Tips and Jars

Chicken Shashlik & Malabar Prawn Curry

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Malabar Prawn Curry 550

Forget demanding clients and scary colleagues, there is really nothing more intimidating than a room full of mothers.

Mine, for a start, is a formidable force to reckon with. If you have a problem, she definitely has the solution. But when I embraced motherhood, I discovered the mighty powerhouse of mothering womankind that was Mumsnet.

Who cares if my mother has reared three fine specimens of humankind (yours truly included)? I turned to this fiesty forum on whether belching infrequently would damage baby’s gut lining irrevocably, if formula feeding would destroy baby’s immune system permanently and whether the right angled arch stretch meant I needed to rush to hospital.

So, imagine my terror and awe at being invited to speak at the Mumsnet Blogfest. The topic – Food Blogging: Where’s the Beef? It’s been eight long and wonderful years of blogging after all. During which I’ve gone from tormenting my mother to regretting it gravely. Revenge is best served with sweeties, fed covertly to your kids.

It didn’t take long for the conference panel debate to go from how it all started with that back of a fag packet idea, and the 11 rejections before the book deal to how I navigate the murky waters of brand partnerships (read: paid content).

This for me is particularly sensitive. I guard this site jealously. I don’t advertise here. Or offer guest posts. But on rare occasions, I do consider the odd brand partnership where the outcome could be relevant and interesting to you lovely people.

Patak’s is a case in point. While their jars of sauces reminds me of my early days in the kitchen, their pastes I was sent to trial were more of a revelation for the Chicken Shashlik & Malabar Prawn Curry. The trick to using these is to look closely at the ingredient labels for recipe inspiration, and to add a host of fresh vegetables and herbs to increase the goodness quotient in the end result.

The jar of Rogan Josh paste I used as a marinade for Chicken Shashlik, a juicy, grilled chicken and vegetable kebab, with roots in Mughal days basted generously with a melted lemon butter. The mild curry paste was ideal for a Malabar Prawn Curry, steeped in tomato, curry leaves and whole mustard seeds and cumin seeds. Both made excellent, quick and very lavish weekday meals for the lot of us.

I’m not about to say: “when I was a little girl”. But sometimes life really does come full circle. I’ll take two jars and a night off, thanks.
Read on for recipe »


    after party

    Easiest Masala Chai

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    Masala chai 550

    There could be no better time for festivities than the last quarter of the year. If you’ve sweltered through a long hot summer, the days turning more pleasant could be no better reason to celebrate. If like me, however, you are facing the untold joy of a long, dreary and grey cold spell: every party counts as distraction.

    No sooner than Diwali was over, that attention turned to Halloween. Since when did children dressed as evil creatures, high on cheap sweets, become such a calendar event? As the delirium couldn’t get much worse I threw mine out for trick or treat with their friends to focus on the biggest pre-Christmas calendar event: My little boy’s fourth Birthday extravaganza.

    Micro Mini Basu, as he was Christened early, arrived slightly unexpectedly four whole years ago. Since then, he has grown into a thepla-making, mummy worshipping, house wrecking, pre-schooler. There was only one way to celebrate his big birthday: a superhero party for him and his 8 terrifying/terrific friends.

    Cue hours of kebab making, batter mixing for the parents, cake baking and treats assembling for the kids. I laid on a feast of Chicken Hariyali Tikkas and Handvo for the grown ups, with outsourced Spicy Samosas. The kids got a Superhero Cake, monster sandwiches, crudittes in ice cream cones, colourful layered jellies and fruit swords.

    As the Superhero entertainer wound the kids up in crisp autumnal sunshine, I kept the bubbly flowing for the grown ups. The end result was as action packed as the combination of Batman, Superman and Spiderman taking on the Prisoners of Alcatraz.

    It’s no wonder, then, that I needed some much needed R&R after. Some downtime. A battered notebook. A warm drink.

    This, the easiest Masala Chai recipe, never fails. A milky tea infused with aromatic and warming whole spices like cardamoms and cinnamon, and a generous spoonful of sugar, this cuppa is the mother of all cuppas. In Kolkata, we drink this in little terracotta pots that get promptly binned afterwards. Just like your troubles and stresses perhaps.

    Just don’t mention it’s six weeks to Christmas.
    Read on for recipe »


      Meet eat learn

      Launch of my Indian cooking pop up

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      Menu 550

      Baby number four has finally arrived. After the wild success of two darling sprogs and a rather cute book, I have finally mustered up the courage to deliver my first ever Indian cooking pop up. Part Supper Club, part Indian cooking 101, this is a pop up with a difference.

      I’ll be will be dishing out crispy pakoras, tender lamb on the bone and freshly roasted, hand-rolled chapattis, along with tips and tricks for time-starved lovelies to start cooking authentic Indian food at home.

      The venue is the gorgeous Maida Hill Place in London W9, right by Westbourne Park tube. And the wine has been handpicked by curry loving, grape experts at the General Wine Company to match the menu perfectly. Signed copies of my book will be available for sale on the night at a heavy discount to RRP.

      Book here now to nab one of the limited seats at an introductory £60pp. Meet Eat Learn something new before the end of the year or buy someone a present they’ll enjoy for years to come.


        Diwali Dhamaka

        Simple Chocolate Burfi

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        Chocolate burfi 550

        Sitting in the pub with a glass of red wine, it suddenly occured to me that we should have an impromptu dinner party for six to celebrate Shubho Bijoya. The next day. What a great idea.

        Not so great, actually.

        On D day, I ran around London running errands, meeting people, sourcing cubed lamb shoulder arriving home in a blaze of panic barely two hours before guests were due to show.

        Refusing to crumble, I made a jug of Mango Lassi and shoved it to the back of the fridge. Then I got to work on 3kgs of Kosha Mangsho, Cholar Dal, Shahi Paneer. Jacking the idea for a fancy snack for drinks, I opted for chilli cheese toasts, and desert was going to be shop bought Gajar Halwa with Vanilla Ice Cream.

        The guests arrived on time, just as I finished cooking and put the rice cooker on. Shock number one: They don’t like melted cheese. Shock number two: The rice cooker hadn’t actually been turned on at source, which meant we were all sat waiting at the table with a stone cold and watery pot of raw rice that I ceremoniously served. And shock number three: Just when we could no longer eat or drink anything, I remembered the giant jug of mango lassi at the back of the fridge.

        No wonder, then, that seeing all the Diwali prep food porn on the blogosphere has made me want to run screaming to the nearest mithaiwala. Just to regain my street cred, I thought I would trial possibly the most idiot-proof, child-friendly, mithai for dummies: this blindingly simple chocolate burfi, a rich and creamy fudge laced with ghee for Diwali.

        If, like me, you have left it to the last minute. This is the recipe to ressurect the domestic goddess in you this Diwali. May you and your family be blessed with all things sweet and special.
        Read on for recipe »


          Fish is the dish

          Crowd pleasing kedgeree

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          Kedgeree 550

          The new portfolio career, means new cookery projects. Where there is a chef, a gorgeous professional cook, there is clearly a spot for yours truly flying the diversity flag for the ordinary person. One Indian dish at a time.

          The first was the Fish of the Dish campaign for Seafish UK, the seafood authority. The task: to popularise the use of fish and seafood in every day cooking. A worthy initiative, with a number of amazing health benefits. So I rolled up my sleeves and dived right in.

          Walking into Hearst Magazine HQ with a celebrated chef, his man Friday/ Sous Chef and a trunk load of ingredients was bad enough. Entering Good Housekeeping Institute’s kitchen next sent my head reeling back to mother’s collection of treasured 70s & 80s editions on our Kolkata bookshelf. No pressure. No none at all.

          While man Friday got to work under the sharp eye of the esteemed chef, I reapplied war paint. Who needs sharp knives when you have lipstick?

          I got started with prep, leaving the PR lady in charge of eggs. In a cupboard the size of an airplane hanger, induction pans were nowhere to be found. One gas hob was already doing its thing. It soon transpired, said PR lady couldn’t even boil an egg. Literally. As chunks of boiled egg peeled off with the shell, the client stepped in to help and the lovely chef took mercy on the housewives in the corner and sent man Friday in to rescue us.

          Meanwhile, the odd raised eyebrow at the kitchen entrance had been replaced by a steady stream of more inquisitive punters from Hearst UK. It was edging close to mid day and the sizzled cinnamon, roasted cumin and smoked fish had done their magic. Before I could say “eat more fish”, there were 22 journalists in front of me waiting for their lunch to be delivered.

          Lunch was served. Kerala-style Monkfish Curry, with tamarind and coconut, and Kedgeree. Kedgeree is my go to crowd pleaser: a cousin of the khichdi, with an Anglo Indian twist from way back when. My favourite way to serve this is for a giant brunch that the whole family, and visiting relatives, can tuck into. Where this one’s concerned, fish really is the dish. Now to increase my repertoire!
          Read on for recipe »


            Slim Pickings

            Chicken Cafreal

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            Chicken Cafreal 550

            Oh if I had a penny for everyone who asks me whether Indian food can be healthy and easy to cook. I’d be pretty rich by now.

            The answer is YES. But it’s easy to see why anyone would think differently. Take the humble Onion Bhaji/Onion Pakora. Delicious? Yes. Deep fried? Oh yes. Not quite the poster child for Generation Type 2 Diabetes.

            And then there’s the healthier evils. Like chappatis. Wholewheat flour, roasted and puffed nicely enough with a nutty aroma and soft texture, with not a smidgen of oil in sight. Your inner self is likely to feel better than your aching arms and doughy fingernails though. Unless you are lucky enough to have a dough hook and someone to do your washing up.

            It is easy to see why anyone would think differently. Here are some common mistakes I’ve found people make with Indian cooking at home:

            • Blending your own spice powders: There is no need. Unless you really fancy a bit of a kitchen experiment. In which case invest in a good mini coffee grinder, with a removeable bowl in it. It is perfectly acceptable to use ready ground spices. I prefer to add them in individually rather than use the all encompassing (and slightly one-dimensional) curry powder
            • Making your own Indian breads: Again, why? Most Indian kitchens are a hotbed of activity with several dishes being prepared by several people. This a lovely thing to do if you have the time and the assistance in the kitchen. Or, if you are a seasoned cook with lots of time on your hands. (In which case, what on Earth are you doing reading this?). Store bought packs of chapattis, parathas as just fine.
            • Laying on a three-course meal: I mean, seriously. You don’t have to get the deep fat fryer out to make your own Onion Bhajis for starter. Dal, roti, sabzi form the basis of every day meals. And then you can add raita, a meat/fish dish, and rice (plain or pulao). What you usually see offered as starters in restaurants are snacks. These are often just bought in from the shops. Or else, cooked at snack time. Desert, too, is usually a little (store bought) something sweet. The more lavish sweet treats are reserved for important occasions.
            • Cooking, and then cooking again: I have watched many home cooks fry a vegetable, remove, make a masala, then add said vegetable back. That’s a very dead vegetable. Cooked in twice the amount of oil, with twice the effort. Why? Think about how your main ingredient can be cooked in one go. Unless you’re making paneer, which usually tastes much better in dishes once sealed first.

            Any others you can add?

            My mantra is everything in moderation. And I refuse to spend more than an hour dishing up everyday family meals. These days, the kids get stuck in too. Chopping herbs with butter knives, peeling ginger and garlic, mixing and rolling said rotis. Apart from the ever popular 30 minute meals, my favourite killer dishes are the ones where I slather meat in marinade and cook in the oven while the chaos of bathtime, bedtime ensues.

            Like this oven-baked Goan Chicken Cafreal in a Coconut Vinegar marinade. A shallow-fried spicy sour chicken that is usually marinated for a few hours, I find cooking it in its own juices in a tightly sealed foil parcel gives it a lovely depth without the need for efficiency or planning.

            Mopped up Maunika’s sweet and sour dal, and steaming hot basmati rice, it’s an easy and healthy way to get a masala kick.
            Read on for recipe »