Indian food for beginners: the Biryani night

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It’s been a while since I last posted about my Indian food experiments, mostly because we haven’t hosted a curry night since moving. This one was very much a spur of the moment; apparently I’m an impulsive cook, in as much as I try to make the most of my ‘I really fancy cooking’ moments and invite someone as soon as possible, preferably before the creative rush has faded. In the space of one afternoon, I went from ‘I don’t know what we’re having for dinner’ to ‘let’s have a guest over and eat chicken biryani I’ve made from scratch’. Because I like to live on the edge, there was no chicken in the house so I prepared everything hoping Badgerman would come back from his band practice early enough with the chicken…

I love hosting around food.  We were in excellent company and I think chicken biryani might be my favourite. I don’t know what it is about a good meal that relaxes people, but it’s always helpful to gather people around a focal point, and food always works, whether it’s crisps or a barbecue. It does help when the recipe is solid and basically fool-proof as well, and again The Spicery didn’t disappoint. I’ll be forever surprised by how glossy their chutneys turn out, and I would never have guessed the rose petals on top of the rice would be anything but overkill. Seriously, why would you want to make rice glamorous? The answer is simple actually: because it works.

biryani ingredients

chicken biryani ingredients (minus the chicken)

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the tomato chutney and chicken marinade

the tomato chutney and chicken marinade

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.

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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.

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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.

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

Indian Food For Beginners – An Experiment

 

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When it comes to birthdays, some people are really easy to buy for. Some others… are not. And so it is that when Badgerman’s birthday comes around, I have a really hard time finding him a suitable gift. He doesn’t really like birthdays and he never wants anything, or when he does, it’s invariably a £400 electric guitar pedal, and we can’t afford that. I find the whole thing bewildering. I NEVER run out of ideas; there are so many great things out there, be it a kitchen gadget, a piece of jewelry (not diamonds either, anyone for stacking bracelets?), a DVD or an Amazon gift card so I can buy All The Books. And I’m barely scratching the surface of all the awesome things I could want for my birthday.

So imagine my conundrum this year when I had to find a present for his 40th birthday. It is a milestone birth date and I wanted it to be personal and memorable, however I was faced with the reality that it also needed to be, let’s put it bluntly, as cheap as possible, because these are the times we are currently living in as a family. If it ain’t necessary and/or financially reasonable, however much we may feel we ‘deserve it’ and ‘it’s a big birthday’, it would be irresponsible for us to buy it when we are barely solvent at the best of times.

This is when I hit my favourite online gift shop: Not On The High Street. It’s a gathering place for a large number of independent UK companies, their offerings are super quirky and inventive and they cater for all budgets. One of the best things about the website is also how they arrange items by theme, so for Badgerman, I knew I should be able to find something in either the Music or Food sections.

It is whilst browsing through the website that I came across a small company called The Spicery. As per their name, they sell fresh spices and herbs, which you can buy in various size packaging. But they also sell them in a unique way in recipe kits and subscription boxes. All the recipes on the website looked appetizing and I immediately fell in love with the idea of signing Badgerman up for a monthly box.

The boxes come with all the recipes needed to cook a dinner for four from scratch (a main and either sides or a dessert) and all the spices required to create it (including rare spices), weighed to the recipe requirements. I also checked the other ingredients needed and they were all bog-standard staple items which you would be able to find in your local supermarket without problems. There are a number of options to choose from, first between World Kitchen or Friday Night Curry, and then once you’ve settled on one, you can select either the Discovery Box (for the adventurous – Ethiopian Doro Wat?!), The Favourites Box a.k.a the classics (Bhuna Curry Night!) or the Vegetarian option (Mexican Tomato & Pasilla Chilli Tortilla). It was also helpful that the ‘present’ itself came in the form of a voucher to be redeemed online, leaving the decision of which option to go for to the birthday boy!

Badgerman loves Indian food and I wasn’t surprised when he went for the Curry Night option (after much deliberation, I think he wanted everything). He was a regular at his local curry house when he was a university student in Leicester. I, on the other hand, had never had a curry before I moved to England and I am generally not a fan of spicy food. You couldn’t find a couple more at odds in this area. But, hey, not only was it not my birthday I was buying for, but I thought this would be a great challenge for me. Cooking with spices is something I know nothing about and find quite daunting, and I was attracted to the idea of stepping out of my comfort zone to try my hand at something different, especially if the fearsome process of sourcing spices I’ve never heard of was removed from the equation. Plus, I knew Badgerman would love it and we’d get to have a fun dinner party with friends. What’s not to like?

This is an ideal experiment for me and, I hope you’ll agree, also for the blog. I will chronicle my foray into Indian food – I have only made two vaguely Indian recipes using basic curry powder before so I am pretty much a complete novice – and I’ll let you know how I get on, complete with pretty pictures of the end products!

Last week, we received the first box in the post and we have a date booked with friends in a couple of weeks. So for our September experiment, I will be making Tandoori chicken and sides. I can’t wait!

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Note: I paid for this out of my own money and was not asked to write a review at all. All opinions are entirely my own, I just thought it would be a fun and exciting project.