Favorite curries

I haven’t posted for a while and it is easy to get out of the habit of writing when the sun shines and there are a million distractions to take my attention. Then I had to master my procrastination and choose a topic to write about. 

This year my brother is making one of his periodic visits to the UK with his family. My brother lives in Tokyo with his wife and 2 sons. He originally moved to Japan to teach English about 30 years ago with an ultimate plan to open a restaurant in Australia, life didnt quite go to the original plan, he met his lovely wife and the rest is history. 

My brother like me loves food ( although he was adventurous with his food from a much younger age than me…and he hates tomato soup!). 

When he visits the UK he makes a main base at the family holiday cottage and then there is space for the rest of the family to visit. 

One such visit happened when my girls were about 10 and 12, we finished school and belted down through a Friday evening rush hour round the M25. We arrived tired and hungry, anticipating a relaxed dinner and chat. 

There is always so much to cram in to a visit to the UK, with years between visits and growing boys to show all of their English heritage that the days and mealtimes are stretched to their limit. There was noone home when we arrived and no dinner in preparation. 

The family soon arrived and greetings and sorting out sleeping spaces, and dinner in the very small kitchen started. My brother is a precise cook, he knows how he likes it to be, and gets quite stressed if it doesnt quite work. There was some flurries of frustration when the cumin seeds burnt and had to be discarded, the raita needed to be made just so, curry prepared and simmered to get the sauce just right, rice to cook and breads to heat. Actually I cant remember if there was bread…nans or chapattis as it was 10 pm by the time dinner was ready. His boys were used to this sort of wait,  I was ready to gnaw the leg off the table and it was long past the girls bedtime, they were also very apprehensive as the last curry they had had was an unidentifiable spicy meat mess in Azerbaijan and they had gone off any curries. 

Well it was worth the wait!  The curry was lamb and spinach (Dilli ka saag gosht) and taken from Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery book. It tasted like manna from heaven, accompanied with a yoghurt raita lightly perfumed with toasted cumin, fluffy rice and indian breads. I remember well how good it tasted, and while hunger is a great spicing, Ive made it many times since and it is still a favorite curry. 

So heres to you my brother, Im looking forward to sharing food with both of our families together again for a short time. 

This blog is all about raising awareness for Mary’s Meals and the work they do in enabling children in the poorest countries get to school by ensuring they get one meal a day in their place of education. Many children are the heads of their own household, struggling to provide for younger siblings and faced with a lifetime of hardship. Mary’s Meals can offer opportunities to even these burdened children struggling to keep families together. 

http://www.marysmeals.org.uk

Lamb with spinach (with my adaptations for speed of preparation)

A good slosh of vegetable oil

1/4 tsp whole black peppercorns

6-7 whole cloves

2 bay leaves

6 cardomom pods, put all these spices (spice mix 1)in a small pot together. 

2 medium onions peeled and finely chopped

6-8 cloves garlic finely chopped

2.5 cm fresh ginger finely chopped

1 kg lamb shoulder boned and cubed in to 2.5 cm cubes (or use 3 neck loin of lamb cut to similar size)

2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, ( spice mix 2 in a  small pot together)

2 tsp salt

5 tablespoons greek youghurt

900g fresh spinach, washed and finely chopped

1/2 tsp garam masala

Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat

Add spice mix 1 and stir for a few seconds

Add onion, garlic, ginger and stir and fry until brown specks appear

Add meat, spice mix 2 and 1 teaspoon of salt, stir and fry for a minute. Add 1 tablespoon of the yoghurt then stir and fry until absorbed, continue to add the rest of the yoghurt one spoon at a time until it is all incorporated and the meat looks slightly browned. 

Add the spinach and the rest of the salt. Mix in together and stir and cook until the spinach wilts.

Cover and simmer for about 1 hour until the meat is tender. 

Remove the lid, add the garam masala and stir in. Increase the heat to medium and cook until most of the spinach water has evaporated to leave a thick green sauce. 

Serve with rice, naan bread or chapattis, a yoghurt dish if wished. 

This is my favourite curry and makes a great dinner party dish, especially teamed with a vege curry to suit all guests. 

Salad days

The weather in the UK is always a topic of conversation. It is a conversation starter, an ice breaker, a casual greeting in the street. The weather is always different, from day to day and often from hour to hour. From dull grey days, an icy wind blowing, then the clouds part, the sun peeks through it feels warm. The trees compete to show how many different greens there are in newly unfurled leaf. Then thunderheads mount in the sky, it darkens again and hail lashes down to cover the ground in a slippy icy coat before melting in to a damp smear. 

When the sun comes out in the summer we all go a little mad. Shirts are shed like a cumbersome form of confetti and winter luminous skin pinks up to a gentle boiled lobster hue.

It has been a glorious week of hot weather, the air has hummed with the sound of lawnmowers and very shortly the fresh scent of new cut grass is overpowered with that other iconic scent of the british summer. The barbeque. This is the time that the latent cook comes out in the British male. Armed with barbeque fork and can of beer/cider the mighty hunter carefully tends the sizzling hunks of meat freshly tracked down in the local supermarket.

Meantime in the kitchen the lady of the house takes her rest from cooking by carefully creating all the rest of the meal. Salads, sauces, dips,breads and rolls. 

Over the years I have had a love hate relationship with the summer barbeque. It can be wonderful, and it can be an ordeal. It can be a time of relaxation or terrible tension if the wood doesnt burn, or the meat is burned or too many cans have been consumed in the cooking. However I have tried many a salad recipe and laid the table with a wide choice to tempt everyone. 

I love the range of seasonal produce in the spring and summer and have some favourites. The ever popular potato salad, sweetcorn salsa, two (or three) bean salad.

Whenever I write these posts I always come to the point of linking my thoughts to the work of Mary’s Meals and I realise with a painful clarity the gulf between my world of choice and plenty and the plight of children who without the work of this charity may go days without any food. These children are grateful for the one meal provided each schoolday that gives them the energy to learn and the chance for the future that education provides. 

http://www.marysmeals.org.uk

Potato salad

Small new potatoes cooked and cut in to small cubes

Spring onions cleaned and sliced

3-4 rashers of streaky bacon grilled untill crispy and chopped small

A good dollop of light mayonnaise 

Toss all together while the potatoes are warm. 
Sweetcorn Salsa 

X 2 sweetcorn cobs, rub in oil and grill until toasted all round

1 red pepper finely chopped

1 red onion diced finely

2 medium tomatoes diced finely

2 tablespoons chopped coriander

Juice of 1 lime

Splash of tabasco sauce

Salt and pepper

Cut the toasted corn off the cob, mix all ingredients together. 

This salad I like to make too much of as it keeps well and makes great packed lunches!

Two bean salad

1 tin of butter beans

A handful of fine green beans just cooked and cooled in cold water

1 red pepper charred, skinned and sliced ( or you can buy them ready done in jars)

1 clove of garlic crushed

1 tablespoon of fresh chopped oregano leaves

Zest and juice of one lemon

1 tablespoon of olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

(Optional, new season broad beans) 

Toss all ingredients together.

This salad is a nice lunch on its own with some griddled halloumi cheese. 

Chocolate Milkshake

As a brand new mother there is so much to learn. How to cope with this brand new person; learn how to care for her and feed her and keep her safe. 

As I have said before, hubby was in the merchant navy and would be away for 4-6 months amd then home on leave for about 2 months. When I fell pregnant we planned for him to be away slightly longer so that he would be around for around the first 6 weeks of our baby’s life.

Oh well, best laid plans. Sometimes the job ends early. Sometimes babies dont follow the timetable. So when she finally turned up there were only a couple of weeks before he had to go back to sea.

A first child and first grandchild brings so much hope and expectation and the responsibility of creating new rules and precedents. We had her christening when she was 2 weeks old, in retrospect it was a huge amount of pressure to put on ourselves. Those early days of parenthood, the blur of exhaustion, sleepless nights, pain and confusion with what she is trying to tell you! 

Organising a family ceremony while trying to learn to breastfeed a baby with voracious appetite and just not getting it quite right probably made things more difficult for myself. 

A message to mum’s; don’t heap too many expectations upon yourself! My mum came up trumps, she baked up a storm and produced a laden table for a buffet meal for all after the christening. She also cave me some fantastic advice. “Each time your baby wants a feed, don’t think “oh no, not again!”..instead, think “oh good, a chance to sit down and have a cuddle!” Get yourself a drink and something to eat, a book or magazine, the remote control and get comfy” 

So everyone left, hubby went back to sea and I settled in to try to learn. With enough leftovers to last a month! Including several tupperware boxes of chocolate fudge brownies. 

So every breastfeed for the next few weeks I had a cuppa, a brownie and watched a lot of daytime tv ( the advantage of an absent hubby was that I could waft through the day without worrying about dinner!). Apart from a lot of pain, ( tongue tie was not looked for in those days) and health professionals tutting about poor weight gain, we gradually got the hang of it. And the brownies contributed to my baby suddenly gaining 1lb per week! We always teased her that it must have made chocolate milkshake!

For years after, my new baby gift to my friends was my mum’s advice and a batch of those brownies! 

Mary’s Meals gives the gift of one meal every schoolday to children in their place of education that gift enables children to gain in the weight of their knowledge so that they can grow to be the best they can be. 

http://www.marysmeals.org.uk

I have been delighted and amazed at the support I have had with my fundraising efforts for Mary’s Meals, if you are interested in helping me reach my goal, 

http://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Jo-Stenning1

Chocolate Fudge Brownies

100g plain chocolate

2 large eggs, beaten

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

125g butter, softened

275g caster sugar

50g self-raising flour

25g plain flour

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

100g walnuts or pecans toasted and chopped in to chunks

50g white chocolate chopped 

Heat the oven to 180 C / Gas 4. Grease and line your tin (about 20cm square) with parchment.

Pour about 5cm of water into a saucepan and heat it. When the water starts to bubble place a heat-proof bowl on top of the pan. Add chocolate and stir till melted. Take bowl off of pan and set aside.

Put the vanilla, butter and sugar into a large bowl and beat till well combined. Add the eggs a little at a time, beating all the while.

Sift both types of flour and the cocoa powder into the bowl then add the melted chocolate and stir all the ingredients well.

Chop the nuts then stir them into the mixture. Spoon the mixture into the lined tin and smooth with the back of your spoon. 

Scatter white chocolate on top

Bake the brownies for 35 minutes or until they have formed a nice crust on top, but they are still soft in the middle.

Leave the brownies for 20 minutes, then cut them into squares.

What is in a sandwich? 

On Saturday I completed a 40km challenge walk to raise funds for Mary’s Meals. It was one of those big organised events where you can choose the charity you wish to support. 

The walk was very challenging for me, it took me 10 and a half hours but took in some beautiful countryside of the South Downs on the most glorious day. 

The organisation was amazing, from individual route maps, (20, 30, 40 and 60km routes), the trails clearly marked, medics and supporters at every stop and catering for breakfast, lunch and hot snack. 

I have to say I was a bit apprehensive about what a packed lunch might consist of as I’m a bit fussy about my sandwiches. I’m not fond of sliced white bread and I like a good filling. I was very pleasantly surprised with the fresh baguette, buttered and stuffed with ham, crispy lettuce, sliced tomatoes and cucumber. So images of a limp or a hard stale bread with no butter and just a bit of cheese or ham were happily dispelled. 

It might be my nurse background but I was probably a bit obsessed with my children’s meals being “balanced” with Carbohydrates, Protein and Vegetables. It has only been more recently with my Health Visiting that I can advise a more relaxed approach; if left to themselves, and given the opportunity, children will eat a nutritionally balanced diet spread over a week! All that angst I went through! The food refusals, the sitting at the table, ( the food splattered up the wall!) the cooking their favourite meal only to find they hate it this week! 

I didnt often do sandwiches for packed school lunches, I tried all sorts of varieties of lunch for my girls otherwise it wouldnt get eaten! However when we had German exchange students to stay I did them sandwiches at their request, brown bread. I was very complimented and a little startled when Kiki picked up her clingfilm wrapped lunch and kissed it extravagantly, declaring “I love your English Sandwiches!” 

My daughter later told me that her German sandwiches were made of toasted white bread with a sliver of meat in the centre. 

Mary’s Meals provides one meal a day to children in their place of education. It may not be the greatest culinary feast, but I’m willing to bet that to a hungry child it is the best thing they have tasted. It is nutritionally balanced and fortified with vitamins and minerals to help correct any imbalances. All this for just 7p per meal. Have a look at the website to see how this charity feeds the hopes of generations. 

http://www.marysmeals.org.uk

I am  just over 1/4 of the way to my target of £2000 for this grassroots charity. It isnt too late to donate to my justgiving page if you are inspired.

http://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Jo-Stenning1

Sandwiches 

Choice of bread. Brown multigrain, ciabatta, pitta warmed until it puffs up to make a pocket, french bread, soft floury bap; there are so many breads to choose from. Just try not to pick something that crumbles apart under pressure! 

Butter. Not margarine, it has to be butter. If you look at the ingredients on the pack..there are only 2 ingredients in butter (if it is salted!)

Filling of your choice: 

Chicken/ beef/ ham/ pate/ cheese (brie or cheddar or stilton or edam or wensleydale…) 

Lettuce, something crispy

Sliced tomato

Cucumber

Avocado (if you have a nice ripe one then you can use it as a butter substitute) 

Optional extras: chutney of your choice

Flutters

As I get older, it is harder and harder to keep fit and mobile. Along with many others I attend multiple exercise classes and get shouted at by insanely fit and wildly enthusiastic young things  who exhort us to ever more extreme forms of torture! 

One of the exercises designed to work and strengthen our abdominal muscles our Sophie joyfully calls “Flutters”. Lying on our backs with legs straight up in the air and switching legs as fast as we can. It hurts. It is not the flutters that I know and like. 

Food is often known by different names in different families, sometimes the name is purely descriptive, sometimes it trys to sound sophisticated and sometimes it just catches your imagination and gets adopted. 

When I was small I had a best friend. He lived across the road from me and I think I lived at his house as much as I did at mine. Our mum’s were good friends and would exchange babysitting. His family owned a TV (we didnt have one) and watching Dr Who was a definite incentive to go to his.  Mike would hide behind the sofa and ask me to tell him if there were any skellywobbles! (Skeletons). We lived outside a lot in classic childhood play, bikes, woodland adventures, footie with coat goal posts, or just hanging out.

The lasting memory of those days is Mikes name for what my family called “french toast” and others call “eggy bread”. Mike called it “Flutters”. And Flutters it has remained. 

I have introduced my children to flutters which is usually served with “topping” however at one stage we put an american twist on with a touch of icing sugar and maple syrup. I usually do flutters as a savory big breakfast dish and is great for stretching a couple of eggs to 3 or 4 people. 

Marys Meals uses local recipes and staples to serve to children. This has the advantage of giving children something familiar so they will eat it, but also ensures that by using local ingredients the meals are more economical, thus ensuring that more children can be fed. 

To see more about the work that Mary’s Meals does look at their website and view some amazing films which can be downloaded. 

http://www.marysmeals.org.uk

My fundraising walk to raise money for this charity is now in 3 days, if you would like to donate please go to my JustGiving page

http://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Jo-Stenning1

Flutters 

2-3 eggs depending on size, beaten with a pinch of salt

1 slice of bread per person,white or brown, its better if it is slightly stale.

Knob of butter. 

Pour the beaten and foamy egg on to a plate, dip bread in to it so that both sides are coated.Melt butter in a frying pan and fry the dipped bread on both sides until golden. 
Topping

Chopped bacon

Chopped mushrooms

Tomatoes chopped in to rough chunks

Butter and seasoning

Melt butter in a small pan, cook bacon till crispy, add mushrooms, cook for another 2-3 minutes then add tomatoes and cook down. Season to taste. This makes a lovely gooey semi sauce to dollop on to the flutter. 

Variations: Leave out the bacon for vegetarians.

Sprinkle icing sugar on both sides once almost finished frying to caremelise the sugar and drizzle with maple syrup to serve. 

Family fibs

When you have children you have fine intentions of always answering every question truthfully ( well with the exception of keeping the magic of christmas alive by agreeing that “yes father christmas is real!”) . You teach your offspring all about life, answer the why’s and how’s in language they understand. And in turn they trust you implicitly, they know that everything you say is absolutely true. 

Unless of course their sibling gets there first! 

I always tried to create meals that were balanced nutritionally, but also not too complicated! I like a meal to be as one pot at serving as possible! This was especially important on the days that I worked and had to leave a prepared dinner for our childminder/surrogate Granny the wonderful Rae to heat and serve. 

A regular pre-prepared dinner was my pasta bake. I used to use tricolour fusilli pasta. The red, green and white pasta would help hide the multitude of chopped vegetables I hid along with whatever protien that went in too. 

Warming and filling, my girls always enjoyed it and cleaned their plates….well except the bits of courgette my youngest would meticulously pick out and line the plate with. 

Then she started to refuse to eat the green pasta. She swore that it tasted different, and indeed she could tell the difference, Rae blindfolded her one day and she could still pick out the green pasta. 

It was a long time before I found out that her loving older sibling had informed her that the green pasta was made with squid ink! No amount of information, persuasion, showing her the ingredients list, logic and finally ridicule would persuade her that spinach is green and ink is black, so really, what did she think was likely to cause the green colouring?! 

This went on for years and is the longest lasting family lie! It outlived father christmas and the easter bunny! 

Now she is an adult, there is no irony at all that she actually loves squid ink flavoured pasta! 

Mary’s Meals, by providing one meal a day in their place of education enables children to attend school, to have the energy to learn, but it also allows children who have been burdened with the adult responsibilities of caring for siblings too young to rediscover both a childhood and the possibilities of a future. 

http://www.marysmeals.org.uk

Next Saturday I will walk my marathon to raise funds for this amazing charity. So far with pledges and donations already given I am almost 1/2 way to my goal. If you would like to help me reach that goal, please donate on 

http://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Jo-Stenning1

Pasta Bake

Pasta, (fusilli or macaroni or shells or any preferred short pasta) 

Mixture of chopped spring onion, peppers, courgette, mushroom.

Some meat if wanted, chopped cooked chicken or ham or chopped crispy bacon. 

1/2 pint Milk

Grated cheddar cheese

Desert spoon cornflour and teaspoon of mustard powder

Spoon of veg oil

2 or 3 tomatoes, sliced.

Make the sauce: 

Gently cook the vegetables in the oil until beginning to soften, stir in the cornflour and mustard then add milk slowly, stir over the heat so that the sauce thickens over the heat, add meat if using then add the cheese to make a tasty creamy sauce. Season to taste.

Cook the pasta until just cooked with a little bit of bite still. 

Drain, then mix with the sauce. 

Put the whole mix in a oven proof dish, 

Decorate the top with sliced tomatoes. 

Cover and bake in the oven  at 180 or gas 4 for about 30 minutes.

Serve just as it is, or doll it up with a green salad. 

Chilli con carne (or time for some more mince!) 

It’s been a cold day and felt very unspring like! Today I did a practice walk in preparation for my sponsored walk challenge on May 13th. 

http://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Jo-Stenning1

Today I walked 26km, and while I felt warm while walking, the instant I stopped I quickly felt chilly! ( excuse the pun) My return home with aching legs and a need for a quick and easy warming dish led me to decide on Chilli. 

Another one of those British classic dishes that we have poached from another country, I remember a favourite wine bar I would visit for lunch on my way to work between bus trips, before a late shift in the early eighties. Before you think “what a lush!” I would have a glass of orange juice and soda and a bowl of chilli con carne. I used to have to take 2 buses to the other side of Nottingham to start a late shift at 1pm. Dinner in the nursing home I worked at would consist of something like Cheese pie ( mashed potato with melted cheese on top) or boiled Tripe and onions ( yes, really) so a decent lunch was called for. In those days it was difficult to go in to a pub as a lone woman, other options were Wimpey burger bar or a greasy spoon. The wine bar was run by a very kind and protective gay man called Paul who always made sure I was served quickly so I wouldnt be late for work. 

The next chilli that influenced my recipe was at a pub I visited when courting my hubby. This was his local and the first time peppers were added, I thought a delicious addition. 

Hubby likes a bit of kick in his Chilli, my girls when they were small liked less spice. Yoghurt is a great cooler! 

Mary’s Meals seeks to provide one meal a day to children in some of the poorest countries in their place of learning. Children who may not get any food at all dont have the luxury of choices of world cuisine but that meal made where possible of local ingredients helps encourage to children attend school and to concentrate at their lessons because they are not hungry. 

http://www.marysmeals.org.uk

Chilli Con Carne

2 medium onions, chopped.

500g lean beef mince 

2tsp chilli powder

2tsp ground ginger

2tsp ground coriander

2tsp ground cumin

2tsp turmeric 

2 cloves of garlic peeled and crushed

2 cans red kidney beans

2 cans of chopped tomatoes

2 peppers, any colour

Glug of oil

Soften the chopped onions in oil, then add the crushed garlic and stir around, dont let it burn or it will be bitter. 

Add the mince, break it up and mix in well, cooking until it has browned off. Add spices, stir in and cook until the aromas are released. 

Add drained kidney beans, tomatoes and peppers, stir in well, season with salt and ground black pepper to taste. Cover and simmer gently for 45 minutes.

Serve with warm pitta bread and plain yoghurt to taste. 

Mine tonight just hit the spot!