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Spice, Spice Baby

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Sometimes I think to myself what a world without chillies and spice would be like, and a cold shiver goes through me. Much like The Sixth Sense, Stephen King novels and Will.I.Am rapping, the idea terrifies me. So many foods would simply be at best adequate, at worst bland and dull without a little kick, and the worlds best cuisines would be nothing. A Thai green curry would be like dishwater, chilli con carne would just be minced beef and tomatoes. Don’t take chillies away from me, I depend on them far too much! Just a quick look in my kitchen cupboards tells you all you need to know about my spice addiction, I’ve literally got more spices than I know what to do with. Space consuming it may be, but the smell that greets me every time I open my spice cupboard and the fact I’m never too far away from a spicy meal or two makes it totally worthwhile. It smells amazing too, if only this blog had smell-o-vision.
Loving spice as I do, it was inevitable that a book titled The Spicy Food Lover’s Bible (by Dave DeWitt and Nancy Gerlach) would find its way into my life. I found it in the Notting Hill shop Books For Cooks, bought it and then realised it was only 10am and we still had a whole day of shopping in London to go. Fortunately, The Boyfriend has much better upper body strength than I do so he valiantly carried the book around all day to spare my poor, puny, non existent biceps. Isn’t he great? I love this book yet barely use it. Much as I like cooking, I want everything to be on one page and to only have to follow one recipe. This book often requires the cook to make up a spice rub or curry paste and then follow another recipe to include your homemade rub/paste. Admittedly, I can be quite lazy at times in the kitchen yet if you want authentic, boldly flavoured, spicy food you have to put the effort in and mix up something that would be exceptionally hard to find in your local Asda, and if you were to find it, would taste massively inferior compared to a homemade version. Good home cooked food isn’t always going to be easy.
One of the best things about this book is how hugely varied and geographically spread the recipes are. Of course you’ve got the obvious recipes such as massamann curry (Thai), Kung pao chicken (Chinese), tandoori murg (Indian) and fish tacos (Mexican), but its also filled with unusual, rare recipes from world cuisines you wouldn’t necessarily expect to see. So there’s stuffed Maghreb chicken from Libya, groundnut stew from West Africa, cucumber salad with mustard dressing from Germany and spicy garlic mushrooms from Spain. You’ve got the world at your fingertips. There’s also a fantastic section at the back with suggested feast menus using recipes from the book. Want a Deep South styled Independence Day, Hindi wedding feast, Brazilian barbecue or Trinidad carnival feast? Then this is the book for you. Not needing a feast myself I chose just the one dish and that was Louisiana Barbeque Shrimp. I made a creole spice mix which just involved me measuring out spices then grinding them up in my granite pestle and mortar for a couple of minutes until it became a fine powder. If you want to make your own spice mixes then you’ll need either a heavy duty pestle and mortar (I had a lightweight one from Tesco once and it couldn’t turn anything into mush so was totally useless. Go for granite) or a spice grinder. I marinated the prawns in the spice then went about making the sauce. Despite the name of the recipe, the prawns are not cooked on a barbeque and the sauce itself isn’t barbeque so why it’s named as such I’m not sure. The sauce is made using beer (Budweiser seemed the right choice what with this being an American recipe) that’s reduced down with some more spices, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice etc. Once down, throw in some butter to bind the sauce and give it a rich, glossy look and stir in your cooked prawns. Easy! The book compels me to serve this with white rice and buttery bread, and who am I to ignore such carb heavy instructions? It was Friday after all. This tastes ridiculously good. Not too spicy but with complex flavours from the spice mix (did I mention it was homemade? No? It was homemade) and coated in sticky, spicy sauce which was just fabulous for dunking bread in. One of our favourite prawn dishes ever came from Bubba Gump and was Cajun prawns with garlic bread. Every now and then one of us will just say out of the blue ‘remember those Cajun prawns?’ and a satisfied yet mournful silence will descend upon us, regretful of the fact that the nearest Bubba Gump to us is in New York. We’re 60 miles north of London, England. I’ve tried on so many occasions to replicate the sauce from this dish but have never managed to quite get it right. This recipe comes fairly close although is less spicy and more sticky than Bubba Gumps’ version. I would never have thought to use beer as the base for the sauce but it gives the sauce a sweetness once the alcohol has been cooked out.
Looking through this cookbook there are so many recipes that I want to cook, not just to give a neglected cookbook a much needed airing but because I’m curious as to what a groundnut stew would be like or Libyan chicken. Travel broadens the mind but as its unlikely I’ll be popping over to Libya anytime soon, I’ll have to travel vicariously through this fantastic cookbook.

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2013 in American, Books, Cooking, Fish, Food

 

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Cajun Chicken and Cherry Cheesecake

I love the Internet. Properly, well and truly in love with it; til death us do part, in sickness and in health kind of love. As much as I cherish my cookbooks, they’re not cut out for ‘renovation cooking’, whereby the basic means to bake, roast, boil and pull a delicious joint of pork out of the oven are cruelly denied. Please, put your violins away, I’m fine, really. Google, Pinterest and many food blogs have stepped in to replace the books and given me some much needed inspiration for my slow cooker and George Foreman limitations. The Internet, what would we do without it eh? Going with my love of American food, and Cajun food in particular, I plucked from the infinite depths of the Internet a recipe for slow cooker Jambalaya. I say depths, what I really mean is the All Recipes UK website, and you can find the link to the recipe here: http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/9410/jambalaya-in-a-slow-cooker.aspx . Being the total rebel that I am, I made a few changes while cooking it to suit what I had in the kitchen. Smoked pork sausage was out, pork and red onion sausages from the local farmers market in. Not authentically Cajun but they are delicious sausages and went really well alongside the flavours of the Deep South. I also chucked in some garlic and red chilli because let’s face it, nothing can go wrong when chilli and garlic gatecrash a party. You know it makes sense. Don’t feel you have to follow a recipe slavishly, throw stuff in if you think it will work and go with your tastes and instincts, cookbooks should be a guide and nothing more. I also halved the amount so that I’m not overwhelmed with frozen leftovers for weeks on end. If you’ve never had Jambalaya before, it’s a tomato stew cooked with chicken, sausage (traditionally this would be andouille sausage but it can be tricky to find on this side of the pond), prawns, herbs and rice and is really tasty. The word stew doesn’t really inspire but Jambalaya does and hints at the spicy treat awaiting the diner. I’ve made jambalaya before, from Jamie’s America, which was lovely but knowing I can cook it in the slow cooker makes it so much easier and for me is the better option – much less mess to clean up. Give it a go, its simple but tasty and a great one pot dinner as the rice cooks in the stew.

Waking up this morning hungover after a great night out, it felt like it was finally time to attempt making dessert in our makeshift kitchen, although with no oven Baking Sunday is clearly out of my reach. So Baking Sunday today became Cheesecake Sunday! I’ve tried my hand in the past at baked cheesecakes and have never been able to really do them justice, which is a huge shame as baked cheesecakes are far superior to chilled and hark back to Jewish tradition and give me that New York feeling. I’d eat baked cheesecake off the floor a la Rachel and Chandler if I had to, they really are so good. Still, a chilled cheesecake is not to be sniffed at and while lacking in fluffiness, it delivers in density. Not needing heat of any kind, I made cherry cheesecake from Nigella Express although in the end I was sorely lacking in cherries. A chilled cheesecake is really quick and easy to make, the only time consuming part is waiting for it to set in the fridge. I could not be bothered to get my electric whisk out and needed to vent some minor irritations and aside from kneading bread which is currently out of the question, whisking cream by hand is one of the best ways to vent. I’m not a confrontational person and its by no means a big issue but being made to feel like I’m putting up with a thoughtless, selfish boyfriend and hearing sarcastic comments from friends when The Boyfriend could not be more lovely and awesome is extremely frustrating. But being a classic girl means having a difficult conversation with someone about practically anything will lead to me crying despite the fact I am neither upset not angry, but just want to clear the air. I’ll go the cowards way out and vent on my blog then: The Boyfriend is not a selfish, thoughtless pig and I’m not a pushover girlfriend who has very low expectations. That may not have been how it was meant to come across but that was the implication and it was quite hurtful. And let that be the end of the matter!
Back to the cheesecake – it was supposed to be topped with a cherry conserve but I mistakenly bought jam, which may not seem like a big difference but conserve is chunky with fruit while jam is a smooth paste which while great on toast would not be so great spread on a cheesecake. It ended up being a plain vanilla cheesecake and while there was nothing particularly wrong with it, it really needed the cherry flavouring to crank things up a notch. It just tasted a bit plain and ‘meh’, nothing special. And there’s still 7 slices of it left, gah! I know everyone’s on a diet at work so I will apologise in advance for bringing in inferior but fattening cheesecake and hope they can find it in their hearts to forgive me!

 

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Always Read The Instructions

I like to think of myself as a competent cook, someone who knows their way round a kitchen and can get to grips with a variety of foods and techniques. But, this does not mean that foolish errors won’t still be made. In fact, perhaps the confidence you gain with becoming a good cook means you’re more likely to get complacent and forget the basics. Such as reading the instructions BEFORE starting to cook instead of halfway through. Basic yes but very easily forgotten! So this was the mistake I made yesterday, with yesterdays recipe being chicken and smoked sausage gumbo from Louisiana Real and Rustic by Emeril Lagasse. Emeril is apparently a big deal in America but I’ve never heard of him, I only picked this book up because I wanted a book on New Orleans food and this happened to be in a second hand book store. Never used it since. Anyway, after spending most of yesterday either asleep or watching TV (a productive day), I finally decided to get off my arse and cook dinner at 7pm. Halfway through chopping peppers, celery and onions I looked halfway down the instructions and saw I needed to simmer it for one hour before adding the meat. Alright, I thought, thats fine, dinner will be a little later than normal but I can live with that. Reading further down I then saw that once the meat is in, it needs another 2 hours simmering. What the?! So this gumbo would not be ready until 10pm? I’m in bed at 10 on a Sunday night, I’m that lame. Nothing could be done about this unfortunate turn of events though, the meat was defrosted (I’d swapped the chicken for duck randomly, so definitely wouldn’t be throwing away the more expensive meat), vegetables chopped and the base sauce of the dish already bubbling away. Too far gone to give up now! Like a trooper I laboured on, and in the time needed to cook everything I managed to dye my hair and clean the fridge, so it ended up being very productive. It’s a shame the dish wasn’t worth the amount of time I had to spend on it. I’ve never had an authentic gumbo, having never been to Louisiana thats not exactly difficult, but I made one before from Jamies’ America cookbook and I have to say that was a lot better. The chef from Essex cooks a better Louisiana gumbo than the chef from Louisiana, what a pity. If you don’t know what gumbo is, it’s a traditional Cajun stew which can include pretty much any meat or seafood, depending what you have on you, as well as a variety of vegetables, but always with a base of ┬ácelery, peppers and onions. That parts non-negotiable. It’s a really thick dish and can be spicy, but this recipe wasn’t and I think it really should be as good Cajun food tends to have a lot of spice in it. I have absolutely loads of this leftover, and I halved the recipe to serve 2 instead of 4, so it looks like I’ll be having mediocre gumbo for lunch all week. Lucky me. This recipe just makes me want to fly out to New Orleans to experience authentic gumbo rather than go to the effort of cooking it again, so far not too impressed with this cookbook. As you can see, it doesn’t look very appetising either:

Still, cooking it kept me from tearing my hair out from excessive boredom. I know I spent the last blog entry raving about having some time to myself, but by 3pm Sunday I’d had enough of me, so won’t be doing that again in a hurry if I can help it.

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2012 in Books, Cooking

 

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