Tarhana. Trahanas. Call it what you will.

Trahanas is a soup or, rather, it is the ingredients that go into making a soup.

It is not pretty soup. It is comfort soup. Sustaining soup. Very filling soup.

It is Cypriot trahanas. Turkish tarhana. Egyptian kishk. Iraqui kushuk. Kurdish tarxane. Cracked wheat and yoghurt at its most basic form. Dried in the sun, then revived when needed. Some add eggs, some add halloumi. Some use chicken stock, some just water.

It's nourishing. Warming. Tangy.

Persians, Bulgarians, Iraqis, Cypriots, Greeks, Armenians, Egyptians - we all eat it, we all love it.
We're none of us so different at all, really.

From Wikipedia: these are names for a dried food based on a fermented mixture of grain and yoghurt or fermented milk, usually made into a thick soup with water, stock, or milk (Persian ash-e tarkhineh dugh آش ترخینه دوغ). As it is both acid and low in moisture the milk proteins keep for long periods. Tarhana is very similar to some kinds of kishk.

I remember mum making this when I was small, and me being excited about it because I thought she was making avgolemono, and then being disappointed when it wasn't.

This is heavier, and possibly more bland in a way, but it also has that back tang of the yoghurt to lift it. It has a slightly granular texture, but it is soft at the same time.

I only acquired a liking for it when I brought some back from the markets in Cyprus. It was golden in colour, instead of the usual beige, and it looked....well it just looked more appealing. I'd just had a wisdom tooth out and was on liquids for two weeks, so the thought of a nourishing, substantial but above all SOFT soup was very appealing to me. As I was able to eat more, I added cubes of halloumi to it, bulking it out even further.

On a winter night, a big bowl of this with some cheese and a bit of bread would leave you wanting nothing more than a blanket and a good sleep.

A handful of trahanas sticks - probably about 6 pieces for one person who wants leftovers

I cover them with water, and soak them overnight, but you probably don't have to. I just prefer there to be no lumps.

Once they are soaked, I add another cup or so of water, and add a chicken stock pot. I have a huge amount of affection for chicken stock, and it just livens the soup up. The Knorr ones are nice, as they are fairly light. Of course you can use vegetable stock.

Let this simmer for a good half an hour. The stock will gradually get absorbed so keep an eye on it.

I usually have mine just as it is, but some cubed halloumi simmered in it for 5 minutes just to warm through is rather nice too.


Breakfast for Dinner

I'm a great believer in comfort food. I don't mean the usual British nursery or school dinners style food - all sponge puddings, mashed potatoes and a lack of chewing, though they most certainly have their place - I mean all kinds of food that give comfort because of what you, the eater, associate them with.

More often than not it will be foods of your childhood, whatever and wherever that childhood was for you, but it can also mean foods that you simply associate with feeling safe, and happy. Holiday meals near the sea maybe, with that odd tang of salt on your lips, or that first time you went out to eat in a restaurant on your own, with your mates not your parents, feeling oh so grown up as you handed over your cash in Pizza Hut after playing Salad Bowl Structural Integrity. The first ever popcorn at the cinema, or the novelty of eating something in a foreign country, that you have never, ever tasted before. That's the thrill of discovery, and those early tastes get imprinted. To be fair, they do not always imprint in a good way, but you can mostly overcome that if you try. You are allowed to dislike things, and there will be some things that you simply cannot bear, no matter how beautifully they are cooked.

Comfort foods for me are usually the things that my nan or Mum cooked whilst I was growing up, but sometimes, not often, a dad dish creeps in. 

He didn't cook that much for me, as he was rarely around when I was awake. Old fashioned barbers keep long, long hours. Every once in a while, on a Sunday, he would cook loukanika sausages, with fried potatoes and eggs. I would eat the potatoes first, then the sausage - having tried to pick out the coriander seeds - and then the eggs. These days I seem to eat the eggs first. 

This weekend I'm oddly discombobulated, as Tex is away, and I have to work on Sunday, so my routine is shot. Add to that attending a Terry Pratchett memorial - all emotion and joy and laughter and sheer grief rolled into one - and it lead to me wanting food to soothe, easy enough to put together, a dish that wasn't going to try my patience, and wasn't going to take too long either. I knew I had some Cypriot sausages in the fridge, though not loukanika, and after a bit of a rummage I found a tired old potato that was begging to be used before it turned up curly spindly rooty toes and died.

1 large baking potato, peeled and cubed
1 pastourma sausage, skinned and sliced 
3 eggs, beaten
olive oil

Heat the olive oil gently.
Pat the potato cubes dry, and add to the pan. 
Cook them on one side until well browned, turn them over, sprinkle with a little fine salt, and cover so they steam and cook through.
When they are browned all over and tender all the way through, push them to one side, and add the sausage slices. They will shrink as the fat comes out.
When the slices look cooked, drain the fat off, move the sausages and potatoes to one side of the pan and then pour the eggs in.
Stir to scramble the egg as it solidifies, then gradually mix the cooked egg into the sausages and potatoes.
Serve and eat as soon as you can. This is one Greek dish that is better hot.


Chiquito's, Leicester Square

It's a long time since I've been to a Chiquito's. Probably about 20 years, if I'm honest. I wasn't that impressed, I admit, so I never bothered to go back, especially when Wahaca surged into the forefront of Mexican food in the UK. 

Wahaca aren't as good as they used to be, which seems to be the way of things when more and more branches open in quick succession, sadly. When a friend posted on instagram that she'd been to Chiquito's, and expressed glee that the new menu was excellent, I thought I'd give them another try. A lot can change in 20 years, after all! (I am aware that Wahaca's premise is different, before anyone says anything.)

My friend K and I went along on a balmy Tuesday evening. School holidays made for a rather packed restaurant, but to our surprise and pleasure, the noise level was completely manageable. The music didn't intrude, the staff were extremely attentive and lovely to everyone - great move there, they kept the kids occupied - and it was an altogether pleasant experience. 

The tables are a little too close together, but it's a premium venue, on a prime location, so I imagine they have to pack in as many as they can. 

We were brought a small dish of spiced popcorn, which both of us loved, and then we got to work on the menu.

They have a large array of drinks, and I was happy to see a non alcoholic cocktail, so I went for a Virgin Colada. I am so fed up of just being given the lemonade/cola choice, that it was a real treat to see care taken over the non alcohol imbibing people.  It was more like a slushy, having a lot of crushed ice, but once I'd burrowed down with the straw, it tasted gorgeous. Pineapple and coconut is a real treat for me. The glass was very tall, and I ended up having to take it off the table to get a slurp!

K got a Mojito, which looked the part, but suffered from over syrup-ing. They are meant to be zingy, and tangy with the fresh lime and mint, but this was...well, it tasted like a Mojito Solero ice lolly. Way too sweet for a grown up drink. (All you need for a mojito is mint sprigs muddled with sugar and lime juice. Rum is added and topped with soda water. That's it. There should be no sugar syrup.)

We went for barbecue chicken wings and sweet potato chorizo croquettes to start.  

The croquettes were also very sweet, as was the jalapeno jelly they were sat on. It had a good kick, but the sweetness of that, plus the chorizo, plus the sweet potato made the overall taste a bit lacking in zing. "Needs lime." we muttered.

The wings were fabulous. Good sized, very meaty, and sticky, with a good smokey depth to them and properly crispy edges. Might I suggest more napkins, or finger bowls though.

K went for Spiced Coconut Chicken as her main. 
"Fresh chicken breast, ginger and red chilli in a spicy aromatic coconut sauce. Served with Mexican spiced rice, tortilla puffs and a dollop of whipped feta & honey"

It was a rather attractive presentation, and had me coveting the dish, though a small plate to go with it would have been useful, so you could mix things up. (We asked for, and very quickly got, a plate, so that worked out just fine.)

After tasting the rice, we pronounced it to be lovely, and perfectly cooked. Each grain separate, and coated in flavourful spices. Just right. The sauce for the chicken was....well, ok, it was tasty, yes, but again, far too sweet and there was no heat or discernible ginger to it. There was a large amount of chicken - this is a very generous dish - and the tortilla puffs were a thing of salted, golden beauty.  

That sauce though...again we muttered "It needs lime." I think we'd hoped for that glorious smoke that comes with chipotle or ancho chiles, and it was missing from this. The coconut didn't come through very much either. We actually asked for a plate of lime wedges, and added the juice. It did help lift it, but not enough to make it better than just ok. It's got promise, but needs work. 

I had three of the Street Food items.

Crispy Tacos (Two crispy tortillas filled with spicy chicken, melted cheese and topped with sour cream), Chilli Beef Empanadas (Crispy parcels, filled with your choice of: Spicy Chicken, Roasted Vegetables and Feta (v) or Beef Chilli) and Whipped Feta with Honey (A creamy feta & honey whip, served with toasted tortilla triangles and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds). 

The tacos were brilliant. Crisp, but not to the point of shattering when you bit into them, and with a generous amount of filling. 

Empanadas are one of my favourite things, and these did not disappoint. The beef chilli had smoke, and heat, and seriously rich depth. Next time I might get a platter of those, all to myself. Look at that glorious, pointed end. It was all crunch and soft, juicy insides.

The whipped feta and honey was exceptionally creamy, which make me think that there's not purely feta in there, because there was no salt tang at all. Feta is very distinctive, and I couldn't taste it. I'm Greek, feta is Important. The tortilla pieces that came with it were soft, not very toasted, and just didn't contrast with the dip. Now, the tortilla puffs would work amazingly well with the feta, as they are slightly salty, and that feta needed salt to work with the sweetness of the pomegranate seeds. 

We did look longingly at the dessert menu, because there were Churros, but we were very full, so decided not to be piglets. I also ate way too many churros in Madrid last year, and I'm still not ready for any more.

Overall, we did enjoy our meal, and the staff were all properly lovely and kind.

Some of the dishes do need work, but I would be more than happy to go back and try again, as everything had promise, and some of it was outstanding. Plus I want to try their Pina Colada prawns!

K and I ate as guests of Chiquitos.


Roast Rib of Beef

We had a 2 bone rib of beef at Christmas, which was quite epic, thanks to our fabulous local butcher nabbing a bargain at the market. He and another butcher had split a trailer between the two of them because it was 'some of the best beef' he'd ever seen, and he didn't want anyone other than him and his mate getting hold of it. He's not a posh butcher at all, just your average high street one, but he knows his meat, and will not sell anything that he deems unworthy.

When I went back in after Christmas, he had one piece of that truck load left, on discount, so I grabbed it and stuck it in the freezer for Special.

My husband's been away since Thursday, and had to work today (Easter Sunday) so it felt like a good time to have that 1 bone rib.

The Meat
It weighed 2lb 12oz, bone in, untrimmed. (Why on earth people want to trim the fat off I have no idea.)
Brush dark mild French mustard all over the meat

Sprinkle a tiny touch of grated nutmeg on it
Then add a barbecue dry rub or a steak seasonoing (I used this one: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B0092EXXPE/ref=s9_dcbhz_bw_g325_i2_sh )

Then drizzle with a bit of olive oil.

Cut 4 or 5 shallots in half lengthways, and place in the roasting tray along with some garlic cloves, unpeeled.
Put the meat on top of them.

I roasted the meat on 170C fan, for 60 minutes (and yes, I used a timer because I am easily distracted) then tested the temperature inside. (My meat thermometer reads Beef, rare, 60C or Beef Medium rare 71C, Beef/Lamb well 82C)

(The potatoes went in while I was doing this)

It was still rare at that point. Fine for me, but not hubby. Back on for 20 minutes, then tested again. It was medium rare by then, so I took it out, covered it with foil (shiny side in) and left it to rest. Don't panic, it keeps hot for a long while.

The Potatoes
3 Albert Bartlett red skinned baking potatoes, peeled. DO NOT RINSE THEM.

Put a good slice of lard into a sturdy, flat bottomed baking pan.
Get it in the oven to heat up. You should hear it popping.
Cut the potatoes in half lengthways, then cut each half in half crossways. They should be all roughly the same size.
Put them into the hot fat, turning them to coat.
Sprinkle lightly with salt, and pop them in the oven.
After 30 minutes, check them, and turn them over. Do not worry if they have stuck, get a spatula, and scrape/shove them off the bottom. Those caught edges mean extra crispy bits.
Back into the oven for another 10-25 minutes, until they look crisped and dark golden.

Cook carrot slices in boiling water until tender, then drain well. Heat some butter gently in a saucepan, then add 1/2 tsp cinnamon and a touch of brown sugar, mix in the carrots to coat, then cook on a very gentle heat until they get the glaze on them.

Frozen petit pois, innit?
Pop them in boiling, lightly salted water, then drain, and then some butter gets stirred in.


Nose to Tail Lamb Curry

If you eat meat, then it's worth checking out the lesser known cuts. The bits that need long, slow cooking give back so much flavour in return for a few hours of low temperature cooking.

I've never really been sure why people would go "Eeew!" at the thought of ears or feet, when they're quite happy to eat the rest, so when I saw lamb neck on sale at the butcher I just had to get some and give it a try.

I will not pretend that this is a quick recipe. It absolutely isn't. The pulling together at the end isn't very difficult though, and doesn't take that much time as the meat is already cooked.

Stage 1
6 - 8 pieces of lamb neck - rinsed well to rid them of any bone shards or chips
1 large carrot chopped in half
water to cover
Stock powder of your choice (I used Essential Cuisine's veal)

Bring to the boil, then simmer, covered, for four hours. The meat should be ready to come away from the bone.
Leave to cool overnight.
Remove the solid fat from the stock, and discard. (I throw it in the bin wrapped in newsprint)
Save the stock, it freezes well in a tupperware.
Start taking the meat from the bones.

When you have a pile of meat, you can put it in a covered container in the fridge for a few days, as I did, or use it right there and then.

1 medium sized aubergine, cubed (about 2cm sq pieces)
1 tbs good coconut oil
1 tbs ghee (or just use 1 more tbs coconut oil)
2 cloves smoked or normal garlic, sliced thinly
1/2 cup coconut cream or milk
1 tbs curry paste of your choice
1 can of Merchant Gourmet lentils (or you can use chick peas)

Gently heat the oil with the garlic, you don't want the garlic to colour.
Add the aubergine cubes and toss well in the oil.
Cover, and leave to cook down for 20 minutes. Undercooked aubergine is a thing of horror.
Once the aubergine has acquired some colour, add in the lamb and mix well to coat.
Pour in the coconut cream, and then mix in 1 tablespoon of Patak's tikka masala paste.
Give it all a good stir, and add a bit more coconut milk if you feel it needs a little more sauce.
Cook that down, covered, for about an hour, then tip in the lentils to warm through, uncovered, for the last ten minutes.
It's a complete meal, so you don't need bread or rice. and it will improve with time.


Marley's Cake

A few weeks ago we had a baking competition at work. They called it The Great Charity Bake Off, and it was in aid of Action for Kids.

A fun and yet nerve wracking time was had by all, and I think the sales of sugar, flour, carrots (4 carrot cakes in all) and vanilla tripled in the weeks leading up to it.

There were some absolutely stunning entries, 17 in all, and the judging was to be 80% taste and 20% appearance, which gave the more cack handed amongst us *cough* at least a little bit of hope. Flavours I can do, decoration not so much. Certainly not when I've got to bake the cake, then transport the layers, and then decorate it at work in the 30 minutes before I leave work to go home again.

To be honest, I'd even considered pulling out as the competition was on a Thursday, and I was away for the whole of the weekend, and away again on the Tuesday and Wednesday nights, but no. I just spent my Monday night baking the layers and trying to work out how to pack them. 

By chance, I spotted a cake that Lisa Marley from The Cocoa Box had posted about and it sounded so good that I had to give it a try. She very kindly sent me the recipe, and it's a stunner.

We had to name our cakes, but they couldn't have our name on, and as my name is Lisa that was tricky, so then Marley's Cake it became!

I did have to tweak it, as I ran out of time, and caster sugar (how is that even possible?!) and I had some ingredients that I wanted to add as well, but it was still very, very good indeed. (The taste, not the decoration!)

Lemon Meringue or Marley's Cake

Grease and line the bottom of 3 x 20cm cake tins. I'd grease and flour the sides, too. 
Pre heat the oven to 160C.

100g (4oz) salted butter, plus extra for greasing
150g (6oz) dark muscovado sugar
130g (5oz) light muscovado sugar (I whirled these in the food processor to get them a little more fine)
300g (10oz) self raising flour
3 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp lemon extract
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
4 large eggs, beaten
130g (5oz) good-quality white chocolate, melted
100ml (7fl oz) full-fat milk, slightly warmed

Lisa Marley's original soaking syrup:
Zest and juice of 2 lemons
100g sugar
80g water

My soaking syrup was some syrup I had left over from when I candied some blood oranges, all dark citrus and cinnamon scented.

Lemon Buttercream:
500g Betty Crocker vanilla buttercream (I had 2 x 400g tubs, so had half the 2nd tub left over)
3 tbs lemon curd 
50g good white chocolate, melted
Yellow gel food colouring
One jar of Waitrose lemon curd

Mini meringues bought from Waitrose

Pre-heat oven 200°C/180°Fan/Gas 6

The Cakes

Cream the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. With the two brown sugars, it takes a while longer than with white caster.
Slowly add the eggs, and whisk again, then add the spice and extract.
Sieve the flour, bicarbonate and combine
Gently mix in the melted chocolate until combined
Add the milk and gently mix (original recipe called for 200ml but I stopped after 100ml as the batter was very liquid so my eggs may have been larger than usual.
Pour into the three cake tins and bake for 20/25 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
Allow to cool.

(I wrapped them when cool, and transported them to work in a big old cake tin.)

Brush each of the three cake layers with the soaking syrup.

Mix three good tablespoons of lemon curd into the buttercream, then stir in 50g melted white chocolate.

Mix well, and then try not to dive FACE FIRST into the bowl.  

Spread a little lemon curd on the first cake, then dollop on some buttercream. Try not to dive FACE FIRST into the bowl.

Place the next cake on top, and repeat, then put the last cake on top. Mine started to slide! 

Add some yellow gel food coloring to the rest of the buttercream (see again FACE FIRST etc.,) and combine.

A professional would do this next bit:

Fill a piping bag half way with the yellow and then add the remaining white buttercream so the bag is full.

Start at the bottom of the cake and pipe with the yellow buttercream until the white starts to come through. Continue upwards and cover the whole cake.
Use a hot palette knife ( dipped in boiling water) to smooth the icing.

I am not a professional anything, so I just covered the whole cake as best I could. Crumb layer went well, but I had to time to fridge the cake so the next lot of buttercream just went on (FACE).

I smoothed it all badly with a borrowed spatula, decorated it with the mini meringues and gold sprinkles because GOLD SPRINKLES and then put it in the fridge overnight to set.

The next day it was still there, and with no fingermarks in it either!

It was a great success. Every piece sold. I didn't win, this one came first (I didn't get a chance to try this one, but it was a carrot cake so I wish I had!)

I loved how mine tasted and I will definitely make it again when I've got more than 30 minutes!

Huge thanks to Lisa Marley for the recipe. I'm extremely grateful. Even though my one isn't the same!


Sleepy Saturday afternoon baking

Husband has to work today, which means he's been shut in his studio/computer room staring at the VPN screen, looking at servers.

I decided that he (we) needed a nice afternoon pick me up, and I wanted to bake something that wasn't labour intensive. I have very fond memories of my Nan making Butterfly Cakes, and so I thought I'd try for that type of thing, but without the 'wings'. 

Cue the 'weigh some eggs then use the same measurements for everything else' method of cake. Except I used less sugar. I like lemon more than I do sugar.

2 eggs, weighing 146g
120g golden caster sugar
146g very soft butter (I use Kerrygold)
146g plain flour (I have used Dove's Farm GF flour for this before, but subbed in 1 oz ground almonds)
3 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp lemon extract
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tbs lemon juice
1/4 tsp baking powder

Cream the butter and sugar together until well mixed. 
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each egg.
Add the ginger, lemon extract, lemon juice, zest and baking powder, mix well. 
I tasted the mix at this stage, and added a bit more ginger.
Fold in the flour (I used a spatula so that I knew there was no flour left at the bottom of the plastic jug I was using.)
Line a 12 hole muffin tin with cake papers, then pop a dessert spoon full of mix into each case.
I managed to use all of the mixture up. Apart from the bit that I ate off the spoon. 
Bake in a 170C fan oven for 20 minutes, then take out and leave to cool. 

By all means ice these if you want, but they are just as good without. Neither of us are huge icing fans - unless it's a vanilla cream cheese frosting, then you have to hold me back - but just for a bit of variation I piped, well, squished, some shop bought lemon curd into the middle of each one, and because I had white chocolate and lemon curd buttercream* in the fridge from a baking competition at work, I used a wee bit of that. A really wee bit, as Husband doesn't like too much icing. 


*For the baking competition buttercream, I had used two tubs of Betty Crocker vanilla frosting, but whisked in 50g melted white chocolate, and 3 tbs of lemon curd. It made a an enormous difference to the taste. Turned it from something that was okay ish, to something that was GIVE ME A SPOON NOW nice.

Happy Accidents

You know when you really want a food thing, and you haven't got the right ingredients in so you have to make do?

This is one of those 'recipes'.

I had a lovely cauliflower from Ted's Veg in Borough that needed to be used. I wanted to make something akin to the dear, departed Sesame's cauliflower and tahini salad, but I had no turmeric to colour the vegetable. (Yes, I know, it's THE ingredient of the moment and no, I still don't have any.)

Thus a cupboard search happened. I was sure I had curry powder somewhere, but I did not. I actually thought I had turmeric powder, but I didn't have that either. All the while that I am searching for that elusive yellow something, I'm turning recipes and ingredients over in my brain until I find one that fits my mood.

(I am fully aware that cauliflower doesn't need to be yellow. But what the food brain wants...)

Finally I spied a jar of piccalilli from our local farm shop lurking behind the jars of Marmite and honey.

It did seem to be mainly lilli and less pickle, but that worked to my advantage.

1 small head of cauliflower, broken into florets
4 tsp of piccalilli juice
tahini with honey (Eridanous brand from Lidl)
1 tin of chick peas

Put the cauliflower in a pan of water with a touch of salt.
Bring to a simmer, and stir in the 4 spoons of piccalilli.
Mix well.
Simmer until the cauliflower is tender - now this is tricky because the addition of the pickle keeps it slightly crunchy, but when a knife pierces it with no resistance, it's done.
Drain it well.

Whisk the tahini with some water in a large bowl to thin it out - I used a bit of the simmering liquid - and then pop the drained cauliflower into it and mix well. Add in the drained chickpeas, and mix them in also.

The cauliflower keeps its bite, and also has a light pickled tang, which cuts the rich tahini. (The Eridanous brand is a little like liquidised halva.)

Serve warm, as when it's chilled the tahini seizes, and sticks everything together.

This was on day 1

And this was on day 2, after it had sat overnight and needed more tahini to dress it. I did warm it again.


Taking the Darjeeling Express

Now, if I was Guy Fieri, and I had taken up squatting rights on Food Network, I would say I was on the Darjeeling Express to Flavourtown. I am not he, but you know...the food at Asma Khan's pop up restaurant/supper club transports you fairly and squarely into the very heart of Flavourtown, if Flavourtown was in the middle of Calcutta, scented with cinnamon, cloves and flowing with masala chai. 

The welcome you get at this place, right in the heart of Soho, fitted neatly in to The Sun and 13 Cantons pub, is warm, genuine and very talkative. 

Now I can talk, I am rather well known for it (I sometimes joke that my husband, a naturally reticent man, married me so that I could do all the talking for him and save him the effort) but Asma beats me. She studied law, but food became her calling, finally what she wanted to do. Read more about her here, in an excellent interview with Nicky Richmond.

She fair bubbles over with the love and joy of sharing the foods and tastes of her country, and her passion for bringing 'her' women together in a safe place to work and teach. In doing so she tucks her arm into yours, brings you into her home and, more importantly, leads you into her kitchen and feeds you the choicest morsels of what she has cooked that day, as you would do for any honoured guest.

And an Honoured Guest is indeed how she and her staff make you feel.

We visited on a chilly Tuesday evening, determined to get there before her tenure ends on the 19th March. I am sad that it is ending, because I would go back time and time again if I could. I can't quite work out why it took me so long. 

I was sorely in need of good company and happy things that night. My lovely friends and Asma provided all that I needed and more.

My delight in finding a place that had comfortable seating, with moveable tables! I am broad of beam, and utterly sick of places that stick their tables so close together that you could part waves in someone else's gravy with your arse as you leave should you so choose.

Not this place. We had a proper table with comfortable banquettes, and a functioning candelabra to illuminate our dinner. Photos by candlelight are tricky, but I think we did ok, though they may be a little grainy. I was there for the food, not the photo opportunities.

It was hard to stop talking long enough to order drinks.but we did. Snig got a Nimbu Pani, homemade lemonade, which looked ever so refreshing. 

I was eyeing up the Masala Chai for later in the evening. No way was I going to leave without having one of those. (you'll note it is NOT Chai Tea. Chai means tea. So, coffee shops, stop selling 'Tea Tea'.)

There was, as you can imagine with a table full of food bloggers, a lot of excitement about the menu. We settled on Puchkas, Papri Chaat, Masala Fries and Mutton Shikampuri Kebabs for our starters.

We started on the Papri Chaat first. 

Each crisp wafer was topped with black chickpeas, potato and a darkly tart and fruity tamarind sauce, surrounded by crunchy sev. We devoured those - or possibly inhaled - and then moved quickly on to the Puchkas, which are small, delicately crisp hollow shells, filled with the spiced chickpea mix, but also tamarind water which you pour in yourself. You eat them in one go, because if you try and bite in, you get tamarind water all down your chin. 

These two dishes are something that I would never tire of eating. The mellow chickpeas, the soft potatoes and the dark tang of the tamarind are perfect bedfellows. It is a lovely street food but, according to the conversations at our table,  not one to have in India if you are not a native, because the local water will upset you if you aren't used to it. Asma said that one of her friends loved these so much, she'd just plan extra time off when she goes home as she just can't stop eating them, and is happy to pay the price. I think I'll just go to see Asma. And order two of everything.

Next came the Mutton Shikampuri Kebab. The word 'minced' on the menu doesn't do these justice. The meat is spiced, and very finely ground, then folded around a yoghurt centre. They are so very delicate and light, and more highly spiced than the first two dishes, which did find me asking Asma for some of their stunning strained yoghurt, as I was not leaving any behind just because I'm a chilli wuss. These take a practiced hand to make, as they may well fall apart if the cook is not careful. These really are a melt in the mouth dish.

Masala Fries. That's a name to make me sit up, and I was not disappointed. These are not your triple cooked chips with a dense wall of crunch, though I love those too. These are hand cut, skin on potatoes, turning out how they would at home; some crisped edges, some tender steamed innards, all sprinkled with a spice mix to make you smile with glee and do a little food dance. 

We decided to have a little rest before plunging on in to the mains. I mean, we had talking to do!

And then, the March of the Mains started. Goat Kosha Mangsho, Venison Kofta, Tamarind Dhal, Niramish, beautifully perfect rice, tomato chutney, roti and more of that lovely yoghurt.

Where to start, where to start!

Take a bit of everything, put on plate. Easiest way. 

A lovely plateful
The first thing I went for was the dhal. If I was sentenced to only eat dhal and rice for the rest of my life I would be happy if it was this dhal. (So long as there was some ghee along the way somewhere.) Soothing, and smokey, with real depth to it, and some tang too. It had that silky but slightly rough texture that makes it so homely. Thin enough that it soaks into the perfectly separate rice grains, but thick enough to cling and coat. Wonderful. The rotis that came with it were unlike the very soft Gujarati ones I was used to, they don't fold around the food as easily, but they taste lovely. Buttery, and wholesome. I had to try very hard not to eat all of them. 

The goat is on the bone, just as it should be. It was full of chilli heat, but also full of so many deep and savoury flavours that I just secured some yoghurt and carried on. 

The hottest thing for me was actually the Niramish, and that was the only dish I wasn't keen on. I'd been eager to try since reading about Madhur Jaffrey's first, sad experience of Niramish when she came to London, decades ago, but it just didn't do it for me. I like all the components, so I was a bit unsure as to why I didn't like it. Maybe that one I need to make myself, and adjust the spices. Never say never!

The venison kofta are small, and dense, in direct contrast to the  mutton kebab. Very meaty, in a fragrant, mild creamy sauce. I think there was cardamom in there. Very nice indeed, with a sauce that needed mopping up with extra rice so as not to leave any behind.

At this point, we paused. Full, sated, happy. 

Then our lovely hostess asked if we wanted desserts, with a twinkle in her eye. She knew, oh she knew... 

Indian desserts are a bit of a thing for me. I love them. From the denseness of the huge range of barfis, to the orange stickiness of freshly made jalebi, to the gentle squeak of ras malai and the tender, juicy gulab jamun - and oh my goodness the rich silk of the rice pudding.

Yes, we wanted desserts.

Small, sweet Hunza apricots in clotted cream, and the much longed for kheer turned up, along with four glasses of fragrant Masala Chai.

The Chai was everything I wanted. I had to close my eyes as I sipped it, simply to savour it even more. It took me right back to being 14 again, sitting in my Indian friends' kitchens. Balvinder's tall, slim mum with her shy smile, long grey plaited hair and deft, speedy cooking. Lucky's round and voluble ma, with black curly hair and a relaxed slowness to her kitchen routine as she bossed her four daughters around. Vidhya's birdlike mother, with quicksilver tongue, practiced hand and sad eyes. All of these made me masala chai, in different ways, and I loved them all equally. So much so that I kept a jar of chai masala at home. 

Once my moment of nostalgia was passed, the food called.

I've never had Hunza apricots before, and was thrilled at how juicy and sweet they were. Not syrupy, just naturally sweet, holding their own against the cream and the slivers of pistachio. Many a bowl of those could be easily and speedily consumed.

The Kheer was everything I wanted it to be. Gently spiced, soft, creamy and utterly comforting. Sometimes it can be too sweet, too rich, but this was light and made with a delicate hand on the sugar. 

All in all, a huge success. 

Asma talks of what to do next, perhaps a community oriented kitchen space, where everyone is welcome. She tries to support women where she can, buying the lovely shaped wooden dishes that the yoghurt comes in from India, where women can make them from wood gathered from the trees at the edge of the forests, because you do not venture further in.

She is a feeder, a warm, kind, caring and passionate woman, with a longing to cook for people. Food is love, and affection, and a way to honour your friends. If you step into her place, you are her guests, not just her customers.

The difference this makes is huge. 

It's personal.

 "Kavey, don't eat the green and red chutney, those are too hot for you, go for the other sauce." or "I can temper the chili in this dish, but in the goat it's already set. I'll bring yoghurt."

Bringing us lots of containers so that Alicia could take our extra food home for her husband.

Asma's effortless friendliness is easy to love. I will be watching with great interest to see what she does next because whatever it is, I want to be there.


Very Very Sweet Child o' Mine

I adore coconut. In any way I can get it. I'm very cross that my alcohol allergy stops me from having Malibu, as I used to like that, too.
You might think that my favourite chocolate bar would be a Bounty, but it isn't. (They need to be more moist, way too dry now.)

It's this. Which you can't get any more. Probably just as well.

We were in the farm shop today and saw some nice but horrifically expensive coconut ice. The conversation went as follows.

Me: I've never made coconut ice. I keep meaning to. I've even got coconut condensed milk.
Tex: Well, you're not doing anything this afternoon are you?
Me: No...apart from...
Us: ...Making coconut ice!

So here I am, having just finished making some. You have to leave it overnight to set up, so I'm passing the tine by blogging it.

The original recipe was on here: http://www.deliciousmagazine.co.uk/recipes/coconut-ice/ but I didn't have all the things, and my can of coconut condensed milk was smaller than the usual 397g, so I had to improvise. I didn't have enough desiccated, so coconut flour made up the rest. I also cut down the icing sugar as I am not keen on things that are overly sweet.

Neither did I have food colouring, but Mr Husband said that he didn't care about that.

1 x can of coconut condensed milk (320g)
180g desiccated coconut
93g coconut flour
150g icing sugar

Put all of that little lot into a bowl.

Inhale the lovely coconutty scent. DO NOT SNEEZE.

Mix really, really well.

Line a baking tin with non stick baking parchment. (I brushed the tin with a little coconut oil so that the paper stuck down)

Make sure the paper overhangs the sides, it will be easier to lift the ice out.

Dollop the mixture into the tin, then smooth out with the back of a metal spoon. I used a little coconut oil on my spoon which helped a lot.

Mine tin was a bit too big, so I only filled it to 3/4 of its length in order to get a decent depth of ice.

It was only after it was all pushed into the tin, that I remembered I had meant to add some vanilla extract. Oops! C'est la vie.

Now, we wait overnight for it to dry out properly and set.


Chicken, Chestnut and Pancetta Casserole

I've been in dire need of comfort food lately, and comfort food for me usually involves chicken and rice. Last week I made a quick avgolemono soup (chicken pieces simmered in bought stock, eggs and lemons whisked in at the end, then pre cooked rice added) because I've had this cold/flu thing that's been hanging around the place bothering everyone for weeks. I'm on Day 19 here, and it still won't let go.

Chicken and rice is one of my favourite things. There's something about the coating of delicious fat you get from chicken thighs, as it glosses each grain of rice, and coats it in slick, warm, soothing slipperiness.

I fully understand why some people don't like this sensation but to me, it's liquid gold.  I prefer the dark meat, and the bits underneath the roast chicken, the ones that have been sitting in the herby, buttery fats, those are mine. Cook's perks.

I was tempted to do egg and lemon soup again tonight, but I wanted something more filling. I hadn't really eaten much this weekend, due to coughing, so I felt that a casserole would be a good idea, plus it would do me for dinner on Monday too.

Happily I found precooked chestnuts in the cupboard, and I knew I had a large, thick slice of pancetta in the fridge to use up, so that was that.

1 thick slice of pancetta, maybe 10mm thick, cubed
5 x large chicken thighs, skin ON
40-50g cooked chestnuts (mine were vacuum packed)
1 x Knorr or Oxo chicken stock pot
300ml water
1/2 packet microwave brown rice. (Don't judge me, it's easier.)

Cook the pancetta on a very low heat until all the fat has rendered, and the meat has crisped. This took a good half an hour. Don't be tempted to rush it, you want that flavour all to come out.

Once the meat is golden and crisped, take it out of the pan with a slotted spoon, and put to one side.

Put the chicken thighs skin side down into the pancetta fat. Cook them until the skin has browned all over, then turn them over and seal the other side.

Turn them back over so the skin is uppermost, pop the stock pot in the middle of them, add the chestnuts and the pancetta, then the water. The water came up to the middle of the chicken thighs.

Bring to the boil, turn the heat down as low as it will go, cover and simmer for 30 minutes, then uncover and simmer for another 10-15.

Serve over brown rice.

I have to say, hands down, this is one of the nicest things I have made recently. Savoury, smoky, soothing and filling. Go me. I'm really glad I bought a pack of vacuum packed chestnuts on a whim, months back!

Blood Orange, Almond and Pistachio Cake

I have finally succumbed to the blood orange fever that's been going around instagram and Twitter.

I will now admit to never having actually eaten a blood orange, so after everyone was going on about them, I thought I should. Once I'd seen this recipe by Kellie at Food to Glow, then I really knew I should.


I usually pootle around Borough Market on a Thursday morning, on my way to work. I love watching it all set up, plus going at that time means that I don't have to contend with photo taking, NON BUYING tourists. (Seriously, if I spot you , Non Buying People, I will CALL YOU OUT. It's a working market, not your bloody playpen, and those stall holders need to make a living. And no asking actual shoppers to move out of your way, just so you can get a shot! *ahem*)

After a lovely bacon sandwich at Maria's, it was off to Ted's Veg. The majority of their produce is home grown, and extremely reasonable in price. You might recall my excitement at their purple brussel sprouts, and sprout flowers, if you follow me on Instagram.

Blood oranges were procured (along with purple sprouting broccoli and a jar of amazing set honey) and then put aside for the weekend.

The weekend arrived, and it found my cupboard bare of polenta, with me in a fit of Not Going Out Again Ever after a very intense week, so I thought about an almond cake instead, as I have always got lots of ground almonds.

You know I said I always have lots of ground almonds? This time, I didn't. I had 100g exactly. I did have a kilo of extra fine ground almond flour, but that takes a lot of adjusting to, and I really didn't want to muck around much when baking something that was meant to be for tea that same day. I found some toasted pistachios in the cupboard, so I ground them in my ancient spice grinder and used those.

Preheat the oven to 180°C (170°C fan)/350°F/gas mark 4.

2 blood oranges, or 1 regular navel orange
100g ground almonds
200g ground pistachios
1tsp. baking powder
3 eggs
100g golden caster sugar (reduced from 200g in the original)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp orange flower water

Bring the two oranges to the boil in some plain water, and then simmer for 1 hour. Take the oranges out but reserve the liquid.

Leave the fruit to cool, take off the green stem end. You're meant to dig out the pips, but as everything is being whizzed in the food processor you don't really need to, but do so if it makes you feel better.

The original recipe called for separate bowls of wet and dry, and folding in the puree to the almonds, but I did it my way because I'm me.

Whizz the fruit up in the food processor until it's a fine pulp.

Whisk the sugar and eggs together until well mixed and lighter in colour then add them to the food processor.

Add the ground almonds, ground pistachios, extracts and baking powder to the food processor bowl and whizz the whole lot for at least 5 minutes. 

Taste the batter, smile.

At this point you can just pour the whole lot into a loaf tin and bake it. but I wanted to add some decoration. 

Glacé Orange Slices

Slice the orange into rounds, about 5mm thick. Too thin and they will tear.

Ok I admit it, I was utterly entranced by these orange shelled harbingers of ruby treasure. I might have needed to step away from the chopping board for a bit because I kept staring at them.  

Then put 

1/2 cup sugar
1 cup of the reserved simmering liquid
1 cinnamon stick

into a heavy pan, and heat to dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the orange slices. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer, and simmer on low for 1 hour, making sure the slices are submerged every so often.

Take the slices out, and drain them on a rack. They will shortly become the stickiest thing known to man, and adhere to knife blades, fingers, non stick foil and you. They are also delicious. I tasted a bit of the syrup they were cooked in and actually did a little shimmy it was so good.

When cool, cut in half, detach them from the knife blade, unstick them from your fingers again *sigh* and lay some along the bottom of your loaf pan. (I used a silicone mould to line my loaf tin, and sprayed that mould with non stick baking spray. Yes, the slices still stuck to it.)

Pour the cake mix in until about 10mm below the top. 

Bake at 170C fan for 45 minutes, then test. Mine needed 7 more minutes.

Turn the cake out, bottom side up. 

Grin like a loon because the orange slices are still there.

It's a dense cake, which you would expect given the amount of nuts in it, and it's as rich as if you have soaked it in syrup, but I didn't. It also slices like a dream.

While that was cooling, I decided to make some more cakes, little ones this time. I toyed with traditional fairy cakes, but then I decanted a jar of Ras El Hanout into my spice box, and its warming, musky smell hit me, saying "Spiced cakes!" After all, why not use it in a cake? This time I decided to use the extra fine almond flour, and to tweak the 'weigh the eggs, then use same weight of sugar, butter and flour' method a bit.

Ras El Hanout cakes

2 eggs (132g in weight)
132g soft salted butter
100g Demerara sugar (I could have got away with using even less, I think.)
70g extra fine almond flour (the extra fine is very absorbent)
1 tsp ras el hanout powder 
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp milk to thin the mix down a bit
ground pistachios for the top

Whisk the butter and sugar together until fluffy, then beat in the eggs, the extract and the spice. 

2 tsp of milk got added here as the mixture wasn't really of 'dropping' consistency. 

A rounded dessertspoon of the mix got dropped into silicone muffin moulds that I'd sprayed with non stick baking spray, and I sprinkled some of my ground pistachios on top.

Into a 170C fan oven they went.

At 15 minutes they still looked a little pale, so I left them for another 5, and that gave them nice golden edges.

They're quite delicate, so I tipped them out of the moulds without touching them, and left them to cool upside down for a while.


They have a very tender crumb, and none of the slightly gritty texture that almond cakes can have, which I do rather like, but I know some don't. The spice is there, just in the background, so perhaps a touch more could have been added, but not too much. 1/2 a teaspoon maybe. I think they would be nice with orange zest, or orange flower water added too. 

Both of these recipes are definitely ones to make again.