Chicken Biriyani

SpicesComplete biriyani 2

Spiced chicken in an onion-enriched tomato sauce on a bed of fluffy rice. Chicken biriyani – it has all the components of comfort food, but it’s a little bit special, with all those fragrant spices: cinnamon, saffron, cardamon and cloves. It certainly doesn’t have to be chicken,  you can use prawns, fish, vegetables, cubes of toasted paneer or lamb instead. The toppings also vary wildly, I’ve seen french fries, fried onions, toasted cashew nuts and boiled eggs cut in half. The chicken is cooked in an onion-based sauce and the rice is partially cooked separately. Then the two are layered together in a dish and cooked again in the oven for the flavours to meld and come together. It is a fairly long-winded process, but so worth it.

Ingredients

Chicken:

2 large onions/3 medium

2 sticks of cinnamon

4 cardamon pods

6 cloves

1 chicken, boned and cut into pieces

2 teaspoons finely minced garlic

1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger

1 can of tomatoes, blitzed

1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin powder

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground corriander powder

1/2 teaspoon dried turmeric

powdered and fresh chilli, to taste

salt, to taste

Rice:

2 cups Basmati rice, washed and soaked for half an hour

Cucumber raita:

250g yoghurt

1 small cucumber, peeled, deseeded and finely chopped

Salt and cumin powder to taste

Chicken:

Using a food processor, chop the onions until they are about the size of a kernel of sweetcorn. Add a couple of tablespoons of oil to a large pan and add the chopped onions, along with the cardamon, cloves and cinnamon sticks. Fry these on a low/medium heat for about 30-40 minutes, it’s a long time, but as they are cooking, you can get on with cooking the rice. Stir constantly, and you should end up with lovely caramelised onions that are almost dark brown.

Once the onions are done, add the tomatoes, ginger, garlic and all the spices, remembering to taste (and an optional step: blitz this whole mixture with a stick blender, if you want a smoother sauce). Then put the heat back on to low/medium and pop in the raw chicken. Cover and cook for about twenty minute-half an hour, or until the chicken is completely cooked through.

Rice:

Put a couple of tablespoons of butter in a large pan, on a medium heat. Once it’s melted, add the cumin seeds and fry for a few minutes. Add the washed rice and fry (like you would for risotto) for five minutes, and then add water from a recently boiled kettle, until the rice is just covered. Once that water is almost evaporated, lower the heat, add more water from the kettle to just cover the rice, and cook covered on a low heat. Check every few minutes and add water if needed. The rice needs to be just undercooked (75% cooked through), as the whole dish will cook again the oven.

Once the rice is done, assemble the dish. In an oven-proof dish add a layer of rice, using a third of what you have. Then add a layer of chicken in sauce, more rice, chicken again and then rice. If using saffron, soak a few strands in water for a few minutes and then sprinkle over the dish. Also, if using toasted cashews and deep-fried onions, add now. Put in the oven (300 F/150 C) and cook for half an hour.

Serve with raita or plain yoghurt.

Raita

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Galette des Rois

Finished galette second

Country of origin: France

This delicious almondy King Cake is made to celebrate the Epiphany, and the Three Kings around January 6th every year.  Never having grown up with this tradition,  I think it’s a lovely post-Christmas luxury: puff pastry, almonds, pastry cream… The galette is traditionally circular and is a disc of puff pastry, filled with almond cream or frangipane (almond cream with pastry cream), sealed with another disc, egg-washed and then decorated by scoring with a knife.  A very useful blog post about making your own is Chocolate and Zucchini’s post on making your own Galette des Rois.

Attempt one was rather a disaster, as I was in rush – never a good idea when baking – and number two the ready-made puff pasty I bought had torn, so I made the silly decision to fold it over itself and roll it out again (I should have just kept rolling and patched up the rip I think). As a result, the pastry didn’t rise as much as it should have and it tore during baking. It still tasted good though, if a little rich – I had filled it with almond cream alone.

I thought I’d have another go on a lazy Sunday morning, and whilst I still haven’t managed to muster the courage to make my own puff pastry, I tried the galette again, with mixed results. I used this recipe, but diluted the almond filling with one batch of pastry cream from this book. The pastry still cracked in the oven, but the taste of the filling was much better. The frangipane filling was divine(!). By the second slice, I had to add  a handful of berries to cut through all that sweetness, which made me think of making a Galette des Rois with a fruit puree layer…for next year.

Almond cream and pastry cream

Raw galette

Anyway, to be tried again, when my arteries have recovered from all the butter. I will get it round and it will not crack!

Tips:

-Once you’ve rolled your puff pastry out to the required thickness, let it rest for at least 15 minutes, covered, in the fridge, to avoid it shrinking in the oven

– Watch that egg wash, make sure it’s evenly spread and not pooling in places, as they may burn and stop even rising of the pastry

-Practice your design on a piece of paper, to ensure a steady hand

Gingerbread Houses

2011 Gingerbread house

Country of origin: Germany

This is a picture of the first house we made, two years ago. It really is a lot of fun to do, and somehow, easier than normal baking, as you don’t need to worry about the taste at all. I followed Rachel Allen’s recipe.

I would recommend a whole afternoon for this. Before you start, make sure you have a cake board/covered tray ready. Also, get your sweets and decorations, you can use anything! Then make the gingerbread and let it rest in the fridge, roll it out and cut out your shapes. Make a couple of people/trees/animals etc. in case of breakages. Once these have baked and cooled, you can begin decorating. I haven’t attempted this yet, but you could get really fancy and use boiled sweets when baking to make real “glass” windows as well.

The hardest part is the gluing together of the actual house, you’ll need to use snow glue (egg whites and icing sugar) to stick the seams together, and then hold these in places for a while until the glue dries.

I got a cake board, and made snow from some icing and caster/superfine sugar. The house was constructed straight onto the board, easier than lifting it on there! The gingerbread men and women were propped up with toothpicks, not very stable I know. Once you’ve assembled it all, you could put some lights in/around the house.

I’m not sure why, but this Christmas, perhaps after being inspired by the gingerbread creations on The Great British Bakeoff, I decided it had to be different, we had to go to Egypt. No, Egypt isn’t particularly Christmassy, and no… but that’s what it was.

2012 Gingerbread house

I made a few templates on paper of a camel, a man in the desert and for some reason, the Sphinx. The pyramids themselves weren’t too bad, just four triangles, and using a knife, I scored on the pattern of bricks.

Now for the fun part, the decoration. The sand base was digestive biscuits, bashed to oblivion. Then for a reason i still don’t understand, I used sweet Lego bricks and marshmallows to outline the border of the desert.

I iced the figures using water and icing sugar, and as soon as they were finished, in my excitement, I propped them on the board  straightaway. The wet icing of course dripped down, and now it looks like everyone is crying.

I have eleven whole months to plot and plan this year’s gingerbread extravaganza. Ideas? Space? The Deathstar? Under the sea? Here is some inspiration. From the not martha blog:

NOT MARTHA window_candy_alone

From Mightylists, a shoehouse!

MIGHTY LISTS Amazing-Gingerbread-House-Shoe

The kremlin:

Kremlin

Paris: Angelina

Outside Angelinas

Paris: had a few hours on a day trip, meeting a good (fellow-hog) friend, and we want pastries, where do we go? I know David Lebovitz would cringe: I didn’t do my research beforehand, I didn’t find a list of Paris’ top pâtisseries but just went to the one place I’ve been before! Angelina is on Rue Tivoli, a short walk from the Jardin Tuileries; it’s is a little overpriced and squirming with tourists,  but there are some tasty pastries too.

Among other things, Angelina sells danishes, chocolates, macarons and of course, pastries. Since we were only there for a day, we didn’t feel guilty sampling a multitude of products.

First stop: a plain croissant. Top marks, it was fluffy, oh-so-buttery and crisp, delicious.

MacaronsLong macarons

The macarons were a mixed bunch, the chocolate one was heavenly, the right texture and chocolatiness, and the salted caramel yummy and buttery, with a light sprinkling of salt. The coffee macaron was a bit of a disappointment, but perhaps that was just the texture, it was so chewy, it felt like chewing gum, and the coffee flavour was too soft.

Now for the pastries we tried:

Paris-New York: just at the far left of the picture. This was absolutely delicious, like the jazzed-up cousin of a Paris Brest. Light and airy choux, filled with pecan buttercream, with additional crunch and texture from crumbled praline.

Ba Ba: A rum baba, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, I now know that I don’t like rum ba ba. At all.

Mont Thabor: An orange-flavoured dome cake, finished with some kind of spray gun, it was so perfect, and topped with an orange macaron. Sadly, the cake wasn’t amazing, nice orange jelly inside though.

Citron

Mont Blanc: as it should be; avoid if you don’t like chestnut!!

Mont Blanc

Mille feuille: In my panic at having to speak more than five words of French (with the rather stern assistant) I forgot to ask for this one and am still kicking myself…

Mille feuille

Chocolate eclair (no picture): perfect, after having eaten many of these, I know my eclairs from my eclairs and this was good, perfect dry choux, smooth and chocolately pastry cream and a slightly bitter topping. I’m convinced that their topping of real dark chocolate glaze (rather than a flavoured fondant) complements the sweet chocolate pastry cream filling perfectly.

St Honoré: This does look extreme, but the cream is so light and fluffy, you don’t really notice… The caramel on the little choux buns was lovely and crunchy and the pastry cream filling was delicious. I want to make these now!

Saori: a lime cheesecake with strawberry jelly encased in white chocolate. This was such a nice idea, but a little overpowered by the lime. The strawberry marshmallow on top was tasty though.

Honore and Saori

Chocolate tart: (no picture) a deep, velvety chocolate filling, i think ganache in an elegant chocolate sable pastry shell. Full on, but this is the stuff if you’re a chocolate fan.

Verdict: very pretty to look at, and most of the time tastes as good as it looks.

Langham Afternoon Tea

I know it’s greedy, but I want to have Afternoon Tea at as many places as possible. There’s something about the combination of delicate little sandwiches, scones, cakes and pastries, washed down with a never-ending supply of tea that is delightful. Bring it back full time I say. It’s certainly a weekend institution for me.

In any case, being back in London, I thought I’d try out the Langham, a hotel near Oxford Circus. The hotel was beautifully decorated for Christmas, : the masterpiece being a huge and colourful gingerbread house shown below, covered in all kinds of sweet treats.

Gingerbread house

The Palm Court where tea is served is calm and serene, with some tinkling in the background from the piano. First off was an amuse bouche: an egg noggy custard with a slice of stollen on top, strange, but delicious.

Amuse bouche

Next came the sandwiches, which were really good: a lamb sausage roll, a tiny mushroom tartlet, topped with half a quail’s egg, a turkey sandwich with mustard and mayonnaise, a foie gras dome, covered in a strange gloopy substance, which looked stunning, but didn’t taste great. There was also a prawn sandwich in a little white bun, an egg salad sandwich and a cream cheese and cucumber scone.

Sandwiches

Next came the scones: the plain and raisin scones were a delight to eat, soft, fluffy and buttery, served with clotted cream and jam (don’t skimp please, there’s really no point!). However, there were also some chocolate and orange scones, which I didn’t love.

Scones

The sweet course was just that unfortunately: sweet, sweet and sweet. It looked stunning but unfortunately did not taste as good. There was a glittery gingerbread biscuit with thick fondant icing stuck in a glass of sugar, a white chocolate mini pudding, a chocolate brownie and a peppermint macaron in purple and white. The least worse was a little berry cake which provided some tartness from the berries.

Langham sweets

Langham sweets 5

The service was excellent, with constant offers of more sandwiches, cakes and scones. Overall, the sandwiches were the best course and the sweets were a disappointment; the search for the perfect Afternoon Tea goes on…

Pittsburgh: Soba

A friend and I had been talking for weeks about going to try the Bibimbap dish at Soba; a member of the relatively pricey BigBurrito group in Pittsburgh. Soba serves a wide range of Asian food: Korean, Thai, Japanese and Burmese.

The interior of Soba is swish and smooth with dim lighting. From the moment you walk in, the service is excellent.

For starters, we decided on Spicy Tuna maki, and the Lobster maki sushi with mango and a salad. Upon reflection, we probably should have tried something other than sushi as well! Other appetizers on the menu were mushroom dumplings and crab cakes. The tuna in the sushi rolls was fresh and delicious, but the avocado in the sushi roll overpowered the delicate taste of the raw fish. The spicy sauce under the sushi rolls was fine, but there was also a sweet soy sauce drizzled on, and snippets of tough spring onion as a garnish, which didn’t do anything for the tuna.

The lobster sushi was prettily presented, but had dollops of mayonnaise/aioli on top, which I didn’t think was necessary. Sadly, the lobster was overcooked and chewy. The mango gave a sweetness that complemented the lobster, but I didn’t get any pistachio taste.

The salad was the biggest disappointment of the night: Burmese Leaf Salad which sounded delightful and palate-cleansing. It looked good, with cabbage, cucumber, cherry tomatoes topped with (I think) tiny deep-fried onion rings. It was far too salty, which came from either the dressing, or the powder on the onion rings.

The main course was Bi Bim Bap, beautifully served in a dolsot stone pot: rice topped with tender chopped flank steak, octopus, a poached egg, chopped vegetables and shiitake mushrooms. The rice stuck at the bottom was nutty and crispy, fluffy and light on top, the steak was cooked perfectly and everything apart from the shiitake mushrooms tasted good (the mushrooms were pickled or vinegared in some way which was very sour for the otherwise-mild dish.) The gochujang/red chilli paste was nice and packed a punch, with a slightly sweet finish.

Overall, a nice looking restaurant, with friendly and helpful staff, but for me, overpriced for what you get, and the salty salad was a disappointment. We didn’t have dessert, so I can’t comment, but they did sound tempting: classics-with-a-twist like a banana split, with sesame ice cream. Next time…

Thanksgiving Lunch

I’ve been in the here in the States for more than two years now, and I think it’s a bit of a disgrace that I only just had pumpkin pie for the first time. I’m not sure why I resisted before, but here I am, about to give my first every proper grown-up lunch, for Thanksgiving, pumpkins and all. Well, actually, it’s a bring-a-dish-kind of thing, so not as scary, but still… I thought I’d share the things I learned from the day and show a few of the hastily-taken pictures, which do not do justice to all the lovely food people brought along. We had pies, zesty cranberry sauce, amazing biscuits/savoury scones, homemade beer and hazelnut and caramelized onion butternut squash, yum.

 

THE MENU

DRINKS:

Hot apple cider (don’t ask what happened here, a beautiful SIX CUP pot of spicy cider completely untouched, because I forgot that I had made it!)

Rosemary, gin and Cava cocktail, as above. Might I add that this picture does not do the cocktail justice, I found it on Jo Goddard’s blog, A Cup of Jo, and it is perfect if you want something light, a bit naughty (we are talking gin and champagne here), with levers for those who like sweet (rosemary syrup) and those who like it sour (lemon juice). The fresh rosemary garnish finishes it off beautifully. Some may turn up their nose at pre-mixing, but I mixed a whole jug’s worth and it kept nice and fizzy for a couple of hours and there was no faffing around with making individual drinks.

FOOD

Main:

Lemon, proscuitto and thyme-butter flavoured roast chicken, from Jamie Oliver’s recipe.

Brussel sprouts with bacon and chestnuts

Roast potatoes, carrots and parsnips, again adapted from Jamie Oliver’s roasted vegetable medley recipe

Broccolli with lemon and garlic

Hazelnut and mushroom stuffing, in hindsight I probably shouldn’t have made this as it was too similar to the veggie nutloaf below and a tad dry, but still a handy stuffing recipe

Lentil and cashew veggie nutloaf: more delicious and tangy that it sounds, you will never feel like the cheated vegetarian guest again! Cheese, breadcrumbs, toasted cashews and lots of yummy veggies bound together.

SWEET

 

Pumpkin and coconut pie: what a lovely twist on the classic I found on 101cookbooks, where evaporated milk is replaced with – I think the superior – coconut milk. I must say I would have liked a bit more of a Bounty moment with a hit of coconut, so when I make this again, I shall ramp it up and perhaps top it with toasted coconut shavings.

Tarte Tatin (which I am not brave enough to make yet, bought in and damn good!)

Blackberry Galette. This is a fantastic dessert, because you can do practically all the prep a couple of days before, make the pastry, make the frangipane filling and then on the day, roll out and bake. I did change the original baking instructions, by blind baking first alone, and then filling with frangipane and berries.

Pecan Pie. What’s there not to love about pecan pie? It is sweet, and you will go into a coma if you have too much, but we tempered this with whipped cream, so no worries. I have found a really good, robust recipe, where you blind bake a paté brisée shell and fill with a mixture of sugar, corn syrup(!), butter, water, eggs and pecans.

Conclusion: The lunch went well, and I think everyone went home full! The moral of this tasty tale is that you can prepare an awful lot of things beforehand:

-toast any nuts, chop them and keep them sealed. I also toasted the bread for my stuffing and stored it in a plastic bag.

-make simple syrups, cordials for cocktails, prepare garnishes

– make biscuits or cookies like macarons which will keep fine in the freezer

-make pie dough, I used paté brisée for the pumpkin and pecan pie. Granted, that the pastry had an off-gray hue when I was rolling it out the next day, but hopefully that was some weird oxidization going on, rather than anything more sinister…

-make things like frangipane, which keeps for up to a week in the fridge

Then the day before:

-we made the proscuitto/lemon/thyme butter, which isn’t difficult at all, but requires lots of faffing around with lemon zest etc, so good to have it all done.

– made the actual pecan and pumpkin pies and let them sit in the fridge, uncovered, overnight (DO NOT leave this as the last thing that you do, otherwise, like me, you’ll end up half asleep in a freezing kitchen, window open, trying to cool the just-cooked pies down, not the best thing!)

– washed, chopped and peeled most of the veg (not potatoes), ready to be cooked the next day

Tips:

– well, as above shows, planning all the stages of the recipes and how much you can do in advance really helps

– don’t worry too much, it’s not going to be perfect, it’s not a sit-down dinner for two

– remember what drinks you have and serve them!

Pittsburgh: Pamela’s Diner

Pamela’s Diner just won the Pittsburgh’s City Paper’s no. 1 breakfast venue and even the President is a fan. There are several locations, and rumour has it that the Strip District location is the best. I went to the Shadyside location, but will definitely try and make it to the Strip soon.


It’s always busy outside the restaurant, with people waiting out on the street. The menu is a mix of pancakes, waffles, various egg dishes, sandwiches and salads and inside, it’s buzzingly busy, with harrassed wait stuff flying around. One of their specialities is hotcakes, which are almost as thin as crepes, folded, filled with different fruit or chocolate.

I had to try the hotcakes, and went for banana and walnut. They really are delicious, but the frying in butter made them too heavy after a while, I couldn’t get through the generous portion.  I also had the waffles(!), which were fantastic, light, fluffy and crisp on the outside, no fanfare, just topped with powdered sugar and strawberries, yum.

I didn’t get a chance to try the omelets, but did have a bite of a friend’s fried egg dish, which was good.

Overall, a fun and relaxed dining experience with friendly, if busy, staff. Probably best to go during the week. The food is generous, tasty and pretty heavy, but after all, that’s what you’re going for.

Fafra

Country of origin: India

My aunt who taught me how to bake, makes these fafra every year and sends us some. They are crisp, crunchy, chilli-but-lemony snacks that are delicious with a cup of tea!

3 cups plain flour/all purpose flour

1 cup besan/chickpea flour

2 tbsp of neutral oil that will be in corporated into the dough

Oil for deep frying

1 tbsp butter

1 tsp green chilli, chopped

1 tsp ginger, chopped

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sesame seeds

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1/2 tsp red chilli powder

1 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp lemon juice

A pinch of bicarbonate of soda/baking soda

2 tbsp fresh corriander, chopped finely

Sprinkling powder:

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

1/2 tsp red chilli powder

1/4 tsp citric acid powder

The recipe is very simple, mixing most of the ingredients together to form a dough, and then after chilling to firm it up, it is rolled thinly and cut into shape.


Chop the butter into small pieces and add the oil to a large bowl. Then add all the other ingredients in the first list. Crumble the butter until the mixture resembles large breadcrumbs and add lukewarm water a tablespoon at a time until the mixture comes together. Wrap in cling film and chill for an hour in the fridge. In the meanwhile, you can make the sprinking salt, simply mix together the ingredients in a small bowl.

Once the dough is chilled, divide it into little balls (I did six) and keep the ones you are not using wrapped up. Roll the dough out between two sheets of clingfilm, or if you’re brave enough, straight onto a rolling board/tabletop, with a little flour. Roll until it’s thin enough to see through if you hold it up, I think only a couple of milimetres thick (otherwise it won’t be crunchy enough when fried).

Cut into small rectangle shapes (actually there’s no reason why they have to be rectangles, they can be any shape you fancy!), the dimensions I used were roughly (2.5 x 5 cm rectangles, or 1 x 2 inches) Repeat the rolling and cutting for all the dough, ensuring that you keep the cut fafra covered to avoid them drying out and cracking.

Heat up some neutral oil for deep frying and fry in batches of five or six fafra at a time for about a minute on each side, or until golden brown and crunchy. When they are all cooked – you’ll get about 80 (2.5 x 5 cm rectangles, or 1 x 2 inches) – sprinkle with the citric acid powder mixture and eat! Store in an airtight tin for up to a month.

Petit Fours

Country of origin: France

Petit fours, petit fours, what’s not to love? Yes, they are cutes-y, and a pain to make, but you can eat ten and not feel bad. Really though, if you haven’t had dessert and want something little and sugary with coffee, these hit the spot.

I can’t wait to build up a catalogue of petit fours, but to start with, I made mini boat-shaped fruit tarts, chocolate eclairs, cream puffs and chocolate macarons.

The pastry for the tarts was from Ladurée’s Sucre book, and the pastry cream from Annie Rigg’s Macarons book. Each tart was topped with a teeny slice of strawberry, a blueberry and a raspberry. Of course, these would have been delicious with grapes, banana slices, orange segments or kiwis as well. I didn’t glaze them.

The chocolate macarons gave me a lot of trouble, I rushed and put them in the oven when they were slightly tacky and did I pay! A whole tray of shells completely cracked. Lesson learned! I also found that they had a slightly oily look about them, and apparently, according to this excellent trouble-shooting site, it may be due to oily almonds. They suggest drying out the ground almonds in the oven before use. The macarons that I could salvage were sandwiched together with the same chocolate pastry cream used to fill the mini eclairs.

The eclairs were choux pastry and I found a new way of cooking them, following the Laduree’s recipe: Cooking at 350 F/177 C for ten minutes, but then opening the oven door a crack and letting them bake for another twenty minutes, to allow the steam to escape.

After the choux pastry has come out of the oven, cool a bit and then using a pastry tip, make a hole in the bottom. You can fill eclairs with fresh cream, but I used pastry cream (recipe from Macarons) and added some chopped dark chocolate to taste.

Topping the mini eclairs with melted chocolate fondant was really tricky and I need to practice more to get a clean finish. I made fondant with icing/powdered sugar and water, quite thick, and then added some cocoa powder until I was happy with the colour. I then heated it up in the microwave in ten-second blasts to get it soft and runny enough to run off a teaspoon onto the teeny filled eclairs. I had some spare choux pastry left, so piped some little buns, and filled these with sweetened whipped cream.