Thursday, 31 March 2011

K is for... koftas

I knew even before I'd cooked the letter A that K would have to include kebabs. Richard and I love meat. Unashamedly and indulgently. We discuss the prospect of eating a rare, bloody steak with the same enthusiasm as others discuss potential holidays abroad or shoe shopping trips.  We love it when friends are involved in shows at the Arcola Theatre, just so we have an excuse to go to Mangal Ocakbasi across the road. Obviously we're also doing it to be supportive friends and because we like going to the theatre. But make no mistake, it's mainly about the meat. We go days without eating flesh but vegetarianism is definitely not for us and unless bowel cancer comes along and kicks us in the arse, I can't see us changing anytime soon.

Initially, my plan for the koftas was to make them from kid mince for an extra K, but being as disorganised as ever, I didn't get myself to Brixton before the market shut and there was no time to order some online. I popped on the train to Balham to do a big food shop and walked past a butchers that had "goat chunks" in the window. My attention grabbed, I stepped inside. Looking up and down the counter, I felt my initial hope falling as the "chunks" seemed to be all they had in the way of goat - kid, or otherwise. The greasy-haired man behind the counter asked me what I was looking for, I asked him if he had any kid mince. 
"Kid mince?" 

He looked alarmed. Fearing he thought the current cuts had made Swift's Modest Proposal a coalition policy, I reassured him, 

"Young goat mince, made from goats". 

He raised his eyebrows, looked me up and down and smiled, revealing several gold teeth,

 "Of course! I get you kid mince. How much you want?". 

As he spoke, he slyly pulled a label out of a block of mince under the counter and hid it behind his back. I'd already seen that label. It had read "lamb mince". 

"Er, hang on, didn't that sign say lamb mince?". 

He shook his head with feigned confusion, 

"Sign? What sign?".

"The sign you're holding behind your back", I said. 

I heard a little thud, before he waved both hands at me and smiled his sharkish grin, gold teeth glinting under the flourescent strip lights. I gave him a I-wasn't-born-yesterday tilt of my head and he laughed. 

                           "OK, OK, it did say the lamb, but it is not the lamb, it is the kid really, but people usually prefer to think it is the lamb". 

Unsurprisingly, this failed to reassure me. 

"How much you want?", he said quickly. 

"Erm, I don't think..." I stammered. 

"How much? 500 grams? 1 kilo? How much you want?".

He winked at me and looked me up and down once more. I found myself trying to use my jute bags as a barrier against his fixed and unwelcome gaze. 

"2 kilos?", he said loudly. 

He wouldn't give up and I wanted to get out of there. 

"250 grams, er, please", I squeaked, ashamed of my weakness. 

He handed it to me, I paid and left. I didn't want this meat, whatever it was. Lamb or kid - he was definitely lying to someone. I could feel the weight of the meat at the bottom of my bag as it gently beat against my leg as I walked, as quickly as I could, to a place I felt safe, a place whose signs would never lie to me. Waitrose. Moving through the aisles, I walked straight to the meat section and placed a large recyclable plastic tub of organic lamb mince in my trolley. The seediness of my earlier experience subsided and was replaced by middle-class guilt in the shape of Duchy Originals.

The kid/lamb mince in the blue plastic bag at the bottom of my shopping bag stayed there until I came home and unpacked the shopping while telling Richard the story of what had happened. I didn't know what to do with it, but I knew I couldn't serve it at Alphabet Soup. I didn't know what it was! But I hate waste, particularly food waste. Finding myself unable to make a decision about its fate, I furtively bunged the blue plastic bag into the bottom of the meat drawer, closed the fridge door and breathed a sigh of relief at not having to look at it for the time being. My apparent inability to make a decision lasted long enough to take the decision out of my hands altogether, as several days later, Richard opened the fridge door and asked,

"What's that, in the blue bag?"

"Oh," I said "that's the kid/lamb mince. It's probably off by now"

I lifted it out of the meat drawer and threw it in the bin, feeling a huge sense of relief as my foot released the pedal and the lid crashed down.


500 g/ 1/2 lb lean minced lamb (or kid if you can find it) 
1 onion, very finely chopped or grated
3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tsp ground cumin
3 tsp ground coriander
A handful of fresh mint, chopped
A handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
Salt and pepper
Oil for brushing

Bamboo skewers, which have been soaked in water.

Preheat your grill on high, or light your barbecue

Place all the ingredients into a bowl and thoroughly mix together. Form rugby ball-shaped little patties out of the mince around the drained skewers. Place the koftas on the grill pan/ barbecue. Brush them with oil and leave to cook, turning and brushing with more oil frequently, for 5-10 minutes (depending on their size) or until cooked through.  

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

K is for...

... Kir Royales served with cucumber kimchi topped kidney bean patties, followed by kaffir lime leaf marinated kudu kebabs and koftas with kohlrabi salad. Next I served cabbage kimchi and kelp broth, followed by a main course of marinated kangaroo with kiwi sauce served with krumpli nudli, kai choi and crispy baked kale. Pudding was kumquat kasblotz served with kulfi followed by a cheeseboard of smoked Kirkham, Keens Cheddar, Kilcummin and Kelsey Lane. 

We had a wonderful mix of guests for K night - most of which had never met each other before. We had a fellow food blogger and private cook, Miriam Nice, along with her actor boyfriend, Richard Kiess, who I was sure I had met before but couldn't quite place until a few days later - we were both at the Edinburgh Fringe 2008 performing in shows at the same venue. Small world. We were also joined by two more lovely actors - David Ahmed and Georgina Panton as well as the equally lovely Jane Ballantine, who has created a science app called rAPPidRevise aimed at GCSE students. I tried it. My highest score was 35%. Pitiful. Last but not least, Alphabet Soup played host to its first vegetarian, Jo Nockels. Jo had travelled down from Leeds that day and was due to come along a little later than the other guests, so luckily for her, she missed the meat feast that was the kebab course.

K night's guests brought booze-a-plenty in the form of Kumala Shiraz, Koonunga Hill Autumn Riesling and The Kernel beer which was merrily sunk to Richard's K night soundtrack, which included Kate Bush, King of the Slums, King Missile, The Killers, The Kinks, Chaka Khan, Miss Kittin and the Kaiser Chiefs.

Kir Royale

Kir Royales couldn't be simpler to make, they're simply Champagne and a measure of Cassis. Fresh, fruity and deliciously gluggable - like fizzy Ribena for grown-ups.

Kidney bean patties

1 tin of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 red chilli, chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp turmeric
2 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp soy sauce
13oz/ 325 g gram flour
1 tsp baking powder
A handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper

Simply chuck all the ingredients into a food processor and blitz until it turns into a stodgy paste. Form the paste into patties with wet hands and fry in a little sunflower or olive oil until golden brown on both sides.

Cucumber kimchi

Richard bought me Momofuku a few weeks ago and I can't seem to put it down. The food all looks glorious and David Chang's writing is refreshingly direct. Here's a little taster:

"The result is a smoldering bowl of spice and pork - perfect for a hangover or a cold that needs a kick in the ass".

It was to Momofuku that I turned for inspiration for my kimchi, although David Chang is a big fan of fish sauce and Richard, with his fish allergy, is most definitely not, so although inspired by this fantastic book, my cucumber kimchi is quite different.

Half a cucumber
A dessertspoonful of sugar
A couple of generous pinches of sea salt

A finger of ginger, peeled
1 carrot, peeled
5 spring onions
5 cloves of garlic, crushed
2-3tsp dried chilli flakes
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp Mirin

Slice the cucumber lengthways, remove the seeds and cut the cucumber into matchstick thin pieces. Toss the cucumber strips in 1tsp of the sugar and 1 tsp of the salt and leave to stand for ten minutes or until  they have released a lot of their water and softened slightly, then drain. Chop the ginger, spring onions and carrot into the same matchstick sized pieces and place them all in a bowl with the cucumber. Mix together the remaining ingredients and pour over the vegetables, toss well and leave to marinate overnight if possible, but for at least half an hour if time is tight.

Top each kidney bean patty with a spoonful of cucumber kimchi.

* I found this photo online, as we forgot to photograph our Kir Royales on K night. They were rather distracting.

Friday, 18 March 2011

J is for... Jaffa cake pudding


J night's menu seemed to be so much about recipes and research that I wanted to have a bit more freedom to be playful when it came to pudding.  On the morning of J night I still hadn't made any firm decisions about what I was going to make and it was while I was in the shower, day-dreaming of Jaffa Cakes that it came to me. Jaffa cake pudding was born and by God it was good (though maybe not after a massive curry and a pre-pudding course of three miniature desserts...)!

I made orange Jocande as the "Jaffa Cake" biscuit base and placed a layer into Martini glasses, pushing it down so it reached right to the bottom of the glass. Next, I poached Jaffa orange slices in a Cointreau syrup, and arranged a layer of the orange slices on top of the Jocande and then spooned some of the Cointreau syrup over the top. Next was a thick layer of the most orange-y orange mousse you can imagine. On top of that was a thin layer of Cointreau jelly which, once set, was topped with a layer of rich chocolate mousse and grating of fresh orange zest to serve. It looks fiddly, but is actually very easy, as it's one of those dishes that you make in stops and starts in between getting on with other things.

Jaffa Cake pudding

for the Jaffa Jocande: 

This will make far too much Jocande for this pudding, but it is delicious on its own or as the base for many puddings. It freezes very well and will last, well wrapped, in the freezer for at least a month.

Preheat your oven to 180 C (160 C Fan) and line a large roulade tin with baking parchment.

3 whole eggs
5 egg whites
A pinch of salt
2 oz/ 50 g caster sugar
1 1/2 oz/ 40 g melted butter
2 oz/ 50 g plain flour, sifted
7 oz/ 175 g icing sugar, sifted
7 oz/ 175 g ground almonds
The zest of two oranges

Whisk the whole eggs and icing sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add the ground almonds and continue whisking on high speed for about 6 minutes. Stir in the melted butter and flour until throughly incorporated. In a separate, clean and oil-free bowl, whisk the eggs whites and salt until at the soft peak stage. Whisk in the caster sugar in two stages and continue whisking until the meringue is stiff and glossy. Add a third of the meringue to the almond mixture and vigorously stir in to slacken the batter. Fold in the remaining meringue and pour the mixture into your prepared roulade tray. Use a palette knife to smooth the mixture out - it should be about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Bake in your preheated oven for 10 - 15 minutes or until the biscuit Joconde is no longer sticky to touch. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in its tin on top of a wire rack for about ten minutes before turning out of its tin on to the rack to leave to cool completely. Using a pastry cutter, cut out a small circle of jaffa jocande and use it to line the bottom of each Martini glass. Push it down until it is right at the bottom. You can add another circle on top if you like.

for the poached Jaffa slices in Cointreau syrup

3 Jaffa oranges
2tbsp caster sugar
125ml Cointreau

Place the sugar and Cointreau in a wide pan and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved. Peel the oranges, removing all the pith. Cut out each orange segment over the pan (so you can collect all the juice) with a very sharp knife, leaving the membranes that divide the segments. Poach the orange slices gently in the syrup for 5-10 minutes, then leave to cool. Arrange some orange segments on top of the Jocande and then spoon some of the syrup over them.

for the orange mousse

The zest of 3 oranges
12 fl.oz/ 350 ml freshly squeezed orange juice (This is about 4-5 oranges' worth)
4 eggs, separated
4 oz/ 100 g caster sugar
4 sheets of leaf gelatine
1 small tun (330 ml) double/ whipping cream

Place the orange zest and juice in a saucepan and heat gently until the juice just begins to boil. In the meantime, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a heat proof bowl until pale and creamy. Pour the juice through a sieve over the egg and sugar mixture and whisk together. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and stir continuously over a gentle heat until the orange mixture begins to thicken and transfer it into a cold jug and leave to cool.

Soak the sheets of gelatine in a bowl of cold water for ten minutes. Stir the cream into the cold orange mixture. Squeeze the excess water out of the gelatine and place in a bowl. Pour over a couple of tablespoons of boiling water from the kettle and whisk with a fork until the gelatine has fully dissolved. Stir the melted gelatine into the orange cream until fully combined. Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form and gently fold the whipped whites into the orange cream, a little at a time, keeping in as much air as possible. Spoon a thick layer of orange mousse on top of the orange slices, remembering to leave a gap big enough at the top of the glass for the Cointreau jelly and rich chocolate mousse. Pop the glasses in the fridge for an hour or so until the orange mousse sets.

for the Cointreau jelly

125 ml Cointreau
2 leaves of gelatine

Soak the leaves of gelatine in a bowl of cold water for ten minutes. Squeeze the excess water out of the gelatine, pour the rest of the water out of the bowl and pop the gelatine back in. Pour a tablespoon of boiling water over the gelatine and whisk quickly until all the gelatine has thoroughly dissolved. Pour the melted gelatine into the Cointreau and stir together thoroughly. Take the dessert glasses out of the fridge and pour a thin layer of the boozy jelly over the top of the set orange mousse. Pop the glasses back in the fridge and leave to set.

for the rich chocolate mousse

150 g/ 6 oz good quality dark chocolate
4 eggs, separated
A pinch of salt

Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over barely simmering water. In the meantime, whisk the egg whites with the salt until they form soft peaks. Take the chocolate off the heat and whisk in the egg yolks before gradually and gently folding in the whipped egg whites a third at a time. Take the dessert glasses out of the fridge and spoon the chocolate mousse on top of the set Cointreau jelly and level the top with a palate knife. Pop the glasses back in the fridge to set. Just before serving, top with some finely grated orange zest.

J is for... Juniper junket, jasmine jelly and jumbles


I am a huge fan of milk puddings and rarely went a whole week, as a child, without being dished up a serving of rice pudding, macaroni pudding, ground rice or semolina. Junket is supposed to be soft set and the most obviously comparable modern equivalent is panna cotta. Soft, delicious comfort food - no chewing required.

Junket is a mediaeval pudding that was fashionably served at the banquet tables of the nobility. It was traditionally made with cream, flavoured with spices and rose water and set with rennet, but it began to fall from fashionable favour in Tudor times as syllabubs became the vogue pudding of the day. Then junket became an everyday food for the everyman, but made from milk instead of cream, until eventually it was only really seen on the trays of convalescing children and then not even on those. I blame Heinz tomato soup. It has found a re-birth of sorts in recent years, as the past has become the trendiest place to seek culinary inspiration. I found junket recipes in Elisabeth Luard's European Peasant Cookery and in David Everitt-Matthias' Dessert and made my own hybrid adaptation of the two, but I flavoured my junket with juniper for an extra J.

I took great pains to find rennet, ringing up every chemist, health and whole food shop in the local vicinity, but it was good old Waitrose that ended my search. It wasn't entirely successful, as I read afterwards that you shouldn't move the junket at all until it's set or the rennet enzymes become inactive, leaving the junket unset. I moved the junket several times and after 7 hours the junket was still as runny as single cream and so I cheated and added a couple of sheets of leaf gelatine and in my panic, may have gone a sheet too far as the junket was far too firmly set, but despite the mis-hap with the texture, the flavours still sang through. 

Juniper junket

450ml whole milk (or half milk and half cream)
Seeds of 1 vanilla pod

10 juniper berries, slightly crushed
1 tbsp caster sugar
1/2 tbsp brandy
1 tsp rennet
Fresh grated nutmeg, for sprinkling on top

Place 100ml of the milk and the juniper in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Turn the heat off and leave to infuse for half an hour to an hour. Strain the infused milk into the remaining milk and place in a saucepan with the vanilla and sugar. Place over a very gentle heat, stirring all the time until the sugar has dissolved and until the milk reaches 98°C (just before boiling point). Remove from the heat and stir in the brandy.  Add the rennet and stir well. Divide the mixture between your serving glasses and leave, without moving them, until the junket is set. This will take at least two hours, but overnight is best. Once set, cover each glass with cling film and place in the fridge 3-4 hours. Grate a little fresh nutmeg over the top before serving.

Moving forward in time from the mediaeval era, I looked to a Tudor classic: jumbles. Jumbles are little knot-shaped biscuits. I found a recipe for jumbles in Thomas Dawson's The Good Huswifes Jewell dated 1596 in which he uses the spelling iombles and another by Henry Fairfax:

"Take 12 Yolkes of Egges, & 5 Whites, a pound of searced Sugar, half a pound of Butter washed in Rose Water, 3 quarters of an ounce of Mace finely beaten, a little Salt dissolved in Rose Water, half an ounce of Caroway-seeds, Mingle all theise together with as much Flower as will worke it up in paste, & so make it Konttes or Rings or What fashion you please. Bake them as Bisket-bread, but upon Pye-plates"   

I worked out a recipe which attempts to keep the spirit of the original Tudor jumbles, but I also added a little lemon zest as I love lemon with caraway. I made the dough and Richard tied them into knots. I was quite tired when I made these having just polished off a carbohydrate-heavy lunch and, as such, my brain seemed to be working at a strangely hazy bread-induced speed. Every time Richard passed me a newly tied knot, I couldn't help observing ALOUD, "they're funny little things, aren't they?" while he looked on in bemused amusement. Well they were funny little things.

While still warm, they had a very similar texture to bagels, but once cooled they became extremely firm and, though not unpleasant, I'd much rather have had a hobnob.


2 oz/ 50 g unsalted butter
A generous splash of rose water
4 oz/ 100 g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
1 medium egg white
9 oz/ 225 g plain flour
1 tsp ground mace
3 tsp caraway seeds
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
A pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 180 C (160C Fan)

Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs and add the rose water. Stir in the salt and spices and then add the flour. Mix it together thoroughly until a fairly stiff dough is formed. Roll the dough into a long sausage about 1.5cm wide and cut it into approximately 8cm pieces. Form each piece into a knot shape and pop them on a baking tray lined with baking parchment and bake for 15-20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack before serving. 

Jasmine jelly is an extremely quick and simple dish to make and has a refreshing taste and is particularly delicious if you like jasmine tea. I don't.

Jasmine jelly

1 tbsp of Jasmine tea leaves
250ml boiling water
1 tbsp caster sugar
4 leaves of gelatine

100 ml whipping/ double cream
Some finely chopped fresh mint for scattering on top

Soak the gelatine leave in a bowl of cold water for 5-10 minutes or until the gelatine leaves are soft and pliable. Meanwhile pour the boiling water over the tea leaves and leave to infuse for five minutes. Pour the tea through a tea strainer into a small saucepan and stir in the sugar over a low heat until all the sugar has dissolved. Squeeze any excess water out of the gelatine and whisk into the sweet Jasmine tea. Once dissolved, pour the hot jelly into a jug to cool. Once cool, pour into serving glasses (I used shot glasses) and pop them in the fridge to set for an hour. Once set, whip the cream and top each jelly with a spoonful and use a palette knife to smooth it flat. Sprinkle a little chopped fresh mint on top and serve alongside the juniper junket and jumbles.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

J is for... J night curry feast

And here it is. The jolada roti, jalfrezi chicken, jhatpat bhindi, jardaloo ma gosht and jeera aloo was beautifully dished up by the lovely Lily Einhorn.  You can read her brilliant reviews here.

J is for... Jolada roti

Jolada, also (conveniently for J night) known as jowar, roti looked easy enough to make. It's a simple enough recipe with only three ingredients - jowar flour (jolad hittu), water and salt. I watched a video on YouTube where the roti was bashed flat by hand. Naively, I thought it looked quite easy. And fun. I looked at other videos of roti-making where people rolled their's out with a rolling pin. A rolling pin? Pfff. "I don't need a rolling pin," I thought, "I have two hands and want to swirl the dough around a board banging and patting it as I go, like the woman on YouTube did. If she can do, so can I. It can't be that hard, right?"

Wrong. My dough kept breaking up and falling to bits and every time I swirled it round on the board, I managed to turn it exactly 360° so I bashed the same side every time. I decided to turn it a little before swirling, hoping my exceptional accuracy for turning the dough 360° would continue. It didn't. Wherever I started the swirl from, I still managed to bash the same spot again and again, which left me with a big fat ball with a thin, flat tail. I tried not swirling it, just bashing it, and it looked pretty good. Until I realised it was completely stuck to the board. I opened the drawer and looked fondly at my two beautiful non-stick rolling pins, before looking back at my sad messy pile of dough. I closed the drawer and nodded my head with authority at my dough - "We've come this far without a pin. We can't give up now". 

After much swirling and bashing and with as much flour on my face and in my hair as on the board, I did it! I managed to make a  pretty good looking roti. It took ages, but I did it. And then I burned it. Badly. It turns out they take almost no time at all to cook and really do need constant watching. Great. Maybe I shouldn't have had that second Journalist. By this time, I was bored of the swirling and bashing and made podgy little jolada rotis which didn't look as authentic as I'd have liked, but tasted quite good regardless. 

Next time, I'm getting the rolling pin out...

Jolada roti

5 oz/ 125 g jowar flour (jolad hittu)
375 ml water

Heat the water and salt together in a saucepan. When it starts to boil, add the flour and mix continuously until the water has absorbed. Take the pan off the heat and spoon the hot dough out on a board. Knead the dough until it forms a large smooth ball. break the ball into pieces about the size of a golf ball and roll the ball between your hands. You can try the swirling and bashing method seen in the video or you can roll out into a flat circle on a well floured surface. Place the roti in a preheated non-stick frying pan. While the underside of the roti is cooking, spread the top with a little water after about 30 seconds to a minute turn the roti over. It will puff up but keep pushing the top down with a spatula and shaking the pan to ensure the bottom doesn't stick. It is done when both sides are mottled with brown spots.

J is for... Jeera aloo

Jeera aloo and jeera aloo gobi are dishes that my mum almost always makes to go alongside a big home-made curry feast for the family and, as such, are comforting and nostalgic for me.

Jeera aloo

1 lb/ half a kilo of potatoes
2 tbsp cumin seeds
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
A finger of ginger, peeled and grated
2 tsp turmeric
3 tsp ground coriander
1/2 - 1 tsp cayenne pepper

Peel the potatoes and cut them into bite sized chunks. Parboil the spuds in salty water and drain. Fry the spices in a generous glug of vegetable/ sunflower oil for a minute or two, stirring all the time and then chuck in the potatoes and stir them to ensure they are fully covered in the spice mix. You can carry on frying them until nicely browned and crisp or you can transfer them to the oven preheated to 180C (160C Fan) for half an hour. I made mine in the oven - again, due to my hob space issues.

J is for... Jhatpat bhindi

Jhatpat bhindi is an okra dish and I am certainly no fan of this particular lady's fingers. I find their gelatinous centre about as appealing as a sprout-flavoured ball of phlegm; which is essentially what okra tastes like. The outer, crisp skin is OK enough, it just tastes of something fresh, green and healthy. Bite deeper though, and it is beneath its inoffensive exterior where the true horror lies. Sinking your teeth into these fingers releases an oozing, viscous, snotty gunge - which also tastes green, but not in a fresh or healthy way. None of my dining companions seemed to object to this dish of curried cold and I know that some favour its jellied texture - my uncle included - but I, for one, am no convert. Okra's catarrhal charms are wasted on me. 

Jhatpat bhindi

300 g/ 12 oz of okra, cut into 1/4" pieces
1 onion, finely sliced
1 red chilli, chopped (seeds in or out, depending on your feelings on hot spice)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp garam masala
2 green chillies, slit
A squeeze of lemon

Fry off the onion in a generous glug of vegetable/ sunflower oil until soft and golden. Stir in the spices and fry for a minute or so to allow them time to cook through, before adding the chillies and okra, leave to simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring intermittently, before adding lemon juice and salt to taste. Leave to simmer again until the okra is cooked but firm.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

J is for... Jardaloo ma gosht

This was my favourite dish of the main course by far. The lamb was meltingly tender and the pockets of sweet, juicy apricots bursting in your mouth created a wonderful contrast with the rich, thick and savoury aromatic gravy. All in all this dish was a real winner and one I have every intention of making again and again. I found this recipe in Rhodes Across India. I extended the cooking time and increased some of the spice amounts and, sadly, I had to leave out the potato matchstick crisps for scattering on top included in the original recipe, as I just didn't have enough hob rings free to do them. Only three of our hobs work and while many of the dishes were stuck in the oven to keep warm while other dishes took over the gas rings, three still wasn't enough for J night. But then again, I'm not convinced four would really have been enough either as pan juggling would still have been necessary.

Jardaloo ma Gosht

200g pitted soft dried apricots
2 large onions, finely sliced
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
A finger of ginger, grated
500g boneless lamb, cut into cubes
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp mild chilli powder
2 tsp ground cumin
1 cinnamon stick, bashed gently to help release the flavour
1 tbsp caster sugar
2 tomatoes, skinned, de-seeded and chopped
Salt and pepper
A bunch of fresh coriander
A few sprigs of fresh mint

Soak the apricots in 300 ml water for at least four hours. 

Fry the onions in a generous glug of vegetable or sunflower oil until soft and golden. Add the garlic and ginger to the pan and fry for around a minute before adding the lamb. Stir in the turmeric, chilli powder and cumin and stir around to fry off in the oil before adding the cinnamon stick. Pour over enough water to barely cover and simmer for an hour and a half to two hours or until the lamb is tender and the sauce is thick. Add extra water if needed and stir at regular intervals.

While the curry is simmering, heat the sugar in a small pan and cook until it turns into a deep caramel. Add the soaked apricots along with their soaking liquid and remove from the heat.

When the lamb is tender, stir in the tomatoes and the apricots and their syrup. Finely chop half the coriander and stir through the curry for a few minutes before serving with the remaining whole coriander leaves and chopped fresh mint scattered over the top.

J is for... Jalfrezi Chicken

There are very few ingredients actually beginning with the letter J, so it became clear early on in the planning that I would need to turn to a style of cuisine for inspiration rather than a list of ingredients. Indian food seemed to lend itself quite happily to the letter J and so it was to curry I turned for my menu. 

I am a big fan of Indian food and so a curry night would usually have been my idea of the perfect way to spend an evening, but I am no expert when it comes to Indian cookery. I felt that winging it and inventing the recipes as I cooked them (as is so often the case when I'm in the kitchen) would be a lie - what makes  jalfrezi chicken  "jalfrezi" chicken? I know enough to know that the sauce features green chillies and chicken, but beyond that it would be purely guess work and I might have ended up making a different kind of curry altogether. So, it was a different discipline that took me through the main course of this letter - recipe following. I must admit, I take little pleasure in following recipes to the letter, it always feels less creative and the result less mine. Sometimes it's necessary, particularly with weights for baking new breads or pastries, but for the most part, I find it just makes the experience of cooking less fun.

It's certainly no kind of arrogance that I find it less rewarding than free style cooking. I love to read recipes. I read recipes all the time - hundreds of them - allowing them to soak in and infuse my thoughts, which of course informs the way I cook and the way I put ingredients together. I am inspired and impressed by other people's recipes, and I certainly refer to the recipes of others when I cook (always crediting them when I do, of course) but following them to the letter feels like an effort. I suppose I'm just not very good at following instructions, but I found a recipe on BBC Good Food by Cath for an authentic jalfrezi chicken and the results were delicious, though much less hot than I have eaten elsewhere. The only real changes I made was to use all green chillies, fresh chicken stock instead of water, an extra clove of garlic, a smidge more turmeric and skinless chicken thighs instead of breasts. I find slow cooking chicken on the bone is more succulent and taking the skin off the thighs and slashing the flesh allowed the spices to penetrate right into the juicy meat. I also had to adjust the cooking times as I was using a different cut of meat. The jalfrezi chicken was melt in the mouth tender and the heat from the spice was deliciously warming and aromatic.

Jalfrezi Chicken

for the sauce

1/2 a large onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 green chilli, chopped
1 tin of plum tomatoes
1/2 pint fresh chicken stock
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp turmeric

for the chicken

8 skinless chicken thighs
1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped
1/2 a large onion, sliced into half moons
2 green chillies, chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp garam masala
A large bunch of fresh coriander
Salt and pepper

Slash the chicken thighs with a sharp knife, pop them in a dish and rub them with the cumin, coriander and turmeric - you might want to use plastic gloves as the turmeric will stain your fingers yellow. Place a sheet of cling film over the top and pop in the fridge to marinate while you make the sauce.

To make the sauce, fry the roughly chopped onions with garlic and 1 green chilli in a small pan until soft and browned. Add the stock to the onions and simmer for around 20 minutes. While the onions are simmering, put the tomatoes in the food processor and blitz until smooth. Heat a frying pan and gently fry the the ground coriander, cumin and turmeric in a splash of sunflower/ vegetable oil for about a minute. Add the blitzed tomatoes and simmer for about ten minutes. Next give your onion mixture a blitz in the food processor and stir it into the spiced tomato sauce and simmer for 20 minutes.

Sear the chicken thighs in a large pan in a dash of oil. Add the sliced onion, red pepper and chillies and leave over a gentle heat, stirring every now and then until the the vegetables are soft and the onion is brown. Pour the sauce over the top and stir through. Leave to simmer, stirring every now and then, for 40 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Stir in the garam masala and chopped fresh coriander (reserving a few whole leaves for garnish) and stir it over a gentle heat on the hob for a few minutes before transferring the jalfrezi chicken into a warmed serving dish. Sprinkle the top with the reserved coriander leaves.

J is for... Jamaican jerk ribs

I love jerk seasoning, but sometimes I've found it's just not hot enough.  I made sure I used scotch bonnets for J night, but fearing they might start the evening off with too ferocious a bang, I mixed them in with some less hot chillies. You can, of course, make it as hot or not as you choose.

Jamaican Jerk Ribs

2 kilos spare ribs
150ml water

for the jerk seasoning 

2 red chillies
1 scotch bonnet chilli
A bunch of spring onions, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic
An inch of root ginger, peeled
2 limes, juiced
A bunch of fresh coriander
A handful of thyme leaves (stripped from their stalks)
2 tbsp dark muscovado sugar
4 tbsp sunflower
3 cloves
1 heaped teaspoon of cinnamon
2 tsp allspice berries (pimento) 

Preheat the oven to 180C (160C Fan) 

Place the ribs in a large oven-proof dish. Simply blitz the jerk seasoning ingredients together in a food processor, then rub into the ribs. If you don't have a food processor, finely chop the herbs and garlic and grind the spices in a pestle and mortar. Cover the dish with cling film and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least an hour.  Pour the water over the ribs and pop them in the oven for an hour and a half to two hours, turning them over every now and then. Turn the oven up to 200 C (180 C Fan) for another 20-30 minutes or until the ribs are sticky and browned.