Baking: Banana Raisin Bread

“The beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you.” – B.B.King.

Learning is such an enriching experience. It never stops. The more you learn, the more you want to learn. I truly believe that it’s never too late to learn something new. What matters most is passion and an open mind!

Through the birth of this blog, I embarked on a journey of self-discovery. This became a platform for me to explore my love for food, photography, writing and travel. It has become a place for meeting other like-minded people who share the same passion. Be inspired. Learn from others, share knowledge and hopefully, inspire someone along the way. After all, everyone needs a little inspiration, a gentle push from time to time. It always feels inspiring to see or know others who have been in a similar situation and have dared to dream, the once impossible dream. They have achieved it. With the right attitude, so will you!

That’s just a little bit more about me.. Thank you for reading!:)

On the topic of learning, I must tell you that I am no avid baker. I am learning as I go along and would love to bake more and innovate in the near future. Perhaps, one day, I will. I am inspired by so many bloggers around me who bake some really interesting and beautiful cakes and cookies! I first tried baking a loaf when I saw this really interesting recipe of a Rosemary Walnut Loaf by Kankana of Sunshine and Smile.

After my first attempt with a simple walnut loaf, I got a little more confident to attempt a request from my husband – a raisin bread. The two men in my house love it! I, on the other hand, stay far from it. Well, most of the time 🙂 But, I love cooking for them! My go to book for baking is this book by Nigella Lawson. The Banana Bread recipe from Nigella has a good amount of raisins in it and that made it the perfect contender. As luck would have it, I also had some bananas that were very ripe and needed to be consumed immediately. And off I started baking, on a relaxing Sunday evening!

As the book says, this is a perfect recipe for anyone who is new to baking. The result was fabulous and loved by family and friends! The banana bread had a beautiful texture. It was moist and full of flavor at the same time. The alcohol in the raisin evaporates in the cooking and baking process. You will find a taste of rum but it isn’t alcoholic at all. In fact, in her book, Nigella says that this is safe for children to consume as the alcohol doesn’t pervade into the cake.

If you are anything like me in terms of baking, you should really try this recipe. It’s simple enough and totally worth the effort 🙂

Banana Raisin Bread:
For a printer-friendly version of the recipe, please click here.

Serves: about 10 slices

Ingredients:

Golden raisins: ½ cup
Dark rum: 6 tbsp
All-purpose flour: 1 cup + 2 tbsp
Baking powder: 2 tsp
Baking soda: ½ tsp
Salt: ½ tsp
Unsalted Butter: ½ cup
Sugar: ½ cup
Eggs: 2 big
Bananas: 4 Dole (small) very ripe and mashed
Walnuts: 1/4 heaped cup
Vanilla extract: 1 tsp
Loaf Pan: 9 x 5” lined with a paper insert or parchment paper

How I did it:

  1. In a pan, bring the raisins and rum to boil. Turn off and leave it for 1 hour to soak up the liquid. Strain the excess liquid.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 170 deg C.
  3. In a bowl, put the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Sieve through once to ensure they are combined well.
  4. Warm up the butter enough to get it melting. Don’t overheat.
  5. Add the butter and sugar to a large steel mixing bowl. Beat this mixture well until it is thoroughly blended. The color will turn pale. I did this using an electric beater for about 15 mins. The time will vary, depending on the equipment used.
  6. Break the eggs and beat it in the sugar+butter mixing bowl above – one by one.
  7. Now beat in the mashed bananas.
  8. Using a wooden spoon, combine the raisins, walnuts and the vanilla extract.
  9. Next, add the flour mixture in 1/3rd portions, combining it well after every addition.
  10. Now pour this mixture into the prepared loaf pan.
  11. Place the loaf pan in the centre of the oven, with both heat sources on. I placed the loaf pan closer to the top heat source.
  12. Bake for 1 hour. The original recipe says it should take anywhere between 1 hour to 1 hour 15 mins. It depends on your oven. Mine took exactly 1 hour. It is advisable to check at the 50 min mark. If it is done, an inserted toothpick will come out clean.
  13. As soon as it is done, using your mittens, place the loaf pan out to cool. Do not take out the banana bread out of the pan until it has cooled down.
  14. Once cool, cut into slices and enjoy with a cup of coffee or tea, as you prefer.

Notes:

  1. Use eggs that are at room temperature and not straight out of the fridge.
  2. Same goes for butter, keep the butter out to come down to room temperature a couple of hours before baking.
  3. Place the loaf in the middle level, though, closer to the top heat source than the bottom heat source.
  4. The original recipe says that even though it rum is used, it is safe for kids to consume as the alcohol doesn’t pervade through.

Black and White Wednesdays: Week 40

Wine and company

Submitting these images to Black and White Wednesdays #40 conceptualized by Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook and hosted by Anusha of Tomato Blues. She will be doing the roundup of BWW #40 on 11th July, 2012.

Dal Makhani / Ma ki Dal / Creamy Black Lentils

Black Lentils, Ma ki Dal, Dal Makhani, Kaali Dal or Urad Dal with skin – This Dal as you can tell has so many different names and that probably only indicates how widely loved and popular it is!

Growing up, this Dal did not hold an important place in my Mother’s pantry. I am not sure why. It isn’t a commonly made Dal in Eastern Indian homes for that matter. It’s associated with “restaurant” food in most Eastern Indian homes. For a long time, I had Ma ki Dal in dhabas and restaurants only.

No surprises here but like many of you, it’s one of my favorite lentils. I almost always never missed an opportunity to have this Dal during my years in Delhi and every possible trip back there. The creamy texture combined with the buttery flavor is enough to make anyone crave for Dal Makhani. It is very sinful and equally desirable due to the generous amount of cream and/or butter that goes in it. I am, not by any means, a health freak but over the years I started getting put off by the amount of butter that was used in it. A number of restaurants put so much butter and cream that you’ll have a tough time tasting any Dal in it. I craved for Dal Makhani without the indulgence.

And so… few years ago, I started my quest to make my own Dal Makhani.

I can completely understand if a lot of you will frown at the lack of lots of butter or cream, but my thought process behind this recipe was the following:

– Make it in a way that my family can have it on a regular day without feeling guilty.
– Make it quick without too much advanced preparation. (Unfortunately, I don’t plan my meals in advance most of the time)
– Keep as much of the creamy texture and taste without going overboard with the cream / butter.

Dal Makhani or Ma ki Dal is usually cooked with a small portion of Rajma (kidney beans). I make both versions of Dal Makhani (with only Black Lentils as well as a combination of Kidney Beans or Rajma & Black Lentils). If you are adding Rajma, replace ¼ cup of the Black Lentils with ¼ cup of Rajma. It tastes great in either combination! However, the use of Rajma requires advance planning and preparation.

Ensure your Rajma is soaked for about 8 hours. Alternatively, soak Rajma for 2-3 hours in hot water and then boil it separately until soft. I used Chitra Rajma (the smaller pale orange colored Rajmas) for cooking as they cook much faster. I soaked them for 8 hours in hot water, then pressure cooked them together with pre-soaked Black Dal for 20 mins. Black Dal was pre-soaked in hot water for 15 mins.

I skipped the Rajma this time as I hadn’t planned it ahead and it was a weekday dinner.

Dal Makhani / Ma ki Dal / Creamy Black Lentils Recipe

To print this recipe, click here.

Serves: 2-3

Ingredients:

Whole Black Lentils / Whole Urad Dal (with skin): ¾ cup [Can be replaced by: ¼ cup Kidney Beans (Rajma) + ½ cup Whole Black Lentils]
Cumin seeds: 1 tsp
Ginger finely chopped: 1 tbsp
Garlic finely chopped: 1 tbsp
Tomato puree: 1 cup (see step 2 below)
Chilli powder: ¼ tsp (or as per taste)
Cooking cream: 2 tbsp for cooking + 1-2 tsp for Garnishing
Kasoori Methi: 1 ½ tsp loosely packed
Garam Masala powder: ¼ tsp
Butter: about 1 tbsp
Salt: to taste

How I did it:

  • Clean and wash the Dal. Soak it covered in hot water for 30 mins.
  • Meanwhile, prepare the Tomato Puree: Put 2 medium sized tomatoes in a pot with sufficient water to almost cover the tomatoes. Bring the water to boil until the skin of the tomatoes starts to break. Remove from water, put in another pot with tap water and a couple of cubes of ice. When the tomatoes cool down, remove the skin. Blend it in a paste without adding any water.  This gave me roughly 1 cup of tomato puree which I needed for this recipe.

  • When the Dal is soaked (i.e. 30 mins later), throw away the water. In a pressure cooker, add the Dal with ¼ tsp of salt and 3 cups water. When the first whistle blows (or steam builds up), cook on low heat for 15 mins. If you are not using a pressure cooker, cover and boil in a pot until the dal becomes soft.
  • Meanwhile, wash the kasoori methi with a little water.  Soak it in ½ cup of hot water for about 10 mins.
  • When the Dal is cooked, let the steam from the pressure cooker come out on its own. If a lot of the liquid has evaporated, add more water. I didn’t have to add any. Now on medium heat and without the lid on, boil the Dal by stirring it continuously and mashing it gently against the pressure cooker wall using the back of your ladle (see pictures below). Keep doing this vigorously for about 8 mins or until the Dal starts to have a creamy texture. This step is important to get a creamy consistency.

  • Heat a heavy bottomed pot or non-stick kadhai. On low heat, add butter. When the butter melts, add the cumin seeds. As they begin to sputter, add the chopped garlic. When it starts to turn brown (Note: this happens very quickly), add the tomato puree, ¼ tsp of salt and the chopped ginger.
  • On medium heat, cook the masala for 6-7 mins. When the masala becomes like a lump, add the chilli powder. Keep stirring to ensure masala doesn’t get burnt. The masala should be done in another 2-3 mins. You will notice the color of the masala become darker and shiny due to the oil that surfaces on it. If the masala starts to stick, sprinkle a little water and scrape it off using the spatula.

  • On low heat, add the above prepared Dal to the pot with the masala. Stir the Dal and the masala well so that there are no lumps of masala and it’s evenly combined.
  • Now add the cooking cream. The color of the Dal will become slightly lighter. Cover and simmer for 10 mins, stirring every 1-2 minutes, gently mashing it with the back of the ladle to help achieve the creamy consistency.
  • Next add the kasoori methi along with the soaked water. Continue to cook for another 5 mins on low heat, stirring in between. By now, the Dal should have become darker in color than what it was when you added the cream.

  • Check for salt. Adjust if needed. Add garam masala powder and give it a good stir. Cook for a further 2-3 mins before turning the heat off. Let it sit for 5 mins to help combine all the flavors. It’s now ready to serve.
  • Garnish with some fresh cream and enjoy with hot Rotis / Parathas / Rice or any bread of your choice and some onions and green chillies on the side.

Notes:

  1. Dal has a tendency to become thick as it is left to cool. You may need to add some hot water (about ¼ cup) and make it warm before serving.
  2. Optional: Add a tbsp of butter just after turning the heat off. Tastes heavenly! I don’t do that usually unless I am feeling particularly ecstatic on a given day! 😉

[UPDATE 7th July, 2012] Sending this Dal Makhani recipe to My Legume Love Affair #49, the popular, legume-centered event that is conceptualized by Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook. This month’s MLLA is hosted by Simona. Here’s the announcement for July’s MLLA. http://briciole.typepad.com/blog/2012/07/annuncio-legumi-che-passione-numero-49.html.

Maithan : the birth of Laksa leaves Pakoras with Spicy Coriander and Mint Chutney

A trip back home is synonymous to meeting relatives and a gastronomical treat that is limited only by your own will power. Our last trip home was essentially that.

While in Kolkata, we spent a weekend at Maithan (or Maithon). With an open mind and no expectations, we set out on a train journey to Kumardhobi, followed by a 25-minutes autorickshaw ride to Maithan. The first half of the auto ride was bumpy and gave you a quick glimpse of rural India.  It transformed almost seamlessly into one of the finer roads in India. Soon, we were on the Damodar Valley Dam which is built on the Barakar river, a tributary of the Damodar river.

We stayed in ‘Mazumdar Niwas’ a guest house for DVC (Damodar Valley Corp.) guests. The guest house is in a small island in the lake which is formed as a result of the dam. A short walkway connects the guest house to the mainland. The view from the guest house is nothing less than spectacular and undoubtedly the best in Maithan.

Maithan means (Mai-Than or Ma ka Than or Mother’s abode). It is in Jharkhand and borders West Bengal. It’s a very popular picnic spot for people living in nearby areas. One can spot them from a distance as you see and hear bus loads of people and blaring music from time to time. Unfortunately, the wastes that are left behind after these picnics, ruin the otherwise beautiful neighborhood. For more information on Maithan, you can visit here or here.

Maithan is a very small place and a weekend is sufficient to do any sight seeing here. I highly recommend a 2-hour boat ride in the lake. The best time to go is around 3pm in order to witness the brilliant colors of the sky as the sun sets over the lake.

Our daily meals were very simple, mostly at the guest house or at a nearby hotel. There isn’t much to mention in that respect, except of course, one place: the inspiration behind today’s post.

The pakoras or fritters (more about Pakora here) made by a small family-run shop, located at the main entrance of Mazumdar Niwas are simply sensational ! The place is run by a very humble gentleman, Mr. Chitto Ranjan Debnath, together with his wife and their son. You will find a variety of pakoras made with onions, cottage cheese and potatoes, amongst other things. I fell in love with these pakoras at the first bite – perfectly soft in the inside and crisp on the outside. Mrs. Debnath kneads the dough with her magical fingers and Mr. Debnath fries them into a golden crisp texture – creating something totally extraordinary! Their warm hospitality only contributes to making this experience a memorable one.

I was so inspired by it that ever since that trip, I have tried to make pakoras in many different ways at home. Of course, to have the best, you need to visit Mr. Debnath’s shop in Maithan 🙂

Pakoras with a unique blend of Indian and South-East Asian flavors – Pakoras flavored with laksa leaves (Daun Laksa or Rau Ram or Polygonum Odoratum).

Laksa leaves are used as garnish for Laksa, a very popular Singapore noodles. These herbs are also eaten fresh in some Vietnamese and Thai salads and used to flavour soups and stir fries. Laksa leaves have a penetrating smell with a citrus note and a refreshing, hot, biting, peppery after taste. In my opinion, fresh laksa leaves have an uncanny similarity in taste to Paan or betel leaves.

Laksa leaves and Spinach Pakoras Recipe:

Though the Debnath family shop served it with a garlic chutney, I enjoy these pakoras with a spicy Coriander & Mint chutney.

To print the Pakora recipe, click here.

Makes about 40 bite-sized pakoras.

Ingredients:

Besan (Gram flour): ¾ cup
Baking powder: 1/8th tsp
Turmeric: ¼ tsp
Chilli powder: ¼ tsp
Salt: ½ tsp regular salt
Black Salt: ¼ tsp
Aamchoor powder (Dried Mango Powder): 1 tsp (Available in Asian/Indian stores)
Water: 2 tbsp
Onion: 1 ½ medium sized, thinly sliced
Ginger: 2 tsp, grated
Garlic: 1 clove grated (equivalent to 1 tsp of grated garlic)
Green chillies: 2-3 finely chopped
Spinach leaves: 1 cup, finely shredded
Fresh Laksa Leaves: ½ cup, finely shredded
Mustard Oil: 1 tbsp for mixing with the batter
Regular oil for deep frying
Chat Masala for sprinkling once the pakoras are fried – a pinch for every batch of 10-15 pakoras (optional)

How I did it:

  • Sieve Besan and Baking powder together.
  • Add all the ingredients in a bowl except the oil for frying and chat masala.
  • Combine all the ingredients together using your fingers. The batter should be sticky enough so that it does not crumble while deep frying later.
  • Let the mixture sit for 15 mins to let the baking powder do it’s job.
  • Heat sufficient oil in a deep wok or kadhai.  Check if the oil is hot by dropping 1 tsp of the batter in the hot oil. If the batter starts sizzling instantly, the oil is hot and ready. Taste it to make sure the seasoning is adequate and per your liking.
  • Use approximately 1 tsp of batter to make the pakoras. Make them in batches of 10 or more depending on the size of the wok / kadhai used.

  • You can either use 2 tsps to give the batter a round shape or the tip of your fingers to drop the pakoras in the hot oil.  The point to remember is each pakora will use roughly 1 tsp of batter.
  • Fry on medium-low heat taking care that the batter is reddish brown but not burnt. Sprinkle a pinch of chat masala over a batch of 10-15 pakoras. (I forgot to do it) Serve immediately.
  • Best enjoyed on a rainy afternoon.. With coriander and mint chutney and a hot cup of tea.

Variations: You can also make these pakoras by omitting the laksa leaves, if you can’t find them and increase the shredded spinach to 1 ½ cups.

Alternatively, omit the Spinach completely by increasing the proportion of onions (use 2 medium sized) with the same proportion of Laksa leaves

Coriander and Mint Chutney Recipe:

To print this recipe, click here.

Makes 3/4 cup Chutney

Ingredients:

For blending:
Fresh Coriander: 1 and ½ cup of roughly chopped coriander leaves. Remove roots and stem.
Mint leaves: 1/2 cup. Pluck mint leaves from the stem. Discard stalk. Use the leaves only.
Ginger: 1” pc
Garlic: 1 clove
Green chillies: 2-3
Mustard oil: 1 ½ tbsp
Water: 2 tbsp

For seasoning:
Salt: ½ tsp
Black salt: ¼ tsp
Lemon juice: 1 tbsp

How I did it:

  • Blend all the ingredients listed above under heading “For blending” until a thick and uniform paste is formed.
  • Take it out in a bowl and add the “for seasoning” ingredients listed above.
  • Combine thoroughly with a spoon.
  • Check for salt / sour taste and adjust as per your liking.

This chutney tastes best when fresh or a maximum of 2-3 days. Make in small batches to always enjoy this chutney at it’s best.

A beach vacation in Khao Lak | ..and Thai Green Curry paste

R & I are always looking for reasons to travel. Both of us love traveling but our motivations are different. Yet, one thing unites us : FOOD !

A well-planned but badly executed surprise holiday was in the making. It was R’s birthday last weekend.

At first, a dear friend spilled the beans – Phuket! I dodged that one somehow because we were going to Khao Lak, 1.5 hours drive from the Phuket airport. And then it was me – a terrible case of ‘slip of tongue’ 😦 So, just before the trip started, R knew exactly where we were going. And I cursed myself for it !

We landed very late that night. A prearranged car and driver was waiting for us at the Phuket airport. In my far-from-perfect-Thai, I explained to the driver that we were hungry! He took us to a small eatery nearby selling Khao Man Gai (Thai Chicken Rice). Khao Man Gai brought back memories of my university days in Bangkok. It was a standard meal for the times when I needed to have a quick lunch in between classes. Lost in nostalgia, I had an extra plate of chicken and two bowls of soup !

Our resort, Ramada Khao Lak, was a solitude by the beaches far from the madness of Phuket. The room was tastefully furnished with modern fixtures, a fancy jacuzzi indoors and sun-loungers in the balcony – perfect for a romantic vacation.

We were here to unwind and soak in every bit of sea, sand and sun.

The sun-loungers by the beach were highly sought after. We were almost always the last takers. As the boys played in the sun, I sat there listening to the sound of the sea. My mind drifting along with the whoosh-whash of the waves. I couldn’t help but imagine the plight of the many people who were here, just like us, more than 7 years ago when the giant Tsunami hit the Asian subcontinent. Khao Lak was one of the worst affected areas. I shuddered as images of those giant killer waves kept flashing in my mind…

After a couple of hours, we headed to the nearby shacks for lunch. What a treat that was! Tom Yam Prawns, Basil Chicken, Papaya salad, Spicy Noodles, and more – all phed phed (extra spicy). And some chilled Singha Beer to cool us down 🙂

As the sun went down, we strolled to the nearby local weekend market. What better way to experience a place than to shop and eat where the locals do ! One street dedicated to fresh spices and herbs, another to street food and yet another to the 199-Baht clothes and souvenir shops. The aroma of fresh basil, mint, coriander, lemon grass, galangal and lime leaves are enough to give anyone hunger pangs! As we just about managed to get past that, the most vibrant, innovative street food awaited us – Smoked pork balls, coconut pancakes, fried chicken, Stick noodles (Phad Thai) and much more! Needless to say, we kept sampling all the food as we walked along.

V chose an Angry Bird t-shirt for himself, which by the way he calls ‘bad birds’. Soon our little boy was getting cranky. It was dinner time. We were in the mood for something authentic, and not toned down for ‘foreigners’. A small Thai family restaurant down the road was the unanimous choice. They made a Stir Fried Prawn and Vegetable dish for V – Thai style but without chillies and he loved it! We had our share of everything spicy – fried fish, garlic chicken, stir fried prawns, stir fried vegetables and a yum load of sauces to go with it!

A little bit of pampering in the spa was exactly what we needed to end this long and tiring day.

More on the vacation in my next post for fear of exceeding the word count limit, if any!


To give myself a continued sense of that perfect beach vacation and to celebrate my love for Thai food,  I wanted to share one of my all time favorite curry recipes. I first made the curry paste and then used it to make a curry. I will share the curry recipe in the next post.

How to make Green Curry Paste:

To print this recipe, click here.

Ingredients:

Shallots: 8
Thai Garlic: 15 cloves
Lemon grass: 3 stalks
Galangal: 1 ½ “ pc
Fresh Green Peppercorns: 10 pc
Kaffir Lime rind: of ½ a lime
Thai Green chillies: 15
Sweet Basil leaves: 1 cup
Coriander seeds: 1 tbsp
Cumin seeds: 1 tsp
Shrimp paste: 3 tsp

How I did it:

Dry roast the cumin and coriander in a pan on low heat. This may take about 3-4 mins. Let it cool.

Finely slice the galangal (or Thai ginger) and shallots. Wash the Thai garlic thoroughly. If using Thai garlic, you can keep the skin. If using any other garlic, peel the skin first.

Smash the end of the lemon grass stalk with the back of a knife (white in color). Finely slice the white portion, discarding the green stalk.

Using a mortar and pestle, finely pound the dry roasted coriander and cumin seeds. Take it out and keep aside in a bowl.

Now pound the galangal and kaffir lime rind until smooth. Add the finely sliced lemon grass and green peppercorn and pound.

When done, add the green chillies, pound well until a smooth paste is formed. Next add the garlic and shallots and pound thoroughly. Finally, add the shrimp paste, sweet basil and pound until the mixture forms a fine paste.

Notes:

  • For a vegetarian version, skip the shrimp paste.
  • Alternatively, you could grind all the ingredients in a food processor instead of using the mortar and pestle. Though, I believe that the aromas and flavors that come out in pounding cannot be replicated by a food processor.