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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cast into the shade

I am feeling very mediocre cooking-wise at the moment. An impulsive foray into the world of macaroons resulted only in flat things that looked like dollshouse cowpats and refused to come away from the greaseproof paper.
In the same weekend, the Kitchen Accomplice made perfect double chocolate chip cookies, delectable raspberry sorbet and the most beautiful-looking pink grapefruit marmalade you can imagine (only you don't have to imagine, because here's a picture).
I console myself with the thought that at least I can do a mean roast meat, a feat that is out of her reach because she's a vegetarian.
At this moment, she is in the kitchen whipping up some more cookies. Yum, yum!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Granny Cooked

When my cousin Thomas was small, our mutual grandmother was concerned he was eating too much junk food. As a moral lesson, she trained her Pekinese dogs to do a new trick. You put a piece of food (they particularly liked bits of Victoria sponge) in front of them and said 'Junk food'. They would sneer. 'Crisps' - the same reaction. 'Burgers', 'chicken nuggets', 'chips' or 'biscuits' would all be scorned by Bangs or Azalea.
Then before the poor beast starved to death in front of your eyes, you would say 'Granny Cooked!' and the dog would gobble up the finally licit morsel.
I'm not sure Thomas really took this to heart as a lesson (although he is now a very devoted organic gardener and disciple of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall), but I was much impressed.
Granny Cooked notwithstanding, there are certain convenience foods I still find irresistable.
Hash browns, curly fries, waffles - there's a processed potato theme here, I realise.
I have started stocking hash browns in the freezer for the Kitchen Accomplice when she gets in from school.
This week i also invested in Toastabags, thinking they would be good for preparing hash browns.
But when I asked how it had gone, the young lady said cooking them from frozen was quite demanding.
"The toaster had to be popped like 1200 hundred times just to defrost them. So then I put them in the microwave. And then I fried them." By then, I guess, she was certain they were dead, so she ate them.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Red velvet

Remember my valentine cake? Made (partly) out of red velvet cake? Well, I thought it was time to try out the cake properly.
It's a funny thing with baking soda and vinegar - surely they cancel each other out?
I used this recipe for red velvet cake - which I won't repost here - from one of my favourite baking websites.
The recipe calls for pints and pints of extraordinarily rich 'creamcheese frosting'. You make two normal layers of cake, then cut each laterally in half, so you have a four layer cake. That means four layers of icing - yum, yum! Although I must confess that my appetite for gooey icing seems to have been quenched somewhat with age.

Still, it looks good with the red stripes, doesn't it?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Queen of Hearts

When I get home after work, I am greeted at the door by two furry kitties. They surge around me as I climb the stairs, squeaking their greeting.
On Thursdays, the feeling of welcome is hugely enhanced by the presence of the Kitchen Accomplice and the consequent delightful aroma of baking that greets me alongside the felines.
I'm not that much of a cake eater, but who could resist these tiny jam tarts? They didn't even last till supper time.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bland, bland, bland

Although the Kitchen Accomplice loves spicy food, it is never a good idea to try pleasing her with curries, because she just compares it with her grandmother's and dismisses our poor efforts as 'bland, bland, bland'.
This is particularly sad for the Man, who is quite proud of his tarka dal (not in the least bland to my mind).
My plan is that we should have a cook-off - each of us has to produce a dal, to be tasted blind, all at one meal.
Given how competitive I am, it should come as no surprise that I am practising madly. Luckily this is a delicious and healthy meal - although I'm not sure I'd like to eat only this, I'm happy to eat it once a week.
For supper tonight, the Man requested "some green vegetable", a rare request from him. So I went for the greenest I could think of. Baby spinach leaves, washed and dried, then thrown into a hot pan where I had fried grated ginger, mustard seeds and kalonji (onion seeds).
This with basmati rice and tarka dal made an easy, delicious, balanced meal.
Here's the dal recipe I'm currently using - bear in mind that you can alter the spices as much as you like. The amounts given below feed four not very spice-tongued eaters.
PS the 'tarka' is the fried spice mixture that flavours the dal.

300g red lentils (masoor dal)
850ml water or stock
1 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp coriander

30g butter
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp asafoetida

4 garlic cloves chopped
1 medium onion chopped
2 chillis chopped

2 tomatoes finely chopped
1tsp curry leaves
1/4 tsp chilli powder

1 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp fresh coriander for garnish

1 Bring the water or stock to the boil and add the lentils.

2 Add the turmeric and ground coriander, stir and simmer for 20 minutes or until lentils are soft. Cook until the water is absorbed; if the lentils go dry and are not soft, simply add more water.

3 Add the butter to a large frying pan and cook gently with the cumin seeds and asafoetida for a few seconds, add the chopped onions and garlic and fry until the onions just start to brown. Add the chopped tomatoes, curry leaves and chilli powder and continue cooking for another few minutes. (This is your tarka).

4 Add the dal to the tarka and stir well.

5 Continue cooking and add the garam masala and salt (to taste) and stir in well.

6 The finished tarka dal should be soft and runny - if necessary, add more water.

7 Serve with a few knobs of butter on top of the dal and sprinkle the fresh coriander leaves on top to garnish. Serve with basmati rice or plain naan/chapatti breads.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

It's not rocket science

Although pasta with pesto is an easy and not too unhealthy supper, my heart always sinks at the thought. Unfortunately, it's all too frequent a solution to the problem of what to feed the Man and the Kitchen Accomplice if no planning ahead has been done - all too regular a situation.
Last week I came up with an alternative, just a little bit less straightforward, significantly healthier and much yummier. Rocket pesto!
A packet of fresh rocket is easily available in local shops, as are walnuts. Vegetarian parmesan (a nod to Miss Picky, aka the Kitchen Accomplice), garlic and olive oil are stock store cupboard ingredients, as is a lemon.
Chuck them all in a processor or blender (grating the parmesan and juice the lemon), along with salt and pepper. Taste repeatedly to get the proportion right - we ended up putting in the juice of half a lemon and LOTS of olive oil to get it smooth enough.
One final twist - it was nice enough five minutes after making, but even nicer a week later - mellower, smoother, less bitter.