Toasting and grinding spices

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Two ingredient posts in one day!!!!

Whenever I watch Indian chefs on tv, they always bang on about toasting and grinding their own spices. I don’t remember my mum ever doing it and so I don’t do it either. In my cooking I use a combination of whole spices and ready ground ones.

Whole: cumin seeds, mustard seeds, carraway seeds, cardamom, cinnamon bark, cloves, dried peppercorns etc.

Ready ground: cumin powder, coriander powder, chilli powder, turmeric, salt, asafoetida, paprika etc.

I like to have the whole spices in the dish when I eat (though I don’t actually bite on them as they are really strong!). It adds a dimension to my dishes that I enjoy. I have tried to toast my whole spices before grinding them in my coffee mill. The benefit being not having to pick out the whole spices when eating. But I found the ground spices all melding together and lost something. I think it’s a matter of individual preference. 

But then I was watching Saturday kitchen – a segment with the gorgeous Spice Men and my man, Tony Singh. He showed me the way! He lightly toasted some spices, not too hot as he was able to continue handling them (though bear in mind, chefs have asbestos hands), in this way the spices release their flavour. And then after they had cooled he gently pounded them in a pestle and mortar.

So if gave it a go and wowsers, what a difference. I added these to a mung dal that night and it was delicious. So there you go, I’ll toast and pound from now on.

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Ingredients: Bay leaves

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The picture above shows two types of bay leaf. The large one on the left is the Indian bayleaf (tej patta) and can range in colour from dark green to brown. It has long stem lines along its length. The flavour is a subtle one, almost cinnamon like and it’s what I prefer to use for cooking dals or rice dishes, tearing the leaf to release the flavour before adding it to the dish.

It has been incredibly hard to come by in Scotland and all the Indian shops I tried didn’t know what it was, didn’t stock it and frankly looked at me as if I’d gone insane which was a bit extreme if you ask me. Instead they have had packets and packets of the mediterranean version and have confusing labelled that as tej patta too.  Luckily, it’s finally back in stock on the online stores such as asiancookshop or spicesofindia.

I have been making do with the mediterranean bay leaf which has stronger herby smell / taste. There is nothing wrong with using it but it does give a harsher taste to the dals compared to the Indian bayleaf. The med version however, is fabulous in cheese sauces (such as my mac and cheese) or when I am making a tomato based pasta sauce such as my quorn Bolognese.

One thing both have in common as that they are pretty strong if you bite into them, so if you are going to serve out your food, pick the leaf out before hand. :)

 

Crochet update

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I’m a rubbish blogger. Posts get written in my head that rarely make it to the screen. So a lot of this is old but as this is actually a journal for me, and not about you, that’s fine!

There have been a bundle of babies born to friends and colleagues this year. As such, I’ve picked up my hook and made a blanket or two. And yes, I made blue for a boy and pink for a girl. In my defence, I don’t have a lot of dosh so pick what’s on sale in Jenners.

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Then in July I went along to the Knit Works  exhibition and workshops at the National Museum of Scotland. I missed the first day as I didn’t know it was on – we were just checking the site to take the kiddo into town for the street festival. Anyhoooo, It was a boiling hot day and I welcomed the cool interior of the museum. I had booked to join the Crochet workshop with Arne and Carlos so only had a little time to look around the display – I have a sneaky suspicion I missed a load. 

These are displays by the designer Steiunn, Brora and another designer who’s name I didn’t write down but did some great hip-hop clothes pieces. 

The workshop was not what I expected. I thought we would be taught step by step how to do a flower. Instead, they handed out yarn, hooks and a handout of the pattern and just told us to get on with it. Both Arne and Carlos were on hand to help but as there were quite a few beginners in the room, they couldn’t help everyone. I tried to help a few around them but sadly think I may have confused them as I wasn’t sure whether the pattern was in UK or US terms. Arne and Carlos will be back next year for Edinburgh Yarn Festival and I will try to book again for a workshop as I like them and their designs. Still odd to me that here are two men talking to a room full of women about yarn craft. 

After, I tried to join the knitathon. I was told to pick whatever wool I wanted and to choose a pattern to do. So sat down happily and tried to chat. Ok, this may be because I was hot, or it may just be that knitters can be really unfriendly bitches sometimes. What a cold front trying to talk to some of them and a really shock after chatting to the friendly crocheters. Turns out that I was actually too late to make a square and so I sadly left. I may be a loud mouth but actually find it very very hard to walk up to a group of strangers to talk – so when they are not quite welcoming, I take it really badly. Grrrrr. 

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Meeting my heroes

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I was given The Spice Men for Christmas which is an interesting read.  Though most recipes aren’t suitable for a veggie, I’m fascinated by the combinations that are presented in the book. And I absolutely adore Cyrus Todiwala and Tony Singh.

So imagine my schoolgirl giggle as I came across Mr Singh today in St Andrew’s Square at the Christmas market. He has a stall there and after doing one passby, I was persuaded by Mr Plummy Mummy to go and say hello. A bad encounter in the past puts me off. As a student I worked in Next opposite the Comedy Store in London’s Trafalgar Square – Josie Lawrence came in to try on shoes and I told her that I really liked her comedy to which she rudely told me that she came in to try shoes and didn’t want to be bothered. Uh…OKAAAAY. I wasn’t after anything. I thought I was just complimenting her. 

Anyhoooooo, Mr Singh was super nice and when hubby told him I’d got his book for Xmas, he even said he would autograph it. Sadly I didn’t have it with me. But he was very nice and said he could do it tomorrow if I came back. Alas no plans to go back. But he was so so nice, I’m almost tempted. I really did put a spring in my step! 

 

Persimmon shiro

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CPC Persimmon Halwa

Only 2 days to go and it’s my favourite time of year DIWALI!!!!

I have to admit that I haven’t made as much as I had planned this year – life has got in the way. However, I had some gorgeous looking persimmon in the house and wanted to make something new with them. I used the same method as Gajjar Halwa (carrot halwa) but the final result was more like the popular Gujarati sweet called suji no shiro (semolina based sweet). The night I made it, we ate it without any additions and it was very tasty. You cannot really taste the persimmon as the fruit has a subtle flavour but the sweetness was definitely there. We all enjoyed it but felt that in future it would benefit from sultanas being stirred through and topped off with almond slivers.

Ingredients:

350g persimmon

1 tablespoon ghee

2 tablespoons sugar

1 cup milk

2 green cardamom

1 pinch of saffron steeped in a little water

 

Preparation:

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  • My persimmon were still firm but ripe. I didn’t want the flesh to be too wet. To prep, I washed, cut of the flower end and peeled the fruit. I removed the inner core and any black bits. Then I blitzed it in my little blender.
  • I lightly toasted the cardamom pods before grinding the inner seeds in a pestle and mortar
  • I soaked the saffron in about 1 tablespoon of water.
  • Grease a dish

 

Cooking:

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  • I heated the ghee in a large heavy bottom pan
  • Added the pulped persimmon flesh, mixed well in the ghee and cooked for about 15 minutes, stirring all the time. The plan was to dry out the fruit
  • Added the sugar and milk. I didn’t want the dessert to be too sweet. So if you have a go at making this, then adjust according to taste.
  • Added the saffron water and ground cardamom
  • Kept stirring until the milk evaporated and the mixture was coming away from the sides of the pan
  • I then put the mixture it into the greased dish and pressed down before putting it in the fridge to chill.  In future, I will stir in 1/2 tablespoon sultanas and leave it in a bowl. Before serving, I will add about 1 tablespoon of almond slivers.

 

DIY Party People

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Before you get too excited, let me make clear I do not do DIY. I will never ever do Homes Under the Hammer (which I love!) or Changing Rooms or any such thing. Painting a wall bores me in about 2 seconds and I’m not to be trusted near any tools with teeth.

However, I am a craft loving woman who has married a craft loving family. This year we decided to throw our daughter a birthday party, invite all her class and (rather foolhardily) do a lot of it ourselves. It was fun! I had spent large amounts of Summer with the kiddo watching Art Attack and the brilliant Art Zooka  so I was ready! The party theme was “Wild Animals”.

We went into creative overdrive!

1. Invitations: Homemade using MS Publisher. I have never used it before so not only was I creating an invite, I was also learning a skill. I was amazed at how much clip art has improved since I last used it. Result!

2. I made a pinata following some instructions from Pinata Boy. My first attempt using a punch ball and flour paste collapsed sadly overnight. So I tried again with a normal balloon and Art Attack glue (=PVA and water in equal parts) and used the Pinataboy tip of covering the whole thing in paper first. All in all I made 4 layers of paper/glue before covering it with white streamers cut up using my recycling scissors and some decorative touches. At the party, it was so tough the kids couldn’t break it and Mr Plummy Mummy had to smash it with his boot. This lead to a massive scramble for the contents by the kids and lots of tears from my kiddo who didn’t want to see the thing broken.

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3.  Food – Mini cakes. With some Betty Crocker icing. Kids never seem to finish cakes at a party so I thought these mini cakes would be best. Ended up making so many that each kid got 2 each and the parents had a few ….just to taste you understand!

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As someone who teaches healthy eating as a living, I had to have fruit at the party. These were in the form of fruit kebabs, the sticks of which we stuck into a hollowed out watermelon shell. Some kids ate them, some had loads and some had none. I love the kid that had loads!

4. Photo booth. This was the most fun. Photo booth props can be expensive. We had a large frame lying around as the glass had broken in a housemove. I got hold of a cheap Gangnum style poster from ToysRUs and some wallpaper lining to make a picture for the other side. My husband attached the side wood and a base so it would stand. In doing so, he managed to near saw his finger off. Poor guy.

I was pretty proud of my naiive Hello Kitty painting on wallpaper lining…and am now totally in love with acrylic painting! Not many kids used it at the party but the ones that did looked very cute. The great thing is we still have the structure and can just update it with new pictures when we want.

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My mother in law and sister in law also made some photo booth props. Sadly, these were hardly used by the kids. I wonder if at the age of 6 they were too young to understand the concept. They even left all the face masks that we provided for them to decorate despite spending ages nicely colouring them in.

4. Safari man! Hubby made some binoculars from some 2 litre soda bottles. He also wanted a giant net where my dubious sewing skills paled in comparison to his engineering know how to make it stay upright! My daughter is now short one hula hoop but again, it was worth it. The kids loved both his props.

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5. There were loads of other homemade things – a game my mother in law came along with where she printed off lots of animals and the kids had to find their animal mates plus a simple obstacle course hubby and I devised using cones from Tiger, Tiger and some tunnels and boxes from Ikea. He even recruited help from work in getting people to save the milk bottle caps that we used as part of the game.

It wasn’t all home made though. For the second half we had some lovely Cool Creatures come along and the kids had a go at touching meerkats, a hedgehog, a skunk(!!!!), a skink (lizard with a blue tongue) and snakes. I went running away at this point as snakes made my skin crawl but the kids were amazing especially when it came to the very long albino python.

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Not everything went to plan. We started late so we didn’t play all the games we planned. Not all the kids wanted to do the dancing game (perhaps they are too young for the Birdy song?). One child refused to join in with ANYTHING (grrrrrrrrrrr). The music wasn’t loud enough – we had it at sensible levels compared to the eardrum smashing levels that I have heard at other kids’ parties. We didn’t put enough chairs out so had to scramble when it came time for the food, the hall was hot so there were not enough drinks for the kids and then a lot of the food was not eaten. And finally, the animal man took time to go around with his creatures which would have worked better with fewer kids as many of them got bored.

However, despite all that and our running around like headless chickens – I think seeing my gorgeous girl bravely handle all the animals and only have one meltdown during the whole party means it was a success. I am also confident that I will not be repeating the experience for at least another 15 years!

Handmade raksha bandhan cards

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I am a Hindu like some people are Christians – only celebrating the fun festivals like Christmas and Easter. I blame my parents for not educating me properly!!

Today is one of the Hindu festivals that I love – Raksha Bandhan ; a day when brothers and sisters come together to show how much they love each other. The sister ties a rakhi onto her brother’s wrists and give him some sweets. The brother promise to look after his sister for the following year and give her a small gift.  Girls can also tie them onto cousins, especially if they don’t have brothers. And in some parts of the world, friends tie them onto male friends.

We never really do it properly in our house. In devout houses, the rakhis are blessed on the household temple, the sister will put mark her brother’s forehead and give him some delicious indian sweets to eat. Whilst I have always made sure I have the rakhis, I usually don’t get my brothers any sweets and so feel a little guilty when they give me their small presents. But as we now live so far apart, I try to make an effort with the rakhis. Last year I hand made them using a japanese kumihimo disk and beautiful mercerised cotton embroidery thread that I spent ages looking for – 1 brother was appreciative, 1 was dismissive and the other didn’t even mention receiving the rakhi (I was gutted after all the effort I put in). I also sent one to a very dear friend who means a lot to me – who was supersweet about it. This year, I used shop bought ones – there seems to only be one place in Edinburgh where I can get them.  I hand made the cards. I’m very pleased with how they turned out and I hope my brothers and nephews (my little on sends them to her cousin brothers) love them. Dismissive brother sent me a thank you text this morning…so I must be on the right track. I hope my travel mad brother likes his…it’s my fave – then again, he’s the one who does not acknowledge so I may never know!

P.S. Can’t figure out how to get the images the right way up!