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Sunday, 17 March 2013

A Good Egg(plant)

How can anyone not simply adore these slender, elegant, glossy purple beauties?

I refer of course to that gorgeous nightshade vegetable – the eggplant (or the aubergine) (or the brinjal). (And I hope I’ve covered it all, because that’s as far as my vocab stretches.) (This by the way is after I generated much chaos and confusion in the ranks with my post on courgette muffins) (Which if you still don’t know (sigh) is the same as zucchini.)


Anyway, I’m going to ignore the calls of patriotism tugging at my heartstrings and stick to calling it eggplant in this particular post. Not because I’m pandering to the Americans. The British never pander to the Americans...

(Now, don't you laugh. That's NOT funny.)

No really, it’s because (rather unusually) I came up with the title for this piece before I actually sat down to write it and - even if I say so myself - I think its a rather clever title, no? So, nope. Even though I drive on the left side of the road, which of course is really the right side of the road, I’m not going to be changing my title to “A Good Aubergine” or  (heaven forbid) “A Good Brinjal.”

Though I totally reserve the right to change my mind at will for future posts.

I’m a girl in a whimsical land.

Anyway, as I was saying - now that we've got semantics out of the way - I am amazed, confounded and bedazzled by how anyone with any sense could not just simply adore the eggplant.
But there’s plenty who don’t.
My funny, freaky, wonderful, handsome, loving charming husband for one.
And (though it’s pinching me to admit this) he’s got sense. Quite a lot of it.

Thereby, leaving me amazed, confounded and bedazzled.

See, it's not as simple as - I like it and he doesn’t.
It wouldn't really make much of a story then would it?
No, no.
See - I love it and he’s scared of it.
Yup. Properly scared. 
So scared that he actually runs away from it. If you think I'm joking, people, let me assure you that I'm not. For if I so much as take an eggplant out of the fridge and dangle it in front of his face, my husband – a grown man – will turn on his heels and run. 
(I have to admit, it’s rather a funny drill when you’re bored and in dire need of entertainment) (Which is often the case with me) (So I do it for fun sometimes, even if I don’t have the slightest inclination to cook the thing.) (But don't tell anyone.)

Which brings me to the whole point of this: Not only will Sid not dream of ever eating eggplant, he is so terrified by it that he won't let me eat it in his presence. Some nonsense about the texture. Or something. 
Anyway, what all of this means for all practical purposes, is that for always and forever more, I am confined to eating eggplant in secrecy.
(Don’t ever be telling me I don’t make sacrifices in my marriage)

But today?
Today (and for the next five days for that matter) I have been released from the shackles of oppression and shall be eating eggplant wherever, whenever and however I wish.

Yes. That’s right.
I’ll let that sink in for a moment, while your unbridled imagination runs through every and all possible permutations and combinations.
And while you’re at it, don’t think - even for a single moment of presumed sanity – that I wont do that.

Damn right.

Ok, so I’ll give you another second to regain full and complete control of your imagination - yes the one that was so merrily running unchecked just seconds ago. And answer the question on the tips of all your tongues.

Which is (I think): How come?
And the answer, my friends, is: Because, my eggplant-hating husband has gone!!
Hip-hip, Yay, Whoopie. Etc.

Yes. He’s gone.
Gone for a whole five days on one of those dreadful business trips where they make you fly nineteen hours for a single, 30-minute meeting, under the illusion that the folks you are sent to meet are actually even remotely interested in listening to what you have to say. I’ve been there, you know. And they’re not. They’re usually sitting there in their Brooks Bros and Co. business suits and wondering what’s for lunch.

Still. One doesn’t argue with one’s superiors.
That would be a no-no.
So one goes.
So he’s gone.
And I can eat eggplant.

Not that I don’t miss him terribly. He is quite brilliant company you know. Apart from being the love of my life. 
Well, it's true.
But then one must always strive to be positive.
And find silver linings around clouds and such.
And so I have.

Humour me please.

Now, life (as you well know) is just totally full of irony.
Which is what makes it all so interesting.
Really, what would life be without its playful little twists and turns?
(Boring is the answer, by the way)
(And honestly how boring, is boring)

So, life is full of irony. Oft referred to as cosmic irony. You know, those itty-bitty incongruities of fate - the ones that make you cock your head and curl your lips and wonder who’s actually sitting on the other side of the game board, amusing themselves by toying with your mind?
Yup. That’s it.

And so it is with this. See, because while I love eggplant universally, irrespective of whether its grilled, roasted, fried, mashed, steamed, baked or curried – my undisputed favourite recipe is the madly-addictive, lip-smacking, coma-inducing, utterly delectable – Spicy Sichuan Style Eggplant.

And in one of life’s great-little ironies, my eggplant-hater is spending the next five days in - wait for it - China.

So while he’s in the land of Sichuan, I propose we make some Sichuan.
What do you think?

Here’s what you need:

- 1 large eggplant, preferably the Asian variety (long and skinny)
- 2 tablespoons groundnut oil
- 200 ml hot vegetable stock
- 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2.5 cm piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 red chilli, chopped
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon corn starch
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce
- 2 tbsp chilli bean sauce 
- 2 teaspoon crushed Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 tbsp Chinese black vinegar, or balsamic vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- 1 spring onion, finely chopped

Here's how you do it:

Slice each eggplant in half lengthwise, then slice each length into quarters. Cut each quarter in rectangular batons, and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together the vegetable stock, chili bean paste, soy sauce, vinegar and sugar. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a wok until smoking hot.  Add the eggplant batons and stir-fry for a few minutes until outsides become golden brown and the flesh inside begin to soften. Now add the garlic, ginger, chilli and peppercorns and stir-fry for 30 seconds until fragrant. Pour in the sauce mixture and mix well.  Blend the cornflour to a paste with 2 tablespoons cold water and stir this into the wok, cooking until the sauce has thickened. Simmer for 5 minutes to allow the eggplant to cook fully and absorb all those gorgeous flavours. 

Remove from the heat, plate it, sprinkle with the spring onions – and tell me it isn’t worth it!

(Not that I don’t miss my husband or anything…)

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

"The lady who writes the food thing"

I never thought it would ever come to this.

I am now officially "the lady who writes the food thing"

See, this morning I wasn't officially anything.
Except freezing that is.
I was (and still am) officially freezing. And if you never hear from me again, just know that I've frozen. And try to think of me fondly. Please?

But other than officially freezing, I wasn't officially anything.
But now?
Now is a whole new ball game. (I love Americanisms). (They're so quaint.)

Now, I'm officially "the lady who writes the food thing."

See, it was a normal grey, gloomy, cold, wet, snowy English day.
And I was just on my way home after dropping my toddling toddler to school, humming merrily along (twinkle twinkle little star, if you must know) (or as the toddling toddler puts it, "freeto leetto taar"), when a random lady on her way home after dropping her toddling toddler to (the same) school, stopped dead in her tracks outside the school gates and asked me if I was - "the lady who writes the food thing."

"Well, yes..." I said surprised and not a little un-flattered, "...I think so...?"

"Oh it's so nice to finally meet you!" she said giving my frozen hand a hearty shake with her frozen hand. All the mothers in Owls (name of room in school) are talking about you. We laaaaaaaave your writing," she concluded with a great big smile.

"Oh" I managed. With difficulty.

"Thanks..." I said with uncharacteristic shyness.
(for I am not the shy type)
(as you know)
(but I didn't know what else to say)

"Well," she continued - "this is great timing because we're going to be doing muffins at school next week and well, since you cook so well, can you do the courgette ones?"

Now I am of a fairly hardy disposition and not much leaves me stunned and at a loss for words.
But I was stunned and at a loss for words.

For the 3 below-mentioned reasons:

1) My toddling toddler is not in Owls. He's in Planets. As a matter of fact, he wanted to be Pluto, until I had to explain to him that Pluto has been stripped - rather cruelly, I might add - of it's erstwhile planet status. 
(So now he's Jupiter)
(No no, he's not U...well, the one with U)
(Hmph, you dirty people)

2) A muffin to my best and greatest knowledge is a mushroom shaped cake one eats for breakfast. And a courgette to my best and greatest knowledge is a vegetable that one eats at every meal but breakfast. How the 'twain meet was something I couldn't quite get my head around. All the same, I could have sworn she said courgette. 

3) (and most important) Had she got the wrong person? See, I don't bake. I don't. There's not a single (alright, alright, maybe a single) post on any dessert/bread/cake/muffin/doughnut/croissant/etc, on my blog. Surely, she's got the wrong person. There's got to be someone in Owls who writes a baked-goods food blog. There's got to be. There's no other logical explanation.

Anyway, so while I was pondering all of the above, I basically stood gawking at her for a good many minutes, stunned, and as I said, at a loss for words.

Which the lovely lady mistook for reluctance.

Because then she said with an anxious look clouding her face..."only if it's not a terrible imposition, of course"

So I did what had to be done by anyone who happens to find themselves in the situation I happened to find myself in. And I did it at once.
I shook my head rapidly back and forth. 
And said "No, of course not." "In fact I'd be delighted to"

"Brill" she said laughing jollily. "So 30 for the 2 rooms and some to spare?"

"Certainly" I managed, my voice reduced to a squeak.

"Wednesday then?"

I nodded.

"You did say courgette, right?" I called out hastily as she reached in her pockets for her gloves - a sign that the meeting was over, of course.

"Yes please!" came the happy reply.

(point number 2 answered)

"Baaaaaye yummyami," she yelled cheerily, waving as she turned right onto Priory Road.

Well, I think to myself, at least she isn't talking about someone else. How embarrassing that would have been.
Point number 3 answered then. A glimmer of hope.
Or is it?
Because, really. I cook. And I write. But I don't bake. I can't bake. 
See, when I cook, I cook by instinct. I chuck stuff in and somehow it ends up tasting ok. I don't remember what I do and I never make the exact same dish twice. Never. (I never follow my own recipes by the way, those are meant only for you).
I just write. I sit down and I write. I don't make drafts. And I don't make outlines. I don't write in word and transfer to blogspot. I just open blogspot and I write. I just write.

Now baking is a different story.
Baking requires measurements and precision and stuff.
I've never measured anything in my life.
Baking actually requires that elusive little thing called Talent.
Baking is the domain of the expert. It confounds me.

And so, basically, I am doomed. Or another word two letters down. Whatever you prefer, it's all the same to me.

Because when they taste my muffins (courgette at that. courgette muffins? Really??) they're going to know the truth. That I can't bake to save my life. And then they're going to stop meeting me outside the school gates and saying all these nice things. In fact, they're going to ignore me and snigger behind my back.


But I can't let that happen.
Oh no.
I have a reputation in these parts.

Which means of course that I need to practice. With the finesse of Wilhelm Kempff. Except in the kitchen, not on the piano. 

So I call my friend H who (unlike me) does know how to bake (that saviour, that golden angel) and ask her what to do. I learn from her that apparently, courgette muffins are actually very popular and (her words) "addictive."
So much for my ignorance.
(I'm still not convinced)
(I mean, I've written a piece on flavour combinations so I'm not that much of a prude when it comes to being experimental with food, but courgette muffins? I mean, really?)

Anyway, I'll stop banging on about how bizarre I think courgette muffins sound and get around to telling you how to actually make the creatures.
(we're making 12 for practice, folks)
(Oh and given I'm cooking for 2.5 year olds, I've simplified H's recipe bit - the original was better suited to a slightly more sophisticated palette...)

Here's what you need:
- 200g courgettes, trimmed and grated

- 50g mixed seeds such as pumkin, sesame, and sunflower

- 50g toasted almond flakes

- 4 tbsp clear (manuka anyone?) honey. (There goes the £25.99 by the way. All of it.)

- 175ml vegetable oil 

- 2 large free-range eggs

- 225g self-raising flour

- ½ tsp baking powder

- ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

- 2 tsp ground cinnamon

- 1 tsp salt

- 200ml milk

- Grated zest of 2 limes

Here's how you do it:
Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a muffin tray with paper liners/muffin cases.

Grate the courgettes and squeeze to drain excess moisture, leave on a kitchen towel to dry.

Meanwhile, combine the milk, eggs, vegetable oil, and honey in a large bowl and whisk with an electric whisk for a few minutes until the texture is smooth and creamy. Sift over the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and salt. Now add in the almonds, grated courgette and lemon zest. 

Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases, leaving space for the muffins to rise, and cover with the mixed seeds. Bake for half an hour until a skewer comes out clean

Leave the muffins to cook in the tin, then transfer over to a wire rack until completely cool. Cool for 5 minutes in the tray then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

I am writing this as the muffins cool so I have no idea if they are any good or a complete and utter disaster, but I guess we'll all soon be finding out...

Not to jinx anything, but frankly they smell D-vine
(Even if I say so myself)
Courgette Muffins, huh? Who'd have thunk it? It's true what they say - one learns something new every day.

And on that note, can the Mummy Owl who's been reading my blog come out of the dark to say Whooo Whooo?? I'd love to meet you!!

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Your body (that temple)

There's Good News and Bad News.

First, the Bad News.
(This is always how it is, by the way. First, the Bad News. Then, the Good News. It's the natural order of things. And anyone who tells you otherwise is a fool, a damn fool).

So, first, the Bad News:
- The sun is NOT out.
- Winter is NOT over.
- We are still ALL going to die of Rickets.


Now (that you've earned it), the Good News:
Which is...that March is meant for daffodils and fruit smoothies
At least I think so…
Whether the weatherman agrees or not…
So that’s what we’re doing. We’re making Blueberry Smoothies. That my friends is the Good News. In fact, it's Great News. Three cheers for that. And (while you're at it) two fingers up to the weatherman and his "yellow warnings of snow"
Go get a life, dude!

Right, now that we’ve got all that sorted...
Listen to me. Please. Make this today.
Like right now.
Your body (that temple) will salute you.
I swear.
My body (that temple) is saluting me. Like right now. In the present-continuous tense. Really, I mean it: as I write out these words while slurping my blueberry smoothie, I am being saluted by my body, non-stop.

And let me tell you, there's nothing on earth quite like when you are being saluted by your body. Non-stop at that.
Well, maybe there is.
But we won't go there.
My mother-in-law reads this blog.

So, without further ado:

Here’s what you need:

- 1 cup organic natural yogurt
- 180g blueberries
- ¼ cup milk
- 1tbsp Manuka Honey

Here’s how you do it:

Throw together yogurt, blueberries, milk, and honey into a blender. Blend until smooth. Taste it for-sweetness and add more honey if needed. That's it. Easy-Peesy.

Now, if you'll be so kind as to read on: a bit about the mighty ingredients.

Right, as some of you know (and now, all of you know) I've become slightly obsessed with James Duigan and his “clean body” stuff. I mean, the man's a veritable genius. He's not one of those crazy nutritionists who wants you to eat 14 times a day (I don't have time to eat 14 times a day) or else the other kind who expects you to survive on 500 calories a day (really?? Has anyone told these people that 500 calories is two skinny lattes??) See, James's advice is not hard at all – no alcohol, no sugar, nothing out of a packet, sensible stuff really, all common sense. And it's not hard core, he leaves much of it to you to figure out. All I'll say is that I’ve really never felt fitter or better or cleaner or more full of energy. Really. 

Now, where I'm going with all this is that James is a big fan of natural yogurt and so as a result, I've become obsessed with the stuff. So please excuse me if I go putting yogurt in the next 100 recipes on this blog. Because I've been going through pots and pots of it at a rather alarming rate, but it’s all good.

(I think)
(Can one die of a yogurt overdose?)
(I don’t know)
(but who cares)
(I'm going to die of Rickets first, anyway)

Swiftly moving on.

So as you can see, I prefer to “thin” my smoothies with milk, rather than fruit juice – it’s just a purer, more unadulterated flavour, plus you skip the junk-sugar content from store bought juices.  For sweetness, I use honey, which brings a richer, more earthy, natural sweetness to the smoothie - honey tastes oodles better than sugar anyway. And while we're on the topic of honey, I should tell you that I've started using Manuka honey, which I reluctantly have to admit is worth every penny of its monstrous price tag…

I mean it.

See, here’s why. All honeys have – in varying quantities– hydrogen peroxide, produced from an enzyme that bees add to the nectar, and considered one of the greatest healing miracles of all time. This is why honey in general has always been classified as a health food. In manuka honey, however, there's something besides the hydrogen peroxide that contributes to it's extraordinary medicinal properties – except - and that's the great mystery of it all - no one really know what the "something" is!

But whatever it is, it's nothing short of a magic ingredient in its astonishing ability to combat infectious organisms. And so: Manuka honey is a much-hyped superfood.

You can read about all it’s proclaimed health benefits here.
You can choose to believe them or not.
Me? I’ve always been a sucker for “superfoods” so I’m a believer.
A True Manuka Fan.
ATMF, that’s me.

I had to research the hell out of it, you see. Because the hubby who is usually impervious to the various whimsical entries that comprise  our monthly grocery bill, suddenly saw this one and went apeshit.

He then demanded to know why I had  bought 10 years worth of honey for £25.99.

First I gulped.
Then I declared that I hadn't, in fact, bought 10 years of honey; I'd simply bought a small 340g jar of honey. Umm...which happened to cost £25.99.

Which in retrospect I have to admit was a decidedly bad move. Because £25.99 for 10 years worth of honey is most definitely the lesser evil when the alternative happens to be £25.99 for 2 weeks worth.

He thought so too.
Because at this point he opened his mouth, but found - to my great fortune - no words that quite suited the occasion adequately. So he closed it again. He looked rather like a goldfish, but I thought perhaps it wouldn't be so wise to tell him that.
Instead, I feigned illness, clutched my heart and pretended to collapse.
Which ALWAYS works like a charm.

Now (duly recovered) lets conclude with my final ingredient - blueberries.
Ahh, blueberries.
I genuinely don’t want to bore you with any more health facts than I already have, but I’d be doing this little deep bluish purple bite of goodness a huge disservice if I didn’t at least mention how amazing these little berries are for your health.
If you aren’t bored yet – read all about it here
But if you are, suffice it to say that blueberries deserve every last ounce of their superstar status.
I promise.

And they only cost £3.99 for 180g...

Soooo…ladies and gents, boys and girls,  I must impore you to stop reading right now (addictive as my writing might be) (ha!) and  wander over to your blenders….

Because I promise you, as simple as it might seem just to chuck together a few ingredients and whiz them, the result will be one of the most delicious things to have ever touched your lips.

Not to mention of course that your body (that temple) will salute you…

Friday, 8 March 2013

Harissa...A Prequel

Wow, that was quick.
I mean, barely 12 hours post facto, and I have all sorts of messages in my inbox - some asking me if I am ok (yeah, yeah, I'm just peachy, thanks) - but mostly asking me how one finds Harissa!!!

Bloody demanding lot aren't you?

Just kidding :)

I'm awfully flattered of course. You know that hearing from you lot ALWAYS makes my day!
And I'm not very bright, but I think if you're asking me how one finds Harissa, you're reading my post on Harissa Chicken and Rocket. Which pleasures, thrills and delights me beyond all known vocabulary.

Right. Well.
So, "how do you make Harissa...?"you ask...
Well, the truth is, I don't. I just do the lazy thing and buy Harissa from the store, but as I've just learned, not everyone has Harissa at their store?
Which is absolutely fair enough.
You don't have Harissa at your store?
I don't have alphonso mangoes at my store.
And Gees-Louise folks, much as I love Harissa, you know which side of that trade I'd rather be on...

Anyway, now, I don't not make my own Harissa because it's too hard. Because it's not. It's actually quite easy. And it's well worth making one's own Harissa frankly. For that matter, it's well worth making one's own anything. But then, I would say that, wouldn't I? Well, the truth of the matter is that I don't (make my own Harissa, that is) simply because I love my store bought one too much!! It's Belazu's Rose Harissa, and if you can get your grubby little paws on some, please do, you won't be disappointed.

But if you can't, then well read on, brave warriors!

Right, so before we start - a word of caution: I made this ages and ages ago, when I was like, five. So I really don't remember how it turned out. Well, not five (I do love to exaggerate), but nineteen, perhaps? Honestly, I am retyping a recipe off of a tatterred old notebook that looks like it was chewed by dinosaurs, from my university days. That's about when I went through a can't-live-without-middle-eastern-food phase. Which I think, was due in no small part, to an unnamed dashingly handsome middle-eastern boy that I was fluttering my (not so long) lids at...

(If you're curious, that didn't amount to anything. But hopefully, that's not a reflection of my Harissa...)

So here goes nothing!

Here's what you need:
- 5 dried red chillies
- 1 tsp caraway seeds
- 2 cloves garlic
- Bunch fresh coriander, chopped
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp cumin powder
- 50ml extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt, to taste

Here's how you do it:
First discard the seeds from the red chillies, then soak in water to soften - this should take about an hour. Drain and set aside.  

Heat a pan red hot till it smokes, then throw in the caraway seeds. Remove the pan from the heat immediately, give it a shake and set aside. When cool, grind them roughly with a mortar and pestle and keep aside. 

Place the garlic and chillies on a chopping board,  sprinkle with the salt, and chop together until you come to a paste - I just use my hands. have a rough-looking paste. Now, put the paste into a bowl and 
stir in the coriander, paprika, cumin and crushed caraway seeds. Fold in the oil and mix well.

And...that's all there is to it. I think.

By the way, this is a pretty versatile recipe. You can make it with red capsicum instead of chillies, add in tomatoes, a bit of both. Or all three. Actually the lovely folk at Arabica Food & Spice sell a fresh Harissa with whole walnuts that is making me dribble onto my bib right now. (What? You didn't know I wear a bib??). 

No, really, its amazing. It's not a marinade, but more mezze, meant to eat as is, right out of the pot, with a hot, fresh off the oven pitta. They sell at Borough Market every Thursday, Friday and Saturday and at Selfridges food court every day. Go if you're local - you can do a quick lunch of 3 mezzes + flatbread for 5 or 6 quid...absolutely delicious stuff!

But if you can't justify the plane ride all the way here just for an Arabica & co Harissa lunch (no matter no delicious), don't worry.
At least you've got mine. 
So smile.
You look pretty when you smile :)

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Harissa Chicken & Rocket

I'm back.
And delighted to be so.
Let's just leave it at that :)

The other thing that's back, I am even more delighted to report, is the sun.

I now get why English people moan continually about the weather.
They don't really know what the golden orb is, poor old things.
Rather they just go through life, white and pale and vitamin-D deficient, moaning continually about the weather.

I - by the way - am no exception.
I look just bloody awful.  And would give my left arm for a nice, brown tan. (Not really, but you know what I mean). Seriously though, look at me now, and you wouldn't guess I was brown. Which is quite as well, because Sid thinks I was born the wrong colour in the wrong country. Which is probably true, all true. I'd always dreamed of a wedding in a flowing white dress with swans all around, that's for sure.
I've told him this, by the way, on several ocassions. Which always makes him have a good ol laugh.

Anyway, anyhow...wasted words because the sun is out.
And so I shall stop moaning and get on with it.

Here's a fantastic recipe from the fantastic James Duigan, personal trainer for many famous people including the beautiful Elle Macpherson. I'm not famous, and I can't afford James, but I can afford his book (thank god for small mercies), and because of that, and because you know me, and because you read my blog and because I like to share: here it is, adapted accordingly.

Harissa Chicken & Rocket

(yeah, I always like a bit of colour...)

Here's what you need:
- 4 boneless chicken breasts
- 1/2 head of garlic, peeled and chopped finely
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp harissa
- 1 generous bunch coriander, chopped finely
- Rocket leaves
- Dollop natural yogurt

Here's how you do it:
Marinate the chicky-chick in harissa, garlic, olive oil and half the coriander for an hour
Preheat the grill to high. Grill the marinated chicken breasts for 7 minutes of each side. Remove from grill, sprinkle over the remaining coriander, lay over a bed of Rocket and pour on as much yogurt as you like.

Guys & gals - try this, I beg you.
It takes no time to prepare, sits in the grill for 14 minutes precisely and it leaves you feeling absolutely fantastic. It's not diet food, there's nothing artificial in it, the portions are extremely generous, and I'll leave you to report back on taste.

Ciao for now (while I stuff my face).
More tomorrow!