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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Quick Tomato Sauce

Quick Tomato Sauce #2

There are some days when it is almost impossible to really function properly.  I find these days usually follow a rather exciting evening where a couple of sweet sherries have been drunk and the long term committed relationship I have with my bed, has been tested.

We have had just one of those weekends thanks to one of our glorious nieces having her prom night and, as a consequence, my sister in law having a ‘bit of a do’.

These gatherings are always a huge amount of fun, and now that the boys are a little older, not so stressful in terms of getting everyone to bed at an appropriate time.  In fact, the wee one insisted that he curl up on the sofa without us even suggesting it, (with his beloved best friend blanket, obviously) and, as son #1 is 11, we allowed him, with guidance, to make his own decision about when he would retire.

It’s a funny old thing, staying up.  When you’re a child you think it will be so much fun, and, to an extent, it is.  But what is not fun is the next day when you experience your body clock battling with time itself.  However, I am a great believer in trying to understand the various effects lack of sleep can have on you before alcohol is added to the mix.  Therefore, it makes sense to me to equip the boys, whilst in our very protective arms, to get a feel for these things, in the hope that they learn, over time, not only what the lack of sleep does, but how best to look after yourself.

Being gentle with each other and catching up on sleep are two of the three main components to the morning after the night before.  The third one being food.

Ah yes, good old comfort food.

Now here’s the thing.  When you are the one that needs to make the food for the gang who need the food in order to feel comforted, you need something that is nourishing, fulfilling, and quick.

Pasta always fills this role for me, and in recent years I have begun to not just add grated cheese, tomato ketchup and a sprinkling of ground black pepper, but have actually started making my own tomato sauce.

Chop an onion and fry on a low heat in a little olive oil.  I used a red onion, but you can use whichever colour you fancy.

‘That’s not a red onion, it’s purple’, the wee boy said to me.  And he has a point.

Cracking on.  Add two cloves of finely chopped garlic and some salt.  Chop as many different types of fresh tomatoes as you have in the house.  I used cherry tomatoes and salad tomatoes.  Basically the riper they are, the better they will taste.

Add the tomatoes to the onion.  Then add a sprinkling of sugar and black pepper. Pop a lid on and leave on a very low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Cook some pasta, make some toast, boil some rice.  Whatever takes your fancy.

Add the two together.  Enjoy.

Caramelised Onions

Caramelised Onions

So often in life there seem to be things which elude us.  Circumstances, opportunities, events.  Invariably we can now hear about, through social media and other sources, where people are going, what they are doing, what is on, where, and how wonderful it will be.

But it is worth remembering that not everyone will go to everything, and that to live life vicariously through another is to miss what is right in front of your nose.  It may also be said that, with the plethora of food commentary, delightfully innovative recipes and ideas that flood our lives through all different types of media, we often miss the simple pleasures.  Such as conquering how to cook the perfect caramelised onions.

I would like to announce at this point, that I think I may have cracked it.

It’s a small step I know, but for me, one that has taken many failed attempts.  And what, you may ask, brought about this ‘eureka’ moment?  Sugar.

You may remember a while back, that we did a little experiment, and, for a short period of time, resisted as many forms of the sweet substance as we possibly could.  Which in itself was pretty successful.  But if you enjoy cooking, as I most certainly do, there comes a point where you have to search you soul and question whether something so fundamental to your being is worth rejecting.  For me it is a definite ‘no’.

That in no way means that I wish to advocate a sugar indulgence, but I have come to the conclusion that I want sugar in my life.  It’s a choice.  I am not, I realise, interested in it’s alternative.  And believe me, I have researched the many possibilities.  But no, sugar is here to stay.

So, having acknowledged that sugar is a lifetime commitment, I have begun looking into ways it can actually enhance simple foodstuffs without an overindulgent attitude to it. And it is to this end that I have found out how to make the most wonderful caramelised onions.

Firstly, pop a little oil and a knob of butter into a frying pan. Warm on a low heat until the butter has melted then add the sliced onions.  And here’s the piece of wonderment and joy.  Add a sprinkling of salt and sugar to the onions and fry, slowly, turning regularly, until the whole pan of onions begin to go a beautiful, shiny golden brown, allowing some of the onions to crisp up ever so slightly.

Turn off the heat and let them have a rest.

If you’re going to put them into something like a flan, make sure they’re cold.  If you’re putting them in hot dogs, reheat for thirty seconds or so.

Either way, these little beauties will do you proud and enhance your day like nothing else.  Perhaps a slight exaggeration there, but truly, they are magnificent and will give your day that extra sparkle when perhaps you may have, up to this point, not felt that it’s quite lived up to expectation.

To be honest there are very few days that go by where I don’t feel extraordinarily happy to be alive.  Not just because of the wonderful family and friends I have around me, but because, through circumstance of birth, I have been given opportunities which so many people on this amazing planet of ours, just don’t have.

It is to this end that I encourage you all to fully enjoy each day.  Whatever the dish you serve.

Chicken Soup

Chicken Soup

I have been slightly distracted this week which I can pin down to three specific things.  Work, general election and an awful thing going on with a tooth that I can go no further into, for everyone’s sake.

Consequently time has done that peculiar thing of continuing as normal but feeling distorted.  It’s a funny old thing which many new parents experience, but when you are having a lot of hours in the day awake, the rhythm of life changes and, for me, makes it feel as though I’m living through blancmange.  I have many things to do that I just haven’t done, or do not have the energy to do, and, if truth be known, am probably, in actuality, doing very little, just thinking about it.

As the Americans say, ‘Go figure’

However, I have managed in some part, to continue to cook a semblance of regular meals, with only the odd quirk here and there.  Interestingly, sometimes these quirks work, and sometimes you look back and ponder,

‘Why did I think throwing everything we had left in the fridge into a pan and just adding tomato ketchup, was a good idea?’

Which is why soup is always a good thing to make.  It’s simple, nourishing and although doesn’t have the appeal to the wee boy of say, spaghetti, it does get eaten.  Almost.

I made a chicken stock with the carcass and usual bits and pieces, boiling for 8 hours or so, then leaving to cool overnight.  Now, here’s the thing.  Often when I make a chicken stock I congratulate myself on using up ever last bit of chicken wisely thus easing my conscience.  Invariably arriving at the cooling stage without a hitch.  And then, mentally having ticked the box in my head for ‘make chicken stock’, I leave it on the hob.

Sometimes for so long that I have to throw the whole lot away… (Oh God, the guilt, even now)

This time though, I was on it like a car bonnet, separating the bones and vegetables from the juice as soon as it was cool enough to do so.  Then awarded myself a medal for achievement.  It’s the little things.

Invariably when making a pot of stock, I divide it into those plastic container boxes that the take-away shops so very kindly donate when they bring you food, although to be fair, it would be a bit odd if they stood at the door waiting until you had emptied the food onto a plate so that you could return their boxes.  Mind you, that’s a pretty good idea don’t you think?

*files away under ‘when I rule the world’*

Anyway, this time I just used all the stock created and turned it into a soup.

Firstly I chopped and diced an onion and carrot and put in the pan with a little vegetable oil.  I then added a slice of bacon, chopped, for saltiness, and the rest of the chicken that had been picked off the bones before making the stock.  The stock was added and a potato, chopped and diced.

I then left the whole thing to simmer for twenty minutes or so.  Took down the trusty steed and whizzed up.

Alongside this we had hummus, carrot sticks and muffins.

I know, not what you’d immediately associate with chicken soup, but hey, I’m doing my best here, and as I say to the boys, that’s all you can do.

Corned Beef Hash

corned beef tin

Today I am venturing into a food territory of almost mythical proportions.  The corned beef hash.

You see, corned beef hash reminds me of 1970’s camping trips.  Not that I went on any camping trips in the 1970’s, but other people did and spoke about it, wrote about it, eulogised about it and generally made corned beef hash the ‘go to whilst camping’, foodstuff.  I always thought it sounded very romantic, and was, if I’m honest, slightly envious of children I knew whose families ate corned beef hash at home, as it was just not something we ever had.

And then corned beef seemed to disappear off the planet, only to reemerge as a much more expensive version of itself.  With one exception.  The method of opening the tin has not changed one iota.  Which was always one of the reasons I loved it when, as children, we had corned beef for tea.  The tin.

There is something innately satisfying about a tin that opens with a key.  To the extent that if you haven’t opened a tin of corned beef, you really are missing out on one of the ‘Ooo, satisfying’ moments of life.  Of course, conversely, if the key breaks there is a feeling of complete failure, totally disproportionate to other events in life, but still, not to be underestimated.

So today I am living the dream and making a corned beef hash.  Yes, I realise that is slightly over egging the pudding, but nevertheless, I’m giving it a go.

Having read quite a lot of different recipes I decided I would slow bake the hash in the oven, (I can hear gasps of horror reverberating around Lancashire already) and use the following ingredients:

Fresh thyme leaves, one large onion sauteed in a big knob of butter, a glug of red wine, a beef stock cube, one tin of corned beef chopped, a few splashes of Worcestershire Sauce, a few potatoes, diced, ground black pepper and just boiled water.

I put all the above ingredients into a dish, and popped it in the oven, gas mark 3, for a couple of hours.

Half an hour before we ate, I poured the lot into a pan, sprinkled a handful or so of frozen peas into the mix and let it simmer for ten minutes.

It was nothing like I thought it should be, although if you’d asked me to describe what I thought it should look or taste like, I would be hard pressed to give you an answer.  However, the gang enjoyed it immensely, which is all the ratification I need.

Slow Roast Lamb

Slow Roast Lamb

Hurrah, it’s March!   Although I am a little concerned at the speed of where the months are going and have a sneaking suspicion that someone is playing with time itself, I am still delighted that we are here.

But what is it with all this ‘Meteorological Spring’ stuff, eh?  Trying, all of a sudden, to convince us that Spring starts on 1 March.  Balderdash.  Spring starts on the Spring Equinox and I will hear no more about it.

Meanwhile, I am embracing the Spring-like weather and have hung out my washing for the first time this year.

Did you know that 80% of people in the UK no longer hang out their washing, but tumble dry it?

We don’t have a tumble dryer, so during the cold months we make use of our central heating and a clothes dryer.  You know the one, where you hang everything on it, it takes up a huge amount of space, and everything takes an eon to dry?  Yes, we have one of those. So March is when I breathe a huge sigh of relief, as it is warm enough to start hanging out, and therefore I spend less time tripping over the clothes dryer.  And anyway, I love the feel and smell of washing dried outside. Although I may not be quite as keen if I lived next door to a motorway.

All that aside, March also reminds me of lamb so have plumped for slow roasting a leg of it for our dinner.

Cut up a few fresh carrots, a chunk of swede, a couple of onions and place them all with the lamb in a casserole dish that has a lid.  Add freshly ground pepper, salt, and a good dollop of mint sauce. Then cover almost all of it in just boiled water and pop into the oven, gas mark 3.  Leave for a few hours.

When you can stand it no longer, drain the juices from the pot, place in a pan and taste.  If you’d like a stronger taste either add a stock cube or more mint sauce.  It’s a personal thing.

Thicken up the gravy and pour over the resting lamb.  Put the lid back on and leave for 10 minutes.  If you can resist.  The smell of it is divine.

I serve with new potatoes and something like sugar snap peas, green beans or mange tout.

Gorgeous.

Italian Tomato Sauce

Italian Tomato Sauce

We have had one of those very chilled out, gentle days where everyone has been in the same room doing different things and generally allowing time to just waft.  I love these days.

And it is on days such as these that I tend to do my catch up cooking.  Today I am making some hummus, roasting some peppers and cooking a large pot of my all purpose tomato sauce.

The thing about this tomato sauce is that, although it takes a while to make, once it’s done you can use it as a base for anything in the Italian food range, from pizza to lasagne, bolognese to cannelloni, or just as a sauce in itself, to cover spaghetti or another form of pasta.  It’s perfect.  Well, perfect for our family.  Some people get stuff in for the freezer, I make tomato sauce.

So, what I do is finely chop an onion, a few carrots, a couple of sticks of celery and a few cloves of garlic.  Pop in a pan with a generous portion of ordinary olive oil, add some salt and pepper, put the lid on and allow it to all saute, very gently, into itself. I would say if you leave it on a very low heat, keeping your eye on it, everything will be wonderfully soft within around 45 minutes.

Once the vegetable base is softened, chop up 9 or 10 large tomatoes and add to the pot.  Squeeze a good splodge of tomato puree in there and sprinkle a teaspoon or two of oregano depending on how strong you like the flavour to come through.

The next couple of ingredients are both a confession and a statement in my defence.  You see you can’t truly make a good tomato sauce unless you put in red wine and sugar.  I have to admit to having had a splosh of red wine in a bottle sitting next to my oven for about two weeks, waiting for exactly this type of day to arrive. Sadly, to my shame, I have not been able to resist putting in a teaspoonful of sugar to accompany the wine, and enhance the flavour of the tomato.  However, my logic follows that of bread making.  You cannot possible make bread without adding some sweetness as it is a catalyst to the yeast.  Similarly, with home made tomato sauce, I believe it to be imperative in order to allow the tomatoes to shine, that sugar is added.  It’s only the tiniest bit…

And on the subject of sugar, I’m not sure whether I am going through a sugar delirium having not had any for 10 days now, but everything is starting to taste sweet.  Is that what normally occurs?

Anyway, allow everything to simmer in the pot with the lid on, for another 20 – 30 minutes or until you think everything is cooked.  Turn the heat off and let it all sit in itself for a while.

At this juncture I would suggest you make a cup of tea, perhaps have a slice of cake, and put your feet up.

When the tomato sauce has cooled down you can either whizz it up in a blender, leave it chunky, or, as I do, split it and do half and half.

Whatever you decide to do with your sauce, when it’s cooled pop it in a tupperware box, an old large greek yoghurt pot, ice cream pot or whatever has a lid, and either store it in the fridge or separate into small meal sized portions and freeze.

I tell you what, if it does nothing else, it will make you feel very organised and together when you next need an Italian tomato sauce.