Friday, 11 December 2009

Friday Night Chicken Curry

Sometimes the end of the week doesn't seem complete without a good curry. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something strangely addictive about Indian food and when work has left you depleted mentally and physically, a gloriously spicy dish is the perfect perk up, which I love to regard as a treat.
However, it is all too easy to get a takeaway or pick up a ready-meal version from the supermarket. This is absolutely fine, but often the guilt seeps in and I have to put in the effort to make my own.

The following recipe is my concoction which is inspired by a jalfrezi. It is quite spicy as there are chunks of chilli pepper in it. For this one I used the long Spanish chillis which are reasonably fiery but are easy to regulate the amount used, in terms of heat required. Of course it is all a matter of personal taste, so feel free to adjust the quantity to satisfy your needs.

1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/4 tsp black mustard seeds
1/4 tsp kalonji seeds (nigella seeds)
2 tblspns groundnut oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed finely to a pulp
inch piece fresh ginger, grated
2 medium onions, finely chopped
6 dried curry leaves
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tspn cayenne pepper
1/2 tspn paprika
can tomatoes
2 tblspns tomato puree
4 chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch pieces
red capsicum pepper, de-seeded and cut into 1 inch chunks
2 red chilli peppers, de-seeded and roughly sliced
low fat yogurt (strained)*

Heat a frying pan and put in the cumin and coriander seeds and dry roast them over a medium heat until they just begin to colour and give off their aromas. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Tip them into an electric coffee grinder and grind them to a powder and set aside.

In a large pan, heat the oil and put in the mustard, fenugreek and nigella seeds and fry gently until the mustards seeds start to pop and you can see the fenugreek seeds beginning to go a shade darker.
Add the onions and fry on a medium heat until they soften. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until the raw garlic smell disappears, stirring all the time.

Now add the ground coriander and cumin along with the cayenne pepper, turmeric, and paprika. Crumble in the curry leaves. Stir-fry gently for a couple of minutes.

Add the tinned tomatoes, squishing them with your wooden spoon and then stir in the tomato puree. Allow the sauce to bubble gently for about 10 mins, stirring occasionally. Season to taste.
A little water maybe added if the sauce becomes to thick.

Put in the chicken and stir to mix in, making sure it is covered by the sauce and let it all simmer gently for about 15 mins.

Add the peppers and chillies and continue to cook for a further 10 mins until the peppers soften.
Just before serving stir through the strained yogurt.*

*to strain yogurt, place a clean thin cloth inside a sieve and place over a jug. Spoon the yogurt into the cloth and leave to stand for a couple of hours or overnight in the fridge. There should be liquid left in the jug, discard this, and you’ll be left with very thick yogurt in the cloth. I find that when strained, the yogurt behaves better in cooking and it also has such a rich creamy texture – you’d never know that it was low fat.

Friday, 20 November 2009

MasterChef LIVE 2009

If you could cook it, eat it or drink it, London's Olympia was filled to to the ceiling with goods to delight every foodie.
Following a re-branding, the BBC Good Food Show London became MasterChef LIVE halfway through its promotional campaign. I'm not sure whether there was a definite reason for doing this – perhaps poor advance ticket sales or maybe a marketing brainwave?
Either way, the show seemed to be packed with the usual high quality exhibitors and attractions.

MasterChef was very much the theme in the theatres with top chefs and past MasterChef winners demonstrating their skills and tantalising our tastebuds with a variety of dishes.
One area was the Invention Test that offered members of the public to take part alongside celebrities. Ingredients were supplied and using their ingenuity they had to produce a dish to impress the judges. Despite friends of mine saying that I should enter, I politely declined. Although a brilliant opportunity it was still scary stuff!

A large area was devoted to the Restaurant Experience where one could buy some dining currency and use it in exchange for some taster portions from some top London restaurants.
It all smelled very delicious, but the plastic plates and bowls that the food was served in, not to mention the queues, proved to be a little detracting.

There were some Hot Tips areas, one of which we visited to see James Nathan give a class in how to prepare shellfish. I've always been slightly perturbed at the thought of dismembering a crab or a lobster, so was intrigued to see what I could learn.
Watching James somehow made things a lot clearer. As he recounted his early days, admitting that at first, he didn't have a clue how to prepare various crustaceans and molluscs, I began to feel more relaxed about the whole procedure.
It was even comforting to see him waver when he had trouble opening an oyster. I admired him for his honesty when he confessed to messing one up. It must be difficult performing in front of a small audience just feet away.

Aside from all the pizazz and showmanship there was the huge Producers' Market, including the Food Lovers Britain Fair and Slow Food. Here, we tasted our way through an array of items, before deciding whether to buy.
On our tour around the show we met up with the people from Adesso whom we first met two years ago at The Real Food Festival. At the time they were first starting out with their marinades, so it was nice to chat and find out how they were getting on.

Who would think that were so many varieties of garlic to choose from?
The Garlic Farm had everything from the recognisable to the rare and some of the biggest garlic I've ever seen – Elephant Garlic

Gorgeous artisan breads from Flour Power City.

Don't get me wrong, I do love cheese, but there were rather too many stands offering their wares. However there were some fantastic flavours to be sampled. Some fine aged cheddars and a beautiful creamy blue from Cornwall.

Cheese always needs a little relish to accompany it..... hang on there's more cheese hiding on this stand at Truckle.

Speaking of a proliferation of similar products, chilli in all its variants was everywhere.
Mr Singh's Punjabi Foods had a punchy little sauce in bottles small enough to be a travel accessory.

Hot, hotter, hottest!
The South Devon Chilli Farm stand was all too tempting. First I tried a subtle relish and it was fragrant and warming then I spread a little sauce on a cracker... that had a definite kick. Noticing something at the end of the table that looked rich and thick and yummy I tasted that too, but with disastrous results. At first it was very tasty and then an almighty heat whacked me in the back of the throat, set my tongue on fire with power of a thousand suns, nearly ejecting my eyeballs out of their sockets! Crikey, I wished I'd checked the label on the jar first... Extreme Hot it said decorated with a logo of a skull and crossbones! Back to a cheese stall I went to neutralise my oral inferno.

These were very good cakes, sorry sweet breads, baked to a traditional Creole recipe.
Moist, fruity with a hint of spice.

Hmmm..... have cupcakes had their day? Discuss.

Let it be said, when there's free alcohol to try, the British are very good at being in the front of the queue! The sun was barely over the yard arm and people were already necking as many freebies as they could. Although they should remember to bring several disguise kits so that they can revisit the stands several times!

The Black Bottle whisky was exceptionally good – smooth with a hint of caramel and smoke.

I thought that I didn't like sake, but after tasting several different types at the Fukumitsuya Sake Brewery stand I've realised that there are better ones out there compared to the one you can pick up at the supermarket. Shame on me!

For those not so alcoholically inclined there were some coffee
and tea suppliers.
Jacc's Coffee produce a range of beans flavoured with things like roasted pecan but I have to say it's not really my cup of tea – or should that be coffee? – as I prefer my beverage to be unsullied by unwanted essences. Each to their own.

Choi Time teas had those amazing flowers that unfurl in your teapot – a delight to look at as well as to sip.
A good reason to have a glass pot then.

Ah yes, this is real salami and pancetta. Good stuff.

The Kikkoman stand proudly displaying their
cooking skills using soy sauce.

Sweet-toothed visitors were catered for with everything from
hand made fudge to artisan chocolates....

With veg this pretty, who wouldn't want to eat it?

Flavours of the Mediterranean were everywhere and
some of the finest olive oils.

If you're getting tired of olive oil, then Sussex Gold had a tasty and healthy British alternative of cold-pressed rapeseed oil.

This was a new one for me, African Baobab Fruit Jam from Yozuna.
It's a lovely thick golden paste, not unlike quince cheese. The taste was sweet and tangy and went well with the cheese that was offered with it. Not only is it yummy, but it's extremely good for you, full of vitamins – well what would you expect from the 'Tree of Life'.

Thanks to my husband for the photos.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Goulash with Caraway Dumplings

Whilst this may not be authentic, it is no less delicious. The perfect warming dish on a cold winter's day. Rather than including stewing beef, I have used lamb escalopes instead – this means that it can be cooked quicker rather than the usual hour or so, because the cuts of meat are tender to start with. I also prefer the robust taste of lamb which works so well with the rich sweet earthy tasting sauce.
I use smetana (an eastern european soured cream) to spoon over the top. If you can't find it in your shop, just use normal soured cream, or even natural yogurt which is a perfect substitute.

Serves 2

1 tablespoon olive oil
325g lamb escalopes
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
60ml (half a glass) red wine
500g carton sieved tomatoes
1 tablespoon paprika
salt and black pepper to season
Smetana (soured cream) to serve

For the dumplings:
100g plain flour
50g vegetarian suet
half teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
pinch salt
black pepper
cold water to mix

Put the olive oil in a large heavy lidded saucepan over a moderate heat, when the oil is hot, place the lamb escalopes in a single layer (you may have to do this in two batches) and fry for about a minute on each side until brown. Remove the meat and set aside.
Reduce the heat and add the onions and garlic, sauté gently until translucent and the raw smell disappears.
Be careful not to let them burn.

Now add the wine and allow to boil while you stir, scraping up all the bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until almost all the liquid has gone and the alcohol has burned off.

Pour in the sieved tomatoes, add the red pepper and paprika and give it a good stir, when it comes to a simmer return the meat and any of its juices and stir in. Put on the lid and cook gently, after about 10 minutes, remove the lid while you continue to cook for another 10 minutes uncovered to allow some of the moisture to evaporate.

Add salt and pepper to taste and stir again, making sure that your goulash isn't sticking to the bottom of the pan. If it is, just reduce the heat slightly.

Whilst it's bubbling away, make the dumplings.
In a bowl, add the flour, suet, baking powder, caraway seeds, salt and pepper and stir to combine, then add the cold water little by little as you mix with a fork. You want the dough to come together without being too wet. On a floured surface, squeeze the dough together with your hands and divide into eight pieces.
Roll each of the pieces into a ball.

Now you can add your dumplings to the goulash. Drop them in and gently push them down with a spoon, so that they're completely covered by the sauce.
Replace the lid on the pan and continue to simmer for 10 minutes.
The dumplings are done when they increase in size rise to the surface.

Serve in bowls with cool smetana or soured cream spooned
over the top.

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Sunday, 11 October 2009

A Taste of North Norfolk

Big skies, salt marshes and pure nature make the North Norfolk coast a truly beautiful place to be, and I think we have been blessed with one of the finest weeks of the summer* that's going to make our holiday all the more enjoyable.

The whole point of our break in Blakeney is to relax. There's no itinerary and no over inflated expectations of what we'll experience while we're here either.
Our cottage is tucked away next to the old Friary Farm house and just a short stroll along a country footpath to the quayside.

Crabbers line the harbour, legs dangling over the
quayside at Blakeney

Looking at Blakeney today, it is hard to imagine that it used to be a bustling and thriving port. This was hundreds of years ago, of course, and time and tide have gradually silted up the harbour, meaning that the town is now set back from the coast by a good mile or so.
This, however, hasn’t affected Blakeney’s appeal as it’s quite a popular getaway location. Despite the number of visitors it doesn’t fill up so much that it becomes detracting, and that’s just the way I like it.

Ever popular with children who fill their days with crabbing off the quay, water-filled buckets at the ready as the eager crabbers dangle twine baited with bacon into the muddy channel, Blakeney has a certain charm that gives you the feeling that it is still very much set in a pleasant time in the past.

The tide's out and the mud is perfect for samphire

Sailing boats line the edge of the channel or cut as it’s known, their hulls stranded in the mud waiting for the return of the tide.
I’m amazed at what is able to grow in such a salty environment. There’s sea lavender, sea blight and of course the ubiquitous and very edible marsh samphire.

Although food hunting is not the primary purpose of our trip, we can’t avoid it, as Norfolk is bountiful with fine produce. Seafood is plentiful and it is common to see a crab shed selling not only crab, but local lobsters and mussels too.

Outside the deli in Blakeney

Picnic Fayre delicatessen at Cley-next-the-Sea

Both Blakeney and it’s neighbouring village, Cley-next-the-sea have delicatessens.
We pay a visit to Picnic Fayre in Cley and it doesn’t disappoint. Taking heed of the chalkboard outside we pick up some local homemade lavender bread, a focaccia style loaf fragrant with rosemary as well as the lavender and the added spike from some chilli flakes.

The inviting chalk board

Soft, spicy and scented lavender bread

We also need a bottle of wine.The deli has a good selection of wines from around the world and at a resonable price too, but the one bottle turns into two when a Norfolk sloe wine beckons from the shelf. This turns out to be rather good, not at all ‘home brew’ in nature, but well refined in flavour.

A good country wine – sloe-ly does it!

The place has become quite busy by now, so we stand in a small queue waiting to pay. I’m sure our wait has been engineered so that we don’t miss the pork pies nestling in the counter. They do look very tempting, so we add a couple of handmade, rare breed pork and caramelised red onion pies to our shopping.
I’m so glad we did, as they turn out to be the best we have ever tasted. The pastry is light and and crisp and not at all lardy and the meat is succulent and full of flavour with just the right amount of herbs and seasoning. Perfect

Could these be the best pork pies in the world?

Cley's famous smokehouse

Still on the food trail we cross the road to Cley’s famous smokehouse. Through the small bright pink door we enter the shop and are presented with cabinets full of smoked delights. There's so much to choose from, kippers, buckling, mussels, haddock, red herring… but we decide on the smoked mackerel, naturally cured and smoked using an age old family recipe, they are plump, juicy and full of flavour, making an ideal breakfast.

Just up the road from Blakeney, Wiveton Hall

Slightly dubious spelling but delicious all the same

North Norfolk has so much to offer and when it was time to leave I was feeling hungry for more, but I guess that'll have to be another visit some time in the future…

*Holiday taken in the middle of August

Here are some links for the places I've mentioned:

Holkham Beach is probably the best beach I've ever been too.

For more photos from my trip visit Flickr

Note: This article is now published on the Norfolk Holiday Guide website

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Eating Out: Madsen

Reviewing restaurants isn't normally my thing, but this time I thought I'd give it a go as I was pleased with my experience.
I had been intending to try out Madsen's for quite sometime and as I was enjoying a day out in London's South Kensington, visiting the Natural History Museum, what a perfect opportunity to do so.
Sitting on the Old Brompton Road, just around the corner from the tube station, it is ideally located to make a date for lunch after trekking around the museums.
Our heads were now full of dinosaurs and other natural wonders, but our stomachs were very empty and need of sustenance as well as enjoyment. Madsen's Danish menu didn't fail to fulfill both.

We hadn't booked, but that was no problem and a table for two in the window was given to us.
The interior is typically scandinavian – clean lines, wooden floors and white walls giving a feeling of airiness and space.
The lunch menu has a varied selection of 'smushi' – small open sandwiches with toppings including marinated herring, prawns, or roast beef and other Danish specialities such as “Fiskefrikadeller” – pan-fried haddock fishcakes.
We opted for the weekly special of Frikadeller (pork meatballs) with braised red cabbage and gravy. This was accompanied with new potatoes dressed in butter and thyme, which were delightfully presented, all wrapped up in a parchment bag tied with string.
The meatballs were light and nicely seasoned with a crispy outside and the cabbage was perfectly cooked, not too soft nor too crunchy with a delicate sweetness.

Madsen's food doesn't try to pretend to be high-end and 'restauranty' and that in my opinion is what makes it appealing to me. Good honest food prepared and presented well is something I feel comfortable with.
Speaking of comfort, the service was friendly and attentive without being intrusive and we left feeling refreshed and relaxed.

I shall be keeping an eye on their weekly changing specials as I would definitely return when I'm in the area again.

Photo source: Madsen website

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Tweet Tweet

I've just set up a Twitter account where you can keep up with my daily musings and general foodie ramblings.
Just click on the button at the top of the sidebar and you'll be flown over to my page.
If you choose to follow me, my culinary and travel thoughts will be winging their way over to you soon!

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Brittany Break

I've recently returned from a trip to Brittany in France, and what an eye opener it has been. Seeing how the locals live has made me think about what is sadly lacking from our everyday lives here in the UK.

We stayed in in the small town of Lanvollon which is in the department of Côtes d'Armor. It's a lovely quiet place away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist towns, but for somewhere so seemingly laid back it has all the amenities including a fantastic supermarket. Considering the fact that Super U is a chain supermarket, which could be compared to our very own Sainsbury's or Tesco, it far supercedes our British counterparts. The quality and range of produce is astounding. I found myself almost giddy with excitement when I saw the fresh fish counter, and as Brittany is fringed by such a beautiful and bountiful coastline, it should have been no surprise really. We bought some locally caught moules (that's mussels to you and me) which we ate that evening, just simply done with some shallots, parsley, white wine and butter. They were deliciously sweet and tender.

Butter is big in Brittany and features heavily in many regional baked goods. I'm even thinking that if I can't buy the best croissants at home then I'm not going to bother with them again. Proper French croissants are flaky on the outside, soft in the middle and so buttery, you don't need anything else with them. As for the Breton cake, well that was melt-in-the-mouth heaven. I knew of the local cake and I even have a recipe for it, torn from a magazine, tucked away somewhere, but I had never tried it until now. We bought one that had some prune purée in between its shortcake-like layers – very nice.
Something I discovered about traditional Brittany butter is that there is never an unsalted variety. The Bretons like their butter salted and probably more so than we do, but there is a half-salted version for the more health conscious! Some types even contain little crunchy sea salt crystals.

Despite Brittany having a large dairy farming industry it doesn't make any cheese, which I find rather odd, but being in France there's no shortage from other regions. We found some delicious Comte, not just one type as you you'd maybe see in your local deli, but several, each having been differently aged.

Cheese of course, needs some bread to accompany it and a rich-tasting crusty baguette was in order. I like bread, but I love real French bread - it's just so tasty. Bread is an obvious daily requirement in the Breton home as it's not uncommon to see someone go out every day just to pick up a loaf. On a Sunday too, as the boulangerie is open well into the afternoon.
Baking seems to be an integral part of French life as there seems to be a boulangerie, patisserie or biscuiterie at every turn. Why isn't everyone fat in France with such a rich diet? That'll be the French Paradox then. I'm betting that all those fresh fruit and vegetables help negate the bad effects... oh and the wine is reputably beneficial of course.

Brittany is certainly a very picturesque part of France and is strangely reminiscent of Cornwall and Devon with its craggy coves, fishing villages and sandy beaches. The open countryside is grazed by cows and there are fields of maize and globe artichokes. The artichokes make for an interesting and attractive crop, I think.
I definitely fell in love with the area, especially the coast, so its marked for a revisit in the not so distant future.

For more pictures click here
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