Useful pasta for benevolent purposes

There are times I wish I had grown up by the knees of an Italian nonna, learning how roll out homemade fettuccine. We’d be at it all morning, me watching and sticking my hands into the mounds of flour, she’d be scolding me between large swigs of limoncello. By a twist of fate, however, I was born to a Bengali grandmother who taught me how to balance complicated chemical equations, smelled of lavender and handed down a mutton curry recipe. It was a good deal, if you ask me.

That does mean I buy dry pasta from the supermarket and that owning a pasta maker is on the list. On the list, I said.

For a long time, pasta was my quintessential go-to meal. Those days, I’d wake up late in the afternoon and walk an often sleet-covered pavement, down to the nearest Sainsbury’s. I would then spend a whole hour eyeing the salmon fillets and logs of blood pudding, stocking up on dried pasta, chili flakes and bags of salt-n-vinegar crisps. I’d then spend another hours picking chocolate bars from new and un-heard of brands that seem to pop up every other day in England.

After trundling home with bright green bags of food, heat up a pan with oil and a pot with salted water. In the pan would go cubed salmon, garlic and chili flakes. I’d then proceed to tumble in the cooked pasta and finish off with a handful of grated parmesan. Sometimes bits of blood pudding would also end up in the pan with the salmon. But blood pudding is not something to be used regularly in pasta, let alone with something as delicate as salmon. Blood pudding is something you should stow away, to eat sauteed — with bread and lettuce when you’re alone, or scallops and mushy peas when there’s company.

salmon
I thought I had a picture somewhere, and I did!

The problem was, not once could I ever finish an entire portion alone. The smell of salmon and cheese had the incredible power to bring my housemates out of their afternoon hibernation. University students around food is like leaving a split-skinned banana out in the backyard. With the banana, you’ll find it half-eaten by ants and bugs. With the students, you’ll find empty plates licked clean.

Food is a calling. Invisible, and severely strong waves spread from plates of food, till they reach all students in the vicinity. Who then walk towards it like zombies hungry for blood. The food calls to them. Guides them to wherever it is. And that was always the case with pasta, or any food actually, in my house. I always liked to think I was performing an act of benevolence for the hungry masses.

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I inevitably turn to Nigella Lawson, when it comes to pasta. I mean look at this. And this.

How could you not have something called Slut Spaghetti in your repertoire?

But this dish is much less than that. A quick mix of minced chicken with garlic, chilies, tomatoes and dried oregano over al dente spaghetti.

Useful Pasta For benevolent Purposes
(for 2 people)

Ingredients:

  • Spaghetti for two (about 100-125 gms for each person)
  • Olive oil to cook
  • 1 spanish onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons of red chili flakes (or 2 red chilies, finely chopped, seeds and all)
  • 500 gms of minced chicken
  • 4-5 large tomatoes, cubed in 1-inch thick cubes (you can also substitute with a can of tomatoes, if you want a saucier sauce)
  • 2 teaspoons of dried oregano
  • Salt & freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  • Grated parmesan and basil leaves, to garnish

How-To:

  • Heat a deep-bottomed pan half-filled with water. Salt the water well.
  • Once it starts boiling (full boil, mind you), drop in the spaghetti strands, and cook as per packet instructions.
  • Reserve a half cup of pasta water, after the paste is cooked. Drain the rest of liquid away.
  • Heat oil in a pan and when sufficiently hot, fry the chopped onion till translucent.
  • Add minced garlic and saute for 30 seconds, to take their pungency off.
  • Add in the chicken. Stir well. Cover and cook on medium for 2 minutes, till the chicken has turned completely white.
  • Add tomatoes and oregano and the reserved pasta water. Cover and cook, till the sauce has reduced to the consistency you want (we like it to be thick and not runny).
  • Add in the cooked pasta. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Serve hot with grated parmesan or fresh basil leaves to garnish.

 

32 years. And salted butterscotch.

32 years.

THIRTY TWO YEARS!

Sometimes it feels like I’m 22, bent over on rolls of tracing paper at my college drafting board, wondering when I’ll hear the roar of motorcycle engines outside, signalling the possibility of a midnight mini road-trip.

Sometimes it feels like I’m 42, bent out of shape, exhausted and wondering when they’re going to invent a bed that will be able to swallow me whole.

But I turned 32, almost a fortnight ago now.

I feel like I have to whisper it, lest it sets off people into asking me if I’m married or if I have children.

I’m not. And I don’t.

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Does it feel weird?

Yes and no.

Yes, because when I was younger, much younger, I had imagined – not in too many details – my life to be somewhat different. Maybe a little more accomplished, a little thinner. With a toddler by my knees and a one-off house in Devonshire.

No, because it has been a roller-coaster ride so far and I’ve enjoyed every bit of it. Accomplishments have come, gone and come again. I could be much thinner. There are no toddlers around, but there’s calm and stillness, a complete command over my own life. I don’t wake up to wet nappies, I wake up to chocolate cupcakes.

There are family members who have been my biggest supporters. And I am grateful for that. There are friends who have blindly followed me into the unknown. And I’m grateful for their trust. There’s work, old and new, that makes me jump out of bed every morning. I’m in the danger of sounding like an Academy Award Winner, but I couldn’t ask for more.

To be honest, I shamefully ask for more everyday, on account of being a greedy human being. But I’m content now. And I know there aren’t many people in this world who can declare that easily.

Somewhere in the last two weeks, I’ve heard blatant praise about me and my work.

Sometime they whispered it to each other and other times they said it to my face. Behind a gracious smile, I’ve only wished that I have the strength and motivation to keep all of it up for the next year. At least.

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Chocolate Cupcakes with Salted Butterscotch Glaze

I’m a big fan of anything chocolate with anything salted caramel. This is a deviation from the regular cocoa brownies that always seem to push their way into existence on every birthday of mine. But this recipe is more about the glaze than the cupcake. The glaze is your typical caramel made creamier with the addition of butter. A smattering of salt and you have a sharp hit of salt against the bittersweet of caramel and chocolate.

Ingredients for the cupcake

  • 1 + 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup natural cocoa (not Dutch process)
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon of instant coffee powder
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup cooking oil (something odorless and colorless, like canola or sunflower, etc)
  • 1/2 cup yogurt, well-stirred (homemade is best, but Greek will do)
  • 3/4 cup white granulated sugar

Ingredients for the glaze

  • 1 cup white granulated sugar
  • 100 gm of butter, cold and cut into small cubes
  • 1 cup of single cream, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons of sea salt

How-to make the cupcakes

  • Prep your cupcake tins and pre-heat the oven to 180 deg C.
  • Put flour, cocoa, baking powder, coffee and salt in a medium-bowl and mix well with a fork.
  • In a large bowl, mix eggs, oil, yogurt and sugar and whip till the sugar has dissolved.
  • Pour dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and stir till just combined. Don’t over-mix the batter.
  • Spoon into cupcake molds/tins and bake for 20-25 minutes till a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Make about 12 regular cupcakes.

How-to make the glaze

  • In a metal pan with a flat base (avoid using non-stick pans with caramel. Always use either stainless steel, aluminum or copper-bottomed pans), spread the sugar evenly and drop the butter cubes in a random scatter.
  • Put the pan on high heat and keep a careful watch. Do not stir after the pan has been put on heat. Once the sugar starts to turns to sweat or turns amber in color, gently swirl the pan to redistribute the caramel. Do not stir.
  • When all of the sugar is a deep golden or caramel color, pour in the cream and stand back! The cream will bubble and sputter violently and it might seem like everything is curdling. It’s not.
  • Once the bubbling gentles down, take the pan off heat, stir with a metal spoon and ensure there are no lumps.
  • Let cool completely before sprinkling sea salt in it. Mix well.
  • Spoon over cooled cupcakes and garnish with grated chocolate or sea salt. Best to refrigerate the glazed cupcakes at least an hour before serving.

 

lemon cake to comfort us

Hellooooo.

I have cake!

And some news. But I will totally understand if you skip the news and scroll right down to the cake recipe.

The travel startup I started with Priya, a while back is in its final stages of conception. We’ve named it Altertrips.

You know, after the words “alternate” and “trips”. Get it?! Ha ha, LOL.

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After 12 years of being an aspiring nomad, of changing jobs and countries and continents and holidays, certain acute aspects of the travel industry has started to bother me. And we’re looking to address that problem.

As we’re inching towards the launch – December, yikes – my palms are getting sweatier, my fingertips are bloody with all the nail biting, I’m hoarse after continuously yelling at my co-founder and my tech guys (I’m quite sure they’re ready to strangle me by now, but that will be a battle for another day).

I will talk to you about it soon, in another blog post.

Let’s just say for now, that it has been lesson after lesson, on life and on overcoming obstacles. We’ve been deeply humbled, overwhelmed, excited, triumphant, confused and angry at times. Sometimes all of that at the same time. And the intensity strengthens as we near, what we will call from now on, LAUNCH DATE.

But until then, we have lemon cake to comfort us.

cake

I’ve had a fancy French lime and yogurt cake on the blog before. It had a super slick chocolate ganache glaze on top, that made it even more special. This time however, the chocolate is off, the cake is simpler, more every day. And the icing is suryp-y, lemony that adds a much-needed twang.

Lemon and Yogurt Cake

Ingredients:

  • 1 and a half cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp of baking powder
  • 1 tsp of baking soda
  • A pinch of salt
  • Zest of two whole lemons (or 4 limes)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup of cooking oil (anything odorless and flavorless, like sunflower or canola)
  • 1/4 cup of yogurt (homemade is best)
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsps of lemon juice (lime juice will work just fine. In fact, the glaze will be perfectly tart)
  • 2/3 cup + 1/2 cup of white granulated sugar
  • Whipped cream, for garnish (optional)


How-To:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 170 deg C. Prep a rectangular cake tin.
  • In a small bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  • In a larger bowl, mix together the lemon zest, eggs, vanilla extract, cooking oil, yogurt, 1/4 cup of lemon juice and 2/3 cup of sugar. Whisk together till the sugar has dissolved.
  • Pour in the dry mixture from the the small bowl into the wet ingredients, and mix well till just combined. Don’t overwork the batter.
  • Pour into the cake tin and bake at 175 deg C for 35-45 minutes till a skewer inserted in the middle comes out just dry. Poke holes into the cake with the skewer, while it’s still warm.
  • Mix together 2 tbsps of lemon juice and 1/2 cup of sugar, till a white, opaque syrup forms. Drizzle over the cake and onto the small holes. Let cool completely before serving. Serve thick slices with softly whipped cream.

 

My answer will and always will, be hilsa

“What’s your favourite kind of fish?” asked Priya.

dog

Her mouth was full of badly made chicken patty and her legs were propped up on the center table, on which lay few more chicken patties, more horrible than the other. The 6-month-old puppy that hardly looks like a puppy anymore, sniffed around for scraps.

We’d tried to get as much work done on the Help Center article for our travel website, as possible. Curiously, it has given us a lot of clarity. Priya, someone I haven’t introduced to you, is a childhood friend. We met when we were both in the sixth grade, at a dinner party her family threw. She talked my ears off and I just sat there wearing a kimono.

Nineteen years later and we’re partners in a travel start-up, yearning for a nomad life and 26-inch waists. I mean what is the point of running a travel website, if you can’t travel and look fucking fantastic while doing it, right?

On Sunday, we were watching Dipa Karmakar on the vaults during dinner, when the topic of fish came up. In all honesty, we’re Bengalis — we’re always talking about fish. We could be sitting in our grandfather’s armchair complaining about the heat or traipsing the Salt Flats of Utah solo, but we would always talk about (or even better, eat) fish. It can’t be helped, you know. Throughout our school days, we woke up early to Continue reading My answer will and always will, be hilsa

In two inches of oil

I’m writing to you from the mundane blue and white of my office, where I have taken a break from Excel worksheets to think about food.

This may be the coffee talking, but is there nothing you can’t do with chicken?

chicken_garlic

The photo above makes me want to plunge my face into the wok. I don’t want to think about what the hot oil might do to my face. The truth is that I’ve been trying to lose weight. Considering the fact that I’m the last person on earth to conform to a routine life of carefully selected food and regular sessions of well-rounded exercising, this might be the toughest mission I have ever embarked upon.

Continue reading In two inches of oil

Take the mountains’ word for it

We took a weekend trip to Darjeeling. A work thing. Mixed with tons of sleep. And food.

Well, I mean, look. Just look.

Fish Au Gratin, Glenary's - The Subjectivist

The last Friday night was spent swaying in a train, as we made our way to Darjeeling. At one point, the time when my folks honeymooned there, Darjeeling was quaint, cold and romantic. It is still cold. It is no more quaint. And the romance is stale and fragrant-less.

Now it smells of horse-shit, from the ponies that carry children around the market square. It also smells of smoke from the Continue reading Take the mountains’ word for it

Biryani and Other Love Stories

I have made a lot of mistakes falling in love, and regretted most of them, but never the potatoes that went with them.― Nora Ephron

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Lovers on a bench, Dominique Amendola

When you grow up in the sweltering heat of India, sitting in a brick-clad classroom stewing in your own sweat, listening to your professors drone on about Structural Design, there is very little motivation for you to even like summer, let alone love it.

After your nineteenth birthday, you decide that it is time to fall in love. And the right candidate comes along very soon. A senior at the University and although his arms are a little thinner and danglier than you would have liked, he seems perfect. Tall, dark, almost handsome with a carved beard that makes him look like one of the Bee Gees. He also likes to dress in black from head to toe.

But the clincher? He owns a motorcycle — a ratty Yamaha RX-100 that champions at sputtering. That machine splits through the silent night air, every night and wakes up everyone at the girls’ hostel. He has the faultless makings of a “bad boy”.

It starts with phone calls that last through the night while your classmates Continue reading Biryani and Other Love Stories