You Can’t Fake The Hake: A Sri Lankan Style Fish Curry…

Sri Lankan style Hake curry

Hake has to be my favourite fish of all. I think this has something to do with having been on tour so much in Spain, and eating various Catalan Hake dishes outdoors with the heat of the sun offset by an enormous flower pot size jug of ice cold beer, while mopping up the savoury fish juices with the garlicky tomato bread that they serve in that part of the world.
The fish, to me, always has the perfect balance between subtlety of  flavour and firmness of texture, which places it just outside the “delicate white fish” category in my estimation.

So when I saw some nice, firm, fresh looking hake steaks in my local supermarket (a rare event, let me assure you) I snapped it up. As I’d already decided on cooking some sort of Sri Lankan curry that evening, the Hake fitted perfectly into my plans.

Here’s the lowdown:

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 4 Hake steaks
  • 1 medium onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3/4 inch pce of ginger
  • 1 stick of lemon grass
  • 2 greeen chillies
  • 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 10 curry leaves
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp tumeric
  • 1 tblsp fish sauce
  • 1 tin of coconut milk
  • 1 small bunch fresh coriander
  • 3 -4 cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 fresh lemon

Method:

Assemble the onion, ginger, garlic, chilli, lemon grass, mustard seeds and spices. Chop as required:

Assemble the ingredients

Heat some oil in a wok. When hot, toss in the mustard seeds. They should spit and splutter.

Toss in the mustard seeds

Next add the curry leaves and lemon grass (which has been bashed and cut in 2 to help release the juices)

Add the curry leaves and lemon grass

Next, add the onions, ginger, garlic and green chillies and stir fry vigorously for a couple of minutes.

Add the onions, ginger, garlic and green chillies

When the onions etc are softened, throw in the powdered spices, fry for 30 secs approx, then add the fish sauce:

Add the spices and fish sauce

When the fish sauce has sizzled for a few seconds, add the coconut milk and bring to a gently simmer:

Add the coconut milk

At this stage it would be good to put the rice on:

Put the rice on

Also at this stage, chop the fresh coriander, tomatoes and ready the lemon. Have your fish prepared as well:

Chop tomatoes, coriander, lemon

Fish at the ready

Place the fish gently into the sauce:

Place the fish into the sauce

Simmer gently for about 10-15 mins until fish is cooked:

Simmer until fish is cooked

At this point add the garnish: Tomatoes, fresh coriander and squeeze in the lemon:

Add the garnish

Now the curry should be ready to serve, with the fish cooked, but still firm:

Fish should be cooked but still firm

Serve with the previously prepared steamed rice:

Serve

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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).

 

Empty trolley+empty head+empty stomach=Moroccan Style Lamb Meatballs

 Moroccan style meatballs served with cous cous stir fried with courgette, apple and sweetcorn

This dish was the result of one of those strolls around a supermarket with an empty trolley, an empty head and an empty stomach.
Didn’t really know what I fancied to eat at all. Maybe wanted something a bit spicy, but not Indian (yes, I know that’s very unlike me. I did consider taking my temperature to ascertain whether or not I was coming down with something).
Also, I’d been eating rather a lot of rice, so something similar to rice, but not…. if you know what I mean, was required. Which led me to think of cous cous, which led me to think of lamb and tomatoes, which led me to think of something sweetish for the cous cous, which then decided my entire movement pattern through the supermarket.
It’s funny how one negative thought (ie. I don’t really feel like Indian again) in this instance led to a kind of chain reaction domino effect, which meant within seconds I knew exactly what I wanted to cook and what I wanted to put in it.
Hmmmmmmm…… If only I could transplant that process to writing music….

Anyway, enough twaddle, on with the recipe:

Ingredients:

For the meatballs:

  • 500g lamb mince
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp dried mint
  • 1/2 small bunch coriander leaves
  • 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 1 egg (beaten)

For the sauce:

  • 1 onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 stick celery
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tin of tomatoes
  • 1 tblsp tomato puree
  • 2 red chillies
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)

For the cous cous:

  • enough cous cous for 2 people
  • 1 small tin sweetcorn
  • 1 courgette
  • 1 bramley apple
  • 1 small glass of red wine

Method:

First job is to make the meatballs.

Chop the onion, garlic and coriander as fine as you can possibly get them, then put them in a bowl with the mince and the rest of the meatballs ingredients. Get stuck in with your hands and mix well, then roll the meaballs in a circular motion between the palms of your hands.
You should eventually end up with something resembling this:

Meatballs rolled - as you can see, I could have done a better job chopping the onion

The next step is to make the sauce.
Chop the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and soften in a little olive oil, add the spices and chillies, fry briefly, then add the tomatoes, tomato puree, plus a little hot water, and the bay leaves and salt.
Bring to a gentle simmer then squeeze in the lemon:

Add the lemon to the simmering sauce

Now that the sauce is simmering away gently, it’s time to brown the meatballs.
Heat a little olive oil in a frypan and gently place the meatballs in, taking care not to overcrowd:

Fry the meatballs

When the meatballs are suitably browned, you can start adding them to the sauce.
Take extra care not to break them up or handle them to roughly:

Add the meatballs to the sauce. Be gentle

Eventually all the meatballs should fit neatly into the sauce pan. Leave to simmer gently with the lid on, while you cook the cous cous:

Meatballs in sauce

To make the cous cous, first prepare the cous cous with the appropriate amount of hot water as per the instructions on the packet.
Meanwhile chop the courgette and apple (cored and peeled) into small cubes.
Place the lamb frypan over the heat and deglaze with a glass of red wine (you can drink some as well if you wish).
Then add the courgette, apple and sweetcorn to the pan, fry round for a minute or two, and add the cous cous, which should now be ready (fork it into the pan though to fluff up).
Add some chopped coriander on top:

Cous cous

While you’ve been doing that, the meatballs should have been simmering away in the sauce, it’s flavour permeating them and itself being infused by their meaty sapidity.

The meatballs, having been simmered in the sauce and garnished with coriander

Everything is now ready to serve.

Not bad for a flash of inspiration in the cheese/yoghurts aisle I’d say.

If only everything was so simple…..

Served out

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 Tale Of Two Risottos

Mushroom risotto and risotto with chorizo, paprika picante, peas, courgettes and sage

It’s true what they say. It really is all in the stock.
Well, I’m not sure whether they do say that, or indeed who “they” are meant to be be, but I recently made two risottos that turned out to be the finest I’ve ever cooked by a long way (indeed, it was some of the most flavoursome food I’ve ever cooked, of any variety), and I’m pretty convinced it was largely down to the quality and depth of the stock.
Obviously, every time I  roast a chicken, I endeavour to make stock the next day. But the last time, I think I was going to away for a few days following, so I froze the carcass instead.
Then, there were a couple of barbecues where I grilled a generous quantity of chicken wings over charcoal, and I elected to save and freeze the bones from these also.
I also had a few uncooked chicken wings in the freezer.
So the other week, after a visit to the Farmer’s Market the previous Sunday, and picking up a collection of delicious mushrooms, I decided to make the stock and a nice risotto.
First thing was to make the stock, using the above mentioned chicken lefovers, 2 onions, 2 carrots, 2 sticks of celery, a few bay leaves and a handful of peppercorns.

Stock ingredients, assembled and ready for a good gentle simmer.

I brought this up to the gentlest of simmers, and then vacated the kitchen for about 7 hours. (I went out to a rehearsal actually, and forgot I had some stock on. This turned out to be a fortuitous mistake).
When I returned, I remembered I had left the stock on, so strained it and was left with this delicious and concentrated golden chickeny nectar:

The stock ready for use.

I then assembled the main ingredients for the risotto, namely mushrooms, parmesan cheese, onion and garlic.

Parmesan cheese, onion, garlic and mushrooms

Now, I didn’t bother to look up the various types of mushrooms, I’m vaguely aware of what some of them are, but if anyone would like to identify them for me on the comments, that would be appreciated.

I roughly chopped up most of the mushrooms, but reserved the darker slender bunch for garnish at the end.

Chopped mushrooms

The next step, before the cooking of the risotto proper was to saute the mushrooms in a little butter and olive oil (in a separate pan), and set them aside. The key here is to saute them just enough that they are cooked, but not so they start losing their water and juice content.

Sauteing the mushrooms

Now for the fun bit. First of all, put the stock in a pot and bring to a very gentle simmer on the stove. Don’t let it boil, as not only will this impair the flavour, but you want to reserve as much as possible, while keeping it hot and ready to ladle into the rice. When you’ve done this soften some butter and oil in a pan and gently saute the onions and garlic until soft, but be careful not to let them brown to much or burn. Then add the rice and saute for a couple of minutes. This process cracks the surface of the rice grains, and enables them to absorb the flavoursome stock later in the cooking process.

Sauteing the rice

When the rice has been sauteing for a couple of minutes, add a glass of white wine, in this case it was a crisp Pinot Grigio:

Add a glass of white wine.

When the wine has been absorbed by the rice it’s time to start adding the stock, one ladle at a time. The important thing here is to keep the rice moving constantly, so the stock is absorbed evenly, without the rice sticking to the bottom.

Adding the stock

I tend to stir in a rough “figure of eight” type pattern, as you can see from the action shot below. I find this keeps everything moving in a satisfactory manner.

Stirring

When the rice acquires a nice plump appearance, it’s almost done and time to add the mushrooms. If you taste a grain, it should be al dente but not quite done.

Rice almost done

Add the previously sauteed mushrooms at this stage and stir through.

Add the mushrooms

This is now the time to saute the mushrooms reserved for the garnish. I used the pan just vacated by the previously sauteed mushrooms….

Saute the garnish mushrooms

While these are sauteing away happily, add the grated parmesan cheese to the risotto and stir through:

Add the cheese...

Only after adding the cheese did I test and adjust for salt, seeing as the cheese adds so much salt from itself.
By this time the garnish mushrooms should be nicely browned, so take them off the heat.

Garnish mushrooms

All that’s left now is to serve up with a glass of the aforementioned crisp Pinot Grigio.
The risotto was everything you would expect: rich, creamy, unctuous, satisfying, comforting (I’m trying not to sound too much like Nigella or Nigel here)….

Risotto served...

A couple of days later, I still had half of the chicken stock left. It had been in the fridge, so now had taken on a jellified form. I had to exercise a considerable amount of willpower to stop myself from just eating it with a spoon.

Jellified chicken stock

When I had mastered my desire, I decided a suitable course to take to use the stock would be another risotto, but of a completely different nature to the previous one. I settled on chorizo with smoked paprika picante, with fresh peas, courgettes and a fried sage garnish.
You could argue I suppose that a risotto with chorizo and especially paprika in it is more of a Spanish than Italian dish, but I’m afraid I’m no great respecter of tradition where food is concerned. If I can use what’s in my fridge and make it tasty, I’ll make any ingredient from anywhere into any dish of any description.
First thing I did was to place the chorizo sausages in a separate pan for an initial browning, to make them easier to slice up:

Chorizo

Cooked them until they were this brown:

Browned chorizo

The sausages were then chopped and fried in a pan with onion and garlic, and to this I added a teaspoon of the delicious smoked paprika picante.

Fry the sliced chorizo with chopped onion and garlic, and add the smoked paprika picante..

When the paprika was fried for a minute or two, I took the pan off the heat and set my stock on to simmer:
I then prepared my veg. First shelled some nice fresh peas:

Shelled fresh peas

…and chopped some organic courgettes from the Farmer’s Market:

Chopped courgettes

I then put the pan containing the sausages back on the heat and added the rice. When the rice had received it’s initial frying, I again added a nice  glug of Pinot Grigio.

Add the wine

When the wine had been completely absorbed by the rice, I added the peas and courgettes, and started to stir in the stock:

Adding the stock

This time I did take a break of a few seconds while stirring in order to chop some fresh sage.
I chopped most of the leaves and reserved a few to fry for the garnish.

Fresh sage

When the rice was pretty much done, I added in the fresh sage:

Adding the fresh sage...

While the sage was warming through the risotto, I fried the remaining leaves in a little olive oil for a garnish until crisp. This only takes a few seconds:

Frying the sage...

The Risotto was now ready to serve out, garnished with the sage and, again, a glass of the afore mentioned Pinot Grigio.
It was wholly delicious, the chorizo adding an earthy meaty flavour to the already rich chicken stock with the peas and courgettes retaining a freshness and the sage a very agreeable subtle crunch.

The risotto served out....

I can say one thing for sure at the end of all this. It’s worth freezing your chicken bones… 🙂

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….

Gourmet Gorman cooks Prawn Dhansak

A delicious and easy Prawn Dhansak cooked with prawns, lentils, lemon, yoghurt, chilli and spices…