Thursday, June 21, 2018

Family time and mom's food - the best things in life!

Only a few days left before I get to meet my sister, brother-in-law and niece, which means I have to outdo myself in speeding up things. So much work and so little time - cleaning the house, clearing the unwanted stuffs, sorting out stuffs in office etc. It’s huge but then it ends in a sweet note. I will get to meet my niece after three years. She has grown up really fast and in three years time she has turned into a beautiful young lady. Last time when I met her she was elevenish and still a child. Now she is a teen, a millennial kid, and has her way of things.

Meanwhile in the house the repair work is still on and father is always high right from the morning till five in the evening. Ours is a thirty plus old three storied house. It's looks younger though. We have seen our parents sweating on it since forever and it's very close to our hearts. The ground floor was occupied by tenants till recently and was never been done nicely. It used get touch ups once in a few years. But the ordinary floor design and white washed walls couldn't really enhance it's look however much we tried. So, once the tenants left we decided to do a bit of a makeover. So, the repair work is still on and the workers have just finished laying the floor tiles in the living rooms and are working on the walls now. In a day or two we will go to the tiles shop to choose anti skid tiles for the kitchen. We had the glossy tiles in stock and it wouldn’t be wise to put them in the kitchen. So, we have to buy more tiles for the kitchen. I am keen on buying wood finish vitrified tiles but my mom doesn’t approve of it. She thinks it will lend a dampening effect to the room. It makes good sense actually and we have finally decided on the matte finish tiles for the kitchen.

By the mid week of July, before my sisters' visit, the major repair work going to be over and they will get to have a glimpse of what it would look like once it's finished. So, we will have a lot of talking to do and considering the fact that it’s very hot here now it's a good idea to stay indoors and have some silly fun! My niece has recently developed a liking towards movies. So we might quite as well turn up in a movie hall some day and have a dinner date or two with Mainland China or a good Biriyani house in the city. However, my mother would want us to eat at home. She has a long list of bengali delicacies that my sister doesn’t get to eat much there. Sister is a wonderful cook herself but nothing compares to “maayer hather ranna” (food cooked by mom). Mom's food is the best ever thing on earth and she will most certainly pamper us with some delicious bengali dishes. A few of the dishes that we are expecting:

Various bengali fish recipes (kosha/ korma/ sorshe bata/ kalo jire/ gorom masala, doi)
Aloo jhinge posto
Kalo jirer torkari
Mutton kosha
Ghee aadar aloo dom
Vegetable dishes (torkari)

So, I can tell you that you will get to read about some wonderful bengali recipes from me in the following months after a stint of limited blogging time in the month of July.


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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

How to make easy chicken biriyani at home

After a stint in vegetable recipes we decided to go non veg in a grand way. We hadn't had biriyani since long, courtesy: the meat scandaland the lull was so intense that we arranged for the array of exotic biriyani ingredients in the wink of an eye. The biriyani that we usually prepare at home and love eating too is moghul inspired, different from what my elder sister prefers. She makes biriyani with gravy and strong pudina (mint) flavour, something close to Hyderabadi gharana. My younger sister and her family love mughlai biriyani though, and one of the purposes of their visit to Calcutta could very well be attributed to this fact alone. She is an excellent cook herself and has her own recipe for biriyani which she claims is easier than mine. This I will only be able to confirm once I try it out myself. 

The biriyani pot
So, we decided to prepare chicken biriyani at home on a super summer weekend day. It's my favourite and my mothers’s too. One thing I must tell you about my mother here. She never fails to amaze me with her ability to buy the best of things. Her eye for detailing with regards to making any food perfect is just impeccable. So when I told her that I was going to prepare biriyani the next day she laid the best in front of me. Needless to say, biriyani requires an elaborate preparation and the right kind of ingredients enhance the taste to a great extent. So, once you decide to make biriyani at home - just be totally into it. 

The biriyani recipe that I am going to share today is easy, delicious and requires less prep time. (This is Calcutta style biriyani and is special in the way it contains boiled eggs and potatoes, something you will never find in biriyanis from other regions.) We finished cooking in an hour time and allowed it to rest for one more hour and there we were! Although the wait seemed really long it was worthwhile in the end. I decided to forgo the dessert and swapped it with another help of biriyani. Perfect choice! 

What you will need:

A heavy, thick bottomed pot/ handi/ container with a heavy lid that sit perfectly on it

Basmati rice (800 gm)
Whole biryani masala
Chicken (15-18 pieces)
Curd (hung in muslin to drain out excess water) (300 gm)
Onion (4 large)
Ginger (100 gm)
Garlic (8 corns)
Lime juice (2 fresh limes)
Eggs (8)
Potato (cut into half from the middle) (optional)
Plum (aloo bokhra) (optional)
Oil and Ghee
Salt, sugar
Khoya kheer (dried and thickened whole milk) (50 gm)
Milk (2 cups)
Saffron (5-6 strands)
Rose essence (1 tsp)
Kewra essence (1 tsp)

For biriyani masala

Cardamom buds (8)
The marinade
Cinnamon stick (2)
Clove (8)
Mace (3)
Nutmeg (1)
Black peppercorn (8)
Caraway seeds (Shahjeera) (1 tsf)
Dry red chili (2)
Bayleaf (optional)
Fennel (optional)
Star anise (optional)

For the marinade

Curd
Ground masala
Red chili powder
Lime juice
Ginger, garlic paste
Chicken being marinated
Onion juice (optional)
Salt and sugar

For the smoked flavour (dhungar):


Natural charcoal (Kath koyla)
Ghee
Cloves, Cinnamon stick
Steel / copper/ bronze bowl

How to prepare the beresta (crispy golden brown onion slices

Deep fry the onion rings in a deep pot till it turns golden brown

How to prepare saffron milk

In a bowl add a few saffron strands, teaspoonful of kewra, teaspoonful of rose water and ghee to 2-3 cups of warm milk. Keep it aside for 30 minutes till the saffron leaves a beautiful yellowish colour.

Saffron milk
How to prepare the masala (spice mix)

To be able to come up with a decent biriyani you will need a very special masala. Although this is easily available in the market I prefer to prepare it at home the same day. This adds much freshness and flavour to the rice.  To prepare the masala you will need to heat the whole spices for a few seconds and then grind them on grinder. Store it in an air tight container to trap the flavour.

Basmati rice 3/4th done
How to cook the biriyani rice

Pre soak the basmati rice for 30 minutes. Put a few whole spices (cardamom, cinnamon, cloves) in water and bring it to boil. You can also tie the spices in a muslin cloth and drown the potli in the water. Add salt, fresh lime juice and little white oil before adding the pre soaked rice. Cook it till it’s done 3/4th. Drain the water and allow it to cool.

How to marinate the chicken

Beat the curd and add ginger, garlic paste, onion juice, lime juice, the masala and red chili powder and allow the chicken to sit in the marinade for 3-4 hours. 
The beresta
The chicken being cooked

Now, the steps to make chicken biriyani

In a pot/ deep container/ handi deep fry the onion rings till golden brown. Remove from oil and plate 
aside. 

Fry the previously boiled potatoes cut into half from middle with little salt and keep aside. This step is optional. 

Add ghee in the same oil and add the chicken with the marinade. Cook till the gravy thickens and the chicken gets tender. Remove the chicken pieces. 

Add more ghee in the gravy and prepare a bed with an evenly spread out semi cooked basmati rice, then put a layer of chicken pieces and fried onions, boiled eggs, potatoes, plums and grated khoya and then a layer of rice again. Continue to make more layers till you use up all the rice. Spread more fried onion rings on the top. 

I did not have khoya kheer at home. So I used kheer sandesh (a bengali sweet made from thickened milk).

Pour the saffron milk slowly on the top and close the lid with a heavy lid and make sure the vapour doesn’t escape the pot. You can also seal the sides of the lid and the sides with foil paper. Allow the pot to cook on very slow fire for 20 minutes. You may have to sprinkle more milk/ water to moisten the biriyani. Allow an hour of standing time before serving.


The almost done chicken biriyani with eggs
Now, the last bit - adding the smokey, tandoor effect to the biriyani. (You may also decide to skip this altogether.) 'Dhungar' is tricky but quite fun. It infuses the food with a smoked, burnt flavour and adds a uniqueness that we keep trying to figure out after eating tandoori food at restaurants.

For this, burn the natural charcoal (kath koyla) on oven till red hot. Put it on the metal bowl. Add ghee, a few cloves, 2 cinnamon sticks. When you see white smoke coming out remove the lid of the pot and tuck it immediately inside. Remove after 2 minutes. The smoked charcoal can overpower the original biriyani flavour if kept for long. So watch out!

To enjoy this delicious Calcutta style chicken biriyani with all its oriental flavours you must eat it hours after you finish cooking. Plate it with a piece of half potato, an egg and a chicken piece. Serve it with raita, onion, tomato salad, fresh lime and green chillis. Eat it guilt free and keep wondering how you managed to pull it off so well!




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Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Poshan Abhiyaan and fighting malnutrition with Horlicks and Mr Amitabh Bachchan!

Horlicks, the iconic brand from GSK Consumer Healthcare has recently announced the launch of “Horlicks Mission Poshan” with super star Amitabh Bachchan supporting the government’s Rashtriya Poshan Abhiyaan (Nation Nutrition Mission) to fight under nutrition in our country. “Horlicks Mission Poshan will focus on the first 1000 days of a child with the objective of addressing malnutrition, stunting and infant mortality. Amitabh Bachchan will be part of many activities planned all-round the year including a 12-hour live Telethon and awareness camps across schools and villages.”

Amitabh Bachchan who spearheaded the campaign faced hard criticism soon after this despite all good intentions. This is not the first time though that he has faced critiques. Being the greatest star of the Indian film industry, Amitabh Bachchan has been a soft target since forever. We have closely monitored, disproved, condemned and trolled him for everything he does or he does not. After the Bofors scandal the star has wanted to distance himself from all kinds of discourses and controversies. He has tried his best to guard himself and his family from debates but in vain. He has been heavily criticized for his silence over Mumbai flood in 2015. He has been trolled for his poor choice of endorsements. (He has once refrained from endorsing Pepsi after facing scathing criticism). He has been ridiculed for his childish rants over his lost followers in twitter. More recently, he has been criminalized for his silence (and later an irresponsible comment) on the Kathua rape case.

At times, I feel that we are too hard on him. He may be the biggest star but he too has the right to his life, to be silent as and when he decides to especially in this age of post truth polarisation and alternate facts where our existence is too vulnerable too futile. However, this time it is different.
The choice of Mr Amitabh Bachchan to be associated with Mission Poshan is extremely plausible just like many others. The Pulse Polio campaign (2002) endorsed by the star has been a huge hit followed by his support for Swachh Bharat (safe sanitation and anti open defecation - 2016). So, it's no wonder that our government chose him to a part of Poshan Abhiyaan and he is the campaign ambassador of Mission Poshan of Horlicks (May 2018). Mission Poshan is a venture of Horlicks, a pricey malted "health drink" full for unhealthy sugar (carb) with a tagline: "a trusted bottle of Horlicks has been an indispensable part of the Indian household cupboard for the last three generations." 

It's surprising that with this kind of regressive standardization of health science we are "here to fight the malnutrition in our country”! Horlicks is harshly criticized for propagating unsubstantial health claims in commercials. It is harmful with high sugar content and is labeled as empty calorie by the health scientists. Several nutritionists and health campaigners have disapproved of this and voiced their opinion.

“Amitabh Bachchan’s association with Horlicks can be harmful. Sugar has no nutritional value whatsoever. It is a major cause of obesity and there is increasing evidence that added sugar increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and fatty liver,” says Dr. Aseem Malhotra, an internationally known campaigner for healthy foods.

"Promotion of Horlicks stating that it helps kids in gaining height, weight, brain development and the healthy immune system is inappropriate as these claims are scientifically unsubstantiated,” said Dr J.P. Dadhich, a paediatrician in Delhi.

Denunciation is but the hind side of super stardom and Amitabh Bachchan has relentlessly swerved it. But this time it is a different battle altogether. It's the future of our children - the health of the millennial we are dealing here. Corroborating with Horlicks, Poshan Abhiyaan has actively defied science of food and this is when the world is restructuring the health science and India has dissociated  itself from the campaign objective. A whole lot thing is happening all over the world everyday and the health advocates are coming up with new purpose and new ways to healthy living. It's very important that we remain well informed about pro health choices for the people of India will neither forgive its government nor Mr Amitabh Bachchan for any negligent and disagreeable choice concerning the health of our children ever.



Photo copyright: Flickr



Friday, June 1, 2018

A date with a rainy day

Today has been a non yielding day in more ways than one. No work (pre decided holiday which had nothing to do with the forecast), no chores, no writing and nothing at all precisely. All through the day I found myself utterly silly doing nothing but jibing on the long to do list that I was supposed to tick off by this weekend.

It all started in a happy note when I woke up to a beautiful toned down sun. My nephew turned twelve today and we were overwhelmed by the fact is he is already there. The sky gotten absolutely dark by seven in the morning. The wind was rapturous and almost swept the palm trees to the ground and sometimes on the other side to the wall.

I couldn't hold myself back and started musing as I used to as a child. 'Mashi', our cook, passed me the second cup of steaming black tea which I found still holding after many minutes. I was completely contained in the scene. An euphoria that failed me in recent times. I have developed this crafty little thing recently that helps me barter all the liberating things (very conveniently) with erratic work hours, back logs, inundations and other ilks. But on other occasions I find myself procrastinating on the same stuffs! It's funny how I have become an ace on making excuses these days.

So, several minutes later I decided to do something productive. This was when the phone rang and I indulged in an engaging chat session with my sister. Much recharging that was, I decided to clear off the remnants of the recent repair work and discovered a wee leak on the staircase faucet from the recent drilling of the electric work. This discovery (although it was actually 'mashi's') was the only tangible achievement of the day.

Around this time, the lovely little girl showed up. She is the daughter of our house help who accompanies her mother and sits through as her mother helps us with the chores. I fondled the little one for a while. Meanwhile the rain almost flooded the balcony and the plants were cleansed of all the grime. Loved the green color on them today. So supple, full and so green.


Rain never quite stopped today and I had to come inside as it started to get really dark by six in the evening. And to my surprise, my mom decided to prepare khichuri (a mix of rice and lentils in equal portion in mostly running consistency) - the ultimate rain food for the bengalis. What better end could have been to a perfect rainy day! Khichuri, dim bhaja (omlette), ghee (clarified butter), achar (pickles) and papad (poppadam)! Heaven!

To end this memoir I would like to share an open birthday note that I wrote to my nephew earlier in the day hoping that he would understand what I meant many years later when he actually grows up.

Dearest Golubabu,

Happy 12th birthday from all of us here. Did we tell that we love you so so much and will do so no matter what! (you are giggling, right?) 

The day you learn to forego minecraft, morse code, roblox etc. and understand that life is as good otherwise we will cherish your growing up more. You have such big heart. Aka and you are appreciative of nature and animals more than any of us in the family. Be kind, be curious. Grow your own plants at home, nourish them, touch them, see them grow each day. Kindness is beautiful and sharing your little acts will attract more such. Do share whenever and wherever and inspire us with your brilliant ideas.

Meanwhile here we are going to cherish your growing up like never before. 

Much love, 
Mishti
01/06/2018




Photo copyright: MouD


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Thursday, May 31, 2018

Daily care routine to keep your acne at bay

My whole life has revolved around one single medical condition and if you are curious it is that part of my living that I have been fighting since forever. Yes, this seemingly non serious medical condition, a.k.a acne, can have extraordinary effect on your skin and mind. I was in my pre teens, must be eleven or twelve, when my face saw a tiny breakout on my cheek for the very first time. It started in a benign manner and every other day I would count another one and then another and then another. I tried every single, over the counter medicine. I tried natural therapy and I tried grand mother's age old secrets. But my pimple saga continued.

Later in life, when I started working as a healthcare provider I dragged myself through several examinations like ultrasound, blood work up like thyroid profile, hormonal profiles, Vitamin D, B12 and other ilks. Apart from a high thyroxine and a low vitamin D level (which my doctor said needs minor tweaking) I was cleared of all other medical conditions. So, was it idiopathic? I am still trying to figure out!

More than twenty years and many seasons later, I still continue to have breakouts and have sort of accepted the fact that I have to live with it lifelong. So, I try and stick to my own daily care regime. Treating acne is an arduous process and there is no real quick fix. So, continue to have patience.

1)   A clear and clean skin can do wonders. So, no matter how exhausted you are do not go to sleep without cleaning your face. I clean my face after work at home with medicated cleansing lotion . Sometimes when my face seems very dull and dry I use cleansing milk as well. I wash thoroughly with Acne Foaming Face Wash (salicylic + acicylic acid) later on. This medicated foaming face wash is anti bacterial and doesn't dry skin.

2)   Face toner is a must. I have started using toners after shower only recently. I refrigerate my rose toner and it feels great the whole day long. Skin toner has an astringent properties that closes the open pores and help fight bacteria and guards our skin.

3)   Do moisturize daily, sometimes two times even, so what you have oily and acne prone skin.. I use aloe vera gel to hydrate my face. (Hydration is an important part of keeping off breakouts. Drink sufficient amount of water and keep your body hydrated.) There are several good brands selling virgin aloe vera. You can grow it yourself as well. I have just stated growing mine. It grows fast and has an addon therapeutic appeal to the eyes. I use Emolene hydra cream occasionally.

4)   Treat the raw breakouts. I use benzoyl peroxide + adapalene gel on the fresh breakouts. I apply a just a dab on the breakouts and it works wonders. Just for the record, I have had a desperate delirium of importing benzoyl peroxide (Oxy 5) from the US and also had bought 6 packs (it was not even buy one get deal) when I visited the NYC. Deriva BPO gel is as good. I also use sandalwood paste mixed with turmeric powder and apply it on the pimple. It has a drying effect and soaks in the grime and oil in no time.

5)   Another very important thing is to apply UV protection on face, neck and exposed areas liberally. I use D acne SPF 40 +, anti acne, anti grease sunscreen cream.

To sum up, you need to upgrade your daily face care kit with some must haves and I want to pitch in mine. A cleansing lotion, foaming face wash, skin toner, aloe vera gel and a SPF cream. Following a daily care routine certainly helps in maintaining the much needed balance. It also helps in feeling good every day. Do try and keep me updated.

Note: I am also planning to see a doctor later this month for my acne. Will keep you posted with more tips.

Photo: Hedy Lamarr

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And my pimple saga continues

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Prepare Bengali Garam Masala at home

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In my previous posts I have shared my fondness towards authentic Bengali vegetable recipes. That was when I decided to write about an important spice blend, garam masala. The heart of most Indian and of course Bengali recipes contains a very interesting blend of spices,. We call it ‘Garam Masala’. ‘Garam’ means ‘hot’ (as in the strong flavors that the spices exude) and ‘masala’ means ‘blend’. As you must be knowing that Indian cuisine contains a lot of oriental spices and 'garam masala' is the most common of them. Keeping the basic ingredients intact the masala varies from region to region. Here, I am going to write about the Bengali garam masala which includes a proportionate mix of cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, cumin seeds, star aniseeds, clove sprigs, peppercorns, bay leaves, nutmeg and saffron. 

Even before it's prepared the whole spices release an extensive aroma that enrich and enhance the food they go into. It’s the essential seasoning that the vegetable recipes (niramish ranna) cannot do without. We can find the ready-made version of the spice blend in almost every shop around the block. However, there is nothing like preparing it at home, a batch ahead, and using it straightaway. I have seen my grandmother, and now my mom, picking, clearing (with clean cotton cloth) and grinding the spices at home. Although it sounds elaborate, it hardly takes 10 -15 minutes, depending upon the quantity you wish to grind.

The mix is prepared in simple steps and it needs to be stored in airtight containers to retain the fresh, exotic aroma. Garam masala adds texture, color and flavor to the food and enhances a simple recipe.

The chief ingredients are easily available and once you get those, arrange for an airtight container and a grinder (coffee grinder will do as well). Roast all the ingredients, except the saffron, on a slow flame till the spices get a shade darker. Remove from the flame immediately, add the threads of saffron and allow it to cool down. Once cooled, grind the spices in the dry and clean grinder. Sieve the mix and store in an airtight container. Garam masala prepared at home can be stored for several months while still retaining the original flavor.

The ingredients:

2 tbsps cumin seeds
1 star aniseed
1 tbsps black peppercorns
4 pods cardamom
4 cloves
3-4 sticks, moderately sized cinnamon sticks
2 bay leaves
1 whole nutmeg
A few threads of saffron (optional)

Tips

Be patient. Roast on slow, low heat.
Add the saffron after the skillet is removed from the flame, but when still hot.
Sieve thoroughly to remove coarse particles.
Store in an airtight container only after it has cooled down.
Try putting a little amount in your food to start off since it has a strong flavor that you might need time to get used to.

Medicinal value

'Garam masala' is an amazing blend of spices that keeps us warm in winter and cool in hot months. The individual spices have great medicinal values, that add to the usefulness of the spice blend. It has intrinsic qualities that help in digestion (they help stimulate the secretion of enzymes), nutrient assimilation, reducing inflammation and in relieving pains. It also relaxes the body muscles, eases out mental stress, acts as an appetizer and helps coping with cough, cold, bronchitis.

Garam masala has a strong flavour and not everyone likes it. So striking a right balance is very important. I like it when used in small quantity and only in a few specific dishes. My mother has mastered the art of what it takes to make a dish just perfect and hopefully I will too soon.

Photo copyright: MouD

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Authentic Bengali 'niramish' Shukto recipe

A traditional Bengali gastronomy comprises of five or more elaborate courses starting with a bitter vegetable dish and ending in a sweet note. In between we have some delightful range of varied Bengali delicacies that's going to make you revisit Bengal again and again. 

Today I am going to share a vegetable recipe that needs hands on apprenticeship before you can actually plate it to the guests. Shukto is usually eaten in the beginning of the afternoon meal (lunch) which is considered the main meal of the day. It has a bitter taste due to the primary vegetable bitter gourd and it has gut cleansing science behind it. There are several variations of shukto recipes and both East Bengal and West Bengal have experimented with this traditional dish keeping the basic ingredients intact. My mother cooks a few alterations depending on the season and availability of the vegetables.

Shukto

Shukto is an appetizer packed with vegetables and some very special spices. It is usually served at the beginning of the meal with steamed rice and a liberal spritz of clarified butter/ ghee.

Ingredients

Fresh produce cut in slices include:

Bitter gourd (uchhe/ korola)
Potato
Sweet potato (optional)
Egg plant/ aubergine/ brinjal
Plantain/ raw banana
Parwal/ a type of gourd (optional)
Drumsticks (optional)
Green chilies


Spices:

Mustard seeds
Radhuni seeds (optional)
Bay leaf

Coriander ground
Cumin ground
Ginger paste
Poppy seed paste (optional)

Milk
Ghee/ white oil

In a wok deep fry the "boris", drain the oil and keep aside. Fry the cut bitter gourds till medium brown and put aside. Sauté the rest of the cut vegetables in while oil (mixed with ghee) till half done. Dish them aside. In a wok put oil and sizzle the mustard, radhuni seeds and the bayleaf till they start to pop. Add ginger, coriander and cumin paste and cook for a minute before putting all the fried vegetables in the wok.  Add sugar and salt and the slit green chilies. Then add lukewarm water and simmer till the vegetables are tender and once it is done add a cup of milk. Bring it to boil. Add ghee on the top before dishing out.

Serve this delicious shukto with steamed rice, gondhoraj lebu (lemon) and ghee.


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