February 27, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 1:12 am

I suppose that, if I will insist on experimenting like this, I should expect things to go a bit wrong sometimes.

When Jeanne (of Cook Sister!) announced that the subject for this month’s Waiter, Waiter…. I was delighted. It gave me the perfect excuse to try out something I had never made before but had had enjoyed several times  in restaurants. I was set on making bastilla.

If you haven’t yet tried bastilla, you should as soon as you get the chance. It is a great invention. It is a slightly sweet but spicy pie from Morocco. Traditionally it is made with pigeon but over here it tends to be replaced with chicken . I suppose thet is because pigeon is a bit expensive. The pie filling is flavoured with cumin, coriander, turmeric, ginger, garlic and rosewater and is encased in phyllo pastry topped with flaked almonds, sugar and cinnamon.

Apparently the pie is traditionally made by slow cooking whole pigeons until the meat is tender. I could only get my hands on pigeon breast so I had to formulate a different plan. I decided I would slow cook the pigeon in duck stock with the traditional spices, softened onion  and rosewater, then shred the meat for the pie filling. After that I would wrap the filling up into a filo pastry pasty , coat it with cinnamon sugar and flaked almonds then brush with beaten egg before baking it.

At least that is how it SHOULD have happened.

Things weren’t really working in my favour last night. My student turned up forty minutes late for our lesson, which meant that,  subsequently, everything ran late. This isn’t great when you’re planning on a 3 hour slow-cook dinner 

Also, Goon got back from his working weekend at 11:30pm, which meant that I was functioning without my sous-chef (or as I think of it, menial-job-monkey). So everything took twice as long to prepare as it would otherwise have done. The end result was that I took the pigeon off the heat at 11:30pm,  after 2nrs 15 cooking instead of 3 hours.

Fortunately the meat was tender, although it wasn’t quite shreddable. I cut it into little pieces instead, tasted, adjusted spice balance . 

Then came my major failing of the evening. I hadn’t worked with phyllo pastry before and no one had warned me about it. I suppose we all have to learn somehow. :(

I wrapped the mixture in a couple of phyllo sheets, topped with the sweet seasoning and baked.  I had no idea how quickly the outer layer would cook, nor that the inner layer would not cook at all in that time. Whoops. :(

Well, if you ignored the pastry disaster, this would have been good. The filling was tasty and moist, although shredded meat would be much more authentic (assuming Moroccan restaurants do authentic bastilla) than my finely chopped bird was. The vegetable cous-cous accompaniment was great (although that isn’t exactly difficult is it?), as was the sauce, which I made by reducing the cooking liquid of the pigeon and adding a good dollop of harissa. 

Bastilla

so there you have it- a not entirely successful entry to Waiter Waiter. I will make this again and next time it will work!

P.S This is the first time my shiny new camera has been used for the blog. I think it is making a significant difference to photo quality.  

P.P.S For any you Star Wars geeks reading this, I was tempted to do some Bastilla turning to the dark side reference thing in the titile but I figured that only about four people would get it.  Plus I’d look like a freak. I’m noping that no one apart from Star Wars geeks have read past the first line of this paragraph. Otherwise I’m going to look like a freak anyway.

February 25, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 8:52 pm

Does anyone else think that curry leaves are under-used? When I was growing up, this wonderful emerald green leaf would crop up in a lot of my dinners. My parents were fond of using them wherever they could, especially with lentil dishes.

curry leaves

Now I notice that, whenever I go out to an Indian restaurant, there’s not a curry leaf in sight. It’s a real shame as I think this leaf adds a wondeful unique flavour to curries. I wouldn’t even consider making a Sri-Lankan meal without them now. Thank goodness they freeze so well!

The only restaurant I’ve found in Britiain that makes good use of these leaves is Memsaab in Chelsea. They use them in several of their dishes, including the delicious lobster I had on my last visit.It was this lobster dish that inspired me to make Friday night’s dinner. I had a craving for curry and I had a bag of frozen squid  in the freezer.  I thought a mimic of the flavours that went with my lobster would be a particularly good way of getting rid of it.

The problem was, I had no idea what was in that sauce, so I got improvising. I remember the sauce being light and creamy, which suggested to me that coconut milk had been used. The spices were light but definitely a main feature of the dish. I decided to try out cumin, coriander, ground ginger, a little fenugreek,  a touch of red chilli and garlic.

I simmered the coconut milk with softened onion, the spices and the curry leaves for about 10 minutes and tasted. It was lacking the sweetness that I remembered from the Memsaab dish so I added a bit of tomato puree. When I was just about happy with the flavour of the sauce, I cut off the scallop roes and let them simmer in the sauce for a couple of  minutes then added the cut up squid. When they had just turned translucent, I took the pot off the heat, seared the scallops seperately then added them to the mix.

A quick taste let me know that a squeeze of lemon was needed plus a little more spice. Once that was added, I was pretty happy with the dish so it was time to make the accompaniments. I wanted something else light and delicate and so I boiled some basmati rice with saffron and cardamoms and made a tarka daal as a side dish.

squid and scallop curry

On the whole the curry was very good. It wasn’t up to the standard of Memsaab (unsuprisingly) but good for a first attempt. I absolutely loved the curry leaves in this but I did feel something was missing, I still can’t put my finger on it but I’ll keep experimenting until I do.

On a whim, I’ve decided to submit this post as a very late entry to this week’s Weekend Herb Blogging, invented by Kalyn at Kayln’s Kitchen and, this week, hosted by Anna at  Anna’s Cool Finds. Although this dish would probably qualify on several different ingredients my herb of choice this week is, of course, curry leaves.

February 22, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 5:06 pm

Crespelle

When it comes down to it, although I like eating pancakes, I hate making them. They’re a bit time consuming and generate a fair bit of washing up. They don’t provide me with the creative license I like to use when I’m cooking (not until I get to making the fillings anyway) and there’s usually someone around who’ll eat them as they come out of the pan so that I, when I think I’m finally done, turn around to find an empty plate and a bunch of fat gits demanding more pancakes.

However, since it was Shrove Tueday this week, I thought I’d use the pancake tradition to give myself an excuse to try something I’d wanted to have for a while. I first encountered this dish in Renezio, a very nice little Italian eaterie in Shepherds Bush. I’ve since learned that it is an Italian classic.

The dish was a cannelloni filled with veal. The pasta was replaced by very thin, soft crépes. Apparently, back in the day, these crépes would be frequently be used to make a poor man’s version of cannelloni or lasagne. I thought the Renezio version was fantastic and I’d been dying to make some of my own. So, this Shrove Tuesday, I gave it a go. 

It seems that veal mince is rather hard to come by. I’m sure I’ve seen it at Borough, but I didn’t have the foresight to buy any last time I went and I quickly found that no supermarket would stock any kind of veal cut suitable for mincing. Since there also was no poultry mince anywhere, and I REALLY couldn’t be bothered to mince up some myself, I went with the next best thing: pork mince.

The rest of the recipe was close to the traditional version. The filling was essentially a marinara sauce with added pork mince, chopped spinach and ricotta. Once it had been rolled in the crépes, I topped the canneloni with bechamel sauce and mozzarella and baked it for about 15 minutes.

It looks like this electric oven is still producing the interesting spotting effect on cheese topped food.

Crespelle

And typically there was one roll that wouldn’t fit in the dish. Actually, it wouldn’t fit in our stomachs either, so I had it for breakfast this morning.

Spare crespelle

I suppose veal mince would have perfected this, but the pork substitution worked suprisingly well. I served my crespelle with a simple green leaf salad tossed in a dressing of lemon infused oil and balsamic vinegar.

In theory, I’m not supposed to be writing up any more recipes until that damned thesis of mine is finished but, I noticed that there are very few decent recipes for this dish on the internet so it seems silly to not record what I did. So here is the not veal crespelle recipe.

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 5:04 pm

My favourite bit of cooking is trying out new ideas. Writing up my thesis tends to leave my creative urge a little unfulfilled so I end up overcompensating for it in the kitchen. I aim to try a couple of new things each week and on occasion, like last night, three new things happen at once.

The centerpiece of last night’s meal was something I adapted from an idea I got from Freya. After my last attempt at poultry (the chorizo stuffed guinea fowl) she mentioned that she’s stuffed the skin of a chicken with mushrooms and truffle paste.

I decided that I didn’t have the funds to justify buying truffle paste, but i loved the mushroom idea and thought it would be perfect with a nice, delicately flavoured poussin. So I took some chestnut mushrooms, sliced them and sauteed them in butter with garlic and parsley before using them to stuff the poussin skin.

half stuffed poussin

Poussin Stuffing in Progress

Then I slipped some serrano ham in between the mushrooms and the skin, hoping the flesh of the poussin would pick up the flavour of the garlic and mushroom and the skin would pick up some smokiness from the ham.

My carb accompaniment was a cross between a dauphinoise and a boulangere partially inspired by Trig’s latke’s. I saw these and suddenly got a craving for potatoes and sour cream and so this was born

potato and sour cream bake

This is potatoes layered (like a boulangere or dauphinoise) with onion and paprika. I poured over a mixture of  sour cream with a little chicken stock mixed in and baked the potatoes for about an hour and fifteen at gas mark 5.

Finally, my vegetable accompaniment was shredded brussel sprouts stir fried with butter and pancetta, which, once they’d cooked, I made into a little nest for the poussin

poussin and sprouts

So the verdict for my three experiments was this. The poussin was awesome. The mushroom  and garlic flavours were very noticeable in the meat, whch had stayed very moist. The skin was perfectly crisp and had gained a little flavour from the addition of the ham, although it wasn’t as much as I had hoped.

The potato dish was very good, like an exciting version of  dauphinoise. While it didn’t have the luxurious richness of dauphinoise, it was a pleasant and interesting change. The sprouts were fine. They were nothing to write home about, but still tasty, and I think they’d be a good way of converting a sprout hater.

Also, the three dishes complemented each other reasonably well and the combination of sprouts, paprika and cream gave the whole meal a slightly Eastern European feel.

I wish I felt this inspired more often!

February 20, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 3:20 pm

Freya!

Well done, Freya, for correctly spotting that Goon was snacking on green beans dipped in honey. They were actually unwashed raw green beans that he was supposed to be rinsing and chopping for me so I could make a garlicky bean accompaniment to some rabbit (see post below).

The thing is, if anything edible is left out, Goon will eat it. If two edible things are left out, Goon will eat them together. I made the mistake of getting him to chop beans next to a pot of honey and the inevitable happened.

I’m intrigued by Trig’s suggestion of anchovies in marmalade. Maybe I’ll leave those together on the worksurface and see what happens.

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 3:19 pm

I’m afraid that, when it comes to cookery books, I can be a bit of a cheap student. Most of my (now rather large) collection was found in the ‘reduced’ section at Borders. The exceptions are Ramsay’s secrets and a couple of Nigel Slater books.

The most inspirational of my bargain finds is a book called ‘On the Grill’ by Matthew Drennan. Whilst this book is dominated by barbeque recipes,  and hence not appropriate for my measly selection of kitchen equipment, some of the ideas for flavours are great. One recipe particularly caught my eye for rabbit that is marinated in red wine,  then barbequed and served with a dried fig and prune chutney.

I couldn’t (and possibly wouldn’t) follow the recipe exactly, but I wanted to try an adapted version. Drennan’s recipe involved a farmed rabbit, as a wild one would be very tough when barbequed. Since wild rabbits are much easier to come across around here, I got one of those. I thought I’d marinate my bunny in red wine as he suggested but then braise it gently in the marinade instead of grilling.

A thought struck me as I constructed my marinade. The chutney Drennan involved prunes. Now what did I have lying around that tasted more than a little bit prune-like…..?

Gordon's Sloe Gin

So a very generous splash was added to the red wine along with rosemary and thyme and, after roughly 12 hours of marinating, the rabbit was cooked at 140C for three hours. 

Although Drennan’s recipe called for dried figs, I much prefer fresh ones and I could easily get my hands on some from the small Iranian grocery store near High Street Kensington. The chutney style thing I turned them into was somewhat improvised. It involved lightly caramelised  diced onion, chopped figs, honey, cinnamon and another splash of the ‘prune gin.’

 rabbit

The rabbit, which had turned an rich burgundy colour was served up with creamy mash and green beans. The deep red wine and ‘prune’ flavours had permeated the meat really well and went nicely with the fig accompaniment.  Admittedly something like saffron rice  probably would have suited this better than mash but, hey, we had potatoes to use up and Goon fancied mash.

There are plenty of other great ideas to try in the book. The next one to appear here will probably be saffron and orange chicken.

February 19, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 5:12 pm

Very silly things happen if I leave Goon alone in the kitchen unsupervised. On Sunday night, he created his own culinary invention. 

goon snack

Can anyone see (or guess) what Goon’s new favourite (and very unusual) snack is? He apparently enjoyed it although, I must admit, I wasn’t too keen.

February 18, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 8:36 pm

It appears that it is time for teenagers all over the country to panic madly, as they suddenly realise that their mocks were a disaster and their predicted  A level and GCSE grades may leave them destined for a future on the checkout of Kwiksave.

At least that is how it seemed as my inbox filled up with mail from various tutoring agencies begging for people to provide maths lessons. It was good from the perspective of my bank balance but rather horrendous for my sanity, as I realised that I was going to have start teaching at from 9am on most days and not have a chance of getting home until 10pm.

On weeks like this I want to leave the cooking to Goon so that dinner doesn’t get served up too late and I get a reasonable amount of sleep before the next early start. After all, I’d taught him one or two things. For example,  salmon with creme fraiche and dill pasta was now in his repetoire and he had produced some paprika chicken almost completely unaided. On Monday night, I thought I would try this. I suggested he did something with fish and then went off to teach an undergrad until 8:30. After the two hour lesson, I was rather perturbed to find that Goon was still in his office, waiting for further instruction on what to cook. This of course, defeated the whole purpose of getting him to cook as he would get homeeven later than me!

So that ended up being a very late night and a painfully early start. The same late night and early start happened on Tuesday. By Thursday, I was looking a lot like something from a bad zombie movie. Goon, rather embarrassed by his behaviour on Monday, offered to cook again, providing I could tell him what to do.

After a very laboured think, (I wasn’t capable of anything else by then) I decided that spare rib chops cooked slowly in a sweet and sour sauce with stir fried noodles and vegetables would be nice and easy.

sweet sour pork rib chops 

So I dragged Goon around Tesco to pick up ingredients and also got myself a nice pack of game paté, which I had been really craving since I’d just seen Jeanne’s delicious sounding home made chicken liver paté. Hopefully I’d  be able to enjoy some before running off the next morning.

The first thing I got Goon to do was make the sauce. It is a very easy one to make. You just get the juice from a tin of pineapples, add some sweetened water, ginger powder and then vinegar in small quantities until you  are happy with the flavour. A little tomato paste is added for colouring and, usually, I then add some onions and pepper which I have fried until just a little bit crunchy. Very simple!

Goon didn’t agree, and insisited I be in the kitchen to supervise. So I told him to start heating the pineapple juice and add enough sugared water to just cover the ribs in their little dish, while I chopped the vegetables. When I turned around I found that Goon had diluted the pineapple juice with enough water to fill the entire 1.5 litre pan. :roll: Admittedly I’d picked up some big chops but not THAT big.

Half an hour later, when the liquid had finally reduced to a sensible level, I helped Goon finish off the sauce and poured it over the rib chops, which were sitting snugly in a roasting tray and popped them in the oven for 1 hour 30 mins at gas mark 4.  

Goon had decided that this cooking business was all too difficult. So I ended up being in charge of the stir fry on the condition he would watch and learn. He sat on the floor while I made the noodles, describing carefully what I was doing at each stage. At some point I noticed that Goon was no longer responding to what I said. In fact it turned out that Goon wasn’t even sitting on the floor any more.

I eventually found him hiding behind the kitchen door with a sheepish look on his face. In his hand was an empty pack of game paté.

Grrr! Only Goon could eat a whole 150g of paté in the time it takes me to cook a stir fry.

Anyway, the pork was good. I added a tin of water chestnuts at the end because I think they have a fantastic texture. For the stir fry, I used rice noodles with spring onions, ginger, five spice, some left-over pancetta, and cashew nuts and fried them all together in a generous measure of sesame oil.

stir fried rice noodles

This wasn’t my best photography day, was it? Ah well. Apparently my parents have bought me a new camera. Fingers crossed photography should, at the very least, become more consisitent.

February 16, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 2:41 am

Woohoo! It’s meme time!  \o/5 things

Vanessa at What Geeks Eat has tagged me with this meme. The idea is I tell you 5 things about me (as the name suggests) that you didn’t know before.

A few weeks ago I would have thought this was easy. since I then believed few of my ‘real life friends’ were reading this blog. Recently, however,  some  lurkers have been brought to my attention, at least one of whom (yes, Dale, I’m talking about you) knows almost everything about me. Another lurker, (James I KNOW, you’re reading) knows everything about me.  So this is a meme I’ve had to think long and hard about. I think that everyone apart from James and perhaps Goon should be unaware of something in this list. 

  1. When I had spare time, I used to  really be in to learning card tricks and mentalism-type magic. Because of this I was a big fan of Derren Brown’s (who I got to meet once, yay!) Max Maven’s and Luke Jermay’s writing. I like to think I was getting quite good at card magic before maths and cooking completely took over my life. One day, I hope to goket good again.
  2. Due to my parents’ superstitious nature, during my childhood I gained a very extensive education in the predictive ….umm… ‘arts’?  I was very well trained in  astrology, palmistry and tarot. I never learnt to read runes properly though. Seriously, if you ask me to tell your future by any one of these means, I could do it like a pro. The fact that I don’t believe in it is beside the point!  Actually, it probably helps!
  3. Now if the last one didn’t sound stupid to you, this one will! . I have a weird… well…. it’s not  a fear as such….  I suppose its a total irrational hate ….of rough ceramic. Goon has a pestle and mortar made of this stuff and I can’t be anywhere near when he uses it. The sound drives me mental! Also I can’t pick it up. It feels awful! The same thing happens if I’m near broken porcelain. No, I don’t understand it either.
  4. I have double jointed thumbs and I use them deliberately to freak people out, as I do with my bizzarely long, oddly shaped tongue. I take pride in the fact I am a freak!
  5. During my teenage years I genuinely believed I was allergic to alcohol. I had violent reactions to very small amounts the first two times I tried it and didn’t notice that it was because I had the same type of alcohol both times (a certain brand of cheap vodka). I do really appear to have an intolerance to some cheap vodkas (and a couple of other things) but it took me a few years to realise  that practically any other type of alcohol is ok. Gin is especially good. :D  

From what I understand, I’m supposed to tag 5 more people to do this. I’m not sure if I’m meant to stick to food bloggers or not, but, let’s face it, it’s probably a lot safer than asking any of my friends what 5 things I didn’t know about them.

Also, this seems to be a long running meme, so I’ve had to check who hadn’t done this or a similar one already. I think the following five bloggers are ok for this.

So I shall tag, Julia at a Slice of Cherry Pie, Lea at Copperpots, Amanda at What We’re Eating (although I’m a bit suprised no one got to her before me), Jeanne at Cook Sister! and Kathryn at either one of her blogs, (Kathryn cooks with Jamie or From Page to Plate).

Take it away, ladies!

February 12, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 3:31 pm

This post isn’t really a restaurant review, more an anecdote about eating with my parents - an interesting experience on every occasion. Follow this link for the proper review of Memsaab, unadulterated by descriptions of my family’s quirks. That review largely excludes my Dad’s opinions of the food, whereas I’ll cover them here. If you’re wondering why I’d choose to ignore my Dad’s opinions when writing a restaurant review, click here and here and you will understand.

This trip to Memsaab was a birthday present from Dad. I think he had a secret wish to go there anyway, since he often moans that he rarely gets to eat out. Despite the booking being for 9:30, I turned up at 9pm, since my mother, who is teetotal, dissaproves of me drinking and I wanted to sample one of the tasty cocktails before they turned up.

Typically though, my parents were already there. Dad has a chronic fear of being late for anything and the result is he’s always at least 15 minutes early. Although this doesn’t bother me normally it did when I was a small child, when I’d be deposited at friends’ parties unfashionably early.

At the beginning of the evening we were served by a waiter who was new and a seemed a little uncertain of what he was doing. Poor guy. I think my family is the one you’d be most worried about encountering on your first day. My dad has the habit of proclaiming very loudly, “I’M VEGETARIAN” after every sentence he says to the serving staff.

WAITER: Would you like a drink, sir?
DAD: Yes. Do you have lassi?  I’M VEGETARIAN.

No wonder he looked scared

Dad encouraged me to go for Memsaab’s version of a Singapore Sling. Mum looked at us both disapprovingly before ordering an orange juice. I get the feeling that the waiter had been scared off because he didn’t return to the table much after that. Instead, our food orders were taken by the gentleman in charge that evening.

DAD:These samosas are vegetarian?
MAITRE D': Yes, sir, the vegetable samosas are vegetarian.
DAD: Good. I'M VEGETARIAN

This guy was good. He only looked confused for a split second. 

MAITRE D': And for your main course, sir?
DAD: Paneer Masala. Will it go with a paratha?
MAITRE D’: Yes, sir, of course.
DAD:I will have that with paratha then. I'M VEGETARIAN.

My parents then spent five minutes arguing, in a mixture of English and Sinhalese, over which vegetable side dishes to have. The discussion was so long and confusing that, by the end, the now worried Maitre D’. looked at me for confirmaton of the order. I couldn’t do anything but shrug and say,”I have no idea what went on then. But we’ll have turka dahl and the aubergine.”.

The amuse bouche, a potato pakora with yoghurt and chutney, arrived soon after and both parents were very confused by this. I convinced Dad that it was ok and they hadn’t misheard our starter order and assured him that it was meat-free. He then ate it, after reminding the serving staff yet again that he was, in fact, a vegetarian. I finished my cocktail and ordered a glass of rosé. Mum huffed.

The starters came and were eaten without much trouble apart from Dad moaning that his samosa’s “weren’t Indian.” Apparently they were made for the English palate. I did remind him that we were in CHELSEA not Bombay but apparently, “people from Tooting wouldn’t like them.” More fool them. :razz:  

The exciting point of the evening was the arrival of my main course. After approval from my father, I ordered the lobster. Unfortunately for him, there had been no description on the menu of  how it would be presented. 

lobster curry!

Dad made a noise that went something like “WUUUURGH!” and then  “OH NO! THE POOR THING!!! IT’S CRUEL!!!!!”

A few puzzled looks came from the other diners. I told Dad to stop being silly but he obviously found the presentation quite distressing. It’s funny. He had no problem with me eating battery chicken when I was younger, but eating a lobster is cruel. Obviously. That makes sense :roll: .

I tucked into my new crustacean friend with gusto. It was really delicious.

It turns out that my parents are incredibly small eaters. Mum managed half her spinach kofta curry and Dad was the same with his paneer curry. I ended up eating everything, including their leftovers and enjoying it, but my favourite was the lobster. There were a couple of moans about the food being too oily, even though it wasn’t very oily at all. Well, I suppose if you use a low-calorie spray every time you cook, anything will seem oily in comparison.

Of course, my parents don’t do dessert so, after some more confusion instigated by Dad, we managed to get our hands on the bill. I’d say it was pretty reasonable at £115 including service. For some reason, Mum thought it was a good idea to hide the mint chocolates that came with the bill in her handbag. I still haven’t figured out why. Apparently it’s so she could “give them to the little kid who just moved in across the road”  I’m still confused by this.

So, possibly to the relief of the staff, we left, with Dad and I having a heated argument about maths. Dad is the only person in the world daft enough to argue with a PhD mathematician about their subject area and I’m the only person daft enough to not ignore him.

I love this restaurant - it’s a real shame that it’s out of the way so not meny people go there. I’m almost worried it won’t survive because of this. I’ll certainly be returning here next month, most probably with Dale (warning:don’t click on the link if you’re offended by strong language), so the whole experience should be a bit more sane!

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