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!

 

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.

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   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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Apple Tarts

   Of late, the weather here in New Jersey seems to be a bit of a head-scratcher. It has been bitter cold and we have been getting tired of the number of layers we need to put on when going out and then it rains and brings mugginess and then suddenly a warm 66 degrees in the middle of winter throws wants almost makes it feel like spring! The effects of climate change are being felt more and more all around and I wonder what the consequences of this is going to be on the future generations.

   With small children and older parents at home, we have been having a hard time trying to keep everyone as safe as possible from the snorts and sniffles that seem to be the most common side effect of such extreme fluctuation in temperature. It being winter, my parents who are here for just one more month, have sadly been cooped up at home for the most part. But they don’t complain and are only too happy to be spending time with their grandkids and weaving memories! They have put their lives on hold so that Neel and I can ease into this new phase in ours and my heart swells with love and gratitude for them. Ma makes sure we get to eat all that our hearts desire and Baba makes sure to keep the four year occupied as much as possible with stories and games and silliness so that I can get some ‘me time’ and what can I say about how big a blessing that has been. The six of us look after each other- we cook and eat, smile and have moments of absolute bliss, find happiness in what we have and add to our pocketbook of memories.

   While Ma has been making all her special dishes and we have been gobbling those up, Neel and I (mostly Neel) sometimes take over the kitchen to give her a break and whip up something that she would normally not be able to make in Kolkata. Neel has been surprising them with his kabobs and I have been satisfying Ma’s sweet tooth with the likes of cakes and brownies! Today I made apple tarts in the afternoon and they turned out pretty good. I have made them before but had followed a different recipe, one that I did not remember today. And so, I found another pretty awesome recipe at  https://www.lavenderandlovage.com/2016/03/apple-rose-tarts-mothers-day.html (Lavender and Lovage by Karen Burns-Booth) and I am so glad that I tried this! Thanks Karen!

Please see the original recipe here and I hope you will enjoy it as much as we did.

Apple Tarts

Serves 8 to 10 apple rose tarts
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 25 minutes
Total time 40 minutes
Dietary Vegetarian

       Ingredients

  • 2 x 215g ready rolled butter puff pastry
  • 2 to 3 Pink Lady apples (or any red skinned eating apples)
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons apricot jam glaze
  • ground cinnamon
  • icing sugar
  • cake release spray

      Directions

Step 1 Pre-heat oven to 200C/400F/Gas mark 6 and spray a 12 x hole muffin or bun tray with the cake release spray.
Step 2 Cut the apples in half, from top to bottom, core the two halves then slice each half very thinly; place the cut slices into a large microwaveable bowl filled with water to cover the apples, and with the lemon juice added.
Step 3 Microwave the apple slices for 4 minutes on high, then drain and pat dry between 2 clean tea towels or with kitchen paper. (If you don’t have a microwave, place the apples, water to cove them and the lemon juice in a pan and heat until boiling for 4 to 5 minutes until JUST soft but NOT cooked)
Step 4 Place the ready rolled pastry onto a lightly floured pastry board, and using a rolling pin, roll it out to add 2″ to 3″ (5cms to 8cms) to the length of the pastry.
Step 5 Cut the two pastry sheets lengthways into 4 to 5 strips, or if the pastry is too long, cut widthways – you need strips long enough to place between 8 to 12 apple slices along the length.
Step 6 Brush the pastry strips with the apricot jam glaze and then sprinkle with ground cinnamon. Place the apple slices (peel size up) along the top third of the pastry strips, overlapping them slightly as you lay them out.
Step 7 Fold the bottom two thirds of the pastry up and over the bottom of the apple slices and then gently roll each strip to make a small “muffin shaped” tart – see photos. Place the apple rose tarts into the prepared muffin or bun tray.
Step 8 Bake the apple tarts in the pre-heated oven on the middle shelf for between 20 to 25 minutes or until the pastry is crisp, golden brown and puffed up and the apples are cooked, but not too dark.
Step 9 Allow them to cool in the tin for 2 to 3 minutes, then gently ease them out of tin and place them on a wire cooling rack.
Step 10 Dust with icing sugar to serve; they are fabulous when served warm with ice cream, cream or crème fraiche.
Step 11 Can be frozen at the pre-baked and baked stage. Allow to defrost before baking or re-heating.

 

A simple chocolate cake

   My love for all things sweet knows no bounds and while that is not necessarily a good thing, I can’t help drooling at them, especially all things chocolaty! And while everyday can be ‘baking -something- sweet’ day, special occasions provide a ‘justifiable’ reason to do so and make me feel less guilty when I eat the lion’s share (well…almost!) of that chocolaty delight. While I am always on the lookout for such delectable desserts, every year, come November, my search intensifies for recipes of yummy cakes and cookies that I can bake during the ‘holiday season’ that also features my good man’s birthday! I try to bake a different chocolate cake every year for his birthday and while he prefers the simplest chocolate cake, I like the ones that are richer and generally involve some sort of a frosting. Last couple of years, we did the cake his way but this year, I baked him a very simple but at the same time a moist and rich chocolate cake with a delightful frosting on top and in between the layers and I have Rachel from https://thestayathomechef.com/the-most-amazing-chocolate-cake/ to thank! I was looking for something that did not require a lot of preparation and unique ingredients as I knew I would not have a lot of time for shopping, prepping and baking with a new born to take care of along with a soon-to-be four-year-old. This recipe is just that…something that you whip up with stuff from your pantry and under 40 mins…and when you are done, you will have a delectable cake and a very satisfied tummy:)

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(Please excuse the poor quality of this picture…there was a crying baby, an over eager older brother, a candle situation involving  wax that was dangerously close to ruining the cake and a bit overworked parents trying to get the house ready for  guests who were coming over soon!)

 

Here goes the recipe (from https://thestayathomechef.com/the-most-amazing-chocolate-cake/) for a truly wonderful and easy chocolate cake that I hope many of you will enjoy!

Servings: 16 Servings or 1 3 Layer Cake

Ingredients

The Most Amazing Chocolate Cake

  • butter and flour for coating and dusting the cake pan
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Chocolate Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting

  • 1 1/2 cups butter softened
  • 8 oz cream cheese softened
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 7-8 cups powdered sugar
  • about 1/4 cup milk as needed

Instructions

The Most Amazing Chocolate Cake

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter three 9-inch cake rounds. Dust with flour and tap out the excess.
  • Mix together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a stand mixer using a low speed until combined.
  • Add eggs, buttermilk, warm water, oil, and vanilla. Beat on a medium speed until smooth. This should take just a couple of minutes.
  • Divide batter among the three pans. I found that it took just over 3 cups of the batter to divide it evenly.
  • Bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  • Cool on wire racks for 15 minutes and then turn out the cakes onto the racks and allow to cool completely.
  • Frost with your favorite frosting and enjoy!

Chocolate Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting

  • In a large bowl, beat together butter and cream cheese until fluffy. Use a hand mixer or stand mixer for best results
  • Add in cocoa powder and vanilla extract. Beat until combined.
  • Beat in powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time. Add milk as necessary to make a spreadable consistency. The frosting should be very thick and will thicken even more if refrigerated.