Banana Bread

This is the best Banana Bread recipe ever. Period. It’s kind of a Grandma’s recipe… vintage and long-standing. Its old-school simplicity is overwhelming and so is its super-soft texture and mind-blowing flavor.
When I baked it for the first time, I did it with white sugar. The second time, I used the light brown one. With both, results were amazing. Believe me, you’ll never go wrong with it. Try once and you will be baking it again and again, I promise.
banana-breadPreparation time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 50 minutes to 1 hour

Ingredients:
4 medium sized, very ripe bananas
1/2 cup butter
1 cup Sugar (white or brown). Adjust according to your desired sweetness.
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
11/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Method:
1. Grease and flour a loaf tin. Preheat the oven to 180 C.
2. Squidge the bananas with a masher. I prefer doing it with hand and leave little chunks, instead of making a paste. You feel them in your bites when you chomp on.
3. Cream together the butter and sugar.
4. Add the beaten eggs and crushed bananas.
5. Sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Add to the creamed mixture.
6. Add vanilla, sprinkle the cinnamon powder and fold gently.
7. Tip the mixture in the loaf tin and bake for 50 mins or till done.
8. Enjoy as a tea-time cake or whenever you are in the mood for a dessert.

P.S.:
You can toss in a cup of chopped nuts, raisins, or chocolate chips if you want, or put the batter into muffin tins and make muffins instead.

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Hidden Village, Shahapur, Maharashtra

The village may be magic
It may be something in between
In truth all I can tell you
What I saw, not what I mean…
It’s a village, plain and simple
In the woods, all shades of green
Unkissed, and yet so perfect
stuck in stasis, in between…

Definitely borrowed, but these beautiful lines do strike a chord with a city-slicker like me, wanting to run away, as fast as I can, from this throbbing, deafening chaos straight into the arms of the swaying, whispering woods that’ll hug me like my mother and never let me go.

Hidden Village does just that.
The rustic entrance of woody bamboos welcomes you to an earthy interior where cool breeze blows you a kiss, sun rays peer through the stubborn foliage and unusual feathered fellas happily totter away.
bamboo-entrancePeace cocoons as you stretch yourself on the porch. You are involuntarily drifted into a lull as soft music wafts from the speakers attached above your window.

If sitting idle ain’t your thing (it ain’t mine either 😛 ), then take your shoes out for a stroll across the property that spans four acres of luscious greenery. After driving through the sizzling hot and arid highway for almost an hour and a half, you realize, this place has created its own microclimate that does everything to alleviate your senses.

Walk over the bamboo bridge that stands above the perennially flowing stream. A family of ducks waddles through, frequently bobbing down to catch their feed.
stream

Dunk your feet in its coolest waters and you feel something tickle below. These are the teeny-tiny fish that do the harmless nibbling, giving you a pedicure of sorts.

To the other end of the bridge, a cutesy waterfall plunges into a small pond.
waterfall

Ever been in a swimming pool that’s infused daily with fresh waters of the stream?
swimming-pool

Farm animals are mighty pampered here.
Like them…
turkeys

And her…
henAnd them…
hamsters

When your feet are weary of wandering, head for lunch that awaits in the dining area. You dine among coolness of terracotta roof and muddied floor, while the feathery wonders scurry around, least bothered by your presence. Timings are set and so are the meals.
dining-areaThis isn’t a foodie destination, mind you. So expect basic yet delectable home-style veg and non-veg meals. It’s a buffet of crispy fried fish, egg curry, chicken curry, veggies, rice, chapattis, and salad. Wash these down with a glass of ice-cold Chaas (buttermilk). Finally, end your meal with yummy hot Gajar or Dudhi Halwa. Breakfast, too, is a traditional affair with poha, upma, puri bhaji, egg bhurji and steaming hot tea.
Ingredients are freshly sourced from the nearby village. Humble and unpretentious, they are prepared by the loving locals who work on the property, thus making the food hearty and comforting.

When your tummy surrenders and you can barely keep your eyes open, go sink into the soft, cozy bed that beckons you. Our Fern Villa is painted with happy hues and exudes an old wold charm.
fern-villa-1It’s equipped with all the modern amenities – large LED TV, DVD player, split A/C, tea/coffee maker and a bottle cooler fridge, are all at your service. What really deserves a mention is the bathroom. It’s huge, never-seen-before spacious with a glass shower area and a twin tub.
fern-villa-2A private sit-out…
sitout

Don’t forget to set your alarm to 4.30. Sun somehow seems to have his own timings with villages. A twenty minutes walk back hills, through the tall grassy fields and a dried stream and you are in for a treat.
villagersThe pristine lake is captivating. Its placid waters shimmering with rays of the dissipating sun look perfect against the backdrop of rolling green hills. No one has ventured out here. Not a soul. Silence is palpable. All of these lend a perfect aura to satiate us suburbanites craving for a piece of tranquility. Just when you realize, you haven’t had enough of this serene panorama, it’s time to head back before it turns dark. Dark here means 6.15.
lake

Return home to hoards of activities that’ll keep you occupied and have you famished until dinner. Play area for adults is equipped with pool table, table tennis, carom boards and hand soccer.
play-areaThere’s plenty to keep the kids entertained too. Swings, see-saw, slides and merry-go-round , all will keep your tiny ones pretty occupied. There is also a small ground for team sports like cricket, badminton, Volleyball and other groupies.

Lounge on one of these under the dim light of dangling oil lamps and let the conversations flow, before calling it a night.
cot

Rise early, tear yourself from under the warm quilts and take a walk around. The village mornings are not to be missed. Lend your ears to the avians’ chirping merrily, feel the echoing tranquility and sniff that rustic village air before heading for a hearty breakfast of delicious, savory Poha and steaming hot tea.

On the day of check-in, I’d come across a booklet lying at the reception. It’s like leafing through the autobiography of this place – into its past, journey until now and plans for future. I couldn’t resist myself from taking a pic of this very page that’s sure to blow your mind off.
history

It’s incredible how Mr. Tony Dsouza, coming from one of the insignificant pockets of Mumbai, buys a piece of land, waves his magic wand and turns a barren terrain into something this phenomenal. You can feel his efforts breathing in every corner, every brick of his creation. This place has not just given us city-folks a countryside to go back to, but has also generated employment to significant number of villagers living there. Speaking to them, you realize how much they own this place, how happy and proud they are to be here working, providing for their families and having an identity of their own.
woman
Hidden Village is a trip down the memory lane, where you wish time just froze so you relive those moments of childhood, when buffaloes din’t feel smelly and cellphones were unheard of. You won’t be surprised if, on the day of check-out, you find yourself sitting at the reception, urging the sweet and warm, Mr. Claude Pinto, to extend your stay.

P.S.: Their website, http://hiddenvillage.in/ has all the details you need to know – the rates, booking, location, directions, meals, etc.
Click on the FAQ section and you feel as if someone just read your mind.

Rajma Masala

Rajma or Red Kidney Beans are a staple in almost every North Indian household. Rajma Chawal – Rajma served with Steamed Rice, is a legend in Punjab.
About their health benefits, I can go on and on…
High fiber aids weight loss. They are loaded with proteins, powerhouse of energy and stuffed with antioxidants that increase immunity. They maintain the blood sugar levels, thus preventing diabetes. They also maintain the blood pressure, leading to a healthy heart. Anti-aging, excellent for glowing skin and lustrous hair. Need I say more…

Move over the restaurants that lure you with a good-looking dish and then dig a big hole in your pockets. And all that with really small portions that make you think whether to eat it or just look at it. After Version 1, 2, 3… I’ve finally nailed it with Version Lipsmaking, that’ll beat these hole-diggers hands down.
rajma-masalaSoaking time: Overnight or minimum 10 hours
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes
Serves: 4

Ingredients:
200 grams Rajma (you can also use the canned beans)
3 tbsp butter (I’m very generous with butter)
1 tbsp oil
3 medium or 2 large onions, finely chopped
2 medium size tomatoes, pureed
11/2 tbsp ginger+garlic+green chili paste
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp Kashmiri / red chili powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp corriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp garam masala powder
1 tsp kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves) – optional
2 tbsp fresh cream
1/2 to 1 cup water…as per your desired thickness of the gravy
Salt as per taste
2 tsp lemon juice
Chopped coriander for garnishing

Method:
Soaking and Cooking Rajma:
1. Wash the beans and soak them in enough water overnight or for at least 10 hours. This softens the beans and expedites the cooking process.
2. Discard the liquid and wash the soaked beans under cold water.
3. Pressure cook the beans till done. They should be really soft… melt-in-mouth kind of soft.
4. If boiling, remember Rajma is a really stubborn bean. It’ll consume whole lot of time and fuel. So pressure cooking is advisable.
5. Save the cooking liquor – the liquid that’s left after cooking the beans.
6. Mash 2 tbsps of the cooked beans. They thicken the gravy.

Rajma Masala:
1. Heat oil, then add butter in a kadhai or a non-stick heavy bottomed pan.
2. Add cumin seeds and let them splutter.
3. Add the cinnamon and bay leaf. Fry for few seconds till aromatic and the oil is flavored.
4. Toss in the onions and fry till translucent and golden brown. Be careful not to burn.
5. Add the ginger+garlic+chili paste and saute for a minute. The raw smell should go away.
6. Add the spice powders – turmeric, coriander, cumin, red chili, garam masala and saute for a minute.
7. Add the tomato puree and fry till the oil starts leaving from sides.
8. Tumble in the beans, add the cooking liquor, mashed beans, sprinkle salt and give it a good stir. Add more water if needed.
9. Let it simmer without lid, on low for around 10 minutes.
10. After the gravy has attained the desired consistency, sprinkle the kasuri methi, add the fresh cream and lime juice.
11. Let it cook on low for another one last minute.
12. Garnish with coriander and serve hot with Steamed Rice, Jeera (Cumin) Rice, Roti or Naan slathered with butter.

P.S. : *There are two varieties of Rajma available in the market – Red and pinkish one. Cooking time varies for both. I prefer the red ones.
*If undercooked, the beans aren’t as flavorful as they should be. Also, under-cooked Rajma isn’t good for your stomach. So ensure it’s cooked thoroughly.
*If using canned beans, discard the liquid and take just the beans after giving them a quick run under cold water.

Spicy Kerala Chicken Curry

I came across this recipe while scouring the YouTube for Chicken curries cooked the Kerala way. The video was shot entirely in Malayalam (predominant language spoken in Kerala) and I am Malayalam-illiterate. But one look at the process and I was already drooling.
It tastes mind-blowing more than it looks; not to forget the super-easy part.
spicy-kerala-chicken-curryPreparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes
Serves: 4

Ingredients:
For curry:

500 gm chicken
3 medium size onions, sliced
2 tbsp ginger, finely chopped
10-12 cloves of garlic. Leave them whole
2 green chilies, slit (those thin, dark ones are really hot. So use accordingly)
1 medium size tomato, sliced
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tbsp coriander powder
2 tbsp red chili powder (Alter as per your spice-tolerance level)
1 tsp black pepper powder
1/2 tsp fennel seeds powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
3 – 4 tbsp coconut oil
Salt as per taste
1/2 to 1 cup water, as per the desired thickness

For tempering:
1 tbsp coconut oil
3/4 tsp mustard seeds
3 dried red chilies, broken
2 green chilies, slit
8-9 curry leaves

Method:
For Curry:
1. Heat oil in a kadhai or a heavy bottomed pan.
2. Add onions, chilies, ginger and garlic. Fry till soft and translucent.
3. Add all the spice powders and saute for one minute.
4. Toss in the tomatoes and fry till soft.
5. Now add water, sprinkle salt and bring it to boil. Now reduce the flame and let it simmer for 3-4 minutes, until the mixture turns into a thick gravy.
6. Slowly tumble in the chicken pieces. Stir, so they are all coated in the gravy.
7. Let the curry simmer for around 10-15 minutes or until the chicken is tender and cooked.

For tempering:
1. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a separate pan.
2. Add mustard seeds and let them splutter.
3. Now add the curry leaves, green and red chilies and fry on slow flame for a bit. Red chilies tend to burn soon. So take care here.

Now add this tempered mixture to the simmering curry and cook for another 3-4 minutes till the curry is flavored.
Serve with steamed rice and a wedge of lime.

P.S.: *You will also enjoy it with Appams – Kerala style pancakes made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk.
In Sri Lanka, they are known as Hoppers.
*Coconut oil is the stellar ingredient here. All the flavor that the curry has, is because of the coconut oil. Do not use any other oil for this recipe except this one. 
*Do not add too much of water in Step 5. You don’t want a really runny curry.
More water can always be added in Step 7. This way you get your desired consistency and also save your curry.
* Alter the amount of green chilies and chili powder as per you tolerance level.

 

Powai Sarvajanin Durgotsav

Heart filled with anticipation, we manoeuvre towards the entrance. Cars jostle for parking space, dhoti-clad men and alluring women draped in Devdas-style sarees sashay gracefully in and out, halogens radiating their perfectly decorated faces. It’s the ninth and last night of Navratri, the night before Dussehra and my last chance to experience the much revered Sarvajanik Durgotsav – Public Celebration of Goddess Durga.

Now in its 11th year, the Powai Sarvajanin Durgotsav is organised by the Powai Bengali Welfare Association, also known as the PBWA and ranks among the top ten Durga Puja Pandals in Mumbai.

It’s amazing how despite such a massive turnout, everything is so organised and well under control. The entrance opens to an enormous ground, its every corner oozing festive energy.
pandalIrresistible aromas of delicious Bengali food follow you everywhere. We somehow manage to control our urge and head first for the blessings of Goddess Durga. enclosureEnter the beautifully themed enclosure and get bedazzled to  the larger-than-life idol of the Goddess. Riding her roaring lion, looking resplendent draped in vermilion red, her dark, lustrous hair flowing beneath her sparkling gilded crown like an unstoppable raging river, festooned with garlands, she looks spectacularly ferocious and yet breathtakingly beautiful. Her big, round, kohl-lined eyes look mercifully at you while she slays Mahishasur, the demon, the symbol of all things negative.durga-maDarshan, done. Time to hit the food stalls. Whether you are a vegetarian or otherwise, they are sure to wow you with a wide variety of gastronomic delights.
Hungry crowds hover over the counters, frankies sizzle on massive skillets, biryani tossed onto the plates, aroma of Chinese food beckons. But it is the traditional Bengali delicacies that steal the show. I struggle, crane my neck, stretch my hand, for one click. Seeing my plight, the guy at the counter gladly obliges.
foodWe chomp on Steamed Rice drenched in the flavorful Bhapa Ilish, the succulent Hilsa fish first steamed then cooked in luscious mustard based curry. This accompanied by Fish Fry, deep fried skillets of Bhetki, juicy and tender on the inside, enveloped in the crunchiest and most delicious crust there can ever be. It’s amazing how the coating is seasoned and flavored to make up for the blandness of this river fish.
We wash all these down with a soft drink and head towards the desserts.

The stalls have run out of the much-in-demand Sondesh. So we make do with its another popular cousin, the Mishti Doi – sweet and thickened curd set in an earthen pot. What’s so special about that? you ask. Honestly, nothing. It’s the earthen flavor and the feeling of having everything Bengali tonight that makes the difference.
mishti-doiWith the muscles of our stomachs starting to protest, we have no option but to parcel the Lancha – a larger version of the Gulab Jamun. lanchaLittle further, old Hindi and Bengali melodies fill the air. A well-known singer performs live, enthralling the audience, belting out one hit after the other in his soulful rendition.
singingWhile my ears are on his singing, my eyes scout hard to capture one of the many Bengali belles parading around. I’ve always been awestruck by their beauty – luminous complexion, voluptuous figure, dense dark hair and big almond eyes.
My lens finally finds its muse…
museWhile ambling the grounds in an effort to get our digestive system working, I bump into an ex-colleague-cum-friend after eight long years. Looking at his son I realize how time has just flown by.

World is indeed small and such occasions are a wonderful way to meet people who you may not otherwise, in this enigmatic conundrum called Life.
All you need to do is get yourself out there…

Matar Mushroom Masala – Spicy Green Peas and Mushrooms

Matar or Green Peas – high on antioxidants, loaded with fiber and proteins, generous amount of vitamins, yet low on calories. Excellent for your heart and bones.
Mushrooms – a storehouse of iron, packed with proteins and antioxidants and a wealth of vitamins and minerals. No fats, no cholesterol and very low on carbohydrates… a staple for diabetics.
When these two stars come together, backed with a thick luscious gravy, what you get is a guaranteed super-tasty, super-healthy, super super super dish.
matar-mushroom-masalaPreparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes
Serves: 4

Ingredients:
2 cups of boiled peas
200 grams button mushrooms, cut into halves or quarters, depending on the size
3 medium or 2 large onions, finely chopped
2 medium size tomatoes, pureed
1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
3 tbsp butter / oil
1 cinnamon stick
2 cardamoms
2 cloves
1 bay leaf
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp Kashmiri chili powder. This gives that gorgeous red color without burning your tongue.
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp corriander powder
1 tsp garam masala powder
1 tsp honey or sugar
1/2 to 1 cup water…as per your desired thickness of the gravy
Salt as per taste
1 tsp lemon juice
Chopped coriander for garnishing

Method:
1. Heat butter / oil in a kadhai or a broad, nonstick pan.
2. Add cumin seeds and let them splutter.
3. Add the whole spices – cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and bay leaf. Fry on medium till aromatic.
4. Fry onions till translucent and golden brown. Be careful not to burn.
5. Add the ginger-garlic paste and fry for a minute.
6. Add the spice powders – turmeric, coriander, Kashmiri chili… and fry for a minute.
7. Add the tomato puree and fry till the oil starts leaving from sides.
8. Tumble in the boiled peas and mushrooms and give a good stir.
9. Now add water, sprinkle salt and let it simmer for around 10 minutes or till the veggies are cooked.
10. Lastly, sprinkle the garam masala powder, squeeze lime juice and add a dash of honey / sugar
11. Let it cook on low for another 3-4 minutes.
10. Garnish with chopped coriander. Serve hot with chapatis, fulkas, naan, jeera rice or steamed rice.

P.S.: You can also use Paneer or Cottage Cheese in place of mushrooms.
Adding honey / sugar gives a lift to the flavors.
Step 3 can be kept optional.

Always remember…the more time you invest cooking each step, the more flavors you add to your dish. Patience is the key 🙂

Shahi Matar Paneer – Green Peas and Cottage Cheese In Cashews And Cream

‘Shahi’, which means ‘Regal’… a dish that used to be cooked specially for the kings!
Shahi Matar Paneer, born in the North of India, is a serious medley of finger-licking deliciousness, creamy textures, gorgeous colors and aromatic spices. Matar or Green Peas and Paneer or Cottage Cheese are a match made in heaven which marry right here, in our kitchen.
So let’s get cooking… bring in the royalty onto our plate 🙂
Shahi Mutter PaneerPreparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 15 – 20 minutes
Serves: 4

Ingredients: 
For paste:
2 medium size onions roughly chopped
3 tbsps cashwenuts, broken
6 medium size cloves of garlic
One inch or 2 tsps roughly chopped ginger
Grind all the above ingredient into a smooth paste. Don’t add too much of water while grinding.

For gravy:
1 cup of boiled peas
250 grams fresh paneer or cottage cheese
2 tbsp butter
1 cinnamon stick
2 cardamoms
2 cloves
1 bay leaf
2 tsp Kashmiri chili powder. This gives that gorgeous red color without burning your tongue.
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp corriander powder
1 tsp garam masala powder
1 tsp dry fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi)
2 medium size tomatoes, pureed
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup fresh cream. I add bit more for that extra creaminess.
1 tbsp honey
2 tsp corn flour/ plain flour for thickening. Mix in water to make a paste.
Half cup water
Salt as per taste
Chopped coriander for garnishing

Method:
1. Heat butter in a broad, nonstick pan. Add a tsp of oil so it doesn’t burn.
2. Add the whole spices – cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and bay leaf. Fry on medium till aromatic.
3. Add the cashew-onion paste and fry for 1 minutes.
4. Add chili powder, garam masala, cumin powder, coriander powder and fenugreek leaves. Add half a cup of water, mix and cook on medium for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Add tomato puree and cook for another couple of minutes.
6. Drizzle in the honey, milk, fresh cream and salt. Cook for 3-4 minutes on medium.
7. Add the cornflour / plain flour paste and stir. Cook on medium for 2 minutes.
8. Gently add the paneer and peas and mix, taking care not to bruise or break the paneer pieces. Let it cook for 2-3 minutes on medium, stirring occasionally.
9. Garnish with chopped coriander and serve hot with naan, flaky parathas or rotis.

Great ingredients are right there, on your shelf. Use them to create magic in your kitchen.