Rendang terlagi-lagi – the best beef rendang recipe

If there’s only one thing you cook from reading my Malaysian adventures then it has to be beef rendang. Unless, of course, you are a vegetarian or a vegan….because, quite frankly, beef just won’t work for you. Or unless you can’t eat coconut because that, too, would mean the beef rendang just isn’t going to be your thing. But let’s not bother with ‘unless’…let’s focus instead on the most delicious Malaysian recipe ever.

Rendang is an iconic Malaysian recipe – a mouth-filling melange of spices, coconut and slow cooked meat making an aromatic dish that has you longing to eat it again and again. The first friends I made in Malaysia, Roger and King, took me to lunch at Madam Kwan’s where we had her delicious rendang. Her version has the beef slow cooked and shredded and it is rich and delicious so little goes a long way with plain rice. King swore that this was the best rendang in Kuala Lumpur and who was I to argue?

I spent a long time looking for a recipe that would give me the right taste – every cook will have their own version. Eventually I came across (in a small, inexpensive Malaysian cookbook by Betty Saw, from Marshall Cavendish, that cost 9.90 ringgit, that’s just under £2) Rendang terlagi-lagi. ‘Lagi’ in Malay means ‘more’ and I was assured that having eaten this dish people would ask for more….and more. That had to be worth trying.

Now, before we go any further, it’s perhaps worth pointing out that authentic Malaysian cooking doesn’t rely on the kitchen gadgets that make our lives so easy. Most recipes involve spice mixes that are ground…and when they say ground they mean that they been pounded into a juicy rubble with a pestle and mortar.

What also might be worth pointing out is that while pounding produces an authentic roughness to the mix (some bits are pounded more finely than others) the pounding itself is hard physical labour. I have done this in an authentic a fashion as possible but in the interests of getting you to try this, I think it will be perfectly acceptable to use a blender to get the spice mix made. Don’t keep pulverising everything to a smooth paste, though, try and keep a certain roughness to it.

Also, if you are trying this and don’t have access to the same fresh ingredients that I can get here in Kuala Lumpur, don’t worry. Do your best. Supermarkets sell jars of ready prepared ginger, lemon grass and garlic. Use them if you can get them…it will be a lot easier than pounding.

The important thing is that you try to make this. If you like it enough you can always attempt pounding on the next go. Or maybe if you like it enough you can carry on using the prepared spices because that will mean you can make it quickly and easily. Just make it, right?

What you’ll need to make this is first of all 600g (1lb 5 oz) of beef.

The first time I made it was with deep frozen Indian buffalo which is all I could find in the supermarket and the resulting rendang was delicious but tough. Eventually, I found some nice beef cubes that made a deliciously tender rendang. Rendang is not cooked for a long time so try and avoid those cuts that will need hours of slow cooking.

You’ll need some dried chillies (maybe 8 or 10, say) and some thick dark soy sauce (this has a roasted almost caramel taste)

4 stalks of lemon grass (I think that 4 teaspoons of the prepared lemongrass in a jar would be the equivalent); a can of coconut cream ; some tamarind paste; and some kerisik (essentially grated coconut, roasted in a pan until golden brown and then ground finely. I think you could use desiccated coconut instead. It is important you make this, though there’s no real work involved, because it adds a gloriously rich, deep and sludgy level to the sauce surrounding the meat )

The next set of ingredients are classed as the ones that are to be ground – 300g/11 oz shallots, 4 garlic cloves and a 1 inch knob of ginger, peeled.

So, once you have everything assembled, you’re ready for the off. This is really a simple recipe and now I have done this a few times I can prepare it quickly. I make the ground spice mix first and put it in the fridge so I can split the work. If you were using  prepared spices you’ll be able to do this really quickly.

First, cut the beef into strips, maybe a quarter of an inch thick and one and a half inches long.

Fry the beef over a moderate heat in 125 ml/4 fl oz/ half a cup of oil, for 15 minutes.

Take the beef out, leaving the oil in the pan as you’ll need this later.

The beef needs to be pounded lightly while it is still hot – I use the pestle that I used in grinding the spices. Use a steak hammer if you have one….what you are aiming for is a flattening of the pieces of beef, breaking down the meat fibres so they can absorb the flavours better and the beef becomes more tender.

This really is just a light pummelling so don’t go mad and destroy the beef pieces.

Then pour a tablespoon of thick, dark soy over the meat, stirring it round so the pieces get covered, then pop the meat into the fridge for at least an hour. I’ve done this the night before when I have been cooking this for guests and it works out pretty well.

Then, start on preparing the ground ingredients. Either do it with a pestle and mortar or use a blender or use prepared spices. The garlic and shallots and ginger get crushed to a gritty paste. If you use a blender don’t go as far as a smooth mush… part of the joy of this is in the texture of the sauce.

Dried chillies need soaking separately until they are soft and then need pounding or blitzing. It’s easier if you chop them first before pounding them and make sure you keep  your hand over the top of the mortar to keep chilli splashes away from your eyes. I speak from experience.

Fry the ground chillies for two to three minutes in the oil left over from the beef

Then add the ground ingredients (shallots, garlic and ginger and the lemongrass).If you decide to pound the lemongrass first, it’s easier if you chop it into little pieces. Otherwise use the prepared lemongrass in a jar. Fry the mix until it is fragrant and the oil starts to separate out. This will take maybe 8 to 10 minutes over a gentle heat.

Once this is done, add the beef and stir it round well.

Add the coconut cream.

One tablespoon of tamarind paste needs adding to 5 tablespoons of water and stirring round and then strained off, leaving the pulp and stone residue behind. Add that liquid to the beef and stir in. You will probably be able to buy tamarind paste without the seeds in… here, I can’t  get that and I have to sieve out the seeds. You do need the tamarind though because it adds a sharp hint that brightens the deep and satisfying richness of the meat.

Bring everything to the boil and then reduce the heat and simmer gently until the colour has darkened and it is almost dry. In that picture I had just crushed the lenongrass and I had to pick it out later. It’s better when you either use the ready crushed into a paste version or chop it into small pices and then pound the living daylights out of it.

Next you need the kerisik. This is toasted and ground coconut.

I can buy bags of freshly grated coconut  but you could manage with some dessicated coconut, I reckon. My Malay friends think it will be OK, so I’d go along with that.

I dry fry a cup full until it browns

Be careful because it can suddenly go from white to burnt, so do stand and stir and keep checking  while you are roasting and toasting the coconut.

and then I grind it to a fine powder. The first time I did it I used the pestle and mortar….after that I used the Bamix and the spice grinding attachment. Far quicker.

Anyway….add in the kerisik, a teaspoon or so of sugar and some salt to taste. Stir it all in and keep stirring until it begins to look like this….

And that’s it. Taste it. Realise you have made the most delicious rendang…..

I serve it over plain boiled rice that I have added some of the fresh grated coconut to and some chopped coriander.

And then all I do is hope that there will be some left over to either eat the next day or freeze. It is a rich and deliciously tasting meat with layers of flavour becoming apparent as you eat it.

I think this has become one of our favourite Malaysian dishes and when we get back to the UK I will use (because I’ll have to) the shortcuts I’ve told you about. I’ll do anything, really to keep on eating this. It is rich and delicious, spicy but not mouth burningly so and the simple mix of spices blend together to make a complex, mouth-filling in its intensity, taste. It is deeply satisfying.

Try it… try it then tell me what you think of it. I’ve done my best to make it easy for you… now you do your best to make it!

Red cooked shin of beef

The weather has definitely changed. The winds are getting stronger and I have started to wear a coat to travel to work.

It been raining a lot as well and when I look out of the window of my office at work I can see waves being whipped up on the lake.

Even the ducks, swans, geese and the heron are all in hiding.

You can see the trees are being bent over in the strong winds. The rain is splattering against the window and the skies are getting more grey.

What we need is something warm and sustaining. I want meat… I want tasty meat. I want something to fill me and make me smile.

So I decided upon shin of beef which is a British, inexpensive cut of meat from the front legs of cattle. Just over 500g costs  just over £3. That’s enough to easily feed four people. Shin needs long and slow cooking which transforms it from incredibly tough to  the most melt in the mouth meat ever, with a real depth of flavour.   If this cut isn’t familiar to you, look at the link  which shows you the difference between American and British cuts of beef.

When you look at shin of beef you can see the tendons and the fat running through it. This has to be cooked slowly and the meat becomes transformed into the most tender morsels imagineable. The gravy served with it reduces and becomes intensely rich and flavoursome. It is perfect in a beef stew with dumplings  and that, I have to say, is how I normally cook it.

Except this time I wanted something different. I wanted something with a bit of a zing to it…and I had a fancy for some kind of Chinese flavouring. I have always adored the taste of star anise flavoured sauces and I remembered that when I was a poor student and wanted a treat I would order fried rice with a drizzle of Chinese barbecue rib sauce on it. That would be it. Just rice with some sauce… I think the takeaway was used to poverty stricken students asking for the bare minimum. (Mind you, there was an Italian restaurant in town that once served a group of us a side dish of peas between us because that was all we could afford and one of our friends fancied someone working there…)

Anyway. Here I was, years later, with enough money to actually buy some meat and I was going to make the most of it. I didn’t have a classic Red Cooked Beef recipe but I could make a fair attempt at it. No doubt the purists will think this isn’t the way to do it but this works for us. The flavour at the end is amazing and that’s good all we are concerned with.

Slow cooked meat is the easiest thing in the world. All it needs is time. You really do very little to it.

First of all, sear the outside of the beef as this gives it a good colour and a better taste.

Chop an onion into pieces. There’s no need to worry about making it neat – after a few hours in the slow cooker this will jsut disappear into a lovely rich sauce.

Put the onion in the bottom of the slow cooker (or casserole dish if you are using that) and lay the browned meat on top of it.

Add some oil to the pan juices (yes, I know that using sesame oil might seem extravagant, but once oil is opened you must use it as it will go off. You might as well use it in an appropriate dish rather than waste it. The delicious smell will disappear, I know, but you know the mantra, waste not, want not!) Use vegetable oil if you have it. What you are doing is getting the rich caramelised bits of meat from the pan.

Stir in a good teaspoon of minced ginger, the smae of garlic and half a teaspoon of  chilli – here I am using the tubes of freshly minced herbs and spices a) because I have them and b) my chillies have failed this year and my ginger is dried up and horrid. They are great to keep in the fridge, ready for an emergency. Add a good splash of soy sauce to add a salty, savoury element.

And star anise. Aren’t they beautiful?

Pour the oil and meat juice mix over the meat and onions and add the star anise.

Normally I’d add Chinese rice wine but we had none left… we did have sherry though and that is a good compromise. Half a cup of sherry adds an extra layer of aromatics to the dish.

A cup of water is added to bring the liquid content up to almost the top of the onion and meat. Don’t cover it, though as that will boil it and toughen the meat. You are aiming for a lovely gravy that will cosset the meat until it relaxes into tender submission.

And that’s it. Five minutes to prepare.

All you have to do now is to start the slow cooker, or put your casserole in the oven on a low heat and then just walk away for a few hours. Relax and enjoy the sense of anticipation.

Four hours later, the apartment smells of delicious, fragrant, spicy meat.

The meat is so tender it just falls apart when I lift it out with a spoon. The long, slow cooking has turned the tough meat into soft and delicious morsels.

Served in a bowl on top of some noodles with a few snipped chives over the top of it and we had the perfect supper. Delicious, tasty, spicily aromatic beef piled on top of soft and filling noodles… heaven in a bowl.

It made the grey day go away and we felt warm and happy.

What more could you ask for? A meal that tasted delicious and cost £1 per serving. That’s pretty good going.

Toffee and Apple Butter Crumble

When I was at school we studied the English Romantic poet, John Keats. To this day, I can still recite many of his odes and whenever my friend J and I get together, something will trigger something in our heads and we will burst into recitation – either sonnets from Shakespeare or poetry or even psalms and verses from the Bible. It must be hard wired into our brains now and it still makes us laugh that after all these decades, the words our teachers drummed into our heads when we were little schoolgirls, still remain. It seemed so hard at the time to learn everything and now it seems we can’t forget anything! Makes us pretty good at quizzes, of course, and a source of irritation to our husbands as they weren’t taught like us Grammar School girls and they roll their eyes when we go into our synchronised recitation mode at the least provocation or reminder. We can’t help it. It just happens automatically. We must have been terrified of our teachers.

 Keats, in his ode “To Autumn” called this the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”  and he was right. The apple trees are bending under the weight of the apples and this morning, the first of the real autumn mists filled the valley below us. What might have seemed boring and irrelevant to our teenaged minds is now appreciated and I found myself reciting the ode as I made coffee for breakfast and gazed out of the window.

Mists certainly… mellow fruitfulness? Yes. We still had such a lot of apples from our brief foraging trip and I needed to use them.

I was going to be cooking a meal that evening for a visitor from South Africa and another colleague. It wasn’t going to be a fancy dinner but it had to be good. I wanted to show what traditional British cooking was like and prove that it is delicious. What better for dessert, I thought, than Apple Crumble? Perfectly British and perfectly delicious.

Last time I made crumble, I made Toffee Apple Crumble and it was delicious – the addition of fudge made an ordinary apple crumble something special. This time, I thought, I would use fudge again but also add the Apple Butter I made at the weekend. That would add in another layer of appley lusciousness to the crumble…..

So, I got in from work and peeled some apples. Normally I use good sized apples and allow one per person. That normally works out about right.

These were my foraged apples – not quite so big as ones from a managed orchard, so I decided 6 would do. Also, I am rather greedy and I was hoping for leftovers the next day.

Peeled, cored and chopped, I put them in a large baking dish and sprinkled the juice of half a lemon over the bits to stop them getting too brown.

A sprinkling of golden granulated sugar over the top would balance things nicely and help make delicious juices (and I do mean, by the way, just a sprinkling. More sweetness will come from the fudge)

The fudge needed to be cut up too…

And the apple butter I made? Look how it has set… it can be cut into slices, just like real butter. Apple butter is just apples cooked slowly until their natural sugars caramelise, which is why it is a deep golden brown, and spices (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves) stirred in and cooked with the apples.

I layered some slices over the apple, knowing that when everything baked, the apple butter would melt over the apple pieces and that lovely spiced apple mix would be perfect in the crumble.

Next, the fudge pieces were scattered over the top.

The crumble mix is simplicity itself – 300g of plain flour, 200g of sugar and 175g of butter.

Making the crumble topping is really easy – just rub the mix through your fingers until it resembles breadcrumbs. It doesn’t take long.

Then scatter the crumble mix over the prepared fruit and fudge.

Don’t pack it down, just shake the bowl from side to let the crumbs settle round the fruit, fudge and apple butter.

And then all you have to do is put it in the oven at 180 degrees C/350 degrees F for 40 minutes or so.

Oh, the smell of it as it cooked – there was the sweet buttery smell of the crumble itself and the sharpness of the apples and the spicy mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger from the apple butter.

And what was it like?

It was lovely. So lovely I forgot to take a picture of it as it came out of the oven. I just dug into it and served it up.

Served with a great dollop of extra thick double cream.

It was eaten and seconds were requested. Our South African friend said she had not wanted to go home without trying a hot English pudding, so that was good. I suppose our traditional hot puddings are famous, and rightly so.

It was a perfect pudding, it really was. Toffee Apple Crumble was excellent but adding Apple Butter as well? That made it truly delicious.

And there are no leftovers.

Broccoli Bliss

Sometimes, the way to brighten a dull day is to imagine a treat. Something to look forward to when you get in from work. Something that probably you can only get away with when your significant other is away.

Well, the Bear is away…and that means I can indulge myself. I can go wild and he won’t look at me with a slightly anxious expression, worried that I will force him into joining me in my chosen delights.

It’s not drink…. or illicit substances… or even some strange practice… it’s…..


Beautiful, bold brassica.. the bright green and slightly bitter broccoli. I love it.

And when I can, I come home to a huge bowlful of it. One of my favourite ways to eat it is with a pseudo-Thai green curry sort of sauce, except it is not a sauce, it is a fragrant and sweetly spiced cooking liquid.

It’s quick to make and incredibly low calorie and oh-so-good for you.

I always have the ingredients for the Thai green curry sort of sauce in my cupboards because you never know when you may be able to get away with making broccoli, just broccoli, for supper. They also come in handy for when I want to make Thai Green Curry soup.

Onion, ginger and garlic. Some coriander.

Some green Thai curry paste

Thai basil, if you can get it

and kaffir lime leaves.

You will also need coconut milk – either a tin of it, or coconut milk powder that you can make up – and some stock granules.

Start by chopping some onion into  decent sized pieces and start to saute them in a large pan.

Chop your broccoli  stem into pieces and separate the florets.

Add the stem to the pan with half a cup, say, or water so it doesn’t burn and and a quarter inch of peeled and finely chopped ginger, and a clove of garlic, also finely chopped.

Add a heaped teaspoon of Thai green curry paste, the same of kaffir lime leaves and Thai basil. Stir it round and smell that gorgeous, aromatic spicy steam billowing up.

Let the stem and the onion soften slightly then add the florets.

Give them all a stir and let them steam for a couple of minutes

Mix three heaped dessertspoonsful of coconut milk powder (or a can of reduced fat coconut milk) and add a teaspoonful of vegetable stock granules, mixing it round well

Pour that delicious mix over the broccoli and let it steam through for another couple of minutes….

And then?

Dish it up, my darlings!

A beautiful bowl of broccoli… think of it as thai green broccoli soup… without much soup.

Packed full of goodness…. and that, well, that is one of my secret delights.

Skinny tomato soup

As I lumber my large and ungainly way into January and prepare to go back to work, I make a start on the diet. My cunning plan to emerge as slender as a supermodel is based around eating tasty but sensibly low calories breakfasts and lunches and then having something truly delicious, yet very low calorie for supper.

Lunch.. that is the problem. I want something really tasty to keep me going. I drink black coffee all day and I need a different taste.

Now. It is Sunday night and I haven’t really thought it through, so I start rummaging in the cupboards. There aren’t any tins of tomatoes…. I can’t believe it, because I always buy plenty. There’s lots and lots of stuff in there to make delicious meals but I am trying to cut calorie corners.

What I do find is a carton of V8 vegetable juice … look at the goodness in that…

and an  onion.. and a packet of bonito stock, or dashi.

This is a combination of fish flakes (a bonito is related to the mackerel and tuna, dried and shaved into flakes)  and seaweed… it may sound strange but it is going along the umami route – a deep, flavoursome stock that gives you “mouth feel” as if what you are eating is rich and certainly more calorific than it seems. It doesn’t taste fishy… just savoury.

Don’t add it if you don’t want to, or if you can’t find it – add ordinary vegetable stock or miso instead. The aim is to make what would otherwise be a thin soup (with, therefore, very few calories in it) into something that tastes if it has more body and richness to it.

So, one onion, chopped (about 100 calories, raw) and one tablespoon of oil  (about 120 calories) – see how much work I do for you? Calculating all this?

Sweat the onions till soft with a pinch of salt (that makes them stay soft and translucent)

Add a sachet of bonito stock and stir round.

Pour in the V8 (190 calories for the litre)  … how healthy is this going to be? All those vegetables in there…stir it round and let the onions finish cooking.

Now, if you have fresh coriander chop it and stir it round.. or, if you have a tube of it (always handy to have some in the fridge) give a quick squirt

Remember those chillies I made chilli oil with? I got one of those out and added it

And a squirt of ginger as a livener…

And whizz it all to a silky smoothness

Now, by my reckoning that comes to maybe 500 calories or so for the litre…. that’s a LITRE.. That’s a panful.  A good sized mug full will only be 100 -125 calories.

There’s a richness and fullness to it that makes it so very satisfying. It’s tomatoey (as it should be) and savoury – not just salty… and there’s a hint of a nip of ginger and chilli.

It’s not just one dimensional.

Flashforward to Monday lunch….

It’s a winner. Can this be the way forward?

Pomegranate and Saffron Lamb

 I was looking in the freezer for something to cook while I was at work and found some lamb neck and decided that would be perfect for the slow cooker but the gloom of December is getting to me and I need something with a bit of zing to it… some brightness to cut through the dark…

brussels, pomegranate saffron lamb 040

Lamb neck is inexpensive and, if cooked correctly, incredibly tasty. Those four fat slices cost just £1.70.

brussels, pomegranate saffron lamb 045

There’s a good amount of meat on them, with fat running through it that, if cooked slowly and cossetted with spices, will turn the meat into something that is so tender and melting and so mouthwateringly lovely you can’t help but  smile.

I wanted spices with it, spices and a touch of sharpness and thought that a kind of Middle Eastern theme would work. In my cupboard I had a bottle of Pomegranate Molasses which would be perfect. The flavour it adds is a rich and tangy one – a mix of sour and sweet and it goes perfectly with all sorts of meat, particularly the fattier kinds as it cuts right through, really letting the meat flavour expand , if you know what I mean.

brussels, pomegranate saffron lamb 051

As with any kind of slow cooking, the best thing to do is to brown the meat – not only does it add a deeper flavour but it makes it look better too.

brussels, pomegranate saffron lamb 053

Then, maybe other Middle eastern flavours…. garlic and ginger – crush some, or squeeze some from a tube and fry it off in the pan after you have taken the meat out.

brussels, pomegranate saffron lamb 059

Add some stock and stir it round to loosen up the caramelised meat bits and the lovely garlic and ginger.

brussels, pomegranate saffron lamb 060

A good pinch of saffron will add a deeper note and the most wonderful colour.

brussels, pomegranate saffron lamb 069

And crush some cardomom seeds – break them open first and then crush the little seeds inside the papery cases…. they are the bits with the flavour… sprinkle them over the bits of lamb in the slow cooker..

brussels, pomegranate saffron lamb 065

Add a couple of teaspoons of honey

brussels, pomegranate saffron lamb 078

And a couple of tablespoons of pomegranate molasses, then pour over the saffrony stock.

You know the chilli oil I made? Well those chillies are soft now after their long bath but just as hot… one of them dropped in there will add another layer of flavour… a spike of heat

pmegranate and saffron lamb 003

And that’s it.

Well that’s it till the next day, anyway. The slow cooker can go on before setting off for work in the morning and then,  on getting in from work?

Then you will find your home filled with the most beautiful smell and know that you are going to eat the perfect supper for a dark and gloomy night…. oh it was gorgeous.

There was this deep, rich smell blended with a  fruity sharpness and the underlying tang that comes from saffron. Quite mouthwatering

pmegranate and saffron lamb 030

The meat was falling away from the bone… all I had to do was make some couscous and then spoon the tender, aromatic lamb and gravy over it….

pmegranate and saffron lamb 035

And then tuck in…..

Noodles and Prawns

As part of the Bear’s training process ( in order to be truly omnivorous, he must learn to eat everything… and that includes shellfish) I am trying out various prawn recipes on him. He used to  get a very stubborn look on his face when I suggested shellfish and shake his head fiercely but he is getting used to me insisting he tries a mouthful, at least. These tactics are beginning to pay off. 

He not only ate his salt and pepper prawns but actively enjoyed them and would have eaten more but for the fact I insisted I had my fair share. I moved onto the next step in my plan….

noodle prawns, red cabbage, lamb, celeriac 001

I knew he had liked the savouriness of the salt and pepper prawns and I wanted to give a hint of that when cooking this next lot. I decided that a marinade would boost things up, so I mixed a bowl, using Chinese cooking wine, some sweet soy sauce, some sweet chilli sauce and some sunflower oil. A squeeze of lemon would sharpen up what would be a sweetly savoury spicy marinade.

noodle prawns, red cabbage, lamb, celeriac 005

 In went the prawns and I got on with other stuff. I thought noodles and vegetables would be good to go with it

noodle prawns, red cabbage, lamb, celeriac 006

I had an orange pepper, some spring onions, a carrot, some garlic and ginger and some Chinese leaves. They would give a lovely crunch to the dish and be a good contrast to the softness of the noodles. I got some ready (because this is so quick to do, you need to have everything ready before you start cooking)

noodle prawns, red cabbage, lamb, celeriac 007

noodle prawns, red cabbage, lamb, celeriac 008

With some hot oil in my largest frying pan (I really should get a wok, you know, but our kitchen is tiny and there isn’t another square inch of space to put anything and the benches are full already)

noodle prawns, red cabbage, lamb, celeriac 009

I started by frying some garlic and ginger with a splash of sweet soy

noodle prawns, red cabbage, lamb, celeriac 010

and then started frying the pepper, carrot and spring onion

noodle prawns, red cabbage, lamb, celeriac 011

then the shredded bits of chinese leaves

noodle prawns, red cabbage, lamb, celeriac 012

Put the noodles in and stir fry quickly.

Next step….prawns. By now they will have been doused in the marinade

noodle prawns, red cabbage, lamb, celeriac 013

Squeeze a lime – roll it first to get the juice going .. you will need that to squeeze over the cooking prawns

 and then take out the noodles and vegetables – you are going to need that pan for the prawns

noodle prawns, red cabbage, lamb, celeriac 015

noodle prawns, red cabbage, lamb, celeriac 014

Pour in the marinade as well – there is oil in there… just look how quickly they go from grey to pink….

noodle prawns, red cabbage, lamb, celeriac 017

And serve. Some finely chopped spring onions scattered over the top just sets things off.

And was it eaten? Yes it was, by a person who says he hates shellfish. Well that’s two lots he has eaten now…. and it’s not as if he left any. Was it enjoyed? Draw your own conclusions.

Chicken Jalfrezi

We have decided on a new regime. We seem, somehow, to have become rounder.

Somewhat stout, actually. We are going to have to go on a diet. Only thing is, we aren’t very good at diets … well we aren’t very good at chewing on celery and raw carrots.

What we thought we could do is eat as if we weren’t on diets but make sure what we do eat is low calorie.

I started to go through magazines looking for recipes that came in at under 400 calories a serving. My thinking behind this was that if we ate sensibly at breakfast and lunch then we could look forward to something nice at supper.

But supper had to be low calorie….. I wanted proper food not some kind of packet.

You can buy packets of ready meals that have the calories counted for you but that wasn’t the way I was going to go.  If I could make sure that each serving was low calorie but still home made and tasty.. well that was the answer.

If it was only 400 calories a serving then that would mean there was still room to bring in a side dish… we could diet and feel as if we were still enjoying ourselves! All I had to do was find some recipes

One of the first recipes I found was Chicken Jalfrezi in Olive magazine, October 2008.

And it was only 250 calories per serving!

That had to be a winner. So, what did we need?

Chicken Jalfrezi 001

A large onion, sliced,

3 cloves of garlic

2-3 green chillies, sliced

Ginger grated

Chicken thighs – 6 cut into chunks

Tomatoes, 5, roughly chopped

Green pepper, chopped into pieces

Coriander – small bunch with the leaves picked off

Yoghurt – small pot

Spice mix

  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1½ tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 5 cloves , ground
  • Well, you can see in the picture that it is, first and foremost, rather dark. That’s because I was late in from work and despite all the lights being on, it still looks dark.

    You can also see a tin of tomatoes – I forgot to get fresh. Just as I forgot to get fresh garlic and ginger, hence the tubes of puree. Oh, and the pepper is not green but orange.

    Still… everything else is OK……

    Chicken Jalfrezi 002

    First thing.. heat 2 tablespoons of  oil in a pan and add the onion and a good pinch of salt and fry until it is soft and golden, then add the chillies, garlic and ginger and cook for another couple of minutes

    Chicken Jalfrezi 003

    Make the spice mix

    Chicken Jalfrezi 004

    And add it.. I had also put in the stalks of the coriander (they can’t contain many calories, can they? And they do taste nice)

    Chicken Jalfrezi 006

    Cook it all for a couple of minutes to round out the flavour..

    Chicken Jalfrezi 011

    Add the chicken pieces

    Chicken Jalfrezi 012

    And stir round

    Chicken Jalfrezi 013

    Then add a splash of water, the tomatoes and the pepper

    Chicken Jalfrezi 014

    Chicken Jalfrezi 015

    You can now cover the pan and let it cook gently for 30 minutes or so.

    That gives you enough time to go and settle yourself for a while… it had been a long day for me and I was tired. Even so, that wasn’t a lot of work and was surprisingly quick to do….

    The sauce will have started to thicken up by now.. if not then take the lid off for the last ten minutes. If you are using the yoghurt, add it now and stir it in for a creamier sauce. I still had plenty left from the Total Great Greek Yoghurt Experiment, so this was an ideal dish to try it in.

    Chicken Jalfrezi 017

    Chicken Jalfrezi 019

    and add the coriander leaves

    Chicken Jalfrezi 021

    Chicken Jalfrezi 022

    I made steamed basmati rice to go with it….and served it up.

    Even with the rice that had to be less than 500 calories.

    A bowl of ice cream is 500 calories.. and that’s a small bowl. I know what I prefer.

    The Chicken Jalfrezi  was quick and easy to prepare (there was a half hour break in the middle while it cooked) and it was ready and served within the hour. It felt like we were having a real meal….. it certainly didn’t feel like any kind of diet I had been on before. The yoghurt made the sauce taste rich and creamy so there was a definite level of luxury about it all.

    Chicken Jalfrezi 023

    There you go. A way forward out of the diet doldrums. I made that after a long day and it certainly wasn’t difficult but it certainly was delicious.

    400 and Under is the way forward!

    Bonfire Night

    Yesterday was  Guy Fawkes, or Bonfire Night and, for us in the UK, we gather round bonfires, watching fireworks and eating sausages, commemorating the failed attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament and the resulting punishment given to Guy himself. It’s also a special day for us as it is our wedding anniversary. And yes, we’ve heard all the jokes about there being fireworks on our wedding night 😉

    From our dining table we can look down onto the city below us and see all the fireworks – a fantastic sight and, as a plus point,  it also saves us standing around outside. We don’t like to ignore tradition completely though, so we thought that we would at least have the sausages as part of our anniversary meal. Sausages and our favourite sparkling wine – the one we had at our wedding. Because it was cold we thought that red wine would be better than champagne – more warming, even though it was chilled. I’m sure you know what I mean. We’d wanted sparkling drinks to go with the fireworks going on outside and  chose Hardy’s Crest Sparkling Shiraz

    I had to do more, though, than cook sausages and serve some wine and I decided that one of my favourite wintery standby recipes would be perfect – roasted, spiced winter vegetables. I have a recipe that I must have copied down from somewhere – it is written in a very old diary from 1977… not that I first did it then, just that I used the diary…it was already old when I found it….Old and empty, which is why I decided to use it for scribbling down recipes.

    Bonfire Night Part 1 001

    Goodness knows when I wrote that, though, but it must have been at least 17 years ago.

    Bonfire Night Part 1 002

    I have no idea where I got it from, so I can’t give due credit. Anyway, it has evolved, almost beyond recognition since then and I think the tweaks I made have improved it. Well, it has improved it to MY taste, anyway. Still, in order to make it  I needed vegetables, so set off to the greengrocer to see what I could get.

    It’s great to be able to go to a traditional greengrocer

    Fruit and veg 3

    All the fruit and vegetables are piled up so you can see what you are buying and choose just what you want

    Fruit and veg

    Fruit and veg 2

    I came back with lovely, knobbly Anya potatoes, sweet baby Chantenay carrots, sweet onions, broccoli, baby tomatoes, a sweet potato, a couple of parsnips, some baby corn, some garlic and some ginger. I also bought a packet of Merchant Gourmet roasted chestnuts, which must be one of the best things ever – the time that saves in roasting and peeling, well, I wouldn’t be so keen on chestnuts if I had to do it all myself… and as for the sausages? I chose Toulouse sausages – they are  small French sausages made of coarsely diced pork and bacon flavored with wine, garlic and unlike other sausages tend to have more meat and less of the normal breadcrumb filler.

    Bonfire Night Part 1 003

    The aim is to have the perfect mix of roasted vegetables. I love the soft sweetness of the sweet potato, with a bursting little tomato, a tasty, slightly charred bite of broccoli with the gorgeous chestnut…. lovely little garlicy roasted potatoes and mushrooms…. it really is delicious. It can easily stand alone as a vegetarian meal but with the addition of sausages…..oh it is just perfect!

    And best of all it is simple! Start by putting the oven on high – about 230 degrees (210 if it is a fan oven) so that when the vegetables are ready they go into a hot oven and get just a hint of charring. It really deepens the flavour.

    Then, prepare your vegetables. Start with the root vegetables –  peel and roughly cube the sweet potato. Chop the Anya potatoes (or any other potato) into roughly the same size pieces. Same for the parsnip. The onion needs to be cut into manageable pieces.  Obviously they are going to take longer than the other vegetables.

    Bonfire Night Part 1 009

    Scatter them into a large roasting tin and drizzle oil over them to give them a good, but light and even coating

    Then prepare your spice mix. You need ground coriander, ground cinnamon and some cardomom pods.

    Bonfire Night Part 1 008

    Crush the cardamom pods and take out the seeds inside (I hate it when you leave the pods in and then you chew on the inedible outer casing…it’s a sort of medicinal taste. Not good when you are aiming for a comforting supper) Give them a grinding in the  mortar with your pestle

    Bonfire Night Part 1 011

    The cases split open and inside are the aromatic black seeds.

    Bonfire Night Part 1 012

    You need to separate them from the husks.. either through your fingers

    Bonfire Night Part 1 013

    Or in a large draining spoon so the seeds fall down.

    Bonfire Night Part 1 014

    Then crush the seeds to a powder. You’ll need a teaspoon or so

    Bonfire Night Part 1 015

    Scatter the spices and ground seeds lightly over the vegetables (maybe a large teaspoon of each) and add some grated ginger and chopped garlic. Sprinkle some salt over the top and drizzle with some more oil.

    Bonfire Night Part 1 016

    Into the hot oven for ten minutes or so till you can see it starting to brown….

    Bonfire Night Part 2 004

    Turn the oven down to about 175  degrees (less if it is a fan oven) and before you cover with foil, scatter in the softer vegetables, the baby tomatoes, broccoli florets, quartered mushrooms, the baby corn,  and the packet of chestnuts.

    Bonfire Night Part 2 007

    Bonfire Night Part 2 009

    That will take another hour or so. Just check how things go as it steams in its own juices under its tin foil cover.

    Now, I suppose, you had better set the table

    Bonfire Night Part 2 012

    Once I did that, we really entered into the spirit of Bonfire Night… Fireworks? Hah! We had a sparkler each. No expense spared for our anniversary dinner……..

    Bonfire Night Part 2 022
    Back to the cooking. Is everything softening well?

    Take the foil off and stir things round….. dot the top with small nuggets of butter and then let it cook, uncovered for the last half hour or so.

    Bonfire Night Part 2 023

    That is, I can assure you, the most lovely aromatic mix of roast vegetables you’ll have had in a long time.

    The only other thing to do is cook the sausages

     Bonfire Night Part 2 036

    Make sure they are beautifully browned

    Pour some wine… the bubbles are just so right for Bonfire Night. A glass or two of lovely rich sparkling shiraz is just the thing for sausages and veg…. and just the thing to celebrate with!

    Bonfire Night Part 2 027


    And… serve!

    Bonfire Night Part 2 028

     The roasted vegetables are beautifully soft with just the right hint of charring. The spices are perfect and smell is just gorgeous. Look at how beautiful it all looks.

    But Bonfire Night isn’t Bonfire Night without some fireworks… and we needed to celebrate…..

     Bonfire Night Part 2 034

    And the result?

    Bonfire Night Part 2 040

    Clean plates. Always a marker of how successful a meal has been.

    And I did, in the end, manage to get a photograph of  the fireworks going off below us

    Bonfire Night Part 2 042








      Bonfire Night Part 2 044

    So… a simple meal of roasted vegetables and sausages – perfect for Bonfire Night and even more perfect to celebrate an anniversary…

    Cheers everyone!