Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Curry #3

After a fun session at an Indian cookery class at the weekend, I thought I'd give my new skills a whirl. On tonight's menu was lamb and potato curry (adapted from a pork and potato curry taught on the day) and pilau rice. If there's one thing I can tell you before you start, check the levels of spices in your spice jars. I have embarrassingly run out of turmeric and have had to improvise a little, the results of which are below. I also was an onion down because one of the ones in my onion-and-garlic bowl was off. So I'll post the proper recipes (tried and tested and great) below, but explain where I messed up. The list of ingredients might look pretty off-putting, but if you like curries and make them reasonably regularly, a well stocked spice rack takes the pre-shopping down a notch. I usually have all of these at hand as I cook them a lot, along with onions, garlic, ginger and rice, so I'd normally only need to buy the meat and potatoes for this.

First things first, we make the curry. You'll need, for two people:

Two lamb steaks, chopped into roughly 1 1/2 inch dice
2 tablespoons cooking oil
2 onions diced very finely
2 teaspoons root ginger, grated
2 - 3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon garam masala
Chilli powder to taste
3 medium-small potatoes, chopped into chunks of about twice the size of your top thumb knuckle

First step is to gently fry the onions until they are golden brown and starting to mush up. This is the most vital bit of all - the base of your sauce - and cannot burn. If they look as if they might catch, add a little bit of hot water. This takes quite a while, around 10 minutes or so.

When the onions are virtually melting in the pan, add the garlic and ginger and fry on a low heat for another 5 - 10 minutes. This should smell just gorgeous. Again, add a little bit of water if things might catch. If a little bit does - fish it out of the pan.

Next add all the powered spices into the pan, and fry for another 5 - 10 minutes. The smell coming from this should be redolent of curry now. The spices need to be cooked - important to do this step thoroughly as this is the aromatic heart of your curry. Again, if things look like they might burn, add a little splash of hot water. 

Richard, the guy who taught the cookery course and his wife Suzy are a Christian Indian couple from Chennai, hence the original of this recipe including pork. It surprised me - most of the Indian curries I have known and love are veggie, or with lamb, chicken or prawns, so I figured I'd be fairly safe including lamb instead. It worked great.

Take the diced lamb and add to the curry base. Stir fry it (you can turn the heat up a little for this stage) until the meat changes colour, then add the potatoes and enough water to create a liquor but not so much you'll make the sauce watery... this really has to be done by eye, but you'll need enough in there to cook the potatoes. Then simmer until the potatoes are cooked through and the meat is soft. If you put in a little too much, it's okay, especially if you use floury potatoes. As Suzy pointed out, this type soak up more of the water (and the flavour), and as they cook a little longer and fluff up a bit, will thicken the sauce anyway. So all recoverable! This will take a while, so it's time to start the pilau rice. Just before you do though, taste it: this curry appreciates salt and is surprisingly bland without it. I hardly ever use salt during cooking (using pepper, herbs and spices to add flavour) but this needs it.

For the pilau, you'll need (this serves four):

500g basmati rice, washed three times in a bowl to get rid of the excess starch which makes the rice sticky (although I quite like sticky rice, it's not the texture we're aiming for here)
1 onion, diced (this is the one which turned out not to be right, so I had to do without it tonight)
1/2 inch piece of root ginger
4 cloves
3 cardamoms
1 inch of cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons of cooking oil
1 teaspoon of turmeric (again, which I found out too late I had run out of, so this picture comes from Saturday instead - this is what it is meant to look like!)
Salt to taste

First, fry the cloves, cinnamon and cardamoms in the oil, adding the onions after a minute or two, and then the ginger when the onions are transluscent. Fry together for a couple of minutes. Add the rice, and fry for another couple of minutes. Sprinkle turmeric over the rice, and add water so that it just covers the rice. Stir well, and then put the smallest gas burner on your hob to the lowest flame, and put a lid on the pot.

As Suzy said, this part is "the bit where you will have to experiment, and only regular practice will breed success (!) Don't keep lifting the lid to check on the rice." 

When the curry is done, the rice should be done at about the same time. Fluff it up with a fork. Whilst you're dishing up, fish out the hard spices or make sure the recipient knows they are not for eating. Whilst I had no turmeric, so my rice tonight looked a little anaemic, and slightly missed the onion, it tasted fantastically aromatic thanks to the hard spices. You can garnish the rice and curry with a whole range of things: fried crispy onions, chopped coriander, or toasted nuts. I went for toasted cashews, a particular favourite from my Mum when it comes to curries. 

Delish, and whilst the start of the curry is a little faffy, you're only in the kitchen actually doing things for about half an hour, so totally doable on a week night. 

One of the things that surprised me was the lack of tomatoes in the sauce - it tasted amazing, and is just a different way of cooking curry from the recipes I've used before. This recipe is eminently adaptable, and instead of water to make the sauce, I might use tomatoes next time. I also might finely dice some chillis and fry along with the onion for the curry base, as whilst the curry powder is nice, I slightly prefer the Russian-roulette approach to curry cookery. Hope you give it a whirl, and if you do, let me know how you get along!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Veggie or chicken fajitas with salsa and guacamole

I started making these as a reliable and very tasty meal for when we have vegans or veggies round for tea. Jonno usually insists on some kind of meat for his evening meal (can't take the Nottingham out of the boy) but they're simple and tasty to make either way. The recipe makes enough sides for two people (so double up for company) but there's enough of the main event to give leftovers for tomorrow night (serves 4).

First of all, make the sides. For the tomato salsa you'll need:

Tomato salsa
10 - 12 cherry tomatoes
Half a red chili
Juice of half a lime
Glug of olive oil
Small handful of coriander leaves, stems and everything.

This is so simple and tasty - chop the cherry or baby plum tomatoes, removing most of the liquidy seeds. Finely chop half a red chili and coarsely chop the coriander. Mix in a bowl, add the lime juice and olive oil, season with salt and pepper, stir and chill. This recipe came from the Jamie Oliver website.

Next stop, guacamole. I prefer a tomato-free version, especially if I'm also serving the salsa.

1 ripe avocado
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 red chili, finely chopped
Juice of 1/2 lime
Small handful of coriander

Destone and deskin the avocado and put in a small bowl, crushing lightly with the back of a spoon. Mix in the chopped garlic and chili, the lime juice and coriander and mix until just combined. To prevent the guacamole from browning, place clingfilm onto the surface to create an airtight seal and stick it in the fridge. This came from my Spanish teacher when I lived in Ecuador, and hated tomatoes in her guacamole too. You can add a little salt when serving if you prefer it that way.

Guacamole, decontructed.
Now, onto the main event. This is a bit pan-intensive and there's a lot of chopping, but it's pretty quick.

Chicken breast, chopped to 2" cubes
Tomato sauce, with or without chicken:

2 chicken breasts, glug of olive oil optional
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tin chopped plum tomatoes in their own juice
1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tbsp hot paprika, 2 tsps dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

Seal the chicken if wanted in a hot pan with a little olive oil. Add the spices to the pan, and once the meat is browning add the tomatoes and garlic. Leave to simmer for 20 minutes. With or without chicken, the longer this element of the sauce cooks, the thicker and richer the end result (I cook for less time in summer).

Sealing the meat
Veggies ready for the pot

While that's cooking away, you can make a start on the veggies. Whilst always including half an onion, sliced into half-moons, what else goes in the pot depends on what I've got in the fridge that needs using up, or what I fancied when I popped into the greengrocers on the way home from work.

The version for tonight included a couple of carrots cut into slanted ovals, three sticks of celery, the aforementioned onion and a green pepper. Other things which are good to include are fennel, other varieties of bell pepper - anything with a bit of crunch that will soften up a little when sauteed. This is also the point to work out how hot you want it. Tonight, I added a finely chopped green chili and served with pickled sweet red jalapenos and Tabasco to spice things up if the chilis turned out to be a little weak in flavour. I used a wok as there's a lot of veg to cook, and the idea is to soften and cook through without losing the crispness. Stirfry all your veg together with either a little olive or sunflower oil. Whilst that's cooking, warm through flour tortillas in the oven (wrapped in tinfoil and separated from each other) and grate cheese if you like it to serve on the side.

And here it all is, ready for assembly.

Serving is simple - you know what to do! Tortilla then salsa then guacamole then fajita mix and finally cheese if you like it.

Et voila! Variations on a theme: I occasionally add tequila or vodka to the tomato sauce for a little extra kick, particularly if it's the meat- and cheese-free version. This goes alright with beef, but much better with prawns or cubes of firm white fish like pollock or hake. If you're cooking with either seafood option, the fish doesn't need sealing and just needs sliding into the well-cooked tomato sauce for the last three - five minutes. Enjoy - and tell me if you try it!

Friday, 29 October 2010

Poussins - the very little chickens

Sorry to any veggie readers of this blog. Tonight was all about the main event, roast poussins with root veg mash and steamed broccoli.
So I had a couple of poussins hanging around that needed eating up, and my sister came over tonight to discuss the world and everything in it. I thought they'd make a nice and very filling one course supper - she is the size of a twig, and there was no way either of us would have got close to finishing this with either a starter or pudding, let alone both.

The poussins were from Gressingham farms and bought from Waitrose, the only supermarket I really trust (apart from maybe the Co-op) to ensure that farmers get a decent deal, and to make sure the meat they sell is ethically farmed. This really is a meal with very little input - it's all about the main affair.

The poussins are roasted with a lemon slice in the cavity, sprinkled with Maldon salt and ground black pepper, with decent smoky bacon over the top for the first hour of cooking. I took this off and laid in the pan for the last 15 minutes (the pack said they'd take 40, by which time the meat was still very raw and inedible).

Meanwhile, I steamed turnip, swede, pumpkin and carrot for the mash, made as for the last post and added a whole small soft goat's cheese. This was better than last time - I really think they gluey culprit then was the potato - but still not up to the three veg mash of love and memory from last year. That celeric, swede and turnip combo with hard goats cheese is, I think, the only way to go.

However, this, with a little homemade gravy from the juices and some steamed broccoli went down a treat. I'm not sure a roast chicken wouldn't have been easier and cheaper and less wasteful, but worth a try.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Christmas cakery

I love making Christmas cake. I actually love making pretty much every kind of cake, but there's something very special about that luscious dark fruit cake virtually marinaded in brandy. The smells when it's cooking... the anticipation as you feed it a little more liquor each week to keep it moist... then the faff of marzipanning it a week before the big event and finally icing and decorating it all at the last minute - for me it's part of the whole ritual, and it starts every year around Halloween.

This year is a special one, as I'm not only making a cake for us, but ones to send over to Anne in Canada and a liquor-free version for my cousin Matt in Japan. (I have also somewhat rashly promised Christmas puddings to a couple of people, but am going to worry about that 8-hour steaming affair in November.)

The cake my Mum always made (which is obviously therefore traditional and best) is the recipe Delia Smith got from her mother, and if it's good enough for Saint Delia, then I'm pretty sure it's good enough for the rest of us.

So, to follow in the footsteps of culinary giants, you'll need:

  • 20 cm springform cake tin

  • 3 - 4 mixing bowls

  • 450g currants

  • 175g raisins

  • 175g sultanas

  • 50g glace cherries, rinsed and chopped

  • 50g candied chopped mixed peel

  • 3 tbsps brandy

  • 225g plain flour

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

  • 1/2 tsp ground mixed spice

  • 225g butter

  • 225g soft brown sugar

  • 4 large eggs

  • 50g almonds, chopped - the skins can be left on

  • 1 tbsp treacle

  • Grated rind of 1 lemon

  • Grated rind of 1 orange

  • The day before you want to make the cake, soak the dried fruit, glace cherries and peel in the brandy, in a large bowl. Cover with a cloth and leave overnight.

    Here's the fruit for Anne's cake, soaking boozily away. For Matt's, to make sure the fruit is soft and juicy, I'll be leaving the dried fruit to soak in cold black tea (a tip from a Muslim friend of mine who likes really rich fruit cake, and it works great).

    Preheat the oven to gas mark 1, and grease the cake tin, then line with greaseproof paper all the way around. Delia recommends at this point to put your treacle tin in the plate warming section of the oven so it behaves itself when you take it out to measure later - I don't have a section like that in my oven so just stuck the tin in the main bit for 10 mins, which worked fine.

    Sift the flour, salt and spices into a large mixing bowl. In another, beat together the butter and sugar.

    These need to be light and fluffy. To quote, "this is in fact the most important part of the cake, so don't cut any corners." Of course not! It helps having electric cake beaters for this part as it's a very long and tiring job completely by hand.

    Now in another bowl, beat the eggs. Add them to the mixture a tablespoon at a time and beat well between each addition. If it looks like it might curdle, you can add in a little bit of the flour. Once this is done, chop the nuts...

    Stir in all the fruit and peel at this point, and add in the nuts, treacle and orange and lemon rinds.

    When it's all come together, spoon the mixture into the waiting tin. Cover the top of the cake with a double square of greaseproof paper, with a hole cut in the centre about the same size as a 50 p piece. I had some trouble with this last instruction as I don't keep twine around the house and I found getting the thing on top was a bit of a nightmare. I resorted to plastic-covered garden twine (fairly heavy duty) which seems to be doing the trick.

    The finished cake now goes into the bottom shelf of the oven for between 4 1/4 and 4 3/4 hours, and you're not even meant to open the door until the 4 hour mark has passed. The cake is ready when you stick a skewer through the hole in the top, and it comes out clean.

    So, Anne's cake has just come out of the oven, and looks like this:

    I'll now double-wrap it in greaseproof paper and keep it in a tin, feeding it a  little bit more brandy each week before posting it, marzipan, royal icing and cake decorations across to Gabriola :)

    Wednesday, 27 October 2010

    Vegetarian pre-Halloween feast

    Well it's the 26th October, close enough to Halloween for some pumpkin carving.

    Looks quite demonic balanced on my soup plate, doesn't it? I carved the mouth too low this year and didn't want to burn the table.

    My friends Frances and Ollie were coming over for dinner tonight, and so having had a week off, thought it would be a nice opportunity to try out some new vegetarian recipes on them (or riffs on a classic). I posted the blueberry cheesecake recipe yesterday, the reception of which more later.

    For starters, I thought an after-work thing when we didn't know when people would arrive called for picky bits, so went for chopped crudites, houmous, sweet peppers stuffed with feta and marinated olives from the local Cypriot deli.

    The crudites always look so pretty chopped up on their little plate, and really the whole thing takes very little effort. I paired this with glasses of poor girl's kir royale - sparkling wine with a splash of cherry brandy for colour and flavour. I spent the most time making the main course and sides: Individual Veggie Pot Pies, with root veg puree and buttered pepper green beans.

    For the pot pies:

    1 medium potato, peeled and cut into small chunks
    150g butternut squash, peeled, cut into 1cm dice
    1 large carrot, cut into 1cm dice
    150g small broccoli florets
    1 tbsp oil
    1 onion, finely chopped
    2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
    1 red pepper, cut into 1 cm dice
    50g butter
    2 tbsps plain flour
    1 1/2 cups of milk
    1 cup grated cheddar
    2 egg yolks
    Salt, paprika and black pepper to taste
    Ready rolled puff pastry
    1 egg, lightly beaten
    1 tsp poppy seeds

    Preheat the oven to GM 6-7, brush 6 one cup ramekins with oil (thanks to Laura Samuels for the ramekins!). Steam the potato, squash, pumpkin, carrot and broccoli until tender (I did this in batches as my fan steamer for saucepans was not big enough) and place in a large bowl when ready. Heat the oil in a frying pan and saute the onions, garlic and pepper together until softened, add to the veg bowl. At this point I left things alone for a while to clean up the house and get on with a few other things, but didn't want the veg to continue steaming, so left to cool in a draft for a while.

    Heat the butter in a pan and add the flour. Stir over a low heat for a minute or two until lightly golden. Stir in the milk gradually and don't be freaked out when it turns to floury curds with the first few dribbles of milk - just keep stirring and adding the milk in dribs and drabs til it miraculously turns into a smooth white sauce. Once all the milk is in, stir over a medium heat for a few minutes until it boils and thickens. Boil for about a minute, then remove from the heat, add cheese and egg yolks and stir to combine. Season. (In hindsight, whilst these were delicious, I would have added mustard to the cheese sauce whilst cooking, a little nutmeg, and perhaps some cinnamon. I might also mix it up next time with some blue cheese rather than cheddar). Keep the egg whites to make macaroons with - I cursed when I read Nigella's Feast later in the day and worked out I could have made some, whereas the remainders went into the wormery. At least someone ate them!

    Finally, add the sauce to the veggies and stir. Divide into the ramekins. Cut circles of pastry to top the pies, press the edges to seal, brush with beaten egg and top with poppy seeds (best sprinkled using fingers with a pinch of these rather than from a measuring spoon, as I later discovered). They look a bit like this:

    Whilst these are doing (about 40 mins in a hot oven), you can start making mash. Now, I'd wanted to make the three root veg mash with goat's cheese from earlier in the year, but apparently celeraic is hard to find in north London and very in demand. So, I cubed a medium potato, about a third of a large swede, a large carrot and a large parsnip and boiled them for about ten minutes. I then creamed them using electric beaters (which handily turned up from Amazon earlier). I left them to rest for a little bit whilst setting the table and sorting out the last finishing touches.

    I was going for a mash with a little bit of veg left whole rather than a complete puree, but this was a little too creamy/gluey but still with lumps of carrot. I need to work out a better way of making this (perhaps just recreating the successful version of a few months ago). Finally, I added a whole large slice of quite gooey goat's cheese (a slightly harder and more grainy version would have been better - Capricorn English goat's cheese was too runny for this), some salt and pepper, and refried on the hob with a bit of butter in a large saucepan. To finish the course, I added some boiled green beans with peppered butter.

    As you can see, everything got eaten, but I'm still not entirely happy with the mash, or the seasoning for the pies.

    However, the cheesecake was really, really something.

    It's still not the smooth and creamy wonderfulness of the cheesecake from my favourite Brazilian restaurant in London, El Vergel, but was delicious, rich, creamy and wonderful. I'll try a cherry topping next time, and maybe a non-ricotta based cheesecake filling. Live and learn!

    However the main point of the meal was to have a lovely dinner with J, Frances and Ollie, and we had a great time catching up. I'd definitely do this again as a veggie meal for four with a few tweaks.

    Monday, 25 October 2010

    Blueberry Cheesecake

    I'm having friends for dinner tomorrow, and to save myself the strain of doing all the cooking on one day, decided to make the pudding in advance. Recipes for the remainder of the food (and photos) to follow. In the meantime, here's an extremely easy and delicious cheesecake.

    You'll need:

    Base and sides
    125g of butter
    1 cup rolled oats
    100g wheatmeal biscuits, finely crushed
    2 tbsps soft brown sugar

    375g light cream cheese (I used Philedelphia)
    100g fresh ricotta cheese
    1/3 cup caster sugar
    1/2 cup sour cream
    2 eggs
    Grated rind from one orange 
    1 tbsp plain flour

    250g fresh blueberries
    3/4 cup blackcurrant conserve
    1/3 cup cherry brandy

    Brush a 20cm round deep srpingform cake tin with oil or butter (I forgot at this stage the instruction to line the base with greaseproof baking paper, but then I'm not perfect, and will just have to get busy with a breadknife when taking it out of the tin tomorrow). Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the oats and biscuit crumbs and mix well. Stir in the sugar. Use half the mixture to spread on the base and use the rest to create sides, using a glass to press it into place, to about 2/3 way up the rim. It might look as if you haven't got quite enough mixture at this point - I debated making some more - but it's enough, honest. Refrigerate for 15 mins whilst the oven is preheating to GM4 (180 degrees c).

    Beat the cream cheese, ricotta, sugar and sour cream together (I used the food processor as I don't have electric beaters, and it would be too stiff to do by hand unless palming it off on your nearest and dearest with muscles. Mine was at work). Beat in the eggs, orange rind and flour until smooth. Put the tin on a flat tray to catch any drips, pour the filling into the crust and bake for 40 - 45 mins, until the filling is just set. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin. I tasted a tiny bit of the filling at this point and it's lovely - creamy and fresh, sweet but not too sweet.

    Carefully place the blueberries individually in decreasing concentric circles (or scatter - depending on what kind of a cheesecake decorator you are) on the top.

    Put the jam/conserve in a small pan (the recipe said to sieve this, but I really like the mix of blueberries and black currants this topping is going to make, so I didn't bother... the resulting topping below does look a little less shiny perfect than the version in the book but it'll taste wonderful!) with the brandy.

    Stir over medium heat until smooth and then simmer for 2 -3 minutes.

    Carefully brush over the blueberries and refrigerate the cheesecake til cold or overnight.

    Ta da! The finished product. I'll update tomorrow with the true test of eating it... but it's glistening gently in my fridge as we speak.

    Sunday, 24 October 2010

    Todas las Americas chilli

    Having finally had some time away from work (which mainly means having some time away from trains up and down the country) I'm back to getting busy in the kitchen.

    I had a great trip to Waitrose this afternoon to stock up on ingredients this afternoon and the rest of the week, and as a result now have the fixings for roast poussin with turnip and potato mash, dolmades, individual veggie pot pies with three root veg mash with goat's cheese, blueberry cheesecake, and Christmas cake and puddings. The poussins and turnip mash are for lunch tomorrow, the next three are for dinner with friends on Tuesday, and the latter for sending off to Canada and Japan in good time for them to mature in advance of the big day. I'll blog those recipes as I do them, but today was all about the chilli of the three Americas.

    I, along with every other ex-student cook, have been making chilli for the last decade. The version I came up with tonight was not only really, really good, but also incorporated key ingredients from north, central and south America. I'm sure any Mexican looking at the recipe would faint with horror but it has to be one of the best iterations I've ever made. If you fancy doing it yourself, you'll need:

    500g minced beef (10% fat - standard lean in the UK)
    1 large onion
    Glug of groundnut oil
    3 cloves garlic
    2 fat small red chillies
    1/3 jar pickled green jalapenos
    Ground cumin
    Ground coriander
    Dried oregano
    Ground hot paprika/cayenne pepper mix (sold over here as Hot Paprika)
    Plenty of Maldon salt and fresh ground black pepper
    1/3 bottle of good Chilean red wine
    100g 70% cocoa solids Venezuelan dark chocolate
    1 14 oz tin chopped tomatoes
    Large squirt tomato puree
    1 14 oz tin red kidney beans
    Large slug maple syrup

    Plenty of brown rice, sour cream and grated cheese to serve.

    Serves four as a main with no pudding, six with it, and two for several days with quite a few leftovers.

    1. Finely dice onions and fry gently in groundnut oil in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan until softened, about 5 minutes. Add finely diced garlic and roughly chopped red chillies and jalapenos.
    2. Shake in about 2 tsps each of cumin, coriander and paprika. Then about a tablespoon of dried oregano.
    3. Wait til you can smell the spices cooking, a minute or two, and add the minced beef to the pot. Fry together on a medium heat until the beef is mostly browned off.
    4. Add in the tomato puree, stir, and cook off for another minute or two.
    5. Throw in the red wine, chopped tomatoes, kidney beans and chocolate. Cook off gently for about 40 mins (you can make the rice whilst this is simmering away).
    6. Taste and season with salt and pepper and maple syrup, adding in more chilli or wine if you need it.
    7. Serve with brown rice, a splodge of sour cream and grated cheese on top.

    This always tastes better after a day or two in the pot to solidify (and we'll be having it for dinner on Monday) but to be honest was pretty good the first time around. I'll liven it up again with a little more red wine and seasoning. If you use standard dark chocolate you won't need as much maple syrup or red wine, and next time I try this version, I'd use less wine but throw in a bit of balsamic vinegar and Worcestershire sauce to balance out the flavours. This version though is complex, pleasantly smoky and excitingly sweet and savoury all at once. Let me know if you try it...