I wanted to visit Japan for as long as I can remember. Every time I juggled the travel wish list, there it was near the top, beckoning me to book a trip.

But the appeal of wildlife safaris in Africa, meandering self-drives in France, and cruise expeditions to Antarctica were also strong. Japan’s time never seemed to come.

It wasn’t aided by my husband’s eating habits: whilst he’s not a fussy eater, his diet of choice didn’t extend to fish and seafood (cooked as much as raw), pork that wasn’t formed into bacon or sausages, miso soup or sweets filled with red bean paste or flavoured with green tea. The thought of being presented food he might not be able to identify was also a big turnoff. But after years of being married to a foodie, his palate has become more adventurous over time, and the last two years witnessed a sea change in the seafood stakes.

Buoyed by the more positive response to Japan as a holiday destination, I struck while the iron was hot and booked non-refundable flights!

We spent 17 wonderful days in Japan last autumn.

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Japan was everything I’d imagined it to be and many things besides: the contrast between modern and traditional, between shiny new and revered old; a populace both friendly, welcoming, incredibly polite and yet with interests and behaviours that were, to our eyes, utterly (and compellingly) strange; the soothing rituals and etiquette of ryokan living with cypress wood baths and futons on tatami mat floors; all singing and dancing toilets with musical choices, pre-warmed seats and wash and dry functions; young girls crawling through a hole in a rock shrine, convinced it would bring them true love; the most efficient train system we’ve experienced; an incredibly rich and diverse food culture offering all the Japanese dishes we know here in the West and a hundred more we don’t; restaurants and cafés specialising in tempura, ramen, sushi, soba noodles, pickles, shabu-shabu, sukiyaki and yakitori, along with foods that are less well-known in the West, such as tonkatsu, wagashi, okonomiyaki, wagyu beef, and all things matcha to name just a few….

Of course, part of feeling at ease in a strange and foreign land is the ability to communicate, but Japanese seemed to be an inscrutable language. Whereas European languages, which use our familiar Roman alphabet, feel easier to get a handle on, Japanese, with its (three) unfamiliar character sets, not only sounds unintelligible to our ears, it’s impossible to read, too.

Oh I printed out a tiny list of phonetically represented useful words and phrases to carry around with me and was rewarded with warmth when I used them. But there were many times when we felt that a deeper understanding and more meaningful exchange of ideas would have been possible had we only known Japanese. Not to mention the ability to ask for (and follow) directions when we got lost, to work out which tickets to buy from station-ticket machines, and to order more confidently from restaurant menus.

Fast forward a few months, and the wonders of our first trip are still so strongly in our minds that we’ve booked a return trip for another three weeks later this year.

With a better feeling of how much more we will get from our trip if we have some language skills under our belt, I’ve decided to invest the next few months in learning Japanese. With its reputation for making learning feel natural and achievable, Rosetta Stone seemed the obvious solution. Not needing to attend physical classes also makes it easier to slot into daily life.

In exchange for writing regularly about how I’m progressing, Rosetta Stone have given me 6 month’s access to TOTALe, the online version of their popular language learning system. My online subscription lets me learn at my own pace, working through lessons as often as I wish. It also includes a number of live group sessions with a native Japanese tutor, to practice what I learn.

I am nervous.

Learning new skills becomes harder with age, as I discovered when I studied for some professional certification recently – I passed with good marks, but it certainly didn’t come as easily to me as the exams I sailed through so comfortably back at school a few decades ago.

I realise a few months is still not long enough to gain true fluency in a new language, especially one with as little in common with my native tongue as Japanese. But I’m fired up and full of enthusiasm. Already, in the few short weeks since I’ve started, I’ve worked through at least one lesson nearly every single day and have assimilated a pleasing number of words and phrases.

Over the next few months, I’ll keep you updated with my progress.

And of course, I’ll share how it all went after our second trip to Japan.

 

With thanks to Rosetta Stone for my online subscription.

 

One of the things that’s been most pleasing about the last several months is that I’ve focused on going to more of London’s Indian restaurants than ever before.

Whilst I don’t consider myself any kind of authority on Indian food, I did, of course, develop a taste for the Indian food my mum, family friends and relatives cooked during my childhood and ever since. I run Mamta’s Kitchen with my mum (and Pete) and the flavours of Northern Indian food feature strongly in my comfort food list. So visiting more of London’s Indian restaurants is high on my agenda.

Recently, I was invited by La Porte des Indes to attend a cookery masterclass by head chef Mehernosh Mody, followed by lunch.

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Restaurant manager Sherin Alexander-Mody greets us with an introduction to the restaurant, its food, the history of the building and some of the details of the interior design.

Established in 1996, La Porte des Indes is so named because the core of its menu is inspired by the cuisine of Pondicherry, a former French colony which has assimilated many French touches into its native dishes, what Mehernosh and Sherin describe as French-Creole. The rest of its menu features dishes from other Indian regions and cooking styles.

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The restaurant takes up two floors in a grade listed building that was once a former ballroom. Sherin talks about the decor the sources of some of the materials chosen by the architect. It’s a huge space and he’s gone for quite a grand old-school look. The dining spaces are more formal, whilst the bar is a cosy colonial design.

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A tour of the kitchen is next, fascinating mostly for the chance to peer more closely into the three tandoors; two are charcoal and one gas powered, the latter allowing for more accurate temperature control for the cooking of breads. A skewer of lamb chops is removed from one as we watch, and hung to cool ahead of a second immersion before serving. One brave class member thrusts a disc of dough into the oven, pressing it carefully against the hot wall. Shortly afterwards, eating naan fresh out of the tandoor is a delight.

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Really, the group is a little too large for the narrow confines of a restaurant kitchen, and it’s hard to remain close enough to Sherin to catch all of what she says, animatedly sharing insights into spice grinding and mixing and telling us about some of the dishes being made while we are there.

Afterwards, we are invited to take our seats for the demonstration by Chef Mody and his sous chef, Rohit. Again, the large group size means we’re somewhat distant from the action, sat behind a row of tables that distance us from the ingredients and cooking work surface. I wish we could ditch the tables and pull our chairs up close to see everything more clearly.

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I’ve met very few people who are as full of energy as Mody, indeed he moves around so quickly I struggle to capture anything but superhero-style motion blurs on my camera!

Having not caught her full name during our initial introductions, it’s only later that I become aware that Sherin and Mehernosh are husband and wife; Mehernosh hired fellow chef Sherin as his assistant a decade before La Porte des Indes opened its doors. Now, the dynamic couple are clearly the joint force behind the restaurant, and indeed they researched and wrote the restaurant’s cookbook together.

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During the masterclass, Mody and Rohit make chard and water chestnut pakoras, bombay potatoes and Assadh prawns. The pakoras are unusually light, with wonderful crunch from the chestnuts; the prawns are perfectly cooked and their sauce an absolute winner.

We enjoy a taster of all of the masterclass dishes, matched with various wines for those who wish to indulge, before heading to the main dining area to enjoy the restaurant’s set lunch menu.

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As I order a rose lassi to drink, a small shot of warm vegetable soup is also provided.

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Starters served on a platter – seekh kebab, chicken samosa and little chaat puris, served with lovely condiments – are a great introduction.

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For our mains, we have poulet rouge in a creamy sauce; monkfish in a similarly creamy but much hotter sauce, too hot for a number of us, though we suck desperately at our lassis and eat it anyway; and a simple spinach and mushroom dish. Rice, naan and raita sides are provided too.

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For dessert, individual tasting plates featuring a rich chocolate mousse, a mini chocolate and walnut samosa, a thick mango and yoghurt cream and a rose phirni (rice pudding). The samosa and the rice pudding are my favourites, but all are good.

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Whilst the course isn’t hands on we still pick up lots of tips and ideas. For just £45 per person for the kitchen tour, master class, a delicious lunch and a copy of the restaurant cookbook, I think it’s good value. It usually runs on the last Friday of each month; contact the restaurant directly to check dates and availability.

 

Kavey Eats was a guest of La Porte des Indes.

La Porte Des Indes on Urbanspoon

 

Last year, we ran a few classes to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Mamta’s Kitchen. We’ve just noticed the site has recently passed the 10,000,000 hits mark and this has nudged us into scheduling some more dates, as we’ve been promising for a while.

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Dates:

  • Sunday 5th August
  • Saturday 8th September

Time:

  • 11.30 am to approximately 7 pm (though may run later as we’ll finish with an evening meal)

Location:

  • Mamta’s Kitchen, Luton, Bedfordshire

Price:

  • £95 per person

Plan:

  • Welcome with tea, coffee and biscuits
  • Introduction to spices and key ingredients
  • Make lunch together: pakoras, an Indian salad, lassi
  • Sit down and enjoy lunch together at the table
  • Make dinner together: two starters, a main dish with some tips on easy variations, a vegetable dish, raita, pilaf rice, an Indian bread, dessert
  • An afternoon break, during which we’ll make masala chai
  • Sit down and enjoy dinner together at the table

Included:

  • Tea, coffee and biscuits on arrival
  • A light lunch that you will cook together
  • A tasty dinner that you will cook together
  • Wine, beer and soft drinks with dinner
  • Tea, coffee and biscuits during the day
  • Printed recipes

Notes:

  • Class size is limited to 4 students. They will be joined for the meals by Mamta’s little helpers, Pete and Kavey, and possibly one or two other family members for dinner.
  • As the class is being held in a domestic kitchen, with a single oven and stove top, students will be working together to create the dishes and will need to take turns to participate. But don’t worry, there will be plenty of hands on experience throughout the day.
  • The (Luton) address will be provided on confirmation of booking. Plenty of (free) parking is available. Alternatively, you can train to Luton station which is a short bus/ taxi ride from our house. We may be able to collect you from the station if we can coordinate your arrival times (and drop you back afterwards).
  • Our first few classes included a range of meat, fish and vegetable dishes. The last one we ran was pescetarian (fish and vegetables only). Please let us know what you are looking for, as the exact choice of dishes for these 2 dates has not yet been finalised.
  • We will need at least 3 attendees booked in order to run any given date. Talk to us about our discounts for booking more than one place in a class.
  • We can also offer private classes, where we can accommodate up to 5 and can adjust the contents of the class to suit your needs.

Booking:

Please email kavey@mamtaskitchen.com to book your place.

For information on future courses subscribe to our email mailing list. (The list will only be used to send you information about Mamta’s Kitchen Cooking Classes and nothing else).

 

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Feb 272012
 

A few weeks ago, I was invited to All Star Lanes in Westfield Stratford to learn executive chef Steve Collins’ chilli con carne recipe and a few cocktails from mixologist Adam Seidman. The master classes were filmed as part of some new promotional material for Westfield Stratford’s website, though thankfully I’m only visible briefly!

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Fashion and shopping aren’t really my thing, but I was impressed with the sheer scale of eating options at the new shopping centre, including Italian (Jamie’s and Franco Manca), Thai (Busaba Eathai), Mexican (Wahaca), Brazilian (Cabana), Moorish / Middle Eastern (El Cantara and Comptoir Libonais), Japanese (Umai and Yo Sushi), Vietnamese (Pho) and several more chain outlets such as Giraffe, Pizza Express and Spud-U-Like, to name just a few.

I wouldn’t make a visit especially to eat at most of these places unless I lived just around the corner, but I’d certainly be happy to stop for a meal if I did end up coming for some shopping.

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Steve Collins is the executive chef for All Star Lanes and as such, he looks after the menu for all their branches. Chefs at the individual outlets do have the opportunity to add a few dishes to their local menu, but core items such as Steve’s chilli are made to his fixed recipe.

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With all the ingredients already prepped and measured out for us, all that remained was for each of us to cook our own huge pot of chilli under the careful and helpful guidance of Steve. His recipe is for a UK style chilli con carne with American influences from his research trips to the States. It does include minced beef and kidney beans, so purists look away now!

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Of course, being a commercial restaurant, Steve’s exact recipe is secret, though we did learn his tips and tricks as we cooked our own. A few of the things that struck me:

  • Steve has his beef ground quite coarsely, to add texture, and uses a mix of beef shin and chuck.
  • The volume of powdered spice he adds is more than I have used before for the equivalent volume of meat. Don’t be shy when it comes to the key flavour components. His exact spice mix and ratio is not for sharing, but on tasting, I correctly guessed that the key components were cumin, coriander and chilli powder.
  • A combination of red wine and strong beef stock reduces down to give a good flavour without any obvious wine kick.
  • The kidney beans are added for the last 10 minutes of cooking only, so they don’t disintegrate during the long slow cooking.

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Once our chillis were finished, we compared the results, each one slightly different even though we’d followed the same recipe and sat down to enjoy a bowl of our own, served with fried tortilla nachos and a fresh salsa. I really enjoyed the flavours of the chilli, but would have liked to reduce the liquid down a bit further, as it was a touch runny for my tastes.

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Here’s the video of the chilli being made:

 

Part way through cooking our chillis, once we’d added all our ingredients (save the kidney beans), we left our pots simmering gently on the stove and popped across to the bar for a master class with mixologist Adam.

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We made (and enjoyed drinking) peach cobblers, pina coladas, dark and stormies and my favourites, pineapple and cardamom jars.

My favourite tip from the class was Steve’s recipe for cardamom syrup, made simply by infusing good quality green cardamoms in sugar syrup. Delicious!

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Kavey Eats was a guest of All Star Lanes and Westfield Stratford. With thanks to the two Steves.

 

In our previous Mamta’s Kitchen cookery classes we’ve made a selection of meat, fish and vegetarian dishes which proved very popular with our students so far.

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For our next class we are considering offering a pescetarian or fully vegetarian class instead.

This will depend on demand.

The date has tentatively been scheduled for the 5th November.

Please email me as soon as possible if you are interested in attending and have a preference on whether the class should be as previous, pescetarian or vegetarian.


From our first class, we made a donation of over £200 to the Khushboo Welfare Society. From our second class we donated approximately £250 to the MS Society. Once again, we will choose a charity and make a sizeable donation from the proceeds of this third class.


For information on future courses you can also subscribe to our email mailing list. (The list will only be used to send you information about Mamta’s Kitchen Cooking Classes and nothing else).

 

Two Wednesdays ago, Pete and I enjoyed a wonderful afternoon at the Novelli Academy, the Cookery School run by handsome French chef Jean-Christophe Novelli.

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Located in Tea Green, a small village on the outskirts of Luton, not far from the airport, the Academy is located in a beautiful 14th century farmhouse where Novelli also lives with his family.

Novelli has teamed up with well known ice cream makers Carte d’Or and developed a set of recipes using their range.

During our session, we were shown how to make Baked Alaska, Rum & Raisin Pain Perdu and a chocolate trio (below).

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We were also treated to a marvellous lunch of sea bass in a tomato sauce, cider and honey braised pork (with a coffee and cocoa gravy), boulanger potatoes and vegetable alongside. Although the pork was cooked long and slow, we watched Novelli making the other dishes before us, learning many useful tips along the way.

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Novelli is an animated and enthusiastic teacher, keen to really engage with his students and share his own passion for eating well. Throughout the session we were invited to smell, taste and get involved.

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Also helping during the day was Felice Tocchini, an Italian chef from Lucca, Italy. Felice owns two restaurants in Worcestershire and teaches some of the classes at the Academy.

Novelli is very focused on creating tasty food without throwing in unnecessary calories. He cuts back on saturated fats and sugar as often as possible, anywhere he can do so without compromising on flavour.

In fact, when he made his summer Baked Alaska, he used only 2-3 tablespoons (30-45 grams) of caster sugar for 6 egg whites! To our surprise, the meringue held its shape perfectly well and it worked, though I found it just a little too lacking in sweetness for me. But it completely put pay to the belief that meringue won’t work without a minimum of 50-60 grams of sugar to every egg white. I’m definitely intending to experiment to find a midway point between the austere 40 or so grams Novelli used on the day and the 250 grams he lists in the standard recipe.

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I was also very happy to learn how to make spun sugar spirals and delighted when I succeeded! And as we had a little time at the end, Novelli also did an adhoc demonstration of making choux pastry, with more great tips about how to ensure the best results.

Jean-Christophe Novelli’s Summer Baked Alaska

Novelli’s Baked Alaska combines a traditional summer pudding with a simple Baked Alaska. Instead of a plain cake or bread base, the ice cream sits on a summer pudding full of fresh, delicious summer fruits.

The recipe refers to making individual individual puddings but for our demonstration, Novelli made a single larger one instead.

Serves 6

Ingredients
450g soft fruits – strawberries, raspberries, redcurrants, blackberries
Splash of water
Star anise
Sprinkle of cinnamon
Approximately half a white loaf or very thin slices of Genoese sponge cake
Sprinkle of caster sugar
Carte D’Or Cherry Blossom ice cream (300g)
Caster sugar for dusting
For the meringue:
6 egg whites
Pinch of salt
250g caster sugar
½ vanilla pod

Method

The night before…

  • Toss the fruit and the spices, along with a splash of water, into a hot pan and let it simmer. After 3 minutes, take it off the heat and remove the star anise before you cover up your purée and let the flavours infuse.

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  • Cut the crusts off the bread and lightly toast the slices. Or if you’re using sponge cake, cut it very thinly and toast it in a dry hot pan.
  • Drizzle a bit of fruit puree into the bottom of 6 dariole moulds and line them with the toasted bread (or sponge). Remember to keep some slices back for the tops.

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  • Spoon in the rest of the fruit purée mixture and top with a toasted slice, then press it all down firmly. Balance a heavy plate on top of the puddings and leave them overnight in your fridge.

On the day…

  • Place six scoops of Carte D’Or Cherry Blossom ice cream in the fridge for 3 hours prior to serving.
  • Now for the meringue. Add a pinch of salt to your egg whites and roughly whisk, then add 2-3 teaspoons of caster sugar, along with the vanilla seeds and start whisking again until the mixture is stiff.

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  • Sprinkle in the remaining sugar and spoon all of the mixture into a piping bag.

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  • Turn out the puddings onto a heatproof plate and balance a scoop of Carte D’Or ice cream on the top of each one.

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  • Quickly pipe the meringue over the ice cream and cover the puddings completely.
    (The dessert can be put aside in the fridge or freezer at this stage, and then finished just before serving.)

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  • Give them a dusting with caster sugar and flash them under a hot grill until the meringue is golden. Speed is of the essence.

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  • Serve immediately and tuck in at once, before the ice cream melts!

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You can find more of Novelli’s ice cream recipes at the Carte d’Or website.

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Kavey Eats attended the Novelli Academy as guests of Carte d’Or and Jean-Christophe Novelli.
Many thanks to Neil at GolinHarris.
Additional images provided by GolinHarris.

 

There’s something deeply satisfying about making a meal of ingredients foraged directly from the earth, not by some faceless stranger who’s sold his lucrative hedgerow hoard to a restaurant chef, but by your own hands.

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Common mallow

Of course, there’s the thrifty delight in a free meal. £3 for a bundle of asparagus or marsh samphire for free? £2.50 for a punnet of raspberries or blackberries for free? A few quid’s worth of leeks or wild garlic for free? £2 for a bag of spinach and rocket leaves or black mustard and sorrel leaves for free? You get the idea!

But it’s more than that, isn’t it?

In today’s society of plastic-wrapped supermarket shopping, there’s a joy in reconnecting with nature as you search, pluck and pick wild food directly from the land.

Of course, across much of Europe and indeed, the rest of the world, wild food is still very much a regular part of the diet and entrenched in traditional food cultures. In my mind’s eye is an image of little old ladies across a hundred different landscapes, carefully guarding and passing on their hard-won knowledge of where to find abundant crops of mushrooms, the juiciest wild fennel, a wide array of herbs, fruits and nuts…

Here in Britain, where is this is the exception not the rule, there’s more than a little romance in that image.

 

Foraging and Cooking

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Caroline and Simon

Simon Day, founder of unearthed, has discovered during his travels around Europe, that many areas still have a thriving wild food culture. Indeed, he has found that many producers of local and regional food specialities, of the type he seeks for unearthed, are very much aware of what the land around them has to offer.

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A few weeks ago, Simon invited a small group of food writers and bloggers to join him on a special foraging and cooking day organised and run by Caroline Davey. Caroline is the founder of the Fat Hen Wild Food Foraging And Cooking School, a few miles from Land’s End in Cornwall.

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When you learn about Caroline’s life, it seems almost inevitable that she should be doing what she does now. Much of Caroline’s childhood was spent living in the Far East, Africa and England; everywhere she made a deep and lasting connection with nature. Whether tramping around in the British countryside picking mushrooms, berries and chestnuts or eating lotus seeds in the early morning mists of Kashmir with Mr Marvellous, the flower seller, Caroline developed a fascination with wildlife and wild food. In addition, her Welsh  mother passed on a love of good food, cooking and entertaining that was very much a part of family life. Studying and qualifying in Zoology and Environmental Impact Assessment lead to a 12 year career as an Ecological Consultant, most of it in Cornwall, where Caroline visited many of the county’s wildest corners to record and document habitats and species. She honed her plant identification skills and developed a deep understanding of natural ecosystems, the impact of farming methods and local wildlife conversation issues. But Caroline felt she needed a more interactive relationship with nature than merely recording and reporting on it. As she taught herself about the plants around us, she wanted to know what they meant to us and how we could best use them. After a year as a freelance forager, during which Caroline became intimately familiar with what could be foraged where and when during the year, she started offering foraging courses a few years ago.

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Our day with Caroline was hugely enjoyable. Waterproof coats and shoes protected us from the rain as we took a walk in the local countryside, learning how to identify a wide range of wild plants and how best to collect them, tasting and collecting as we went. Even in the rain couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm as Caroline brought nature’s larder alive for us.

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We returned back to the warmth of Fat Hen, located in a converted goat barn and the family farm house kitchen.

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There, Caroline and Simon had arranged for local chef and teacher Mark Devonshire to give us a demonstration of how to use the wild food we’d foraged, in conjunction with some delicious unearthed products such as rillettes and chorizo.

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Simon and Mark

Mark spent 17 years working for Rick Stein at The Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, the last 8 of which were as head lecturer at the Padstow Seafood School. These days he teaches at Cornwall College where he shares the joys of food with eager youngsters. His latest class were due to graduate just after we attended the course, and his pride in their success and hope for their future was very clear. We sat around the beautiful big table smelling and tasting the tidbits Mark and Caroline prepared and offered.

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After the cooking class, we enjoyed a delicious meal that made full use of locally foraged ingredients.

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Pork Rillettes with Pickled Rock Samphire Served on Soda Bread Toast

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Ingredients
Pork rillettes
Toasted soda bread
Large handful rock samphire, washed and patted dry
300 ml cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
Pickling Spices
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic
Pinch of chilli flakes
1 teaspoon black peppercorns

Method

  • Heat up the cider vinegar with the pickling spices in a saucepan until boiling, take off the heat, add the rock samphire and transfer to a sterilised glass jar. Seal and leave for at least a month before eating.
  • Serve the pork rillettes on top of soda bread toast with pickled rock samphire laid on top.

 

Rules for Foraging Safely and Responsibly

Caroline was keen to stress to us a number of key rules for foraging, some of which I’ve paraphrased below.

  • Only pick something that you are 100% positive you have identified correctly. As we saw during the day, many plants are easy to confuse and some are deadly. It’s not worth taking chances.
  • Leave enough for the plants to grow back and use a scissor or knife to cut cleanly.
  • Don’t deplete rare species. There are plenty of common plants that grow in abundance.
  • The exception to the above is invasive plants such as three cornered garlic (Allium triquetrum), which originated in the Mediterranean. Three cornered garlic is a different plant to our native wild garlic (Allium ursinum); both can be foraged and used in cooking, but you can also dig up the bulb of the former without worry.
  • Be aware of pollution. Find out if fields have been sprayed, avoid picking along heavily trafficked roads and next to any paths where dogs are commonly walked.
  • Get permission from landowners before foraging on private land.

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In May, we ran the first Mamta’s Kitchen cookery class, teaching three eager students more than 14 different recipes during a long but successful day. That class was to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Mamta’s Kitchen , and also the milestone of over 7 million visits. And we donated over £200 to the Khushboo Welfare Society too.

Now we’re ready to offer further classes covering “An Indian Meal”, “Indian Breads” and “Pickles, Chutneys & Ketchups”, the first of which is detailed below.

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Date: Saturday 30th July
Class: An Indian Meal
Time: 11.30 am to approximately 8 pm
Location: Mamta’s Kitchen, Luton, Bedfordshire
Price: £95 per person

Included

  • Tea, coffee and biscuits arrival
  • A light lunch that you will cook together
  • A tasty dinner that you will cook together
  • Wine and soft drinks with dinner
  • Tea, coffee and biscuits during the day
  • Printed recipes

Provisional Menu

These are the dishes we are planning to make during the day, however the exact menu will depend on availability of ingredients, so we may switch one or more dishes nearer the time.

  • Lunch: Pooris
  • Lunch: Train Journey Aloo Bhaji
  • Lunch: Pakoras
  • Lunch: Green coriander chutney
  • Break: Chai or Lassi
  • Dinner: Basic Curry Sauce and Meatball Curry
  • Dinner: Spiced Fried Fish
  • Dinner: Stuffed Aubergines
  • Dinner: Urad Daal Khada Masala
  • Dinner: Matar Pulao (Pilaf)
  • Dinner: Rotis
  • Dinner: Vermicelli Kheer

Mum will also make an Indian salad and some raita, to serve with dinner. And you will also be able to taste some of her home-made pickles and chutneys during the meals.

Additional Information

The class will start at 11.30 am and includes a refreshments on arrival, lunch and dinner, drinks and snacks during the day, and wine and soft drinks with dinner. We’ll aim to sit down for dinner at around 6 pm so finish time will be approximately 8 pm.

We are limiting class size to 4 students. They will be joined for the meals by Mamta’s little helpers, Pete and Kavey, and possibly one or two other family members for dinner.

As the class is being held in a domestic kitchen, with a single oven and stove top, students will be working together to create the dishes and will need to take turns to participate. But don’t worry, there will be plenty of hands on experience throughout the day.

The (Luton) address will be provided on confirmation of booking. Plenty of (free) parking is available. Alternatively, you can train to Luton station which is a short bus/ taxi ride from our house. We may be able to collect you from the station if we can coordinate your arrival times.

You can read detailed feedback from the participants of our May course, here.

Booking

Please email kavey@mamtaskitchen.com to book your place.

For information on future courses subscribe to our email mailing list. (The list will only be used to send you information about Mamta’s Kitchen Cooking Classes and nothing else).

 

On Saturday 14th May, Mamta’s Kitchen celebrated it’s 10th anniversary by holding our first ever cookery class!

In those 10 years, the site has had over 7 million visitors from international visitors keen to investigate over 1,400 recipes contributed by Mamta, family and friends and readers.

Three intrepid food lovers attended the day, held at my parents’ home in Bedfordshire.

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Feedback

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click on any letter to view larger image

A rundown of the day

On arrival at 10 am, our students were greeted with lassi, cumin biscuits and peanut biscuits whilst being introduced to mum and each other, given recipe folders with all the recipes for the day, and chose from my random pile of aprons. It wasn’t long before we were in the kitchen!

Mum ensured that the students had a lot of hands on experience, having them prepare the ingredients, measure out and mix in the spices and do most of the cooking. She would demonstrate where needed, before handing over to them. Throughout the day, the students felt, smelled and tasted at each stage, to help them recognise the correct balance of flavours and consistency of the various stages of each recipe, next time they make any of the dishes at home.

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The first dish we started making was the last one we’d eat – my grandmother’s recipe for Vermicelli Milk Pudding (Senvian Kheer). This dish took quite some time, frying the vermicelli and slowly reducing the milk, stirring regularly. We continued checking this throughout much of the morning, until it was finally ready and then popped it into the fridge to cool ready for the evening.

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Next we prepared the two marinades for the paneer malai dish, switching the cubed paneer to the second marinade later that morning, before oven baking shortly before lunch.

A couple of simple salads were made next – a mooli and tomato one and a peanut, cucumber and tomato one. They were popped into the fridge until lunch time.

During our morning break, the students enjoyed a relaxed tour of mum’s beautiful garden, which looks stunning at this time of year, full of blooming flowers and vegetables.

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It took some time to prepare all the vegetables and the two batters for the two types of pakoras we made, my mum’s regular pakoras and my aunt Geeta’s mixed pakoras. We cooked these just before lunch so we could eat them hot and fresh.

Lunch was quite a feast – far too many delicious pakoras (served with some green coriander chutney mum and I had made the previous night) plus the two salads, the paneer and several of mum’s home-made pickles.

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In the afternoon we made a fabulous kofta meatball curry. An accidental mix up between sweet paprika and hot chilli powder meant a fast thinking rescue of the curry gravy, but it allowed mum to show that mistakes happen even for experienced cooks, and that most can be well recovered! And it took just a few moments to make a cooling mint raita to serve alongside.

During the afternoon break, mum made an aromatic masala chai which we enjoyed outside in the garden.

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The class also made stuffed baby aubergines, using traditional mustard oil, a very Indian ingredient and flavour. They also made another recipe from my grandmother in the form of a simple but tasty urad dal.

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Fish was coated in a simple marinade and popped in the fridge for a few hours. Just before dinner, we retrieved it, coated each piece in a dry flour and spice mix before frying and serving hot.

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With such a large array of dishes (and salads leftover from lunch) mum used her smaller rice-cooker to make a pea rice pilau which cooked quietly in the corner while the students got stuck in rolling and cooking rotis and pooris. They fried the fish at the same time – one definitely needs multi-tasking skills for this course!

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We sat down to an early dinner and had so many dishes I had to put several onto a side table.

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Alongside what the students had cooked, we had some poppadoms that mum and I had prepared the previous night, mum’s delicious pickles and some fresh pickled onion she’d also made for the class to try. Plus a mystery dish she’d made the previous day, a turnip curry – the students were asked to guess what it might be before mum revealed the ingredients!

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We only just had room for dessert!

There were lots of leftovers which I packaged up in lots and lots of takeaway containers, so each of our students left with enough food for another meal for two!

Fundraising

As promised, we donated £60 per student to the Khushboo Welfare Society. Khushboo Welfare Society is a small, voluntary NGO in Gurgaon (near Delhi), which provides multidisciplinary education for the development and rehabilitation of children, adolescents and young adults with mental and multiple disabilities. This is something that is not widely available in India, even today. The charity are very pleased to have received this support.

Next time

We know our three students enjoyed the day.

However, we are intending to make a few tweaks. Our schedule for the morning was a little ambitious, so we’ll likely scale back by cutting out the salads, and possibly replacing the paneer with a simpler and quicker dish. The afternoon schedule went very well so we’ll likely stick to it pretty much as it is for the next class. The range of dishes we chose seemed to be appreciated and give the students a range of techniques and tastes, so we’ll stick to most of the same or similar.

We also have plans to do a specialist class on making Indian pickles, chutneys and ketchups.

And we’re thinking of doing another focusing on a variety of Indian breads.

Interested?

We’re currently working on dates and details for future courses. We’d love to hear from you on what you’d be most interested in.

Get in touch by email with your ideas and suggestions.

Subscribe to our email mailing list for information on future courses. (The list will only be used to send you information about Mamta’s Kitchen Cooking Classes and nothing else).

 

I have a confession. Until a couple of months ago, I had never made pasta. Not once!

So when I was invited by Hubbub to attend a pasta and risotto course run by Anna Colquhoun, the Culinary Anthropologist, I was delighted.

Anna is living the dream many hobby food lovers harbour. She gave up a high level job to study at the Tante Marie Cooking School in San Francisco, and then took more specialised courses at other schools, including the San Francisco Baking Institute. This was followed by internships at a number of restaurants including Alice Waters’ famous Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Anna and her husband Matt then embarked on a year of travelling around Europe, Turkey and North and West Africa, soaking up all they could learn about cuisines as varied as Spanish, Slovakian and Senegalese. Anna researched and learned as much as she could about how to cook the food she and Matt encountered.

On getting back home, she was asked to author Alistair Sawday’s Eat Slow Britain, relating the stories of 88 British food business from pig farmers to cheese-makers to bakers to vegetable growers to restaurants and more. All had in common a shared belief in slow food values.

And she also converted her home kitchen into a large welcoming space that is perfect for the small-group cooking classes she now runs.

Hubbub, based in the Arsenal/ Finsbury Park area, are a small business aiming to help Londoners make use of their local independent food suppliers. Customers can order via Hubbub from local shops currently including Frank Godfrey Family Butcher, Fin & Flounder, Earth Natural Foods, La Fromagerie, Saponara Italian Delicatessen, The Barnsbury Grocer, Hansen & Lydersen, Paul A. Young Fine Chocolates and Ottolenghi. The advantage to the customer is that, instead of paying delivery charges from all the invidual stores, Hubbub arrange collections, collate your order and deliver it to you in one go, and for one charge. At the moment, much to my dismay, they don’t cover North Finchley – their range is most of Highbury, Islington, Finsbury Park, Stoke Newington, Tufnell Park and Kentish Town. But they plan to roll out their model further afield, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

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We started a little late, but after a quick introduction from Anna, we got stuck in, starting by each making our own pasta dough (see recipe below).

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Anna favours doing this traditionally, by hand… which involves making a caldera of flour, breaking the eggs into it and then carefully mixing flour from the inner caldera walls with the eggs, without causing a breach and having the eggs escape! After what seems an age, the dough finally comes together, though it’s a really hard dough, and kneading it is difficult.

This is where experience is so important – Anna assures us that a hard dough is not a bad thing, and that it’s actually helpful, since the dough will soften and become much more elastic after resting. Somewhat dubious, we each divide our dough into two pieces, wrap in cling film, label with our names and leave to one side to rest.

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Whilst the dough rests, we make two fillings, one of ricotta and herbs and another of roasted butternut squash and parmesan cheese. We split into two groups for this, each group making one of the two fillings.

Fillings done and popped into the fridge, we retrieve our pasta dough. And just as promised, when we open them up, mine has just the right texture – soft and elastic yet firm.

Anna teaches us how to press our dough through the hand-cranked pasta machines and we’re grateful we’re in teams, as turning the crank, feeding the long ribbons of dough in and gently catching them as they come back out takes more than two hands!

If the dough gets too sticky, we sprinkle with flour, which it absorbs as it goes through the press again. But if it’s dry enough, we simply use a little semolina, less finely ground which means it doesn’t get absorbed into the dough so easily, and that stops the folds of dough sticking, but can be brushed off the surface easily when ready.

Some of the dough we cut into maltagliati and some into papardelle.

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first image courtesy of Anna Colquhoun

From the rest we make ravioli and tortellini, learning how to remove air bubbles, seal and shape.

The finished pasta is left to one side while we move on to make two risottos, a wild mushroom one to be served with truffle oil and a pea and parmesan one. Again, we split into two groups and one group makes each risotto. My team make the mushroom one.

Pete and I often make risotto at home – simple recipes using home-made chicken stock and adding either home-grown leeks with blue cheese or leftover roast chicken meat with spring onions.

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As soon as the risottos are ready, we grab plates, serve ourselves and sit down at the big kitchen table. By this time, I’m absolutely starving, so the hot, filling risotto is very welcome indeed. And whilst the thrown-together ones Pete and I make are always tasty, I admiringly admit that these two are definitely better!

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The course is running late – it’s a new one and Anna says she may have been over-ambitious about how much we could achieve in the time, so rather than cooking the pasta together and sitting down to eat at the table, Anna quickly demonstrates a mozzarella, basil & cherry tomatoes sauce and a gorgonzola, spinach & walnuts one, which we quickly taste, standing around the work station.

We are also invited to take some of the filled pasta with us to cook and enjoy at home.

And of course, we leave with all the recipes for the pasta and risotto we have made during the day.


Anna’s Basic Fresh Egg Pasta Dough Recipe

Fresh pasta dough can be made with just flour and water, or with a mixture of eggs and water, with whole eggs and/or egg yolks. The more egg you use the easier the dough will be to handle and cook, and the more yolks you use the richer its golden colour will be. Use genuinely free range eggs, as it is the hens’ diet of green things which makes their egg yolks orange. If you don’t have special ‘OO’ pasta flour (which is very fine, with a high protein content), you can use regular plain flour and the recipe will still work.

Makes approximately 600g (enough for 8 starters or 4 main courses)

Ingredients:
500g ‘typo OO’ pasta flour
4 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
salt
semolina flour

Method:

  • Mound the flour onto a clean work surface and create a large well inside so it looks like the crater of an exploded volcano. Crack eggs and the extra yolk into the well and add a generous pinch of salt.
  • Use a fork to whisk the eggs, then start bringing in the sides of the crater and incorporating flour. Keep mixing until you have a thick paste. At this point it may be easier to use your hands to knead in the remaining flour. Incorporate as much as possible – you want a stiff, smooth dough. If it seems too dry, sprinkle over a little water using your fingertips. Knead for 10 minutes – it will become smoother.
  • Cut the dough in two and wrap each piece tightly in clingfilm. Set aside for 30 minutes. If you like, you can make the dough several hours in advance, even the night before, in which case keep it in the fridge.
  • Assemble your pasta rolling machine and unwrap a piece of dough. Lightly dust a large area of work surface next to the machine with flour. Squidge the dough into a rectangular block, with one end tapered so that it can fit into the machine. Dust it with a little flour. With the machine set to its widest setting (usually 1), roll the dough through. Fold it in three like a business letter, prod it all over with your fingertips to seal, and repeat the process, feeding one of the open ends into the machine first. Keep repeating until the dough is smooth and silky. If it is sticking to the rollers you need to dust with more flour. If it is cracking up it may be getting too dry and you should use less or no flour.
  • Now feed the dough through each of the settings, getting thinner each time, until you get to the thinnest (usually 6). You only need go through each setting once, and this time don’t fold the dough between rolls. You should end up with a long, thin sheet of fine pasta, the width of the machine.
  • Sprinkle plenty of semolina on a lined baking sheet. Cut the pasta into your desired shape and store on the baking sheet dusted with extra semolina so that the pieces don’t stick. Cover with clingfilm and let rest for half an hour before cooking. Or keep it in the fridge and use within a day or two.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season generously with salt. Shake any excess semolina off the pasta and boil until al dente – usually just a few minutes. Unless your pot is huge you may need to do this in batches so as not to crowd the pasta. Drain pasta and let steam dry for a minute to remove excess moisture. Toss with your prepared pasta sauce or simply drizzle with extra virgin olive oil or meted butter and grind over some black pepper.

I really enjoyed the day and learned a great deal. My fellow students were similarly delighted, and we all left with a new confidence in making pasta at home. I particularly appreciated the small class size and the personal instruction it afforded.

Find out about upcoming classes at Anna’s website.

Kavey Eats was a guest of Hubbub and the Culinary Anthropologist.

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