Posts Tagged ‘column’

31
Oct
2014

Meet eat learn

Launch of my Indian cooking pop up

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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.

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    Posted in Chit chat, My World

     
    23
    Oct
    2014

    Diwali Dhamaka

    Simple Chocolate Burfi

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    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 »

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      Posted in Entertaining, Sugar cravings

       
      17
      Oct
      2014

      Fish is the dish

      Crowd pleasing kedgeree

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      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 »

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        Posted in Breakfast, Child-friendly, Fish, Home Alone

         
        10
        Oct
        2014

        Slim Pickings

        Chicken Cafreal

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        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 »

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          Posted in Chicken, Home Alone, Meat, Tv meals

           
          24
          Jul
          2014

          Changing times

          One-pot Mangshor Ghugni

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          This July marks a step change in my existence. I, people, am no longer a corporate superbitch. I am now a three-days a week corporate superbitch.

          In what has been an exciting moment in my world of work and career, I have spent four days of every week this month relishing that rarest of rare commodities: spare time.

          I didn’t hold out for too long. By the end of week one, yours truly was the newly christened Head of Corporate Marketing for mini Basu’s School Parent Teacher Association. Since then, I have:

          • Baked cupcakes x 56
          • Nearly strangled my children x 20
          • Spent life savings in summer sales x 1
          • Cranked up the “dominate the world one curry at a time” plan up a notch x 3

          The plan, of course, is to focus on being the best mother and wife, ever, while making money doing all the things I love with passion. Cooking and Corporate PR take centre stage here.

          What better place to start on the cookery plan, that a long overdue attempt at mastering rotis? So, an eager friend/guinea pig agreed to a quiet, girly evening, and we drank wine while I stewed tender chunks of lamb with chickpeas – Mangshor Ghugni – and rolled out the rotis.

          The rotis are improving every time age. And the one-pot Mangshor Ghugni is a winner’s dinner. Can women have it all? I’m not sure, but I will happily die trying!

           
          Read on for recipe »

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            Posted in Lamb (or goat), Meat

             
            06
            Jun
            2014

            Home comforts

            Fridge Freezer Ready Prawn Bhuna

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            I hardly get to Indian restaurants. The Peruvian man is unconvinced about paying for Indian food outside, when he gets quite enough of it at home already. And when I am out with friends, they lead the way.

            This year I am on a mission. Every time it’s my turn to choose for a special occasion dinner, guess where we end up?

            It’s been interesting.

            The neighbourhood favourite on New Year’s Day kept our table of 8 waiting for well over an hour. One hour of false promises and no food later, I had a rant in Bengali at the owner. Mid way through the impassioned outburst, he stopped me to say he wasn’t Bengali and didn’t understand a word of what I was saying. This was followed quickly by a shaky phone call asking if I would like to return for a complimentary meal.

            Then there was my Birthday at a veritable institution. Take a large group of hungry punters in a grand setting, and all we could decide on from the wide ranging menu was kebab platter and mixed breads. The only sparks that flew that night were from the dodgy fizzing candle in my celebratory cake.

            And finally, the review lunch for my industry rag at London’s latest upmarket Indian restaurant. A homage to the Colonial times, with whirring fans and specialty game dishes spiced with a kick. Desperate to impress, I invited my peer, the MD of the Consumer Division, who declared, “I eat to live” in the cab on the way there, and “I don’t like game, and I can’t handle spicy food” to the bemused manager.

            Until I get better at this, I am the mercy of cupboard handy and fridge freezer ready ingredients to create that rich, restaurant-style curry on busy week days. This one’s a pure classic: Prawn Bhuna. I usually have a bag of frozen prawns and frozen peas tucked away in the freezer, along with ginger cubes, and the rest of the ingredients are easy enough to find. Better still, with a dollop of Greek Yoghurt or generous pour of single cream, and ripped up fresh coriander on top, this could quite easily be the  centre piece of a more fancy dinner.

            I am eternally grateful to anyone who will bring a hot roti to my table. But sometimes there is nothing better than the comfort of home.

            Read on for recipe »

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              Posted in Fish, Seafood

               
              14
              Mar
              2014

              Curry for recovery

              Soothing Sheddo Bhaat

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              No trip to Kolkata for me is complete without the dreaded stomach infection. This has little to do with the environment there. More a result of the abject torture I put my system through cramming the food in before the inevitable return to Blighty. (I am a camel, I will fill my hump, etc etc etc.)

              The first week flew by. By the middle of the second week, the familiar tummy cramps set in. The fever was yet to descend so off we went to India’s premier North Indian restaurant. With a cup of chamomile tea, and a stern warning from the manager, I deep dived into Maa Ki Dal, a ghee laced bread basket and soft, spicy kebabs. The stuff of heaven.

              Hell was soon to follow. Bundled into the car afterwards, I told driverji to find me the nearest pharmacy. It was late at night, the options were limited. I soon found myself ducking stray dogs in a local fruit and vegetable mart, which handily housed a shiny pharmacy.

              I flung myself inside. Hello, I have come from London. And then launched into a sordid recount of the painful symptoms.

              The object of my self diagnosis was directed at a smiling man, sat presidentially behind a desk. He waited patiently for my tirade to end, and then said in Bengali: “Acha, tell me something.”

              I was all ears.

              “Who told you to eat food outside your mother’s house?”

              Was this man telling me off?

              “Can your mother not cook? Ok, never mind. Filter water.”

              Was this a question?

              “Why did you drink filter water? What is wrong with mineral water? Available everywhere, tsk tsk.”

              Now, I know Bengalis have a particular affinity with medicine. But it was late, and I was being given a dressing down by the owner of the only open pharmacy in the locality. I started blubbering a response. Translating feebly to my man. Who by this time had started taking portraits of the quasi medicine man.

              Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, he declared his remedy: “Quickly, go quickly, to the shop next door and buy some chire [flattened rice]. Cook it gently and eat it with yoghurt tomorrow morning.”

              This was quite enough. Are you a doctor?

              I am a homeopath,” he proudly declared, breaking into the widest grin. His assistant finally handed over the stash of the OTC drugs I was really after.

              There are a few things Bengalis eat to settle the stomach. But Sheddo Bhaat has to top the list. This is basically rice, lentils, vegetables and eggs, boiled, subtly flavoured, and then eaten with bits of broken green chillies. You can cook it all together, or at least cook the rice together with the veg and eggs, and the lentils separately. Vegetables that can be used here include pumpkin, potol (pointed gourd) and karela (bitter melon).

              So this is what I ate on my return. And sooth it did. My bruised pride and burning insides. Until next time, my dear friends…
              Read on for recipe »

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                Posted in Home Alone, Lentils, Tv meals, Vegetarian

                 
                27
                Jan
                2014

                Paleo-friendly curry

                Andhra-style Methi chicken

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                Forget New Year’s day, my resolutions usually follow my birthday. Take all that unconditional love, unfettered attention, add increasing age, propensity for senility and voila, you get a stupid New Year’s resolution that will last a day. If lucky.

                This year was all about the possibility of middle age spread. No matter that I am nowhere near middle age yet. Prevention is better than cure. So when a local mother declared she was doing the Autoimmune Paleo, I immediately paid attention.

                If you haven’t heard about the Paleo, you must be living in the dark ages or something. This, people, is the diet du jour. Basically, you eat what your cavemen ancestors did, pre-agriculture. (Paleo is short for Paleolithic – geddit?) If it wasn’t available through hunting, fishing and gathering back in the old days, it’s not worth eating.

                So far, so fascinating.

                Except, I should have known this would never work for me. For a start, hunting, fishing and gathering already sounds like more hard work than I have done in my entire life. Then there is the brain power needed to work out what entered our diets through agriculture. So sweet potato okay, not white potato? Hello migraine.

                And finally, I am Indian. I live on rice and lentils. It is the stuff my dreams are made of. Life without both? You cavemen have no idea what you were missing.

                Nonetheless, I embarked on the ancestral dietary pattern. Kale Omelette for breakfast. No drama. Mackerel and Avocado salad for office lunch. No big deal. Chocolates winking at me at tea time. Tempting. Then I came home to find a tall stack of warm Methi Theplas, freshly made by nanny K, on the kitchen worktop. End of.

                I have on good record that no one trusts a skinny cook. If evolution has taught me one thing, it’s to be sensible with portions. Dinner time meals, in particular, tend to be a one pot dish with protein and vegetables, served with a reasonable portion of carbs. Usually a fistful of steaming hot Basmati rice. Chicken curry, tends to feature a lot.

                This Andhra-style Methi Chicken curry, combines sweet tangy tomatoes with the bitterness of healthy fenugreek, a match made in heaven. Fenugreek is available in abundance in Indian winters, and a staple ingredient when the temperatures dip. Imagine my delight when I found a frozen bag of chopped fenugreek in my local supermarket?

                That’ll be a last time I’m a Dodo about a diet.
                Read on for recipe »

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                  Posted in Chicken, Meat

                   
                  13
                  Jan
                  2014

                  Winter warmer

                  Spicy Punjabi Dal

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                  Happy New Year to you all!

                  Festive fever has well and truly ended. Not before we had 9 adults, 2 toddlers, 1 baby and 2 dogs for Christmas. And a dog splattered bodily fluids on mini Basu’s glitter party shoes.

                  Fittingly, this turn of the year’s celebrations have been low key. Where else to end the shenanigans of the year but a cottage on a sheep farm in the middle of nowhere? The kids were not convinced. I want to go in an earoplane, was followed quickly by, I want to go in a swimming pool.

                  The promise of a tractor did the trick. We hardened city dwellers would now embrace mud, yuck and woodlands with zeal. We bundled the kids, a nifty selection of toys, a bottle of Rose Taittinger, and my best country wear into the boot. If we were going to enjoy the delights of the country, we would do it well. A staycation in style.

                  Style is not what came to mind as we drove towards our destination. Tucked away at the top of a winding mud path was our cottage on a farm featuring not just sheep, but horses, chickens and trout. Through gritted teeth I agreed on  a walk through the woods. Who cares that the path was knee deep in mud, and a biting wind was about to deep freeze my bones.

                  At least we were dressed for the occasion. Or so I thought. The farmer came running towards us as I prepared to leap over a fence. I like your wellies, she said, pointing squarely at their wedge heels. [You think Wedge Wellies would be commonplace in these parts.] Before I could jump to my defence, she added, you won’t need your handbag in the woods dear.

                  A little more sheepish than we had started, we braved the fine outdoors getting cosy later with a warming, thick and vegan Spicy Punjabi Dal that caught my eye from Monica’s Spice Diary. This is the perfect dal for the Arctic blast, and ideal used as a dunking base for chunks of bread, ripped up pitta or warm rotis of course. And what better way to start a year of eating than a clear head and a warm heart?

                  Here’s to a fantastic year ahead.
                  Read on for recipe »

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                    Posted in Lentils, Vegan, Vegetarian

                     
                    02
                    Dec
                    2013

                    Out of comfort zone

                    Aloo Tikki Chole for festive fun

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                    As far as I am concerned, Durga Puja kicks off the festive season. The first big celebration before Diwali, Kali Puja and then the grand finale of Christmas.

                    As a self-respecting NRI mother, I dust the cobwebs off my sarees, kit the kids out and make way to the nearest pujo pandal. But not before I have seized the moment to teach my errant toddlers the story of Ma Durga.

                    I sit them down in their fake Shah Rukh Khan / Karisma Kapoor outfits and start the search. Thank mercy for YouTube, I smile. If there is one place for a suitable animation of the story of Goddess Durga and all her incarnations, this is it.

                    YouTube, as it turns out, is not the go to place for suitable. I watched as the Goddess of Strength in my animation of choice partook in a blood bath, where splodges of tomato ketchup landed here, there and everywhere. With every raised spear and splodge of colour on the screen, I watched the bundles turn a paler shade of brown.

                    When the asuras heads ended up in her grips along with the blood stained weaponry, I spotted that ominous “see you at night time look”. I finally dived forward and switched to a furry oversize puppet singing the ABC song. Next time I’ll just tell the story without the quasi horror visual gags.

                    There is no better excuse to try something a little out of the comfort zone than during the festive season. For Durga Puja, I didn’t venture much further than the special Bhoger Khichuri of course. But for Diwali, I turned my attention to a slightly more tricky Aloo Tikki Chole, a spicy, tangy snack of potato cakes on a bed of chickpea curry doused with sweet and sour chutneys, topped with crunchy onions and crunchy gram flour noodles.

                    I say tricky, because it involves the preparation of four different things, not forgetting the need for a number of specialist ingredients that require a focused trolley dash. This, in my life, is the almighty faff that only festivity can justify. Only just.

                    The key here, as with most Indian cooking, is in timing. Cook the aloo tikkis under a hot grill, so that you can be getting on with preparing the other bits and bobs. And make the chutneys the day before, so that’s one less thing to think about.
                    Read on for recipe »

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                      Posted in Entertaining, Party snacks

                       
                      07
                      Oct
                      2013

                      A big dill

                      Seven years of surprises

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                      Seven years since this blog was born. Since then, I’ve created two children, a book and enough grey hairs to make a toddler’s Halloween wig. Readers have come, gone and then come back again. Comments have dried up, but the drivel I write shows no sign of abating. Let’s hope the visitor numbers aren’t being generated on a click farm in Dhaka.

                      I was gearing up to write a sentimental post. You know, the sort that would give away my ripe old age. About how times have changed, it’s all about short, sharp and snappy. Blogging is just not how it used to be… yada yada yada.

                      Just then, a vegan walked through my door. This, is a rare occurrence. (I liked to joke that I do not feed vegetarians, vegans and teetotalers. Until I used said joke on one, and it crash landed like a heavy bottomed tawa on my small toe.)

                      This vegan just happened to be staying the night at our friend’s place, who was coming over for dinner with his wife to learn to make dal. As if the combination of a vegan and dal virgin home cook could not get worse, I also had Boobie over: strict meatarian, white wine and fag fiend and general giver of much opinion.

                      It didn’t take long for the interrogation to start. So, why don’t you eat meat.

                      Unfazed by the two meat loving, Indian fishwives, he explained his fine stance against cruelty to animals.

                      So how about cruelty to mankind?

                      Again, a fairly robust defence. He was a University lecturer after all.

                      What about leather shoes/coats?

                      He doesn’t wear leather.

                      Conceding defeat, I topped up his Vegan wine while Boobie threw him a fag. Then we both declared Indian food would be our cuisine of choice if we ever decided to go vegan or vegetarian. So much variety, who would miss meat?

                      Like this recipe: Dill Baingan Bhaji. Nothing more than aubergines/brinjal sauteed with spices and dill leaves (sowa/soya/suva saag). I adore dill recipes, but something about its pungent grassy taste alongside the silky aubergines makes this recipe sublime.

                      Here’s to learning something new every day. Dodging the seven year itch and blogging my way through life’s every lesson. Wishing Sia, Sra, Jayashree and Mandira happy big seven. No mean feat ladies. And to Ganga, a proud vegetarian, for celebrating 17 years of blogging! Something to aspire to.
                      Read on for recipe »

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                        Posted in Vegan, Vegetarian

                         
                        24
                        Sep
                        2013

                        Bengali Tin Kona Porotha

                        Bong Moms Banter

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                        Mother arrived here three weeks ago. This year’s most unnecessary-kitchen-things-to-lug-all-the-way-to-England included a microwave idli maker and a sprout maker. I was saved by a stroke of luck. Namely, the miserly baggage allowance of Qatar Airways.

                        This year’s trip is in honour of Mini Basu’s school start. The time my mother has in between school drop off and pick up, she spends dutifully cooking for her sprogs and grand sprogs. She has taken a brief respite from her life on set to do what come most naturally. After all, as a dear friend’s mother declared, Bengali (Bong) mothers are only truly interested in three things: education, food and their children. I can’t say I am escaping this fate either.

                        What better time than now to transport my latest cookbook from the bedside table to the kitchen? I have been chuckling in bed reading this fantastic cookbook by Sandeepa of the very popular Bong Moms cookbook blog. A dear friend, her eponymous cookbook captures the food, spirit and innate humour of the culture we share in a very funny and seminal, contemporary Bengali cookbook.

                        I set my sights on the Bengali Tin Kona Porotha recipe, the triangular paratha, of our childhood breakfasts and Sunday lunches that I pine for in London. Not one to attempt on a regular work day, it was now or never. Mother had already cooked Mangshor Jhol, a sublime slow cooked goat meat curry. Now I would pair it with a single minded focus on the step-by-step instructions of another Bong Mom.

                        Except, mine doesn’t do silences.

                        Back at home, we only make it with plain flour.”

                        Don’t add too much ghee, the porotha will become crisp. Like papad.

                        Keep kneading the dough. The secret is in the kneading. Knead more. Knead more.”

                        At which point, I decided to give her a job: “Mother can you pour us some gin and tonic?” She was up in a flash.

                        Aided by Bong Mom’s Cookbook, a gin (or two) and mother’s watchful eye, I made a stash of moreish parathas that we ate dipped in Mangshor Jhol. From one Bong Mom to another,  there’s always room for new exciting adventures. Bong Mom’s Cookbook will certainly keep me going on mine.
                        Read on for recipe »

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                          Posted in Basics, Home Alone

                           
                          27
                          Aug
                          2013

                          Feeling hot? Eat chilli curry

                          Mirchi Ka Salan keeps it cool

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                          I knew something good was in the air. The weather folks predicted a few consecutive days of hot weather, then we got warnings of a heatwave. Britain was finally going to get hot weather in July. In most places, this is better known as summer.

                          The nation went into a frenzy. Sales of swimwear and sandals went through the roof, while offices whacked up the air con to recreate mid-winter.

                          I responded in the best Indo-Brit way I knew: stripped the kids down to their undies, gave them a mango each and pointed to the paddling pool in our shady garden. Then nosedived into the largest vat of Pimms I could find, surfacing from time to time to marvel at the wonders of pale Provencal Rose and Sipsmith Summer Cup.

                          The only thing to cook, in hot weather, is kebabs in my humble opinion. Out came the barbeque and on went Tandoori Chicken, Lamb Chaanps, Seekh Kebabs and Paneer Shashliks, served with vegetable pulao and summery yellow dals.

                          Also, chillies. Plenty of them. Because when its hot, chillies keep you cool. And even if they don’t, your tongue will burn so much, you won’t notice much other discomfort.

                          For the opening gambit, I simply threaded a row of fat red chillies onto a skewer and drizzled lightly with oil before flash grilling. The second barbeque, I scooped out the inside of the chillies, stuffed them with mango pickle, dipped them in a Besan batter and shallow fried them.

                          The third time, I went for a Hyderabadi Chilli Curry I have been meaning to try for yonks: Mirchi Ka Salan. This is a to-die for dish with the intense flavours of chillies smothered in a peanut, coconut masala. I was always put off by the long list of ingredients, but with a bit of quick thinking (and general laziness), it wasn’t too onerous and a fantastic side to grilled meats. Or even as the Sabzi on the side to a low-fuss yellow dal.

                          Do wash your hands well before wiping your tears as you eat this. Don’t eat them all at once. And lets hope summer lasts forever!

                          Read on for recipe »

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                            Posted in Vegetables, Vegetarian

                             
                            02
                            Jul
                            2013

                            Package treat

                            Kashmiri paneer

                            7 Comments. Leave a comment

                            We’ve long avoided the family holiday. Someone said it was “the same shit, different location”. ‘Nuff said.

                            It didn’t take long to flip. The tots are growing fast. My time with them is limited to say the least. Mad aunty Mags suggested a resort near her finca in Tenerife, threw in a few days/nights of babysitting, and we were in. Hook, line and sinker.

                            Pretty quickly we knew this was not quite one of the lux holidays of our gilded past. The tattooed bald man who ran after his errant child shouting “oi” at the boarding gate kind of gave it away. The man and I looked at each other two shades paler than check-in. Package holiday here we come.

                            The fun continued overseas. The spirited (read: hyper) toddlers slid in and out of sugar comas brought on by unlimited ice cream, day glo slush and blazing sunshine. That’s all 200 of them.

                            In the meantime, parents loaded their plates with the free buffet and a generous helping of fries from the kids section. Who cares if there was a seafood salad bar, an endless selection of cured meats and cheese – a ripple went through the mainly British crowd at the rare sight of pie and mash.

                            Still, it was fun. I discovered fine Cava, served in a bar conveniently located by a water feature/kids play area. The kids slept for long enough during the day for us to soak up the sunshine. And add two weeks without domestic chores, work deadlines and rubbish weather and life was definitely beautiful.

                            All good things, sadly, must come to an end. The end came quickly in the shape of showery LOndon, 400 work emails and an empty fridge. What better time than now to be thankful for mother’s higgledly piggledy packages of suspect spices.

                            Said suspect spices were, in fact, the basics needed for Kashmiri-style dishes. Soonth or Sonth is a delicate ground ginger, Saunf is fennel and Kashmiri Chilli Powder is like paprika, better loved for its colour and smokiness than its burn rate.

                            So I made Kashmiri Paneer. Great with a defrosted portion of dal and some fresh and steaming hot Basmati rice. A gently way to creep back into life.

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                              Posted in Paneer, Summer specials, Uncategorized, Vegetarian

                               
                              08
                              May
                              2013

                              Surprise encounters

                              Saving Saag Aloo

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                              There are two things a long career in PR has given me: 1) thick skin and 2) a great shoe collection. But this scathing critique for my Saag Aloo recipe sent a stiletto piercing through my epidermis:

                              “Can’t put into words how awful this recipe is!
                              My diners referred to it as sediment dredged from the River Thames!
                              Needless to say, as it wasn’t even edible for the dog, it went into the bin!!”

                              Ouch.

                              Saag Aloo is a British curry house favourite of the world’s two blandest vegetables combined in what can only just be rescued by the miracle of spices. The keyword here is just.

                              I felt a weak moment approaching. So I went straight to the man for sympathy. The resident photographer and food taster.

                              Serves you right“, came the pat response, “I can’t think of a worse combination of things to make a recipe of.”

                              This, from a man brought up in the land where potatoes originated.

                              I didn’t make it up. It’s an actual recipe. It’s also one of the most requested recipes on my blog, I persisted, and one of the most common keywords for people to get here.

                              “Tell them they’re wrong. That’s what you do, isn’t it?!”

                              Not content with totally missing the point of this blogging business, he proceeded to refuse to photograph the next effort. Not ready to be outsmarted, I dished up try 3 with a full meal and held the feast back until the photo was taken.

                              If my gruesome intro and ghastly description hasn’t put you off, this recipe is actually quite lovely. The key is to cook the potato with the spices without parboiling and to use lots of salt, some green chilli and a squeeze of lemon juice at the end to lift the spinach. I always ate this back home with pureed spinach. But you could just use chopped, frozen spinach like I did here.

                              And here it is. If this is what you get when you put the world’s two blandest ingredients together, I’ll have a 2nd helping with an extra serving of abuse, thanks.

                              PS = That’s my lucky oven glove in the pic. Waiting for your verdict with bated breath…
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                                Posted in Home Alone, Tv meals, Vegetables, Vegetarian

                                 
                                30
                                Apr
                                2013

                                Quest for Karma

                                Mid-week Kofta Curry

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                                The quest for karma continues, with yet another set of yoga classes. I snuck into the back of a heaving local class popular for using scented oils. All great, until someone fired up a sausage BBQ behind us.

                                Yoga is always at the top of my list of after work exercise classes. After all, I did have about 12 years of relentless sun salutations under my belt.

                                Back in Calcutta, my mother signed us up to the local yoga centre. A stern lady resembling the love child of Indira Gandhi and Maggie Thatcher (God rest their souls) would give us home lessons. All I remember are the gruelling stretches and her rising blood pressure as we pleaded through every extra count for mercy.

                                On arriving in London, I discovered I was very much on trend. Years of yoga had already set me on the path to spiritual enlightenment. If I could do ujjayi breathing, I could pretty much do anything. Technically.

                                So through life’s ups and downs, my various half-hearted attempts to regain yoga supremacy this is what I have discovered about the different types of yoga in the West. From an Indian’s perspective:

                                • Hatha yoga: Proper yogi stuff. Wear white and be prepared to chant, stand still on one leg and sing in a strange language. Sanskrit, I think. More here
                                • Ashtanga yoga: If the poses don’t stretch your limits, the breathing techniques will. Wear spandex and cancel your gym membership
                                • Prana yoga: Not entirely sure, but I think its about meditation and controlled breathing. I did neither when I went thanks to the pounding house music straining through the exercise room’s double doors.
                                • Bikram yoga: This is what happens when you do yoga in the heat of summer, during a Calcutta power cut. The brainchild of a Bengali. No surprise there.
                                • Pregnancy yoga: Yoga to lull you into a false sense of security. It will hurt. Sorry.

                                Of course, I am no stranger to taking something old and giving it a new spin.

                                Like this mid-week Kofta Curry. I bought a pack of quality ready meatballs, sizzled up a curry sauce and let the meatballs simmer gently in them until they cooked. Not exactly the stuff from the courts of Mughal India but it tastes brilliant and is easy enough to knock up  after a busy day.

                                Inner peace next. Om.

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                                  Posted in Beef, Meat

                                   
                                  16
                                  Apr
                                  2013

                                  Curry in a big hurry

                                  Night off with Pataks

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                                  Shubho Noboborsho to you all. As I was going about my business towards the end of the Bengali year, I got a cryptic email in my inbox. It was on behalf of none other than Patak’s, the British Indian curry sauce people.

                                  Now Patak’s and I have a long history together. Mostly involving my early days in England at university, when I first discovered housework, illegal substances and the horror that I would have to feed myself. I slowly made my way from Taj Mahal takeaway to boil-in-the-bag rice and yep, Patak’s curry sauce jars for sustenance.

                                  Somewhere since then, I stumbled upon Jamie Oliver and mother’s very own chicken curry recipe. The rest as they say is history. But while the curry sauce jars fell off my weekly shopping list, I still reached for Patak’s Mango Pickle and shook my head dutifully at their “when I was a little boy” adverts.

                                  What exactly did they want? Request no 1:  Would I like to be one of the faces of a new campaign for their curry pastes? A loaded question. Here I am, preaching the joys of cooking Indian food from scratch, savouring the pleasure of adding each spice lovingly to sizzling oil and watching oil ooze through pores on fresh masalas. Yes I would. Everyone needs a bloody night off. I need several.

                                  Request no 2: Would I mind sharing a platform with my friend and professional chef, the better looking and far more sensible Maunika? Would I ever? I’m just hoping some of her eventually rubs off on me. (NOT like that, behave)

                                  Request no 3: Please could I bring some bright coloured clothes to the shoot. That basically killed my entire wardrobe. And no, animal print did not qualify as a “vibrant pattern”.

                                  So I settled on a denim shirt. Knocked back a glass of Lansons and went for it cooking three recipes, with two spoons of a jar of Patak’s masala paste. Or something. The resulting dishes were delicious: Crab Cakes, the perennial favourite Palak Paneer and Karwari Jhinga, a coconut prawn curry.

                                  A jar of Patak’s masala paste will now join the lofty ranks of the Thai Green Curry Paste well by its use by date in my fridge. The video is here for your viewing pleasure. Poor mother has racked up 1,000 clicks on it alone. I’ll be standing against a fence waiting for the rotten tomatoes to land.

                                  Do me a favour: try one of the jars to see what you make of it and tell me what you do on your night off. Will you?

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                                    Posted in My World

                                     
                                    08
                                    Mar
                                    2013

                                    Bake off

                                    Savoury lentil Handvo fixes the baking bug

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                                    I am no baker. I never was crafty. Mother, a staunch feminist, insisted we didn’t have to learn to sew and knit. Until my all-girl school in Kolkata saw sense in teaching us carpentry and light metal work too. Never mind International Women’s Day.

                                    In the meantime, I grew older happily embracing the tadka pan but quietly rejecting the notion of modern femininity that is, in my humble opinion, the cupcake.

                                    The problem is this. I love eating the darn things. They are so pretty. They cost a bomb in the shops, for essentially, a bit of flour, sugar and eggs. I knew I was trapped into a dark hole with only a Wilton 1M and a muffin tray for company when Mini Basu, aged nearly four, requested cupcakes at one of our weekly cookery sessions.

                                    No matter. I have done worse in the name of motherhood.

                                    I snooped around my favourite baking blogs by Deeba and Jules. I just needed a moment to launch into action. The office Valentine’s Day Bake Off was it. With divisions pitted against each other, the stakes were high and someone found a photo of me stirring a curry online. I was soon labelled the “professional” in their midst.

                                    I frogmarched the team to the local supermarket to source supplies. Co-ordinated the team entry assigning tasks all round. Then came home, drank half a bottle of wine and merrily baked a batch of by far the most deeply unattractive cupcake-muffin hybrids I have ever seen.

                                    We were commended for taste. I should have taken a stash of Handvo with me instead.

                                    This is a spicy, savoury lentil cake from Gujarat, baked in a hot oven, that makes a healthy and very moreish snack. Nanny K kept bringing me boxes full and I got her to share the recipe with me. The only trick part to this is sourcing Ondhwa flour (also Handvo flour), which is a powdered lentil and rice flour, readily available in ethnic stores.

                                    It took just the first go to get it right, and the results were reassuring. They disappeared nearly as quickly as a batch of cupcakes. Next stop: oven baked dhokla. And if that goes well, I’ll try my hand at a Black Forest Gateau. Or something.

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                                      Posted in Entertaining, Lentils, Party snacks, Vegetarian

                                       
                                      11
                                      Feb
                                      2013

                                      Alternative Life

                                      Pancakes with a spicy twist

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                                      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!

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                                        Posted in Breakfast, Home Alone, Vegan, Vegetarian

                                         
                                        25
                                        Jan
                                        2013

                                        Older not wiser

                                        Beef curry without bad thoughts

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                                        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!
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                                          Posted in Beef, Home Alone, Meat, Tv meals

                                           
                                          11
                                          Jan
                                          2013

                                          Waste Not Want Not

                                          Sauteed spiced bread kicks 2013 off

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                                          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.

                                           
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                                            Posted in Breakfast, Highlights, Home Alone, Vegan, Vegetarian

                                             
                                            31
                                            Dec
                                            2012

                                            Out with the old

                                            A chocolatey twist on a Bengali classic

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                                            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.
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                                              Posted in Entertaining, Highlights, Sugar cravings

                                               
                                              05
                                              Dec
                                              2012

                                              Mastering mid-week cooking

                                              Mushroom coconut stir fry hits a spot

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                                              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?

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                                                Posted in Home Alone, Tv meals, Vegan, Vegetarian

                                                 
                                                14
                                                Nov
                                                2012

                                                Diwali Dhamaka

                                                Sublime potato in yoghurt curry completes a celebratory meal

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                                                The kids are growing. The family home is sorted. So, inevitably the plans for global domination took centre stage again.

                                                I have a new job people. In a ginormous communications consultancy. Just in time for Diwali.

                                                Having children not so much led me to slip down the corporate ladder, as caused me to borderline fall off it entirely. Albeit briefly. So much stuff about the glass ceiling, the nappy wall, yada yada yada. My experience is that if you want to be treated equally, you have to act equally. In the workplace, this means few concessions. Sad. But true.

                                                On the upside, the kids are totally worth it. I also get free toast before 9:00am, there’s a bar downstairs and my new colleagues are quite intrigued by my Indian cooking avatar. In the hope they will be invited to many feasts, no doubt.

                                                I have stormed in and started cracking all manner of whips. While keeping schtum about my TV debut tomorrow in Episode 10 of Maddhur Jaffrey’s Curry Nation. This is, frankly, terrifying. I’ll be hiding under the couch in good time, with some cuddly toys for company and a glass of something cold and alcoholic for my nerves.

                                                Just like I survived all those hideously loud firecrackers during my childhood in Kolkata. It’s all come full circle, see?

                                                Here’s my feast for a year with great things ahead. For all you lovely people. Marking new beginnings and new ventures. A fully vegetarian meal to keep the tone auspicious and served with copious quantities of alcohol: Chana Masala, Kashmiri Paneer, Dahi Wale Aloo, Vegetable Pulao and Coconut Laddoos. I’ll share the Dahi Wale Aloo recipe, a sublime potato curry which was a staple Diwali lunch with Pooris at my Marwari friend’s Diwali day kitchen in Kolkata.

                                                Happy Diwali everyone!

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                                                  Posted in Child-friendly, Entertaining, On the side, Vegetables, Vegetarian

                                                   
                                                  17
                                                  Oct
                                                  2012

                                                  Strong women

                                                  No onions and garlic in this punchy festive curry

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                                                  Mother has arrived in London. In true Basu style, she ignored my pleas about every spice being available here and brought a lifetime’s supply of Kashmiri Masala and Kasuri Methi. Her mission, two-fold. To fatten her darling children. And to be the grandma with the mostest to the toddlers.

                                                  Now mother is more used to being fabulous than chopping onions. Far better at directing than doing. This is the star of the silver screen cum drama therapy practitioner that has most adults quivering with her fierce gaze and sharp words. Frankly, I’m just hoping she never reads this blog post. I may end up in a naughty corner myself.

                                                  But she is here to respond to a higher calling. I have a new job starting in November, which means I have the rare privilege of enjoying the brief life of a lady of leisure. The man and I are off to Phuket in Thailand for a dear friend’s wedding. And we are leaving the kids behind in the firm grip of mother, with nanny K and little sis ably assisting.

                                                  Preparations for the trip have started in earnest. Mother has successfully caused a short-term weight gain, while she masters gadgets and the toddler military regime. I have ordered a pair of denim shorts, checked into a kettlebells class and slowly started contemplating the reality of a week without the darling terrors.

                                                  Truth be told, I am about as worried about them as I am about mother turmeric staining my pristine new quartz worktop.

                                                  While strong women rule my roost, I am also missing the annual tryst with Ma Durga, the fierce Hindu warrior Goddess. I am not religious but this yearly celebration of good versus evil is our way to reconnect with London’s Bengali society. I will miss this, while sunning myself on a beach with a pina colada. Although I will be back in time for Halloween, Bonfire night and Diwali.

                                                  In anticipation of these important events, and in celebration of the strong women in my life, I made a Bengali moist lamb saute with no onions and garlic made specially during religious festivities called Niramish Mangsho. This translates to vegetarian meat which, of course, is an oxymoron. But the bottom line is that it tastes sublime and sports a thick and rich masala coating that I ended up licking off the empty pot. The key here is to use lamb or goat meat on the bone.

                                                  Have a fantastic festive season everyone. Say a prayer for my kids and the worktop, will ya?
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                                                    Posted in Cooking to impress, Entertaining, Highlights, Lamb (or goat), Meat

                                                     
                                                    04
                                                    Oct
                                                    2012

                                                    Big 6

                                                    Cheat's Channar Payesh for a sixth birthday

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                                                    Amidst the chaos, this blog turned six.

                                                    Yes. Six years ago over a few bevvies, a drunken conversation and the back of a beermat sketch, the idea was born. I would write about the food I love and the life I live. In the vain hope that I might inspire someone to try their hand at proper Indian cooking, in between the craziness of life.

                                                    Life was different in many ways then. Married, but with no kids. Work, with all the time to relax after. I braved each pan of sizzling cumin, burnt aubergine and mis-shapen roti with vengeance and a gin and slimline.

                                                    By now I should technically be on top of the world. A semi-expert in the art of decidedly idiot-proof Indian cooking. So I decided to take a stab at making Sandesh, a Bengali smooth cheese sweet that just melts in the mouth pronounced Shon-Dashe. Normally, you would make your own paneer and then loving roll, gently saute and fashion these.

                                                    In the spirit of this blog, I bought three packs of paneer instead. First pack, I overcooked to death. Which resulted in what was meant to be Makha Sandesh, turn into sweet shavings of plastic. That then got binned post haste.

                                                    The second pack, I didn’t quite cook enough. Which made me wonder what the hell I was doing trying to make Sandesh at home anyway. So I stuck the whole lot into evaporated milk and created a cheat’s version of Channar Payesh instead, a decadent paneer-based dessert that would be a perfect ending to an Indian feast.

                                                    I spooned it into little bowls and mini Basu decorated them with sprinkles of cardamom powder and almonds. The third pack of paneer will be turned into a weekday meal that can be scooped up with store bought rotis! Some things will never change, although some things irrevocably have. Thank you for being a part of this wonderful journey.

                                                    PS = Thanks Sia for the reminder! Life without you crazy fellow bloggers would be a very dull place…

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                                                      Posted in Entertaining, Sugar cravings

                                                       
                                                      26
                                                      Sep
                                                      2012

                                                      Pretty imperfect

                                                      Soft "hidden cabbage" parathas for a no fuss brunch

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                                                      Friday mornings are stressful.  I have the gargantuan task of getting two toddlers ready. For someone who has survived a 12-year career in Corporate PR, this is quite an admission.

                                                      Mini Basu is 3.5. Her favourite colours are the colours of the rainbow. Mostly pink. Pink is not a colour in the rainbow. No matter. Micro Mini Basu is almost 2. He is learning to speak. Mostly repeat renditions of “go away” and “don’t want it”. Accompanied by the odd kick in the shins/smack in the face type stuff.

                                                      Believe me when I say I would rather re-live weekly the pitch presentation to an angry mob of prospective clients I once had the misfortune to experience.

                                                      In the midst of all this, I have to also get dressed. Now this normally would not make a blind bit of difference. I am, after all, going to a nursery. I could wear a frikkin chicken costume and the bleary eyed parents would not notice. But I have discovered some clients live dangerously near me.

                                                      To make matters worse, I have a glamorous cooking avatar to live up to. Or something.  (If anyone mentions the word “supermum” I will come after you with a sharp knife and a lurid plastic shovel…)

                                                      Last week, I hit a new low. Dropping the kids off, I decided to make Cabbage Parathas for our brunch together. Those who know me, know well that I hate sticky dough with a vengeance. But a few weeks of blog redesigning has revealed an abysmal record of the brunch dishes I cook.

                                                      So several parathas later, I dropped into nursery with turmeric-stained nails, hair in a top knot and the vague aroma of Ajwain about me. And lo behold I spotted a leopard-print legginged, leather jacket and red lipstick wearing mum of darling toddler. Wafting around the grounds like she had just stumbled out of bed looking like Venus Divine.

                                                      I was about to mumble a banned grown up bad word under my breath, when I heard her introduce herself as Georgina’s godmother. So that explains that. I told mini Basu we had parathas for brunch and it took little other persuasion to get both of us skipping back home together. Good thing they didn’t notice the sneaky cabbage in the parathas!

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                                                        Posted in Breakfast, Child-friendly, Home Alone

                                                         
                                                        17
                                                        Aug
                                                        2012

                                                        Inspiring words

                                                        Vegetable Pulao with wholesome goodness

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                                                        I have started writing my second book.

                                                        Well. Maybe “started” is a bit strong. I have written two paragraphs, the first of which begins with “oh shit”. This one is going to be an international bestseller.

                                                        I blame a life devoid of any form of creative reading whatsoever. Last month’s Vogue at the hairdresser and tweeted articles do not count. How can anyone write if they are not absorbing the fine printed words of others?

                                                        In my former child-free, girl-about-town avatar, I found the words just rolled off the tip of my tongue after a glass of wine. Now I simply roll off the sofa with exhaustion after a glass of wine. So I went and stood in a bookshop to feel inspired.

                                                        Bad idea. All those beautiful books. So little time. Yada, yada, yada. Cue: total intimidation and utter frustration. I would need to start smaller.

                                                        I transported myself to the front of our new bookshelf at home. Scanning the shelves of recently arranged books, I settled on one written by a journalist, fellow blogger and friend Ann Mah. She sent me an unproofed copy of her debut novel Kitchen Chinese about the same time as I was launching Miss Masala. I promised to read it at the time. But reading at leisure proved impossible at the time.

                                                        I dusted it off and plunged right in. Thrilled to finally get a chance to read it. Selfishly hoping it would inspire something.

                                                        Now I am no book review expert or anything. Centred around a return to the homeland theme, this had all the promise of an Amy Tan novel, oft referenced by the author too. It was far from. Racy, fun and filled with food descriptions from around China that made the jaw ache and stomach grumble with hunger. If I could have eaten the pages, I would have.

                                                        I have no idea how the book did. Whether it made any money. The two questions I get asked the whole time about mine. I do have an idea about how Ann must have felt when she saw it on a bookshelf, read about it, good and bad, in the media. And I felt a warm glow of pride that I know her and we once shared a cupcake in hazy London sunshine.

                                                        And that, I guess, is what makes it all so worthwhile. This post is dedicated to the three things I share with Ann: blogs, books and bowls of steaming rice. A simple Vegetable Pulao, speckled with the goodness of vegetables in spluttered whole spices, is the simplest and yet most delicious way to dress up plain old Basmati. Never ever use the starchy, easy cook variety for this and go wild with variations!

                                                        Now for paragraph three of book 2. Wish me luck. I will need it.
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                                                          Posted in Entertaining, On the side

                                                           
                                                          08
                                                          Aug
                                                          2012

                                                          Better than best

                                                          Sizzling Masala Lamb Chaanps

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                                                          Nothing like a bit of ambition. So when our Barrister neighbour announced he was going to attempt his first barbeque, featuring Indian kebabs he had never previously attempted, for an important weekend luncheon party, I couldn’t resist offering my services.

                                                          Not before I’d told him he was bloody nuts, of course. Feeding people is fraught with problems at the best of times. Feeding important people, with untested recipes, using an all new contraption is a whole different ball game. And then there are toddlers to consider.

                                                          Take the normal neighbourly Sunday lunches we’ve taken to hosting for each other for instance. I cook a simple homecooked Indian meal in advance. Crack the quality booze open. Everyone else talks while the kids try to poke each others eyes out with different implements. Every now and again we put one of the combined force of four toddlers in a naughty corner/naughty step to momentarily break the delirium.

                                                          In their house, things can take a slightly different shape. A giant chunk of exceedingly good quality meat gets shoved into the oven, with braised vegetable accompaniments. The cook offers quality booze. The rest of us talk, while we prevent the toddlers from shoving their faces in the oven. And repeat aforementioned disciplined techniques.

                                                          The stakes were clearly higher at this barbeque. So we got the kids in bed and met to discuss the essentials. My top tips for Indian kebabs were:

                                                          1. Don’t spend a fortune on meat. No one will notice the difference between organic, hand reared, tenderly loved lamb and something you managed to source easily from a local supermarket/butcher. That’s the power of spices.

                                                          2. Do get meat tenderiser powder. This is readily available in shops and online. Fear not, it’s just papain, or dried and powdered papaya enzyme. Seeps through meat (particularly chicken breast) to make it the softest, juiciest chunks you have come across.

                                                          3. Keep the oil handy. Instead of putting it in the marinade, keep melted butter or flavourless oil mixed with lemon juice handy to baste the kebabs as they cook. If like me, you forget this important step, go back to spice power point of bullet 1. Also take another sip of said alcohol.

                                                          I then proceeded to send him a bunch of recipes to mix and match to create Chicken Shashliks and Lamb Seekh Kebabs. One didn’t have instructions for what to do with the ginger/garlic in the ingredients and one asked for spices unavailable in our local supermarket. Stellar job there. Not.

                                                          The good news is the kebabs were a success and they are still talking to me. I will make it up eventually by inviting them over for the Masala Lamb Chaanp recipe I have been perfecting. Traditionally, this is made with lamb chops but I have been using thin cut steaks. The recipe uses just five ingredients, and is just as good under a grill as on a barbeque. Just the kind of simple entertaining that always gets my vote!
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                                                            Posted in Entertaining, Lamb (or goat), Meat, Summer specials

                                                             
                                                            18
                                                            Feb
                                                            2010

                                                            Paneer with a purpose

                                                            Creamy Kashmiri paneer, without the cream

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                                                            Third time I cooked last week, the curry had a purpose. It was in aid of a much needed makeover. Before you suggest I’m in need of one, it’s for this blog.

                                                            Some of you know that I started this blog to prove that if I, with my full on life, general inability to be organised and propensity for destruction in the kitchen, could cook Indian food then so could anybody else.

                                                            Four years since, my campaign for curry is gathering pace. In the meantime, a brave new world of digital and social networking has blissfully passed me by.

                                                            The man of the moment is my one and only blog guru and free audio kids stories supremo. I told him the site looked dull and dated. He reminded me that I had picked the colours and meddled with his ideas.

                                                            So this time we both decided over Kashmiri Paneer, Chicken Pulao and red wine that we should ask you, the esteemed reader, what you think. What makes your blood boil every time you arrive here? What makes your heart soar? Pray, tell, what can I do to make it better for you?
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                                                              Posted in Cooking to impress, Entertaining, Paneer, Vegetarian

                                                               
                                                              04
                                                              Dec
                                                              2007

                                                              Desperate times call for…

                                                              Palak Masoor Dal for a few brain cells

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                                                              masoor-dal-ginger.jpgOkay so I’ve been rubbish at blogging lately.

                                                              It’s because I’ve been too busy running desperately around my kitchen in a chicken costume protesting about the perils of factory farming in an attempt to win £25,000 cash.

                                                              Seriously though, I am surviving on very few brain cells these days. The festive season has kicked in.

                                                              Along with too much general good cheer and gold glitter, way too much champagne is being consumed.

                                                              By no means does this spell the end of quick Indian cooking as we know it. Quite the contrary, in fact.

                                                              You try drinking more than you should three nights in a row. What do you think you’ll need after that?

                                                              Alka seltzer?

                                                              Fried breakfast?

                                                              Bottles of coca cola?

                                                              A new liver, perhaps?

                                                              Try dal. Lentils boiled to death, then brought to life with a medley of spices tempered in buttery smooth ghee.

                                                              My personal favourite is this Palak Masoor Dal laced with ginger and spinach. I can say from experience: this stuff cures like no other. And requires very few brain cells to make.

                                                              All in all, an excellent choice for tomorrow night’s supper when I’ll be nursing a sore head from tonight’s office Christmas party.

                                                              I won’t wear my chicken costume.

                                                              But I can’t promise I’ll behave.

                                                              At least there’ll be a pot of dal at the end of it all…
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                                                                Posted in Home Alone, Lentils, Tv meals, Vegetarian