Friday, 31 August 2012

Cauliflower and Chickpea Curry

Dish: Cauliflower and Chickpea Curry

Difficulty: Well, I only had to look up one thing on Google...

Utensils Used: More wooden spoons, nothing special

Cock Ups: 2

Serves: 4-6

Recipe Book: Back to River Cottage Veg Every Day by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. I seriously need to buy/borrow some different cook books.

Cooking: There was extra pressure in the Disaster Kitchen, as this meal was being made specially for guests. Okay, the guests were Mash and George, my cake slaves, and they knew my cooking standards very well from the Simple Chocolate Cake disaster, but I wanted to make a good effort.

I let them choose the recipe, only asking that they didn't chose something I'd done before, so I could blog about it here. They picked this cauliflower curry so I figured it would be relatively painless, given I'd almost successfully made a cauliflower curry just a week ago.

The recipe called for about 800g of cauliflower - described as one 'Medium-Large' cauliflower in the recipe. I bought a large one, and it quickly became clear that I had way too much when it wouldn't fit in the pan I was meant to be bringing it to a 'rolling' boil in.

This meant it took a very long time for the cauliflower to come to the boil - something the recipe made feel somewhat more instantaneous. So by the time I was taking them off the heat, straining and putting back in the pan to keep warm, there was no real need to be keeping them warm, as everything else was already ready. Oh well.

Also, cutting cauliflower is a very messy business. Is there a tidier way of doing it??

While the cauliflower was crawling slowly towards boiling point, I heated some sunflower oil (only as the recipe specified because it was what I happened to have...) and added 3 chopped onions. Except I did 4 because my onions were really small. Four chopped garlic cloves (goddammit recipes! I have a garlic crusher now...) and 1 teaspoon of freshly grated (cough, powdered) ginger were added, and the mix was then sautéd (that's what I had to look up on Google - it means to fry at a high temperature in a little oil to preserve flavour) for ten minutes.

Two teaspoons of ground coriander, two teaspoons of cumin, two star anise (an ingredient I had never used before) and a large pinch of dried chilli flakes (cough, chilli powder) were added, along with seasoning, then cooked for another five or so minutes. Note the cauliflower in the corner - it is producing some steam, but not yet boiling, even by this point.

A tin of plum tomatoes, chopped, were then added. Which makes no sense to me - why didn't it just ask for a tin of chopped tomatoes? Is there a difference?? Apart from saving me a job... Then 400g of chickpeas. I have no idea if I had 400g, as I looked for a tin in Morrisons, but they didn't sell them, so I had to raid Mum's freezer. Lucky she had them really. Not getting the recipe far enough in advance - cock up number 2.

The cauliflower were then added, plus enough water to almost cover the lot. The recipe said 100-200ml, but I just used the water I used to swill the juice out of the tomato tin. The mix was then brought to a simmer and left to cook for ten minutes or so.

Half a 'good handful' of fresh coriander, chopped, along with two teaspoons of garam masala were then stirred in.

I set my new table...

While adding copious amounts of water to the rice, which I had seriously over catered for, and waited for my guests to arrive.

Serve with a sprinkling of fresh coriander and warm naan.

Washing Up Required: Not too bad really.

Result: Quite adventurous in terms of ingredients, but oddly it tasted quite bland. I don't know if that's my cooking or the recipe... Probably my cooking. But it mostly tasted of tomato. Very fresh and healthy though, and not unpleasant.

Considering the extra pressure, I was pleased. Especially given I was suffering with a bad cold. I was very careful, not wishing to poison my guests, and made frequent use of my antibacterial hand gel:

...that's right next to a paintbrush in white spirit. Oh God, my kitchen is so unhygienic.

Taste Test: Maisie, being my kind sister, said the dish was very tasty. George said it had an odd flavour in it that he didn't like. Trying to work it out, he decided in the end it was the chickpeas...

Yes, they did pick the recipe.

The Boyfriend, usually terse and abrupt, did ask if I wanted his honest opinion, which turned out not to be that bad anyway.

'It's not exactly spicy, is it? It's more herby than a curry. I like the cauliflower, though.'

I think perhaps he was holding back for the benefit of our guests...

As I said, I found it a bit bland for all the spices that went into it, but it was a perfectly pleasant meal.

Overall Verdict: Quite easy to make, and very healthy. If chickpeas weren't such a pain in the arse to prepare, I'd make it again.

Cauliflower and Chickpea Curry

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

New Table

Look out. The Disaster Kitchen is now open for dinner parties!

Got a new table (that doesn't tilt like a seesaw when you lean on it) from Freecycle. It's a bit bashed, but a bargain. Now to entice some foolish guests round...

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Sweet Potato and Cauliflower Curry

Dish: Sweet Potato and Cauliflower Curry

Difficulty: My friend described it as foolproof. Hahaha...

Utensils Used: Wooden spoon plus a plastic one for serving

Cock Ups: 2

Serves: Two, with a little extra left over for lunch tomorrow

Recipe Book: Recipe kindly provided by Mel :)

Cooking: So it was definitely long overdue that I got back on the cooking wagon. With our impromptu holiday and other commitments, we've barely spent an evening together. This was a perfect dish to share while watching some House on DVD. Well, it would have been if I was anywhere near a competent cook...

Looking down the recipe, there didn't seem to be anything I hadn't done before, so I started chopping and frying an onion in oil for 2-3 minutes with great confidence. While the 2-3 minutes were ticking down, I realised I still don't have a garlic crusher (d'oh) and chopped a clove of garlic instead, mushing it slightly with the flat side of the blade.

Then came the big cock up. The recipe calls for two tablespoons of curry powder and 4 teaspoons of flour. So I was busy putting in four tablespoons of curry powder, and realised my error just as the last one went in. I suppose it could have been worse, but the onions were very well coated with powder.

Next I had to cube 350g of sweet potatoes. After peeling them, which was a mission in itself, I realised I had no idea how to cube something, and proceeded to make strange rectangular/triangular shapes out of the orange sweet potato flesh. I also realised I had no idea how to turn a cauliflower into 350g of florets, but managed to get somewhere with both in the end.

Meanwhile, a further realisation - this time on the inadequacy of my equipment rather than my skills - came in the shape of my 500ml jug, which could not make 850ml of vegetable stock without a quick bit of maths. Fortunately, I was always quite good at maths.

The stock and the cauliflower and sweet potato were then added to the frying onions. I realised my pan was far too small (cock up two) and had to switch everything over into a bigger one.

The mixture was then brought to the boil and left to simmer for 15 minutes, boiling off a bit of the water and thickening the sauce nicely. Then, I chopped 100g of green beans (actually, they were dwarf beans, but I'm not sure there's a difference, except the dwarf beans were on special offer in Morrisons) and found a packet of Uncle Ben's rice (I know it's cheating, but I'd already used my good pans...)

The beans were added to the mix, along with a tablespoon of garam masala, and cooked for a further three minutes - just long enough for microwave rice to cook and be served, it turns out, how convenient. Serve with a slice of lime.

Washing Up Required: Not that much (note the jug and Brita Filter in the background are the detritus of other adventures) though do add on an extra pan. If you're chronically stupid like me. Or want to cook your rice.

Result: I was really pleased with how it looked and smelled - delicious.

Taste Test: The Boyfriend complemented the appearance of the dish, its healthiness and its 'difference' to what we normally eat. He wasn't too happy about the spiciness though, saying it left a rather overpowering taste of 'chip shop curry sauce' in his mouth.

That would be the two extra tablespoons of curry powder then...

He did request that I make it again, which is a first.

I'm a bit more spice tolerant than him and thought it was really nice. I liked the way the lime complimented the dish, which is saying something because usually I'm strongly against mixing savoury and sweet.

Overall Verdict: A really tasty, simple and pretty quick to make dish. Thanks very much, Mel! :)

(very badly photographed) Sweet Potato and Cauliflower Curry

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Restaurant Review: Shis

Restaurant: Shis

Location: Porto, Portugal

General First Impressions: Located by the sea front in the beautiful city of Porto, Shis has a lot going for it in terms of location. When we arrived the sun was setting, casting a beautiful glow of colour across the sea, easily visible through the glass walls of the restaurant.

The inside of the restaurant was modern and clean and we were well looked after by staff from the moment we sat at the table, provided with fresh bread rolls, butter and other dips while we perused the menus and chose drinks.

Starter: For my starter, I chose a goats cheese nest with pepper coulis. I was really impressed with the presentation - the dramatic orange of the coulis, the drizzle of balsamic vinegar and the nest, which it turned out was a very accurate way of describing the container of the goats cheese.

I really enjoyed all the flavours of this dish - the sweetness of the pepper coulis against the strong taste of goats cheese, the salad and the balsamic vinegar also complimenting nicely. The nest thing was a bit hard to eat - it didn't cut up nicely - but that was more than offset by the presentation and the taste.

Main: There was a limited choice of vegetarian options, including a vegetarian sushi which I was a bit scared by, so I went for a staple classic of Mushroom and courgette risotto. Not many members of my family are risotto fans, but I quite like it.

Of course, it doesn't really matter how you present risotto - it's always going to look pretty much like a plate of sick, so I'll concentrate on the flavours. It was very rich, creamy without being too stodgy. The shaved parmesan at the top added a nice kick to it, and I enjoyed the little bits of courgette mixed in amongst the mushrooms.

Dessert: As I'd been unable to sample many of the traditional delights of Portuguese cuisine, I decided to have Pecado Do Convento for my dessert. Literal translation: Sin of the Convent.

This entailed a sharp tangerine ice cream, a spongey thing not unlike a swiss roll with an orange sauce, and that jelly thing on the end. The jelly thing is made of egg and sugar. A lot of sugar. No one was able to give me a more specific recipe or description than that.

The roll was lovely, perfectly sweet and a nice orangey tang to it. The jelly stuff was nice but the sort of sweet that makes your teeth ache. Fortunately, the tangerine ice cream had a bit of bite to it, so by alternating mouthfuls of the ice cream and jelly you could enjoy both flavours without being overwhelmed by either.

I did enjoy it, though the jelly was a bit much. I don't think I'd be in a rush to eat it again, but as an experience of a local traditional dessert, I was pleased to finish my meal with it.

Price: I didn't pay, so I can't really comment on the price. I think it's medium to expensive (though my view of that is coming as someone with 77p in their bank account, so perhaps it would be a little less expensive to others) but for the atmosphere, the location and the food, it's definitely worth a visit if you happen to be in Porto.

Overall: A great restaurant that I really appreciated being treated to. Good food, good location and I was fortunate enough to have good company too!

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Food of Portugal

One of the most challenging things about being vegetarian is going abroad. I've been to mostly European countries, but also South Africa during my years as a vegetarian, and I've found myself in some interesting situations.

Once on a day cruise trip, I was handed my lunch - a plate of salad with a cut of meat. I asked for the vegetarian option, had my plate taken off me, the meat removed, and the plate handed back. And I've lost count of the amount of times I've had to explain that fish is not a vegetable.

I'm not a squeamish, or particularly strict vegetarian. I'm not bothered by people cooking meat, or by people eating meat, and I won't be too concerned if I think my food has touched something meaty. I'm not a vegetarian because I love animals, or because I don't like meat, so it really doesn't break my heart to have a bit of meat juice on my salad, particularly when I'm abroad and I know it's likely to be an issue.

The Boyfriend and I travelled out to Portugal last week, spending a few days with family who live over there. I know from previous conversations that Portugal is a very meat and fish heavy country, so I was intrigued as to what I would get. While there, the Boyfriend and I both made some interesting foodie discoveries.


Natas are like little pastry treats you have with coffee. They are very, very sweet to offset the bitter coffee taste. Now, I don't like coffee, so I didn't have that to offset the sweetness, but I really wasn't complaining.

They were delicious. Like egg custards, in a way, but really not because I don't like egg custards. The filling in the middle was more like just custard, but much richer. I enjoyed eating these immensely.

Tornedo and Picanha

The Boyfriend enjoyed the meaty offerings. I won't cook it at home - not out of any principle, just because I fear I might kill him with it - so he took every opportunity to get his meat fix. Two new things he tried were Tornedo, which was like a small, but very thick steak.

He also had the opportunity to try some home cooked Picanha, a Brazilian dish the Portuguese have adopted. It's a specific cut of meat, cooked only on the outside, so it's very rare in the middle.

I had some delicious vegetarian alternatives, some of which I'll talk about in more detail in a restaurant review I have planned. Overall, the Boyfriend and I both thoroughly enjoyed the foods Portugal had to offer, and it was very interesting to learn about the different traditional dishes.


And despite my vegetarianism, my mouth was watering when the Boyfriend and our hosts had a Francesinha (literal translation: Little French Girl, though there is nothing little, French or girly about it).

A sandwich, swimming in a tomato sauce, containing two different types of sausage, beef steak and ham, topped with a fried egg and cheese. A heart attack on a plate, but it looked so good.

Almost enough to make me waver from my vegetarianism. Almost.

(Note: All photos taken from Google, as I stupidly didn't have the foresight to take photos myself.)