It’s official. I’ve eaten so much that the scales are refusing to weigh me. They didn’t even wait for me to get on them; took one terrified look at me and displayed Lo on the screen*. Too many fried cheese sandwiches and Heinz soup, methinks.
So, taking advantage of Himself’s sudden silaging frenzy (and therefore, erstwhile absence), this week’s evenings have stirred little of the usual soul hunger**. Until tonight.
One stick blender, two packs of basil leaves, 1 clove of garlic, half a jar of sundried tomatoes, one marinated grilled pepper, way too much expensive Grana Padano cheese, a large handful of cashew nuts, 100ml milk, 100g mature cheddar, 5 aging mushrooms, a pudding spoon of cream cheese and a few glugs of EVOO. This makes Pesto, Sundried Tomato Paste, 70s style Cheese Spread*** and Roast Mushroom Pate.
Strong flavours to fool the belly into thinking it is fuller than it is and only good things in there.
These go onto wholemeal bread wafers, out of the same 1982 cookbook as the cheese spread: the ubiqitious Better Breakfasts by Rachael Holme.
Very straightforward set of spreads.
1. Heat oven to 170deg C.
2. Swirl the mushrooms round a baking dish which has been lavishly coated with EVOO and a touch of salt. Condem to the oven.
3. Mix 140ml boiling water and 1 oz melted butter with 4 oz wholemeal flour and a pinch of salt. Knead for a minute, roll on a bed of flour to a thickness of brown paper (good luck with that) and cut out circles with a glass. Make holes in them with a fork – this is essential. They need about 10-15mins in the oven.
4. Grate 100g cheddar, tip into a jug, bring the milk to almost boiling (not quite – hard to achieve on a halogen hob) and pour on top of the cheese. Pulse gently with the stick blender, hardly at all, and see if you can do it without it separating. Pour into a nice wide-lipped bowl and stick it in the fridge when it has cooled. It sets really well.
5. Drop 50g basil leaves and a quarter garlic clove into the same, rinsed out jug, again, pulse gently with the stick blender. (Naturally I blitzed mine, but it is the first pesto I’ve made). Add cashew nuts (gave in, bought cashew nuts instead of pine nuts. A sad, sad day involving compromise) and
blitz pulse some more. STIR IN (no processing) 2 tblsps of grated Grana Padana later and a few glugs of oil and we’ve got some pesto. Export into pretty cutglass crystal jug.
6. Whizz up the sundried tomatoes and grilled pepper (we’re talking large peps, not pepperdew) and stir in another quarter of grated garlic. Another nice dish to dish it out.
7. Finally, whip the wizened mushies out of the oven, tip into the jug with the rest of the grated garlic and pulse. (I’d definitely got the hang of ‘pulse’ by then). It wants to be choppy, not sludge. Fold in a heaped pudding spoon of cream cheese and grate in plenty of nutmeg. Roast Mushroom Pate.
The result is below, but the image was so desperately blurred, I opted for the “tights across the lens” look, an old trick used to make aging filmstars appear younger, which is why the picture is fuzzy. Or one of the reasons it’s fuzzy.
*The plan: to tempt the scales with a Brand New Battery and see if its mood improves.
**Lunch is not a petite affair. Believe me.
***Strong, mature cheddar flavour with half the fat. Well, kind of.
There are some snacks that should be eaten in secret, at night, where no-one can hear you crunch. This evening I discovered garlic chips. This may sound like a revolting skeleton in my cookbook, but … I just love garlic.
Slice a couple of cloves of garlic quite thinly (not too thin).
Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and toss in the garlic. Stir it around so that all the slices separate, sizzling with a heady smell. When the pieces start to brown, lift them out into a small bowl. Burning is bad.
Salt and sugar them – a medium pinch of salt and a little pinch of sugar to take any bitterness away.
It’s wrong but I did it anyway.
So the promised Chicken Liver Pate. With garlic and bacon. Cheaply made – 88p for the livers, 89p for a whole pack of bacon pieces – only a few used – the rest in a bacon butty the following morning.
Chicken liver pate is a simple but scary dish. It has a lovely flavour – can carry a lot of garlic – and is so satisfying when made by your own fair hand. The terror comes in the cooking. A local chef once told me that you need to cook the livers only until they are “dangerously pink”. The problem with liver is that if you overcook it, it changes texture and becomes nubbly. Nubbly is mildy gritty. On the other hand, you don’t want to poison yourself and others.
The only really fowl thing you have to do is cut any remaining membranes off the livers. They become chewy clumps when cooked and it isn’t a good sensation in smooth pate.
I drained them a little too, since much of the bloody water came from the defrosting.
Melt a chunk of butter with a glug of EVOO (so the butter doesn’t burn) and saute a few bits of bacon. Add as much garlic as you feel is best and the livers. Salt (not too extravagantly) and cook as above, until “dangerously pink”. If you chicken out (as I did GRRR), that’s when you get nubbly pate (more GRRRR).
Pepper. Also green peppercorns are a good idea.
Slam the mixture into a food processor and process to a ghoulish liquid, reminiscent of a horror movie.
Pour into a decent size dish and smooth the top.
Melt a slab of butter and pour over the top. If any peaks of pate stick out of the butter, they will look pink and scary, so it’s best to ensure full coverage.
Chill for a few hours until everything is set. I like to mix a few green peppercorns in the butter usually, but this has been made for a dinner party tonight, which will be populated by self-confessed ‘plain eaters’ so I didn’t like to risk their enjoyment.
It’s to be eaten with bought sliced baguette and a little bit of salad. YUM!
Stuffed peppers: very 70s, very veggie, very has been. But no… actually they can be good. And easy. None of this blanching business. Oh no.
It’s quite simple.
Fry up slivers of smoky bacon (2 rashers did it for me) with half a finely diced onion, and stir in a couple of handfuls of fresh breadcrumbs. Pepper. Add about 6 thick slices of lancashire/cheddar/both cheese, crumble/diced into the mixture and finally stir in a handful of parsley.
Halve a red/yellow/orange pepper and place in a reasonably tight baking dish cutside up so that you have two little bowls.
Chop up a tomato and half fill the pepper halves with the doings.
Clag on the breadcrumb mixture so that it domes over the top, pressing it down and then place in the preheated oven on 180 deg C for about 45 minutes until the peppers are soft (with the skin on they will retain their shape) and the filling is hot.
The tomato means that the meal is rather lighter than you would expect but don’t be fooled; one half was enough – both was too much!!!
The difference between cooking from a recipe book and working from your head is like being a busker who makes beautiful sounds in the street without sheet music and then puts on his tuxedo and plays precise, fast Mozart in a philharmonic orchestra. The skills are the same but the attitude’s different and you’re playing someone else’s beat.
There aren’t many days when I use a recipe to the letter, but when learning a style of cookery, it is essential to stick to the book. Curry isn’t curry unless you follow the rules. If you deviate before you are ready, all you have is a spicy stew.
Now most people will know that ‘curry’ was a watery stew invented for the sake of the delicate British palate, but the modern use of the word covers a vast array of dishes, from white chicken korma to Goa fish curry; egg curries, dried fruit curries and more besides. Far more than what you can find in a high street British Indian restaurant and way beyond the watery stew.
The book in question tonight is Carmellia Panjabi’s 50 Great Curries of India. It’s an unprepossessing book, but its pages dispense the magic of precise curry making with lovely pictures and if you are careful not to miss out any of the ingredients, it is possible to perfectly replicate the delicious concoctions inside.
A fast rundown of the recipe of the night: Panjabi’s Malabar Prawn Curry won’t do it justice, but it should give you the flavour of what you can expect if you part with £6 to obtain it for yourself from Amazon.
The smart curry learner gets the ingredients ready in groups, bowled-up like a TV cookery show. When you’re ready to get the show on the road, it will only take around 20 minutes to make.
100g creamed coconut melted into milk with 400ml water
1 tablespoon tamarind extract diluted in 100ml water
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
10 dried curry leaves
half a biggish onion, sliced thinly end to end
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 heaped teaspoon grated ginger
4 green chillies, cut lengthways in half.
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cumin powder
2 tomatoes, chopped
200g (it will take 300g) prawns *preferably raw but needs must when the Devil drives.*
3 tablespoons of oil (yes, THREE).
Heat the oil and add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add the curry leaves to allow the oil to become infused with the flavour. Add the sliced onion and fry for 5-7 minutes. Keep stirring, the onion wants to be slickly yellow and flavoursome; not edged with dark brown.
Add the ginger, chillies and garlic. Fry for 2 minutes and then add the dried chilli and the powders. Add 2 tablespoons of water and stir to prevent sticking. DON’T BURN THE SPICES.
Add the chopped tomatoes, 100ml water and tamarind extract. Simmer for 5-10 minutes while you put on the rice.
Pour in the coconut milk, salt the curry, stir and let it rise to a simmer. Taste. Too hot? Tough. There are ways to reduce the heat, but this isn’t a curry to kill. The tamarind will have given it a warm, sour flavour; salt is not needed in as great a quantity as you might expect.
Add the prawns, bring to a brief simmer again and serve with lashings of raita. (Diced cucumber and onion in cooling plain yoghurt).
Strangely, it doesn’t even begin to resemble the glorious sunset red of the photograph in the book, but the taste is unusual and heady and despite the accidental over application of chilli flakes, is not as hot in the dish as it is in the pan.