It was a bit of a Ready Steady Cook challenge. My ingredients consisted of a large sweet potato, a white onion and a bag of baby spinach plus tinned tomatoes and a can of coconut milk from my store cupboard and a wide selection of spices on the shelf. I also wanted to try the tubes of chilli, ginger and garlic I was sent by Just Add.

SweetPotatoCurry-0935

A sweet potato and spinach curry seemed to be the answer but as you can see from the photo below, I completely forgot to stir in the spinach! I only remembered when I saw the bag of spinach sitting forlornly on the worktop after dinner. Oops!

 

Sweet Potato (& Spinach) Curry

Ingredients
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 medium sweet potatoes (or 2 large, 4 small)
250 grams tinned chopped tomatoes
400 ml coconut milk
1/2 inch piece ginger, grated (or
3 cloves garlic (or 1 tablespoon fresh garlic puree)
1 teaspoon hot chilli powder (or teaspoon chilli puree)
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons coriander powder
1/5 teaspoons good quality garam masala
1 teaspoon paprika
Salt and pepper, to season
Optional: large bunch of spinach (baby leaves or larger, chopped)

Note: Cheaper brands of garam masala tend to bulk out more expensive spices such as cardamom, cloves and cinnamon with cheaper ones such as cumin and coriander. It’s easy to make your own garam masala – here’s my mum’s recipe.

Method

  • Heat vegetable oil in a pan and fry onion until soft.
  • Add ginger, garlic, chilli and spices and cook for another minute, stirring continuously so spices don’t catch.
  • Add the tinned tomatoes and coconut milk and mix well.
  • Once thoroughly combined, add the diced sweet potato and cook on a medium heat until the potato is cooked through; test with a skewer or fork after about 20 minutes.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Remove from the heat, add the spinach and stir in until wilted.
  • Serve over basmati rice.

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The curry was tasty – I really enjoyed the combinatiobn of sweet potatoes and Indian spices.

Because the Just Add purees only last 21 days, they’re not a product I’d buy as I don’t use ginger, garlic or chilli often enough to get through a tube before it spoils. That said, the quality and convenience were good.

 

Kavey Eats was sent sample products from Just Add.

 

Fellow blogger and food writer Rejina is a friend of mine, and one I’ve long thought deserved a cookery book deal, so I was delighted to be sent a review copy of her first title, Gastrogeek (What to eat when you’re in a hurry, hungry or hard up). Her blog of the same name has been a source of great ideas for the last four years – indeed she launched her blog just weeks before I started mine.

GastrogeekMacCheese-0125

Having talked to Rejina, I can understand why her innovative pitch instantly caught her publisher’s attention – she proposed (and showcased) a photographic comic-book style approach based on her memory of teenage magazines from her childhood. Just as the illustrated stories in those magazines did for teenage love dramas, her aim with this book was to provide solutions to common kitchen dilemmas such as creating restorative meals after shitty days at work, conjuring up meals from the store cupboard when cash is tight, cooking up a storm to impress guests and feeding a hangover in the best possible way.

gastrogeek

There are some disappointments about the book, and I know Rejina will forgive me for being honest about them. In my opinion, the publishers haven’t done a great job on the book design. Too focused on Rejina’s clever theme, they seem to have fallen under the impression that the audience for the book must be the same teenagers those magazines were aimed at and the design feels a bit childish as a result. And whoever thought teal green was the right colour for the cover of a cookery book or that a font suspiciously similar to Comic Sans was right for the text inside ought to be ashamed of themselves. I also found many of the photographs far too dark, especially the black and white ones – I’ve no idea whether the fault lies in the image processing or the printing but it makes the pages look far drabber than they should.

The good news, however, is that the quality of Rejina’s content shines through regardless and is why I recommend you purchase this book even if the appearance puts you off at first glance.

In a few of the dishes, Rejina’s British-Bengali background comes through – she shares her Dahl of Dreams, Curried Roast Bone Marrow (which reminds me of my own bone marrow curry) and Duck Egg, Spinach and Coconut Curry, amongst others. But the majority of the recipes are a wide-ranging and eclectic mix with influences from all around the world – just the way many of us cook these days. Rejina lived in Japan for a while, and her love of umami (and a few key Japanese ingredients) comes through too. I’ve bookmarked Miso Butter Roasted Chicken, Mini Chicken & Mushroom Pies, BBQ Ribs in Dr Pepper and Teriyaki Rice Burgers to name just a few.

Recently Pete and I made her Roasted Aubergine Macaroni Cheese and to say we liked it is an understatement. Not only did the textures and flavours of the dish come together to create a whole that was far more impressive than its simple ingredients suggested, the instructions were also spot on and very straightforward to follow. That last bit should be a given, shouldn’t it, but it’s not uncommon to find yourself adjusting cooking times and amounts to achieve the consistency and results described by the author. In this case, the recipe worked like clockwork.

What made this macaroni cheese shine were the smokey flavours from the smoked paprika, aubergine and smoked cheddar.

 

Gastrogeek’s Amazing Roasted Aubergine Macaroni Cheese

Serves 4 (or 2 very greedy people)

Ingredients
1 aubergine
300 grams dried macaroni
35 grams butter
25 grams plain flour
300 ml whole milk
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Freshly grated nutmeg, to season
0.5 teaspoon smoked paprika
1-2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper
90 grams smoked Cheddar cheese, grated plus some for sprinkling
100 ml double cream
1 garlic clove, crushed

Method

  • Roast the aubergine in a hot oven (220 C) for 20-25 minutes. Carefully peel and mash the creamy innards.
  • Preheat the oven to 180 C.
  • Cook the macaroni according to the packet instructions. Drain and transfer to a 25 x 20 cm greased baking dish, reserving a little of the cooking water.
  • Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium pan and stir in the flour. Cook the roux over a medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly and then gradually add the milk, still stirring constantly.
  • Stir in the mustard, nutmeg, paprika, salt, pepper and cheese and stir until melted.
  • Stir in the aubergine flesh, cream and garlic, along with a little reserved pasta cooking water (to adjust the consistency if required).
  • Pour the sauce over the cooked pasta and mix well. Sprinkle generously with extra grated cheese.
  • Bake at 180 C for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

GastrogeekMacCheese-0120 GastrogeekMacCheese-0121GastrogeekMacCheese-0122 GastrogeekMacCheese-0123GastrogeekMacCheese-0126

There is absolutely no question whatsoever that we will be making this again, and soon. I recommend that you do too!

 

Gastrogeek by Rejina Sabur-Cross is currently available on Amazon UK for £10.23 (RRP £15.99).

 

Bravo! Ouais! Le Vacherin Mont d’Or est arrivé!

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In France, there’s quite a celebration when the season of availability for this fabulous cheese rolls around once again.

Officially known in France as Vacherin du Haut-Doubs this soft, unpasteurised cheese with a pale yellow salt-washed rind originated in the Jura mountains that cross France and Switzerland. French Vacherin, produced in the Franche-Comté region, has AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) status – similar to PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) – ensuring that anything sold under this name is made in a specific geographical area according to strictly governed traditional methods.

Vacherin Mont d’Or was born in the 1700s. In the warm spring and summer months, when the cows produced high yields, farmers created a system of collective dairies, allowing them to pool their milk and produce very large wheels of cheese indeed; the enormous Comté and Emmental. However, not only did the cows produce less milk during the winter months, bad weather often closed the perilous mountain routes to the dairies, forcing farmers to make much smaller cheeses at home to use their milk.

The French AOC stipulates unpasteurised milk from Montbeliard cows bred and grazed at an altitude of at least 700 meters above sea level and fed on a diet of grass and hay. It also lays down much of the manufacturing and maturing process including the use of spruce bark to encircle the cheese, which imparts an additional flavour.

(Incidentally, the Swiss Vacherin Mont d’Or, which has a separate AOC, is not the same; one difference being that it’s made only with pasteurised milk.)

It’s probably no surprise to you that I adore this creamy, slightly nutty-tasting, pine-scented cheese!

I’ve bought many, many a Vacherin from my local Waitrose over the last few years (as well as from London cheese mongers), so was happy to accept their offer to send one over when the first of 2011 came into stock. Waitrose source their Vacherin from the Fromagerie Badoz, a family business in the French mountain town of Pontarlier.

Of course, this delicious cheese can absolutely be enjoyed as it is, but it is also very well suited to baking in a hot oven. On this occasion, we followed Henry Harris’ very simple recipe.

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  • Preheat the oven to 180 C. Leave the cheese in it’s wooden box. Remove the lid, cut a flap in the top of the cheese and pour in a tablespoon of dry white wine. Place the box into an oven dish in case the box collapses. Bake for 15 minutes.

BakedVacherin-0275 BakedVacherin-0277

We served ours with nothing but fresh white baguette which we dunked in again and again and again…

Other recipes call for using a dessert wine instead of dry or adding a clove of garlic or a sprig of rosemary before baking.

How do you like yours?

 

As I posted last month, I’m one of the bloggers on the judging panel for the Tesco Real Food Challenge, looking for the nation’s best real food cooks. I’ve been partnered with Jamie Theakston on the Talk & Fork category, for which we’re looking for casual and easy meals that can be eaten with just a fork, relaxing on the sofa with friends or family or in front of the TV.

Click here to read my recent interview with Jamie.

Tesco invited me to cook Jamie’s dish myself and share it with my readers, but I had booked far too much into my diary and knew I’d not have a night at home for quite a while. I turned to twitter and asked if any fellow bloggers could help me out by trialling the dish for me and writing a guest post all about it for Kavey Eats.

Fellow blogger Craig McKnight kindly volunteered. Craig started his own blog, We Grow Our Own, to record and share the trials and tribulations of his allotment, but when he won a competition last year, and was crowned Wahaca’s Chilli Guru, it gave it an extra dimension.

Passionate about growing good food and eating good food, here’s Craig’s post on Jamie’s risotto.


When Kavey asked on twitter for a volunteer to cook and blog a Tesco Real Food Challenge recipe for her, I jumped at the chance, particularly when she told me that she wanted me to cook Jamie’s recipe – ‘Mushroom and Herb Risotto’ – as risottos are one of my favourite dishes.

The idea behind the ‘Talk & Fork’ category is that these are casual, easy meals that can be eaten with just a fork while relaxing with friends and family or in front of the TV. Any risotto definitely fits into this category, because as Nigel Slater once put it, risotto is “as instantly soothing as sucking your thumb”.

It’s also ideal because although you will need to stir the risotto off and on over a twenty minute period, you can still be nattering to your friends while doing this, and you also have your other hand free to enjoy the rest of the wine from the bottle!

Right, onto the recipe. Here’s the ingredients that Jamie suggests …

pic1

Ingredients
50g (2oz) unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
225g (8oz) Arborio rice
1 glass white wine (optional)
900ml (1.2 litres) vegetable stock
450g (1lb) chestnut mushrooms, diced
1 bunch spring onions (use green parts also)
3 tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
25g (1oz) fresh parmesan cheese, grated or shaved

Normally I don’t have my ingredients set out like this, but I thought I’d come over all ‘Delia’ for this guest post. :)

Something else I noticed from Jamie’s recipe is that he says that you should use 1lb of mushrooms and 8oz of rice, but according to his recipe, this serves one person! Hmmm, I think I need to speak to Jamie about his exercise regime ….

You may also have noticed two measuring jugs in the photo. One of them contains some wild mushrooms that I soaked and added to the recipe. I also added the soaking liquor to the stock once it had been strained to give a deeper mushroom flavour to the risotto.

There are also two glasses of wine. One is for the recipe and one is for the chef …. I’ll leave you to work out which one is which!

Method

pic2

  • First, melt the butter & little oil in a roomy pan, add the onion and garlic and soften. There is a school of thought that it needs to be a shallow pan. I don’t agree. All it needs to be is one that isn’t thin and dented … unless you like the taste of burned rice.
  • Once the garlic & onion has softened, turn up the heat and stir in the rice, coating the rice in the butter and oil.

pic3

  • Pour in the glass of wine, turn the heat down, and stir the rice until the wine has almost evaporated.
  • It is a good idea to have the stock in another pan, simmering away. You can make it with cold stock if you want to, but using hot stock will certainly shorten the time that it takes to get from the start to your stomach.

pic4

  • Gradually begin to add the hot stock a ladle at a time. Wait until the stock has been absorbed by the rice before adding more. Turn the heat down so that it just bubbles gently, and stir from time to time. You’ll notice the grains of rice gradually getting plumper and plumper.
  • It will take about 20 minutes cooking time for the rice to be cooked, but still slightly al dente.

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  • Stir in the mushrooms and spring onions, followed by the herbs.
  • I’ve tweaked Jamie’s recipe again at this point, as I’d recommend stirring in nearly all of the parmesan and a little more butter. Put a lid on the pan for 3/4 minutes, and when you take it off, you’ll notice the rice has become rich and creamy.

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  • Serve with some grated or shaved parmesan, and a sprig or two of flat leaf parsley.

Now, if there is a recipe that is as easy to cook and enjoyable to eat after a hard day at work, I’ve yet to find it! Enjoy!

 

Incorporating home grown produce into your meals needn’t be complicated. This recent lunch used romaine lettuce picked fresh from the garden and served as it was, without any dressing.

This is a very quick and simple lunch using just four ingredients.

 

Honey Goats’ Cheese Toasts On Little Gem Leaves

Ingredients

Bread – your choice, ours was home-made soft white; a recipe from Tom Herbert, that I’ll blog soon
Goats’ cheese – your choice, this time we used Montrachet from Burgundy via La Cave à Fromage
Lettuce – your choice, ours was Romaine picked fresh from the garden
Honey – your choice, we used a London one from The London Honey Company

PeteBreadTomHerbertBurgerBapRecipe-7599 HoneyGoatsCheeseToasts-7602 HoneyGoatsCheeseToasts-7605 HoneyGoatsCheeseToasts-7604

Method

  • Pick and wash the lettuce, tear by hand into small pieces.
  • Slice bread and toast one side under the grill.

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  • Slice the goats’ cheese – approximately half a centimetre thickness.

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  • Turn over the bread and lay the goats’ cheese slices on the untoasted sides.
  • Spoon a little honey over the cheese.

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  • Grill until the honey has melted and the surface of the cheese shows a little browning.

HoneyGoatsCheeseToasts-7613

  • Serve the toasts over the lettuce.

You could make a simple dressing for the salad if you wish. If so, I’d keep it simple again; just a little of the same honey, some decent oil and vinegar, ratios to your own taste, shake in a jam jar to combine and then toss with the lettuce before plating.

 

A few months back, sitting on Mathilde‘s comfy sofa and chatting vegetables to Carla, I bemoaned my lack of adventurousness, inventiveness and originality when it comes to cooking vegetables at home. Carla had some tasty ideas (and recommended Yotam Ottolenghi‘s books, which I really ought to get my hands on). Mathilde rushed out of the room and returned with a gift for me, The Farm Shop Cookbook by Christine McFadden.

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Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago when (almost 6 months late and only then because I chased and chased and chased) I finally received a box of Riverford vegetables and their book; this was the gift offered with a subscription to Food & Travel magazine.

In the box was a beautiful Romanesco cauliflower (also known as Romanesco broccoli) with it’s vivid lime green hue and compelling naturally fractal spiral heads.

What to do with it?

I know I could have checked in the Riverford book but went instead to Mathilde’s gift.

The Farm Shop Cookbook revealed a recipe for Green Cauliflower Cheese with Blue Vinny and Tomatoes. We decided to subsitute Stilton for the Blue Vinny and omitted the tomatoes and breadcrumbs.

Green Romanesco Cauliflower Cheese with Stilton and Parmesan

Ingredients:
1 Romanesco cauliflower (ours was approximately 500 grams)
30 grams butter
2 tablespoons plain flour
300 ml milk
1/4 teaspoon English mustard
salt and pepper to taste
Approximately 100 grams Stilton (might have been more, we didn’t measure)
“Some” grated Parmesan cheese

Method:

  • Cut the Romanesco into pieces, discarding the tough stalks.

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  • Microwave (or steam, as per the original instructions) until only just tender and set aside.
  • Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
  • Melt the butter over low heat.
  • Sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes until very smooth.
  • Heat the milk in a separate pan until it starts to bubble, then gradually whisk it into the flour mixture.
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the mustard, seasoning and Stilton.

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  • Stir until the cheese has melted completely into the sauce.
  • Pour / mix the sauce with the Romanesco.

RomanescoCauliCheese-4053

  • Grate parmesan over the top.
  • Bake for 20 minutes until golden and bubbling.

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We had this with a lovely roast rib of beef and some roast potatoes (also from the box).

Absolutely delicious and we’ll definitely be making green cauliflower cheese again!

 

Why are we eating parsnips in the summer?

Well… we grow our own vegetables and, last year, we planted parsnips for the first time.

Early January was rainy and miserable and we left much of our winter crop in the ground for longer than we should have. So we urgently harvested a bumper crop of giant parsnips in January, just before leaving for a month in the Falklands. We froze several boxes, prepped and chopped into batons, and promptly forgot about them until a recent push to work through our freezer stock.

A couple of months ago, I was sent a review copy of Hix Oyster & Chop House. Things were a bit busy at the time and I browsed through the book, bookmarked a handful of recipes that appealed and put it to one side.

And there it stayed, on my mental list of things to get around to, until we were suddenly looking for parsnip recipes at the height of summer!

As fans of gratin dauphinois – thinly sliced and layered potatoes and cream baked in the oven, sometimes with the addition of milk, cream and garlic – it’s not hard to understand the appeal of parsnips baked with cream and cheese!

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Baked Parsnips with Lancashire Cheese

You can see the original ingredients, quantities and instructions here:

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Our adjusted quantities (serves 4)
500 grams parsnips
150 ml double cream
200 ml milk
a pinch of grated nutmeg
2 garlic cloves
salt and freshly ground black pepper
100-150 grams Lancashire cheese

Note: we omitted the fresh white breadcrumbs

Our adjusted method

  • Preheat oven to 160 degrees C.
  • Cut the parsnips into rough 2-3 cm chunks.

BakedParsnips-3528

  • Pour the cream and milk into a saucepan, add the nutmeg and garlic, and season generously with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then turn off the heat and leave to cool slightly.
  • Put the parsnips into a shallow ovenproof (gratin-type) dish and mix with the cheese.
  • Pour the cream mixture over the top.

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I love that this photo includes Pete’s foot!

  • Cook in the oven for an hour until the parsnips are cooked through.

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The tang of the cheese against the sweetness of the parsnips is magical and the cream and milk make it wonderfully rich. This is definitely one of those dishes that’s more than the sum of its parts, though its parts are all very good already.

For this one recipe alone, I’m hugely grateful to Mark Hix and his book and have gone back to the book to search out other gems I may have looked over in my initial bookmarking.

The book is Hix’ first restaurant book, though his previous titles about fish and British food have been well received. Named after his first restaurant, Hix Oyster & Chop House, in London’s Smithfield market, the book features recipes that appear on the menu throughout the year.

As the name of the book suggests, the two main foci are oysters and meat, although, as my chosen recipe indicates, there are also recipes for starters, sides, desserts and even cocktails.

Oyster fans will likely appreciate the chapter introducing 8 types of Oysters (all from the UK and Ireland, both native and cultivated types) along with and instructions on how to shuck them.

The Meat chapter covers beef, veal, lamb and venison, providing information (and great photographs) on different cuts and how best to cook them. Of course, it’s not nearly as comprehensive as the information in Leith’s Meat Bible, that I reviewed recently, but then I wouldn’t expect it to be.

Oddly enough, although I’d happily order many of the mains if I were visiting the restaurant, there are not that many that appeal to cook at home. But there are some recipes I want to try in the other chapters, including cobb egg (like scotch eggs but with a fish mixture around the eggs, rather than pork), Heaven and Earth (based on the German himmel und erder), several of the salad dressings, coley with sea spinach and brown shrimps, chop house butter, shipwreck tart (which I tasted when we visited Hix Oyster and Fish House), white port and strawberry trifle, and hix oyster ale cake.

It’s an attractive book, I can’t help but like the simple brown paper cover and clean design. If the other recipes we try are as successful as the parnsip bake, it’ll earn a place on our permanent book shelf!

 

With thanks to Quadrille for the review copy.


Hix Oyster & Chop House is (currently) available at Amazon for £15.75.

Jul 282010
 

This post was first published as a guest post on Maunika Gowardhan’s Cookinacurry blog back in June.


You know how people sometimes talk about second generation immigrants as slightly lost souls – neither entirely comfortable in the land from whence their parents came nor completely integrated into the land of their birth?

Well, that’s not me.

I was born in London in the early seventies to two doctors who emigrated from India a few years before I was born. My sister came along 3 years (and five minutes) later. Throughout our childhood, we were brought up to have a strong connection to our relatives in India – indeed we visited them every few years, which we loved. But we were also brought up as British kids, free to take onboard our local culture, without the stricter cultural and behavioural strictures that many other second generation children were, in my admittedly subjective opinion, shackled with.

That applied to food too – mum regularly cooked Indian food but she also taught herself Italian, French, Chinese and, of course, British dishes from cookery books and by trial and error. We probably had Indian food once or twice a week, if that. And we travelled a lot too, in our holidays, to wonderfully exotic places and mum would often bring home a recipe or two such as peanut soup from South America, something she still makes today.

What all this boils down to is that, whilst we’d often help mum in the kitchen, we never really learned to cook Indian food in any meaningful way – we didn’t pick up the techniques, the instinctive use of spices and wide repertoire of dishes that we might have resulted from a more traditional upbringing.

(Of course, I think my parents got it absolutely right – I feel a pride in my extra cultural heritage, I am very happy in my brown skin, I will always cherish my links with India. But I am first and foremost British).

When I went to university, I soon realised I could more readily cook a roast beef dinner than a keema curry and turned to mum for help when I needed an Indian fix, phoning for recipes and snatches of advice during term time or bending her ear during trips home. A few years later, my sister and I both implored mum to write down all our best-loved of her Indian recipes in a more organised manner, so that we might stand a chance of perfecting our family favourites.

Mum started laboriously writing recipes onto index cards, two copies of each, of course. It was slow work. Not long afterwards, an Indian cousin of ours who’d moved from India to Europe asked if he might have a copy, so he too could recreate the tastes of home. At which point, the idea of a website came up. Mum’s brother pointed out that a website would allow all the family in India (plus some in America too) to contribute to the recipe collection, not to mention benefit from it too.

That was how Mamta’s Kitchen came to be born, back in 2001. Since then, it’s become so much more than its original intention – a family cookbook on the web. It’s become a resource visited and valued by cooks from all around the world and mum, my husband Pete and I (who run it together) love the positive vibe of the whole thing.

Just like many of our non-Indian visitors, the first place I turn to when I need an Indian recipe is the website!

Recently, I was invited to attend a fantastically fun event – FoodUrchin‘s imu for which he buried an entire lamb in what looked like a grave in his back garden, along with lots of very hot rocks and things on fire. It’s a Hawaiian tradition the idea for which he found in a book.

All the guests were tasked with bringing something for the table. With all that meat cooking away slowly in the earth, I decided to bring something vegetarian, opting for this simple paneer malai recipe.

I’d never made it before and, even when it came out of the oven, at FoodUrchin’s house, I worried that it would be too bland to stand up against the robust flavours of the wonderful baba ghanoush, parmesan biscuits, salads, sauces, freshly made breads and dips that others had created. But, to my delight and relief, it went down very well indeed – I had many requests for the recipe.

Here it is as my mum makes it:

Mamta’s Kitchen Paneer Malai

Ingredients
350 grams paneer
-first marinade
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 heaped tablespoon ginger root, freshly ground or finely grated
1 tablespoon garlic, freshly ground or finely grated or crushed
1.5 teaspoons salt
-second marinade
2 tablespoons full fat cream cheese
3 tablespoons full fat sour cream or thick yoghurt
2 teaspoons corn flour (not maze flour)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon sweet paprika powder for colour
3 red or green fresh chillies, finely chopped (red chillies look nicer)
1 tablespoon. coriander leaves, finely chopped
A few strands of saffron, soaked in 1 tablespoon of warm water
1 teaspoon garam masala

Notes: I used shop-bought paneer. You can make your own, which will be a little more crumbly, following this recipe. I used full fat sour cream. I didn’t have any fresh chillies or paprika so I used some very hot red chilli powder instead. I omitted the saffron completely.

Method

  • Cut Paneer into roughly 2 inch/5cm pieces.

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  • Place vinegar in a bowl and add salt, ginger and garlic. Mix.
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  • Add Paneer cubes, mix and marinate for 1 hour.
  • Preheat the oven to 200˚C.
  • Make a paste of the cream cheese, sour cream, egg, chillies, coriander, saffron, paprika and corn flour. (Mix this by hand rather than using a food processor, as a processor will reduce it to a thin runny liquid).

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  • Lift Paneer cubes pieces from the first marinade, leaving the liquid behind (but taking some of the ginger and garlic solids, if you like). Add them to 2nd marinade and gently turn to coat well. Allow to stand for an hour (or longer).

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  • Line a tray with aluminium foil and cook for 10-20 minute, turning once or twice, to ensure even cooking.

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  • They are ready when the marinade has formed a firm crust on the paneer cubes and they have started to take on a little colour at the edges.

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  • If you do not have a grill or oven, you can stir-fry them in a heated wok in 2 tablespoons oil.

Mum would usually serve these cubes on a bed of lettuce with some lemon wedges, but in this case, they were eaten straight from the oven dish, in very short order!

 

I have always loved pickled gherkins. Many’s the time I’ve come to the chagrined realisation, as I munch one straight from the jar, then another and then one more, that I have eaten an entire jar in one sitting!

Over the last several years, Pete and I have gradually converted our back garden into what we refer to as our home lottie (but which should, more accurately, be called a kitchen garden). Each year we’ve added a few more vegetables and fruits to the mix.

This year, for the first time, we’re growing gherkins.

It’s a confusing word, is gherkin.

The cucumber (Cucumis sativus) is thought to have originated in foothills of Himalayas, possibly from wild cucumbers (Cucumis hardwickii). Certainly, it’s been cultivated in India for more than 3000 years and also known in ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome and China. of course, it’s now found worldwide.

There is also the West Indian gherkin (Cucumis anguria), a related but different species.

But usually when we talk about gherkins in Europe, we’re not talking about Cucumis anguria but about a set of cultivars of Cucumis sativus (cucumber).

To make it more confusing still, as it has long been common to preserve gherkin cultivars by pickling them in vinegar, the word gherkin has become synonymous with any type of pickled cucumber – gherkin cultivar or not.

I’ve even had some people insist that there’s no such thing as a gherkin, that it’s just a term for pickled cucumbers!

So, what is a cultivar? A cultivar is simply a variety of a plant that, over time, has been deliberately selected for specific desirable characteristics – for example, there are several thousand varieties of tomatoes of all colours, shapes and sizes and varying hugely in taste, disease resistance, yield.

Cucumbers come in many shapes and sizes too, from spherical yellow ones to long, slender ones with thick dark green skins. Some are juicy and full of seeds, others are virtually seedless. Some have bumpy, ridged skins, others are smoothly lustrous. Some taste quite bitter whilst others have a mild, almost sweet flavour, similar to that of melons, which are also part of the Cucurbitaceae family (as are gourds, marrows, squashes and pumpkins).

The gherkins we are growing are a cultivar of cucumber (Cucumis sativus) called ‘Diamant’ F1 Hybrid.

Gherkins are well suited for pickling.

And the first four picked just had to be pickled, didn’t they? Oh, yes!

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But which recipe to use? There are so many variations, from sharp to sweet, with dill or without, nothing but gherkin or with some onion and garlic thrown in, not to mention the choice of spices…

The majority of the recipes I found use a ready-bought pickling spice but I decided to make my own.

I simply combined a few whole spices, crushed them a little to let the flavours escape more readily, popped them into one of those make-your-own-teabags pouches before steeping them in malt vinegar. (Malt vinegar because I have lots left over from when I made lemon pickle).

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The gherkins I sliced into halves or quarters and salted overnight in the fridge, before pouring off the resulting liquid, washing them gently and patting them dry.

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Into my pickling vinegar I dissolved sugar (to taste) before pouring it into my (sterilised) jar full of gherkins (and a couple of garlic cloves).

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I made these on the 18 June and want to leave them at least a couple of months before I crack open the jar.

I made a second batch on the 11 July. This time, instead of salting the gherkins on a plate, I poured lightly salted boiling water over them in a bowl, let it cool down and then put it into the fridge overnight. I also added a higher volume of sugar to the vinegar (which I’d steeped with the same pickling spice teabag for several hours). The cucumber pieces were put into hot sterilised jars and the hot vinegar poured over.

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I’ll let you know how they turn out!

Recipe for Pickling Spice Mix

1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon powdered allspice
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds (measure after removing from pods)
1-2 bay leaves
1-2 small pieces cassia bark

  • Crush whole spices, leaves and bark and combine with the ground spices.

Addendum: We opened the jars of gherkins in May/June 2011. Both worked well, but I preferred the texture and higher sugar content of the second batch. I shall be making these again if we get a decent yield of cucumbers in coming months!

 

People often ask me about trends in food. And usually, I stutter and stall as panic shuts my brain down and all thoughts of the various fads, trends, infatuations, developments (call them what you will) that I’ve happily been discussing with fellow food-loving friends flee from my mind.

But one thing that I’m pleased to see growing and growing over the last year or two is the interest in and popularity of Scandinavian cuisines.

It was way back in the fifties and sixties when Brits developed an abiding love for beautifully crafted, contemporary Scandinavian furniture. It so perfectly reflected the growing interest in modern interior design. Since then the Scandi look – pale, natural woods, sleek clean lines and chic lighting – has become synonymous with modern living. Whilst upmarket Scandinavian furniture, not to mention home furnishings and quirky kitchenware is readily available (check out Skandium, Shannon and Isak), for many Brits our love of Scandi style has culminated in our wholesale adoption of the Ikea phenomenon. How many of us can claim to have not a single Ikea item in our home?

But as far as Scandinavian food goes, until very recently most of us Brits knew little more than pickled herring, meatballs and rye bread. (You’ll see from this wonderful post by my friend Scandilicious that the twitter food community does a little better but only a little).

My thoughts on Scandinavian food are perhaps atypical for a Brit, having made several visits during my childhood years to Lidköping in Sweden, where my dad took a busman’s holiday working as an anaesthetist in the local hospital. Mum, my sister and I always went with him and whiled away our days walking around town, visiting the (frankly marvellous) municipal library, swimming (I learned to swim in Sweden!), assembling pictures from felt pieces glued onto hessian, playing in the snow and of course, shopping for and eating food. Through pop’s work, we also made some good local friends with whom we played, ate, laughed and felt a part of the small Swedish community we regularly became a part of.

Of course, I was introduced to köttbullar (meatballs, similar to Danish frikadeller, but usually a little smaller and with the addition of allspice) served with a creamy gravy and lingonberry jam. I loved those!

And I quickly came to adore punschrulle too. Also known as dammsugare (“vacuum cleaner”), these sweet parcels of gooey gorgeousness are made from a mix of crushed biscuits, butter and cocao, liberally flavoured with punsch liqueur, wrapped in a coat of green marzipan and dipped at both ends into melted chocolate. What’s not to like?

Perhaps more surprising might be the utter amazement and delight I took in skogsbär (fruits of the forest) yoghurt – it seemed so exotic to a Luton girl familiar only with natural, strawberry and artificial vanilla flavours. It was so very delicious! To this day, fruits of the forest remains a favourite flavour of mine, whether for yoghurt or ice-cream or just a fruity sauce.

Only my dad developed a taste for surströmming, the fermented (rotten, more like!) herring that, once canned, continues to ferment, making the cans bulge most alarmingly. It’s potentially so explosive that some airlines ban it from their flights altogether.

So, back to the present, and the growing interest in Scandinavian food here in the UK.

In part, perhaps this stems from the general continuing urge to find new flavours, new ingredients, new tastes, new preparations, new cuisines…

In part, it may also be driven by the interest in healthier eating; the Scandinavian nations being some of the healthiest in the world.

A cursory search on Amazon reveals a plethora of titles released in the last couple of years, with the majority published in 2010: Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine, The Scandinavian Kitchen, The Food and Cooking of Scandinavia, Foods of Scandinavia, The Nordic Diet, Scandinavian Gourmet Cooking, Swedish Breads and Pastries, Simply Scandinavian: Travelling in Time with Finnish Cuisine and Nature, All of Scandinavian Cooking and the adorable Moomins Cookbook (which is based on Finnish cuisine, yes really).

scandicookbook from nordicfusion site

So, here I am reviewing The Scandinavian Cookbook by Trina Hahnemann. (I won a copy in a competition, hoorah!)

Whilst it’s not quite as luxurious a print production as Snowflakes and Schnapps, which I reviewed recently, it is a really beautiful book.

Trina Hahnemann is often described as the Scandinavian Delia, though I find this a rather condescending label – we could just as readily describe Delia as Britain’s Trina Hahnemann, no?

In any case, Hahnemann’s background is quite different from Delia’s – she trained and worked as a chef, ran her own catering company (for the rock music and film industries) and founded a successful lunch business running in-house canteens and staff restaurants for other corporations and government bodies. The comparison to Delia comes about because she has also made many media appearances as a chef and is also well known as a food writer and cookery book author.

Hahnemann divides the recipes by calendar month, leading us gently through a year of changing seasons and ingredients. Her text and recipes bring Scandinavian food and it’s related culture and traditions to life, providing not only appealing and straightforward recipes but also sharing tiny excerpts of her life not to mention teaching us more broadly about Scandinavian living. I am very taken by the intimacy of her writing.

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The book is further lifted from the ordinary by the absolutely gorgeous photography throughout, not just of the dishes but of captivating Danish landscapes, stylish and colourful interiors and all kinds of random but enchanting little knick-knacks (like the gnomes on page 213). Lars Ranek is a famous Danish photographer and his images give the book a real sense of place, as well as a wonderfully welcoming warmth. And of course, the food photography tickles the tastebuds – mine salivate as I turn the pages.

Looking for something relatively simple and quick, which would work well with a light salad harvested from our garden, we chose the Swedish cheese tart, reasoning that it would work hot, warm or cold as we felt like it.

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Swedish Cheese Tart

Ingredients
about 250 grams puff pastry
butter, for greasing
4 eggs
150 ml whole milk
300 grams Västerbotten cheese, or strong hard cheese such as Cheddar, grated
1/2 teaspoon salt
pepper

Note: We didn’t have Västerbotten so we substituted.

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 180 C (Gas 4).
  • Butter a 20 cm-diameter tart tin (preferably one with a perforated base, to help make the pastry crunchy).
  • Roll out the pastry on a floured work surface until thin and use it to line the tart tin.
  • In a bowl, beat the eggs and milk and stir in the grated cheese, salt and lots of freshly ground pepper.
  • Pour the mixture into the tart case.

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  • Bake for 45 minutes.

Hahnemann recommends serving the tart warm with a crisp green salad and slices of Skagen ham, suggesting Serrano or Parma as substitutes.

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I wondered whether the tart would stand out from the school-dinner-style cheese flans we’d made before, especially as we used Cheddar rather than Västerbotten cheese. But I needn’t have worried. The higher cheese to egg ratio of this Swedish recipe gave the tart a distinct taste and texture which we very much liked.

And it worked well with a crisp salad of raw sugar snap peas and red onion alongside slices of Parma ham, with their veins of creamy fat.

I do wish we’d had a tart tin with perforated bottom, as Hahnemann suggested – the pastry base was a little soggy, though I found I didn’t mind it.

And I can vouch for how good the tart is cold too. It made a fine packed lunch to take to work the next day.

Of course, there are many other recipes I’d like to try next: marinated salmon, cardamom buns, biff Lindström. homemade white herrings, brunsviger, fish cakes, walnuts in wine, caramel potatoes and rice pudding with warm cherry sauce, to name a few.

This is a book I can see myself coming back to…


The Scandinavian Cookbook by Trina Hahnemann is published by Quadrille. It is currently available from Amazon for £12.99.

http://rcm-uk.amazon.co.uk/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=F2984C&t=kaveat-21&o=2&p=8&l=as1&m=amazon&f=ifr&asins=1844006131

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