Sunday, October 29, 2006

For The Love Of A Good Book?

If I had just one wish
That wish would ever have to be
To break free of these shackles
Locked by no-one else but me

Through words etched without paper
That time let slip away
For the soliloquy to be mine
I'd wish for every day

High seas seek a wreckage
White lines of vengeful tide
The deep blue penetrates and still
Dilutes nothing inside

Long sought dreams I'd memorise
Even with the chance I’d step aside
Still haunted by the phantoms and their sighs
No ship heard when I cried

To be cast to the open sea
Is all that I have craved
Or settle to this cell of mine
For either way I'm saved

Forget-me-nots still glisten
In every morning due
I wish for nothing yet for all
Though all is nothing true

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Ironing, lie-ins, Zion

It's Sunday morning! That's excellent news if dull skies and musty churches are your idea of fun; I did find myself momentarily wishing for rain this morning, as it's also mid-October and the privet needs one last haircut. I won't be going to church either, but that's another story for another day.

So there I was sitting in the thinking room, and it came to me that had I ever aspired to be a more domesticated type, I could spend today cooking meals to fill the freezer. Unfortunately I have never been that person and so the freezer is safe.

However, it did get me thinking that I might share some recipe ideas with the world. I know it's perhaps not what any previous visitors to this weblog might expect, and I could no doubt produce an acidic and lengthy commentary on a bit of a battle Nige has had with the organisers of PodcastCon UK 2006 over the past couple of weeks.

In brief, for the sake of consistency, I will say this: it has been apparent for quite some time that British podcasting had found it's path. The small band of artistic ramblers trundling through the landscape of creativity have fought bravely to keep the footpaths open. The (perhaps unintentionally) divisive actions of those attempting to cash in on podcasting have succeeded, and iTunes and PodShow got their motorways afterall.

It's therefore of little consequence that PodcastCon UK 2006 is again being held in London. Geographically central it certainly is not, but it is well placed from a population perspective. Admittedly most of those who 'chose' to settle in and around the capital did so before realising they couldn't afford to leave. The golden pavements, like the Emperor's New Clothes, are alluded to by those attempting to justify a menial and meaningless existence of commuting, employment and sleep deprivation. There are many roads leading to London, but the plans were drawn up by Escher.

British podcasting begged and borrowed to make it's bed in sheets of silk and satin, and the UK has never been big or free enough to sustain the rich and the poor. Thankfully the English insensibility has always kept Scotland safe from British stupidity when it comes to owning 'things', which perhaps leaves the Tartan Podcast as our last hope.

By the way, Dan and Lance, I love you but you're not British (again, thankfully)!


Anyway, on with this recipe! I love curry, and I am not talking about the junk that's sold in jars, cans or packets in all major supermarkets, even if they are getting 'more authentic'. The reason I am posting this is because (alas) I am British, and I want to share, even if my feeble cultural heritage gives me little jurisdiction in this area.

Right click this link to download the recipe in PDF format.

So, this is what you need to purchase in order to produce some really simple and quite authentic curries.


Ingredients to Buy and Store
Ground Cumin
Ground Coriander
Garam Masala
Turmeric
Chilli Powder
Cinnamon sticks
Green cardamom pods
Black peppercorns
Ghee
Minced ginger in a jar
Basmati rice
Coconut cream (in a block)
Ground almonds
A large wok / balti pan (and I mean large!)
Wooden / bamboo spoons and metal ladle

picture of wok
A wok

All of the above are best purchased from an Asian supermarket, where you won't get ripped off. I buy a massive yellow bucket of vegetable ghee (no cholesterol!) about once a year and it costs £2-3. The spices all come in giant packets too, which cost around the same as a tiny jar from Tesco, Asda etc., and last a very long time.


Other Ingredients
Tinned tomatoes (or fresh ones)
Tomato puree
Garlic bulbs
Onions
Potatoes / Yams
(for non-vegetarians) Chicken, Lamb, Fish or Prawns
Vegetables (celeriac, carrots, swede, spinach, mushrooms, aubergines - anything goes really!)

Once all of the ingredients are in house, then you just use as needed. For a meal for four people, around two pounds (1 kilogram - that's European!) of meat / fish is enough, and all of the preparation below is based on this quantity. This can easily be halved, doubled or quadrupled depending on the requirements. I tend to add vegetables without measuring - the best thing about all of this is if you make too much it's fresh so you can freeze it or eat it the next day (or for the next week even)!


Preparation

  1. Chop any meat into cubes of 1 inch (2.4 cm).
  2. Do the same for all vegetables (except the onion! Leave that until the end of preparation).
  3. Finely chop 3 cloves of garlic (in the event that you have never cooked with garlic before, these are the small pieces that break off the bulb).
  4. Use a DRY cup or small bowl and measure into it the following dry ingredients (for the curry):
    • 1 teaspoon ground cumin (again, if you've never heard of a teaspoon, it's the little one that's used for cups of tea and giving medicine. A tablespoon is the biggest one in the cutlery drawer - the one that's bigger the one you use to eat dessert, which by coincidence is called a dessertspoon!)
    • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
    • 1/4 - 1 teaspoon chilli powder (depending on the strength of the chilli powder and personal taste)
    • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala (this can be added again near the end of cooking to thicken)
  5. Use another cup / small bowl, and measure into it the following ingredients (for the rice):
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
    • 4 black peppercorns
    • 1 cinnamon stick of around 2-3 inches in length, broken up (crush with fingers)
    • 4 green cardamom pods (split the top of these with a sharp knife)
  6. Rinse basmati rice in cold water through a sieve for five minutes, then leave it to soak in cold water until stage 6 of the methods of cooking below.
  7. Finely chop one onion (do this last to minimise trauma - to keep squirting onion juice to a minimum, cut the onion in half lengthways and put both halves down on the cut side straight away. Next, take one half and use a small, sharp knife to cut lengthways from the top of the onion to almost the bottom, as if preparing thin slices - DON'T CUT ALL THE WAY TO THE BOTTOM! Once the onion is in slices held together by the bottom, start at the top of the onion and cut across all the way down to the bottom, then throw away the bottom bit. Repeat for the other half of the onion).
  8. Have the wok / balti pan and a large pan ready on the stove / hob.

Methods of cooking
The general method is the same regardless of how the ingredients are combined.

  1. Melt about 2 tablespoons of ghee in the wok / balti pan over a medium - high heat, until it becomes a thin liquid (if it smokes it's too hot).
  2. If using potatoes, turn the heat down slightly, and fry the cubed potatoes for 5-10 minutes, until they are softening very slightly (still too hard to eat) and have become golden brown. Take these out of the pan and leave in a dish until later.
  3. Add the chopped onion and stir whilst cooking for a couple of minutes until it becomes a yellowish-gold colour.
  4. Push the onion up the sides of the wok, then add the chopped garlic to the middle. After half a minute of stirring and cooking the garlic, add 1 teaspoon of minced ginger (this is about a one inch cube of ginger if using fresh ginger root).
  5. Once the garlic is slightly translucent, push the garlic and ginger up the sides of the wok. There should still be a little liquid ghee in the bottom of the pan. If there isn't, add a couple of tablespoons of water, then add the spices prepared earlier. This will become a thick liquid-paste. Keep stirring and add more water if needed to avoid the paste becoming too dry. After a minute or two the spices will change in aroma from a powdery smell that irritates the nostrils to a delicious curry smell! That's when they're cooked. This is the point where you can add a little salt if you feel the need.
  6. Add any meat / fish (plus chopped tinned tomatoes / tomato puree if these are being used) and once the pan is bubbling, turn the heat down to a simmer (few or no bubbles) and cover if possible. THIS IS WHERE YOU START THE RICE (see stage 7)!!! The curry will need occasional stirring and adding of any other ingredients. This is where a bit of judgement comes into it. Fish takes less time to cook than meat, and some vegetables take longer than others, so these will need to be added at the appropriate times. This will also be influenced by the type of stove / hob that is being used and the amount of food that is being cooked. The following times are very approximate and I will not be held responsible for the consequences of under- or over- cooked food!
    • Chicken / lamb 20-30 minutes
    • Fish 15-20 minutes
    • Prawns 10-15 minutes
    • Carrots and other root vegetables 15-20 minutes
    • Aubergines and other soft fruits / vegetables 5-10 minutes
    • Spinach 5 minutes
    • Potatoes (once they have been fried in stage 2 above): new potatoes 15-20 minutes, if sweet potatoes (yams) 5-10 minutes, if old potatoes 10-15 minutes.
  7. Put one tablespoon of ghee into the other pan, and melt over a medium-high heat. Once the ghee is a thin liquid, add the dry ingredients prepared above to the pan, and stir for around 30-60 seconds. Then add the rice and stir for 30-60 seconds. Add enough water to come above the rice by around half an inch, then bring to the boil, stir, turn the heat down really low and put a lid on it. Do not look at the rice again unless you are worried it has dried out. If this seems likely, add a little more water and bring to the boil again, then turn down the heat and put the lid on once more. The rice will be cooked in around 15 minutes, at which point turn off the heat and remove the pan from the ring if using an electric stove / hob.
  8. About two minutes before the curry is due to finish cooking, add more garam masala if required to thicken. You can also add ground almonds (about 2-3 tablespoons) to thicken and flavour, or coconut cream (about a one inch slice off the block). This depends on the curry you are making and normally you wouldn't add almonds or coconut if using spinach or potatoes. As a general rule, coconut works best with chicken and no vegetables. If you are concerned that the curry will be too spicy, then you could add some natural yoghurt.
    Cream and ground almonds will make a mild korma-like curry. You could also add some chopped fresh coriander at this point.
  9. The curry and rice should now be cooked and ready to serve. The spices in the rice will most probably be on top of the rice when you take the lid off the pan, and can be removed fairly successfully with a fork. Also use the fork to gently loosen the rice for serving.
  10. To accompany the curry there are several possibilities. Making flat breads such as puris or chapatis is quite easy - flour, salt and water dough into large thin round flats which can then be briefly fried in a lightly oiled pan for 20-30 seconds on each side. Asian supermarkets also sell lots of pre-made breads. A simple salad of leaves, onions, tomatoes and cucumber is also good. Lassi is a yoghurt based drink that can be purchased or made using natural yoghurt, mango pulp and ice for a sweet version - I don't know how to make the non-sweet version because I don't like it!
  11. (As all of my Gran's recipes end...) Eat and enjoy!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

There's a reason they called it Windows!

I said to my friend Paul one night when his PC died that he should take a hint from the name of his OS - open the nearest window and launch his PC as far as possible through it. A few weeks later when his replacement computer arrived he still managed to find it funny.

OK, so I use a Mac, well actually quite a few Macs, but I am not a Mac evangelist: my sister and bro-in-law bought me an 'iLove' t-shirt for my birthday and I debated with myself whether I was a member of the ludicrously small global Apple lovefest in denial or if it's just that I hate Microsoft more. I've wasted this entire evening uninstalling and reinstalling Virtual PC and Windows to test webpages, so I'm pretty sure which it is.

All I want is a reliable machine that doesn't try and (wrongly) second guess my every move. The same applies to the software - I'll be busy typing in MS Word and all of a sudden a bullet point will be indented further than all the rest. Just one bullet! Intuitive? A three year old could perform better pattern recognition.

Or I set a table column width to 50% in Dreamweaver (might as well name as many software giants as possible here) and open it in every single web browser to find that at most it's about 25%, 30 if I'm feeling optimistic, 40 if I squint really really hard and look at the screen from side on, but not 50! Why? That's all I want to know.

I open a pdf in Preview and it looks great. I open it in Adobe reader and it's all over the place. iTunes makes it's own separate copies of MP3s so I have to go chasing round my hard drive deleting duplicates, Entourage asks me if I'm sure I want to open an attachment when I was the one who just double-clicked the thing, causing me to scream 'Did you think I was checking my mouse click speed or what?'.

My current battle is one of trying to strike a balance between OSX and XP browsing experiences, and it's not even interesting. I like a challenge, but this is about as much fun as picking all the seeds out of a raspberry, with a spade, and I'd have more success with that than I'm having with webpages at the moment.

I conclude that it's no coincidence that both OS's contain the letter X. X-rated, expletive, exterminate exterminate exterminate.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Why me?

Apparently I have been asked to share/comment on this literary undertaking.

So there you have it. My first blog post. Don't expect Tolstoy.

And so it begins!

First up, I hate the word 'blog' - it's a nonsense word, and 'weblog' will do nicely.

More later!