Archive for January, 2008

Curry Corner

Posted in Cooking, Dinner, Food with tags , , , , on January 26, 2008 by helenphillips

Curry is a popular choice in a lot of British households for a weekend treat, including ours. Sometimes this will home made, sometimes it will come from the supermarket deli counter, sometimes it will be delivered by our local Tandoori restaurant, or (best of all, because it involves no washing up) eating out.

The concept of ‘curry’ was brought to the West by British colonialists in India from the 18th century. Now it has become an integral part of British life, with a curry house or takeaway never too far away.
The term ‘curry’ tends to encompass spicy dishes from a variety of countries, though the first that usual springs to mind is India. Dishes may also have origins from Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Pakistan, Indonesia, China, Bangladesh, Nepal.

There is so much variety, I could be here forever. So, extremely briefly…

Curries can be yoghurt based like Korma. Many curry enthusiasts find these curries too mild (and some will scoff at Korma eaters), but personally I find that with a large bit of Naan bread it makes great comfort food. Or there’s the more tomato based variety, like Rogan Josh. Other choices that can usually be found in the British curry house include:
Passanda, Dopiaza, Jalfrazi, Madras, the famously hot Vindaloo, and then even hotter Phall.
Ingredients tend to be based around a variety of spices. Some of the most used are ginger, onion and garlic, tumeric. Other ingredients may include cumin, cardamon, lemongrass, chillis, cinnamon sticks, cloves, Star anise, mace. Some recipes use Garam Masala, which is a a blend of ground spices – most traditional mixes use cinnamon, cumin, caraway seeds, cloves, nutmeg, and cardamom.
There’s a variety of different rices too. Pilau Rice is the more popular (rice cooked with spices), or there is mushroom rice, vegetable rice, or coconut rice.
Another accompaniment is Naan, a flat bread. This can be plain, or stuffed with other ingredients such as Keema (minced meat), Peshwari (honey & raisins), or Garlic.
In addition to the main course, there are numerous side plates, and again these will vary according the main dishes origins. Again, in your average curry house, you would expect to see things like Bombay Potatoes, Saag Aloo (spinach potatoes), Bhajis, and Pakoras.

And I can’t believe I forgot the mighty Poppadom – a wafer type food item, often made from lentils. These tend to be eaten first, along with onion salad and a variety of chutneys.

Hopefully along the course of this blog, I’ll be able to expand a little on individual recipes and curry related food items.

For now, I’d just like to say – if you always stick to the same dish, please try something new. The hotter dishes aren’t for everyone (especially me!), but the majority are full of flavours that it would be a shame to miss.

Chorizo, Chickpea and Potato Stew

Posted in Cooking, Dinner, Food, Home Cooked Food, recipe with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2008 by helenphillips

This is a delicious dish, full of flavour, easy to prepare, and a firm favourite on a certain forum I use. We really don’t eat enough beans and pulses in our household, so this is a good way to include chickpeas.
This recipe should make enough 2, with some left over for lunch or to freeze (unless you’re really hungry!)

Potatoes – around 200g – any type suitable for boiling
1 small red onion
Chorizo sausage (chunks are better than the thin sliced stuff you can get, the one I used was 225g)
1 tsp paprika
1 tbspn red-wine vinegar
1 tin tomatoes
1 tin chickpeas (400g)
Olive Oil

Peel and cube a handful of potatoes. Boil until they start to soften.
Chop the red onion, and sautee in a little oil until soft, and then add the chunks of chorizo, cooking for another 2-3 minutes. Add the chunks of potatoes, cook for another 2 minutes.
Sprinkle on the paprika, then add the vinegar, tomatoes and (drained) chickpeas.
Cover and simmer for around 10 minutes to allow the potatoes to finish cooking, and to allow the flavours to develop.

Poached Egg on Toast

Posted in Breakfast, Cooking, Food, Home Cooked Food with tags , , , , on January 13, 2008 by helenphillips

Yes, it’s another breakfast egg post….
I love a simple poached egg on toast, and as a bonus they’re pretty healthy.
However, I have never managed to poach egg ‘properly’. There are probably many theories on how to do this, but the most popular is:
Boil a Pan of water
Swirl the water to create a vortex
Drop in the egg.

I have been told that it is important that you have extremely fresh eggs.
I have also been told that it is important that you use eggs that have been kept in the fridge. I don’t keep mine in the fridge, so perhaps that’s why mine go horribly wrong.
So, I cheat. I use a poaching pan. It consists of a tray that holds 4 removable plastic pots. Boiling water is poured into the bottom of the pan, and the pots sit in this. Each pot needs to be greased with butter to prevent the egg from sticking. The eggs are then broken into the pots, and are cooked over the simmering water for approx 5-6 minutes (depending on size). Some people think that eggs cooked this way are a bit rubbery, but I find them to be delicious. And they do look rather amusing centred on a piece of toast….

For another alternative (and interesting!) method, follow the advice at the bottom of this link.

Italian Feast

Posted in Cooking, Dinner, Food, Home Cooked Food on January 10, 2008 by helenphillips

Italian cuisine is another favourite in our household. Eddie spends a fair bit of time working in Italy, so the pressure is on to produce a good standard at home!

For a good simple starter, you can’t beat antipasti (plural of antipasto, literally meaning ‘before the meal’). In Italian cuisine, this often consists of cold cured meats (such as Prosciutto or Parma Ham), cheeses, and raw / marinated vegetables. Add in some extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and warm crusty bread, and the combination can be quite heavenly.

Following the antipasti is the primo piatto, or the first course. This generally consists of pasta, rice, gnocchi, polenta or soup.
In the UK we tend to eat pasta or rice as a main course dish, but traditionally in Italy, the portions tend to be much smaller. This is because the secondo piatto, or second course follows. This usually consists of meat or fish, with side dishes of vegetables or salad (Contorno). Most Italian restaurants in the UK will present these as an either / or choice on their menus, but if you ask they will probably be delighted to provide a smaller pasta dish as a primo piatto, followed by a fish or meat dish.

Even desserts can be served in 2 courses – Formaggio & Frutta (Cheese & Fruit), to be followed by Dolca (a sweet dessert, like biscuits or cake). Next comes the coffee, and then “digestives“, which are liqueurs such as limoncello or grappa.

We are very fortunate in that we have a number of good Italian restaurants here in Swindon.

One of my favourites is Mario’s on Wood Street. The restaurant is situated in a basement, with a real ‘wine cellar’ and homely feel to it. Some of the tables include benches in niches in the walls, ideal for a cosy intimate meal during the quieter periods. On weekends it does get extremely busy (a sign of it’s popularity), and so the atmosphere is better for groups of friends. The waiters are friendly, and at times entertaining. The food is excellent, and very reasonably priced.

Another restaurant I can recommend is La Dolce Vita, on Clarence Street near the bottom of Victoria Hill. The decor is more upmarket here, are as the prices. However, the food is excellent and good value for money. The wine list hosts an great choice of Italian wines. The atmosphere is just right for an intimate dinner even during the more busier periods.

Weekends are made for Brunch

Posted in Breakfast, Brunch, Cooking, Food, Home Cooked Food on January 7, 2008 by helenphillips

OK, so this is not a recipe as such. And as it’s Monday, it’s not the weekend any more. But it’s something to think about for the next 5 days…

As far as I’m concerned there is no wrong or right way to do a breakfast like this. Others may call this a “Cooked Breakfast”, or a “Full English / Welsh / Scottish” (delete as appropriate). In my opinion, what makes this a Brunch is the time of day consumed (late morning), and the fact that it includes chips.

On the subject of a good brunch, if you are ever in Plymouth, make sure you visit Goodbody’s. Situated just off Mutley Plain, they have the widest selection of breakfasts I have ever seen. English, Welsh, Scottish, Cornish, Devonshire, and many many more – all with a twist on the basics. And they have Minis on the roof…..

Unfortunately they don’t seem to have their own website, but here is a photograph courtesy of Flickr user Little Miss LaLa – thank you!

Pepper Chicken

Posted in Cooking, Dinner, Food, Home Cooked Food on January 6, 2008 by helenphillips

A favourite in the Phillips household is ‘Pepper Chicken’. I think this recipe originally came from some diet plan, but don’t let that put you off!

The dish is prepared in 2 parts:

Rice Pilaf
Chop a handful of mushrooms, and a couple of spring onions. Heat a little olive oil, and soften the vegetables. Add rice (I use about a handful per person, but I have small hands), and mix in. Add some herbs (dry are fine. I recently used fresh parsley, and Eddie spent the whole meal picking it out). Then approx 1 glass of water per portion of rice – I tend to add one glass, and then add extra as appropriate. Bring to the boil, and simmer until the water is absorbed and the rice is cooked.

Pepper Chicken
Chop a red pepper into strips (I use one pepper for 2 people), and cube some chicken  (1 small breast per person is about right). Add a little olive oil to a pan, heat and then add the pepper and chicken. Cook on a medium heat until the chicken is sealed and starts to brown. Add a splash or 2 of soy sauce (I use reduced salt, but the choice is yours), and a splash of sesame oil. Finally add some sesame seeds. Continue to cook over a medium heat until the chicken is cooked right through.

This dish is pretty quick to cook, and excluding preparation usually takes less than 15 minutes. Eddie’s plate is usually clear in 5 minutes…
You’ve probably noticed that I am sometimes a bit vague over quantities. Unless I am trying a brand new recipe from a book, I usually like to work using a visual ‘gauge’ based on personal taste and appetite!

Scrambled Egg & Mushroom

Posted in Breakfast, Cooking, Food, Home Cooked Food on January 4, 2008 by helenphillips

The other night I spotted this giant mushroom in the fridge whilst cooking dinner, and thought “mmmm…. that would be nice with some scrambled egg for breakfast”. So, next morning, that’s exactly what I did.

The mushroom was fried with a little oil. Only a small amount is needed, because once the mushroom starts to cook, it will start to ‘sweat’. A bit of butter does enhance the taste though. A good tip is to remove the stalk first, otherwise the mushroom will not lie down flat and cook evenly (as I found 1/2 way through cooking!). In every house I’ve ever lived in, I’ve managed to set off the smoke alarm cooking mushrooms. I’ve never burnt them, but seem to produce a silly amount of smoke when cooking them. My mother once said that I cook them too fast, so probably she’s right!

I’m quite often lazy with scrambled eggs, and cook them in the microwave. But that’s too noisy early in the morning (!), so this time I used a pan. Non-stick is really essential for scrambled eggs, as they bind so suddenly. I start by melting a little butter in the pan, then cracking in the egg, whisking it, then adding in a little skimmed milk. Stir continuously until the mixture reaches a firm consistency.

For a real scrambled egg treat, use extra yolks. A few weeks ago I made souffles that required 4 egg whites, so I retained the 4 yolks, and used them the next morning along with 2 other eggs to make an absolutely dreamy scrambled egg.

Serve on buttered toast, and add salt and pepper.