Sunday, March 13, 2011

the decembersits and the thali cafe

last tuesday the webmaster and myself were on furlough in bristol to see the decemberists at the o2 academy. i can report that it was an excellent gig. it wasn't perfect, they didn't play all my favourites but i've never been to a gig where the band has done. we were pretty lucky to get a good view because that is the one downside of the academy; the view is not great, and by that i mean there isn't one, unless you are at the front of any of the several balconies (i'm too old for the floor fight these days).

i had hoped to get to cafe maitreya before the gig. this is bristol's premier veggie restaurant but when i tried to book, it transpired that they were decorating that night but recommended the thali cafe, just down the street. other than the fact that driving to easton means that you have to suffer the worst roundabout in britain, the destination is well worth it. what you will find is a street of great restaurants/cafes and excellent produce stores; the thali cafe is towards the end of the street. it is very reasonably priced, has interesting furniture and is nice and big. i ordered the north indian thali plate which was rice, daal, paneer curry, raita and possibly a chutney. we had also ordered some poppadoms that came with lovely chutneys and i had a chappati (i was pretty hungry, earlier i'd had a pretty awful sandwich). what made me sit up and take notice was the fact that we do curries like this, usually the more chutneys etc. we use a risotto cake as the rice. this means that we can plate up rather than bowl up. on the current menu we have two curries that we could easily make as part of a thali dish. i love daals so there will always be room for one of those and i also like making different chutneys, especially as i have the ingredients to two of the ones we were served at the thali cafe. i'm now on the look out for some stainless steel plates, so if anyone knows of any, let me know.



Monday, March 7, 2011

Moroccan onion jam

someone asked for this so here it is.

fry a few large onions in a small amount of oil until soft. add a few teaspoons of ras el hanout and fry for a couple of minutes to develop flavours. add a teaspoon of rose water and a teaspoon of orange blossom water, a tablespoon of date syrup and a tablespoon of pomegranate molasses. add zest and juice of one lemon. cook for a minute or so, then add 50 ml cider vinegar and 50g sugar. cook for a minimum of ten minutes until the mixture is reduced and starting to look jammy. check that you have the right blend of sweet and sour and adjust as you wish, more vinegar if too sweet etc. allow to cool.

ras el hanout means 'top of the shop' and is a blend of spices used in making tagines. a typical recipe, taken from the web is

2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cardamon
2 teaspoons ground mace
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground anise seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

i like to add some sweet paprika as well, and some dried lime but you can add what you want.



Sunday, March 6, 2011

an admission and some recipes

sometimes somethings go wrong. sometimes the things that go wrong could be eradicated if we had more time, sometimes they just go wrong; a cake that doesn't rise one day and is beautiful the next, same recipe. this weekend there were two smallish errors. the first, the koftas. i spent alot of saturday night explaining why they weren't as they should have been and they were not. the fault lies with me and so does the fact that i didn't put it right; i simply didn't have the time. the menu is called 'double booking the cooking' because i double-booked myself this weekend. you would imagine that in this age of mobile phones and planners that this would be impossible but i'm afraid that that is not the world that i inhabit. i prefer to live my lief according to the old rule that it probably won't happen and when it does we'll deal with it. as you can imagine, at times like these i am not very popular. so the koftas. when i instructed leanne in putting together a base for our koftas, the bit that has all the flavour, i left out the part about seasoning; the salt, pepper, lemon juice part that gives the koftas their bite. we made a batch and on saturday i had meant to come in and re-do them. what with looking after the kids and a hundred and one other things, time got on top of me, and saturday the not so good batch had to be served. we knew that the lentils were really good, that the sauce was smoking and that the salad was flavourful but you just couldn't get by those koftas. so i apologise to you all and thank you once again for your patience, i can only do better.

next dish, the pannacotta. this is a dish that scares me every time that we put it on the menu. why, because veggegel is a brutal setter; follow the recipe on the box and you'll regret it, it's like chewing a rubber ball. you have to put in more liquid because you need the soft set, the problem is, how much more? too much and the cream doesn't set and you unmould a blob, too little and you can't get past the tightness. i've tried three different quantities and am iterating towards the correct amount. this is my current recipe.

300 ml double cream
275 ml semi-skimmed milk
200ml dulce de leche
one sachet of vegegel

blend all ingredients together in a large jug and microwave on ful power for 4 minutes. stir and microwave for a further two minutes, stirring after one. pour into dariole moulds or ramekins and leave to set, four hours minimum. unmould by inserting a knife in the side and tipping over.

the real star of this menu is our gnocchi. the recipe should do about 4-6.

125ml water
60 g butter
95g plain flour
20 g grated cheese
chopped fresh herbs, tarragon, basil, parsley, lemon thyme, about three tables spoons
1 teaspoon of wholegrain dijon mustard
2 medium eggs

this is a choux pastry base so put the water and butter into a saucepan and bring to the boil. turn down the heat and add the flour all at once, stirring rapidly with a wooden spoon. it'll be a bit messy at first but the mixture will eventually pull away from the sides of the pan. The dough should be glossy and smooth but still moist.

transfer to a bowl and add the mustard, cheese and herbs and beat with the wooden spoon. i've got a hand blender with dough attachment and use this because it's easier. you may not have one and so use the spoon. if you have a stand mixer, a kenwood or the other make that i've forgotten, you can use those, which is really easy but remember to keep pushing down the sides. this part of the recipe just reduces the heat of the mix a little. throw in the two eggs and beat until fully incorporated and you have a nice smooth glossy mixture.

take this mix and put into a piping bag with a big nozzle on and now comes the hard part. push the mix down in the bag and have pot of simmering water ready. with one hand, your left or at least my left, press out the dough and with the right hand, holding a sharp knife, cut the dough off after about an inch and allow to drop into the water to poach. if you are quick you can do about 30 in one go and your mix should make about 80. allow to poach for about three minutes and then take them out with a slotted spoon. place on greaseproof paper to cool. once you are finished, heat some butter and olive oil in a good frying pan and lightly fry the gnocchi until golden brown and slightly souffled.

the sauce: these are the ingredients. onion, garlic, chestnut and shitake mushroom, butternut squash, lemon thyme, parsley, sage, lemon zest and juice, butter. the puzzle is how to cook it. i'm too tired to tell you but i may when i tell you the secret to one-step italian meringues that i've just made with my daughters. have to go and make a curry for our tea, or two curries.