Saturday, 31 December 2011

Interesting Things To Do With Yoghurt

It has recently come to my attention that people are more interested in the non-food elements of my posts. Actually, it wasn't that recent. And slowly I have succumbed to the temptation of 'giving the people what they want' and become more focussed upon the first paragraph than I might've liked. But I felt a bit sad about it when a friend for whom I had written a painstakingly long list of nice, cheap, quick recipes confessed he'd never tried any of them. Why not? He doesn't know. Indeed, he cooks all the time out of necessity. I discovered this because he was discussing what sauce to eat with his green beans. I suggested one of mine. Then the penny dropped for him that maybe he could actually make some of the recipes I've suggested. Then he apologised lots. Anyway, I'd like you all to know that I aim to give accurate, interesting (?) accounts of the places I eat. And the recipes I post on here do actually taste good and do actually work! I don't just post on here because it's cathartic/I'm a narcissist. Although I do a little bit. I've titled this post as I have so that people googling that particular phrase who may or may not have thrush stumble across this and try the recipe out. Maybe. This is a recipe for Bengali yoghurt. Well, I call it yoghurt but it's really a yoghurt-based dessert which is very common in Bangladesh. It's the perfect balance of sweet and sour and is very filling and delicious. My mother replicates it very well. It doesn't have quite the same colour as the stuff I've eaten in Bangladesh but I think it tastes better. Now look at this photo of me shadowing it.

Doi (you probably won't be able to pronounce this)
400 ml whole milk
8tbsp white granulated sugar
1 410g tin full-fat evaporated milk
1 500g carton Greek-style natural yoghurt

Preheat the oven to 100C
In a saucepan on a low heat, heat the whole milk.
Add the sugar to the saucepan and stir continuously until dissolved, still on a low heat, until the mixture comes to a boil
Once the mixture has come to the boil, leave it on the heat until some of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture has thickened slightly.
Leave the milk-sugar mixture has cooled slightly (so it's lukewarm), mix in the evaporated milk.
Let the evaporated milk-milk-sugar mixture cool until only slightly warm.
Add the yoghurt and mix.
Place in a fairly deep, ovenproof dish.
Place, covered with foil, in the heated oven for 1.5 hours.
After 1.5 hours, switch the heat off but leave the dish in there.
Leave the dish in there for around 10 hours (overnight).
The mixture should have set into a thick, light-terracota coloured mixture and is now ready to eat.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Review - Comptoir Libanais

I was warning my friend's friends that I would take photos of our food at Comptoir Libanais when it arrived. Then my friend jokily mentioned that she was thinking of starting a blog called 'A Woman on the Edge.' This thought kept coming back to me the next morning when I fell off the edge and went absolutely-bat-shit-Marie-Elene-of-Vicky-Cristina-Barcelona-fame-crazy. I don't think the reaction was (that) disproportionate to the trigger but there's still no denying that my motherboard blew some sort of fuse. So, after the calm after the storm after the calm, I decided to put my madness to better use and started writing a novel. Insanity and genius are interchangeable, right? At the moment it's looking like a hybrid of James Joyce/Ali Smith/Salman Rushdie/Sylvia Plath. Except without the literary skill and originality. Which is a shame because I'm not a fan of any of those authors even with their intelligence. We'll see how  this goes. So, before it all went awry. The lebanese food. Comptoir Libanais in South Kensington. Let's talk about that!
The inside was busy which is always promising. It reminded me of Dishoom, it had the same classy-canteen atmosphere to it. And there appeared to be lots of sharing going on. Loathe to ignore the local custom, we decided to get lots of plates to share. Starting with a mezze platter.
The falafel I loved although my friend disagreed. I liked the crispiness on the outside and the fact that unlike lots of falafel I've had, it wasn't overseasoned. Hummus and baba ganoush both struck me as a little bland - they tasted very similar. The little cheese pastries were deeply savoury. Hey diamond. When I first tried the tabbouleh I was struck by its freshness but for some reason, it lost its charm. It was almost slightly sickly for the last few mouthfuls. We moved onto pumpkin pastries.
I was looking forward to these but they disappointed. The texture of them was lovely but they didn't have that savoury sweetness I look for from anything pumpkin-based. A little bland to be honest.
 Lebanese fried potatoes were good. Crispy but soft with a touch of heat.
Deep fried halloumi had a bit of a stodgy texture. It didn't quite have that crispy firmness you expect from something that's been grilled.
Tagine was delicious and rich and packed full of flavour. Had everything been so flavoursome I would've left very happy. I still left reasonably happy but I would have liked more flavour and bigger portions. Oh and also the 24 hours that followed the meal to have not happened. But I can't pin that on Comptoir Libanais.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

Birmingham is a very functional city. Anything you need to do, there will be facilities for it. The one thing (exaggeration) which I think of as having any character is the German Market. But even that's been destroyed for me now. Having been to Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland this year, I'll never appreciate the Birmingham German Market again. Winter Wonderland is so much better. In every way. There are rides and a circus and a revolving bar and a restaurant and countless food and trinket stalls. Even the trinkets they sell are better! I saw these dream-catcher type hanging ornaments which were made of several cut outs of metal which all span at different times making this amazing optical illusion. I considered buying one to look at before my exams instead of revising. 
The food is also much better. Birmingham has overpriced frankfurters and some potatoes and mushrooms. London, though still overpriced, at least makes the food better. Instead of a pallid-looking regular sized hot dog, they do foot long sausages of various different kinds for £5. My companion got one. I was very tempted by it. But I'd already got it into my head that I should have stew because I could have sausages from anywhere. I should've got the hot dog. Finding the stew stall was arduous. We had very sensibly decided to scope out all the food options before making our bed. After denying myself a foot-long hot dog and then deliberating about pie, I was settled upon stew from the Hungarian stew stall. There was a brief moment when I thought hey, maybe I should have beef stew and horseradish dumplings? I was encouraged to do this but still said no, I want Hungarian beef stew with dumplings. On with the quest.
By the time we found it, the foot-long sausage was half-digested (lovely image) and the stalls had begun shutting down. The dumplings were strange. They weren't the big, stodgy-but-in-a-good-way creations that I Was expecting but small pieces of dough which reminded me of maggots. Pleasant. They were very, very bland. I hate sparkling water - it makes me think it's a fizzy drink with the flavour taken out. Which it is, I guess. These dumplings were the food equivalent of sparkling water. I think the idea was that they soak up the flavour of the stew. Unfortunately, the stew tasted only of smoked paprika and salt. Both nice enough but very boring. And they completely overrode any taste that there may have been in the not-quite-tender-enough beef. The whole thing would be best described as the opposite of moreish. 

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Titbits

I LOVE LONDON. I'm well aware that I romanticise it but I can't help it. I'm convinced that once I move here I'll be filled with this feeling of belonging and not caring about anything because everything will be PERFECT and I'll be able to live the life I want with the people I want. With any luck, my moving to London will coincide with the last of the teen angst being exorcised so I won't be disappointed. Encouraging the romanticising is the fact that I've spent the last week hacking in exchange for overpriced lunches, wine and cigarettes. I don't even smoke. The one down-side is all the hacking I have to do. 'Hacking' is a word used to describe self-promotion: 'God, she is such a hack with that blog.' Even putting links to this blog on Facebook kills a little bit of my self-respecting self. I am still complaining about nothing because this job has given me relevant experience in the field that I want to work in with someone who happens to know all the 'big dogs' in the industry. So, where is this preamble going? Nowhere really. I think I'm just bragging. Hey, at least I'm not posting on Facey about 'classic' London moments. Although I am finding it hard to stop myself. I love how there are so many places with so much character. Three such places didn't quite merit a post of their own so I thought I'd condense into one.

Stick and Bowl
One cold Thursday afternoon we fancied Chinese food for lunch. And there was somewhere cheap and delicious just around the corner. This would never happen in Birmingham. The place was called Stick and Bowl. I thought everywhere in the vicinity (it's on Kensington High Street) would be very expensive and perhaps not good enough to justify the expense but I was proved wrong on both counts.

This place reminded me of the little Chinese restaurants you see in films set in New York where everyone eats out of those cool little cartons and the food seems really moreish even from the other side of the screen. It was reaaaally small and jam packed. You sat on stools sharing tables with people you don't know and the service was incredibly quick. They also expected you to eat and leave incredibly quickly. It was just charming. It even managed to look quirky rather than shabby because the walls were painted with koi. I assume they're koi. I have no basis for assuming so. There was also a curious bell which reminded me of Bangladesh (as so many things do). My grandparents' house is full of bells which chime with a little melody every hour. A similar chime sounded in Stick and Bowl but much more frequently than every hour. And whenever it did, someone went and pulled frantically on a rope. I initially thought they were resetting the clock. Then I thought maybe it was part of some religious ritual? But finally discovered that the bell signified that some food was done and the rope worked some sort of pulley system. COOL.

You can lunch for less than £6 and the food is the best 'typical' Chinese food I've had to date. I had the Stick and Bowl rice: chicken, pork, seafood and vegetables with its speciality sauce. The sauce had the heady strength that one expects from a Chinese without the headachey MSG hangover. It was mellow and light and just the right consistency, not that sort of sticky which you can imagine lining your arteries but not watery either. The rice was well cooked, the meat was moist and the correct texture. The mangetout was fresh and still had a little bite to it. A nice addition was slivers of bean curd within the sauce which had absorbed the lovely, light flavours of the sauce. There will be photos of all this when I can get hold of it.

Bagels
One night after dinner, despite having totally filled up on curry, we decided to get bagels from the 24 hour bagel shop on brick lane. I had the best apple turnover I've ever eaten from here. The pastry was perfectly flaky and crisp. The filling hadn't been sweetened so the apples were still tart, a lovely contrast to the sugary coating entirely covering the pastry. I only had a bite of the  bagel but that too was delicious. Almost spongy and a little sweet with fresh, smoky salmon and cream cheese. Oh baby.
                       

Japanese Food in Kingston
Whilst staying with my musical friend with the warm house and good shower, I went busking for the first time. Except I wasn't busking. I was sat next to the buskers. The minority of Musical's friends are not-musical and I'm in that minority. So my inability to sing and sight read with my VOICE precluded me joining in. But it was lotsa fun all the same. Anyway, I went for a little walk around Kingston town centre while the busking was occurring and found a little market stall selling Japanese food. I picked up some incredibly cheap (£4.90) prawn tempura donburi. The batter was light and not too salty. The prawn it encased was so fresh and that beautiful pink that perfectly cooked prawns are. The rice was sticky, the salad was fresh and the teriyaki sauce was a little headache inducing but still tasty. This meal was a little bit nicer than the last meal I had from Edamame's yet it cost half the price.
That's all for now, folks.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Review - Bodean's

I have recently picked up the nasty habit of deleting old 'friends' from the Internet. The first round was 'it's kind of weird for me to 'be friends with' these people now that I'm not going out with this person anymore'. Then came 'If I'm honest, I'm never ever going to see/speak to this person again ever.' That was then followed by 'Yeah we were friends once but we haven't spoken in YEARS oh and also they're still in touch with someone they wouldn't know if it weren't for me and oh she still has my shoes BITCH.' Most recently was 'I hatljes bIrmignmaham and I wantm t;o for teget everiuytging from threh everjk even the ep eopele I  ieleike.' I probably should've realised that I would certainly regret the last round of deletions in the morning. But I can't re-add them. And I've kept some people who I definitely know less well for no apparent reason. And I'm following some of them on Twitter. Awk. On the plus side, I was staying with one of the few which remain last week and it was 'just like old times.' I had a very soppy moment walking back from having purchased a fur coat at gushing about how glad I was that things hadn't changed. But then I felt a bit sad about all the people who I could still be in touch if it weren't for my trigger-happy attitude to the 'unfriend' button. This has happened quite frequently because, as you'd expect, a lot of our conversation centres (-ers?) around old times. Like the time we went to Pizza Hut and my friends dared me to eat all the jalapenos so I did. This came up at Bodean's, an American diner-style place in Fulham, when a plate of nachos covered in jalapenos arrived.
The reason we'd ended up there is because my friend remembered how much I used to like meat and thought I'd love this place. I don't like meat as much now but I still enjoyed this place. (That last sentence is NOT supposed to be a demonstration of how things change but that's OK.) We shared the meat platter and some nachos. There was far, far too much food for us to finish. I appreciate that in a restaurant. The meat platter included pulled pork, 3 types of ribs all of different smokiness, BBQ chicken, fries and coleslaw.
The pulled pork wasn't too strongly flavoured although a little too stringy. The baby back ribs were well balanced, a nice combination of smoky and sweet. Unfortunately, they weren't melt in your mouth soft. The other ribs were smokier and a little more bitter but their texture was preferable. Surprisingly, I think the chicken was the star of the show. The texture was still a little wet which was a welcome change from the dryness of the pork. And the coating was, as with the rest, a nice mix of flavour without any one overpowering. Chips were crispy and well seasoned, as they should be. Coleslaw was disappointing: I could taste that it had been made with yoghurt. Whenever I look up coleslaw recipes, I feel suspicious when I see yoghurt was one of the ingredients. This suspicion was irrational because to my knowledge, I'd never had yoghurt-based coleslaw before. I'm quite sure the tang of this coleslaw was that of yoghurt rather than mayonnaise and for me, it didn't quite work. All in all, a good place to get dinner. Not too special but incredibly good value. And the atmosphere is red and sporty. It made me feel like I wanted a beer even though I hate beer.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Recipe - Vegetables and Turmeric

I tend to lose my grip on reality in the last two weeks of term. I lose the ability (and the time) to sleep and stagger around like a lost zombie unable to function or organise. It's like seeing someone who's been through a Northern Lights style intercision and been separated from their daemon. I think that was an insensitive comment to make even if it is fiction. Anyway, in this two weeks I lose the will/energy to cook. Luckily for me, I also lose my appetite so failing to cook isn't too much of a problem. When I get home, I sleep and watch crap on Comedy Central for 3 days and eat everything ever I see. Of course, home is also accompanied by crushing boredom manifesting itself as a desire to delete all traces of myself from the Internet, constant digs about my choice to not become a lawyer and occasional helpful remarks about my appearance. ('You've put so much weight on.' 'Your complexion is horrendous.') Still, the food makes it worth it. Everything is so simple and nourishing. Especially the vegetables. I have cravings for these dishes in term sometimes. Particularly when I've done something bad or I'm a little sad or feel a bit mad (like the cat in the hat). In other words, any time I feel like being mothered and looked after and having no responsibility. These recipes are so imbued with the feeling of home/being a child that eating them makes me feel better. Anyway, before I start waxing lyrical about the sublime, here are the recipes. All of them are broadly the same recipe just with different vegetables. But they're all very good!
Runner Bean, Tomato and Potato Curry
1 onion, finely sliced
250g runner beans, washed and cut into 2inch long pieces
2 salad tomatoes, cut into sixths
3 large-ish new potatoes, cut into quarters
1.5 tbsp turmeric
1 tbsp chilli powder
Salt
Fry the onion in about 2 tbsp of vegetable oil on a medium heat until the onion is very soft but not yet coloured.
Once soft, add 1.5 tbsp of turmeric and 1 tbsp of chilli powder and mix to make a paste. Add a little more oil if necessary if the mixture looks as though it is drying.
Add the runner beans and potatoes and mix to coat with the spice paste thoroughly.
Season with salt (about 1 level tsp)
Add 50ml of water.
Bring to a simmer on a low heat and cover.
After about 15 minutes, add the tomatoes.
After 5 minutes, switch off the stove.

Fried Turmeric-y Greens
2 onions, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
500g greens cut into thin slivers
4 dried red chillies
3 finger chillies, slit open but still intact
1 tbsp turmeric
Salt
In a large, deep frying pan, fry the onion, garlic and chillies in a liberal dose of vegetable oil on a medium heat until soft but not yet coloured.
Add the turmeric so that a yellow paste is developed.
Add the cabbage and coat with turmeric.
Add the green finger chillies and season with salt to taste.
Continue to fry on a medium heat, stirring occasionally until the greens are soft and glossy (about 10 minutes).

Fried Turmeric-y Spinach
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
1 tbsp turmeric
1 finger chilli, slit open but still intact
200g young leaf spinach

Fry the onion and garlic in vegetable oil until soft but not coloured on a medium heat.
Add the turmeric and a little more oil if necessary.
Add the spinach and finger chilli, coat in turmeric and a sprinkling of salt.
The spinach will wilt and the water will come out and after this happens, turn the heat up to high until the water is evaporated off.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Review - Liaison

I HATE PUBLIC TRANSPORT. I was making a brief trip to Oxford because some shoes I exchanged had been sent there, but, more importantly, staying in Birmingham for too long makes me want to pluck all of my eyelashes out and wait for them to grow back. (My dad said he knew someone who did that around the time of his final exams because when they grow back they're initially spiky so it hurts to close your eyelids so you can't sleep.) No big deal - it's only an hour on the train. Apparently not. Halfway into the journey into town, the train stopped because of a signalling error. The driver was very apologetic and said he thought it would be fixed soon. It wasn't. Oh and I really needed to pee and the train toilet was broken. And it was pouring down with rain outside. And I had only a £20 note. (This is relevant because the stupid buses in the West Midlands don't give change.) This configuration of unfortunate circumstances led to me making two new friends. A less-than-reputable-seeming mechanic who let me use the bathroom in his house and a schoolgirl who lent me a pound. And then I felt old because to qualify for child fare, I had to pretend to be born in '97. 1997! And this all happened just in getting to Birmingham. When I got there, it transpired that ALL trains were cancelled or severely delayed. Well, almost all. I managed to get the last train leaving Moor Street because I'm tricksy. On the other side was waiting dinner with a friend. She fancied something from the Far East. Instead of sticking to something tried and tested and close by such as Chiang Mai or Shanghai 30s, I suggested we go to a slightly cheaper place which I'd spied on the way to the train station called Liaison. My friend liked the name. We decided to order from the 'home dishes' page of the menu since we thought they'd be better. I don't know if this was a fair judgment since we didn't order anything from the rest of the menu. Lamb clay pot and Vegetables with Mixed Fish and Seafood Balls.
Mine (the lamb) sounded more appetising but it was definitely the inferior dish. As dubious as my friend may have been by the appearance of unidentified meat/fish balls, there's no denying that they tasted good. They were tender and delicately spiced and provided a firm texture to off-set the almost too wateriness of the vegetables. The lamb clay pot, on the other hand, tasted of little but salt. At the first mouthful, I thought 'heavy handed with the salt but not too bad'. This opinion depreciated rapidly. The pieces of lamb were still soft and nicely cooked. I think if I'd been able to taste it, I would've liked it. Unfortunately all I could taste was salt. Particularly unpleasant was biting into a piece of aubergine and being squirted with hot, salty water. I wasn't in the market for disinfectant, just for a nice Chinese supper.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Death of Christmas

Do you know how strange Christmas seems to people who haven't experienced it from a very young age? It's mental. My parents have always attempted to make it special but it's never been particularly successful. My mother's 'roasts' were covered in korma ingredients and sultanas and stuck in the oven until they were as dry as the desert. When I took over the reigns of cooking, Christmas dinner involved more conventional foods but still, the magic wasn't quite there. The only proper Christmas I've experienced was several years ago now where I spent it with a friend's family. It was AMAZING. Since then I've totally understood why people get so excited about it. Unfortunately, since my parents' Christmas still lacks presents and alcohol, I've not managed to recreate it even now I know how it's done properly. Thankfully, the last week of university term encompasses all the fun things about Christmas. Even when that last week is mostly in November.  This year was no different - there were sing-a-long carols, secret Santa and two Christmas dinners. One was with friends and involved no cooking. The other was with people who do my subject and involved helping cook for fifty. FIFTY.

I was in charge of roast potatoes, mashed potatoes and pigs in blankets. Before the dinner, I'd had a dream where I poisoned everyone and so I sent 29309039430 emails organising times/places and detailing the action plan with military precision. Unfortunately, the night before preparation day, a friend's surprise birthday party got carried away and I ended up drinking shots of Sambuca with lemon (try it, you will never look back) and dancing to 'calypso' in an empty club. I think if I were in Pirates of the Caribbean, I would definitely be Calypso. To make matters worse, I woke up not-alone and absolutely mortified by the strangeness of my behaviour from the previous night. I remember being offered braces as a kid (my mouth looks like a hand-grenade was set off in there) and refusing them because I thought my teeth were cool and unique. Now, I no longer take unique as a compliment. It's more a testament to my total lack of capacity to act like a normal, non-socially retarded person at the times it is most necessary. So, when the hour for preparing 15kg of potatoes dawned, I was busy pondering such questions as 'why do you insist on behaving this way?', 'what is wrong with you?' and 'why did you think it was better to be on time rather than to shower?' Ergh. Potato peeling helped.
The potatoes were peeled, chopped, parboiled and placed in their baking trays the day before, the pigs were placed in their blankets (awww) and covered in Bourbon, chilli powder and honey. Despite all this preparation, T -3 until T +0.5 were still the most stressed I've been this term. All I had to do was melt goose fat, season and slather the potatoes in goose fat. But this is very complicated when you're making do with ancient university accommodation ovens and having to run between three kitchens wearing black tie. But it allll worked out OK. Some potatoes were more crispy than others and the little pigs weren't covered in a sticky glaze as I'd wanted them to be since a lack of equipment necessitated giving nothing any room to breathe. Anyway, the whole experience was lots of fun (apart from when I thought I was going to pass out from not eating/heat/champagne) and I have newfound respect for the contestants of Masterchef. 'Cooking doesn't get tougher than this.'
This is the recipe I based my glaze for the pigs on. Roast potatoes were parboiled until it was possible to be fluff their edges up and then covered in hot goose fat, salt and pepper before going in the oven for an hour at 220°C. This is the recipe for the stuffing for the turkey - I can't take credit for these. People much calmer and more competent than myself were in charge of these elements.

Glaze for the Pigs in Blankets
The quantities here were used for 100 chipolatas wrapped in 100 strips of smoked, streaky bacon.

50ml bourbon whiskey
8 tbsp clear honey
1 heaped tbsp chilli powder

Mix the ingredients together. Wrap sausages in a strip of bacon each. Drizzle with the glaze, making sure you cover everything thoroughly. DON'T overfill the baking tray like I had to. Bake for 30 - 40 minutes at 200°C.

Sage and Onion Stuffing
The Presidents elected to use the Mrs. Beeton recipe whereas I usually a method that cooks the onions in butter rather than boiling because I worried that this recipe would bring tears to the eyes with the amount of onion. It worked very successfully though, perhaps because the recipe was amended to use half the onion recommended.

20 onions
50 sage leaves
1kg breadcrumbs
200g butter
5 eggs
Salt and pepper

Boil the onions for 5 minutes. Add the sage leaves for the last 2 minutes of boiling.
Chop sage and onion very finely.
Combine with breadcrumbs and butter.
Season.
Bind with beaten egg and make into balls.
Bake at 220°C for around 30 minutes - until crisp and resembling stuffing..

Stilton and Walnut Tart (for the vegetarians)
This recipe was adapted. Again, this wasn't me!

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
600g onions
375g pack ready rolled shortcrust pastry
200g Stilton
50g pack walnut pieces
Dried cranberries, for topping

Thinly slice the onions. Heat olive oil in a large frying pan, add the onions and fry until softened and lightly browned.
Add the vinegar, season, then cook for a further 5 minutes, until lightly caramelised. Leave to cool.
Unroll the pastry and use to line a 23 x 33cm / 9 x 13 inch shallow oblong tin
Spread over the onions, then crumble the stilton on top and scatter with walnuts.
Bake for 15 - 20 minutes at 220°C until the pastry is golden and the cheese has melted.
Top with chopped, dried cranberries.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Cooking with Marmite - Chilli con Carne and Spicy Sausage 'Patatas Bravas'

Although I'm the only one who has a food blog, I'm definitely not the best cook of my friends. Indeed, I think most of them who would identify themselves as 'people who cook' actually have much more skill. For example, my friend with the slow cooker. She had mad seasoning skillz of which I'm very, very jealous. She, like me, also has a penchant for slow cooked/casserole type dishes. A little (and only a little) of the credit for her excellent stews has to go to her slow cooker. I remember having a taste of beef stew with dumplings that she made: so warming. And another time, she cooked a patatas bravas type dish with little bits of sausage. That's what I had a crack at this week. I can't remember whether I explicitly asked her or whether I just remembered that she often used Marmite in her sauces but I decided to dabble there a little. I hate Marmite. But my recent foray into using it in stews has significantly improved my stew making.

Beef chilli (feeds 5)
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped finely
2 carrots, diced
1 large red chilli, chopped finely
1 large green chilli, chopped finely

500g beef mince
1 tbsp cumin
2 tsp thyme leaves
1 tbsp chilli powder
1 tbsp oregano

1 x400g can kidney beans, drained
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp Marmite
Salt and pepper

Fry the onion, garlic, carrots and chilli in a little vegetable oil on a high heat until just starting to soften. Add the beef mince, cumin and thyme and brown the mince. Add the kidney beans, tomato puree, oregano and chilli powder. Season well with salt and pepper. Add the Marmite and lower the heat. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer. Cover and let simmer for an hour. Serve with rice and cheese (if you want it). Interestingly, my recipe is very similar to smitten kitchen's even though I'd never seen it before.

Spicy Sausage and Potato Stew (feeds 3)
1 large onion, diced
1 red chilli, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
6 cumberland sausages
2 large potatoes, cut into bitesize pieces
2 large carrots, cut into bitesize pieces
2 tsp thyme leaves

1x 400g tinned cherry tomatoes
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp Marmite
Salt and pepper

Brown the sausages in a large saucepan on a high heat. Add the onion, chilli and garlic and fry 'til the onion is translucent on a medium heat. Add the potatoes, carrots and thyme then fry for a minute. Add the tomatoes, paprika and enough water to just cover. Season and add Marmite. Cover and simmer on a low heat for an hour. Also I have noticed that most of my 'recipes' recently have been barely recipes since they're all basically the same process: frying onion, garlic (sometimes chilli), meat, vegetables, herbs, liquid then simmering for a little while. Sorry, it's just what I love eating. But I must try harder.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Recipe - Curry Chicken Rice

This meal warranted an entry only because the friend who I was feeding commented it was one of my best ever. I don't think I agree but, as one of my mother's recipes that I cook quite frequently, I thought 'why not?' The reason she ended up eating one of my Tupperware 'delights' is because she's sometimes very bad at feeding herself and I always have food. I'll set the scene! We'd just been at a gig where we'd had a rather terse exchange. I was in a bad mood because of yet another crappy exchange with my ex-boyfriend. Or, as I prefer to call him, 'the gift that keeps on giving'. Hey, someone recently criticised this blog for being overly bitchy and I protested. YOU WERE RIGHT, WILL. Anyway, my friend decided it would be funny to pretend to tell people I held a candle for someone I found quite grating. And that the real reason I didn't want to be around them was because they made me nervous. I laughed to myself as I typed this because that was funny. But I was in a bad mood at the time and got annoyed. A RECURRING THEME. So I snapped. And then apologised. Then fought the urge to leave (I felt fragile). And then we sat in the soft furnishings area and she complimented the food.


Chicken Curry Rice
1 large onion, finely sliced
1 finger chilli, finely sliced
3 garlic cloves, finely sliced

1 tbsp turmeric
1 tbsp coriander
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chilli powder
1 clove

4 skinless chicken thighs
1 large potato, cut into bitesize pieces
1 broccoli, cut into florets

250g rice
Salt

Fry the onion, chilli and garlic in 2 tbsp vegetable oil on medium-high heat. 
Once very soft (but not browned), add the spices and stir for a minute until forming a paste. 
Add the chicken and colour on both sides, 2 minutes on each side. 
Add the potatoes and fry for another minute. 
Add the broccoli and cover to coat with spices. Add the rice and salt to stir well to mix everything. 
Add enough water to cover the mixture and cover the mixture with 2 inches of water from the highest level. 
Cover, lower the heat to medium and simmer until the rice is cooked and the potatoes are soft.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Review - Sojo

'The Interpretation of Dreams'. That was the subject title of the email from the friend who emailed me the photo. The body read 'you were very rude to me in a dream last night.' Later that week, I was rude to him in person. After he'd made me a cheese sandwich and fed me lots of water to sober me up. Terrible behaviour on my part. Anyway, he was emailing me the photo from our lunch at Sojo earlier in the week. And the dream probably wasn't so much a prediction of rudeness later in the week but picking up on my less-than-100% mood at that lunch. I don't have much of a sense of humour when I'm tired and during this lunch, I was tired then a bad-taste joke was told which I couldn't find funny which put me in a bad mood. Then I was mocked (as I always am) for wanting to take a photo of the food when it came. I usually take it in my stride. However, my bad mood meant that I did NOT take it well. Further mocking ensued when I asked for the food to be wrapped up to take away (I ate barely half of it, I don't think that's unreasonable...) which was followed by me denying that I was annoyed. But I was. But it's never nice to admit you're cranky!
The food was also disappointing. But maybe that was my bad mood colouring my palate? I've been to Sojo before and loved the food. But this time, it just didn't have the same wow-factor. My mouth was not popping and bursting with heat. Indeed, all I could pick up was the headiness of the rice-wine overpowering everything else on my Szechuan pork. Perhaps I ordered badly? Last time I went, we had spicy beef and aubergine, yellowbean chicken and green beans with minced pork. I can't commend it all highly enough. My two friends who ordered the spicy beef and aubergine and yellowbean chicken both seemed happier with their food though. I'm going to put it down to poor ordering. And maybe as a sign that it's usually better at dinner? More research needed. It wasn't so bad that I'm hesitant about going again.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Recipe - Salmon 'Teriyaki' Noodles

A friend shared with me some cruel break-up advice she was once given: 'buy him an ice cream'. The logic behind it, if I remember correctly, is that it will either cheer them up or give them something to cry into. Ever since I was told that story, every time I think of someone crying, they're always doing it into some sort of food. So, on a day when I was a little down and decided to make myself a stir fry for dinner one (I felt like milking it) I thought about crying into my noodles. This image is even more pathetic than the one with ice cream. Anyway, as I sat there watching Brick Lane, blinking back tears whilst eating out of a tupperware box, I thought about starting a 'Depressing Eats' series. Not because I was feeling sorry for myself (although I really was) but because I was thinking that the stir fry was surprisingly tasty and I'd like to write about it. So here we go.

Salmon 'Teriyaki' Noodles
1 large green chilli, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 spring onions, chopped with whites and green parts separated
1 yellow pepper, chopped

2 skinless, boneless salmon fillets
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp chinese cooking wine
black pepper

2 portions of cooked noodles
soy sauce to taste

Drizzle the salmon fillets with lemon juice, honey, soy sauce, wine and black pepper. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes at 220.
Heat some frying oil in a wok. Once very hot, add garlic chilli and whites of spring onion. After a minute, add the peppers and stir fry for a further 2 minutes.
Add the noodles and green parts of spring onion and continue stir frying.
Remove the salmon from the oven and add both the fish and the 'sauce' to the wok, stir frying to flake.
Add a dash more soy sauce.
Unfortunately, I'm not miserable frequently enough to make 'Depressing Eats' a fully fledged series which is a real shame because I think it's an excellent idea.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The best thing I ever cooked - Cassoulet

The first time I cooked this, it was the best thing I ever cooked. It was cooked for a 'dinner party' which was the result of an in-joke relating to being 'charmed' by an Articulate clue administered through the medium of song. Of course, I later took the joke far too far and got egg on my face (as is my way) followed by an uncomfortable atmosphere in the house I was living in for a couple of weeks. Now I'm not really in contact with any of the dinner party guests except (interestingly) the one I fell out with for a little while. The second time I cooked cassoulet was about a week ago and it wasn't as good. But I'm still friends with all the people who came to eat it so I suppose 'it's all swings and roundabouts'.
Cassoulet
4 Toulouse sausages, cut into chunks
200g streaky bacon, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped finely
2 small onions, diced
2 large carrots, diced
1 x400g can haricot beans
1 x400g can plum tomatoes
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
250ml white wine
Tinned confit duck - I used one with 4 duck legs
About half of the duck fat that the confit duck was encased in
Parsley, finely chopped
3 slices bread, made into breadcrumbs

Fry the bacon in a large pan until the fat melts and it starts to crisp.
Add the sausages and brown all over.
Add the onions, carrot and garlic, thyme and bay.
Once the vegetables are soft, add the haricot beans and plum tomatoes.
Add the white wine and confit duck and the duck fat.
Season with salt and pepper and make sure everything is well mixed.
Mix the parsley and breadcrumbs and top the cassoulet with the parsley-breadcrumbs.
Place in an oven preheated to 150 Celsius for an hour and a half.

I served this with mashed potatoes (with a dollop of duck fat instead of butter) and kale (fried in duck fat, naturally.)
The cassoulet was supposed to feed 4 to 6 people. It fed 5 people for dinner that night with mash and kale. And then me for lunch the next day. And then my friend for dinner the next evening. And then me as a drunken snack later that night.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Review - Al Andalus

It's ironic (no, it really isn't) that I talked about how much I love my trusty old phone only a few posts ago since it broke a few days later. Well, I thought it broke. It broke for a day. Then it was fine. Then it broke again. The incident happened during my mulled wine party. There were thirteen (ooh) bottles of wine knocking around from which I drank an unspecified amount. I don't really know what happened to take my phone to the permanent 'push to talk' screen of death but I imagine it had something to do with the mulled wine splashing all over my room when people started throwing plastic balls at a moving target: me, carrying a very large saucepan of mulled wine. The next morning I should've been crying over my broken phone, clearing up claret-stained balls and worrying about what to do with the sick in my bin (pleasantly, not my own). But all this had to wait because I was due at my friend's 21st birthday family meal at Al Andalus on Little Clarendon Street in Oxford.
I thought I was going to pass out. Thankfully, my friend's mother had provided thoughtful little party bags which included chocolate coins that I gobbled down to avoid causing a scene. Then came the bread. The bread was fresh and warm and came with a zingy tomato salsa dip. Exactly what I needed in my sorry state. I would've been happy had they brought nothing but that glorious dip but out came the cheese and meat. Peppery and textured with little sides of fresh leaves inviting you to make a little sandwich. The other tapas disappeared too quickly for me to get a picture. Patatas bravas were gloriously crisp yet perfectly soft inside. The aioli went ignored by me since the heat and smokiness of the tomato sauce had my complete attention. The same garlicky sauce came with the spanish omelette and I think the spanish omelette provided a better accompaniment for it than the potatoes. It was almost too dry but the sweet onions and aioli saved it. Unfortunately, I couldn't say the same for the cheese balls and spinach balls. The cheese balls were just a tad too heavy and rich. At the time when they were brought out, I was flagging and full. To counter the stodge of the cheese, I tried a spinach ball. Bizarre. It would've been more apt to call it a raisin ball rather than a spinach ball since they were barely savoury. This one dish was the only disappointment though. Other tapas not pictured here include garlic buttery mushrooms and garlicky chilli prawns. Both very simple but so good, indeed, the flavour of the main ingredient was allowed to shine. Fabulous.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Recipe - Iranian Stuffed Aubergines with Yellow Rice

The worst thing about cooking dinner for people is who to ask. Especially when you're not doing it for an occasion but really because cooking for several is easier and nicer than it is for one person. It makes it really obvious where you draw social lines in your head since you ask groups which fit together 'logically' for whatever reasons. It can start seeming like a non-invite can seem like a personal slight which is only the correct interpretation very, very rarely. Well, maybe not that rarely: a corollary of spending less time with someone will always be eating with them less. My reasons are mainly based upon food preferences I know people to have. Anyway, two friends were bitching about the fact that I never ask them to dinner anymore. This wasn't because I hate them and was slowly cutting them out but because they're vegetarians and my little experiments often involve meat. So, a vegetarian dish was cooked based loosely on this recipe. This recipe serves 4. As always, spices were all added approximately but I imagine it was about as much as the quantities I've given.
Persian Stuffed Aubergines
2 medium aubergines
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
garlic cloves, chopped

1 red chilli, finely sliced
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp turmeric


1 green pepper, diced finely
60 ml orange juice


1 can cooked chickpeas
100g(ish) dates, chopped
10 cherry tomatoes, chopped


135g roasted, salted cashews



1 tbsp lemon juice
Fresh coriander, chopped
Salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper
                       
Half the aubergine. 
Sprinkle with salt and a little olive oil and roast for 35 minutes - until the insides can be scooped out easily.
Fry the onion for a minute in olive oil.
Add the garlic and chilli.

After a couple of minutes, add the spices and fry for another minute.


Add the green pepper and orange juice and cook until the pepper is softened.
Mix the chickpeas, dates and cherry tomatoes in a bowl.
Add to the onion mix. Add the aubergine insides to the onion mix.
Season with salt.

Add the cashews to the onion mix.
Season with lots of black pepper and lemon juice then stir in some fresh coriander.

Fill the hollowed aubergines with the mixture and bake for a further 15 minutes.




Yellow Rice
250g rice

250g lentils

1 heaped tbsp turmeric

Enough water to cover

Fresh coriander




Mix rice, lentils and turmeric in a saucepan.
Add water.

Bring to a boil then simmer, covered, until the rice and lentils are cooked.

Stir through the fresh coriander.
This dish is called 'khichuri' in Bangladesh and I realised that this is where the English kedgeree comes from. I've never seen 'khichuri' with any kind of fish in it in Bangladesh though - usually it's plain and sometimes it has chunks of curried lamb in it. 

Monday, 14 November 2011

Recipe - Baked Potatoes and Mulled Wine

Usually on bonfire night, my college kindly puts on an evening of fireworks with a bonfire and mulled wine. This year due to the the organiser had a little spat and refused to put it on. A real shame since bonfire night actually fell on a Saturday. Anyway, since there was no mulled wine and fireworks, I thought I would host 'mulled wine and a view of a wall' in my room (my room looks out onto a wall). This was a safe option: I saw some other people who had decided to watch the fireworks from the roof of my building by climbing up there. An excellent idea. Well, it was until the aforementioned non-organiser of the fireworks caught them climbing back into the building with a very disappointed look upon his face. I saw this because you climb out onto the roof from the kitchen and I was in there making the Guardian's 'perfect baked potato'. The recipe that I used for the wine was based on the Guardian's 'perfect mulled wine' too. I am very annoyed that Facebook can now record what you've been reading on online newspapers. I rarely look far past the life and style pages on the Guardian.
Baked potatoes and mulled wine
2 large baking potatoes
Salt
Butter

Half an onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tin of butter beans, drained of the liquid
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 glass of red wine

Wash the potatoes thoroughly. Whilst still wet, sprinkle them all over with an even coating of salt. Put in the oven at 220 for 1h10mins.
Meanwhile, fry the onion and garlic in a little butter. Once starting to colour, add the butter beans and tomato puree. Add the wine and season with lots of salt and pepper and two teaspoons of sugar. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, adding a little more liquid if necessary.

3 bottles of red wine
250g caster sugar
2 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks, broke in half
2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 orange, peeled and juiced
1 orange, studded with 10 cloves
5 cardamom pods

Pour the sugar, orange juice, orange peel, spices and clove-studded orange in a large saucepan. Dissolve the sugar then add enough red wine to cover (this was about half a bottle) and keep on the heat until it has turned into a syrup.
Add the remaining wine and heat through, ensuring it does not boil away.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Recipe - Pumpkin Lasagne

I had a conversation/argument with my friend the other day as I was making dahl. He just couldn't fathom why I would put so much time and effort (except not really that much effort) into cooking for so little reward. I tried to explain that I actually enjoy the process so the 'effort' is its own reward but I was still met with a blank face of no-comprehension. It just puts me in a really good mood and also passes the time. Good moods and time are essential ingredients (ha ha ha) for patching up a fight. Which brings me to the other strand of this story: a friend I'd had a minor falling out with earlier in the week was visiting. I was offended that they didn't invite me to their graduation and instead invited someone (who is much less close to them) who never once visited them at university. Indeed, the one time they had planned to, they 'accidentally' gambled the train fare money betting on a horse which was 'sure to win'. I was so fucked off that I was close to posting on here. Also this is the point where I pray that Graduate only pretends to read this and Gambler never stumbles upon it. We've had a tempestuous relationship and many cunning devices have been dreamt up to make us get past a fight. The most enjoyable has been playing a variation on Articulate with just the two of us. But I'd left my Articulate elsewhere so that wasn't an option.  So instead, we cooked lasagne in a pumpkin! Hurrah.

I adapted this recipe. Also I laughed for a long time at the pun in the blog title.

Pumpkin Lasagne (a tribute to Halloween)
1 large pumpkin
Nutmeg
Cayenne pepper
Cinnamon

20g butter
Half a large onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
10 button mushrooms, quartered
A small bunch of thyme (probably about 6 sprigs)
A glass of white wine

25g butter
25g flour
150ml whole milk

10 lasagne sheets, pre-cooked
100g mature cheddar cheese, grated
1 courgette, thinly sliced

Cut the top off the pumpkin. Hollow out the seeds. Sprinkle the insides with a light coating of nutmeg, cinnamon and cayenne pepper.
Stick in a hot oven (220) for about 50 minutes or until the flesh if soft and easily scooped out. Once done, scoop out the flesh (leaving enough for the pumpkin walls not to collapse)
Meanwhile, melt 20g of butter in a frying pan.
Add the onions, fry for a minute. Add the garlic and fry for a further minute. Add the mushrooms and fry for 2 minutes.
Pour in the wine and thyme and bring to a slow simmer until mushrooms are soft.
Take off the heat. Add pumpkin flesh to the mushroom mixture and season well with salt and pepper.

In another frying pan, melt the 25g of butter.
Once melted, add the flour and stir to combine quickly.
On a low heat, add the milk slowly, stirring/whisking continuously until you have a smooth sauce. Season well with salt and pepper.

Cook the lasagne sheets for 10 minutes in salted boiling water. This was hell since we only remembered to put a little oil in the water when it was too late.

Assemble the lasagne: lasagne sheet - white sauce - cheese - courgette - pumpkin/mushroom mixture until the pumpkin is full. On the last layer, add another lasagne sheet, then some white sauce and cheese on top.
Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes.

This recipe fed two for dinner. The next day for lunch, we scooped out the remaining pumpkin lasagne and chopped the lasagne sheets into realllly fat tagliatelle. Then we boiled a little more pasta, fried another half onion, 2 cloves of garlic and a handful of cherry tomatoes then combined the tomato mixture, pasta, leftover lasagne and a dollop of pesto. This was (I think) more delicious than the original lasagne.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Review - Chiang Mai

I might hate the cinema (I don't really, I like it sometimes but I have to be in a very particular mood for it to enjoy it properly. Also it's not worth £7.) but I go to the theatre a lot. This is mainly because I have a friend who's very into her actressing and we religiously go to every play she's in. Partly out of duty but mostly because they tend to be very good. We are, as another friend astutely pointed out in the subject line of an email, her fan club. This isn't that weird since all we're really doing is being supportive, good friends who also happen to like nice evenings out. But what is weird is when you start recognising other people from the acting 'scene' around almost as if they're celebrities. It really is like they're celebrities: having seen them in so many plays and heard about what they're like to work you, you feel that you almost 'know' them. So far, so harmless. When it does get awk though is when you're playing pub golf and feel that it's appropriate to interrupt a private conversation of two of these people to say 'Hey, I know you! you're X! You've been in these plays!' Maybe one day I'll become a super-prestigious theatre reviewer (unlikely), then they'll be pleased.

Anyway, before the 7th meeting of fan club, we decided to go for dinner at a thai place on Oxford's High Street. This place is tricksy - there are two places next too each other, one which is supposed to be good and one which is allegedly shit. You just have to gamble at which one is which. Thankfully, this game is set up so that you can only be wrong once (providing you don't have an awful memory) and this was the second time I went. Last time I went to the bad one and it was truly shocking. Anyway, that meant that this time we would definitely enjoy a good meal.

We were not disappointed. This is the best Thai food I've ever eaten. It even beat Thai Corner Cafe. I chose venison jungle curry because I thought I might not easily find venison cooked with Thai flavours in another restaurant. All I can think of to describe it is John Torrode's description of perfect Thai food on Masterchef: 'you have to balance four flavours: sweet, sour, spicy and hot.' And that they did. It was bursting with flavour. It had a massive chilli kick which made my eyes water but the other flavours were vibrant enough to match it. I think I use the word vibrant too much to describe food - probably all the other times I used it it was inaccurate because I don't know if anything less than this dish could be properly described as vibrant. The vegetables were still crunchy and fresh and some I barely recognised because I'm so unaccustomed to them in a fresh form. The venison was soft and just cooked and not at all overpowered by the rest of the dish.

My friend chose a red curry which came with tofu, all array of vegetables, lychees and pineapple. What she had was my second choice of order. The lychees and pineapple really made this dish, adding a fruity sweetness which perfectly offset the heat of the red sauce. Despite being cooked, the lychees retained that lovely quality where when you bite into them all their juice squirts out. Except the juice had taken on the flavours of the curry. All verrrry good. Even down to the coconut rice and vegetable rice. This meal has given me faith in a new theory. Places in Oxford which are decorated in this 'looking old with lots of timber and stuff but also including lots of things from the culture' way are the best places to eat. So far only Chiang Mai Kitchen and Shanghai 30s confirm this but I will find further proof.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Review - Edamame

I was considering getting an iPhone again the other day. This is because my phone does this new fun thing where I'll be composing (yes, it is an art form) a text and all of a sudden, it'll freeze and turn off. So many witty quips lost. But I've decided to stick to my crappy Nokia. I think if I were to get an iPhone, I might eventually come to this conclusion. So I may as well save myself the expense. This particular Nokia is actually one of my more advanced phones: it has a camera and everything. Before, I had this bad boy:

On this I managed to get the highest Snake score I have ever seen on any phone ever. It was 10 times larger than the next highest I knew of which was in turn a lot higher than the next highest. I'm so cool. I can't remember what happened to this phone but I can make up some bullshit story about how me and my ex-boyfriend had the same phone in different colours and swapped phone backs but then he went to university and got a Blackberry and we broke up. Poetic. It was time to move on.
This came next. I think it was just a slightly newer and smaller basic phone. I got very excited when I first got it because it reminded me of my favourite phone in all of the world ever:
I was 14, I was in love and this phone had the coolest version of Snake EVER. Oh, and it had number blocking! I can't even remember what happened to this phone but it is not longer with us. Anyway, my excitement was misplaced, the grey phone was NOT the same. And it did this fun thing where it stopped sending texts without telling me. Once I realised that I wasn't just being blanked by everyone ever all the time, it had to go. It has now become the phone which gets used if anyone breaks their phone. During one of these stints, my friend dropped it down the toilet. Gross. This is the phone I currently use:
It's definitely one of the more advanced phones I've had. I only have it because my brother got a smartphone. It doesn't look as pretty as in the picture though: the screen is cracked in three places and the red music controls were at some point ripped off. But it's still pretty snazzy - CAMERA. But you must remember that while this phone has a camera, it is not a camera phone. That's why the photos in this entry will be worse than usual. I have used it to take photos only 5 times - when there was something that really 'needed' capturing but I'd left my (not particularly good) camera at home. When I found myself without a camera at Edamame, I felt that this was one of those times. I got to Edamame not-infrequently - it's a 5 minute walk away and the food is delicious, after all. However, since going there usually occurs on the spur of the moment, I'm unlikely to have my camera with me. So I just went with it.
First impressions are everything and being given a free, lightly flavoured tea ensures that you'll make one. It helps the decision making too. I've eaten everything on the menu from Edamame which is a rare treat. It meant I could go for what I reallllly really wanted instead of feeling compelled to order interestingly. Pork curry won.
Unfortunately, this is probably the worst meal I've ever eaten at Edamame. But it was still really good. The sauce remains the favourite Japanese curry sauce I've tasted, a lovely light gold with delicious pockets where the carrots and the flavour-drenched potatoes are. Unfortunately, the pork let it down this time. It was a little overcooked and the coating was too bready and heavy. This has never happened before. But it was very minor and probably wouldn't even have noticed had I not been accustomed to flawless food from here. Flawless even down to the rice and miso soup. I didn't like miso soup until I tried Edamame's. It's just so savoury. There's no other way of describing it. And the rice is sticky and infused with a subtle flavour to stop it being bland while at the same time retaining its purity. My fellow diners went for yakisoba. All plates were left as if they had never had food on them. It's interesting that I chose to write a post mainly about my various phones given what happened subsequently.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Recipe - Pot Roasted Chicken

Wordplay is the name of 'rap battle' night at the Cellar in Oxford. I don't know if you've ever been to a rap battle but you should DEFINITELY go to one if you haven't. I ended up at one by accident last week. Despite being a lyrical master, I did not participate. But the night did make me reassess how talented rappers who have 'made it' are. It acutely demonstrated that even being quite good at rapping did NOT equal good music. Anyway, pre-rap battle dinner was a basque style pot roasted chicken. It was the best thing I've cooked so far this term which is good because otherwise my dinner guest would have had to smile politely at my strange company (I thought I was behaving oddly and then kept referencing the fact I thought this which is weird in itself) with nothing else good to focus on. So this is the recipe! It's one of Angela Hartnett's. I first saw a similar recipe it on Saturday Kitchen but then found this recipe which I thought sounded nicer so I adapted it. 

Pot roasted chicken with chorizo
5 chicken legs
Olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 red peppers, diced
2 bay leaves
2 sprig rosemary
2 large glasses white wine
150g (3½oz) chorizo
Lots of chopped parsley
Season the chicken joints. Heat the olive oil and brown the chicken. Set aside.
Add the chorizo, onion, garlic, peppers, bay and rosemary to the pan and sauté gently for 5 minutes until softened.
Return the chicken to the pan, deglaze with the wine and simmer gently until cooked through – around 30 minutes.
Once cooked, stir in the parsley. Serve with nice bread.I am kicking myself for not having eaten more
bread dipped in the sauce. It was glossy and rich and mellow and soothing and yes. The regret was particularly potent when I came home after a night of hardcore rap-appreciation and several drinks.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Recipe - Swordfish Tagine

A bad workman must never blame his tools. But my camera is shockingly bad. It does fine for taking photos of people getting drunk and sitting in the sun (I won't lie- that's mainly what I use it for) but nice, close-up shots of food? No. A new friend I made who lives down my corridor has a sweeeeet camera and kindly took some photos of the food when he came to dinner. It was a good one for him to photograph - full of deep yellows and purples and reds.
Dinner: swordfish tagine. Originally moroccan fish tagine which was intended to be made with either mackerel, gunard or monkfish. The monkfish I could only find in too large quantities, gunard is scarce at the moment according to the fishmonger and this photo from the Telegraph recipe for mackerel tagine put me off because it made me think of mermaids having their tails cut off. Weird.
Anyway, I ended up using swordfish and it worked gloriously. 

I broadly followed this BBC Food recipe but made some changes.

Swordfish Tagine


Olive oil
Groundnut oil
1 red onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 red chillis
1 green chilli
1 thumb sized piece ginger, finely chopped
12 green olives, chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
Juice of two lemons
1 large glass wine
200ml fish stock (made with 1 Knorr stock cube and around that much water)
1 tsp turmeric
100g cherry tomatoes
500g swordfish, skinned, boned and cut into chunks
Salt & pepper

Please note that the spice quantities are estimates: I tend to just sprinkle it in straight from the jar. But that should be an OK estimate (assuming the tsp is heaped). ALSO if I made it again I would only use the juice of 1 lemon and I would use 200g of cherry tomatoes.

Fry the onions, garlic, chilli and ginger gently in groundnut or some other flavourless oil. 
When softened and aromatic, add the cumin, cinnamon and chopped olives.
Fry for a minute until the smell of the spices really starts to come out. 
Add the lemon juice and a good glug of olive oil and cook for a minute.
Add the wine and fish stock. 
Stir in the turmeric as you bring the mixture to a gentle simmer.
Let simmer for between 5 - 10 minutes.
Add the swordfish and cook for 2 minutes.
Add the cherry tomatoes, season everything well with salt and pepper. Cover and cook for 7 minutes. 

250g cous cous
Enough stock to cover the cous cous (I made veg stock using a Knorr stock cube)
Lots of finely chopped coriander
1 green pepper, finely chopped

Put the cous cous and pepper together in a bowl. Add the veg stock, cover with a tea towel and leave for 5 minutes.
After 5 minutes, check that it is fluffy and cous-cous like and stir in the coriander and a little salt.

Now compare this bad boy with the ones clearly from my crappy camera:

Sunday, 30 October 2011

In which I slate something I both enjoyed and received for free

I remember watching an episode of Masterchef where they made the contestants cater for a formal dinner at an Oxford college. In classic, overdramatising Masterchef style, they went on about how austere and grand it all was and how the fusty old fellows and overprivileged students would all be expecting amazing food. What misrepresentation. The only thing formal about formal hall is that you have to wear gowns. No one gets off on that (apart from parents when they come to visit) - I'm sure most perceive it as a minor inconvenience. It is a nice thing to do on occasion but I don't think many people would ACTUALLY miss it if it went. And no one treats it as equivalent to eating out. I am attached to college but often, it does feel like the 'most beautiful prison in the world.' Quotation marks because I thought that was a great way to describe it (when you feel negative towards it) but it was not my coinage. Anyway, it's nice to get out.  I still decided it would be interesting to do a review of formal hall food. Actually, this was even better than standard formal hall food since it was for a special dinner where they tend to push the boat out a bit. I don't usually like to pay for the privilege of going to formal hall. Usually if I go it's because it's a special college event - to raise money for charity or when they put on Christmas dinner. My friends made jokes 'hey why don't you put this on your food blog?' but actually I've decided that would be quite a good idea.
Except I only decided it would be a good idea halfway through the starter. Poached trout with a vine leaf stuffed with crab, a dill sauce and some leaves. The sauce was nothing special, the trout was really nicely looked but appeared to have not been seasoned at all. Perhaps because seasoned trout plus salty vine leaf would be overpowering? Who knows. The crab filling of the vine leave was bland but also a bit bitter. I have nothing to say about the leaves.
Mmm venison. Nicely cooked, though a bit cold. The perils of mass catering. The pink fir potatoes were interesting. They were delicious potatoes but the same problem as with the trout prevailed: no salt. Although my friend said that hers was almost TOO salty. So perhaps that's a mass catering thing again where they attempted to season everything at once and it didn't work out. The portabello mushroom and fruit stuffing was interesting. I love portabello mushrooms but it was overstuffed and the fruit did not taste like a sweet part of a savoury dish but a pudding. It went OK with the slightly too watery but richly flavoured gravy. This is the first time I had romesco cauliflower. They look weirder but just taste like cauliflower. Again, there was no salt on mine. This wouldn't have been an issue if it weren't for the fact that they didn't put salt and pepper on the tables and it felt rude to ask.
Pudding. Ah, mousse. Hall is famous for its mousses. It seems to think it's a fancy way of poshing everything up. I still have welded into my memory the taste of tomato and avocado mousse. It was NOT pleasant. When I saw there was mousse for pudding, I was not filled with joy. But the mousse turned out to be the most delicious part of the dessert. Chocolate and hazelnut cake was rock hard. It was so dry it reminded me of the dessert. The taste was alright but definitely what sticks with me is the aridness. The fruit on the side reeked of 'we opened some tins' but I love tinned fruit so didn't feel too incensed by that. Raspberry compote was tooooo tart.

The point of this entry was just that I thought it'd be fun. But also to demonstrate that yeah, formal hall is a nice tradition. Yeah, the nice (sometimes free) dinners that are put on are fun. But I wouldn't miss it THAT much. If getting rid of it meant reducing the deficit of College's catering functions and consequently that future students were charged less, I'd happily agree to its abolishment. And this is me talking about particularly nice, formal hall food: the regular canteen food I could be MUCH more savage about.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Ragu no. 2

Just so you know, you should've imagined the title of the post to the tune of mambo no. 5. The reason I am writing about another ragu was because the last one was AWFUL (slight exaggeration) and this one was a) better and b) made with oxtail.
Looks very visceral, no? But it tastes delicious. The idea came about after my friend and I were in the kitchen making burgers and some other kitchen users came along and made Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's spaghetti bolognese. They were fully equipped with really nice cooking stuff and reaaaally nice ingredients (Maldon salt, don't mind if I do) and the way they pored over the book just looked so idyllic. (I took a photo of them but it would be creepy to upload it without their permission, it would be weird to upload it with their permission and also my camera is wank.) Our burger making, on the other hand, although successful, was the result of whatever cooking things we could scrape together from the forgotten washing up in the kitchen. Anyway, seeing them cook spag bol made me crave it. This progressed to 'hey let's make ragu' to 'hey let's use oxtail'. We did it (sort of) properly. I even lugged my own cooking stuff down the eighty-two stairs. I AM COMMITTED.

Commitment was KEY to this recipe. It took around 4.5 hours to make. Academic work took a backseat on that day. I don't know what my excuse is for other days. We adapted this recipe .

Oxtail Ragu
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
4 stick of celery, chopped
3 bay leaves
A few sprigs of rosemary, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1kg oxtail, jointed
1tbsp tomato puree
750ml oz red wine

Salt & pepper
Season the oxtail all over and brown. Remove onto a plate.
Sweat the onions and garlic for 2 minutes.
Add the carrots, celery and rosemary. Fry until softened.
Add the tomato puree and mix. Season.
Add half of the wine and keep on a high heat for at least 2 minutes.
Re-add the oxtail to the pan.
Lower the heat to a simmer and let simmer for 3 - 4 hours. Ours needed 4. We kept checking and stirring the mixture and when the liquid had almost disappeared, we added a glug more wine.
When the oxtail is tender, remove from the pan. Tear the meat off the bones.
Meanwhile, add any remaining wine to the sauce and simmer until thickened. Check the seasoning.
Add the oxtail back to the sauce and toss with pasta.