Sunday, 28 July 2013

Homemade Garam Masala

I've always bought Garam Masala, sometimes from an Indian grocer but more often than not from the supermarket, which I have now learnt is not a patch on making your own.

Googling for recipes I've learnt that everyone, and I mean everyone makes theirs differently. I think it depends on what you prefer, spice wise. Some add cinnamon or turmeric, I preferred to leave these out - cumin, coriander and cardamom are the flavours I really wanted to stand out in my masala.

Ideally you need a grinder, I have an attachment for my blender which grinds spices. Some also use a coffee grinder, but do bear in mind if you use it for spices it isn't wise to use it again for coffee - it will have to be your spice grinder from then on. If you have neither then a pestle & mortar will work, but will obviously take longer.

It's very simple, just add all your spices to the grinder and give it a whizz until it is a fine powder. Decant into an airtight jar - jam jar or kilner jar is perfect, and store in a cool, dark place.

My garam masala has a little twist - local chilli purveyor, Ben of Capiscana Chilli Co. recently tweeted that he'd made his own mix using one of his dried Mexican chillies; I was very intrigued and with Ben's gift of a parcel of Ancho Poblano and Pasilla Chillies I decided to make my own masala. I used about 1 inch piece of each dried chilli (seeds included) and whizzed it up with the other spices.

Garam Masala
Makes about 70g of masala.
Easily doubled/tripled, but don't make too much, fresh masala is better masala.

2 teaspoons of coriander seed
2 teaspoons of cumin seed
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
6 cardamom pods - use the black seeds inside only 
4 cloves
1 inch piece of poblano chilli, chopped
1 inch piece of pasilla chilli, chopped

The addition of the Mexican dried chillies gave a great kick to the masala as well as a nice fruitiness and smokiness. I've already added some of it to recipes I'm cooking for my Indian Afternoon Tea and it is 100 x better than any garam masala I've bought before. 

Try it out, it's easy!

Thank you Ben for sending me the chillies!

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Thursday, 25 July 2013

Roasted Aubergine - simple veggie dinner

A quick and simple one here. This is currently our favourite veggie dinner - it is super easy to make, healthy and filling. And you can change up the toppings and sides to make it different each time.

I work to about 1.5 aubergines per person. Cut them lengthways and add to a baking dish with good quality olive oil, crushed garlic, plenty of seasoning (aubergines are spongy and therefore need plenty of help) and chilli flakes. Roast for around 25 minutes at a medium high heat. Then remove from the oven and wrap in foil, leave for a few minutes, this helps them to wilt a little and become silkier and even softer.

I have some top tips for this recipe, and aubergines in general:

  1. Always always use room temperature aubergines, otherwise they will stay rubbery and won't breakdown
  2. Line your baking dish with foil or greaseproof paper. Aubergines are sticky little things and roasted aubergine will weld itself to your favourite dish and be impossible to wash off. 
  3. Wrapping the aubergines as soon as they come out of the oven will allow them to rest and collapse, giving you lovely soft aubergine flesh to eat.

Toppings wise for these we have had several things include:

  • Salsa verde & feta cheese
  • Pesto & parmesan/vegetarian Parmesan
  • Tomato (pasta) sauce and mozzarella (parmagiana style)
  • Yoghurt & tahini sauce and crisped chickpeas, Smitten Kitchen Style (in the cookbook)
We usually serve it with a side salad, quinoa or cous cous also works well. Also, you should definitely do this on the barbecue whilst it is still sunny!

Now go and buy some aubergines and get baking :)

Other veggie friendly Aubergine recipes:
Sea Spiced Aubergine
Aubergine & Tomato Pasta

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Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Peach Clafoutis & A Week in Limousin

We spent a week in Limousin last week, a much needed relaxing break after a few crazy months of working too much, making a lot of jewellery and generally not finding a lot of time to sit still. We went to the land of clafoutis, madeleines, pottery and cows. Limousin is very sleepy - lots of small towns and even smaller villages and hamlets tucked in to the rolling hills and next to winding streams and rivers.

We ate reasonably well, being with a vegetarian in France is a little tough and we planned to eat more in the gite (for budget reasons too) so we made good use of the local shops for this. We ate a lot of cheese and bread, as was my target and expectation. There is an excellent bakery in Saint Yrieux la Perche called Tartine which I would highly recommend - otherwise most other places you'll go will be great anyway!

I was keen to get back in the kitchen, and spend some time recreating local dishes and French classics. We had tartiflette one evening (minus the bacon for the veggie) and I tried my hand at the local speciality of clafoutis. Traditionally it is made with cherries, but I fancied peaches after we bought some gorgeous ones at the local supermarket.

I didn't realise just how easy clafoutis would be! I had pretty limited kitchen equipment - no scales, a tiny whisk and a casserole was to be my mixing bowl. I baked the clafoutis in a gorgeous old metal tart tin and it didn't stick!

I went for this adaption of a Julia Child recipe - an American recipe (mon dieu!) because I could estimate about what a cup would be, and use the teacups we had in the house. It worked out just fine, the only change was that I added 1 tsp of baking powder to ensure puffiness.

I sliced peaches with the skins still on and arranged them artfully(ish) on the top after one layer of the batter had cooked in the oven for a few minutes - this ensures the fruit doesn't sink. Once the second layer was baked I sprinkled the still warm clafoutis with sugar and left to cool slightly.

Limousin was a very lovely holiday destination, if a little quiet, but if you want to force yourself to do little then it is a great place to unwind, eat too much bread and cheese. :)

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Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Hotel du Vin Cambridge, Afternoon Tea

A few months ago I tried the Hotel du Vin afternoon tea during Miss Sue Flay's afternoon tea etiquette workshop, it was on the whole very good indeed with the exception of some very lurid pink cupcakes which were very strange, given the rest of the selection. They invited me back to try their tea, after making some improvements, I went along a couple of weeks ago with two friends and unfortunately things haven't improved.

I am all for being fair when I blog, and sometimes I think I can be overly positive - so as not nice as it is to write a bad review, we all have to do it. A blogger's duty ;)

Between three of us we had a large tier - with sandwiches, scones, pastries and cake. There was a great selection of loose leaf tea, which was served in pretty blue and white floral teapots. They even provide a pot of hot water, something lots of tea rooms do not do - it is essential to prevent you drinking stewed cold tea.

The sandwiches were the same as before, and very good. Good quality smoked salmon and cream cheese, ham and cucumber. One of my tea companions was vegetarian, which she mentioned beforehand, so they included a separate plate of veggie sandwiches - a nice thought, I can't remember what they all were but I know it wasn't all cheese!

Next up were the scones, which were quite disappointing. Last time I had afternoon tea there we were treated to tall fluffy scones, just as they should be. This time around they were very flat indeed, chewy and obviously overcooked. Such a shame, the scones are the centrepiece of an afternoon tea, and it should always be the element that is perfect.

We moved on to the mille feuille - the pastry was nice but not too sweet, and the cream was just cream, not sweetened. There was a little jam/coulis but not enough to taste. Next to that were some fresh fruit tarts with cream pattiserie - the tarts had obviously been filled a little while ago - and the cream had made them soft. Soft soggy pastry, which was also undercooked (they also seemed liked they were bought in, and they are often paler than homecooked) so it was all a bit disappointing. The blueberries were fresh though!

The last offering was a sort of chocolatey nut cake, it wasn't very rich in chocolate and each was cut at very strange and slightly jagged angles, a little shabby for an elegant afternoon tea. The cake itself wasn't dry but the flavour was a little miscellaneous.

I really liked the afternoon tea last time around, so I am really not sure what happened this time. I'm quite disappointed. The library, where tea is served, is gorgeous, very cosy in the Winter, and it is a great central location. They have an excellent opportunity here and it will be sad if their afternoon tea offering becomes the same as the rest of those offered in central Cambridge - badly thought out and only appealing to the tourist crowd. Maybe I'll just pop in for a cuppa next time.

Hotel Du Vin
Trumpington Street

Do any of my readers have any great central Cambridge recommendations for afternoon tea? I'd love to hear them, between conversations with other bloggers we have slightly drawn a blank.

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Thursday, 18 July 2013

Getting to know Gin - cocktail making & cocktail emergencies

I like a good cocktail, I'm not a beer drinker and being as I have sweet tooth a cocktail is the best alcoholic drink in my opinion. I've been getting in to cocktail making thanks to Aoife's blog and recently tried my hand at rhubarb vodka, which was so easy to make and works well with a number of cocktails.

Gin was always something I avoided and being as it is in a lot of cocktails this is a bit of a bother to me.  But I think I've not really given it a chance. Sainsbury's came to the rescue (ok it's not an emergency but you know...) and offered to send me a bottle of Blackfriars London Dry Gin to test out with some cocktail recipes.

I really like the cocktail posts on Domestic Sluttery so I scoured them for gin cocktails, pinning a few along the way.

The first one I really liked the look of was called ' The Business' - gin, honey and lime juice over ice. The recipe says to loosen the honey by putting it in the microwave, I don't have one so I added a tiny bit of hot water - you could also gently heat the honey in a pan.

The Sainsbury's Blackfriars gin was really nice, not too medicinal and you could taste the 'botanicals' in it - orange, juniper and lemon is what I tasted - it is also made with coriander seeds and angelica root. It won best gin at the International Spirit Challenge in 2011, which from my quick research seems to be pretty good for a gin you can pick up in the supermarket!

The next cocktail I tried was because of a cocktail emergency (a term coined by Aoife I believe). It was a very hot today, we didn't have any wine and I'd had (another) long day. This one was just a shot of gin and then apple & mango juice and lots of ice. Very refreshing and very simple.

There are a few more I want to try out including 'The Eastside'  (gin, cucumber, syrup, mint) and Rhubarb Fizz. You can also add fizz to The Business cocktail which is very interesting to me.

Thank you to Sainsbury's for sending me the gin to try.

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Tuesday, 16 July 2013

A Very Indian Afternoon Tea

I’m holding my very first food event! After lots of talking, thinking and encouragement from the lovely people who make up the Cambridge food blogger ‘scene’ (not sure I like that word but it fits) I have decided to hold two events celebrating Indian food.

First up I’m starting with afternoon tea, which seems like the natural first event for me, someone with such a sweet tooth. After that I will be holding a supperclub where I’ll be cooking up an all vegetarian Gujarati feasts for around 15 guests.

 Indian Afternoon Tea – Sunday 4th August, 3pm – 5pm  - a few places left
A central Cambridge location, not far from the rail station 

 The much loved British afternoon tea but with an Indian / Gujarati twist. Savoury nibbles (think Indian street food) to begin, sweet treats, a masala chai cake (pictured) and of course tea!
 £19 per person
To book places for the afternoon tea email me at with the number of places you'd like, I'll then send you a PayPal invoice for the tickets. 

Gujarati Supperclub – no date as yet but it will be late August / early September. 
I’m still scouting around for the perfect venue, plus perfecting a stack of perfectly round rotli (chapatti). 

I’m really excited to be bringing you my ideas for these two events, I’ve had a lot of fun planning the menus for both and I really hope my guests will be wowed. Email me if you’d like to book or for more details. See you in August!

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Sunday, 7 July 2013

Barbecued Paneer with chipotle marinade

This is barely a recipe, because it is so very easy, but more of an idea really. Paneer is great on the barbecue, and just because it is an Indian cheese doesn't mean you have to put Indian flavours with it - chiptotle works a treat. I prefer using paneer to halloumi, it is less melty and won't stick to your barbecue grill.

When shopping for some very important meringue nests, to make Eton Mess during the Wimbledon match (We're having a very stereotypical English summers day here...), I spotted Wahaca sauces were on offer in Waitrose, £1 a bottle.

I cut up the paneer in to four chunky pieces and then coated them in the sauce, about 1/4 of the bottle. It only sat for about 10 minutes before going on the barbecue, but this was fine. If you brush over the marinade during cooking it will boost the flavours. We barbecued the paneer for about 3-4 minutes on each side til crispy and charred. Folded up in a flatbread with some salad, it was perfect vegetarian barbecue food.

You could make your own marinade - maybe with some ketchup, oil, balsamic and chipotle in adobo. But when you are pressed for time (the Wimbledon final was an hour away) the Wahaca sauces are great - really smoky with a nice heat and richness from cocoa. I'm going back to buy the other two sauces in the range!

On a related note, I contributed to a Local Secrets article by fellow Cambridge blogger, Heidi Sladen - read more about my barbecue tips for veggies here. It's not all about dry soya burgers and vegetarian sausages!

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Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Sweeteasy - Cakes and Cocktails

Last Friday we spent a very civilised and yummy evening at Afternoontease's Sweeteasy event. You may have heard me mention Afternoontease before - who does have a name, her name is Jo and she is a local Cambridge baker supplying her delicious layer cakes to lots of cafes locally, and she is also one half of the Platelickers supperclub duo. Jo also hosts Sweeteasy, which is a simple but excellent concept - cocktails paired with cakes.

Everything is homemade, with the exception of the spirits of course - Jo makes the cakes, brownies and other sweet treats and also concocts purees and infusions from to go into the cocktails.

We started off with a Gooseberry & Elderflower Fool Martini. It was made with gooseberry puree from Jo's parents garden which was perfumed with locally picked Elderflower, then mixed with gin and served in wide cocktail glasses. Gin is one of my least favourite things but this cocktail was great, the gin was perfumed but in a good way, and the sweet fruit puree worked so well. This was matched with Bramble Friands - light sponge cakes made with ground almonds and whisked eggs whites, they were finished with a blackberry and gin glaze.

Next up was Honey Bourbon Milk Punch - my favourite of the evening - Honey bourbon mixed with a little nutmeg and then milk, served in cute little mini milk bottles. We had these with chunky stout brownies, made with Hot Numbers Coffee Stout, brewed by Moonshine Brewery. These were proper brownies, no messing around, dense and tall with a great crispy top.

After this we had Limoncello Tiramisu, something I clocked immediately when the menu was presented to us, and it didn't disappointed. It was served as a lemon mascarpone zabaglione in a little teacup with two homemade sponge fingers on the side, dusted with icing sugar. A shot of limoncello served in a cute little wax seal bottle was served with it.

Finally, to round things off, was a warming Fruitcake Infused Rum Daquiri. Jo explained to us that this was a proper daquiri, none of the terrible crushed ice and overly sweet fake fruit. Instead it was made with proper rum (infused with dried fruits and spices), lemon juice and a cube of ice.  This was the Mr's favourite of the night.

I thoroughly enjoyed Sweeteasy, I'm just getting into cocktail making and Jo's evening gave me a really good idea of the kind of flavours that work well. None of the cocktails were too overpowering - in sweetness or alcohol and Jo has some amazing ideas for combinations. And I definitely think that cakes should be paired with cocktails more often, why do we always have savoury nibbles when we can have cake?

You can find out more about Jo's cakes and events on her site here.

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