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"The Queen, in the 65th year of her age (as we were told), very majestic; her face oblong, fair but wrinkled; her eyes small, yet black and pleasant; her nose a little hooked, her lips narrow, and her teeth black (a defect the English seem subject to, from their too great use of sugar)."

A 16th century German traveller
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Saturday
Dec182010

Moussaka; an unexpected history

 

MOUSSAKA        A dish common to Turkey, Greece and the Balkans, made with slices of aubergine (eggplant) arranged in layers, alternating with minced (ground) mutton or lamb, onions, and sometimes tomatoes, often with the addition of a thick béchamel sauce. In some recipes, courgettes (zucchini), potatoes or spinach are used instead of aubergine. The dish is baked in the oven.

This definition from Larousse Gastronomique pretty much sums up my recipe for moussaka. If I were sensible, I would accept it as gospel and be done with it. It would certainly save me a lot of typing and you a lot of reading. But sensible I am not and having looked further into the history and origins of the dish I feel the need to share.

The definition refers to Turkey and the Balkans, but in fact the description which follows depicts the Greek preparation. According to Wikipedia, Turkish musakka is not layered, “Instead, it is prepared with sautéed aubergines, green peppers, tomatoes, onions, and minced meat” and eaten with cacik and pilaf. The Bulgarian and Macedonian versions are layered like the Greek, but contain pork and beef rather than lamb and potatoes rather than aubergine. Like most of the recipes in the rest of the Balkan states, they are topped with a savoury custard.

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Wednesday
Dec152010

The 12 pains of Christmas

Christmas shopping elicits all sorts of feelings and emotions; here are just a few that I have felt this past week:

Anticipation

Gaiety (fleeting)

Disappointment

Angst

Irritation

Frustration

Anger

Despair

Fatigue

Cold hands

Wet toes

Sore feet

In that order.

These are my excuses for being a little silent of late. 

More soon, I promise. 

Wednesday
Dec082010

Pam Corbin's Bramley lemon curd

How does it always end up getting so busy at this time of year? Two months ago I was starting to contemplate Christmas shopping and in an ideal world my next sentence would be: “A month later I decided to bite the bullet and get it done early this year”. No such luck. More important engagements have kept popping up and it has been sidelined, postponed, rescheduled and then put off again. As a result I have spent the past two nights on the high street in an effort to avoid the weekend crowds and am still going to have to spend at least two more nights there because, although I thought about the task a few months ago, I did not consider what I would actually buy.

I did have the foresight to save myself one trip though. Last weekend we had an early Christmas dinner with my Mums’s side of the family. There were quite a few people to buy for, some of whom I hadn’t seen in a long time, so rather than getting them all a generic present from the gift section at John Lewis, I decided to make something. I cannot draw, paint, knit or sew so that meant cooking.

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Friday
Dec032010

David disappoints

“Why haven’t you written a blog about the Thai restaurant I took you to yet?” the boyfriend asked me as we were driving home from a more satisfying dining experience last Sunday.

“Umm... because the photos didn’t come out very well.”

“But you took loads (not true, he just gets very embarrassed about it). You must have got a few good ones.”

“It was really dark in there and the flash makes the food look unappetising and colourless.”

“So a fairly accurate representation then.”

“What do you mean?”

“I just didn’t think it was that great, that’s all. I liked the trout salad and the relish thing you wrote about, but overall it was nothing special and, to be honest, I felt a bit ripped off at the end of it.”

And so it came about that I was able to admit the real reason why I had not written about our experience.

The restaurant in question was Nahm, David Thompson’s Michelin starred restaurant in Mayfair. I have long been a fan of Thompson’s book, Thai Food, and more recently, Thai Street Food, but had never been to one of his restaurants. I told myself afterwards that perhaps my expectations had been too high, but now I am not so sure.

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Monday
Nov292010

Leek and stilton tart

I have been on rather a long journey this evening to arrive at this post. Metaphorically speaking, I have visited Greece, Turkey, the Balkans and Thailand before arriving back in England to the comfort and ease of a leek and stilton tart.

I started out by writing about moussaka, but I got tied up in a longwinded history of the dish which I decided to leave for a day of the week when I am not feeling naturally depressed and lacking enthusiasm. A perfect day then to write about a disappointing restaurant experience; that is how I ended up in Thailand, but it did not bring the pleasure I sought and I thought it only fair that I re-read it in a more forgiving frame of mind.

So back to England for a simple dish which requires little or no explanation.  It is a well known staple of the Modern British gastropub or bistro. Served warm with some dressed leaves or green vegetables it makes for a substantial lunch, add some new potatoes and it is a hearty meal for a cold evening. 

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