Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Chai Masala Biscuits

Whilst making a cup of masala chai the other week I was thinking what a good idea it would be to put some of the masala into a batch of biscuit/cookie dough. I've made spiced cookies before, with a bit of ginger or cinnamon, and the punchy chai masala would probably work just as well. And I am pleased to say it did!

The masala mix is made up of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, ground ginger and nutmeg, I bought some back from India, you can either buy some from your nearest Indian supermarket, grind your own or use the individual spices in the cookie mix. Some larger Tesco stores might even stock it now too.

I used a basic cookie dough from BBC Good Food, which if you read my blog regularly you'll know is a site I use a lot, there are tons of recipes on there and their baking section contains lots of classic recipes - basic sponges, shortcrust pastry, fruit cakes, mince pies. Good stuff.

The biscuits are quite like shortbread, and the masala gives a nice little warmth. If you are a hardcore dunker (well done) I would suggest making them 1.5cm thick instead of 1cm as below.

Chai Masala Biscuits
adapted from BBC Good Food

Makes about 30 cookies, maybe more.I froze half the dough (wrapped in cling film and then put in a sandwich bag), my standard behaviour when making biscuits or cookies - so that I have a stash for when I really crave them.

250g softened unsalted butter
140g sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tsp of vanilla extract
295g plain flour (plus extra for dusting)
5g chai masala or mixed spices

50g chocolate melted with 5g butter (to keep it shiny) for dipping
Extra sugar and chai masala for sprinkling on before baking / onto the chocolate

Preheat your oven to Gas Mark 5 / Fan 180 / Electric 190 
Cream together your butter and sugar til combined well and nice and fluffy.
Add in the egg yolk and the vanilla extract and mix in well.
Sift in your flour and masala, mix in - you'll need to get in with your hands here and knead to a dough. 
Add a tiny bit of water at a time if it seems a little dry.
Knead very briefly to a soft dough, wrap in cling film and chill for 20 minutes.

Roll out to about 1cm thick and cut into whatever shape you fancy, with a knife or cutters.
Lay on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. You can put them reasonably close together as they don't spread too much during baking.
Sprinkling the biscuits with a little chai masala mixed with sugar before baking gives a nice crunch when they are baked.

Bake for 10 - 12 minutes in the centre of the oven.
They can go from not cooked to brown in 30 seconds so keep an eye during the first batch, your oven may behave differently. 

Cool on a wire rack, you can either now eat them or dip them in melted chocolate and leave to set. 
I couldn't stop fiddling around with them and sprinkled the unset chocolate with a little chai sugar for extra spiciness.

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Thursday, 21 February 2013

Chilli Paneer

'This is the best thing you've ever made,' was the comment from the Mr about this chilli paneer, so despite the really quite terrible photograph I took hastily (because I wanted to hurry up and eat), I have decided that I really ought to blog this recipe. I haven't received a review like that in a long time.

Chilli Paneer is one of those things I've eaten quite a bit of but never really known what goes into it or how it is made - only recently did I realise it was Indo-Chinese-ish as it has soy sauce in it. The Indian part is made up of the paneer cheese and the rest are ingredients used in both countries (garlic, ginger, chilli, onion).

It differs from the Indian style muttar paneer which has more tomato in it along with the traditional spices - garam masala, turmeric, cumin, coriander. This version is a lot simpler and the soy sauce gives it a rich flavour without too much faffing about with lots of ingredients. In India we had 'Manchurian Paneer' which is another Indo-Chinese dish, it was deep fried crispy paneer in a rich dark sauce - I think with five spice and soy - with lots of spring onion and ginger, something I want to recreate, although I think without the deep frying.

This is very easy to put together and you'll probably have most of the ingredients already. Serve with basmati rice or naan, pitta, roti or other flat bread. Most of the recipes I came across also contained bell pepper, I'm not a huge fan of these and I didn't have any, so I didn't put any in. If you like them add one diced pepper in with the onion.

Chilli Paneer
Adapted from various recipes including Simply Tadka and BBC Good Food.
Serves 2-3

200g block of paneer, diced into about 1 inch pieces
sunflower or mild olive oil
2 red onions, finely sliced
1 bell pepper, diced (optional)
2 cloves of garlic
about 1tsp of grated ginger
1/2 tsp - 1 tsp chilli flakes - depending on your chilli tolerance
2 tbsp tomato puree
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
boiling water

1. Dice up your paneer and then toss it in some seasoned cornflour. In a large saucepan shallow fry the pieces in a small amount of oil til golden brown on all sides, do this in batches if you don't have room. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.

2. Add the onions and pepper if using and fry in the oil til quite soft, add a pinch of salt to stop them burning and to realise the juices, it should take about 5 minutes for them to soften. Whilst they are frying mix the tomato puree and dark soy sauce, then add boiling water til it is the consistency of single cream.

3. Add in the ginger, garlic and chilli flakes to the saucepan and fry for a minute. Lower the heat and add the tomato soy sauce mix and then the paneer. Stir to combine everything and keep on a medium heat to simmer gently.

4. The sauce will start to thicken now, because of the cornflour in the paneer, add more water if the sauce starts to reduce too much. Simmer for about 10 minutes on a medium heat, stirring and checking the sauce. Season to taste, add more chilli flakes or soy if necessary and serve.

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Sunday, 17 February 2013

Orange & White Chocolate Cake - Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook

The Clandestine Cake Club is a wonderful thing. Back in 2010  Lynn Hill set up a small local get together in Leeds for bakers and cake eaters to meet, eat and talk. No competition, no rivalry, just a chance to bake a cake and share it with others. Since then the cake club has spread nationally and internationally, with more than 150 clubs meeting, eating and baking.

As a member, and more recently a co-host, of the Cambridge club, I have met lots of great people at the many meets I've attended and we've talked about everything from the frustrations of buttercream, our thoughts on Paul Hollywood and the best cake tins. My cakey knowledge has come on leaps and bounds since I attended the first Cambridge club in 2011.

The Clandestine Cake Club cookbook came out last week, it is a collection of over 120 recipes from members of cake clubs, is this the very first crowdsourced cookbook? The book is beautifully photographed and there is such an array of different recipes that it is so hard to choose which one to begin with. The book is split into sections - classic cakes, Victorian cakes, fruity cakes, global cakes, zesty cakes, chocolatey cakes (of course), celebration cakes and creative cakes.

There is also a brilliant section about the various cake disasters that can happen to bakers - refreshing to see in a cookbook as many do tend to paint a perfect world of cooking and baking. I can safely say I've had my fair share of undercooked cakes, melting buttercream and cakes stuck to the tin. Fortunately the book offers some advice for how to fix this, or prevent it in the first place.

I've bookmarked about 12 recipes in the book that I must make soon, and for my first bake I thought it would be fitting to bake one of Lynn's recipes. I chose the Orange & White Chocolate Cake - a classic sponge soaked in orange syrup and sandwich with white chocolate and orange buttercream.

It is a delicious cake, quite sweet but the orange really helps to lighten it and make it seem not so naughty! The sponge recipe is straightforward and the buttercream not too difficult - I always find chocolate buttercream a little easier to make than standard as the cooling chocolate helps it to stay stiff and not melt so easily (provided your chocolate is cool).

I'll be trying to resist having another slice of this today, and then bringing the rest in for my colleagues to eat - which I think is in the spirit of the cake club - sharing cake!

The Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook is available to buy from all bookshops and online. The Book People also have it for only £6.99 at the moment, which is a bargain. Pick up a copy, find your local cake club and get baking!

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Monday, 11 February 2013

Things to Cook When It is Bloody Freezing

I'm freezing, it is minus something outside, it is snowing and my toes haven't been warm since I came back from India 2 1/2 weeks ago. These are some pretty good things to make when, like me, you live in an 17th century house that has more gaps in it than a sieve and three blankets and a hot water bottle just aren't cutting it. Luckily my kitchen is the size of a postage stamp (not always a good thing, but in this case it is ) so it doesn't take too long to heat up once you start cooking, so it is the best room in the house to spend time in.

Bacon Chipotle Macaroni Cheese
Bacon, chilli, cheese, carbs. All good things.

Roasted Tomato Soup & Cheese Toasties
Of course, soup, and this tomatoey one will hopefully remind you that summer does exist. Plus there are cheese toasts.

Kashmiri Dum Aloo
Good for a spare afternoon, something that simmers on the hob for a while - which both makes for a tasty dish and also heats the house a little bit. If you also spend some time standing over the hob making rotli then you'll get even warmer.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
It's like a blanket, with caramel sauce. Custard is a good substitute if you can't face cold ice cream.

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Sunday, 10 February 2013

Kashmiri Dum Aloo

One of the tastiest but also the most disappointing dishes we ate in Mumbai was Dum Aloo. That might sound a little strange, but let me explain, some of the potatoes were cooked and others were raw, which ruined what was otherwise a tasty meal - the sauce was still delicious.

Dum Aloo is a potato in a creamy tomato spiced sauce, cooked for a long time til the potatoes are tender. I believe 'Dum' refers to cooking in a pot sealed with dough, so the moisture remains inside during cooking. Aloo means potato.

The potatoes are first deep fried, although I shallow fried mine in a couple of tablespoons of oil which worked out just fine and removed some of the faff from the recipe. Then you fry onion, garlic, tomato paste and ground spices before adding tomatoes and a little water, and then the potatoes.
You can then either make a dough or make a cartouche, which is a lot easier, to 'seal' the dish and keep the moisture in. I used a large heavy casserole dish which has a tight fitting lid, along with my cartouche - made of a round of greaseproof paper placed directly on top of the simmering potato and sauce. The cartouche is then removed, and the sauce thickened by simmering without the lid, before cream and fresh coriander is added to finish.

We ate it with freshly made rotli (or chapatis which is what you may know them as) - more on that soon! In Mumbai we had them with soft naan and juicy limes. I made the entire recipe, that serves 4, and there were lots of leftovers which tasted even better the next day.

It is important to use really good quality potatoes here, they are the centre of the dish and I think any old spuds might not tastes as good as a Jersey royal or a similarly good new potato. I adapted the recipe from the brilliant Ko Rasoi blog, missing out some of the spices and using a little less sugar, salt and cream to my taste.

Kashmiri Dum Aloo
recipe adapted from Ko Rasoi
serves 4

450g Jersey royals or good quality new potatoes
2 tbsp of groundnut or sunflower oil
2 tbsp of tomato puree
1 tin of plum tomatoes
250ml water
1 tbsp of grated ginger
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tsp of sugar
2 tsp of salt
150ml of double cream

Spices - grind these in a pestle and mortar together
2 tsp of fennel seeds
2 tsp of chilli flakes
1/2 tsp of cumin seeds
1 tsp of coriander seeds
1/2 tsp of ground ginger

Chopped coriander to garnish

1. Keep your potatoes whole for this recipe, if you have any large ones cut them up to around 2-3 inches long, and keep the skins on. Heat the oil in a large casserole dish and fry the potatoes til they are golden brown on all sides. Remove the potatoes and set aside.

2. Fry your ginger then garlic, and then add in the tomato puree and fry for 1 minute. Then add the spices and fry for a few minutes, add a little water if it starts to stick. Add the tin of tomatoes, sugar, salt and water. Bring to the boil and then down to a gentle simmer.

3. Make your cartouche by cutting greaseproof paper to the same size as the pot and place over the bubbling dish. Put the lid onto the pot and turn down to the lowest heat. Simmer for at least 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are completely cooked.

4. The sauce might need thickening at this point, if so just simmer til it is the right consistency. Then add in the cream and simmer for a few minutes more, being careful not to over boil. Season if needed and then add in some fresh coriander before serving.

This is a lovely comforting dish for a very cold day, and it isn't too spicy - if you aren't keen on chilli you can dial it back a little and it will taste just as aromatic but without the kick.

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Friday, 8 February 2013

The Cambridge Brewhouse, King Street, Cambridge

Twitter is a great place, it is where I nearly always hear about new restaurant openings and where I heard about The Cambridge Brewhouse. I'd heard whisperings a few weeks before, and then Cambridge News picked up on it and by opening night on Wednesday Twitter was awash with pictures of their delicious food.

The Cambridge Brewhouse is on 1 King Street, which is a pub that has suffered from being not that great. It was The Bun Shop for a long time, a shabby looking place which never really held any appeal for me, then just over a year ago it was refurbished and turned into The Jolly Scholar - I blogged about it back then - the food was okay and the service was really quite terrible. I heard many more bad reviews about it after that, and it closed last year.

So now is the turn of The Cambridge Brewhouse, and things are definitely looking up. They brew their own beer as well as having a selection of ales from independent brewers, they smoke their own cheese and meat and make their own sausages. The food is pub style with a twist and they do a selection of 'British Tapas' - little light bites to go with your beer or as a starter.

I started off with some Shepherd's Pie Croquettes which aren't the most photogenic things, but they were tasty. Very crispy on the outside with soft centre made up of mash and traditional lamb shepherd's pie filling. I would have liked the mash to be around the outside and a meat filling in the centre but the Mr did point out the logistics of this might have been pretty hard to achieve. So I'm just fussy.

There are a few vegetarian options on the menu, from either the tapas section or the mains, and you can have sandwiches in the day time too. Mr had a butternut squash pearl barley risotto served with a little pot of the house smoked cheddar. Again, it wasn't too photogenic (hence no picture) but it was delicious, nice and generous on the cheese and lots of herbs to go with the squash and pearl barley.

I had the pie of the day which was lamb and rosemary - served with either mash or chips and red cabbage, and importantly - extra gravy! The pastry was crispy and flaky and the filling slow cooked and tender, perfect. The chips were unfortunately a little bit soggy, only a few of them were crispy.

Feeling full we almost didn't have pudding, but all the food was 50% off for the soft launch, so it would have been rude not to. I had my favourite - Sticky Toffee Pudding which was sickly, sweet, sticky and perfect. It didn't look as drenched in sauce as others do, so I was worried it would be dry, but the sponge was perfectly soft and there was plenty of sauce to go with it.

Mr had the 'Winter Berry Eton Mess' - as far as we could tell it came with raspberries, which aren't particularly wintry, and in fact there are no berries around in the winter anyway. Maybe a winter Eton mess would be better if it was served with stewed or preserved fruit of some kind. Despite the fruit, the meringue was chewy and crispy, it had a generous amount of cream and the out of season raspberries were at least sweet.

With 50% off a beer and a glass of wine it came to £23, so at normal prices it is about average for a meal in Cambridge (I know, it is expensive here!). We'll definitely go back again, the food is interesting and I like that they have their own microbrewery and smokery.

You can find the menu on their website and also follow them on Twitter for updates.

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Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Masala Chai

Whilst I was in India the tea I drank was almost exclusively masala chai, I did try some 'English tea' out there but they use buffalo milk rather than cow's milk which gives the tea a strange taste, something a good dose of masala gets rid of. So it was masala chai from then on.

First of all a rant word about the word chai. It really bugs me when I see someone talking about 'chai tea' - what you are essentially saying there is 'tea tea' because the word chai means tea. Chai doesn't refer to the fact that it is spiced tea, but chai means tea. Simple as that. Hence why you call it masala chai because it is tea spiced. This also applies to lentil dahl. Dahl means lentil so lentil dahl is lentil lentil.  Glad I got that off my chest.

Masala chai is drunk everyday by most Indians, I tend to drink it occasionally  maybe once a week. I particularly like it when it is a very cold day or I am feeling a bit under the weather - sweet, spicy hot tea is the best thing for these situations.

It takes longer to make than an average cup of tea but it is so worth the time. Normally it is not recommended to boil tea or use boiling water on tea, but here you boil it twice - once with masala and then once after adding milk. This way the spices really get into the tea and the tea brews quite strongly to compete with the spices. You don't necessarily have to use a really good quality loose tea here either, the contents of a couple of teabags will do!

You can buy tea masala in most good Indian grocers, I have found one place online, or you could try making it yourself. It is a mix of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, ground ginger and nutmeg - this recipe is pretty good.

I made this last weekend with the lovely Miss Sue Flay, who was very keen to learn how to make proper masala chai. We served it in a teapot with dainty little tea cups, but masala chai is equally at home in a big mug, or the traditional way - in a tall glass. We indulged in a yummy baked mocha alaska and rich chocolate truffles made by Miss Sue Flay.

Masala Chai
makes 3 tea cups or 2 mugs

You need:
Medium sized saucepan
Teapot (optional, you can serve straight from the pan)

2 tea cups full of cold water
2 tablespoons of black tea
2 teaspoons of sugar
1/4 teaspoon of chai masala
1/2 tea cup full of semi skimmed or whole milk

Add the water, tea, sugar and chai masala to the pan. Bring to the boil on a high heat. Once the tea is boiling vigorously, after about 5 minutes, add in your milk. Turn the heat down slightly and wait for it to boil again, be careful at this stage as it can boil over the side of the pan really quickly! When the milk boils to the top (about 2-3 minutes), remove from the heat, strain into your cup - or leave unstrained and serve in a teapot.

Sometimes you'll get a skin on your tea as the tea cools, just remove this with a spoon and it is ready to drink.

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Sunday, 3 February 2013


Well, I'm back from what was probably the trip of a lifetime. Before going I was excited but also nervous, having never been to India before, or even a 'non Western' country before either. India was many things, crazy, hot, interesting, funny and fun , beautiful, varied, dusty and just plain full on. And of course the food was great.

Unlike most of my holidays this was not totally centered around the food - I didn't have any places jotted down in a notebook that I had researched online - I left it up to my parents and whatever and wherever we happened upon on the day. It was quite nice to go with the flow.

We spent 3 days in the crowded city of Mumbai - visiting the sights, taking tea at the famous Taj Mahal Hotel, shopping in the super sleek malls and also the higgeldy piggeldy street markets. The pollution and the crowds were hard to handle and crossing the road is plain terrifying.

Our hotel did brilliant breakfasts - things like Idli Sambar (above) and Batata Vada for breakfast along with big bowls of juicy papaya and super fresh watermelon juice to wash it all down. We ate mostly in the hotel restaurant - paneer in buttery spicy sauces, tandoori naan breads - crispy and soft all at once, black dahl and vegetable koftas.

After that we left for Navsari in Gujarat, which is where my extended family live. There was plenty of visiting family but we also did a lot of shopping in the many sari shops and jewellery shops. Here we ate with our family - lots of vegetarian food - plenty of dahl bhatt, kadhi and vegetable rice and 'curry' made with the freshest vegetables. Everyone in the smaller towns shop one meal at at time in the local market, getting their vegetables in the afternoon and cooking them a few hours later in the evening. As much as I appreciate the convenience of a supermarket for people like me who work all day, it is nice to see people eating food that is fresh and local.

We were also introduced to the concept of Chinese Bhel Puri (crispy fried noodles, little spring onion and soy koftas with crunchy vegetables) and Manchurian Paneer at a local hotel restaurant - Chinese food is really popular in India and something I want to recreate soon. Breakfast was always a masala chai, sometimes with some toast and sometimes with some fruit, normally a 'chiku' which is a soft sort of fibrous sweet fruit- very hard to describe how it tastes. I didn't like most of the fruit in India, the textures are so different compared to what we are used to over here - but I did like the little chikus we bought.

Kulfi is a big thing in India, ice cream basically, and there are lots of flavours in the ice cream shops in you find in India. We stopped in once place in Navsari - the flavours above are pistachio mango and at the back Paan Masala - which is the flavour of the tobacco filled leaves that people chew after a meal. At the back is the famous milky drink, Faluda - made with mango. 

After 5 days in the small town of Navsari we left to travel the rest of Gujarat and the north of India. We visited Virpur, Somnath and then down to the beach at Diu. This took a couple of days just in one state, India is such a huge country, it is mind boggling. Diu was a nice relaxed beach resort, I remember we had a great spinach chicken dish in the hotel restaurant.

After this we left to go further north into Rajasthan - we stopped a night at Udaipur in a beautiful hotel made mainly out of marble.

Then onto Jaipur - the pink city - which was my favourite city of the visit. We visited the Amber Fort up in the hills - built for Raja Man Singh in the 1600s - it is high up in the mountains above Jaipur (the view from the top is the photo above). The views are amazing and the place itself is awesome, I can't think about how they built such an impressive place in that time period in that location. The pink part of the city is beautiful, the vegetable dye is so vibrant and they still use the same methods to this day to preserve the pink city. Jaipur is famous for its textiles, we visited several textile shops and I bought a lovely quilt to take home with me. Food highlights were less impressive than the rest of the holiday- we ate in KFC eating curry crunch chicken!

Next we went onto Agra to visit the Taj Mahal. All the things that can be said have been said about the Taj Mahal - it is truly a beautiful building and so well preserved, our guide told us the story behind it and I've heard it many times but it is still a great story. Oh and the bit about the King cutting off the hands of the builders is a myth, he didn't do that.

After Agra we headed to Delhi for a whistlestop tour of the city. We visited the recently built Akshardan Mandir - a Swaminaryan temple made from marble, completed in 2005. Then we drove around the city and saw India Gate, the parliament buildings. We visited the house Gandhi stayed in and where he was assasinated, along with Rajghat park which is where the memorials for Mahatma Gandi, Indira Gandhi and Rajhiv Gandi are.

After Delhi we started on the long journey back to Navsari, stopping in Jaipur over night. This is when you really realise how big the country is, it takes about 6 hours to get from Delhi to Jaipur and then another 15 hours from Jaipur to Navsari again. Crazy. We were tired.

Our last few days were spent in Navsari staying in a swanky hotel which did excellent breakfasts. My favourite was the Poori Bhaji which is potato curry with big crispy pooris. I had this on the day that the cold I'd caught (I know) was at its worse and it totally fed my cold like a boss. This is on my 'to cook' list too. Parathas also featured at breakfast time, and also good old toast for when we needed something plain to break up all the spice. We had more family meals too.

Overall the trip was great, it was tiring and I felt a long way from home at times but it was also a brilliant experience. I want to recreate so many of the meals we ate over there - I've already made Dum Aloo and Pav Bhaji which I'll be posting on here soon, along with making the effort to make rotlis more often than I normally do too. The colours, saris, silks and designs in India are giving me lots of jewellery inspiration too.

I've got lots more pictures on my Flickr stream, not just food ones too!

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