Indian Food For Beginners: October Butter Chicken Night

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For his 40th birthday, my gift to Badgerman was to host a Curry Night for four, once a month for the next 6 months, cooking everything from scratch using the recipes and fresh spices provided by The Spicery. As I am a complete novice at making Indian food and generally using spices, this was definitely going to be a labour of love and also the perfect foil for a blog series, which I introduced a couple of months ago.

My baptism of fire came in the form of a Tandoori Night in September. Today is the second installment.

I’m really pleased that I have started this journey into using spices with what are considered to be simple classics like tandoori and butter chicken. I don’t know how I would have felt if I had to jump right in with, say, the Lamb Dhansak that’s coming up at the end of November.

A NEW DESIGN

Before I get into the dishes proper, I just have a couple of thoughts about the new design, which was introduced this month.

new spicery design 271014

Instead of a cardboard box, I received a colourful folder made of sturdy plastic designed to contain the recipes and easily fit on a shelf with other cookery books, as well as cunningly double up as recipe holder. I think it’s a very attractive piece of kit.

There is one flaw that is hard to pass by, and that is in the design of the recipe cards themselves. Instead of a rectangle of card, it folds into a ‘V’ shape that you cut to open to access the spices. Unfortunately, I lost a couple of lines of the method at the bottom as they ran into the fold I was supposed to cut so it’s a bit of a mess. Still it looks fab and on the whole works really well.

spicery design photo 271014

THE COOKING EXPERIENCE

I really liked this one, and got to cook Butter Chicken, Kachumbar Salad, Gobi Aloo, Pilau Rice and Raita.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a dish called Butter Chicken. I’d never heard of it before and it sounded a bit boring to be honest. Badgerman was equally confused and thought it would be similar to one of the heavier cream-based dishes like korma or passanda.  It turns out that butter chicken is what you do with your leftover tandoori and it’s amazing. There’s butter in it as could be expected, but also yoghurt from the tandoori marinade, ginger, garlic, tomatoes, a little bit of cream thrown in at the end and of course lots of other spices, in particular fenugreek, which I had never tasted before and was really delicious.

butter chicken pics

And this here is why this experiment is so satisfying to me. In the process of cooking these dishes, I am handling spices I’ve never heard of, let alone cooked with: fenugreek, Kashmiri chilli, amchur, ajowan, nigella seeds… Granted, I didn’t prepare them myself, but at least now I know what they smell like. I also cooked cauliflower for the first time in my adult life, having previously decided that life was too short to ever eat such hideous fare, and it was fine of course. I’ll still only ever eat it in a curry though, or at a push in a cheese sauce made by someone else.

I had a bit of a hairy moment when I realised that the chilli had completely split whilst cooking and I feared that the Gobi Aloo would be way too hot for me but my mouth survived pretty much unscathed.

IN SUMMARY

Badgerman and our two lovely guests (who provided ice cream for dessert, yay!) all loved this curry. This is definitely one I would do again. I also really appreciated the addition of the crunchy salad and raita to cut through the richness of the dish. The Pilau rice was nothing like what I usually make using the basic supermarket spices, and I didn’t ruin it, which is pretty good going considering my track record of turning rice into mush.

We finished everything off with the ice cream, and our guests left happy, which is all you can hope for, isn’t it?

On another note, Date Night anyone?

The Spicery have introduced a new Date Night deal that’s already got me thinking about next year’s Valentine’s dinner. The kit includes the recipes and spices to prepare a three-course meal for two consisting of a starter, main and dessert. Next month is Arabian Night with a mezze starter, marinated lamb with saffron rice and a rosebud and cardamom milk pudding. All I can think is: ‘I want to make that!’. That should warm the heart of their marketing director.

A cheese-free alternative to pizza

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The other day, I was reflecting on how difficult it must be to enjoy a good pizza if you don’t like cheese. I tend to think that tomato-based pizzas aren’t very interesting or tasty unless there is a generous amount of mozzarella on top but that’s just me.

It’s been a while since I have shared a recipe, and this time I was inspired to do so by a close friend who never gets to eat pizza because she hates any and all cheeses. So when we were in France in the summer and I was reminded of this whilst perusing the supermarket shelves, I was determined to try this recipe out at home.

One of the traditional dishes of the Alsace near the border with Germany is the Flammeküche, or Flammenküche, also known as tarte flambée (which is a tart cooked in a wood-fire oven, not the intriguing ‘pie outbreak’ Google Translate would like it to be). It is a type of pizza with a white base, topped with caramelised onions and smoked lardons and customarily baked in a wood-fire oven. Its stand-out characteristics are:

  • The base is made of cream and yoghurt: yes it works!
  • Not only does it not usually have cheese on it, it doesn’t even need it, which as a cheese and pizza aficionado I was a bit suspicious about originally, but I was positively surprised by the outcome.
  • The traditional dough is made without a raising agent.

The end result was delicious although I wasn’t totally sold on the dough. I must have done something wrong somewhere as it was sticky and difficult to work with, and when cooked, it was, well, quite ‘doughy’. Badgerman is a big fan of doughy and loved it but I think I will be a bit more careful with the amount of water I add in the future. If you’re unsure about dough in general you can still make this very successfully using pizza dough or a shop-bought mix and spreading it as thinly as you can although the end result won’t be quite the traditional way.

flammekuche pics 261014

INGREDIENTS

For the dough

  • 250 g plain flour
  • 50 ml rapeseed oil
  • 1 small glass of lukewarm water
  • A pinch of salt

For the topping

  • 60 g of crème fraiche
  • 50 g of plain yoghurt (I used Total yoghurt; this is the nearest equivalent to the French ‘fromage blanc’ I have been able to find)
  • 1 large onion
  • 250 g smoked lardons (or streaky bacon cut into thick matches)
  • 12 g corn flour
  • A pinch of nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper

METHOD

  1. Mix the flour and salt in a big bowl, add the oil and start to work the dough with warm water. You may not need all the water so add it slowly and see how it goes. Work the dough until it no longer sticks to your hands and put it aside.
  1. Cut the onion into thin strips or rings and brown them slowly in a frying pan with a little rapeseed oil, then add the smoked lardons and cook them for two minutes. Put aside.
  1. Mix the crème fraiche with the plain yoghurt, corn flour, nutmeg, pepper and a little salt. The lardons will add saltiness so don’t add too much.
  1. Pre-heat the oven as high as it will go (typically 240°C or 250°C – thermostat 8). Spread the dough as thinly as possible on a baking tray covered in baking paper. Spread the cream mix evenly over it, top with the onion and lardons and bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

You can eat it as you would a pizza with a green salad on the side.

Indian Food For Beginners: September Tandoori Night

Tandoori Night Sept 2014

For his 40th birthday, my gift to Badgerman was to host a Curry Night for four, once a month for the next 6 months, cooking everything from scratch using the recipes and fresh spices provided by The Spicery. As I am a complete novice at making Indian food and generally using spices, this was definitely going to be a labour of love and also the perfect foil for a blog series, which I introduced last month. Below is the first installment.

We finally hosted our first Curry Night dinner party yesterday evening. I was a bit anxious because I would be cooking this entire dinner with the guests already in attendance but as it turned out, I shouldn’t have worried: it wasn’t at all difficult to make and was a complete success. So let’s just see what happened, shall we?

The dishes, the sights, the smells, the experience

 

I made Tandoori Chicken, Dum Aloo (a potato and tomato dish), Cucumber Raita, a Tomato and Onion Salad and Mango Chutney. I also made some rice on the side and we bought some Naans and Poppadoms.

The results were pretty phenomenal. The mango chutney in particular looked stunning with rich golden colours and an attractive gloss. It was also really simple to make (if you have the spices, that is).

Mango chutney

All the recipes were very easy to follow. Preparation included, it took only 1 hour and 30 minutes to make everything from start to finish. All the dishes were delicious and very fragrant without setting fire to my mouth. I am a complete lightweight when it comes to heat, and there was only a slight kick here and there (I did not break the long chillies into pieces on purpose, although I could have done). Badgerman, who can and will withhold a much stronger heat than I ever could, later admitted he was grateful that he would not be getting any curry sweats after the meal, as he is a teacher and that’s not something you want to burden kids with on a Monday morning.

I only had two issues, if you can call them that. One was with the mango chutney. I started the cooking process at medium heat and it probably was a bit too low and wasn’t caramelising or thickening the chutney properly. When I did turn up the heat, it transformed the dish into a very beautiful thing.

To make the Dum Aloo, I first had to peel 1 kg of baby new potatoes. Have you tried to peel a potato the size of a golf ball? It’s a tedious pain in the arse, that’s what it is. On the other hand, my friend Jenny was wonderful and despite being the guest, lent a hand so we got the job done in no time. Other than that, it was actually my favourite dish of all. I cooked the potatoes and tomatoes in a large pan and the spiced water reduced and turned into a thick sauce in 30 minutes. I will definitely make this one again.

In Summary

The whole thing was superb, very fragrant without being too hot (for my taste). I can’t wait until next month when I make Butter Chicken, which is apparently ‘a more sophisticated version of chicken tikka masala’.

tandoori spread Sept 2014

What I’m Into – September 2014

What I'm Into Sept 2014

How long ago were the summer holidays again? Only one month? September has been busy, stressful and physically challenging, though thankfully we’ve also had some good news and great weather. Still I’m glad October is here and I can give Baked Pumpkin Cheese Fondue a try. It’s totally going to happen.

Anyway, I’m joining with Leigh Kramer and looking back at all the things that have been going on in my life in September.

What I’m Watching

Regular Shows: Dr Who, The Great British Bake-Off

I’ve lost interest in both The 100 and Under the Dome, which have been increasingly underwhelming and ludicrous as time went on.

I’m having the hardest time restarting Friends after my August hiatus, what’s up with that?

I’ve binge watched Outlander, season 3 of Once Upon A Time and last Sunday’s episode, and season 3 of Parks & Rec. Don’t ask how I’ve been able to watch these shows that are not currently showing in the UK. But basically, I loved every minute of every single one of them (especially Outlander, see below).

What I’m Reading

I finally found A Dance With Dragons: Part 1at the library and devoured it in a couple of days. Great book, can’t wait to read Part Two.

My blog Reader filled with reviews and Tumblrs about new show Outlander (Cross Stitch, UK), which was rewarding and frustrating in equal measures at the time (before I found a way to watch it). It is the TV version of my favourite book series but one which I tend to only recommend to a select few due to some of the content in the same way that I don’t recommend Game of Thrones the TV show to everyone either. It’s a matter of taste but some people find the violence and the naughty bits (even in a marital context) too graphic. Or maybe it’s because I remember I was 16 when I read the first book and my mum’s eyes popped a little when she tried it after me. I’ve genuinely enjoyed all the recaps and gif sets I found online despite all the spoilers but since I’ve read the (enormous) books about 10 times each, it was just a lot of fun. I am on the library waiting list to read the latest one (number 8 in the series!) Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. I’ll buy it for sure but due to lack of space on the bookshelves I’ll be waiting for the paperback.

What I’m Listening To

Let it goooooo, let it gooooo! Because Luciole is 15 months and can sing along to some of the chorus – minus most of the words but you can still make it out. Da da GO! Da da GO!

Favourite Picture

20140914_boozy luciole

I know I shouldn’t like this one as much as I do. Badger beer is very tasty, I can’t begrudge her that.

What I’ve Been Doing

  • I dove right back into the swing of things, also known as ‘I don’t remember what it’s like to be on holiday and it’s only been a day‘.
  • I met up with friends in the famed town that is Romford, Essex and ate too much cheese, cake and Haribos.
  • I started to clear stuff up at home. I promise, I did. I even bought a table at a baby stuff nearly-new sale for next Saturday.
  • In completely unexpected news, I am now on Tumblr. I had zero intention of doing this, right to the second when I pressed the create button. Tumblr is a weird place full of very immersed fandom members and it scares me a little. I’m really only on the periphery and might never use it properly but I love commenting on things and it bugged me that the only way to do that on Tumblr is to have an account with them. So now I have one, for better or for worse.

At Home on the Blog

I finally wrote that post about our passport difficulties for Luciole, and how it really was a miracle that we got it in time for our holidays.

I’m going to get six parcels full of fresh spices in the post over the next six months and start my Beginner’s Journey into Indian Curries from scratch, all in honour of Badgerman’s 40th birthday. Between Luciole being ill, my cut finger and other things, I’ve not yet hosted the first one, which was due this month but you can expect a post in the next couple of weeks. That is, unless the roof caves in or something similarly disastrous.

And then of course, I cut my thumb, went to the emergency department and subsequently sang the praises of my super sharp knives

Ah, yes, I discovered Washi tape and used it in some clever ways. If you’re into craft, it’s a handy little thing to have. If you’re not, well, it’s a bit weird but pretty.

In case you haven’t noticed, I updated my blog design! It was long overdue and it’s not perfect but it will do, don’t you think? I unveiled it with a post raving about this fab design website called canva, which I’m not linking to here because you should all totally check it out, but only once you’ve read the post.

Luciole was ill last week and I talked about how everyone in the UK (and probably the US and 75% of the rest of the world) gets freaked out when they hear the word suppository. It sure is a culture clash.

Last but not least, another post about cultural differences: you think you know how things work, and then preschool happens and it’s a whole new world of discomfort.

And that’s it folks! Check out all the other September entries over at:

Note: this post contains affiliate links; if you click through, any purchase you make supports this site.

I have ‘issues’ with the English pre-school system

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It’s no surprise to anyone who has spoken to me in the last few weeks that I can’t get my head around the English pre-school system. I really don’t get it: the whole way it is organised – or not organised – is a mystery to me. Before anyone thinks this is going to  be a ranty post dissing the whole thing and praising the French way of doing it, I am not going to do that. I’m happy to accept that I’m probably at fault in this instance because it’s been by far one of the biggest culture shocks I’ve experienced in years. And yeah, it’s at least in part because I am bitter about the fact that I failed to get Little Girl a space at a pre-school for the beginning of September. So I’m just going to explain the differences that struck me most so you can maybe see why it’s been a head-doer for me.

In France, school starts at three years old. Before you start primary school at 6 years old, you spend three years in the school system going through the Maternelle; they are called small, middle and big sections. Whilst the first year, like pre-school, is not compulsory, most children attend from day one, most likely because why wouldn’t they? In terms of what happens in the classroom, it is very much like an English pre-school, the environment is designed for them to learn by play. The main difference that I can see is that as it is officially ‘school’, so children are guaranteed a place in the school in their catchment area. You get your letter, you put down your preferences, you wait, the end. Not so in England.

I was astounded when I discovered that I should have put Little Girl on a pre-school waiting list from about 6 months old if I hoped to guarantee her place when she would start the term after her third birthday. Astounded. I knew nothing about it at the time of course, what with still being in shock that I’d given birth to an actual real baby and it was still alive and, goodness me, already moving on to the weaning stage. So when I was asked where I thought she’d go to pre-school when she was about 18 months old, I felt super-stressed and didn’t have a clue what to do about it, so I just dug my head in the sand a bit and thought I had plenty of time to figure it out. It was the wrong decision to make, as I found out this summer.

At the end of last year, I bit the bullet and visited places, because you have to do that yourself, and you have to decide what the best fit for your child might be. For me, based on my zero experience in what preschool is supposed to look like, was really disconcerting. But I did visit a few and got my list of important things to look for down to three:

Safety: my first visit to a preschool, on a rainy day, was fine until I had to go down a metal fire escape ladder to get to the playground, the very same steps the children would also have to follow to play outside. I feared for my life, and decided that maybe, I did have a faint idea about where I didn’t want my child to go.

Sanitation: I clearly visited the wrong day, because throughout the 30 minutes I spent in that second place, the smell of poo was so seriously overpowering that it put me right off my lunch and that preschool as well.

Cost: another thing that surprised and shocked me a little. You often have to pay an administrative fee to put your child on a waiting list, and it doesn’t guarantee a place. It can be as little as £10, but even that adds up quickly if you want to up your chances by putting your child’s name down in more than one place. And then, because pre-school is literally ‘pre’ school, it is not actually free. The government only subsidises 15 hours a week, which is not very much at all, basically three mornings. A lot of places are nurseries that run all year round and only have a limited number of subsidised spaces. They will only offer 12 out of the 15 free hours because it’s more profitable that way, and you’re automatically at the bottom of their waiting list.

Unfortunately, this is what happened with Little Girl. I put her down at the one place I wanted her to go, a pre-school located in an actual school, with grounds and a distinct scholarly feel that I felt would better prepare her for when she goes to ‘proper school’ next year. Then we got the letter telling us she didn’t have a space for a September start in the middle of July, the week before the end of the term, thus giving us no chance to contact anyone to try and find a place elsewhere.

I left a few slightly deranged voicemails at one pre-school and then went off on holiday feeling like the worst mother in the whole world. And was reminded of it again when we got back and received an invitation to go to an open day at the pre-school she hadn’t gotten into; then felt even worse when she picked up the leaflet and said ‘look maman, it’s my school!’ in the most excited voice. I could have wept.

In the end, I’m happy to say that we eventually got a place at a preschool not five minutes away. I don’t really know how it happened, I think it might be another miracle if I’m honest. Little Girl started last Wednesday and loved it. She’s only there two mornings a week but they will add to it as soon as they are able.

The biggest thing that get me about the whole saga is that Little Girl is only going to be there for a few months. School officially starts at 4 years old and as an end-of-July baby, she will start next September. So this whole hassle, stress and disappointment was all for a measly 9 months of her life. So yes, I don’t really get it.

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