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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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Forgiving Jamie Oliver

Regular readers (all three of you) of Neglected Cookbooks might recall a teeny tiny rant I had a couple of months ago about Jamie Oliver and his scotch eggs which ended with me threatening to throw said eggs at Mr Oliver whilst shouting “peel that mother******”. Just thinking about that night of quail egg peeling and the yolk carnage makes me want to vigorously deny what I am about to write, such is the anger that still simmers beneath the surface. However, I’m not a grudge holder and forgive easy, especially when presented with a big hunk of meat and a rich, savoury sauce. Jamie, I think I forgive you, although never darken my door with those quail scotch eggs of yours ever again else I may just to have to follow through on my threat.

Wanting to cook some kind of lamb shank dish, I browsed though my cookbooks and deciding to give Jamie’s Great Britain another chance after the egg fiasco, cooked lamb shanks in a sticky Guinness sauce. Obviously I had to adjust the recipe slightly to suit my slow cooker, and while the sauce was impossible to reduce down in the slow cooker and wasn’t technically sticky, it still tasted handsome. I couldn’t caramelise the onions (which would lend the dish a sweeter, more concentrated onion flavour) but did manage to sear the shanks on the George Foreman to brown the lamb before chucking in the slow cooker. I don’t always do this with meat as cleaning the GF is a massive chore that I’d rather avoid, but seeing as lamb shanks aren’t the cheapest cut and I wanted to pack as much flavour as possible into the dish, it felt wrong not to go that extra mile this time around. This did mean though that I spent the rest of the day smelling like a roast dinner, which actually I kind of liked. My hair just smelt so edible! Another adjustment I made was reducing the amount of stock specified in the recipe as when cooking in a slow cooker the liquid doesn’t evaporate, meaning it takes a lot longer for sauces to thicken or reduce. If at all. Please bear this in mind when adjusting a recipe for your slow cooker. Once it’s all cooked, you blend the sauce so its a smooth gravy, bash up some mint dressing in a pestle & mortar and plonk it all on top of some mashed potato. It feels wrong to go to this effort and then chuck a ready meal mash in the microwave, but with my limited cooking equipment I had very little choice, and it really wasn’t that bad. The dish itself was very tasty and the perfect antidote to this miserable start to Spring. While the sauce was nowhere near sticky, it tasted gorgeous in its liquid form- rich, sweet and herby. If it tasted that good runny, I can’t imagine how much better it is as a thick, reduced sauce clinging to the meat. The lamb itself just fell off the bone and as you’d expect the mint dressing (made easily by bashing up mint leaves, olive oil, sea salt and spring onions) went perfectly with the whole meal. Meat in a rich, deep sauce is one of my favourite things to eat and it bugs me that I’m currently in no position whatsoever to make one. There’s a pub I know that does a gorgeous dish of venison in a red wine, bacon and shallot sauce, which tastes just as good as it sounds, and the sauce coats the meat perfectly. I need to go back. Once I’m in a position to I am definitely going to try and master the art of sauces, they can totally transform an average dish into an amazing one.

This much I know, I will be making this dish again when I have a proper oven. Jamie Oliver, its official, consider yourself forgiven.

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Posted by on March 25, 2013 in Books, Cooking, Food

 

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