Archive for ‘food’

April 8, 2020

Banana curry

Listen up, banana-bread-baking schmucks! I have levelled up in the avoiding-eating-bananas-in-their-natural-state stakes: today I cooked a banana curry. I ate one nearly 20 years ago at an excellent vegetarian Indian restaurant in Tooting called Kastoori, which soon after shut down, leaving just faint taste-memories.

UNTIL TODAY. I have a kitchen again after nearly four years of not having one, and a lot of self-isolation time to use it. And bananas.

Apologies for the vague sloppy way in which it is written; recipe-writing is, as I know from this Allusionist episode, is bloody difficult, and I’m not qualified. Also I’m staying in an Airbnb, with only such ingredients and equipment as I could gather in a brisk pre-shutdown shopping trip, so if you happen to have more spices in stock than I have, by all means bung them in. The amounts below are approximate, and many of the ingredients are substitutable; if you aren’t stuck with bananas you are trying to dispose of, I think the sour tomato sauce would be nice with chickpeas in it, or other veg – fried chunks of aubergine, or maybe a cubed squash, although the times I want to eat squash are very few.

The recipe is vegan. Serves two plus leftovers, or four if you had a side dish with it.

EQUIPMENT: Two saucepans; 1 frying pan; bowl; cutting board; sharp knife; wooden spoon; fork; tongs.


onions: either one gigantic one, or three medium-sized (I used white onions, red would work)
ginger root: 5cm piece, finely grated
garlic cloves x2, grated or minced
tumeric – I grated 8cm of root, but you could use powdered
coriander seeds – 1/2 teaspoon approx
ground cumin, 1/4 teaspoon
smoked paprika, 1-2 teaspoons
garam masala, 1 teaspoon (tbh, I only found this in the cupboard pretty late in the process, and would have added more if I’d come across it earlier)
red wine vinegar, 20ml
1 can of plum tomatoes
tomato puree, around a tablespoon
veg you’re trying to use up before it rots – I diced two sticks of celery and half a bulb of fennel and lobbed those in. A diced or grated courgette could work. There’s got to be something courgettes are useful for. SURELY. One day I will discover whatever that is.

bananas x2, ideally on the underripe side
around 3 tablespoons of gram flour (plain wheat flour or other flours would probably work fine)
a handful of cashew nuts, roughly chopped and toasted in a dry frying pan (optional)
a handful of fresh coriander, if you have it. I didn’t, so strew the top with some micro rocket and broccoli shoots I’ve been growing, because all the Facebook ads for growing your own microgreens finally got to me.
flavourless oil – I used sunflower
rice (I cooked a mug and a half of basmati rice using the reduction method, but you do you)

There happens to be a curry plant in the Airbnb, so I chucked a couple of chopped sprigs of that into the sauce at the start. And a pinch of caraway seeds, because I like them. I served it with some pickled fennel I made the other day that was looking like it might be putrescent by tomorrow, so it’s non-compulsory but if you have something zingy and crunchy lying around, it might be a nice accompaniment. (Not if it’s a zingy and crunchy lemon Calippo, ffs be sensible.)


1. Get the largest, heaviest-bottomed saucepan in your Airbnb, and put it on a medium heat with a spoonful of oil in it. Roughly dice two of the onions (or two thirds of one gigantic onion), and add them to the pan, stirring regularly. Add the garam masala, paprika, cumin, coriander seeds, grated garlic, ginger, tumeric, and a large pinch of salt (I used smoked flakes of salt); stir till the onion is covered in the spices, then keep stirring regularly until the onion is translucent. You’re not trying to brown it, just soften it.

2. Add the diced vegetables that you’re trying to use up before they turn to black slime in the bottom of the fridge. They’re really there to make up the numbers, rather than adding a great deal of interest in their own right. Stir till they’re softening too.

3. Mix in the tinned tomatoes, breaking them up with a spoon. Half fill the tomato can with water, swill it to move the dregs of tomato out, and chuck that into the pan. Add the tomato puree and vinegar, and stir in well.

4. Put the lid on the pan and leave it on the lowest heat to simmer very gently for at least an hour. Give it a stir every time you go into the kitchen to make a cup of tea, which is every 15 minutes if you’re me. Taste it, add more salt if your mouth says it needs it.

The sauce can then sit in the pan for several hours, until about 20 minutes before you want to eat. Then:

5. Turn the heat back on under the pan with the sauce, to heat it gently. Put the rice on to cook. Toast the cashews in a dry frying pan, then remove to a nearby plate; then heat a spoonful of oil in the frying pan; finely slice your remaining onion; fry it until brown and crispy, then remove to hang out with the cashews. Heat about 1cm of oil in the frying pan. Put a plate nearby with two sheets of paper towel on it.

6. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour with about the same quantity of water, vigorously stirring and adding more water until you’ve got a smooth runny batter the consistency of emulsion paint. Drop a droplet of batter into the oil; when it starts to brown quickly, the oil is ready for business.

7. Peel the bananas and slice into 2cm chunks. Drop the chunks into the batter and coat thoroughly. Fish them out with a fork and carefully deposit them into the hot oil frying pan so you don’t receive a hot oil splatter injury. Cook them in batches a couple of cm apart so your pan isn’t overcrowded; turn the pieces so that the batter on each side becomes brown. When the chunks are browned on all sides, remove them with tongs and place on the paper towel to drain, then put them into the sauce. Once you’ve cooked all the banana bits, drop teaspoonfuls of any remaining batter into the oil, flip them till they are brown on both sides, then send them off to drain on the paper towel. Add them to the curry pan just before serving.

8. Rice ready? Great! Time to dish up. Exquisitely dump rice and curry onto a plate, then top with the crispy onions, cashews, and coriander/microgreens/any peppery leaves if you have some around doing nothing. It might benefit from salt, pepper and a squeeze of lime; I don’t know your mouth.

9. Chase with a dessert of banana bread. Contemplate never buying bananas again.

All the food I cook is ugly, but here’s a picture. That’s the fennel off to the left. The yellow spongy-looking things to the right are the leftover blobs of batter.

February 22, 2013

tomato time

Sorry to boast, but something delicious just happened in my oven.


Albeit not something particularly photogenic.


• Tomatoes that are a bit squidgy and past their best – I had around 8-10.
• Garlic, finely chopped – I used three cloves, because I love garlic.
• Capers, the little ones – a dessertspoonful.
• Black olives, stoned and halved, around 15 – I favour the dry, wrinkly ones you can get from Mediterranean or Middle Eastern groceries.
• Olive oil – you know, olive oil.
(• If you want to go for the full puttanesca flavour, you could add anchovies and chilli as well.)
• Vinegar – I used a splash each of balsamic and red wine vinegars, but one kind will suffice.


If you can be bothered:
• In a frying pan which can go into your oven without melting, gently fry the garlic in a dessertspoonful of olive oil. While that’s happening, thinly slice the tomatoes.
• Scoop the garlic out of the pan onto a plate. Then layer the tomatoes, capers and olives in the pan, sprinkling each stratum with garlic. Make sure the top layer is totally tomato so the olives and capers don’t get burnt.
• Splash the vinegar over the top and keep the pan over a medium heat until the tomatoes are collapsing a little and liquid is bubbling around them.
• Drizzle (ugh what a horrible term) olive oil over the top, then put the pan in the oven and bake until the tomatoes are withered and dense. In my case, this took around 30 minutes at 200c, then I turned the oven off and left the tomatoes in there while it went cold.

If you can’t be bothered:
• Get an oven dish and layer all the ingredients in it. Oil and vinegar over the top, then bake for a few minutes longer than as above.

Now what do I do with it?
Smear it on bread.
Plonk a piece of grilled mackerel on top.
Cover the top in pastry, bake till golden, then turn out like a tarte Tatin.
Liquidise it and use as a sauce on pasta or pizza.
Pour some beaten eggs over it then bake till they’ve solidified.
Use it as the filling for stromboli.
Use it as the filling for a Victoria Sponge if you want to ruin the WI tea party.

If you think of any other ingenius uses for this foodstuff, let me know in the comments.

December 11, 2012



Four vol-au-vents,
Three duck spring rolls,
Two for one Pringles,
And a Tex-Mex snack banquet!

Or so the TV ad breaks tell me I ought to be serving people, because Christmas is coming so suddenly their stomachs don’t care what lands in them.

I don’t know about you, but I like most people too much to feed them an oven-ready variety pack of items that look like deep-fried used tissues. Instead, for a simple but highly effective substitute that takes only a few minutes to prepare, may I recommend stromboli.

I made it the other night and my friends went absolutely apeshit for it, even though it is essentially a classy version of a McCain’s Pizza Roller.

Stromboli sounds Italianate, but my Italian friend Rachele says it was invented by Americans. She doesn’t know why they named it after the volcanic island Stromboli, so I venture a guess that it’s because stromboli erupts with volcanically hot cheese if you’re not careful.

Here’s the recipe, which should make one a bit bigger than a Pringles tube or about the size of Santa’s calf.


For the dough:
225g strong white bread flour
7g quick yeast
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
1tbsp dried herbs – I usually use some combination of thyme, rosemary and/or oregano
filling – see below

To make the dough:
• In a large bowl, mix together the flour, yeast, salt and herbs. Make a well in the centre and pour in 150ml (1/4 pint) warm water and 1tbsp olive oil. Stir together.
• Tip out onto a floured surface and knead for five minutes until smooth.
• Return to the bowl, cover with a tea towel, then leave it in a warm place to rise for a couple of hours or longer until such time as you need it. You don’t have to knead it a second time, but if you pass by, punch it down in the bowl.

While it’s rising, decide a filling. You could try:
• one torn mozzarella ball, five or six slices of ham and a couple of cubic inches of grated gruyere or cheddar
• a mozzarella ball, 500g chopped fried mushrooms, torn sage
• a paste of slow-roasted tomatoes with garlic, capers and black olives (one of my favourite flavour combos AND vegan-friendly!)
• roast onions, gorgonzola, pine nuts
• or any combination of ingredients that would be at home on top of a proper pizza ie NOT PINEAPPLE YOU MONSTER.

To assemble:
• Heat the oven to 200c.
• Use the heels of your hands to gently stretch the dough out into a square about 1/4 inch thick. Use a rolling pin if you need, and if holes appear, pinch them together.
• Distribute the filling evenly over the square, leaving about an inch margin on all sides.
• Roll up into a bolster shape. Pinch the edge shut and place on a baking tray. Brush with beaten egg if you want it to be shiny. Mine remained matt, which ruined nothing.
• Bake for 40 minutes or so until puffed-up and brown.
• Leave to cool for a few minutes then slice and serve. The slices will look like spirals. Sorry, I forgot to take a photo as proof.
• Enjoy the the fact that everybody thinks you put in far more effort than you did.

Incidentally, you can use the same dough recipe for pizza or focaccia:

For pizza, just leave it to rise for as long as possible – you could make it in the morning then use it in the evening – so when you come to cook it the crust will be very snappy.

For focaccia, leave to rise for 45mins-1 hour, then shape it into a roundish square or squarish round 1 inch thick on a baking tray and leave to rise for another 30ish minutes. Just before baking at 200c, poke it with your finger all over the top and drizzle olive oil into the holes, sprinkle with more herbs and salt flakes, and bake for around 30 minutes.
You could also add chopped olives, onion, capers, roast garlic etc during the poking stage.

August 15, 2012

Wedding cake

Last weekend I made something I’d never attempted before. I turned this lot…

…into this!

That’s a wedding cake, in case you weren’t sure. Five tiers of chocolate sponge, dark chocolate ganache within, vanilla buttercream and raspberries without, as commissioned by my friend Clare. Clare is one of the only people for whom I would spend two days slowly mashing a cubic foot of butter into a sackful of sugar with a wooden spoon. I now realise that this laborious process is symbolic of marriage: the bride and groom, hitherto separate elements, are mashed together by the wooden spoon that is vows into delicious unity.

Over the course of the evening, the raspberries’ juice ran and made the cake look like it had stigmata. But at least it didn’t collapse, which was my main worry. I used lightweight cake boards in between layers, with straws for extra support. And there is a mug in the middle of the bottom tier. Luckily nobody accidentally ate the mug.

The groom is not a cake fan, so Clare bought him his own cake made out of something he prefers…


Isn’t it beautiful, like an eggy fractal? The big egg is an ostrich egg, and the small ones quail eggs with various different types of sausagemeat, eg black pudding, chorizo. Alas hard-boiled eggs are one of my never-foods, so I didn’t actually sample the w-egging cake; but it was certainly a treat for the eye. The nose too, if you are a person who finds sulphur romantic.

June 24, 2012

roast rhubarb and strawberry cake

“Why are you showing us a photo of a bowlful of square turd with blood clots, Helen?”

To which I say: shut the hell up! The above foodstuff might not be photogenic, but it certainly was stomach-genic; and as rhubarb and strawberries are both currently in season, it is expedient to make use of them. Together, they are an unlikely fruit powerhouse. A rhubarb and strawberry pavlova is a marvellous pudding, but if you can’t face the double armstrain of whipping egg whites then cream, I recommend this cake. Forgive me for providing such a slapdash recipe, but I’m confident that you are sufficiently independent to cope.

Roast rhubarb and strawberry cake

Serves 6 at least

• Oven on, 180c.
• Cut up a bunch of rhubarb (sorry, I didn’t weigh it beforehand – five sticks so approximately 400g I think?) into chunks. It’s very likely to disintegrate during cooking, so don’t waste your time obsessively cutting it into perfect neat cuboids.
• Spread the rhubarb out in a non-reactive oven dish; glass or pyrex is good. Sprinkle with soft brown sugar (about two tablespoons) or honey if you prefer. Grate a bit of nutmeg over it if you can be bothered. Then add some liquid: a glass of white or rosé wine is good. I also used a glassful of elderflower cordial, which I made a couple of years ago and it has been sitting in the fridge ever since, looking like a urine sample.
• Put the rhubarb in the oven, and while it is cooking, hull a punnet of strawberries (300-400g) and halve any gigantic ones.
• After 20 minutes, see how the rhubarb is getting on. It should be soft and starting to collapse, and more importantly, not burning. Taste the syrup, then add more sugar if it’s very sour, and another glass of liquid if there’s barely a suggestion of syrup in the dish. Chuck in the strawberries, then return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes, or until such time as the strawberries have lost a little of their pert rawness and are looking more like an illustration from Brambly Hedge.

I used a Prue Leith recipe for rich almond cake, which I think is available in this book. Next time I’ll experiment with other recipes, as I thought this one was a shade too eggy and sweet, but nonetheless it was perfectly tasty (“Of course it bloody was!” shouts the redoubtable Prue). If you have your own trusty recipe for ground almond cake, by all means do deploy it. Nut-avoiders could make a polenta cake instead.

Prue Leith’s rich almond cake, AKA Pain de Gênes:
• Oven remains at 180c. Grease and line an 8-inch cake tin.
• Melt 85g butter, and while it is melting:
• Sift together 55g plain flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder and a good pinch of salt. Stir in 110g ground almonds.
• Whisk together 140g caster sugar and 3 eggs.
• Fold the flour and almond mixture into the eggy sugar mixture, then fold in the melted butter ‘with the minimum of stirring’ (disobey Prue at your peril!).
• Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake for 30-35 minutes, until the top is brown and springs back when you press it lightly with your finger.
• Cool in the tin for five minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack.

• Put the cooled cake on a plate, then stab it all over with a fork. This is to help it become as saturated as possible with the fruit syrup.
• Spoon the rhubarb and strawberry mixture over the cake, feeding the sponge with as much syrup as possible before piling on the fruit.
• Serve with cream, if you’re into cream.
• The cake should keep well in the fridge for four days or so. In fact you may even prefer it after it has had a day or two of soggification time. Don’t be alarmed if you have more of the fruit mixture than the cake can handle; consume it later with Greek yoghurt or vanilla ice cream, or mix with sparkling wine to make a lumpy summer cocktail, or use it in a trifle or Bakewell tart. It’s a fine problem to have.

November 20, 2011

croc & choc

It was my brother Rick’s birthday yesterday, and once again I found myself in the same impoverished state that produced my other brother’s birthday present last month.

Unlike Andy, and everyone else in the family, Rick is a clutter-hating utilitarian, so I had to make him a gift that was functional. However, Rick is a highly competent adult, and thus has already equipped himself with all the functional objects he might need. Hence he is utterly infernal to find presents for, but he’s a very good egg which means I still want to give him birthday presents.

The problem: what to give the man who has everything he wants/needs, throws out anything he doesn’t, and who, incidentally, lives in a chilly house?

The solution:


Materials: green fabric from my sister-in-law’s late mother’s huge stash of upholstery textiles (the leaf print looked suitably suggestive of scales); scrap of red needlecord for the mouth; white felt teeth; stuffed with rags and half a disembowelled cushion. I sewed pintucks along the back, for the crocodile’s armoured ridges.

Grrrr, terrifying. Of course, my little niecephews immediately grabbed it and started thwacking each other.

Now my mum wants a draught-excluder for Christmas. What sort of beast should I make for her?

Here’s the other birthday thing I made for my brother:


Interior: chocolate sponge, coffee buttercream. Exterior: Toblerone frosting.

October 6, 2011

What to do with a Mars bar if you don’t like Mars bars

Curiosity led me spend £1 on a pack of the new ‘limited edition’ triple-choc Mars bars, which turned out to be rather underwhelming. So I was stuck with several unwanted Mars bars cluttering up the place. What to do?

Make cookies, of course!

cookies! Of course!

I used a modified recipe from an old Good Housekeeping cookbook (not THIS one, thankfully), which can be used to make very fine chocolate chip cookies on a day when you don’t have Mars bars to contend with.

75g/3oz butter
75g/3oz granulated or caster sugar
75g/3oz soft light brown sugar (I thought I didn’t have any, so used normal brown sugar. Nobody died. Of course I found the correct sugar about 5 minutes too late.)
a few drops of vanilla essence
1 egg, beaten
175g/6oz self-raising flour (I like to substitute a few grams of flour for cocoa powder, for extra chocolatiness)
pinch of salt
3 unwanted Mars bars, chopped into small pieces (or use 100g/4oz chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chips)
optional: 50g/2oz chopped nuts (hazelnuts, walnuts or pecans would be nice, but I only had Brazil nuts which worked fine)

Makes 25 smallish cookies.

yes, I know it looks like squirrel turds NOW, but wait!

Preheat the oven to 180C (slightly less if it’s a fan oven that isn’t shit, like mine).
In a big bowl, cream the butter and sugars together until well-mixed, then beat in the egg and vanilla.
If you want to be teacher’s pet, sift the flour, salt and cocoa powder before mixing into the creamed mixture. Or just go right ahead and mix them in, and hope that there aren’t any pebbles in your flour.
Add the chopped Mars bar/chocolate and optional nuts. Stir in well.
Drop spoonfuls of the mixture onto lined baking sheets, and keep them well spaced.
Bake for 10-12 minutes.
Leave them on the baking sheets for a minute after you take them out of the oven; then when they’re firm enough to move without falling apart, transfer to a wire cooling rack.


...still looking quite a lot like squirrel turds, if I'm honest.

Despite appearances, they taste great. Unlike squirrel turds, I assume. I’ve never tried eating those, but I’m sure that if they were delicious, we’d have heard about it by now.