Friday, November 20, 2015

fruit juice Rasgulla and fruit cocktail Rasgulla | Indian desserts made healthy | no added sugar Rasgulla recipe

Rasgulla or Roshogolla is a cottage cheese dumpling soaked in light sugar syrup. It is one of the healthiest Indian desserts and the good thing with this dessert is that the spongy spherical balls of cottage cheese can be squeezed to remove most of the sugar from it and it becomes a low sugar dessert. I have never seen anyone who doesn't like Rasgulla, some people like it lightly sweetened and some like it in thick sugar syrup, I prefer fruity flavour in Rasgulla.

The making of Rasgulla is a little tricky but very simple once you understand how it works. Freshly made cottage cheese is blended very smooth till it becomes cohesive and makes smooth balls when rolled in one's palms. These smooth cottage cheese balls are then poached in a very light sugar syrup till they fluff up and get almost tripled in size. Normally these Rasgullas are served chilled along with some of the poaching syrup without any other flavouring added. But some add a hint of Cardamom or Saffron to the syrup to make it mildly flavoured.

The most favourite way that I like Rasgulla is either the Orange juice rasgulla or on Pomegranate juice. This Anar (pomegranate) Rasgulla makes everyone happy.

The fruity version called Komola bhog or Orange Rasgulla is also made by commercial sweet makers but that is mostly a synthetically flavoured version, although I have made and shared a naturally Orange flavoured Rasgulla earlier. I keep making Rasgullas with fruit flavours and in a few more ways and have always got very good feedback from whoever eats them. One of the most stunning recipe is this fruit cocktail Rasgulla that makes a very nice healthy dessert for family get-togethers.

One thing to note when making Rasgulla with fruit juices is that the Rasgulla which is basically spongy cheese balls, take on the colour of the fruit juice and most fruit juices are a mix of different types of plant pigments. So the colour the Rasgulla soaks may not be the same colour of the juice. It works like Chromatography, only specific coloured pigments are absorbed by different proteins and starches, so don't be bothered if your Rasgulla in pomegranate juice looks brown after an hour of soaking in it. It is perfectly fine. Make a point to use the fruit juice rasgullas within a couple of hours of making and keep them chilled.

Now let's see what is the procedure.

The detailed procedure of making paneer is here, the loose version of the same cheese is called Chhena which is basically cottage cheese. I have shared a basic rasgulla recipe here and have discussed in detail how to make chhenna (cottage cheese) for rasgulla.

To repeat, I must say the raw (I use pasteurized) milk is heated till 90 degree C, then lime juice is added slowly till you see curdled milk solids and clear whey. Strain the cottage cheese, rinse it under cold water, squeeze it and then knead to make a smooth dough. Then make small balls for rasgulla, keeping in mind they double in size and get even bigger depending on milk and cheese quality.

Now make a weak sugar syrup (50-100 gm sugar on 700 ml water) or plain water (as I do), sufficient enough to let the Rasgullas poach freely, boil it in a pressure cooker or a deep pan or stock pot, tip in all the Rasgulla balls one by one and simmer them till you see them doubled.

I generally cover the cooker with lid and pressure cook them shortly (till the first whistle) to ensure the Rasgullas fluff up to maximum.

You can see the Rasgullas have become big and the poaching liquid gets cloudy. This is because of the Casein (milk protein) which leaks into the poaching liquid. If the poaching liquid has enough sugar for your liking you can chill it along with it, else add some sugar or date syrup or even honey and dissolve, then chill to serve as desired.

But if you are like me, you would squeeze the ready Rasgullas lightly and dunk them directly in fruit juice of your choice.

Like in this fruit cocktail Rasgulla I used pomegranate juice infused with a little Thai basil and some cut fruits. The result was spectacular and very mildly sweet that we love. You can add additional sweetener of your choice at any point after this.

For this Anar Rasgulla I sometimes use plum juice along with pomegranate arils to make it look ruby red. This one had wooed many people trust me.

The fruit cocktail gets mixed reviews because some people do not like one of the fruits or some people get suspicious of the Rasgulla getting a tad bit darker when served. Kids get a lesson on Chromatography if they are in doubt.

Wouldn't it be a good way to teach them some science? And about natural plant pigments and how they behave, how beneficial they are for our body as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents too.

One can always replace cakes when a dessert like this is served for birthdays. Both of us hate the sickening dressed up birthday cakes and will grab any opportunity to make such display of desserts replace birthday cakes.

I know many people, mostly adults who love this idea of birthday special desserts. We can always make our kids learn better and condition them from the beginning. Or one can always have a conventional cake and then a few of these healthy desserts too. At least they start appreciating what is eventually good for them.

Kids make good choices if we provide them with options. If they grow up eating fondant covered neon coloured cakes they would never know there are better options.

Brings the best options home. Let you body and mind have the best of treats for celebrations as well as everyday treats.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

how to choose gifts for Diwali and other festivals | 10 healthy gifting choices to pamper your loved ones

There is a tradition of distributing gifts during festivals as it is supposed to strengthen social bonding and bring cheer to our lives. Who doesn't feel happy to receive a box of chocolates or besan ke laddu  when it is festive time or even otherwise. To make the gifting worth we must think for a moment about the ingredients being used to make those cakes, brownies, mithais and other edible products that we buy during these times.

diwali gift ideas

I always wonder where from so much milk products come (mostly khoya, reduced dehydrated milk) in the market during major festivals and how do the shops manage to increase the shelf life of mithais and cupcakes being packaged and transported on an industrial scale. Everyone who has seen the production and supply chain of such products will be aware what all goes into those glittery garnishes and even the piece of cake or mithai you buy. Being careful about the quality of the products you decide to gift is a great idea if you care for your friends and family.

In older days we used to gift a platter of Besan ka laddu and Shakkarparas to friends and relatives but now a days I see many of us gifting ready made hampers. W don't have enough time to make time consuming mithais or cakes and cookies for gifting but we do want to gift nice good quality things to our loved ones.

It is all the more important to know where these products come from.

diwali gift ideas

Here are a few ideas of gifts that you would love receiving. The biggest reason to choose the same kind of products and homemade eatables for your friends as well. After all eatable gifts are the best way to spread cheer, food connects us in ways we can't imagine sometimes. Of course there are the good quality real cakes, cookies, mithais and nuts and fruits to choose from, a few other options might be more exciting.

1. Tea and coffee hampers : we usually know what teas and coffees our friends and family like. Or we can gift them something new to discover. You can include pretty kettles and coffee press to the hamper if you are feeling generous. Add some artisan cookies or trail mixes to the hamper or dried herbs so someone can make their own blends.

tea hampers

Mittal Teas and Anandini Himalaya Tea do nice tea hampers.  

2. Roasted nuts or trail mixes : You can make them in bulk by yourself of get them made on order by some local bakery. These are the products least likely to be adulterated so you can buy them packaged too, just read the labels whether you are buying for yourself or for gifting. 

trail mix

Avanti Mathur of Sweet Nothings makes wonderful cakes but her Diwali hampers are great too. These can be customized according to taste. 

diwali gift ideas

3. Homemade jams and preserves : You would love making them yourself even if you try for the very first time. Get nice glass jars, buy fruits in bulk and have a day full of fruity aromas and sticky fingers. Making marmalade and jams is easy although it is time consuming, your friends will remember you every time they open the jar. The industrially produced jams can never come close to homemade artisan jams and preserves. Buy from someone who is making at home if you can't make yourself, you will find many around your area. 

home made jams

Apeksha Jain makes very good jams in Delhi. 

 4. Nut Butters and home made chocolate nut spreads: When you gift these home made goodies to your friends they really feel pampered because they see the attention to quality and the loving care you fill these jars with.

Try this chocolate spread recipe and this chocolate ganache recipe if you want to make these.

nut butters

Megha Deokule of i2cook makes some nice nut butters and sauces if you like ordering. 

5. Homemade chocolates : These are the easiest to make if you are planning to make by yourself. You just need to order the raw materials in advance and plan ahead of time for attractive packaging etc, but thankfully there are many home cooks too who are taking orders for home made chocolates. Find someone in your area and get them made with the best quality chocolate available.


Radisson blu Delhi Pastry Shop did a nice home made chocolate hamper this year. 

6. Fruit juices, preserves and honey made and marketed by rural women and NGOs : We see many such groups who are making fruit preserves, fruit juices and honey when we travel to hills and these products could be a great gifting option during festivals too. Of course these products are so good these should be part of our regular shopping list too.

I saw this apple juice by Mountain Love (no preservatives, pasteurized juice) recently, it comes in 5 liter packs (for 700 Rs) and they home deliver anywhere in NCR.

Mountain love apple juice

I love Litchi honey and wild flower honey by Kilmora and a few other brands located in the hills of Uttarakhand and Himachal. There are many such produce from Coorg hills too.


7. Assortment of all products you love : some good quality sauces, jams, pasta and cakes etc is also a great way to pamper your friends and family. This huge hamper from The Oberoi Gurgaon is a fine example.

diwali gift ideas

How wonderful it is to get good quality products to cook with. A few ready to eat treats makes the hamper feel like an instant treat too.

This assortment of nuts, chocolate, cakes and brownies from The Oberoi Delhi also makes one feel pampered.  

8. Home made granola bars, muesli, panjeeri etc. : Nothing like good quality home made muesli, Panjeeri or granola bars. These can also be made at home or can be ordered from home bakers from your area. This buckwheat granola bar, gluten free amaranth energy bar, sesame ginger honey bars, Flax seed coconut granola bars etc are easy recipes to follow.

diwali gift ideas

Le Meridien Gurgaon sent a box of delicious gluten free granola bars and I am inspired to bake some next time I have to gift. 

9. Mithais from Mother Dairy or any other reputed dairy from your area : The packaged mithais and other dairy products are standardized and good quality always. You have to read the labels in this case too if you have allergies or intolerance to certain ingredients, but you can trust the purity and quality.

diwali gift ideas

Even the powder milk and khoya from these dairies and brands is way better than the packaged ready to eat mithais, so try and get these to make mithais and desserts at home. Cooking from scratch is always the best option.

10. Real Vanilla beans or extract or homemade vanilla extract : I used to make Vanilla extract by slitting Vanilla beans and seeping them into Vodka for about 4-6 months earlier. I kept making my own vanilla extract this way for many years, and since it takes time I would make a large batch and share with friends too.

But now I have found Goodness Vanilla and their Vanilla beans and extract is so good I don't buy any other Vanilla anymore.

vanilla extract

These tube packs of Vanilla beans and bottles of extract are great gifting ideas for all your friends who love baking. The Vanilla beans and extracts can be ordered from their website.

These kind of gifts stay with us for a long time and we remember the treats for a lifetime for sure. When you add a special touch by cooking things at home or taking care to select the pure natural ingredients, the gifts are much more valuable than it is meant to be.

diwali gift ideas

Hoping these ideas will help you decide when you are planning to gift. I would have included homemade sauces and pickles too but I know many of you don't cook so much. But as I mentioned, it is easier to find someone who bakes from home or can make anything you want for commercial scale, now that people are getting conscious of the quality of produce.

Please share your ideas too. Gifting is always so personal we all have different ideas and sentiments attached with it.

Sometimes a box of fruits or a basket full of seeds and seasonal nursery makes wonderful gift too. Diwali is the time when we are planting flowers for spring.

Please don't gift firecrackers if you want the flowers to be happy next spring.

Monday, November 2, 2015

curating a tea and poetry session at Te Aroha for Kumaon Literature Festival and a tea hamper give-away for you

This year it has been a long summer and we waited for the temperature to plunge lower to comfortable levels for a very long time but the winter kept evading us. Almost the whole of October passed and we still waited for the first nip in the air and a sip of adrak wali chai or a nice Tulsi infused tea.

Tulsi tea

I did enjoy my Ginger chai and Tulsi infused Darjeeling sometimes but the warmth of the tea was not as much comforting as it usually is during October, we even had our iced teas many a times this month. Thankfully last week has been a pleasant change and chai has become a bit more pleasurable. Just a little bit because winter still seems to be shy. You know I love my chai and the orthodox teas a lot. I will talk about ginger chai (adrak wali chai) later, let's talk about the orthodox teas for now.

Green tea

Orthodox tea is just tea, water at the right temperature suited for you, the right brewing time and nothing else. But there a lot brewing between these parameters of right temperature and the right brewing time, the cup of tea that you hold in your hands after brewing it correctly is a comfort few things can bring. And yes you need to know what tea suits your temperament and requirement. Or if you need a tea and herb infusion for you.

Green tea and Lavender or some rose too? Or a hint of Chamomile and Lemon balm? Hint of Peaches in your tea? What about Rooibos orange? 

I keep meeting many tea enthusiasts and all of them seem to be choosing their herbs carefully to infuse into their teas. There seems to be a magical connection between the personalities and the herbs and the way they chose their herb infused teas, how they brew it and then take a deep breath while sipping, eyes closed almost always. One gets completely drawn into the moment when the fresh brew brings a sense of calm, the first sip of a well made tea is magical.

Assam tea

I had been thinking and planning more around teas as few months ago I was asked to curate a tea and poetry session for the recently concluded Kumaon Literature Festival (KLF). This tea and poetry session was planned to be held in the oak forest, a small climb up the Te Aroha, venue of the KLF and we wanted some discussions on teas, their connect with literature and poetry and poetry recital by some eminent poets. The idea of teas and poetry in the Oak forest kept us warm when we were planning the nitty-gritty of this event.

I have known Mr Vikram Mittal for some time and recognize him as one of the most knowledgeable people regarding teas. So he was roped in to make us all experience great teas in a rustic set up along with poetry being recited in good measure. We had planned a few cookies and trail mix pairing with the teas too, and since it was an outdoor rustic setting we chose to serve the cookies and trail mixes in reed baskets I sourced from Manipur Emporium.

Here is Mr. Mittal arranging the teas to be served that day and explaining about the teas. We served seven types of teas and each tea was brewed several times over. Everyone loved the teas much to our pleasure.

tea and poetry session

In the last moment we decided to do this tea and poetry session around the camp fire place at Te Aroha and not in the Oak forest as many poets did not want to hike to the forest.

Ms Abha Ayengar moderated the poetry reading and Mr Mittal kept introducing teas in between, the venue was swamped with tea and poetry lovers and I was the one who ended up brewing loads of teas one after the other. It was a wonderful sunset after a beautiful cloud formation in the sky. A classic Cirrocumulus stratiformis type of cloud that turned golden as the sun set, I was brewing teas of all hues at that time and kept craving for a break to click a picture.

tea and poetry session

Here is the rustic arrangement of cookies, Lavender and lime, candied orange cookies, ginger cookies and a trail mix, everything just vanished within a span of about 40 minutes. The cookies were baked by Shikha Sachdev who runs Cocoka, the recipes were mine. I had done the trail mixes myself.

tea and snacks

We had initially planned for a quite systematic serving of teas and snacks but it got so crowded that we decided to set up 3 such snack stations.

The most popular tea of the day was Rhododendron and Holy basil infusion. We had blended two types of Holy basil in this one and the result was no less than magic. I had to brew this one several times over.

rhododendron tea

The second most popular blend was Earl Grey floral, so aromatic and warming that most people took  second and third helpings. It was a cold evening in the mountains and tea helped in the outdoors.

tea and poetry session
Kahva was also liked a lot with it's mild spiced notes suited for the weather. Come winter I depend a lot on Kahva as well. I love the way Kashmiris have come up with a blend of cinnamon and green cardamom along with a hint of saffron. I generally let a bruised almond boil with the water before brewing tea for Kahva (Quahva) but he Kahmiris sprinkle coarse powder of almonds to their Kahva.

Our all time favourite is Darjeeling. Without milk mostly but sometime with a dash of milk too.

Darjeeling tea

Now the good thing is that Mittal Teas is giving away two (2) gift packs of a personalised selection of teas to the readers of this blog. All you have to do is tell us about your favourite herbs and spices, add some flowers too to the list and we will decide what teas you would like.  

We will choose 2 reader comments on this post so start commenting if you love good quality teas. I am sure we will be able to find a couple of tea blends you appreciate.

You need to have an Indian address to win this Diwali Giveaway of a personalised tea hamper.

tea hamper give away

So tell me about you favourite flowers, spices and herbs and enter a chance to win this give away.