Letting go

Chana Saag

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Saag Channa 550

Frozen fever has well and truly hit our household. How else to indulge a princess in practice than a Singalong version of the film, staged in London’s most spectacular venues?

Preparations began the minute the invite came through the door via a friend. Daughter of a former soap star, turned yummy mummy no less. The stakes were high. I imported a vision in sky blue polyester from China. While Mini Basu started practising fist pumps timed to dramatic perfection. Conceal. Don’t feel. Let it go.

I escaped work early to escort the princess to the ball. The man fittingly put a new Bentley delivered for his latest photoshoot to driving us to the Royal Albert Hall. And we arrived to a sea of excitable, mini Princess Elsas and hassled mums, herding their charges about.

I hope they sell wine, I blurted as said mums turned sharply. Half disapprovingly and half wondering how I’d read their mind. A jug of Viognier and bag of popcorn duly acquired, we stepped into the vast labrynth. No sooner than we had sat down, that adult size Princess Elsa and Anna lookalikes waltzed throught the crowds to a live rendition of the theme song. As if that wasn’t enough, the heavens burst to shower glittery snowflakes on the 1000-strong audience.

I took another sip of said wine and gently lifted Mini Basu’s jaw off the floor. Princess no 2 beside her couldn’t be distracted by a a herd of raging reindeers as she repeated every spoken and sung word from memory.

And as I sat through the campest thing I have done in my life to date, I pondered on the meaning of it all. Disney’s word on Girl power (after several misses). Or the importance of will power?

In my case, it’s the latter. Let it go basically summarises the approach to my diet, lifestyle and cash flow in the run up to Christmas. More luscious cocktails out, more stodgy comfort food in and far more indulgence than can be justified on the wallet.

So, in preparation for the madness to ensue I am enjoying quiet nights in, with budget meals like this Chana Saag recipe, chickpeas in a spinach and tomato masala, spiked with mango powder. I first tried it at a dinner at home for colleagues and then Diwali. It’s pretty much become a weekday staple in our home now, for big and little kids.

Letting go feels all the more timely for it.
Read on for recipe »


    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 »