Sunday, 28 October 2012

Sunday Roast: A Music Playlist To Cook By!

Sundays are unique. Part of the weekend, they are a time to enjoy life, unencumbered by the world of work and obligation. They are also a day to get over the excesses of Friday and Saturday night, of quiet rest and recouperation. However, because they hail the end of the weekend, they are full of a gentle melancholy. I'm sure you remember your school days. Back then, Sunday morning seemed to last for days, but then you found yourself in Sunday afternoon and evening, with the realisation that homework had to be done for the next day..... 

There is nothing so British as a good old Roast Dinner; beef, pork, lamb or chicken. Lovingly tended by a watchful cook, it is a marvel of organisation and planning. The stages need to be organised with military precision to prevent burnt tatties, overcooked veg or worst of all, uncooked and potentially dangerous meat.

I am incompetent at Sunday Roasting. It is a noble art which is beyond my skill level. It involves knowing when your meat will be cooked, then working backwards to ascertain what time the potatoes have to go in the oven and the veggies go in the steamer..... I leave Sunday Roasts to Him Indoors. It suits his organised, logical and methodical nature. 

Other than food, my other obsession is music. Having recently been in twitter contact with Jack Knight of "The Knight of The Round Table" blog about his preferred cooking soundtrack, I decided to share a Sunday cooking soundtrack with you. You'll find Jack's post here

This is an unashamedly 'chilled out' selection, full of acoustic guitars, gentleness and mellow vibes. Not completely horizontal, there should be some solid melody and style here, too. Just what you need for rustling up a hearty roast dinner. There is a time and place for fast paced tracks, edgy tunes and heavy sounds. The run up to Sunday lunch is not, in my opinion, that time.

I hope you enjoy this selection. Please leave comments below, because I'd love to know what you think! Scroll down to the bottom to play.......
Except for the homemade effort cooked by Him Indoors chez nous, the roast dinners pictured were prepared by those good folks at the Catford Bridge Tavern.

Note for music geeks: I had wanted to post the Lilac Time song 'Grey Skies And Work Things' from their album 'Astronauts' (a lost classic album if ever I heard one!). The lyric sums up, for me, what a Sunday is all about:
"A tune played on church bells ring
A song that the angels could sing
I know what tomorrow will bring
Grey skies and work things"
Sadly, so underrated are they as a band, I could not find the track on Youtube. Fame is a fickle thing indeed.
The homegrown Sunday Lunch
The tracks in the playlist are: 

Jimi Hendrix - Little Wing

Michael Kiwanuka - Tell Me A Tale

Tim Buckley - Hallucinations

The Flaming Lips - Do You Realize?

James Blake - Limit To Your Love

Catherine Howe - Up North

Joni Mitchell - California

Leonard Cohen - Stranger Song

Beth Orton - She Cries Your Name

Alt J - Something Good

Richard Hawley - Seek It

The Lilac Time - The Lost Girl In The Midnight Sun

Nick Drake - River Man

Ben Howard - Old Pine

Bat For Lashes - Laura

Kate Bush - Army Dreamers

Paul Weller - Wild Wood

The The - Love Is Stronger Than Death

The Smiths - Back To The Old House

Tori Amos - Silent All These Years

Turin Brakes - Feeling Oblivion

Monday, 22 October 2012

A Favourites List for October 2012

There is now no doubt that Autumn is with us. The temperature has dropped massively, and the shops are full of gloves, mittens, scarves and warm coats. I have just stocked up on lots of pairs of tights for the cooler days ahead. I've had my Winter coats dry cleaned in readiness for the cold weather to come. But although the weather may be a let down, the food of Autumn doesn't have to be. Autumn eating carries over some of the nicest produce of late Summer (sweetcorn, pumpkins/squashes, sweet potatoes, late beans) with the comfort food of Winter. I love hot, cooked dinners; stews, risottos, casseroles, tagines and curries. All food which has Autumn/Winter stamped all over it. 

So don't get depressed that they days are drawing in. Beat the blues by tucking into some comforting, sustaining and satisfying nosh. You won't regret it!

Here is my list of favourite things for the month of October. Enjoy!

All of these pictures were taken of the Halloween goodies range at Konditor & Cook, Grays Inn Road branch, London. Adorable, aren't they?!

Blogs worth following:

Thai cooking site:


Walnut Pesto? Cool! An alternative the usual pine nuts
Interesting spin on an Indian style curry, with 'superfood' quinoa:
Chicken wings - chewy, deliciousness to gnaw at (but not for a 1st date or business lunch!):
Meaty and comforting mutton curry 

Interesting food and drink articles:

Music picks:
Dengue Fever - Cannibal Courtship
Beth Orton - Trailer Park
Explosions In The Sky - Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
Alt J - An Awesome Wave
Leonard Cohen - The Songs of Leonard Cohen

Incendies (French language film)
Engrenages, Series 1 (French language drama series)
Homeland, Series 1 (US drama series)

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Spanish Chorizo Stew with Butter Beans and Chick Peas (Slow Cooker or Oven)

The days are getting colder and shorter. Summer is truly over. All dreams and fantasies we may have had for an 'Indian Summer' ended when we had to tear off the calendar page for September and stare October squarely in the face. As a result, thoughts start to turn to Autumnal food; typically for me, hot food which is warming and filling. 

So on a particularly grey and wet London day, I wanted to recall the heat and sunshine of Spain. I decided to pull the slow cooker out of its Summer semi-retirement and enlist it into action. Slow cookers are versatile, inexpensive to buy and cheap to run. You can put them on first thing in the morning and be greeted to a cooked meal when you get in, tired and exhausted at the end of the day. All it demands in return is a small amount of effort in preparation and set-up first thing in the morning. They are very popular in the USA where they are often called by their most famous brand name, 'Crockpot'. However, they appear to be less commonplace in the UK, which is a shame given that you can now get controllable models with more than one temperature setting, offering greater versatility than when I acquired my trusty Morphy Richards racing green model.

If you don't have a slow cooker, you could use a flameproof casserole dish (such as the French cast iron style ones). You will have to put the oven on, and the cooking time will be far less. I would guess at a temperature of 180°C, gas mark 4, and instead of putting on the slow cooker base, cook in the oven with the lid on for about an hour and a half to 2 hours (but don't quote me on this, since I didn't test it). Or if your slow cooker does not have a removable heatproof pan like mine, you may have to start the early cooking stages in a saucepan or frying pan on the hob. 

Your beans need to be soaked for at least 7 hours before you try making this recipe. Unless you have a pressure cooker! Or you could use a tin of chick peas and a tin of butter beans. I use tins for convenience fairly often, but the taste and texture of pulses is, to my palate, a little more satisfying if done yourself by soaking then boiling. But do whatever you have the time to do, because remembering to do the soaking and then having the time to do the boiling in the morning is quite a big ask. Especially if you have to make it into work at a sensible time! I made this on my 'preparation day' when I was preparing my civil litigation class at home. 

Spanish Chorizo Stew with Butter Beans and Chick Peas

Serves 4

150g Butter beans, soaked overnight in a non-metallic bowl
150g chick peas, soaked overnight in a non-metallic bowl
2-3 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, finely diced
1 red pepper diced into 1cm dice
6 cloves garlic, very finely diced
Chorizo, sliced into 5mm thick rounds
1 Fennel bulb, halved lengthways and then sliced
2 chilis, halved along their length leaving the stalk attached
2 heaped tsp rosemary, very finely chopped
1 heaped tsp sage (6-7 leaves), very finely chopped
300-400ml chicken stock
2 tins chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp flat leaf parley, chopped


Soak the chick peas and butter beans separately in 2 non-metallic bowls overnight - at least 7 hours.

Drain and rinse the soaked beans and chick peas separately. 

Put the beans and chick peas into separate pans, covering generously in cold water. Put on the heat. When boiling, set a timer and boil for 20 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Start by heating the oil in the bottom of your slow cooker pan frying the onion and pepper for 5 minutes. 

Add the garlic and fry for another 3-5 minutes.

Now add the chorizo in a flameproof casserole over a low heat until the oil is released. 

This is what the contents of the pan will look like when you first add the chorizo:

This is what it will look like when the chorizo starts to release the paprika-infused oils and fats contained within it:

Add the fennel and fry for 5 minutes until it begins to soften. 

Add the beans, chick peas and tinned tomatoes, keeping on the heat so that you bring them from room temperature to the same temperature as the rest of the dish. Top up with the stock until all the ingredients are covered. Add the rosemary and sage. 

Now put onto the slow cooker base and cook for 7 hours on the main slow cooking setting. 

If you are cooking in the oven, place in the oven with the lid on. I think it will need about an hour, but it may need more. Test every now and then.

When the beans and chick peas are soft and tender, the dish is done. Serve in bowls topped with lots of freshly chopped flat leaf parsley.

Tuck in with some crusty bread.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Real Food Festival 2012, 28th-30th Sept, South Bank Centre

London's South Bank has long been a wonderful place for the visual and performing arts. Having seen a few concerts there (Dengue Fever, Joanna Newsom, Ray Davies, and the Lilac Time being some of the artists I've seen) I know that it is a superb set of venues. Comfy seats, good acoustics and a relaxed atmosphere. I'm afraid I have gone past the age of standing in sweaty gigs with pogo-ing fans going mental. That's life, I guess, we all get older. But my love of music remains undimmed, so I do still love to see live music. Anyway, South Bank's reputation in the arts is well known, as I say, but in recent times it has built up a new reputation as a place to be for the culinary arts. 

The Real Food Market is a weekly market (at the weekend) which features a small, but select number of stalls selling all manner of high quality and 'artisan' food products as well as some of the best street food in the country. There are around 40 stalls each weekend with a great range of food; meat, fish, posh cheese, handmade breads, lovely cakes and pastries, cured meats, wine and beer, and snacks to die for!

The organisers of the market have branched out into organising free food festivals. I visited last year's Harvest Festival, which I reviewed here, and a Festival of India which I did visit, but sadly did not have the time to blog about. 

This year's Real Food Festival was their 6th, and was billed as 'A Celebration of Extraordinary Food'. Naturally, I had to investigate!

This year's festival was much larger than in previous years, which is a credit to the organisers and speaks volumes about the success of the Real Food market. Obviously, it meant greater variety of products for us punters. And what I live for is as many types of food as I can scoff! The expanded number of stalls meant that this year's market was split up over 2 sites on the South Bank; the usual site in the South Bank Centre Square (next to the Royal Festival Hall on the street side) and a new section along the riverfront  (Festival Riverside and Riverside Terrace). 

Needless to say, strolling by the river, checking out food stalls is a lovely way to spend time during the weekend. Especially so on the Saturday, since the weather held up!

There was a Live Music Stage right on the riverfront, which featured several up and coming singer/songwriters. Here is Simon Kempston doing his thing.

I met the people from Cono Sur wines who were offering free tastings of a selection of Chilean wine. Now, I must confess, I am all that keen on Chilean wines. However, I recognise that is through a couple of bad experiences which may not be representative of Chilean wine and its range and variety. I did find a very pleasant fizzy wine made by the Champagne method (Cono Sur Brut, Bio Bio Valley) which is beginning to make me reappraise. 

Here it is, with the very nice lady from Cono Sur who spent a lot of time trying to find the right wine for my fussy palate: 

As with all such events, I was drawn to the tent where the chef demonstrations and tastings were happening. I had a very interesting chocolate tasting with botanical chocolatier Fiona Sciolti:

Somewhat bizarrely we found that the Festival was hosting 'The Sheep Show'. This was a celebration of British sheep and lamb. I had never seen a real live sheep being sheared, so this was an unexpected, but delightful treat. The subject shown remarkable calm despite having quite a harsh haircut in front of a sizeable audience!
The opportunity for a touch of luxury in the sunshine was more temptation than I could resist. So I had to treat myself to some Cornish oysters and some Champagne al fresco!
But I did not go as far as to try this rather suspicious looking cheese:

The highlights of my day were twofold. Firstly, getting to meet one of my biggest food heroes, Valentina Harris. Valentina is an expert in Italian cooking and cuisine, and was a familiar face on television back in the late 1990s. Her excellent book on risottos "Risotto! Risotto!" is still one of my favourite cookbooks since it covers the subject of a single dish with expert thoroughness, from the stock making, to the basic technique, to a hugely varied selection of recipes (from fish to flesh, vegetarian and sweet risottos). Valentina hosted the whole festival, so its great success is down to her.

The other treat of the day was meeting Cyrus Todiwala OBE DL and watching his cooking demonstration. Cyrus is the Chef Patron of Cafe Spice Namaste, and you may know him for the Country Captain Shepherds Pie he made for the Diamond Jubilee Luncheon on 29 March 2012. He is one of the exciting chefs and cooking writers who are proving that 'curry house fare' is not the true food of India, which is much more healthy, satisfying and flavourful. Just watching his demonstration and listening to his knowledgeable and authoritative commentary on Indian food and preparation techniques was sensational.

All in all, I had a great day out. I had some great food (no pictures since I ate it too immediately and realised my mistake too late; but the Moroccan style pastries and Harissa chicken were delicious), wonderful wine, and unforgettable experiences. I can't wait for the next festival! Come along next time, if you can make it to Waterloo!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

A Taste of Africa: Cooking class organised by Rainbow Tours, Open Kitchen

I am pretty international about my tastes, but must confess that other than a small amount of experience with mainly north African food, I am pretty ignorant about African food, ingredients and cooking techniques. I'm not proud of it, I am admitting it since I always do my best to be honest.

I was invited a few days ago to a cooking class which explored Madagascan and Tanzanian food. It was organised by Rainbow Tours, who decided to run this session for food bloggers to celebrate winning the title of  ‘Tour Operator of the Year 2012’ by the readers of Food and Travel Magazine.

The evening began with wine, sociability and canapes. The drink flowed freely. Our nibbles, all with an African flavour, included slices of roasted sweet potato and plantain topped with a spiced peanut puree, fish croquettes, and plaintain chunks with salsa. 

The staff from Rainbow Tours circulated and were hugely knowledgeable and fired up with enthusiasm about pan-African and ethical travel. They were the first company to really pioneer responsible travel in post-Apartheid South Africa, as a direct result of (then) President Mandela inviting travellers from around the world to visit and share in the momentous changes in that nation. Diane from Rainbow Tours was great fun and I had a super time chatting to her about how easy it is to travel in Africa and how good the food can be. Here she is, just after her introduction to the session:

Our instructor and tutor for the evening was Chef Attoma Mandji, and the event was at Hoxton's Open Kitchen. Chef Mandji has worked in well-known restaurants such as Chez Gerard, Harvey Nichols, Conran group restaurants with Chef John Torode and People’s Palace with Chef Gary Rhodes.  More recently, Chef Mandji has turned his attention to teaching, and he teaches cooking skills at Hackney Community College, educating the new generation of chefs and catering professionals.

Chef Mandji demonstrated two dishes, which he then assisted us in making for ourselves. We made Romazava Vary (Malagasy Beef with Greens); a dish from Madagascar, and Samaki wa Kakuango (Steamed fish with fried onion salsa); a Tanzanian dish.

Here are the recipes:

Madagascar was formerly known as the Malagasy Republic, and its people still often refer to their culture and society as 'Malagasy'. There are many ethnic groups inhabiting this unique and vibrant island nation. They recognise themselves primarily as either 'Highlanders' or 'Coastal dwellers'. There are 3 main 'Highland' ethnic groups; the Merina, Sihanaka and Betsileo. The Coastal peoples show greater ethnic and cultural variation, with 17 recognised main cultural groups. Being such an ethnically and culturally diverse nation means that Malagasy food reflects these traditions. Their cuisine draws together these varied influences to make a culinary portfolio which is tasty, flavoursome, but not highly spiced.

I learnt that rice is the main "staple" ingredient of Madagascan food, and is the main energy source for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Zebu cattle are the traditional source of meat, although beef is a popular choice for traditional stews cooked over an open fire. Which is just as well, as I don't think sourcing Zebu for our own cooking efforts was going to be easy!

The first dish we made, Romazava Vary, like so many important dishes around the world, can vary from house to house and family to family. However, the dish is usually made in a single cooking receptacle and is made with beef (or Zebu) with some form of greens. Savoy cabbage, spring greens or spinach are all acceptable, provided the leaves are chiffonaded (finely sliced). The name reflects the way in which the dish is cooked; Ro (soup) Mazava (clear) and Vary (rice). It is meant to be a saucy, stew style dish. A one-pot meal which is designed as comfort food; sustaining, hot and filling. This is Chef Mandji’s bubbling away:

We received the demonstration of this dish and started cooking it first, since it is quite time consuming. My kitchen partner was none other than the lovely Amy from I don't know how I came across to her, but I liked her straight away. No-nonsense, warm, fun and full of energy, I knew I had fallen on my feet. The relationship between chef and sous-chef is an important one, and thankfully she was happy to be a benign and kind chef! And I did my best to be a competent sous. 

Whether I managed this or not, you'll have to find out from Amy!

We were lucky that with the Romazava Vary, none of the cooking techniques were in themselves very difficult, but enough time needs to be left for the beef to cook slowly in the stock base. Later, when the rice is added, it needs sufficient time to become tender and cooked.

This was our effort at Romazava Vary , still simmering, whilst the rice was cooking.

And this was our finished dish:

Our second dish, Samaki wa Kakuango, as I have said above, is from Tanzania. Tanzania in East Africa, has a coast on the Indian Ocean. Needless to say, this vast length of coastline along with the extensive freshwater coast of Lake Victoria, means that fish dishes are a fundamental aspect of Tanzanian cuisine. Interestingly, meat is more of a rarity. I learnt that cattle are reared primarily for dairy products. As such, meat is a 'treat', eaten on high days and holidays. 

Samaki wa Kakuango is a dish commonplace across East Africa, despite being a traditional Tanzanian recipe. It is interesting that steamed fish does not appear to be popular in European cooking, yet is found across China, the Far East and Africa. The fish is usually steamed whole to keep it moist and soft, with aromatics such as chilli and garlic. A salsa style topping is made from fried onions and tomatoes to add moisture, flavour and provide a variation of texture. The fish and topping is served rice and greens. We first had to make the chilli garlic rub, which we liberally spread over the fish:

Owing to time constraints, we had to cook our fish in the oven, although we did see Chef Mandji’s results cooked in a large bamboo steamer.

Here is the finished dish:

Both of our dishes were very enjoyable. The beef was tender and juicy, and cooking the rice in the same pot lent it all the flavour of the beef, aromatics, tomato and stock. The fish (we used sea bass) was cooked perfectly, and I am sold on the idea of serving it with a salsa style topping.  It was a pleasure to learn something about a food heritage I had no knowledge about. Chef Mandji is a patient and kind tutor, and his assistant was full of useful advice.

In the interests of fairness, there were a couple of glitches; we were never provided with the green peppercorns for the beef dish and some of the ingredients were provided to us late. However, the Open Kitchen is a small charity, whose function is to train local people, often from disadvantaged backgrounds, the skills required for work in the catering industry. So it is difficult to be too hard on them, and none of our food suffered for these issues.

I love travelling and when I am travelling a major highlight is sampling the local cuisine. I must say that my curiosity about exploring Africa in all her cultural variety has been given a nudge in the right direction. The Rainbow Tours brochure has so many amazing destinations and itineraries, I feel most inspired.

The next Taste of Africa cooking class covering the food of Madagascar and Tanzania will be at the Open Kitchen on Friday 21st November. If you want further details, their website is:
Rainbow Tours arranged the cooking class for myself and a number of bloggers. I am very grateful for their kindness. They have hosted information about the event they organised for us here: