23 October 2009

Singh For Your Supper

It was one of those days. Actually, it's been one of those years but today was just one of those endless series of irksome little problems that, individually, wouldn't really register but, one after the other, can leave you in the sort of mood where even puppies risk a kicking.

The car battery died. My Blackberry, after weeks of efficient running, decided it would no longer sync my diary and Google Calendar. I missed the early LFF screening due to what I shall euphemistically call "domestic issues". I had another row with Orange. The post strike disrupted my capacity to earn. Twitterberry joined Google Sync in the apparent work to rule dispute... As I say, nothing there to really ruin a day but one after the other and all before 11am? Gah.

I needed cheering up then and, happily, that was about to happen. A few weeks ago, my mate Iqbal introduced me to a good friend of his, Daljit. As well as being the talented creative type behind the rather marvellous design agency Digit, and responsible for the highly entertaining digital installation "Four Seasons" at Roast, Daljit has a new venture on the cards: Indian sausages. Would I like to try them? he'd suggested after our initial meet. Having never knowingly said no to a pork product, the wasn't much doubt to the answer, and so we scheduled a sausage-tasting lunch at The Cinnamon Kitchen.

The sausages will, hopefully, soon be generally available under the brand name Mr Singh's Bangras. As a lover of a pun (see, well, title of this blog for example), I found the name particularly chucklesome - come on, who could say no to Bangras and mash? - and was eager to test the product. The name may be jokey but the product is anything but: Mr Singh's Bangras are a serious, and seriously good, sausage.

The Bangras are based on an old recipe by Daljit's grandfather, Harnam Singh, who was a butcher in the East End. Incidentally, that smiling chap in the marketing photograph? That's not the most perfect casting imaginable, that's actually a pic of Harnam. It's also, coincidentally, the sort of expression you'll pull after trying a Bangra.

We enjoyed them today as a starter: a single date and apricot Bangra on a bed of masala mash.

Over the years, I've tried a lot of "cross cultural" foodstuffs and have usually been disappointed. So often, the Indian influence is toned down as if to not scare sensitive English palates. That's not an issue here. The rich date taste is what hits first, and then the spice kicks in. We're talking proper heat, the sort of bite that fills the mouth and makes the eyes widen involuntarily. However, at the point you think they've gone too far, the sweetness of the apricot - and a little orange peel - kicks in to round the whole thing off. And all the time that's happening, you can still savour the moist, all-round piggy gorgeousness of the meat. It would be fair to say then that I'm a convert, and also that I finished the day in much brighter mood than I began.

Mr Singh's Bangras will soon - with luck - be appearing in select supermarkets. I'll keep you posted. And with a little luck, the generous Mr S may be sending me a few over sometime soon. In the spirit of today I think that I might just have to get a few bloggers around for some sausage butties, don't you? Drop me a line if you might be interested...

18 October 2009

Chipping Away

From a professional standpoint, I'm writing this in the middle of the London Film Festival. From a journalistic point of view, that means long days of movie-watching. That's not, admittedly, the toughest work out there, but there is a downside. The lack of eating opportunities.

That's not to say I'm starving of course. Nope, far from it. It's just that the timings of screenings, the geographical locations and, of course, the need to write about what you've seen (not to mention keeping on top of other work) can easily result in eating junk food on the run and then not getting enough sleep. That then results in caffeine-fuelled days which then disrupt the sleep patterns even further which mean caffeine-fuelled days which... well, you get the point.

After a week of dodgy food though, I'm back on song and, thanks to a weekend of cooking, I'm prepared for the remaining days of the Festival. There's a huge bowl of gazpacho in the fridge - basically a salad smoothie when you think about it - and, as I write this, the smells of slow roasting tomatoes, peppers and onions is making me a very hungry bunny indeed. Those will be used as the base of one of Gaucho's sauces (the aforementioned vegetables, roasted, blitzed with orange juice and then pepped up with as much Tabasco as you can take - simple but seriously good) and for some more day-saving (and money saving) LFF soups. Best bit? The cost. I was walking past one of those local stores that offered bowls of assorted fruit and vegetables for a quid per punnet when the idea struck, hence I staggered home with a bag of tomatoes, about five romano peppers, two cucumbers, two of the biggest mangos I've ever seen and a dozen onions for a fiver.

But I digress. With the eating sorted for the next few days - and oh so cheaply back onto the health kick - I can now think about some of the other edible delights that have slipped between blog posts.
For example, a fine devilled crab from The Coach & Horses

or, in particular, some more bits from the Spanish break. A few years ago, we discovered a superb venta just past Tarifa and we had long planned a return. The bad news? We were there on the wrong day for their fish soup. The good news? Their fare was just as hearty and delicious as before. There was a slight catch on the exchange rate - thank you RBS et al for fucking up the economy - so it wasn't as good value as before, but a Spanish take on egg and chips, a huge plate of chorizo and the ensalata mixta were all very good. And how can anyone dislike a country that seems to consider tuna a vegetable?

As for Estepona, even being forced to turn back due to a traffic jam had a positive result: a charming little tapas bar, the coldest beer I think I've ever drunk and two little plates of octopus and potato, and gently cooked tuna.

As for Darren's Thai cooking, that deserves a post of its own. Here's a wee appetiser though: a green fish curry of aromatic, spicy beauty.

6 October 2009

Cheesey Peasy

I'm rather stunned - and slightly ashamed - to realise that what follows is the first "proper" recipe I've posted. There have been the odd cooking suggestions - the joys of "chicken toast" spring to mind - but I've not yet done the recipe thing. So, without further ado...

Inevitably, the first post involves calories: lots of 'em, in fact. But hell, it's a proper pudding and, frankly, I'd rather have a small slice of this

than a much larger slice of something low fat. Or indeed, a large slice of this

and go for a much longer run the following day.

Baked Cheesecake is one of the greatest pleasures to eat and, back in my early, tentative cooking days, was probably the first thing I mastered. It's easy to make (particularly if you have a blender or a Kenwood Chef), easy to adapt (blueberries go well, raisins are also a winner) and the results tend to disappear very quickly. I made one for an event for Mrs L's family last year and it lasted about a minute (beating out many more elaborate confections) and generated seven requests for the recipe. Endorsed by Jews: is there a more telling accolade for this brilliant pud?

Baked Cheesecake

(Serves 12 -16. Or one, if you lock yourself away with a spoon)

For the base:

125g of Digestives, crushed
50-75g of butter
a generous 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg

For the cheesecake:

600g of full fat cream cheese (if you need to assuage some guilt, do 200g of light - more than that and it just doesn't cook properly)
284mls of double cream
2 eggs
4 tablespoons of golden caster sugar
1 tablespoon of lemon juice (well, 1-and-a-bit - I like the lemony flavour)
1 teaspoon of vanilla essence. Or a pod's worth of seeds.
Pinch of salt.

With the oven at the magic temperature of 180 degrees C (what's that, Gas Mark 4? 350F?), get busy with the biccies and a rolling pin. While I quite like the mix of very fine crumbs and the odd larger lump - a bit of texture never hurts - Mrs L prefers the smoother version. She's similarly fussy about mash but, er, that's not important right now. To be fair, the finer the crumb, the better the absorption of the butter - which is the next bit. Probably obviously. Melt the butter, sprinkle in the crumbs and the nutmeg (or nutmeg and cinnamon mix if you're feeling racy), stir furiously until everything's well coated and press the resulting mixture into a loose-bottom, 20 cm / 8 inch tin. Let it set for a few minutes.

Now the fun bit. Get the blender / Kenwood Chef. Mix the cheese, eggs, cream, sugar, lemon juice, vanilla and pinch of salt together until you have a thick, even and creamy liquid. Mix it some more. Enjoy the smell of lemon and vanilla as it wafts from the bowl.

Pour the mix over the base and whack it in the oven for around 40-50 minutes. Watch it rise like a souffle and go a delightful golden brown. Remove from oven and test centre with a skewer. If it comes out clean, it's done and, to be honest, if it comes out relatively clean, it's still probably done because, by the time the cheesecake sinks (and it will), you'll be left with a soft and creamy centre. If it's not done - i.e., it's wobbling like a jelly and you've got a skewer covered in cheesy liquid - put it back in the oven for a few minutes but hey, if you've made it this far you can read so you've probably worked that bit out yourself.

Now the hard bit. Leave it for about a day. That gives the centre a bit more time to set / condense but, most importantly, it allows the flavours to even out.

Enjoy. It should last a good three or four days in the fridge but I doubt it'll get the chance...