Vegetable Samosa Pie

Music: http://youtu.be/v8ExELkCBiE

Drink: As much cheap gin as you can handle.

INGREDIENTS:
1 onion, thinly sliced

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 bird’s eye chilli, deseeded and minced

A piece of ginger as big as your eye

1/2 tsp each of garam masala, turmeric, hot curry powder, cumin seed, coriander seed and fennel seed

2 cardamom pods, deseeded 

2 medium size potatoes, peeled and diced

2 carrots, peeled and diced

1 long red pepper, chopped

2 handfuls frozen peas

Handful of coriander leaves, chopped

1 375g pack puff pastry

Olive oil for frying

1 beaten egg for pastry wash
METHOD:

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so bear with me…

After-school and extra-curricular activities are all very well, but I ain’t no tiger dad. (1) Thursdays present a dilemma at dinner as I’ve usually accompanied Number Two son to his swimming lesson and we will need to eat within half an hour of returning home to prevent us turning into intolerable brats. The children look forward to pasta and pesto as a rare treat but I’m after something altogether more substantial.

I don’t know what it is about swimming that turns me into a raging, intolerant monster. The gym is a place of mystery to me. If there is an etiquette or credo, I didn’t receive the memo. I thought at first that I was allergic to other people’s testosterone as I regarded the men walking around as if they’d just crapped their pants or that their genitalia was made of some impossibly heavy metal. Perhaps it’s part of their fitness regime?

(“Yeah, I’ve just been to the gym. I lost two pounds but I’ve had to chuck my shorts. If I could lose my three-stone platinum penis I’d be at my target weight”.)

That locker-room mentality jars horribly, as you may shudder to recall school changing-rooms and the pant-hoots of youth gone bad. But it’s not just the sleeve-tattooed yahoos that grind my goat and gets my gears. Yesterday I was ploughing my lonely furrow up a lane in the pool when I was joined by a lady in her seventies. Fair enough, I thought. It’s quite busy. As I reached the end I turned ’round to see that she’d been joined by two of her mates. There they were, bobbing and chatting like a grey pod of OAP orcas, quite unconcerned by my huffing approach as I vented my blowhole. I had to stand to pass them, muttering my sorrys and excuse me’s. They never looked the side I was on. I gave up and retreated to the sauna, dreaming about day-passes for Dignitas.

Faced with these iniquities and discourtesies, I need to plan ahead for a massive intake of calories to soak up the anger and resentment that attempting 32 lengths usually engenders, hence the samosa pie. As with most Indian cooking in this country, it’s a hybrid bastardisation of the original dish, which is why I’ve toned down the spice element. You want a warmth and a hint of Eastern mystery rather than a slap in the chops reminding you that you’re eating A CURRY PIE, albeit one that Pound Bakery regulars would bridle at.

I suppose you could make your own pastry, if you’re a show-off. I haven’t got pastry hands. Warm hands, cold heart, see? Since taking redundancy I feel like a jackpot winner in the time lottery but so many people do it so much better I’ll leave it to Jus-Rol to sort me out.

Start by dicing the spuds and steaming them until they’ve got a tiny bit of bite to them. They’ll cook again in the oven and you don’t want mash. Whilst the potatoes are cooking, get the pastry out of the fridge.

Warm a frying pan and toast your spices (minus the powdered elements). When they’ve started to pop and release their fragrance, tip them into a bowl or a passing child’s cupped palm then add some olive oil and add the onions, stirring and cooking til soft then add the garlic, chilli and ginger. Cook and stir for a couple of minutes, then add the garam masala, turmeric and curry powder. Give it a good stir and cook til you can smell that ghost of the Raj then tip in your fried spice, carrot, pepper, peas and cooked potatoes, making sure to coat everything in spicy goodness.

Let this mix cook for a while then take it off the heat and allow it to cool. No good will come of applying hot filling to cold pastry. Sogginess will ensue. When the mixture has cooled sufficiently, unroll your pastry sheet and spread your filling. Brush the edges with beaten egg and roll up any way you see fit, then wash all pastry with the remaining egg. You could make this recipe vegan by omitting the egg wash, but I won’t be seen to pander to extremists. Bung it into the oven at 190C for twenty-five minutes or until it reaches your required level of done-ness. Guaranteed to cure your hard-won misanthropy, if only temporarily.

(1) https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiger_mother

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Cream of Celery Soup.

Cream of Celery Soup.

Drink: Fizzy Watter

Music: That weird keyboard version of Wachet Auf by J.S. Bach that Kenny Everett used to perform his mime sequences to.

Ingredients:

1 head of celery, trimmed, washed and chopped
1 mild onion, diced
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 litre vegetable stock (I used Marigold Swiss Bouillon)
100 ml crème fraîche
A handful of parsley, chopped (some leaves left to garnish)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
Freshly ground salt and black pepper

It was a dark and stormy night. There was a head of celery lurking in the fridge, limply succumbing to old age and cold. There was half a pot of crème fraîche nestling beside it, threatening to become rimed with green mold. I hate throwing food away almost as much as I hate this spell checker attempting to transform crème fraîche into crime franchise. Do not add 100mls of Val McDermid. It will spoil the broth, y’ken?
The hatred of food waste is probably a hangover from a childhood spent pushing food around a plate in a disinterested manner whilst being reminded that “there are children starving in Africa”. The best comeback to this I heard recently was, “Well, send it to them, I don’t want it”. Wish I’d thought of that. Ah, l’esprit de l’escalier.

Anyway, my Mam was right. Wasting food is a terrible sin so whip it into a soup that you didn’t know you wanted until you made it. It will make all the more poignant your childhood bleatings about not having Findus Crispy Pancakes like everybody else when you remember you didn’t have a fridge in the house. Or a freezer, for that matter. What am I going on about? Who am I talking to?

Ah, there you are. So, remembering that celery is a negative-calorie food (it’s not the chewing, it’s the digesting, apparently) you can make this soup with a clear conscience and a smug grin.
Making soup is so easy it seems almost insulting to provide the method, but I better had in case any bumba-clarts are attempting to sieve the stock or grate the crime franchise. There it goes again, the intolerable ARSE of a mechanism.

Eating soup is a different matter. I was once in a fairly classy restaurant with my then girlfriend and some friends of hers I had met for the first time that night. Desperate not to commit any faux pas or breach the etiquette of such an occasion, I took pains to select the correct spoon, tipped the bowl and dipped my spoon. Raising it, there was a lull in conversation as I pursed my lips and instead of merely blowing, I whistled at the soup, projecting it all over the table. We broke up soon after. And to this day, I have never eaten another crouton.

Method:

Prepare the celery, onion and garlic. Melt the butter in the oil in a large pan. Sweat the veg for fifteen minutes or so with the lid on, stirring occasionally to alleviate the boredom.
Add the stock, stir, replace lid and simmer for fifteen minutes or until the celery is soft.
Using a hand blender, whisk until smooth. Check and alter seasoning. Look out of the window at some sparrows and a dove.
Add the (easy now) crème fraîche and blend again. Stir in parsley, et voila. Ton potage, mon brave. It’s equally nice warm or chilled, depending on which season the North of England has inflicted upon you.

IMG_0589
Attention Soup Virgin. It should look like this.

Aubergine and mushroom tikka masala.

Aubergine and mushroom tikka masala.

Cooked on : 21/5/15
Music: Jazz on 3 via BBC iPlayer
Drink: Ethiopian Coffee

I do 90% of the cooking at home as my partner prefers it this way, as do I. She is Indian and enjoys the taste of home but has a problem with the amount of ghee used in restaurants, which means I have attempted to produce authentic versions of takeaway meals in the kitchen without the swimming fat and cartoon red of most dishes.
This one is pretty much on the money, even though nothing is marinated, and given the fact that tikka masala is an Anglo-Indian hybrid.
Those other Anglo-Indian constructs, my sons, won’t touch it. This is due to bad parenting. It means they can enjoy fish-finger sandwiches or pasta and pesto on curry nights, then get back to destroying the known Universe or whatever it is they get up to. Hmm, must check one day.
I’ve intentionally left the amount of ginger unmeasured, as I’m assuming you’ll use as much or as little as you fancy. I get slightly riled when chefs say to use a piece of ginger as big as your thumb. Whose thumb? Contents may vary. Have you seen my thumbs? They’re tiny. Jamie Oliver’s thumbs may be the size of my forearm. I don’t know. I might start using other arbitrary measurements based on physiology. A kneecap of butter. A chin of thyme. An ear of corn. You get the idea.

Anyway, try it. You might like it.

Serves 4. (With rice, naan, chapattis)

1 large aubergine
250-400g mushrooms (I use a mix of chestnut and field)
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
Piece of fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
2 bird’s eye chillies, sliced (de-seeded according to taste)
1tsp garam masala
3/4 tsp hot curry powder
500g passata
Juice of 1 lemon
Handful of fresh coriander to garnish
Olive oil
Freshly ground salt and black pepper
Natural yoghurt

Method:

Heat the oven to 190c/375f
Clean and half or quarter the mushrooms (leave them quite large as they shrink on cooking)
Slice the aubergine into 1″ thick discs, then quarter.
Place mushrooms and aubergine in oven-proof dish, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, toss gently then cover with lid or foil and bake for 45 minutes or so. Stir occasionally to prevent burning.

Coarsely chop onion, garlic, ginger and chillies. Warm a pan on the hob with a glug of olive oil then soften the onions for a few minutes before adding the garlic, ginger and chillies. Keep stirring to prevent burning. After a few minutes when this mix is becoming aromatic, add the garam masala and curry powder, stirring well so everything is coated. Cook for a couple of minutes then add the passata. Simmer for a few minutes until you’re confident everything is cooked through, then add the lemon juice. Check and adjust seasoning then remove from heat.
Using a stick blender, whizz the sauce until fairly smooth then taste. If it’s too spicy, stir in a tbsp of natural yoghurt. Taste again. Add another tbsp of yoghurt (and another if you must – no more than three in total, otherwise it’ll taste like a Muller Korma Corner).
Remove the mushroom and aubergine mix from the oven and check the aubergine is cooked through. Drain the juices and add the sauce, mixing gently but thoroughly. Cover the dish and turn the oven down to 160c/320f and heat through for a few minutes. Remove from the oven, stir in some fresh chopped coriander, garnish with more coriander leaves and serve with naan, chapattis or basmati rice.

Fear, baby.

Inspired, or perhaps compelled, by the unfolding events in Ukraine and Putin’s sabre-rattling combined with Russia’s apparent nostalgia for Cold War-style expansionism, I decided to put a few words to (virtual) paper regarding the fear and memories of fear this has provoked.

My secondary school was roughly 20 miles from Sellafield. Or Calder Hall. Or Windscale. Each new leak, accident or proto-meltdown initiated a revisionist gallop to rename and rebrand the reprocessing plant situated on Cumbria’s westernmost tip. As teenagers we were keenly aware that this ready-made dirty bomb would be a prime target for a Soviet SS-20 launched from some delightful wooded glade in the taiga. A direct hit would render a large part of Britain uninhabitable for millennia, notwithstanding attacks elsewhere. 

Our broadly left-leaning, Guardianista, CND badge- wearing teaching staff (see, I can do clichė as well as the next, erm…thing) would propound this almost definite version of events on a tiresomely regular basis. Our ordained RE teacher showed us the terrifying BBC nuclearmentary (see, I can do neologism too) Threads and then led the discussion afterwards with a kind of weary certainty that all this would come to pass. He’d be ok though, having pre-booked a seat at God’s right hand.
We were also subjected to the pale US imitation The Day After but this lacked the necessary impact and relevance (they were Yanks, weren’t they?).
Another thing that served to remind us of imminent apocalypse was the constant RAF exercises that sent our brave boys in Phantom, Jaguar and Harrier screaming overhead on an unnervingly regular basis, the monotony only broken by the occasional sortie of Hercules transports that we were told were conveying Polaris warheads to the Faslane naval base in Scotland.
The RAF sought, by way of recompense, to ameliorate this daily intrusion of air power which served to terrify babies, horses and baby horses by staging some, erm, more flyovers. A personal appearance by the Red Arrows accompanied by their patriotic chemtrails, followed by a Spitfire and a Hurricane. Sometimes it rained and they didn’t show. Take that, Ivan.
Combine this with a torrent of media-inspired megadeath-mongering, steeped in anarcho-punk’s singalong toe-tappers such as Nagasaki Nightmare (even chart acts were muscling in on this territory cf Einstein A-Go Go and FGTH’s Two Tribes) and our fast-approaching doom seemed very real and close.
Fast forward a few years and Mikhail Gorbachev’s twin philosophies of glasnost and perestroika seemed destined to part the Iron Curtain and sweep away decades of fear and usher in a gleaming new world of business opportunities and global fraternity. Ahem. I recall vividly the tears streaming down my face as the Berlin Wall was torn down (or chipped away. See also the toppling of Saddam’s statue. Why is revolution so goddamn time consuming?) and the Ceausescus were led away to their summary execution. The tears were an expression of happiness that generations of oppression and enmity were coming to an end but I admit that there was also an atavistic element of self-preservation at play. Thank God they’re not going to nuke us now.
As the world settled down to a concerted effort to make everything like everything else and former firebrands were lulled and sustained by homogeneity and ersatz luxury, the evident need for humanity to have somebody or something to hate again rose. We are at heart a restless species; the constant need for improvement and progress , even if it kills us, is strong. Step forward fundamental Islam. Let them take up the torch. Hello 9/11.
I’m well aware that in citing global terrorism I’m telling you nothing new, it’s just that I’m not feeling particularly, well, terrorised in the same way as I was/am by the Soviet war machine or even Irish nationalist groups. The Axis of Evil was a convenient catch-all used to inform the US’s aim of Total War.
So we come nearly full circle, as Putin flexes his Photoshopped pecs and directs a steely come-hither gaze to whomever feels hard enough. It doesn’t appear that anyone, despite much chatter and anti-oligarch tipped sanctions, has the stomach to take the fight to the newly-resurgent Bear and so we wait to see if an emboldened Russian premier decides he’d like to be holidaying by the Black Sea or the Baltic come August. Just keep your finger away from that button, Vlad.