Tomato mutton curry

Food & drink
Tomato mutton curry

This is a first for me. It’s the first time I’ve cooked a curry that doesn’t have any chilli in it at all. Not one single bit. None.

Instead, this is a simple dish that relies on the delicate depth of its spicing for character and body. This is an excellent dish for those times when you’re trying to introduce people who don’t normally eat spicy food to something a little more adventurous … our kids in particular loved this dish, because it’s rich and tasty, but lacks that stringent kick that comes with a lot of heavily chilli-laden Asian food.

This is a Maharastrian Hindu recipe from vast Western central province of India, and it traditionally uses mutton or goat, but lamb is a suitable substitute if you can;t get hold of either. Goat, in particular, is very good prepared in this way.

To start, fry four cloves and a green cardamom  pod in a good slug of vegetable oil until they become fragrant and start to sizzle, then add 500g of ripe tomatoes, quartered, to the pan, and reduce the heat. Cover the pan and cook the tomatoes for about half an hour, nudging them around every now and again to help them break down.

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Ferment Your Vegetables, by Amanda Feifer

Books
Ferment Your Vegetables, by Amanda Feifer

I’m a big fan of rotting vegetables.

Perhaps i should rephrase that.

I’m a big fan of vegetables that have been allowed to decompose in a controlled and safe way, that is, to ferment.

Fermentation is a wonderful thing, a chemical reaction that changes matter from one state into another. It’s at the heart of bread making, brewing, winemaking, cheesemaking, and much more. When things go ‘bad’, they often become very good indeed. Fermentation is one of the most glorious discoveries ever made.

Vegetable fermentation is older than civilisation itself, with hints that our Neolithic ancestors practised the art. That first fermentation was probably an accident, with some salt getting mixed into some sort of organic matter which was then left alone for a while. The salt protected the food and allowed certain bacteria or microorganisms the space to kick off the process of fermentation.  The result must have been a surprise, and a complete mystery.

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Sicilian butternut squash and chickpea stew

Food & drink
Sicilian butternut squash and chickpea stew

It struck me on Friday evening that I’d eaten meat on six out of the last seven days.

I’m a carnivore, that’s self-evident.

I eat meat, and I’m happy to do so, as long as the animal is reared properly and its meat is of a good quality. I wring the most out of every piece of meat too, with things like chicken carcasses going into the stock pot, for example.

Six out of seven is too much, and that was reinforced when I fell for one of those click-bait articles on the ten things to cut out of your diet if you’re trying to get really fit, which lodged red meat firmly at the top. This came as something of a surprise, and it seems a little counter-intuitive to me – anybody who’s ever trained hard for something like a marathon will know that they really, really need two things: loads of carbohydrates (also on that list), and plenty of protein, of which red meat is a superb source. Not as good as chicken, which itself isn’t as good as turkey, but good none the less. It was because of something to do with the fat content of red meat, I remember, but where’s the fun in lean beef or pork without its crackling?

This led me to turn to the butternut squash that’s been waiting patiently in the fridge for rather too long.

Could it become a meal that people would actually eat and enjoy, instead of meeting its usual fate of being sliced up and roasted in a hot oven until slightly too charred at the edges, slightly too hard in the center, and with slightly too much chilli in a vain attempt to rescue it?

I hunted through my collection of cookbooks, which seemed a little bereft of good butternut squash recipes, and eventually found something in a Jamie Oliver book, a Sicilian stew that uses squash and chickpeas as the main event. Say what you want about Oliver, and many of you won’t hold back, I realise that, but I’d rate him as one of the most important cooks this country has produced in the last twenty years. I can think of few people who’ve done more to actually get people into the kitchen and cooking decent food than Oliver has, and that’s mainly down to his accessible and exciting take on food – his are recipes that people read and think ‘yeah, I’m going to cook that’. For that alone, he’s got my respect.

So, this starts off with a butternut squash, about a kilo in weight. Peel the tough skin away, and then cleave the squash in half with your biggest knife, scooping out the seeds. Put the strips of skin and seeds aside – they’re for later – and chop the squash into rough 3cm chunks. More…

Keelham Farm Shop’s Yorkshire Beer Experience Taste Box

Food & drink
Keelham Farm Shop’s Yorkshire Beer Experience Taste Box

First, a slight apology. I realise that, as I post the photo above, I’ve stumbled into the trap of using a boring cliché.

That line up is everywhere.

It’s the beer drinker’s equivalent of the fashion blogger’s flat lay. Seriously, search for ‘flatlay’ on Instagram and have a look at the 635,000 near identical photos of stuff laid out casually but with excruciating precision. For that, I apologise, but I;ve drunk half the bottles now, so no going back …

That all aside, look at that beer!

It comes from Keelham Farm Shop as part of their £22 Yorkshire Beer Experience box, a box that’s finished with a couple of bags of Piper’s excellent crisps, and another couple of bags of superb pork scratchings. They bill it as a pub crawl in a box, and that just about nails it.

Now, Yorkshire has something of a reputation for producing good beer.

These parts have been a major centre for brewing for many centuries. This whole ‘craft beer revolution’ thing is nothing new around here. Keelham have selected a good range of bottles, with beer from Little Valley in Hebden Bridge, Wharfe Bank Brewery in Otley, Great Newsome near Hull, and Timothy Taylor’s and Naylor’s  from Keighley.

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Cajun-spiced baked chicken in breadcrumbs

Food & drink
Cajun-spiced baked chicken in breadcrumbs

Every now and then, I get an urge for junk food.

Vegetables are all very well, but there’s nothing like the occasional meal of that consists of what I’d normally consider to be complete rubbish.

I think of this as a cathartic palate cleanser, and it strikes about once a year.

Normally, it’s fried chicken, and I’ll find myself in some motorway service station somewhere at night, in the rain, on the way back from somewhere far away, wolfing down some chicken, riddled with guilt.

Once it’s done, it’s done, and there’s no need to go back there for many months.

Now, it’s perfectly possible to make a superior version of this awful, awful but oh-so-good fried chicken at home, and I’ll show you how to do exactly that right here, but the High Street, utter junk version is something else. It’s really to do with pressure frying, which leaves chicken crisp and hot, retaining a lot of the moisture that would normally be lost during a more extended cooking process. That, and that infuriating secret blend of herbs and spices that seems to revolve around lots of salt.

Before you judge me completely, I keep this whole thing at bay. I look after myself, and chicken shack fried chicken most definitely doesn’t have a place in a good, balanced diet, but every now and again, it should appear, because, well, moderation and experience are both important things.

So, a homemade version.

Significantly healthier, equally tasty, but different. More…