Tag Archives: christmas food presents

Christmas food gifts-plantain chips, cashews & dried cranberries in coconut, chilli and cinnamon

13 Nov

 

 

Christmas food gifts-plantain chips, cashews & dried cranberries in coconut, chilli and cinnamon

Christmas food gifts-plantain chips, cashews & dried cranberries in coconut, chilli and cinnamon

My lovely neighbour gave me a bag full of plantain today; fresh and green. I racked my brain for ways to use it. I thought of the spiced plantain mash I had at ‘mama’s roadside kitchen’ in st.Lucia or the indian curry my mum would make when we were kids, using her experience of living in Uganda as a child. I asked my friends on twitter and they suggested cake. I didn’t fancy any of these lovely recipes today, for some reason.

In the morning, by boy and I went shopping for women’s undergarments. My normally chatty and excitable child completely freaked out and sobbed loudly in the fitting cubicle and insisted, ‘put a jumper and jacket on mumma, put the clothes on mumma’. He’s not yet two but here we go. So I took him for a walk and stopped at the dried fruits and nuts section which looked festive but blue. Why blue? Anyway, that’s when it struck me.

But I did have a brief period of confusion; which is a more festive nut…the cashew or almond? Cashews are more expensive. Does that make it more special? I do recall my mum sending food parcels of special stuff for my grandmother in India when friends or relatives visited. Mum sent cashews, always. She also sent saffron and chocolate. Now I think back, it’s such a lovely thing to do.

But then, almonds are pretty special also. When we were in st.Lucia we stayed between the majestic pitons, hidden away. We were staying at a resort where the beach sat in a calm little cove and one of the paths along the beach was layer in almond shells. I loves cracking them open to find smooth almonds. It’s lovely that nature can create such a perfect little nut.

I’m actually rather excited about this simple yet addictive recipe. It’s really good. This tropical looking mix is crunchy, sweet, aromatic and there’s a lovely hint of chilli right at the end. It’s delightful. I’ve used agave nectar to sweeten the mix so, healthier than loads of sugar. You have to try it.

Ingredients for two gift containers

One large green plantain
4 tbsp agave nectar
1 tsp chilli flakes
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3-4 tbsp desiccated coconut
A generous handful of dried cranberries
200g cashew nuts
Oil for frying plantain chips

1 . Heat the oil in a deep pan and in the meantime, take the green skin off the plantain and cut the plantain into 1 cm thick circles with a knife of mandolin.
2. Fry the chips until they are crisp and deepened in colour. You will feel that they are tougher and crisp when you move them with a slotted spoon.
3. Remove the chips onto a kitchen paper and leave them to cool.
4. In a non stick pan, toast the cashew nuts until they are lightly golden before adding the cinnamon and the plantain chips. Mix well.
5. Stir in the chilli flakes, mix again. Then add the agave nectar and the desiccated coconut. Thoroughly mix it all together to make sure the spices and coconut are evenly distributed.
6. Toss in the dried cranberries and mix again.

Allow the mixture to cool completely before packaging it.

This has also been entered into Feel Good Food Challenge hosted by Jibberjabberuk and Victoria at A Kick At The Pantry Door

 

This week I would like to link this to Mark of Javelin Warrior’s Cookin’ W/ Luv Made With Love Mondays,

Tangy, sweet, spicy Christmas food gift-tomato, pineapple and cucumber chutney

9 Nov
Tangy, sweet, spicy Christmas food gift-tomato, pineapple and cucumber chutney

Tangy, sweet, spicy Christmas food gift-tomato, pineapple and cucumber chutney

On our houseboat in Kerala we had chef with us, as part of the deal. It was during one of my birthdays and what a way to spend it; lying on a mahogany hammock on the boat looking out at the lush green backwaters and watching birds swoop. I don’t often feel utterly relaxed, but that was a time where I did. I find that when I feel too absorbed in the microscopic elements of life, seeing life from a different angle makes me feel more alive, more grateful and more free.

Kerela house boat
Hammock
Scenary

I could see fluorescent green rice paddies in the distance. I watched small children take a boat, run past a tiny white-painted church so they could get to school. I watched fishermen and people looked happy. I thought about my own social circles, how different people are.

In the morning chef made stacks of hot, fluffy idli (sour steamed little cakes made of fermented rice and lentils) and puri. As a snack he would make banana fritters and steaming hot cardamom tea and just thinking of the dinner makes me feel satiated. I’d ask him to make just a small amount of vegetable rice and maybe one curry…but no. You know what he made? Okra curry, a red lentil dhal, a mixed vegetable Avial, salad, potato fritters and a mango milkshake. I’m not kidding. For two of us. He served us so eagerly and affectionately that the result was, totally truthfully, that my husband and I had to sit up for several hours in bed because we were too full to lie down.

Chef made a spectacular tomato chutney which had some almost-raw bottle gourd in it (dud hi). I scooped excessive amounts of it on my idli in the morning and he smiled at me as I did so. He very kindly taught me how to make it I. The kitchen of the house boat and I gained new admiration for him. The kitchen was small as you’d expect, but it moved! This guy is genius.

I’ve adapted his recipe to Include pineapple for sweetness, and cucumber and not bottle gourd to give a crunchy texture and I’ve kept the tomatoes t give a sweetness and tangy. All in all, this is another sensory play that works fantastically with cheese and bread so you can whip it out for Christmas or dish them out as gusts, as I am doing.

Ingredients to make 4 jars of 150ml size

600g tomatoes skinned
400g pineapple chunks
280ml rice wine vinegar
2 tsp black onion seeds
2 tsp chilli flakes
5-6 curry leaves
1/4 tsp cinnamon
100g caster sugar
One large red onion
2 tbsp oil
2 tsp minced ginger
Salt to taste
Half a large cucumber, cut into bite sized chunks

Cooks tip; to skin the tomatoes pour boiling water into a pan with the tomatoes in. When the skin starts to split, drain the water and wash them in cold water before slipping the skin off.

Tomatoes

 

Method
1. Heat the oil in a pan and add the onion seeds and curry leaves and when the onion seeds crackle add the onions and salt. Sauté the onion for a minute before adding the ginger. Cook until the onion has softened.
2. Pour in the vinegar and sugar and stir it and simmer until the sugar has dissolved.

Simmering

3. Pour the tomatoes, cinnamon and pineapple in and lower the heat and simmer until the juices have dried and the mixture is tacky. It should take about 30minutes.
4. Add the cucumber and cook for a further 4minutes before turning of the heat.

Make sure the jars have been sterilised before you our the cooled chutney in.

Diwali and Christmas nuts-pecans in a crisp jaggery, cardamom and cinnamon shell

25 Oct

Diwali and Christmas nuts-pecans in a crisp jaggery, cardamon and cinnamon shell

Things are different now, compared to how they were back in the day. I remember watching TV with a bag of sherbet in my hand ( a rare treat) whilst my dad nipped off to work and and just an hour or so before mum arrived home from her job. I must have been about ten. Nowadays that just wouldn’t happen would it. I mean, many people I know don’t even allow their kids to walk home from school. I think dad even left my brother sleeping in his cot when picking me up from nursery down the road. I would freak at the thought of doing this now my toddler, I even take him into the bathroom when I am showering. Things have changed.

We didn’t eat a lot of sugar or fried food as kids. My dad is diabetic and he used to be a diligent one. He refused even a fleck of mithai (traditional Indian sweets made most often from milk powders and lots of sugar, often nuts) at Diwali or auspicious occasions. He would rarely eat a samosa and we never had pudding after dinner. I mean, we weren’t deprived…we ate ice cream and chocolate and cake…it just wasn’t part of our regular diets.

At Diwali we chose nuts over the mithai, naturally.

So it turned out that for years I would prefer crisps over sweets and never drank fizzy drinks. I would eat an extra chappati with a green vegetable curry and okra was my favourite, but I wouldn’t eat rasmalai (paneer based dessert). I craved pasta not cake and definitely pizza over cake. Then I had baby.

It has been the most bizarre experience. Pretty much weeks after having my boy, I started craving biscuits and I ate loads of them. Arguably this could have been simply hunger and pumping loads of calories into my bit via breast milk, but I’d not really craved biscuits before. I was part of an NCT group where us new mums would meet weekly and guess what we ate? Cakes, biscuits, wafers, muffins…

I started craving lemon drizzle cake every day. I would wake up thinking about apple and blackberry crumble. But then my hair fell in clumps as part of normal post partum hair loss and I think my my hormones were a mess. Spikes in insulin and are related to hormone levels and eating all that cake was not doing me any favours, especially as I had a family history of diabetes. The sugar honeymoon was off!

Jaggery however is unrefined sugar and you can get it in blocks from asian supermarkets.I do struggle sometimes to keep my iron levels up and jaggery is a source of iron too. I was fed it with nuts after I had my baby to help me recover. I did find mums traditional recipe tasty, but I was bored as heck so I created this recipe.

I’ve eaten so much of these crisp, smooth and flavoursome little bites today and it has really been hard to stop! I’m so excited about showing these off during Diwali and Christmas. The cardamon and cinnamon are definitely present and warm the dish up and add so much depth and flavour.

I love these crunchy bites, I feel better that I’m not eating a lump of fat but they taste so ridiculously good. Make some, eat them, gift them.

Ingredients

150g pecan nuts
225g jaggery
2 tbsp water
1/4 heaped tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamon

Method

1. Toast the nuts on a non stick pan for a 4 minutes or until they catch a light colour and are crisp. Leave them to cool.
2. On a low flame melt the jaggery. Add the water if its stiff.
3. Once the jaggery achieves a caramel type of consistency, add the cardamon and cinnamon and mix well
4. Turn the flame to a very low flicker and mix in the pecans and pull them out with tongs individually and lay them on baking paper to cool. Please do not use your fingers, hot jaggery burns.image

Homemade sweet lychee and hot chilli dipping sauce

25 Oct

Homemade sweet lychee and hot chilli dipping sauce

Always follow your gut instinct.

This week has been a revealing and pretty testing one. When I was made redundant just before I fell pregnant, it was pretty messily and insensitively handled and frankly, the writing had been on the wall for a while, just that I didn’t read the signals. It shook my confidence so then determinedly, I secured a role that on paper was more exciting, more strategic, more pay and well, just more. For some reason however, it just didn’t feel right. I held off from accepting the offer for two whole weeks and as I drove to work on my first day as a newly pregnant and formally dressed person, I wasn’t excited. I didn’t even feel neutral. I knew the difference between nervous apprehension and plain dread.

It turned out that my gut instinct was right. It was a mistake, but I was brave enough to put a stop to that interlude. However it was another factor that I let augment my self perception.

This week I spoke to so many people with emotive challenges I’m life. For some reason my shoulder is pretty attractive to secretly woeful people who carry themselves with a smile. I listened to a friend who has anxiety attacks at work, I’ve wiped the tears from friends who miss their children because they are busy being hamsters at work. I’ve held the hands of friends contemplating fertility treatments and encouraged my neighbour back into education as she has now raised her children. I also said no to a corporate role that would have sucked the life out of my life. I listened to my gut instinct. Nobody should actively or passively do things in life that they know will make them sad.

A the same time my husband has been away for work this week. I’ve had friends and family over this week back-to-back and I feel loved and blessed. How to thank them? There’s less money in my household now so I’m not taking each of them for dinner, but what I can do is put some quality and love into a thoughtful gift.

Christmas and Diwali are around the corner, why don’t you try these either for yourself or as gifts for loved ones. It’s so lovely to receive a gorgeous catch of something tasty that doesn’t perish in a day or two. My lychee and chilli dipping sauce is versatile and smells amazing. So far I’ve used it with chips and spring rolls and can’t with each mouthful I’ve thought, ‘I can’t believe I made this’ .

This dipping sauce carries an exotic aroma, has a zesty and hot kick and is cheekily sticky. Go on, if you like it hot and sweet…

Ingredients

Two tins of lychees
5 tbsp of caster sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
8-10 red finger chillies

Method

1. Mince the chillies to a paste and keep them to a side.
2. Put the lychees int a food processor and blend them together to as smooth a consistency as possible, although it may be quite chunky don’t worry,
3. Pour the lychees into a non-stick pan together with the chilies and the sugar and bring the mixture to a simmer. Turn the heat to a medium flame and simmer for 15-20minutes until the juices have thickened.
4. Return the sauce to a food processor and blitz it until the lychee chunks have smoothed into the sauce.
5. Place the sauce back onto the hob and simmer for a further 5minutes until the sauce is thick and sticky.

Allow the sauce to cool before serving. If you aren’t serving it straight away then store it in an air tight, sterilised jar.

I am entering this made from scratch Homemade sweet lychee and hot chilli dipping sauce to Javelin Warrior’s Made with Love Mondays.
image

Homemade chilli oil with an Indian accent

23 Oct

IMG_3928

When we go to our favourite Chinese restaurant the first (of many) things we over eat on is vegetarian crackers with loads of chilli oil. Our tummies flare away after a few mouthfuls as do our tongues, but we keep going. We always joke that our Indian heritage is revealing itself here; not everyone hoovers up chilli in this way, surely?

My love for chilies isn’t just based on the heat. The flavour of chilies is something else. Sometimes sweet, sometimes smokey, sometimes tangy. I love the way they get into the nose and cheeks as soon as a they’re bitten.

I’m sure every Asian person has an aunt that carries chilli sauce in their handbag, I know I have a couple at least! In my last corporate role the IT department was filled with people from Calcutta and Bangalore. They and I would queue for the microwaves in the canteen and they would heat up their stacks of Chappati, curry and rice separately whilst I would be tapping my single tub of daal and rice with forced patience and a smile masking my hunger and nervousness about making that meeting.

Anyway, those of the IT people that didn’t bring a packed lunch feast would buy something like chips and guess what they would pull out?

It’s engrained. On pizza, on cheese on toast, on chips, on jacket potatoes…chilli. So I thought, why not? Why don’t I make a chilli oil with an Indian accent, like my ex colleagues from Bangalore and my auntie and my mummy.

Do you know how easy it is to make chilli oil? I wasn’t even sure it warranted a recipe or a post on my site until I spoke to a few of my friends and they said they loved the stuff and asked me about the best place to buy it. So here we are.

These pretty little jars make excellent Christmas gifts that are handmade and special. My husband is away this week on business and I’ve been handing these little jars out to my friends and family who have come to keep me company and they’ve gone down beautifully.

I have used sesame oil and olive oil in my recipe because sesame oil makes the whole mix gorgeously nutty. I’ve used lots of whole spices that are used in garam masala and they all add aroma and gentle heat with some sweetness. Cinnamon and star anise smell sweet and floral respectively. All you need to do is heat it up to aid the infusion, but don’t burn the chilies by boiling the oil. Just be gentle. Remember that the infusion gets stronger over weeks. I would shake the oil once a week and keep it in a cool and dry place. Let me know what you think of this one!

Ingredients

225ml sesame oil
225ml olive oil
20g dried flaked chilies
5-7 whole dried chilies
3 medium sized sticks of cinnamon
1 tsp cumin seeds
3 star anise
5-6 cloves

Method

1. Sterilise the jars and dry them thoroughly.
2. Pour the oil into a deep bottomed non-stick pan and add the chilies and whole spices.
3. Heat the oil until you see gentle bubbles and turn down the heat. Don’t boil the oil or burn the chilies.IMG_3925
4. Keep the oil on the flame for 4-5 minutes to add the infusion, but on a low flame.
5. Let the chili oil cool and then pour the oil into the jars, try to distribute the while spices evenly.

Store the jars in a cook dry place and shake them once a week.

What’s in My Gift Hamper

5 Dec

I love giving personalised gifts of food; I love exploring for atypical flavours or decadent ingredients; I love presenting smells that socialise attractively in the basket; I love the wafts of ideas as a heap of newness comes together and I smile-sigh harmoniously as I love that each of them is recommended by me and will give lasting memory. I love the surprised expressions that unravel the edible delights and I love that I have conjured up inspiration in the receiver. 

Of course it’s not all totally altruistic, I am always beamingly proud with my assembly of treasures and I always like the sharing of food and travel stories that I know will ensue.  And hopefully they will cook up some meals for me too, check out the gift hamper.

Black Garlic; Black garlic surprises with a fruity, molasses flavour that enhances the familiar taste of garlic. Confused? You have to try it to believe it. The garlicky taste is not nearly as strong as raw garlic – black garlic is fermented and gives a dried fruit like twist. In fact, the texture is a bit jelly like as well.
I like black garlic tossed into some pasta with fresh herbs and cheese. I just heat some olive oil, add soft slithers ofblack garlic and chili and just toss it together, no need to cook it down. Throw in the pasta, herbs and some lovely hard cheese (I use a vegetarian parmesan style cheese) and eat.
I also like black garlic with some broad beans, whizzed together as a dip. I add a kick of chili (I have to, maybe that’s the Indian in me?) and even on a pizza (but small pieces).
 
 

 

 

Pomegranate Molasses; It feels as though this syrupy ingredient is quite trendy at the moment.  Increasingly popularised, pomegranate molasses have a sweet, sexy flavour and a little of this flirty and fragrant stuff goes a long way. In Indian cooking, I often use tamarind. Nowadays I have been using this sticky and tangy pomegranate molasses in some dishes to keep it interesting and add a Middle Eastern flavour.

I sometimes use pomegranate molasses to spruce up a stew or a bake. Just a little. Recently I did a bean stew with north African spices and I added a little of this molasses before topping it with crushed new potato, spring onion and ricotta stuffed baby sweet peppers, which I then put in the oven. My goodness the  sensual smells…

Orange Blossom Water; This is used in African and Middle Eastern cooking and has a distinctive fragrant orange flavour from the distilled orange blossom, but it’s also floral and sweet smelling. As with many good things, there is no need to pour this in.  Use it to flavour some cream or yogurt to accompany your dessert, or toss some salad through it.  You could add to your favourite hot drink, yes, even coffee.  I use a few drops in shrikhand, which is a thickened and sweetened yogurt dessert or even in a vegetable stew, just at the end of cooking. Sometimes, I marinade some tofu in it before quickly shallow frying.
 
Ral-el-Hanout; Recently I’ve been having a real love-affair with North African spices. Musky and punchy, they’re balanced with a gentle floral touch that makes for mysterious fun when using this wonderful spice mix. I love the stuff, it’s not strong enough to become bitter when used raw, and at the same time aromatic enough to really bring seemingly humble ingredients to life. 
Roasted Garlic Infused Oil; Yes it is lazy, but it does taste good. Dip some nice warm and fresh bread in it, or spike it with chili and dip delicious Indian rice-flour dough (khichi) in it. Drizzle it on mezze, make a dip from roasted aubergine flesh and yogurt. I’m sure you’ll find many more uses for this aromatic oil.
 

 

Stuffed Vine or stuffed Cabbage leaves; 
Dolmades are moist and lip-smackingly gorgeous little greek delights.  My favourite vegetarian variety is when stuffed with rice, lots of herbs, black olives and sundried tomatoes. They really get me in a holiday mood and are actually quite filling. I love them with mezze and lashings of hoummos. Plum Chutney; Now this I would rather see in my hamper than biscuits, for sure. Wonderful with a melted hunk of goats cheese, or in a sandwich. Or even, layered with vegetables and wrapped in some pastry. I must admit I have been known to steal spoonfuls of the stuff, but it’s no surprise really.
Chaat Masala; Don’t smell it before you buy it, just trust me on this one. The association with flatulence is limited only to the smell! Chaat masala is a great example of odd smelling things tasting incredible. It’s a blend of dried mango powder, cumin, black salt, coriander, dried ginger, salt, black pepper asafoetida and chili powder. Chaat is street food in India and very much bar-snack food in Indian restaurants in the UK. Crunchy rice puffs and puri’s set against potatoes and chickpea sponginess, with tamarind and chili chutney zing – and often soothing yogurt all combine like a sensory cocktail, punching up a cornucopia of flavours like a fruit machine. That’s the point of a chaat for me.  Chaat masala gives a chaat it’s distinctive accent of salt-and-pepper-ness.
Boil some potatoes, add the contents of a can of chickpeas, add some onion (my particular favourite is red onions), something crispy like Indian rice puffs and then add some mung-bean shoots or mixed sprouts and some freshly chopped coriander. Sprinkle in the chaat masala to your taste. It’s great as a side salad.
 

Lavender Sugar; Well for one, little jars of the stuff do look very pretty. And when you open the jar, it’s like summer just spilling into the room. Are you smiling already? Good, well that’s definitely part of the point of a gift and this looks very cute, traditional, attractive and I really like the taste of it when sprinkled on freshly baked biscuits (even when they have chocolate in them, or better still pistachio!)  You could even warm some berries up, and run some of this perfumed sugar through.

 

Chick-pea Spaghetti; I remember that when I first tasted chickpea spaghetti, I expected it to taste more like spaghetti and less chickpea than it later transpired to be. Ah. It needs to be cooked in a rich, flavoursome, bulky vegetable and tomato, curry-style Indian base. This sort of base really compliments the depth of chick-pea spaghetti and really helps to infiltrate it with juiciness. 

I really like this sort of food at this time of year because it’s warming, filling and deep but not stodgy and heavy. I feel less bad about curling up on the sofa with my blanket for a couple of hours when I’m eating a scrumptious bowl of this funky and colourful spaghetti. Word of caution for those who like to suck up their spaghetti though – doesn’t work so well with this variety!  

Star anise; I am still surprised at the number of star anise-virgins amongst us. Not only does it look beautiful in all it’s flower/star shaped glory, but it has a sweet aniseed flavour that permeates fruits, stews and curries beautifully. Stick it in a pear and bake it, simmer down summer berries with star anise inside, or in a curry.

 Most of these ingredients are available in good food halls and supermarkets or even on the web!
   

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