Homemade Naan Bread, The Black Forest and The Knights Templar

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Soft pillowy naan bread dunked into a bowl of dal has got to be THE ultimate comfort food. As those who have been reading my blog for sometime will know, whenever I return from holiday the first thing I cook is some dal. It’s quick, easy and you can determine the amount of fresh chilli that you put in it. There are so many dals you can make, but I often opt for  – red split lentil dal. You can add whatever vegetable you have to hand – tomatoes, peas, carrots – but I would advise not adding more than 2 max.img_4536-3

I had spent a week in the glorious Black Forest in the south west corner of Germany. Wifi is hit and miss – hence the lack of a blog post last week, apologies – so it allows you to unwind properly and relax in this beautiful part of the country. img_4524-3

 

The top of the hills were covered in snow, but down in the valleys the pastures were green, which gave us the option of walks in the meadows and through the forests or skiing at higher altitudes.

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We were blessed with clear blue skies and warming winter sun. A stunning combination.

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Whilst our days were spent out and about in the fresh air, our evenings were spent sitting by the roaring fires eating the local produce of venison, wild boar, cheese, breads, wine, an interesting salad leaf that can only be found in the Black Forest around February (name escapes me, but it was a cross between rocket and watercress) and Black Forest gateaux – naturally.

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We drove from London, staying over for a couple of nights in Strasbourg on the way, admiring it’s impressive cathedral and quaint streets. In many ways in reminded me of Bruges or nearby Colmar – definitely worth a detour if you haven’t been.

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Strasbourg is easy to explore on foot and has a number of museums and art galleries in close proximity. A boat trip on the waterways is also a must and helps you get your bearings.

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To break up our homeward journey we stayed in Laon, in the region of Picardy. If medieval history is of interest to you then this place is an absolute must. We stayed in one of the old canon’s houses (there were  84 canons at one time living in Laon – it was the largest chapter in France in the 12th and 13th centuries) up in the attic with a view of the cathedral. Our airbnb host was a charming and well travelled French man who was keen to show us his eleventh century frescos and ruins in his cellar. The cellar stretched under the whole of his house and when we had seen what we thought was the extent of it, he revealed another doorway with steps leading further down to another level. We proceeded to explore this level and then found further steps leading to another level. It was a cavern within a cavern within a cavern.  It was without doubt the most incredibly historical cellar we have ever been in and an archaeologist/historians dream. Over the ages new floors were simply added – we could make out the old stables on one level. Apparently there are many passageways linking up the canon’s houses surrounding the cathedral. I imagine many of them are filled in or perhaps not yet discovered by their occupants living many metres above.

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The Knights Templar spent much time both in Laon and the surrounding area. They built this magnificent church (above) modelled on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in 1140. Unfortunately we only managed to spend a few minutes here before we were ushered out as it was closing time, so the museum that stands beside it will have to wait for a future visit.

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The Cathedral itself is worth a visit and in fact it was what initially drew us to this hill top city a couple of years ago, as we could see it’s towers from miles away. Laon is only 80 miles north east of Paris and only a couple of hours from Calais so  it’s a good place to stopover before catching the Euro tunnel home.

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Anyway enough of my travels and back to the matter at hand….naan bread. Believe it or not they are really easy to cook yourself. Making the dough is pretty straight forward and then you need to let it rest, in a warm part of your house, for 1-2 hours to let it increase in size.

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Then it is simply a case of rolling out the naan into small, thin, oval shapes. You can add nigella (black onion seeds) or sesame seeds on the top or keep them plain. Sometimes I like to add a couple of teaspoons of garlic paste to make garlic naan. You can be as inventive as you like in all honesty.

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I tend to cook mine in a frying pan – do not add any oil – but you can also cook them under the grill if you prefer, but be watchful as they bronze quickly.

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It takes no more than a minute or so to cook them and then I add some melted butter on top. Equally if you prefer you can add some melted ghee or even milk.

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My girls (and husband) love them both with a meal or an after school snack. Serve them warm and eat straight away. A wonderful treat and perfect for chilly February weather.

 

Homemade Naan Bread

makes around 9-10 naan bread

400g plain flour

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

5g dried yeast

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1 egg beaten

100g full fat plain yoghurt

100ml warm full fat milk

1 tbsp butter, melted

 optional: nigella/sesame seeds/fresh coriander as a topping

If you want to make garlic naan add a couple of tsp of garlic paste at the beginning and mix into the dough.

  1. In a large mixing bowl add the flour and then make a hole in the centre and pour in the oil, dried yeast, salt, sugar, baking powder and beaten egg.
  2. Mix gently using your hands and once it has become quite crumbly add the yoghurt and then continue to mix together.
  3. Now gradually add in the warm milk until all the mixture comes together.
  4. Remove from the bowl and place a little plain flour on a cold surface.
  5. Kneed the dough for 5 minutes until it become soft and pliable.
  6. Return to the bowl and cover with cling film and leave in a warm room for over an hour so that it can increase in size.
  7. When it is ready, split the dough into even balls and begin to roll them out thinly in oval shapes.  You may need a sprinkling of extra flour at this stage to prevent it from sticking to the surface. Pierce gently with a fork. If adding nigella/sesame seeds lay a few on the top and gently roll them into the top of the naan.
  8. Heat a non-stick frying pan. When it is properly hot add a naan bread and leave for around 20 seconds before turning over and leaving for a further 20 seconds. Turn once more for a few more seconds – or longer if it is not bronzing sufficiently.
  9. Remove from the pan and add a little melted butter to the top. Keep under a warm tea towel whilst you work on the remaining naan. As the naan’s I make are quite small I can often manage two in a pan at a time.

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In Search of the Perfect Taco – California – part 1

img_2857fish taco from Mercado &Taqueria De Amigos, Pascadero

On a recent road trip to California a really old article from The New York Times, caught my attention. In short, the author, Cindy Price, went on a taco trawl from San Francisco to Los Angeles sampling the tacos on offer. This appealed to me on many levels. Whilst the article was old, I absorbed the information and decided that if we happened to be near any of the places she recommended we’d check them out – if they were still in business that is.

The first place we just ‘happened’ to be driving past was a stones throw from the legendary Highway 1. We’d spent the morning exploring the beaches of Bean Hollow State Park and Pebble Beach, admiring the wild surf and trying in vain to spot a whale along the shoreline. There was a chill in the air and we were eager for some Mexican food to warm us up. California really does have many micro-climates and you only need to go a little inland and the chill from the coast dissipates.  Pescadero is a charming town so small that if you blink you’ll have passed it. There is a county store, a tea shop, a church, a bar and a couple of furniture shops and not much else. On the corner of the ‘main’ street is a garage with a small stores attached called Mercado & Taqueria De Amigos and it was here where we were assured we would find some good, honest Mexican food, and in particular tacos.

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img_2859Seeing local Mexican workers having their lunch at the tiny booths was a good sign. If it’s good enough for them then I knew I was onto a good thing. The setup was small, but the choices on offer definitely made my stomach begin to rumble.

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I first opted for the fish tacos, which had been recommended to me, my girls had chicken quesadillas (there were another couple of option boards not in photo above) and Mr B chose a burrito, as he likes something ‘more substantial’ and refried beans. As we made our way to our booth we passed the self service nacho bar accompanied by four red and green zingy and spicy salsas to choose from.

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We loaded up with our choices in little paper pots and after a short wait the food arrived.  The fish tacos were hot, freshly cooked and fragrant. I added a splash of salsa and dived in.

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There is no way to eat these in an elegant manner. You need to pick them up and disregard the looks of your dining companions as the juices dribble down your chin. Loose yourself in the moment people, seriously this is what eating is all about. If I hadn’t been so restrained I could have eaten them again and again and again, but ceviche tostadas were calling.

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The tostadas was crisp and held the ceviche in place until it reached my mouth. The zing from the lime, the creaminess of the avocado, the heat from the chilli and freshness from the fish, made this dish memorable. In fact even writing about it now is making me so hungry. Needless to say we totally loved this taqueria. It’s the type of place that you would typically drive by and never consider as a food destination, had you not been given the wink. It’s between San Francisco and Santa Cruz and is definitely worth stopping at. The portions are big and the food reasonable priced – even with our present exchange rate. Order a little and see how you get on. You can easily order more if you can squeeze in another taco or three.

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Combine it with a stop off at Harley Goat Farm, which is a few minutes drive away. Here you will be able to see a herd of about 200 goats and pick up some of their award winning goats cheese. I love the presentation of the cheeses above with their edible flowers and dried fruit. They also have a great selection of bath and body products made locally with their fresh goats milk. They also host lunches and dinners which you can attend, so check out their website for dates as these do get booked up.

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After you’ve tasted some cheese and patted some goats head back on Highway 1 and go south to Davenport where, just before entering the town, you will find Swanton Berry Farm. Here you can either go strawberry picking, jam tasting, relax over some tea and cake in their tea shop or simply pick up a jar of their delightful jams. You’ll even be able to pick up a jar of the olallieberrie jam, which I’d not come across before. Apparently olallieberries are a cross between the youngberry and the loganberry.

Before heading back to Portola Valley we couldn’t resist visiting the tasting room of Bonnie Doon, five minutes down the road in Davenport. We’d had their wines back in England and had enjoyed them immensely. The first thing you notice about them is their artistic labels which are painted by a wide range of artists.  Am sure many of my readers may recognise the labels? The friendly staff will guide you through a tasting of some of the wines, giving you an in depth overview of the wines themselves as well as the history and background of the vineyard.

Bean Hollow State Park and Pebble Beach – Highway 1 near to Pascadero (take a jumper even in August)

Mercado & Taqueria De Amigos – Pascadero

Harley Goat Farm – Pascadero

Swanton Berry Farm – just before Davenport

Bonnie Doon Tasting Room  – Davenport (please note this is the tasting room only, not the vineyard itself)


Parmesan, Chive and Truffle Madeleines and a Paris Snapshot

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Despite Paris being so close to London – three hours on the Eurostar – we had never been with big A and little Z. Mr B and I had been on numerous occasions in the past both for work and pleasure, but we were long overdue a visit with all the family. Good friends had recently moved there – well to the pretty town of Versailles to be exact, so the decision to visit was very easy.

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We decided to show our girls (aged 10 and 6) a snapshot of Paris so that they could soak up the atmosphere and see some of the sights; the most famous of all being the Eiffel Tower. I had always admired it from afar but never ventured to the top. A flurry of light snow began to fall, despite the pretty blossom making an appearance, and we climbed (well Mr B and big A did – Little Z and I took the lift) right to the top. The view was spectacular, despite it being rather overcast. As we made our way down in the lift we were told that we could get out on the first floor if we wanted the ice rink – pretty impressive I thought to have a rink actually on the tower.

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After a stroll around the Louvre we made our way to a charming and very buzzy French restaurant called Bistrot Victoires on 6 rue Vrillère – about a 10 minute walk from the Louvre. Here you can indulge in traditional gallic fare accompanied by a bottle of red wine and some great tasting baguette to munch on whilst you wait for your food. The restaurant is famous for its steak frites that comes with burning thyme on top. IMG_9210

The smell, pomp and visual spectacle of it all is very memorable so I would urge you to order it if you go. We had a portion each and I must say I think it was the most tasty I have ever had.

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Here is a close up to make you hungry!

I rather loved their old till, which looks so much grander than the hand held card reading device that they use to day. Old and new sitting side by side. IMG_9240

We walked off our lunch with a visit to the wonderful Musee D’Orsay which is housed in the former Gare D’Orsay, a Beaux-Arts railway station built between 1898 and 1900. A must if it’s your first time to Paris, and slightly more manageable than the Louvre in as far as size. Thursday nights are late opening so a nice thing to do before heading out to dinner perhaps.

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The following day we headed back into Paris – a very short 20 minute journey on the RER. I rather loved the old school look of this carriage that looked like it was a travelling library carriage  – how very civilised.

There is nothing quite like a crepe to kick start your day. The girls were thrilled with their nutella ones whilst Mr B and I went for the ham and cheese.

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Bellies full we headed to the spectacular French gothic cathedral of Notre Dame, which stood in all it’s glory in the cold, crisp February sunlight. The girls were familiar with this building owing to the fact that they have watched the  Disney movie ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ more times than I care to remember. We walked off breakfast within its walls, marvelling at its grandeur and beauty.

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An absolute must if you are visiting Paris is Sainte-Chapelle, which is literally a stones throw away from Notre Dame. It was built by King Louis IX of France to house his collection of passion relics, including the Christ’s Crown of Thorns. You need to climb up the winding narrow staircase but once you’ve reached the top you will be rewarded with one of the most extensive 13th-century stained glass collection anywhere in the world. It is utterly breathtaking, especially when the sun is shining and reflecting through all the coloured glass in all it’s brilliance.

Another pit stop for food was required so we headed to A La Biche Au Bois on Avenue Ledru-Rollin, which offers hearty, honest French food away from the typical tourist trap restaurants.

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The staff at this restaurant were both jovial and charming and coupled with the fact that the food was great, it makes it a restaurant worth seeking out, and indeed booking as it gets packed.

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After all good lunches a walk is required so we sauntered over to my favourite and indeed oldest square in the whole of Paris…..Place de Vosges. After ambling around the square we decided to head north to Sacre Coeur in bohemian Montmartre. The sun was shining so we felt it was worth the effort to head there so we could admire the view of Paris and Sacre Coeur.

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The next few days we spent time relaxing in Versailles with our friends and visiting the famous Palace and grounds of the Versailles Palace. IMG_9337

If you ever find yourself in Versailles for the evening and want to splash out, the bar at the Trianon Palace Versailles is worth a visit as they serve delicious cocktails, but then again at €22 you would expect them to be pretty outstanding. If you are in town and want something more hip and low key on ambiance and price then I can recommend La Conserverie   a bar in the 2nd arrondissement. From the outside you probably wouldn’t notice it, but don’t be put off. For the brave who venture in you’ll find elegant, longing surroundings with a relaxed vibe. Needing a bite to eat then head to Restaurant Victor 101 bis, rue Lauriston in the 16th district of Paris. It has an old school French vibe, dishing up all the French classic with style and panache. IMG_2336

Back in Blighty I decided to continue with the French theme by rustling up some little french fancies known as ‘madeleines’. Small, bite size and wonderfully moist in the centre and a little crispy on the outside. They are best eaten straight from the oven. Deliciously warm. They often come in sweet flavours but work equally well savoury. I naturally gravitated towards making them savoury, although I think next time I will try cardamom ones. You can play around with the fillings by adding pancetta, sun-dried tomatoes, sage, rosemary or whatever takes your fancy.

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They take a matter of minutes to whisk together and then another 12-14 minute to cook in the oven. A perfect tea time treat.

Parmesan, Chive and Truffle Madeleines

2 eggs

50g parmesan, finely grated

100g plain flour, sifted

1/2 tsp baking powder

40ml truffle oil

3 tbsp butter, melted

2 tbsp chives, finely chopped

1 tsp salt

freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp milk

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (if using fan or 200 if not).
  2. First blend the cheese and eggs using an electric whisk if you can (or by hand if you haven’t).
  3. Then add the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper.
  4. Now add the truffle oil, melted butter and chives.
  5. Finally add the milk and whisk so that it is smooth but still quite firm.
  6. Lightly grease the madeleine tray and add a heaped teaspoon of mixture to each compartment. Smooth the top where possible.
  7. Place in the oven for 12-14 minutes, or until bronzed on top. Use a tooth pick to see if it is done – it should come out nice and clean.

Eat immediately if possible whilst they are still warm with a cup of tea.

Note: instead of truffle oil you can use extra-virgin olive oil, chilli oil, basil oil. Experiment and see which you like. 

Paris Restaurants and Bars:

Bistrot Victoires – 6 rue Vrillère (R)

A La Biche Au Bois – 45 Avenue Ledru-Rollin (R)

Restaurant Victor – 101 bis, rue Lauriston (R)

Trianon Palace Versailles – 1 Boulevard de la Reine, Versailles (B)

La Conserverie Bar – 37 Rue du Sentier (B)

It was simply by chance that two of the restaurants I visited had part of my name in the title ;o)!

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Keralan Prawn and Kokum Curry – Chemmeen Olarthiathu

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Hidden away in the calm and tranquil backwaters of Kerala you will find a homestay called ‘Philipkutty’s Farm’ that sits on 35 acres of a small island, which totals 750 acres. The island was reclaimed from the backwaters of Lake Vembanad in the 1950’s by the present inhabitant’s late husband’s grandfather.

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Today the farm is run by Anu (pictured above) and her mother-in-law, known as Aniamma, but it was Anu who warmly greeted us as we made our way from the opposite shore in a wooden canoe known locally as a ‘vallam’ (country boat), powered by a local using a wooden punt. After sipping on homemade cool ginger lemonade we were shown our cottage where we would be spending the next couple of nights.

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To say that it was charming was a massive understatement. I read in the visitors book that one lady had stayed for 5 weeks and had returned numerous times. I could see the attraction. It was without doubt the perfect place to unwind, write a book perhaps or simply just relax.

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Without modern day distractions such as television (there was only wifi in the main house) you felt positively cut off from the outside world. Bliss. It enabled you to sit and admire the views and watch the passing traffic, aka houseboats, drift by. My daughter’s fished with Anu’s daughter and managed to collect a number of fish, before always returning them to the waters. Mr B bravely swam in the backwaters themselves, much to all our amusement.

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The highlight of staying at Philipkutty’s Farm, however, is the food. Aniamma, Anu and their team of helpers prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner for guests, which all congregate in a thatched pavilion close to the main house. As there are only a handful of cottages there tend to be no more than 12 or so guests. We all sat on one large table, swapped storied and filled our bellies with dish after memorable dish of food.  The cuisine was predominately Syrian Christian with a strong backwater influence. The vegetables and spices were grown on the farm and these were accompanied by a wide range of fish and meats. I was in heaven.

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I have a feeling that if I stayed for 5 weeks, like one guest, there would be a high chance that I would return home a little more ‘wholesome’ than when I arrived!

IMG_2912Each evening Anu and Aniamma would do a cookery demonstration of a couple of the dishes we were to eat that evening. So it was during these informal demonstrations that I learned a host of new recipes.

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This prawn and kokum curry – known as chemmeen (prawn) olarthiathu, was interesting as it included an ingredient I had not come across before. Kokum is a fruit bearing tree that is native to Western coastal regions of India and has many health benefits. The outer skin of the fruit is halved and dried, which in turn curls and becomes a dark purple black colour – apparently the darker the colour the better the kokum.
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Whilst they undoubtedly add a sweet and sour element to a dish (similar to tamarind) they also add a smokiness that is unlike anything that I have tried before. They never drown out the main taste of a dish, instead complementing it with their gentle souring notes.  As such they are used in a host of fish and prawn curries as well as dals and vegetable dishes. I realise that a trip to Kerala to source kokum maybe a little tricky for my readers so instead you can easily buy them online here or here. It stores easily for a year, I am told, in a sealed jar.

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I used prawns with tails on but you can use whatever prawns you wish.

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You’ll need red onion, shallots, ginger, garlic and fresh curry leaves. You can pick up fresh curry leaves from most Asian grocers. I tend to freeze mine and then dig them out of the freezer as and when I need to use them, which is most days.
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Above shows Aniamma adding the cherished kokum to her curry.

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I served mine with my Indian toor dal, which you can find here and some basmati rice.

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Kerala Prawn and Kokum Curry (Chemmeen Olarthiathu)

Serves 4-6

1-2 tbsp coconut oil

1 large or two small red onions, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

2 inch fresh ginger, roughly chopped

3 shallots, finely chopped

10 curry leaves

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp chilli powder

2 medium sized tomatoes, roughly chopped

500g prawns

4 pieces of kokum, pre soaked in 150ml boiling water for 20 minutes

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

  1. Heat the coconut oil and then add the garlic, shallots, ginger and curry leaves.
  2. After a minute add the red onion, salt and chilli powder (if using).
  3. On a medium to low heat, add the turmeric and allow the ingredients to soften, which will take around 5-7 minutes.
  4. Add the fresh tomatoes and stir into the other ingredients and allow to soften.
  5. Add the prawns and move around the pan so that they are coated in all the ingredients.
  6. After 3 minutes add the kokum and gently cook for a further 5 minutes.
  7. Add the fresh black pepper powder just before serving.

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Each morning at Philipkutty’s Farm the urns would have different arrangements of fresh flowers floating in them. So pretty and symmetrical.

 

Please note the comments below where one reader kindly informed me that the ‘kokum’ is in fact a close relative known as ‘kodampuli’ and the fruit show in my photos are in fact kodampuli.  Thank you so much indusinternationalkitchen.com  for highlighting this to me. You can read more about this fruit here

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Dreaming of Kerala – Squid Coconut Fry

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Kerala, often called ‘God’s own country’, is the perfect destination for the avid traveller who seeks adventure, beauty and tasty food. It encompasses so many different experiences and terrain in this sunshine state that no day is ever quite the same. Over the course of the last few weeks my family and I (and not other animals) spent time in Cochin, exploring their diverse places of worship as well admiring their famous Chinese fishing nets.

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The Western ghats, which provide the state, and much of the wider world, with tea, cardamom and coffee.

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The calming, slower pace of life in the emerald backwaters,

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and of course the palm fringed beaches of the coast and the gloriously warm Arabian sea.

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Along the way I met some wonderful people, both locals and fellow travellers, who all made our experience of Kerala very memorable. It was tough to say goodbye to the warm rays and friendly smiles and head back to a much colder London, which is now firming in the throes of winter.

During our travels I learned to cook a wealth of Keralan recipes from chefs and home cooks who welcomed us into their homes and kitchens. Meet some of them below. From left ‘Mummy’ from Philip Kutty’s Farm,  Sreeja  from Marari Beach Hotel and Moly from Cochin, who allowed me to shadow her for the day.

Prior to visiting the state I had a preconceived notion that a lot of the cuisine would be vegetarian, however this is not the case. In Kerala, Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Jews (there are only 6 now left in Cochin) live harmoniously and respectfully amongst one another. As such we feasted on chicken, lamb, pork and beef as well as delicious fresh and seawater fish, shellfish and a host of vegetarian dishes. Coconut oil and coconut in many forms, is the heart of many Keralan dishes along with the irresistibly sour tamarind and kokum, the latter being new to me. “Kera” in Malayalam (the language of Kerala) means coconut. As Kerala is abundant with coconut plants, it naturally got the name Kerala. Yes, many of the dishes in Kerala have heat, but with the cooling qualities of  coconut, many had their chilli bite tempered.

Over the coming months I will intersperse my blog posts with temptingly delicious Keralan dishes that will hopefully encourage you to try cooking them at home.

First up is ‘Squid Coconut Fry’, which in all honesty takes 10 minutes and that includes the prepping and cooking. So look no excuses not to give this a whirl. It is so good you’ll be cooking it time and time again. IMG_2160

 Squid Coconut Fry

Serves 2 (or 4 if serving with other dishes)

2 tbsp coconut oil

1/2 tsp mustard seeds

2 dried red Kashmiri chillies, halved and seeds removed if you like it less hot

10 pieces of thinly sliced fresh coconut or dried coconut slices

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 tsp ginger paste

1 fresh green chilli (2 if you like it hot)

10 curry leaves

1 small red onion, finely chopped

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp chilli powder

1/2 tsp coriander powder

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

300g squid tubes, chopped into thin rings

1/4 juice of a lemon

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1/4 garam masala

  1. First get all the ingredients ready as the dish takes no time to cook and you will want to eat it immediately. This dish is not good to be reheated.
  2. Heat the coconut oil in a pan. When it is hot add the mustard seeds and red chillies followed by the thin coconut slices. Keep the heat on a medium to low heat.
  3. After 20 seconds add the garlic, ginger, fresh green chilli and curry leaves.
  4. Move around the pan for a minute before adding the red onion and salt.
  5. Now add the chilli powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder and allow the flavours to come together in the pan. Allow the onion to soften for 3-5 minutes
  6. Add the squid and move around the pan. Cook for a further 3 minutes.
  7. Add the lemon, pepper and garam masala. Move the ingredients around the pan.

Serve immediately. All the wonderful flavours will have wrapped themselves around the squid culminating in the most appetising of dishes.

Quick and easy. I would serve with rice, a vegetable curry and a dal (see my recipe library).

 


Foodies Christmas Wish List

Where has this year gone? Faster than the Japanese bullet train out of Tokyo, if you ask me. Before you know it Father Christmas will climbing down the chimney, so I thought some gift inspiration for your foodie loved ones might be rather helpful. I have included a wide range of present ideas: from those you can eat, drink, serve, read and experience. Hopefully there will be a few that will jump out at you. At the bottom of the post I have listed the order of the products with a bit more info and if you click on the name of the product it will send you through to the website where you can buy the product. They range in price from stocking filler ideas to more extravagant presents to hopefully suit everyones budget.

I’d love to know what stands out to you so do leave me a quick comment below.

 

 

Nikkei Cuisine by Luiz Hara Competent homecooks will adore supper club guru and food blogger ‘Luiz Hara’s’ first cook book, recently published by Jacqui Small. It has been described as ‘the first cookery book outside of Latin America to explore the exciting marriage of Japanese and South American cuisines’. The photographs are a feast for the eyes and the recipes so different and exciting that just leafing through the pages itself is wonderfully exciting.

Cheeky Smelly Garlic Pickle Recently in Selfridges as part of ‘Meet the Makers’ campaign this tasty little pickle is utterly moorish and I love a dollop of it on most savoury things. Cheeky Food Company also have some adorable pickle, chutney and sprinkle hampers for £14. Other pickles and chutneys  include: messy mango and tickly tamarind. I also adore their tasty sprinkles: silly sesame, pecky peanut and nutter coconut. Perfect stocking fillers. Check out their site on the link of their name.

Stone Pestle and Mortar by Tom Dixon – How beautiful is this? This is the Queen of all pestle and mortars. Stunningly crafted it would fit right in in a contemporary kitchen. Big love.

Sipsmith Quarterly Sipping Service – For those who like surprises this is a fabulous gift for gin lovers. Every 3 months Sipsmith select the 4 best gins they have trialled that season – and send them directly to you. It will mean you get first dibs on knowing what these gins are, finding out what’s happening behind their blue Distillery Doors, getting to taste them, and letting them know what you think.

Dreambirds Pitcher – My brother and his ladylove bought me the cake stand version of this and I absolutely adore it. It’s designed by South African artist Ruan Hoffmann. A veritable master at combining traditional craftsmanship with modern art, the Johannesburg artist continues to span the surfaces of everything from ceramics to paper goods with his exquisite motifs. Gorgeous gift for someone special.

Turmeric, Original, Cacao and Berry Almond Milk by The Pressery – The Pressery is THE almond milk company to purchase your almond milk beverages from.  Set up by dynamo duo Chi-San Wan and Natali Stajcic they will soon be launching a high-quality and pure, long-life almond milk. They sell in a number of London based outlets but watch this space as it won’t be long before you will be seeing this brand of almond milk all around the UK and beyond.

Lulu Cocktail Glasses Set of Four – I rather love these miss matching cocktail glasses. Fun, quirky and yet elegant, they make cocktail drinking that bit more fun.

Acacia Honey with Black Truffles – Award winning honey with black truffles is a gift from the gods. How exciting would it be to receive this as a gift. Definitely on my radar to pick up a pot or three. Easy to order online through Fine Food Specialist

Citrus Squeeze Bottle Opener – at £10 this is the perfect stocking filler. Stylish, sophisticated and handmade.

Taste: The Infographic Book of Food by Laura Rowe & Vicki Turner – This book is refreshingly different and original in that it charts history and predicts trends with the help of naturally-styled imagery and fact-packed illustrations. It’s the type of book that you’ll want to pick up and dive into from time to time. Perfect for a coffee table as well as in the kitchen.

Form Square Tray by Tom Dixon – Beautiful crafted tray made from spun and welded brass sheet. It has then been polished and dipped in a warm gold wash. Sophisticated and decadent I think this would be the centre piece of any occasion with Christmas cocktails, mulled wine or champagne.

Tikapur Oven Mitts – The Kantha stitching on these mitts won me over. I think they would look perfect in any country cottage or city dwelling.

Perello Pitted Olives THE tastiest olives around. Seriously they are so good I could eat cans of them. Perfect stocking fillers. Deliamo offer a wide range of goodies perfect for the foodie in your family and can deliver.

Palmeral Mug White/Green – If you are into prints and patterns, House of Hackney, is the epitome of cool. Making a trip to the Shoreditch High Street store itself is highly recommended although you will find it hard to drag yourself away.  I adore the whole Palmeral range from the mugs to the plates and teapot. Start the collection by purchasing a mug and then build from there, but trust me when I say you won’t be able to stop at just one.

Nudo Adopt  We all have family members or friends who are tricky to buy for as they have everything. This gift is perfect for said individuals.  I have, in fact, bought it a couple of times for friends and they’ve loved it as it is so original gift. It’s simple. All you do is choose olive oil or tea. If you go for the former you adopt a tree in Italy and receive three 500ml tins or an ongoing subscription – whereby they send you three tins 4x a year. You can also visit the olive grove should you happen to be in Italy (I see a good ruse for a holiday here ;o) and 20% off Nudo products. If you opt for the tea you adopt a tea garden in Darjeeling. Like the olive groves you can also visit it as well, which would be pretty special. You receive either 125g tea sachet as a one off or you can have it sent to you quarterly. What’s not to love.

Easy Tasty Magic – Truffle Salt – Stocked in Selfridges this truffle salt sounds wonderfully decadent and I adore the turquoise packaging – it is certainly eye catching.

A Year in Cheese by Alex and Leo Guarneri – This beautiful cookbook come from the team behind the  famous artisan cheese shop Androuet, which was established in Paris in 1909 and opened in fashionable Spitalfields in London in 2009. Did you know that cheese like vegetables are seasonal? This wonderfully crafted book walks us through what to eat when sharing delicious recipes along the way. The photographs are wonderful – matt and atmospheric and make me actually want to cook the recipes. An absolute must for any lover of cheese. Published by Frances Lincoln.

Le Creuset Signature Cast Iron Round Casserole – in Cool Mint (of course) – Many moons ago I received one of these casserole dishes from Le Creuset as a wedding present and I can honestly say that I use it all the time. Cast iron, whilst obviously heavy, does actually cook the food really well. It is perfect for stews, casseroles and curries as it holds in the heat well and is large enough to feed a number of mouths. At £145 it’s not cheap but the fact that they really do last a life time it is certainly a very worthwhile investment. I adore the cool mint colour that they have bought out. Which is your favourite colour?

Gleaming Feather Cocktail Shaker – I thought this cocktail shaker would be perfect to accompany either Good Things To Drink or Wild Drinks and Cocktails.

Nudo Olive Oils – I have been a fan of Nudo oils for years. This set of three is a gorgeous spoiling present. Extra virgin olive oil with lemons, extra virgin olive oil with Sicilian chillies and extra virgin cold press. Great packaging to boot.

Good Things To Drink – Tis the season and all so what better way to get in the festive mood than to have a tome to help guide you. Ryan Chetiyawardana (the man behind award-winning London bars White Lyan and Dandelyan) is the man to help you guide you with his user friendly cocktail recipes to create in the home. As well as winter feasting and fireside serves he has chapters focusing on ‘morning buzz’, ‘market fresh’, ‘summer social sips’, ‘pre-dinner’, ‘friday nights’ and ‘rambles’. Published by Frances Lincoln I can see it being a christmas hit.

Portland Bar Set  – You have the book and the cocktail shaker so may as well look like a pro with this Portland bar set. Cocktail making has never been so stylish.

Gimmer Ring Coaster – I adore copper and think these coasters are perfectly formed in every way.

Vida Sky Salad Set  – Simple and elegant. I have my heart set on a pair of these for christmas.

High As A Moon Mug – Stylish mug for the coffee/tea drinker.

Wild Drinks and Cocktails by Emily Tan – It’s time folks to embrace drinks featuring local, fresh, or foraged ingredients and craft drink expert Emily Tan’s new book will show you how.  She’ll teach you the techniques you need to know to handcraft you own infused waters, syrups, vinegars, tonics, spirits, wines and sodas.

Glass Teapot With Porcelain Infuser 700ml – A graceful glass design, the Weave teapot is designed to celebrate the ancient Chinese art of tea brewing. Designed and made in Shanghai by Loveramics, this simple piece combines smooth modern style and functionality to produce a cup of tea tailored to your taste buds. I adore it and think it would make the perfect gift for any tea enthusiast.

Ferment Your Vegetables by Amanda Feifer – Fermentation expert Amanda Feifer serves as your guide, showing you, step by step, how you can create traditional, delicious fermented food at home, using only simply ingredients and a little time. Using only veggies, a few spices and a glass jar, you can make zucchini bread pickles, curried cauliflower pickles, the simplest sauerkraut, green bean kimchi and more!

Squirrel Nut Cracker  Christmas is all about cracking open nuts around the fire. So this whimsical squirrel nut cracker is both charming and useful.

Pimp my Rice by Nisha Katona – Nisha is a food writer, Indian cookery teacher and founder of Mowgli Street Food in Liverpool and Manchester. Her first cookbook focuses on rice as its star ingredient. The world loves rice right and Nisha has come up with a wide array of exciting recipes incorporating rice in refreshingly original ways. From Lebanese rose petal rice to pimped rice piri piri, her recipes breath a new lease of life into plain boiled rice. Published by Watkins Publishing it is out now.

 

HAPPY SHOPPING

 

Don’t forget to leave comment below to let me know what takes your fancy.

 

 

 

 

 

 


A Mini Cultural and Culinary Adventure in Rome

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a rather charming Swiss guard guarding the Vatican

Autumn is a great time to go and visit one of the most wonderful cities on this planet – Rome. Steeped in history at every turn, wonderful food to reward the hardened traveller and a genuine, welcoming warmth from the locals, it was an obvious choice to take my family for a four day adventure.

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……it also happens to be ‘TRUFFLE’ season. I adore truffles simple as that. If they’re on the menu I’ll be ordering them and as I was to discover, both my daughters share my love of this strong smelling fungus. Result. We had a very memorable feast with local Roman friends at Maccheroni Ristorante, where we gorged on truffle pasta. Restaurant details at the bottom of this post.

Another highlight of this time of year in Rome is fried artichoke, salt-cod fritters and mouth watering burrata mozzarella (well ok… the last two you can get all year round!). To know how to cook your very own fried artichokes at home take a look at this charming vimeo below.

Cookin’ with Ma and Pop: Pop’s Fried Artichokes from Roberto Serrini on Vimeo.

Finding the perfect place to stay when you are travelling in a small group – there was 5 of us – is always tricky. After my sister waxed lyrical about the merits of airbnb I thought I would give it a try. For the uninitiated, it is a service whereby local hosts rent out their apartments to you for the duration of your stay. They meet with you to hand over the keys and show the ropes and then you use the apartment as your home. At the end of the stay you both rate each other online so that others know whether the place to stay is as it is represented online and you are a respectful ‘care-taker’ of the apartment. Before booking the apartment both the host and the lodger can find out a fair amount about each other online so that you have a fair idea of what the person is like.

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I booked a thirteen century medieval tower apartment, which oozed charm and history. It was located in the old Jewish cobbled area of Trastevere, which is away from the hustle and bustle of the touristy piazzas and yet still very walkable to all the main sights.

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We discovered a wonderful cake shop five minutes walk from the apartment. I didn’t catch the name of it, but I will definitely be retracing my steps when we go back.

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Opposite our apartment was a church, with possibly a nunnery attached, as we could hear the nuns practicing their singing.

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Trastevere also happens to be a great location for dining. Within two minutes of our apartment was the Da Enzo and Da Teo – both seriously good restaurants that I would have made the journey to even if I was staying the other side of town. Have a look at the video clip on Da Enzo below….although probably best to watch when you are not hungry!!

Between all our feasting we put on some comfortable shoes and walked the streets of Rome. It has over 900 churches and whilst we didn’t see them all, much to my husbands chagrin, we did venture into a good number.

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I love the aura and aroma of holy churches and temples, but also really admire the incredible skills and talents of artisans of bygone years. Frescos adorned many of the walls and ceilings and gold and treasures could be found at every turn.

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The royal blue of this ceiling really caught my eye as it was so original and vivid.

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Between churches we visited all the main Roman sites, breathing in the history and imagining what it must have been like to live in Roman times.

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Something I have not done before is climb to the very top of the Vatican and when I mean climb I mean climb the whole way – over 500 steps. I usually hate climbing narrow, winding staircases but for some reason the Vatican did not seem to phase me and we were all afforded wonderful vistas of Rome from the top. We came down part of the way by elevator so next time your are in Rome, give it a try, I really recommend it.

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After all that wandering and climbing we snacked on piping hot chestnuts.

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Do you have any great tips on Rome that you would like to share? If so I would love to hear in the comments section below.

My regular recipe posts will be up at the end of the week so be sure to check back in then.

IMG_1993 ….some of the locals clearly take all the Roman ruins for granted!

 Recommended Roman Restaurants:

 Maccheroni Ristorante: Piazza delle coppelle 44

Da Teo: Piazza dei Ponziani 7

Da Enzo: Via dei Vascellari 29


Gujarati Kadhi – a delicately spiced yogurt soup

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It is bucketing down outside this afternoon and I am feeling rather cosy inside out of the rain. After taking the photos for this blog post I had a bowl full of this hot, delicately spiced warming soup. Seriously delicious and quite filling, owing to the yogurt, potatoes and mooli.  Now that Autumn is well and truly here this soup comes into its own and I urge you to try making yourself some.

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It was Durga Puja last weekend – you can read up what goes on exactly at this Indian celebration in my posts from last year and the year before  see here and here. During the festivities at the Hindu temple prasad is often taken. Prasad is literally a religious offering or gift that comes in the form of a meal. Always vegetarian and gently spiced it allows families and friends to come together to share a meal that is blessed during this auspicious occasion. One of the curries we were served was this Gujarati Kadhi. I adored the delicately spiced yogurt soup so much so I was allowed to venture into the kitchens to see how it was being prepared. Huge caldrons of the soup were being constantly stirred over hot stoves before being taken out to hungry worshippers.

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I’ve made my own additions and twists but the taste is pretty similar to the one that I had last weekend. It is so different from any soup or dal I have tried before that it immediately appealed. All the ingredients are pretty easy to pick up at your local supermarket. I have seen gram flour in the big supermarkets here in the UK and I noticed that Waitrose was even selling fresh curry leaves the other day. Times are changing!  Mooli is harder to track down if you don’t live near an Asian grocers so just omit that part if you can’t find it. As with most of my recipes it is quick and easy so if you are feeling adventurous then give this fabulous dish a try.

 

 

Gujarati Kadhi

Serves 4-6

500g natural yogurt

2 tbsp gram flour (chickpea flour)

1/2 tsp green chilli paste

1/2 tsp ginger paste

700ml water

1 tsp salt

•••••••••••

1 tbsp ghee/butter

1/2 tsp black mustard seeds

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

3 cloves

2 small cinnamon sticks

2 dried red chillies, broken into pieces

10 fresh curry leaves

pinch of asafoetida

75g mooli (also known as daikon or white radish)/, cut into thin matchsticks

1 small potato, cut into thin matchsticks

1 tsp jaggery/sugar

1. In a large bowl mix the yogurt, gram flour, green chilli and ginger paste, salt and water using a hand whisk.

2. In a deep saucepan add the ghee and when it is melted add the mustard and cumin seeds and after 30 seconds add the cloves, cinnamon sticks, dried red chillies, fresh curry leaves and asafoetida. This is known as tempering.

3. Add the mooli and potato matchsticks and stir into the spices for one minute.

4. Gently pour in the yogurt/gram flour mixture over the potato, mooli and tempering spices and stir continuously to prevent the yogurt from separating.

5. If you find the mixture too thick simply add a little more water.

6. Add the jaggery or sugar if you don’t have any jaggery to hand. Stir into the soup. Simmer for  around 15 minutes or until the potato and mooli matchsticks are softened.

Serve with basmati rice or simply on its own in a bowl.

 

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Cabbage Kimchi calling

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I’ve been rather intrigued to make kimchi for quite sometime now so when my brother’s ladylove suggested a trip to Korea Foods in New Malden I jumped at the chance to visit this destination supermarket, as well as stock up on supplies to make my very own kimchi.  For those who are unfamiliar with kimchi, it’s basically a Korean fermented cabbage side dish that is as ubiquitous in Korea as miso soup is in Japan. It has a fiery kick, a crunch and is terribly moreish.

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Korea Foods is a delight for anyone interested in food and especially Asian food. I could easily pass a couple of hours there given the opportunity. We gathered the necessary ingredients to make kimchi as well as the perfect pyrex container to store it in – see photos (very important as you do not want the smell to perfume your whole house or for the juices to escape). We could not resist buying a few more Asian supplies as well as some savoury snacks for lunch, which included a pot of their homemade kimchi as we felt it would be good to compare ours with those of the pros.

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We received a few gasps of astonishment when we mentioned we were making our own kimchi. It made me wonder what we were letting ourselves in for. Was it really that hard to ferment cabbage? Anyway with the necessary ingredients in our shopping trolleys, we headed home to conquer some kimchi making.

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 The initial slicing, dicing and mixing together is very straightforward. It then requires daily squelching to release the gases and submerge the cabbage. You need to store is in a cool place, out of direct sunlight, for up to 5 days before putting it in the fridge.

The whole resting and fermenting period takes around 2 weeks. You can try a little as the days roll by to see how it tastes. I have been having a little bit most days, with my lunch or on the side with my supper. I fed some to a friend who had lived for years in Japan – ok I know it is not Korea – but she gave it the definite thumbs up and reminisced how she would regularly eat it in Japan with a bowl of rice.

It’s certainly a labour of love, but one that motivated me to visit Korea Foods and explore the ingredients of Korea. Now I know the route to get there there will be no stopping me to return very soon.

You may also be interested to read a short article I wrote for Country and Town House Magazine online about the rise of Korean Food in London – read here.

For those brave enough to make their very own kimchi do let me know how you get on.

 

Cabbage Kimchi

adapted from Emily Ho’s recipe on The Kitchn

1 napa cabbage, halved lengthways and then quartered  (core removed)

70g sea salt

water for soaking

1 tsp of fresh ginger, grated

5 cloves of fresh garlic, grated

1 tsp sugar

1 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp salted shrimp (see 2nd photo from the top)

3 tbsp Korean red pepper flakes known as gochugaru

250g daikon, cut into 1 inch match sticks

5 spring onions cut into 1 inch matchsticks

1. First quarter the cabbage lengthways and then cut into 2 inch strips and place in a large bowl with the salt. Work the salt into the cabbage for a minute so that it softens and then add enough water so that it covers the cabbage. Cover the cabbage with a plate and press down using a heavy object. Leave to stand for 1 hour.

2. Drain the cabbage thoroughly under cold water a few times so the salt has been washed away. Leave to drain thoroughly.

3. Meanwhile prepare the paste by mixing the ginger, garlic, sugar, fish sauce and salted shrimp together, followed by the Korean red pepper flakes. Using your hands (I used washing up gloves) gently massage the paste into the daikon, spring onions and the now fully drained cabbage so that they are fully covered.

4. Transfer the kimchi into your pyrex jar and press down firmly so that the cabbage and vegetables are packed tightly.

5. Leave to stand out of direct sunlight for up to 5 days. Each day you need to complete the ritual of pressing down firmly so that the vegetables are submerged under the brine. Very pungent odours are released during this period of fermentation. Do not be put off as the end result will taste great. After the 5 days transfer to the fridge. If you leave it for another week or two in the fridge it will taste even better, but equally you can try some after the first 5 days.


Roasted Butternut Squash and Beetroot with Pistachio Pesto, Feta and Pomegranate Seeds from Persiana

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It was love at first sight. The vibrant butternut squash (the beetroot is my own addition) with dollops of pistachio pesto infused with fresh dill, coriander and parsley, crumbled feta and bejewelled pomegranate seeds. Simple and yet so very right. I did not even need to try it to know that I would love it and include it in my culinary repertoire from that day forth.

 

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It was served to me by the very likeable Sabrina Ghayour earlier this year at her hugely popular supper club that takes place in her west London residence. Twelve or so hungry diners feasted on a number of mouth watering Persian dishes that were lovingly prepared by Sabrina herself.  Her recipes and ingredients sing to me and I can honestly say that I actually want to cook and eat a large number of them. Dried lime, lamb and split pea stew or saffron chicken, fennel and barberry stew or bamia – bring it on.

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The recipes will really come into their own in the autumn and winter time as there is even a section dedicated  to ‘soups, stews and tanginess’, perfect to serve up and nourish the soul on cold, blistery autumnal days. That said, there are also sections on ‘salads and vegetables’,  ‘roasts and grills’, ‘mezze and sharing plates’, ‘breads and grains’ and finally ‘desserts and sweet treats’ so something for everyone no matter what hemisphere you are living in. The recipes are easy to follow and beautifully photographed. I also particularly love the cover which is not only eye catching with it’s title that rolls off the tongue, but it also has a very tactile cover.  As you pass your hand over it gives the impression that spices and rose petals have really been imbedded into it’s very cover.  Such a clever and original idea.

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This recipe you can eat as is, or accompany it with another in her book. I thought the ‘tray-baked rose lamb chops with chilli and herbs’ (above) would be a particularly delicious combination. If you want to learn more about Persian food and feel comfortable cooking it for yourself then I cannot recommend the book more highly. Sabrina’s chatty, informative and unpretentious style will connect with it’s readers and guide them through the very exciting world of food from Persia.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Beetroot with Pistachio Pesto, Feta and Pomegranate Seeds

adapted slightly from Persiana by Sabrina Ghayour

Serves 4 

1 butternut squash, halved and then chopped into about 6 large pieces (skin left on)

4 beetroot, gently cleaned (be careful not to damage the skin) kept whole and stems left intact

4 tbsp olive oil

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

150g feta cheese

100g pomegranate seeds

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for the pesto

100g shelled pistachio nuts

70g parmesan chopped into rough chunks

olive oil

1 handful of fresh coriander

1 handful of fresh dill

1 handful of fresh parsley

2 tbsp chilli oil

juice of 1 lemon

sea salt

1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees if using fan oven or 200 degrees if not/gas mark 6.  Place the chopped butternut squash and intact beetroot on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper and cover the vegetables in olive oil, pepper and salt. Place in the oven for 50 minutes so the edges of the butternut squash begin to char.

2. Meanwhile to prepare the pesto, place the pistachio, parmesan chunks and a glug of olive oil into a food processor and mix together. If it remains quite thick in texture add some more olive oil to soften it.

3. Add all the herbs, chilli oil and lemon juice and blitz together with a sprinkling of sea salt. Taste to make sure the flavour is well balanced. Leave in the refrigerator until ready to use.

4. To serve, place the roasted butternut squash and beetroot (now cut in two) on a serving platter. Place dollops of the pesto on each vegetable portion, crumble the feta on each portion and around the  platter. Finish by scattering the pomegranate on top.

Voila you have the most pleasing of meals to dive into.