Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Covering reception can be lonely but it gives me plenty of time to ponder various random thoughts. Here's a little discussion to start amongst yourselves: If stuck on a desert island, what eight ingredients and two dishes would you take with you?

At first I thought it would be an breeze to pick my favourite things but once you start making a list and getting to the last few spots, ten different things will pop into your head putting you back at square one. So here's my list of must have ingredients:

1. Garlic - As most of you know this will jazz up anything and since I assume that on this island I will be alone, I won't have to worry about kissing boys with my garlic breath.

2. Cilantro / coriander - One of my favourite fresh herbs- if not my favourite. I love the flavour, the colour, the taste. It works fresh and cooked and can be paired with so many other ingredients.

3. Lemons - To use it savoury and sweet dishes.

4. Pig - Yes, a pig. One whole pig. I don't like fish (which I would have to get over real quick) but I like pork. Most of the parts of a pig can be eaten that it would be invaluable to get it onto my island. I love bacon so much that I would strap that thing to my back if I had to.

5. Onion - Once more, a basic ingredient that is the starter for so many dishes.

6. Corn - Imagine never having corn tortillas again. It's hell on Earth as it is with the lack of them in the U.K. let alone stuck on an island. Since I would have so much time on my hands I could make them myself. Or I could have fresh corn- yum.

7. Tomatoes - I just could not live without them. I splurge on them in the winter now (even though they aren't as could as they should be) so I feel like it is warmer outside. Salads, soups, salsas, sauces- I could easily come up with tons of uses for this.

8. Chilis - Come on- how many Mexicans do you know that live without chilis?

And my two dishes? It is so difficult to narrow down to two items that you couldn't live without. There are so many things I love depending on my mood. I would hate a lifetime without dim sum from Royal China and Yautcha, what about no In n Out burger or no salad. My conclusion is that it would be real shitty to leave without so many food delights but I am happy with what I narrowed it down to. Because it is cold out they are quite heavy meals maybe if it was Summer I would think differently.

1. Steak and chips with an iceberg wedge with blue cheese dressing - The steak would have to be either filet mignon or part of a chateaubriand. I don't need to eat 150 ounces of mediocre quality meat- that is just wrong. I prefer to have a small portion of an amazing steak. The chips have to be thin cut. And since I'm going old school a wedge of iceberg with a blue cheese dressing on the side.

2. Chile Relleno with a side of refried beans - It must be from my Tio Meno's restaurant too and it must have the secret family sauce on top.

Now it's your turn. What couldn't you live without? Post it as a comment and I will compile a list of the top ten ingredients!

Sunday, January 22, 2006


Since I posted earlier this week, it has caused quite a stir in the office and scenes of the next English civil war. Anna the Pedant (or if you prefer Anna I can immortalise you here as Anna Banana?) has brought it to my attention (and to the attention of a few Brits that thought otherwise) that a Shepherds' Pie is made with lamb and a Cottage Pie is made with beef. To further illustrate her point she sent all of us this link- http://www.fellwalk.co.uk/londonfood3.htm
And although I neglected to mention it to her, I did wonder about the difference because I thought the names were interchangeable and The Boy reprimanded me about it (but of course couldn't back it up). So I have gone through and amended this and erased all mention of the S word. But no worries about it- I'd rather have a Chelsea Cottage than a Chelsea Shepherd anyways.
The end of January can be a stressful time for many people but it is even more stressful for anyone who is self-employed and has to send in their tax forms by the 31st. One such person is my dear friend Claire the Hairdresser. She was over for dinner a week ago and was saying that she rang the tax people with some questions was told the answers and forms could be found online. Claire’s reaction? “On line, on line. What the fuck is online? On what line- the washing line? Look I don’t even know how to turn a computer on- let alone doing the damn form online.” I think she hung up after that. It took a few glasses of wine to calm her back down again. Thankfully, my knight in shining tax savvy armour leapt to her defence and offered to help her out.

Fast-forward to Saturday night and Claire came back around. Since the last three times she has been over I have made pasta, I definitely had to not make pasta again (more for my sake than anyone else’s). The Boy’s sole request for dinner- something with mashed potatoes. With some gravy too. Not being in the mood to whip up a roast- woo hoo what a rockin’ Saturday night- but needing to make some sort of comfort meal, I settled on Cottage Pie. This would make Claire very, very happy as it’s her favourite meal (It would have made her happy if it had been SHepherds' Pie but she eat this one anyways). I’ll put it to you this way- when she was taken to The Ivy for lunch she ordered the Shepherds' Pie. Nope, no fancy or luxurious ingredients for her, straight to the Shepherds' Pie (which she reported was delicious). (Obviously this bit now has nothing to do with my tale since I have actually made Cottage Pie but now you know a little something about Claire's eating habits.)

I have neither made nor eaten Shepherds' Pie before (and technically I still haven't). Since I was already at the store when I decided that this was to be dinner, I had to guess at what actually went into it. It finally dawned on The Boy that the reason I was asking questions about this dish is because you don't really get Cottage Pie in the States. I gently reminded that we don't really have shepherds, we have cowboys so it would likely be called Cowboy Pie and would most likely be meatloaf (I kind of have a problem with this idea of meat in loaf form but I'll save that rant for another day).

It was not difficult to do and cooked up quickly. There were lots of leftovers; Claire took some to her boyfriend who was jealous we were eating it (he was hungover and wound up eating it for breakfast) and we get it for lunch tomorrow. Why the name Chelsea Cottage Pie? When I asked the gang of two how did it compare with Cottage Pie / Shepherds' Pies of the past, Claire commented that usually it is a bland dish but my version had lots of herbs and flavour. As she put it, “It’s definitely a posh version. Like a Chelsea Cottage Pie.” However, the best compliment of the night was another classic Claire-ism. As the tiny thing stated how she couldn’t fit into her skinny fit Seven jeans, she reached over and scooped a second helping onto her plate.

Chelsea Cottage Pie


500g ground beef
2 carrots, diced
1 parsnips, diced
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 red pepper, diced
4-5 potatoes (depending on size)
2 x 400 g tins of plum tomatoes
1 tablespoon plain flour
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves removed and chopped
2 twigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped
1 tablespoon of Worcester Sauce (Worcestershire Sauce in the US)
1 handful grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 handful grated cheddar

Boil the potatoes in a pot until cooked through.

While the potatoes are cooking, brown the beef in a casserole pot or similar with a dash of oil. Once cooked, drain the excess fat and put the ground beef to one side (in a bowl or on a plate). In the same pot, add a glug of oil and sauté the onions until translucent. Add the carrots, parsnip and garlic and cook until softened. Add the peppers, rosemary, thyme and beef. Stir in the tins of tomatoes, crushing the tomatoes slightly. Add the Worcester sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the flour over the top and stir in (make sure the flour doesn’t turn clumpy). Simmer over low-medium heat for 20 minutes or until the liquid reduces by half.

While that simmers, make the mash according to personal preference. I mashed mine with a knob of butter, a ¼ cup of milk and left the skins on.

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Once the mix has simmered down, pour it into an ovenproof casserole dish. My mash to meat ratio was 50-50 but I suppose it should be 25-75. That probably explains why I have so much leftover. Put the mash evenly on top (you can use a fork to spread the mash and decorate it if you’d like).

Sprinkle the cheese on top and put in the oven for 15 minutes. If the top has not gone golden brown, put under the grill for a few minutes.

Serve with a side of green salad (or baked beans as Claire prefers).

I had to throw this picture in because it looks like a hippo about to chomp down on something- but that might be just me.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Finally, the night I had been looking forward to all week had arrived. After a week of sweet dreams of turmeric, coriander and cumin, it was time for Ajay’s Curry Club. Although people compliment my cooking, there are certain styles and cuisines that are totally foreign to me. Sure I can open up a cookbook and make a curry recipe- the same can be done for any recipe in any cuisine. But there is something that bolsters your confidence when taught by someone familiar with that culture and that cuisine. Sunday night was my night. I don’t know why Ajay was nervous- he was a fine teacher and a fine cook (I pity your future wife- she’ll have to be a damn good cook or be able to compensate for it in other ways!!).

Ajay had pre-chopped everything so we were able to get straight to the main event. Armed with pen, paper and camera, I tried to get as much information on Indian cooking as possible. In addition to a fabulous meal, I picked up some useful general tips of which my favourite is to pre-grate ginger and freeze it. Instead of going into a grating frenzy when cooking, you grate up as much ginger as you want, spread it out (the easiest way is probably in a baking sheet) into the thickness of a stock cube, cut into cubes and freeze. When needed, grab a few cubes from the freezer and chuck straight in. The smell and texture of it wasn’t affected like I thought it would be- I was really surprised. The other ‘revelation’ is rather than finely chop all of the fresh ingredients, use the small container of a hand held blender to finely chop everything from the onions to the chiles and save yourself some time. Nothing new but any other time I have made a curry, I painstakingly chop every little bit.

As with any stew-like dish, long and slow cooking is key. If you put the time into it, your efforts are well rewarded. This dish than can easily be doubled or tripled if you have lots of people coming round; in this case, the proportions below will feed 12-16 people. I have written this as we prepared it and in the quantity we prepared. If making this at home and not for a small army I would use a third of the ingredients.

I warn you ahead of time that there was no real exact precision to this recipe. Ajay says that it is a recipe of trial and error- even for him. Measurements are guesstimates- there is a base that you start with but you build the flavours up as it simmers away using smell and taste as your guide but remember that no one flavour should overpower the rest. You should be able to smell elements of all the spices used- they should work together not against one another. Make it a day early if need be- the flavours get better the next day. It is fragrant, it is fresh, it is warming and it is better than anything you could ever get out of a jar. Most of all though, it isn’t as difficult as you would expect.

We also had a side dish of Raita (a cucumber and yogurt condiment) that you can eat between mouthfuls of curry to break up some of the heat and cool the mouth down. The only recipe I don’t have is for the side of Dal (lentils) we ate. That was an amazing dish too. It was leftover from Ajay's brother's wedding a couple of months ago and the extras had been frozen. There are as many Dal recipes as there are kinds of lentils. I really hope that I can find a recipe for it to pass it on to everyone (hint, hint). I guarantee it will convert anyone who thinks they don’t like lentils.

One last thing. Although rice is what you would normally expect to have with this, try it with white bread instead. The Boy and I had the same reaction. Serve it up with a slice or two of plain old sliced white on the side to dip and scoop up sauce with. It works, it really does. When you think about it, it is no different to having naan with a balti or tortillas with carne asada; it is just something to soak up the juices. It just shows what a global staple white bread really is and how it ain’t just for sandwiches.

Ajay’s Chicken Curry

As with any recipe, it is always a good idea to have a read through and ingredients prepped before you start. This is one of those times where it really matters to have everything sliced and diced ahead of time.


Spices for the sauce-
(Remember that all measurements are approximate)

Oil or butter
Cumin Seeds – 2 tsp.
Black Peppercorns – 20
Cinnamon Stick – 1 (broken into pieces)
Whole Cloves – 10
Green Cardamom Pods – 15 (crush slightly)
Fresh Ginger – 4 frozen cubes (if grating fresh, use 4 heaping teaspoons)
Garlic – 4 heaping teaspoons (finely chopped)
Small Green Chile – 2 tsp (de-seed first if you don’t want a spicy dish)
White Onions – 2 whole ones, finely chopped
3 tins of plum tomatoes – pureed
3 Beefsteak tomatoes – chopped (or use 6 normal size)
Turmeric - 2 tsp
Ground Coriander (Cilantro) – 1/2 tsp
Ground Cumin – 1/2 tsp
Ground Cloves – 1 tsp
Ground Cinnamon – 1 tsp
Lemon – 1 (juiced)
Fresh Coriander (Cilantro) – 1 roughly chopped handful plus an extra handful for garnish
Salt – to taste

For the meat-
3 Whole Chickens, cut into pieces
Cumin Seeds – 4 pinches
Fresh Ginger – 1 tsp grated (or 1 cube frozen)
Garlic – 1 tsp (finely chopped)

To make the sauce-
Over medium heat, add enough oil to coat the bottom of a large, deep stockpot. To test the heat, drop a couple of cumin seeds in the oil and turn the heat down low when the seeds begin to sizzle.

Add the rest of the cumin seeds as well as the peppercorns, cinnamon stick, cloves and cardamom pods and fry for 5 minutes. Stir occasionally and make sure that the spices do not burn. Add more oil if necessary.

Add the onion and stir to coat in the spices. Cook for 3-4 minutes.

Add the garlic, ginger and chile.

Turn the heat to low and cover. Cook for 20-30 minutes stirring occasionally. The onions will be ready when they have cooked down and have a translucent green tint to them (caused by the green chile).

Stir in the pureed plum tomatoes and the beefsteak tomatoes.

Add 1 tsp of the turmeric (more can be added later) as well as the ground clove, ground cinnamon, ground cumin, ground coriander and 1 ½ tsp of salt. Stir. If needed, you can add more garlic, ginger and/or green chile. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

For the chicken-
In a pot deep enough to fit the chicken pieces, heat enough oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds, ginger, garlic and chicken. Cook for 20 minutes- the goal is to get rid of the excess water in the chicken and to speed up the overall process by partially cooking the meat. The chicken will go from one pot to another to finish cooking as the curry simmers.

Back to the curry-
Add half the lemon juice. After the 20 minutes of cooking the chicken, add the entire contents of pot (chicken, spices and juices) into the curry pot and stir. Add the cilantro. Cover and simmer for 40-45 minutes. Remove the lid and turn heat to medium-high for 10 minutes to thicken up the sauce.

Add the remaining lemon juice and garnish with fresh cilantro. Add fresh green chile to increase the spiciness. Serve with rice (try adding a pinch of cumin and ½ tsp of turmeric during cooking) or white bread and some raita (recipe below) on the side.


500g plain yogurt
Pinch of Colman’s Mustard Powder
Pinch of red chile powder
1 small cucumber, diced
2 carrots, diced
Small handful of chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
½ tsp salt

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and keep chilled until ready to serve.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


Welcome to my first recipe review. The point of this new section is to attempt and to taste recipes from the latest food monthlies. Are they as easy as the editors say? Does it really only take 20 minutes? Will it really come out looking like the shiny, super edited photo? Or will it only succeed in making me feel useless because I can't drizzle oil on the plate as carefully as them?

Every month I receive or buy a new batch of mags, flip through them, think to myself 'That sounds good', put the mag on my bookcase and then never, ever make it. Usually the magazines sit for a few years until I 'notice' them while dusting and accidentally forget to dust because I am so easily distracted.

This happened recently and low and behold, a whole new stash of recipes was at my disposal. My new habit is to mark the recipes I like with a Post-it and then leave a 20 high stack of magazines on the floor. Yeah, if I was the Boy I would get pretty pissed off too. For my next magic trick I will try photocopying a few recipes at a time and keep them in the kitchen. There isn't a need to keep a whole issue of Martha Stewart out for one recipe. I really don't want her staring up at me from the floor each time I use her glossy face as a beer mat.

Anyways, I have a subscription to Gourmet but you need to have patience because I get mine a couple of weeks late since it has to be sent via snail mail. Hopefully my mother will feel generous enough to get me a subscription to another magazine...
When available I also buy some of the others like
Bon Appetit, Martha, Food and Wine, Cooks Illustrated and the list goes on. In the UK, I get Olive, BBC Good Food, Delicious, Waitrose Food Illustrated and once a month I get the delightful Observer Food Monthly (edited by my food writing hero and author of some of my favourite cookbooks, Nigel Slater). I know that you can occasionally get the British mags in the US (for a small investment); sometimes it's worth it to what's cooking in other parts of the world.

Back to the review. (I must preface this with an admission that this will not be my finest review since I am working from memory and am more intent on getting this out while this issue is still in stores.) One freezing winter's day a week and a half ago, I busted open this month's issue of Martha Stewart Living- which I recommend this issue for anyone into baking or who has a cake fetish. There are some fine cakes in there this month along with the usual artsy-craftsy shit. Feeling cold and in the mood for an artery clogging treat (and noticing that I had cardamom in the cupboard- as you do), I attempted to make
Cardamom Streusel Coffee Cake.

This was good. Very good. However, and here's where today's title comes from, when the recipe says that it is made in a bundt tin- use one. There is a lot of batter and where the recipe says it bakes for an hour or so, my version (put into a regular ol' square baking dish) took two hours. The middle just did not want to set. Eventually it did but because the pan wasn't deep, the result wasn't fluffy. It was stodgy. It kinda compacted and solidified but it was still moist. It reminded of a heavy bread pudding or something. A small piece is plenty. The crumb topping was delicious and well worth the time of pulverising the spices; using cardamom adds a nice twist to this classic cake.

VERDICT: Would I make this again? Yes, definitely but I will be sure to use the correct baking dish. I would not however, make this unless a crowd of people were coming round. There were a lot of leftovers that were brought to the office. The GI (Gobble It) factor of this? Mmmmm, more please.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


I am in the shithouse. Big time. In a classic stupid sitcom moment, I forgot my wedding anniversary. For a whole week. Even then, the Boy tried to give me the benefit of the doubt by asking numerous leading questions. I kept saying that no I hadn’t forgotten anything the week before. Yes, I am a jackass. So I grovelled back into favour by whipping up a lovely three-course meal while he watched the football. So I used the chance to kill two birds with one stone (well, actually three). Tonight’s menu:

‘Chinese Stir-fry’ Broccoli Soup
Chinese Five Spice Duck Breast
Hot Chocolate Souffle


I named this after the tasty broccoli stir-fry you get the Chinese. I had already prepared the duck and needed to do something with the soup that would start the meal off in the same vein as the duck. I usually to Broccoli and Stilton soup but I had no cheese and anyways it wouldn't have gone with the main dish.

1 head of broccoli
2 cups water
½ a vegetable stock cube (I use a powder so I am guessing at what it would be as a cube)
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
8 –10 drops sesame oil
1 tbsp. double cream
dash of soy sauce

Chop up the broccoli. Trim the florets in small pieces as well as the stalk- trim any manky spots first. Put into a medium size stockpot and add the stock cube and water. The water should just about cover the broccoli so if needed add a bit more but remember that it will make a watery soup if you add too much. Bring to a boil and cook until the broccoli is cooked through. Once cooked, stir in the black pepper, soy sauce and sesame oil and allow to cool slightly. Using a hand blender (or regular blender) to puree the soup until smooth. Stir in the double cream- you only need a teaspoon or so.

Serve up and garnish with a drizzle of double cream, a couple of drops of sesame oil and scatter with a few sesame seeds.


2 duck breasts (about 175g each)
1 tsp. Chinese Five Spice
1 tsp. sea salt
¼ c. dried cherries
¼ c. Kirsch
¼ c. orange juice
1 tbsp. pomegranate molasses
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick

Put the cherries, kirsch, cinnamon stick and cinnamon stick in a bowl and put it aside.

Heat the oven to 200C. Mix the Five Spice and salt together. Score the skin side of the duck breasts with 3-4 slashes depending on the length of the meat. Rub the salt mixture onto the skin. Heat an ovenproof skillet over medium heat and place the duck, skin side down and brown three minutes on each side. Put the duck onto a plate and drain the excess fat from the pan.

Return the duck to the pan and transfer to the oven (the duck should be skin side up). Roast for 15-20 minutes depending on how well you prefer your duck. (I did it for 20 minutes and it was cooked through. It was perfect for the Boy but I prefer it a bit pink.) Place the duck on a plate, cover with foil and allow to rest. Drain the extra fat from the pan.

Heat the pan over medium heat and add the cherry/Kirsch mixture to deglaze. Add the orange juice and pomegranate molasses. Allow to reduce by half.

Slice each duck breast into thick slices and spoon half the sauce over each piece.

I served this with green beans and roasted sweet potato.


It was ok. My mixer didn’t whip the whites at the bottom of the bowl completely so it wasn’t as tall as it should be. I made the traditional big soufflé but I realise now that I prefer the individual ramekins much more (the Boy agreed). It was edible especially with fresh raspberries on top (so not in season but a splurge for the Boy). I therefore have decided not to give the recipe at this time until I test the recipe I used in smaller dishes. However, I show you exhibit C as proof of my valiant effort.

The meal went down well. We drank a lovely New Zealand Pinot Noir (Rippon 2003) which I would have the Boy buy again. Most importantly, I have redeemed myself. I am no longer an asshole.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Happy 2006 my dear readers. I hope all of you (by which I mean all three of you) enjoyed a fine food and drink fuelled holiday season. I do apologise for not keeping up over the holidays but my oh my was December a busy month. I will keep it brief but it entailed me working a fair bit (I needed the cash to feed my cooking habit), flying to one side of the States to see the family (and eat), flying to the other side to be in a wedding (and cater), flying home to do my Christmas shopping in a record 2 hrs 20 min before going to the In-laws, driving home to go back to work (and dream about the next dish to make), kick it at home for New Years (and sleep) and finally go back to work (again, I have a hungry mouth to feed).

Yes, I did cook a lot in between but only some dishes would have been deemed worthy enough to blog with. Dishes tended to be old and easy favourites like pasta, quesadillas and soups. Sure at one point I plan to add these but I was pooped by the end of the month. That said I am back on form and eager to cook. I am ready to try new ingredients, attempt new cooking methods but most of all I am ready to fatten up my friends- one person at a time!

Christmas presents rocked this year. There was definitely a foodie theme to all my gifts even by people that hadn’t a clue. Cookbooks, utensils, slicers and grinders- everyone seemed to get it. In addition, I stocked up on all sorts of food mags whilst in the States. This leads me to introduce a new section on this blog where I will road test at least one recipe from a food magazine of that month and report back on the result. No need to fret about some of the other things we got going on (like Around the World in 80 Plates), I am only mixing it up a bit to encourage some reader participation. Another new section will be a Must Try Ingredient List (witty name to come later) where I will pass on any info and details of new ingredients I have seen or tried.

So far January looks to be a stellar month. I have already tried one magazine recipe to review (to follow), there is also an easy pea soup recipe to be added and we all get a special lesson in making a proper Indian curry, compliments of my pal Ajay (so not too much pressure then Ajay!).

So I say ‘See ya’ to Crappy 2005 and I say hello, bonjour, gutentag and buenos días to 2006- BRING IT ON!