Shubho Mahalaya and a Kalakand recipe (in Microwave)

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My city, like all others, is always buzzing with activity, with people and their busy lives, but this time of the year it is at its peak. This is the festive season, season to celebrate, to rebond with friends and families, to share smiles and exchange furtive glances with your special one. It is the time when everything else is forgotten and forgiven… everything other than love and happiness. Mahalaya brings about the final countdown towards 10 days of maddening glee. Hands filled with bags of bargained and non bargained items, bellies filled with food which is a must after hours of shopping, minds filled with ticking off items from the to do lists while adding some more to it, and hearts filled with content. ‘Pujo ashchey…’

My city, the city of joy, is not always filled with joy. Most often you see it struggling with the nuances of daily lives, with the shackles of its non progressive approach to simple things and competing feebly and, may I add, complacently with the other fast growing cities. The city which was once the capital of this country, which was once and still is the abode of great men and women, the centre for literature, art and culture, now appears to be saddled by its own legacy. Do not get me wrong,  I am completely in awe with this place. I came here unwillingly, fell in love with it inspite of all my prejudices and then lived here for 10 years. So I am already a victim of its irresistible charm. I know there is something so special here that will touch your heart and make you yearn for it when you are far far away. May be that is why when I look at other cities and countries, I realise that there will never be a place like Kolkata, but on the other hand I also wish it was so much more… So much potential and yet the stagnancy here drives all us Kolkata lovers away from it. Bengal has always and will continue following the “Cholchey – Cholbey” policy irrespective of who is in power. There was a time when I would defend this city with all reasonings, and with hope. Sitting miles and miles and mountains and oceans apart I am confused at the mixed emotions this city arises in me – to just give up and move on with my life or to hold on to that blind faith that someday something good will happen out of it.

Pic Courtesy: Bedabrata Chatterjee
Pic Courtesy: Bedabrata Chatterjee

However this isn’t why I am here. Today I wanted to convey my best wishes for the coming days. “Mahalaya” which in Hindu mythology means Homecoming of the Goddess Durga and the dawn of this day marks the ceremony of ‘Chakshudanam’ – literally meaning giving eyes to the Goddess (the artists, who make the idols, paint the eyes of the Goddess on this auspicious day). And Durga puja, being the main festival of Bengal,  is now in its final stages of preparations. I can see it all infront of my eyes… the roads all lighted up, the streets scurrying with innumerable people with their last minute puja shopping before they start pandal hopping, bamboo barricades being set up for the visitors, long queues for big and small restaurants, no place to walk in almost any part of the city.

But amidst all this I can not resist writing about the irony of this day and the bizarre situation of the city with the recent events. While on one hand we are all set to wroship the epitome of feminine power and strength, there is a section of the city (if not whole) which is hurting. Hurting against injustice, struggling against the inaction against female attrocities, fighting against a failing system. While one half of the city is getting together to celebrate, the other half is hoping that their rage will bring some change, will stir the conscience of a dying world, will empower people to have the right to walk and talk freely without being questioned about the lateness of the hour or the length of the dress. As we embark upon the celebratory mood, let us not forget this other half, let us keep reminding ourselves that we have to fight against the disappearing humanity. It might be a long time before we reach that goal, but lets hope and act for a better tomorrow!

So Shubho Mahalaya and may you all have a safe and delightful time!

I have a quick recipe for you – ‘Kalakand’ in microwave. This is an Indian sweet/dessert usually made with milk. Inspite of the hustle bustle of the Puja days, this sweet will take just 18 mins of your time and 2 main ingredients. Although, if in India, you can easily buy it from the local sweet shop wouldn’t it be nice to surprise your guests with this homemade version? This recipe is taken from Showmethecurry

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Ingredients:

  • Ricotta cheese – 15 oz
  • Condensed Milk – 14 oz
  • Cardamom powder – 1/4 tsp (optional, but preferred)
  • Chopped nuts – for garnishing, I used chopped pistachios. (optional)

Method:

  • Pour the condensed milk into a microwave safe bowl, preferably a square or rectangular one. That way it becomes easy to slice the sweets.
  • Add the ricotta cheese to it and mix it well witha  spoon/ whisk.
  • Cook it in the microwave as follows:
    • 5 mins – uncovered. Then Take out and mix everything well.
    • 3 mins – uncovered. Then Take out and mix again.
    • 2 mins – covered. Take out and mix again.
    • 2 mins – cross covered / partially covered. Take out and mix again.
    • 2 mins – uncovered. Take out and mix again.
    • 2 mins – uncovered. Take out and mix again.
    • 2 mins – uncovered. Take out and mix again.
  • Once done, sprinkle the cardamom powder and mix well.
  • Level out the mixture evenly by pressing it with a spatula or a flat spoon.
  • Sprinkle the chopped nuts for garnishing and press it lightly onto the surface of the prepared sweet.
  • Cover it and allow it to cool down and set a couple of hours. You may set it in the refrigerator (if in a rush) for an hour but I avoided it as I did not want it to harden too much.
  • Once set, take a knife and cut into the desired shape – squares / rectangles / diamonds.

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Sevai Kheer / Semai Payesh / Vermicilli Pudding

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Becoming Beautiful…

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Being pretty and beautiful is every girl’s dream… chasing it is a folly of which we are all guilty of once in a while as am I.

Some of us are born beautiful.. then there are those who grow out of their braces and bangs into a beautiful woman while some of us acquire it with good clothes or a good hairdo or a great makeover. Whatever the case may be we are all beautiful in our own unique ways and yet every morning we wake up and stand infront of the mirror trying to be a little more beautiful… we all long for a little bit more than what we already have.

I cant say I was ever a very pretty child, maybe cute … sometimes… but mostly plain and simple looking. I remember once when someone had commented on my ordinary looks my mom had defended me saying that whatever I lacked in looks I made up in personality and brains. I do not know if she said that to protect me/my feeling or to comfort herself or because she really believed that swapping beauty with brains / personality works in the world we live in. Not that I ever remember pining for being beautiful but I did long for the attention and glances that came with it. When I left home for college, with all the other things, my mom gave me several homemade beauty solutions for me to try on. She was doing what every mother loves to do for her daughter.

Those first two years after high school were pretty challenging ones, leaving home, staying in a hostel, realizing that the much coveted independence was not as desirable any more, trying to find my way in this world and all the accompanying upheavals, changes, struggles and resurgence of family bondings was a very humbling experience for me. It made me comprehend what counts in life, what matters most to me and what I can do without. I guess that was the time I grew up to be a little more kind, a little more caring, loving and dependable person. It was as if for the first time I was introspecting on my life, my priorities and becoming a better person each day… Looking back I realize that I was becoming beautiful inside out.

My mother, on the other hand, was perseverant in her endeavors, constantly prompting me with her tips for a healthy skin and hair and sending over her remedies. I can’t define what really worked for me and when, but it did. I may not be an exceptionally good looking creature around but I surely do stand up as a quite pleasant one. I was surprised that I stumbled upon beauty when I least expected it, but I understood that besides my mother’s tireless efforts (for which I will always be grateful) it had something to do with my inner self.

Beauty is not only about looking good, but also feeling good from within. So take time and dress beautifully everyday, keep your surroundings neat and clean, dress them up a bit, pamper yourself, take care of your body, exercise, spend sometime with nature (if refreshes your mind, makes you think and adds perspective) and smile – a Lot! Do something good – Talk good, you really don’t need any more negativity around you. The world is a wonderful place to be and so are you.

This post is my way of acknowledging all those people who came and will come into my life, who touched my heart and made me little better, little stronger and a little more beautiful – Thank you!

Now about today’s post – Sevai Kheer, also called in bengali as Semai’r Payesh or simply put Vermicelli pudding. I made this for my husband’s birthday way back in May as this is the only kind of kheer that he likes. I used the recipe from showmethecurry blindly (as my versions have gone wrong before) and it turned out to be pretty good.

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Ingredients:

  • Sevai, Semai, Seviyan, Vermicilli – 1/2 cup
  • Ghee / Butter – 1/2 tbsp
  • Milk / Evaporated milk or a combination of these – 6 cups of milk, if using evaporated milk reduce the amount accordingly. Can also use condensed milk in addition to it in which case reduce the sugar content.
  • Sugar – 1/4 cup or to taste
  • Dry fruits: Cashew halves, sliced almonds, pistachios, raisins – use any of these or a combination of these – as you like it.
  • Cardamom Powder/Elaichi, to garnish – 1/4 tsp approx.

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Method:

  • Heat ghee in a pan and roast the dry fruits lightly, Drain and keep aside.
  • In the same pan roast the sevai till it changes color. Keep stirring on medium heat. I generally use the roasted sevai variety that is available in the Indian store and skip this step.
  • In a heavy bottomed pan (can use the same one for roasting as well) boil the milk. If using a evaporated milk/condensed milk in combination, this step will take lesser time.
  • Once the milk starts to thicken slightly, add the roasted sevai and let it get completely cooked. At this stage if it is getting thicker that you like add little bit of warmed milk to it.
  • Keep stirring and checking if the sevai is cooked completely and the milk is thickened to your desired consistency. Remember it will thicken more on cooling.
  • When almost done add the sugar and the roasted dry fruits and mix well.
  • Once done, sprinkle the cardamom powder and let it cool a bit.
  • Serve cold or warmed.

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Rasogolla ‘r Payesh -aka- ‘faux’ Rasmalai

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I remember a play me and my brother (who was a year senior to me) along with some others enacted in our high school. Me (Grade 11th) and my brother (Grade 12th) were both very good at stage dramas and participated in most of them. Our much-loved chemistry ma’am, also my class teacher had this play for us for some occasion that I do not recall right now. I do not recall the name of the play as well, but given a chance now I would name it – ‘Heal the world’ and have the MJ song with the same title play at the end / beginning of the play. So this play was about the world (called Mr. World and played by my brother) which was battered and injured and bleeding. I remember making the costume for Mr. World using my grandmothers plain beige shawl, sticking a world map and making fake red stains (to show it bleeding) and fake holes in it. Attempts would be made to heal this world. Some of our friends represented money, power, etc., etc. (I do not remember the rest clearly) and they would then try to heal the world but with no success. Finally towards the end I would enter the stage, dressed in pristine white, representing ‘Love’, will give a small speech on how I could heal the world from all the vices and its injuries. It ended with the world being a cleaner and a nicer place.

The moral of this play was understood clearly by all of us, but somehow today I understand the real implication and lesson behind it. The lase week had been a rough one and had made me anguish over the fact that the world was becoming such a chaotic place. So much is happening around us that should not be. No country is unscathed from man-made disasters (as I like to call them) as if natural disasters weren’t enough. To think of what kind of world we will be leaving to our next generation – it really bothers me. The entire last week I had been scrolling through all the newspapers and reading so many awful crimes that made me feel so sullen. But I am trying to keep myself away from the newspapers for a while and boost my spirits by trying to think of good things… And that brings me back to my blog.

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This is a long due post and I made it for Holi. Back at home we call this Rasogolla ‘r Payesh but I guess it is a sort of ‘Rasmalai’ made with Rasogollas. I remember this as my Dida’s (maternal garndmother) special dish and she makes it using milk and sugar. However, I had it the easy way and used some evaporated milk and some condensed milk.

Ingredients:

  • Rasogollas – 10 – 12. (My Dida used the large ones and would cut it into half but mine were mid size so I kept it as it is.)
  • Whole Milk – 3 cups roughly
  • Condensed milk – 1/4 of a 14 oz can
  • Evaporated milk – 1/2 of a 14 oz can
  • Cardamom powder – to garnish

Note: You can use either the above mentioned combination, or you can choose to adjust the proportions, or omit the condensed milk and/or evaporated milk. If not using condensed milk add sugar as required. In the latter case it will take a little more time to thicken the milk.

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Method:

  • Put a heavy bottomed pan on medium heat. Add the evaporated milk and whole milk and bring it to a boil. Keep stirring in between.
  • Add the condensed milk and stir well. Add sugar at this stage if not using condensed milk.
  • Meanwhile using hands gently squeeze out the sugar syrup (without squashing) from the rasogollas and keep it aside.
  • Once the milk is sufficiently thickened to your liking and sugar adjusted, add the squeezed out rasogollas and let it simmer for almost a minute. Do not stir much as the rasogollas, being soft, might break.
  • Sprinkle some cardamom powder for garnishing and let the rasogollas absorb the milk.
  • Transfer to a serving plate or bowl; refrigerate till chilled and serve.

Note:

  • If you are not sure of handling the squeezed out rasogollas you can also put them in a serving plate or bowl and pour the thickened milk over it and let it soak.
  • If you have the thickened and sweetened milk in excess, like I did, use only what is required and keep the rest aside and chill. You can serve it later as a ‘sort-of-thandai’.

Patishapta

Winters in India is associated with the harvesting season and is celebrated all through the country. In Bengal this harvesting festival is known as ‘Poush Parbon’. For a sweetlover (like me) this is the season for pithey and patishapta. Never a winter season went by without me savoring the patishapta – pithey. Special thanks to my ‘dida’ for that. Even when I was away from home she ensured she traveled in the crowded local train to hand over a box of such  delicacies to ensure i did not spend my winter afternoons without one of these.

Now the distance is too much and she misses sending them to me, so I decided to honor her sentiment and NOT pass my winter without a patishapta. I decided to make it myself! Huh! Agreed it may not be an easy task, but since December 09 I have made this sweet dish almost thrice and every time it was simply perfect and no ordeal at all. So I thought of publishing it in my blog along with this single snap of my first attempt of this mouth watering dessert.

Winters for Bongs should really not go without a bite of the ‘Patishapta’…

Ingredients:

For the crepes:

  • All purpose flour – 1/2 cup
  • Sooji/Semolina – little less than 1/2 cup
  • Sugar – to taste (1/2 cup approx or little more)
  • Cold milk – sufficient to make the batter smooth and free-flowing.
  • Oil – for frying

For the filling:

The different ways of making the filling is illustrated below:

  • Coconut, grated or powder or flakes – 1 cup
  • Sugar – to taste or 1/2 cup approx
  • Milk (if using coconut powder or flakes) – 1/2 cup

or

  • Coconut, grated or powder or flakes – 1 cup
  • Sugar – to taste or 1 tbsp
  • Condensed milk – 1/4th cup

or

  • Coconut, grated or powder or flakes – 1 cup
  • Jaggery or Gur – 1/3rd cup or to taste

or

  • Khoya – 1 cup
  • Jaggery or Gur – 1/3rd cup or to taste

Method:

  • In a pan on medium flame mix coconut, milk and sugar. If using condensed milk, reduce the amount of sugar and milk
  • Keep stirring continuously till the all moisture evaporates and it becomes sticky.  Check by taking a little of the mixture and rolling it on your palm. If it holds, then its ready.
  • Remove it from heat and allow it to cool.
  • Mix flour, sooji, sugar and milk thoroughly into a batter of dropping consistency. Do not add the milk all at once. Add it gradually as you mix to the desired consistency. Keep aside for 1-2 hours or more. Also add sugar gradually and taste it to ensure the batter is not too sweet.
  • Heat a pan and wipe it with 1-2 tsp of oil. Use a cotton ball to wipe uniformly.
  • Pour a ladle full of the batter, spread it evenly on the pan by lifting the pan and swirling it in a circular motion. Do it quick before the batter sets in. Cook the batter for 30-40 secs approx, ensure that it does not get too brown.
  • Place 1-2 tsp of the filling lengthwise on one side of the crepe and roll it over to the other end.
  • Remove from the pan onto a plate
  • While serving you may drizzle the patishapta with some condensed milk , though this is optional.

Note:

  • Do not add excess sugar to the batter or else the crepe might stick to the pan while frying. When ready to fry, add a drop of the batter in the pan and test if it sticks or not. If it comes out smooth you can add little more sugar (if required). I generally add less sugar,  as the crepe need not essentially be sweet and then add more in small amounts if required before frying.
  • Also the batter should not be thick, if so then add more milk before frying and mix well.
  • The crepes should be thin, only then will it remain soft even when cold

Choshi pithey (with sooji and narkol) / Dessert with semolina and coconut

April 15thPoila Boishakh – the first day of the Bengali calendar.

Subho Noboborsho – Happy Bengali New Year.

New clothes, cultural events, authentic bengali food, lots of sweets – that is how we commemorate this day.

Oceans apart, sitting where I am, it makes no difference. So… I thought of having my own celebration. Right now I have songs of Rabindranath Tagore playing in the laptop, will be making some spicy chicken and fish starters and will invite our Bengali neighbors for the evening. The main attraction of the menu will be the sweet dish that I prepared last night  Choshi Pithey. This is usually made in winters, but I believe there is never a better time for sweets than now.. and specially today! This preparation is a bit time taking and my husband was not sure if it was worth the effort. Finally I let him taste it and well the expression on his face said it all – it definitely is worth all the effort.

O Lord – Bless us with lots of love and laughter.

Ingredients:

For making the syrup –

  • Milk – 1.5 litres
  • Sugar – to taste
  • Green cardamom – 4-6
  • Bay leaf – 1 or 2

For making the choshi –

  • Grated coconut – 3/4th cup or If using coconut powder add lukewarm milk (1/4th cup or more approx.) to 3/4th cup of coconut powder so that it wets, soak for almost one hour
  • Sooji/Semolina – 3/4th cup + little more
  • Sugar – 3/4 cup (or to taste)
  • Milk (cold/at room temp.) – 1 tbsp (or a little more if required)

Method:

For making the choshi –

  • Mix all the ingredients and let it soak for 2 hours.
  • Heat a pan, keeping it on low flame add the above mixture.
  • Keep stirring till all the moisture evaporates and it almost solidifies into a dough like mixture.  Test it by taking a little amount and try to make a roll. If it holds then it is ready for the next step or else let it solidify more.
  • Once done, remove the pan from the flame and let it cool  down completely.
  • Make small elliptical balls (as shown in the picture) by rolling small amount of the dried mixture in the palm of your hand/finger, and keep aside in a plate or flat tray. These are called ‘choshi’.

Note:

  • This might take some time but be patient and try to keep the balls small so that they can be cooked well later  on.
  • In case the mixture sticks to the palm/finger dust your hands with some flour .
  • It is preferable to keep aside the ‘choshi’ for an hour or so before proceeding. I generally make the choshi the previous day of making the dish.
  • Ensure that the ‘choshi’ do not crowd over each other, they are soft and hence should not get mashed.
  • If the mixture gets mashed while making the choshi, cook it again in the pan on low heat and let it solidify more.

For making the syrup –

  • Boil milk in a thick bottom pan. Do not concentrate it.
  • Add sugar (to taste) and then add ‘choshi’. Do not use spoon or ladle to add the choshi, just tilt the late and pour them over. Next is a 3 step process that leads to completion of making this dessert.
  • After pouring the choshi sinks to the bottom. Do not stir at this stage. Just let it cook.
  • Then the choshi gradually comes to the surface and floats. At this stage stir slightly with a ladle/spoon only once or twice. Taste a little bit and add more sugar if required at this step only. Let it stand till all the choshi starts floating.
  • Lastly all the choshi sink to the bottom again indicating completion of cooking. Stir once with a spoon, if the milk is thin (dilute), since sooji soak in lot of milk and gradually thicken with time.

Note:

  • The first time when I made it I could not identify the 3rd step. So I let it cook for a while till the choshi was properly cooked. It tasted perfectly fine. So no need to bother if the last step is not easily identified.
  • Serve it after 4-5 hours of making so that the choshi soaks in the milk completely, preferably let the ‘choshi’ soak milk overnight.