Sunday 28 October 2012

My chicken biryani

I simply could not live without Indian food - I cook it at least once a week. I grew up in (Northern) Germany when and where Indian food and spices were completely unheard of. The first time I was introduced to Indian cuisine was in the UK in 1988 when my then boyfriend (now husband) took my for my first meal at "an Indian" - and I was completely blown away by it! (I did try to eat the potpourri at the counter as well though - but we all learn from our mistakes...) So the next 12+ years in London were a culinary orgy of bhajis, brinjals and baltis - happy times! However this turned to a barren wasteland once we moved to Brussels - because there is not even a single HALF-DECENT Indian restaurant in the whole of Brussels - a city that is brimming over with numerous wonderful Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese restaurants and take-aways... (I would SO love to be proven wrong on this - so if any Brussels-dwellers have found "the mother lode", please let me know!) And that's why I love to serve Indian food to friends - especially non-English ones: it's just lovely to hear them exclaim: "Wow - I've never tasted anything like this before!"

Today I cooked one of my "usual" Indian lunch buffets for six: poppadoms with pickles and a lime-drenched salad, cauliflower pakoras, lamb rogan josh, pumpkin, red lentil and spinach dhal, naan breads and coconut and pineapple ice cream (all recipes to follow another time) - and my absolute long-time favourite: my version of chicken biryani. It's simply fantastic - and actually really easy: don't be put off by the (quite) long list of ingredients - everything can be done in stages: for example, I make the chicken curry at least a day in advance, then during the day I assemble the spices for the sweet and savoury liquids and let them steep at leisure. So here goes:

3 tbs of vegetable oil
4 onions
thumb of ginger
3-4 cloves of garlic
300 – 450 g of cubed chicken (breast/thigh)
4 tbsp tomato puree
2 tsp tumeric
2 tbsp garam masala

Fry off the chicken in a bit of oil. Remove from pan/casserole.

Blitz the onions, ginger and garlic into a rough paste in a food processor. Fry in oil until soft, then add the spices for a few minutes. Add the tomato puree and simmer for a few more minutes. Add chicken and a few tablespoons of water and simmer again for 8 - 10 mins. The curry will smell quite “raw” and unrefined at this stage – that's perfectly normal as it will get finished off in the oven!

3 black cardamom pods (bruised)*
12 peppercorns
1 large stick of cinnamon
10 cloves
grated nutmeg
1 tsp fennel seeds
4 bay leaves
750 ml chicken stock

Put all the spices into sauce pan with the chicken stock and bring to the boil. Turn off the heat and leave to infuse.

4 tbsp milk
5 green cardamon pods (bruised)
saffron (I use two of the tiny little red containers of the powder – fine for this)
2 tbsp of rosewater

Mix together with a whisk.

300g basmati rice

Preheat the oven to 200°. Reheat the savoury liquid until hot. Sweat off the rice in your casserole dish until opaque.  Add the chicken curry, then pour over the savoury liquid (you can pass it through a sieve but I like to leave the spices in). Pour over the sweet liquid into the middle, bring up to boil, seal with tin foil and lid and cook in the oven for 40 – 45 mins. 

(feeds 6)

* I used to make this with the usual green cardamon pods which are perfectly fine – until I found the black ones one day in a Chinese supermarket and they do add another musky/earthy dimension to the dish!

Don't be alarmed when you pour the liquid into the casserole - it will look like a soup with no rice but trust me: it will absorb all the liquid! 

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Let the stew season commence!

Today has seen the "official opening" of my annual stew and casserole season! I love stews because they are comforting, economical and, above all, really easy to make: you can knock them up with really hardly any preparation - and after that, the oven does all the work! I also tend to cook a lot of stews which are done in two stages: you prepare and marinate your meat at leisure the day/night before, shove it in the fridge and then do the rest the next day - how easy is that? Stews are also the ideal dinner/lunch party food because they are even better when prepared a day (or two or three) in advance as the flavours just keep improving in the fridge - that means your main course is done and dusted before you even enter the kitchen on the day!

So this year I'm kicking off with a Caribbean-style beef and rum casserole. You might recoil in disbelieving horror when you look at the ingredients: beef with - a giant glass of rum, three limes and soy sauce?? But trust me - it all comes together in the most amazing culinary marriage (and the rum-my smells emanating from the oven during cooking are wonderfully homely.) You DO need to serve it with a "sweet" side though to get the ultimate flavour combination on your plate - if you haven't got/can't get pumpkin/squash, sweet potatoes are another great option (oven-roasted or mashed).

1,5 kg stewing steak
2 tbs seasoned flour
4 tbs olive oil
3 medium onions
4 garlic cloves
3 bay leaves
1 ts dried oregano (or a few fresh sprigs if you have them)
400 ml beef stock (from a stock cube)

1 or 2 red chillies, deseeded and sliced (or only half of one - as I (wimpishly) do)
finely grated zest and juice of 3 limes
250 ml dark rum
1tbs dark soy sauce
2 tbs brown sugar
1 tbs crushed black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
1 ts dried oregano (or a few fresh sprigs if you have them)

Oven-baked squash:
4 tbs olive oil
1 small(ish) squash or pumpkin
a generous grating of nutmeg

Cut the beef into bite-sized pieces and put them in a deep, non-metallic dish. Mix all the marinade ingredients together and pour over the beef. Toss well to coat. Cover with cling film and marinate in the fridge overnight.

Preheat the oven to 160°.

Chop the onions and garlic. Sweat them off in in a large frying pan with a tbs of the olive oil until soft. Transfer to a casserole.

Drain the beef (reserving the marinade) and put into a plastic (ziplock) bag. Add the flour, seal tightly and shake to coat evenly.

Heat more of the oil and fry off half of the beef. It doesn't have to be browned completely - just cooked through. Repeat with the rest of the meat and add to the casserole. Add the bay leaves and oregano.

Pour the reserved  marinade and the stock into the pan, bring to the boil and stir to de-glaze the pan juices. Pour  into the casserole and stir to combine. Put the lid on and bring to the boil. Transfer to the oven and cook for three hours.

Cut into large cubes and toss with the olive oil and nutmeg in a roasting tin. Add to the oven after 2 hours.

(Serves four)

I like to cook my stews gently at a low temperature. But there's absolutely nothing wrong if you're pushed for time to increase to 180° for two hours. (I would, however, never cook casseroles above that temperature).

Monday 22 October 2012

A gravy boat malfunction...

The Sunday roast yesterday was pork - nothing out of the ordinary there. HOWEVER, things took a dramatic turn for the unexpected when it came to pouring the gravy into the sauce boat: the vessel (which had been in service for at least 15 years) suddenly CRACKED horizontally in two - oozing the lava-hot liquid all over the work surface, onto the floor - and into the three food drawers underneath! (My husband was quick to offer an unusual "explanation" for this - which he has since recanted.)

But to the joint in question: two nice "couronnes" (loin with bones) at 800g each. They were as cheap as chips (from GB/Carrefour) AND 30% off (alltogether just over €6 (£4.80) - now that's a bargain!). I'm sure you all have your own "way" of roasting pork, but if not: I start off my seasoned joint(s) in the pre-heated oven at 230° for 20 mins and then 25 - 30 mins at 200° per pound. I can just put it in the oven like that because - UNFORTUNATELY - I don't have to "worry" about crackling - which is almost impossible to get here in Belgium (but that will be the topic of another blog soon...)

... and my fruity pork stuffing
I also use this lovely stuffing over and over again because it's just brilliant - and easy:
Finely chop a handful of dried apricots and 5-10 sage leaves (depending on size). Add a few tablespoons of pine nuts (toasted if you have the time) and 2 handfuls of breadcrumbs. Chop a medium-sized onion (red ones are really nice for this) and a garlic clove or two. Sweat these off in a bit of olive oil, then mix into the rest of the mixture and season. (You might want to add a bit more olive oil to bind it all together). Then take your joint and either butterfly it (carefully cutting it in half lengthways almost to the end and then opening it up like a book) or, with a sharp long knive, cut a deep and wide pocket into it. Once stuffed, secure with a few rounds of butcher's string and you're ready to roast! 

The stuffing quantities are for a joint of about 1 kg.

The dried fruit-sage-breadcrumb mixture freezes really well, and, since my sage died in the garden I have to "buy it in", I usually knock up a big batch using all the sage. Then I just shake out the required amount the next time to go with the (new) onion mix.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Mussels from Brussels - Asian Style!

I ADORE mussels (the national dish of Belgium - together with glorious twice-fried frites of course) because they are sweet, tender and succulent and also because they are the ultimate fast food (they can be served from pot to table in under five minutes) and - if cooked at home - they are completely affordable (I always buy them when they are on offer (vacuum-packed in 2 kg packs) and under six Euros (£ 4.85) - this will feed two as a main course or four as a starter.) I do have to say though that I hardly ever order them in restaurants or bistros here because they are so OUTRAGEOUSLY EXPENSIVE (€20 is the norm - and that's for 500/600g)! But that's just my parsimonious nature...

Yesterday evening's moules supper was just a very simple mariniere (recipe below), but my favourite way of serving them is as a sort-of-Asian-style-dish - it makes a really fresh, fragrant and unusual change:

Asian-style mussels
2kg of mussels
1 tbs of vegetable oil
a bunch of spring onions
a knob of ginger (peeled)
a couple of garlic cloves
1 fat or 2 small stalks of lemon grass
a bit of fresh red chili (depending on how hot you like it)
juice of 1/2 a lime
1 tbs (or more) of fish sauce
a cup or so of coconut milk/cream
1/4 ts or so of saffron (if youre feeling luxurious - powdered is fine) or 1 ts of tumeric
a handful of chopped coriander

1 Rinse the mussels in a colander under cold water (that is usually ALL you need to do with them - they will be farmed and usually do not have any "beards" that need pulling off). Discard any obviously broken ones.
2 Chop all the ingredients (in a food processor).
3 Sweat them in the oil in a large pot until soft.
4 Add the mussels, lime juice, fish sauce, coconut milk and saffron/tumeric.
5 Put the lid on, give it all a shake and put it on a high heat.
6 Let it come up to the boil and let them bubble for ca 2 mins.
7 Take the lid off - they should by now be open. If not, give them another shake and look again after 1 minute or so.
8 Check for taste, adding more lime juice, fish sauce or even coconut milk if you want.
9 Ladle into big soup bowls - that's it!
10 When eating, discard any that are completely closed.

You can also stretch this into an elegant soup starter for six - just add enough fish stock (from a cube) at the last stage and give it all a good stir.
I always freeze any left-over lemon stalks - they just go a tiny bit soft when defrosted, but that makes them so much easier to chop!

Simple moules mariniere
Chop a large onion and a few garlic cloves and sweat them off in a bit of olive oil until soft. If you have, add: a chopped carrot, a bit of chopped leeks, a chopped celery stalk and/or a handful of flatleaf parsley. Add a glass of white wine (or cider) and season with black pepper (if you have, you can also add some cream). Then simply cook as above! And yesterday, my children's oven chips went rather well with them too...

Sunday 14 October 2012

A tale of two cakes

Yesterday was my son's birthday so it's only fair that I share my two oh-so-wonderful and easy birthday cake recipes with you:  

The carrot cake

This is the “school” cake that I've been baking for my children for the last ten years. It has none of the “frivolity” of some of the fancier carrot cakes but it is an absolute star: it's an extremely “good bake” that behaves well in all quantities and shapes (I always bake it in a massive (27 x 40 cm) square tin with the normal quantities trebled), it only has five ingredients, it is a doddle to make (it can all be mixed with a wooden spoon) – and it is UTTERLY delicious! It is adored by children and adults alike (but the biggest fans are the teachers at our school: they literally swoon whenever it is wheeled in – indeed, there have been a number of ugly incidents involving Mme M and Mme P “fighting dirty” over the last crumbs...)

250 ml vegetable oil
225 g golden sugar
225 g self-raising flour
3 eggs
1 pinch of salt
250g grated carrots (I use the food mixer)

Pre-heat the oven to 180°.
Mix the oil with the sugar (by hand or with an electric whisk).
Add the eggs and the flour.
Then add the grated carrots and combine well.
Pour into your mould and bake for 50 – 60 minutes.

If you double (or treble) the quantities you need to bake it longer of course – keep checking with your skewer.

Chocolate and buttermilk cake

I'm extremely pleased with this absolutely yummy chocolate cake which I make for the children's party at home – it bakes almost like a brownie (even in the “big tin”) but holds its shape extremely well and is lovely and moist without being stodgy, dense or too rich:

100g softened butter
350g caster sugar
2 eggs
225g plain flour
50g cocoa powder
1tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
250ml buttermilk (or full-fat milk with a good dash of lemon juice)
1tsp vanilla essence 

Pre-heat the oven to 180°.
Put the butter and sugar into a large bowl and beat together. 
Add eggs one at a time and beat well until light and fluffy.
Sieve flour, cocoa, baking powder and bicarb of soda into the butter & sugar mix and then pour into the buttermilk and add vanilla essence. Stir well to create a smooth dough.
Put the mixture into a ca 28 cm round cake tin (or ca 20x20cm square) lined with paper. 
Bake for ca 30 mins until just set in centre. 

I've simplified my icing over the years for both cakes – now I only ever use 2 packets (500g each) of sifted icing sugar whisked with a few tablespoons of hot water (and a few drops of food colouring) into an almost glue-like consistency which I simply pour over the cake beginning from the middle.

Friday 12 October 2012

My "love affair" with Lidl continues...

Bargain of the week here in Brussels-Schaerbeek goes to: Lidl! *drum roll* They're selling "Label Rouge" chicken at €4.99/kg (roughly 1/2 price of other supermarkets) - I would have bought the lot if I had the space in my freezer. AND they're starting foie gras early this year - again at an absolute steal (the cheapest comes in at €2.49 for 80g) - we'll just have to "go on go on go on go on" eating it at that price I'm afraid! But I'm MOST excited about their latest addition to the freezer cabinet: authentic thin Turkish lamb pizzas (Halal) - 3 x 150g for €3.09 (I used to be able to buy them in the Turkish supermarkets around here - but they stopped doing them) - can't wait to serve them tomorrow at my son's birthday party!

Thursday 11 October 2012

Hello and welcome to my blog!

I'm a mother of two and I live in Brussels, Belgium with my family. I'm a keen and enthusiastic home cook with a vast repertoire of "tried-and-tested" dishes - all easy to make and delicious to eat. After a lot of “deliberating, cogitating and digesting” I've finally decided to start my own food blog - simply to share all the food that I love eating and making with "the world out there". I'm also a passionate bargain hunter and can often be found lurking in the aisles of Lidl and Aldi sniffing out their foodie treasures - more about that later... So here's my first recipe - enjoy!

Smoked trout tartlets

I first tasted this wonderful concoction this summer on my friend Emma's terrace in South-West France. She had just thrown it together for I think 18+ house guests and it was SO delicious... it had never occurred to me to use smoked fish in this way before! I finally got round to re-creating it last weekend for lunch with friends – and it was as wonderful as it was back in July:

230g shortcrust pastry (shop-bought)
1 ts oil or butter
300 ml cream
3 eggs
2-3 tbs horseradish cream
pepper and salt
a bunch of spring onions (or any other onion(s), chopped
1 or 2 garlic cloves, chopped
125g packet of smoked trout (or any other smoked fish)*

1 Preheat the oven to 200°. Line 4 loose-bottomed tartlet tins (10-12 cm) with baking paper (or use 1 25-28cm tin). Line again with baking paper and baking beans (or dried pulses/rice) and cook for 5-10 mins until golden brown.

2 Gently fry the onions and garlic in the oil until soft.

3 Beat the cream, eggs, horseradish and seasoning together.

4 Spoon the onion mixture into the (cooled) pastry shell(s). Add the flaked fish and the egg mixture. Bake for ca 30 mins until set and golden.

*Lidl and Aldi's smoked trout are a great bargain at €1.49 each

This is my default egg mixture for quiches and tarts ie 100ml cream per egg. For any other quiche I add a handful or so of grated/chopped cheese – whatever is in the fridge.