Saturday, 5 August 2017


Smooth jazz from The Manhattan Transfer

The 1970s were great*. Cooking (since you're probably interested if you're here) was all about Fanny Craddock, The Galloping Gourmet and the new CILF on the scene, Delia Smith. Films mirrored these culinary giants of the small screen in the shape of Alien, Jaws and Princess Leia in Star Wars (or Star Wars Episode VII: A New Hope as it's known now).

Music had a massive shift also, with disco and, most significantly, the advent of punk happening in this decade. It needs stating, though, that while there was a revolution going on in popular music, there was still a major stream of less challenging fare flooding the UK top 40. There was a slew of easy listening and novelty songs throughout the decade, from the cliche-ridden Europop celebration of the package tour to Spain, Sylvia's "Y Viva España"; to the Rupert Holmes cheesy ballad telling the story of a bored married bloke who replies to an ad in a lonely hearts column in order to have an affair, but with an obvious twist, the Piña Colada song. Another one was Chanson D'Amour by The Manhattan Transfer as seen in the video at the top of the page. The latter is a piece of light jazz which includes the actual lyric "Rat-ta-tat-ta-tat". However, as anodyne as that song is, that lyric starts running untrammeled through your head as soon as you hear the name ratatouille. Less ear worm and more ear rat, or maybe it's just me on that. I can guarantee, however, that, if you know the song, the very fact that I've mentioned it means that the tune will now be in your head for at least the next couple of hours. You're welcome.

70s TV chefs and iconic 70s movies. The similarities are mindblowing!
Left to right, top to bottom Fanny Craddock; HR Giger's Alien from the Ridley Scott movie; Graham Kerr, the galloping Gourmet; Jaws; Delia Smith; Carrie Fisher as Star Wars' Princess Leia. Coincidence? I don't think so!

Ratatouille is a classic vegetable stew from Provence and is best described as pure sunshine in a pot. Fresh aubergines, peppers, courgette and tomatoes, they're all there. As a meat free meal it's a great way to use the fresh produce you get in the summer and it tastes fucking amazing, especially if it's with some fresh, crusty bread.

*They weren't. They were pretty shit. We had the Three Day Week. We had Baader-Meinhof. We had flares and wing collars (see here for my take on this). The Cold War was still quietly raging and virtually nobody in the UK had even heard of couscous, let alone eaten it.

Preparation: 15 minutes
Cooking: 60 minutes

4 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 aubergine, cut into 2cm dice
1 courgette, sliced into 1cm rounds
1 yellow pepper, cored, seeded and chopped into 2cm squares
1 red pepper, cored, seeded and chopped into 2cm squares
4 medium-large tomatoes, skinned and chopped
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste
handful of basil leaves

Chopped and ready to cook

Heat the oil in a pan and gently fry the onion and garlic for 10 minutes.

Add the aubergine and fry for 10 more minutes.

Throw in the courgette and fry for another 10 minutes.

Add the peppers and fry for another 10 minutes.

Stir in the tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, tomato puree plus salt and pepper to taste before adding 100ml water.

Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes (until the vegetables are tender).

 I smell a rat
And it smells fantastic

Makes plenty for a big bowlful each for two people plus a decent lunch with the leftovers.

Serve with fresh bread.

 Ready to eat
Just add bread

Big, ripe tomatoes work best in this.

Other herbs would work well in this, like oregano or (sparingly) thyme. The fresh basil is sublime, however.

As I mentioned, this dish is from Provence which became the Nirvana favoured by the British middle classes in the late 80s/early 90s, thanks in main to the book A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle and the subsequent TV mini-series based upon it. It spawned a load of imitators as people with more money than sense followed through on their French rural wank fantasy, with often limited success and financial insecurity, the gullible cons de chez con, as they might say in France.

There is a little known incident on a teatime programme called Nationwide in the UK which had a cooking piece presented by Fanny Craddock in which she was making meringues. When this piece was finished, the anchor man of the programme, addressing the viewers, said "And I hope all your meringues turn out like Fanny's"

The most famous version of Chanson D'Amour is the one I put at the head of this post. However, this is not the best. That belongs to the version in the video below, as perfomed by the Muppets, which is actually sublime.

The Muppets do Chanson D'Aamour
They weren't only just about mna mna

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Pasta with aubergine, basil, chilli and pine nuts

Pasta is funny stuff. On the one hand, it's been the staple of student diets, in one form or another, for years. Often just served with grated cheese as it's cheap, filling and quick. At the other extreme, it's the lynchpin of the cuisine of an entire country where it can be covered in all sorts of over-priced shit, like truffles or caviar for fuck's sake. Yet another example of the gentrification of what has been a peasant food for centuries, a subject I've already ranted about.

Let's face it, pasta is usually nothing more than wheat and water, pressed into some fancy shapes. Obviously this belies the long culinary history of pasta. all the way from Italy. There are estimated to be over 350 varieties of pasta, many of which named after a dizzying array of things. Body parts seem a common theme with ears (orecchiette), tongues (linguine), moustaches (mostaccioli, another name for penne) all having pasta shapes named after them. Invertebrates get a bit of a look in too, with snails (lumache), squid (calamarata), worms (vermicelli) and butterflies (farfalle) all having a starring role. Then there is the really odd like bibs (bavette), cooking pots (lasagne) and thimbles (ditalini). Sadly there aren't any obviously rude official regional pasta varieties, as would fit the nature of this blog, though, as I pointed out previously, the word penne is just one "n" too many away from meaning penis. Then, I consulted everybody's friend Google and found that there is actually a dick-shaped pasta variety.

Al dente

Anyway, moving back to the recipe in hand, when considering vegetarian dishes, pasta is a perfect base and the Italian love of fresh vegetables make for some delicious possibilities. This concoction is no exception and really is a cracking little recipe. Aubergines, garlic, chilli, basil and a few crunchy pine nuts mean it's stupidly simple and quick to put together. 

Preparation: 5 minutes
Cooking: 30 minutes

4 tbsp olive oil plus additional for pouring on
2 tbsp pine nuts
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 large aubergine (around 300g in size), chopped into 2cm dice
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
Salt and black pepper to taste
Handful of fresh basil leaves
150-200g dried pasta (penne or fusilli work)

Heat the oil in a large pan and throw in the pine nuts

Fry them for a couple of minutes, until they are golden brown before removing them with a slotted spoon

Add the garlic to the hot oil and fry for 2 minutes before adding the aubergine.

Fry for another 10-15 minutes until the aubergine pieces start to colour

Add the tomato puree, black pepper and salt to taste and continue to cook for another 10-15 minutes, adding the odd tablespoon of water if it gets too dry

Meanwhile, cook the pasta and drain.

Turn the pasta into the pan with the cooked aubergine, mix, and add the pine nuts.

Finally, tear the basil leaves and add to the pasta and aubergines and stir, adding additional olive oil to give the dish a glossy look.

Serve up with some nice crusty bread.

Probably because my pedigree is more factory-made by Clarks in northern England than hand-made in Milan, I don't have much time for the whole idea that a certain shape of pasta must be served with a certain type of sauce. In this instance, the dried penne and fusilli I used (there was half a portion of fusilli left so had to add some penne from a new packet) held onto the sauce well. I've also served this with fresh tagliatelli and it works just as good.

The basil and pine nuts really make this dish. Dried basil is not a substitute for fresh leaves as the taste is very different. Pine nuts could possibly be swapped for other nuts, perhaps peanuts or cashews, but the dish will be missing the subtle coniferous fragrance that they impart.

One rare problem with pine nuts is pine mouth syndrome. This can happen after eating some pine nuts when, as I found out one time, you end up with a bitter taste in your mouth for a few days after eating the kernel. It does fade, but you don't enjoy your dinners for a few days as a result.

Contrary to urban myth, pasta was not brought to Italy by Marco Polo coming back from China, but by Arabs from North Africa. Is nothing sacred? Next thing you know they'll be claiming Arabs gave the world mathematics like algebra or made early advances in astronomy. Oh, wait, they did.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Aromatic courgette curry

So it's another recipe for meat-free days. I went into some of the environmental arguments for going vegetarian in my last blog entry but one real advantage for eating vegie is that it's just much cheaper than meat. It's not that I'm pleading poverty, and I've no intention of giving up meat any time soon, but there is something great about knocking up something like this which costs next to fuck all and takes little more than an hour.

I've twatted on about courgetttes and how great they are in a previous post, but what I was unaware of is that this humble vegetable is another import from the Americas. So, along with peppers, chillies and tomatoes, which were also brought over from the New World, European and Asian cuisine would have been so fucking dull before the Conquistadors made it to America. They also brought back syphilis, so, I guess that's a case of swings and roundabouts. And let's not forget that chocolate also came from the New World, so, on balance, it's a win for white Europeans, in addition to the devastation they wreaked on the native civilisations and the population as a whole on the other side of the Atlantic. We got a whole new pantry full of ingredients, they got genocide.

OK, we'll swap you horses, the wheel and Catholicism for the contents of your gardens

Preparation: 10 minutes
Cooking: 50 minutes

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp ground tumeric
1 whole star anise
1 tsp ground coriander
3 cloves
4 whole green cardamom pods
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp whole fennel seeds
1 bay leaf
1 10cm piece cinnamon stick
pinch ground black pepper
pinch  dried chilli flakes
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 large courgette, topped, tailed and sliced
2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
100ml water
1 tbsp tomato puree
More spices
(clockwise from 12 o'clock: ground cumin, bay leaf, tumeric, cinnamon stick, ground coriander, star anise, cloves, chilli flakes, black pepper, cardamom pods with fennel seeds in the middle)

Heat the oil in a pan and add the spices for 2 minutes.

Throw in the onion, ginger and garlic, and fry gently for 10 minutes.

Add the courgette and stir-fry for another 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and water, stir then add salt to taste.

Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 30 minutes

Serve with rice

Ready to eat 
(on right of plate with aloo gobi on left on a bed of plain, boiled basmati rice)

 This is a great dish to serve with aloo gobi that I posted a recipe for recently. This uses more earthy flavoured spices which contrast well with the richly fragrant nature of this courgette curry.

Courgettes are members of the pumpkin/squash family, the cucurbit. It's not all about versatile vegetables, mind. This family also contains the penis gourd which has made an appearance in this blog in a previous post.I'm not sure who dreamed up the idea, but they must have had a pretty eccentric outlook.
"That's a funny looking vegetable. Does it taste nice?"
"Not really. Not sure what to do with it"
"Well, if you dry it out it would make a great cover for your cock"

A decorative penis gourd from Papua New Guinea

Monday, 17 July 2017

Aloo gobi (potato and cauliflower curry)

I have mentioned vegetarianism in previous posts, how I even tried being a vegetarian as a pretentious student. What I didn't mention then was that the reason for this was, in part, to get on the good side of a girl who was in the same student hall as me that I quite fancied. It's a scientifically proven fact* that most guys who perform a coup de theatre in terms of lifestyle in their late teens, like turning away from meat for instance, are generally doing it to get into the pants of someone they like. Anyway, at the time, my justification was the poor yield of protein per hectare from raising livestock for food compared to arable farming which was morally wrong when people were starving in the world. Using this justification I could then allow eating lamb doner kebabs as sheep were raised on scrubby hills that had no use in growing vegetables, and fish, since this was mainly gotten from out of water.The spell of vegetarianism lasted for a few weeks before I lapsed back into eating meat properly. A legacy of this time is the fact that I have absolutely no qualms about eating vegetarian food on a regular basis.

More recently, it has become well publicised that meat production leaves a far larger carbon footprint than growing vegetables alone. While it's true that most people in the west have larger carbon footprints than a sasquatch in snow shoes that are five sizes too big, and any change in diet would have a pretty minute effect on this, it still gives a chance to prevent the liberation of a tiny amount of additional carbon into the atmosphere. There are other ways to reduce your carbon footprint, like not flying, having children, having pets or driving a car, but who wants to stop doing any of that?

One of the main causes of the increased carbon emission through raising livestock is the effect of intestinal gas from cattle. Cow farts are making the world a warmer place as they release methane which is 23 times worse at causing atmospheric warming than carbon dioxide. One possibility to offset this might be to stop the cows farting in the first place and one way of doing this is using charcoal. Perhaps giving Ermintrude a load of charcoal tablets might help alleviate this source of pollution. It may even have the added bonus of the cows shitting ready-formed BBQ briquettes, so everyone's a winner. Well, apart from the cows, who would be producing the fuel by which they would be cooked of a nice summer evening.

Charcoal tablets
A possible solution to global warming

So where am I going with this? Well, it's another vegetarian recipe as I am planning a regular meat free dinner every week. India has more vegetarians than the population of most countries, so it's not surprising that some of the very best vegetarian cuisine comes from the subcontinent.

I have done a recipe for another potato curry previously, but this is a take on an aloo gobi, where the spud is partnered with cauliflower in one of the tastiest vegetable curries found on the menu of an Indian takeaway. As I mentioned before, potatoes have enough substance to them to make a decent main course in their own right, plus the lentils add extra protein and make for an even more substantial meal.

*It probably isn't scientifically proven, but I've not looked at the literature so it might be.

Preparation: 15 minutes
Cooking: 70 minutes

150g dried red lentils
200g cauliflower florets broken into bite-sized pieces
450g potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-3cm cubes
1 medium onion, sliced
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin seeds
½ tsp whole fenugreek seeds
½ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp black mustard seeds
½ tsp onion seeds
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground tumeric
pinch of chilli flakes

It's another spice picture
(from 10 o'clock: coriander, black pepper, mustard seeds, chilli flakes, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, onion seeds with paprika in the middle)

Boil the lentils for 20 minutes, strain and set aside.

Heat the oil in a good, heavy pan and add the spices, onion and garlic and gently fry for 10 minutes.

Add the potatoes and continue to fry for another 10 minutes.

Throw in the cauliflower and keep stirring for another 5 minutes.

Add the lentils to the pan and add 200ml water and salt according to taste.

Bring to the boil, cover, lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes (until the potatoes become tender).

Serve with rice and/or naan bread, on its own or with another curry or two
 Aloo gobi 
(on the left, with a courgette curry on a bed of plain boiled rice)

In contrast to most of my previous curry recipes, this dish uses lots of earthy rather than the more aromatic spice flavours and doesn't have a tomato base. It is a good contrast to these if you are serving more than one dish

I used floury old potatoes in this recipe as the texture works better than new potatoes.

A cow farts aren't the only trump that cause a stink and fucks up the world.

Traditionally, cauliflower has been a fairly unassuming vegetable, being boiled on its own or perhaps upping the ante a little with cauliflower cheese, the vegetarian staple of the 70s. However, cauliflower is currently having a bit of a surge in popularity as a "low carb" food and is finding uses as a substitute for rice, pizza base or even steak. Why stop there? How about cauliflower chocolate brownies, cauliflower yoghurt, cauliflower flavoured condoms? It's fucking cauliflower for Christ's sake. It's a lovely vegetable in its own right and doesn't need to be given superpowers. However, if you are using it in some other dish, I would say that aloo gobi is as good as it gets.

There aren't a huge number of songs that mention curries in general, let alone aloo gobi in particular. One that does, however, is this spoof of Kula Shaker's Govinda, by former Radio 1 DJs Mark and Lard performing as their band the Shire Horses.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Laksa (Leftover Symphonies 5)

The US sitcom from the late 70s/early 80s, Taxi, was a launchpad for several actors including Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd and Marilu Henner. It also starred established comedian, the late Andy Kaufman, who is widely regarded, amongst the comednicenti (ie those that know comedy), as a true genius. He played an immigrant from an unmentioned Eastern European country called Latka in the show. Otherwise, latkas are potato pancakes made as part of Hannukah celebrations in the Jewish community and are not to be confused with the subject of this recipe, laksa.

It's difficult to categorise laksa. Is it a soup? Is it noodles? Is it a curry? Fuck knows, but it's bloody lovely. It's southeast Asia in a bowl.

Comfort food varies around the world. As I mentioned in a previous post, in the UK it's usually soup (very often out of a can) or hearty stews. Laksa ticks many of the boxes necessary to qualify as the comfort food of the Malay Peninsula: noodles; rich, thick gravy; lots of vegetables; and a good bit of spice. It couldn't provide any more comfort if it was down-quilted and gave you a shot of muscle relaxant. Like this recipe for vindaloo I posted previously, the dish is another bit of natural fusion as the dish derives from ethnic Chinese people settling in the Straits towns of the peninsula and incorporating local ingredients. It's a staple of Peranakan food which is a particularly eclectic cuisine combining influences from China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the European colonisers (Dutch, British and Portuguese).

This is yet another way of using up some leftovers, this time the remains of a roast chicken but you could do it with fresh chicken or seafood, particularly some big, juicy, shell-on prawns.

Preparation:20 mins
Cooking: 1 hour 45 mins

3 cakes of dried egg noodles
1 tbsp oil (neutrally flavoured like rapeseed or sunflower)
1 leftover carcass of a roast chicken (with plenty of meat, a good 150g or more)
4 small shallots, peeled and sliced
1 carrot, roughly diced
1 stick of celery, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 stalk of lemon grass, chopped
1 thumb-sized piece fresh tumeric root, chopped (or 1 tsp dried)
2 thumb-sized piece ginger, chopped
4 red chillies, whole
1 whole star anise
5 cloves
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 stick of cinnamon (approx 5cm)
2 chicken stock cubes
200ml tinned coconut milk
1 lime,juiced and husks retained
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce
10 cherry tomatoes
100g okra, topped and tailed and cut into 2cm chunks
3 large mushrooms, sliced

Cook the noodles according to the instructions.

Drain and set aside

Pick the chicken meat off the carcass and set both the meat and the bones aside.

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large pan and add the shallots, carrot and celery and fry until soft (around 10 minutes).

Add the garlic, lemon grass, tumeric, ginger, chillies and dry spices and continue to gently fry for another 5 minutes.

Place the stock cubes and chicken bones into the pan, add 1.5l water, heat to boiling, cover and simmer for 45 minutes

Remove the chicken bones and blend the broth until smooth

Return to the hob and add the coconut milk, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and lime husks.

Throw in the remaining vegetables and stir

Boil and simmer for another 30 minutes.

Refresh the noodles by running them under cold water

Add the noodles to the soup and stir to warm through

Makes enough for a good working week's worth of lunches or would make a decent dinner for four people.

Fresh tumeric is another wanky, foodie ingredient that is not usually that easy to come by in the UK. I used it in this dish as I had some left over, having bought some for another dish I had planned. Use dried as a replacement. The fresh root looks like the picture below.
Fresh tumeric root
Looks like ginger or maggots

image from

Tumeric is currently touted as a miracle food that can cure all sorts of shit, including cancer, heart disease and, aptly enough, diarrhoea. Though there is some evidence it contains some potentially active compounds, a recent scientific review suggests these claims are largely bollocks. Besides which, if it does to your insides what it does to a cotton T-shirt, it's actually going to fuck you up. The number of tops I've had to discard because of yellow stains from curry is nobody's business. Of course, feel free to take a good dose when you've got a cold and you'll feel much better, as long as you back it up with a Lemsip.

I used tomatoes, mushrooms and okra in this recipe, but these vegetables could be substituted for others like aubergine, green beans or peppers. You can also substitute light soy for the fish sauce.

Having mentioned Andy Kaufman, I really need to link to this song by REM:

Man in the Moon by REM