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 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