Alternative Life

Pancakes with a spicy twist

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Pudla 550

The man packed his bags to go to LA for “work” for two weeks. The pint-sized princess, i.e. little sis, moved in to “help”. And I had a crash course in the life of a single mother and the grapes of Anjou.

The first two nights were hideous. Armed with the three-pronged strategy of disobey, defeat and destroy, the toddlers wreaked havoc at bedtimes. The third night, I took a glass of ice-cold vino to their bath time and Charlie Taylor’s Divas and Dictators to my bed. By the fourth night, the bottle was complete. And so was I.

The second week was not much better. A long work day, followed by a meeting in Brussels and a colleague’s farewell do, meant three consecutive nights of missed bedtime. Ably filling in, the pint-sized princess declared: “I have had a taste of your life. And I don’t want it.” Lovely. Thanks.

But there was no going back now. I gave my new avatar one last push last Friday, my day off work. By 10:00am, I had trialled pancakes ahead of Shrove Tuesday with the toddlers, played make-believe jungle, dressed 2.5 not so little people, done the laundry, handed over to the nanny and made my way to the hairdresser for some much-needed R&R.

Just when I thought I had achieved near super mum status, I set off my rape alarm in front of our home. Only to be caught trying to piece the darn thing together by my neighbour and her dog.

I should just stick to what I do best. So this Pancake Day, I will first make my man pay a heavy price for his disappearance and then whip up Pudla instead of pancake.

These spicy savoury pancakes made from chick pea (gram) flour hail from Gujarat in India. But a version of it with onions and tomatoes is also cooked like an omelette in North India called Chilla. It makes a quick and easy brunch centrepiece or even tea time snack. In case you get the bug for an alternative life!

Read on for recipe »


    Older not wiser

    Beef curry without bad thoughts

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    Mangshor Curry 550

    I have been fretting for weeks about the inevitable happening. A birthday. And, hey presto, it did. And now I am a whole year older than I used to be.

    Every year, I go through the same old emotional rollercoaster. First I fret: A year has passed. What have I achieved? How many new wrinkles/grey hairs have I grown? How much more have I got to read/learn/do?

    Then I recover just in time to discover the man and pint-sized princess (i.e. the little sis) have NOT planned the biggest, almightiest of parties for me. I throw my toys out of the pram. Cue: a spontaneous celebration, where I pretend I had no idea about the crate of booze and oversize cake that had been sourced last minute.

    You’d think 35 was a good age to start growing up.

    This year, the family took no chances. All my ridiculous bleating was met with glazed eyes and pseuodo-sympathy. On the big day, I got whisked off for a spot of karaoke with the nearest and dearest of friends, followed by a Mexican feast and the best hangover yet for 2013.

    To celebrate being a year older, none the better or the wiser, I want to raise a glass to two fabulous fellow bloggers who have been busy achieving in the last year:

    • Kathryn Elliott, my go to source for no nonsense and highly practical nutrition advice, and author of the Limes and Lycopene blog has been writing a series of seasonally based e-Magazines. The latest one is on desserts and the photography by Lucinda Dodds and recipes are to die for.
    • Rinku Bhattacharya, who writes the Cooking in Westchester blog, published The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles, a book on Bengali recipes that you can easily make at home. The title of the book is, of course, inspired by Panch Phoron, which no self respecting Bengali’s kitchen can be without!

    The recipe I want to share today is a simple meat curry, Mangshor Jhol, cooked with goat meat at my home in Kolkata.  Near impossible for me to source on work days, I use stewing beef or lamb neck fillet  instead. A brilliant mid-week curry, this just stews in its own juices, while you have a breather from the day’s chaos. Wear that shower cap and prepare to shower afterwards though, as the taste and aroma of this little beauty will linger.

    Unlike bad thoughts before birthdays!
    Read on for recipe »


      Waste Not Want Not

      Sauteed spiced bread kicks 2013 off

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      Bread Upma 550

      The weeks in the run up to Christmas are a blur. A crisis of sorts was brewing on the client front. Which means, not much was brewing on the home front.

      I got ready in near darkness, pulling last night’s dinner out of the fridge for the kids lunch, before the mad work dash. In my infinite wisdom, I tasked the man with control of the weekday meals.

      If there is a Peruvian food trend sweeping the world, it certainly hasn’t affected my half-Peruvian man. He is, singlehandedly, the prime customer for Sacla Pesto Pasta.

      Cooking, for him, is the brave attempt to stir a jar of the sauce into overcooked pasta. He sent ripples of disgust through the Italian countryside, when he shared his penchant for stirring bacon and onions into pesto pasta on one of our holidays.

      When he’s feeling less adventurous, he shoves a pizza into a hot oven. In between his special brand of creative cookery, and my rejection of the kitchen, the festive season came and went. And then, mierda, our food went stale.

      So while I had great plans to start the year with a suitably decadent recipe, instead, I give you stale bread. And funnily, this post has been simmering long before this article on food wastage hit the headlines.

      Honestly, I’m no stranger to the odd bit of food wastage. But over the years, I have found that a generous helping of spices can help rescue many ingredients beyond their prime. My top faves are:

      • Navratan Korma, a spiced coconut curry with nine vegetables, served with steaming hot Basmati rice
      • Pulao, of any sort really. Quick, and delicious, with a bowl of thick yoghurt and pickle
      • Jhalfrezi, of chicken, beef or prawn, a quick stir fry with easy to source ingredients that can be bought on the way home

      More recently, I’ve even turned 2 pints of milk into paneer. Something that I would have never considered in the not too distant past!

      The recipe here is one that I grew up with in India. I suspect it had something to do with leftovers back then too. Bread Upma is a simple saute with fresh tomatoes and onions that doubles up as a lovely brunch or kid-friendly snack.

      I have only one New Year’s Resolution this year, to get better at preventing perfectly good ingredients from making the dustbin heap! So please share your favourite recipes for leftovers, and let’s all have a less wasteful year ahead.

      Read on for recipe »


        Out with the old

        A chocolatey twist on a Bengali classic

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        Chocolate sandesh 550

        It’s hard to be inane when the world is falling apart around you.

        Two weeks ago, I had it all sussed. I was going to write a mega post. The one in which I regale you with tales about my office Christmas Party, the tots Nativity play and my “bad mother” hunt for a giant reindeer poster in pouring rain with a stonking hangover for an ill-fated festive pin-the-nose game at the Montessori Christmas Party.

        The truth is, I have been distracted. First by innocent children not much older than Mini Basu in Sandy Hook. Then by a tragic incident involving a student in New Delhi.

        I’m no stranger to the odd bit of ranting here. But I’m not going to launch into any political diatribes. Or literary essays. Far more eloquent writers have done a much better job than I could have dreamed of. Besides, this is a food blog. And, apparently, God help any food bloggers who who get ideas above (or below) their station.

        The point I want to make, with a very heavy heart, is that while the world didn’t end like the Mayans predicted perhaps it is time for the world as we know it to end. Within every cruel, painful, tragic moment in history, there must be an important lesson for all of us.

        At the turn of the New Year, I am holding on for dear life to my reserve of hope. Here it is, served with a platter of Chocolate Sandesh, a little twist on a Bengali favourite sweet. It’s taken me three goes to get this right, and I have to reluctantly admit that I made my very own paneer for the first time as store bought just doesn’t cut the mustard for that smooth melting texture.

        One for rainy days, crafty moments with loved ones or if you fancy doing something a little different in the year to come. Wishing you and yours a bright 2013 full of happy new beginnings.
        Read on for recipe »


          Mastering mid-week cooking

          Mushroom coconut stir fry hits a spot

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          Alambe buthi 550

          My new boss has declared that “shy” clearly doesn’t feature in my vocabulary. That didn’t take long. And yet, I ummed and ahhd over the  Madhur Jaffrey vid post for the best part of two weeks. Wondering if the fine art of self promotion was being stretched just a tad too far.

          The thing had been on the telly, so on it went.

          Frankly, I couldn’t believe the whole thing. Film editing is clearly a finer art than self promotion. The sprogs look like they’ve been dip-dyed in gold dust. My hair looks like something out of a Pantene ad. And the kitchen worktop is far from the oil-stained chipboard reality it was back then, painted a dusky grey in haste the day before filming. Not to mention me bossing none other than Madhur Jaffrey in my own home.

          The sad truth is that none of us are that spectacular. Most days are a blur of relentless meetings, the caffeine kicks to get the day started and the dash home to make sure I get to see the bundles before they crash for the night. To get through it all, I cook and eat good food. That means a bit of everything: Oriental, lots of pasta, British comfort cooking and, best of all for me, authentic Indian food.

          The trick, to cooking Indian food, I have learnt is in a bit of planning and a bit of common sense. Both of which I generally struggle with. So on busy days, I:

          1. Marinade meats to be cooked in the evening before I leave for work (or the night before). Takes minutes and means that you will get really succulent curry even if you speed things up by using a pressure cooker later or cook wok-style
          2. Fish clothes out of the laundry basket to cook in. Why soil new clothes and increase the dirty laundry stash?
          3. One for the ladies: Wear a shower cap. If you cook Indian food, you will smell of spices afterwards. If you’re not blessed with naturally gorgeous locks, you can have a quick shower later without the need for a full hair wash/blow dry
          4. Spend one evening mincing ginger and garlic separately in my food processor/hand blender. Then spoon the stash into silicon ice cube trays , cover with cling film and freeze. This way I don’t need to get your fingers/grater dirty every time I cook and it’ll cut down cooking times. Pop the cubes out at the start of cooking so that they can defrost while you get everything else ready
          5. Cook extra. If you’re not calling the takeaway, you might as well get a second meal out of your effort. Freeze for a rainy day or save in the fridge for the next day
          6. Stick to readily-available ingredients. I tend to do weekly bulk shops for every day food, delivered from my local supermarket. Everything else I source during weekend trips, like frozen, fresh grated coconut from Oriental shops near our favourite Dim Sum haunt and Indian spices from the local sweet shop. Online shopping is good too, only if there are enough products in the basket to warrant the delivery charges and someone is home to collect

          I often find inspiration at the end of a long day with a quick look on the blogosphere on my way home. That’s how I found this sublime, tangy and spicy mushroom stir fry recipe from Divya’s Easy Cooking and Vee’s Past, Present and Me that I chanced upon while searching for a decent way to use up some mushrooms and a bag of frozen shredded coconut. A quick stir fry, we scooped them up into torn chunks of readymade rotis for a mid week supper. With less chilli, it would have been great for the kids too.

          So what are your tips to share for mid-week meals on busy days?

            Read on for recipe »


            Miss Masala meets Madhur Jaffrey

            Nail biting encounter with the grand dame of Indian Cooking

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            Nail biting encounter with the grand dame of Indian Cooking