Tag Archives: autumn

Praise and a Side of Curry

30 Oct

A confession: I spend an embarrassing amount of time every day reading about food, mainly on Twitter and on blogs. I’m not going to give you an exact number, because if I write it down, I will be forced take my laptop and throw it off my fourth-floor balcony onto the footpath below my building. And I don’t want to kill some poor, innocent pedestrian because I can’t cope with my internet habit.

But anyway. With the sheer volume of food-related information being produced on the web these days, sometimes it’s a little hard to get excited about the latest hamburger joint in Soho or the best pizza in Queens. But there are a few blogs where I always perk up when I see a new post. One of them is Eat Like a Girl, written by Niamh Shields.

Eat Like a Girl is largely a recipe blog, with restaurant reviews and travel writing mixed in here and there. The prose is evocative without being florid, and she writes recipes clearly and logically. She also has similar tastes to me – big flavours and influences from around the world. And even though she has an undying love for all things piggy, I can still read those recipes and appreciate her joy in experimenting with new combinations, even if I can’t partake in the results. I’m booked on to a class with her to learn to make different kinds of candy, and I’m sure I will come away with both good understanding and some very tasty treats!

So I was sold on her butternut squash-chickpea-spinach curry before I even made it. Butternut squash is a special favourite of mine at this time of year – it’s just so sweet and tender and ORANGE. It also takes especially well to spicy, bold flavours, which this curry has in spades. The cumin and coriander seeds especially give it serious oomph. The method is straightforward as for all relatives of stew and soup: sauté aromatics, add solids, add liquids, simmer until reduced and/or tender. And as with stew, it’s better after some aging time in the fridge.

The end result! And a bonus hand.

My only change this time around was to use a red chili in place of green, because that’s what my greengrocer had. It’s milder with a red chili, but you lose that herbal, citrusy note that green ones give. Next time I also might tinker with the spices and try it with some fennel or brown mustard seeds.

(You can find the recipe on Eat Like a Girl. Niamh also has a terrific cookbook called Comfort and Spice, which you should also check out!)

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Slowdown

28 Oct

One of the few pleasures of unemployment is always having time. Time to read. Time to go for very long walks, dallying in front of shop windows, meandering down untrodden paths. And if you’re me, time to cook a Bolognese sauce that takes over four hours, start to finish.

Now, I can see some of you furrowing your brows, with a fairly distant memory poking up its head. Yes, I’ve already got a recipe for spag bol in this blog. A mighty fine one it is, too. But I was feeling the urge to make something long and labour-intensive, and I had a copy of Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking languishing on my shelf.  And why not try the be-all and end-all recipe for something which is a standard in any cook’s repertoire?

And so I went off on a long walk, down the market, along the canal, through Victoria Park. I dawdled on the park’s paths, inhaling the autumn aromas of earth and smoke, watched the magpies and wood pigeons dig in the ground. When I got to south Hackney, I bought mince from the Ginger Pig, wine from Bottle Apostle, carrots and onion from the greengrocer, proper Italian tinned tomatoes from the posh deli.

When I got home, I put on some opera and set about my vegetables. Twenty minutes later (yes, I’m slow, but how quickly can you chop three sticks of celery and four carrots into small pieces?), they and the mince fried in the pan, then simmered with white wine, milk, and a little nutmeg . The tomatoes joined them shortly afterwards, and they all settled down for their three-hour simmer. I added water every 30 minutes to keep everything buoyant.  

And the result? It was good, and I imagine it’ll be even better after a day or two in the fridge. But was it worth all the effort? I’m not sure. It’s possible I’m so used to lashings of herbs and garlic in my food that I can’t appreciate something more subtle. But I also think that if I ever take three hours over pasta sauce again, I’ll use a cut of beef that benefits more from slower cooking, like shin.  The mince on its own doesn’t give enough depth – there’s a reason I put beef stock into my faster recipe.  I’d also cut the vegetables smaller than I did, as even after three hours of cooking they remained a little al dente.

But despite my mixed feelings, I did learn some new tricks for my own recipe. I preferred the white wine in the sauce over the red I’d used before, and simmering the meat and vegetables in milk first did a lot to balance the acidity from the tomatoes and wine.

So it wasn’t a complete waste of time. Though these days, I have so much time that a mildly successful cooking project seems a valid way to spend it.

P.S. I just had the leftovers for lunch today, and it tasted so much better. So if you’re going to make this, I would suggest brewing it up a day or two ahead.

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