Besan Ladoo in microwave

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Yesterday was the Bengali New Year… “Poila Baishak”, that is, first day of the month “Boishak”. Of course India being a multi cultural, multilingual land we could not suffice with just a financial year and a calendar year, we had to have a separate Bengali calendar year (and there are separate regional calendars !!) which begins in mid april, Baishakh being the first month. There are separate names for all the months. The first day of the new year, like every other occasion, is celebrated with good food, new clothes, cultural events and paying respect to elders and sharing greetings by calling up friends and families. This day is also celebrated in other parts of India with different names and associated history. For further info on this you might have to refer to Wiki.

In West Bengal Poila Boishakh is also associated with “Haal Khata”, a festival celebrated mainly by shopkeepers and is marked by closing of the old ledgers, settling old debts and opening a new ledger. Jewellery shops would give you steep discounts on making charges of gold ornaments. Boxes of sweets and snacks would be distributed as a token of goodwill between the trader and the customers.
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This year ours was a quiet affair, involving weekend house cleaning and chores, sharing greetings with friends and family – not on WhatsApp or facebook but actually calling them up and chatting with them. That took most of the morning. My MIL cooked us a “Doi Mach” for lunch, to keep it simple and to prep our digestive system for the upcoming dinner invite to one of our cousin’s place. No Bengali occasion is ever complete without sweets and non veg so we had plenty of that and concluded the night with small doses of ‘Unienzyme’ and ‘Gelusil’.
Hangover from last night resulted in a no breakfast mode for us and a simple lunch. Thanks to my MIL I did not have to bother much about food and got time to write a post for you all.
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Todays post is a Microwave recipe for besan laddoo that was pending since I last made them during Dusshera 2014. These laddoos were one of the biggest (food related) projects done till date :-). That year, while living in New Britain, CT, I got associated with the Bengali community of Stamford, CT and being one of the volunteers I had agreed to make some 200 laddoos, ultimately making 250 so that I could share the extras with my friends and keep some for myself too. Since it was supposed to be for the Durga Puja I was not comfortable using my regular utensils and hence decided to do it in Microwave. I made it in small batches and it took me 3-4 days to complete them. Since these laddoos store well if kept in an airtight container, time was not a bother and I had plenty to spare then. I would make 3-4 batches of the laddoo mixture in the microwave and keep them aside to cool. As time permitted I would form them into balls while watching a movie, or listening to music or just thinking and contemplating on life. Many of my friends would wonder at the effort I was putting in but honestly it was fun to do. By the second day I actually had a rhythm going on and on completion was amazed myself at the achievement.
I had clicked some good pics out of it and should have posted this long time back. Better late than never. I found this microwave recipe much easier than the traditional style of roasting the besan on flame.
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Ingredients:
  • Ladoo Besan/Coarse chickpea flour – 3 cups. You can also use the regular besan or chickpea flour as well. The only difference will be in the texture.
  • Ghee – 1 1/4 cup approx. Adjust accordingly.
  • Cardamom powder – 1/4 tsp
  • Sugar (fine or powdered) – 1 cup to 1.25 cups or to taste
  • Chopped nuts of your preference – optional, you can add them into the ladoo mixture before forming the balls or you may garnish the ladoos on top with chopped nuts. I did not use any.

Method:

  • Take a microwave safe bowl and add ghee to it. No need to cover it.
  • Microwave it on high for 1 min.
  • Add the sifted ladoo besan and mix it well with a spatula or a big spoon so that there are no lumps.
  • Microwave it on high (uncovered) as follows:
    • 2 mins, then take out and mix everything well.
    • 1 min, again take out and mix well
    • 1 min, take out add 1 tsp of water to it and mix everything well. This step is supposed to add on to the grainy texture of the ladoos.
    • 1 min, take out and mix well.
    • 1 min, take out and mix well.
    • 30 sec, take out and mix well. Besan should have a light brownish (or deep golden) color due to the roasting. If making in large quantities and feel the besan has not been roasted well enough, you might have to add another minute of half.
  • Keep aside to let it cool a little bit.
  • Once the roasted besan has cooled off a little bit, add sugar, cardamom powder. Add sugar gradually, do a taste test in case you need to adjust the quantity according to your preference. Mix everything well and keep aside for it to cool even further.
  • Once cool to touch, grease your hands with a little bit of ghee, scoop out a small portion of the mixture and try to form a ball out of it. If it is crumbles and cannot hold the structure then add some more ghee and try making ladoos again.
  • Once done store them in airtight containers and they will store well for quite some time.

 

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The Xmas Cake – Fruit Cake

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Love this time of the year… (in spite of the weather..). Everyone around  in a celebratory mood, all the houses  lighted up, people swarming in decorated shopping malls, families and friends exchanging gifts and holiday greetings… everything just rubs off onto you. Usually Thanksgiving to Christmas/Year end is, for us, our vacation time in India. However, for some reason, we could not make our annual trip back home or any other within-the-country trips. Still it has been a good one overall. Went out for Christmas shopping, spent time with friends… eating in and eating out whenever our hearts desired… Lots and lots of baking at home and an overdose of magic and romance with the Hallmark movie channel.

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My usual recipe for cake, as and when occasion calls for it, is my mom’s sponge cake recipe . This is a sure shot recipe that all my friends have tried and succeeded without fail. However I was getting a little bored with the same recipe and was longing to try something different. I never planned for the fruit cake, rather I had come across a wonderful coffee cake recipe and would have made it for sure. And then the Bongmom posted that she was using Alton Brown’s fruit cake recipe for her Christmas cake. To me it looked like a lot of ingredients and effort. But I thought – “what the heck… it isn’t as if I have a lot of important tasks at hand…!’… why not? So, made a list of all the required ingredients, bought whatever I could easily find, bought a new Bundt pan and got all hyper-excited about it.

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Once I finished making it, I surely had to revise my opinion on the effort part – trust me – it is not that much work as it looks like. Just don’t get over whelmed with the whole thing. What takes time is – 1. soaking the fruits in the alcohol (you also have a shortcut microwave method for that) and 2. Cooling of the boiled mixture to room temperature (as described below). You don’t even have to tire your hands beating the batter or use a mixer/processor, so it really is pretty easy.

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Usually this cake is made 2-3 weeks to a month ahead of time and then stored and sprayed with brandy every once in a while. However, I started making it 2 days before Christmas and skipped on the spritzing process. I used gold rum as the recipe suggested, but I read online that you can use sherry or any other wine of your choice too. Again, if you do not want to use alcohol, feel free to substitute it with any fruit juice of your choice. 

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Ingredients:

  • Dry fruits: 3 cups (The recipe called for a little more with some variations but I adjusted the amount and the mix according to my preference)
    • Raisins – 1 cup
    • Mix of dried and chopped Blueberry, strawberry and cherries- 1 cup
    • mixed dry fruit mix – 1/2 cup
    • Prunes or dried plums, chopped into bite size pieces – 1/2 cup
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • Gold Rum – 1 cup. (substitute with fruit juice if required)
  • Butter – 5 oz or 10 tbsp  1 1/4 stick
  • Sugar – 1 cup
  • Apple Juice – 1 cup. The recipe calls for unfiltered apple juice but I used apple cider instead.
  • Cloves – 4 whole
  • All spice – 6 whole berries
  • Ground cinnamon – 1 tsp
  • Ground ginger – 1 tsp
  • All purpose flour – 1 3/4 cup
  • Salt – 1/2 tsp
  • Baking Soda – 1 tsp
  • Baking powder – 1 tsp
  • Eggs – 2
  • Toasted and roughly chopped nuts – 1/4 to 1/2 cup. I used 1/4 cup pecans and 1/4 cup silvered almonds
  • Brandy – for spritzing/spraying. Can use any fruit juice instead. I did not use it at all.

Method: You may want to check out Alton Brown’s recipe video here

  • Put all the dry fruits in a pot along with the zest of lemon and orange. Add rum and soak it for 24 hours. This process is called maceration. The alcohol acts as a preservative and also enhances the flavor of the cake when it is stored. When in rush, microwave the mixture on high for 5 minutes, though the flavors might not be that intense.

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  • Dry grind the cloves and all spice berries.
  • Place the macerated fruits along with the liquid in a nonreactive pot. Add butter, sugar, apple juice, ground spices – cinnamon, ginger, cloves, all spice. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring continuously and then reduce the heat and let it simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let it cool down completely. If the mixture is not cooled to room temperature, adding the flour might make it lumpy.

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  • At this stage you can also refrigerate the cooled mixture to a maximum of 2 days if you wish to bake the cake later. However, if refrigerating, let the mixture come back to room temperature again before proceeding.
  • Preheat the oven to 325 F and prepare the baking pan. I used a Bundt pan and greased it with butter and lightly dusted with 1-2 tbsp of flour. Shake off the excess flour. You can also line the greased pan with parchment paper.

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  • Sift the dry ingredients – flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder into the mixture. Mix well with a wooden spoon till everything is well incorporated.

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  • Add the eggs, one at a time and stir into the mixture till it is well incorporated.

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  • Add the chopped nuts and fold into the batter.

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  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake it on the middle rack for 50-60 mins or till a wooden toothpick inserted in the cake come out clean. While baking place a tray half filled with water and place it on a rack underneath the cake. This ensures that the cake remains moist and does not have cracks on its surface.

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  • Once the cake is done, remove it from the oven and place it on a cooling rack. At this stage if you want you can spray/spritz it with some brandy or some fruit juice; I skipped it as it was sufficiently moist.

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  • Let it cool for 10 minutes and then flip it onto a tray or the wire rack. Flipping it before letting it cool or letting it cool down too much (more than 10-15 mins.) might result in the cake to break.
  • If you want to store it, wrap it in a foil and keep in an airtight container. Mine was used up within 2 days so I did not need to store it. If storing, check the cake every 2-3 days and if it is drying up you may want to spritz it with brandy or some fruit juice to keep it moist.

Note:

  1. As the recipe suggested, the flavors of the cake enhanced in the next 2 days so maybe next time I will make it a week ahead.
  2. Feel free to play around with the dry fruits/nuts. Use what you want or is easily available and also can reduce the amount to your taste.
  3. Just to remind once again – You can make this cake without alcohol if you want. Just substitute equal measure of any fruit juice of your choice.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all…!

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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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