Onion Bhaji

onion bhaji

We are all brought up with different ‘staples’ in our diet.  Indian food was never a staple for us, more a take away treat, like many children of my era.  However, as a nation, we seem to have completely embraced the delicately spiced nuances which are associated with asian cooking, although I would suggest that, in the main, it is still experienced via the restaurant or take away.  And I include myself in that category.

However, I am trying to conquer the art of cooking different cultural staples, if nothing else, just to see how easy it is.  Enter the Onion Bhaji, or as son #1 used to call them, Onions and Bhajis.

We are extremely lucky where we live, to be surrounded by different cultural food grocers, so finding all the ingredients is very, very easy.  I just pop down the local shop.  However, I am acutely aware that not everyone is as lucky, so, before I go any further I’d like to remind you all that recipes for savoury foods are just a guideline, nothing more.  If you don’t have it in, and cannot easily get hold of it, either miss it out or replace it with something you do have that is complimentary.  This may take a little research but trust me, it’s really not worth getting all hot and bothered because you can’t find fresh curry leaves …

Right.  So the ingredients I used are as follows:
60g gram flour, 30g rice flour – I used ground rice here as I didn’t have any rice flour and ground rice is just a more coarse version of the flour.  You could, should you so desire, just use gram flour in which case it is 90g (I know, mathematical genius…)
Juice of ¼ lemon, 1 tbsp ghee or butter, melted, or, in my case, 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil.  It’s personal preference here, but I also use vegetable oil to cook the Bhajis in so it’s a win win for me.

½ tsp turmeric, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp chilli powder, 2 green chillies – the thin ones are better as they have more heat – 2 tsp fresh ginger and two cloves of garlic chopped together and 2 onions halved and sliced.  Small pinch of salt.

Put all the dry ingredients into a bowl and add the oil, lemon juice and just enough cold water to make it into the consistency of Yorkshire Pudding batter.  Add all the spices, mix, then add the chopped onion.

At this juncture you may wish to add some fresh, chopped coriander, curry leaves or both.

Bring a deep pan of vegetable oil to a heat of 180C – now then, here’s a thing.  I had to look this up because I don’t have a deep fat fryer or a thermometer to test the heat.  I go by throwing a small piece of bread into the oil.  If it fizzles up and becomes a crouton in seconds, I know the oil is hot enough.  Not very scientific I know, but it’s the best I’ve got to give at present.

Anyway, when the oil has reached the desired temperature, take a dessertspoon of the mixture and drop it into the oil.  It should fizzle and rise to the top immediately, if it doesn’t, your oil is not hot enough, so whip it out and wait.  Keep turning the Bhaji until all areas are golden brown, then fish out and pop on a sheet of kitchen roll so that any excess fat is soaked up.

In my pan I use for frying, I can fit about 3 Bhajis in, so, prior to cooking, I put my oven on to keep already cooked Bhajis warm, whilst cooking the others.  This mixture makes between 6 and 8, so they won’t be in there long.

I then prepare a yoghurt dip by adding 1 – 2 teaspoons of mint sauce to 1 – 2 tablespoon of natural yoghurt.  Lush.

The first batch I made were not as delicious as I thought so I readjusted the balance of spices to the above recipe.  You, too, may have to readjust until you find the right spice level for your personal preference.  The other little tip I have, is, make sure that the batter is not too runny.  You can always add a little more water if it feels too stiff but it’s an absolute nightmare to readjust quantities if it’s runny.

Onion Bhajis.  Simple as.

 

 

 

 

 

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Made With Love

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One of the most wonderful things about the kindergarten my wee boy attends is the sense of community spirit it evokes.   Not just in me, but I would say in the majority of parents who take their wee ones there.

Obviously it is not for everyone.  But it is definitely for us right now.  There are many reasons for that, but one I especially want to share.

Recently, one of the mums at Kindergarten gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. Having had a challenging pregnancy, most of us were aware that our friend was very likely to have her baby early.  And so it was to be.  The beautiful, tiny wee boy was born at 28 weeks and is, up to this point in time, using all his strength and determination to laugh in the face of adversity and just show the world what he is capable of.  It is amazing.  His parents are truly incredible.  His brothers are as gorgeous as ever.

The community within which this has happened, kicked into action with a speed unbeknown to most, so that within hours, alongside many other things, a food rota had been organised, which we all signed up for, in order that the family would have good, hearty, home cooked food as often as possible, without having to think about it.

Food is what sustains us.  Food energises us.  Food has the capability to nurture our inner souls, not in itself, but in the process of sharing.  It is a language akin to music, which is universal.  To be able to do this one small kindness, knowing that it means so much to those you are giving to, is overwhelmingly gratifying.

Also, it does mean you can’t just bob round and cook beans on toast…

So I have decided to make a stew.  Yes, I know, not the most glamorous of dishes, but when it comes to warming the cockles of your heart on a cold winter’s evening, nothing beats it.  Also, it’s a doddle to make and, if there’s any left you can always freeze it for another day.  Alongside that I am making some bread rolls, which can, once again be frozen if they are not needed that day, and are perfect for little hands.

Then that will be my meal for the family cooked, until my turn comes around on the rota again.  It’s not much, but it helps, and collectively it is making a huge difference to our friend’s lives.  Not just in terms of the food, but in terms of the love that accompanies it.  And that is unquantifiable, priceless and what community is all about.

 

 

Roasted Figs with Goats Cheese part 1

figs and cheese #2

Following on from my first fresh fig experience of the season, I decided to foray further into the fig world and have a go at roasting them.  As a strong supporter of buying local, I popped in to the market we have in the city, to pick up, amongst other things, a handful of figs.

Now this is the thing, every time I go to the market for fruit I forget the golden rule of market fruit.   Which is: all soft fruits bought from the market are to be consumed within a day, otherwise they begin the sorry state of decline so often found in fruit bowls across the country.  I have often been caught out by this market fruit propensity, having got used to buying fruit from a supermarket where they scare each piece into a state of suspended frozen shock, until it’s time to release them into the public domain.

However, I forget all of this and buy myself some gorgeous soft and hard fruits.

Ladened with figs and many other delicious items, I unload and arrange artistically, all the fruit in a bowl keeping the figs separately and, indeed, the plums. To be fair, I think I may have been egging the pudding slightly there.  There isn’t much to putting fruit in a bowl.

Moving on.

This is where I make two fatal mistakes.  Firstly, the figs lounged on a plate for over 24 hours on our kitchen table, and secondly, I balanced a bunch of bananas precariously on the edge of said plate.

‘And what,’ you may ask, ‘is the consequence of said action?’

My beloved figs have gone past the point of no return.  Overnight.  When my back was turned.

So now, having bought the goat’s cheese, I now have to buy more figs.  Could I be caught in an self perpetuating cycle of figs?  Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, apparently what you do is this:

Using a knife, carefully trim any tough portion of the stems from each fig.  Rub each fig all over with extra-virgin olive oil, then slice down through the stem about 2cm.  Make a second cut perpendicular to the first cut, so that you have an X-shaped cut in the top of each fig. (I love the word perpendicular).
Gently pry the edges apart and stuff each fig with about 1 teaspoon of the goat cheese. Place the figs upright on a baking sheet and bake until the figs are plump but have not burst, at gas mark 6 for about 10 minutes.
Drizzle the honey onto the serving plate and place the roasted figs on top of the honey.  Sprinkle with a pinch of the chopped rosemary; drizzle more honey on top if desired.  Serve immediately.*

I shall be endeavouring to rustle up this little number later on today.  I’ll let you know how I get on.

 

*Courtesy of http://www.grouprecipes.com

Chicken Stock

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Now I don’t know about you, but I have a passion, some may say obsession, for using up and transforming food.   And I have to say there is very little that beats the satisfaction you feel when making a chicken stock.  It’s versatility has no limits, and if you want to intensify the flavour, you just allow the liquid to steam off.

So, this is how I do it.  Firstly, find a pan that is solid and happy to have heat underneath it for a long time.  I have a cast iron pan, which I think is perfect for stocks, but anything with a heavy bottom will be fine.  I then throw the chicken carcass and any other chicken bits that have not been devoured, into the pan.  Next I chop up a couple of onions into quarters, skins on.  Skins on?  Well, they add flavour and to be honest, you are going to sieve the whole lot eventually.

I also add celery sticks, and carrots.  Once again chopped with as little effort as you wish.  I’m not sure that chopping improves the flavour but I have style issues, and I think it looks better and therefore makes me feel as though I know what I’m doing.

As far as seasoning is concerned salt, whole peppercorns and a couple of bay leaves are all I usually add, although I have been known to occasionally include chillies, as chicken stock with a kick is great for soups.  Cover the whole lot with water and pop the lid on.

Now then, the next bit is the key to chicken stock success.  Put on the hob, bring to the boil and simmer.  For at least six hours.

I’m actually quite keen on simmering the stock for eight hours, often starting it off in the evening, turning it off when I go to bed, and then finishing it off the following morning or evening.   I’m not sure it makes much difference, but as it’s a third of a day this, once again, gives me pleasure and reassurance.  I’ve often wondered how people worked out optimum timings for such things.  I guess it’s trial and error.

Anyway, once the stock has cooled, but not gone cold, sieve.  If you leave it until it’s gone completely cold, the liquid turns into a jelly like substance (something to do with the meat fats) and it sticks to all the stuff that’s in there.  Pour into pots.  When the stock has gone completely cold, you can, if you wish, scrape off any excess fat. My personal opinion is that the fat from meat in a stock truly enhances the flavour of whatever you may be cooking but I am aware that for whatever reason, not everyone shares this opinion.

As to the type of container required, I have varying sizes of plastic pots in the freezer with stock in them, but that’s only because I have plastic pots in various sizes.

And that’s it.  Job done.  Just to add a final thought.  I guarantee the next time you cook a meal that requires chicken stock, and you take your own home made one out of the freezer, you will do so with a rather beautiful, self satisfied grin.

Cooking Chicken

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There are very few cooking pots that stand out in a crowd for their innovative design and practical supremacy.  There are perfect pieces of pottery, and classic pieces of cookware.  It is rare to find a wonderful combination of the two.

Enter the Chicken Brick.

This beautiful piece of culinary design was created by David Queensbury for Habitat 50 years ago, and as far as I’m concerned, is one of their most successful pieces in their short, but colourful history.  It is one of my favourite cooking pots.  Or to be more precise, terracotta cooking pots.

And here’s how it works.  The pot acts as a culinary kiln, and because it is terracotta and therefore porous, it allows the heat to drift through it very nicely so that the chicken and its accompanying orchestra of vegetables, cook away in their own juices, thus creating a perfectly succulent bird every time.  And if you’re worried that the chicken may look a little anaemic having had no direct heat onto it’s skin, don’t. It manages to come out with a very healthy tan.

I always tend to put onions and carrots as a cushion for the chicken to sit on top sprinkled with salt and pepper, but to be honest, it is just as delicious without added vegetables, and it is absolutely up to you what you pop in there.  I add a little boiled water into the base before putting in the oven, to make sure I don’t have a minor panic attack as to whether there will be enough gravy or not.  You can never have enough gravy in my book.  Anyway.  I then put the brick on the shelf nearest the middle of a pre heated oven.  Gas mark 5.  There is a rule of minutes per weight for every meat, but as with everything oven based in my home, I have to adjust according to the outside influences.  Therefore, I tend to just use a thermometer.

So why is this so fabulous then eh?  Well, there are a few reasons.  Firstly, the chicken always tastes succulent and gorgeous which is a bonus as chicken, although texturally satisfying, is quite a bland meat if it doesn’t have a great support act.  I find that the sweetness of the carrots and onions imbibe the chicken enough to add flavour, but without overpowering it.  As a slight diversion, I have found that this combination makes beef, cooked in the chicken brick, taste wonderful as well. Secondly, the stock that I use for the gravy has a taste that I find hard to replicate through any other formula, and finally the pot itself has a quirk and style to it that is unbeatable.  If you like that kind of thing.  Which I do.

There are a couple of very, very minor downsides to the Chicken Brick.  The first one is that it takes up quite a bit of space if you don’t have other pots or dishes of the same shape.  Luckily I do.  But if you didn’t, you would probably have to either buy some oval dishes, or accept the fact that the brick needs it’s own space.  And secondly, it doesn’t take kindly to letting go of washing up liquid, so wash wisely.  But hey, these are blips on an otherwise perfect piece of innovative culinary design.

And so to dinner.  As it’s Sunday, I am opting for a traditional Sunday affair.  Chicken, sage and onion stuffing, roast potatoes, and steamed mini sweetcorn, long stemmed broccoli, sugar snap peas and mange tout, all covered in gravy.  Delicious.

As a final thought, if you like the idea of using a Chicken Brick but are a little concerned about spending money on something you feel you may regret, why not find someone who owns one and ask to borrow it?

Mine will be free from this evening, if anyone’s interested.

 

 

Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies

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I have never been very successful at making cookies.  I can do shortbread, and something called Tom Thumb biscuits, both of which I’m sure will appear on this blog at some point.  But in terms of the cookie style biscuit, I have to admit to being rather pants.

However, that has never stopped me from trying to conquer this anomaly every now and again.  I say anomaly because it seems strange to me that something with ingredients so close to a cake can turn out so obviously wrong.  Indeed there have been many occasions when those nearest and dearest who are great lovers of almost any type of biscuit, have had to decline the offer of another one of my home made attempts.

And this is in spite of Delia and the gang telling me how easy they are to make, and that I will never buy shop bought again.

Accepting that every failure is a form of success, lesson learnt and all the rest of it, I have been thinking about trying one of Nigellas stalwart no nonsense, always come good cookie recipes for a while now, and inspired by a friend I recently visited who had made them to perfection, I found myself with a window of opportunity today, so have opened it.

All ingredients bought, I prepare to attempt the triple chocolate cookie.

So, everything is going extremely well, and despite juggling with requests for hot chocolate, and a sink full of washing up which I really should have dealt with beforehand, I’m feeling pretty organised, until a very strange thing occurs.  The recipe says to add 75g of soft brown sugar to the butter, and then 50g of white sugar.  In my attempts to be super organised, I have dedicated a bowl for each element and found spaces for them in the chaos of my limited work space, the majority of which has been taken up by the aforementioned non accomplished washing up.

As a consequence, I add the sugar to a bowl which in my mind has the soft brown and butter lounging within it.  But the weighing scales tell me differently.  So I spend the next five minutes or so fishing out white sugar from a bowl, desperately trying not to remove any of the soft brown sugar.  It is then that I decide to investigate further, lift the bowl closer to me to discover there is absolutely no sign of the soft brown.  Which is when I realise that I put the white sugar into the bowl with the dark chocolate which is waiting to be melted.

Funny how the brain can convince you of something that just isn’t true.

Anyway, that miniature hiccup over I continue, with the occasional help from my beautiful assistant, to put everything together and place onto the prepared tray with an ice cream scoop.  Yes I sniggered too, but y’know, it does work.

Nigella says give it 18 minutes, but I leave it at least 25 as I need to figure in the temperamental oven and the back door being opened for some of the time, before checking to see the dough section has baked.  And indeed it has.  On every single one of the cookies.  Which for me, is almost unheard of.

In fact, I would say these are the most successful cookies I have ever made.

*Takes a bow*

 

 

 

Sausage and Mash

photo (65)

Sometimes the weather lends itself to the type of food you fancy eating and today has been no exception.  The wee boy and I have been to one of our favourite haunts with two of my favourite people and had the loveliest of days.  In fact, we’re on an absolute roll this week.  Day after day of enjoyment.

But today was a little different.  Because today we went to Yorkshire Sculpture Park and allowed ourselves the pleasure of one of my favourite pieces of artwork, ever.  James Turrell‘s Deer Shelter.  If you do anything this year, I suggest you go there.  It’s magical.

Now, whilst there we were bathed in intermittent sunlight which afforded us the enjoyment of a stroll instead of a ‘beat the rain’ brisk walk.  With that comes the notion of light lunch.  However, on the way home, the heavens opened, so after dropping off our precious cargo, we discussed what we could cook for dinner, and without hesitation, the wee boy plumped for sausage and mash.  

I put it down to the rain.

In my attempts to make sure the boys have a healthy engagement with food, they are often allowed to choose not only the menu, but the actual product, which he diligently did.  

So, armed with my potato ricer (everyone with a mashed potato lover in their midst, needs one of these) the dinner was cooked and assembled, paying particular attention to the gravy, which is one of my favourite liquid foodstuffs.  

Occasionally you know, the rain really does do more than the plants a favour.  We haven’t eaten this meal in quite a while, and every single mouthful was delicious.

Mind you, the kitchen looks like a botched burglary.