Saturday, August 30, 2014

Lebu Sondesh - Lemon scented Sweet Cottage Cheese

Sondesh is something that is quintessentially Bengali and you will find it hard to find a Bengali who doesn't like this subtly flavoured fresh cottage cheese sweet. I'm not crazy about it but I do enjoy a couple of them once in a way, and always have a few when I'm in Kolkata.

Over the last couple of visits there I have bought myself quite a pile of sondesh moulds. These are available in the markets in Kolkata, usually in the shops that sell paraphernalia related to religious functions and rituals.

I also had a pile of fragrant gondhoraj lemons waiting to be used. So I decided to make sondesh with gondhoraj lemon zest for flavour instead of the usual cardamom.

Sondesh with Gondhoraj Lebu

2 litres full fat buffalo milk
2-3 tbsp lemon juice as required. I used Dabur Lemoneez
3 tbsp castor sugar
zest of 2 gondhoraj lemons, or of 4 regular limes
elbow grease
Sondesh moulds smeared with ghee

Bring the milk to a boil in a large vessel. Pour in the lemon juice and stir well. The milk will split into solids and whey. Let it boil gently for a couple of minutes so that the whey and the solids are completely separated.

Line a colander with a fine cheesecloth or large piece of muslin and then pour the split milk into the colander carefully. Let the whey drain out.

Gather the cloth together to make a bundle and hang up the fresh cottage cheese to drain. Squeeze out as much whey as you can, but be careful, it's hot. Let  it hang over the kitchen sink tied to your faucet for 30 to 45 minutes. While you want most of the whey to drain off you don't want a dried out cheese. It must remain moist.

In a clean plate take out the drained cheese.

Now's the time to use that elbow grease! Knead the cheese well for a as long as it takes to get a smooth texture that is as free of granules as possible. I broke it up and then pushed it to one side of the plate. Then little by little I pressed the cheese down on the plate with my thumb. In this way go through all the cheese, squashing and kneading as you go. I think a pav bhaji masher might be useful here, but since I don't have one I went the traditional way. Eventually you should have a smooth ball of soft cottage cheese.

Add the sugar and the lemon zest and knead it all in well for another 3 -4 minutes. Taste the mixture and add sugar if you need it.

Now comes the fun part. Take out your best non stick pan or wok and cook the kneaded cheese for 4 to 5 minutes stirring all the time. Make sure the pan is squeaky clean because the cheese will absorb any smells or flavours from the pan. I tried to mash the cheese further with a wooden spatula as it cooked. The cheese will get soft and pliable. Don't wait for it to harden or your sondesh will not form into the shapes, it will crack. That's because the cheese hardens as it cools.

Remove the cheese from the heat. Now take small amounts of the sondesh mixture and put it on the greased mould. Press the mixture in gently so the impression of the design comes through nicely. Leave it in the mould for a couple of minutes and then unmould gently and arrange your sondesh on a pretty plate.  Work as quickly as you can and heat the sondesh mixture slightly if it has gone cold.

If you don't have the traditional moulds you could even use the silicon chocolate moulds, or simply make little balls and press down to flatten like we do for pedas. Sprinkle some lemon zest on top of the ready sondesh and they're ready.

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Friday, August 29, 2014

The 10 Books Challenge

There's a 10 Books Challenge of sorts doing the rounds on Facebook where people list 10 books that left an impression and then tag a few friends to list theirs. My friend Monika chose to write her list on her blog and I thought that's a great idea. I'd like to come back to this list too and what better place than on my blog?

So here's my list of 10 random books that I won't forget easily.

1. The Help. by Kathryn Stockett
I don't think I have devoured many books the way I devoured this one. It wasn't just the story that held me, it was also the telling of it.

2. How to be a Domestic Goddess. by Nigella Lawson
One of my favorite books that is incidentally also a cook book, this is one I often take to bed to rifle through the pages, drool at the pictures, and plan for the next thing I'm going to cook from it. Confession - I have drooled and rifled more than I have cooked.

3. Jorasanko. by Aruna Chakravarti.
A glimpse into the lives of the women of the Tagore household, this was a window into a world that is so different from mine, and yet is such a part of my history as a Bengali. I saw glimpses of the older women of my family in this book.

4. Georgette Heyer. Not a book, but the author herself. I have all the romance novels she wrote and I go back to them and read them over and over again. These books made me fall in love with the English language and I return to them on a regular basis for the sheer pleasure of reading a master excelling at her craft.

5. Julia Quinn. Again an author. She picks up where Georgette Heyer stops. A skilled writer who weaves her plots well and has characters you won't forget, her books are engaging and to me they're like Georgette Heyer's novels with some sex thrown in.

6. Pork & Sons. by Stephane Reynaud.
A pig butcher and farmer family's chronicles of their life with pictures, recipes and anecdotes. The little detailed cartoons that pepper the borders of the pages are just brilliant.

7. The Adventures of Asterix. by Goscinny and Uderzo.
This needs no explanation or description or anything.

8. Bangla Amish - Niramish Ranna. by Pragya Sundari Debi. (in Bengali)
This is one of the first Bengali cook books that my mother bought for me when I expressed an interest in reading cook books written in Bengali. An absolute treasure house of information right from setting up a kitchen, hiring servants, managing the budget, to detailed recipes of Bengali and European dishes, this two volume tome was published more than a century ago.  

9 The Little Black Dress books.
These are the modern day Mills & Boons. Confident, independent modern girls trawling through the hazards of daily life looking for love - what's not to like?!

10. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. by Douglas Adams
This iconic book just didn't do it for me. I have never understood the humour nor do I get the cult following this book enjoys. Since the hubby is a devotee as are his close buddies I am privy to most of the gems from this book including the World's Worst Poem, and the towel. I still don't get it. Aaaaaarrrgghh!

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Dum Chingri - Spicy Steamed Prawns

This time in Kolkata I ate lots of prawns. There was a wedding in the family and there was lots of lavish eating at home and outside. While I love prawns and I love chingri malai curry, I got a bit sick of it by the end of my trip because it figured on practically every menu.

In the run up to the wedding my mom and I cooked a special meal for my cousin who was getting married. Among the things we cooked were prawns and I was sure I wasn't making malai curry! I'd bought a stash of Bengali cook books, some new publications and some really old ones. Mom and I browsed through a couple of the books looking for something new to try out. We chanced upon a recipe for Dum Chingri where the ingredients were all mixed together and then steamed. It sounded simple and delicious and as different from malai curry as possible. I was sold on it and that's what I made.

The original recipe is in the book Rakamari Amish Ranna by Renuka Debi Chowdhurani. I have adapted it to suit my taste and convenience.

Dum Chingri 

Large sized tiger prawns, deveined and washed.

1 cup onion paste
2 tbsp garlic paste
1 tbsp fresh ginger paste
6 to 10 fresh green chillies, made into a paste
chilli powder
1/2 cup good quality mustard oil

Leave the heads and tails of the prawns on. Devein and wash the prawns and then drain. Make a thick paste of all the other ingredients reserving some of the mustard oil. marinate the prawns in this mix for at least 30 minutes.

Ideally you should saute the marinated prawns lightly for a few minutes and then put the whole lot into a covered vessel, place the covered vessel in a larger pot with boiling water and let the prawns steam till done. You must take care that water doesn't get into the prawns from the outer vessel. This is what the original recipe demands.

I decided to skip this hassle and simply put the marinated prawns into the rice cooker and let them cook till they were done. Since the prawns were quite large and there were quite a few of them I cooked them for about 20 minutes in all. I did check them after the first 15 minutes and turned them over so they all cooked evenly.

You can do the same or simply place them in any cooking pot that had a tight cover and cook them on your hob. Keep them on a medium heat and leave them undisturbed so that they cook in the steam that builds up in the pot. Just check once, after about 15 minutes and then cook further if required. Whatever method you opt for, remember to pour the reserved mustard oil on top of the prawns before shutting the vessel and putting them on the heat.

Serve the prawns with plain hot rice.

A simple no fuss recipe, this preparation gives the prawns a chance to shine. The lovely sweetish fresh water prawns were a super hit at the dinner.

Marathon Bloggers Project 52 

The Biryanis of Bombay - A Taste of Just a Few

For someone who lives in Bombay biryani can have many meanings, each as beautiful and flavourful as the next one. Sometimes it's a robust, spicy medley of meat, onions, spices, and rice, while sometimes it's a delicately flavoured gentler marriage of similar ingredients, and of course, there are many, many options available in this city that owe their origins to practically every corner of the country. If you like biryani Bombay is a good place to be.

I'm always on the look out for good biryani and any opportunity to gorge on some is always welcome to me. A random conversation with my friend Romi led to the idea of having a biryani party where we could order a few varieties of biryani, get a bunch of biryani loving friends together and generally have a great time sampling different biryanis and having a good 'adda'. The plan crystallized beautifully and the biryani party was on!

By popular consent we agreed there would be no chicken or vegetables in the biryani. We discussed the kinds of biryani we could have and where we would source them from. Bombay has so much to offer it was hard to choose but we finally settled on four different biryanis in four distinct styles.

There was a strong demand for the fragrant Kolkata style biryani and we opted to order some from Amit Roy who runs an eatery called Petuk. He's based in Virar and has a home delivery service that stretches across the city. You can call him on 9870126912 to place an order. We asked for a classic mutton biryani with chunks of meat and the huge pieces of potato (which, according to me, are the highlight of the biryani). Needless to say, the biryani was everything that we expected and was a big hit.

Next up was a typical Muslim style biryani ordered from one of the most respected 'ustaads' in Bombay - Lamboo Ustaad. This biryani is quintessentially of North Indian origin but unlike its Avadhi cousin cooked for royalty and the rich upper classes, this version is what the common man ate. It's robust, flavourful, moist and loaded with spices, onions and tomatoes. Potatoes are optional and are not a traditional ingredient as they are seen to be a cheap filler in what is otherwise a marriage of meat and rice. This biryani is served at most working class Muslim weddings. It is quite popular and there is a chicken version for non Muslim patrons. He also has mutton biryani on his menu. We opted for a beef biryani with potatoes.

You can call Lamboo Ustad on 9892671438.

Then there was a Bohri style white mutton biryani. This too had potatoes and like me, no one was complaining! We ordered the Bohri version as a contrast to the colourful and spicier beef biryani from Lamboo Ustad. The Bohri biryani came from one of the oldest caterers in the city, an institution in the Bombay food circles - Jeff Caterers in Bandra. I grew up in Bandra and on quite a few birthdays and other celebrations biryani would be ordered from Jeff's. So when the option of ordering from Jeff's came up, I was very excited.
This one was a luscious gently flavoured biryani that, to me, is the middle ground between the Bengali style biryani and what is known to many as the Bombay biryani. This is the one I packed in my doggy bag to enjoy again at lunch the next day.

You can call Jeff Caterers at 26421856 and at 9820813020.

There were a couple of people who were off red meat so we also had fish biryani which was ordered from a popular Bandra eatery called  Khane Khaas.

There is no doubt that we just skimmed the surface of the biryanis available in Mumbai. This megapolis is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world and where there are different people, there will be different kinds of food. One would need to organise many more such biryani parties to sample every sort of biryani available in the city and I'm happy we have at least started!

Thank you Romi and Gaurav for a fantastic evening filled with food, music and lots of laughter and the inevitable Kolkata biryani versus Bombay biryani wars!  Psst... when's the next party?!

Marathon Bloggers Project 52 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Plum Clafoutis - A Simple French Dessert

The hubby saw the box of plums I had bought and demanded a Clafoutis made with the fruit. The word Clafoutis always made me imagine a light frothy French confection that would be decadent, and difficult to make. Now I had to make it.

I looked around on the Net and found, much to my surprise that a Clafoutis is a ridiculously simple dessert and it would be quite a doddle to make. This baby was right up my street!

Plum Clafoutis

8 -10 semi ripe plums, washed, halved and stone removed
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup cream or fresh malai
4 tbsp powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2-3 tsps brown sugar
2 tsps maida

Preheat the oven at 180C.
Halve the plums and remove the seed. Try to keep the hemispheres of fruit as intact as you can. The seed can stay stubbornly stuck so use a knife to prise it out.
In a saucepan heat the milk, malai/cream and vanilla till it just begins to bubble. I used fresh malai off the top of a pan of fresh full fat milk I had boiled earlier and cooled in the fridge. Stir it and take it off the heat. Leave aside to cool.
Whisk the eggs and the powdered sugar till combined. Add the flour a little at a time and continue to whisk till it is all blended in. Make sure there are no flour lumps.
Wipe your pie dish clean and melt some butter on it. Just pop it into the preheated oven and wait for it to start bubbling. Place the plums cut side down on the butter. Now sprinkle the brown sugar on the plums and the spaces between and put the pie dish back in the oven. Cook the plums for 5 to 8 minutes.
Combine the egg and sugar mixture with the cooled milk and cream. Whisk it well and pour it onto the plums carefully. Put the dish back into the oven and let it bake for 25 to 30 minutes till the custard is set and has a nice golden look.
This tastes best served hot. You can serve it with ice cream and also dust it with icing sugar if you like. The hubby devoured it as it was :)

I adapted this recipe from here. I have halved the quantities approximately and fiddled around with the ingredients to suit our tastes.

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Mousse Daruwala or Chocolate Mousse with Booze

It's been a while since I made chocolate mousse. I used to make it on order when we lived in South Mumbai and in those days I even made a few hundred portions at a time for large orders. I made it so often I could make it in my sleep. Once we moved to Kharghar it wasn't practical especially since mousse is a delicate dessert and needs proper refrigeration at all times or it becomes loose and runny. That happens because I make mousse the classic way, with eggs.

A bunch of friends decided to get together for a dinner at home and I volunteered a big bowl of Mousse Daruwala as my contribution to the dinner table. A simple dessert, if made right, it can be absolutely fabulous. Use the best chocolate you can find and it will be even better. However you can use the regular non gourmet cooking chocolate available at your local supermarket and still have a damn good mousse.

Gather the ingredients.

Make space in your refrigerator before you begin. Make sure your equipment, utensils and mixing bowls are squeaky clean and dry. And then follow this recipe that I added to this blog around six years ago. I have yet to find a recipe that can match it in simplicity and dependability.

Dig out a nice bowl and let the mousse set in it. Decorate with whatever you have at hand - I grated some 85% dark chocolate and lined the sides of the bowl with white chocolate chips, after letting the mousse set for an hour in the fridge. You can also set individual portions in whiskey tumblers or wine glasses if you want to be fancy.

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Friday, August 15, 2014


Yolo! I had read this here and there and I had no clue what it meant till a friend shed light recently. It was well timed, this enlightenment. I am in my 40s and predictably, like most people my age, am examining what I have done with my life so far and wondering about the many things not yet done, things that I always wanted to do, to try out, to experience. Yolo. So true.

So I took a leap and I coloured my hair. Not only did I colour it, I also had bright red streaks put in that stood out and shouted 'look at me!' to the world. I thought about what held me back and it seemed to me the main fears were a mix of what people would say and coloured hair not looking nice on me.

The excitement of actually doing it was incredible! I sat in that salon shivering with fear and excitement, trying my damnedest not to call a stop to the whole thing. Before I knew it, I had goop all over my hair and I was in, fully committed. I had strips of foil sticking out at all angles and I sat looking at myself wondering what would happen once the foils came off and the all the gunk was washed off eventually.

And yes, eventually it was time to see. My hair was washed and then blow dried within an inch of its life. I could only stare. The salon girls were delighted at my wonder and insisted on taking photos on my phone for me to share. Yes, the hair looked good. No, not just good, it looked great! And I wondered what I had feared all this time.

Yolo. You only live once. Really. So go on, do stuff. Don't hesitate, don't be scared. After all, Yolo!

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Thursday, August 7, 2014

On the Joys of Being a Food Blogger

Us food bloggers, especially the ones who like to record recipes and try out new ones, invariably get sucked into two related activities - photography, and an obsession for hunting for props. I am as typical as you can get and have developed quite a fascination for photography and alongside, the desire to possess every conceivable kitchen gadget, appliance, baking tool, serving dish, plate, glass, mug, spoon, board, bit of fabric... the list is endless. Add a hint of traditional or vintage to a prop and you will see me drooling like a baby.

As always, this trip to Kolkata has seen me wandering around markets, poking around in shops and picking up all manner of random little bits and bobs, ingredients that I haven't known about or haven't had a chance to find before, and of course, stuff I know my blogger buddies will really like. Some shopkeepers now recognize me from a mile away!  

A huge part of the fun of shopping for my blog is shopping for my friends too. Only a food blogger will squeal with joy over a pile of gondhoraj lemons or a packet of posto bori. Only a food blogger understands the pleasure of rifling through a bucket of hand made wooden ladles and finding a new shape that we don't already have. Only a food blogger understands the madness that makes us lug half a dozen earthen cooking pots all the way from Kerala, or a pile of handmade copper vessels from a small town!

This addiction is not limited by country borders. We message each other from across the world asking for pretty spoons, bannetons, good quality yeast, a polka dotted measuring jug, chocolate chips, unusual spices... the list is endless. And we make parcels and ship them across the seas and wait for the squeals of delight from across the continents!

Before you know it your family and friends are in the game too and you start getting ingredients, condiments, gourmet goodies and kitchen toys instead of the standard perfumes and boxes of chocolates as gifts.

This time too I'm going back with goodies for my buddies. They say food is a great unifier. Food blogging  is quite the same, you know!       .    

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Peyaanj Posto - Poppy Seeds with Onions

Posto is one of those pillars of Ghoti Bangali (West Bengal) cuisine that I am a great devotee of. Every time I visit home in Kolkata my mom and my jethima make sure that it's cooked for me in some form or the other nearly every day. Most of you have heard of and even eaten aloo posto - it's served at most Bengali restaurants.

Apart from aloo posto there are a variety of other veggies that are cooked with posto like jhinge (ridge gourd), potol (pointed gourd) and begun (brinjals), to name a few. My favourite, however, is peyaanj posto - posto cooked with onions. The sweetness of the caramelised onions marries beautifully with the nutty smoothness of the poppy seeds and the green chilli adds a perfect spicy zing to the whole thing.

Peyaanj Posto 

1/2 cup white poppy seeds soaked for 15 mins, drained and ground to a paste with 1 fresh green chilli.
2 onions very finely sliced
2 fresh green chillies
mustard oil

Soak and grind the poppy seeds as described above.
Slice the onions really really fine. Sprinkle salt on the onions and mix well opening up the onion slices. Leave it to sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Squeeze out the water from the onions as much as you can.
Heat the oil in a wok or kadai  and fry the onions slowly till the start to brown. Drop in the green chillies. Sprinkle half a teaspoon of sugar to get the onions nicely browned and caramelised. Take care not to burn the onions or your dish will be ruined.
Add the posto paste. And now comes the fun bit - reduce the flame and cook the posto into the onions stirring slowly. Keep moving the posto around in the wok, it should not stick to the wok. Add more oil if required. This stage can take anything from 10 to 12 minutes so be patient. Eventually the oil will separate out and your peyaanj posto is ready.
Since salt is added to the onions you don't need to add any more while cooking.
You can add turmeric if you like or you can leave it out. The presence of turmeric in posto preparations is one of the favourite arguments among Bengali food connoisseurs and food enthusiasts.

Serve the peyaanj posto with a simple daal and plain white rice.

Marathon Bloggers Project 52      

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Couple of Markets and a 50mm Lens

I love markets. I simply love the seas of produce, the little shops, the big shops, the same old things and the sudden treasures, the shop keepers, the hustle and bustle, the energy of shoppers and sellers, the mess, the crowds, the cats, the crows... everything! The one thing I miss in Kharghar is a good market. Sure, we get most things in the various supermarkets and now, online, but I yearn for a market to wander around in.

As a kid I used to go to the market practically every weekend with my parents. Khar market was where we went and I still have many memories of our weekly visits, especially the singara and jilipi from Brijwasi :)

In Pune Shivaji Market and Tulshi Baag were my favourite haunts. After getting married and moving to VT in Mumbai there was Bora Bajaar just a few minutes from our house and there was the mother lode - Crawford Market, just a short cab ride away. I have spent many happy hours wandering through these markets, discovering lanes selling everything from umbrellas to buttons, snacks to utensils, and brooms to brinjals. Those were wonderful days indeed.

Kolkata still has many big markets in spite of the Spencers and Big Bazaars that have mushroomed all over. A visit to Gariahat market has now become a must do, and this time I also had a wander around Lake Market. The markets are a great place for any photography enthusiast and I took my camera along. I'm still getting used to the 50mm lens and what better way to practice than take tons of pictures in the markets?!

So here are some photos from my sojourns into Gariahat and Lake markets.    

A giant Rohu in Gariahat Market

The same rohu cut and set up for sale. This fish was massive and the cheeky fishmonger was shouting "horin'er mangsho! horin'er mangsho!" (venison! venison!)

More regular sized rohu in the market

The fish stalls are all decorated with buntings and have shrines with fresh flowers, adding so much colour to the general ambience.

At present it's full on Hilsa season and the markets are full of this prized fish.

Fresh water prawns.. each is about 6 to 8 inches long

The massive 'ansh-bonti' that is used to cut up the bigger fish.

Hilsa and some really large prawns at the Lake Market

More prawns and Hilsa at Lake Market

There is a shop in Lake market that sells on bori. He had boris made of different daals and he also had posto bori, which I didn't even know existed! Of course I bought some :)

Gariahat market has many shops selling Puja related paraphernalia. You also get the required things for weddings and other rituals and ceremonies.

Alta, Sindur, Dhoop and Jabakusum tel

Chaand malas - used to decorate the shrine in the house.

Wooden plates known as barkosh, straw mats, chaki for rolling rotis and puris, and a bucket of belans, spoons, etc.

Small stone glasses, mini plates, and bowls, mainly used in the puja rituals. A food blogger's heaven for props!

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Monday, August 4, 2014

Sorse Ilish - My first Microwave Recipe

I have always had a mental block against cooking in the Microwave - all that zapping, opening, stirring, and zapping, resting, and stirring somehow made it sound crazy and so I never ever tried cooking any thing in the microwave. Mine is used to thaw frozen things, to warm food, to melt chocolate, and on occasion, to park things when I run out of counter space.

My cousin in Kolkata was known for a mustard ilish that he cooked in the microwave so since I'm here I demanded that he make it. I wanted to know if it really was as simple as some people said it was. Well, it was. I am definitely not a convert to microwave cooking and am not going to go into a frenzy of looking for recipes or buying books, but this recipe is certainly a keeper.

Sorse Ilish in the Microwave

6 to 8 pieces of ilish, cleaned and washed
3/4 cup mustard and green chilli paste
2 tablespoons thick curd
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup mustard oil

Mix all the ingredients apart from the fish to make a marinade.    Coat the fish pieces in the marinade. Set it aside till you are ready to serve the meal. Arrange the marinated fish pieces in a microwave safe dish and pour the remaining marinade over the pieces. Cover the dish.

Microwave on high for 4 minutes and then check for doneness. Zap another 30 seconds to 1 minute if it needs further cooking. The cooking time will vary according to the size and thickness of the fish pieces so a little trial and error is required.

Serve hot with plain white rice.

We had a particularly large fish that was full of eggs so we lightly fried the fish first.

Be generous with the mustard oil!

Coat the fish well.

Arrange on a plate or microwaveable dish and zap.

And the Sorse Ilish is ready!

You can also add freshly grated coconut to the marinade for an extra level of flavour.

This basic marinade can be used to make most other varieties of light fleshed fish, prawns and even paneer. The zing is in the mustard paste and the mustard oil. No substitutes for those :)

Marathon Bloggers Project 52