Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Winter Mishmash

Just before Christmas, I went to J. A. Hyman or Titanics, which is a Jewish delicatessen in North Manchester between Cheetham Hill Road and the Bury Old Road, or is it the Bury New Road. I admit here I would never have found it, had it not won City Life Food Retailer of the Year 2005 or so. So here I was, only 4 years after the media buzz. I wandered round it for ages. There were soups made by the deli which I would have been tempted to buy had I not been on my bike, in the rain with a lot of shopping to do, so I emerged with a packet of snacks. Look at how I demolished the packet as I scoffed them down:

Yes, falafel flavour snacks. I loved them. Crunchy extruded wheat shapes with a good dose of salt and MSG, and yes, they did taste falafel-y. If I saw them again, I would buy them, but I don't think I would go from South Manchester to North just to get them. Of course, I could use the online service. Their motto: “You shop, we schlepp”.

Then for Christmas, I went to my parents'. We didn't do Christmas; my mother had held a ceremony, and had catered for all invited so we were eating leftovers for days afterwards. The one I most enjoyed and the one which I should make is shrikhand. That's not how I would pronounce it, but that is the spelling you would put into a search engine if you wanted to find recipes. It's an Indian dessert of curd cheese, sometimes strained yogurt and sometimes cream, flavoured with sugar and ground cardomom. Slivered almonds, pistachios, and saffron strands are optional tasty additions. I ate lots of it.

I didn't do any cooking whilst there; it's hard to have free reign of an unfamiliar and small kitchen, especially one without an oven or a grill or half the ingredients you are used to using. Hardest of all is trying to cook in the knowledge that my father doesn't like too much garlic and my mother doesn't really like anything which isn't spicy.

So I made these:

If I could call them anything, it might be mini bubble and squeaks. I based them on my mother's moothia (literally "fistfuls") of spicy vegetable matter held together with gram flour and lightly fried. It is mainly grated parsnip with a bit of carrot and savoy cabbage with the merest seasoning and three strokes of cinnamon stick on a grater. None of these are particularly starchy, so to bind them together, I used that afternoon's leftover white cooked rice. I could have added a bit more, they fell apart very easily, but once they did, they fried pretty nicely.

Last night, I heated Habanero chilli flakes (a Christmas present!) in oil and shallow fried blocks of tofu before adding to a stir fry. It gave them a really nice subtle flavour and a jolly golden colour. It's good to be back on the cooking saddle.

Friday, 27 November 2009

I really need some pictures. And soon.

In the past few weeks, I have been eating breakfasts at cafes trying to find some black pudding which I like. I have been unsuccessful and have now given up. I don't think I like black pudding. If anyone is desperate to prove me wrong, let me know.

Has anyone seen the episode of Red Dwarf called "Demons and Angels" from Series 5? The crew encounter angelic and demonic versions of their spaceship and themselves. Lister finds that in the angelic ship, even the Pot Noodle from the vending machine tastes decent.

I was reminded of this when I deep-fried a piece of tempeh this evening in the oil left over from some chips. The taste of tempeh is something I have trouble trying to find anything good to say about, but when deep fried, like Lister's angelic Pot Noodle it was decent. Actually, it's not the taste which is weird -therefore I love- it's the texture. It's like a mass of bean vomit.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

South East Asia influences my rice dish

I was inspired to make tonight's dinner by the Vietnamese food I ate in Berlin. Which kind of saved my life. I was very cold and hungry and losing the will, so this brought me back from the brink. I liked the cooked-raw, sweet-savoury, spicy-sour, hot-cold, soft-crunchy thing going on and tried to recreate it a little here.

For three people I used:

1 1/2 cups rice, I used brown
1 pound / 1/2 kilo of firm tofu
1 courgette (about 15 cm / 6 inches long)
1 carrot (about the same size as the courgette)
1 small onion
1 bell pepper / capsicum - I used a green one
1 heaped tablespoon of sesame seeds
1 handful of uncooked redskin peanuts
1 handful desiccated coconut
4 cloves garlic
1 inch / 4cm ginger root
1 small squeeze tomato puree
light oil e.g. groundnut / veg / sunflower / sesame

seasonings and spices:

cayenne pepper
soy sauce
chilli powder
ground coriander
worcester sauce
lemon juice

to finish
fresh coriander. parsley might work. I don't know, you tell me.
lemon / lime juice

1. Cook the rice in plain water. When it is done, drain excess water and keep warm.
2. While rice is cooking, cut the tofu into 1cm / 3/4 inch cubes and season with salt, pepper, soy sauce, worcester sauce, lemon juice, a bit of sugar, tomato puree. you can experiment here. mix the tofu well in the spices and condiments. If you have time, leave to marinate.
3. lift tofu cubes out of marinade and fry with some slivers of fresh ginger in a little oil until they have some brown colour and crispness. when they are ready, lift out of frying pan / wok if there is any leftover marinade, mix it. set to one side and keep warm.
4. slice onion and pepper into thin strips and crush or finely chop the garlic. Shallow fry in the same pan you used for the tofu and season. Lift out of pan and mix in with tofu.
5. cut courgette into batons and fry, adding salt, pepper and cayenne pepper until it has a bi of brown colour. lift out of pan and mix in with tofu and vegetables.
6. dry fry your peanuts until they start to brown in places and their skins blister. remove the skins- they should rub off easily, and halve or chop roughly.
7. Your rice should be done in the time it has taken to prep and cook the veg. In the frying pan, throw in your dessicated coconut and toast it slightly over heat. Be careful, it burns very easily.
8. Stir in your drained rice, add salt, a bit of sugar and chilli powder. Heat up rice and add your vegetables and tofu.
9. Top with the peanuts and finely grated carrot.
10. Squeeze the juice of a quarter of a lemon onto the rice dish.
11. Serve with chopped coriander leaves on top and extra lemon juice if needed.

Notes: Would maybe work well with fish / meat / poultry in place of the tofu. Please report back. The brown rice I used worked well because it held its shape and didn't squish when being mixed at various stages.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Wow and Futter (or what I ate on my Holidays)

Edinburgh, drizzly Saturday evening.
I ate a place called the Lot. It was inoffensive blonde wood and baby blue gloss railings. Reminded me a bit of a nursery.

I asked for a glass of white wine, and my waiter didn't ask me what kind of wine I wanted. Make of that what you will. Does that mean I didn't care? Was I supposed to ask what wine they had? Please advise, someone.

My starter was brie melted over salad leaves and artichoke hearts with an oil and vinegar dressing. It was very pleasant, and I think I will try this out at home. I was offered no bread with this salad. Again, should they have, even though I was glad they didn't because I would have been too full?

My main was a smoked haddock and salmon pie with goat's cheese mash. It came with a welcome salad. The only thing which spoiled the pie was the breadcrumb garnish on the top, which just tasted a bit like burnt toast and were too hard to chew.

My next foray into food was Cafe Vux in the Neukoelln district of Berlin. They had very impressive vegan buffet;
feijoda made with tofu, an incredibly yummy white bean and lavender dip. I find lavender very strong and associate it with sweet food, but this was amazing. Also, the vegan Heringsalat was something I will have to try to make at home. There were little cups of rice pudding with dessicated toasted coconut and pistachio and rose cupcakes. I also really liked the apple and celery salad. The trick with celery is to cut it up into tiny cubes; each side should be no more then half a centimetre long. Go there if you go to Germany's capital and want (vegan) food inspiration.

I was tempted to bring home a jar of Zwiebel Schmalz, which is as disgusting as it sounds, but remember, I like some really awful stuff e.g. Cherry Lambrini and Dairylea (not together). Schmalz is the German for "lard", but with less negative connotations. Still, it's lard; it was a savoury spread made of vegetable fat, yeast extract and those dried fried onions you can get. I decided it wasn't worth bringing some home.

I did bring home some Harzer Rolle or Handkaese, which is this disgusting rubbery very low fat cheese which looks like a Babybel sized round of congealed Vaseline.

Sunday evening, Boitel made a lovely Pumpkin risotto and a lentil soup flavoured with mint. My contribution was a very sharp salad dressing made of lemon juice and tahini which needed sweetening with agave syrup. I ended up eating most of it. I think it was too far out for my dining companions.

Other highlights was a Vietnamese dish of rice with tofu in an orange coloured sauce which had flavours of coconut, lemongrass, star anise, chilli and salt. On top of it was a very fresh salad with toasted peanut crumbs on top. It was delicious.

My final evening there, Boitel attempted an Auflauf - a much better word than "bake"- but as time was short, it ended up not seeing the inside of an oven. Nevertheless it was a huge glorious heap of mashed potato mixed with fried onion, fried smoked tofu, white sauerkraut- deliciously thin and vinegary- with a mushroom sauce. Delicious and not a clove of garlic in sight.

Winter is truly here, which means it is time to self-medicate with food.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009


I had some double cream which I had frozen. I defrosted it and it looked all weird, so I decided to try to make some cheese. I boiled the cream, added lemon juice and then strained the curdled liquid into a muslin over a sieve which was over a bowl and weighted. And waited.

I was left with a soft cheese, some very yellow fat which solidified over what I presume was the whey.

I drained away the whey, have salted the yellow fat and put it away since I'm not sure what to do with it, which leaves me with the cheese.

On its own it was disgusting. I have since added salt, crushed garlic and herbs and it tastes a bit better, a bit like Le Roulé. I may brave it on a cracker.

I am going on a short vacation soon, so I hope to report some good eating here soon.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Muffin update

I did it: my muffins have muffin tops, albeit slightly small ones. To a mix of 6 ounces each of fat, self-raising flour and sugar with 3 eggs, I added one heaped teaspoon of baking powder. Also, the muffin tops are stable.

I think I'm going to e-mail my friend now.

Another pictureless dinner

I made dinner last night and it smelled like Christmas. Maybe it's because I put cinnamon in the gravy- by mistake but it worked out.

Pie- this was mushroom, tofu, leek and cannelini bean. I fried the mushrooms in garlic with salt to get the water out of the mushroom and hope that some of that flavour would go into the tofu chunks I threw in. With sliced leeks and cannelini beans from a can (they were just added for bulk, but it worked out all right), I put in mustard, pepper, smoked paprika, ground cloves, ground cinnamon, lemon juice, Henderson's relish and a teeny tinny drop of shoyu. There was also fresh sage chopped in and the last of the oat cream.

Gravy- I slivered two medium onions and fried with some toffee / caramel I had made. This was left over from the chocolate toffee muffins I made 2 days previous, which I guess makes this non-vegan as it had cream in it. The pinch of cinnamon powder was a mistake. Then I stirred in yeast extract and sieved in some cornflour and stirred well. I guess this saves you making a roux. My liquid of choice was red wine and water, and I added a rosemary twig.

Potatoes- I cut these into small chip sizes to roast. After the oil, salt and pepper, I dusted these with polenta grain to improve texture. You could use semolina, that's where I got the idea; I heard this is a good trick for roasties. So, if your body doesn't like wheat you have an alternative.

And to think I made all this effort just to have something to go with my curly kale.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

A Reader Writes in...

With the subject heading "Foodness Sake", the following came to my inbox:

so yesterday i woke up and it was cold cold in the valley, soooo autumnal, and i immediately lusted after a hearty comforting warming stew. amy came over and i made a slow-cook flageolet bean stew with chunky carrots and halved sprouts (an Amazing stew ingredient in my opinion) and Just The Right Amount of chorizo sausage. like a hundred grams for a three-portion stew, put in in small small chunks right at the beginning as the onions are softening... the flavour spreads through it all, making a huge huge difference but not being Meat with a capital M. it was perfected with whole coriander seeds, a little mustard, lemon zest and oregano and served with thin crispy roast parsnips piled on top.

Doesn't that sound wonderful? In fact, because of this, and because of this nippy weather we have suddenly been having, last night I made my own stew. It was a black-eyed beans, carrot, potato, brown lentils, browned onion, prunes, sun-dried tomato, garlic, haw jelly from ages back, the last of the sosmix, the last of the smoked lancashire rind chopped up tinily, rosemary, sage, a dash of vinegar, ground cloves, salt and pepper and somehow, it just thickened itself without lentil, bean or potato disintegrating. I think that was down to the cheese and the sosmix. A good result. No pictures, sadly.

In fact, there were leftovers, so I am off to eat some this minute.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Your Letters

I got a very nice e-mail from a reader the other day, which I only just read a few minutes ago and it made me think: I want to use this patch of cyberspace create some food dialogue. Have you cooked, concocted, brewed something that you are damn proud of? Have you had successful forays into foraging and made something good with your spoils? Food enthusiasts, I want to hear from you! I would like Stir, Season, Taste to feature guest writers. If you have photos to accompany your words, that would be even better.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Bakemaster and the Cookie Crew

No cookies were baked any time immediately before or after this post. This is just a reference to a late 80s house track.

I am keen on using up leftovers, and there was a half a jar of black cherries in their own juice just waiting to go all green-white and fluffy. Something needed to be done. So I threw some fat, self-raising flour and sugar together, along with a stray egg, some baking power and vanilla essence and stirred the cherries in. I contemplated adding almond essence but then decided it was too overpowering and I just wanted the sour taste of the cherries to shine through. I tried to make a strudel topping for my pudding, but having failed to consult any resource ended up with a sweet crumble topping and something which looked like this after 45-60 minutes on Gas Mark 4 in the oven:

It was designed to be eaten warm with custard or ice cream or cream. And it was. And, boy was it good! I recommend any glut of tart fruit be used up like this.

The excess crumble topping I tried to make into muffins by adding more fat, more flour and a bit of milk to wetten it. Wetten isn't a word is it? Well, it is now. I didn't think much about flavouring, and chucked in a bit of cinnamon powder as an afterthought, forgetting we had apples in the fruit bowl. I also added baking powder and filled the cake cases liberally to see if I could pull the "spilling -over-the-top" thing which I mentioned in my last post. Lo and behold, I did:

The muffin top was not very stable. It fell off as soon as I touched it. I need a more stable muffin top. This isn't over yet folks...

I seem to be reporting the a lot of sweet cookery here. This is something I want to change. I mean last night I made a spinach potato and pea curry but it wasn't very good. It tasted all right, but I could not abide what I consider to be a lack of salt and oil. I'm such a trashy eater.

I've recently become an omnivore after being pescetarian for about 9 years. This has been a bit of a problem when eating out. Yesterday, I went out for breakfast and ordered a vegetarian one because the thought of all that meat on my plate was too much. Not a big problem: I could just ask for a hybrid breakfast next time.

However, I am concerned about the welfare of the animals before they get brutally butchered for my plate, but I am as yet too self-conscious to ask, in fear that I might sound dreadfully wanky. I really shouldn't care about the staff at the cafe / restaurant think, surely it's up to me to make them aware that I care and that they should switch to more humanely treated animals. And it's not that I am scared of how I will sound to the people in my company. It's just that I know with some places I have set foot in and ordered food, it will be a really stupid thing to ask because it's highly probable that they won't have thought about it. Maybe I should just bite the bullet with this one.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Muffin Mysteries

About nine years ago, I got an email from an old school friend. It only said one thing, which was something like:
"How do you make muffins do the spilling-over-the-top thing?"

I still don't know. Any cupcakes I make are flat at the top. I did once get the desired effect when I used bicarbonate of soda instead of baking powder. They looked fantastic but tasted disgusting. I've just looked on the internet and one suggestion is to use more baking powder. I might try that next time.

My next question is: how do you keep chocolate chips on the top from burning? And how do you help chocolate chunks which are slightly cuboid keep their shape?

Today I made some chocolate fairy cakes which had chocolate chips and a bit of a gooey toffee centre. I was inspired by a muffin I bought in a theatre cafe on Thursday evening. It was chocolate batter with chocolate chips and had little squidges of toffee inside. It was lovely.

I did buy milk chocolate to break into bits and pop into the cake mix, but then I was struck with an idea which would use up some leftovers, thus creating more space in the fridge.
I had some chocolate sauce in the fridge which had been made for the ice-cream cake I made recently. The cake had long since gone, and I was left with the chocolate sauce made of chocolate and double cream which, as you might expect, had the hardness of truffles. I chopped it up into little chunks and shoved bits into the cake mix. I half-filled the cake cases, then dribbled in some toffee sauce which I had also made to accompany the long-gone ice-cream cake. I made sure the toffee got covered with cake mix.

I got a pretty good result. The toffee sauce didn't go hard (good). The exposed bits of chocolate chunk did not burn (good) but spread a little and did not keep their shape (disappointing).

They taste very nice, by the way, but I would still like your hints for spilling-over-the-top chunky choc chip muffin success.

Thursday, 17 September 2009


I made some out of dried apricots. It's all too easy to make, and it's instant pizazz for your cheese sandwich or a Christmas present.

1) Soak some dried apricots, and maybe one sundried tomato for every twenty apricots in water for 24 hours
2) Drain excess liquid and chop the fruit into small chunks
3) Add cider vinegar, a little salt and pepper, powdered mace, powdered cinnamon, powdered clove and powdered allspice (pimento). If you added too much vinegar or salt, you might want to redress this with some sugar.
4) Bottle it in a sterilised jar. I used a small stainless steel tin with a lid, as one can often find in South Asian households as a more robust alternative to Tupperware. I have kept it in the fridge.

I would experiment with other dried fruit which is knocking about in your cupboard not doing anything.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Food in the movies

Inspired by the insignificant quotation from Cry Baby in last night's entry, I would like to compile a list of quotations from films about food. I'm not sure how far I'll get, but suggestions would be very welcome.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009


I think you should know the score by now, if you see an entry about supper here, it's not likely to have photographs because hungry stomach and greedy mouth work faster than camera finger.

I made a shoddy Potato Gratin ("We're having your favorite, Wanda honey, Potatoes au Gratin!" "Mmmmmm!") to use up a splash of cream I had. At least, I sliced potatoes thinly, added some marrow slices, oil, salt, pepper rosemary, cream, slices of garlic between layers, sprinkles some dry uncooked polenta grain on it because I couldn't be bothered looking for the semolina. Covered casserole dish in tin foil, whacked the heat up to Gas Mark 9 for an hour. Left the foil off for the last ten minutes and added oak-smoked Lancashire to bubble on the top.

I also made a mash out of some unknown squash. It was mottled green and cream on the outside and I feared it would taste watery and boring but it was a bit like butternut squash. I roasted it with olive oil, paprika and cumin before blitzing with a bit of fresh ginger root.

Finally, a pea and mint puree, as I was still feeling inspired by the meal I was taken out for and the end of last month. Frozen peas, fresh finely chopped mint leaves, an onion I'd roasted in its skin while the oven was on, it all got the blitz treatment. Pepper, a squeeze of lime but no salt, which is strange for a sodium chloride fiend like me.

And that's what you can end up eating if you're not a house of flesh-eaters. I'm kind of glad I didn't take any photos because the presentation of the food was really poor. I rather fancied dribbling the puree artfully onto mine and my dining mates' plates, but in the end reality overpowered and my small aesthetic self was out for the count.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Cake-o-rama / a tardy rice dream

I have recently made two of these thingummies. Here is a fine coconut cake:

The cake itself was a very basic cake sponge with added desiccated coconut. What really makes it is the frosting, an indulgent mix of cream cheese, icing sugar, more desiccated coconut, a wee bit of fat and do you know what the magic ingredient is? The real kick? It's a dash of zingy lemon juice which cuts through the sweet fat rather nicely.

This is very late, but here are my pretty spring rolls from my rice paper / homemade seitan phase. Which may return. I don't know yet. The colour you see in the rolls is provided by nasturtium flowers and leaves, of which there was a sizeable glut last month.

The second cake, in case you were wondering, is lying dormant in a dark very cool place, waiting to be decorated. Picture soon.

And here it is:

I saw it once on a Nigella Lawson cookery programme, got very excited by the idea and thought that would be a good dessert for a special occasion. One makes it by mixing crushed biscuit, crushed cinder toffee, honey roast peanuts and chocolate / peanut butter chips with ice cream and freezing it in a spring form cake tin lined with clingfilm. You take it out, serve with warm chocolate sauce, and warm butterscotch sauce and what do you know? It's not unlike eating an ice-cream Snickers. I can't believe I made this for someone's birthday. The only thing I am proud of is that I honey roasted my own peanuts and made my own chocolate / peanut swirled chips because I couldn't find any.

I could probably make a much better ice cream cake, less chaotic, more structured and meaningful. You watch this space.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Snazzy Restaurant Afternoon

My sister took me to the Michael Caines restaurant (not Caine) in Manchester this afternoon. We had six dishes from the grazing menu, small portions of stuff.

I tried rabbit, wood pigeon, lobster, scallops and caviar for the first time. The rabbit tasted like intensely chickeny chicken; the lobster was kind of chunky prawny; the caviar garnish was minutely dotted on the lobster dish so I could hardly taste it; the scallops were delightfully fishy. I had a peach tart with creme fraiche sorbet and bitter lemonade for dessert. There was a coconut / pea palate cleanser in a shot glass. The dishes were beautifully garnished with things like buttery sauces, intensely flavourful mushrooms, pea puree, garlic puree, sundried tomato vinaigrette, broad bean halves, bitter lemon mousse, a cube of vanilla custard, potato croquettes and pea tendrils. I had a glass of Chardonnay in a proper Chardonnay glass. There were two other dishes; a salad of slivers of aubergine, courgette flower and artichoke with parmesan shavings and lamb. I do feel like I have had enough meat to last me the rest of the year, though.

This whimsical food and the afternoon at the restaurant seems ever so slightly wasted on me but I value the experience as this is the first I have had. It feels like a dream in a way; I'm not completely sure that it happened. I have written this to remember it and hopefully get some ideas. I pay so little attention to presentation of food and I should because it is not difficult to do. I'm not sure about eating at such a place again, although if the opportunity comes up I will probably take it.

Monday, 17 August 2009

The Seitanic Verses

If I can turn this into a sonnet or even rhyming couplets, I will. But for now:

There are, as far as I know, two ways of making seitan. One is a knead and rinse method, one is straight to simmer. (These are not official technical terms for seitan-making like "The Creaming Method" is for cakes). I used knead and rinse. The latter seems to be if you have wheat gluten at your disposal, which I do not (Aside: I wonder what else wheat gluten can be used for apart from making seitan? Perhaps you just stir it into your milkshakes if you are trying to beef up.)

So, here are my tips and observations.

- One recipe I found used wholemeal flour. Either sift out the bran before you make the flour into dough, or just use white flour; it's a lot easier. I can't believe I didn't have the common sense to realise that before the deed was done, but there you go.
- Strong flour (the stuff used for breadmaking) is the best type of flour. I also experimented with plain flour. The dough made from this is prone to falling apart when you soak it in water to rinse it out, but this isn't necessarily a big problem: all you need to do is put the disintegrated mess into a sieve, rinse off starch which has come off in the water and swirl the gluten mix round in the net. It will soon stick together.
- You will make a mess of your sink and work surfaces. It seems to be law. I clogged up my sink with starch. So, does anyone have any good uses for wheat starch? I don't have any shirt collars which particularly need stiffening.
- As many knead and rinse recipes will tell you, the final step is to simmer the seitan in your flavouring broth of choice. I used 2 lapsang souchong teabags; a marinade which I made from some leftover toffee dissolved down and made into marinade, boullion powder, and soy sauce.
- I have been left with a brown shiny lump of which looks rather disgusting. But hey; meat is a a red shiny lump which can look rather disgusting. Wow, I could dye the seitan in beetroot and carrot juice- would it look more like meat then?

I have eaten plenty of wheat gluten fake meat, and what is greatly lacks compared to animal is the flavour which the animal fat brings to it. I suppose if you don't really like the taste of meat, but just like its texture, then it's not a problem. However, I do like meat, and I'm curious as to how to recreate that taste without killing an animal. I'm not sure how to address this, apart from cooking it in (lots of) (well-flavoured) fat. How it will taste I will just have to see. I'll keep you posted.


If you are into that kind of thing.

Seitan rocks. Worship Seitan. Some may call the carving and serving of it a Seitanic Ritual. Please stop now, I beg of thee. Okay, I will. I am off to make some, meat-haters and texture fans. I will let you know how I get on.

Thursday, 13 August 2009


No pictures I'm afraid, for it was too yummy, but made a slap up dinner because I felt guilty about having done very little all day. Also needed to use up butter (I'm not going to buy any more after this gets eaten because I know it has contributed to my burgeoning waistline) and some cream one day past its use-by date. I'm sure this recipe could be veganised. If you find vegan black pudding. The stuff I had was vegetarian.

I soaked some dried arame. Then steamed potatoes for mash, adding finely chopped Savoy Cabbage to the steamer later one. Meanwhile, I cored and sliced some apples, then shallow fried in butter, adding sugar. When the cabbage and potatoes were done, I mashed them with butter, single cream, salt, pepper and wholegrain mustard, then mashed the caramelised apples into the mixture.

I fried the slices of black pudding, keeping them on one side of the pan. On the other side of the pan I lightly fried the drained seaweed until it was crispy. Then I arranged some seaweed and black pudding slices onto a glorious heap of mash. It was so tasty that Clare didn't even add any cheese to the proceedings.

I've never had black pudding made with blood, and I imagine you could get a nicer crispiness to it when you fry it, something I have yet to achieve with the non-meat one. The non-meat one did not slice too well, and bits kept falling off it when I tried to slice it. Which wasn't too bad because I just pressed it back together. Also it tasted curiously minty- like the herb, not s intensely, as say, toothpaste. It was all right, but I'm not sure I'd buy it again.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Elderflower Champagne: an update

'Tis the end of the summer as far as I am concerned for my supply of elderflower champagne has now been depleted. I must say it was really rather boozy. Addition of yeast (rather than just leaving the flowers' natural yeasts responsible for fermentation) produces a drier champagne but a far boozier one with a much fainter taste of the flower than the sweeter, less alcoholic one. Not wanting to compromise the sweetness for booze content, I drank the drier champagne with a touch of elderflower cordial.


I ate a tawdry lunch of three readymade grilled-from-frozen hash browns with various dips; homemade pesto, some supermarket humous which Mike had left at our house, some Dutch garlic mayonnaise and an oversized slick of sweet chilli sauce. This left me hankering for more food and so I got worked up. I tried to go swimming at my local baths but instead stopped and drooled with my eyes at the cakes at the local deli-cafe. I was determined not to buy a piece, but to make something of my own. So I did, and here is the first proper recipe of this blog (almost).


6 oz plain white flour
3 oz butter / shortening
1 oz caster sugar
1 medium sized egg
flour for dusting

7oz of nuts / finely ground nuts e.g. almonds
2 or 3 oz sugar (rats! the only ingredient the quantity of which I did not note!)
2 medium sized eggs, beaten
3 heaped tablespoons cocoa powder, sieved
1 teaspoon good vanilla essence
2 tablespoons of butter / shortening
drop of milk (optional)
nut pieces, skins removed (optional)

1. Preheat oven to gas mark 4
2. Make pastry: rub sieved flour into fat, then add sugar. Beat the egg and then add to the mixture. Use your hands to bind into a dough, handling as little as possible. If the egg is not enough to bind it, add a teaspoon of cold water. Refrigerate the dough for half an hour, or ten minutes in the freezer.
3. Meanwhile, make the filling: if the the nuts are whole use a food processor to grind them down into a flour. Add the sugar, the fat, two eggs, cocoa powder and vanilla essence. The mixture should be a bit like a cake mix- dropping consistency- but look grainy rather than smooth. Add a splash of milk if the mix is too thick.
4. Remove pastry dough from fridge / freezer and roll out until about one eighth inch thick. I used this to line two 6-inch flan dishes, but one ten inch dish may suffice. Fill cases with mixture - here you can press nut halves into the mix if you wish-and bake for 40-45 minutes.

Serve warm with cream.

I'm sure you will have seen similar recipes. I am proud of this because I consulted no recipe book. However, I have discovered writing recipes which other people can follow requires care. Care which I am not sure I have the patience for.

Notes: I used a mixture of ground almonds and whizzed up some "chopped mixed nuts" I found in my cupboard which was mainly peanut I think. Walnut would give an exciting taste I reckon. Almond is a classic though. So is hazelnut. This was the first sweet pastry using an egg I had ever made.

Verdict: The pastry was not as soft as I thought it might be, perhaps more egg next time? But it was subtly sweet and this was good. The nut mixture worked very well. I didn't have any chocolate, so if I made it again, I might use that instead of cocoa.

I confess that I had an excess of pastry dough. I rolled it out into a thick circle, then placed a mix finely chopped hazelnuts (done in food processor) and soft dark brown sugar in the centre. I enclosed the nut and sugar mix with the dough and worked it in until it spread consistently into the dough. And I was left with cookie dough. I rolled them out and baked for 18-20 minutes and was left with some lovely hard little biscuits. The kind you might serve in a saucer at the side of a cup of coffee. Yum.

Monday, 10 August 2009


No, I haven't sampled all of the different rices I have yet to try, but I have had some Adventures in Rice over the past few weeks.

Rice Paper- Vietnamese Rice Sheets from the Thai grocery store in Chinatown. You soak them in water and they become pliable enough to make spring rolls and sticky enough to not have to glue them shut. I filled them with grated carrot, grated mooli, and avocado chunks and served with a dipping sauce of shoyu, sesame seeds, palm sugar and garlic. Couldn't find any vegetarian fish sauce. One day I will get both animal-derived and animal-free. Last week I deep fried a couple of these rolls and I LOVE RICE SHEET SPRING ROLLS!

Brown Rice- I had some excess washed uncooked rice from making a risotto- which takes aeons if you're using brown rice- which I didn't know how to use up. I ended running a bit of oil and salt through it, then roasting it in the oven until the grains went brown.

The day after, I tried to cook it as normal rice. It wasn't having any of it, so I turned off the gas and left it there. After leaving it there for 20 minutes or so strange thing had happened: the grains seemed to have burst open, so it looked a bit like crushed wheat. Didn't taste amazing but if you're looking for a change in texture, you might want to give it a go.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Another weekend of feasting

On Saturday I made pizza for breakfast. I had loads of tomato sauce left over from pasta left over from the night before, so it was mainly to use that up. Pizza dough got made quick as a flash. Who needs a 45-minute cycle on the breadmaker for that?

It was mostly sauce, with minimum cheese and it was very good. No pictures because I ate it all, over a few mealtimes. I also gave some to Anna when she popped round.

I had some chipotle chilli seeds leftover from the first time I used the dried smoked pieces of heaven which had been knocking around in a bottle for some time. I simmered them in some water and added the water to the tomato sauce I made for a touch of smoky heat and it worked.

Saturday was Sabbi and Jaydev's wedding. It was a marvellous day. My favourite food was the pani puri we got at the beginning of the afternoon meal; tiny little puri with the puffed up layer broken to accomomdate some yogurt and potato. Delicious. The rest was usual Hindu wedding fare, which I love; chana, potato and aubergine, rice and dhal, raitu, puri, dhokra, salad, carrot and green chilli pickles pickled in salt and lemon and covered in split mustard kernels and for pudding ras malai, which I'd never had before. It was a treat. I liked the weird sponginess of the milk powder cake in its moat of sweetly spiced milk.

At the reception I indulged in meat, wheat, cheese and a dash of Malibu- things which aren't the kindest of things to my gastro-intestinal tract, but I decided that one night wasn't going to do much damage.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Hugh F-W is useful for some things

...I suppose, like inspiring me to make this Roast Beetroot and Goat's Cheese tart.

He had a recipe in the Guardian Saturday magazine a few weeks back, but I no longer had and it did not occur to me that I could look on the internet. Which was a good; I like just being inspired by recipes and then going off and doing my own thing. It was similar, although looking at the recipe now, I omitted the red wine, the dill and the honey. I probably would have used garlic, had it been in the house, but I was forced to go without, which was fine. Garlic is so easy to overuse because it has a consistent and popular flavour. But sometimes you have to just let go and let other ingredients speak for themselves. Which they did, in volumes. Roasted beetroot is so good. Perhaps my favourite thing about beetroot apart from the colour is the stripes which you see in its flesh when you cut it into blocks.

I had bought a bunch of beetroot complete with long stalks and leaves. I finely chopped the stalks, added a finely cubed apple, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper and a dash of elderflower cordial. Which provided the salad that you see here with the tart:

I still have the leaves left. They may be too tough to eat raw, so I will either wilt them or chop them up and add them to a curry. In which case I will have to go out and get some garlic.

Sunday, 19 July 2009


There has been some good eating this weekend.

I made scones. Without a doubt one of the finest simple pleasures, eating one with jam and cream. Or with cream and lemon curd which also works very well.

Yesterday I went to a barbeque / bonfire in Todmorden. Hywel had brought skewered pepper and haddock pieces. The fish had been brushed with lemon juice, olive oil and crushed coriander seeds. How deliciously simple. Amy had brought some of her home-made haw blossom wine, which was a delicate pale pink and tasted a bit like rose. That was a joyful sip or two. I had brought some halloumi cheese as my contribution and then I wondered how well paneer- which holds its shape quite well- would take to being barbequed. It would have to be marinaded first of course. Amy said she had made her own paneer. We talked about making our own tofu. I omitted to tell her what a disaster mine had turned out, but failed to tell her that I tried to make it from scratch i.e. from soya bean. It was so laborious that by the time I had soya milk I was fed up.

Then today there was a feast to close the Manchester International Festival 2009. Five mini-courses all under one tent. Course 1 was a cold almond and garlic soup, a bit like a white gazpacho. Course 2 was some Rogan Chicken - basically a curry. Course 2 was Szechuan boiled pork dumplings, which, the programme said, had been boiled thrice. I speculated it might be to get as much of the starch out of the covering as possible, leaving it with a springy chewy texture. They came with a lovely dipping sauce of soy, garlic, chilli with sesame seeds floating in it. This was easily the tastiest thing, or maybe because it was what I was least likely to have tasted. Course 4 was Reggae Reggae Chicken, and I was surprised to find cardomom and rotli with what was supposed to be a Caribbean dish. Then my accomplice suggested that courses 2 and 4 got swapped round. Course 5 was a summer pudding with Chantilly cream. I know they used brown bread in the pudding because its bran content makes it sweeter than white bread, but I didn't really like that.

Anyway, it's given me some ideas, that's the main thing.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Even Courgetter than the real thing / Zucchini Kill

What can one do with courgettes? Anyone who grows them will know they produce veg (technically fruit) gluttishly and need using up. I was given some on Wednesday and I made Courgette Fritters:

I grated courgette, added beaten egg, polenta, cornflour, salt, pepper, paprika, mustard, crushed garlic and grated cheese. I had a drop of cream left over from making ice cream so I threw that in too. I also chucked in a handful of frozen sweetcorn. I then shallow fried patties of the mixture in a pan.

Verdict: a bit soggy in the middle. I may add more corn flour or polenta and then wait for the liquid to get absorbed. The addition of cream was a silly idea, making an already wet mixture wetter. Oh, and I couldn't really taste the courgette. The cheese and sweetcorn were great additions. Don't make your patty more than 7cm / 2 inches wide. They are good reheated the next day with butter. Serve with condiments.

Zucchini bread has never appealed to me much, as I don't particularly like making cake. Something which shows off the taste of the vegetable. My mother would sometimes use it as a replacement for doodhi, the huge mild milky-white radish in the dish doodhi chana, which is a chickpea lentil and doodhi curry. Anyone out there with a good recipe, the comments box is ready and waiting.

from the ex- U2 fan who doesn't mind a bit of riot grrl.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Dinner for one

I have been in Cambridge house- and animal-sitting for my sister and her husband since Wednesday. I tried to contact the one person I might know here but he hasn't responded to my e-mail, so what was I to but sit around cooking, eating and drinking? I can't get pissed though, I have furry and feathered responsibilities.

One is not fun, contrary to what Delia Smith said once, and it's even less fun in an unfamiliar kitchen. There are exciting things in the cupboards here such as pink peppercorns, slivers of mace, Amontillado sherry for cooking, hazelnut oil as well as some surprising ones (Oxo cubes? Come on! My brother in law is supposed to be something of an epicure, a gastronaut). However, I found no fresh ginger, no rice and no whisk. Not an electric one, not even a manual one. More about that later.

Since we've had a heatwave, I've continued on my ice cream tip and wanting to give Green and Blacks a run for their money made white chocolate ice cream with raspberries and meringue pieces. Here's a picture. Honestly, I need a food stylist and a steadier camera hand:

The ice cream itself tasted good good good, the tart raspberries provided a nice contrast to the sweet ice cream but they are little hard bits frozen raspberry - I did crush them first so they aren't whole blocks of raspberry-sized and flavoured ice. Note for next time: put raspberries through and sieve before adding, but definitely add them. They contributed such a delicious pink girly colour to the dessert.

I added meringue pieces to the mixture because I had four egg whites which I didn't know what to do with. I had to beat the whites using a fork and the strength of my arm, but I think my worn out arm gave up before the whites were stiff enough. My meringues were the palest brown when they came out of the oven and they were still squidgy in the middle. I broke the crunchy bits off and folded into the ice cream. The squidge I tried to recook in the oven. It changed the texture and not for the better, and tasted a bit like Sugar Puffs. Never mind.

This evening for dinner I had a splendid warm salad of brown rice, with tarragon, chopped tomato, onion and garlic fried in olive oil with some torn mozzarella pieces stirred in. Topped with Parmesan. It was lovely, the tomato had just the right tang to it.

I have never had tarragon before and in tonight's dinner it was just using up last scraps. I put it in a buttery lemony dressing for prawn salad the past few days. It has a nice pine-scented flavour. I'd use it again. If I had a big kitchen garden, I would grow it.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

The Star of the Show

Humey and Clare took me out for dinner last Tuesday, as part of my seemingly neverending birthday celebrations. They took me to Tai Pan. It is on Upper Brook Street, on the edge of Manchester University's Campus, right next to W.H.Lung, which is a Chinese Supermarket.

The place has never appealed to me from the outside because it's housed in an exterior which could easily be the goods delivery warehouse part of W. H. Lung, and I have never read anything about its food- nor have I tried- so it was a good job it was recommended to me.

I had the Kung Po Duck. The pieces of meat came in a sticky dark red sauce with pieces of bamboo shoot, carrot, green capsicum, ample cashew nuts and little cross section slices of red chilli. It was very sweet and spicy hot without being sweet and sour. I started to wonder what type of sweetener they had used for the dish. The duck meat was very salty and chewy, and had its skin on. It almost reminded me of bacon somehow.

Having scoffed too much starter, my own as well as sampling pieces of Humey's and Clare's, I barely made a dent in the main, and it was hauled away and returned in a foil carton with cardboard lid. I stopped short at making yesterday's dinner into the next day's breakfast and saved it for lunch.

An overnight stint in the fridge really does let the flavours develop. It didn't taste as sweet yesterday and the heat of the chilli had worn off somewhat. The duck was as salty as the day before, but this time my taste receptors detected a new flavour: star anise! What a trip for my tastebuds. It must have contributed to the mystery sweetness which I couldn't put my finger on the night before.

One of my kitchen's cupboards is healthily stocked with spices - not so much herbs and neither do I get them fresh to my shame) but one thing I do lack -well two things: Chinese five-spice, and one of its principle ingredients, star anise.

It's not for want of trying, albeit the type which is the opposite of persistent. I last had Chinese five-spice in my cupboard four years ago, and the dish I made with it was disappointing and far from the Chinese food I was trying to recreate.

This is also not my first encounter with star anise. I have seen old sweet jars filled with it, for it is an ingredient of garam masala. My mother grinds her own blend in a manually operated stainless steel machine which, along with the recipe for this spice mix, I hope to inherit some day.

Going back to the duck, I was fascinated with it. I have only ever eaten it twice before the meal at Tai Pan; once ten years ago in an average-tasting dish at a Chinese restaurant, and shredded on a cheese-and- tomato-free pizza along with hoisin sauce and cucumber at a time some nine years ago when it was very in vogue. I wonder if it is still the case. The duck was quite dry, chewy and salty, I left the skin, but not without sucking as much of its sticky anise-y flavour as I could. But it dawned upon me how well the duck took to being spiced and seasoned despite having a very distinct taste of its own. Fighting fire with fire sometimes does work.

I am discovering meat, having not really eaten any flesh apart from fish and seafood for about eight years, and it's taking a while. I'm convinced that duck can be more tender and melty. I'm not desperate to confirm that, but when I do, I hope it will be with gusto, care and consideration.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Finally, some graphics.

My birthday celebrations continued, and yesterday a picnic was taken to the Greater Manchester Museum of Transport. I took some roasted vegetables, some ful medames from a can which I had seasoned insufficiently and this:

I found some arame seaweed in the cupboard which I soaked in water. I then simmered tofu in the soakwater with added salt, vinegar and soy sauce until most of the stock had gone. Draining the rest off, I stirred in the seaweed. It wasn't the most amazing tasting thing I have ever made, but at least it wasn't the only thing I had to eat.

My elderflower champagne is now ready, and quite a bit more potent than the bottle I was given by Jo for my birthday. It tastes a lot dryer too. I think it's because I put too much yeast into it (One teaspoon for two litres of water. Possibly even two teaspoons!). You can even see a yeasty sediment at the bottom. I added the yeasts because the natural yeasts in the blossoms did not seem to be powerful enough to kick start the bubbling process. With my first batch I thought the water I added was too hot, thus killing off the yeast, so with my second batch, I made thoroughly sure that the water was blood heat, doing all but testing it with my elbow. Still no action. I have added a subtle one teaspoon yeast to 4 litres of water for my second batch and hope this will be less dry and sedimenty. Here it is:

And finally to my first attempt at a custard-based ice cream. I had wanted to make White Chocolate ice cream, possibly streaked through with raspberries. But I shopped in a rush and found no white chocolate. I opted for 70% cocoa dark instead.

- I didn't constantly stir the custard when thickening it because I was busy breaking up the chocolate. I think this caused tiny tiny lumps. Happily, it did not affect the texture of the ice cream.
- Perhaps this was because I used too much chocolate! You may think there's no such thing, but I really should have used a dark chocolate recipe rather than substituting the white for the dark. This did affect the texture I think, it was a little less smooth than it could have been. And too chocolatey if that is indeed possible.
- I heated up fresh cherry pieces with minimal water and a bit of sugar. I let this cool completely before adding to the ice-cream. The syrup seemed to melt the ice-cream a tad, so I anxiously started my stir and freeze process to rescue it
- I tried to balance the excessive chocolate out with the 100ml remaining cream I had and didn't stir it in properly. You will see bits in the picture if you look closely.

Fortunately, it tastes all right and there are fans of the ice cream in the house as the following will testify to:

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

A Birthday Picnic

Hm, I'm really going to have to sort the titles out with this one.

I had a picnic with Sabbi on Formby beach of tangerines, mint chutney flavour crisps, humous, a cous cous salad with beetroot, courgette, olives, butter beans and seeds; black beans with garlic, lime, coriander and chipotle chillies; mushrooms and seaweed with lemon, garlic and butter.

we ate our leftovers on the train and a middle-aged man complained that the smell turned his stomach and we should throw our paper plates away. "This isn't India, you know," he said. I'll leave you to work that one out because it makes no sense to me.

Have started another batch of elderflower champagne. It looks pretty. I'll post a picture.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Heena 4 Chipotle 4-EVA

I am in love with chipotle (smoked jalapeno) chillies. This is better than love; this is addiction.

Such a hot hot taste, such a wonderful smoky flavour! I put it in with some beans, garlic, lime and red pepper and ate it with corn tortillas, tomato salsa, thick yogurt in place of sour cream and cheese. The dried chillies came looking like sun-dried tomatoes. I reconstituted a few and whizzed them up into a rough paste, and because they are so spicy hot, have a lot left over. I have been putting it into every meal I have eaten since I opened the packet.

I bought the chillies having been introduced to the taste by Matt, at whose house I ate some Guatemalan food; black beans with garlic and smoked chillies; salsa, guacamole, scrambled egg, rice and corn tortilla. He had spent time there and said that the Guatemalans he met often ate the same food with slight variation – probably depending on what was available- for many meals in a row. Imagine eating the same thing over and over again. I always thought I needed variety in my diet for taste's sake as much as nutrition- but maybe I wouldn't. I would like to think that I have more sophisticated tastes than my cat but she eats the same thing day in, day out and never tires of it. Maybe I could do the same. I'd like to eat the same thing over and over for a week, see how I fare. I think I'd be more than happy to do so if it had chipotle chillies in it.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

A Simple Lunch

Yesterday I made myself a modest rice salad for a late lunch. I only had basmati white rice and I wanted a grain which cooked quickly.

White rice drained and rinsed, roasted tomato, finely chopped fresh mint, raw garlic and chives, a splash of white wine vinegar. I chopped a bit of cheese and stirred it in on top because I knew I would get hungry if I didn't.

I'm really not that great on the different types of rice. I have eaten arborio, red rice, sushi rice in sushi, generic brown rice and wild rice - which isn't actually a rice, but a grass, but I want to know more. I'll let you know when I do.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Elderflowers, Starters for Mains, and Yummy Yogurt

Every spring / summer, I watch elderflowers bloom, give them a sniff as I walk past them, watch the tiny flowers fall to the ground, and before I know it, there are elderberries on the branches. I nibble one or two regretfully, wishing that I had done something with the blossoms. This year, I got my skates on and subsequently I have gone a bit elderflower crazy.

Last week, when looking for Grime and Nourishment to get a the recipe for Imam Bayildi, I found a pamphlet called "Well Fed- not an Animal Dead!" by Graham Burnett on the shelf, which I started to read. I was taken by one section, and after reading, I picked a reasonable amount of elderflower heads, maybe ten, gave them a rinse, and dunked them head-first into some diluted apple juice. (equal parts water and apple juice). I left for about one a half hours, and was left with a delightful refreshing elderflower drink.

This week I am trying to make elderflower champagne. I left the mixture for 24 hours, and it didn't start to bubble, as the recipe said it would. I fear this is down to the water being too hot and killing off the yeasts. The recipe said that to add yeast if it didn't start to bubble. I ignored that, and added some fresh elderflower heads, and a bit of warm water, a bit more sugar, lemon, and vinegar. I am leaving it for another 24 hours. If there is no action, I will relent and add yeast.

I have a nagging feeling that the champagne will fail. So I decided to make elderflower cordial to use up my excess. My hunt for that elusive ingredient, citric acid, led me around all of the chemists in the vicinity, the local Boots, and the nearest supermarket without success. There were elderflowers along the way and I couldn't help myself and picked more heads. I finally found the citric acid in the nearest chemist's to me. Isn't it always the way? So, now I just have to wait.

On Sunday, not knowing what to make when Rick came round for the Apprentice Final, I made a couple of starters and we ate them all. The first was a fried tofu with spring onions, in a spicy salty sauce. This was followed by chunks of roasted butternut squash, with toasted cumin seeds. I toasted the seeds in the oven in the leftover oil from roasting the squash, then threw on some salt.

But the most exciting thing I made was potatos baked in yogurt. Into the thick creamy yogurt I crushed garlic, added salt, cumin, garam masala, curry powder, chilli powder, then chopped in fresh parsley and fresh mint. I seasoned the peeled half-inch potato cubes, added a dash of olive oil then smothered the potato in the yogurt mix. I then baked it in the oven, and when they were done, I topped it with cheddar and mozzarella until they melted. It was delicious. I wished I had taken a photo. But then I didn't know I was going to have a food blog in which I was going to write about it. The only bad thing the potatoes weren't completely cooked so I would recommend parboiling them or steaming, then cooling before baking.

I have also been subsisting on polenta which I toast, add curry powder and salt, then adding yogurt until it cooks. It tastes a bit like the Gujarati dhokra but is less time and effort. I like it, but I imagine most people would think it disgusting. By the way, I don't just use curry powder willy-nilly. I never use it in curries. To me it has a fake curry taste. It's a bit like Dairylea in that respect: as long as you don't consider it to be the real thing or use it in place of the real thing, it's ok.

Welcome Note

Hello. Welcome to Stir, Season, Taste.

I decided to set up a food blog yesterday. Cookery is such a passion of mine, and easily my deepest- and longest-running passion by miles. Actually, it is probably the only real passion that I have. So I am surprised that I didn't do this much sooner.

My particular interests are food you can get for free; using up leftovers and inventing tasty dishes and adapting existing ones to suit vegans, vegetarians, people with food intolerances and allergies. But I will be writing about other things as well.

I hope it gets you cooking and and trying stuff out.