Best friends, cookbooks and curry

Best friends who know too many secrets about you are worth holding on to. If they share a history with you going back to school days, consider yourself very lucky indeed. Especially if they also believe that you can never own too many recipe books. My best pal, Ria, does a grand job each year of fuelling my obsession with  cookbooks and Christmas or Birthday (and sometimes both…I’m not complaining) a new book will find its way to me and I’ll enjoy months and then years of experimenting with new recipes.

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We talk most days on the phone, which Big Man finds both incredible and hilarious (“what on earth were you talking about for the last half an hour?”…”oh, nothing much, this and that”). Our conversations invariably end with “so, what’s for dinner tonight?” and we’ll happily chat for a further 10 minutes about what we’re cooking, planning to cook, wishing we had the energy to cook, or what we took out of the freezer put by from when we were more organised with our cooking a couple of weeks back.

Lately, I’ve been cooking up a good few curries from my birthday present cookbook. Curries from all over the place and this chicken curry from Pakistan really was fantastic. Definitely dinner party quality, but also simple enough for a family meal. The description of the recipe explains that it was a Special curry because in the fifties and sixties,  if you were invited to dinner and served this, you would know the hosts had spared no expense in your honour because chickens were hard to obtain and expensive.  Luckily for most of us, this is no longer the case, but if your purse runs to it, buy the best you can.

Desi Murgh Curry – Special Chicken Curry (serves 4)

  • 4 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 2 large onions, finely sliced
  • 2 tsp each of garlic and ginger paste
  • 4 tomatoes, skinned and finely chopped (or use tinned, as I did)
  • 50g plain Greek style yogurt
  • 1 ½ tsp hot chilli powder (or more or less, to taste)
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 3 large cardamom pods (the recipe calls for black ones but I used green)
  • 6 cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 chicken approx 1.2kg, skinned and jointed (I used 8 skinned chicken thighs, bone in)
  • Chopped coriander to garnish

Heat the oil and fry the onions until golden brown, take your time doing this, it’s worth it. Remove the onions and when they have cooled slightly, grind them to a paste. I did this using my stick blender with a splash of water added to the mix.

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Add the ginger and garlic pastes to the oil and fry gently for a few minutes then add the tomatoes and next the yogurt. Cook for about 5 minutes then add the onion paste, the spices the bay leaf and a little salt.  Continue to cook gently until the oil separates out.

Put the chicken pieces into the pan, spoon the sauce over and add about 500ml of water. Cover the pan and cook slowly for about 50 minutes until the meat is cooked through and tender. You may need to add a splash more water so keep an eye on it.

Remove the lid, check for seasoning (adjust the salt if necessary) and continue to cook for a few more minutes without the lid until the oil separates out again.  Garnish with coriander, and serve. Don’t forget to call your best friend to tell her how good it was and you’re sorry there’s not a portion waiting for her in your freezer as you ate the lot…oops!

Mung Bean Dhal (9)

If a veggie curry is more your thing, hop over to take a look at my Mung Bean Curry.

Travelling Hopefully

I believe there is a saying which goes something like “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive” – well I have to say that I can´t quite agree with Robert Louis Stevenson. But I expect he wasn´t heading to London for eight days to visit my family and friends, so I´ll just have to excuse him.

I arrived home late last night to be met by my wonderful Big Man bearing flowers.  Lilies…my favourite. It´s been a while since he bought me flowers, (impossible to get where we live) so the surprise romantic gesture was very much appreciated.

Being a canny packer of cases, I always go right to the limit on my baggage allowances.  20kg in the suitcase, 10kg in the hand luggage and the biggest hand bag possible.  No, I most definitely don´t travel light!  I went out loaded with Christmas presents (can´t tell you much about them though, as I don´t want to give any surprises away).  The case was also packed with packs of chorizo and morcilla to make Fabada Asturiana, plastic lid things to “flip” your tortilla, chillies from my garden, wine glass/tumblers, gifts from my recent holiday, chocolates for my niece and nephew, books to entertain young children on a long flight to the States to see their grandmother, Spanish fans for a friend´s mum, olives, biscuits….well, I think you get the picture.

The advantage of this is that once you´ve unpacked and “shared the love”, you have an almost empty suitcase waiting to be filled with gorgeous things to take back home with you.  Of course, I wasn´t about to go home empty handed.

I carefully packed some lovely pictures done by the wonderful children I got to spend time with.  A very flattering portrait of me done by my 10 year old niece, Lara.  Look at that fabulous waist and bust…if only! A lovely thank you card from 4 year old William and his 2 year old brother Matthew.

Chocolate.  And then some more chocolate.  If you haven´t tried Quality Street, track it down!  Lots of lovely chocolate toffee and caramel sweets in a tin.  They just take me back to childhood Christmases when these were a very special treat.  And then you get to use the tin to put your cakes in!

I had a bit of a mad fabric buying spree.  I´m laying some of the blame for this on my new blogging pal Evie, over at Pendle Stitches.  I was the very lucky winner of this beautiful shawl that she had made, and it was waiting for me at my parents´ house.  Very handy actually, as it was a little nippy last week in London.  Anwyay, Evie suggested some wonderful fabric shops for me to look at in London.  The fabrics were amazing.

"Weigh" too much fabric!

Eventually I bought a huge variety of fabrics in Tooting Broadway, my old neighbourhood in South London, plus an amazing discovery of some vintage fabrics, still neatly folded and never taken out of storage since about 1950.  They almost tipped me over the baggage allowance, but as there were only 31 people on the flight home (I felt like I was on my own private jet), the check in girl turned a very kind blind eye to my extra kilo…20 metres of cotton, linen, silk, jersey, viyella, crepe and who knows what else do weigh rather a lot.  I also bought a new magazine to inspire me.

I´ll make that one day.....

And finally, to food.  My mother stocked me up with all sorts of odd and bizarre things I find hard or expensive to buy out here.

All spice berries, Golden Syrup, Maldon Salt.

Sugar and spice and all things nice

Loaf tin liners and vanilla for my baking.

My mum made me a wonderful beef curry with lots of vegetable curries to accompany it.

Best friend Ria made a fantastic chicken and cannellini bean casserole (recipe another day) even though she was feeling poorly last week.

And talking of food, guess what?  I got to meet one of my new blogging pals face to face.  It was Mad Dog, who was not in the least bit mad and not remotely dog like!  We spent a happy and all too short hour in Bar Italia, in the heart of London´s Soho, drinking coffee and chatting about food, Spain, food, photography, food, ourselves.  What a great guy he is, and he gave me a fantastic gift of the film Tampopo, a comedy featuring…yes you´ve guessed…food!

So, now I´m home again and looking forward to getting back into my kitchen. Big Man has already started stocking up on autumn fruits and vegetables.

A neighbour gave us a crate of Membrillo, or quince, so we´ll be making quince jelly this weekend.

Another neighbour gave us some enormous pomegranates (or Granadas) from his tree.  I may just have to eat them as is, as I adore them served simply.

I also have a couple of kilos of broad beans, but I think you already know many of my recipes for this gorgeous little vegetable.

So, time to unpack, wash, cook and sew.  Sounds odd, but I can´t wait!

PS. Am looking forward to a few days of blog catching up – really looking forward to seeing what you have all been up to.