Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Balls-Up and Bollocks!

Lantern Procession on St. Martin's Day

If you've seen my last entry's title and now this one, you must think I'm deliberately and unnecessarily rude (and you'd probably be right... I'm Continental and therefore of a more robust ilk in terms of coarseness, much to my kids' embarrassment), but there is actually a rationale behind this one: two recipes I tried out happened to be balls of one kind or another, and neither of them worked out. So there, that's my justification for the profanities.

My pumpkin pie at Halloween didn't work out either; and ok, I always called it the penultimate recipe - implying that there was certainly something still in need of improvement ... but, my, this time it hadn't even set properly, and the crust was far too hard... I felt completely defeated. What on earth was I doing writing a food blog? It's not as if I have to add anything special to the world of food blogging anyway, and now it seems I've lost my cooking mojo completely. Today, I even managed to mangle a bought-in pie!

The heart seems to have dropped out of my cooking world. I've got a backlog of photographs and recipes, and I certainly need to record my favourite slimming recipes, but I really don' t know when that 'll be. The sooner the better, my jeans seem to say, stretched as they are, to bursting point, and yes, St. Martin (Martinmas, today) would be a good day to start, with six weeks leading up to Christmas. Maybe I'll actually get round to roasting a goose on Sunday, and then we can all start to 'de-grease' after that . The goose is as traditional as the lantern procession for the kids (see above) . I'll try and remember to tell you more about it next year...

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Cock-up on the Catering Front

Example of a Cock-up on the Linguistic Front (1)

For further explanation, go to footnote 1, for my story of a cock-up on the culinary front, read on:

You would have thought that someone with a food blog would want to cook for their friends, especially those they don't see all that often, those who have to travel a fair few miles, friends like my 'girls': 'my College friends'. -- 'College' and 'girls' both being somewhat misleading, as the place where we met was a Polytechnic, and the time so long ago that none of us fit the description of 'girl' anymore (though some of us try...).

I can't even start to express how much I wished I had cooked.

But as soon as we approached Monday, I knew I'd be working flat out just getting the rooms sorted. Somehow or other, I have never actually defined "A lot on my plate" in terms of the long list of items that I should be doing, or more precisely,
should have been doing for quite some time. For quite some decades!
Without going into the question which mental condition this is symptomatic for, beyond straight-forward procrastination, suffice it to say that the list has never got any shorter, or the plate any emptier. Empty, in actual fact, does not seem to be in my user manual - every room of the house is so crammed full of stuff that only on a good day may you venture from one end to the other and open the curtains or the window. (It isn't yet quite a case of "tunnels only"(2), but we're getting there.)

Now, instead of getting on with it immediately, Monday was dedicated to mourning the Crown Prince's departure, which prompted me to start a new blog. The usual delaying tactic of rather writing about your inadequacies than doing anything about them. To cut a long story short, it wasn't before Wednesday that I started attacking Ben's filthy room (I gathered 2 washing baskets full of dirty clothes in the process), and with a whole day spent at Aston University for the Matthew Boulton lectures on Thursday, it wasn't until the arrival day itself that I managed to cut trenches into the jungle that is Dom's old room.

There was no time to shop, let alone cook. A take away it was going to be. We ventured out and had a look at the plethora of restaurants/take-aways in walking distance (3 Chinese, 2 Pizza places, 2 Indian restaurants, and a Fish & Chips). We chose Chinese and ordered 3 Vegetarian dishes and one with King Prawns. To our utter shock and horror, when we got home and opened the dishes, we found that all of the Vegetarian options contained meat - chicken, beef, prawns, all thrown in, as if to say - you didn't specify which, so we've given you a mixture. It was awful, because our Vegetarian friend now didn't have anything to eat other than egg fried rice and noodles. What on earth were they thinking?
It was very late and we were very hungry, so we didn't even take it back.
Has anybody else ever had such a strange experience?

For the derivation and meaning of 'cock-up', see here.
For 'Lost in Translation in Swansea', see here.

For further reference, see here and here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

RIP Keith Floyd

Choucroute d'Alsace

I wonder how many of my fellow food bloggers in the UK felt the urge to cook something special last night in memory of Keith Floyd, the incorrigible cook and TV presenter, who had died the night before. It was a particular shock as on that very night, the BBC had broadcast a programme about him. I couldn't help wondering whether watching it had given him the heart attack - Floyd had looked frail enough during the filming, and I don't think the Keith Allen led documentary did him any favours.

Let's rather remember his larger than life exuberance, his lack of reverence, and the abundance and abandon he brought to British cooking. I got out Floyd on France, cracked open a bottle of wine, and Choucroute d'Alsace is what I ended up with.

"Trust you to hone in on a region the Germans invaded", was Mr ALOMP's reaction to the rather Teutonic, meat and Sauerkraut dominated dish. Hmm, yes, apparently due to domestic pulling powers, such as 'what do I actually have in?' (I'm German, so I always have Sauerkraut in) and 'what needs to be used up?' (smoked ham, smoked sausage - both Polish, but then, so were the ancestors if you go back far enough), I had to forego Floyd's maxims "careful shopping" and "fresh ingredients", and decided on an approximation of the dish featured on page 227. But maybe there was more to it? Maybe all that talk of good, honest, hearty home cooking had me salivating for childhood fare? (Come to think of it - at the Malmö Food Festival, of all the international dishes I could have gone for, I had plumped for Bigos - the Sauerkraut based Polish Classic, interestingly sometimes referred to as Silesian Bigos, Silesia being the area my Mum is from.)

In any case, it had made me block out the fact that neither of my remaining men (D eventually off to explore the Capital of the fatherland, or rather, in our case, the motherland) like Sauerkraut, a fact which wasn't helped by the only one of Floyd's maxims I adhered to - "an unhurried approach" - which resulted in the food being served very late. They ate it all but they didn't love it. Whereas I have to admit, I did. In rather colloquial German, "Ich hätte mich da reinsetzen können" - roughly translated, "I could have settled in it".

Oh yes, there was plenty of Riesling in the Sauerkraut and I also made Poires au vin rouge (p 33). Needless to say copious amounts of red and white were also imbibed. Ah, no one quite like Keith Floyd! I very much hope that he ended as he did in the epilogue of Floyd on France:

"And me? I am sitting - another fallen star - waiting for the early train. But happy."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Eurofret #1

Spaghetti con Aglio e Olio

We're back from our holidays, and I'm very pleased that my contribution for Dinner and a Movie went out as scheduled. It's the first time that I left a blog entry to be published in absentia. (Ironically, the deadline was extended to today!) But that is not what the fretting is about. "Eurofret" is a sign somewhere around the ferry port of Dunkirk, and each time we go that way, it strikes me as an ideal title for a TV show where people can complain about Europe.
Well, we've been to Germany, Denmark and Sweden, and I've got a lot to fret about. So I thought I 'd start a little series. I'll make it food-related if I can.
That shouldn't be too difficult - with the pound so weak, everything was astronomically expensive, so, lots to fret about. The above dish, re-created today, was one of the exceptions, a mere 6.50 € I think, which is nearly £ 6.50 now. But if you think how little goes into it...

My 'version' came with cherry tomatoes and 'Pepperoni'. On the Continent, those are types of small, spicy pickled peppers (often known as peperoncino or peperone piccante in Italy and pepperoncini or banana peppers in the U.S.), not the spicy variety of salami in Italo-American dishes. However, when you look up the recipe, the 'classic' one would not feature anything much besides the oil and garlic in the title.

But what the heck, I liked the addition of tomatoes and spicy peppers. I also liked the use of red chillies, as opposed to chilli flakes, which I found in online recipes. Everyone seemed to agree on the use of parsley - but I didn't have any. I had bought 'sun-kissed oregano' at Waitrose instead (because I'm a sucker for 'romantic marketing'). So, this is what I did:

Spaghetti, enough for x people
1 tbsp of
olive oil per person (I used a very special one, 'Colonna Gran Verde', with the zest of organic lemons, which I bought in a delicatessen in Henley-in-Arden, because the addition of lemon juice and zest was also recommended in a number of recipes)
1 large clove of
garlic per person, cut into slivers
cherry tomatoes, halved, per person
1 fresh
red chilli per person
yellow pickled peppers per person (mine were from Lidl; very mild)

Boil the spaghetti in salted water until al dente.
In a large pan, heat oil and add the garlic slivers, keep stirring. It's important the the garlic doesn't turn brown. Add chillies, peppers and tomatoes.
Add the drained spaghetti to the pan and mix well.
Season liberally with salt and pepper.
Add finely cut oregano right at the end.

I served it with a mixed salad and a glass of red wine. Grated parmesan is optional.

I had this first in the port of Husum, Germany.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dinner and A Movie: Wall Street

Micaella's Dough

It seems like I don’t get round to anything else these days, in blogging terms, other than the beloved cinematic food event that is Dinner and a Movie.

Joint hosts are Marc (norecipes) and Susan (stickygooeycreamychewy), and they take it in turns to select the film and organise the round-up. This time, it was Marc's turn, and he chose the 1987 Oliver Stone film Wall Street for the month of August. As most people probably know, it features Michael Douglas as a ruthless corporate raider, Charlie Sheen as a young man (Bud Fox) desperate to be a player in the cut-throat world of international finance, and Martin Sheen as his Union leader father who has rather different values.
Douglas, who wasn’t Stone’s first choice, won the Oscar for his portrayal of the unscrupulous Gekko who corrupts the young Fox. (Who doesn’t remember the line, "Greed is good"?) The latter eventually does not even shy away from insider dealings and a quasi betrayal of his father.

Other memorable lines are, “There is no nobility in poverty”, “You’re not naïve enough to believe we live in a democracy, are you?” and “It’s all about bucks, kid.” It’s this all encompassing theme of money which inspired my food choice: DOUGH.

Dough is only one of the numerous food-related synonyms for money:
beer tickets, bread, cake, cheddar, cheese (and variations such as gouda & veeta for velveeta), cream, lolly, chips, gravy, roll, bacon, beans, berries, cabbage, kale, lettuce, sugar, and clams were all amongst those found in my online search.

In German, the only one with food associations is Eier – eggs. Well, one of those went into Micaella’s dough, as did some cheddar (for other ingredients, see below). To obtain a dough, you have to knead (kneten) your ingredients, and Knete, interestingly, is German for plasticene/play-dough and happens to be another colloquial term for money.

My dough was not turned into a loaf sized bread, but little breadsBrötchen = rolls. Which, I believe (though his fate remains open at the end of the film), is what Gekko will have to bake smaller ones of…
Confused? “Kleine/kleinere Brötchen backen” is a frequently used idiom, which means

to become more reticent; aim lower; take a backseat; to economize; become subdued after initial bragging; become more modest; conduct business with less voracity...

as in:
"BASF muss kleinere Brötchen backen. Die schlechtere Konjunktur lässt die Gewinne des Konzerns schwächer fließen als erwartet" -
“BASF has to retract. The economic down-turn has meant lower profits than the company expected.”

How fitting… but for the time being I’ll leave it to somebody else to comment on the total insanity that is the world’s betting shop, also known as the Stock Exchange, and just concentrate on how to make cheesy dough for little rolls:

Micaella's Dough

1 egg
lukewarm water
3 3/4 cups of strong bread flour
1 1/2 tsp of salt
2 tsp of sugar
2 tbsp of soft butter
1 tsp dried yeast
2 cups of grated cheese

Put the egg into a measuring jug and beat lightly. Add lukewarm water to make up to 300ml, mix. Pour into a large bowl. Add the flour and completely cover the liquid. Add the salt, sugar and butter in three different places around the edge. Make a small indentation in the middle into which to sprinkle the yeast. Start kneading (or use kneading implements, or use a bread maker), then add the cheese and continue until everything is well mixed. Set aside to rise. (A warm place is always recommended, which is sometimes not as easy as it sounds. I cover the bowl with a shower cap - a trick I picked up from the Hairy Bikers - and put the bowl in the top oven without switching it on. It'll get a bit warmer once the bottom oven is being pre-heated.) After about an hour, your dough should look a bit like mine above. For a loaf, put the dough into a bread tin and set aside to rise again (ca 45 minutes), then bake in a pre-heated oven at C200 for about 40 minutes on the middle shelf. For rolls, divide the dough into about 8 portions and form into rolls. Place on to a baking sheet lined with baking paper, set aside to rise for about 45 minutes and bake for about 25 minutes.

Cheesy Rolls

Monday, July 20, 2009

Dinner and A Movie: Breakfast at Tiffany's

Picture a Yellow NY taxi


People don’t belong to people. I’m like cat here. No-name slobs. We belong to nobody and nobody belongs to us, we don’t even belong to each other.


You know what’s wrong with you, Miss Whoever-you-are? You’re chicken, you’ve got no guts, you’re afraid to stick out your chin and say, ok, life’s a fact.

People do fall in love, people do belong to each other, because that’s the only chance anybody’s got for real happiness.

For my favourite on-line foodie event,

organised jointly by Susan and Marc, Susan chose an absolute classic this time: Breakfast at Tiffany's. The film, with its innovative costuming by legendary designers Edith Head and Givenchy, predominantly in black and white, produced some of the most iconographic images ever, thanks to Audrey Hepburn’s elegant beauty.

She plays 19-year-old Holly Golightly, a self-declared wild thing who abandons relationships and responsibilities when they threaten to jeopardize her freedom. Her desire for "breakfast at Tiffany's” (absurd, as Tiffany's do not serve food) symbolises in its unattainability her struggle against conventional constraints such as settling down in a stable relationship. (Oh, I’m so with her!! She’s 19, for heaven’s sake!!!)

Apart from the fashion, and the equally famous music by Henri Mancini (Moon River), one of the most striking aspects of this 1961 film is the perpetual smoking and cocktail drinking. Clear evidence, if any was needed, that drinking yourself into a comatose state wasn’t invented in the 90s. It just wasn’t called binge drinking.

There is no food to speak of at these parties, so no inspiration there. We do see a pressure cooker exploding, but I really had no wish to repeat this experience, I vividly recall the eruption of my lentil soup some years ago, with the tiny legumes reaching even the most remote corners of the ceiling.

Another draw-back this time was the circumstance that the list of ingredients I am allowing myself, after being seriously ill, drastically reduces my range of recipes. Just as I felt I couldn’t possibly invent something that would be good enough to reflect this superb film, it came to me in a flash: The Little Black Dress Diet!

Not only does it have Holly Golightly on the cover, it’s also contains really healthy diet meals. I opted for a breakfast (of course), and decided to serve it in a cocktail glass (of course, again).

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

(adapted from Michael van Straten’s The LBD Diet)

Fresh pineapple (representing gold)


Cardamom seeds, pounded

Coriander seeds, pounded


Blueberries, redcurrants (representing rubies and sapphires)

Cut up your pineapple into bite-sized pieces, put on a foil covered baking sheet. Pound the spices with pestle and mortar, and sieve the husks out. Mix with cinnamon and honey, then spread the mixture on top of the pineapple pieces and grill until golden brown. Serve in a cocktail glass together with the rubies and sapphires.

The original recipe uses only cinnamon and brown sugar. I used local honey instead as that is supposed to be good when you're a hay fever sufferer.

The film is of course based on the 1958 novella of the same name by Truman Capote, whom Norman Mailer described as "the most perfect writer of my generation". When the story was adapted for a mainstream audience by scriptwriter George Axelrod, it was to lose its obscene language and explicit sexual references, and the plot and character details were drastically changed, the most striking of which was to turn the relationship between Holly Golightly and Paul (George Peppard in the film) into a conventional heterosexual love story.

Never mind, it’s a glorious film, and I’m reading the book right now, so I’m divinely happy, darling! Thank you Susan for another inspired choice!!

Friday, June 26, 2009


Aku Shaak - Stuffed Vegetable Curry
(A Gujarati speciality from South Africa, from Madhur Jaffrey's Curry Bible )

Maybe, if you're not a scientist, you are not aware of this: 2009 is Darwin Year. Without Melissa, over at hecticium, I probably wouldn't know either. Melissa, also being a foodie, had this great idea to start January off with a dish, which would evolve into something slightly different every month. I volunteered for June, and as we're past the longest day now, and therefore half way through the year (frightening, isn't it?), I'm going to take the opportunity to sum up the evolutionary development so far.

In the ancestral ingredients pool were aubergines, courgettes, tomatoes, Provencal herbs, olive oil, marscapone cheese, salt and pepper in a layered dish called Baked Provencal Vegetables, made by the initiator herself.
In February, onions, garlic, peppers, carrots, chilli flavoured oil, pesto and wholemeal wraps had been added to the original configuration, and Muireann replaced the marscapone and Provencal herbs with cream cheese and dried basil respectively.
Naomi introduced meat (minced beef) into the recipe, as well as crackers, egg, spinach leaves, soy cream, hazelnuts, mushhrooms, and a handful of mange-tout, while removing the aubergine and peppers, and replaced the wraps with Spaghetti, and the cream cheese with ricotta and quark for March's meatballs with spaghetti.
April, the aubergines (1) made a come-back, while the courgettes dropped out, the beef was replaced by minced lamb, and a whole array of new ingredients were added: potatoes, mint, parsley, oregano, cinnamon, tomato puree, milk, flour, a bay leaf, and red wine for the Hunt family Moussaka by Laura. She also came up with the great term foovolution that I use in the title of this post.
Ricotta proved an ingredient well suited to the environment as it still features in May's recipe by Kira, who took the foovolution to another level: the ricotta went into Ricotta and Dill Bread (adapted from The Art of Handmade Bread by Dan Leopard), and the aubergine went into everything else, a Baba Ghanoush, Baked Aubergines with Coriander Yogurt Dressing, and Aubergine, Halloumi and Asparagus, with Lemon/Oil Dressing, all looking absolutely delicous, see for yourselves here.
New 'traits' to draw from in June were plenty: tahini, coriander, paprika, lemon, couscous, apricots, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, spring onions, natural yogurt, ginger, dry yeast, flour, bread flour, dill, halloumi, asparagus tips, chilli flakes, honey, whole grain mustard.

Now, e
volution is the product of two opposing forces: processes that constantly introduce variation, and processes that make variants become more common or rare. Adaptations occur through a combination of successive, small, random changes in traits, and natural selection of the variants best-suited for their environment.
I have also learnt that natural selection has no long-term goal and does not necessarily produce greater complexity. In that vein, my main ingredients are the ones which have become the most common traits: aubergine, onion and tomato. From May, I will carry over coriander, lemon, ginger, and the yoghurt for an accompaniment. I will also draw on earlier variants for potatoes (new, in season, and therefore an environmental force), peppers and mint. And the nuts, which appeared earlier as hazelnuts and pine nuts make a come-back as peanuts and coconut. There will be no meat or cheese (the environmental force here could be the credit crunch, or it could be the more personal, domestic one of heart disease and diabetes in my family demanding less meat and dairy intake and an increase in the consumption of vegetables), and my spices and my flour will be Indian, because another environmental factor in this house is the fact that my son Ben will eat only vegetables which are heavily disguised or heavily curried.

Madhur Jaffrey recommends using the small egg-shaped aubergines you can get at Asian markets. Living in Birmingham, that is not problem for me. As an alternative, she suggests long ones sold as Dutch or Italian ones. Well, as you can see, I had a 'normal' fat one. I cut one big slice of about 5 cms, which I then cut into quarters, and I used those alongside some of the small ones.

Aku Shaak - Stuffed Vegetable Curry

(serves 8)

You will need a large, deep frying pan for this.


6 small round aubergines, or chunky pieces as described above
4 onions
4 tomatoes for stuffing
255 g tomatoes, grated (or tinned chopped tomatoes)
3 medium boiling potatoes, peeled and quartered lengthways
1 green pepper, cut into squares

for the paste:

4 tbsp chickpea flour (gram flour)
2 tbsp roasted peanuts, ground (I reckon you could just as well use smooth peanut butter and omit the tbsp of oil)
2 tbsp desiccated coconut
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
4-5 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 1/2 tsp hot green chillies, finely chopped
2 tsp of salt
1 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tsp ground turmeric

2 tbsp of jaggery or soft brown sugar
a handful of coriander leaves, chopped
2 tbsp ground coriander
2 tbsp of ground cumin
olive oil
1 tsp of lemon juice


1 1/2 tsp whole brown mustard seeds
1/4 tsp ground asafetida
4 whole dried, hot red chillies

  1. Put all the ingredients for the paste into a bowl, mix, and add 1 tbsp of oil and 1-2 tbsp of water to get a crumbly paste.
  2. Cut deep crosses in the bottom of the aubergines, or into the cut ends if using chunks. Stuff some of the paste into them. Cut crosses into the tomatoes and onions and also stuff them. Set aside the stuffing that's left.
  3. Fill the frying pan with oil to a depth of 1 1/2 mm and set on a medium heat. Add the mustard seeds, asafetida and chillies when it's hot. A few seconds later, add the potatoes, stir for 30 seconds, cover and cook for 3-4 minutes. Stir from time to time.
  4. Carefully put the onions and aubergines into the pan, cut side up. Cover and continue to cook on medium heat for 7-8 minutes.
  5. Add 4 tbsp of water, move the vegetables about. Put the lid back on, reduce the heat to low and cook for 15 minutes.
  6. Move the vegetables around again, then add the tomatoes, and scatter the pepper pieces.
  7. Add the grated tomatoes to the stuffing you set aside, mix well and pour the mixture over the peppers. Cover and continue to cook for a further 20-25 minutes, until the tomatoes are just done.
We had a raita with this, made from yoghurt, garlic, some grated cucumber, mint and cumin seeds.

Delicious and very filling, if you cook the above quantity and you're just 3! Mind you, it wouldn't be enough for 8 as a full meal.

And here for those who would like to contemplate evolution, natural selection and Darwin's role in this a bit more, a link to an essay in the New York Times: Darwinism Must Die So That Evolution May Live
(1) Did you know that aubergine production is quite concentrated with 85 percent of output coming from only three countries? The UK is No 10 on the list.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dinner and A Movie: Monsoon Wedding

Chicken Tikka

I am a day late with this, but sometimes you just have to let go. I was nursing myself (again!) all day yesterday and simply couldn't do the write-up. A shame, really, because I could have had this ready to go, but as so many things this June so far, it simply didn't get done...

But, without further ado: Dinner and a Movie is the brainchild of Susan at
stickygooeycreamychewy, and Marc of no recipes, and is an event that combines two major indulgences: watching a film and eating a meal inspired by it. This time, the event was hosted by Marc, and the chosen film was Monsoon Wedding. (I think Marc is getting himself a bit of a name here, having chosen a film with a wedding as its theme for the second time running!!)

I hadn't seen this film before, or even heard of it, and I loved it. It's a feast for the eyes in vibrant orange, and I'm not just talking about the abundance of marigolds!

Director Mira Nair, whose debut film was Salaam Bombay!, set her tale of chaotic wedding preparations in New Delhi just before the start of the monsoon season.

The groom,
Hemant Rai, is an Indian who flies in from Texas, and other family members also arrive from distant places like Australia to attend the wedding of Aditi to this man she has known for only a few weeks. Her father, Lalit Verma, is trying to arrange the enormous and expensive wedding with the help of an increasingly more frantic and frazzled wedding organiser.
In the relentless summer heat, five intersecting tales unfold, revealing secrets and hopes, and the crossing of boundaries, not only of continents, but also of class and morality. So when it finally comes, as it must, the heavy monsoon rainfall is a cathartic downpour indeed.

For the best dance scenes, see here, the night before the wedding.

As a linguist, I was particularly fascinated by the use of
'na' in place of the usual English tags such as, "isn't it" (or 'new' English: "innit"), and even 'nee, nee, nee' (pron.: ~ nay) for "no, no, no", both of which sounded extremely 'homely', as those are linguistic features of the region in Germany where I come from - the Ruhrgebiet.

But let's come to the culinary creations inspired by the film! My feeling is that Marc would like us all to think a bit outside the box, in other words, not to be quite so linear and obvious. (He must have been very pleased with Kris's sorbet , prompted by the seduction scene in
The Wedding Crashers...)

In this instance, we should probably have thought of something representing the monsoon rain, or matching up two ingredients that 'don't know each other', as in an arranged marriage, or at least something that represents the clashes of old and new, of cultures, of continents.
But I'm afraid, I'm a predictable Pavlovian dog; one twang from a sitar, and I'm salivating for
Turmeric, Coriander and Green Chillies...

Mira Nair's background is Punjabi culture, and the main
masala (= the mixture of dried/dry-roasted spices, or a paste, combining spices and other ingredients) in a Punjabi dish consists of onion, garlic and ginger. In fact, a lot of the most popular elements of current Anglo-Indian cuisine derive from the Punjab:

Chicken Tikka
Rogan Josh
Tandoori Chicken
Tandoori Fish
Keema Naans

A tandoor is a clay oven the shape of a horizontally sliced pot, so tandoori food is hard to replicate. We have tried before, with the help of a marinade made from ready mix tandoori masala powder and yoghurt, which is nice but only an approximation. I have recently come across a recipe which I might give a go soon, and I'm toying with the idea of making naan bread more authentically by sticking it to the sides of my German clay pot (Roemertopf), but for the time being, on this occasion, I've stuck to Chicken Tikka.

Not only because because it's more orange than tandoori chicken, or because it's easier, and tried and tested. No. The perfect reason is the fact that Chicken Tikka is the starting point for Chicken Tikka Masala: a
hybrid dish (1), which has not only marched to the top but beyond. According to wikipedia, one in seven curries sold in the UK is chicken tikka masala. It is also widely regarded as Britain's National Dish now, and has produced other interesting off-shoots. In the UK, you can find chicken tikka in sandwiches and baguettes, on pizza, or on tagliatelle. For all I know, Blumenthal does a Chicken Tikka ice-cream or granita. Oh yes, cross-cultural merging and melting of cultures indeed.

I won't say: and this is how you do it, for obvious reasons. This is the easiest way:

chicken breasts, cut into cubes
plain yoghurt
Patak's Tikka Masala Curry paste (there is a mild version or a medium one)*

Mix yoghurt and paste in equal proportions. You need enough to cover the chicken pieces completely.
Leave to marinate overnight.

* You can also buy Tikka Masala powder, or if you want to make your own spice mixture, try the following:

Tikka Masala

1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp garam masala (see below)

You may also add some lemon juice and tomato puree.

The next day, thread the meat on to skewers and grill for about 6 minutes on each side, or longer depending how 'charcoaled' you like it.

After that, it's up to you how you want your chicken tikka. You can eat it just like that, hot or cold, with a salad and maybe a yoghurt raita. You can mix the chicken pieces with mayonnaise for tomorrow's sandwiches.
If you want a curry sauce to go with your meat, you could do the following:

Start with oil, and fry onions and garlic. Later, you add ginger, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, paprika, 3 green chillies (if you like it hot), or you could use more of the Patak's curry paste. Then add either passata, or tinned tomatoes and stock. You can also add yoghurt or cream, plus salt if needed.
Garam masala is again a key ingredient.

According to
Madhur Jaffrey's Ultimate Curry Bible, there are hundreds of recipes, probably a different one in every family. In the UK, you can easily obtain bags of garam masala, alternatively, it can be ground if you have the following ingredients and a coffee or spice grinder:

Garam masala, for 3 tablespoons:

1 tbsp cardamom seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp black cumin seeds
1/3 of a nutmeg
a medium stick of cinnamon, 2-3 inches, broken up

Grind as finely as possible and store in a tightly lidded jar. (Cf, p. 327, op.cit.)

I decided to serve mine in a curry sauce on Salmon Tagliatelle (Taglione al salmone)!

Here is the round-up by Marc:

And here are some bits and pieces I have found on Punjabi Wedding Traditions.

Apparently, crude teasing songs are part of the celebrations, and incense is used liberally. Henna designs (
mendhi) are painted - most ladies get it done only on their hands but the bride gets it done on both hands and feet.
Before departing for her husband's home, the bride must tap her unwed female friends or cousins with her
kaliras. Kaliras are silver, gold or gold plated traditional ornaments that are tied to a set of red and cream ivory bangles (chuddha) which are touched by all present to signify their blessings and good wishes for the bride. According to tradition, if any of the kaliras fall on her friends' heads, it is believed that those friends will marry next.
Vidaai marks the departure of the bride from her parental house. As a custom, the bride throws phulian or puffed rice over her head. The ritual conveys her good wishes for her parents. Her brothers accompany the bride, and her other relatives throw coins in the wake of this procession.
(1) Madhur Jaffrey says, the idea of folding the grilled cubes into a curry sauce was most likely developed by Indian restaurateurs in the UK; wikipedia states it was invented in the 1960s in a Bangladeshi London restaurant, but they concede that this is hotly disputed, meaning that there are probably thousands of places which claim to be the original inventors .

Monday, June 01, 2009

Flaming June

Flaming June

is the name of a painting by British Artist Frederick Leighton (1830 - 1906), which is also known as The Mona Lisa of the Southern Hemisphere on account of its residence in the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico. Andrew Lloyd Webber wanted to buy the painting in the early 60s, but being only 15 years old couldn't come up with the £50 asking price. He has since offered six million for it but the Puerto Rican authorities will not sell the painting (click on the Webber link to read the whole story). You can currently see the painting at the Prado in Madrid, where it is on loan until June 21st.

June 21st, fittingly, is also the longest day of the year, and the celebrations for the Summer Solstice (Winter Solstice in the Southern hemisphere) or Litha, or Midsummer Night, or St. John's Night take place around this time. (June 24th is the birthday of St. John the Baptist, which used to be the longest day before the Gregorian calendar.)

And, fittingly again, Midsummer's Eve celebrations, pagan as they were in origin, involved bonfires. They were lit to protect against evil spirits which were believed to roam freely when the sun was turning southwards again. In later years, witches were also thought to be on their way to meetings with other evil powers.

The lighting of bonfires is still part of the festivities in many countries, such as Britain, France, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Russia, Ukraine, and Estonia. In some rural spots, these bonfires are occasionally lit on hilltops, and the ritual of jumping over it in order to guarantee prosperity and avoid bad luck, is also still part of the celebrations in some areas, a pagan fertility rite, which has been accepted into the Christian calendar. How much it has been 'Christianised', can also be seen in the naming of the fires after St. John (for instance le feu de la Saint-Jean; Johannisfeuer), as well as the naming of the eve/day:

St. John's Eve (Britain), Jonines (Lithuania), Jonsok/Sankthansaften (Norway), Noc Swietojanska (= St. John's Night; Poland), San Juan (Spain), Ivan Kupala (= the old Russian name for St. John; Russia), Juhannus (Finland), Sankt Hans Aften (Denmark), Jaanipäev (John's Day; Estonia), Jani (Latvia), Gol-Jowan (Feast of St John; Cornwall)

According to Wikipedia, where I got most of this information, in Finland, Estonia and Sweden, Midsummer's Eve/Midsummer's Day (Swed.: Midsommarafton/Midsommardagen), is considered the greatest festival of the year, comparable only to Walpurgis Night, Christmas Eve, and New Year's Eve.

Some believe that Midsummer is a very potent night, one of the times of the year when magic is strongest, and it has certainly proved inspirational.

Gogol wrote a short story called St. John's Eve (1831), which inspired Modest Mussorgsky to create his Night on Bald Mountain, and Shakespeare gave us Midsummer Night's Dream, which in turn sparked numerous adaptations:

The Fairy-Queen (1692) by Henry Purcell is a set of baroque masques, or semi-operas, metaphorically related to the play.

Felix Mendelsohn composed the incidental music for a German stage production, which includes his famous Wedding March (1842/3).

Carl Orff wrote another piece for the play, Ein Sommernachtstraum (performed in 1939; re-worked '52 & 62), after Mendelssohn's music had been banned by the Nazis.

Ibsen wrote a drama, also called St. John's Eve (1852/3), influenced by the earlier play and the fairy-tale comedies by the German Romantics.

The choreographers Marius Petipa, Frederick Ashton and George Balanchine all created ballet versions. In fact, Ashton's The Dream is being shown this month at the Birmingham Hippodrome as part of a Triple Bill called Love & Loss.

Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears turned it into an opera in 1960,

and progressive Rock guitarist Steve Hackett, best known with his work with Genesis, made a classical adaptation of the play in 1997.

Then there are the FILM versions... One of them, directed by Peter Hall, in 1968, features a nearly naked Judi Dench as Titania opposite Ian Richardson as Oberon, with Ian Holm as Puck - all of them painted green.

This list is of course not at all exhaustive. For even more information, see here.

If you've managed to bear with me so far, you might be in need of a drink by now, and what could be better than Pimm's on a First of June, which has been flaming indeed.

You have seen it before, I'm sure, but just as a reminder, this is how you make your own version of the alcohol content of the Pimm's:

Cheat's Pimm's

1 part gin
1 part red vermouth
1/2 part Bols Orange Curacao/Cointreau/Grand Marnier

Then use 1 part of it to at least 3 parts of lemonade, plus apples, strawberries, cucumber and mint, and start enjoying the longer evenings! Cheers!