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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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These are a few of my favourite (foodie) things

  • Vanilla. Some people (foolish ones) use the term vanilla as a reference to something dull, bland or unexciting, which I must say I find abhorrent! Lets put the record straight, vanilla is amazing. Cheap ice cream has done much damage to the reputation of vanilla, but real vanilla ice cream with vanilla seeds in is truly one of the nicest things anyone can eat. Chocolate ice cream just doesn’t compare. Plus when you have in your hands a vanilla pod, you will be welcomed with the sexiest smell on Earth. Seriously, vanilla smells hot. Don’t be fooled by cheap body sprays, no vanilla scent is as good as the humble, sexy pod. Plus, fresh custard without vanilla would just be bland and tasteless eggy cream, which isnt appealling to anyone. Treat the vanilla pod with some respect peeps!
  • Cheese. Regular readers may be aware that my love for melted cheese knows no bounds. Sit the UN and all the worlds evil dictators around a table together, serve them melted cheese toasties and I think we could have world peace on our hands! Just a thought Ban Ki Moon. Whether its cheese on toast, parmesan on pasta or mozzarella on pizza, I love its stringy oozeyness, strong taste and the fact that its like a hug on a plate. Lets not forget mascarpone either. Next time you have a fresh punnet of strawberries on you, forgo the usual cream (forgive me Britain) and replace with mascarpone that’s had a tablespoon of icing sugar whipped into it. Also good with peaches. Some might call it a bit decadent, but don’t feel constrained by norms and traditions, break out and try something a bit different.
  • Chilli. This could well be my favourite ingredient ever. If I suddenly developed a chilli intolerance I would probably have a nervous breakdown. There goes all that spicy Thai/Chinese/Indian/Mexican/Morrocan/Mediterannean food that I love. Look how many cultures food thrives with the help of the chilli, and I’ve barely scratched the surface there. Without chilli my taste buds would go into mourning and all food would taste bland and unexciting (except for vanilla of course). It’s not that I want everything to be so hot that I come out in a sweat, but a good level of spiciness makes a good dish taste amazing and makes your mouth tingle. I never used to like spicy foods, but over time I’ve gradually built up my heat tolerance to a fairly high level. So if you’re a chilli beginner, don’t dive in head first with a super hot Thai jungle curry, break yourself in gently. Plus, the health benefits of chillies are too numerous to mention here, but check out this website for more information: http://www.chilli-willy.com/chilli-health-benefits/
  • Chocolate. I’m fairly certain you all know where I’m coming from. I love chocolate in almost all forms, whether thats a Galaxy from the vending machine, an expensive bar from a specialist shop, a mug of hot chocolate or as chunks in a tub of Ben and Jerrys. My favourite ways to enjoy chocolate are either by eating huge amounts of Lindtor truffles (truly heaven) or as melt in the middle chocolate fondants with a dollop of clotted cream on the side. Beautiful.

I did cook a recipe today from my June 2011 Delicious magazine but it was so unremarkable that it barely warrants a mention. But it was herb roasted chicken with baby new potatoes and while it was fairly tasty, it was also forgettable. Healthy though. Not even close to any of the above foods, which aren’t included at all in this recipe. Coincidence? I don’t think so!

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Mexican Food Made Simple – All things cheese!

Todays cooking challenge comes from the book Mexican Food Made Simple by Thomasina Miers. This lady won Masterchef a few years ago and with both this cookbook and the restaurants she runs, she’s opened many peoples eyes to the fact that Mexican food isn’t all melted cheese and tacos. I’m not doing much to dispel this myth by cooking 2 recipes with a lot of cheese in them, but take my word for it, authentic Mexican food is a world away from the Tex-Mex you see everywhere! I brought this book after eating at Thomasinas restaurant Wahaca in Covent Garden, and the food was so good I knew the cookbook had to be mine. Having won Masterchef she could easily have gone down the route of pretentious, overpriced quenelles and confits, but instead she chose to champion Mexican tapas at reasonable prices, and for that I am very thankful. The salsa is light, zingy and fresh, as is the ceviche salad, and everything tastes wonderful, ranging from spicy, smoky, sour and sweet. And the margaritas mean serious business! Go there and experience a taste sensation, and some lightheadedness from the cocktails.

The first recipe I cooked were cheese and ham empanadas, which was to be found in the chapter ‘Cheesy Things’. Now I don’t know about you, but I truly believe the world would be a much happier place if every cookbook had a chapter called ‘Cheesy Things’. Surely if everyone was too busy cooking and eating cheesy things there would be peace and harmony across the land, you can’t be angry or sad when eating cheese especially if it’s melted. Or am I just overstating the importance of cheese? Empanadas by the way, are little puff pastry parcels filled with a spicy cheese and ham filling. I can confirm that they taste even better than they sound. They were just absolutely delicious, and as a hangover cure they are pretty unbeatable. Some of them did explode in the oven, leaving a gooey cheesy mess all over the baking tray, but the ones that remained intact looked so cute and dinky it was almost a shame to eat them. Almost. I urge you to make the empanadas, they are scrummy and the best thing I’ve cooked so far in this challenge. You need the recipe in your life!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second thing I cooked was vanilla cheesecake from the same cookbook. If you’ve read my earlier blog entry about chicken fettucine, you’ll know that I am big fan of cheesecakes, particularly banana cream cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory. This cheesecake was a little different and I must say I was a bit disappointed. I have a very fixed idea of what a cheesecake should be like, and while this one looked like a traditional cheesecake it really didn’t taste like one. The recipe called for 6 eggs, separated, and upon eating it became clear that this many eggs made it less cheesecake, more custard tart. Now I have absolutely nothing against custard tart, but when you’ve been expecting dense, cheesy cheesecake, a light and fluffy eggy tasting cake is a massive letdown. Thomasina does say that Mexican cheesecake is very different to normal cheesecake, but it really should have been called custard cake instead. It’s a real shame as there was a lot of cream cheese in there, and its a big bulky thing so needs to be eaten. I think this will be taken into work tomorrow to get other peoples opinions, but I will be upfront and say ‘expect custard’, I don’t want to lead them on! Ironically, while we were being disappointed by the custard cake, our friends in America posted a photo on Facebook of the best cheesecake in the world at The Factory which they were tucking in to. Thereby dooming this custard cake forever in our minds. The audacity!

 

The cookbook itself is great, the cheesecake is the only dud I’ve cooked from it, and if you want to see what real Mexican food is like then I highly recommend this book. While you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, the cover on this sums up the vibrancy and playfulness of the food on its pages and it also looks gorgeous. Or if you can’t be assed to cook Mexican food, get yourself down to Wahaca in London and give your tastebuds a workout!

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2012 in Baking, Books, Cooking

 

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