Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Britain's Favourite Dish

It's a matter of public record that the Chicken Tikka Masala (CTM) is Britain's favourite dish, a fact frequently dredged up by politicians keen to evidence just how multicultural cool Britannia really is... well done us, etc etc. And yet it's something I've never tried, not even back in the days when I did eat meat. Maybe I thought there was something a bit naff about going for the popular option (the same reason I never order cheesecake in restaurants). As legend has it, the dish was invented in a restaurant in Scotland in the 1980s, when I customer asked for some 'gravy' to go with his Chicken Tikka. The chef improvised with a tin of tomato soup, cream and spices, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Anyhoo, thinking it was a bit of shame not to have tried something so well know, I set about coming up with a veggie version. After a quick scan of a few different recipes, I realised that there's quite a lot of variation, and (perhaps not completely surprising given its gensis and popularity, so I decided to be guided by a combination of common sense, my own preferences, and what was in the fridge - the results are below. Once you've reconciled yourself to the fact that you'll have to wash the food processor, this is a remarkably simple fuss-free recipe to make. And if you're still not convinced, my own super picky mother ("Are you going to put the rice on the place with a little hold in the middle and put the curry in the hole? Because that's how I like it") was so impressed that she made it again for herself a couple of days later.
Quorn Tikka Masala
(serves 4, with leftover curry paste to make again twice)
For the curry paste:
3 cloves of garlic
1 red chilli, seeds and all
1tsp each of ground cumin and coriander
1/2 tsp each of turmeric and paprika
1 tblsp garam masala
Seeds from 1 black cardamom pod
oil as necessary (about 1 tblsp)
1 tblsp oil
1 onion, chopped
1 tblsp tomato puree
1 red pepper, chopped chunkily
1 yellow pepper, chopped chunkily
1 bag quorn pieces
1 tin chopped tomatoes
water as necessary
1 tblsp mango chutney
1 tblsp double cream
1 tblsp Greek yoghurt

1. Blitz all of the paste ingredients together in a food processor, adding the oil gradually until you have a thick paste
2. Over a low-medium heat, fry off the onion in the oil until soft and golden - about 5 minutes.
3. Add 1 tablespoon of the curry paste, the tomato puree and the peppers, and continue to stir over the heat for another 5 minutes.
4. Add in the Quorn pieces, and stir to coat in the juices, then add in the chopped tomatoes with a little water - I just added a couple of centimetres of water to the bottom of the tomato tin to swill out the rest of the juices.
5. Simmer the curry for about 15 minutes until the Quorn and the peppers are cooked through.
6. Remove from the heat, and stir through the mango chutney, cream and yoghurt, then gently warm through (only gently or the dairy will curdle).
Serve with boiled or steamed rice, or pilau rice or naan bread - it tastes even better the following day. This curry can be successfully frozen, as long as you remember to heat it gently. The remaining curry paste will keep in the fridge for a couple of days, or can be frozen for your next CTM experience!



Sunday, 8 December 2013

Utter piefection...

The thing about marriage is that you get constant surprises along the way. And sometimes the change in pace at times like Christmas can bring these surprises to the fore.
Sometimes these are random in a positive way, such as when Mr P sent me a URL with photos of "The best Christmas nail art". Bizaare and unexpected, but cool nonetheless.
However, sometimes marriage can give you a hideous insight into the darkest parts of another person's soul. And this is what just happened on our pre-Christmas food shopping trip.
Now I don't mean to over-dramatise, but it left me shaken. And stirred.
The cause of my distress?
Mr P put a packet of mince pies in our trolley. A packet. Of pre-made mince pies. Supermarket ones. Very much not cool.
So, after vetoing the purchase, I came up with this bit of supporting evidence for why shop-bought mince pies are just not cricket.
1. Pre-made ones are invariably over-pastried and dull.
2. Home-made ones are actually really simple to make.
3. If you think it's too much effort, you can cheat with shop-bought mincemeat.
4. Or even shop-bought pastry, if you must.
5. But you can add your own special touches - brandy, rum, or a super-scrumptious marzipan top.

That's my top tip. Even committed marzipan-haters go wild for these mince pies - the baked marzipan turns almost caramel-ish. Utter piefection!
Marzipan-topped mince pies


For the pastry:
225g plain flour
pinch salt
25g caster sugar
100g margarine, butter, or a mixture of both
cold water to mix (about 2tblsp)

A jar of good quality mincemeat (unless you want to make it yourself)
A glug of brandy, mixed into the mincemeat
OR a couple of knobs of brandy butter
100g marzipan

1. Rub the fat into the flour, until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

2. Stir in the sugar.

3. Using a knife, mix with sufficient cold water to make a stiff dough.

4. Knead lightly on a floured surface, and roll out.

5. Use a frilled cutter to make the bases of your pies - you can put these directly into a muffin tray with no need to grease or line.

6. Put a generous teaspoon-full of mincemeat into each case, leaving a little room for it to expand when cooking. You can add a little blob of brandy butter on top of the mincemeat for a special treat (though probably not if you added brandy to the mincemeat!)

7. Knead the marzipan and roll out onto a surface lightly dusted with icing sugar. Use a cutter to create lids for your mince pies - I like to use a star-shaped cutter to differentiate them from standard pastry tops. Stick them to your cases with a little milk, then brush the tops with either milk or an egg wash.

8. Bake for 15-30 minutes at 190 degrees Celcius, taking care not to let the marzipan tops burn.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Pasta frittata

My little family is right slap bang in the middle of moving house at the moment. We hadn't planned to move right now, with the hungry caterpillar so small, but sometimes life just gives you a shove and you have to go with it. Luckily we have amazing friends who have come through with muscles and enthusiasm each and every time we've had to move, with little in return apart from cps of tea and the odd free dinner.

Anyway, after all the hoo-hah, proper cooking just seems way down on the list of priorities, especially when all the sensible cooking equipment is still boxed up. So here's  a nice easy solution - pasta frittata.

This one might sound weird, but you'll just have to trust me on it. It's a dish I've been served numerous times in Russia and it's one I used to rely heavily on for carb-heavy hangover days (in pre-hungry caterpillar days when I still went out and drank wine!) Nowadays it makes a great simple supper, when you need something that requires neither time, though, skill nor patience. It works well in the summer with a nice peppery salad and juicy tomatoes, or in the winter with steamed broccoli and green beans.
Pasta frittata
(Serves 4)
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cups pasta shells, cooked al dente
5 free range eggs, beaten
pinch of salt
copious amounts of ground black pepper
2cm x 2cm x 6cm block red cheddar, grated
1. Fry the onion in the oil over a medium heat until softened and translucent.

2. Add a pinch of salt to the beaten egg, then throw the egg into the pan, making sure it completely surrounds the pasta and onions.

3. Reduce the heat in the pan to slowly cook the egg through.

4. When the frittata is mostly cooked, but still wet on top (after about 5-10 minutes), scatter the grated cheese on top and finish with a liberal sprinkling of black pepper.

5. Pop under a medium grill for about 3 minutes until the omelette has finished cooking and the cheese has melted.

6. Whack on a bit more black pepper and serve hot or cold.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Friendly Vegetables

A long time ago, my lovely friend A introduced me to the simplest little curry imaginable... a curry with no name. It's nice and simple, easy to make, and ready in a little over half and hour.

It was also one of the few things I could stomach through my horrific morning sickness (a curry, right - weird or what?) It's wholesome and healthy and supremely comforting - hence the name I've given it.
Sadly, since she moved away from Manchester, I don't get to see A half as much as I'd like. But every time I make this, I think of her and it makes me smile.
Friendly vegetables
(serves 4)
1 tblsp vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3-4 fist-sized potatoes, chopped into 1cm cubes
1/2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek
1 good-sized cauliflower, broken into smallest-sized florets
1 tblsp tomato puree
2 tsp turmeric
handful of frozen okra (optional)
1. In a large wok with a lid, fry the mustard seeds and fenugreek in the oil over a medium heat with the lid on. When the seeds start popping, add in the onion and fry for a couple of minutes until slightly softened.
2. Add the potato and cauliflower, and fry for a couple of minutes with the lid off, stirring frequently. If the mixture starts to stick, add a splash of water.
3. Add the tomato puree and turmeric and continue cooking for another couple of minutes.
4. Add a tablespoon of water, stir well, then turn the heat right down and replace the lid on the pan. Allow the vegetables to steam in the pan for about 15-20 minutes, until tender. If the mixture starts to stick, add a little more water, but the final curry should be fairly dry with a very thick sauce, rather than a runny one.
5. If using okra, add to the vegetables about 5 minutes from the end of the cooking time.
6. Serve piping hot, and think of your best friends. 

Monday, 30 September 2013

Rhubarb and Orange Cake

This month I got the opportunity to think outside the 'birthday box', since I wanted to make a cake for my friend Messner's birthday, and he ain't a sugarpaste kinda guy. It was also a rather big birthday, and since I spend so much of my time making up recipes as I go along, I thought I'd make a special effort to actually follow a real recipe. And had it not been for a minor shortage of ground almonds in my cupboard, I'd have managed it.

He's a big fan of rhubarb (who isn't?!) so that seemed an obvious place to start, and I found a great-sounding recipe in my BBC Good Food 101 Cakes and Bakes book.

It's a little involved, but the end result is magnificent, and you should really give it a go!

Here's the original BBC Good Food recipe (together with my very minor necessary amendment).

Rhubarb and Orange Cake

350g/12oz prepared rhubarb, cut into 4cm lengths
200g/8oz golden caster sugar
finely grated zest and juice of half an orange
140g/5oz butter, softened
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp baking powder
85g/3oz self raising flour
100g/4oz ground almonds
(I only had 75g/3oz ground almonds and it turned out fine!)

For the topping
25g/1oz butter, melted
25g/1oz light muscovado sugar
finely grated zest of half an orange
50g/2oz slivered almonds
icing sugar, for dusting (I totally forgot to do this)

1. Mix the rhubarb with 50g/2oz of the caster sugar and the orange zest. Leave for one hour, stirring a couple of times.

2. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celcius/gas mark 5/. Butter and line the base of a deep 9inch round cake tin. Cream thebutter and remaining caster sugar. Add the eggs, baking powder, flour and ground almonds. Beat gently, but don't overmix.

3. Stir in the orange, juice, spoon into the tin and level. Drain the rhubarb and spoon over the top. Bake for 25 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, combine the butter, sugar, zest and almonds.

5. Reduce the oven to 180 degrees Celcius/gas mark 4. Sprinkle the topping over the cake and return to the oven for 15-20 minutes or until firm.

6. Cool in the tin, then transfer to a wire rack.

7. Dust with icing sugar (or don't!), and serve warm with whipped cream, or just on its own with a cup of tea. Yum!

Friday, 20 September 2013

Simplicity defined - customisable cupcakes

I love a good cupcake. It's amazing when you have a tiny package of sugary perfection with unexpected treats hidden inside and lashings of frosting on the outside. It puts me in mind of a sucrose-loaded wonderland where all your diabetic dreams can come true.
But I also love an easy ride, and sometimes there's just not time to faff around with complicated recipes. At these times, I return to a trusted favourite - standard cupcakes 'like Granny used to make'. This was back in the days of pounds and ounces, which makes the recipe super easy to remember. In ounces, it's
The same of everything, and half as many eggs.
This simple mantra is a revelatory truth in the kitchen.
e.g. 2oz each of Sugar, butter and self raising flour, plus one egg.
It's easy to multiply up, and it's also very easy to customise. So here are some ideas and examples...

Classic cupcakes
2oz (55g) unsalted butter
2oz (55g) sugar
2oz (55g) self raising flour
1 free range egg, beaten
1. Cream together butter and sugar.
2. Stir in the egg.
3. Fold in the flour.
4. Divide the mixture between 9 cupcake cases and bake for 20 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius/gas mark 4.
Customise those bad boys!
You want a classic chocolate cupcake? Remove a dessert spoon of the flour, and replace with two dessert spoons of cocoa powder.
You prefer a bit of chocolate fudge? Replace the caster sugar with muscovado sugar. And while you're at it, why not cut up some small chocolates, and plonk a lump of each into the centre of each cake!
Vanilla's more up your street? Well, be my guest and add a teaspoon of vanilla extract to your batter! Hell, if you're fancy, you can even scrape the seeds our of a vanilla pod instead and add those.
Want something delicate and fluffy - go for golden caster sugar instead of the standard stuff!
Fancy a bit of fruit? Stir a spoonful of berries or jam through your batter before spooning it into the cupcake cases! Or stir in half the juice and the grated zest of an orange, lemon or lime (save the rest of the juice to make up a simple icing with icing sugar).
Get decorating
Batman cupcakes
Go for a simple icing of icing sugar and water, or icing sugar with fruit juice (and colouring for a bit of a change). Whilst it's wet, you can add whatever jellies or sprinkles you fancy.
Add a thin layer of melted chocolate - super simple! And why not chuck on some mini eggs for giggles?! Another variant of this is to melt Mars bars in a bain-marie, and spread the resulting fudgey gloop over the top of your cupcakes. Yum.
Load it up with a fancy ganache or a simple buttercream (see here) or if you're feeling lazy, you could always try a shop-bought frosting - though I have to admit when I tried Betty Crocker's chocolate fudge, I was pretty darn disappointed. You can use custom-made (non-edible) decorations for super-speedy decorating.
Get creative with sugarpaste - the key to effective sugarpaste tops is to simplify ideas to their component parts and that way you'll have really eye-catching designs. I made some chocolate fudge cupcakes for a friend's recent Batman-themed birthday party, and based the tops on the motifs and costumes of some of the characters from the comics.

Batman cupcake
Robin cupcake
Joker cupcake

Harvey Dent/Twoface cupcake

Poison Ivy cupcake
Harley Quinn cupcake


Thursday, 29 August 2013

Hey, remember me?

Ladies and gents, please accept my most humble apologies. I know I have neglected you lot awfully in recent months. I could wax lyrical with the sincerest sorries you could imagine...
...or I could just shift the blame.
Onto this little snookie pookum.

Yeah, I think I'll do that. I'll blame her.
Just after my last post I was taken into hospital with some pregnancy complications, making blogging on of my lesser priorities. Anyhoo, long story short - a couple of weeks later, I emerged from the hospital, chrysalis-like, with my very own healthy hungry little caterpillar in tow.
And what wonder should await me, but this amazing 'congratulations cake' made by my usual cakey partner-in-crime the wonderful Mel. Pretty damn good, huh?

The period since then has been something of a milky blur of poo, posseting, and an awful lot of baby giggles. But I'm going to endeavour to do better. Although I warn you that my posts are going to be a bit different from now on, relying, as they do, on a hell of a lot of one-handed chopping-whilst-balancing-a-baby-on-one-hip and other similar feats of multitasking motherhood. But bear with me and you might just enjoy the ride.
And just to whet your collective appetites, I'll leave you with a picture of the fist sugarpaste creation I have made since the little caterpillar's arrival - a flower-power wedding cake for a low-key 70s wedding.
Hope you like it! And let's not leave it too long next time, eh?