Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Anglo-Indian Pilaf

By: Mrs Robot

I'm not going to review the cookbook yet as I haven't made enough recipes from it to do the job properly, but I just wanted to share a photo of one of the dishes from The Burma Cookbook, by Robert Carmack and Morrison Polkinghorne with you.

I mentioned in a post that my family's pretty much lost touch with the Asian part of its roots, and for me cooking food from the region is one way to try to reconnect with that. Well, this is about as connected as I can get: a dish from the mixed-race community within Burma. A lot of Indians and Anglo-Indians went to Burma with the British, and took with them all sorts of foodstuffs, many of which have become part of Burmese food. (Take Indian snacks and the Burmese love of salads, and what do you get? Samosa salad.)

You don't need any connection at all to Burma to enjoy this pilaf, however. It's really delicious. You start by making a sort of spiced lamb stew, then putting the rice on top after a couple of hours and waiting for that to absorb the excess liquid. The result is wonderfully soft meat and tasty rice, which you top with fried onions and bits of omelette.

It's fantastically easy to make, and can all be done in one pot, which I definitely appreciate because I hate washing up. If you make your own curries regularly you'll have all the spices at home already, and if you don't there aren't so many that it would all be really expensive to buy them - plus then you'd have the spices to make many more pilafs in future. The meat does take a couple of hours to stew, but you could make up that part in advance and freeze it, so when you wanted some after, say, a day at work, you's just need to thaw it and bring the meat up to a simmer before adding the rice.

I think I will be eating a lot of this in future...

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Retro Recipe: God Save the Queen (of Puddings)!

By: Mrs Robot

I was once entertained to hear an American food critic say you could mess about with the savoury side of food as much as you liked and British people would eat it, but don't ever mess with their puddings. It's true: we do love a good pud, from venerable old Christmas Pudding to a steamed golden syrup one, to what has to be the UK's current favourite, sticky toffee pudding, which is a bit of a johnny-come-lately having been invented around the 1970s. Now, British puddings are not like American pudding, which seems to refer solely to custardy or blancmangey things. Being a guttersnipe, I'll label anything sweet served towards the end of a meal 'pudding', but when I talk of 'a pudding', I'll mean the spongy sort. Queen of Puddings is a bit of an oddity, then, as it's got a custardy (but firm) base. On top of that goes a thin layer of red jam, then a pile of meringue.

This was an unusual thing for me to make as there's an unstated division of labour here at Casa Mechanica; I do pastry, he does meringues. But as Mr Robot had crossed the line when he wrestled with the Moroccan snake, I decided to give this a whirl. The recipe was from Katie Stewart's Cookery Book, a reprint of The Times Cookery Book. I was worried about including this entry in our 'Retro Recipes' section, but that book was first published over 40 years ago! Despite that, the book isn't at all dated, just incredibly useful.

I don't know why it's taken me so long to give this a go. I'd feared it would be tricky, but it's incredibly simple. I suppose separating eggs might seem difficult to some people if they've never tried it, but it's really easy. You use the yolks in the custard mixture, which you then soak the bread in, beat smooth, and bake. Once the bread-custard base is firm, you smear it with jam - we used a jar of raspberry bought at the Bakelite Museum on a recent trip to Devon - and then top with meringue. Bake it again for about 10 minutes and hey presto! Pudding is ready to serve.

As for the meringue... I did it! I've always been terrified of over-beating it and ending up with a collapsed mess, and that's been leading me to under-beat. This time I got it really stiff and the whole experience was much more satisfying (ooh, matron).

One thing that struck me was how economical the whole thing was, enabling you to feed about six people (erm, or two greedy ones) using just a few eggs, a thick slice of bread, some sugar and some jam. If you've got other things going in the oven anyway, it would be easy to pop the base in on a lower shelf at the same time, making maximum use of the heat. She may be called a Queen, but she's a Pauper at heart!

Friday, 26 June 2015

Snakes on a Plate

or, The Spicery Box 2 - A Fiasco in Filo
By: Mr Robot

I was really looking forward to my second box from The Spicery because not only did it have very tasty-looking Cafreal kebabs, it had the terribly swish and exciting M’Hencha. On reflection that was stupid of me because my pastry skills are disastrous at best, and M’Hencha being a massive coil of filo, it could only ever go one way.

Anyhoo, the kebabs were great – quite subtle herby chicken onna stick backed up with an extremely punchy mango chutney. 

In fact the chutney was the highlight: dark, jammy and fiery hot. I’m more accustomed to that heat in more sour context so the sweet mango provided a novel and exciting backdrop. 

Mrs Robot was very grateful for the raita...

Inevitably, though, the star of the box was the M’hencha. It’s a spectacular - if done properly - sausage of ground almonds, orange and pistachios, wrapped in filo pastry which is then coiled like a snake (the literal meaning of M’Hencha apparently), baked until crunchy and then made soggy with an insane syrup of honey and citrus. 

Anyone who doesn’t find that a madly exciting prospect can leave the room right now.
As I’ve already hinted, pastry is not my strong point, and the fact that we’re using shop-bought helps not one jot. For some reason pastry drives me to flap and swear like nothing on earth. Think of an elderly relative trying to install a printer driver*  - that’s me where flour and fat are concerned.

We start off well enough, producing a lovely sweet goop fragrant with cinnamon, cloves, nuts and oranges. But that’s as far as it goes.
My instructions tell me to lay out my 270g pack of filo to a length of 1.5 metres, so in a spirit of terrified slavish obedience I measure out that distance plus a bit and start laying sheets. 
Well a third of a pack later I’m done, and I’m dithering. Should I be doubling up with extra layers, or is this all I need? Have I got the wrong packet of filo? What do I do? And how does spinning round in circles and flapping help?

It’s ridiculous because in any other kitchen situation I’d have coped fine. Not with aplomb, perhaps, and with no certainty of success, but I’d have had a decent go. I definitely wouldn’t have got hysterical. Eventually Mrs Robot delivers a Bogartian slap to restore my senses and I decide to proceed with just the single layer. But of course by now the pastry has already started drying out so despite painting it with butter (did I mention my painting skills? About as good as my pastrying), the rolling is more an exercise in folding and shattering.  
Coiling, therefore, goes no better and instead of a snaky circle I end up with something Pythagoras could’ve spent a diverting afternoon with.

Here’s where the instructions really let me down. They say you can bake this in a springform cake tin, or slide it onto a baking sheet, whereas of course it should have read, “bake it in a springform cake tin, or you can slide it onto a baking sheet BUT ONLY IF YOU’RE A BLOODY IDIOT”. 
Guess what I did.

Well as you can imagine at this point the air was blue, providing a lovely contrast to my face, and I was desperately in need of consolation.

About 40 seconds after shoving the accursed thing into the oven I got it, in the form of some of the most delicious smells ever to waft my way. 

It only got better, and by the time I’d taken him out of the oven, drizzled him with syrup and scattered him with pistachios and rose petals, my poor deformed snake promised to be something glorious. 

He may be a poor deformed snake, but at least I gave him a face

And it was. I mean you’d never expect bad things out of almonds and honey and pastry and oranges and more honey, so that was no great surprise but it was utterly wonderful sticky eating.

The phrase “preparation time 25 minutes” was clearly a big fat lie but at least the 35 minute cooking time allows for a pint or two towards recovery

Beauty's only crunchy-skin deep

All images (c) PP Gettins

*With apologies to all tech-savvy silver surfers, naturally. Please don’t hack me

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Deliciously Moorish

By: Mr Robot

The butcher had Guinea Fowl this weekend so I couldn't help picking one up. I was immediately thinking of Andalucia and the joy that is poultry cooked with saffron and almonds.

Saffron and Almond - the start of so much goodness

 It's one of the classic Moorish flavours that comes up over and over again in Southern Spain and we've got about a zillion recipes for this but they all revolve around the same basis. Guinea fowl (or chicken if you prefer) pieces are fried until brown and then deglazed with fino, manzanilla or white wine and then simmered with a little chicken stock and saffron.

Toasted almonds, fried garlic and fried bread are blitzed up and stirred in for the last few minutes, and it's enlivened with paprika, lemon juice and fresh parsley to make a wonderfully thick, rich sauce that sends me through the Proustgate to the searing heat, white walls and jasmine-filled air of the plazas of old Seville.

I know it's appallingly expensive but I've learned that it's vital to have a heavy hand with the saffron. You want a full punch of it, not some miserly background hint. Those crappy little packs you get in the supermarket? You'll need at least half of it. It's best indulged rarely but well - saffron is made for bingeing, not homeopathy.

Far better value, I find, is to have a brilliant trip to Spain and bring back a ton of the stuff. It's much cheaper over there, and is overall a rather nicer destination than Tesco. But that's just me.

Since you're using a jointed bird this is a fairly quick dinner that only needs about 20 minutes cooking in total. It would easily work mid-week, especially if the sun is shining and the patio calls. There isn't really any veg that makes much sense to serve alongside. A light salad before or after is a much better bet - just serve it up with some nice crusty bread for mopping.

Oh, and make sure you've got a good supply of sherry or vino to hand, since this dish practically demands conviviality late into the night.

All images (c) PP Gettins