December 31, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 1:46 am

So during the holiday season, when everyone is away and I’m on my own, what do I do? I find the most expensive treat food I can and cook it in very self indulgent ways! :D Then I post about it to make everyone feel jealous. :razz: ;)

That was the plan anyway. I was hoping that while everyone was away for Christmas, I’d be able to trash the kitchen and make whatever I’d like to eat. Unfortunately the market forces at this time of year made that a bit tricky.

It seems that the only thing that the supermarkets DON’T run out of at Christmas is traditional Christmas food. On the night of the 22nd, there were hundreds of shelves full of turkeys whole salmon, brandy butter and Christmas pudding. The other shelves were empty. Shame. I had great plans for some calves liver.

The one thing I could find was a nice, but rather expensive chunk of fillet steak hidden behind another turkey on  the meat counter. At the very least that it meant one night’s dinner was sorted so I snagged it immediately, to the very vocal annoyance of the woman behind me, and then fought my way to the checkout.

As I waited in the queue I coulnd’t help wondering what is it about Christmas that makes small  children cry all the time. I thought the point of the whole holiday was to make things fun for them, but on the whole they seem way more miserable than usual. At least their wails were doing a good job of drowning out Bono and co. on the shop radio.

The fillet steak turned out to be an excellent treat for one. I made it into thai chilli beef with deep fried basil and served it with coconut-lime rice and stir fried pak-choi with mushrooms and garlic.

This was a nice simple dinner to make after the stress of trying to find the ingredients. I got a tablespoon of fish sauce, a tablespoon of water, one large crushed garlic clove, 1 cubic inch of crushed ginger and a level tablespoon of sugar and mixed the lot to form a marinade for my beef. I cut the beef into strips and tossed it in the marinade.

Just under an hour later, I  deep fried about 10 large basil leaves until crispy and left them to drain on some kitchen paper. In preparation for the rice, I set some lime leaves simmering in diluted coconut milk (half a can, or 200ml of milk, plus half as much water. Then I went to sort out the beef.

I fried half a chopped red bell pepper with half a finely diced onion, another crushed garlic clove, 1 cubic inch of crushed ginger, 1 red chopped chilli and a bruised lemon grass stalk. When these had softened, I added the beef and stir fried until it was cooked on the outside. Then I took it off the heat.

I added two handfuls of rice to the simmering coconut milk, and while it was cooking stir fried the vegetables with some sesame oil. At the end I just served the rice alongside the beef topped with the basil leaves and some chilli oil. I had the vegetable stir fry on the side.

 chilli beef with basil

Maybe it is something to do with the food I brought up on, but I find the combination of coconut milk and strong chilli incredibly soothing. Combine that with the meltingly tender fillet steak and the great flavour of the fried basil and it make for an almost perfect meal for a quiet night in. For me anyway.

There were supposed to be four posts on my treats but I was so hungry when I had the last one I forgot to photo it :roll: . More on the other two soon, plus, when Dad gives me the photos I can tell you about the meal I cooked for him and Mum.

December 22, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 4:01 pm

I am currently facing a small dilemma. I’ve been convinced (forced) to cook for my parents on Sunday night as I have to go back there for Christmas day.

Now the combination of having a food blog and the fact i’ve i’ve been moaning about their cooking for years means I can’t do anything too simple. Unfortunately my family’s peculiarites mean that there are a lot of  other things to consider too.

  1. Mum wants something exciting 
  2. Mum would  like fish. She also thinks she might be intolerant to red meat and poultry as she hasn’t eaten it for so long.
  3. The only animal protein Dad will eat is fish. At least that ties in with 1), and 2).
  4. Dad sometimes goes on guilt trips when eating fish. Therefore any fish presented whole/ anything I have to kill myself/anything that reminds him he is eating an animal is out.
  5. Dad is bored of sri lankan/Indian curries.
  6. Dad hates couscous.
  7. Dad is very wary of pasta unless it’s served to him by an Italian.
  8. Dad gets a bit worried by things he hasn’t seen before and tends to say things like “those don’t go together”. :roll:
  9. Dad hates olives and anything with an aniseed flavour. Also he’s not keen on strong and blue cheeses.
  10. My cousin (Gimhani, 21 yrs old) will be with us. She seems ok with most things but refused to eat cherry sauce with duck last Easter, so I suppose ’sweet’ fruit based sauces are out.
  11. I would just like to get a pleasant 3 course meal together. I’d prefer fish to purely veggie in the main, as would my mother and cousin but with Dad to please we will probably concede. Oh yeah, he doesn’t like the idea of a nut roast either (plus I don’t know how to make one).

Anybody have ANY ideas?



Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 11:49 am

Since i’ve been so busy lately, I’ve had to do a lot of last minute “What the hell do I have in the fridge and what the hell can I make with it” type cooking. If we combine this with any particular cravings I have on the day, the results can be quite ‘interesting’. I thought I’d share some of the more successful random experiments with you. I got some good photos so it would be a shame not to!

First up is the less than attractive sounding crustacean linguine.

scallops, linguine, squid etc.

This was more Goon’s craving than mine. He wanted prawns and he wanted pasta. In the Tesco freezer was a bag of ‘mixed seafood which was made of squid, mussels and king prawns. Some small scallops were on offer so I bought those too.

The dish was started by frying a finely diced onion in olive oil with two crushed cloves of garlic and some oregano. Then I added a 400g tin op chopped tomatoes, lots of tomato puree and 1/4 of a bottle of white wine. Once the sauce thickened and the flavours had developed I stirred in the seafood mix and added a couple of handfuls of shredded fresh basil before mixing in a couple of portions of linguine. I finished off by searing the scallops and sitting them on the pasta. 

That was very tasty and fed me for another day too. :D

Next isthe ostrich fillet with sage and onion sauce. This was a success from the point of view of how I cooked the ostrich. I wrapped it in foil and baked it for 12 minutes at 220C. It came out a rare/medium. Next time I’ll do it for 10 1/2 minutes but it did cook wonderfully evenly.

The sage sauce wasn’t the best thing for the ostrich. It was OK, but I think ostrich is better when its gamey flavours are highlighted. This sauce just didn’t do that. It would have been great with beef though! 

Ostrich with sage and onion



And finally there was the salmon tikka masala. Yes, I know it usually is made with chicken, but the salmon needed using. :razz:

 Salmon tikka masala

The recipe is the same as for the chicken version. Take you meat and marinate it in a mixture of yoghurt, crushed cardamom, ground cumin, ground coriander seed, tomato paste, garlic and ginger for a few hours. the baked it until cooked and make a sauce for it with double cream, ground cashew nuts, tomatoes, and the same spices I mentioned above. I think this would work well with very fresh salmon. Mine only had a day left in it but it still made a tasty meal. I served it with coconut rice and tarka daal.

And yes, I garnished it with dill because I had run out of coriander. :(

salmon tikka meal

December 21, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 5:05 pm

I promised I’d make it and so here it is! Poached leg of mutton with caper sauce.

mutton with caper sauce

Yes, I know it isn’t much to look at. It’s a boiled sheep’s leg with root vegetables a la Medieval Britain. What were you expecting? :razz:

I suppose I could have made it into a tower or something but that would ruin its old fashioned charm. You’ll have to be content with the square plate and rosemary leaves.

You’re probably asking yourself why I got started on this whole mutton thing in the first place. It all started during a conversation between James and myself a while ago. He’d mentioned in passing that during his childhood his family often tried to save money by buying meats which, for various reasons, were not popular and hence were very cheap. At that time (in the mid-late 80s) this included things such as mutton, brawn, oxtail and, due to the BSE crisis, British beef.

Apparently one of the dishes made in the Skillen household was mutton in caper sauce. I was suprised at this, mostly because I knew my mother had always bought this meat from Sri Lankan shops and I’d always believed they’d been exclusive to Sinhalese cooking.

 MY memories of mutton curry, rather like James’ memories of the caper sauce dish, were not terribly happy. I remember tough little nuggets of meat that left your jaw aching and bits in your teeth. Still, when I was told that this had once been the most popular meat in Britain, I thought I had to try it myself. Surely not everyone pre 1800 could have had bad taste?

Several years passed before managed to get my hands on the meat I needed. It wasn’t until I started shopping at Borough market that I found what I was looking for. First I got a rolled neck, the fate of which can be seen here and here. Then I got the leg which would provide me with last Tuesday’s dinner.

I searched around for recipes and found they varied enormously. Some had a sauce with cream, some thickened milk, others just capers and stock. I went for the cream option. The process was easy but lengthy. The mutton leg was simmered gently for three hours in a pot with a load ofrosemary and thyme, garlic and some white wine. About 15 minutes before the end I threw in a chopped turnip, a sliced leek and some new potatoes This produced a really rich flavoured ’stock’ to which I added a tablespoon of capers. Then I reduced it 1/8 of its original volume then added a roux and cream.

Simple really!I drained the rest of the liquid from the meat and veg and served up.

 mutton leg with veg

So Goon and I went about ’assessing’ the mutton leg with the sauce and vegetables. The conclusion? It was good. Not amazing, but pleasant. I’ve come to the conclusion  that mutton meat was made to put in curry. The flavour was a little strong and, well, ‘meaty’ for the caper sauce.

It makes damn good sandwiches though! :D I’ve been eating it in little soft rolls with mustard. Now how does that old saying go…. ‘Mustard and Mutton is the sign of a Glutton’!

December 20, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 7:52 pm

If you are a big Christmas fan, you will probably be a bit confused as to why I hate this particular holiday so much.

Ros at Xmas

Ros at Christmas

Many people in the last week (particularly poor Goon) have had to put up with some very big rants as the bar we’re sitting in plays that bloody Mariah Carey monstrosity AGAIN!

If I haven’t scared you off already, let me tell you why I have so much venom when it comes to December 25th. Like with all good neuroses it dates back to childhood experience. For a start, the typical Christmas and/or New Year event in the South London Sri Lankan community would be something like this. Ten to fifteen families pile into one house, each bringing one of the bottles of wine that was offered to them the last time they were party host.

Most of the time it’s still in its previous wrapping. If the guest is particulary unlucky, it will have a gift tag addressed to the person who owned it three years before. 

Also, the matriarch of each family will bring a dish to contribute to a very large buffet, which is generally cold by the time you get to eat it. Quantity rather than quality is what is important here. The idea is you fill your face with as much grub as you can and quickly enough so you can’t taste it. If you do decide to savour anything you’ll discover that the food generally falls into three categories: inedibly hot Sri-Lankan curry, disastrous misinterpretation of a ‘Western’ (as they like to put it) dish or the horrendous and dreadful PINEAPPLE FLUFF!

Yes, pineapple fluff does need a category of its own. I cannot begin to describe the wrongness of this ‘dessert’.  It was GREEN for God’s sake. Not a nice green, but a radioactive luminous green. As for the texture…. imagine eating a mouse and finding it crammed full of tough little hairs. EUUURGH! It still gives me the shivers.

Strangely enough I found a picture online not a million miles away from what I’m thinking of.



To make it worse, the Aunty responsible for making it (why we call non-relatives Aunties in Sri Lanka I’ll never understand), would be there at your shoulder monitoring how much you ate. If it wasn’t enough she would be ready to run off and tell the rest of the room (including your parents) how you were clearly anorexic. This happened at a time when I weighed 13 stone. WTF?!

On top of that you’re crammed in one small room with 30 random kids. A few you like, a lot you dislike and a bunch of hyperactive four-year-olds who are very lucky they left all those parties in one piece.

Then in comes the uncle who has had too much punch. He insists that you MUST dance with him, before attempting to demonstrate his own skill and falling over, occasionally squashing one of the four year olds. 

So, that is why Christmas makes me break out in a cold sweat. For me it was all about being locked in a room with people I hated and being force-fed pineapple fluff by their parents. Admittedly its not like that any more. Whilst I often end up having to stay at my parents’ on Xmas day, if the mere suggestion of going round to Auntie X’s is brought up, I immediately lock myself in my room.

So this year, like last year I am ignoring Christmas. If only they’d quit it with the endless cycle of Band Aid, Winter Wonderland and that stupid ‘Santa Baby’ song, I could convince myself it wasn’t happening at all.

A food specific post is o its way tomorrow - I got myself a mutton leg :D .

Oh and if you need more evidence that Christmas is bad, watch this and pay special attention to the lyrics.


December 18, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 11:04 pm

I’ve not got around to reviewing it yet, but about a week ago I went back to Mimouza restaurant in Shepherds Bush. I love most of the food here and as usual was unsure on  what to have for a starter. Goon decded he wanted bastilla (probably my favourite) so I was torn between the merguez and the zaalouka (a mixture of aubergine, tomato and coriander.) I decided to have the merguez but a couple of days later I found I was still craving zaalouka.

Now that surely is something that doesn’t happen very often. Nevertheless I really wanted zaalouka and by last Thursday, I couldn’t take it any more. I needed to at least try and make my own.

I’m not really one for making starters for midweek meals, so I decided the zaalouka would have to be a side dish for something. I also had a spaghetti squash that needed using up so I decided use them both as acompaniments to some lamb kebabs. 

I made the kebabs by lightly griddling chunks of lamb leg steak (which had been marinating in harissa for a few hours) and skewering them with aubergine and yellow pepper which had been griled with lots of olive oil and garlic. I served these on top of the zaalouka, which was made by simply pan frying aubergine and onion  then simmering these with plenty of tomato, lots of ground cumin, coriander seed and garlic and freshly chopped coriander with just a hint of turneric.

lamb skewers

I had some chilli oil for dipping too.

This was the first time I’d tried spaghetti squash. I have to admit the whole ’squash-turning-to-spaghetti’ thing is very exciting. Ok, I didn’t love the flavour and texture quite as much as pasta type spaghetti, but it was still damn good. I tossed it in olive oil, cumin, grond coriander and cinnamon to make it an appropriate side dish to the kebab-zaalouka combination.

The only problem was i did’t realise quite how much it would make. We still have left-over squash in the fridge. :/


spaghetti squash

Hmm… maybe I should have de-speckled that photo.

Anyone for lots of leftover squash?


December 12, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 3:42 pm

The height of kitchen silliness…

Pastry Fish

 pastry fishy! \o/

 It’s supposed to be salmon en croute but I think it looks more like a blow-fish.

I first spotted the idea for this recipe on the BBC food site and, after Googling, I found lots of variations. In short, skinless salmon fillets are combined with a mix of stem ginger, currants and spices infused with red wine then wrapped up in pastry. As you can see I got a bit carried away with the decoration. 

My recipe was an amalgamation of all the ones I found with a few subtle changes. I took about 2 cubic inches of stem ginger and minced it finely. Then I simmered it in a little port with about 15 currants, a couple of cloves and some ground cinnamon for five minutes before turning the heat off and leaving it to infuse for an hour.

While I was waiting, I dusted my salmon fillets with allspice, ground cinnamon and nutmeg and made some crisped new potatoes and red cabbage.  When the currants and ginger had been sitting for long enough, I strained off the port and drank most of it, keeping just a little to drizzle over my salmon fillets.

To make the pastry fish I first made a sandwich out of my two salmon fillets and the currant-ginger mixture and drizzled over the remaining port. I encased this in two bits of fish-shaped puff pastry then made an eye, some fins and a tail out of the trimmings. Finally I used a knife to make scales and other details, glazed the whole thing with egg and then baked it at 220 C  for about 15 minutes.  

My favourite bit of this dish was the ginger butter sauce. I adapted this from HFW’s recipe here. It was almost identical, except I was lazy and just threw the beaten yolk and butter mixture together rather than drizzling the butter in slowly. I guess I’m lucky it didn’t curdle!  Also, I didn’t think it needed any lemon. Guess it must just be personal preference. :)

  salmon en croute meal

I think this was my biggest cooking success since this term started. I’d never used stem ginger before but I think it’ll become a storecupboard staple. I had no idea it went so incredibly well with salmon. The ginger butter sauce was amazing too. It was made nice and rich by the egg yolk- butter combination and the stem ginger gave it the most fabulous flavour. Shame the cabbage turned out to be quite so disturbingly blue. I guess I should have given it some vinegar as well as just the juniper flavouring. :/

December 11, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 7:11 pm

Now those of you who read my site know that I like my duck. But I’m a little confused as to what the point of this thing is.

duck crown

This is a crown of duck. That’s basically a duck carcass with no legs. Why would you want a duck with no legs? It cost about the same as a duck with two legs and it only takes about 15 minutes less to cook. And even if a whole duck is too much for two people, who’d say no to duck sandwiches the next day! :D

So, needless to say, I’m going to buy whole duck in future as this thing thing just didn’t have enough meat on it. The meat that was there was great- there just didn’t seem to be enough. I served it with random fruit sauce number 4 (cherry and brandy), broccoli and the obligatory sunday night roast potatoes.  

Duck with cherry brandy

My next question is, if supermarkets sell pre-packaged duck breasts and duck legs, what the flipping hell happens to the wings. ??? Answers in the comments box please.


December 5, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 8:26 pm

 red snapper

Yay for the pink fishy!

It seems that the staff at a certain Sainsbury’s fish counter don’t really know what it means to prepare a fish. Firstly they weren’t sure whether it was gutted. Then they didn’t understand what I meant when I said “please scale it”.   :roll:

So I ended up learning to scale a fish very quickly. I’m pretty sure that fishmongers have a proper tool to do this but I just had a knife. My technique involved scrubbing the fish skin with the knife and hoping for the best. Scales went everywhere- all over the cooker, up in the air and up my nose.

I was picking pink scales out of my hair for the next two days. I suppose the fish tasted good enough to make up for it.

cooked snapper 

As for the marrow- that dish was made for goon. A few weeks ago, we were in Tesco and I’d asked him to go and find some potatoes. After about ten minutes, when he hadn’t come back, I went looking for him and found him pointing gleefully at the marrows. Apparently he’d never seen one before (how do you grow up in the countryside and never see a marrow!?)  so he made the decision that we needed to try it as soon as possible. 

I hadn’t ever bought or cooked a marrow before. The first time I tried it had been several years before when James had stuffed one with bolognese and baked it. It was nice, but I wondered why you’d bother having marrow with bolognese when there was plenty of good spaghetti around. ;) More recently I tried it in a completely different way, served as a summery side salad in a light creamy sauce. I preferred it that way as it seemed to make better use of the marrow’s crunchy texture.

So that was the basis for the marrow salad side dish we had with the fish. It was very simple really. I sprinkled the marrow with salt and vinegar and left it to sit for about an hour. In the mean time I rubbed the cavity of the fish with paprika stuffed it with garlic and baked it. Then I made sauce with single cream and chopped dill and let the marrow cook in this for about five minutes until it was tender.

I served the baked fish on the excess dill and cream sauce and had the marrow and some new potatoes as a side dish. Goon liked the marrow, so it looks like we’ll be having it again soon.

snapper meal

Typically I forgot to take a photo of the marrow salad but you can just about see it in the background here.