enjoy the trifle as well as the compliments that follow!  
Here are some pictures of the food from the last party we had. 

the meats


the salads


the trifle!
 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

S: Shrikhand #AtoZChallenge


I was introduced to shrikhands by the family of one of my best-est friends in school, Vaishali. We have been friends forever, it seems. And from a very young age we visited each others' houses. They were vegetarians and Aunty (I sometimes also call her Aai, meaning 'mother' in Marathi) was a fantastic cook. Uncle was a flight engineer and used to be travelling often. He would bring back pears, plums and peaches and other exotic fruits after his flights out of the city. He always ensured he got some for me too. Nani (Vaishali's grandmother) was a sweetheart. She was a lively and sprightly grand old lady who remained active throughout her life and loved to share stories with us.
Anyway, coming back to Aunty and her cooking. It was in this home that I first tasted dhansak (a veg version of course but I was not fussy), beetroot raita (a favourite I make even now), poha (aunty taught me that) and countless other "strange" vegetables that I did not encounter in my own home. And of course, Aunty made the most amazing Shrikhand ever. I sometimes buy the Amul one you get in the shops but that THING is not there. You know what I mean? Aunty cooked everything herself. Right from the melt-in-your-mouth chapatis (with butter) and the rice and the papad and the salad and the chaats, even.
I used to look forward to the meals and the easy hospitality where I was welcomed with open arms. In fact, when I joined the profession, my Chamber was near Vaishali's house. Vaishali herself was then posted in Jaipur after having done her Hotel Management and joining the Taj Group of Hotels. Often, instead of eating at home, I would drop in and visit Uncle and Aunty, share their dinner and head off to Chambers. Aunty and Uncle always welcomed me with open arms but then they moved to Pune ten years ago...so unfortunately I've had to change that habit of mine, but I fondly remember those days of our youth. And it gives me joy.
I will never try to make shrikhand. I do believe some things should be left for another hand. I can never hope to replicate that yummy creaminess. And I know that the best shrikhand in the world can only be made by Aunty, but if anyone is willing to try, here's a recipe, that, despite being time consuming, looks do-able:
Shrikhand recipe 


Friday, April 21, 2017

R: Rasgollas and Rajbhog #AtoZChallenge





Okay, I am a true Bengali and I love my rasgollas. True, we do not make them at home any more because it's so much easier to get it from the nearest sweet shop but I do remember it being made at home. Specially Rajbhog, which is the bigger and usually flavoured with saffron and, sometimes, orange. My father came from an old family in North Calcutta. The Setts were one of the first inhabitants of the city and at one time was quite a considerable family to reckon with. Now, 24+ generations later, all that remains is a family house in the heart of Burrabazar mostly partitioned and (worse) divided into bits and sold or tenanted. I have never lived in that house except when we went over for the pujas or maybe a wedding in the family. It is a lovely interesting house full of nooks and crannies and places to hide. Those days, the house was not fragmented. The terrace ran for almost two blocks and you could go from one relatives' house to another and be utterly lost to anyone looking for you. 
And during weddings and such occasions, I remember the terrace being covered. Cooks would be employed and they would appear with huge woks and cook over fires and the smells emanating from these were delicious. What was most fascinating was the corner reserved for sweets. Right from Bonde to Rabri to Malpua to Rajbhog to Laddus to Sandesh, they made it all. We used to run about and be scolded and told to get away from the fires. But we kept going back to sneak off a rasgolla, or, if we were in luck, maybe a fish fry? 

Anyway, rasgollas can be made at home. Its creamier than the shop version and not squeaky as they make it in some places. In fact home made rasgollas are like the ones you still get in the suburbs, soft and melt-in-the-mouth type. Let me tempt you with the recipe: 


Ingredients: 
  • Cottage cheese/channa from I litre milk, home made is best. 
  • I litre water cold, 
  • 1/2 cups sugar   
  • 1/2 cups water 
  • A few saffron strands

Method; 
  • Add sugar and water to a wide pan, bring it to a boil
  • Knead the cheese well till it is smooth and make into compact balls about the size of golf balls
  • As the syrup boils, gently add the balls one after another
  • cover the pot/pan and cook for ten minutes on a medium flame.
  • serve warm or cold. 
Yes, it's that simple. Go on, try it at least once.  



1.   

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Q: Queen of Puddings #AtoZChallenge



I admit it. I was almost ready to throw in the towel on Q. Q had me in a quandary. Then I 'discovered' the Queen of Puddings. It reminds me of the bread and butter puddings my mom used to make for school. More often than not it used to end up in the dustbin because I used to be so busy playing during lunchtime that I did not have the time to dig through a pudding!
Now, a lot older and not really wiser, I occasionally enjoy bread and butter puddings. no offense meant but the Queen of Puddings seems a lot like it, only with meringue on top. And meringues are always fun to be with!
So here's the next dessert I am going to try at home:
Queen of Puddings. Recipe by Jamie Oliver here

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

P: Payesh #AtoZChallenge



After my daughters were born, my mother-in-law insisted that on every birthday, each of the girls would be fed palak and payesh, preferably cooked by me. Why? I asked her and she said she didn't know but it was tradition. Something must be made with spinach (palak) and there must be some rice pudding (payesh). The payesh part I had heard of, but palak was a surprise. In any case I used to diligently make the two dishes the best I could.
Payesh had to be simple. What's there to it? I thought as I boiled milk and added rice and sugar. I was a mess usually. Either the rice was too much or the milk was too much or the pudding was runny, I just could not get that darn payesh to be the way it was supposed to be!
Yes, I asked my mother aand she told me I should add one fistful of gobindobhog rice to each half liter of milk. It works like magic. And the birthday girls may not be big fans of payesh but all the guests lick their bowls clean!
Here's how to make a typical Bengali Payesh, or Rice Pudding, if you will:

INGREDIENTS:

  • Rice : two fistfuls (yes, it looks very little, but that's all you need, believe me)
  • Milk: 1 liter
  • Sugar: 2 tbsp
  • Elaichi/ Cardomom: 2/3
  • Raisins (optional): a few, about 50g
  • Almond slivers (optional) some, about 1/4 cup. (Soaked, peeled and cut into slivers) 
METHOD: 
  • Pour milk into a pan and place on stove top to boil, 
  • Wash rice and add to milk along with cardomoms. 
  • When the milk boils, simmer and stir till it thickens.
  • By the time the milk thickens, the rice will also be cooked. 
  • When the milk has thickened adequately, it should still be runny and liquid, add sugar and stir. 
  • Add the almonds and raisins if adding and remove from fire.
  • let it sit for a bit before serving. Remember the milk with thicken a bit even after you remove it from the fire so do remember to turn off the heat before the milk becomes too thick. 
  • Once it has cooled, place in refrigerator to chill. 
  • Serve cold. 
  • As they say, only ghosts have payesh that is hot!!!   



Tuesday, April 18, 2017

O: Oatmeal Desserts #AtoZChallenge


Yes, oatmeal desserts. You heard that correctly, right from cookies to ice-cream to puddings to cakes (even cheesecakes) oatmeal can be used to make the most amazing desserts. Just don't tell the family for if you have one like mine they completely blank out after the word "oat". 
My experiments with oatmeal started primarily after my husband had a cardiac episode and I was told to give him a healthy diet rich in fibres. Although I personally liked my occasional porridge, he used to balk at the thought of oatmeal. So I started sneaking them into cookies and cakes. Sometimes he figured it out, often he didn't.  I used it primarily in desserts ( as a cheesecake base, oatmeal and raisin cookies, even chewy toffees with apples and apricots) and more often than not he would have most of it before he would suddenly start fussing about the chewy thingies! Some of these men can be such babies! 
Anyway, if you are feeling adventurous, I suggest googling "oatmeal desserts". There's a world of ideas out there. I'm certain some will catch your fancy. And be healthy too!   

Monday, April 17, 2017

N: Nan Khatai #AtoZChallenge


In school, in Class XI, I took Nutrition as one of my subjects. I don't really know why. I used to hate cooking and nothing about food (except eating it) interested me. However, I discovered pretty early on that I enjoyed cooking. There was something very intriguing about taking some raw foodstuff and turning it into something delicious! 
One of the early recipes we were given were of Nan Khatais. That was when I discovered these lovely Indian "cookies"! Oh there were a lot of things we learnt, right from cheese balls to alu dum to eggs to cutlets ... For a long time I had even saved the file. It got lost along the way, but that introduction to cooking started me on a journey that (thankfully) never ends! 

So for the Nan Khatai recipe, I checked into one of my favourite recipe blogs and here it is, thanks to @MonikaManchanda I'll be trying these soon, will you?  



Saturday, April 15, 2017

M: Malpoa AtoZChallenge


I married into a very religious and conservative family. My husband thankfully, had warned me that I would be expected to go the the puja room as required and help out with the rituals and stuff. I agreed, saying that I would do it is a duty provided I was not asked to believe in those Gods and rituals unless I wanted to. The husband agreed, done deal. 

I was married in August. My trial by fire was in September, when Janmasthami came around. I was told to make luchis. Luchis? I almost died right there, I knew what they were, but I had never made one in my life! But.. I did know how to make rotis. Undaunted, I took some white flour, mixed in oil and water and proceeded to make the  luchis the same way as rotis, except that I fried them in oil. In hindsight, I know now what a disaster those were. They tasted okay and by some miracle swelled while frying, but I had burnt loose flour all over, the oil was thick with it! I did not know that unlike rotis, for luchis, when you roll them you use oil, not loose flour! Best thing is that no one complained or said a word! 

Next was malpoa. Thankfully I was told to cut a pineapple (on a Boti which is another story altogether) and one of my brothers-in-law made them. I had seen my mother make it at home but had no clue how it was done. I will not forget that afternoon easily... struggling with the pineapple (and other fruits) while my brother-in-law sweated over a tiny stove. Now there have been a lot of changes. There is gas in the puja room kitchen, there are ladies hired to do the cooking, there are knives and even a peeler, convenience has taken over. But that day more than twenty years ago, has been etched in my memory. And those sweet pancakes? Those malpoas? That remains a constant favourite of every ones, specially at Janmasthami, only now it comes from Gupta Brothers! 

Here's a simple recipe I found online. We Bengalis do not do the rabri part, our malpoas are soaked in sugar syrup and served, preferably warm and crisp at the edges. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

L: Lamington cake #AtoZChallenge


In college in Pune, we were a hungry lot. Good food was expensive and depended largely on our budgets. More often than not, we were broke and survived on Maggi Noodles and bread and eggs. One of those "I am hungry but am broke" days, a friend got us some Lamington cakes from Spicer College Bakery. We greedily lapped it up, it was like the best thing we had eaten in days!

Years later, pretty recently in fact, we went somewhere and I saw Lamington cakes and promptly got some for my girls. The spouse did not care for it much, "too much coconut," he said. The girls were okay with it and I found it wasn't half as exciting as it had been, years ago. I remembered those college days and the friendship we shared. I found myself thinking of how it would have been a treat for us in those days.

Hunger is such a wonderful thing.

And you? Is there any memory of any food you would have greedily lapped up when you were broke but would not care for now?
Hunger is such a wonderful thing.


Thursday, April 13, 2017

ALWAYS AND FOREVER

My book of poetry. Here's the release announcement:

Always and Forever: a book of poems

:)

K: Key Lime Pie #AtoZChallenge


I had my first slice of this little bit of heaven as a teenager when we were visiting Florida. I had obviously ordered something full of gooey chocolate while the rest of the family decided to try the key Lime Pie, which is a speciality of Florida as it uses limes found in the Florida keys. (I'm sorry, no offense meant, but I do think the Indian tart limes work just as well. In any case one must make do with whatever is available!) Needless to say, even chocolate faded in comparison. I must mention that as a child I did not dislike chocolate as much as I do now. Maybe this was the beginning? 

Anyway back to the dessert: Key Lime Pie is made of lime juice, egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk in a biscuit crust, yes like a cheesecake. The original Bahaman native version also adds meringue topping so the egg whites are not wasted. 
During mixing, a reaction between the condensed milk and the acidic lime juice occurs that causes the filling to thicken on its own without requiring baking. Many early recipes for Key lime pie did not require baking the pie, relying on this thickening to produce the proper consistency of the filling. Today, because consuming raw eggs can be dangerous, pies of this nature are usually baked for a short time. The baking also thickens the texture more than the reaction alone.
Despite its tart center, the top juxtaposes it adding more sweet flavors in some pies.
If you check online, there are tons of recipes for this this. Here is my favourite by Martha Stewart
A few tips: 
  • Digestive biscuits are a great substitute for graham crackers. 
  • If the meringue part looks scary (I have friends who are petrified) omit it. It tastes great even without it. 
  • Do not try this in the hot summers, wait till it's cooler. The humidity in the air makes everything go flat. 
  • If you are making the meringue and you do not have a blowtorch (I don't) bake in the oven for about 10 to 12 minutes (180 degrees C) , it will have a similar effect.
  • All the best. Do let me know how it goes! 




Wednesday, April 12, 2017

J: Jelly #AtoZChallenge


Ah, jelly. When we were very young, those jelly packets were hard to come by in India. My aunt who stayed in Sunderland used to bring them for us. the one she got wasn't like the powdered gelatin and flavour mix you get these days, it was a wobbly concentrated chunk that came in squares and looked much like a small waffle. Anyone remember those? I do not know if those are still available, but they used to come in amazing flavours like black-currant and black cherry and raspberry and used to be delicious. I often stole the cubes, (much to my mother's chagrin) and could not wait for it to be "cooked" (as in melted and set). Yes, jellies were always a favourite and my daughters love them too. I remember every birthday party they had as kids used to see me making piles of jellies for them and their friends. Nowadays they make their own jelly (from packets) and sometimes set it in the ice tray so they have little cubes of jelly to have! The other day my sister-in-law was making jelly for her two year old twins and that's what I told her too do! 
Here's to the wobbly dessert loved by the kids, add some fruits (except pineapple because there's something in it that prevents gelatin from setting), have it with custard or icecream, make it into a trifle...whatever. Jelly always disappears fast in our house! 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

I: Ice-lollies #AtoZChallenge


No matter how old I get, on a hot summer's day in Calcutta, one of the few things that I love to have are ice-lollies. Remember the orange lollies in school that left an orange stain on our uniforms and our tongues? Yes, that. 
And also the Bombay Chowpatty style lollies made of crushed ice stuffed into a glass with a stick and then covered with syrup? That too. 

I tried to make them at home when I was young. We used to have trays of orange squash (with a little sugar, otherwise it will not freeze nicely) and odd bowls and glasses with old ice-cream sticks in them sitting in the fridge. My mother used to be complaining that half the kitchen napkins were ruined because I was forever making crushed ice (I would put the ice cubes in the cloth and hammer away at it with a pestle!)  and making a mess! In fact, during our holidays, on hot summer afternoons, when the rest of the house was sleeping, ice-lollies provided a lot of fun, pleasure and entertainment as far as I was concerned!

I remember in Ranchi, my grandmother used to cut up watermelon, sprinkle a teeny bit of sugar on it and freeze. It was one of the most awesome things ever; fresh, natural and delicious. And that is still my favourite way to have watermelon.  

It's 37 degrees Centigrade here today, right now. My cellphone tells me the real feel is 44 degrees. Time for an ice-lolly, don't you think? 



Monday, April 10, 2017

H: Honey #AtoZChallenge



My mother was from Ranchi, so as a child we spent a lot of our time in Ranchi. My grandparents had a lovely house in Kanke, a little outside the main town and the grounds were big enough for us to get lost in all throughout the day. There were all kinds of trees: litchi, tamarind, black jamuns, guava, papya... you name it. There even was a well which we were forbidden to go near. I remember many many happy unstructured hours playing in the fields. There was a river nearby that we would visit in the afternoons and there were n number of neighbours whose houses we would run to and who would always welcome us with orange squash and fresh fruits from their trees. 
And yes, there were flowers, there were bees and often beehives hanging off the trees. 
In fact I remember the first time I saw an apiary. It was at a corner of the neighbour's garden and there was a man with heavy gloves extracting the honey. It was fascinating, all the more because we were strictly ordered to stay away. And later on the neighbours sent us jars of fresh golden honey. 
My grandmother used to make the most amazing pancakes. She called them pancakes and that's what I grew up thinking they were but now I know that what she made were actually crepes. We used to love them. We had no Nutella or fancy sauces, but had it with sugar and fresh lime. It was lovely. 
And we had the fresh honey. In fact another favourite dessert of mine as a child used to be a slice of fresh bread lathered with home made white butter and honey dripping off the sides. 
I can still taste it even as I write this. 


And that is me with my grandparents with the Ranchi house in the background. This picture would be early 1971, I guess! 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

G: Gajar ka halwa #AtoZChallenge

Can a series on desserts ever be missing the gajar ka halwa? Impossible, I thought. Who could ever imagine that carrots could be so tasty. Yes, Gajar ka halwa is made out of carrots. My mother used the dark purple carrots (when they were available) in winter but it works just as well with the orange ones too.
One word of warning: It is rich! And time consuming if you have to make the Khoya (evaporated milk) at home like our mothers used to.

First, the khoya: 1.25 litres milk
1. Pour the milk in a large thick bottomed pan and bring milk to a boil.
2. Lower the flame and simmer the milk, stir at intervals whilst the milk is simmering.
3. The milk will froth many times, while it is simmering. Scrape the milk solids from the sides of the pan and add to the milk.
4. The milk will continue to reduce and thicken as its being simmered on a low flame.
5. Continue to simmer and stir till the milk thickens and has reduced to such an extent that you can see bubbles bursting in the reduced milk. keep stirring continuously as the reduced milk can burn or become too brown.
6. When the bubbles stop, switch off the flame and scrape the sides of the bowl and add it to the khoya. Let it cool.

This process will take about 2 hours.

Or, you can buy the khoya from a sweet shop. I know of someone who used milk powder instead of khoya. Please don't, it is NOT the same thing.

Once the khoya business is sorted, making gajar halwa is pretty simple!

You will need;

2 kg carrots (red or purple or orange)
500 ml cold milk (warm milk tends to curdle while cooking with carrot)
250 g khoya (the above recipe is for 250 g)
Sugar to taste
1 tbsp ghee


  • shred carrots
  • Boil the milk and shredded carrots together
  • Simmer. When the carrots are halfway cooked, add sugar (about 3/4 tbsp, you can taste and see that it is to your liking) and ghee. 
  • Cook till the water from the milk dries completely, the carrots should be fully cooked. 
  • Simmer some more and add the khoya. 
  • If you wish, you can add a handful of raisins and cashew at the end. 
  • Serve hot.  




Friday, April 7, 2017

F: Fudge #AtoZChallenge


Ah, fudges. Walnut filled crunchy, chewy fudges. Again, my mom used to make them. In fact a lot of my cooking, recipes are from her. Anyway, come winter, our house would be filled with the aroma of cakes and baking.Mom was known for her Christmas cakes and roasts,
And sometimes, in winter, if she was in the mood for it, Mom also made chocolate fudge. In fact when I went away to college Mom sometimes made me some to take back with me. You can bet it barely lasted a day!

EASY WALNUT FUDGE:

Ingredients:

  • Cocoa powder 1/2 cup
  • Chopped walnuts: 1 cup
  • Condensed milk: 1 cup
  • Butter: 1/2 cup
  • Sugar 2 tbsp
  • Vanilla Essence: a few drops 
Method: 
  • Heat a non -stick pan, add condensed milk, butter, sugar, cocoa powder and vanilla essence and mix well. Cook on a medium flame for about 2/3 minutes, stirring continuously. 
  • Remove from flame, add walnuts and mix well. 
  • Transfer immediately onto a greased dish or tray. 
  • Once it cools a little, shape into balls or squares and set aside to cool completely. 
  • You may want to keep it in the refrigerator to set if it's too hot outside. 
  • Enjoy! 






Thursday, April 6, 2017

E: Eclairs #AtoZChallenge



In March I decided I would do desserts as my theme for the A2Z Challenge this year. I was toying with the idea and ran it by my daughters. My older one, who is a self-styled sweet aficionado immediately perked up at the idea. "But you have to make at least one every weekend," she said, from that blog, all of April." 
I was game. Last weekend we had parfaits, more about that later (maybe). And this is what I plan to try this weekend! 
Eclairs!
Who can resist them? 
I got  a nice recipe here: Eclair recipe 
(http://nicelikenigella.com/2013/08/29/making-chocolate-eclairs-for-the-first-time/)
and it looks simple enough to try! 

care to join me? 


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

D: Doi Bonde #AtoZChallenge



As a true blooded Bengali, how can I NOT have mishti doi in a food collection, specially when I am talking about desserts? That sweet (mishti) creamy yogurt (doi) is the stuff that dreams (and legends) are made of. And while I like it, I am a bit of a food snob. I will have it only from a certain couple of shops or not at all. Too sweet, I say.

But, I am NOT talking about mishti doi here. In fact I am talking about the unsweetened white yogurt you get in every sweet meat shop on every corner. And I am talking about bonde. (Pronounced bow-day. There's a nasal twang after the 'o', the n is silent.) Or 'boondi', if you will, only it has been dipped in sugar syrup!

When we were young every weekend saw us jazzing off to our garden house in North Calcutta. It was an old property with huge grounds and a pond and much of my childhood memories are centered here. It was built by my ancestors when Maniktala was outside the city. By the time we got to it, it was our own little slice of heaven in the middle of North Calcutta!  On our way to the place, or even the next day for breakfast, my dad would pick up kachoris and daal and samosas. And he would get bonde.

What is bonde, you ask? Well little balls of gram flour are fried in hot oil and steeped in sugar syrup. By little balls I mean tiny, about the size of small  peas. They usually use food colouring so the end result is a red and yellow bowl of tiny sweet balls. Like this:




I know, that does not sound very interesting and seems too sweet. At least it does to me.
But have it the way my father and my uncles have it. With sour yogurt.
The sourness of the yogurt off-sets the sweetness of the bonde beautifully. and suddenly, you find you want some more!!!



Tuesday, April 4, 2017

C: Chikkis #AtoZChallenge



On weekends, my Mom would make something nice for the family. Often, and I used to wait for them, it used to be peanut chikkis. What are chikkis, you ask? 
Chikkis are caramelized peanut squares. Sweet and sinful and crunchy. Only my Mom used to call the "badamer takti" or something equally tooth-breaking. It's only after I went to college in Pune that I discovered "chikkis". Lonavla was famous for them,  and they made it out of everything: almonds, cashews, chick-peas, pistachio, coconut... you name it. I tried them but they weren't quite the same. You see, they used jaggery or some other syrup. There were too many nuts and flavours...
The best chikkis, in my humble opinion (of course) are the simple peanut ones that my mother used to make: a slice of  a Sunday afternoon at home. 

Here's a simple recipe: 

INGREDIENTS: 
  • 500 g peanuts
  • 400 g sugar
  • Butter: to grease a tray

METHOD: 
  • Skin, roast and coarsely crush peanuts. That means dry roast the peanuts, crush under a rolling pin, blow away the skin over the kitchen sink! 
  • Heat sugar with 1/2 to 3/4 cup water till thick. 
  • Boil syrup till it caramelizes into hard crack consistency (this means that the syrup will form thick, "ropy" threads as it drips from the spoon. The sugar concentration is rather high now, which means there’s less and less moisture in the sugar syrup. A little of this syrup dropped into cold water will form a hard ball. If you take the ball out of the water, it won’t flatten. The ball will be hard, but you can still change its shape by squashing it.
  • Add peanuts and mix thoroughly
  • Grease a tray and spread the mixture on the tray
  • Roll flat into 1 cm thickness
  • Cut into squares and store in an air-tight container, they stay for a while unless you have hungry teenagers at home like I do! 
Go on, try it sometime, I promise you can't stop at one! 




Monday, April 3, 2017

B: Bacon Brownies #AtoZChallenge

Bacon Brownies

I got married in August 1996. In November, when my birthday rolled around and everyone was gifting me yet more saris, my mother-in-law got me an oven. She knew me well enough to know I liked cooking (I had told her about the roast chicken and lamb dinners at home). As you can imagine, it was the best gift ever. The best part was that it wasn't a small OTG which is present in many households and used even for toasting bread. It was a proper big sized oven that could not only hold a baking dish but could also accommodate a leg of ham!
It served me well for almost fifteen years, I had to replace it because one of the coils finally fell apart and could not be fixed. But the joys I have gotten baking and experimenting with that oven are forever.
I started with Brownies pretty early. It was fun and my nephew and niece loved them. My kids grew up licking the cake batter off the mixing bowl.
And then the other day I was going through my Twitter Time Line and came across Bacon Brownies WOW, I thought, that is something I haven't tried yet!
That very day I tried it out. I fried the bacon to a crisp, crumbled it, mixed in some honey and added it to the brownie mix. Viola, it was delicious. I do think bacon and chocolate go very well together.

And yes, the recipe is simple and easy to follow. Here you go, courtesy +Monika Manchanda

Heaven on a plate @Monikamanchanda

Saturday, April 1, 2017

A: Apple Pie #AtoZChallenge


What better dessert to start this year's A to Z Blogging Challenge with, than a good hearty apple pie?
When I got married, more than twenty years ago, I was an okay cook, which meant I could rustle up a meal and it wouldn't be a total disaster.
As I started cooking and experimenting, I realised I enjoyed cooking, I specially liked experimenting and making 'new' things. So somehow, word got around and my in-laws began to think I was a pretty good cook.
Well, I cannot say it made me unhappy, but it also posed a challenge.
Once, my mother and father in law were coming over for dinner. I was cooking and decided dessert was a must. But I was lousy with sweet dishes, in fact I did not make any.
Then I remembered Baba liked apple pie. So apple pie it was. There was no internet those days, no Pinterest to point me to the right direction. So I turned to my trusty and reliable Betty Crocker Cookbook (more about that later) and there it was, simple and easy.

Did I say easy?
Oh the chopped apples and adding cinnamon and nutmeg and salt was simple. What had me was the pastry. I must have wasted a good bit of butter and flour that day. But ultimately I got it right. And there is nothing that delights a cook like a well turned out pastry.  I confess I only lined the top of the dish that first time, but it was enough to have me rated up there in my father-in-laws books! And later a lot of my friends have confessed that it is the pastry that flummoxes them. So here it is, the pastry recipe (and method) I follow, as 'borrowed' from Betty Crocker along with my own two bits. It has not failed me yet! And yes, it can be used for quiches too!

Pastry Dough Recipe:

·         1 cup all-purpose flour
·         1/2 tsp salt
·         1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon shortening
·         2 to 3 tbsp cold water
How to Make Pastry in 3 Simple Steps

Step 1: Mixing:
·         Use two knives and this technique: holding a knife in each hand with blades almost touching, move knives back and forth in opposite directions in a parallel cutting motion. The side of a fork works too.
·         Mix only until all ingredients are worked in. If you overwork pastry dough, it’ll become tough. This is where I went wrong. Don't knead it like your life depends on it! 
·         For easier rolling, after you’ve made the pastry dough and shaped it to a flattened round, wrap it tightly in muslin cloth and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes or overnight.
Step 2: Rolling
·         Anchor a pastry cloth or kitchen towel around a large cutting board (at least 12 x 12 inches) Rub flour into the rolling pin and on the cloth on the board. If you don’t have a large cutting board rub flour on the rolling pin and your kitchen countertop, that works too. Remember go easy on the flour, you don't want too much flour to work itself into the pastry. 
·         Place pastry dough on the flat surface and start rolling from the center out, lifting and turning pastry occasionally to keep it from sticking. If the pastry begins to stick, rub more flour, a little at a time, on the flat surface and rolling pin.
Step 3: Placing 
·         Fold pastry into fourths (gently), and place it in the pie plate with the point in the center of the plate. Unfold and gently ease into plate, being careful not to stretch pastry, which will cause it to shrink when baked.
·         Instead of folding pastry, you can also roll pastry loosely around rolling pin and transfer to pie plate. Unroll pastry and ease into plate. I have seen others do this and it worked but somehow every time I have tried this myself, I have failed.  

Go on,try it if you haven't. Let me know how it goes!