Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Lamb Bhuna (The South London 1980s Version)

I'm told that ‘bhuna’ means ‘brown’ and refers to the way that this curry is cooked until the colour darkens. In yet another of my shameful fits of nostalgia I'm attempting to recreate a curry that used to turn up on the menus of some of the nicest South London Indian restaurants back in the 1980s when I just happened to be living there. I've come across many bhunas that look and taste nothing like this in the intervening years. To be honest, this is close to the original but not entirely faithful. I think I've toned down my spice craving a bit since the 1980s and I definitely use less oil these days.

I imagine that you can still find something like this dish in restaurants somewhere in the country, but it's probably not fancy enough for many London establishments these days. I've checked Google and the place where I first ate this bhuna is now an estate agents. That sums up the recent history of South London rather well I think. 
Lamb Bhuna
The number of spices here might seem like a bit of a faff but the cooking process itself is very straightforward as long as you keep a close eye on it towards the end. This will serve 2 people quite generously as a main course or a few more as part of a shared set of dishes, which is just how we liked it back in the 1980s.

I thought I'd add a few short notes on some of the ingredients that I use in this curry, just in case they're useful to someone or other.

The Oil - I've been told by people who understand these things far better than I that olive oil is alien to this kind of cooking and should never be used. Then I came across a Nepalese chef who always uses olive oil and seemed to find the 'alien' idea hilarious. As a result, I tend to use a light olive oil in this kind of dish these days. 

The Chillies - Dried Kashmiri chillies are fragrant, delicious and relatively mild but you can substitute any dried chilli or chilli powder you like. Don't use too much, though, because this curry should be aromatic rather than really hot.
Kashmiri Chillies
Fenugreek seeds add a distinctive and satisfying flavour to this dish but it seems that some people with peanut allergies can also have problems with fenugreek, so please be cautious if you or your fellow eaters react that way.

Anardana powder is made from dried pomegranate seeds and it adds a sweet and sour touch to dishes. It seems to divide opinion: some people don't really see the point of it while others find it almost addictive. 

450 g lamb neck fillet, cut into chunks of about 2 cm
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and very finely chopped
2 cm ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 dried Kashmiri chilli, crushed or chopped
400 g tin of peeled tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato purée

The spices:
    4 cardamom pods, seeds only
    1 tsp cumin seeds
    1 tsp coriander seeds
    ½ tsp fenugreek seeds
    ½ tsp black peppercorns
    ½ tsp fennel seeds

To serve (you can treat these as optional, but they are good):
    A sprinkling of anardana powder
    A squeeze of lemon juice
    A sprinkling of chopped coriander and mint leaves


Briefly toast the spices in a dry frying pan over a medium heat to get the flavours going, then crush them in a pestle and mortar. 

Fry the onion quite gently in 1 or 2 tablespoon of oil until it softens and starts to take on some colour. Add the garlic and ginger and continue frying for 2 or 3 minutes. Increase the heat a little and add the chunks of lamb. Continue frying for around 5 minutes until the lamb has taken on an even, light colour. Add the crushed spices and the dried chilli and fry for 2 or 3 minutes, stirring all the time.

Stir in the tomatoes and the tomato purée and season with a little salt. Bring to a simmer, turn down the heat, cover the pan and let it simmer gently for 45 minutes. (Make sure the pan is covered well enough and don't allow it to dry out). 

Uncover the pan, increase the heat and, stirring frequently, reduce the sauce until it becomes quite thick and coats the meat. Continue frying the meat in the reduced sauce for around 5 minutes, stirring all the time. (Please don't walk away and leave it at this stage or it will burn and taste bitter). 

Pour in about 1 cup of water and bring back to a simmer. (The amount of water you add is up to you. I prefer it fairly dry but add more or less according to your personal taste.) If you're adding anardana powder then sprinkle a little on now, together with a squeeze of lemon (this helps to freshen the taste). Sprinkle on the chopped mint and coriander immediately before serving.

Rice and a flatbread of some kind would be good with this curry. A pickle with a touch of sharpness (such as lemon pickle) would provide a nice contrast.


Thursday, 23 May 2019

Nonnettes for Early Summer

If you've had the misfortune of following this blog for some time, then it's just about possible you may remember that I've wittered on about nonnettes before. But it's nearly 5 years since I last featured them and, since they're one of my favourite cakes, I don't feel too guilty about wittering on again. After all, imagine how bad you'd feel if you went to see a band and they only played new songs and none of their hits. (It felt pretty bad, actually, but let's not go there).

This version started when my wife was given a jar of local honey produced in the spring. (I admit that my knowledge of honey is minimal at best). This honey is light in colour, less intense than a high summer honey but with some lovely, subtle flavours and I wanted to use it to produce a lighter and fragrant nonnette with some of the flavours of early summer.

I made 11 relatively large cakes with this mix using friand and medium-sized muffin tins. If you choose a small muffin tin, you'll get 15 or more cakes but remember to reduce the amount of jam per cake as well as the cooking time. Whatever tin you use, though, make sure that you butter it carefully because the honey makes these cakes very sticky as they bake.
Early Summer Nonnettes

200 g honey, a light and fragrant type 
100 ml water
100 ml milk (semi-skimmed will do)
100 g golden caster sugar
80 g unsalted butter
Zest of 1 lime (or lemon if you prefer)
200 g plain flour
100 g wholemeal spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp gooseberry jam for every nonnette (cut down the amount for smaller nonnettes)

And for the glaze:
4 or 5 tbsp icing sugar
Elderflower syrup or cordial and lemon (or lime) juice


Put the honey, water, milk, sugar and butter into a saucepan. Heat gently, stirring frequently, until the butter has melted, the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is smooth and uniform. Take off the heat and set aside.

Mix together the flours, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and the lime (or lemon) zest. While the honey mixture is still warm, sieve the flour mixture onto it and whisk the two together until smooth. Put the mixture into the fridge and leave it there for at least an hour until thoroughly chilled.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Spoon the mixture into thoroughly buttered tins until they're somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters full. Place a teaspoon of gooseberry jam on top of each nonnette. Bake for 15 – 17 minutes until they're golden brown and spring back when pressed gently. 

While the nonnettes are still warm and in the tin, combine the icing sugar with a mixture of a little elderflower syrup (or cordial) and lemon juice to create a thin icing. Pour the icing over the nonnettes or, better still, spread it on with a pastry brush. The idea is to create something resembling a thin sugar glaze rather than an iced cake. Allow the nonnettes to cool before removing them from the tin.

Nonnettes keep well in an airtight tin but will also freeze very nicely.

Friday, 26 April 2019

Hazelnut Ice Cream

I've made some very pleasant ice creams over the years but I wanted to write down this particular recipe because quite simply it's the one that I like best (at least, it is this week). On the whole, there's nothing revolutionary or unusual about this recipe. It's essentially a classic, creamy, custard-based ice cream but there are two ingredients that give it the edge: the hazelnut paste and the ice cream stabiliser.

You could use a supermarket hazelnut butter or a hazelnut spread of some kind for this ice cream and it would work very well but using a smooth paste made solely from hazelnuts gives a much better result in my opinion. You can make your own paste if you have a tough blender and a fair bit of patience or you can buy a pure paste that's intended for baking and desserts. Good quality, pure hazelnut paste isn't cheap but it really is worth it for the ultimate flavour. (If you do use a hazelnut butter or spread for this recipe then you may also need to reduce the amount of sugar in the ice cream because they're often sweetened).

The ice cream stabiliser might be a bit more controversial and there are some products available that use a very strange combination of artificial ingredients that I wouldn't touch with a very long barge pole. The product that I use is based on natural extracts that thicken the ice cream a little and prevent the formation of ice crystals. The effect of a small amount of stabiliser is to produce an ice cream that feels silkier and smoother when you eat it. Please treat the instructions on the use of stabiliser here with great caution, though, since all such products seem to have different characteristics and recommendations for use. Always follow the instructions for your particular product. (Of course, if you'd rather not trust any such product, even one based on natural plant extracts, then this recipe will still produce fine ice cream without it).

I've used this ice cream to fill a hollowed out pandoro as well as enjoying it as an affogato or just on its own. As usual with this type of ice cream it's advisable to allow it to soften in the fridge for a while before serving.
Hazelnut Ice Cream
A really cheap and simple ice cream machine, such as one with a freeze-ahead bowl, will be fine for this recipe - that's what I've got - and the amounts given here should fit comfortably into most of the simple machines that I've come across.

4 egg yolks
A generous pinch of vanilla powder or a drop or two of vanilla extract
80 g golden caster sugar
60 g pure hazelnut paste
540 ml whole milk
4 tbsp double cream
50 g skimmed milk powder
(optional) 1 tsp ice cream stabiliser (or the amount recommended on your chosen product)

Put the egg yolks into the bowl of a food mixer with the vanilla powder or extract. Add the sugar and whisk on a high speed until the mixture is pale and increased significantly in volume. Don't rush this stage: you'll probably need to whisk for somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes.

Pour the milk and cream into a saucepan and add the skimmed milk powder and ice cream stabiliser, if you're using it. (Some stabilisers may need to be added to the mix at different times, so check the instructions for your chosen product carefully). Stir thoroughly and bring to a simmer before pouring it into the egg mixture while beating with a wooden or silicone spoon. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan, and place on a low heat, stirring continuously, until the custard has thickened slightly. The old test of running a finger along the back of a spoon is still the best. If the line drawn on the spoon stays there rather than closing up, then it's ready. 

Stir in the hazelnut paste and pour the custard into a clean bowl (thin stainless steel is ideal for this cooling stage) and place the bowl in some ice water. Stir the custard until it's cold, cover the surface of the custard with cling film and place in the fridge. Keep in the fridge until the custard is very cold (2 hours or so should be fine). Once thoroughly cold, churn and freeze in the ice cream machine. 

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Beer Pickled Roscoff Onions

Mention Roscoff Onions to people of advanced age in the UK, such as myself, and there's a good chance that they will start to tell you nostalgic tales of the Onion Johnnies selling their onions door to door throughout England and Wales while dressed in hooped shirts and riding bicycles. This isn't a complete fantasy, there were Onion Johnnies and they did ride bikes and very possibly wore Breton hooped shirts now and then. (In fact, I'm told that there's an Onion Johnny Museum in Roscoff). But the truth is that the heyday of the Onion Johnny was before World War Two and by the 1960s and 70s there were very few about. When I was a young thing in the early 1960s, there was a Breton onion seller who visited our area of London but I'm pretty sure he had an old battered van and not a bike. (I'm not too certain if he wore a striped shirt, but I doubt it). My family didn't buy any onions from him because they considered onions to be too exotic and posh for the likes of us.

Times have changed and, following a long career of onion eating, I recently came across a man from Brittany selling Roscoff onions at a market stall. He was keen to sell off some of the smallest onions cheaply and so that's how this story begins.
Roscoff Onions
Now I'm about as up-to-date and trendy as a hansom cab driver wearing a tattered tweed jacket while singing madrigals but I've noticed that a couple of local, stylish restaurants have added beer pickled onions to some of the dishes on their menus. So I decided to make my own version. Pickled onions in corrosive, dark vinegar and the even more abhorrent pickled egg were very popular in my youth, but not with me. Rest assured that these pickled onions are very different. You don't have to use Roscoff onions and any good, small onions will do but, if you do come across Roscoff onions, then I'd recommend making the most of them.

The beer in the pickling liquid adds colour and a distinct savoury depth without overwhelming the flavour of the onions. Of course, it's not just any old beer: the restaurants use designer craft ales from whichever local microbrewery they favour. Well, why not? I used a wheat beer from Suffolk because I like wheat beer and I think it complements the other flavours. You could use any beer you like, but I'd avoid any very bitter or rich styles of beer in case their flavour becomes too dominant.
Beer Pickled Onions
The pickled onions will sit happily alongside cold meats, smoked fish and cheeses but recently I've seen them used to accompany venison and to add an additional flavour to winter salads made with veg such as carrot and celeriac. They can also be chopped finely and added to your favoured ketchup or chilli sauce to supercharge burgers or sausages.

400 g small onions (Roscoff, ideally), trimmed and peeled
300 ml wheat beer (or whatever beer you fancy - see above)
150 ml cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar if you prefer)
40 g soft, dark brown sugar
20 g granulated sugar
4 tsp runny honey
2 tsp black peppercorns, lightly crushed
6 or 7 juniper berries, very lightly crushed
1 tsp sea salt

You'll need a jar with a vinegar-proof lid that will hold all the onions and the pickling liquid. Sterilise the jar before use. Peeling small onions is a bit of a pain but the old trick of immersing them in boiling water for a minute or so before cooling and peeling works very well.

Really small onions can be kept whole but I prefer to slice most of the onions in half from top to bottom. This will mean that some of them will start to fall apart during the cooking process, which is how I like them. If you prefer crunchier onions, then leave all of them whole.

Put all the ingredients except the onions into a saucepan (not too small because you'll be adding the onions later). Stir thoroughly and bring to the boil. Add the onions and bring back to the boil. Lower the heat and allow the onions to simmer gently in the pickling liquid until they seem as tender as you'd like them to be. Personally I prefer them not too crunchy and simmer them for at least 10 to 15 minutes but, if you like crunch, then cook for less time. Remove from the heat.

Allow the onions and liquid to cool a little, then pour into the sterilised jar. Seal the jar and place in a cool, dark place. Leave the jar alone for at least a week, although two weeks or longer would be better. This will allow the flavours to develop. Although this pickle should keep pretty well, once opened it's advisable to keep the jar in the fridge and use within about 3 months.
Beer Pickled Onions

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Rosé Veal with Pears and Apricots

These days Surrey is probably better known for commuting than farming but there's actually some very fine produce available locally. One product that's become increasingly common over the last few years is rosé veal. (I know that some people say rose veal and others say rosé veal but since I've no idea which it should be, I've chosen rosé at random). It's a very adaptable meat but, for me, it really comes into its own in this lighter type of casserole. The veal I used came from an excellent local producer, Hunts Hill Farm, who have a farm shop open several days a week as well as being a familiar fixture at several of the local farmers' markets.

This recipe is based loosely (very loosely) on a Spanish dish but the way I make it isn't in the least authentic. On the other hand, since it was born in Spain, I couldn't resist adding a little Pedro Ximenez sherry to finish the dish - that's optional, but very nice. You could also use a PX vinegar instead of common or garden sherry vinegar in this recipe, but you might find you need a healthy bank account for that particular product.

I prefer to serve this simply with plain rice but potatoes will work fine as well. This should serve 2 people fairly generously.
Rose Veal with Pears and Apricots
2 firm but ripe pears (I used comice, but other varieties will work too)
8 or so dried apricots, cut in two
4 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp Calvados or Poire William
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
400 g rosé veal, cut into chunks (not too large)
4 tbsp plain flour, seasoned with salt pepper and ½ tsp paprika
200 ml dry white wine
100 ml chicken stock, plus a little extra just in case
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of rosemary
2 – 3 tsp Pedro Ximenez sherry (optional)

Peel, core and quarter the pears and put in a non-reactive bowl with the halved apricots. Pour over 2 tablespoons of the sherry vinegar, the lemon juice and the Calvados or Poire William. Toss the pears and apricots in the liquid and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 140°C. Soften the onion slowly in a little oil without letting it take on any colour. Once softened, add the garlic and continue frying gently for around two minutes. Transfer the onion and garlic mixture to an ovenproof casserole. Place the veal in a bowl, add the seasoned flour and toss the veal in the flour until it's thoroughly coated. Brown the veal in the frying pan in batches until lightly brown all over, adding more oil as necessary. Transfer the veal to the casserole, stirring it into the onions.

Deglaze the frying pan with the two remaining tablespoons of sherry vinegar, than add the white wine, making sure that you scrape up any nice browned bits from the base of the pan. Bring to the boil and let it bubble for about 1 minute, then pour into the casserole together with the 100 ml of chicken stock. The meat should be just covered with liquid, so add a little more stock or water if it needs it. Tuck in the bay leaf and the rosemary. Cover the contents of the pan with a cartouche, which is just a fancy way of saying a close-fitting piece of greaseproof paper laid directly on the liquid. Put the lid on the casserole and place in the oven for 1 hour.

At the end of that time, drain any remaining liquid from the pears and apricots and add them to the casserole. If there doesn't seem enough liquid left in the casserole, then add a little more stock or water. Cover the casserole again with the cartouche and the lid and return to the oven for another 50 minutes.

After this time, check that both the veal and the pears are tender and add a little more seasoning, if it needs it. Although the fruit will have added a fair amount of sweetness to the dish, it will probably benefit from a little boost at this stage. You could just add a little sugar or honey but, if you have any lying around, stir in a few teaspoonfuls of Pedro Ximenez sherry, which will add both sweetness and extra flavour. Return the casserole to the oven for a final 10 minutes.

Remove and discard the bay leaf and rosemary, assuming that you can find them, and garnish with a little sprinkle of chervil or parsley.


As usual, I bought the ingredients with real, folding money and the recipe is sponsorship as well as authenticity free.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Sweet Wine and Olive Oil Cake

There are plenty of recipes for cakes made with olive oil knocking about but not too many that use a dessert wine as well. Well here's one that I found under a bush in the Languedoc. It produces a moist cake with a fruity flavour that's a little bit different to the norm. Since it's a bit different, I'm not sure that it's the typical British afternoon tea cake, unless your chosen beverage is a fruit tea or maybe a fragrant Earl Grey. Admittedly, others who have tried the cake disagree and like the fact that it adds variety, so what do I know? On the other hand, I do know that it works really well as a dessert cake alongside some fruit and maybe a little crème anglaise or cream. I paired it with a poached pear this time, which is lovely but isn't particularly Languedoc. Poached apricots or peaches would probably be more of a southern French choice.
Sweet Wine and Olive Oil Cake
This is a very straightforward cake to make but it's important to choose the wine and oil carefully. Don't choose a rich and toffee-like dessert wine (save that for drinking or send it to me and I'll drink it for you). This cake needs a fruitier and less sticky style: a Muscat de Beaumes de Venise would be a good choice but a Muscat de Rivesaltes, a Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh or a Monbazillac would all be fine. As for the oil, choose one that's fruity rather than peppery.
Sweet Wine and Olive Oil Cake
Because I serve this mainly as part of a dessert, I keep the size of the slices small and I can get something like 14 portions out of one cake, but you really don't have to be that stingy. The cake keeps pretty well in an airtight tin and freezes well too.

3 eggs
150 g golden caster sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
80 ml sweet wine
100 ml olive oil (plus extra for the tin)
180 g plain flour, sifted (plus a tablespoon for sprinkling in the tin)
1 heaped tsp baking powder
Icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 160⁰C (or a bit higher if it's not a fan oven). Line the base of a 20 cm tin with baking parchment, rub the interior with a little olive oil and sprinkle evenly with a tablespoon of flour.

Whisk the eggs and sugar together thoroughly until they're very pale. Keep whisking gently while you add the wine, the olive oil and the lemon zest. Stop whisking, add the flour and baking powder to the bowl and sir in gently but thoroughly. Pour into the prepared tin.

Bake in the preheated oven for around 45 minutes. Test the cake with a knife or cake tester. The knife should come out clean but the cake may seem a little more moist than you expect. Don't worry, that's as it should be.

Allow the cake to cool in the tin for about ten minutes before turning out to cool completely on a rack. Before serving, you could sprinkle with some icing sugar or even top with a little thin icing made with more sweet wine or lemon or maybe both. Personally, I don't think either finish is really needed if this cake is to be part of a dessert but it's possible that I'm just being a bit lazy.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

New Year Blatherskite

I know I should be telling you about all the fine things that I've cooked lately, but I've been diseased and dilapidated lately and I haven't cooked anything at all. So I thought for once I'd tell you about something else instead.

I could tell you about the packet of  Pudding Rice that I bought a while ago which helpfully told me on the said packet that it was “Ideal for Rice Pudding”. But, on reflection, I think I'll pass on a few items that I've spotted on menus over the years instead. (I swear these are genuine although not from the same restaurant).
Today's Menu
I also feel it's my duty to present a reproduction of a specials board that I spotted a while back.
Special Today
Finally, as the following photograph taken in the lab shows, I'm happy to say that my investigation into how all the flavour is removed from supermarket cheese continues apace.
The Great Supermarket Cheese Experiment
Normal, haphazard service should be resumed shortly, but in the meantime
Happy New Year