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Friday, 28 September 2012

"Leggo Bock Mushy Gleeth Goo"


It's 6pm on a Friday and boy, am I exhausted!
The week gone by - and what a busy one it's been - has just caught up with me and really all I want to do is sit on my couch with a glass of wine and a particularly bad chick-flick for company.

WHICH, my friends, is exactly what I was going to do…right up until a little person decides to tug at my expensive silk shirt (definitely not meant for tugging) and declare, “leggo”

“Leggo?” I ask in incomprehension.

"Leggo." I get with a nod. And a definitive one at that.

“You want to play with your lego?” I ask, incomprehension turning quickly to clarification.

“No lego.” Comes the prompt reply back. “Ba-bye lego”

OK. Got it. Leggo, but NO lego.
That's done then. 

But...as you would expect, in keeping with the heart-stopping, nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat pace of my previous posts, this particular story can't quite end here. 

And, I'm happy to report, it doesn't.

Because I have barely tucked in my expensive silk shirt so tightly that it cannot be tugged, when the little person decides, instead, to tug at my hair.

Now, lookie here: Im going through a very sensitive phase in my life with respect to my hair. Because, you see, half my hair is falling out and the other half is turning grey. And so naturally, you will forgive me if I tell you that this quite innocently intended act of attention-grabbing-hair-tugging drives me, rather unfairly, to extreme annoyance.

“What?” I (nearly) scream, prying the (exceptionally strong) little fingers away from my beloved hair.

“Leggo!!!” comes the stock reply back, albeit with a distinct note of impatience this time.

In fact the note is a note so distinct that I turn around in amazement to look at the speaker of said distinct impatience.

And it’s only when I turn around and take in the entirety of my 2 feet something speaker, that comprehension floods me like the lights of Madison Square Garden during an exceptionally wonderful performance. Because, you see, my speaker has, clutched in the grasp of his free, non-tugging hand - his pair of shoes, socks and all. 

“Leggo” = “let's go”

Ah. 
Now we’re talking.

“Okay,” I say. “I get it, I get it. Let's go where?”

Bullseye.
It's the right question to have asked.
Because the answer, my friends, comes pronto. Chop-chop. Lickety-split.
“Leggo bock mushy gleeth goo”

Now, I don’t consider myself a genius or anything, but I actually totally get that. I mean, now that I've figured out “leggo,” the rest is a piece of cake. 
“Leggo, bock mushy gleeth goo?"
A perfectly constructed sentence. Indeed, as perfect as they come.

Because (in case you didn't get it...) “leggo, bock mushy gleeth goo” means:  "Let’s go to the Mexican Restaurant called Wahaca where I can eat black beans (bock mushy) and guacamole (green/gleeth goo).”

Don’t you just love the nuances of communicating with a two-year old?

I'm so thrilled that my child has spoken a full sentence (and a perfectly constructed one at that), that right now I'll do anything.  
Except go out, that is.
The combination of chilled Sauvignon Blanc and "Gone With The Wind" is much too much to give up. Even for a perfectly constructed sentence.

But, what's life without a little compromise?
And I, my friends, am the Queen of Compromise. (Ask my husband.)
And compromise, in the present, pressing moment, means only one thing. It means that I've got to create some "bock mushy gleeth goo" right here on my very own chef’s table! And all without any “leggoing” at all! It's win-win!

So without further ado, here’s Wahaca style Black beans and Guacamole. Absolutely delicious with tortilla chips! Even for grown-ups!

Black Beans
This is a kiddified and adapted version of Thomasina Miers’ recipe, but it’s delicious all the same, each mouthful a burst of surprise!

Here’s what you need:

- 250g dried black beans
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and smushed
- 4 bay leaves
- Pinch, anise seeds
- Pinch, cumin seeds
- 1 onion, roughly chopped
- Salt to taste
- A fat pat of butter. This is necessary.

Here’s how you do it:

Place the beans in a large sauce pan and cover with cold water. If you have the time (I obviously didn’t) you can soak the beans overnight, which will really speed up the overall cooking time.

Add the garlic, herbs and onion and bring the water to the boil. Cook the beans until they are mashably-soft, topping them up with boiling water if the water looks like it is boiling off. 

Drain the beans and discard any big pieces of garlic and onion that have not dissolved. Add the fat pat of butter and mush up the beans with a fork to the consistency you want. Or in other words, until it's a huge bowl of creamy, buttery, delicious BOCK MUSHY!

Guacamole

Here’s what you need:

- 3 avocados
- 3 red onions
- 12 tomatoes
- handful coriander leaves
- 1 green chilli (skip if your kid cant take fire, mine can!)
- Juice of 1 lime
- Salt, to taste

 Here’s how you do it:

Chop up equal quantities of onion and tomato and roughly chop the coriander, discarding the stems. Add all three to a bowl.

Slice the green chilli in half. Scrape out and discard the seeds (feel free to leave them in if you really want some heat). Chop the rest of the chilli finely and add to the bowl above.  Pour in the lime juice, season with salt, mix everything together and set aside.

Now, halve the avocados lengthwise. Discard the pits and scoop out the flesh inside the shell into a bowl.  Mash with a fork until you get the avocado to the consistency you want.

Finally, stir in the tomato-onion-coriander-chilli mixture and stir well until it's all one big tasty GLEETH GOO!

Enjoy!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Chai and Pakoras


It’s been a particularly horrific one today – unrelenting rain, black thunderous skies and a wind that had me clutching myself for dear life on street corners, for fear of being blown away (fat good that does). But yes, it’s one of those days.

To be fair, we haven’t had one quite this dreadful in a while. In fact, it's been nice and sunny and - dare I say it - dry. But, I suppose all good things must come to an end, sometime or the other. So, here we are, people – back to London at it’s shiny best.

So today, my friends, is a write-off. You know one of those days deemed too terrible to be productive. Indeed, it was a write-off, the moment I woke. I don’t know about you, but this quite often happens to me on a day like this. Especially when the day happens to be a Sunday. I wake up, I write it off. Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezie.

Of course the only thing that works on a day like this is Chai and Pakoras. Roughly translated, that's Tea & Fritters. And really, nothing else will do. Because Chai and Pakoras are the typical Indian food served on rainy days. It’s a ritual. I mean, not a ritual ritual – like plum pudding on Christmas – it’s not that kind of ritual. As in there’s no particular symbolism or tradition that links Chai and Pakoras to rainy days. But still, they go together like bread and butter, along with the happy insinuation that Chai and Pakoras, served on a rainy day, means you are allowed to do absolutely nothing but lounge around in your cupcake PJ’s (or whatever else you choose to have on your PJ’s. I have cupcakes, and they make me very happy) drinking bottomless cups of tea and crunching into crispy pakoras while you listen to the sound of the rain. This just happens. It’s happened for centuries past and will happen for centuries to come. A force not to be reckoned with.

And well, as to the little matter about rainy days being write-offs, I think that this is rather a ubiquitous ritual too. Take when we were kids for example. Logically things like swimming and tennis (outdoors, all outdoors, we don’t do indoors in equatorial lands) couldn’t happen. And the more sedate indoor activities (to make us all exceptionally gifted and well-rounded boys and girls) like dance and singing and piano were – after much debate – given the miss too, the journey there and back considered way too terrible to contend with…what with the traffic and the blaring horns and the cows trudging through slushy streets and motorcyclists (those monsters) driving without lights on. I mean seriously, what harm will missing only one piano class really do to the otherwise bright future of the musically gifted 4-year old?

And so the children would be packed up and sent to someone’s room, the women would abandon their chaperoning duties and congregate in the kitchen to make – yes, Chai and Pakoras.  And soon enough the irresistible aroma of frying batter would waft through the house and pretty much knock you off your feet.

Guaranteed.

Now, on any occasion where a large number of Indian women – especially aunts and great-aunts – congregate in the same place, there will always be two inevitable outcomes:
1)    Much deliciousness will be created
2)    Much juicy gossip will be mongered

And sure enough, through the smell of melting ghee and boiling cardamom and roasting spices and frying mustard, we’d be regaled with tales of how so and so’s  son, Debasis, had run off with a Swiss (or was it Swedish, they sound the same to me) beauty (serves his prudish mother right) whose father was on his fourth wife (not 1, not 2, not 3 but 4, imagine, 4) who happened to be a Punjabi woman called Simmi whose twin sister Mimmi, was actually in love with the prudish woman’s son, Debasis.

(Don’t worry – you’re not meant to get all that. I grew up with it, and I still don’t.)

But as surely enough as the second condition was satisfied - always and without fail -  so was the first.: much, much deliciousness was produced. It was simply the requirement of a rainy day.

And so, I come back, in full circle to exactly where I started. The only thing that works on a day like this is Chai and Pakoras. Nothing else will do.

It’s not really the same though. Because in these strange foreign shores, there’s no aunts and grandaunts, no smell of frying curry leaves and roasting cardamom, no sarees tucked into ample, dimpling waistbands and no sudden dives for the stove. There’s no Mimmi declaring her love for Debasis and nor any Swiss (or Swedish) beauty. 

There’s just me and the rain.

I walk to my kitchen window and lean my head against the cool glass where my breath makes little concentric circles on the pane. The garden is empty, my little ceramic gnome staring sadly at me, with his beady black eyes, water dripping down his red, pointy nose. Even the bright eyed bushy tailed squirrel who burrows in my rose bushes making a complete nuisance of himself is missing, sheltered somewhere dry and warm (I hope!)

But just because we don’t have the chaotic brilliance that lies at the soul of the Indian Kitchen, doesn’t means that we cant replicate the deliciousness that it produces. Because, my friends, we – you and I – can make some seriously killer pakoras. You just don’t know it yet :)

Here’s what you need:

- 250g Besan (Chickpea Flour or Gram Flour)
- 3-4 medium onions peeled and sliced into thin rounds/discs
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. chilli powder
- 1/2 tsp. carom seeds or ajwain 
- 1/4 tsp. baking powder
- 1 green chilii pepper, thinly sliced
- ½ cup corriander leaves, chopped
- 7-8 curry leaves
- 1 cup luke-warm water
- Oil for deep frying

Here’s how you do it:

Pour some of the oil into a skillet and heat to 360-375ºF.
Place chickpea flour, salt, chilli powder, baking powder and carom seeds in a bowl, add water slowly and make a batter. Make sure it is well beaten to make the pakoras lighter when fried.

Add thinly sliced onions, chopped corriander, curry leaves and green chillies and mix well

Once the oil is heated, you are ready to fry the pakoras. Take a small portion of the batter and gently slide into the hot oil. Try not to overcrowd the oil because it will result in greasy pakoras.  Wait until they sizzle to the surface and then turn them over frequently, until evenly golden brown and crisp on all sides. 

Take out on an absorbent kitchen paper and leave for the oil to drain off.

Repeat the same procedure with the rest of the batter.

Now dunk in some tomato ketchup and enjoy piping hot!

I grab a pakora, golden brown and crisp and wonderfully irregularly shaped and walk to the window. I pry it open, the blast of cool air on my face a welcome respite from my heat hazy kitchen.

I hear nothing but silence, stark and serene. But for the fast furious drops of rain, outside; the crackle and sputter of the oil, inside.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Perfect-pre-party-pick-me-upper...


I'm cooking dinner for some of my DHVIBC’s tomorrow.
That (if you really couldn't guess right away), refers to, Dear Husband’s Very Important Business Colleagues. See why I simply can't type all that out more than once?
Yup, thought so.
So that’s why I’m doing.
Now, while I really enjoy cooking for friends and I simply adore cooking for myself, I have to admit, I find cooking for DHVIBC’s slightly stressful. There’s just way too much pressure you know?
For instance:
“Sid’s wife made us such a great meal last night. A person married to such a person simply must be given a corner office with glass walls and a view of the Big Ben.”
That.
Or...
“Sid’s wife poisoned us last night. A person married to such a person simply must be transferred to the iciest depths of the North Pole.” 

(Or the South Pole. One mustn't discriminate.)

But, see what I mean?

Now, in such a circumstance as I have just described to you, any intelligent person would cook what they cook best – you know, the tried and tested, failsafe stuff.
But me?
Nooooo…
In such a circumstance as I have just described to you, it so happens, every time and without fail, that I am forced to dabble with something I have never cooked before. I have no idea how this happens on every single occasion that I have cooked for DHVIBC's. But it just does. For one reason or another. And if you’ve concluded from all this that I’m clearly not very intelligent, then well, I can't really blame you. "Pea-sized brains," my Biology teacher used to say, years ago in school. "You all have pea-sized brains." And then he used to demonstrate by pinching together his thumb and index finger just in case we needed further elucidation on the precise size of a pea. Well, at least he didn’t single me out. But it would appear, in at least one case, that he was right. Because once again I am cooking without a clue.

Mind you, I don't plan for things to unfold like this. They kinda just do...
Lookie now, in this case, for instance...
I get an email from DH the other day…
“They love Indian food”
“OK” I write back happily. Indian food? (I think to myself) Are you kidding me? A dinner for some DHVIBC’s that - for once - involves me being in my comfort zone? This is *almost* too good to be true! 
Then,10 seconds later…it turns out it is...
“...But without any spice”

Whaaa?

“Indian food with no spice? How does that work?” I shoot back, adding this link to illustrate the impossibility of this mandate.

His reply comes back too soon to have even clicked on the link. “Dunno," it says, "but Im sure you’ll figure it out.”  Followed by “I told them you're a great cook.”

I purse my lips and want to throw my phone into the baby bath tub. Incidentally where, just a few minutes earlier, turning a deaf ear to the screams of despair, I've thrown in my son.

Anyway.

You know when a person is trying – very hard – to be helpful and somehow they end up being expressly unhelpful? Yeah. This, my friends, is that.

So…
My brief for tomorrow night is bland Indian food.
And so, all I've been doing today is trying to prepare for this impossible culinary goal.
And that too, with spectacles on.
Because my eyes have apparently become “intolerant to lenses.”
Whatever that means.
I'm hoping it resolves itself because it is really a feat of human endurance to go about life’s normal duties in spectacles. To those of you who wear spectacles on a regular basis, I salute you. And to those of you who cook with spectacles, I fall on my knees in front of you. I mean, how do you stop them from fogging up every 30 seconds??

Anyway, to cut a long and very off the point story short, all this thinking and planning and prepping and plotting for tomorrow's dinner for DHVIBC's means that today’s dinner has got to be quick and straightforward. But it’s also got to be totally delicious because I could seriously use a pick-me-upper right about now. And nothing picks-me-up as much as a totally delicious dinner.

And so, here it is, my pre-party pick-me-upper…it's roast vegetables with crumbled chevre. That's goats cheese in English. But I feel like being fancy and calling it chevre. Humour me.

Here's what you need:

- 1 large aubergine, cut into medium pieces
- 2 red onions, cut into thin wedges
- 2 courgettes, cut into thick slices
- 1 red and 1 yellow pepper, cut into strips
- 1 yellow squash, cut on the diagonal into thick slice
- 4 large portobello mushrooms, stems removed and gills scraped out
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- LARGE pinch of chilli flakes since I wont get any tomorrow…boo!
- 3 tbsp fresh basil, minced
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 250g soft goat’s cheese, crumbled
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinaigrette

Here's how you do it:

Preheat the grill to medium-high.

Drizzle all sides of the peppers with some of the olive oil. Grill the peppers, turning them occasionally, until they are blistered and lightly charred on all sides. Place them in a bowl, cover it tightly with a lid (or plastic wrap), and set it aside to steam while you grill the remaining vegetables.

Brush the remaining olive oil on both sides of the mushrooms, aubergine, courgette, squash and red onion slices and place them on a large baking sheet or platter. Season with salt and pepper.

Grill the vegetables, in batches if necessary, until they are lightly charred and caramelised on the edges and nicely marked on both sides, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the grilled vegetables to a platter, add the peppers to it, and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the goats cheese, garlic, extra-virgin olive oil and basil. Season with salt and pepper.

Assemble your dish by topping your grilled vegetables with the crumbled goats cheese, sprinkling liberally with chilli flakes and drizzling over with balsamic vinaigrette.

I have to admit, this dish is not only delicious, but it’s quite the looker. And you know I'm a sucker for lookers. But there it is – a beautiful platter of chargrilled smoky reds, greens, and purples topped with rich, mellow creaminess…isn’t it pretty?

And when something scores on taste and looks, I call it perfect. There you go, then…

The Perfect Pre-Party Pick Me Upper!

To be enjoyed with a glass of chilled White.
Or many glasses.
Or…I suppose…orange juice will do as well?

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Chicken Curry For Eighty


So, a good mate of mine is cooking chicken curry for 80 this weekend.
Um yeah, you heard me.
I'm not lying (I never do)
I'm not drunk (I never am). (Ha).
And that's not a typo (I nevre meka tposys).

Anyhoo - yeah, it's actually 80, and not – as one would hope, pray and fervently wish for – 8.
And if you're thinking, "phew, better her than me..." then you basically read my mind, because that, my lovelies, is precisely what I thought too. Which should make you feel very proud of yourselves, because if you thought that and I thought that, and um well, you know what they say about great minds and stuff...

Anyway.

Well, actually I not only thought it, I said it. I said, "you're cooking for 80?  Have you properly gone mad?" But, you see, I'm allowed to speak my mind, because as I said, she's a good mate of mine. Not that it truly matters, because as you know (or maybe you don't) I'm always allowed to do everything...
  
Right. So, my mate's the uber-calm type. You know, one of those infuriating people who smile angelically and keep their cool even in the most heinous of circumstances. Say, for instance, when one’s only umbrella breaks when attempting to open it in the midst of a sudden and horrific downpour. This is when most of us normal folk would utter from our lips, words too profane to reproduce on my virtuous blog. She, on the other hand, would remain utterly composed and say something like “oh, phooey.” Or words to that effect. Yes, those types.  

Anyway, why all this is relevant is that I got an SOS voice mail from her this past Thursday, informing me that she was cooking for the said 80 people, so could I please send her a chicken curry recipe pronto and oh should she use breasts or thighs and oh also that my blog doesn’t have a chicken curry recipe.

I gasped into my voicemail.

Huuuuunnnhhh, I gasped.

My blog doesn’t have a chicken curry recipe?
Really?
No recipe for that basic, beloved, darling of all "homestyle" Indian cooking - The Modest Chicken Curry?

Ouch.

Which called for some deep and profound soul-searching. And I realised that my priorities have been muddled. Too muddled. Lost in the murky waters of culinary ambition.
Because...
I tell you how to make Chicken Tikka Masala, but I don’t tell you how to make basic chicken curry?
And I call myself a food blogger?
I mean, really.

It took me a good ½ day to go back and read every single post I’d ever written – all 99 of them. And then another good ½ day to come to grips with the unfortunate reality that yes, indeed I have no recipe for chicken curry. Terrible travesty, that.

But then I pulled myself together. “Come, come, old bean,” I told myself. It’s not quite so bad…”
And then I ate a tub of ice cream and felt better immediately.
A miracle, this ice cream. I highly recommend it.

Anyway, when I was back to my normal old self, I called my mate back and addressed all her issues one by one, in a manner that would make every management consultant puff up their chests with pride.

Namely:
1)   So sorry there's no recipe on the blog. But every wrong must be righted, so I’m on it, post haste.
2)   80 people? What on earth for? Have you properly gone mad? 
3)   You most definitely do NOT use breasts, you use thighs
4)   And this is what you need:

- 6 chicken thighs, skinned, bone-in, about 650g

So, in my book, it's thigh meat for Indian chicken curry. Always, always, always. Thigh meat is juicer, fattier and tastier and you need all of that to properly flavour the spices. Interestingly, breast meat works well with Thai curry because there’s so much else going on by way of flavour – lemongrass, kaffir lime, coconut milk…I don’t know the science behind it but somehow while breast meat feels perfectly tenderised in a Thai curry, in an Indian one, it just gets dry and stringy. So remember, my simple rule of thumb – it’s breast for Thai and thigh for Indian. Mostly because thigh for Thai is way too easy. Of course.

- 4 tbsp oil
- 2 cloves
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 2 green cardamom pods
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1½ tbsp chopped ginger
- 6 cloves garlic, chopped
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tbsp ground coriander
- ½ tsp chilli powder
- 4 tomatoes, puréed
- ½ tsp garam masala
- 1 handful coriander leaves

Here’s how you do it:

Heat the oil in a large non-stick pan. Add the chopped onion and cook for about 10 minutes until caramelised. Add the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring often. Next, add in the chicken pieces and brown over a medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes.  You’ll start to see all the oils and juices from the chicken seep into the pan. At this stage, add in the whole spices – the cloves, cinnamon, cardamom pods and cumin seeds and fry for about 20 seconds until sputtering. Try to keep from swooning because the aroma is incredible. It’ll be hard, but I know you can do it. 

Right, now, stir in the ground spices and pureed tomatoes and cook over a low heat until the chicken is cooked through. The slower it cooks the better it tastes.  Check with a fork; once it is tender it is cooked.

Sprinkle over with coriander leaves and – Voila, we’re done!

Just to clarify, I’ve cooked here for 4 people. Not 80. I’ve never cooked for 80 in my life. And hope I never have to.  But if you have to, simply multiply everything by 20 and you should be well sorted. I think…

Anyway, sorry this has been so long in the making guys - chicken curry really deserves to be among the very first things any Indian worth his salt cooks - but hopefully it's been worth the wait. I mean, there’s a reason why my mate chose to make this dish for a large and significant party.

It’s simple.
It’s easy to find the ingredients.
It’s finger licking good.
It’s guaranteed to wow guests.

This is a dish you’ll never find on a restaurant menu and pretty much always find served in an Indian home. It’s fundamental, grassroots Indian cooking. Incredible flavours and totally old-school!

There’s also, on a less important note, a few reasons why this dish deserves the honour of being my 100th post. Namely, because it is:

Hearty
Unpretentious
Nostalgic
Delightful
Reliable
Earthy
Dee-blooming-licious

And therefore, thereby and thus, I think it is about time it was unleashed – with great pomp and ceremony – into this wild and wonderful world.

What do you think?