big beach-goers

fishing boat

So we took a road trip to the beach.

The entire trip lasted about 36 hours from start to finish. There was a big SUV full of tired architects, a big ice-box full of alcohol and a three-hour trip to Digha.

Trip to Digha

fishing boats on the beach

Digha & legs

Digha’s one of those touristy beach towns, a stone’s throw away from a big city. That automatically turns it into the destination to go to when you’re looking for a weekend retreat or a quick and budget honeymoon. The roads, if you can call them that, are lined with lodges and hotels to fit your every budgetary need. And if you’re not spoilt with choices in overnight stay, you can even talk a walk on the sandy promenades munching on batter-fried eggplants and haggling with the shopkeeper of that place that sells local jute handicrafts.

It may not seem that way, but we Indians are big beach-goers. We don’t always get our bikinis out, because as a brown-skinned nation we’re somehow constantly terrified that the sun will make us more brown than our mothers allow us to be. Which is something the Sun really doesn’t give a hoot about. But we don’t give up. We slather ourselves in milky sunscreen that makes us sweat even more. Then we proceed to pack our bags with enough food to feed a battalion. And then we end up eating none of it since the beach already offers up beautifully fresh seafood, and we’d rather be cool like everyone else and have lunch at the beach rather than go back to the lodge and eat whatever’s been packed into the luggage.

Soft-shell crabs in tomato sauce

photo: Barnika C.

photo: Barnika C.

We also pack our swim-wear. Ummm, at this point if you’re imagining two-pieces or monokinis and swimming trunks then you’re dead wrong. Our swim-wear is way more comfortable and versatile than some piece of Lycra on our bodies stretched enough to cause breathing problems. We believe that the only way to enjoy jumping with the waves is do it fully-dressed. Oh sorry, I mean fully-dressed.
And by fully-dressed I mean fully-dressed. A pair of shorts and a faded t-shirt. Or a long summer dress with tights underneath. You could also choose to walk into the ocean wearing a very expensive pair of track pants and an over-sized jersey shirt, if you want to. Trust me, you will be considered completely normal. The men may choose to go topless, or if they’re shy they could also choose a faded t-shirt with baggy bermudas. Then of course, there are the more creative men who are brave enough to sport a super-tight super-short pair of cycling shorts and a humongous pot-belly at the same time. We Indians are cool that way. Proper swim-wear is old-fashioned. Can you bathe in the ocean in a ball gown? No? Well, we’re sorry for you, because we can.

road trip to Digha

But among all the fighting with the waves that kept tumbling us head over heels, there was a lot of crab in tomato sauce, a whole bottle of Blender’s Pride, stir-fried prawns sprinkled with salt and pepper, gallons of coconut water and a letch who got an earful from me as he deserved. There were also a couple of architects who got drunk, slipped and fell over the rocks and ended up with booster shots. And then we road-tripped back home browner than ever.

Back from Digha

Oh, and there’s no recipe at the end of this one. I think I’d better just leave you with a few more photos.

handicrafts at Digha

Handicrafts at Digha

handicrafts at Digha

handicrafts in Digha

Digha

road trip

 

we do nice things with roast chicken here

fenugreek roast chicken

When you’re single, envious of your married friends, self un-assured and plummeting towards 30 like nobody’s business, you start making promises to yourself. About your future no less. Yep. You have very little clue where you are in your present, but nevertheless, you make promises about your future. The word you’re looking for is “optimism”.

When it’s late enough in the night and you find yourself tossing and turning on your bed trying to find a cool spot on your pillow, or you’re hungry enough to constantly keep opening up the refrigerator door as if something suitable to eat would magically pop up any second — that’s when those promises show up at the forefront of your mind. And they refuse to go away till either you resort to counting imaginary sheep, or till you’re distracted by something smothered in chocolate or by someone with an invite to the latest bistro (apparently) in town. Oh but I’m rambling.

I made myself a few promises, quite a while ago, notably while eating greasy strands of bacon over the sink at midnight after returning from work. It was cold and damp like most English evenings, the house was as quiet as death and it was a quick dinner after a long day.

The promises were or are not anything too life-changing. Inspirational maybe, but not life-changing. Actually, come to think of it, I think they were born out of a grumbling stomach and an empty refrigerator at an ungodly hour:

- Any home I occupy ever will never be devoid of dark chocolate and,
- Saturday Biryani is always going to be a thing. And it will be never anything less than Sunday Roast.
- There will always be a roast chicken in the refrigerator to pick meals off of.

You may be happy or unhappy to know that I’ve failed miserably at keeping every one of the three promises. I have occupied plenty of homes in my lifetime so far, and have found my pantry devoid of dark chocolate numerous times. This has led to a lot of cursing and finger-pointing, especially when I was craving brownies or something resembling the same.I have forgotten many a Saturday Biryani and opted for cold 6-inchers from Subway instead. And a roasted chicken daily, as you can, imagine has been virtually impossible to get around to. I can barely even manage to roast any in a month.

I haven’t thought of those promises in a long time. That’s the best thing about this blog, I suppose. That’s the best thing about you and what you inspire me to do. Every time I come here, I feel I’m coming back to a repository of memories, ones that I love to visit and re-visit over and over again. And the memories are like chapters. Sometimes they end abruptly. Sometimes they’re like pretty girls…the ones you like to stare at but not do anything about. And others may lead you to the next chapter or to something completely new and different, something that you didn’t expect to remember at all. You like to turn those memories this way and that, trying to understand why you’d forgotten them in the first place. They might turn out to be disappointing memories or happy ones. Sometimes you’re glad that you remembered and sometimes you’re not. But if you’re anything like me, you’ll almost always hope that the memories revolve around family and friends and food.

The blog helps me remember life lessons like this one or random recipes like this one. And I’m glad that they involve roasted chicken. They make me want to re-promise myself about dark chocolate and Saturday Biryani. They make me want to get off my arse and roast a ton of chicken. They also make me want to re-promise that my first-born will be named Siya if it’s a girl and Abhimanyu if it’s a boy.

Happy week ahead, you lot!

Fenugreek Roasted Chicken Thighs

Note on fenugreek: I use dried fenugreek leaves in this recipe because they pack a serious flavour punch. Fresh leaves are not that effective and might be difficult to find outside of India. Dried leaves are sold as kasoori methi in packets or boxes at Indian grocery stores.

Ingredients:
10 chicken thighs, organic is best, skin off though
1/2 cup of yogurt
1 tbsp garlic paste
1 tbsp ginger paste
Oil, to flash fry the thighs [canola, sunflower or groundnut will do]
1/4 cup of dried fenugreek leaves [kasoori methi, see note above]
1/2 cup of chili flakes
Salt, to taste
Olive oil, to drizzle over while roasting
Roasted baby potatoes, steamed rice or salad, to serve with

How-To:
In a large bowl, coat the chicken pieces with yogurt, garlic and ginger paste. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to marinate overnight in the refrigerator. If you’re pressed for time, 2 hours marination times will work as well.

Pre-heat the oven to 180 deg C.

Heat oil in a large skillet. Shake the excess marinade off the chicken thighs but retain the marinade that’s collected at the bottom of the bowl. Fry the chicken thigh in the hot oil till they caramelize. You may need to do this in batches of 2 or 3, otherwise the pieces will just stew instead of crisping up. Fluctuate the heat between high and medium depending on how quickly the oil browns. You may also need to top up the oil in the skillet between cooking the chicken. I find that covering the skillet while the chicken in frying helps in preventing splatters and spitting oil. On medium-high heat, frying the thighs for 45 seconds on each side works just fine.

Line a baking tray with aluminum foil and lay the chicken thighs on it. Pour over the remaining marinade in the bowl. Sprinkle the kasoori methi, chilli flakes and salt, over the chicken. Drizzle some olive oil over the chickens, as well, to help the roasting process along.

Roast for 40-45 minutes or till the juices run clear. You want the chicken to be white when pierced at it’s thickest part. I don’t normally turn the pieces while roasting, but one of my friends preferred to do that during the halfway mark. Serve hot with rice or roasted potatoes and a fresh salad.

get your Asian on.

I don’t know what to call this.

Tamarind & Honey Chicken

It is technically not bibimbap, due to the lack of beef or kimchi for that matter. There’s no Chinese fried rice in there; I haven’t used a fluffy omlette and it’s not nearly as colourful as fried rice ought to be. However, it is definitely more colourful than your typical everyday Singaporean chicken rice, so we can’t go there either. No Indian or Thai curry I’ve ever seen came with a sunny on top. I’ve had two bowlfuls of it for dinner almost three hours ago and I still don’t know what to call this.

However, I do know that you need to get your Asian on and make this now. Or the next time you’re craving Chinese take-away.

Tamarind & Honey Chicken

There is deep satisfaction in making Chinese food. There aren’t too many ingredients as Indian or Thai food demands. There aren’t the fussy bits of rolling or fiddly bits of technique that French food demands. It doesn’t take the kind of time British food normally does.

If it sounds like I’m dissing all the other cuisines of the world and awarding the trophy to Chinese food…well, I am. Get over it. And you secretly know that I’m right. You secretly know that you love it too.

The best part, apart from all the lack of paste making and pastry rolling, is that Chinese food is something people make their own in a matter of seconds. Not minutes. Seconds. You want it sweeter, add sugar. You want acidity, plop a few more splashes of rice wine vinegar. You want it saltier, grab that bottle of dark soy! You can have it deep-fried with a ton of people around you, poking their chopsticks where they don’t belong. Or stir-fried in a tiny bowl watching your portion control. You can have it steamed feeling holier-than-everyone and then go crazy by dousing everything in chili oil. Or you can have your housemate cook it for you, while you lie on the sofa with your eyes half-closed watching Gok Cooks Chinese.

Or, like in today’s case, you can come back home from work and hit the bed seconds after you’ve dumped your bag on the floor. You can lie there in the dark, face down on your not-so-fluffy mattress while your stomach grumbles loudly in protest but the rest of your body refuses to move. And then after a while you can start thinking of ways to use up all the leftover tamarind sauce from the weekend. The thought of tamarind sauce leads you to think of the chicken that’s been marinating in the refrigerator to be used for something completely different. You don’t know why you’re thinking of chicken but you decide to go with it anyway. And after a lot of no-this-no-that, you push yourself up, walk into the kitchen and put a pan on high heat. Fifteen minutes later, you walk out with a bowl of food that not only makes you end up licking the bottom of the bowl (with your tongue as well as the tip of your nose), it also makes you want to run to the top of the roof and declare yourself the mistress of Chinese food in all the world.

Except, I don’t really know if I can call this Chinese food. Oh well.

Pickled Cucumbers

Tamarind & Honey Chicken

A note on Tamarind Sauce: You’ll find tamarind paste in most Asian supermarkets or even Indian grocery stores. You could either buy the bottled variety, which is more of a ‘sauce’. This kind is easier to cook with. You can use it straight from the bottle. However, the bottled kind usually has spices pre-mixed into it and is not completely pure, so it might just make the chicken taste different.
The other kind is the ‘paste’ or ‘pulp’ form. Using this requires a little more work but gives much much better results when it comes to the taste of the final product. Mix the paste into some water and squeeze out the pith to separate it from the seeds. The resulting mixture should be pulpy, murky and super-thick.
The tamarind sauce I used here was homemade from tamarind paste and here’s the recipe. Keep in mind, that at any point if the gravy tastes too sour, you can just add in more honey till the balance is right.

Ingredients:
1 kilo (2 pounds approx.) of boneless chicken pieces [I prefer dark meat, but you can mix it up by using both dark and breast pieces]
1 large onion, pureed
2 tsp of garlic paste
2 tsp of ginger powder
1/3 cup of cornflour (cornstarch)
Olive oil, to shallow fry the chicken
1 cup of tamarind sauce
2 tbsp of dark soy sauce
1/4 cup of honey
1 or 2 red chilies, finely chopped (keep the seeds in, if you’re brave enough)
1 lime, zest and juice
Salt, to taste
Fried eggs, sunny side up (optional)
Steamed rice, freshly chopped coriander and pickled veggies, to serve (optional)

How-To:
In a large bowl, toss the chicken pieces in a mixture of onion paste, garlic paste, ginger powder and a teaspoon of salt. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to marinate in the refrigerator for a coupe of hours. Or a little over 10 hours, in my case.
After their stint in the fridge, pick the chicken pieces out of the marinade and pop them in a separate bowl. Retain the marinade collected at the bottom of the bowl. Sprinkle the raw chicken pieces with cornflour and toss the thoroughly. there won’t be any excess of cornflour to shake off, because the moist pieces will soak most of it up.
In a smaller bowl, combine the tamarind sauce, dark soy sauce, honey and chopped chilies and stir to mix.
Heat oil in a pan (or even better, a wok) and fry the chicken pieces on high heat till they turn white and the cornflour starts to caramelize on the surface. Do this in batches so the caramelization is proper. You don’t want to end up with watery chicken. Once all the chicken is fried, put all the pieces back into the pan. Pour the tamarind mixture over the chicken along with a tablespoon of water. Cover and cook for 10 minutes over medium heat.
After 10 minutes, slice open the biggest/thickest piece of chicken and check the center to check if it’s cooked. If it’s still pink, simmer for another 3-4 minutes. If the center’s all white, then mix in the zest and juice of one lime. Add salt to taste and stir everything on high heat. If the gravy’s too runny, you can cook off the liquid a little more.
Serve the chicken on a bowl of rice, topped with some fried eggs, chopped coriander and pickled vegetables.

sunday and other things.

Walnut Cake with Tamarind Sauce & Whipped Cream

It has been a weepy Sunday so far. You know how we feel about Sundays out here. Especially one that comes with a side of soft rain pitter-pattering against the bay windows. The kind that fails to pull you out of bed in time to taste mother-made French toasts (that are rarities in this household) and hence you end up losing all the egg-y goodness to your brother, who then proceeds to strut around the house boasting of a belly full of fried bread.

But the day gets better; you help your mother make more toast doused in eggs and fried in oil (not butter, oil). You also call up your Delhi-dwelling cousin and pester her for her honey-garlic chicken recipe. She made it a couple of weeks back when visiting Kolkata and we made a feast of it along with fried rice and cheap frosty beer followed by that walnut cake (you know, the one that comes with a tangy tamarind sauce…). There was a lot of beer, a lot of cake and a lot of badly taken phone photos. And so far it has been the best dinner I’ve had this summer.

The prospect of spending a wet Sunday marinating boneless chicken bits in garlic, ginger and onions, coating them in cornflour and frying them, and then smothering them with honey, just gets my Chinese on. The chicken bits are marinating as we speak. Meanwhile, I’ve been marinating myself in the following:

- Alice Medrich’s House Truffles. Look at the cocoa dusting on those, will ya?

- This poule-au-pot from Mimi Thorisson. Her food is beautiful.

- Can’t stop listening to Happy.

- Henry Happened is a current favourite…aaand she has a Pina Colada pre-tan scrub recipe. Pina Colada scrub, people!

- There’s something called a Nutella Dorayaki in this world. The world is great.

- Lisa Eldridge’s channel is addictive. Even if you, like me, can walk down the road without makeup looking uncannily like a homeless person. And she’s so pretty.

Raw chicken calls. Happy Sunday you guys!

best eaten cold.

It’s the middle of May and I’m here today to talk about Christmas.
Yes, I’m 5 months and a whole season too late, but this is how we roll over here. So, here’s a picture.

BREADPUD1

If you’ve guessed bread pudding, then you’re right. A large vat of messy, melt-y, boozy chocolate bread pudding with crusty bits at the edges.I made my first last Christmas and this one a couple of days back. We’ve been high on alcohol and carbohydrates (and episodes of Game of Thrones) for the last 36 hours.

My mother, though not much of an enthusiast in the kitchen, is a hostess to her bones. She doesn’t even need a reason to call up a handful of people in a moment’s notice for an impromptu dinner party and have them show up for a guaranteed good time. Complete with good food, of course. And, the guests never fail to show up. She might serve some complex chicken rice (a homely substitute for the more elaborate Indian biryani) with cucumber raita. Or she might just go plain and simple with some fish curry and rice. And then comes Christmas.

You may find it weird that a family of fish-curry-eating, rosogolla chomping, cricket worshiping thoroughbred Bengalis, who by the way, prefer Darjeeling tea over Earl Grey any day, celebrate Christmas like there’s no tomorrow. I don’t blame you. It’s true.

When Christmas rolls around in anything but chilly Kolkata, we invite a bucket load of fellow crazy Bengalis over for dinner. We exchange gifts and crack awkward room-emptying jokes. And then we stuff ourselves with food. The food admittedly is a mixture of everything and do not have the remotest similarity to any Christmas dinner that you might be imagining right now.

I have an excerpt here that I wrote on the 2011 Christmas, when this blog was just a baby;

“It started with a round of prawn cocktails and chicken & cheese balls. Then we moved on to chicks in blankets, chicken sausages wrapped in turkey bacon, processed and proud. The table was flecked with small plates of grilled pineapple kebabs on toothpicks and wine glasses filled to the brim with mulled wine and port. Lamb stuffed tomatoes came next, with potato & leek crostinis following close by. The mains were two of these humongous trays of pasta bake and four large roasted chickens. The night ended well with a session of Minute To Win It inspired games, more port, a lot of cursing and laughter and tiramisu shots. I discovered talents that I did not know I had – that I could cook and bake for 30 people if I was given 8 hours prep-time and two very worthy helpers (Ma and Cook). I also started aching in spots I did not know existed on my body. And more importantly, I realized that it would be a long time before I would go near a sausage.”

2012 saw a spectacular Kerala fish curry that we served with couscous. Our guests were still pretty much into the pigs-in-the-blanket that we had fed them moments before, when the curry arrived on the table. It’s safe to say that the food has always been beyond Christmas-y. I think the only time it came even remotely close to being Christmas-y was when I whipped out Nigella Lawson’s Christmas Cake and served it with a dusting of snowy sugar, sans malt candies and glittery starts. You get my point obviously.

We love our Durga Pujas and we love our Christmases. We see nothing wrong in scooping chicken curry up with freshly baked French baguettes. We are secularism personified. We are Bengalis.

Coming back the bread pudding. It featured on last year’s Christmas Day menu. It just sat on the menu like a large formidable sumo wrestler that took up all the space and overshadowed all the other items and made them look weak and unimportant. A trip to the supermarket a couple of days back, yielded in a loaf of a white & brown swirl bread (such a novelty!) and I knew it would end up as a bread pudding. As the bread pudding soaked in rum, dotted with nuts and baked in custard making which requires you to be a little heavy-handed with the cocoa powder. It’s best eaten cold with crème anglaise poured on top (try the one from The Kitchn), after dinner or late at night while everyone’s asleep and the house is quiet and all you can hear is Peter Dinklage’s hoarse voice through the dim glow of your television. It may not be all out twinkling-tree-gifts-galore-carols-everywhere, but it is still a pretty solid reminder of Christmas, the way we do it out here.

chocolate bread pudding

Chocolate Bread Pudding that is not always for Christmas

Ingredients:
- 1 loaf of bread (this majorly depends on the size of your loaf and the size of your tin. I used 1 and a half loaves for the baking dish above)
- 2 cups of whole milk
- 1 cup of double cream
- 1 & 1/4 cup of white granulated sugar (you can increase the amount depending on how much of a sweet-tooth you and your guests have)
- 6 eggs
- 1/4 cup of natural cocoa powder, 70% preferably
- 2 tsp of vanilla extract (you could go all fancy-schmancy and use the seeds of a vanilla pod)
- A pinch of salt
- 1/4 cup of white or dark rum
- 2 cups of mixed nuts, toasted (cashews, almonds, hazelnuts…but no peanuts please)
- Desiccated coconut & shaved chocolate, optional
- Creme Anglaise, optional

How-To:
Grease a 12″ baking dish/tin generously with non-stick spray or butter. Slice the bread in triangles with a serrated knife and set aside.
In a heat-proof bowl crack in the eggs and set aside. Heat the milk, cream and sugar in a large pan till the sugar has dissolved and the mixture bubbles up at the edges. Make sure the mixture doesn’t boil over. Take it off heat and pour it slowly into the bowl with the eggs, beating constantly. At this point, pouring slowly and beating vigorously is crucial because you don’t want the eggs to scramble. Add in the cocoa powder and stir so no lumps remain. Once everything is combined, pour the mixture back into the pan (in which you heated the milk) and set it over medium heat. Keep stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to make sure the mixture doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan. Keep doing this till the mixture turns thick and custard-y and coats the back of the spoon easily. Take it off heat. Stir in the vanilla, rum and salt and set aside to cool. At this point, if you’ve got a lumpy custard with bits of cooked egg, you could easily strain the mixture into another pan to get rid of the lumps and bits.
Once the custard is cool, you can start layering up the pudding. Start with a layer of the bread triangle at the bottom. Ladle over with some of the cocoa custard till the slices are evenly soaked. Sprinkle over the toasted and chopped nuts. Repeat the layering till the rim of the baking dish. Finish with a layer of nuts and a handful of coconut flakes or chocolate shavings, if you’re using any. Rest the unbaked pudding in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. More, if you’ve got the time, because it really really makes a difference.

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C. Pop the pudding straight out of the fridge and into the oven and bake for 40-50 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when the edges start coming away from the sides of the dish/tin and the center is just set. You could serve it hot, but we here prefer it cold. It doesn’t have to be Christmas though.

quintessential. tomato. date. sultanas. sugar.

Today is Monday and it’s Election Day here in Kolkata.

cloud2

India’s voting for her CEO and we’re all busy holding our breaths. Yes, me too, considering that I’m not allowed to vote in this country. But all the excitement is more than merely contagious. You might find it difficult to pass a tea shanty without overhearing retired sixty-year-old men sitting around drinking their morning cuppa and bad mouthing the candidates. Even the ladies get into heated debates on occasions. Their’s aren’t as animated or vigorous as that of the men, but the debates are most definitely punctuated with a lot of eye-rolling and pursing of lips.

The days of summer have given way to rain. OK maybe not rain….just clouds. They’re a tease. However, they make sitting inside a cafe with interesting ceiling lights all the more better.

light1

Monday was slightly more sunnier and after about half a day at the office, I flew through empty roads and past poll booths and returned home to sleep in till the evening. Then we hired a couple of DVDs and exclaimed at our Facebook news feeds that have been taken over by photos of fingers dotted with indelible ink (proof that the Indian youth may have been jerked into their senses at long last). We also ate these aubergines and sausage rolls for dinner and stewed a bucket-load of tomatoes to make chutney.

I will talk to you later about the sausage rolls but right now I have one question for you: did you know about this tomato chutney?

tomato_chutneyThe photo was actually taken last summer, when we had a huge supply of carob seed biscuits which we used to dip into the chutney after lunch. It was also a point of time when my oven mitt needed a good wash.

But that chutney, it is what it is. There are these tomatoes and you stew them till they slump over your fork like hopeless druggies. Plump and ripe tomatoes are thrown together with a few spices, sugar or molasses and fat de-seeded dates. They are then gently heated with some water that contributes to the stewing and you end up with a pot of sweet and mysteriously spiced chutney.

You will find tomato chutney by the gallon all over India. I’m pretty partial to a South Indian tomato chutney that comes with an entourage of coconut and curry leaves. There’s a popular version of it found all over North-west India that is tangy and smoky and savory and goes well with steamed rice. What I have here however, is a quintessential part of the Bengali household.

The chutney is not just about the tomatoes. It’s also about the dates. Come to think of it, I don’t really want to call it a tomato chutney. “Tomato chutney” makes me think of the local pub we used to visit in Nottingham that served a very good Chicken Tikka Masala with a very good garlic naan and a very insipid savory tomato chutney. I don’t want you to think of this chutney like that chutney. It’s anything but that. This one here is more like a dessert to be taken chilled, after a meal. After, people. Do you hear me?

 Tomato & Date Chutney

Note on the ingredients:
- ghee is clarified butter, but you can easily substitute it with some plain flavorless veggie oil like sunflower oil. Do not use butter though.
- the tomatoes have to be roughly chopped, so don’t go OCD about making all of ‘em half-inch pieces
- soak the sultanas/raisins in boiling water for 15 minutes. Drain the water before using. In order to be naughty, use white rum instead of water.
- instead of crushed cardamom you can also use a teaspoon of ground cardamom seeds, if you icky about cardamom pods in your food.
- the recipe below mentions sugar, but we’ve made this chutney several times before using thick molasses (1 cups) or even dark muscavado sugar (same amount). I have even wanted to try this with maple syrup and maybe I will someday. If you do, let me know immediately, please! The sweetness depends a lot on the palate you’re about to feed, so add less or more as necessary.

Ingredients:
2 tbsp of ghee [see note above]
1 tbsp of mustard seeds
1 dried red chili, seeds intact…..trust me.
1 green chili, seeds intact
1 kilo of tomatoes (that’s about 2 lbs), chopped into half-inch pieces [see note above]
2 cups of dates, seeds removed (Arabian are the best), chopped
1 cup of sultanas or raisins [see note above]
8-10 pieces of green cardamom, crushed roughly [see note above]
2 1/2 cups of white granulated sugar [see note above]
1/2 tsp of salt

How-To:
Heat oil in a skillet big enough to hold a couple of pounds of chopped tomatoes and mash the two chilies together into a paste, seeds and all. Add the mustard seeds and wait till all of them have popped. Add the chili paste and cook off it’s pungency for 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, dates and sultanas along with half a cup of water. Cover and cook on medium-low heat for 15 minutes, till the dates have softened. Add in the cardamom, sugar/molasses and salt. Stir well. Turn the heat up to medium, cover and cook for 10 more minutes till the tomatoes are rid of all their tartness. You could pull the chutney off heat at this stage. However, if you want it to be thicker, take the cover off and heat the chutney on high till most of the liquid evaporates.
Chill the chutney in the refrigerator and serve with water biscuits or with vanilla ice-cream or you could even serve it simply on it’s own. But always after a meal!

 

 

22 hours, 25 minutes

a wet day in new haven

A week before Thanksgiving last year, I packed my winter coat and a few pairs of skinny jeans, cleaned out my bank account and took a very very long flight to New York.

I would like to go on a rant at this point saying how the plans were all last-minute, how the tickets were bought overnight and how I craved adventure so much, that I spontaneously packed my bags and flew off halfway across the world in 22 hours and 25 minutes. Oh, how I wish that were true.

I did exactly that when I booked for Paris overnight during my Spring Break in 2010. But this time was different. All planned. Lists made. Proper clothing packed. Maps studied. Timings synchronized. All signs that I’m finally growing up.

Central Park

Central Park

You’ll have to forgive me though, before you go scroll through the photos and then come back and yell at me, “Where on earth are all the food photos, woman?!”

Well, I don’t have any. Or, I have two. If you count a blurry photo of a humongous piece of chocolate mousse cheesecake from Junior’s and one random photo of my first time having Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate Mix. So, yes. If you count those two, then I have two ‘food’ photos. Go ahead, you can curse.

I ate at Di Fara’s. I spent an afternoon inhaling Asharokens and staring at the Guastavino vaults at the Oyster Bar. I bought bread from Balthazar and even spent a lovely fifteen minutes at Mast Brothers. And I have nothing to show for it. I spent most of my time gaping at the buildings and flashing goofy smiles at all the doormen while walking down 5th Avenue. FYI, some tipped their caps at me, the others however looked ready to tackle me to the ground.

Fifth Avenue

New York

Chrysler Building

Empire State Building

73rd

Rockefeller

Rockafeller

You know how every city you visit teaches you something big or small or medium. Some things you remember, some things you don’t. Some things are important while you’re on the trip and some things are life lessons you learn to keep in your life. For example, did you know that The Tree looks good even when they haven’t quite finished dressing it up for Christmas? Or, did you know that a single slice of cheesecake from Junior’s is impossible to finish in one sitting and it takes at least seven midnight spooning sessions in the refrigerator to empty the carton? Well, I learnt all that and a couple of things more on the trip.

Grand Central Subway

Grand Central Station

The first thing I did on arrival at the JFK, was pick up someone else’s red trolley bag at baggage claim. I traveled with the wrong bag all the way to New Haven, CT (where I actually put up to be a near a friend’s place). It was only when I got to the hotel at two in the afternoon, I realized the mistake I’d made. At times like this you’re left with only two choices - you can either decide to panic and frantically call a cab company to take you to the train station from where you catch the next two-hour trip all the way to Grand Central and then take a shuttle to JFK and sort all the shit out. Or…you can just strip down to your undies, jack up the thermostat, wrap yourself up in the fluffiest duvet you’ve ever slept in and sleep off your jet lag for the next twelve hours.

The latter, people. Always go with the latter. If you do, then you’ll wake up at two in the morning, refreshed, toasty warm, hungry and in need of a bath. You’ll take a shower, make yourself a mug of Swiss Miss by the dim lights of the bed-side table, re-wrap yourself in the duvet and make plans on how to face New York that same morning. The day was a long day, by the end of which I had my own red trolley bag with me, had eaten a whole plate of baby-back ribs and had hobbled around New York in a pair of red ballerinas with angry blisters at exactly five places on each of my feet.

First and foremost, if you’re wearing shoes with heels taller than an inch while you’re beating down the streets of New York, New York will eat your feet alive. Alive. I’m not kidding.

My advice is that you hobble out of Grand Central and to the nearest Aldo where your best bets would be flat sturdy boots. At least that’s what I managed to do. The sales girl was kind enough to take pity on me and my blisters and threw in a pair of sole-liners for free.

Grand Central Station

Grand Central Station

Also, just like how London teaches you to carry umbrellas no matter what the sky says; New York will also teach you the importance of carrying water bottles no matter where you’re planning on going. When you’re twisting your neck every five seconds to gaze up high at the skyscrapers, you’ll also need a very good pair of sunglasses.

If not, then use them to gape at the windows dressed up for Christmas. Or at the lights in Times Square. Sigh.

Bergdorf Goodman

Cartier

Times Square, NYC

Off Broadway

The city has a buzz. I’m well aware that I’m not the first person to say this. It is not a revelation, a declaration or any sort of discovery by any capacity. An observation you may say. The city just has a buzz.

You can walk around and in a moment you’ll start feeling like you can do anything you want to or anything might happen at any moment. Magical or otherwise. You could be travelling like a local, or with your family or with a toddler by your knees. You could be only backpacking through with your soul sisters. Or like me, you could be a weary lone traveler, exhausted and thirsty and secretly tired of travelling alone. But New York will take care of you, I swear. Feed you a ton of pizza, fill your heads with glitzy details and make your head spin with super-charged routines. The city changes at every corner and changes again at the next block. You just never know what to expect and that, somehow, is the best feeling.

Staten IslandMiss New York

Staten Island

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

whatever’s been happening. also coriander marmalade chicken.

Whew.

The best way to do this would be to start with a photo.

Grand Central Subway

More than four months this time and I’ve more to tell you than ever. This is the seventh time I’ve tried sitting at my laptop trying to force a post out of myself. And all I’ve learnt is that when you own a food blog you cannot, and more importantly, should not, force a post. A post that includes a November trip to New York. A post that includes some things that we’ve been feasted on lately. A post with a random photo of an empty dinner plate after a very satisfying Chinese meal. A post that talks of succulent chicken drumsticks drenched in marmalade and coriander.

Someone once told me that New York was magical during Christmas. Somewhere near the end of 2011, a few days before I started this blog, I came across and almost fell for (almost) a charming young man, who at the time was living in New Jersey. We exchanged a few emails, the contents of which concentrated mostly on the magic that is New York City. There were the occasional jokes and teasing remarks that you would expect to find signalling the beginning of any high-school romance surreptitiously drenched in pink soda pops. But mostly, NYC stole the show. Back then, I knew I had to start saving for it. And I did. Only, I didn’t actually know when I’d be making the actual trip or whether I’d be making it t all.

Last year while navigating through the throngs of pandaals that Kolkata throws up every year during Durga Pujas, amidst all the crowds, the lights, the excitement of going in and out of food comas with friends, I wanted to take off. Not a pleasant feeling, I assure you, when you want to laugh and smile at all that your friends are saying. When you can’t stop thinking of how badly you need a break from work and just take off on your own and you have nowhere to go. The very next day, I made it a point to check in with my bank account, as you should when you’re planning to take a trip alone halfway across the world. And then New York happened.

I want to tell you more. So much more and I can hardly wait. But I do honestly think, all the photos would do a much better job at the story than my words ever could. So I need you to wait till the next time I come around and I swear you won’t be disappointed. I haven’t however come empty-handed today, you know. I realize that you’d kill me if I did. So, here’s a picture of an empty dinner plate.

Chinese

This was part of a skirt-busting dinner at Mainland China that ended with an obscene amount of raucous laughter, mounds of darsaan and a group of very serious adults enthusiastically slurping sweet-n-salty  goodness off their dinner plates. We didn’t really bother with much manners that evening.

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the banana bread bandwagon.

Anywho, we made it. The bananas and I. We made it right into, and you may want to sit down for this, my first banana bread.

Yes, I know. I’ve been missing a lot in my life. I’ve missed out on boyfriend-made mix tapes, I’ve missed love at first sight, I’ve missed out on the last five bikini seasons and up until last week, I’d been missing out on banana bread. Mix tapes and bikinis I can make peace with but I’m still keeping my fingers crossed about the love-at-first-sight thing.

But a bit of bad news first, dear reader: It is not empty yet. That bag of coconut dust is not. Empty. Yet.

chocolate coconut banana bread

I dump cupfuls of it into baked goods and curries. My friends have started to greet my cupcakes with a tired “Does that have more coconut in it?” A couple of days back when I offered a spoonful of coconut crusted chicken to one of my friends, she actually semi-cringed. She loves coconut. She literally inhaled that cake I made three weeks back. And the chicken was definitely drool-worthy. And she cringed, only slightly though, before opening her mouth.

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homemade yogurt. all you need is a towel.

Well, Ok. Not just a towel.

You also need two metal saucepans, a spoonful of yogurt and milk. But I can assure you that the towel is the MVP here.

Before we get down to how most households in India make their own yogurts everyday, let me tell you that yogurt is not what I planned to write about today. Putting up a photograph of gestating bananas in the freezer is only perfectly acceptable when you follow it with a story of banana bread. But you’ll have to settle for yogurt instead because considering how easy this is, I think you need it more than you need banana bread.

I grew up watching my grandmother do it. My mother does a potful of it everyday. My neighbour makes more than potfuls of it everyday. My aunts even do the sweet versions. Mishti doi that Bengal is famous for. And so far, the most I’ve done on the yogurt front is to buy the conjoined packs of flavoured yogurt-cups from the supermarket. Its a bit of work that we here take for granted. It’s not special or wonder-worthy. Like coconut cake. It’s not something to write home about, like roast chicken. It’s like putting on your pants in the morning and going to work. Everyone does it. Like routine. Homemade yogurt is routine.

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sun, interrupted meals, fashion, green juice, bananas

Hello you. Look, the sun came out!

the sun came out

And here are a few things that are good right now:

Laura’s The First Mess. I’m sure you’ve been there, but her caponata panzanella makes me want to take a nose-dive into her food, face first and spread-eagle.

You love food? How about fashion? Yes? Now how about this?

Here’s a bit of genius. A ludicrously green juice out of kale, cucumber, eggplants (for God’s sake!), apples and pineapples.

Floral meringue sandwiches. Is it weird that I want lip-glosses in those colours?

I could trade in my Moleskins for these with their hologram-style covers. Could you?

Davide Luciano and Claudia Ficca’s series on Meals Interrupted. A way to look at food, when a meal’s been unexpectedly cut-off in the middle. Every photo somehow makes you think of what the diners did or did not before and after their meal was interrupted. Were they enjoying it? Were they enjoying each other’s companies? Did they make plans to meet up again? Did they see it coming?

And y’all! Look at what I have in the freezer. Over ripe bananas can only mean one thing.

frozen bananas for banana bread!

A chicken masala you need in your life.

with old recipe journals.

You guys deserve much better than what I give you here.

I’m almost always smothering you with chocolate. Cake. Pie. Maybe some bread. I hardly give you any veg. And even less fruit. I can literally see my future. I’m obviously going to turn out to be one of those mothers who pack potato crisps and sugary drinks for their kid’s lunch, instead of something healthy and supremely boring like boiled carrot sticks. I break out into cold sweats at night, just thinking of what to feed you or how not to fail at taking care of my imaginary children. I open the door to my freezer and peer in at cling-film wrapped pieces of chocolate cake, realizing that I don’t really have anything to whip up lunch with. I’m not saying that you can’t have chocolate cake for lunch. Gasp! Who said that?! But if I’m ever going to grow up into an adult and learn to nourish children or learn to pack a suitcase decently, then I’ll have to do more than just frozen cake.

Enter Arpi.

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