Cook, Eat, Repeat: Revisiting Japan through Food- Okonomiyaki

When I went to an okonomiyaki restaurant for the first time with a friend of mine, Imroz, it was an interesting experience for sure. It had been a very tiring week where my days at the school began at 7.45 in the morning and I would come home after 8 in the evening. It was a Friday and we were heading into a long weekend and I was able to come home by 6.30. Imroz’s apartment was one stop on the subway and we decided to meet for dinner along with Rika, who I later went to become great friends with! It’s strange how one remembers such details even from years ago while things from yesterday often slip from our minds. The restaurant was a modest one as many Japanese places tend to be and every table had the teppan (metal plate/hot plate) and we were given the option of cooking the okonomiyaki ourselves. Rika was a native and Imroz had been in Japan for a long time and much more attuned to things that often took me by surprise! How was I supposed to cook okonomiyaki? And why would I have to cook it myself when I have come to a restaurant to precisely not wanting to have anything to do with cooking! Little did I know at that time that it was/could be also a part of eating okonomiyaki🙂

Okonomiyaki is a savory pancake where other than flour and eggs, cabbage is the primary ingredient. Dashi (fish stock), eggs, other vegetables, meat are added and a cooked okonomiyaki is usually topped with bonito flakes (shredded dried tuna..like flakes of dried tuna), seaweed, pickled ginger, Japanese mayonnaise. We opted to cook it (and by we I mean Rika and Imroz) and it was fun though a bit scary at first. To begin with, I found sitting at the table a little uncomfortable as one would have to be very cautious with the hands with the hot teppan right in front! But you get used to it soon, to be honest. That was the scary part. But the cooking part was fun and a bit messy but when you are with good friends, making memories you could care less:) And they made delicious okonomiyaki-s and I have been a fan ever since. It did get a bit warm at the table with all the cooking being done but we had some very cold iced tea to help with that and it was a wonderful dinner that we finished off with some matcha ice cream.

The good man has come to love Japanese food and it makes me very happy! And he has taken it a step further by cooking it from time to time and when he made okonomiyaki for the first time, I was on top of the moon:) The recipe he followed was from here and it was oishi, hontoni! (delicious, really). It is not very involved, this recipe, and tastes great. You could surely give this a try and you won’t be disappointed.

 

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Do you have stories that involve your adventures with Japanese food? Have you ever tried okonomiyaki? Did you have it in Japan in an okonomiyaki restaurant? Did you have it in the Kansai area, like Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto or in the Hiroshima area? Those of you who did have it in Japan , how was your experience? Did you get to make one for yourself or was one made for you? How has your experience with Japanese food been where you live? Are you someone who is open to all kinds of food or is there something that you would never even try?

Please share your stories, experiences, photos, recipes, links to recipes you have tried, bloggers who you follow for making special dishes…anything that you wish to! It is always exciting to read about our collective experiences and find out ways in which we are more connected and what makes us unique!

 

Here’s how to participate:

  • Create your own post with your recipe, photos, story anything that you might want to share, representing this month’s theme
  • Create a pingback (link to this post) or leave a link in the comment section
  • Join whenever you can!

 

 

Thank you for stopping by!

 

Cook,Eat, Repeat: Revisiting Japan through food- Ramen

A couple of years to turning forty, I often find myself thinking about regrets that I may or may not have. And while there certainly are things that could have gone better or slightly differently, I don’t have much to complain about. But one thing that I really regret is not having a good camera during my stay in Japan (and not buying one as well) and on top of that, losing more than 95% of whatever photos I had to a case of ‘laptop in the bathtub’ 🤦🏾‍♀️ Before you start wondering…I was working on an assignment  that was nearing its deadline, sitting on the edge of this deep bathtub, while soaking my feet  when a moment of carelessness resulted in a soaking laptop. It was near the end of my stay as well and so I lost most of the photos and a few other stored documents in that mishap. I still cannot believe that I was, to put it as frankly as possible, dumb enough to do that. But that’s what happens when you take the laptop to the bathroom and later question your reasoning!

I haven’t visited many countries yet and so I cannot say with absolute certainty but from whatever I have seen  of Japan and the experiences I gathered during the time I lived there, I can say with a good amount of confidence that it is one of the most beautiful places one could ever visit. And it’s beauty does not merely lie in its mountains and seas, the coming and going of the seasons, the traditional homes, the perfectly landscaped gardens, beautiful castles that are spread throughout the country…it transcends this physical part and seeps into the way of life there. There is a feeling of serenity and contentment in the beauty that enraptures one when in Japan -be it through the mesmerizing Sakura, the sight of women clad in kimonos, in the discipline that they exhibit in their daily routine, in the juxtaposition of tradition and modernity, in their sense of aesthetics that ranges from how they dress to how their dining table is laid out to the placing of the hashi (chopsticks) to the way they say itadakimasu (I humbly receive – a phrase they say right before eating)…the list can be endless. I feel deeply honored to have had the opportunity to work there for two years and immerse myself in the culture and cuisine with the help and love of people I was fortunate to have crossed paths with.

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I fell in love with Japanese food pretty easily and have never  not liked anything that I had except for Ikura (salmon roe) and natto (fermented soybeans), with the latter being a bit too out of my comfort zone! I have made meals with and shared those with my colleagues, my students, amazing neighbors and every time the experience has been rewarding, to say the least. A name that stands out from all the wonderful people who I made memories with is Chikako Yasunaga- a woman who embraced me with open arms and heart and showered me with her kindness and love and called me her fourth child (she has three kids)! I never know how to describe her as I feel any words I use would not do justice to capturing her true essence and the wonderful human being she is. The day before I left Kobe, she came to meet me and obviously brought me food! When we said goodbye, she hugged me tightly and said ‘Chatterjee, daisuki desu‘ (I like/love ‘Chatterjee’- my last name), I suddenly realized I was leaving family there who I probably would not be able to see again and that thought was heart wrenching. I also remember crying a lot after she left. I have watched her cook and cooked with her, shared innumerable meals with her family and I owe a lot of my love for Japanese food to her and so not mentioning her here would be dishonoring her.

Arigatou Sensei.

 

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Yasunaga sensei with her husband (another wonderful person, a professor of law by profession) in Naples! We still send each other little life updates and it is just as easy talking to her over the phone with her broken English and my very rusty Japanese (that she had made me conversational in during my stay in Kobe!) as it was 12 years back!

 

 

So, for this month’s first recipe I am sharing a pretty simple recipe of Ramen that both my husband and I love and is a staple in our home during the winter months! It reminds me not only of Yasunaga sensei’s kitchen but also of my amazing neighbor Tom, who was a ramen enthusiast and we often explored various ramen places in our neighborhood! Those made for some great conversations, long walks and some wonderful food!

This is a version that we make at home and is not an absolute authentic Japanese one, in terms of the way some ingredients have been modified. It is a version that suits us best and also does not deviate a lot from traditional methods of making it. It tastes pretty good too!

HOW TO MAKE

Ingredients

  • Ramen noodles – 2 packages (store bought) Only the noodles will be used
  • Ginger- Thinly sliced , about 3-4 tsps
  • Garlic- Grated, 2 tsps
  • Onion- Thinly Sliced, 1 medium
  • Lemongrass- 1 stalk
  • Shitake Mushrooms- Sliced, 1 cup (I prefer to cut but you may want to keep them whole)
  • Carrots- Cut into matchsticks , 1 cup
  • Scallions- Chopped, 1/2cup
  • Eggs- Hard Boiled 1 or 2 (Typically the egg should not be hard boiled but should have a runny yolk. However, this time I boiled the eggs till they were absolutely well done. The runny yolk does taste delicious though;)
  • Chicken Tenders -6 or Thinly sliced chicken breasts – 3 (Again, typically Pork Belly is used for Ramen or any other cut of pork but I never have that when I feel like making Ramen and so we always have made it with chicken!)
  • Chicken or Vegetable Broth- About 4 cups
  • Water- 2 cups (or as needed)
  • Miso soup powder- 2 packets (store bought) [ Miso paste is traditionally used in making ramen but I have never tried that simply because I have not been able to buy it and so I buy miso soup powder packets. But I do intend to use miso paste in my next attempt and for that I am hoping I will remember to buy it before hand;)]
  • Mirin- About 1/4 cup
  • Soy Sauce- 2 tsps
  • Sesame Oil- 1-2 tsps
  • Salt- as needed
  • Sugar- 2-3 tsps
  • Sriracha- Optional ( I do not use it but my husband does and it adds a slight zing to the ramen)

 

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Method

  • In a cooking pot that is deep enough, heat the oil on medium low flame.
  • Add the ginger and onions and stir for a couple of minutes. Then add the garlic. Keep stirring. Add the mushrooms and stir for a couple of more minutes. Add salt and stir again.
  • Add the soy sauce and mirin and about 1 tsp of sugar.Stir.
  • Add the broth and the stalk of the lemon grass and let the whole thing boil for about 10-15 minutes on low flame. The broth will be infused with all the flavors in your pot and letting a ramen broth simmer for long is key to making it savory. Check for seasoning and add salt and/or sugar as you prefer.
  • In a separate bowl, add the miso powder and make miso soup according to the instructions on the package. Once done, add that to the pot.

 

 

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  • Meanwhile, in a separate pan, prepare the ramen noodles according to package instructions…do not use any powdered stuff that may be inside. We just need the noodles. Once softened, add it to the boiling broth and let the whole thing simmer for an additional 2-3minutes.
  • While your broth is simmering, put the chicken in a 350F oven and bake for about 12-15 minutes or till the internal temperature reaches 165F. (You can bake the chicken either right before starting the broth or simultaneously or after the broth is ready…your choice! ) I marinate the chicken with salt, pepper, garlic powder, a bit of lemon pepper powder, chilli flakes and 1/2 tsp of mayonnaise…it keeps the chicken wonderfully moist. Once done, slice it and keep it aside.

I was in a hurry and I cut the chicken really sloppy…please excuse that!

 

  • Check for seasonings in the broth. I like my ramen broth to be ginger heavy, so if needed I often add some extra ginger (just smash it with the back of the knife and let the broth absorb the flavor for a couple of minutes. Be careful to take that chunk out before serving just like the lemongrass stalk!).
  • If you are using Sriracha, stir that in now.
  • In your ramen bowl, pour the desired quantity of broth and add the chicken, carrots, eggs and scallions (I forgot to add in my bowl!).
  • Slurp! (Did you know that in Japan slurping on the ramen and broth is actually not frowned upon even when eating in a restaurant? It is, in fact, taken as a sign of compliment to the chef! I found this out when I had ramen for the first time, back in 2006!)

 

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Gochisosama deshita!

(For the unnitiated, the Japanese end every meal by saying this – it is a way of showing their appreciation for the food they just had and also for the person who cooked…it means “thank you for the meal or that was delicious”)

What is your take on Japanese food?Are you a fan or do you stick to sushi only when it comes to this cuisine? Do you cook Japanese food at home? Which ones?  Is there a favorite restaurant you go to? What is your favorite Japanese food? What about sake? Have you visited Japan? Do you have stories to share? I am eager to hear your association with this country and its food, both of which I have come to love dearly! Please share anything that you want to in the comment section or write your own post and share your story, photos, recipes….anything that you can think of! It will be wonderful to read:)

Here’s how to participate:

  • Create your own post with your recipe, photos, story anything that you might want to share, representing this month’s theme
  • Create a pingback (link to this post) or leave a link in the comment section
  • Join whenever you can!

 

Thank you for stopping by.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cook, Eat, Repeat: “Aam Panna”

Here I am with my third and final post for this month – the ‘Aam Panna‘ (Aam- Mango in Hindi language  and Panna – a concoction of sorts).

As Google will tell you, it is drink made from raw mangoes that helps one cool down during the intense heat of the summer months in India and supposedly has heat-resistant properties. While I can’t comment with a 100% guarantee on the latter, I can certainly say that it is something that is just perfect for the hot and sultry days of the summer in my home country. And if you gave it a try, I am sure you too would love this wonderful  concoction of raw mangoes, mint, a bit of sugar, a pinch of black salt and a pinch of roasted cumin!

Living in a land that is far away from the sights and smells I grew up with has been an adjustment and even after all these years, it still is. I wonder if it is the same for others  who are away from their motherland as well. I have heard some people say, who have been here much longer, that they still feel that something is missing, something no amount of opulence and comfort can make up for. A pull that does not let go, a love so deep and poignant that it is hard to put into words.

This drink is humble and accommodating and reminds me of growing up in India. It reminds me of quiet afternoons and the fiery Gul Mohor (flame of the forest); of the exhilarating champa (plumeria) and bushes of hibiscus; of that sole peddler whose voice could be heard over the whirring of the fan blades, trying to make the last sale of the day; the occasional tired barks of stray dogs lying in the shade of the trees, coiled and too tired, from the heat, to move; of my Ma’s beautiful voice humming a tune while going about the daily chores; of that heavily fragrant smell of ‘Keo Karpin hair oil that Baba could not, and still cannot, do without; of the repetitive thud of a ‘cambis‘ ball hitting the wall as my brother tried to get the ‘spin’ perfect; of that small black and white ‘Oscar’ television that stood in the corner of the room, hidden by an embroidered TV ‘cover’; of special summer programs that we watched on that same TV with cousins who often visited when school was closed; of secret crushes and stolen innocent glances; of undiluted love from warm embraces of my Rangadadu (my mom’s uncle..my favorite grandpa among all). It’s a drink that reminds me of the matters of the heart.

 

HOW TO MAKE!

There are many ways by which you can dress up or dress down this simple drink, all of which you will find online, in plenty. Here’s how I like mine!

Serves :  Happy souls! Time : about 20 minutes (that includes 15 minutes of boiling mangoes)

Ingredients : Raw mangoes (either 2-3 fresh whole ones or about 2 cups of frozen pieces)// Water- about 2 cups for boiling and more(about 1 cup per person) for making the actual drink// Sugar- 3-4 Tbsp// Mint Leaves- a handful// Black salt- 2 tbsp// Roasted and ground cumin powder- 2 Tbsp// Ice Cubes

Method : If using fresh raw mangoes, cut the mango in small pieces and boil in water for about 15 minutes. If using the frozen ones (which are already usually cut into pieces) you may have to increase the boiling time by 5-7 more minutes. Once done, strain.

[Note: Sometimes the frozen mango is cut in slices and not chunks- in that case the boiling time will be about 7-8 mins total only. ]

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In a blender, add ice cubes, the mangoes, and the other ingredients mentioned above and puree . (Note that you will not be needing the entire batch of this purée  for a glass of aam panna. You can store the rest in the fridge for 3-4 days easily).

 

In a glass, add a couple of ice cubes  and fill about a little more than 1/4 of the glass with the mango purée . If you want a slightly fuller taste, and this is better tasting for sure, fill 1/2 of the glass with the purée. Then  fill up the glass with water. Add a couple of mint leaves and give the concoction a good stir! I sometimes also add just a pinch of the roasted cumin at the end, on the top.

 

 

[  You could grab cumin powder from your spice shelf or if you happen to have whole cumin, spend a couple of extra minutes and roast about 2-3 tbsp on a pan in low heat till their color turns darker and you get that wonderful smell. Grind it using a mortar and pestle and store in an air tight container. Using this will enhance the flavor much more].

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Aam Panna is indeed a very refreshing drink and you can easily adjust the sweetness by adding more or less sugar!  Go ahead and make one yourself one and be sure to pour out another for your loved one!

Thanks for stopping by. And I will see you next month, which is just next week, with something totally different! Till then, cook- eat- repeat!

 

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Cook, Eat, Repeat Challenge: A Drink to Cherish – Mango Lassi

Hello!

I am a bit behind my intended schedule but here I am with the second and soon to follow third drinks of the month. Today’s post is about the famous Mango Lassi which will be followed by the less famous (only in the Western World though!) distant cousin of its- Aam Panna. (aam-Mango in Hindi language while “panna” could be called a concoction.)

But before I proceed to the ridiculously easy recipe (not sure if we can use the word recipe even!), I wanted to give you a slice of what’s been happening at this end, though I must warn you it is nothing exciting! Rather something so mundane that all of you have probably experienced it or are going through this in some form or the other:)

Our son turned five this weekend and boy was he excited for his big day! And so was his biggest cheerleader- yours truly;) We were going with a Superhero ‘theme’ this year and big bright balloons and banner and other celebratory decorative items had been slowly piling in the guest room that looks more like a storeroom, if I were to be honest. Everything was going according to plans till 9pm the night before. Our baby girl started crying and soon we figured out that it was not a normal cry but more of a severe distress that had totally thrown her off.  She would cry for 2-3hours at a stretch with intervals of 10-15 minutes, fall asleep for a bit and the cycle would repeat itself.  We figured that the grand day was going to have major setbacks. We contemplated of taking the baby girl to the ER around 2am but the awful weather outside and us finally figuring out what was really bothering her (premolars were on their way through those delicate gums) let us deal with the issue indoors for that night.

A good part of the birthday morning was spent at the doctor’s office and then on our way back, snow squall hit us and it snowed like crazy afterwards. Family, who was supposed to come over for birthday lunch, got delayed naturally and the little guy who was doing a great job of keeping it all together till then, broke down a little bit and asked if no one was going to celebrate his big day. It was heartbreaking to say the least and I looked around to see that a little birthday banner and two balloons brought from the store was all that was there. I hugged him as tightly as possible. Baby girl was still going through that cycle and we as parents were clearly not been able to step up to the game as fatigue was slowly catching up. We remembered at that point that a few months back when our baby girl had turned 1, the big brother was down with asthma and a fever of 103F.  A pattern of sorts?

Anyways, the good man cooked good food as I cradled a very distraught baby and a little upset birthday boy. Family arrived and there was a good amount of jumping up and down from all possible surfaces for the kid and his cousin, lots of car races and other things that a five year old’s heart desires. Which brings me to part two of the eventful day! By the time it came down to cake cutting, the birthday boy was so exhausted that he decided he did not want to cut the cake and started crying. After what seemed like forever, he stopped and we cut the cake and took pictures. And right after, he started complaining of ear ache (which apparently had been bothering him since afternoon but he did not want to stop having the fun he was having!). After another round of crying in which the baby girl joined in as well, family left and just like that, the day was over.

So much for a grand birthday!

The kids suffering so much took all the fun out of everything and made me actually forget that it was also our anniversary! But the red roses on the table jolted my memory back to that and while nothing went according to the plans, I was still grateful that we had each other to fall back on and as long as the four of us are together, nothing else mattered.The next morning was spent visiting the doctor’s office again, this time for the boy, picking up medicine from the pharmacy and getting stuff from the store that would help with the general crankiness of little humans.

 

You probably should not have to read this when you are looking for Mango Lassi. But I guess what I am trying to say is that things always don’t work according to plans and we all know that. It can be disappointing, saddening and many other unhappy emotions.  But we can in many cases, still steal moments from days that unfold in a less grand and ideal manner.

In this case, while we may not remember the day for all the grand celebrations that should have taken place, we will certainly remember it for the little ones’ discomfort and my big boy’s wise words. He was having a conversation with his father while having his lunch all by himself…sitting quietly. His dad mentioned that he was sorry for not being able to have a big celebration and that things did not go as planned,  and without thinking for a second, the little guy had said : “It’s okay Baba (dad)…bonu (his name for his sister) is so small and she needs Ma now and you have to make food as we have people coming over. We are all busy. That’s okay. Also, I was sick on Bonu’s birthday…do you remember?!” There is so much that we can learn from kids. As he is  “singing” at the moment…has picked up these lines from his dad –“Take it Easy….We may lose and we may win though we will never be here again”.

After the absolute madness dwindled down a bit, I was trying to think of my birthdays when I was growing up and could not really remember my 5th birthday. I guess my son will be okay too! But it was very nice to remember something that is uncannily related to the drink of this week…as my birthday falls in the hot summer month of May, mangoes (my favorite fruit in the whole wide world) were always a part of the day…be it as aam panna, or lassi or custard or just slices of that golden/yellow lip smacking fruit! There’s something  wonderfully satisfying about this drink specially in the sweltering heat of the summer and that tantalizing smell of fresh cut mangoes (typically Himsagar or the Alphonso variety) is a matter of million memories.

And so, here goes Mango Lassi…an absolute easy drink to make and cherish.

Serving size: 2, Time- 5-10 minutes

Ingredients-

Mango (Fresh, cut into pieces) 1 large or canned/frozen mango pulp : 2 cups—-Yogurt: 1 cup—-Milk: 1/4 cup—-Ice cubes: as needed—–Sugar: 1/2 tbsp (you may need less or more depending on the sweetness of the mangoes and your own preference)—-Ground Cardamom Seeds: 1/2 tsp

How to make

Put all of the ingredients in the blender and puree! Check for sweetness. You may add a little cold water or a couple of ice cubes to adjust the consistency and make it to your liking.

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Do you have a drink that reminds you of your childhood days?Or is there something that you associate with specific celebration/s in your culture? Whatever it is, I would love to hear from you! You can join in with a recipe or a story or even just a photo:)

Here’s how to participate!

  • Create your own post with your recipe, story, photos- anything that you might wish to share that represents the theme of the month.
  • Create a pingback (link to this post) or leave a link in the comment section.
  • Join whenever you can!
  • Visit some other posts shared.

 

Cheers and thanks for stopping by!

 

 

 

 

Cook, Eat, Repeat Challenge: A Drink to Cherish

                                                   Tea/Chai/Cha:  Call what you will

Thin frozen puddles crackle under my boots and as I have, once again, forgotten to wear the gloves, my hands almost freeze the moment my fingers touch the icy steering. It had rained last night and the below zero temperatures turned the tiny droplets of water into a beautiful work of art, resembling a fern. I quickly get out of the car to take a photo and turn on the wiper to give it a couple of quick swishes and my boy and I are off to school. Winter has made itself comfortable here in New Jersey and while snow days have been few and far in between, the early morning frost has been a regular visitor.

As I drive back home after dropping the kiddo off at school, I suddenly have this urge to make myself a cup of tea the moment I get home..but not the simple one I am used to drinking. I want to sip on a more aromatic version, one that is steeped in milk and sugar and has a hint of ginger and cardamom, giving it that heady smell that easily transports me to some cold evenings in my hometown of Calcutta, railway stations, the joy of stopping at one of the many tea stalls scattered throughout this grand old city for a refreshing sip of the city’s famous ‘bhaar cha(bhaar– Bengali for handmade tea cups that are typically made of clay and have been used for serving ‘cha’ -Bengali for tea, that is sold on the streets throughout India and definitely Calcutta, where Bengali is the native language).

e2fe0202-10e4-447f-b157-a5d19ae2c195This is what bhaars look like in a typical tea stall in Calcutta. Notice some plastic jars to the right of the photo- these usually hold biscuits and other tidbits to accompany the cha that keeps boiling (see the big pan) for as long as the stall remains open to never return a customer. These are rustic road side tea stalls and cater to people from all walks of life. The tea is then poured into kettles like the ones seen here and it goes around filling up these tiny bhaars.

 

I hear from friends and family that bhaars are rapidly disappearing from the streets, railway stations, train cars and even street corners and getting replaced by the awful plastic everywhere in India. My city is no exception but I hear she still perseveres; probably an example of its unshakable love for the quintessential past that gets reflected in the contemporary lifestyle of the youth and creates a unique juxtaposition of tradition and modernity.

Calcutta has been called ‘a city with soul’ (Vir Sangvi) and I couldn’t agree more. Not because it is my city, my birthplace, a place that has seen me through my best and worst and embraced me with a warm hug every time I have visited it in the last 13 years but because it is true. As true as the sun that rises everyday. There is a warmth of emotions that reigns supreme and lets you drown in the genuineness of passion. And the clay cups, the bhaar’s are a testament to that. The often rickety benches at these tea stalls have been a seat of powerful discussions about art and culture, about sports ranging from the gully cricket to that played by the likes of Gavaskar and Viv Richards, about political ideologies that have had people miss their last bus for home. When you walk along the side walks of Calcutta, you might find, in some, such bhaars crunching under your foot. You see, it is said and believed that after slurping on that aromatic concoction, people smash it on the ground to return the clay to the earth from which it was made. I have never done that myself as every tea stall has a bin meant for throwing the bhaars there, but I have surely stepped on broken clay pieces a great number of times. While it does not speak to the ‘keep your city clean’ banners and posters that are seen splashed all over the city, it certainly speaks to the emotional side of bhaar cha lovers.

If you ever visit my beautiful city or any other lovely city in India, you should try sipping on this tea, that aside from being intoxicating, also has an earthy flavor distinctive of its holder that may or may not transport you to the bygone days but which would definitely make you pause a bit. And if you are lucky, you might get to experience that on a rainy day when that earthy smell of the rain will act as the perfect setting for your bhaar cha experience.

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The sweet concoction that is far superior to any chai tea/ masala chai that is sold in the supermarkets and cafes in the Western World and I say this not just out of my love for this! These photos were taken by my brother yesterday of the local tea stall near my parents’ flat in Calcutta. Thank you, my dear brother:)

 

I digress.

The well heated kitchen of our apartment about 8000 miles away from the streets of Calcutta is not a place for that experience. Nor are the cups. But I still made that tea and while it lacked the heady smell of the rain, or that of the kettle that is usually black from being on the stove all day long, as boiling milk and tea pour down the sides, it was satisfying nonetheless. The western world has a version of this tea “the masala chai”or the “chai tea”, but the bhaar cha of Calcutta differs.

So, as I was pondering about what to share with you on my first post at Cook, Eat, Repeat and what to hear from you about, I could not think of anything better than drinks that comfort you, that transport you to a different place maybe, that bring joy to you, that you cherish occasionally. It maybe something that you sip on everyday or something that is reserved for special days. Or something that you stir up with memories from days gone by. It could be anything. Anything that makes you smile.

Please share your own memory, an anecdote or just the recipe of your favorite drink or drinks and let’s all toast to a wonderful New Year!

Here’s the recipe for two cups of Calcutta style ‘bhaar cha’. I must note that there are quite a few versions of this and so to claim that this is THE ‘bhaar cha’ will be incorrect. Many also add cloves and cinnamon.  Tea that is typically sold as “Chai Tea or Masala Tea” here in the Western World  is similar to the more aromatic version with cloves and cinnamon. But this recipe is a much lighter, yet fragrant enough version. I, for one, do not like the smell of clove or cinnamon in my tea and hence always omit those when making myself a cuppa! So, if you are like me too, go ahead and give this a try and I hope you won’t be disappointed.

Here’s how you make it

Serving size – 2 cups
Total Time  –  About 10-12 mins

Ingredients–   Lipton Tea bags: 4

                Water: 1 cup

                 Milk: 1 cup

                 Cardamom: 2 pieces

                 Ginger: a quarter inch, smush it a little with the back of a spoon.

                Sugar: 3 tsps (less or more depending on your sweet tooth)

Method  –  Add water in a saucepan and to it, add the cardamom and ginger. Let it boil on the stove top for 3-4 mins on a low flame so that the flavors from the spices are released. Increase the heat and bring the water to a boil.  This may take another minute or so. Then, add the milk and carefully let it bubble. Add the tea bags (I cut open the tea bags and pour out the tea into the saucepan) and sugar and boil on high for a quick minute till the liquid is almost about to pour out of the pan. Lower the heat and partially cover the pan with a lid and let it simmer for about 3-4 mins. You have to watch it carefully so as not to let the tea spill over and leave you with a very sticky saucepan and stove top. You will notice that the tea might change color from a brown to a darker brown (almost orange-ish). Strain it. Let it cool a bit and taste for sweetness.

You might have to make it a couple of times to get the perfect balance of sweetness from the sugar and the flavor from the spices. Neither should be overpowering!

As I had mentioned previously, this is a version of the Calcutta “bhaar cha” that I prefer…a bit subtle yet flavorful enough to be enjoyed on a cold day:)

I remembered to take a photo only after I had taken quite a few sips!

 

This is a monthly challenge so you will have the whole of January to share anything you like on your favorite drink/s. You are more than welcome to share more than just one drink recipe! I will be posting through the month about drinks that are my favorite and I am looking forward to hearing from you. What’s your favorite cocktail? What do you like to drink after a stressful day? Is there a special drink that is reserved for your most important people? What’s your favorite beverage from your childhood days? What’s your favorite holiday drink? Are you a tea or a coffee person? It can be anything! The recipes don’t necessarily have to be original as long as you share them with due permission from whose the original recipe is/ share the link to the blog/website you are sharing the recipe from.

Here’s how to participate…pretty much standard stuff!

  • Create your own post with your recipe, story, photosanything that you might wish to share that represents the theme of the month.
  • Create a pingback (link to this post) or maybe leave a link in the comment section.
  • Join whenever you can!
  • Visit some of the other posts shared.

Cheers and thanks for stopping by!

 

For a cold-ish night- Chicken & Gravy

   I am glad that Fall is here…well almost here. It is getting harder to get up in the mornings and that desire to cover myself up with another light blanket and just be cozy for a few extra minutes, is getting harder to fight. The dazzling blue sky, crisp air and that autumn smell is enticing and while it feels tricky to calculate in how many layers to dress up the little guy for school, it is a happy feeling overall. Till winter shows up.

    I have written on a similar topic before as well and you can read that here but I get this urge to write a bit more around this time of the year. You see it’s ‘Durga Pujo’ time back in Kolkata and few other parts of India and the Bengali in me still yearns for it, in spite of being in this country for a good number of years. And that longing does not go away. I get super nostalgic and reminisce till it almost hurts a bit and at the same time makes me ecstatic and sometimes, I chew off the good man’s ears with favorite memories from that time. My kids have not reached that age yet where they will understand that frenzy and since we live in a land far away, I doubt they ever will. For them the excitement of Halloween and Christmas will always be a bit more and that’s probably okay. My son does get excited though about getting dressed in Panjabi (or Kurta– the traditional attire for men in India) and going to see Goddess Durga and Her full Family, all decked up! He loves the general merriment, especially the beating of the dhaak ( a membranophone instrument from India) that is almost ethereal and one of the most awaited sounds for every Bengali around this time back in Kolkata. And that makes me happy. So, while it is quite different here physically, in my mind I keep taking short trips to past Pujos during this time. That’s the wonderful thing about weaving memories…they remain for you to enjoy and cuddle in whenever you want to.

   New Jersey nights are different from the glittery glamour of Pujo nights back home. They are quiet and offer a very different symphony. Chirps of crickets, occasional rustling of leaves, a solitary car alarm breaking the sound of silence in the neighborhood. They are colder too. The intoxicating smell of the shiuli (night-flowering jasmine) does not fill up the senses here but the reds, yellows, and oranges of the leaves sure make for a visual treat. While we do stir up Bengali delicacies during this time of the year, Fall also heralds the beginning of trying various casseroles, one pot dishes, hearty soups, ramens and similar comfort foods! And that gets me scouring the internet for inspirations and recipes and firing up the stove eventually. A couple of nights ago, I had this desire to have some chicken and gravy, something that I have somehow never made before and after going through a handful of recipes, I found one from https://thesaltymarshmallow.com/one-pan-smothered-chicken/. I made a couple of minute alterations and I will note them in red in the recipe below. It was super delicious and an instant hit even with my little guy who is a picky eater! I am sharing the recipe here and I hope you get to try it sometime and enjoy it as much as we did.

One Pan Smothered Chicken

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Servings: 4
Author: Nichole

Ingredients

  • 6 Slices Bacon, Diced
  • 2 Pounds Chicken Thighs, Bone in and skin on
  • 1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 Teaspoons Garlic Powder
  • 2 Teaspoons Onion Powder
  • 1 Teaspoon Paprika
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Pepper
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Italian Seasoning
  • 1 Stick Butter, Divided
  • 3 1/2 Cups Chicken Broth
  • 1 Cup Milk

Instructions

  • Cook the diced bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat until cooked through. Remove bacon to a paper towel lined plate and set aside. (I did not have bacon)
  • While the bacon is cooking, mix together the flour, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning in a shallow bowl or dish.
  • Pat the chicken thighs dry with paper towels and dredge the chicken on each side into the seasoned flour until coated. Shake off any excess flour and set the flour mixture aside for later. (Also, I did not have chicken thighs and I had to use drumsticks and the cooking time was a little longer. Check for internal temperature of 165F. I had also marinated the chicken earlier with salt, pepper, smoked paprika, garlic powder, a little bit of chipotle mustard and a little bit of mayonnaise)
  • Once the bacon is removed from the pan, add half of the butter to the pan and allow to melt.
  • When the butter is melted, add the flour coated chicken and cook for 4-5 minutes per side until golden brown.
  • Remove the chicken to a plate and set aside.
  • Add the remaining butter to the pan and allow it to melt.
  • Sprinkle one cup of the remaining seasoned flour to the pan and whisk for 1 minute until the butter and flour are well combined.
  • Gradually whisk in the chicken broth and milk until gravy is smooth.
  • Return the cooked chicken and bacon to the pan.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.

 

   The good man made some mashed potatoes that was super smooth and yummy too. We had this with seasoned quinoa (and by seasoned I mean I had added salt, paprika and lemon-pepper powder to the water when the quinoa was cooking). We enjoyed the dinner as a family and even our 10 month old joined us in her high chair, squished some of her orange puffs and made various noises, which according to the little guy was her trying to join in the ‘grown up’ conversation we were having!

 

 

   And as I went to bed that night and drifted away to sleep, the festive nights of Kolkata seemed to be a world away, and the gentle lullaby and the humming of the pedestal fan were the only sounds breaking the lull of a sleepy house.

 

[I don’t know the name of this tree or the flower, but this look reminded me of the Shiuli phool (Bengali for flower) back in India that blossom during these autumn months and a whiff is enough to tell you that Pujo is here.]

 

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you are weaving memories that will keep you warm and snuggled, wherever you find yourself.

Pasta Salad

   My good man and I are both enthusiastic and enterprising when it comes to trying food that is different from what we grew up eating back in India ( which is so different from the food that is served in the Indian restaurants outside of the country, all around the world…more on this some other time!). Having lived in this country that has come to become our home, our platters and tummies have gradually added more variety and as a result, English breakfasts,  burritos, casseroles, salads, ramen, donburi, jambalaya, pastas, pies are some of the things that can be found on our dinner menu alongside traditional Bengali and north Indian food.

   While I still occasionally find myself lurking in the recipe book section on a trip to the bookstore- that special smell and feel of books…ahhhhh, what an unparalleled feeling- food blogs from around the world have brought every conceivable cuisine to our smart phones and tablets and that makes ‘whipping up’ something with a difficult name, sound doable by amateurs like us!  Food bloggers share their love and passion, the warmth of their hearth with the rest of us and establish this connection, probably unknowingly, that bridges gaps between languages and cultures and we all become part of this milieu which nourishes and nurtures.

   It has been long since I shared recipes (on a more or less regular basis) and that ends today! After a brief hiatus, we have again started trying out different recipes and I am sharing a simple pasta salad recipe from Pinch of Yum that I recently made for a group of lovely ladies. It is so so easy and I am sure you all have made this many times, without or with alterations to suit your taste buds! No matter which way you make/ have made… I hope you get/got to share it with those close to your heart.

I made this with minute alterations ( which I have noted in red). It was an instant hit and I am sure you will not be disappointed as well🧡

 

 RECIPE FROM PINCH OF YUM

 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound uncooked pasta – I like rotini!
  • 3 cupcherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese balls, cut in half
  • 1 lb. salami or summer sausage, cut into cubes (I did not use this as a couple of my friends were vegetarian)
  • 3/4 cup kalamata olives, sliced
  • 3/4 cup pepperoncini (optional, but do it)
  • 1/2 cup sliced red onion
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Italian pasta salad dressing:

  • 1 1/2 cupolive oil
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar (white vinegar or red wine vinegar work)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespooncoarse sea salt (yes, tablespoons – see notes!) (I did not have this, so I went with regular salt)
  • 2 cloves garlic (or 1 teaspoon garlic powder)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons each dry oregano and dry basil
  • black pepper to taste
  • fresh herbs if you want! sometimes I add fresh parsley, basil, or chives.

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Cook pasta according to package in salted water for more flavor. Allow to cool slightly and toss with a little oil to prevent sticking.
  2. Blend up the dressing, or shake together in a jar.
  3. Toss all ingredients together! I like to use about three-fourths of the dressing, and then I save the rest of the dressing to add to my leftovers.
  4. Keep in the fridge for 2-3 days. I think it actually tastes best the day AFTER you make it.

Salt FYI: Please note that the amount written is for COARSE sea salt. If you are using fine table salt, start with 2 teaspoons and add more to taste. The dressing itself will be very salty. Like, too salty for a normal salad. But in this recipe, that’s what we want! That dressing is going to get tossed with an entire pound of plain pasta, as well as a whole lot of fresh unseasoned vegetables, and it will taste delicious once it’s all tossed up.

 

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Hope you give this a try and as always, thanks for stopping by!

Is it Fall already

   A couple of days ago when I walked into one of my very favorite home decor stores, what seemed like a gazillion pumpkins and Halloween decorations, stared at me from every other rack and I actually heard myself say- “Wait…what?” And I thought to myself how did summer get away from me?  When I walked out at around 8 the setting sun had lent a fiery glow to the sky that had dark grey clouds looming and I realized that the days had indeed gotten shorter and we were not very far from the colder months.

IMG-2478

   Having lived in India for the most part of my life, I am used to the heat and humidity, that is also characteristic of summers here in New Jersey but I cannot say that I like it. I never liked it back in India as well. I find it very difficult to be outside on hot summer days when ideally I should be soaking up as much sun as possible because such days last only for a really short period. It is good for the kids too as they can run around outside as much as they want, splash in the pool and be kids in general! Sunscreens and water bottles are all that you need. This is in stark contrast to the months that follow where they need to be bundled up in 5 layers of clothing and make more- than -desirable visits to the pediatrician’s office, that is sadly almost a routine during those 6-7 cold-ish and cold months of the year! But autumn, I love..who doesn’t! The celestial blue that makes for the perfect backdrop for the vibrant oranges, yellows and reds of the leaves, that crisp autumn breeze which makes you want to sip on a cup of hot chocolate and the  typical autumn smell…are some of the things that fill me with warmth from the inside during these months that portray Nature on the cusp of transition.

   Every year I plan to take photos to celebrate this beauty that is fiery and transcendental and I am never sure if I captured the moments I wanted to. This year I have a different plan. I have made a sort of ‘list of photographs’ I would ideally like to take to capture Fall in all its resplendence and festivities and am keeping my fingers crossed! Here is my list…would you like to add something to this? What do you think of this idea? Does it look too structured? It does to me and is quite opposite to the spontaneous nature of the way I take photos.  That’s why I am a bit curious too to see if I am able to follow this plan through and at the same time maintain a bit of spontaneity. Only time will tell!

Here it goes-

  • A pile of leaves
  • A tree in full bloom (with colored leaves)
  • Three trees with orange, red and yellow leaves (separately)
  • That brilliant blue sky
  • Bare branches
  • Pumpkin/Jack-o-Lantern
  • Halloween Decorations
  • A beautiful sunset or sunrise
  • A solitary leaf
  • Fall decor
  • Halloween celebration at my son’s school
  • Trick or treat
  • Thanksgiving
  • A favorite family dessert or meal (with recipe)
  • Indian celebrations of Durga Puja, Diwali and Bhai-Phonta (more on this in a separate post) that take place during the fall months
  • My family

   All this thinking about fall made me bake a chocolate cake last night and it was from here…a very easy and super moist cake (I used cake flour and not all purpose flour). And my son decorated it! The apartment smelled really nice and for a moment I could not help but think about that first feel of a crisp autumn day. Not that I am waiting for the cold months to come because when the snowy days seem to have no end in sight, I get jittery then and eagerly wait for spring to come! My son however is excited for his Halloween costume and this year he gets to dress his little sister too and there are many options apparently that he has been exploring for her:) He is waiting for Durga Pujo too when he will get to dress up in his Punjabi/Kurta (the traditional Indian attire for boys/men). And as I tucked him into bed last night, we talked about going apple picking and taking a hayride and he wondered if his Baba would have to get on top of an apple tree to get the juiciest apples like Peppa Pig’s daddy had to!

 

 

Thanks for stopping by!

 

Chicken Avocado Salad

   Winter, this year, has been strange here in Jersey. We did not get much snow ( I am not complaining about that even a bit!) but we have been getting a lot of  rain and gloomy damp days which is making this winter seem especially depressing, weather wise. I say weather wise because indoors it has been spirited, colorful and giggly as we welcomed our baby girl in November. The four year old has been the best big brother and along with my parents, who have been the ‘cannot-be-put-into-words’ blessing one could hope for during such times, it has been a vibrant winter!

   My Ma’s home cooked meals have kept our bellies full and our souls fuller. We got to enjoy delectable “Bangali ranna” (Bengali food) every day and it refreshed so many memories from when I was growing up. Hearing them talk fondly of the by gone days has made me appreciate life and all that I had and have a bit more. Nostalgia is a good thing.

   Yesterday, I decided to make myself a salad for lunch simply to see if I remembered how to! And I kid you not when I say this because I have not had anything to do with the kitchen (except for baking a couple of cakes and brownies) for these past five months and now that the time has come for my parents to go back to Kolkata, Neel and I will have to fend for ourselves! And salads are going to be my go-to stuff for lunch. So, I made a chicken avocado salad that turned out to be pretty good and I am sharing that with you today. This is a simple salad and I am sure you have had this or a version of this more than once!

Ingredients:

  1. 4 cooked chicken tenders, chopped. (you can use 2 medium chicken breasts, or 1 big too).
  2. 1 ripe avocado, pitted and diced.
  3. 1/2 cup roasted corn (I used from the can).
  4. 1/2 cup of finely cut red peppers.
  5. 1/4 cup finely cut yellow onions (You can use either red or yellow…I did not have the red ones).
  6. 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
  7. 1/2 cup olives (pitted)
  8. About 2 cups of spring mix.
  9. 2 tbsp of freshly squeezed lemon juice (you can use lime juice too).
  10. 2 tbsp Olive oil.
  11. A handful of walnuts
  12. 2 tbsp ranch dressing (optional)
  13. Salt and Pepper to taste

 

Putting it together:

I cooked the chicken tenders on stove top in a little bit of vegetable oil (I had marinated the chicken tenders for about 15 minutes with a little bit of salt, 1/2 tsp of paprika, 1/4 tsp of garlic powder, 1 tsp of lemon pepper powder and 1 tsp of olive oil. I sprinkled a bit of flour on the chicken right before cooking…it gives a nice brown coating). And then after it cooled down a bit, I chopped it up and put it along with all the other stuff in my big brown salad bowl and chomped it up while cradling a semi sleeping 3 month old!

Easy- peasy lemon squeezy!

P.S. I had it today with a raspberry vinaigrette dressing instead of ranch and it tasted even better. You can also add chopped walnuts if you want ( I added this to the list of ingredients).

 

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Red Velvet Cake

    By now, my love for baking and my LOVE for all things sweet has been fairly established! And so when the sudden onslaught of all things bright and red hit me while grocery shopping a few days ago as Valentine’s Day was around the corner, I decided to bake the quintessential  red cake- The Red Velvet Cake!  As someone who has never been much of a ‘Valentine’s Day’ person, it was my way of celebrating  the day with my loved ones.

   I have always wanted to have a red velvet cake and it might come as a surprise to many that I have never had one till before last week! Something about the bright red and white has always had my attention and yet I never had the opportunity to have one. As strange as it might sound, it is true as the rich and gooey chocolate cakes have always triumphed over the pretty red one when it came down to choosing one, every single time. And I have always believed I would have it the ‘next time’!

   And so, that ‘next time’ finally presented itself last week and I found this wonderful recipe from https://www.modernhoney.com/red-velvet-cake/ by Melissa Stadler. It was easy to make and just perfect to taste. I am posting the original recipe here and I hope you will enjoy it as much as my whole family did!

 

Servings16
AuthorMelissa Stadler, Modern Honey
Ingredients
  • 3 cups Cake Flour
  • 1 3/4 cups Sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 cup Butter cut into cubes
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1 cup Buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup Canola Oil
  • 1 – 2 Tablespoons Red Food Coloring may do less depending on preference
  • 1 Tablespoon Pure Vanilla Extract
  •  
  • Cream Cheese Frosting:
  • 2 – 8- ounce pkgs. Cream Cheese room temperature and softened
  • 12 Tablespoons Butter 3/4 cup, softened
  • 4 1/2 cups Powdered Sugar
  • 1 Vanilla Bean or 2 teaspoons Pure Vanilla Extract

 

Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a standing mixer, stir together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. Beat the butter into the flour mixture, one cube at a time. Continue to beat until it resembles coarse crumbs.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk, oil, red food coloring, and vanilla.
  5. Add the buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients and beat the batter until thoroughly mixed.
  6. Take a spatula and scrape the sides of the bowl.
  7. Spread into two greased 8 or 9-inch cake pans and smooth tops with a spatula.
  8. Bake for 16-22 minutes, depending on the depth of pans. If the cake layers are thin, they will cook for less time than the thicker layers.
  9. Let cakes cool. Run a knife around edge of cake pan and flip over. Frost with cream cheese frosting.
  10. To make frosting:
  11. In a large mixing bowl, cream together softened cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. If using a Kitchenaid mixer, use the whisk attachment.
  12. Add powdered sugar and mix until creamy.
  13. If using a vanilla bean, split vanilla bean in half and use the tip of the knife to scrape the vanilla bean paste from each side of the vanilla bean pod.
  14. If using vanilla extract, add to frosting and stir until combined.
  15. Spread on cooled red velvet cake. Cover tightly.