Hainanese Rabbit Rice

Recently I discovered half a rabbit in my freezer that I’d forgotten about. (This happens quite frequently with me, as I tend not to label things in an involuntary display of textbook un-organization). The other half had been used for a curry – which is another great thing to do with rabbit – with apples in as I found out while making a video about such a thing (different rabbit though).

For some time I had been wanting to try the classic Singaporean dish Hainanese Chicken Rice.

The basic premise of this dish is to make a flavoursome stock using the chicken on the bone, then  remove (and debone) the meat and utilize the stock to prepare a tasty rice and an aromatic soup. The dish is then served with a bowl of the soup, a dipping sauce and a salad garnish (usually cucumber and lettuce).

As usual, my adherence to strict epicurean traditions was dictated by what I could find in my store cupboard at the time of cooking. In this case it wasn’t possible to prepare a completely authentic Hainanese Chicken Rice (the use of rabbit obviously representing a major obstacle, to begin with), but being used to improvising (considering what I do for a living), the dish turned out to be a tasty, flavourful and, I’m pretty sure, healthy meal.

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients:

For the Stock:

  • 1/2 a rabbit – jointed
  • 1 Carrot
  • 1 stick of celery
  • 4 spring onions (scallions)
  • a piece of ginger (about 1 inch)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tblsp sesame oil
  • Salt

For the Rice:

  • 1 cup of rice
  • 2 spring onions
  • small piece of ginger
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • Stock
  • Chopped coriander

For the Salad Garnish:

  • Orange pepper
  • Cherry tomatoes

For the Dipping Sauce:

  • 1 tsp Chinese chilli oil
  • 1 tblsp Soy sauce
  • juice of 1 lime
  • small piece of ginger grated
  • 1 clove garlic crushed
  • finely chopped coriander
  • some sesame oil

For the Soup:

  • The stock
  • Chopped coriander

Method:

The first thing I did was to prepare the stock. As the stock vegetables were also going to be used for the soup, I thought it necessary to julienne them rather than just roughly chopping them as I would for a normal stock.

Then the rabbit went in the pan. Obviously it’s sensible to choose a sizable vessel here, as you want a fair quantity of stock.

Added the vegetables:

Then added water, salt and brought to a simmer. At this point I added the sesame oil quite liberally (although I specify a tablespoon, I tend to enjoy free-styling these things.)

While the rabbit stock was simmering, prepared the ingredients for the rice:

And the salad garnish:

I also prepared the dipping sauce at this point.

The plan was to let the stock simmer for about 1 hour, so after 50 mins I sauteed the spring onion, garlic and ginger for the rice in a little oil (I used sunflower, but you could use olive oil, vegetable oil or groundnut oil – it’s not a deal breaker),  and then sauteed the raw rice (which I’d soaked in water for 1/2 hour then drained incidentally) in with the ingredients. The purpose of this (as with risotto or paella) is that the heat of the pan cracks the outer surface of the rice, thereby enabling the flavoursome stock to better penetrate the grain.

I then ladled some stock (about twice the quantity to the rice) into the rice pan, covered, and let simmer till the rice was cooked – adding chopped coriander at the end.

After I added the stock to the rice, it was time to remove and debone the rabbit – roughly chopping the meat and placing on a warmed plate:

All was then ready (when the rice was cooked) for the 2nd most fun bit – assembling the dish (no prizes for guessing the most fun bit).

To do this, I used the old rice-bowl-bowl-rice trick. Place the rice into a bowl and pat down until firmly filled. Then place your serving plate over the bowl, hold both with a firm grip and upend and…. Hey Presto! you should have a neat dome of rice on your serving plate (hopefully).
The rabbit was then placed on and garnished with chopped coriander, with a bowl of the delicious soup (stock). On a separate plate I served the salad and the dipping sauce.

All in all, was a very tasty way to serve rabbit and fun to eat: a forkful of rice  and crispy salad, followed by a slice of rabbit dipped in the spicy sauce, followed by a spoonful of smooth, warming broth followed by a large glug of red wine (optional).

 

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A Controversial Kleftico (and it’s illegitimate offspring)

Controversial Kleftico, cooked with Oxtail...

It was a cold and stormy Winter’s night..… OK, it wasn’t. It was actually  an annoyingly rainy and depressingly premature Autumn morning. I was going out to a gig for pretty much the whole day. Luckily though, I’d cunningly foreseen the situation of getting home hungry, wet and weary that evening, so I’d taken the Oxtail that I had in the freezer out to thaw, the night before. My initial intent was to make a curry in the slow cooker, leaving it to cook all day while I was out. However, while flicking through some food photos from my Facebook food group “Foodbook Photos” I came across the Kleftico I made a while ago from a very simple authentic family recipe given to me by a Greek friend. Since it involved rather less preparation than the curry, I settled on the idea of trying to make the Kleftico with the oxtail.

Now I’m aware that proper Kleftico is a lamb dish, and also that there are many variation’s on the recipe, so maybe what I was about to make couldn’t really be called Kleftico (indeed, I had a couple of people on Twitter saying as much), and also that it is made in a conventional oven rather than a slow cooker.
So what I should really call my dish maybe is Greek style oxtail casserole…..? Whatever…!! But it was very nice.

Here’s what I did:

Firstly I set out my oxtail in preparation. It was already chopped into handy chunks:

 

The Oxtail

 

I then sliced up a couple of large onions:

 

Slice the onions

 

And halved some sweet vine ripened tomatoes:

 

Tomatoes

 

I then browned the oxtail off in a frying pan, since it would be going into the slow cooker instead of an oven:

 

Brown the oxtail

 

Next I selected a handful of choice bay leaves:

 

Bay leaves

 

I then layered the onions and the oxtail in the slowcooker:

 

Layer the onions in the pot, and put the oxtail on top

 

To make the cooking liquid I dissolved a tablespoon of tomato puree and some salt in some hot water:

 

Cooking liquid

 

Then arranged the bayleaves and tomatoes in with the oxtail, and poured the liquid into the pot:

 

Arrange everything in the pot

 

Lid went on and I went out for the day:

 

Lid on, me out

 

When I came back, approximately 8 hours later everything seemed to have cooked down nicely:

 

After 8 hours

 

I then gently stirred it, being careful not to break up the oxtail, but making sure to mix the onions up from the bottom:

 

Stirring gently

 

Lid then went back on for another hour or so, then it would be ready for serving.
Before serving it however, I carefully spooned some of the loose fat away that had settled on the top, so it wouldn’t be so rich:

 

Skim off some fat

 

I then squeezed in plenty of lemon juice:

 

Squeeze in plenty of lemon

 

..and served out simply with some mash potato:

 

Serve with mash

 

The flavour was rich, beefy and warming, with that very particular piquancy that you get when mixing tomatoes with lemon (which I also think you get in Madras curries).

Now for the offspring: I had a lot of the stocky cooking liquid left and also quite a lot of meat. So the next day I separated the meat from the bones, and made an oxtail and beetroot curry, simmered in a little of the stock, and served it with with a dhal and vegetable sambar curry and a peas and mushroom saffron pullao.
The leftover meat was rich and gelatinous and was fairly fantastic with the beetroot:

 

Beef and beetroot curry, with a dhal and vegetable sambar curry and a peas and mushroom saffron pullao.

 

…and finally, the next day, I still had quite a lot of stock leftover, so I used it to make a Chilli Con Carne made with smoked chipotle paste, dried homegrown red chillies and Tabasco and served it with corn tortillas. It was quite spectacular, and was easily the best Chilli I’ve ever made…. all down to the rich stock I’m convinced.

 

Chilli made with the last of the oxtail stock, smoked chipotle paste, dried homegrown red chillies and tobasco. Served with corn tortillas.

 

…and the moral of this story is, always buy oxtail, and never listen to pedants 🙂

Have sausages, will casserole (Pork and pigeon with root veg)

Pork and pidgeon sausage and root veg casserole served with rice cooked with borlotti beans

I’ve been quite busy recently…. which is not something I can complain about, but being a musician, being busy means being out at night (or out on tour), either of which seriously curtails your activities in the kitchen.

Even though eating in nice (and sometimes not so nice) restaurants can be a very agreeable way of life, after a while, I do start to feel a deep seated craving to make a homecooked meal, prepared at leisure, with a glass of wine at my side, listening to something good on the radio (apart from when I turn on the extractor fan, which tends to put paid to my being able to hear anything else going on…), and enjoying the anticipation of what’s to come.

So last Friday, I was unexpectedly and pleasantly surprised to hear that the gig I was supposed to be doing that evening had been cancelled at short notice, but with full pay, which effectively awarded me a paid day off (always a cause for a minor celebration).

My thoughts, of course, immediately turned to what I would cook with my newly acquired evening of leisure.
Seeing as summer seems to be well and truly over here (not that we had much of one anyway) I thought I’d prepare a rustic and comforting casserole using some pork and pigeon sausages I had stashed in the freezer for just such an occasion, and a variety of root vegetables from the local market.

Here’s what I did:

First I gathered all my veg ready for preparation:
Onion, leek, garlic, carrot, celery, parsnip, small turnips,  and beetroot.

Root vegetables at the ready

When all had been suitably peeled and chopped, I sweated them down in a little butter and oil:

Sweating down the veg

Fresh beetroot turns everything red, including my hands and the chopping board:

Red stains

As you can see above, I also added some bayleaves.
While the veg was sweating down, I browned off the sausages:

Browning the sausages

Then added the sausaged into the pan with the veg:

Add the sausages to the veg when suitably browned

Added a glass of red wine (a robust Italian Merlot in this case):

Add the wine

Added some beef stock (sadly not fresh stock this time, but from a cube, albeit an organic one with no MSG):

…and added a good few glugs of Worcestershire Sauce:

Add a few glugs of Worcestershire Sauce

Then stir gently, cover and leave to simmer for about 1 1/2 – 2 hours

Stir this then cover this and leave to simmer

About 15 mins before serving, I added a bunch of fresh sage:

Fresh sage

Chopped it finely and added it to the casserole. It was quite a lot of sage. Too much could make a dish bitter, but in this case there was so much sweetness from the root veg that it balanced out very nicely:

Add the sage to the casserole...

I made a simple rice dish with borlotti beans and herbs to serve this with. The sausages were extremely good. I always think pidgeon has a similar texture to lambs liver and I could detect this in the sausages. I always feel slightly cheated if I don’t find at least one piece of lead shot in my food while eating game. Luckily I found a bit (but didn’t bit on it…phew..).
The root veg, as said before, lent a delicious sweetness to the sauce. Beetroot is always a treat, and the small turnips were a revelation. They had a smell when raw that was ever so slightly horseradishy, and they kept their texture in the final casserole.

All in all a successful start to the autumn I think….

Served out with rice cooked with borlotti beans...

A bit of holiday cooking (and reading)

Roasted perch and tomatoes served with bread

I do like to read.

So when the opportunity came up to visit my parents, brother, sister, brother in law and niece and nephew at a nice villa in the South of France (Languedoc) the other week I jumped at the chance.
The idea was that while not contributing to the holiday per se, I would cook for everyone, thus saving money overall on the inevitable meals out and takeaways which would have otherwise drained the financial resources.

The problem with reading for me is that, doing what I do, there are really no set hours for work and relaxation as such.
This last year and a half or so, I seem to have been touring rather a lot (Us3, Jim Mullen, Marlena Shaw, Mica Paris, Boy George – each different band presents a different dynamic as to convenient reading opportunities) and although, as you can imagine, there is sometimes a lot of sitting around, I tend not to get through too many books on the road, the main inhibiting factors being (not necessarily in this order):

  • Alcohol – although a couple of drinks sometimes enhance my enjoyment of a book, one too many and I can’t remember what I’ve read when sobered up.
  • Travel –  I can’t read in a car or a minibus, and although it is possible to read on the tourbus, there’s too often distracting activity like DVD watching, animated conversation or the aforementioned  alcohol in commencement at any one time.
  • Noise – A lot of sitting around can occur in soundchecks, but have you ever tried to read with a bass drum or tom tom being played repetitively at high volume through a large PA for the purposes of equalization?
  • Cabin fever – I tend to find it difficult to read for prolonged periods when confined to a small space like a hotel room.
  • Unsettlement – At airports waiting for the gate number to appear, one is always looking up at the screen in the waiting lounge, thus providing an unwelcome break in concentration.
  • Unsocial flight times – A fair amount of flights that we take are often very early in the morning, so while reading on the plane is an option, I’m more likely to want to sleep if possible.

And when at home I equate reading with not doing something constructive (not quite true I know), so I’m much more likely to get to work in the studio or at the piano.
I can get really into reading first thing in the morning (a couple of years ago I got through quite a few Iris Murdoch books just this way), but it does tend blunt my concentration for a couple of hours afterwards, as well as taking up half the day so I rarely do this anymore.

SO when the opportunity came up to go on the holiday, the first thing I did was get the books I wanted to read. Last year I did the same thing, but took the wrong book (I took Crime and Punishment – and while I enjoyed reading the book as a whole, I remember being aware that it didn’t necessarily equate to my idea of relaxing by the pool with a beer)

I took 3 books with me this time:

  • To Kill A Mockingbird – we read this at school I’m sure, but like a lot of things at school, I didn’t invest much attention or effort to it. Reading it again was a much more enjoyable experience.
  • The Life of Pi – couldn’t put this down. Very imaginative, humorous, informative, entertaining, and also lots of references to South Indian food – which is always a good thing.
  • The Poisonwood Bible – Am halfway through this at the moment. Thoroughly engrossing characterizations and fascinating historical perspective.

I also did a lot of cooking. The ingredients and produce available at even the most humble French supermarkets always has me fascinated and brimming with ideas (however, since most of the people I was cooking for were not nearly as wildly liberal or adventurous in taste as myself, I was unable to realize many of these ideas).

But I endeavored to make some nice grub anyhow.

Here’s what I cooked:

Sausage and cheese frittata

When I arrived on the Sunday, we discovered all the supermarkets were closed, so I had to rustle something up from what was in the villa already, and what we could acquire from a local service station shop. There was a box of 6 eggs in the villa along with some herbs, and olive oil, and not much else. The service station sold packs of luncheon meat style sausage, and some nice looking Cantal Juene cheese, which is a young cow’s milk cheese, firm in texture and fruity in flavour. I sliced and fried the sausage, drained the fat from the pan, put the sausage meat in once again and added the beaten eggs with some herbs and black pepper. My intention was to then add the grated cheese on top and brown under the grill to cook the top of the eggs and cheese. But… we then discovered that the grill would only operate with the oven door closed, and I didn’t want to commit the frying pan to this unrelenting heat, so I heated up the oven, then opened it and let the top of the frittata firm up in the residual heat. Not ideal, but did the job OK…. the result being a slightly guey cheese underside to the omelette, which was not at all unpleasant, though a bit messy to cut up…

The next day, we got to the supermarket and stocked up on supplies.

Chicken casserole cooked in white wine with green peppers, olives and bay

The meal that night was a simple but very tasty rustic chicken casserole cooked in white wine and stock, with sliced green peppers, olives, onions, garlic, bay and herbs. It was served with mash potatoes and steamed green beans:

Chicken casserole served with mash and beans

…and accompanied by bread with oil and balsemic vinegar (a constant companion to food that week):

Bread and oil with balsemic

The next morning I made another frittata, this time with sausage and sliced courgettes.
I put the courgettes on the bottom of the pan and the sausages on top, so it appeared like this in the pan:

Sausage and courgette frittata in the pan...

…and took on this lovely appearance when upended onto a plate:

Sausage and courgette frittata

Now before I go any further, I must admit that I did totally steal the idea for an upended courgette frittata from the wonderful blog “Lou Loves Food”  … which is packed with amazing photos and absorbing writing, and I can highly recommend it…. so thanks Lou.. 😉

That evening I decided on making some Indian food ….. yes I’m aware that may not be the most obvious option in the South of France, but my mind was made up as soon as I saw the beautiful mutton on offer in the supermarket. Mutton is a meat less than commonly available in the UK, and it rewards slow patient cooking with the most succulent and flavoursome dishes.

I bought some chopped shoulder (on the bone) pieces to make a curry with tomato and aubergine, and some ribs to make what is known as a “Bone Pepperwater”. This is a meat variation on the standard pepperwater (rasam) which is a soup consistency dish made with tomatoes, lemon, tamarind and spices.

The only problem with all this is that I was somewhat limited in the choice of spices available in the supermarket. I managed to get fresh garlic and ginger, and eventually found a premixed curry powder (not something I normally like to use) which seemed to have a good balance of coriander, cumin, tumeric, mustard and fenugreek in it.

The aubergine in the curry was cooked separately with onions, ginger and garlic (a trick I recently picked up off my mother) and added during the last 1/2 hour, which helps to preserve not only it’s texture, but flavour as well. The curry itself simmered slowly for 5 hours.

Mutton curry with aubergine and tomatoes

The bone pepperwater was made with some fresh vegetables (carrots and courgetttes), plenty of lemon and also some paprika, which I found in the villa. The mutton ribs do add the most amazing stocky earthy flavour to this dish, it must be said.

Mutton "Bone Pepperwater"

After the curry, I thought it would be a good idea to cook fish the next day both from a time and simplicity point of view.
The fish counter at the “Intermarche” was of course vastly superior to my local supermarket.
I eventually settled for some lovely fresh perch fillets, which I roasted on a bed of cherry tomatoes with balsamic  vinegar, bay and salt.
I gave the tomatoes a start of about 15-20 mins in an 180degC oven, then simply popped the perch fillets on top, cooked for a further 10 mins and it was done:

Perch fillets roasted on a bed of cherry tomatoes with balsamic vinegar and bay..

There was not much need to serve this with anything else but that perennial king of juice mopper-uppers: fresh french bread:

Roasted perch and tomatoes served with bread

The next day was to be barbecue day. However, here I failed in my duty as a blogger and recorder of events since due to the distractions of reading, swimming, table tennis and drinking, I didn’t start the fire in time and so even though I made lots of food, the only picture I managed to take before it went dark was of some balsamic chilli prawns. (I have an iPhone so am unfortunately at the mercy of the light).
Just for the record though, I did also make salmon and courgette kebabs, aubergine and red pepper kebabs, 2 types of sausages and chicken in a Mexican marinade.

Prawns in a balsamic and chilli marinade

One advantage of being in the centre of wine producing country was that there was an abundance of vineyards with completely quaffable red wine on tap at an amazing price. (€1-€1.50 a litre).
Had I the time or opportunity I would have loved to avail myself of some of the delicious looking lambs hearts in the supermarket and braise them in red wine for hours until tender… This meal unfortunately would not have been very popular with the others:

Red wine on tap.....

The final day of cooking was also the least intensive since there was a lot of packing, cleaning of the villa etc to be done before vacating, I opted to cook a simple sausage pasta with a tomato and red wine sauce. Despite appearing fairly ordinary, it was most enjoyable, due to the high quality of the sausagemeat:

Sausage and tomato pasta.....

All in all an enjoyable chance to read, cook, swim and relax…… now, back to the piano I think….

Tom yum soup.

Tom yum soup

So i got home yesterday (same studio, same session as day before) at the earlier time of 4.30pm. For me this is a funny time to get home. It’s to early to start relaxing for the evening, but a bit to late to start doing any work of any kind. (besides, my brain was a bit fried again from piano keyboard/computer screen staring).
The weather also added to the confusion. It appeared warm, pleasant and sunny, but was actually to chilly to go and sit outside and enjoy the sunshine, and to windy to consider a barbeque.

I could, of course have watched the World Cup, but unfortunately I’d been listening to the radio in the car and heard the tournament’s most tedious game yet (Ivory Coast v Portugal) grind to a start, so didn’t really fancy that.

So I sat at the computer for a bit and perused some food blogs.
I’d more or less decided that our dinner for the evening was going to be Italian of some kind, when I took a glance at the fantastic Tamarind and Thyme blog, and was immediately craving Asian food of the noodle soup variety.

A quick visit to the supermarket ensued and this is what I threw together:

Ingredients:

  • 2 boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 10 raw king prawns (shell on but head removed)
  • 2 portions dried egg noodles
  • 2 pints of chicken stock
  • 4 chestnut mushrooms
  • a few florets of broccoli
  • 1 carrot
  • 4 birdseye chillis (or to taste)
  • 2 stalks lemon grass
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp tamarind paste
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves
  • Juice of 1 fresh lime
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tblsp Thai fish sauce
  • 3 tsps tom yum paste
  • 2 handfuls beansprouts
  • 2 spring onions and some fresh coriander to garnish

Method:

Slice the chicken thighs thinly and place into the pan of simmering stock.

Add the garlic, chillis, tamarind paste, tom yum paste, lemon grass (bruised), Kaffir lime leaves, sugar and fish sauce.

Leave to simmer for 10-15 mins. Meanwhile chop the mushrooms, carrots and broccoli to the desired size.

Add them to the soup. Simmer for another 5 mins.

Boil the noodles in water for 4-5 mins (or according to instructions) and drain.

Add the prawns and lime juice to the soup, and wait till the prawns turn pink.

Arrange the noodles in the soup bowls, with the beansprouts, then ladle on the hot soup.

Serve, garnished with chopped spring onion and fresh coriander.

Served out


Soups, Stews and Rock’n’Roll

Adventures with a slow cooker on the Boy George tourbus

I'm the one not wearing eyeliner....

Eating well on tour can be a bit of a random affair.

Mealtime arrangements can run the gastronomic gamut from elaborate catering through to a plate of curly sandwiches left too long in the dressing room.
On this particular tour, we were by and large left to fend for ourselves foodwise. While there are sometimes a variety of interesting and quality eating establishments around venues, more often than not one is left to choose between a Wetherspoons pub meal, or some fish and chips. (There’s also pretty much always the “elephants leg”  kebab option, but I personally never go down that route).

Happily though, this particular band includes a number of people who are keen, skilled cooks and interested in the value of a quality meal.. (there’s nothing more depressing than being on the road with a bunch of definite non-foodies who are only too willing to settle for the kebab option).

The kitchen on a tourbus consists of a microwave, a kettle and a toaster, as well as a variety of basic cooking implements like a chopping board, knife etc etc. As you can imagine, it’s very much a “galley kitchen” affair, space obviously being at a premium.

Our guitarist/MD John Themis already has a history of preparing delicious miso soups on buses. He does this by using miso paste and a sachet of Japanese fish stock to make the soup with boiling water. He then makes some noodles in the microwave, and poaches some salmon gently in freshly boiled water in a seperate bowl. These are then added to the soup, together with tofu, chopped spring onions, chillis or chilli oil, sesame oil and some sesame seeds.
I sampled a bowl of this soup one afternoon, and it was outstanding, and considerably more nourishing than a service station sandwich.

About half way through the tour, we decided to buy a slow cooker in order to open up our options for cooking on the road. John managed to pick one up on offer at £30, so it wasn’t exactly a major investment.
The cooker’s maiden voyage was a wholesome Irish stew made by John.
Stopping at a limited Spar supermarket, John nevertheless managed to pick up all the ingredients necessary for this dish. I got back on the bus after a morning stroll around Eastbourne, to find Kevan the bassist and Bob the merchandise chap excitedly clamouring around the kitchen where John was a whirlwind of activity stacking the cooker with carrots, celery, onions, potatoes, chopped beef and some skillfully rolled meatballs, together with some mixed herbs and freshly ground black pepper.

Irish stew being assembled

He then made up some makeshift dumplings. Unfortunately we didn’t have any plain flour, so pure suet and water was used, and the dumplings were rolled small and compact, in anticipation of their richness.

A cooking liquor was then assembled with a beef stock cube and some HP sauce dissolved into some boiling water and added to the dish, which was then covered, and left to cook on the medium setting.

John rolling his dumplings for the Irish Stew..

After about 3 hours (after soundcheck in fact) John did a check for seasoning, added some salt, and replaced the lid. Since a slow cooker can lose a considerable amount of valuable heat, when the lid is removed, we had to place a “DO NOT OPEN” sign on the lid, to stop hungry musicians and crew lifting the lid and having a sniff.
After the gig, we exited the venue and got on the bus, where a delicious aroma was now pervading the air. (In fact, 2 of George’s die hard fans Kerstin and Sibylle who were standing outside the bus, commented that they could smell the food from there!)
The Irish stew had now been on for more than 7 hours, and it was looking and smelling amazing. A true one-pot dinner, John was able to serve it in bowls, with nothing more than a bit of French bread on the side. After a week or so of eating out, the experience of some home cooking was incredibly comforting.

John and Kevan ready to dish out the Irish stew..

The next day (Sunday) we arrived in Lincoln early in the morning following an overnight drive.

After the success of the Irish stew, I was thoroughly inspired to try and cook a chicken curry for after the show that night.
The first step was to purchase the necessary ingredients. As it was a Sunday, my only hope was to find a large supermarket (there was another small Spar shop near the theatre, but they didn’t have half the stuff I required). I managed to locate a Tesco which was a good 15-20 walk away, so I set off on my quest, and eventually arrived back at the bus with some chicken, onions, chillis, spices, microwavable steamed rice, chappatis and ready cooked poppadums.
The first problem to solve was how to fry the spices with the onions. To achieve this I chopped the onions in batches and “fried” them in a bowl with some sunflower oil in the microwave on the high setting for about 3 minutes to soften them up. Then, for each batch I added roughly 2 tsps ground coriander, 1 tsp cumin and 1/2 tsp tumeric, and “fried” them again in the microwave for 2-3 mins, again on high.
All the onions (1 bag) yielded 4 batches. With the last batch I added 2 good tsps each of ginger and garlic paste, as well as the spices (fresh ginger and garlic would have been an option, but would have required more chopping and made me late for soundcheck).
I then layered the ingredients in the slow cooker: 1 batch of onions, some chicken, some chopped red chillis and some diced potatoes. I continued layering up in this order until the cooker was full (luckily it was just about large enough to hold all the ingredients.)
I made the sauce by dissolving some creamed coconut and tomato puree into some chicken stock made from a stock cube, and poured this into the slow cooker until the meat was pretty much covered. I then put the lid on, propped up the “DO NOT OPEN” sign, and went to soundcheck.
Again, after souncheck, I tested and adjusted for seasoning, adding just a little salt.

After the gig, the smell on the bus was most inviting, and anticipation was high. 5-10 mins before serving up I added a whole packet of chopped green coriander, replaced the lid and let it cook in a bit. Unfortunately I forgot to photograph the curry in the cooker before we started serving, but remembered to do so when we were halfway down:

The curry, halfway through serving

I was a initially little nervous the curry wouldn’t live up to expectations, but luckily those fears seem to have proved unfounded. With John’s help I dished up several servings in a production line fashion. We had the sachets of rice in the microwave (which only took 2 mins), and a toaster warming up the chappatis. Each serving was then garnished with fresh green coriander, chopped fresh red chillis and a poppadum.

A serving of tourbus chicken curry

There was enough for 12 servings all together, and more than enough chappatis and poppadums. So Bob the merchandise chap was suitably relieved when he arrived on the bus, as he’s always last back because of the nature of his job.
Although most of us ate on the night, George and Jon the backing vocalist requested that we save their shares for the next day, due to not wanting to eat too late at night. So in fact, they would have sampled the best of it because it would have been marinating for a good 16 hours before they had their share. Curries are always better the next day…

Below is a photo of Bob’s share with extra chillies:

Bob's share served up with red chillies in background

….and this was Bob’s reaction:

The next day we were travelling all day from Lincoln down to Swansea, so it was an ideal opportunity for John to once again knock up one of his delicious miso soups, but this time he made a large portion, big enough to feed the whole band, and just left it in the slow cooker on the low setting, so it would be warm all day for people to help themselves as and when they wished.

He assembled it using the ingredients and method previously mentioned, but with the addition of poached eggs, which made it an even more inviting and balanced meal. After some discussion of how to best poach eggs on a tourbus, Kevan’s method of breaking the egg into a cup, with one teaspoon of water, and microwaving for 1 min was decided upon, and it proved to work a treat, as you can see in the photo below.

Johns miso soup made and kept warm in the slow cooker

The final day of the tour was a drive from Swansea to Cheltenham, and was the day when Kevan had promised us his signature dish of slow cooked beef in guinness casserole. Since we were setting off in the morning, and there was predictably a paucity of food outlets near the hotel, Kev took the precaution of purchasing all his ingredients the evening before from a large supermarket located conveniently next to the theatre.

Kev’s plan for the next day was to rise early and do his preparation on the bus before we departed, rather than trying to cook on a moving vehicle. He was prevented from doing this however, by the minor setback of a bottle of sunflower oil that had fallen over and voided most of it’s contents onto the imitation wood floor of the bus kitchen, rendering the area a veritable oily ice rink. By the time we had placated the obviously not to pleased bus driver and persuaded the nice houseekeeping staff at the hotel to come out and aid in cleaning the area for us (most of which was done by John), it was time to leave.
Not to be deterred, Kevan soldiered on bravely with chopping onions and carrots, while being periodically tossed back and forth by the moving bus. He even managed to trim the beef of most of it’s fat, not the easiest job while the bus was negotiating the roundabouts and corners of downtown Swansea…
Eventually, he got the dish in the slow cooker. It consisted of beef, onions, carrots, peas, some good quality beef stock liquid, lots of black pepper, and of course guiness (2 cans sufficed I think). He thickened the sauce with plain flour mixed with a little water, which he added after a couple of hours. John also rolled some dumplings later on (this time with the correct 2:1 flour:suet correlation) and threw them in.
After the gig, the stew smelled delicious as we boarded the bus. Predictably, is tasted every bit as good as it smelled as Kevan served it out – tender beef in a rich peppery guinness sauce with sweet carrots and peas, accompanied by creamy microwaveable mashed potatoes, and provided a fitting finale to a triumphant few days of experimenting with the possibilities of real home cooking for musicians on the road….
Below is a photo of casserole in the slow cooker:

The casserole ready to be served

..and one of the dish served out:

The beef in guinness casserole served up with creamy mash

…and Bob’s enthusiastic reaction upon tasting his share…..

Winter soup diary

 

There are few things more inviting or comforting on a cold winters day than the thought of a steaming bowl of squash soup. But it needn’t be just for winter. Whenever or wherever you can lay your hands on squash of any types it’s worth taking the time and trouble to make a soup which will provide several days of warming satisfying lunches when paired with a simple piece of buttered bread.
I tend to coincide my soup making activity with the days following a roast chicken dinner, so instead of just water I can use the freshly made chicken stock that I always endeavour to prepare with the leftover carcass.

 

I find that roasting the squash is always preferential when making the soup. You don’t have to do this, but as well as making them much easier to peel and chop, roasting helps to caramelize some of the sugar which I find adds a delicious nutty sweetness to the final soup. The picture above shows a butternut (on the right) and a crown prince squash halved, seeded and ready for the oven. I drizzle the squash with olive oil, then roast in a medium oven for 45 mins.

 

While the squash are roasting, it’s a good idea to prepare the base for the soup. Here I used Onion, leek, garlic, celery, carrots and parsnip. Sweat the vegetables down gently in a little butter and olive oil until soft.

 

When the squash comes out of the oven, peal and chop roughly ready for the soup.

 

Above is the fresh homemade chicken stock I used in the soup. To make the stock place the carcass, bones and bits of a leftover roast chicken in a pot with a large onion, carrot and stick of celery.
Add 15-20 peppercorns and 2-3 bay leaves.
Cover with water and simmer very gently for 3-4 hours, scraping off any scum that rises to the top.
Cool in the fridge overnight and then remove and fat which solidifies and settles on top.

 

After sweating the soup base down, add a pinch of nutmeg and cayenne pepper, and add the squash and chicken stock (warming up the chicken stock first, either in a separate pot or microwave will help).
Add salt to taste and leave to simmer for about 1 hour.

 

After simmering blend the soup down with a hand blender unless of course you want a chunky soup which is also nice (in which case it’s probably a good idea to chop the squash into smaller pieces than shown above).
One really important tip when using a hand blender (which most of us have to learn the hard way) is to fully submerge it in the soup before switching it on. Otherwise you and your kitchen will end up covered in soup!
Grind in some black pepper at this point too.

 

Serve with some bread an butter, and maybe a drizzle of cream on top….