Tag Archives: Food

I suck

Hi everyone.

I’m sorry for the lack of updates, and even more sorry for the lack of an explanation. So, here’s an explanation and hopefully at some point I’ll follow with an update. Don’t know when.

As some of you know, I started a new job in february. This, combined with a few weeks of illness, have left me not feeling very much inclined towards playing with my food. I’ve pretty much just been cooking stock recipes of mine.

On top of that, what little food writing I’ve been doing has happened at my new ‘column’ over at SoMinty. I meant to point people towards that when it started, but I err… didn’t. Now, this is not a replacement for “Playing with your food”. They serve very different functions. It just happens that it’s easier to write about subjects I already know than it is to experiment with new recipes, which is why they’ve been getting all the posts.

So. Once again, I suck. Things will hopefully get better within the next month, but not promises. In the mean time, check out some of the links on the right to keep you amused.

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Cooking lessons 1

A few months ago I was walking through London with a friend of mine. For the sake of the argument let’s call him something implausible like Michael. In the course of conversation two things came up. Firstly, that he was very low on money. Secondly, that he wanted to go to McDonalds because he could get a meal’s worth of food for only five pounds there.

Needless to say I objected rather strongly to this statement. Both to the notion that one can acquire food at McDonalds and to the notion that five pounds for a meal is good value. And so it arised that I would be teaching Michael how to cook.

Michael has now returned from the barbarian lands which he calls home, and so the lessons are to begin. Because it will allow others to benefit from them, and because I’m a total show off, I’ll be doing it via a series of blog posts.

Today is shopping day, and I’m suggesting a list of bare minimals he’ll want to stock before we do this. Spices will come later, as I refuse to instruct anyone to buy spices at a supermarket.

Cooking implements and general kitchen stuff

He actually has most of these, but I’m including it for completeness. Some of these aren’t essential, and one can always improvise, but it’s irritating to have to do so.

  • Cutting board
  • Sharp knife
  • Frying pan
  • Pot (Having two pots is ideal, but not neccesary)
  • Wooden spoon
  • Cooking spatula.
  • Large sandwich bags
  • Cheese grater
  • Aluminium foil

Cooking essentials

These are the ingredients which I feel it would be useful to always have to hand.

  • Sunflower oil. This can be as cheap as you can find.
  • Garlic puree
  • “Very lazy chillies”
  • Table salt
  • A couple packs of green, brown and red lentils respectively
  • A couple bottles of tomato passata.
  • White rice. Preferably basmati.
  • Stock cubes. Something of midrange quality is likely fine.
  • Bag of cheap white onions.
  • Bag of potatoes
  • Marmite
  • Soy sauce
  • Sugar, preferably brown

Not all of these are things I would use. I’ve replaced some of my ingredients with equivalent shortcuts.

Short term stuff

Things which I’d recommend picking up in the short term. This is definitely not a required list, but will give rise to some nice easy starting meals.

  • Eggs
  • Carrots
  • Cucumber
  • Fresh fish from the fish counter – if you buy whole fish rather than steak you can find some quite reasonably priced examples.

Other stuff

I like to have the following around, but it’s totally nonessential.

  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Sesame oil
  • Miso (if you get the fish I recommend picking up some of this)
  • Sweet chilli sauce
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Sweet carrots and chickpeas

About a week ago when it was one of my nights to cook for the family I was talking with Boy. The proposed dinner plan was a chestnut and sweet potato curry, and I asked him if he’d be ok with that. He said yes, which I was pleasantly surprised by. Then he said something else.

“It doesn’t really matter what you put in a curry anyway.”

Excuse me?

“Well, once you’ve put the onion and curry powder and stuff in it all tastes the same.”

I can’t remember what I actually said in reply to this, but I suspect it wasn’t more coherent than vague sputtering noises.

Later when eating the curry he observed “See what I mean? You can hardly taste the sweet potato or chestnut.”

On the one hand, he was wrong. The curry was basically chunks of sweet potato and a spicy chestnut sauce. The chestnut was subtle, sure, but chestnut sauces are always mild. On the other hand, he did have a point. My spice selection has become a bit lacking in variety recently. So I’ve been meaning to experiment with more interesting combinations.

Today’s recipe was a case of that. I was hungry and didn’t have any convenient food (and didn’t want eggs, as I had far too many of them yesterday), so I decided to cook something. Here’s how it went.

What I used:

Two largish carrots
Two small onions
Can of kala chana (brown chickpeas)
Handful of raisins
2 tbsp sunflower oil
About 3cm cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamon seeds
4 cloves
2 dried red chillis
1/2 tbsp coarse salt

What I did:

First of all I dry fried all the spices and then ground them in the mortar and pestle. The grumbling about this can be taken as read.

I’d had quite a lot of success with the shredding implement on the food processor yesterday when making the latkes, so rather than fussing around with chopping things I just peeled the carrots and onions and shoved them through it. Instant well chopped carrot and onion for almost no work. I think I could very easily grow to like this attachment…

So, I heated the oil in the pan, added the carrots and onions and fried for a few minutes. Then I added the spices and continued frying it until the carrots had softened somewhat.

At this point I decided it would be a crime not to have raisins with the carrots, so I took a handful of them and added them in and continued frying, adding the kala chana a few minutes later. Fried it for another five minutes or so then took it off the heat and covered it for another five while I heated up the pita bread to eat it with.

Conclusion

Very nice. The combination of sweet and spicy worked very well as usual, and it augmented the flavour of the carrot wonderfully. Also, with the food processor to do most of the work, this was incredibly easy. The spice could possibly have done with being slightly milder. I think when I make it again I’ll only use one chilli.

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Latkes

I was bored.

I don’t just mean the sort of boredom that arises from not being very interested in what you are doing, I mean the sort of soul crushing mind numbing boredom that rises up from the deep, saps you of all your energy and causes you to reach the point where anything you might do to prevent the boredom just seems like too much work.

As you can imagine, this sort of boredom is a problem. I get it a lot, and being currently unemployed (which will change soon, hurrah! I just need to decide which offer to accept.) while all my friends are gainfully employed in jobs or PhDs, I’m particularly prone to it at the moment. There are plenty of things I could be doing, but if I get into a slump then they all seem like too much effort.

This time however, a solution arose. Lunchtime.

My stomach grumbled. “David”, it said “I hunger. You should feed me.”

“I don’t know. That sounds like a lot of work.

“Yeah, it is. But if you don’t feed me then I’ll be forced to escape from your body and go on a rampage. Millions will die to sate my hunger, and it will be all your fault.”

“Hmm. Well, that would be bad, yes. But I’m still not sure…”

My brain chimed in. “Yes. You should cook something. I’m bored out of your mind here. Cook something new and write it up for ‘Playing with your food’. That way you’ll have an hour or two of entertainment, and your three readers will get something to amuse them as well.”

“Alright, alright. You’ve convinced me.”

When your body parts conspire against you there’s really nothing to do but to go along with their wishes.

Unfortunately I was still uninspired. This needed to be remedied if I were to effectively produce a new meal. So, Robin, to the blogmobile!

My method of finding new cooking blogs to peruse was very simple. I wandered over to Food, in the main… and clicked on every link on the right hand side of the page.

Eventually I settled on this. I’ve heard about latkes before and I keep thinking “Hmm, I should try to make those.” but never get around to it. Well, the time for procrastination was over. Latkes it is.

Purely by chance, somewhere in between deciding on this and cooking it I thought I’d check my weight (I haven’t in months) and noted that I’d somehow managed to drop down to about my desired ideal weight with no conscious effort on my part. Right after christmas and new years.

How much oil was in that recipe again?

Anyway, time for some cooking.

What I used

About 7 small to medium potatoes, peeled
Three small white onions
1/2 tbsp of salt
Two eggs
1/2 a cup of flour
1/2 a cup of sunflower oil
1/2 tsp baking soda

What I did

As you will probably have noticed if you’ve followed the above link, there’s not really an awful lot of resemblance between my ingredients and Debbie’s ingredients. They’re the same sort of things, but the quantities are only tangentially related. This is in part due to my usual tendency to adapt, in part because I peel potatoes on autopilot and peeled far more potatoes than I actually needed before I knew it, and mostly because the recipe was all the way upstairs and it would be so much work to go up and check it.

I used the grateresque attachment for the food processor and got a large pile of shredded potato. As directed I put it into a metal colander and squeezed as much of the juice out as I could, but it was still quite damp. It was at this point I decided to employ low cunning to complete the task and sprinkled the salt over it, mixed it up thoroughly and went to do the onions. These I decided that rather than shredding I would do with the normal processor blades, turning them into more of an onion puree.

As an idle observation, if you run the grater attachment to the food processor and just drop a potato on top of it then it bounces about in an amusing manner. I can’t help but imagine the little potato pleading for its life as it avoids the spinning blades.

But maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, I’d decided to mix the Latkes in the kenwood. Why? Because I’m lazy, that’s why. And it’s the same amount of washing up, so why not? I transferred the onion to the kenwood bowl and returned my attention to the potato. The salt had done its work quite admirably and I was able to squeeze a lot more liquid out of it. Having done so I transferred it to the kenwood as well.

I then added the eggs, flour and baking soda and mixed it all up. It produced a batter with a texture fairly similar to my normal pancake mix, which was encouraging.

I then poured the oil into a nonstick pan and heated it. At this point I looked at the pan, slightly disbelieving. Buddha on a pogo stick that’s a lot of oil… I know I have recipes which use almost that much oil, but that’s in a large curry. The sole purpose of this oil is for frying things in. This somehow makes it more alarming.

Anyway, I used a heaped spoonfull of batter for each latke. The pan fit about four of them, and there was enough batter to make eight. I fried them for five minutes on each side until they were a darkish brown.

Towards the point where I wanted to flip the first batch I noticed that the best spatula was currently in a pile of washing up leftover from my brother cooking bacon and egg earlier (the irony amused me briefly). I quickly washed it up and moved to flip the latkes.

Point of reference? Putting a wet spatula into very hot oil isn’t a great idea. Ouch.

Anyway, latkes duly flipped, they cooked for another five minutes and then I transferred them to a plate and put the next batch on.

Conclusion

I was already pretty sure these would be good. They smelled wonderful.

Good lord. They tasted even better. These are really really good.

I’d made far more than I was going to be able to eat, so I rushed upstairs to get the Boy. (‘The Boy’ is my affectionate name for my brother).

“Boy”, says I, “Would you like to try something indescribably delicious?”

The Boy is skeptical. I cook strange and unnatural things, with vegetables and hardly any dead animal to speak of. However upon my description of what a latke is (“It’s basically a pancake made out of shredded potato and onion”) he is convinced to give it a go.

The Boy agrees. They’re really very good. He’s rather full from having had the aforementioned bacon and egg, so he only has one, but I make up for this by having three (and another one halfway through writing this post). The rest will keep to be reheated in the oven later.

So, a definite success. They do generate a lot of washing up, and they do stink up the house, but they taste amazing.

The only thing I would do differently in future is make sure that they really were a quite dark brown. Some of them were slightly undercooked and, while still nice, they were a bit to soft inside and lacked the crispness of the really well cooked ones.

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Spicy Egg and Potatoes

So, it’s not yet noon and I sit here eating curry. “Why?”, I hear you ask. It is because of the following conversation:

Me: Ooh, that looks good. I want to make something like that.
Also Me: What, now?
Me: Yes!
Also Me: But it’s 10:30AM and we haven’t eaten yet. That’s clearly not breakfast food.
Me: I don’t care.
Also Me: Lets eat something sensible.
Me: WANT!
Also Me: Oh fine. Be like that.
Me: Yay! Curry!

As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve recently been linked to by Naughty Curry (given that I had about 5 people reading this before, the chances are you came over here from there in the first place). Consequently I’ve been browsing their archives, and encountered a number of interesting spiced egg dishes. This one in particular inspired me.

Of course, by ‘inspired’ I don’t mean to imply that I followed the recipe or anything so dramatic. That would just be silly. The dish looked nice: I certainly wouldn’t say no if someone handed it to me (indeed I would probably be saying “Mind if I have some more?” in short order), but for various reasons I didn’t really feel like making the specific dish. I’ve recently perfected my sweet and spicy coconut curry sauce recipe, so I’m a little tired of coconut. Also I tend to prefer to cook somewhat drier dishes, and do not as a rule include tomatoes in my cooking. So, when I say inspired what I really mean is “Wellll… there’s egg in it. And onion and stuff”. After all, I’m sure I know better about cooking Indian food than someone who’s merely from India. Right…

Also, while browsing other sites linked from Naughty Curry I encountered this article. Very different from how I do things, but that doesn’t neccesarily mean it’s wrong. I am not above learning new things. So, I figured, why not?

Anyway, onwards and forwards to the recipe itself!

What I used:

2 medium red onions
4 medium-large potatoes
3 eggs (well, sortof).
2 large cloves of garlic
1.5 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp black onion seeds
3 dried red chillies
0.5 tsp turmeric
A bit over 0.5 tbsp course sea salt
2 tbsp sunflower oil

What I did:

Ok, the first thing to do is to cook the eggs and potatoes. The potatoes are unproblematic – bung them in boiling water until they’re soft enough. (Saying that, I screwed up and undercooked them slightly, but this proved not to be a problem).

I hard cooked the eggs, following the instructions from ‘The Good Egg’. The basic instructions go like this: Bring to nearly the boil, take off the heat and cover. Leave to sit for 15 minutes. Then replace the hot water with cold, add some ice and leave to cool.

I’d gotten to the leaving it to cool stage and had left it for about 5 minutes when I realised that she recommends you crack the top of the egg slightly. Presumably this allows the egg to peel away from the shell as it cools. So, I took one of the eggs and tapped it lightly against the side of the pan.

Splurge!

The egg broke apart to reveal white barely cooked egg goo. I was not impressed.

I have no idea what I did wrong, but I solved the problem with the remaining two by sticking them back on the heat and boiling the hell out of them. When I took them off the heat they were cooked perfectly.

Anyway, on to the actual recipe.

First I dry fried the whole spices to toast them lightly. Then I transferred them to a mortal and pestle and crushed them a little bit (not completely – about a quarter of the spices got powdered. The rest remained whole or slightly broken).

After I’d removed the spices I diced the onion coarsely and put it in the pan with the salt (and no oil). This fried surprisingly well all told – I think the salt really did help here. After about 5-10 minutes frying I added the spices to the onions.

At this point I observed that things really were burning onto the bottom of the pan quite spectacularly. That was unfortunate – if I let this state of affairs continue I would never ever get the damn thing clean. So I applied the standard steam cleaning trick: Push the food out of the way, pour a bit of water onto it. Let that steam for a moment to loosen the burned on stuff and then (before it all evaporates) scrape like hell with the spatula. Move food around to uncover a different part of the base, repeat. This done I continued to stir it and didn’t need to do this again until I was already going to be adding some water anyway.

While that was cooking I diced the potatoes into cubes a bit under a cm on a side. I added these to the onions and then added the oil at this point – I wanted to make sure the potatoes were properly heated as they were undercooked. In the end this was probably unnecesary as I decided to add water to the mix to cook them, so after frying for another few minutes I half covered it with water, put a lid on the pot and left it, stirring occasionally. It probably took about 5-10 minutes before the potatoes were cooked.

At this point I was thinking it looked very brown, so I added some turmeric. Now it looked very brown but had turmeric in it.

Then I chopped the egg up (to about the size I would use for egg salad), added it to the mix and stirred for a little longer. The result was a rather unappetising looking brown mess.

Conclusion:

So, I now had a plateful of the aforementioned brown mess. Oh well, I suppose I’d better… Wow. That’s really good.

Ok, this was by no means perfect, but it was pretty damn good. It had a really strong hot spicy flavour to it which many of my curries lack. Not subtle by any means, but very nice. Also, surprisingly, it wasn’t nearly as hot as it might have been – certainly not mouthburningly so. It could easily afford to have another chilli or two in it. This flavour owed an awful lot to the new way of cooking onions. I’m not saying I’m a total convert by any means – it probably wouldn’t work that well for some of my other dishes. It is however very nice in something like this.

What I’d change if I did it again: Firstly, the potato and egg combination was a mistake. It wasn’t bad mind you, but this would work much better as a straight egg dish or a straight potato dish. Secondly, I’d use a bit less salt. The saltiness was nice but just a little too strong.

Other than that, definitely a dish well done.

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