Sunday, 29 November 2009

A Curry for Curry Week

Last week, as some of you may know, was national curry week. National Curry Week is, in its essence, a two pronged attack; designed to both promote the cuisine and culture of India and to raise money for the less advantaged around the world. What makes this year's national curry week extra special is that it's the two hundredth anniversary of the opening of Britain's first Indian restaurant, by Sake Dean Mahomed; he named his joint Hindoostanee Coffee House.

Clearly we had to celebrate this most auspicious of occasions; it's right there below Remembrance Sunday and Guy Fawkes as the third best special time cycle in November in our books (we decidedly prefer it to world toilet day and anti-bullying week, also both in November..). So, in order to commemorate this special week we invited a bunch of friends round and and cooked two different curries - one of these curries was supposed to be spicy and one wasn't in order to cater to all tastes.

As a stupid white male I obviously felt a need to make the spicy one very hot. I put two chillis into the cooking and a second chilli was cut up for garnish, alongside plentiful vindaloo curry paste and extra chilli powder. Weirdly it ended up virtually identical to the supposedly non-spicy curry. Rubbish to that i say.

Anyhow, here's how we knocked up the spicy one...
1. Firstly soften some garlic in olive oil, then add a well chopped onion. Saute.
2. Add mushrooms, carrots, cauliflower and swede (already softened up a by a spot of steaming in the microwave) to the mix and fry for quite a while; ten minutes or so.
3. Add some vindaloo paste and fry it all up for a bit longer.
4. Add two cups of hot water, a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce and some tomato puree.
5. Put a lid on the pan and let it simmer away for approx half an hour, adding water or tomato puree depending on if it looks too watery or too thick.

If you'd like to donate to The Curry Tree charitable fund (the main driving force behind curry week), then click here. The Curry Tree distributes what riches it gets to worthwhile charities doing crucial work for the malnourished, starving and poor (charities like Oxfam and Action Against Hunger). You even get posted a free curry recipe book if you donate too...

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Two Decent Articles on World Food Production and One I Wrote For University Ages Ago...

Thankfully everyone's stopped worrying quite so much about the West's financial crisis and attention seems to be turning back to the BIG problem we seem to have feeding the world's population. The economist has had two awesome articles up on their website this week; one titled 'If words were food, nobody would go hungry' and another debating whether Monsanto is a corporate sinner or saint.

We thought we'd throw in our two cents worth with an old uni essay on why GM agriculture shouldn't be ignored...

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Experiments in Vegetarianism

If I had to sum up my dietary habits I think I'd like to be designated a 'lazy meat eater'. I generally try to stick to a vegetarian regime, but i like meat a lot too, so quite often I'll eat animal. In an attempt to justify what in all probability is quite a flaky ethical stance I do make an effort to ensure the beast in question's at least had a decent life.

Much like Kobe beef needs a daily massage, I would for instance, if the animal in question were a chicken, require at least a semi-detached coop, a limitless diet of African Nightcrawler Worms and a four-part course of counseling to help the poor fowl accept the inevitable. So, in the interests of this blog, my wallet, and my conscience, I decided to investigate what, if anything, could make a respectable meat substitute.

My first port of call were Quorn sausages. Lincolnshire Quorn sausages to be precise, although I'm not sure if many Lincolnshire butchers would be very accepting of these lumpen excuses for bangers. I grilled them and had them with some greens; but sadly they tasted very plain, a bit like a rubbish mushroom (as you would expect, it being mycoprotein and all) and nothing like a real Lincolnshire sausage. My first let down.

I had a bit of a breakthrough next with some fake Scotch Eggs though. I'd just finished a mammoth cycle from University to my house and was bloody hungry, so stopped at Sainsbury's on the way home to pick up some groceries. Before I was even out the shop door I sampled the eggs and was pleasantly surprised and slightly satiated (they're quite small). I'm not sure if they don't even taste better than the real thing, and definitely less greasy which is a decided plus; tasty stuff!

Later on in the week a quorn steak was perhaps the most disappointing exercise in vegetarianism of the whole experiment. The principle letdown factor was that I bought two steaks in a quite sizable pack; my main line of thought was, 'well, even if it doesn't taste good, at least there's a lot of it'. Turns out the steak only took up half the pack. I'm not sure of the logic of that (unless it's to hoodwink us, the poor downtrodden consumers). It's especially bad when you consider all these environmental types warning us off meat consumption and whatnot. You'd hope Quorn, the alleged sensible alternative, would be setting a good example and not including lots of excess packaging. Anyhow the steak, like the sausages was as plain as a mouthful of the Sahara.

The only real triumph of my dabbling in vegetarianism was the discovery of Quinoa (pronounced Keen-wah apparently, I'm not sure why). Personally, I like cous-cous a lot, but i have one big problem with it; and that's the fact that it's just semolina shaped into a grain like shape. A blatant fraud basically. Quinoa, however, tastes just like cous-cous but actually is a grain. It also, unlike many grains, contains a balanced set of most of the essential amino acids you'd want to make the proteins your body needs, making it an ideal component of many vegi meals. The pre-history Native Americans hanging around the Andes were big fans apparently and that's a good enough recommendation for me.

In general though, even after all this dabbling (and this is sad news for british livestock everywhere) I'm still unfortunately of the opinion that most fake meat products on the market are fairly bollocks. What my problem all boils down to, really, is that I'm a traditional man, and I like things to be as they appear. I'm pretty sure I can now safely say I'll pass on each and every variety of fungus dressed up as meat, in contrast i would, however, pay good money for one of my old housemates spicy bean-burgers...

Yum. Animal. (A Mongolian roast goat). See last week's post...

Monday, 9 November 2009

Chinese Food Reconnaissance, Part One.

Charlie and Rory's Food has recently been informed that Britain's prime takeaway choice has controversially switched over from ex-crown colony India's to China's. Intrigued we sent a correspondent on a fact-finding mission to the motherland of this tantalising chow. Our intrepid journalist criss-crossed throughout the entire, vast swathes of land occupied by this great, ancient civilisation - not in search of the perfect sweet & sour pork dish, but the very heart and soul of Chinese cuisine.
Touching down in Beijing and despairing of the crappy (and a bit expensive) tourist trap restaurants crowding our hostel's vicinity (a favourite was one with a big billboard outside offering "Nice Food. Nice Price", the price's weren't cheap, but we never found out about the food) we immediately ventured further afield.

Luckily we didn't have far to go. Wandering down a local Hutong (Mandarin for alley..) we stumbled upon an innovation in dining; one jolly Chinese lady offering pick'n'mix stew in her front room. For 3RMB or about 30p you could choose a bunch of ingredients such as bamboo, fish balls, dog treats and Chinese cabbage and then have it all knocked up into a spicy peanut-y stew. Maybe this'll catch on in Britain?
Our second meal of note was the obligatory Peking duck. Now, I'm not really sure if its possible to make crispy duck, pancakes and Hoisin sauce taste bad. Anything that crispy, fatty and sweet is as much of a shoe-in for deliciousness as a pickled pigs trotter isn't. So, already the benchmark was fairly high. Sadly our bona fide Peking duck didn't live up to the hype. It wasn't really any better than anything you can buy at a supermarket in Britain and roast yourself; quite disappointing!
Following a quick relocation we found ourselves in Inner Mongolia. Regaled with tales of mare's milk wine, hot pot boiled up in soldier's helmets and yak butter tea, all from readings of Marco Polo's memoirs, expectations were high.
Almost as soon as we got to dusty, run-down regional capital Hohhot we decided to make tracks on to the flabbergasting hectare upon hectare of nothingness, dubbed the 'grasslands'. We went there to watch 'Nadaam', a festival dedicated to the three manly sports of horse-riding, archery and wrestling.
Immediately on arriving the massive popularity of 'meat on a stick' became apparent (we thought the concept might just be a 'Beijing thing'). In the snack shop near the venue were absolutely tons of shrink wrapped meat parcels, all tastefully skewered, and horrible tasting. In an effort to ingratiate myself with new friends I found an abandoned barbecue and set up shop, using my terrible Mandarin to pass on my wares. If my medicine degree falls through I now at least know I'm perfectly capable of opening a moderately successful kebab joint in China..
Aside from this adventure in genorosity and altruism, we managed to bag an invitation to a corporate feast and booze up with the Inner Mongolian police force. Sergeant Wong, who somewhat worryingly illustrated his job by miming gunfire, noticed a couple of nervous and scrawny looking gweilos (foreigner or ghost people, in, i think, Cantonese) and sorted us out with a pity invite.
And we were happy. And hungry. And we ate so heartily that we were almost embarrassed. Whilst everyone else picked at the food like spoonbills on a barren beach, but seemed far more keen on declaring toasts of bajiao, (a fairly opprobrious clear rice liquor), we were there vigorously stuffing our faces.

At one point they brought out a whole roasted goat and had a nice little ritual involving the first cut, but pretty soon everyone just got back to knocking back the fiery booze. The actual food was phenomenal though - mellow roast goat (including the guts and liver and everything), cheese-meaty-croutons, numerous stir-fried vegetable dishes and lots of other stuff too.
Later on i attempt to munch on some leaves arranged as a garnish on the side of one plate of food. My hand was quickly slapped and i was told; "those aren't supposed to be eaten!!". 'Perhaps the Chinese attitude to salad is what makes their cuisine so beloved' i jot down in my notepad...

to be continued...