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

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

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.

Food And Drink

American Food

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From Lindsey Bareham’s Just One Pot: Louisiana Red Beans And Rice.

I wasn’t sure how this would come out but the smokey addition of Polish kabanos sausages really did lift it to another level. Basically it’s onion, garlic, celery and chilli fried up with thyme and parsley chucked in, some red kidney beans, cooked rice, stock and the smoked sausages.

Really good simple one-pot dish enjoyed with this Italian wine which also had a smokey edge to it.

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