29 April 2012

Red Lamb Curry

Whenever my parents go to India, I send them on excursions to bring something back for me. Sometimes it's a tiffin, sometimes it's a pashmina. Last year I asked for English-language cookery books specialising in Kerala's cuisines.

They returned with three thin shopworn paperbacks by someone only named as "Mrs. K. M. Mathew." The books really didn't elaborate on her life--she edited a woman's magazine and became a cookery writer. Wikipedia added a tiny bit more information.

Naturally, her recipes do remind me of My Dear Little Cardamummy's. Mind you, I can see Mum making mental notes to "fix" them. I'll probably take the books over and ask her for suggestions as to make them...like how she would make them. She will, of course, say that she doesn't know or say something like "oh...it needs some...you know...(name spice) but not too much." No one cooks quite like Mum...

This Easter I decided to cook a number of curries, and turned to Mrs. Mathew's Flavours of the Spice Coast for inspiration. The curry was tasty and easy to prepare.

Don't let the two teaspoons of ground chillies it calls for scare you off--there is a bit of a zing, but it doesn't scorch the tastebuds. You can, of course, reduce the quantity, but I'd recommend serving it with a cooling raita, made of sour cream, cucumbers, onions, salt and pepper.

Red Lamb Curry
Adapted from Mrs. KM Mathew's Mutton Red Curry recipe found in Flavours of the Spice Coast.

Serves six


For the Masala
1dpsn (2tsp/10ml) ground chilli
0.75tsp (3.75ml) coriander seeds
0.5tsp (2.5ml) black mustard seeds
0.5tsp (2.5ml) cumin seeds
0.25tsp (1.25ml) whole black peppercorns
0.25tsp (1.25ml) fenugreek seeds
2.5cm (1") ginger, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1Tbsp (15ml) vinegar

3-4Tbsp (45-60ml) flavourless oil
2 onions, sliced into thin lunettes
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
750g (1.5lbs) lamb, cut into bite-sized cubes
0.75tsp (3.75ml) salt
500ml (2c) water

To make the masala paste,
Put the coriander, mustard, cumin, peppercorns and fenugreek in a frying pan, over medium heat. Stir occasionally as the seeds colour. When they begin to scent the air, remove from the pan and let cool on a saucer. When cooled, add to a mortar and pestle or grinder and grind with the ginger, garlic and vinegar, to a smooth paste, then set aside.

To make the curry,
In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat the oil over medium heat until shimmery. Add the onions and saute until golden. Stir in the tomatoes and the masala paste and cook for a few minutes. Turn down the heat to medium-low until the water evaporates and the oil begins to rise to the surface.

Tip in the lamb and add the salt, and mix well in the spicy tomatoey mixture, to coat the meat. Add enough water to cover the meat (you may need more or less than then 500ml called for). Stir well. Turn up the heat to medium and stir occasionally until it boils. Lid the pot and let boil for about five minutes.

Turn down the heat to a simmer, remove the lid, stir and reduce the liquid until the gravy thickens and clings to the pieces of lamb. Balance flavours to taste. When done, the The lamb should be fork-tender.

Serve over rice, with a dry veggie curry.

  • If you use an electric spice grinder, make sure it's one that can handle liquids.
  • I prefer meat curries with a thick gravy that clings to each piece of meat, which means it could blurble away, scenting your kitchen for a good while. Of course, if you want a thinner gravy, you it doesn't need to simmer as long. Mind you, if you want a thick gravy, but don't want a terribly long blurble, you can simply let it cook down over medium or medium-high heat).

I'm a quill for hire!

22 April 2012

Maple Harissa Chicken Wings

This post should have been a cookbook review.

But it's not.

A few months ago I received a gorgeous-looking book about Moroccan cooking.  Then I read it.


Let's ignore the writing style that oozes braggadocious smarm and reeks of self-satisfaction.

Let's ignore little gems like telling the reader if they want to use this cookbook they should get a scale that weighs in fractions of a gram (since getting the book I've checked every kitchenware department I've come across and cannot find one that measures such minutiae...one gram, not a problem...less than that, I'd have to special order it in.

Aye, there's the rub.

Every cookbook review I do includes several recipes reviews, with each recipe blindly followed, you'd think I were a sheep crossed with a Disney-prodded lemming.  There's no question that the book had a lot of recipes...the question was which recipes intrigued me enough to try them?

Apparently each recipe I found interesting required me prepping ingredients at least a month in advance, or scouring my local shops for ingredients they hadn't heard of.   And those ingredients I could find made me balk at the pricetag.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm all for authenticity, but this book really made it clear to me that this book--and many others are really written for those in major metropolitan areas (and yes, I do live in a CMA of more than half a million people...but that's not big enough to carry some of these ingredients).  Home cooks who would like to try these recipes who don't have easy access to more exotic ingredients would have to order them in or try and make do with what they have, not really knowing what the called-for herbs and spices really taste like.

Needless to say...the book is still untested...and probably will remain so.

In the meanwhile...the book did trigger something.

Although his harissa recipe called for spices I couldn't find, the idea of harissa grabbed me.  After looking up other recipes and playing with the flavours, another idea grabbed me.  

Maple-harissa chicken wings: the smokiness of the spices matched maple syrup's smokiness.  Sweet and hot are generally a good combination.  It's a spicier version of honey-garlic and a smokier version of sweet thai chilli.

The wings also gave me an opportunity to try out Alton Brown's chicken wing preparation technique I saw ages ago --essentially render the fat first by steaming the wings and then roast the wings on a cookie rack.  It's a bit labour intensive but the end result isn't too bad.

The sauce is sweet, hot and smoky.  It may be too hot for some, and if you find it so, add a bit of roasted pepper or tomato paste to the pan with the maple syrup and balance flavours to taste.  

Maple Harissa Chicken Wings

Yield 750g/1.5lbs

750g (1.5lbs) chicken wings, split into drummettes and wings

For the sauce
For the Harissa
0.5tsp (2.5ml) coriander seeds
0.5tsp (2.5ml) caraway seeds
0.25tsp (1.25) cumin seeds
2dspn (20ml/4tsp) lemon juice
5 dried chillies, soaked in boiling water for 45 minutes
2 garlic cloves
0.25tsp (1.25ml) salt
1Tbsp (15ml) olive oil

3Tbsp Maple Syrup (to taste)
salt (to taste)
pepper (to taste)
1-2 tsp (5-10ml) tomato paste or minced roasted red peppers (optional, to taste)


Preheat the oven to 225C/425F. Lay a tea towel or a double layer of paper towels on a baking sheet. Set a cooling rack over top the towels and set aside.

To cook the chicken wings, set about 2-3cm (approximately 1") of water to boil in a large pot. Lay the wings in a steamer basket and set in the pot. Lid the pot and let steam over medium heat for about 10 minutes.Remove the wings from the basket, place on the cooling rack, and pat dry. Let the wings cool. Remove the towels and line the tray with tin foil. Roast for 40 minutes, turning the wings once.

Start the sauce while the wings are roasting.  Toast the coriander, caraway and cumin in a dry pan, over medium heat, stirring occasionally. When the seeds have darkened and have released their aromas, remove the pan from the hob and tip the spices onto a plate to cool (five-10 minutes). Grind to a paste the toasted spices with the rehydrated chillies, garlic, salt, olive oil and lemon juice.

In a small saucepan, over medium-low heat, mix the harissa with the maple syrup. Taste the sauce--if it is too spicy for you, you can temper its zing by adding some tomato paste or finely chopped roasted red pepper. Balance flavours to taste.

When the wings are done roasting tip them into a bowl and pour the sauce over top. Toss the wings so they are evenly coated.

  • If you don't want to make your own harissa, use about three-four tablespoons of bought sauce.
  • You don't have to cook the wings in above-prescribed manner--if you prefer to bake or fry the wings, please do.

I'm a quill for hire!

15 April 2012

Ceci n'est pas un fruitcake

This year I hemmed and hawed over what I wanted to make for Easter Dessert. Pies, cakes, ice creams--they all flitted through my mind as non-descript actors flit through the minds of fickle teenaged girls: nothing truly grabbed my attention for more than a few days.

TVO currently airs Edwardian Farm--a 12-episode programme chronicling two experimental archaeologists and one historian living the lives of Edwardian farmers at Morwellham Quay--where one episode included a Simnel Cake--a light fruitcake usually made for the middle Sunday of Lent. Tradition has it that the cake is covered with a round of marzipan and 11 marzipan marbles (one for each of the 12 apostles, less one for Judas).

This idea stuck. Well...some of this idea stuck.

Even though I am a founding member and lifelong president of Fruitcake Liberation Society (a rag tag group of people who like fruitcake and don't understand why people cast aspersions at fruit-ladened and alcohol-drenched cakes (well, apart from the storebought ones...those don't count), I just didn't feel like making a traditional fruitcake (even if it is a light one).

But a cake that combined marzipan and dried fruit...is not a fruit cake.

It is a fruited cake.

I quickly dismissed the idea of a plain fruited cake and decided to go for an almond cake. The nut quotient was increased by good bit by including a marzipan layer in the cake and a dribble of almond extract. I selected my favourite fruits that play well with the dominant nuttiness: apricots, cranberries and blueberries.

Unsurprisingly, this is an almond-lover's cake (so if you don't like almonds, you may want to pass this one by). It's sweet and a bit sticky and a great pick-me-up with a cup of afternoon tea.

Fruited Almond Cake
Yield 1 x 20cm (8") cake

100g (185ml/.75c) dried apricots (14-15 pieces)
100g (165ml/0.66c) dried cranberries
100g (165ml/0.66c) dried blueberries
225g (415ml/1.66c) cake flour
1.25tsp (6.25ml) baking powder
110g (125ml/0.5c) room temperature butter
3Tbsp (45ml) flavourless oil
150g (375ml/1.5c) sugar
0.25tsp (1.25ml) salt
2 eggs
0.5tsp (2.5ml) almond extract
85g (210ml/a generous 0.75c) ground almonds
165ml (0.66c) milk
225g (0.5lb) marzipan
icing sugar (for dusting)

Tip all the dried fruit into a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let the fruit plump for at least 20 minutes. Drain, chop the apricots into cranberry-sized pieces. Cover with more hot water until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 170C (350F). Butter and flour a tall-sided 20cm (8") round cake pan. Set aside

Sift together the cake flour and baking powder. Set aside.

Roll the marizpan into a 20cm/8" circle. Set that aside too.

Cream together the butter, oil, sugar and salt for about three or four minutes, until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, followed by the extract. Mix in the almond flour. Drain the now plumped fruit and fold into the batter.

Add the flour and milk into the batter alternate addition, in the usual way (dry-wet-dry-wet-dry), scraping down the bowl's sides after each dry addition.

Pour half the batter into the prepared cake tin. Lay the marizpan round on top. Pour in the remaining batter.

Bake for 50-60 minutes. The cake will be golden in colour and begin to pull away from the sides. Remove from oven and let cool completely before unmoulding.

Dust with icing sugar before serving, if you wish.

  • Use whatever combination of dried fruits you wish--sultanas, currants, raisins, cherries--keeping the total weight (or volume) to what's in the recipe

I'm a quill for hire!

06 April 2012

Good Friday: Seafood Pie

It seems as if everyone I know who's keeping Good Friday is having a fish fry today. Don't get me wrong, I love a good fish fry (tempura, beer batter, heavily spiced and dry fried--it's all good), but I just didn't want to go through "all that" ... not that it's arduous--if you're looking for a good deep fried fish recipe, here's my catfish fingers recipe.

After an oddly warm winter, we're back to seasonal temps--cool nights and just-this-side-of-warm days--and I want something a bit more hearty and soul-warming than battered or crumb-coated fish.

Work took me to New England for a few days last month--it's a gorgeous area, blessed with a long shoreline. Being landlocked at home, being an hour from the Atlantic meant sampling amazingly fresh seafood. And sample I did: crabcakes, calamari, lazyman's lobster, lobster rolls, baked oysters, seared tuna. All were delicious, but on my last night in Nashua, NH, my colleague and I had supper at Surf Restaurant, where I had the fisherman's platter: whitefish, scallops and shrimp with potatoes and veggies in a butter-white wine sauce, under a cracker crumb crust. One word describes that dish: succulent.

That dish inspired today's Good Friday supper of a seafood pie. Unlike other seafood pies, I didn't want a heavy white sauce binding together filling--I usually find them too rich, so I played with a yoghurt-olive oil bechamel I use for my moussaka. I also did away with the mashed potato topping (apologies to purists)--but I wanted this to be relatively easy and fuss-free, so I simply cubed the potatoes and mixed them with the fish filling.

Don't be put off by the seemingly lengthy ingredients list-- a good number of ingredients are for the poaching liquid, and although I could have simply indicated 250g (0.5lb) of mixed seafood, I gave you the breakdown I used for tonight's meal.

Unlike many traditional pies, this version has a slight tang, thanks to the sour cream and the dijon mustard. I like the lighter sauce, as it doesn't battle against the fish and seafood--if you'd rather go a more traditional route, make a standard bechamel sauce (see notes). The sour cream sauce is quite loose when the pie comes out of the oven--simply spoon it into your bowl. Keep the cracker crumbs--they add a nice textural contrast against the softness of the filling.

Seafood Pie
Serves 4-6

250ml (1c) clam juice or fish stock (see note)
125ml (0.5c) white wine
1 bay leaf
a few parsley stems
a few dill stems
a few celery leaves
6 lightly crushed black peppercorns
250g (8oz) firm white fleshed fish, such as cod, haddock, pollock or sole (see notes)
150g (5oz) boiling potatoes, cubed into 1.25cm (0.5") pieces
2dspn (20ml/4tsp) olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely sliced
2dspn (20ml/4tsp) all purpose flour
125ml (0.5c) milk
125ml (0.5c) sour cream
1Tbsp (15ml) dijon mustard
1/8tsp dried tarragon
2-3Tbsp (30-45ml) minced parsley
100g (3oz) smoked fish, such as trout or haddock, broken into bite-sized pieces (optional)
125g (4oz) scallops (I used bay scallops)
125g (4oz) shrimp
90g (0.75c) frozen peas
a few handfuls of cracker crumbs

Parboil the potato pieces in salted water. While they are cooking, poach the fish by bringing to a boil the the clam juice, wine, bay leaf, stalks, celery leaves and peppercorns (if you have fish skins/bones, and shrimp shells, add them as well). Turn the hob down to a simmer, add the cod and poach for five minutes. Remove the fish from the broth. Strain out the leaves and whatnots from the broth. Reduce the liquid to 125ml (0.5c). Pour into a measuring jug and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

Sweat the onions and celery in the oil. Stir in the flour and cook until biscuit-coloured. Whisk in the milk and sour cream for a few minutes, until thick. Add in the reduced poaching broth and mustard. Continue whisking for a few minutes. Stir in the parsley and tarragon. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Stir in the parboiled potatoes, smoked fish, scallops, shrimp and peas. Fold in the poached fish, keeping care to keep bite-sized chunks.

Pour into a baking dish. Strew the crumbs over top.

Bake for 25 minutes. Turn on the grill (broiler) and brown the crumbs for about 1-2 minutes.

  • Truth be told, I used one 236ml bottle of clam juice (why it's such an odd volume, I have no clue).
  • This is a pretty adaptable recipe--add whatever vegetables you wish (peas, carrots, spinach, fennel), use salmon or trout instead of white fish, and choose whatever combination of fish and seafood you wish (try including clams or mussels to the mix)--the total fish and seafood weight should be about 600g (1.33lbs).
  • If you are using smoked fish, remember to slightly undersalt the sour cream bechamel as the fish will add to the saltiness of the dish.
  • To make a standard bechamel for this recipe: sweat the onions and celery in 25g (30ml/2.5TbspP butter, then stir in 25g (20ml/2.5Tbsp) flour, let toast until it is biscuit-coloured. Pour in 250ml (1c) of light or heavy cream and stir until thick.

I'm a quill for hire!