Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Stay at home takeaway

There are many TV shows broadcast and articles published on just how easy it is to make take away food at home. Often they focus on how much better they are for you and how much money you can save by throwing together a few simple ingredients. For me they are often missing the very indulgent and full fat point of the take away, but then I am not one of those people that relies on the menu drawer to decide what to have for tea tonight.
All that being said, I do enjoy cooking a quick curry every now and then. It doesn't have the same expectant thrill of the door bell ringing to a helmeted man with a white carrier bag of steaming rice but it is a quick and tasty meal that delivers rich flavours, creamy textures and delicious sauces.
This time I decided to cook a few chicken breasts on my griddle pan to add some flavour to the meat rather than fry it up with the sauce. It added a depth of flavour that I am not sure I have achieved with a home made curry before.
I wanted to keep it quick so used a few table spoons of Tikka paste fried into some softened onions and then added about half a tin of coconut milk and let it cook together for about 20minutes before adding the griddled chicken.
This time though I tried a new recipe that I had from Riverfood Organics riverfood for that all to tasty treat of an onion Bhaji.

The recipe is designed to serve 4 and needs the following ingredients:

100g chickpea (gram) flour or plain flour (I used plain and it was fine)
1/2 tsp baking powder
¼-1/2 tsp cayenne/chili powder, to taste
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp garam masala or curry powder
½ tsp salt or to taste
1 large onion or 3 small onions, halved and thinly sliced
handful chopped coriander leaves
cold water to mix
vegetable oil for deep frying

They are so easy to make too.

Combine the flour, baking powder, spices and salt in a large bowl. Add the onion and coriander and mix well. Add just enough cold water to bring the mix into a thick batter. Heat the oil to 190C or until a piece of bread sizzles when dropped in. Take spoonfuls of the batter and very carefully drop into the oil. Cook for 6-10 minutes or until golden brown. The bhaji can also be shallow fried but may need longer cooking and will have to be turned halfway. In either case, drain the cooked bhaji on kitchen paper.

I was so impressed with the result, and without sounding like one of the aforementioned TV shows, they really did taste exactly like they were from the takeaway.

Treat yourself to a curry for tea tonight.

Monday, 12 April 2010

If only they didn't take so long.....

I am reasonably patient when it comes to cooking, I often enjoy the process as much as I enjoy the eating, but when it comes to caramelising onions I have to say patience is not my strong point.
I know you can buy them in a jar, I know you can add sugar or syrup to help them along but there is a satisfaction to getting the job done in the most traditional way and I had loads of onions that needed using. Firstly you need loads to get any kind of volume once they are cooked and then they take for ever to soften down and release all their natural, delicious sweetness. The finished product is well worth the wait, providing that you don't rush them, give up to soon or cook them to high and end up burning them but you could make an entire banquet in the time they take.
There is a tried and tested recipe that hails from the kitchen of my mum, although I think she adapted the idea from a restaurant menu some years ago, that has become a staple of summer eating and entertaining for us both. The Caramelised Onion and Feta Cheese Tart is always a winner, great with salad and a baked potato for a tasty meal, brilliant to cut into portions for easy lunch box filling and perfect for larger scale entertaining and buffet style meals.
I always use the standard 2 x times flour to fat method for the pastry and cold water as needed but I have also made it with bought short crust when time is short and it doesn't suffer too much for it.
It usually takes 4 to 6 onions, caramelised laboriously on a low heat with for a long, long time until they are beautiful golden and sticky. These are then spread across the pastry case when it is ready to cook. I bake blind for about 20 minutes first, but I know some people risk a soggy bottom...
Depending on how cheesy you want to make it the next job is to simply chop up a packet of feta cheese in to bite size chunks and sprinkle on top of the onions.
Beat 3 eggs into 300 ml of milk and pour over the top and bake at about 180 for 25 - 30 mins.
You can add herbs into the egg mixture if you want to add some colour and another flavour, it works well with parsley, oregano and chives but is good without too.
The sticky sweetness of the onions with the extreme saltiness of the creamy feta gives your palette a real treat, I hope you agree.
Enjoy it for your tea tonight.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Hot Cross Buns

I do love a hot cross bun, but why do we only eat them at Easter. With some festive foods I can understand leaving them for one occasion a year, who wants to cook a turkey more often than that? But the little pillows of fragrant fruited bread, fresh from the oven, smothered in butter are such a delicious treat I can't understand why we don't eat more of them.
I think most supermarkets stock them, or a variation of them throughout the year, but I only realy have them in mind in March and April, a habit I must change.
This year I have made my own, not unique to myself I am sure, but a first for me. I have a childhood memory of hot cross bun dough rising in a bowl in the airing cupboard and then being brought to the table fresh from the oven on Easter Sunday. I remember the chewy cross having a slight sweetness and texture that you just don't get from the shop bought kind. All this is something I wanted to recreate this Easter, although I don't have an airing cupboard.
After much perusing I settled on the Nigella recipe from Feast. It is a great book that I have gone back to time and time again, so decided to put my hot cross buns in Nigella's hands.
They really are great, you need the time to let them rise and for all the little stages, but it is well worth it.
If I were to do them again, which I might well do before Christmas, I might ignore the suggestion to make them smaller and have 12 instead of the 16. I think you miss out on the doughy texture when they are smaller, but appreciate the cute idea.
I can highly recommend making your own, if only to fill the house with the most beautiful smell of freshly baked, lightly spiced bread.

Monday, 22 March 2010

If it is going to be Shepherd's it has to be lamb

It is very common for a Shepherd's Pie to be made with beef mince, which would technically make it a Cottage Pie, and it it does the job. The fantastic mix of gravy soaked, savoury meat and vegetables with the crusty topping of baked mashed potato is up there with the great and the good of comfort food.
Lamb mince does make a massive difference to this dish that can't be overlooked. There is an earthy sweetness brought to it with lamb that can not be achieved with any other meat.
I have discovered that topping the dish with a mixture of squash and potato gives it an added dimension in the deep amber colour and the nutty sweetness that only squash can deliver.
Tonight I will be combining a good quality lamb mince with some wholesome fresh veg to make a great British classic.

500g lamb mince
1 onion
1 leek
2 carrots
1 parsnip
cabbage (as much as you feel you would like to add, it gives a deep savoury note to the mixture)
lamb stock cube

3 or 4 potatoes
half a butternut squash

Slice and dice all your veg to chunks that are the size you like to eat.
Heat a pan and add your mince before it begins to smoke. I don't like to add any extra oil because you will get lots out of the meat but if it is sticking to the pan you might want to.
Just as the meat begins to change colour add the onion and leeks to soften. Followed by the rest of the veg about 3 or 4 minutes later.
Crumble a stock cube into the mixture and see how much gravy you have. You want it to be wetter than you would like it to be at the end, but not too wet at this stage.
Taste it before you season it, some stock cubes can be really salty.
Let the meat bubble on the hob gently whislt you boil your spuds and squash. Make sure you give the meat atleast half an hour to smelt all the flavours together,it will be worth it.
Boil the spuds and squash up together until they are soft enough to mash, it will probably take about 25 - 30 minutes depending on how small the chunks are. Drain it the water off, add a knob of butter and mash until you have no lumps left, I sometimes beat it with a wooden spoon or get the electric hand whisk out to get it really smooth.
Put the meat mixture in an oven proof dish and top with the mash.
Depending on how many people you are feeding you might have enough at this stage to make more than one meal. If you are making more than one put them in to seperate dishes now and freeze or chill the ones you want for later when they have cooled down. This way you can just defrost them and cook them when you want them.
Before the pies go in the oven you can top with cheese for an extra savory treat.
Bake at about 190 until the top is golden and bubbling and you can't wait any more.
Eat it in it's own, with some fresh veg or with some baked beans like a real cowboy or add some extra gravy, however you fancy it.
I love it, I hope you do too.

Squash Houmous

Middle Eastern food is food of pure delight. The colours, textures, delicate spices and rich fragrances all combine to deliver a cuisine that is sumptuous yet light, unless like me you eat copious amounts of flatbreads dunked in delicious colourful pots of various dips before, during and after the meal.
Houmous is a staple of any middle eastern food, but has always fought for my affections against the yoghurty based dips that are lighter in texture. However a recent search for non dairy foods led me to a pumpkin houmous that is easy to make and tasty to eat without the slightly pulpy texture that you sometimes find with chickpea houmous.

All you need is:
Tahini (you can buy this in jars at the supermarket but it might be in the specialist section, you can also get it in most Arabic run corner shops if you live near one)
Lemon Juice

Take a small pumpkin or squash (butternut is fine but the greener varieties of squash tend to be less sweet which works well for this) and chop it into chunks. You don't even need to take the skin off at this point.

I find the best way to prep veg for roasting is to put it all in a freezer bag with some olive oil and any seasoning you want before giving it a good mush up then pouring out on to your roasting tray.

Roast the squash at about 190 for 25 - 30 mins. You want it to be nice and soft all the way through but without too much colour from the cooking.

Once you have it roasted, let it cool down and then scrape the flesh from the skin into a bowl, add a tablespoon of Tahini, the juice of one lemon and a crushed garlic clove (more if you want it strong) then whizz it all up with a hand blender (or pop it all in a food processor if you don't have one) until it is the texture that you want it to be. Taste it and make sure it is seasoned the way you want it then serve. You will have a bowl of bright orange dip that is both sweet and savoury, smooth but with body and the perfect addition to a middle eastern meal.

You could add smoked paprika to the squash oil before you roast it or top it with toasted pine nuts before you serve it. It works as an appetizer with vegetable chips a starter with some flat bread, a filling for sandwiches with some roasted veg or char grilled meat or an amazing accompaniment to sizzling kebabs fresh from the grill.

For tea tonight I will be having lamb kebabs, whole meal pitta, salad and squash houmous.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Guilty Pleasures

For some a guilty pleasure may come in the form of a lavishly iced cup cake or an oozing chocolate pudding, for me it tends to be savory. A bag of crisps, some salted nuts, nachos covered in bright green guacamole and dripping with melted cheese or the tinned new potato...
I am sure that for many so called foodies the tinned new potato is not something that has ever been introduced to your educated palates but for me these little tinned orbs of deliciousness offer comfort and solace when only food can help.
The tinned new potato doesn't really taste of potato at all, in fact they even have a slight soapy taste to them which is not matched by any other food at all. However, teamed with a good pork sausage grilled until the beads of fat caramelise on the taught skin and a tin of amber baked beans easing their way across the plate I have never found a better source of nursery comfort food. Brilliant for those, can't be bothered to cook days, those I need to eat something naughty days and those stop the world I want to get off days.
Whilst I can't guarantee the same memories of Grandparent's kitchens, childhood tea times, student houses and early days of London life that I get from this tasty treat, I would recommend you try them. I am looking forward to my next delicious tin already.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Eating for one

I have lived on my own and got very used to cooking for one, but am pretty out of practice. I have never been very good at catering for the right number of people, there is always far too much, but one is really very hard.
Until Saturday I have to think for one, so what will I have tonight?
I am thinking of curry, perhaps a vegetable and coconut milk concoction, definitley Naan, maybe a bhaji. How do you make a bhaji? I will find out and let you know.