Monday, 30 May 2011

A recipe from one friend to another... Sunil's Dahl

I learnt this recipe from a friend a very long time ago.  We've always called it Sunil's dahl in our house, although I think it's possibly a simplified version of Kashmiri red kidney beans.  I remember he came from a family of rather amazing cooks and had a nice repertoire of simple tasty dishes.  A firm favourite on many a hungover morning were pittas stuffed with scrambled egg, chilli, onion, tomato & coriander.  I think his sister still runs the consistently good 'world food' restaurant, Cachumba, in West Didsbury. 

I don't see him much these days, but I make this dish all the time, as it's ridiculously easy, nutritious and tastes delicious.  It often forms part of my thali platters at home as it's a nice simple element, freeing up time to spend on a more complex one.  After Saturday's thali night, I promised my friend Lisa that I'd blog this recipe, as her lot rate this as their favourite dish.  Typical!  I spend hours on other elements, and the one that takes 10 minutes gets dish of the day.  A lesson to be learned there perhaps! 

Sunil's dahl  -  serves 6
  • Kidney beans, 4 cans, thoroughly rinsed
  • 2 very large white onions (or 4 medium) - finely sliced
  • 3 tbsp ghee
  • 2 heaped tsp garam masala
  • 1 heaped tsp cumin powder
  • 3 inch piece of fresh ginger - fined chopped
  • 1 tsp kashmiri chilli powder (hot variety) - finely chopped
  • 2 large red chillies (milder variety) - finely chopped
  • 1-2 small green chillies (hot variety) - finely chopped
  • 2-4 tsp salt (to taste, but be generous)
  • Roughly chopped fresh coriander leaves
  1. Saute finely slice onion in ghee until nicely softened and translucent.  Then add spices and cook for 3 mins.
  2. Add ginger and chillies and fry gently for 5 mins.
  3. Add kidney beans and 3 pints of water.  Bring to boil and season with salt to taste, but it needs plenty of seasoning so be generous. 
  4. Simmer for 2 hours.  The longer the better.  Just add more water if it gets too thick, and more seasoning if required.  You want a nice rich gravy like sauce.
  5. Sprinkle with large handful of fresh coriander and serve with soft chapatis or steamed rice.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Gourmet Night with Matt White

I love talking to fellow Mancunians, adopted or otherwise.  There's something about that unique shared frame of reference and humour that makes for a good conversation.  So it was really enjoyable chatting to Matt White, who hosts Gourmet Night on BBC Manchester radio, 9pm on Thursdays (so the show I'm co hosting is aired tonight).  A fellow Chorltonite and food journalist, I talked to Matt and guests about all things foodie, and being National Vegetarian week, there is a rather meat free bias. 

I'm also looking forward to trying out Manchester's new vegetarian bistro in the city, 1847.  So named after the year that the world's first Vegetarian Society, which started up right here in Manchester.  Gourmet Night is recorded at different restaurants around the city, and in honour of National Vegetarian week, we headed to 1847.

I must admit to have felt some relief to find that the food is very, very different from the food I want to serve in my restaurant. Phew!  Head chef was really lovely and she has an impressive CV, with stints at Vanilla Black and Noma!  I can't wait to try her gin and tonic cake.  I do love a G&T.

Hope you tune in tonight!

Or listen again on BBC iplayer.  Link below to last weeks' show where there's a review of the rather smashing Supper Club by Kerstin Rodgers (The Underground Restaurant in London) as well as the food at 1847.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Competing workloads & changes afoot...

I have finally submitted my formal request to go part time.  Something had to give, because there is no way I can continue in a full time job while trying to develop my foodie work.  I am, in all honesty, well and truly knackered!

I get an idea in the morning about a dish I could make, then spend my lunchtime running around for ingredients, only to find myself by late evening, simply too exhausted to be creative.  I often work quite late or overnight somewhere, and any time off in lieu I earn, is spent catching up on all the other mundane things I'm neglecting as a full time working mother. It's no good at all.   

From the start of July I will only be working 3 days a week, and will use the other days to develop my menus and recipes, and pursue other opportunities that will hopefully get me cooking somewhere before the end of June.

I'm very excited, or at least I will be when I've had a good kip!  

Friday, 20 May 2011

Check out this amazing portrait....

Someone did this portrait of me, the moment just before I find out I didn't make the final 3 in MasterChef.  It's acrylic on canvas 35x25cm.  I think it's excellent and captures that look of knowing sadness perfectly.

Sliding doors, Tony Wilson & Gourmet Nights

Someone recently tweeted about sliding doors moments, how one decision or moment can change so much, or not.  It reminded me of a couple of times in my life where I missed a foodie sliding doors moment.

I was studying A levels at college, but had no commitment to what I was doing.  The principal asked to see me after being caught trampolining instead of being in a maths lesson.  After a long chat about my sporadic attendance and lack of focus, he suggested I switch to the catering BTEC as it would probably suit someone like me with an interest in food.  I thought it was a daft idea, to pursue a low status job with crappy hours and pay (I was 17, it was 1986, people thought Thatcher was a good idea...).  I ended up dropping out later that year anyway and didn't go to university until five years later.

I went on to study Sociology at Salford Uni, which has always been my academic passion (the only lesson I ever fully attended).  And I was quite good at it.  I got a post graduate offer from Manchester Uni, so as far I was concerned, that was my career path.  I was going to do a masters degree, become a sociologist and do research. 

Except there was a slight niggle in my plan.  I had started to love food and cooking to an obsessional level, and had a best friend with the same interests.  We hatched a plan to start a vegetarian food company and started testing out some dishes.  One weekend, we set up a stand at a local festival.  Our first customer wandered over as we busied ourselves with our Greek inspired platters. We looked up to see Tony Wilson.  I realise his name may mean nothing to those under a certain age, but if you are Mancunian or familiar with the 90s music scene, this man, Anthony H Wilson, is a total legend!     

He was opening this first Unity festival, which later went on to become Chorlton Music Festival.  So in a rather surreal moment, we put together a meze plate for him and he tucked in.  He told us that we were very talented cooks and we should do this for a job.  Then he wandered off to start the gig.

This is the reason I want to buy this picture for my restaurant:

The following week I was camping in rural France, taking some time out to think about what to do.  No-one in my family had ever been to university at that point.  I was proud of my academic achievements after a disastrous time at school.  I also loved doing research.  But I loved food too. 

I think the other consideration for me at that time was that it was my friends idea.  The business plan was more her style of food than mine.  I had also learned from my dad that it can be a risky business to go into partnership with a close friend.  So I phoned her and said I was going to take the post grad place at Manchester. 

I don't think I have ever regretted my decision.  I have loved my job as a researcher and over the years have worked with some amazing and committed people.  I also love our NHS and feel proud to have committed so many years to trying to help make it the best it can be.  The flexibility of research jobs means I have also had great opportunities to take time off to travel.  It's truly been a great job.  But it's definitely time for me to leave now.  I need time to focus on developing dishes and menus, and to extend my own skills and experience.  It's also really difficult to compartmentalise trying to do both, but I'm hoping that going part time will make this easier.

So what am I doing next...

Next week, Thurs 9pm, I'm going to be on BBC Manchester radio Gourmet Night with Matt White, talking to one of the final 3...  should be fun!

Going back to Ottolenghi in June for a week, so I'm really looking forward to working with Becky and the team again.

I'm also talking to some people about doing some dining events, more street food inspired dishes, so I'm working really hard on developing some new ideas and menus.

Friday, 6 May 2011

And so the journey continues.. work experience at Ottolenghi

This week I've been pursuing the opportunity of getting work experience at Ottolenghi in Notting Hill and it was just excellent!  I really loved the experience, and learnt so much from an amazing team. Everyone was so nice to me.  I feel very lucky!

Working with a fantastic head chef, I learnt so much about producing beautiful and consistently good food in mind blowing quantities (for an amateur like me anyway) .  The pastries and cakes made me forget I don't have a sweet tooth.  Gorgeous, inventive and delicious.  Yum yum!  As I write, the kids are deciding who gets the last of the raspberry meringue, having already polished off the white chocolate cheescake with raspberry compote.

I worked in the savoury section which supplies the deli and dining upstairs, as well as outside catering.  So many beautiful ingredients and fresh flavours, and the vegetable store looked like the MasterChef invention test, Ottolenghi style.  I enjoyed myself immensely, and may have even perfected a few skills.  Practice something for a few hours and you may start to find you get quite good at it!

I prepped and roasted a lot of aubergine during my stint... but worth it because this dish just melts in your mouth.  The yoghurt sauce is tangy with a little bite, finished with a special sumac mix, fresh herbs and seeds.  Simple, beautiful & lunch on both days!

I want to say a big thank you to all the team at Notting Hill who took time out to teach me and making me feel at home.  Hope to see you all again soon... x 

And thanks to the lady who hugged me in the street.  You made me smile all the way back to Euston!

Sunday, 1 May 2011

What would I have cooked in the final?

I've thought about this question many times over the last week.  I knew it would be 3 courses and we all had ideas about what big guns we wanted to keep in store, in hope of that final place.  I was so proud to see Tim make burgers and noodles, as I know this is the food that sings from his heart.  And didn't it just!

We often had so little time to develop a menu, that some dishes were barely practised, or often only having had the chance to make one or two components.  It was terrifying not knowing what something was going to look like all together on a plate.  A clear case in point being my posh dessert at Woburn Abbey.  I watch that back and find myself thinking, stop, stop...  no more things on the plate!  There was enough kulfi to feed a family in that one portion, never mind several puddings in one dish.  Lesson learned.

So my final menu would have been something along these lines:

StarterCrispy beancurd filled with spicy vermicelli noodles & beansprouts with a sesame chilli glaze, served with a Tom Yum style tea (hot & sour soup with lily buds, shitake, woodear & black moss)

MainSmokey tempeh rendang served with lime rice, crispy watercress & snake beans, and tumeric wafers

DessertSticky mango samosas served with a ginger & pistachio brulee

And no, it would not have been the winning menu by any stretch.  Because Tim is a demi god when it comes down to creative cooking.  And it's funny to see now, after Sara and Tom raised their game so much, that the menus in my head at the time would never have stood up to any of their final dishes.  But it won't stop me serving it on my restaurant menu when that time comes.

I haven't got round to testing or developing these dishes, so I can't post any recipes yet.  But I will in the coming weeks.  Also on the agenda is a first attempt at making thai cup cakes, a kind of gooey centred coconutty breakfast snack (from David Thompson's Thai Street Food, just LOVING this book. The recipes and photographs are very special).  The cakes are clearly a lot more complicated than the vendors make it look.  And you need a special pan which is proving a bugger to find.  I've started a list called "reasons why I need to go on a food research trip back to Asia".  Needing a pan is surely as good a reason as any ;0)

But perhaps not this week.  This week I have some very important work experience to attend to.  To which I intend to commit every bit of focus I can muster and learn as much as possible.  Hugely exciting and hope to blog more about it later...