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, 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, Food And Drink

Turkish Coffee

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We all love Italian coffee, right? Well, certainly the versions of latte, cappuccino served up by the giant conglomerates such as Starbucks, Costa, Nero etc and copied by copious independent cafes, merely to keep pace. But what about Turkish coffee?

My first perception of Turkish coffee was when I would travel to Tottenham Hotspur home matches in North London and after alighting at Seven Sisters tube station I would walk past a myriad of Turkish coffee bars and see young Turks through the windows sitting in groups with a small cup of coffee in front of them and generally smoking a cigarette (no doubt Turkish tobacco). I always wondered where the pleasure was to be found in quaffing what looked nothing more than a mouthful of black coffee but I assumed there was something in it. And of course, in the James Bond movie From Russia With Love, Ali Kerim Bey offers Bond a Turkish coffee which he requests medium sweet.

My first taste of Turkish coffee came soon after the outstanding Turkish Anatolia restaurant opened in my local Lytham St Annes and we paid a visit for Mother’s Day. We ordered Turkish coffee and I initially declined to take it with sugar. However, I was advised by the Turkish restaurateur to take it with sugar so in true 007 style, I ordered it ‘medium sweet’. I watched him make the beverage in a traditional cezve pot and pour it into cups narrower and slightly taller than the traditional espresso cup. I was initially surprised at how thick the coffee was and because I usually take espresso without sugar I also noticed the sweetness which helped reduce the bitterness. After you drink your way to the bottom of the cup you find a thick layer of coffee grounds which are not to be drunk and a bit of research tells me there is various superstition attached to the grounds which can reveal your fortune!

Yesterday I was enjoying Turkish coffee again with C in Manchester’s Topkapi Palace restaurant where we enjoyed a meal from the lunchtime menu, two courses for £7.35 with a bottle of Turkish wine followed by the coffee ordered, as usual, medium sweet.

If you have the chance I would recommend searching out the opportunity to try a Turkish coffee which makes a pleasant change from the usual espresso and gives you a similar hit of caffeine. It also takes your taste buds all the way to The Bosphorous where east meets wets…etc zzzz

food

When life gives you lemons…

Preserve them!

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I’ve been a keen cook since the early 1980s (I have a feeling that story will be one of the subjects of a future blog) and some 30 years on I’m currently getting to know and enjoy cooking from countries that embrace Muslim culture mainly thanks to a book C bought me for Christmas called Arabesque by the excellent cookery writer Claudia Roden.

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This wonderful compendium of recipes from Turkey, Lebanon and Morrocco inspired me to try my hand for the first time at preserving lemons (or preserving anything for that matter) and here is the jar 6 weeks on from the picture taken above.

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The lemons are now ready for use and would have been utilised for tonight’s lamb, potato and pea tagine except that we still have a few left over in a jar of the same preserved lemons I recently found in a Waitrose store in Preston along with the uncommon spice that is ubiquitous in Turkish cuisine; sumac.

Here’s how I made preserved lemons from Arabesque:

Ingredients
4 (or more) lemons
4 table spoons of sea salt
Juice of 4 (or more) additional lemons

Wash and scrub the lemons and make 4 slices in each lemon from top to bottom. Stuff each lemon with a tablespoon of sea salt into the slits. Press the lemons down into a sterilising jar and close the lid. Leave them for 3-4 days.

Open the jar and press the lemons down as much as possible then cover in lemon juice squeezed from the other lemons. Close the jar again and leave for at least a month. Before use, wash the lemons under running water to lose the salt and enjoy.

I’m really impatient to try my lemons so while writing this I have decided to use them in tonight’s recipe so I will let you know how they taste.

Catch you later, I’m off to the kitchen!