Homemade onion bhajis

Curry is a fact of life in this household, but I’m always looking for new ideas i can make in a relatively authentic way. I recently had the opportunity to try out a restaurant in Leeds that I’d never been to before: Shabab, situated under the city train station. Paneer to die for, and that was just the starter.

So this week I found my local supermarket actually sells paneer now, and had a go making a curry from scratch. Went well. A day later, there’s one smallish meal left over. Now, don’t get me wrong, that’s great! Curry tastes even better the next day! But to cheer it up, I made a small batch of these onion bhajis, and ate so many of them while I was cooking that I couldn’t finish my meal in one go. *Shakes head in shame.

So, onion bhajis. We’re aiming for a crispy terracotta on the outside, soft and oniony in the middle, and everything cooked properly (harder to achieve with deep fat frying than you might think).

Delicious homemade onion bhajis
These babies were soft and light on the inside, crisp and oniony on the outside, and I didn’t overdo the chilli powder for once!

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Friday night is Curry Night! Or, here is the mess within which I live

I realise that everyone doesn’t need to see the appalling mess which litters my desk, but there just isn’t time to make it pretty. In 10 minutes it’ll be eaten. Either by me, or, because I’m still baking na’an breads, by the dog if I lose focus. She has surreptitiously inched closer and is now directly below my dinner.

curry and homemade na'an (and a lot of mess)

The point is this: here is my curry. It was mega easy to make (and believe me, I know a thing or two about being terrified of a recipe). I shied away from making curry from scratch for a long time, and the first time I attempted it, I was actually 30. No other type of meal has been held off for so long in the history of Sakina.

Anyway, I’m too lazy and busy today to make a proper curry using the fabulous 50 Great Curries of India by Camellia Panjabi, and neither do I have enough ingredients, so I cheated, and made a thoroughly unauthentic one, and you can too.

I’m gonna give you the curry instructions first, and the na’an bread ones second, because I have a feeling that the curry will be more likely to be made than the na’an (even though they are easier than making ordinary bread).

You will need:

Chicken breast x the number of people who are eating. Or more. I usually go for more.
2 x onions – one chopped, one sliced
Orange lentils
Yellow/red bell pepper
Your favourite curry paste
(I used Madras)
Olive oil

Chop the chicken into large bitesize pieces, and marinade in a tablespoon of curry paste and a few slugs of oil. I managed to do this several hours before dinner, so it worked very well, but that’s a rarity for me.

When you’re ready to cook, sling the onion into the bottom of a wide/large pan, with a few more slugs of oil, and fry on a low/med heat for ages. 10-15 minutes.

Wang some curry paste (how much depends on how hot you like it) into the pan, cook for about 30 seconds, and then heave a bunch of lentils in. I don’t know how many! Whatever you think. Err on the side of caution, is all, or you’ll be eating lentils for a fortnight.

Pour loads of water on top, bring to the boil, and simmer until the lentils are soft and cooked. I put a stock cube in for flavour and instead of salt, but it’s up to you.

I strung the pieces of chicken, alternated with chunks of yellow pepper onto some wooden skewers which I had hanging around since someone’s BBQ a few years ago, but you’re just as safe to bake them in a tray. Oven was at about 200 degrees C. (I wasn’t really paying attention).

When the lentils are cooked, if you have a handblender, knock yourself out – I don’t like it too smooth, just thick with texture. That’s why I sliced some of the onion.

When the chicken is cooked, unstring it into the curry, cook for a little longer, and away you go!

Homemade Na’an Breads

I got the recipe off a wicked little website called Aayi’s Recipes.

12oz plain or strong white breadflour
half tsp sugar
1 tsp dried yeast
3/4 tsp salt
2 tblsp plain yoghurt

120ml milk
3 tbsp water

Some nigella seeds (onion seeds)

Dissolve the salt and sugar into the water (needs to be slightly warmed), and add the yeast. Give it a whisk, stretch some cling film over the top of the container, and leave in a warm  place (I only gave it 5 minutes).

Mix the flour with all the other ingredients except for the onion seeds, and you’ll have a fabulous, bosom-soft bread dough. Knead that on a floury surface for a few minutes, and then stick it somewhere warm. Some brave people rise bread in the oven. I. Do. Not. Dare.

After the dough’s approximately doubled in size, heave it out, knock all the air out of it, cut it into half, then those pieces in half again, and roll out one of the pieces on a very floury surface. (BTW, the oven is now at 220 degrees C, for those who didn’t notice the sleight of hand there). If you have onion seeds, sprinkle them onto the floured surface. They’ll press in as you roll.

It doesn’t matter what shape the breads are, but they go quite easily into the tear shape that we’re used to seeing in supermarkets.

According to Aayi’s Recipes, it wants to be rolled out thicker than a chapati, and thinner than a paratha. Just play with it, experiment. I did.

Onto a hot baking tray, into the oven, and see what happens. They’re supposed to ‘puff up’. My first one was like a rugby ball, but the others puffed up randomly.

They stay in the oven for almost 7 minutes; just before then, get it out, turn it over, pour olive oil or garlic butter over it, and heave it back in again.

They’re ready when they look like na’an bread. This can happen for you.

And finally …

No one really needs a recipe for a salad, but cachumba is ace with curry. All I do is dice some cucumber really small, and half a red onion, mix the two together and add a couple of teaspoons of mint sauce. Give it all a good mix.

Good Cafe Tip: Truly Scrumptious, Kendal

Amid the melee of half a day’s work, a visit to my mum and dad, the handing over of the first goose eggs to a more experienced, better equipped hatcher, and helping to feed seven pet lambs, I managed an hour’s lunch with a lovely lady at a very nice cafe near where we used to work together.

Truly Scrumptious is an attractive cafe in Stramongate, Kendal (Cumbria, the centre of my world). It’s got a slightly Continental-but-in-London look about it (though as we’ve established, it’s 271 miles north of London), pretty things adorning the walls, mixed up pink, cream and yellowy tones, blackboards along the longest wall. There’s even the odd bit of gingham in the shape of a bunting flag or two. That’s right: it’s a cafe with bunting. Indoors. Very nicely done.

Truly Scrumptious Truly Scrumptious, KendalIt’s also got the number of tables right. They’ve shoehorned about ten or eleven square tables into the space, each with at least a capacity for two people. What this creates is that noisy, busy atmospheric that Italian restaurants are so good at producing (it isn’t Italian, though there is pasta on the offer). It can be a bit awkward getting round people to sit down, but elbow room is plentiful once you are seated.

Their food is lovely but I found it surprising that they hadn’t changed their menus. I don’t think there was even a Special which was a new idea. Since I started going to them in April 2012, their blackboards have always boasted cheese tortellioni, lasagne, cottage pie, chicken liver pate, something with goats cheese, something with either smoked or poached salmon and cream cheese, and soup of the day. Now, doesn’t that all smell lovely? It is.

Soup of the day is regularly changed. Perhaps that’s partly why my friend always chooses it. Also she knows I don’t do soup when I’m out and her lunch will not be stolen from her. I prefer to eat out on food I can’t or don’t cook.

The main menu is thematic: goats cheese and onion marmalade, smoked or poached salmon with cream cheese, chicken and mango, greek feta and olive. All these are paired with staples of a modern cafe; baked potato and a good sized side salad, or large salad, or theme sandwich with a large salad, and presented beautifully.

The whole format obviously works very well for them. At lunchtime most people just want to get on back to work, or talk to each other. (Not me – food comes first – but I know plenty. Some of them are my best friends.) Knowing the menu and trusting the quality helps this.

I think the pleasance of the product offsets any sameness. Everything is nicely designed and arranged. It’s not always practical  – my side salad needed dumping on my plate before the whole thing landed in my friend’s lap – but it’s so pretty; you can forgive a lot for beauty.

So, enough ramble preamble. Introducing …. Lasagne and salad:Lasagne and salad yum

And Onion Soup with a scone:Onion soup and scone

Top two images C/O Google



Dull Weather Soulfood

There are many ways to get through a dull weather Cumbrian day, and one of those is to make something that hints at spring and summer. I know that’s corny, but it’s true too.

Onion Tart (nicked from Nigella and tampered with) with Avocado Salsa 

Onion tart with lancashire cheese

Starting with the pastry (which is divine, I promise), take 4oz wholemeal flour (you can pretend it is good for you), 2oz cold butter and whizz in the food processor until the butter’s more or less incorporated into the flour. Tip it out into a bowl and slowly add cold water, a bit at a time, mixing it into dough with a dinner knife. On no account do this with your fingers.

Clag it together into a dough ball with your hands, but don’t touch it more than you have to, and tip it immediately into a plastic bag and leave in the fridge.

Yes, I’m saying Treat the uncooked pastry like a bomb. Do not disturb it.

Put the oven on at 200 deg C.

So, then you move on to the filling. Slice at least two onions into rings (as much as possible without losing a finger) and dice a third. Melt about 1 tbsp butter and dash in some oil to prevent the butter burning.

Turn down the heat and saute the onion for as long as you dare before it starts trying to stick (about 20 minutes).

Into the onion mixture, upend a couple of capfuls of brandy (think Nigella used marsala) and an extra splash for luck. Salt it, stir it around. If it’s sticking, turn down the heat.

Take a sheet of kitchen foil and fit it to the inside of the saucepan, touching the onion mixture so it acts as a really close lid. Put the lid on the saucepan.

Cook the onions for maybe ten more minutes, but keep checking them under their cap and give ’em a stir. When the ones on the bottom start turning brown, the others are quick to follow and that’s when they’re cooked.

While the onions are cooking (or after, if you’re the cautious type), get out the pastry and roll it with plenty of flour to fit the dish. (Mine was about 20cm size).

Blind bake the pastry at 200 deg C for about 15-20 minutes. Use baking beans or whatever to keep it flat as it cooks. (Mine is a cake tin that fits perfectly inside the pastry base).

After the pastry is baked, turn the heat down to 180 deg C.

Tip the sludge of browned onions into the cooked base and crack open two eggs into a bowl. Separate a third egg and add the yolk to the bowl – use the white for meringues, maybe?

Beat about 150ml double cream / creme fraiche into the eggs to make the beginnings of a custard. Salt it quite well, grind a sensible quantity of black pepper into it and grate in nutmeg – as much as you think.

Pour the egg mixture gently into the onion tart until it’s about half full, then place it in the front of the oven and pour the rest in, careful not to ship it over the edges. Top it with a bit of grated Lancahire Cheese (not cheddar, it can be way too overpowering – if there’s no Lancashire, do without, it’s the sour taste which is important).

Bake for about 20-30 minutes. It’s supposed to be set but not firm. I overcooked mine, but it was just lovely.

Avocado Salsa

As much avocado as you think, a large tomato with the seeds discarded and sliced as thinly as possible. A quarter of a red onion. A clove or two of garlic, grated into a pool of extra virgin olive oil, and a fair lot of lemon juice squeezed over everything. Salt, pepper. 
The End.








Make Your Own Butter. And Buttermilk. Then Bake With It.

The word of the day is ‘disaster’. And the lesson is that nothing in cooking is ever that much of a disaster. Oh no. It isn’t world ending, it isn’t failure as we really know it and it still probably tastes good, even if it doesn’t look how it should. Could say that about a lot of things.

Today, Magpie and her Helper (whose identity can’t be revealed for reasons which are nobody’s business) decided to have a baking session. What else productive is there to do when the sky is tipping bucket-loads of cats and dogs, rain and general nastiness? (Answers on the back of a postcard, please).

The Plan:
Strawberry Cheesecake (baked) and Chocolate Muffins (using homemade buttermilk, bearing in mind this is Kirkby Stephen and buttermilk cannot be bought anywhere nearer than Kendal), with Cheese and Onion Souffle for tea.

What Actually Happened:
Strawberry Sloop (cheesecake which wasn’t left in the oven long enough but tasted fab).
Chocolate Mini Muffins with choc chips and marshmallows that set like stringy glue… like UHU but sweeter and with less of a chemical kick.
Flapjack to use up the crushed digestives, with oats, cashew nuts, pumpkin seeds and dates.
Cheese and onion souffle, made almost entirely by Helper who mixed the greatest, smoothest ever, thick cheese sauce.
And we got two serious pats of butter out of it too (355g butter out of 600ml cream. Butter costs about 29p per 50g. The cream cost £2.16. 350g (if you could buy it in that size) would have cost about £2.06. Add in the cost of buttermilk (115ml) and you can see that we actually got two products that would have cost slightly more to buy than the cream itself did. Not bad.

How to make: butter and buttermilk out of double (heavy) cream.

Take the cream, pour it in a bowl and get out a stick blender/whisk/good whisking hand. Whisk/blend it until it’s over thick and you start to see a white liquid forming.
Keep going. The more you go, the more buttermilk you get.
Pour it off. Keep going at the butter until it forms proper globules and then pick it up and squeeze it in your fingers.
Keep squeezing. You want all the buttermilk out of the butter because otherwise it goes off quickly.

Put it into greaseproof paper – two large pats in our case – roll it up and place in the fridge to harden. Proper, unsalted, butter.

No pictures – himself has the camera and the two I took of the cheesecake disaster are on my phone with no way of getting them onto the blog. But hey ho, at least they aren’t out of focus!

Heavenly Ham

The dinner party went well. There was succulent ham cooked in cider, creamed sweetcorn and garlic baked carrots, potatoes roasted in goose fat and leek sauce. Followed by my first attempt at my mum’s famous trifle. There were third helpings of everything!

Ham Cooked in Cider is a Nigella recipe which I didn’t read too closely; I liked the idea of it, got the gist, and adapted (bastardised) it to my needs.

Cover a 3.5lb gammon joint in water and bring to the boil; throw out the water and cover it in 2L cheap dry cider. Add water if it doesn’t submerse it and bring it back up to the boil. Turn down the heat to achieve a fast simmer and add a few bayleaves, a peeled onion pressed with cloves and a few stalks of celery. The cloves influence the whole dish with a warm appley note; the onion, herbs and celery are classic stock ingredients (in both senses of the phrase).
It needs at least 30 minutes per lb of flesh, so this joint got something round 2 hours, though I didn’t check the time when I started cooking it…

Alas, no photo. By the time I remembered, we’d eaten most of it.


Simple and Familiar

Fractured effort, blocked energies and dead ends. That was today, culminating in a three hour waste of time when I went to a meeting, realised it didn’t seem to be on, went home to work, found that my remote access code didn’t work (so no email or folder access) and that the meeting had been on and I’d missed it by one minute.

And what do Magpies do when they have a day like that?

This one eats simple, familiar food and meditates on having a better day tomorrow. Healing from a rubbish day takes self-time and space, even if it’s just a few minutes snatched away from the madding crowd.

Not ready to eat a full meal yet? Try cream cheese and onion dip (with carrot sticks of course) and mint tea.

Cream Cheese and Onion (or chilli, or onion and garlic, or spice) Dip

1 scoop of cream cheese (Philadelphia if that’s what you have; Ricotta for the posh).
Not very much milk (preferably the finest white stuff jugged out of the tank on a farm just yesterday)
A little piece of onion FINELY chopped. And I mean finely. Got it?)
(Clearly substitute whatever alternative extra you’d prefer in place of the onion).

Using a teaspoon, scop the milk into the cheese a few scant millilitres at a time. Mix well with the spoon each time, watching the consistency. Mouthfeel is so important. Too wet and you end up with slick milk; too dry and you stay with a paste instead of a dip.
When it’s perfect, add the onion and mix to your heart’s content.

Consume. And remember, every day is what you make of it.

And the meditation? I’m running a long, bubbly bath where I intend to cut cords of connection between me and my negativity, clean out my chakras and reset the energies around my car (which has been worrying me lately. It’s amazing the difference fully inflated tyres can do for driving).