Monthly Archives: January 2010

Lamb Curry

There was some rather good lamb in the supermarket today, so it had to be Curry.

I used

  • 400g lamb leg, trimmed and chopped into cubes
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp minced chilli from the jar (wasn’t quite enough for my tastes)
  • 50mL Greek yoghurt (and another 50mL for later)
  • a 450g tin of chopped tomatoes
  • a large onion
  • a fistful of coriander leaves
  • and a supporting cast of cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, cumin seeds, and cloves

I do it like this:

  1. Put the cubed lamb in a bowl with the chilli, crushed garlic, a grind of pepper and salt, and the yoghurt. Mix well, and let this sit for at least an hour, or maybe an afternoon. If you’re doing it overnight, maybe in the fridge.
  2. Meanwhile, chop the onion into wedges – no need to get fancy – and gently fry it in a large pan, with a couple of tablespoons of oil, six cloves, and half a cinnamon stick, broken into two.

    Around about twenty minutes ought to do the trick, which is just enough time to have a beer.
  3. In a mortar and pestle, grind up about a teaspoon of cumin seeds, and the seeds from six cardamom pods until vaguely powdery. Yes, you can get fancy and use some kind of mechanical grinder, but the effort you spend cleaning that bit of machinery afterwards will put your labours with the mortar and pestle to shame.
  4. Back at the pan, fish out the cloves and cinnamon – doesn’t matter if a few bits get left behind – and then turn the heat up high. Add the cumin and cardamom, and stir madly for about half a minute.
  5. Just before the spices start to burn, add the lamb. (You may want to have your extractor fan going at this juncture, or have a window open.) Keep stirring furiously, for about a minute, until the lamb is cooked on the outside.
  6. Turn the heat right down, and hurl in the tomatoes.

    If you hurl them in with the unnecessary esprit and élan with which I hurled them tonight, you will get tomato on your jeans. Consider this possibility.
  7. Now, just let the whole thing simmer, very gently, for about an hour.
  8. Five minutes before the end, stir in the rest of the yoghurt, and the coriander leaves.
  9. Serve with basmati rice. You could reserve some of the coriander, plus a lemon wedge or two, for a garnish, if you’re that way inclined.

Lesser Piggy Lentils

This used to be a favourite emergency mid week supper at my last shared house.

  • pancetta – about 100g – one of those little packets you get in the supermarket and which I always have lurking at the back of the freezer
  • a small onion
  • 150g lentils (I’m using Puy lentils, ‘cos that’s what happens to be in the cupboard)
  • one 450g tin of chopped tomatoes

You will need to:

  1. put the lentils in a small pan of water; enough to cover them, and then about another inch or two
  2. add salt and a bay leaf (you could add a teaspoon of Marigold Boullion, but since I’m using Puy lentils, they’re powerful enough on their own), bring to the boil, and then simmer until they’re tender; around twenty minutes
  3. meanwhile, put the pancetta in another saucepan (two pot shocker!)

    and gently fry until dark and crunchy, and all the fat has run off – my pancetta was very watery so had to simmer a bit until all the water had evaporated before it started to fry properly
  4. slice up the onion and add that to the pancetta, and fry until soft
  5. I’ve pushed the onion and pancetta to one side and fried a clove of garlic as well
  6. about this point, the lentils should be done, so drain them, and then put them in with everything else – that layer of tasty tasty pig fat on the bottom of the saucepan will be absorbed by the lentils
  7. finally, add the tomatoes – if you don’t like the dish too fruity, then drain them first, and add the juice gradually until it tastes about right
  8. cover and simmer for a few minutes to let the flavours mingle – pepper to taste

A good mid week main, or quite an impressive side dish for sausages.


You might consider:

  • adding some chilli at the same time as the onions
  • some curry powder
  • adding a splash of white wine at some point (possibly into a glass and down your throat whilst cooking)


Sometimes you feel good about cooking. One moment, you’re fresh from a string of gastronomic hits; a culinary demigod. Things cannot fail. You can do no wrong. You become incautious. Temperatures are not read carefully enough. Consequences are not considered. And then there is now.

Things have gone wrong tonight. So horribly wrong that I’m embarassed to relate.

But it could be worse. For a proper classical Hubris, one must not only be enamoured of one’s own abilities (what we used to call “a capability:ambition mismatch” at my old shop) one must publicly scorn the Gods. The culinary equivalent of this is inviting guests to dinner whilst trying out a new recipe.

Not this little black duck. I am alone in my kitchen, and Nemesis will not be dining here tonight.

Heretical Custard

An adaptation of a recipe from the Heretics’ Heretic, Docteur de Pomiane. This is the simplest and lowest risk custard I know. You will need:

  • 250mL milk (semi skimmed, or full cream if you’re feeling decadent)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 25g caster sugar (you may find you prefer less or more)
  • 1 teaspoon plain flour, i.e. 5mL by volume, 4g by weight if you’ve got digital scales
  • vanilla (in some form, see below)

I normally keep my vanilla pods in a tall jar of caster sugar. The sugar leeches out the volatile oils and becomes vanilla flavoured. Tonight I used both vanilla sugar, and scraped the seeds out of half a vanilla pod, carefully returning the carcass to the sugar jar for later. (You could also be shot of all this faffing, and just use a few drops of Vanilla Extract.)

  1. put the milk and the vanilla into a saucepan on a low heat
  2. separate the eggs and put the yolks, the sugar, and the flour into a bowl and mix vigorously with a whisk – as this happens it will get paler in colour and thicken slightly
  3. don’t forget to keep a watchful eye on the milk, and just as it starts to shudder, but not boil, take it off the heat
  4. wait for about 30 seconds so the milk cools slightly
  5. pour the milk, little by little, into the bowl with the egg/sugar mix, whisking all the time, until combined
  6. pour the mixture back into the saucepan, return to the heat, and stir continuously – you’re not trying to win the National Stirring Championships; just keep it on the move and make sure nothing catches on the bottom of the saucepan
  7. after about a minute or so, the mixture will thicken, so remove it from the heat, keep stirring for half a minute, and decant – caution: if you leave it in the saucepan, and you’ve got a high quality saucepan with a heavy heat retaining base, you could be in for an unpleasant surprise!

The addition of the flour serves two purposes: it contains some starch which helps to thicken the custard, and more importantly, the presence of the starch dramatically raises the temperature at which the custard will curdle. (And the fat in the egg yolk means that the flour can release its starch. See the chapter in Pomiane on sauces for more about the chemistry involved.)

Although delightful, this is not the custard I’d use for crème brûlée. (I’ll save those notes for another occasion.)


You could obviously infuse other things in the milk: half a cinnamon stick, some lemon peel, etc.

If you use about a tablespoon of flour or cornstarch, you will end up with something quite stiff, called crème patissière, which is used in various fillings.

Burnt Porridge

Never attempt to cook breakfast until the first cup of coffee is well on its way to your nerve endings.

This morning’s little disaster involved me making the first coffee of the day, and getting the porridge going at the same time. Needless to say, faffing with the espresso machine, and the subsequent caffeine induced pleasure caused me to take my eye off the ball. The pleasant smell of roasting oats with undertones of Something Burnt brought me back to my senses, and a quick inspection showed a layer of intractable black stuff upon the bottom of the saucepan. Deglazing with a splash of vermouth will not solve this, nor indeed would all the steel wool in the world.

The Heretic’s Kitchen is used to problems like this, and has the solution. One or two tablets of “biological” washing powder, some warm water, and a few hours is all that’s required for the enzymes in the powder to gleefully munch away the organic deposits.

Tomato and Whisky Soup

I have half a kilo of things, sold as tomatoes, but more suitable for use on an artillery range. They’re hard and they’re flavourless. Here’s what to do with them: it’s an austere, but highly effective recipe, even better when you’ve got some nice tomatoes.

Wash the tomatoes, but don’t bother skinning them, and pack them into a saucepan so they form a single layer. You may need to experiment with the size of saucepan and the orientation of the toms in order to achieve this. It also needs to be a pan with a tight fitting lid as we don’t really want to reduce the mixture.

Add 60mL whisky (no need for the single malt!) per 500g tomatoes, a pinch of salt, a grind of pepper, and a bay leaf. Put on a low, low heat; just enough to keep them gently bubbling. After an hour they will have partially collapsed.

All you need do is fish out the bay leaf, and then push everything through a coarse sieve, until nothing but the seeds and skins remain, which you can discard. And that’s it. No stock, no veg, no herbs, no nothin’, just loads of tomato flavour. (You could add some more pepper and stir in some crème fraîche if you really wanted, but taste it in its raw form first.)

It’s a strongly flavoured soup, and I’d hazard a guess that 500g toms produces enough soup for two servings as a first course.

Not quite sure where this one came from. I think I had the procedure desribed to me by Him What Knows.

Leek and Potato Soup

Again, but this time with the leftover potato and celeriac mash.

Peel, slice and fry two slim leeks: equivalent to, but containing more flavour than one giant leek. Fry the leek in butter with a splash of oil to stop in burning. You want a heat low enough so that it takes about 15 minutes for them to get lightly browned and sticky.

Add about a litre of stock, making sure you incorporate any gooey bits on the bottom of the pan from the leeks.

Then, about 500g of leftover mash, and bring it up to the boil.

Salt and pepper, and if in doubt, a bay leaf or two won’t hurt.

Let it simmer for a bit, so the starch in the spuds is unleashed and can thicken the soup. (A quick attack with the hand blender if, like me, you haven’t chopped the leeks finely enough or there are lumps in the mash. One need never fear making soup mid week with one of these in the cupboard.)

Once that’s all done, and the heat is off, you could crumble a small amount of Stilton or Gorgonzola into the soup, stirring until it has melted. Or just serve with a dollop of crème fraîche.

Then sit back and enjoy the comforting starchy goodness of it all.