Wednesday, 28 September 2016

A tale of the the Spanish inner sole, an Italian slipper and a Beef Wellington

What is it with shoes and artesan bread?-Food and feet, if its the shoe that fits the foot I will buy it and wear it. I have to confess that while I won't cram my feet into shoes which are too small, if I really want a pair that are a shade too big, I'll happily pad them out with insoles.When purchasing an inner sole recently I noticed that there seems to be a certain similarity between slippers inner soles and some types of bread.Take for example Ciabatta. It was hailed in the nineties as the saviour of the Italian bread industry, and rocked the sandwich world globally.It soon became the Mother's Pride of the chattering British  classes and by the time Nessun Dorma rang out from Italia '90, it was one of the most popular of the new range of `exotic mediterranean breads´.
 Just take one look at it.For a start it´s a ridiculous shape.It's pointless slicing it as you would, say, a pan loaf for a sandwich - a pair of the resulting bread slivers would offer little shelter for your bacon or cheddar, and most fillings would slop wildly out of the sides.Yet slicing horizontally can be a risky business too, requiring advanced knife-skills to retain one's upper fingers. And then there's the name. If that's the shape of a slipper, then how did  beef wellington acquire its name when it is something I put on my feet when it's muddy outside.
The inventor of ciabatta Francesco Favaron, a baker from Verona, apparently looked at it and thought, 'What can I call it?' Then  thought that it was similar to his wife Andreina´s ciabatta( slipper ), so he called it 'ciabatta'.
There is so much you can do with ciabatta sandwich wise and supper-wise, and its great for rustling up a smart picnic item - Pan bagna.While on the lines of pressed sandwiches why not use your ciabatta to make a pressed panini for a quick and easy weekday supper.
Supper in a slipper -My Cubano Tuna Melt
400g (14oz can tuna, drained
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 red onion sliced
2 tomatoes sliced
1/2 cup spinach leaves
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 large flat breads

Put the tuna, lemon zest, and onion in a bowl with the mayonnaise and mix until just combined adding more mayo if it needs it. Slice the ciabatta in half  horizontally and make a bed of half the spinach leaves on it. Spread the mayonnaise mixture over the leaves followed by a layer of sliced tomatoes.Top with the rest of the spinach leaves and sprinkle the grated cheddar to cover. Put the tops back on the flat bread.  Heat a cast iron pan on medium low for about 3-5 minutes while you assemble the sandwich.
Put enough olive oil (you can use butter or veg. oil) in the pan, let it heat for a minute and gently place the sandwich in the  pan. Weigh down with whatever works for you. I use another cast iron pan and a set of weights, a handy tea kettle filled with water would do the same job.Cook low and slow, checking after about 3 minutes. Flip and repeat.
Eat and enjoy.

Another example is the artesan  Spanish crackers that look like inner soles.Spanish cuisine offers a wide variety of artisan bread and crackers, from Galician bread with its crisp crust and light, airy interior to classic 'picos' and pipas, to crunchy tortas de aceite and crackers coming in every shape, size and form.
In bars and cafes across Spain you will almost always find  'picos' , great with a bowl of olives and a glass of wine. These classic snacks are also a great crunchy accompaniment to soups, salads or tapenades.

Did you know that the first insoles were actually made by innkeepers, not shoemakers? Weary travelers often complained about tired, aching feet, so innkeepers developed insoles for travelers to put in their shoes to alleviate pain. The insoles were like matted pads that were made out of animal hair; nothing like the ones we use today,but looking very similar to the crackers that I spread my dips, jamon, muxama and soft cheeses on.
Anyone found any little shoe shaped breads ? -I´d love to hear from you.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Mango Chutney Goan Style

 Pure unaldulterated Goan mango chutney

Pickles and chutneys are the mainstay of the cuisine of the Indian sub-continent,unlike in the UK,where they are seen as a relish to be eaten with papadums in restaurants,followed by pickles and chutneys to be eaten with the main meal.
Mostly the fresh chutneys are eaten with snacks, etc. and used as dips or condiments.I served a fresh avocado chutney spread on crostini as one of the canapés for a recent Goan wedding celebration.I also served a Goan mango chutney which was remarked upon for its authenticity by one of the guests, a gentleman who  loves his food and certainly knows his kale from his Kholrabi.He noticed the colour not being anything at all like the commercially known brand, Sharwood’s, and not like the picture on any body else´s website for that matter either. I’ve got no idea how they make their chutney orange – as soon as I add the vinegar and the brown sugar, it is always blatantly obvious my chutney will be dark brown.But yes, artificial colourants, stabilizers and preservatives aside,its that through-the-roof deliciousness that makes a home made variety utterly chutterney.
Pickles and chutneys are supposed to add flavour and zest to the food you are eating, and for this most households take huge pride in their own recipes and secret ingredients. 
It is a tradition in every community to make chutneys and pickles from fruits and vegetables when they are in season,for the forthcoming year.I always turn my nose up at the Brazilian mangos, but today Portuguese mangos made their seasonal appearance in the market telling me its time to get that old preserving pan out again.Ardent cooks are seen making their selections in the raw mango season,for instance, knowing full well that the mangoes they desire will last only a few weeks before they are sold out. Those in the know will also have their eyes set on which carrots to buy for pickling or which radish is best.The art of Indian pickle and chutney making is mind boggling and limitless.Young turmeric,ginger, garlic,onions and several roots and tubers do not miss the scrutiny of the ever watchful chutney mary who will take a batch home to alter their compositions into delicious tongue-tingling and flavourful preserves.Different concoctions from the same fruit and of course that family speciality always to the fore.Their love of preserves is endless and as I said no meal is complete without some condiment on the table
Mango Chutney Goan Style 
1500g Mangoes (semi ripe but firm)
1kg sugar
250ml cider vinegar
8 cloves garlic
6tsp mustard seeds
4tbsp Red chilli powder
250g sultanas or raisins
3-4 tbsp Flor de sal
Peel and dice the mango
Put in alarge preserving pan with the sugar and 200ml cider vinegar and boil.
Pur-ee the ginger and garlic with the remaining vinegar and half the mustard seeds.
Once the mangoes,sugar and vinegar have come to the boil,add all the rest of the ingredients and continue boiling until the mangoes are soft and fully cooked.The consistency should be thick and jam like.
Decant into cleaned dried and sterilised jars while still hot or boiling and seal the jars.
Invert the jars for 1-2 minutes then cool upright.
Use as desired.Shelf life 2 years. 

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Not coconut shy - goan fish curry yesterday,even better today

Ask any self-respecting Goan what they would like as their last meal,and the answer will most likely be the nation´s favourite,– Xitt Codi,their famous fish curry. Whether Hindu, Catholic or Muslim, every Goan’s favourite meal is the humble Xitt Codi (pronounced as “sheath” and “co-dee”). Literally translated it means rice curry. And when we talk about curry in this context, we specifically mean fish curry, the ubiquitous bright orange curry lapped up across Goan homes and the rest of the world.This deliciously tangy curry is always cooked in larger quantities so that there’s always some left over because, as we all know, it tastes better the next day and the day after.In fact, the Goans love their fish curry so much that while having it for lunch, they are already dreaming of mopping it up with yesterday´s bread for breakfast the next morning. And they usually squabble over who gets dibs in on the “kaalchi codi” (yesterday’s curry).The Goan identity is rooted, among other things, in deep enjoyment of food and drink. A nostalgic Goan usually ends up reminiscing about the taste of their grandmothers' sorpotel (A spicy pork recipe which rightfully has its own fan base and most of the time is the centre of meal-time conversation in any Goan celebration).The pork vindaloo is also said to have been originated by the Portuguese, and Goa carries on the tradition. The Goan cuisine is an interesting mix of varied influences and is undoubtedly one of the most evolved cuisines of India. There are two separate traditions in Goan cuisine influenced by the respective religions of Hinduism and Christianity. Though the recipes and techniques are different, there are some points where they come together to produce culinary wonders.Xitt Codi is to be the focal point of the Goan wedding buffet we catered yesterday.Back in the spring when the wedding couple-to-be visited for a tasting menu of the buffet, the bride- to-be found the masala* a touch too grainy.The recipe I used stated grated coconut or fine coconut cream powder.In hindsight I think my dessicated coconut was not finely ground enough ( like granulated sugar vs.caster sugar), so for my next attempt I used  a coconut cream concentrate,this  produced the smoother more palatable and creamy result that was required.I am really looking forward to my “kaalchi codi” (yesterday’s curry)tonight.

My version of Xitt Codi - Goan Fish Curry
500g firm white fish ( monkfish, cod, hake, perch or tilapia) cut into chunks
if you can get it pomfret is the best
pinch of salt and turmeric

50g tamarind pulp
100ml water ( hot )
Oil as required
1 medium onion thinly sliced
2.5cm piece root ginger, finely shredded
2 green chillies, finely shredded 
500-600ml water or stock
2-3 Cokum or sour plums (if available )

8-10 red chillies ( select larger varieties with depth of colour )
1 level tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
6-8 thin slices of garlic
3cm piece root ginger
1/2 tsp turmeric
250g coconut cream concentrate
Clean the fish,wash and drain. Sprinkle with salt and a pinch of turmeric. Set aside.
Grind the masala ingredients with water in the blender until fine and smooth.Add water a little at a time and ensure that it does not become too runny but looks like a thick paste.
Soak the tamarind in the hot water for 1 hour, then pass through a strainer. Retain the pulp.
Take a heavy-bottomed casserole pan and add just enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan.
Heat the pan and when the oil forms a haze add the onion,ginger and green chilli.
Sauté for a while, but do not brown, and then add in the puréed masala. Sauté until the oil begins to escape from the sides again.Stir regularly to prevent sticking.The oil leaving signals the fact that the masala is cooked and absorbed. Blend the water or stock with the coconut concentrate and add to the masala allowing it to simmer.At this stage add the tamarind pulp and cokums if using.
Boil gently for 5 minutes or so and check the seasoning.Check the consistency and ensure it is not too thin, more like a pouring sauce. If needs be cook for a little while until you achieve the right consistency.
Now put the fish in and continue simmering without stirring for 2-4 minutes on a medium flame and bring gently to the boil.Turn off the heat,cover the pan and allow to rest for at least 5 minutes to allow the fish to cook well in the curry.
if the fish is allowed to cook in the heat of the curry it tends to get a perfect texture and will not break up. 
* What is a masala?
a masala is a combination of spices,condiments and herbs, puréed,blended or mixed together to form a basis for any preparation. In short if you were to mix two or three ingredients such as ginger, garlic chillies and cumin it would become a masala.if there is no specific recipe or methodology to follow and the blend is entirely your own,you have created your own masala.In indian cooking therecare several different kinds of masalas for several different gravies, curries and other items.
If you were to say the word `masaledar´it would mean full of masala.In this case a preaparation might have all fresh ingredients such as green chillies,coriander,ginger,garlic and maybe cumin and other whole spices such as cinnamon,cardamom and cloves.In India,surprise surprise, a chicken tikka masala does not exist as it is seenand know in the curry houses of the West.If  a native was asked to cook a chicken tikka masala,he would cook it with a masala exactly like I have just mentioned,dry and tasty,but with the inclusion of chopped tomatoes and some garam masala.
This curry masala can also be used for the following curries -

Chicken or pork (you will have to sauté or the meat separately then add it to the masala.


Cauliflower and tomato combination with baby potatoes
This  particular masala is not suitable for red meats

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Leslie Forbes,a force of nature

 Leslie Forbes
18 June 1953 - 1 July 2016
How often down the path of life life do you get the chance to meet someone quite extraordinary, quite unique and totally inspirational. So generous, so interesting, so funny, so talented, sometimes acerbic,and last but not least, a creative cook.
When I recall my friend Leslie Forbes the idiom "Force of nature" immediately springs to mind.She had such a strong personality, she was a real character.She was like a hurricane or a tsunami.Full of energy, unstoppable, unchallengeable, unforgettable. In short, an individual to be reckoned with.
 After dropping out of England's Royal College of Art without the Masters in Film and Design she had dropped out of studying physics and politics in Vancouver to get, Leslie won the Vogue talent contest, securing her a place as a designer working in the Vogue art department, which is where I first met her. Aside from day to day layout of the magazine, Leslie was commissioned to produce illustrations for the shopping columns.She reached a point where she couldn´t stand the fashion industry  any more. I remember her returning from a lunchtime shopping spree in New Bond street to regale us with an encounter she had just had with the late Lady Rendlesham ,the feisty manageress of the St.Laurent boutique Chloé. As Leslie casually browsed the rails of designer frocks Rendlesham appoached her with the greatest put down ever "Madam I am afraid the sale finished last week."Not something that Forbes would have taken lightly.
She moved on to become a designer for BBC-TV (once constructing a life-size working robot out of pasta for the Nationwide programme ) and in 1982 she produced beautiful storyboard illustrations for a documentary about the raising of Henry VIII's flagship The Mary Rose.
 Her unique style of illustration made her the author of four self-illustrated award-winning food/travel books including Table in Tuscany /Table in Provence.The first two books were in her own handwriting from which the publisher designed a typeface for the layout and printing of the books.

She wrote a regular cookery column for the ''Sunday Correspondent.’' Not only that, from 1990 she had become a regular presenter/writer of BBC radio documentaries on everything from the Indian spice trails to phantom limbs and lost false teeth.
After the Indian Spice Trail series on Radio 4 her radio career continued with ‘Table Talk’ on Radio 3 (the first ‘food’ series on Radio 3 - Sunday lunchtimes) in which she discussed many aspects of food with scientists, artists, writers, poets etc etc and went on to run for 5 or 6 series.For Radio 4’s Crimescapes’ she explored cities with their crime writers; in her series ‘Paper Gardens’ she examined how landscape had influenced artists. Why did Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey fill a church with a vertical lawn, Forbes asked, and war photographer Don McCullin take pictures of dahlias as well as battles? Such transgressions of boundaries were her speciality.
 In 1995, she wrote her first novel,the internationally acclaimed thriller Bombay Ice, which wove Chaos Theory into a murderous producer’s Bollywood version of Shakespeare´s The Tempest.Chaos theorist John Elgin helped her with this and her earlier brief studies of physics in Canada  played a contributing part too.She dedicated the book to among others her partner Andrew Thomas who ”as always navigated her through all kinds of weather.”
 Winning a Wellcome Trust Sci-Art award with physicist Pete Barham, led her to write her second most mysterious and intriguing book ‘Fish, Blood & Bone’ (long-listed for the Orange Prize).This was probably my favourite of Leslie´s books.Completely different to "Bombay Ice", but perhaps even more exotic. It was CID investigation meets gothic horror meets historical fiction meets adventure.She takes the reader from the East End of London on  a dangerous backpacking trip in India, to lost waterfalls in Tibet in search of a mythical green Himalayan poppy with alleged curative powers.She gives us murder, and fertilizer, and a decades old love story. The way the story is structured is rather unusual, but as you turn the pages, how she weaves travel, botany and photography into an unnerving tale mesmerises you. One of my favorite books of all time and I'm still not quite sure what happened…Does that make sense?
This, along with her third novel Waking Raphael, engage the ways science and art converse.

Waking Raphael, a mystery concerning a mute Italian, was the result of Forbes’s work with speech pathologists and Italian lawyers. In 2003 Booker Prize chairman John Carey called Waking Raphael "pretty well perfect”.  She was as involved with political and free-speech issues as she was with the relationship between art and science, and her writing was deeply inspired by her work as a volunteer "mentor" with refugee writers at the Medical Foundation for Victims of Torture.
Since 2003 she helped  torture survivors write about their sense of alienation. Ironic, perhaps, that in 2005 she developed a form of epilepsy that occasionally rendered her mute, and unable to write. This led to ‘ABS NCES’, a book with Oona Grimes, and underlies Forbes’s many stories for other artists about the  play between image and word.

 I am currently enjoying re-reading my way through all her works and even more so the rekindling of the memories from where many of the references she made came from and of times shared travelling with her in Tuscany especially when the flame was kindled in San Gimignano for her first venture into the written word,Table in Tuscany.
 There was another lighter side to Forbes that must not be forgotten, she was a comic if not an actress. I remember the day she was late for work and feigned an excuse that she had been knocked off  her bicycle by a taxi driver inadvertently opening the door of his cab.The facial make up and plasters made the story completely convincing.On another occasion she arrived at work ( on time) but in a tearful state having been evicted by her landlord and landlady who unbenounced to her were drug dealers.She had only in a fit of rage answering an incessant intercom then slammed the door in the face of members of the rock band ELO who were in search of drugs at 3 am in the morning.Having a spare room in my flat I offered her a roof over her head.This was to be the start of a strong bond of friendship.Her opening gambit of "I can only cook three things and they are 3 types of muck, red muck,brown muck and white muck"was extraordinary coming from the mouth of someone who went on to be such a brilliant cook and write so eloquently on the subject.I will never forget going into her room and and like Alan Bennett´s cream cracker under the settee finding a half eaten boiled egg and a mug of tea with skin on it under her bed.I found it rather reassuring, after all we are all only human aren´t we?
It was on the evening of July 28th 1981 at a picnic in Hyde Park to celebrate the eve of Lady Diana´s wedding that she met the love of her life Andrew Thomas, another forcefully talented graphic designer and partner of the design group Trickett and Webb.They were so born to be soulmates from day one.

Her final project in collaboration with Andrew was to be an illustrated novel in four parts (unfortunately parts 2-4 aren’t completed!) entitled  ‘Embroidered MInds.’ Working in collaboration with artists, academics and historians its all about the effect epilepsy may have had on the family of William Morris. For 17 years Morris lived in Queen Square next door to the National Hospital (where Leslie was treated for epilepsy) at a time when it was the birthplace of neurology and research into epilepsy in the 1860s. His daughter had epilepsy and yet there is no record of his having had contact with the doctors there - so Leslie decided to write a fictional account of what might have happened, which also investigates the stigma of epilepsy then and now and proposes that William Morris also suffered from it - but it was covered up.
Our personally signed copy of Bombay Ice

 Leslie was a guiding force in our decision to make a major life change and move to Portugal."Look what has happened to me" she said, "you could be knocked down by a bus tomorrow,you never know what fate has around the corner for you.These wise words cemented any doubts or lack of confidence we might have had about leaving the UK.We were always there for each other and I will continue to be there for her,wherever she is.