Food And Drink, Uncategorized

The Food Of Lebanon 2

Sorry I haven’t posted anything for so long, that’s the topic for another entry.  But I’ve still been cooking regularly and here’s what I made for C & me last night. Another great dish from Salma Hage’s The Lebanese Kitchen, published by the wonderful Phaidon, it’s Koftas With Tomatoe Sauce And Potatoes. 

It seems that all countries have their own version of meatballs but these Koftas made with lamb, onions, garlic, parsley and mint (amongst other items) had a particularly middle eastern flavour.  The recipe called for seven spice season but I used some Ras El Hanout instead which is Moroccan but pretty similar, I imagine.   And here it is…straight out of the oven and on the plate. I still score low on presentation but it tasted great, especially when I had the leftovers for lunch today!

food, Food And Drink, travel

Food Of India

The phrase ‘celebrity chef’ is one that has become firmly established in describing that breed of national treasure renowned for being great at cooking, owning a string of restaurants (usually in the South of England) and having a personality suited to the multi-tasking requirements of being able to engage a TV audience in bon homie while creating a mouth-watering dish against a backdrop of rolling hills, lolling lagoons or a sweeping moutainscape. The current trend for well known chefs and restauranteurs to travel the globe while sampling the local cuisine and then conjuring up their own representations of the same food which might also appeal to the English palette began in the 1980s with the seminal series Floyd On France where the late Keith Floyd travelled seemingly haphazardly through the French landscape begging, stealing and borrowing, as he put it, kitchens and kitchen equipment and this style of ‘on the road’ cooking captured the imagination of the British Public who enjoyed the mix of food, travel and personality as millions tuned into the series and the accompanying book sold in bucketloads. Since then, other chefs have continued the trend as they seemingly attempt to outdo each other in visiting more and more out of the way and off the beaten track places to find the sort of food which would appeal to our travel and food lust; Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and Rick Stein being the most adventurous in traveling the world with seemingly nothing more than a collection of shirts, hats and TV crew.

The formula shows no sign of abating. About 6 weeks ago, Rick Stein’s new book, Rick Stein’s India appeared on our bookshelves without fanfare and caused some murmuring as to where was the accompanying TV series. Then, 3 weeks ago the first episode of the series of the same name began on BBC2 with Rick beginning his latest Odyssey in a region of the sub-continent seeing him visiting back streets and slums in search of the perfect curry. Apart from the great food we see being cooked in back street kitchens one of the main talking points is Ricks perspiration which sees him bedecked in long-sleeved Ralph Lauren linen shirts which at certain points of the episodes look as if he’s just been caught in a flash monsoon but the drying air has yet to reach his back and arm-pits. Nevertheless, the series is engaging and the food he discovers and cooks himself looks amazing. The enduring popularity of the travelling TV celebrity chef is evinced by the immediate disappearance following the first episode (and to this day) of Rick Stein’s accompanying book from our local book shop shelves. Luckily C managed to track down and buy a copy last weekend to add further filler to our already overflowing shelves of cokkery books and writing.

Here’s Rick, the genial restaurateur on the cover of his latest book who made his name with his famous seafood restaurant in Padstow, Cornwall and his subsequent TV series extolling his passion for fish and seafood.

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It’s a great series too; part food programme, part travel programme and Rick definitely strays off the beaten path, usually finding a local English speaking guide and then tramping his way through the slums of India which, we learn are home to many of the city elite who choose to live relatively cheaply in a shack where they can be close to their job rather than pay exorbitant local city centre property prices. It all reminds me of Vikram Seth’s amazing novel A Suitable Boy which took me a year to read and describes life in post war India for all classes and castes.

So to the recipes…we chose as our initial effort a squid curry and ended up buying frozen squid tubes from a fish monger (it was all he had) whereas we could’ve bought the fresh stuff from a supermarket had we visited there first. Rick clearly likes his chillies so we made the paste with 2 red ones and the sauce with 3 green ones making it pretty hot. We bought fresh coconut and I used a hammer to get to the flesh which needed to be grated into the dish. I have packets and jars of whole spices which in some cases I’ve had for years but they still have their individual aromas so in went cloves, cinnamon, turmeric, coriander, mustard seed, funugreek, cumin and garam masala. It was hot, spicy and sweet but overall delicious. I would have preferred to use fresh squid but the result was still excellent, served with steamed basmati rice.

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food, Food And Drink

Food Of Lebanon

There is something always particularly exciting about the discovery of a new region to draw your cooking from and so in recent weeks I have been on a culinary journey which began approximately 12 months ago in Spain, crossed the strait of Gibraltar to Morocco and leapfrogged its way into Lebanon. Of course, the journey does not see me wander much further than my kitchen and dining table but thanks to anecdotal comments many enlightened cookery writers place alongside their recipes cooking a meal can be the equivalent of a cultural experience to bring the tastes and flavours of a middle eastern market street food outlet into your own living room.

The Lebanese Kitchen by Selma Hage is a cookbook published by the wonderful Phaidon which is enhanced by the unusual way they have cut zig-zags into the edges of each of the 260 odd leaves which make the pages of this wonderful book of recipes.

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I have already cooked a few recipes from the book but this weekend saw us go truly Lebanese crazy as we drew on it for both our Friday and Saturday night meals. Friday saw us opting for Mother’s Milk with lamb; a fairly simple recipe of minced lamb cooked in a sauce made of yogurt, water and cornflour with lots of garlic thrown in for pungency and mint for sweetness. Mixed with rice, the meal was a riot of flavour with the flavour of the lamb buttressed by the tart acid of the yogurt. This was one of those meals where every flavour played its part as the meat, garlic, yogurt and mint vied for position to come out tops but overall it was a tie with all four flavours crossing the line in dead heat.

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I confess, it has a look of porridge about it but I can assure you it tasted wonderful served with slices of grilled aubergine (egg plant).

So successful was Friday night’s dish that we stayed in Lebanon for a further night opting for a fish dish of fried cod with caramalized onions and rice. We nipped out in the afternoon to buy the fish and elected to buy an alternative white fish instead and chose pouting, not least because it was substantially cheaper than the cod and no doubt more sustainable too.

The dish required the slow cooking of two thinly sliced onions with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar until it was practically caramalized which was then mixed with cooked basmati rice. A sauce was made out of capers, tomatoes, garlic, lemon juice and parsley which was spooned over the pan-fried pouting fillets sitting on the caramalized onion and rice mix. This was the first time we had tried pouting and although not as strong in flavour as cod, it’s delicacy was enhanced by the sweet sauces of top and below. We also threw in a handful of broad beans which gave it a bit of additional colour.

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I think we’ll stick around in Lebanon format least another week or two and perhaps hop over to Morocco to give the tagine a run out in between but now we’ve discovered the flavours of Lebanese cooking I suspect it will become a region that we shall visit, at least culinarily, quite often!

Food And Drink, Music, travel

Grillstock…Meat/Music/Mayhem

I’d never heard of Grillstock before I read an article in the June edition of Lonely Planet magazine advertising it as one of the ‘must attend’ events during the month. Having never knowingly attended a ‘must attend’ event I entered it onto our radar and C duly bought tickets for us to attend the Manchester event on Saturday June 8th. The weather had been set fair all week and this weekend was no exception so it was lightly garbed that we set off on a walk to St Annes-On-The-Sea station to catch the train to Manchester Oxford Road via Preston. The train was running about 20 minutes late but we arrived in a very sunny Manchester at around 1.45pm before walking in the direction of Albert Square for the BBQ event of the year. C looked great in her new Italian silk frock from T K Maxx, I was in a Ralph Lauren shirt, Armani 3/4 length shorts and Keen sandals (for those who care about such things!).

We could smell Grillstock before we could see it as the aroma of barbecued meat wafted breezily towards us to herald the pleasures which awaited us. C had bought E tickets for the event which worked fairly efficiently but within a minute of queuing we were in amongst what was clearly a well attended local event.

We both experienced an immediate sensation of information overload as our visual, hearing and smelling senses were bombarded by a smoregasbord of sound, smells and sights with people milling around, drinking booze, chomping on meat and the aroma of succulent meats tantalizing our senses. After a walk round we both queued up at a tent run by a group of friendly South Africans and we definitely chose the right line to join as they kept us tempted by feeding us pieces of just cooked rib and chicken as well as engaging us in friendly chat about what they were doing and how they were cooking. Just as we reached to head of the queue, I gave C my order for pulled pork and barbecued corn while I went off to a little wine outlet selling New Zealand winf from Marlborough and bought us a glass each (£4 per glass). We sat on the steps under the statue of one of Manchester’s founding fathers as I tucked into my pulled pork, corn and slaw. It was a reminder to me how superior overseas coleslaw is the tasteless creamed vegetable stuff we tolerate when you taste a slaw made up of subtle flavours and the tang of red wine vinegar. The pulled pork was amazing; tender and full of the flavours it had been marinated in and C’s ribs were tender and sweet. Great food, great wine and blazing sunshine with the soundtrack of sweet soul music playing live in the background; what could be better?

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After the wine and food it was off to the beer tent for a pint of
Brooklyn lager and a glass of Chardonnay for C as we lay back against the plinth if the statue and drank in the atmosphere. After another drink we decided to go for a bit of a wander around Manchester City centre; the city was abuzz with people many in attendance for the Rod Stewart and Bon Jovi concerts also taking place in the city tonight and the ParkLife event at Heaton Park just outside the centre. We had a pee in House of Fraser and a mosey around Harvey Nics and Selfridges – C tried on some blue lipstick much to our amusement and another drink at The Mitre. We then had a walk down to Canal Street in Manchester’s Gay Village which always has a great vibe about it and we had a couple more drinks, sitting outside, manoeuvering ourselves to catch the last glimpses of the sun peering between the buildings.

We walked back to Albert Square, stopping on the way at a Tesco Express to purchase a bottle of Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc which I stuffed into my deepest pocket before flashing our ‘pass out’ stamps to the stewards and returning to Grillstock. We found a position under our statue again, the barbeques and stalls were still going strong and the music had changed to reggae. C found some plastic glasses and we slowly drank our bottle of sav blanc. There is nothing quite like being with the person you love, totally relaxed, drinking good wine with music, food and happy people all around. Perhaps it could only have been bettered had we been on a beach instead!? The next question was what food to try next as we wandered round the stalls some tempting us with their cooking smells, others with the site of their food. I chose a spicy sausage sandwich which I smothered in the spiciest chilli sauce I could which probably wasn’t a great idea and C had one herself. We had another drink each before fatigue and satiation got the better of us and with the last band still playing we made our way back to Piccadilly station. We still have time for another glass of Peroni before catching the train back to St Annes via Preston at the end of a quite fantastic day.

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food, Food And Drink

Tagine Two – Food Of Morocco

As you may be aware it was my fiftieth birthday on April 15th and amongst other things I received a glazed Emile Henry tagine, a bit like this one: Image

I also ordered a couple of fine cookery books, one of Lebanese cookery and also the very excellent The Food Of Morocco by Paula Wolfert Image

The tagine had its first run out last Saturday night with a recipe for beef which I’ve already blogged but this week’s recipe was chosen by Carolyn on Thursday prior to her doing the weekend shop so from page 302 we were to have chicken with fennel, preserved lemons and olives. this is how it looked in the book:

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The recipe was fairly basic, the only ingredient we struggled to get was green aniseed so I used star anise instead but I used the last of the bought preserved lemons from the fridge, C got fennel and green olives so along with 3 chicken quarters, an onion, garlic and ginger with a little parley we were ready to go. Interestingly, the recipe suggested soaking the chicken pieces in salted water for a couple of hours in advance, which I did and then after patting them dry I fried them skin side down in the base of the tagine until the skin turned golden. Out they came and in went the onion and garlic followed by the ginger, preserved lemon rind, saffron, star anise, 80ml of water and finally the chicken. on went the lid and it simmered for about 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, I turned the chicken pieces over, added the sliced fennel and olives and this time placed it in the oven already heated to 170 degrees C.

Here is how it looked when I took it out of the oven and removed the lid:

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The chicken pieces here are upside down and here is is on the plate served with bulgur wheat:

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This was a quite simple tagine dish to make but it didn’t lack for taste and flavour. The fennel and star anise imparted a subtle flavour of aniseed and the chicken was cooked to perfection. Moroccan food is still my best cuisine at the moment and with a whole new book to work through I’ve got a feeling it’s going to stay #1 for some time to come!

Food And Drink

Tagine-Jeanie

Are there such things as favourites? A favourite restaurant? A favourite song? A favourite movie or favourite food? Probably but I would say best things are better; the best song you ever heard, the best cocktail you ever drank, the best partner you ever had!? Favourites can be dangerous and become things you return to again and again; that song that you repeatedly play or that dish that you repeatedly cook – you like them, that’s fine but nothing is as good as the first time and every time you return to a favourite you are denying yourself the opportunity of trying something new that might just become your new favourite! A ‘best’ thing can always be bettered and having bests can inspire you to search for the better. So don’t have favourites, treat something you enjoyed more than anything else as the best in its class but don’t deny yourself the opportunity to try what might just become your next best thing!

The current best thing for me foodwise is my brand new Emile Henry (not Emile Heskey!) Tagine I received for my 50th birthday from my brother on 15th April. We’ve grown quite a liking to ‘tagine’ recipes even though up until the weekend we cooked the dishes in a regular large frying pan with a lid that was no more than convex. However, this Saturday saw my first opportunity to give my new tagine a run out and I chose a recipe from the Moroccan chapter of Jamie Oliver’s Jamie Does cook book – Beef tagine.

Here’s Jamie’s version from his book (copyright Jamie Oliver etc…)

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Now, on this particular day, my wife and I had visited Manchester for a day’s shopping and didn’t arrive home until about 7pm. So it was a rush into the kitchen, get the recipe open and crack on! The first part of the process was to create a spice mix called ras-el-hanout which translates to top of the house and after a bit of research I discovered that this mix can contain just about any mix of spices you have to hand. So I bunged in everything I could find from cumin, to coriander, ginger, soumac, allspice, cinnamon, turmeric and loads more. With time running short I barely had time to give the meat a 20 minute marinade when the recipe called for 2 hours plus! Still, I fried some onion and coriander (cilantro) stalks in olive oil in the base of the tagine before chucking in the meat to brown off. I did manage to soak some chick peas earlier in the morning and I now had these boiling away in a separate saucepan but I poured in a can of tomatoes and stock into the tagine, popped on the lid and left it to simmer for an hour. After an hour, I tipped in the chickpeas and added some diced butternut squash and dried prunes. Although the recipe advised cooking it for 3 and a bit hours, I really only had a couple of hours otherwise we wouldn’t have been eating until way after 11pm! A few toasted almond flakes sprinkled over the top finished the dish and added a bit of crunch. However, as with all tagine dishes I’ve tried recently the flavours and tastes in the dish were superb, the only slight problem was that the meat wasn’t quite a meltingly tender as another 60 minutes simmering would have produced. Here’s my resultant dish which was washed down with a bottle of Chablis (we tend to do white wines when it’s late)

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Beef Tagine

So tagines are my current best food and I admit can be counted amongst my favourites. They may not be my best for ever but I’ll certainly make the most of them until they aren’t!

Food And Drink

Chinese Food

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For my birthday I received ‘Gok Cooks Chinese’ which is a Chinese cook book by Gok Wan. If you don’t know who Gok Wan is he does a lot of TV programmes in the UK about making women look good naked and re-vamping their wardrobes in a camp sort of way so I was a bit surprised to see him bringing out a cook book. My all round opinion of Gok took a bit of a boos recently when he displayed his very human side in a reality TV show called Hotel. I’d leafed through his book and read the introduction where he declared his dad ran his own Chinese restaurant so again, my preconception that he was using nothing more than his Chinese heritage as a means to sell a ghost-written cook book was completely unfounded. In fact I quite like Gok and last night I cooked up his Spicy Sichuan Chicken which was a real winner. The sauce was fairly basic made up of Chinese cooking wine, cornflour, light and dark soy sauce, spring onions, chillies, peanuts and sesame oil including some for marinating but the addition of Sichuan peppercorns leant it a heat and taste that really took it to the next level. Gok spells it Sichuan bit the jar says Szechuan so I don’t know which is right only Gok admits he never learned to speak Chinese.

Served with rice with the help of chopsticks and a decent bottle of Chablis overall this was in the bracket of pretty tasty!

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Gok Wan

Food And Drink

Booze

OK, is this too much to drink on a Sunday with a work day tomorrow? This is how it went. Big football match on television. Tottenham Hotspur Vs Manchester City. Spurs win 3-1; drink two 330ml bottles of San Miguel and one 660ml bottle of Peroni. C comes homevandvthe sun comes out so mix 2 cocktails – Harvey Wallbangers – a large measure of Swedish Absolut vodka, ice, fresh orange juice with a topping of Galliano. It’s still sunny outside so I make myself a second Harvey Wallbanger while C is still enjoying her first. Then for the record I make a single shot of Galliano which I enjoy in the sun. Then I have a cup of tea

C is making paella so we re-open the bottle of white South African wine we used last night in the lamb dish. There’s about 550ml left which we share. Then we enjoy the paella and open a bottle of Orvietto.

Work tomorrow but why compromise on the things we enjoy because we may feel less hungover at work on a Monday morning?

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Food And Drink

Chinese Food

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Nonya Chicken And Lime Curry

Another fib, it’s actually from the Singapore and Malaysia chapter of my Essential Asian Cookbook. Very tasty this but could have used a couple more chillies (the recipe said 6, we only had 2).

Firstly I made a paste out of garlic, chilli, an onion, lemongrass, galangal and turmeric; fried it, chucked in some skinless chicken and then coconut milk to simmer with a couple of halved limes, lime leaves an coriander. Served on a bed of rice.