Hey! I’m back. Now that THAT’S dealt with, on to the food.
This recipe doesn’t have a name. I call it “That Sausage and Bean Stuff”. It has overtones of eastern European stews, Indian curries, and Creole jambalayas without really being any of those things. It’s sweet, spicy, sour, smoky, and intense. It’s a regular weeknight supper around here, and it’s delicious.
I used to make this with Mattesons smoked sausage. Yes, I know, it’s kind of gross. So are hot dogs and we still eat those. However, I recently discovered Polish country sausage, or Wiejska Kielbasa. So good in dishes like this, also good just sliced and served with bread and mustard. If you can’t make it to a market or to one of the many Polish groceries that have popped up in the last few years for your Kielbasa, they sell a pretty decent version at the deli counter in Morrison’s. It has a tough-yet-papery casing that you might want to peel or cut off as it can be hard or impossible to chew. I don’t mind working through it or just picking it out (it tends to come loose from the sausage in tight spirals during cooking) but you may feel differently.
This dish is still delicious – and completely vegan – without any sausage at all, or with a tin of chickpeas in place of the sausage. Continue reading
I can’t believe it’s been so long since I blogged on my blog! The official excuse is that I’ve been working full-time instead of part-time for the last month or so, but honestly, it’s just pure, unadulterated sloth. I haven’t even cooked anything interesting lately. I did, however, manage to smash the screen on my lil’ netbook and without so much internet to distract me, I’ve been reading more than usual. I just finished Anthony Bourdain’s newest book, so I thought I’d do a mini-review of it, along with a couple of other collections of food writing from my bookshelf.
I recently spent a night and a day in Birmingham for my job. My hotel was right in the middle of the China quarter, and I had a delicious meal at the Ladywell Walk Cafe, a simple but delicious Chinese-Malaysian restaurant. I had a Crispy Noodle Hotpot. The noodles weren’t actually crispy, thanks to the broth they were floating in, but they were still yummy. There were also fat shrimps, big curled-up pieces of squid, tender, fatty pork slices, and at least three different kinds of mushrooms all floating around in a subtle but perfectly-seasoned broth. The egg yolk on top added the perfect amount of richness when I stirred it in. The waitress was really nice too, we chatted about America for a bit when she noticed my accent and she made sure my jasmine tea was never less than half full. Unfortunately, I can’t find the exact address on the internet, but it’s directly across from the Ibis Hotel on Ladywell Walk.
The next day, after work was done, I had a look at the Bullring shopping centre before I caught my train. It was… a shopping centre. Unless I have something specific to buy, shopping for clothes holds no interest for me. The only thing I would have been interested in, the bookstore, was a victim of the Great Borders Massacre, but luckily there was an overpriced-but-beautiful food hall at Selfridge’s that kept me occupied for a bit. Here are the donuts I bought at Krispy Kreme. I was going to get a dozen to share out at work, until I saw the price tag. £12 for 12 donuts!!! I used to pick up a dozen glazed Krispy Kremes on the way to work back in the states for a fifth of that price. Still, they looked good, so I got four, for an eye-watering £7.00. The strawberry creme was almost worth it.
I also bought a beautiful porky pie. See that fancy label? That means it has to be good, right? And it was, actually. And shared out over two meals for the two of us, even at nearly £5.00, it was definitely worth it. We had it with salad and slices of cheese and apple two nights in a row. Perfect for a hot summer evening. I have no patience for a cheap pork pie, but there’s not much better than a really nice one.
So, Birmingham. It seems like a pretty cool place, and I think I might go back on purpose soon, when I have a bit more time.
Sorry for the extended silence, everyone. My involvement in a pre-recorded televised food-related spectacle (which will air at some point in August or September) has kind of taken up all the food-related space in my head. Once it’s all over and I can talk about it without giving anything away, I’ll write about it here (maybe – not quite sure if the contract I signed precludes that, but we’ll see). Anyway, for now, back to our regularly scheduled gastronomic chit-chat!
You know what I love? A good dessert, preferably involving fruit and/or chocolate. You know what I really don’t care for? Baking. I get in the mood for it sometimes, usually around Christmas, but it’s pretty rare. I usually buy biscuits or cakes at the grocery, which is just kind of sad, considering what a food-obsessed person I am. So this afternoon I noticed some apples sitting around and came up with this incredibly simple delicious sweet thing that took about five minutes.
- 2 apples (preferably on the tart side) peeled and chopped or sliced roughly
- Squeeze of lemon juice
- Tablespoon of butter
- Sugar, 2-3 tablespoons, depending on tartness of apples
- 1/2-3/4 cup of water
- Small handful roughly chopped walnuts (optional)
- teaspoon each cinnamon and fresh grated nutmeg
Toss chopped apples with a squeeze of lemon juice. Saute in butter in a wide frying pan, stirring regularly, just until the apples start to colour around the edges. Add walnuts if using, stir around for another minute, and add cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar and water. Cook until a syrup forms. Taste and add more sugar if you like.
Serve warm over vanilla ice cream, or let it cool a bit and do what I did -make a rough tart-type thing by pouring it in the centre of a rectangle of pre-made puff pastry (yes, yes, I know). Fold the sides towards the centre to almost-but-not-quite cover the filling and paint the whole thing with a beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar before baking according to the directions on the puff pastry package. I made some Bird’s custard to go with for my fella. He is in the living room snarfing a big slice as we speak! I’ll have mine later, probably with a spoonful of Greek yoghurt on top, or maybe a thin slice of cheddar cheese.
If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you may have noticed that I have a thing for Mexican food – and I don’t have much patience for what usually passes for Mexican food in the UK. Thank the lord for Salsa Mexicana – genuine, fresh, simple Mexican food.
When we arrived, there were little bowls of hot, spicy peanuts on the table. I love touches like this. It seems like so many restaurants would charge you for the rental of your plates if they could, so it’s a pleasure to visit a restaurant that is at least as interested in making sure you have a nice time as it is in emptying your purse.
We started with the dip selection – cheese dip, salsa, guacamole, and bean dip with two baskets of fresh fried tortilla chips. Generous portions of each dip, all fresh, all delicious, and more than enough for the six of us. I especially liked the bean dip. Rather than a puree, it consisted of whole, perfectly tender beans stirred into sour cream and Monterey Jack cheese. Awesome. I am afraid I got more than my fair share while the others were distracted by the cheese dip.
That’s tuna pasta bake in French. Everything sounds better in French. I love tuna pasta bake, or tuna casserole as I called it growing up in America, but most people tend to see it as stodgy, flavourless, and terminally uncool. I hate to imagine the tuna pasta bakes they’ve had, because for me it’s one of the tastiest, most satisfying comfort foods around.
Tuna pasta bake is based around either a béchamel sauce (milk thickened with a flour and butter roux) or a mornay sauce (béchamel with added cheese). Béchamel is one of the four “mother sauces” of classic French cuisine, and probably the easiest to make of the four. You just take equal measures of flour and butter (about a tablespoon of each per cup of milk) stir it over medium heat until it forms a paste and just BARELY starts to smell nutty and turn the palest shade of toasty brown, and then add the milk and stir like crazy until it starts to thicken. Simmer it over low heat for a few minutes until it’s as thick as you like and season with salt and black pepper. White pepper is traditional to keep it all smooth and lovely and white, but I like the black specks.
When I moved to Leeds from Kentucky, Shabab was where I had my first proper English curry, and I was immediately infatuated with the place. The waiters were charming, the decor somehow managed to be kitschy and elegant at the same time, and the food was amazing. I drove my husband crazy with wanting to eat there all the time. So it’s with great sadness that, after a nearly four-year love affair, it’s time to call it quits (with Shabab, not with my husband).
The last two times I’ve been, it’s been solidly mediocre, and my most recent visit was the last straw. While the sauce on my favourite dish (Dunwandhar – smoked lamb in a rich tomato-based sauce) was as delicious as always, the lamb was tough and chewy. The onion naan I shared with my table-mates was small (smaller than the dinner plate it was served on!) and doughy in the middle, and my mushroom pilau was obviously just regular pilau with sliced mushrooms thrown in as an afterthought, because they weren’t even cooked.
It wasn’t a complete failure. The service was fine, if not particularly enthusiastic, and my friends both enjoyed their curries (they had mild chicken dishes, one with pineapples and one with cashews). Unfortunately, ‘fine’ isn’t what I’m looking for when I go out for a meal with friends. I want delicious food, a great atmosphere, and memorable experience. It doesn’t look like I’m going to find that at Shabab any more. I need a new favourite curry spot – any suggestions?
Photo from toptable.com