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.

 

 

 

 

 

Croque Madame

croque madame

There is something quite strange about working in the summer holidays when everyone else is at home.  Today, for example, I returned home from work to the sound of the hoover.

I’ll give you all a moment to mentally digest that information.

Not only that, but the dirty dishes by the sink had most definitely been dipped and wiped in a bowl of very bubbly water and then taken out and stacked on the other side.

Once again, a moment is needed, I believe.

On the end of the hoover stood the wee boy, who had been merrily hoovering the first three stairs in the hall for a good ten minutes (apparently), and proceeded to do that glorious thing of talking over the sound, to let me know how comfortable I could now be, as there wouldn’t be any more bits on the floor, whilst son #1 gave me a blow by blow account of how the washing up had been accomplished.

Of course the other thing that happens during the holidays is that time, warps, as very slowly, the usual routine is no longer adhered to and a different pattern emerges.  Similarly with food, the usual pattern begins to morph into a very different experience, as holiday food ideas start to make an appearance.

As part of our honeymoon, himself and I spent some time in Paris.   Every morning we would go to a cafe round the corner from the hotel, for brunch.  It was nothing special in terms of decor, lay out or typical French-ness, in fact it had the feel of a greasy spoon, or how the French may interpret that phenomenon.   There were a couple of slot machines, bright overhead lights, a long serving counter and a very laissez faire serving staff who were extremely polite but you just knew that disagreeing with them on anything culinary would not be worth it.  Which is perhaps what gave the place it’s charm.  That, and the people who went in.

There were obvious regulars who went in for something specific every day.  There were those who just popped in for a coffee, and those who stayed to drink their coffee.  And then there were people like us.  People who were easing themselves into the day, who went, not only for the food, but to just sit and watch the world go by.

It was a glorious place and one which makes both himself and I smile from the inside out when we recall those days. And always, alongside that memory, is the delight of discovering Croque Madame.

This is the most delicious of foods, and will set you up for the day.  Moreover, it is the easiest thing in the world to make, as long as you have mastered the art of the poached egg.

Firstly, toast a good doorstop sized slice of white bread on one side, turn over and add a good slice of ham and some mature cheddar cheese.  Toast on a low heat. Turn your attention to the egg.

I have to admit that it has taken me a great deal of time to feel confident about poaching an egg in just a pan of water, having so often used an egg poaching pan. In fact it has taken many, many failed poachings to get this right, and I am still working on the presentation, however, I believe the key to a good poaching is to put the egg into a small bowl or ladle before placing in the pan of boiling water.  It’s worth mastering this method as I promise you the egg taste so much more delicious than the preprepared egg poacher method.

So, put a pan of water on to boil and add a sprinkling of vinegar.  Once the water has begun to boil add the egg and wait for the water to boil again.  Turn off the heat and leave for about a minute then dive in with a slatted spoon, removing any floating egg white that may have found it’s way to the top of the water.  Beneath that is the perfect poached egg.

Place the egg on top of the now bubbling cheese and serve.

It will, without a doubt, leave you wanting more.

Cinnamon & Sultana Loaf

Cinnamon and Sultana Loaf

I have been slightly remiss on keeping up with the blog at the latter end of this week.  Partly because we haven’t solved our oven conundrum yet, a situation which lends itself to less innovative meals, and partly because the bat mobile is still out of action thanks to the clutch slave* breaking which has meant we’ve had to rework our travel timings to include buses or walking.  But mainly because we have a new addition to our family who we picked up on Thursday evening.

So, in honour of both my first birthday as a blogger, and the excitement of it all, I am going to break my usual pattern of behaviour and insert another photo

Billie2

May I introduce you to Billie, our beautiful eight week old chocolate labrador puppy, who is heart-meltingly gorgeous in every way.  Her full name, for those who may be interested, is Billie Jo Bob, (chosen by the wee boy), although we are just using Billie for everyday wear.

Now who amongst you didn’t go ‘ahhh’?  Not many, I imagine.

Beautiful distractions aside, we still need to eat and although our oven may have gone on a permanent holiday, we do have other gadgets, such as the bread maker, that can cook.  So today, at the request of the wee one, I made some cinnamon and sultana loaf.

I tend to use a basic bread recipe and add stuff to it, then call the bread whatever I may have added.

So, my basic bread recipe (apologies, it is in ‘old money’) is 14floz lukewarm water, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 20lb 10oz good strong white bread flour – I always get my flour from Bradshaws – 2 teaspoons salt, 2 teaspoons sugar, 2 generous teaspoons dried yeast.

To make this particular loaf I added another 2 teaspoons of sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg and a bowlful of sultanas.  I like my fruit loafs to have a lot of fruit in them, you may feel less inclined to pack in the fruit.  It is, once again, your own personal taste.

Now this is the thing.  The nutmeg is a rough guess really as I have been using whole nutmegs and grating them.  So in this bread recipe, I grated some nutmeg into the flour mixture until I got a little weary.  But I’m guessing it was about half a teaspoonful.

Put the bread machine onto a sweet bread setting and start.  I have one of those machines which is not as meticulous as I at getting into the corners, so I tend to give it a starting hand with a spatula.  At some point, about 10 – 15 minutes in, the machine beeps like a very annoyed alarm clock for approximately one minute.  This is when I add the sultanas. Then leave the whole thing to bake, which in my case, takes 3 hours and 25 minutes.

I never find bread maker bread tastes as good as bread cooked in an oven but it does the job.  The top of the loaf always looks as though it’s just recovering from a debilitating bout of influenza, and the bread maker ‘paddle’ as it’s called, has to be pulled out which leaves a slight gap in the bread half way through the loaf, but none of these slight irritations are insurmountable and, quite frankly, we are very lucky to have the bread maker at all.

Finally, whilst the bread top is still warm, melt a dessertspoonful of castor sugar in a drop of boiled water and brush on the top of the loaf.

Delicious warm or cold, with or without butter.  Perfect with a cup of tea.

*Whoever named car parts should take a long hard look in the mirror and ask themselves where they left their soul when they named the inner workings of a car.

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.

Brownies

Brownies

There are many cakes that I will probably, through lack of knowledge of their existence, never bake.  But a brownie is not one of them.  Although to be fair, it has only been in the last couple of years that I have even considered making them at home and not just buying them to eat when meeting friends at the coffee shop.

Brownies have recently become synonymous with morning coffee, perhaps in part due to their American origins, although I have a sneaking suspicion that it is more likely because they compliment a hot drink wonderfully, so they, like so many other cakes, have naturally veered towards the morning or afternoon ‘nibble’ slot.   Although according to thenibble.com brownies are actually a bar cookie as opposed to a cake because,

“…brownies are finger food, like cookies, and cake is eaten with a fork”

I don’t know about you, but I can eat cake very nicely without a fork, thank-you. Moreover, I always presumed the classification process was more about how the item was baked and it’s consistency.  But who am I to argue?  Although there is another issue, on our little island, regarding whether it should be taxed or not, based on the classification of whether the food is a biscuit or cake.  And for those of you who are the slightest bit interested, may I guide you to the ‘Jaffa Cake Fiasco’ for more, vitally important and gripping details.   *Ahem*

Meanwhile, the brownie recipe I follow is a gloriously simple one, promoted by the one and only Nigella Lawson, who, for any of you that didn’t see it, read out with wonderful precision, the Eurovision results for our little island this year.  A show dedicated to all things gloriously ironic and ever so slightly camp.  Perfect for our sense of humour.

And now let me shimmy, seamlessly, to the ingredients.  You will need 375g butter, 375g good dark chocolate.  Melt together, leave to cool slightly.  Meanwhile, mix together 225g plain flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 300g chopped nuts (usually walnuts, but yesterday I did a mixture of walnuts, pecans and almonds simply because I didn’t have enough walnuts) into a bowl.   Then add six large eggs, 500g castor sugar and 1 tablespoonful of vanilla extract into another bowl and whisk together.

When the melted chocolate mix has cooled slightly, add the whisked egg mixture and then the flour nut combo.  Pour into a greased and lined rectangular dish, depending on the size of brownie you would like.

Cook at gas mark 4 for around 25 minutes.  As soon as the mixture stops wobbling, and the top has cracked and turned a lighter brown, whip them out of the oven and leave to cool before cutting.

Make a coffee (or tea) and sit down, brownie in one hand, drink in the other, for five minutes – or 30 seconds in my case –  of absolute pleasure.

Cheese Scones

Cheese Scones

Sundays lend themselves to afternoon tea.  Of course that usually means a wonderful cup of tea to accompany a plate of something cold and savoury, followed by something sweet.  Well I’m having to forego the sweet treat but have, instead, decided to make some cheese scones.

But before we go any further let us address, head on, the elephant in the room.  The pronunciation of the word ‘Scone’.

I am not, at this juncture, prepared to get into any type of disagreeable argument with regards to this word, as I am of the firm belief that, in this particular instance the ‘each to his or her own’ philosophy most befits the situation.

However, I will say that, according to my research, those of us on this little plot of land, are more inclined to the pronunciation of scone to rhyme with the word ‘con’, whereas those of our cousins across various waters, are more inclined to pronounce scone to rhyme with the word ‘tone’.

*leaves slight pause for reflection, thus realising that this information neither helps nor hinders a ‘Scone’ argument*

Throw 8oz self raising flour, a pinch of salt and a pinch of mustard powder into a bowl.  Rub in 2oz of butter until it resembles soft sand.  Add 2oz grated mature cheddar cheese and 5 floz of full fat milk together into the bowl and roll it around until it all forms a ball.  Pop said ball onto a floured surface and flatten it into a round, approximately 2cm thick, circle.  Cut out 10 – 12 scones and place on a baking tray. brush with a little milk and cook in the oven for around 12 – 15 minutes at gas mark 7.

Of course, I completely forgot that I was slow cooking a ham in the oven on a low heat, so put my scones in and thought nothing more of it.  Until 10 minutes later when it dawned on me that I was actually cooking two things in the same oven, at the same time. Thankfully I managed to rescue the situation before the scones decided to give up the rising ghost and turn into cheese biscuits.

I should also probably mention that as the weather is so inclement today, these cheese scones have been prepared, baked and eaten in my ‘at home’ daywear.

Comfort personified.