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Saving bread by making bread 

As part of my plan to not spend unnecessarily in 2017, I’ve been looking for ways to cut down on our food waste too. We have a terrible obsession with bread. We love it in all its assorted and varied forms. But there are only two of us and buying a loaf a week seems to end with a few slices being thrown out each week. Which is wasteful but I really don’t need any more breadcrumbs in my freezer. And those are alongside naan breads and pitta bread and parathas and any other Indian bread you can think of. 

So with a bit of time on my hands this afternoon and a craving for my Sri Lankan curry favorites (Jaffna chicken curry and paripu), I decided to explore how to make my own naan bread. And it’s surprisingly easy. Well, this version is, I didn’t want to buy anything new with which to make these so just used what was in the fridge and store cupboard. So here it is. I may also share my paripu (Sri Lankan dhal, basically) recipe as it’s perfect comfort food, only uses one pot and can be frozen. But that’s my next post.

Easy Naan Bread

  • 250g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp Caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 130ml milk
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil

Sift the dry ingredients together in a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Then mix the milk and oil in a jug and pour into the well. Stir together until the dough comes together and then knead for approximately 8 mins, till the dough is smooth. Oil the bowl and put the dough back in to it and leave it to rest in a warm place for 30-40 mins. 

Preheat the grill to medium and put a heavy tray to heat at the same time at the top of the grill. Take the dough from the bowl and split into six roughly equal pieces. Roll each one out into tear drop shapes (if you can, as you can see mine are less than perfect!)

Cook on the hot grill tray for a minute or two on each side, till they’ve browned. Remove from the oven and brush with melted butter. 

Serve warm with your favourite curry. 

Goan(ish) Beef Curry

I’m not a very good Hindu, you may have noticed. But what you’ll also know is that it’s rare (pardon the pun) to get beef curries in your local takeaways or restaurants as, well, the cow is holy. But I do love me some holy cow. And as it’s approaching winter (yay!) I decided to break all my non-existent rules and make a beef curry to warm our cold bones. 
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To be fair, I don’t really like beef curries – the ones you get are mostly coconutty from SE Asia and I have a weird aversion to coconut generally. Or contain potatoes, which are probably my least favourite carb. But I figured, the rules of curries must be the same, whatever meat you’re using, so I Googled for a Goan beef curry and this one came up. I know, right? I’m a genius. However, take a look at the recipe on the link – I may be a bit stupid, but dear god it was confusing, so I used the general concept, replacing ingredients and processes at whim.

I should also add that I really didn’t want to go shopping so those things I may have added to make it look prettier but didn’t have in the fridge/cupboard/garden, I didn’t have. So no coriander garnish mostly, which in retrospect, may have made it a little better. So if you get the urge, get coriander. if you don’t, it’s perfectly fine without it.

So here it is, my Goan-ish Beef Curry. We had it with Sri Lankan roast pan which is basically chunky slices of bread. Not that exotic. Probably nice with rice. Couldn’t be bothered to make rice. Autumn makes me lazy.

Goanish Beef Curry

  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • Half a small cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp hot paprika
  • 3 small red chillies
  • 8 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1.5 inches of garlic, peeled and chopped into chunks
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 100ml vinegar (I used sherry vinegar, but any will do)
  • 1 red onion sliced thinly
  • 1kg beef, trimmed and cut into 2cm cubes
  • 250ml water

Toast the first five ingredients in a small pan over a low heat for about a minute or until the aromas start to be released. Take off the heat before they burn.

Put the garlic, chillies, ginger, oil in a blender and blend till smooth. Then add the toasted spices and the powdered spices into the blender, with the vinegar and blend to a smooth paste.

Leave to one side whilst you brown the beef in a large casserole, do it in batches so it cooks evenly. Once that’s removed, add some more oil to the pan and gently fry the onions till they’re soft and translucent, then add the spice paste (watch out, it’ll spit at you) and cook that out for a minute or so – it will go from a turmeric-y orange to a dark brown. Once it’s cooked through, add the beef and ensure that you coat it with the spice mix. Put the water into the food processor to get all the remnants of the spice paste and pour it into the pan. Bring it to the boil and then reduce to a low simmer. Cover and continue to simmer for 70-90 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to ensure it’s not burning. If the water looks like it’s running dry, add a little more. You want the beef to be tender and the longer you can cook it for, the more tender it will be.

Serve with rice, bread or whatever you fancy. Garnish with coriander, if you have it. Or a sliced chilli. I did neither as you’ll see from the picture. It was still delicious.

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Fig and Peach Crumble

Terribly sorry, I took no photos of this dessert after it had been made because I had had wine. But there’s a great photo of a cheese wedding cake to make up for it. 

A couple of things I’ve mentioned before: I love Autumn for its abundant produce and I have a terrible tendency of not eating fresh fruit and then shoving it in the freezer so I can smoothie-ise it or throwing it out. And with the latter, my middle class guilt makes me feel terrible for doing that so I’m trying really hard to not over buy fresh fruit so I can actually enjoy it at its finest.

Sometimes however, I let fruit go a little close to the point of no return but now it’s Autumn, I can turn that fruit into fruity crumbles and who doesn’t like a crumble? With lots and lots of custard poured on top. YUM.

So, I bought some figs because my sister in law had an amazing cheese wedding cake at her wedding a couple of weeks ago and we brought home a chunk o’cheese from the cake but soon forgot about that dinner option. And then, last weekend, we had Marcel’s uncle stay from Wisconsin and ended up hosting two dinner parties in his honour so I decided to get all the fruit in the fridge and turn it into a crumble for pudding.

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All the fruit in the fridge was figs and peaches, FYI. And turns out, figs and peaches go quite well together, possibly a little bit sweet so I reduced the sugar from a normal crumble and it came out deliciously. And I kinda wish I had some right now to shove in my belly. But I don’t. So that’s sad. But here’s the recipe anyway.

Fig and Peach crumble

  • 8 small ripe figs, trimmed and cut into quarters
  • 6 slightly underripe peaches, peeled, stoned and cut into chunks
  • 2 x tbsp demarara sugar
  • 1/2  tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2  tsp all spice
  • Juice and zest of one lime

Put all the ingredients into a bowl, mix well and cover. Leave aside for a couple of hours so that the fruit softens a little and takes on the spiced flavours. You can use whatever spices you like, this is what I had in the cupboard.

Before you make the crumble topping, preheat the oven to gas mark 4/160C

I know everyone has their own favourites for crumble topping but i like mine buttery and slightly spiced so this is it!

  • 225g plain flour
  • 75g golden caster sugar
  • 1 x tsp ginger
  • 1 x tsp finely chopped preserved ginger
  • 115g butter, chopped into cubes (this should be fridge cold)
  • Pinch of salt

Sift flour, salt and ginger into a bowl, add the sugar and butter and rub together till you have fine breadcrumb like texture. Stir in the preserved ginger for added chewy flavour bursts.

Place the fruit and any juices into the base of a baking tin and sprinkle the crumble topping over it. I like to leave the sides a little bare so that the juices from the fruit bubble up over the sides but you can do your own thing.

Put it into the oven, bake for 40-50 minutes, till the crumble takes on a brown ish colour and then remove. So that you don’t burn your mouths, leave it to cool for 5 mins before serving and then serve with lashings of custard.

Enjoy!

Sunny weekends, barbecues, musical memories

I’ve been thinking recently about music. My niece has just turned 11 and I remember getting CDs (or tapes, I’m that old) as gifts when I was her age, which was a great way to discover new music. And then yesterday, I heard a song on the radio, that I remember being very instrumental (ha) about moving me on from tweeny pop (I LOVED Bucks Fizz, for example. In my defence, I was 7 when they kicked ass on Eurovision and what’s not to love about primary colours and fizzy pop when you’re 7?!) into rockier/lyrical indie and from there into dance and from there into Radio 2 on a Friday night. Oh, OK, there were a few bits in between my clubbing 20s and my descent into the easy listening of my old age, but music always felt like something we discovered with our friends and gave us a reason to rebel against the boring normals.

And I fear that my niece, who I love a lot, won’t have that experience, what with algorithms telling her what she’ll like based on her previous choices, not letting her make musical mistakes or saving up for weeks to spend a tenner on the latest release from a band that only she knows about (or at least she thinks she is the only one). And I’m guessing, what with the demise of the CD player, no one is making mix tapes any more so she’ll just like the occasional song and won’t delve into albums to discover the rest of a band’s musical oeuvre. I still have several mix tapes and CDs made by boyfriends from my youth that I still remember these days. Particularly the ones from a beautiful boy I met on a French exchange trip who was in a band (of course) and would send me tapes of him talking and then singing and then songs he liked. So sweet. I’m sure if I had a tape player and could listen to them anymore, they wouldn’t be as lovely, but at the time, it was just gloriously romantic.

I define my years through my musical tastes and a song can evoke a memory of a certain time, much the same way a flavour can or a scent carried on the breeze. So yeah, that’s what I’ve been musing on for the last few weeks. And which brings me nicely on to the BBQ we had this weekend. A tenuous link, maybe but as I was prepping food on Saturday afternoon, I was tuned into Kisstory. I was a massive indie kid in my youth but my Sri Lankan contemporaries were more into RnB and hip hop and as I’ve got older, listening to things like R Kelly (I know) and Mary J Blige and Shaggy and stuff reminds me of the fun we had hanging out, and frankly I love it. So I had Kisstory pumped up, and had fun cooking and singing along (I’m not sure the wino loved it as much as me, but hell, he was BBQ king, I was kitchen bitch so I got to choose!)

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve had a bit of a stomach bug for a few days, so wasn’t really up to eating, but we’d had a date in the diary for at least three months for a family get together so couldn’t really cancel. And it was my folks anniversary and as I’m becoming rubbish at buying gifts for people in a timely fashion, I figured I’d cook for them instead. So I did, couple of recipes below, lots of salads and marinades that were simple and worked even when we maybe overcooked the meat a little bit. Below is a recipe for a mango and cantaloupe salsa that worked perfectly with the Vietnamese chicken. We also made pork and lamb sliders, which I added parmesan to, which gave them a gorgeously savoury/umami note. Other things made included halloumi, new potato and sage kebabs, roasted beetroot, peppers and tomatoes, a new potato and fennel salad and sausages. Because you can’t have a BBQ without some sausages.

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Cantaloupe and Mango Salsa

  • 1 x cantaloupe
  • 1 x ripe mango (we used an alphonso as we’ve got some amazing Indian shops around here, but any kind will do)
  • Juice and zest of one lime
  • 1 x big red chilli
  • 1 x red onion
  • 1 inch grated ginger (peeled)

Chop everything as finely as possible – I did chunks of cantaloupe and melon then attacked them with the knife some more so it almost goes pulpy. You could probably pulse it in a food processor too, but the knife action The onion was chopped into tiny cubes, the chilli into tiny slices. Mix all the ingredients together and then squeeze the lime over the top to give it some freshness. I added a 1/4 tsp of salt and the same of sugar to add some extra flavour to it. It’s a great salsa for anything from fish to meat and even adds and extra element of delicious to a green salad. Definitely one we’ll be repeating over the summer.

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Vietnamese Chicken

  • 12 chicken thighs (skin on, bone in) You can probably use a whole chicken for this, just chopped into pieces but it was easier to buy it like this
  • 3 tsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp sriracha or other chilli sauce
  • 1.5 fat red chillies
  • A thumb sized chunk of ginger, grated
  • 6 x garlic cloves crushed
  • 2 x tsp demerara sugar
  • 6 x tsp soy sauce
  • About 15 stems of fresh coriander leaves, chopped finely
  • 1.5 limes, zested and juiced

Trim the chicken of excess fat and put to one side.

Take all the other ingredients and mix well so the sugar is dissolved. It’ll smell mostly of fish sauce, which can be a little off putting but it gets cooked out so don’t worry too much. Give it a taste to make sure the flavours are balanced and if they’re not, up the levels of what you think is missing – I didn’t go too heavy on the sugar to begin with but added a little more as it was a little tart.

Pour the marinade over the chicken and massage in. Cover and put into the fridge for at least 3 hours – I left mine overnight and this really helped the flavour develop (and the fish sauce smell dissipate).

When your BBQ is hot, but not flaming anymore, whack on the chicke skin side down for the first couple of minutes. Once you’ve got a good bit of colour, turn them over and keep an eye on them – because of the sugar they have a tendency to burn quickly. Cook for 15-20 minutes, turning regularly. Of course, with chicken, don’t serve it at all pink – so check it’s cooked through before serving.

Enjoy! Let me know your BBQ favourites – given the weather is so good right now, I’d love to be inspired with other recipes to try.

Oh, this was pudding – a fresh fruit salad, with a plum compote and a orange, lemon and rosemary biscuit.


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Fish Tacos, Red Velvet Cupcakes and Star Wars

I’ve just come out of my family birthday fortnight – my mum’s birthday (28th May), my niece’s (30th May) and my husband’s (4th June) and whilst they’re not that demanding or needy (apart from my niece, but she’s 11 so it’s allowed. When she’s 13, I’ll be having words), it always feels like a very busy time of year.

This year, the wino and I went to Secret Cinema presents Empire Strikes Back. In costume. If you’re a fan of the Star Wars franchise (I’m not) or if you like a bit of immersive, interactive theatre (I do), then go to it. I can’t say too much for fear of being caught by the Stormtroopers but it’s worth every penny of the £75 for a ticket (I know, it’s expensive, but it’s worth it). You get given a character hence the ridiculous outfits (although I think I may well wear boilersuits every day for all eternity).

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But this post isn’t about Star Wars, it’s about birthdays. This year, for my mum’s birthday, we took her to afternoon tea at the Laura Ashley Hotel in Elstree. Wasn’t quite sure what to expect, other than cakes and sandwiches – and I’ve got to be honest, these were a little disappointing – nothing that interesting and some stuff that was just a little bit bland. But the grounds at the hotel were stunning – including this awesome human sized chessboard that my niece and nephew loved.

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Rix, at that tea, decided she wanted red velvet cupcakes for the second of her two birthday parties, so I spent most of the Saturday baking 48 of them. I know, it’s a well known recipe and I won’t pretend mine is any better than any other, but they do take beautiful photos. And buttermilk in any recipe is amongst my favourite things ever.

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But what I am going to share is my recipe for fish tacos. I love me a taco. Or a burrito. Or a wrap. Or anything that involves food wrapped in bread. I’m a woman of simple tastes. So on red velvet Saturday, I decided that I’d make fish tacos for dinner. If you’re in the US, these are probably quite regular things you can find in any restaurant (of Mexican ilk) but you don’t really find them here. So after a bit of googling and a bit of cupboard staring and realising we didn’t have a lot of stuff, I made my own version -and darned delicious they were too. So here it is, Fish Tacos a la basic storecupboard and garden herbs.

Fish tacos (makes enough for two) 

  • 500g firm white fish
  • 1 tsp fennel seed
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • A pinch of sea salt
  • A twist of ground black pepper
  • A table spoon of fresh oregano leaves
  • Three cloves of garlic

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6. Lightly toast the spices in a small frying pan till the aromas are released, then move them to a pestle and mortar. Add the salt, pepper and grind till it forms a sandy texture. Add in the peeled garlic cloves and oregano and grind again, finish with a drizzle of olive oil, then rub into the fish (skin still on) and leave to marinade whilst you prepare the rest of the ingredients

  • 2 x peppers (we used red and orange) sliced
  • A head of garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Cucumber
  • Spring onions
  • Half a head of iceberg lettuce
  • 6 x tortilla wraps

Cut the garlic head in half and throw into a roasting pan with the peppers, a twist of salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Cover with foil and roast for 20 mins until the peppers are soft.  Meanwhile, chop all the other vegetables into strips (cucumber), circles (spring onions) and shreds (lettuce). We (Marcel) weirdly sliced the spring onions into strips, which made them impossible to eat.

Our dressing was a combination of buttermilk and sriracha (chilli sauce) and a little bit of salt.

About 10 mins before the peppers are due to come out of the oven, make the fish – simply fry it or griddle it (or BBQ it if weather allows), skin side down first then flip over for the last minute of cooking time (should only take 5-6 mins total). Flake the fish into a bowl, off the skin to serve. Heat your tortilla breads according to the instructions (we did ours in the oven but that uses a lot of foil so I’ll leave it up to you) and plate. To serve, simply put the salad toppings into one big dish, fish in another, breads on a plate and then make up your wraps at the table.

Lovely light simple supper. Will be making again when the BBQ is out.

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Mother’s Day baked treats: weird scones and goat’s cheese cheesecake

It’s Mother’s Day so to those of you that are mums (which I’d say is some) and those of you that have mums (which is all) – Happy Mother’s Day! My mum is awesome – I obviously didn’t think this when I was in my pre-teens/teens/early 20s but in recent years, I’ve realised just how much she does and how much she put up with from me during those rebellious years, so thanks Mum! As you’ll see from the picture below, I am also turning into her. It really does happen to us all.

me and mum

Also, did you know that Mother’s Day is an official holiday and not a Hallmark one? I overheard some ladies on the train on the way back from Birmingham talking about it – they said it was government created so that women working in war offices got a day off to see their mothers. Isn’t that nice? Of course, this could be utter nonsense but, heck, I bought it!

This year, my sister and I are doing an afternoon tea for mum at home so I decided to make some scones. For some reason I decided to play around with an old classic. Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet cookbook calls for using plain yoghurt instead of eggs and milk or buttermilk. I love Dan’s recipes so decided I’d try this out. Not entirely sure why, I had eggs and milk in the fridge but only fig flavoured yoghurt. I think I was sucked in by the time I made a spiced cranberry bundt cake using strawberry yoghurt instead of plain yoghurt and it came out really well (apart from sticking to the tin which I blame entirely on lazy assed greasing) so figured now bad could this be? The answer was quite bad. Whilst they’re an OK scone they’re a little weird and strangely green. Note to self: stick to what the recipe calls for if you have it in the fridge. I made a second batch with eggs and milk and they are absolutely delicious.

Not fig scones

Last weekend I made a goat’s cheese tart as a starter but totally got my numbers wrong and ended up with five spare goat’s cheese logs. The husband doesn’t really like goat’s cheese so I decided to make a goat’s cheese cheesecake as mum loves cheesecake and I hate waste. I also really like slightly savoury sweets and goat’s cheese has that lovely tang that I thought would work quite well.

I found a recipe on The Guardian website as part of their “10 Best” series which is really awesome if you are bored of using favourite ingredients in the same way. I slightly modified it to use up other ingredients in the cupboard. Would love to hear what you’ve made for your mums today.

Goat’s cheese, honey, cinnamon and ginger cheesecake with a hint of chilli

  • 200g biscuits. I used a tin of Lucifer’s from Fortnum and Mason – these are ginger and chilli flavoured and delicious. I also added in about 6 digestives to dampen the chilli hit
  • 80g butter melted
  • 400g goat’s cheese
  • 180ml honey
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1.5 tsp ginger
  • 150g sour cream
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt

Bash the biscuits till they resemble fine breadcrumbs (or do this in a food processor, makes life so much easier if you have one) and then pour over the melted and slightly cooled butter. Spoon this into a 20cm loose bottomed cake tin and press flat. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. At this stage, turn the oven on low – I was at gas mark 3, which is about 160C. Bake the base for 15 minutes and leave to cool.

If you, like me, have the type of goat’s cheese with a rind, you’ll need a food processor again. If it’s just the soft stuff, you probably won’t. I put my goat’s cheese with rind into the food processor with the honey and then blended it for about 5 minutes till it had turned into a lovely soft paste. Turn this out into a bowl and stir in the ginger and cinnamon. Add the sour cream and stir till it’s all combined. Beat in the eggs, one by one, and then add the vanilla extract and salt and stir till it’s all combined.

Pour the topping over the base and put back into the oven for 40-50 minutes until the edges are set and the centre is still a bit wobbly. Leave to cool in the tin, then move the tin to the fridge and leave for a few hours (or overnight) to fully set. Don’t do what I did and press too hard on the centre – I’ve had to top it with raspberries to cover the big hole I’ve made in the middle. Ooops. Don’t tell my mum. The one on the Guardian website calls for a simple drizzle of honey, which looks incredible and absolutely wouldn’t work with a gigantic finger shaped hole. But the raspberries don’t look too bad. Do they?

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The meal that (may have) changed my life

A couple of weeks ago, I cooked dinner for some friends of my folks (I am actually the best daughter ever, despite what my parents would say). Earlier this year, I helped out these friends with some very top line research into a product they’re hoping to launch so it was great to put faces to email addresses. At this dinner, I was blindsided by an offer, that may actually change my life at some point in the future. But it’s too early to talk about that now, so instead, I’m going to talk about the meal I cooked for them.

My mum loves it when I cook Moroccan food so asked if I’d make a tagine. So I did. Rather than revisit my old favourite Christmas lamb, I decided to make a lemon, ginger and coriander chicken tagine so that it wasn’t so sweet-fruity as you’d get with dried apricots, it had a more subtle flavour from the lemons. I served it with a vegetable stew and roasted beetroot (I was trialling this in advance of last weekend’s supperclub) and some cous cous. Tagine recipe below. Wasn’t too keen on how it looked but the flavours came out really well – simple yet rounded. This recipe serves 6-8 people

The meal that may have changed my life

Lemon, ginger and coriander chicken tagine

  • 1.5KG of chicken, bone in, skin off (I used thighs and legs but you can use a whole chicken – I just find breast meat a little dry)
  • 1.5tsp paprika
  • 1tsp turmeric powder
  • 1tsp cumin seeds
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • A large nub of ginger – I’d say two thumbs worth – finely minced
  • A big bunch of coriander (save some for garnish)
  • 1 onion, finely sliced
  • Zest of two lemons
  • 1 lemon finely sliced
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • A few strands of saffron in a small amount of water
  • 150ml of water
  • Oil, salt, pepper

Chop half the coriander, half the garlic and half the ginger finely and mix with a small amount of olive oil. Add the turmeric, paprika and cumin and rub into the chicken. Leave to marinade in the fridge for at least two hours (or preferably overnight).

Once you’re ready to cook (it takes about 45mins-1hr in total), take the chicken out of the fridge.

In a tagine (or large saucepan with a tight fitting lid), soften the onions and remaining garlic and ginger over a low heat with some oil. Stir in the lemon zest, then add the slices of lemon on top of this and then layer the chicken over the top of the lemon slices. Pour over the lemon juice, saffron water and water and bring to the boil. Turn down to a low simmer and put the lid on and leave to cook for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so.

If it looks like the water is cooking off, add a little more but not too much more.

If you’ve cooked it in a tagine, simply season, sprinkle over some coriander and serve. Or do the same in a saucepan or move it to a serving dish. Entirely up to you. However you serve it, it tastes damn fine.

Cous Cous with mint and pomegranate seed roasted beetroot