Hello folks – just so you don’t think I’ve forgotten you… Been a bit of a week, and I’ve been battling with certain things. But – There’ll be a couple of proper posts in the next few days; the first being all about the wonders of bread and the crimes of my home town against said food, and the second being a discussion of the notorious “24-hour pork” phenomenon which swept through celebrity cookbooks like a very sexy duck.

See you then!

The mention of Russian food brings about confused stares and mumbles of terror in most people I know.  For the majority of the spawn of Chorleywood, Russian food consists of Beef Stroganoff, Chicken Kiev and Borsch all washed down with gallons of cheap Vodka.  And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with those dishes at all.  They’re all excellent examples of one of the most catholic cuisines the world has to offer.  Russian cookery embraces culinary influences from Eastern Europe all the way across to Kazakhstan, and everything in between.  So it would be quite possible to see dishes such as Pirozkhi sat next to Shashlyk – A dish many in the UK consider to be Indian.

Traditionally, Russian food could be opulent, rich and decadent.  Huge quantities of butter, cream and meat would be piled before guests in a show of enormous generosity.  Folk would boast on their capacity for the consumption of Pelmeni, traditional Siberian dumplings, some claiming they could eat upwards of 100 in one sitting.  Not even I could manage that, and believe me, I love Pelmeni.  Thetraditional Russian cookery book was Elena Ivanovna Molokhovets’s A Gift To Young Housewives.  This much loved tome fell out of favour with the Communist Elite due to its “bourgeois and decadent” tone and sneering attitude towards the lower classes.  Still, this didn’t stop folks reading the book behind closed doors, filled with nostalgia for richer times.

Kasha, however, crosses all boundries.  Although the word actually refers to a whole family of grains, Kasha is commonly used to describe Buckwheat groats.  These firm, nutty, grains are like Russian comfort food.  Indeed, a famous Russian saying more or less translates as “Cabbage soup and kasha is all we need”.  I love these little guys, and the following recipe is one I make whenever I feel down.  It’s adapted from a recipe in the excellent book Please To The Table, which you really ought to add to your collection.

Unrefined, yet utterly beautiful.

Unrefined, yet utterly beautiful.

So, what do you need?

  • 200g Kasha (Buckwheat Groats)
  • 1 ripe green Avocado
  • 4 – 6 Chicken thighs, boned
  • A handful of fresh dill
  • Good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • A clove or two of Garlic
  • A lemon
  • Salt and Pepper

This one’s easy peaski.   Preheat the oven to about 180.  Rub the chicken with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper.  Roast for about 20 – 25 mins, until the chicken is well done yet still juicy.  I like the crispness that leaving the skin on gives, but that’s up to you.  Alternatively, you can use roasted salmon.  The crispy skin on the fish is delicious in this dish.

Meanwhile, put the Kasha into a saucepan along with the garlic cloves.  Cover with 400 ml water and bring to the boil.  Turn down the heat, cover and simmer for about 6-10 mins, until all the water is absorbed.  Check a couple of grains to ensure they’re cooked through – they should be soft to eat with a little bite retained.  Remove the garlic.  You can now puree it and add it back or bin it.

Let everything cool for a few mins.  Peel and dice the avocado, and chop the chicken or salmon into cubes.  Finely chop the dill.  Add all this to the Kasha.  Pour in a good few glugs of olive oil and the juice and zest from the lemon, and stir well.  Taste, adjust seasoning if needs be and enjoy.

I love this dish – it’s simple in preparation and taste, yet manages to be filled with enough goodness and flavour to bring a smile.  It goes very well with a cold and crisp white wine, or alternatively with a nice glass of Perry.

perry2

Perry is, simply put, the pear version of Cider.  It’s a wonderful, sweet and refreshing drink that is now starting to be found in UK shops once more.  Until recently only a few very specialist local producers made this, so it’s great to see it more widely available.

India’s culinary gift to the world is hugely generous.  For British Colonials stationed in the Raj, this must have been something of an epiphany – Even the most simple dishes can be a revelation of flavour.  It is little wonder that Officers returning home pined for the exotic tastes they had experienced in the subcontinent, creating a new demand for spices, techniques and chefs.  Britain had begun it’s love affair with curry – a relationship that soon gave birth to Anglo-Indian Cuisine, the renegade offspring who created dishes such as the infamous Chicken Tikka Masala.

Now, Curry is a broad term that encompasses a huge number of cookery styles and cultures.  In the UK the term tends to be used to describe Indian food in general, as it is understood by the great majority of the population.  That is, the Anglo-Indian take-away menu.  Dishes such as Rogan Josh, Vindaloo, Korma and the like that bear little resemblance to authentic Indian cookery, but can be delicious when prepared well.  And this is an important point – although not authentic, Anglo-Indian cookery has forged it’s own path into the hearts and stomachs of a nation because it often tastes fantastic.  And now we have a new generation of hugely talented chefs, such as Atul Kochhar, re-introducing authentic elements and blending them with the best of the techniques developed in Britain to produce outstanding and original cuisine.  Even the oldest Anglo-Indian restaurant in the UK, Veeraswamy, has adjusted its menu to reflect traditional regional Indian food as Britons start to discover a truer taste of India.

As you may have seen from the About page, I pretty much taught myself to cook by learning how to prepare Indian food.  It’s a great way to start as, once you have a few basics down, it’s actually fairly simple to obtain excellent and satisfying results that will easily beat the average takeaway into a cocked-tandoor.  The recipe below leans more towards traditional Punjabi food than the traditional takeaway, which is often made from a base “gravy”, adjusted slightly when reheated to change it into a variety of different dishes.  When done well, that can be great, and I’ll show you how to do it another day.

For now, this is a very easy dish to make, and provides fantastic results for very little effort.  It’s one of the best curry recipes I’ve come up with, so I hope you enjoy it.  Don’t baulk at the long-ish list of spices –  They last a while and are vital for making a good curry. 

Spot the blasphemy!

Spot the blasphemy!

So, what do you need?

  • 6 chicken thighs, skin removed – you can use them whole with the bones in or, as I did, bone them and chop into three pieces each.
  • 250g Spinach
  • A punnet of Mushrooms, chopped
  • 6 Tomatoes, quartered
  • 3 large onions, sliced
  • 1 head of garlic, crushed
  • A few green chillis
  • 1 inch knob Ginger, grated
  • 1 tbsp Cumin
  • 1 tbsp ground Coriander
  • 1 tsp Turmeric
  • 3 – 4 Black Cardamom Pods, lightly bashed
  • 2 – 3 Bay leaves
  • A few cloves
  • 1 tsp Cumin Seeds
  • 1 tsp Fenugreek Powder
  • 1 Cinnamon Stick
  • 1 tsp each salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a little oil in a large pan and gently brown the onions.  In a separate pan, gently fry the mushrooms until nicely cooked. 

Once the onions are nice and golden, add the chicken and brown it for a few minutes.  Add all your spices plus the garlic and ginger and stir well for a couple of minutes making sure everything is nice and coated.  It should all smell delicious by know. 

These guys are your friends

These guys are your friends

Add the tomatoes, the mushrooms and a pint of water.  Take two of your chillis and slit them down one side with a knife.  Drop them in and stir well.  Bring to the boil, cover the pan, turn down the heat and simmer for about an hour.  Check the pot every so often and stir.

Take the lid of the pot and turn the heat up again.  Let the pot simmer well so the sauce reduces and thickens.  Taste for seasoning and heat.  If you feel it needs more, add some chopped chilli and stir in well.  Taste again after a couple of minutes to check.  Remember – it’s much easier to add heat than to take it away, so be careful!

Once the sauce has thickened nicely, wash the spinach in a colander, and add it to the curry.  Cover and simmer for a couple of minutes, then stir well.  Remove the bayleaves, cinnamon stick and cardamom pods and file them in the bin.  Goodbye old friends – your work is done.

Serve on hot rice and garnish with freshly chopped coriander, with a glass or two of cold beer. 

This will serve 2-3 people depending on the size of the chicken thighs, and tastes even better reheated the next day.  You can adjust the flavour for the second batch by reducing the sauce even more and adding a little natural yoghurt and a sprinkling of Garam Masala.

I once won a lifetime’s supply of Marmite.

One jar.

I thank you.  And I also thank The Amateur Gourmet, one of my favourite food sites, for a huge guffaw at his video in which he and his partner taste Marmite for the first time.  Words cannot describe the faces pulled.

http://www.amateurgourmet.com/2009/03/we_try_marmite.html

Marmite is one of those strange things that polarises opinion.  For me, I like it – but not too often.  I’m sure my body recognises it as a valuable source of certain nutrients as I crave it every so often, and then have absolutely no impetus to eat it for ages afterwards.  Just like grass or yellow snow.

But Bovril, on the other hand…. Thick toast, spread well with melting butter and then not too much meaty Bovril mixed in.  Mmmmmmmmmmmm.  Reduced cow all in my mouth.

Britain, Britain, Britain.  Known the world over for its appalling food and shoddy dentistry.  Britons survive, so the legend goes, on a diet of grey flannel encrusted with chunks of coarsely chopped chunder and lubricated with a reduction of bile.  We’re all far too tea addled to be able to spot a good meal even if it shat foie gras all over our laps whilst dancing the can-can.  Besides, half of Britain’s shops still run under wartime rationing and the rest are branches of McDonalds.

And much as it pains me to say it, there’s an element of truth here.  You see, Britain once led the world in culinary invention, producing dishes so rich and magnificent they put Ozymandias to shame.  Opulence and experimentation ruled the day, at least for the ruling classes. 

But no more.  These days we’re more than happy to gorge ourselves on factory-bred chickens, pre-sliced white bread, and ready meals made from cow’s eyelashes and the broken dreams of kittens.  Our fruit and veg are edible versions of the Stepford Wives, and there’s barely a specialist greengrocer, butcher or baker on any high street.  We eat plateful after plateful of dire, substandard faire that lacks flavour and provenance because it’s easy.  We should be ashamed.

Really, we should.  Breeds once common and raised for flavour are now classed as “rare” and in danger of dying out.  Varieties of fruit and veg have been lost to history, all because they were a bit knobbly.  Britain used to be one huge garden, constantly absorbing the produce and flavours of those who invaded these islands and making them our own.  Now, we’ve surrendered to culinary mediocrity, banishing any thoughts of local, seasonal, produce in favour of a land where everything is always available, except flavour.

Britain has some great produce, and we have some great classic recipes.  We just seem content to hide it all away behind the supermarkets.  And the trouble is, if we don’t use it, we’ll lose it for good.

So, rant over.  This is a great British classic – fantastic comfort food made using a so-called forgotten cut of beef.  The end result is unctuous, warming and packed with more flavour than a thousand sets of fries and happy burgers.  It’s a fire and forget yumfest that always hits the target.

Makes a moo-cow proud

Makes a moo-cow proud

What do you need?

  • 1kg cubes skirt steak or boned beef shin. 
  • 3 large onions
  • Lee and Perrins
  • 4 carrots
  • Two bottles of excellent beer.  (See note below)
  • A pint of good beef stock
  • 3 Bay leaves
  • A little flour
  • A knob of Stilton
  • Salt and Pepper

Slice the onions and fry gently in oil until well browned and caramelised, stirring every so often.  This will take some time, so perhaps play the ukulele or read a lengthy book while you wait.  I find to do this well takes at least 15 mins.  The onions will reduce as they brown and the darkened natural sugars within will add huge amounts of flavour to the finished dish, so please don’t skimp this step.

While the onions sweat away, season the flour well with salt and pepper.  Toss the beef in the flour lightly until well coated.  Heat a little oil in a frying pan and brown the meat well – you may need to do this in batches.

Once the onions are nice and dark, add the bacon and fry a little, then add the beef.  Stir well before adding the stock, beer, Lee and Perrins, and bay leaves.

Peel your carrots and slice them into inch thick discs.  I cut them on the diagonal, cos it’s pretty.  Add them to the stew.  Bring it all to the boil, then turn the heat right down, cover and simmer for a good few hours.  The longer the better, really.  Stir once in a while to avoid sticking or burning.

Towards the end of cooking, remove the lid and turn the heat up a little.  Help the sauce to reduce a bit and crumble in the Stilton.  This adds a wonderful richness to the final dish.  Take off the heat a few mins before serving – the flavours are so much better when the sauce isn’t burning every single layer of skin from your mouth.

I served with Hash Browns cos I wanted the crunchy contrast, but Mash would be great, or even some nice crusty bread.   This’ll serve at least four hungry people.

IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT BEER!

Beer in this instance means Ale, Porter or Stout, not Lager.  Lager will absolutely not produce the rich thick sauce that makes this dish such a joy to eat.  You need a good quality Real Ale type thing here.  I used Hook Norton’s delicious Double Stout for this, and it produced awesome results.  You need quite a heavy beer to produce the depth of flavour, so I’d tend to stay away from the Pale Ales or Blonde Beers.  Porter works fantastically.  Guinness is great.  And if you can find a bottle conditioned ale, all the better – just be careful of the sediment.  Whatever you use, make sure you have a few bottles left to serve with the dish.

As Hitler knew only too well, there’s nothing worse than not having enough balls.  One lonely meatball atop Old Smokey, or anywhere, is a tragic sight bound to make even the hardiest folk singer spontaneously compose a lengthy tragic ballad.  So your very bottom will explode with delight when it learns that my delicious recipe will provide more than enough balls to hold an international snooker championship.

Now, I’ve never made meatballs before but have always enjoyed the consumption of juicy spherical objects.  Still flicking through the Vicar’s Wife’s Cookbook, I found her recipe for Meatballs in Tomato Sauce pretty attractive, and my tummy did a big grumble to express it’s desire to try it.  But Mrs Beynon’s version calls for quite a few bits and bobs I didn’t have, and the house was still pretty full of leftover vegetables that needed using up.  No problem – such things have never been an exact science, so a case of Pimp My Balls was in order.   The end results were certainly pretty good. 

Tasty and juicy, but not hairy.

Tasty and juicy, but not hairy.

So, what do you need?

  • About a pound of good beef mince (although any type of mince could be used)
  • An onion, finely chopped
  • Some garlic, minced like a good’un
  • 1 tbs Worcestershire sauce
  • Smoked streaky bacon, finely chopped – a good six rashers or so
  • Fresh herbs, chopped – I used lemon thyme, oregano and basil
  • Freshly grated Parmesan and crumbled Stilton – about a handful altogether
  • White breadcrumbs (although I’m sure brown would work just as well)
  • An eggywegg, beaten
  • Salt and pepper – not too much salt – remember the bacon and cheese will already add some.

And for the sauce:

  • A tin of tomatoes, chopped
  • A leek, finely chopped
  • Passatta or tomato juice
  • Red Wine
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Herbs de choice – basil works well here.

So, start with the sauce – saute the leeks and sweat them down.  Add the tomatoes and bring to the boil before adding the wine and sauce / juice.  Simmer well and let it start to reduce.

Meanwhile, gently fry the onions and garlic until softened.  Let cool a little, and mix all the meatball ingredients together carefully.  You’ll need at least a handful of breadcrumbs.  What you want is a nice firm mix that’s not too sloppy but hasn’t got too stiff.  Keep adding breadcrumbs until you reach this, and if you go too far add a little more egg, milk or ketchup to lubricate the mixture again.  Form into good sized balls – smaller than a ping-pong, but bigger than a walnut.  Gently fry these, turning every so often until they’re nicely browned.  Be careful at this stage as you don’t want your balls to stick to the hot pan, and handling them too roughly could cause spherical disintegration, which is never nice.

Once the sauce has got all nice and reduced and is looking almost thick enough to serve, gently lower the meatballs in using tongs, a spoon or a “special crane”.  Cover, and simmer gently for about twenty mins to half an hour.  Stir gently every so often, taking care not to demolish your globes of glory, and check for seasoning. 

Cook some spaghetti until done how you like it – about nine mins usually gives me good al dente noodles.  Drain well and spoon the thick sauce on top, then plop a good few meatballs at the zenith.  ‘Tis of the yum.

You’ll be able to feed 3-4 people with this amount, maybe more if they have tiny wee tummies or less if they are greedy like me.  The leeks in the sauce go well – they add a subtle sweetness that’s offset by the wine, but you could also use onions and garlic or shallots.  The cheese in the meatballs I’d never thought of before, and all props to Mrs Beynon for this idea – it works fantastically.  The cheese melts away, adding moistness and flavour to the morsels as they cook.  Blue cheese works especially well with beef, but you may want to experiment. 

I really enjoyed eating these and am pretty sure you will too, unless you’re a veggie.  Ganbare!

“When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things.”

Who could have realised that about 2,000 years ago St Paul was actually talking about Star Wars?  I was about five when the original film came out and clearly remember going to see it with my folks.  It was every dream I’d ever had all rolled into one cinematic feast and put up there in real life!  I guess the effect it had on me was not unlike Father Dougal’s experience with the TV crew, where the bunnies of truth and fiction become so hard to distinguish. 

Star Wars was followed with religious conviction by me and my chums right through school and out again.  Even after Return Of The Jedi faded into distant memory we kept the dream alive with the Lucasarts games and the hopes that someday George would put the continuing tales involving Wedge and Admiral Thrawn up on the big screen.  Rumours abound that Luke turned to the dark side and takes the place of the Emperor, or that the Emperor had cloned himself and needed to be hunted down before he could re-establish his tyranny.

So imagine how much we laughed with joy at the wretched new prequel trilogy.  Imagine how happy we were with Lucas’ constant unnecessary tinkering with the original films.  Each change felt like a five-year-old scribbling with crayons upon the Mona Lisa, slowly killing off all the beauty within.  Ah, such bitter betrayal.  I guess we should have seen it coming when Boba Fett fell into the pit.

Still, how the ghost of nostalgia clings.  And to kill any sentiment dead, I would like to propose that Lucas uses the following as the Imperial March in any future releases.  That should just about do it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Jq617ENMd0