Wednesday, 1 December 2010

When Madhur Met Nigella

My love of entertaining has been somewhat curtailed by the dreary healthy eating regime. Not only is it not much fun creating sumptuous dishes from nothing but mung beans and salad leaves, but also it doesn't go down a bundle with the guests. Can't think why...

But the very welcome gift of Madhur Jaffrey's new book, Curry Easy, persuaded me that it was time to dust down the apron, throw caution to the wind and get cooking. Dinner for six? A breeze.

I'd like to say that I made the starter myself - but toddlers and time constraints being as they are, frying bhajis and patting pakoras all afternoon was never going to happen. Nonetheless, the supermarket version did rather nicely - and went down well with the popadoms and chutneys (that I didn't make either).

Yes, yes, I hear you say. Isn't this meant to be a COOKING blog? So I offer as consolation the fact I did at least rustle up a raita (of sorts) from scratch. I'm not big on creamy stuff so I am unable to confirm how good it was, but the fact it was polished off in thirty seconds flat suggests not bad. And... 'this is fabulous' said one of the diners. 'Could I have the recipe?'

I felt that to admit that I had simply chopped up half a cucumber, poured one carton of yoghurt on top, stirred twice and forgotten to season might have taken something away from the allure so I muttered something about delicate blends of spices and slunk off to sort out the main course.

Grilled Masala Salmon was the star attraction. Ludicrously easy to make, but oddly I forgot to mention this fact to the assembled throng. You simply rub a mix of spices onto the fish and refrigerate for 1-4 hours. Beat together a paste of olive oil, mustard, lemon juice and fresh coriander, slather over the top, grill briefly then finish in the oven.

Madhur suggests serving with Basmati Rice With Lentils - I went for plain only on the basis that I'd already knocked up quick batch of Bill Granger's dhal and, with health and safety in mind, thought one lot of pulses was possibly enough for six people eating a large meal in a confined space. Had we been dining al fresco I may well have gone for both but with snow forecast I figured caution was wise.

To add some colour I did go for Madhur's other suggested side dish - South Indian-style Grean Beans. Again, incredibly simple, although I never do seem to learn to stand clear of seeds (on this occasion cumin, sesame and mustard) popping in hot oil.

I had intended to take a series of beautifully lit and artily angled shots of all these dishes coming together on the plate...but sidetracked by the delicious aromas I forgot and by the time I remembered there wasn't very much left (and even this vanished before I could make it look pretty).

The verdict? Dhal - great. It's become a staple for me - easy, quick and healthy. What's not to like? Salmon - delicious (and requests for recipe can only reinforce this). It didn't taste as spicy as I'd thought - possibly because I skimped on the cumin (not a fan - I tend to leave it out of the dhal too) but more likely due to the piquancy of the mustardy emulsion. Moist and tasty though and will definitely be done again soon.

The beans were pretty good too. This time I'd followed the spicing to the letter - cumin seeds somehow not offending me in the way that the ground stuff does - and the balance of flavours was great. Overall a little oily for my taste but that's easily fixed.

So all in all an excellent first foray into the book - and there are already several people who are looking forward to the next one.

Dessert by Nigella of course. I resisted temptation to try out her Peanut Butter Chocolate Cheesecake on the basis that I could not be trusted to be left alone with it for longer than 30 seconds. So Butterscotch Fondue did the job instead - rather well I thought (though at 525 calories a portion I guess it doesn't strictly, or even loosely, tie in with the regime. To clutch at straws I can say that I served half portions - it's so rich that even that's a lot to get through. And, er, we dipped a lot of very healthy fruit in as well... I admit that drinking the leftovers was possibly my downfall. But it IS served in a cup...)

Blame the soft focus on the sugar rush.

And thus I shall return to the gym. I may be some time...

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Carrot (mini) Muffins

Still on a health kick. It is exceedingly dull. And I miss cooking things that don't contain lentils.

So I've come up with a compromise - make things that aren't really my cup of tea (to avoid temptation) but that will be greatly enjoyed by my nearest and dearest nonetheless (still get to bake)

It's a start

With friends coming for brunch the toddler and I figured that muffins were the way to go. Now it must be said that I rather like a muffin - so adhering to above guidelines was somewhat tricky. But Domestic Goddess came up trumps once again and we came formulated a plan to create something to delight our guests, yet keep me on the straight and narrow

I have no idea why I don't like carrot cake. I like carrots. I like cake. I like cream cheese frosting... but somehow all these things together has never quite been my thing. So carrot cakey muffins were perhaps an obvious choice and the child and I lost no time in pulling out our aprons and getting cooking.

In order not to over face little ones I halved the recipe - and used regular fairy cake cases instead of the larger muffin ones. (This also meant they didn't need to stay in the oven quite as long)

If the cakes weren't quite as carroty as they should have been it is because a small girl of my acquaintance was placing much of what I grated into her mouth and not the bowl - but no matter. She took great joy in smearing on the icing and while the snowy topped buns were never going to win a beauty contest they still went down a storm - with old and young alike. Compliments to the chefs - and a new favourite for our household.

Even if mum didn't actually have so much as a nibble (*polishes halo*)

Sunday, 12 September 2010

The Wilderness Weeks...

I am on a health kick.

Not only is this exceedingly dull, but it is also largely incompatible with pretty much every Nigella recipe I have yet to tackle. Detoxing, butter and sugar do not mix (more is the shame) and so my culinary endeavours for the foreseeable must rein themselves away from all that I hold dear and confine themselves to lentils, legumes and the like.

I can offer a nod to the redoubtable smoked trout pate mentioned previously on this blog - skimp on the oil and swap regular cream cheese for Philly Extra Light and it still tastes mighty fine (and it works just as well with a tin of tuna to boot).

But fear not - while the cake tins are in exile I shall instead scroll through some of the many dishes I have tried but not yet had a chance to write about. And as I describe to you their delights I shall enjoy them anew, albeit vicariously. In the meantime do pass the alfalfa...

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Sweet and Salty Peanut Biscuits

It should be said that my passion for baking is somewhat at odds with the healthy eating regime newly instituted at home. And so it is that the merest hint of a visitor is taken as a welcome excuse to divert from the straight and narrow and sends me scurrying to the kitchen to get my pinny on.

I had been meaning to try this recipe for a while, a whim based somewhat tenuously on my addiction to Peanut Butter M&Ms (thankfully not widely available in the UK otherwise I would end up looking like Giant Haystacks circa 1974). Nonetheless in my book salty peanut/butter plus sugar is a winning combination so how could I resist?

As there were to be just four adults consuming said treat (toddler participation vetoed on grounds of nuts = potential choking hazard) I figured I'd halve the recipe. But then the very thought of having to work out what constituted half an egg sent me all gung-ho and I threw caution to the wind and went for it verbatim..

Thirty biscuits? No prob - we'll get through 'em in no time (close eyes to try to block out Giant Haystacks images that are back to taunt me...)

There were unexpected issues in tracking down Trex - which, when finally sighted in a local megastore appeared to come only in industrial quantities - but it was worth the hunt (trek/s?!) for the texture was as light and crumbly as any biscuit lover could desire.

Quick to cook - and easy to make too - at least bar the sugar dusting, a practice at which I appear to be largely incompetent (bear witness to the not-very-sugary-topping on a number of my efforts)

I could blame the recipe for not spelling out in words of one syllable that this step needs to be repeated from scratch for each and every biscuit - or I could admit that my cack-handedness and desire to grab a quick kip while the tiddler slept was more probably the reason for my undoing.

To anyone flicking enthusiastically through Domestic Goddess in search of the details (page 55 since you ask) I would counsel that unlike me you ensure a more-than-liberal sugar pressing on every biccie. Otherwise they just aren't sweet enough.

Will I make them again? Had the visitors not cancelled last minute (unforseen lurg) leaving all 30 cookies to be consumed by the two of us alone I would have said yes. As it is I think it's going to be a very, very long time til either of us will be able to face another peanut in any form whatsoever.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Fairy Cakes - The Final Chapter

I am aware that I must repent both for my lack of posts and what appears to be an obsession with fairy cakes. And so I shall bid the beauteous buns farewell in this valedictory entry.

First - may I present to you a creation that I had intended to call "The Towering Inferno" - but then the sparklers refused to light so it was less conflagration, more damp squib. We got there in the end, although the stress temporarily affected my ability to capture the moment on film, hence a picture with strange and inactive grey sticks dotted about the buttercream. (They are sparklers I tell you, sparklers...)

I had puzzled long and hard over what to make for my mum's special birthday. I wasn't sure she'd want a Peppa (current speciality - see earlier entry). Nor a monkey come to that. I wasn't convinced that traditional royal icing would make it 200 miles up a motorway unscathed, although I am (if memory serves me right) a dab hand with a bit of lattice work so perhaps another time.

And so this is the end result. As you can see - it went down a treat.

My final foray into fairydom is a gift for a reader of this blog. I had promised to make something for her and the birth of her second beautiful son seemed the right occasion on the basis that new babies = lack of sleep = lack of energy = need for calories.

Honourable intentions perhaps, but making them half asleep on a Wednesday evening proved that the old adage is true:

S/he who bakes when not awake is likely to leave the sugar on the scales. (And let me tell you - cakes without sugar are rank...)

Take two - and this time success. White chocolate buttercream whipped up between breakfast and the nursery run. A treat for a new mum - and a day spent removing hundreds and thousands from the far reaches of the kitchen for me (will I never learn..?)

Monday, 24 May 2010

Burnt Butter Cupcakes

To celebrate the visit of my dear twitter (and real life) chum @blueberryathome it seemed fitting to not only roll out the red carpet but also to bake, bake, bake.

A perfect opportunity to try out one of the many recipes I had earmarked to try. And a perfect lesson in how NOT to press ahead without giving it a proper read through first...

I admit it was ambitious to plan biscuits and cakes given I had just an hour in which to prepare them - an hour which also included tidying the house and occupying the toddler. A flawed plan borne of over ambition.

To be fair, had it been your bog standard fairy buns it wouldn't have been an issue, but the clue to my undoing lies in the title of the recipe. Burnt butter.

So - how come if you are NOT intending to burn butter it blackens in seconds and yet here, as I stirred and stirred and waited and waited, it seemed to take an eternity. Not only this - but I came further unstuck when I read on to discover that after this lengthy process it was essential to allow the butter to resolidify before incorporating with the rest of the ingredients. It goes without saying that it was an unseasonably warm day and this took forever. And a couple of days.

I knocked up the biscuits (old faithfuls, Rachel Allen - sorry) while I waited and managed to get the cupcakes into the oven in the nick of time.

And then I read the rest of the recipe.

Buttercream icing? No sweat until...the same process again with the butter????? Why didn't it just tell me that at the beginning and let me get the whole darned process over in one go? (Or - to be fair - why did I not actually read the recipe that has been sitting on my shelf for the last year and work this out for myself)

Time was against me and bog standard buttercream it was, cakes barely iced before the doorbell rang.

I was possibly too frazzled to provide an in-depth assessment of the results but the golden colour and nutty taste were duly noted by the rest of those who consumed them with gusto and the whole lot vanished so fast I figure I'm going to have to do them again (and properly!) - but perhaps not against the clock next time...

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Girls Night In (& Guilt...)

There is much to feel guilty about...

...telling the toddler that a mouse ate the chocolate from her party bag (in my defence it was a) delicious and b) surely this is ok for the sake of her teeth?)

...neglecting my blog for too long (though to be fair I have been cooking - just not writing about it til now)

Oh so many things.

And then a girls' night in, a week or so ago, when I turned to a Delia standby even though the post it notes sticking out of the top of my Nigella collection (yellow for 'made', white for 'still to try', orange for 'ran out of yellow') seemed to taunt me with my disloyalty every time I turned my head.

To be fair, between work and the toddler there was no time for shopping so it was a case of what's in the fridge? And what on earth can I do with that little lot?

The answer is roasted vegetables with couscous and a harissa style dressing - though (as is my wont) I didn't so much follow the recipe as use it as a guide. The veg were aubergine, sweet potato, red onion, field mushrooms and baby plum tomatoes, as that's what I had and that's what I like - oh and a stray red pepper found its way into the mix as well. I'm not sure what the recipe advises but I do this bit pretty often (great with a piece of salmon) so I went slightly off piste, learning my lesson at the end when I went for the traditional slug of balsamic to bring out the flavour of the caramelised veg - and realised that n a fug of exhaustion and absentmindedness I had accidentally used sake instead. Um...Japan meets the Med anyone? Er...fusion?

Luckily you couldn't really taste it and the rest was easy. Chop some feta and mix into the cooled veg (Delia says goats cheese but a) there was none in the fridge and b) feta seemed a safer bet as goats cheese seems to provoke strong and not always positive reactions. Plonk (not a culinary term I have heard Nigella or Delia use but hey ho) on top of a bed of couscous and whack some rocket on top. Whip up a dressing of olive oil, lime juice, tomato puree and cayenne pepper (you are meant to use cumin too but I'm not a great fan - so I didn't) and hey presto. Supper for four, demolished faster than you can say "sorry Nigella, promise to use one of yours next time...honest."

For pud fresh strawberries and a batch of Ms Lawson's Rocky Road (see earlier entry - this time I remembered to turn off the heat before adding the marshmallows so they didn't melt - hurrah). Made enough for a small army - but hey, it was a girls' night and hey, it was chocolate.

My husband was singularly unimpressed with what we left him - just one little teeny tiny little square. Oops