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Monthly Archives: October 2012

Lamb Dhansak In Its Rice Anorak

If the title of todays bloggage means nought to you, then may I point you in the direction of the sublimely bizarre Mighty Boosh DVD box sets and hopefully all will become clear. Perhaps, either that or you’ll come away from the experience more confused than ever, who can say, it’s that kind of show? In essence though, I just pinched one of their lines as it perfectly suited what I’ve cooked the week, which obviously was a lamb dhansak. It’s always infuriated me that I’ve never managed to cook a decent Indian curry, heaven knows I’ve tried but they always end up watery, or tasteless, or tasting purely of tinned tomatoes. I know a homemade curry is never going to taste anything like a curry from the local Indian takeaway, but all I ask is that it tastes nice. Well reader, on Saturday I finally made some progress. Get out the champers and party poppers. I’ve tried curries from so many different cookbooks, all have failed, so it came as quite a surprise to me that the recipe that finally worked was from a recipe book for pies. Yes that’s right, not a curry book but a pie book. It’s like up is down and down is up. The reason for there being a curry in Pieminister is that you make the curry one day and dish up some as a regular curry with rice, and then the next day pop the remaining curry into pie, bake and serve. Genius. The recipe is called The Guru, I’m not sure why but recycling the curry into a pie seemed like a great idea to me. Plus the flavour in a curry intensifies when left for a day and reheated so in theory the pie should taste even better than your dinner the night before.
First things first, this recipe yields an absolute truckload of food so if you’re feeding a lot of people this is the dish to go for. We had enough for 2 servings of curry, 4 slices of pie and at least 2 servings for the freezer, but we have big appetites so less greedy people could probably stretch it further. It’s also packed full of healthy ingredients, but don’t let this put you off! Aside from the lamb, you’ve got chickpeas, lentils, onions, sweet potato, tomatoes, spinach and loads of spices so plenty of super foods which add flavour and texture, as well as added smugness which comes with the knowledge that actually the curry is really quite good for you. Pieminister also taught me that the way to avoid the tinned tomato taste is to use a jar of passata instead of the usual tinned stuff. There’s no metallic taste and its thicker so the curry ends up far less watery, two perils that until now I’d never been able to avoid. Such an obvious substitution to make but one I’d ever thought of and I urge you to give it a go too if you’re just as hopeless as me at Indian curries. In the end, the dhansak tasted pretty good. Nothing amazing, but pretty good nonetheless. It even looked like a proper curry, and had a decent amount of spice in it. Even The Boyfriend thought it was pretty good and he is my toughest critic. In the pie though, it was less impressive. I say that, but the curry was still tasty and definitely had developed more of a kick overnight. It was the pastry that let it down, that bloody shortcrust pastry. I’m just not a fan, it’s bland and dull and adds nothing to the dish, I should have just had the dhansak with rice again. The Boyfriend went so far as to say that shortcrust makes him feel sick, so it’s fair to say I won’t be making shortcrust pastry in my kitchen again. Puff pastry is the way forward. To accompany the pie I made Bombay roasted new potatoes from Jamie’s Britain which thankfully got the thumbs up, and some petit pois peas which always taste good.

Feeling adventurous last night I also decided to whip up a dessert, vanilla soufflé with a raspberry coulis (what normal people call a sauce, however the recipe did come from my Masterchef cookbook so one can expect a little bit of pretension). Putting it in the oven I was convinced that the soufflé would be a disaster as the two components of the pud would not gel together in my mixing bowl, but I was wrong in my conviction as they rose splendidly and came out just as I wanted them to. The soufflés tasted perfectly of vanilla, which is reassuring considering vanilla pods aren’t cheap, and the smell of the milk infusing with the vanilla was amazing. Vanilla is easily my favourite smell of all time, it’s gorgeous. It was light, fluffy and reminded me of a just cooked pancake, albeit with a strong dose of vanilla instead of the traditional sugar and lemon. The coulis was also very good, sharp but sweet and added some punchiness to the soft, fluffy soufflé. My only beef with soufflés is that while they taste lovely, it’s like eating air and doesn’t give me something to sink my teeth into and therefore leaves me feeling somewhat deflated, much like a failed soufflé. In my eyes, the perfect desserts are either fudgey, gooey, chocolatey concoctions, fruity pies or crumbles with lashings of custard, or a tub of Ben and Jerry’s. With this up against it, it’s no wonder the soufflé didn’t entirely hit the spot, tasty though it was.

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Getting to know Gordon

When you think of famous chef extraordinaire Gordon Ramsay, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Shouting at idiotic chefs? Refusing to cook for vegetarians? Well it turns out you’re wrong, wrong, wrong because despite his fearsome reputation as a shouty, foul mouthed chef he’s actually a bit of a romantic. I once thought the same as you but after watching 100 Recipes To Stake Your Life On a few weeks ago I saw a totally different side to him. When its just him and food on screen he becomes Mr Lover Lover, romancer of romanesco and seducer of sirloins. How I wish I was exaggerating, but watching him manhandle food and talk in husky tones to a bread and butter pudding made me think that all that was missing was a 70’s soundtrack and a broken washing machine needing ‘fixing’. I’m just going to come out and say it, Gordon Ramsay wants to make love to food, and that is a scientific fact! Watch as he makes chocolate doughnuts and says ‘doughnuts get me really excited’, hear how he calls them ‘beautiful’ and put your fingers in your ears as he oooohs and aaaahs about how satisfying they are to eat. Food porn at its filthiest. Don’t let this put you off what was otherwise a great cookery show though, as the food really did look gorgeous and absolutely everything looked delightfully edible. Just know that after watching him knead and massage a focaccia dough, you’ll never look at bread the same way again.

After taking the mick out of Ramsay pretty much everyday in the office, I was thrilled to be given the accompanying cookbook as a birthday present from my work Birthday Buddy last week. It’s a great looking cookbook (called Ultimate Cookery Course) filled with some really yummy looking food, and has a great variety of really interesting looking recipes that you wouldn’t necessarily find in other celeb chefs books. Today I went for the very first recipe that I saw him cook on the show, and that was chilli beef lettuce wraps. As you may know, I had a storming success with meat in lettuce a couple of weeks ago (Cambodian beef) and hoped that Gordon’s Thai alternative would be just as successful. Gordon encourages us to ‘take mince beef further than you’ve ever taken it before’, which while sounding exciting just means crumble it in to a very hot frying pan and get it really crispy so that it adds some crunch to your dinner. I know, talk about misleading! Add some zingy Thai flavours, whip up a sour dressing and spoon into baby gem lettuce leaves for a tasty and speedy post work dinner. In my opinion it was easy to make, tasty but not particularly mind blowing. But don’t just take my word for it, The Boyfriend is back now and his verdict was pretty similar. Although he is one tough customer to please in the kitchen. I’d make it again as it was tasty enough and simple to make, and easily beats a microwave ready meal on pretty much all counts. Not a bad start from the new book, but there are a lot of recipes I’m itching to try from this tome, so do expect to be seeing a lot more from food romancer Ramsay on these pages.
I forgot to take a photo, so desperate was I to eat it, but it definitely looked exactly like the images from the book. Yep, it would be really tricky to tell my version apart from Gordon’s. Ahem.

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Posted by on October 22, 2012 in Books, Cooking, Food, Thai

 

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Easy Focaccia

As promised, here is the recipe for the focaccia I made yesterday. If you’ve never made bread before and have always wanted to, this is a great recipe to get you into it as the simplicity and results fill you with confidence. It’s so simple a child could do it (and if you want to keep them quiet for a bit, I recommend just that), and tastes so much better than anything you’d find in a supermarket, and dare I say it, even in most bakeries.

Ingredients

1 sachet dried yeast (find near the flour in any supermarket)
275ml hot but not boiling water
500g strong white bread flour
3tsp Maldon sea salt
4 tbsp olive oil

Method

Put the flour, yeast and 1 tsp salt in a mixing bowl and mix well. Make a well in the centre and pour in 3 tbsp of the oil and gradually add the water until it forms a soft, raggy dough.
Turn the dough on to a floured work surface and knead vigorously for 10 minutes until you’ve made a smooth dough. Lightly oil a bowl, pop the dough in there and cover with a clean tea towel. Leave in a warm place for 45 mins until doubled in size.
Once the dough has risen, knead again for 1-2 minutes so the air bubbles are knocked out. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into an oval shape and into a size that snugly fits in a baking tray. Oil the baking tray and put your rolled out dough on top then leave to rise in a wam place for 20 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees centigrade/ 400 Fahrenheit. Using your fingertips, dimple the surface of the dough (my favourite bit!) and drizzle on the remaining oil and salt. If you wanted to add any ingredients, now is the time to do it, just push whatever you fancy into the dimples. Rosemary and chillies work well, but don’t feel restrained by my choices. Put the bread in the oven for 20-30 minutes until golden and the base of the bread sounds hollow when tapped. Voila!

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2012 in Baking, Cooking, Food, Italian

 

Been around the world and I, I, I….

Italy, Thailand, America, it’s like a round the world plane ticket in miniature, all in my kitchen. But not to worry that I (I, I, I) can’t find ‘my baby’ as he’s back next Saturday, nice and early first thing in the morning on my birthday. What more could I want as a present? I would just like to assure you all that I would never really call The Boyfriend ‘my baby’, I do have some standards when it comes to nick names, but when a song title fits, it fits! So to make the most of what free time I had this weekend, I got my ass in the kitchen and made the most of my last solo weekend for a while. Believe me, I can’t wait for him to be back and am desperate to not wake up alone every morning, but I do enjoy the ability to potter about in the kitchen all day and cook what ever my heart desires on a Sunday. It’s making the best out of a bad situation. So to celebrate my last lonely Sunday morning for a while I took some inspiration from Jamie’s America to knock up breakfast. I’ve said it before about the Americans and how they have the knack for breakfast and I would say it again but I don’t like repeating myself. So I went with the New York section as surely New Yorkers are the Kings Of Breakfast (I’m not sure why I’ve come to this conclusion but it just seems right to me), and made myself Omelette Gordon Bennett, which is a twist on the classic Arnold Bennett omelette which was apparently created by a very fussy customer in a top NY hotel. The twist being that Jamie replaces smoked haddock with smoked mackerel. As twists go, it’s not exactly up there with the polar bear in Lost but its Sunday morning, i’ll let it go. It’s a very simple dish to make and easy enough to halve (recipe gives enough for two, but 5 eggs even for me is a bit much), the only tricky bit is making sure the bottom doesn’t burn while you make sure the egg on top of the omelette is fully cooked. Because of the chunks of fish it’s not advisable to flip the omelette as the weight would collapse it, so you need to keep a close eye on the omelette and adjust the heat accordingly. Incredibly I managed to cook it perfectly and it tasted pretty wonderful. I love smoked mackerel and being advised to top the whole thing off with grated Parmesan at 9 in the morning makes this a winner for a filling breakfast. You probably won’t even need lunch. If you’re a fan of American food then Jamie’s book is great, he covers several different states and a huge variety of food, including Native American recipes. The best sections though are definitely Louisiana and Georgia, with some good old fashioned Southern recipes. Delicious.

On to Italy, and before you ask, no this recipe did not come out of Nigellas new book. Or any book at all actually. I made some focaccia using a recipe given to me by a chef at a cookery course I attended. The course happened to be about French food, but this did not stop us making Italian bread and for that I am very glad. This focaccia recipe is bread perfection and totally and utterly foolproof. As long as you’re prepared to do ten minutes of kneading then this is really easy and after all that kneading all you need is patience while the dough proves. If the kneading sounds like too much work for you, wait until someone has really pissed you off to make it, and then 10 minutes of pretending the dough is that persons face won’t seem long enough. Violence against flour is fine, less so against people. My favourite part of making bread (after eating it of course) is poking the bread once its ready to go in the oven as the feel of it is bouncy, pillowy and lighter than air. Do this once and you’ll completely understand my wish to one day sleep on a bed made entirely of dough. Heaven. When the bread is ready to go in the oven, poke some dimples in the bread and push some ingredients in said dimples. I went for chillies today, but feel free to go with rosemary, olives, sun dried tomatoes…. Whatever takes your fancy really. When this comes out of the oven it will be all but impossible to dive right in as the smell is amazing and it looks so inviting. It says something about the quality of this bread that I can eat it solely on its own without even a smudge of butter on it. (Bread and butter is one of my favourite things to eat. Good bread though). The crust is crunchy with sprinkles of sea salt and the middle is soft, bouncy and utterly divine. It does go stale really quickly, which shows just how many chemicals must be pumped into supermarket bread to keep it fresh as long as it does, but slice it up and pop in the freezer if you won’t use it all up straight away. I’ll post the recipe for this later as any budding bakers should give it a go, and its not a copyrighted recipe so I’m free to share the goods!

I’ve also been cooking some Thai food after the success earlier in the week with Rick Steins book Far Eastern Odyssey, so tried yellow stir fry curry with prawns from the same book. This version is a bit different from the other Thai curries I’ve had as it contains no coconut milk and uses stock instead. It is ferociously hot and this was without the dried Kashmiri chilli that I could not find in the shops, so I was actually quite relieved I only included some regular red chillies in the paste. I’m not entirely sure I would make it again as while spicy which I like, it didn’t have anything else much going for it. I’m not one of those people who eats spicy food purely for the sake of it, spicy food has to have more flavours to it than just pure hot chilli heat. Not that it isn’t funny watching someone sweat when they order the hottest curry on the menu in front of their mates, because it really is. Still, despite being blindingly hot, I managed to finish it without an audience so I suppose I’m no better than the show offs, sweating without the congratulatory pats on the back from the men on the table.

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What’s your beef?

Well it looks like today my beef is most definitely Cambodian. I’ve spent a lot of my cooking time lately with the cuisine of France and Italy, and tasty as their dishes have been, it’s time for a bit of a change so off we go to the complex flavours of the Far East. My ego absolutely needed a break from delicious yet snooty French food, I found myself during a team breakfast in Wetherspoons complaining that the hollandaise sauce on my Eggs Benedict had split. I mean, hello, I was in Wetherspoons and breakfast had cost me £3, what exactly was I expecting? I was rightly called a snob, and vowed to be less judgemental about the quality of a super cheap breakfast (Although the egg yolks could have been a bit runnier. Oh that’s right, less judgemental, sorry). So you see, I needed to get away from Europe and get to grips with the region of the world famed for amazing street food and delicious homely curries, not just for my tummy’s sake but for my oversized foodie head.
While I’m fairly certain I say this about every cultures food, I genuinely, really, utterly could eat the food of the Far East every day for the rest of my life. Admittedly, I’ve barely even scratched the surface of this rich foodie culture and have stuck to relatively safe dishes, but I’ve not come across a meal I’ve disliked yet. Thai green curry, sticky chicken and mango salad, massamann curry, chicken satay, Vietnamese curries, spring rolls, beef pho soup…. It’s all good. Armed with Rick Stein’s book Far Eastern Odyssey though, I intend to be a bit more adventurous and branch out from my favourites, and with countries as diverse as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and Bali, there really is no excuse not to try something different. You’ve got to try after all. So today I chose Cambodian marinated beef with a lime and black pepper dipping sauce, or in the local tongue, ‘Loc Lac’ which is snappier and just rolls right off the tongue. Sounds more mysterious too. Basically, this is cooked beef strips marinated in a Cambodian sauce, then wrapped in lettuce leaves with shallots and chopped peanuts. If you make this or something similar, don’t buy those sorry looking grey strips of pre-cut beef as they end up being really chewy and stringy which totally takes away from the dish. Plus they taste very meh. Get a small steak instead and trim and cut yourself. Will taste a million times better and you can clearly see the standard of meat you’re going to be eating. Don’t settle if you don’t have to. I would never want to tell anyone how to live and I’m not interested in lecturing anyone on what they put in their shopping trolley, but please buy the best meat you can afford, and if money is tight, try and have a few meat free days a week so you can afford better meat. I only say this for the sake of your tastebuds, but please feel free to ignore me. Chuck this in a marinade that consists of garlic, ginger, chilli and some truly awful smelling Asian condiments (fish sauce assaults your nostrils with its fermented anchovy pungency, but taste wise it adds huge amounts of flavour. Don’t judge it on the smell alone as it gives dishes a deep, salty flavour that can make the dish) alongside the surprising addition of ketchup. Cook in a wok over a high heat and serve with the accompaniments. This meal was absolutely delicious. The beef in its sticky marinade was tasty enough, but the added crunch from the lettuce and peanuts and sharpness from the raw shallots just made the dish. Sharp, sour, sweet, with a sticky coating, the flavours are big and spicy and whisked me away to the far shores of Cambodia. I’ve never been mind, but one can dream! It’s certainly cheaper than a flight to Asia anyway. Meals like this make me feel very sorry for those picky people who daren’t venture out of their comfort zone. Far Eastern food can be stunning and everyone should give it a go. Your tastebuds will be thankful, trust me.

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Posted by on October 2, 2012 in Books, Cooking, Food, Thai

 

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