Monday, 18 January 2010


We ate another of my pumpkins last night, in a kind of yellow curry with chickpeas from Tender, volume 1, by Nigel Slater. OK, I messed with the recipe because we didn't have yellow mustard seeds, so you can see my substitute black mustard seeds speckling the curry instead, and we didn't use dried chickpeas because I can't plan ahead like that. Here is our adaptation of his recipe.

To serve 2
1 tin chickpeas, drained
1 medium onion, chopped
vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic
a piece of ginger about 2x2x2cm
1 stalk lemongrass, outer leaves removed
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
3 green cardamoms
1 hot red chilli (we only had dried chilli flakes - about half a tsp)
a small pumpkin (he suggests about 250g prepared weight)
150ml vegetable stock
half a can of coconut milk (we used reduced fat)
half a tbsp black mustard seeds (he uses yellow)
coriander leaves - a small handful
a lime (we only had lemon!)

Saute the onions in a deep, lidded saute pan or casserole over a low heat until soft. Make a paste (using a food processor or chopping finely with a knife) of the ginger, garlic and lemongrass, then add to the onions. Crack open the cardamom pods and crush the seeds in a pestle and mortar; chop the chilli and then add both to the pan alongside the ground coriander and turmeric. Meanwhile, prepare the pumpkin, peeling and cutting it into bite-sized pieces, then add to the onion mix with the chickpeas and the stock (don't worry if it looks a bit dry - the pumpkin will give off water as it cooks. You may want a drop more water/stock during cooking). Cover with a lid and simmer.

At this point, we put some basmati rice on to cook. The pumpkin takes about 15-20 minutes to cook.

When the pumpkin is tender and your rice is ready, stir in the coconut milk and continue to simmer. Taste and adjust the salt if necessary (we used Marigold vegetable stock, which was salty enough without needing to add any more). In a separate frying pan, heat the mustard seeds in a splash of oil until they start to pop. Add this to the pumpkin, along with the coriander leaves. Serve with rice and lime to squeeze over.

Friday, 15 January 2010

foot in mouth

I seem to have a magical ability to insult certain people inadvertently and repeatedly, and last night my victim was the Master of Pembroke College. Now, the Master is the head honcho, the big cheese, the daddy of Pembroke College, Cambridge, where I studied my first degree. In my first year there, whilst hideously drunk at the Dean's Christmas party, I slurred something like 'I'm f***ed and the Master's f***ed too', whilst the man himself was standing right behind me. Oop!

I went for my first dinner at high table last night in college with the husband. Since I left, the old Master (whom I would recognise) has been replaced by a shiny new one, ex-MI6 Sir Richard Dearlove. During pre-dinner drinks I was talking to someone else, but was interrupted to shake hands with a grey haired, bespectacled, slightly solemn-looking chap. I said, 'Sorry, I didn't catch your name...'. He looked a tiny bit startled, even through his steady compusure, and replied, 'I'm Richard. Richard Dearlove. The Master.' I think I squealed with embarrassed laughter at that point. He turned away pretty quickly (after politely assuring me that it was OK!). Oh dear. We didn't speak again.

Otherwise it was a good do. Saw some people I haven't seen in years and got jolly drunk. Not really. I keep tabs on my drinking when the Master is involved these days. Not that it helps much.

Image from the Daily Mail.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

home-made baked beans

I wasn't too sure about baked beans as a child, and only liked them if they were piping hot. As soon as they started to cool, I thought they were weird and gross. I still like them hot, but I do have a much greater fondness for legumes in tomato sauce these days. These home-made beans are nothing like the stuff from tins, but are just as good, if not better.

There are lots of recipes out there for home-made baked beans. I am sure mine is not the best, but I love eating these with anything. They are moreish, creamy, savoury and not too sweet. And I don't put bacon in mine like a lot of recipes do. This time I used two tins of butter beans and one of cannellini, but the bean choice is flexible. You could also cook the beans from dried, soaking overnight first and then boiling them for an hour with some celery and bay leaves, but this is much quicker and makes not too much difference. Anyhoo, this is what I made the other day, served with grilled sausages and broccoli.

3 tins beans in water, drained and rinsed
2 tbsp light olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 stick celery, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
500ml tomato passata (or you can use a tin or two of tomatoes)
2 bay leaves
1 tsp smoked paprika (If your variety is hot, then maybe use less)
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp English mustard
a little pinch of ground cumin
a little pinch of ground cinnamon
a dash of soy sauce (because I can't help myself!)
salt and pepper
1-2 tsp red wine vinegar to balance the sweetness

Preheat the oven to 170C. In a lidded casserole dish, saute the onions, garlic and celery for about 15 minutes until soft. Add everything else except the vinegar, bay leaves and beans and bring to a simmer, stirring well. I like to taste the sauce at this point and I will probably add a little vinegar because I don't like it too sweet. Season the sauce and then add the drained beans, bay leaves and enough cold water to cover everything. Bring to a simmer then turn off the heat, cover the dish with the lid and place in the oven. Because we are using already cooked beans, this can be ready as soon as you like, but about an hour and up to two hours in the oven is best, I think. Check it regularly to give it a stir and top up with water - don't let the beans dry out! Taste at various points and adjust the seasoning/vinegar/maple syrup to your taste.

The random pinches of spice were added by me to an old recipe, just because I like to mess around with things. I think they add a bit of depth. I also use less maple syrup than others - you can use 2 tbsp if you like. And I sometimes add some chilli powder for a little kick of heat. Whatever works for you...

Monday, 11 January 2010


I have many weaknesses. Mostly for food. One of my greatest loves is the steamed bun, Chinese style. Generically speaking, we just call them 'bao', meaning buns, but they have lots of different names, including baozi, salapao in Thailand, or mantou if they are unfilled. The bread casing is always a little bit sweet and is especially good, in my opinion, combined with savoury fillings.

I've had some amazing baozi in restaurants and in Hong Kong. They remind me of eating breakfast with my paternal grandmother and family when I was seven years old, in a Tai Po restaurant that she still visits to this day to meet her friends and gossip. They remind me of the best home breakfast surprises (I had a pretty weird breakfast upbringing, sometimes even involving beefburgers or pie! Pizza featured once at breakfast too!). My favourites are filled with char siu (roast pork), meat and vegetables, or sweet things like lotus seed paste or yellow custard.

On Saturday, armed with a package of 'Tippy salapao mix' (buy it online here) from the Chinese supermarket, I attemped my first home-made baozi. OK, so I haven't got a clue how to make the bread casing - it involves wheat flour, raising agents of various types, sugar and some kind of magic. I think some other mixes include yeast, but this one did not. One day maybe I'll try making my own!

I filled them with chicken breast minced in a food processor, finely chopped spring onion, Chinese leaf, garlic, ginger, salt, soy sauce, sesame oil, coriander a tiny pinch of Chinese five spice and a dash of white pepper. The quantities, as with most of my 'made-up' cooking, were arbitrary. Basically, a mix of two chicken breasts, three leaves of Chinese leaf, two spring onions, three cloves of garlic, a 5mm slice of ginger, chopped finely, a small bunch of fresh coriander and the other ingredients to taste, was more than enough to generously fill the twelve buns that one package of flour mix can make.

If I were to make them again I would add some pre-soaked dried shiitake mushrooms or some chopped water chestnuts to the mix. You could also try making them with pork, adding chinese chives, or try a vegetarian version.

They were surprisingly easy to make - this flour mix only takes a few minutes to make up. Filling them without leaks is harder, but I think we were trying to cram too much into each bun! All the instructions are on the packet and they take only 15 minutes to steam, even with raw meat inside.

These are pictures of the ones we made and I was jolly proud of them for a first attempt. True fluffiness will probably always elude me, but they were tasty nonetheless.

EDIT: I just found a recipe for baozi dough here. I will try it some time, when I have a few hours to spare!

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Feeling low

I'm having a really bad day today. Everything seems so futile and pointless. I'm crying my eyes out over nothing and can't shake the feeling that I am crap at everything I do. Or just not good enough. I struggle a lot with self confidence and conviction in my abilities and always look for the negative in everything. Some days it's worse and today is one of those. I feel like the biggest, most miserable, useless loser. Anyone else ever feel so desperately bad about themselves? I feel like I'm going nowhere.

God, I sound like a self-indulgent manic-depressive on this blog. I think I need to go and bake something, even though I can't actually bake.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Shiny and new

Happy new year! Well, I would be happier if I didn't have to work and could go somewhere with a sledge instead. With all this snow around, working should be banned. Sadly, the snow seems to have mostly missed our little patch here in Essex. We have only had about an inch, when everywhere else in the country seems to have had many more! Plus there are no slopes around our area for quality sledging.

What has been happening here? Not much. Christmas was lovely, but by the end I couldn't wait to be alone at home again. I like company but I get tired of having to be sociable after more than a week of it and just want to hide away not having to talk any more. Sounds awful, but that's how I am.

Food-wise, Christmas was pretty good - my first, proper, traditional turkey meal on Christmas day with my in-laws, then we had a wonderful Chinese steamboat or hot pot at my parents' house on Boxing Day. We ate out with family a lot in Birmingham so I'm craving normal food terribly. We haven't quite settled back into our normal routine, though.

I will try and be better at posting here. I keep making nice food and forgetting to photograph it! We made a spicy aubergine stew served with roast sweet potatoes the other day. Last night we were experimenting with the incredibly fatty Hungarian sausage that was part of the special Christmas hamper I compiled for the husband. We ate a traditional Ukrainian meal for Ukrainian Christmas last Saturday, and there was a lamb and green bean stew at some other point. Any photos? Any recipes? Not from me, sorry! I'll try to be better next time.