As I sit here at the kitchen table writing this, the oven is having its wonderfully wicked way with the macaroni and cheese…cooking it to sheer hot and creamy perfection…ARGH. I love pasta. I love cheese (and butter and so on…) – so, naturally, mac and cheese is a huge winner (i’ve even been known to reach for Kraft’s ready-made stuff…which is probably a little sacrilegious and something that I should not admit to. Oh well). I’ve never actually made macaroni and cheese before, as mum does a brilliant version herself – when I was little and mum picked us up from school, inevitably, one of the first questions we asked on jumping into the car was ‘what’s for dinner?’; the answer of ‘macaroni and cheese’ always resulted in an overexcited little squeal. In my mind i’ve forever seen it as a very homely, comforting dish, not something to be ordered in a restaurant. However, the other day, a couple of friends and I went to this (relatively) new, slightly dingy, speakeasy-style American Diner in Soho, Spuntino, where we ordered the most scrumptiously creamy and rich mac and cheese. It was absolutely delicious and so unexpected. The only other mac and cheese I’ve tasted which came close to this was in a little bistro in the Dordogne (my three-year old cousin had actually ordered it off the kid’s menu and I, like many a greedy adult, decided to polish off her leftovers, wishing that I too had been able to order off the kid’s menu….)


I’m not sure where my mum’s recipe comes from, but it is a slightly elaborate version, complete with onions and bacon. I decided to opt for a bog-standard mac and cheese – bechamel sauce, lots of cheese – bish, bash and bosh.

Smitten Kitchen led me to Martha Stewart’s recipe and it did not disappoint one teensy bit. It was wonderfully easy to make (one of the beauties of a simple mac and cheese), and came out of the oven bubbling and oozing with yummy creamy cheesiness. The only variations I made to the recipe were a) I left off the breadcrumb topping (there’s enough carbohydrate in it already) and b) I used conchiglie instead of macaroni – we had some shells knocking around in the cupboard and I thought ‘why not’. It worked well and made it perhaps a little less stodgy. (I’m also becoming increasingly lax when it comes to precise measurements and tend to just throw things together with little accuracy…whether this is down to laziness/cockiness, i’m not too sure, so this recipe might be even better if followed word-for-word!)

This is definitely going on the to-make-more-often list….

Serves 6

1/2 cup butter
2 3/4 cups milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons salt
Couple of dashes ground nutmeg
Black pepper
Couple of dashes cayenne pepper
2 1/4 cups grated medium/mature cheddar cheese
1 cup grated Gruyère
1/2 pound macaroni (or whatever other pasta you choose to use)

1. Preheat oven to 360°F/180 C.

2. Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat. When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook and stir for about 1 minute.

3. While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick (8-12 minutes)

4. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, and 3/4 cup Gruyère and set the sauce aside.

5. Boil some water, add pasta and cook for about 4 minutes, or until just underdone. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Stir the macaroni into the cheese sauce.

6. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Sprinkle the remaining 3/4 cup cheddar cheese, 1/4 cup Gruyère ontop. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes.

We went down to the PYO farm again last week, this time to pick blackcurrants and cherries. However, on arriving, we met this chap who was raving about tayberries (a cross between a black raspberry and a loganberry, which itself is a cross between a blackberry and a red raspberry….the world of berries is a seemingly confusing one, yes). He told us that they were a more flavoursome version of the raspberry, yielding deliciously tasty jam. Kitted out in a rugged sweater, ready for the wilds of the tayberry bushes, he most definitely seemed to know what he was talking about….how could we not pick some? So, after getting horribly lost amongst the apple trees, strawberry fields, cobnut orchard, loganberry bushes etc…we eventually found the tayberry patch and joined our fellow pickers in filling up our punnets. As it turned out, in addition to being avid jam-makers (and the owners of a giant, but very timid rescue greyhound), the man and his girlfriend just adore India, having recently spent two years in Varanasi, him writing a novel and her mastering the art of ayurvedic massage – the people one meets in the fruitpicking farms of East Sussex!

Finding a recipe for tayberry jam was tough as the fruit itself is quite hard to come by (it’s not sold in supermarkets or even farmshops for that matter), but after scouring the internet, I found one on a jam-making blog, Hitchhikingtoheaven. I suppose one could use the same recipe as for raspberry jam, as the fruit itself is much the same…but I wanted a tayberry-specific one. The recipe is simple, easy to follow and apparently contains less sugar, allowing the slightly tart flavour of the fruit to come through. It came out surprisingly well, not too sweet – I was rather chuffed with the finished product and unlike the strawberry jam, it set perfectly, perhaps even a little too much. Sadly, it only yielded three (and a very small fourth) bottles….meaning that we are going to be VERY selfish and keep these ones all for ourself! Greedy, yes.

Makes 4 to 5 jars (half pint) according to recipe

Ingredients

3 lbs tayberries
1 ¼ lbs sugar (2 ½ to 2 ¾ cups)
3 tablespoons lemon juice

Preparation

– Before starting with the cooking, sterilize jam jars in the oven and place a plate and a teaspoon in the freezer for the wrinkle/setting test.
– Set aside approximately 1/3 of the berries.
– Combine the rest of the ingredients (remaining berries, sugar, and lemon juice) in your jam pan.
– Bring the mixture to boil.
– After the mixture thickens a bit, add the remaining berries – this is to give the jam a slightly lumpier finish (the original recipe says ‘after 10 minutes’, but my jam didn’t start to thicken until after at least 25 minutes…so I guess this is very dependent on how your jam goes)
– Boil the jam until it sets, skim off skum as it forms. In the original recipe, she states how her jam started to reach setting point after about 20 minutes, but mine was much much later than this. I found it very liquidy and spent much time boiling it, to thicken, probably getting to that point after about 45 minutes, at least.
To test your jam: remove the pan from the heat and perform the wrinkle test – place a blob of jam onto the cooled plate, return the plate to the freezer and after a couple of minutes, the jam should have formed a skin, causing it to wrinkle when pushed.
– If no wrinkles form, return to the heat and cook for a further 2 minutes or so.
– When it has passed the wrinkle test, take off the heat and skim the skum off the surface of the jam.
– Let it cool for 10-15 minutes.
– Stir gently to distribute lumps and pour into the sterilized jam jars. Place waxed paper discs on top of the jam surface and screw lid on tightly.
– Leave and allow to set overnight.

Despite living in India for a total of nine months, I have learnt shamefully little about cooking Indian dishes. Eating them, yes, but cooking them, absolutely not. This isn’t something I have avoided, it’s just I never seemed to get around to doing a course or finding someone who would be willing to give me the odd lesson. Such is the busy nature of Bombay life! However, during my brief one-week break in Bombay before returning home, the cook of a good friend of mine agreed to give me a paratha lesson (although I’m not sure how much say he had in the matter). It turned out to be not so much a hands-on lesson, rather me observing him make a batch – but he led me through each step, patiently waiting for me to take photos/jot down ingredients/measurements…I’m just hoping that some of Raju’s skill rubbed off on me! Now that I’m home, my family can be my guinea pigs….

(For those of you who aren’t familiar with what a paratha is, let alone an aloo paratha, it is a type of unleavened indian flatbread, fried and eaten in northern, western and central parts of India, typically for breakfast (this being news to me). ‘Aloo’ refers to the spiced mashed potato mixture which is stuffed inside).

Makes 6 aloo parathas

Ingredients:

Filling –

4 medium sized potatoes, peeled, boiled, mashed and left to cool
1 clove garlic, crushed
Couple dashes of turmeric
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp garam masala (or curry powder)
1 tsp salt
Juice of 1/2 lime
Small bunch of fresh coriander

Dough –

1/4 kg wholewheat flour
1/4 cup water (might need more/less according to how dough binds)
Optional: splash of vegetable oil

Step 1 : Making the potato filling

 

 

– Add the the turmeric, cumin powder, garam masala, salt, lime juice and coriander to the cold mashed potato and mix.
– Fry the crushed garlic and when browned, add the potato mixture and cook on a low heat for a couple of minutes.
– Take off the heat and allow to cool
– When cooled, split mixture into six balls and set aside.

Step 2: Making the dough

– Make a well in the flour and add water a bit at a time, until it becomes a non-sticky, kneadable lump of dough
– Knead dough for a few minutes and then split into six balls.

Step 3: Assembling the parathas

 

 

 

 

 

– Place dough ball in hand and flatten a little
– Place potato ball on top and wrap dough around it ensuring that it is evenly covered all the way around
– Pinch the dough together at the top and seal
– NOTE: The potato mixture MUST have cooled completely, otherwise the parathas will not roll out effectively
– Sprinkle your surface with flour and roll out the ball (seam down) into a circle with a depth of around 3mm.
– It is now ready to be fried!

Step 4: Frying

 

 

 

 

 

– Ideally one would use a flat cast iron pan called a ‘tawa’, but a pancake pan (or really any pan) will do
– Preheat the pan and when hot, place the paratha on the pan
– Once it has browned slightly, flip over and fry the other side
– When golden brown on both sides, remove from the heat.
(Raju dry-fried the parathas, rubbing a little knob of butter on each one after removing it from the heat. This is largely to reduce the oil (and hence, fat) content of the parathas, as they can be oily (ghee-laden) things, but if you would rather fry with oil, then this can be done too)

Anand’s masala chai

May 20, 2011

‘I could close my eyes and do this’ were Anand’s words as he, in the midst of his morning slumber, assembled the ingredients needed for his family’s masala chai.

Masala chai is enjoyed by millions of people around the world, yet how many of you could actually make a proper cup at home? In northern parts of India, in particular, it is a staple, sold by street vendors, offered to guests on entering a home and served at upscale hotels. It is not something to be gulped down in a hurry, but savored – we find the milky sweet and aromatic tea to be something of a comfort.

A common misconception is that a good masala chai can be found throughout India. However, upon moving to Tamil Nadu we were shocked to discover that this was not the case. Luckily, our friend Anand has been kind enough to make us the odd cup or two, and has also shared his family’s recipe to go along with it.


Makes one cup

Small chunk of ginger (change according to taste)
1-2 cardamon seeds (apparently there are 12 in a pod…)
1/2 cinnamon stick, broken into small pieces
1-2 cloves (change according to taste)
1 1/2 tsp of white sugar
1 heaped dessert spoon of black loose leaf tea (Anand suggests Lipton Yellow Label)
3/4 Cup water
1/4 Cup milk

– Grind spices in pestle and mortar and place in pan (if pestle and mortar not available, just place spices in whole)
– Add loose leaf tea and sugar
– Add water and heat on stove until it reaches boiling point
– Take off the heat, add milk
– Place back on the heat and simmer for a few minutes
– Turn off the heat and strain into the cup

We know that this salad might not seem blog-worthy to a lot of you, but for us two, sitting here in the 95F/34C Chennai heat, with humidity levels soaring, this salad came as a welcome relief! Delving into our bag of fresh produce, bought from the local roadside vegetable stall the night before, we threw together this very simple, but refreshing and satisfying lunch. To top it all off, we picked up a fresh whole grilled chicken to liven it up a little.


Serves two (with seconds…)

6 roma tomatoes, chopped roughly

1 Cup grilled skinless, boneless chicken

Half a red onion, chopped finely

½ Cup/a few sprigs of fresh basil

Generous sprinkling of salt and pepper

Splash of balsamic vinegar

–    Throw ingredients into a large salad bowl and mix together. Simple as that!

(If at home, we might have added a few chunks of fresh mozzarella, feta or goat’s cheese, and perhaps had a nice chunky piece of French bread on the side to soak up the juices)

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