I want to start this post by sharing with you 2 things that are making me happy:
- It’s 5:40am and it’s light outside. Hooray! And I’m not talking that first grey light of dawn, but full on and even somewhat sunny daytime lightness. What a difference from the dark, cold deepest winter mornings. Ok, it’s still not warm and I’m currently wearing 3 layers, but it’s light!
- I survived last week and the weekend
On my second point about surviving, you may be thinking that you also survived the last week and the weekend, as did the vast vast majority of people on this planet. I will clarify my point a little – I survived the busiest week and weekend of my working life in living memory. And I have a good memory! I survived on less sleep than I ever imagined I could. Between 8am Saturday and 8pm Sunday I worked 30 hours and slept for approximately 4. By Sunday night pretty much every bone and muscle in my body ached. I am SO not 20 any more. Or 30… or even 40. Oh my. But I got through it, had happy clients, and it feels GREAT.
In this blog I’m aiming not to talk in too much detail about my work, except of course for the food part of it. So let me tell you a little about what we cooked and served over the weekend. We catered a wedding and 2 all day events – I did the wedding on Saturday and the all day thing on Sunday, the man did the all day Saturday event. We were lucky enough that his parents happened to be visiting over the weekend so the boy and the girl got thoroughly spoiled by grandma and grandpa and barely noticed our absence on Saturday. You’ve got to love when things line up like that.
Preparing for large functions or busy periods becomes as much of a planning and project management exercise as it is a cooking thing. Shopping lists miles long, day by day planners, stacks of recipes, packing lists… we had it all. I felt like I was running a military operation and in a strange way I quite like the planning and organising bit. It must be the ex-project manager in me. But I also love the creating and the cooking bit – taking or developing a recipe, testing it, perfecting it (as much as one can perfect a recipe), then scaling it up up up to feed 30 or 50 or 100 or more. There’s also the nervous anticipation as we lay out the food and surreptitiously watch the people eat and hope to see either smiles or reaching for second helpings (or both).
The wedding was a lovely, casual, “family style” affair where each table was given bowls, platters and baskets of food to share. I love the family style concept. From a catering perspective it can be a bit of a logistical challenge, and you need A LOT of bowls and platters, but I think it’s just such a nice way to celebrate an occasion such as a wedding. People sit around a table and pass food around, and talk to each other. It’s all about being convivial and sharing a meal – a nice concept, don’t you think?
Anyway, the food. Developing the menu was good fun as the groom likes his meat, the bride is vegetarian, and they both love curry. So we came up with the following menu:
- Slow roasted shoulder of pork with applesauce (the pork was coated with a paste of lots of garlic, olive oil, and the spice rub http://www.5amfoodie.com/2010/04/on-the-savoury-spice-rub/)
- Aubergine (eggplant), chick pea and tomato curry
- Couscous with dried apricots, sultanas and toasted almonds
- Potato salad with coriander (cilantro) pesto
- Mixed leaf salad with a lemon vinaigrette
- Mixed breads & flatbreads
Eclectic, definitely. But there was something in it for everybody. Curry & couscous – why not? The flavours worked well together and the couscous served the all important purpose of soaking up some of the curry sauce. With the bride being vegetarian the curry had to be a nice one. Vegetarian curry – that presents a lot of options. After all, a large percentage of India is vegetarian and they’ve got veggie cuisine well figured out. One day I want to spend an extended period of time eating my way through southern India. And then there are curries from Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and other parts of Southeast Asia that could easily be adapted… you get the picture. Anyway, I suggested an aubergine, chick pea and tomato curry because there’s nothing too “strange” in it that might turn off fussier eaters, and I’ve made variations of this before and they were good! I’d also seen a recipe for aubergine and tomato curry in Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey that looked worth trying and adapting.
As far as curries go, this one is quite simple. The spices/aromatics needed are garlic, ginger, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, turmeric, black pepper, and salt. Some chopped coriander and mint is thrown in at the end. I like to use the long thin aubergines because they tend to be tenderer, and I think they have a better flavour than the larger, traditionally shaped ones. I adapted the recipe in the book to include chick peas (hence the “chick pea” in the title!), some coconut milk to smooth it all out, and I used very little chilli because the black pepper helps to give it a bit of a kick. The finished product is smooth and flavourful and the texture of the chick peas is a good contrast to the softness of the aubergines. I just like it!
As with most new recipes, I tried it out on the family before taking it to the general public. So what did my most discerning of audiences think? The results were predictable. The man and I wolfed it down. The boy quite liked it as it was vegetarian and a bit spicy and the girl basically wouldn’t touch the aubergines but was ok with the chick peas as long as most of the sauce was scraped off. By me. Family mealtimes can be such fun!
I seem to have digressed all over the place today, and now I really have to get some work done! Next time I’ll tell you about some of the other food we did over the weekend (Italian-ish and Middle Eastern), and I’ve got some proper photos of that. In the meantime, the recipe for the curry is below.
Aubergine (Eggplant), Chick Pea & Tomato Curry
Adapted from Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey
- 700 grams/1.5 lbs aubergines/eggplants, preferably Asian “finger”aubergines
- 150ml vegetable oil
- 40 grams ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
- 40 grams garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 green chillies, finely chopped (suggest you start with 1)
- 2 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds
- ½ tsp turmeric powder
- 400g chopped tomatoes, fresh or tinned
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- 500g chick peas (drained weight) – either 2 tins, drained or 500g cooked chick peas
- 200ml coconut milk
- 1 tbsp each chopped fresh coriander and mint
Trim the aubergines, cut in half, then cut each half into about 4 pieces. If using the larger, Mediterranean style ones then cut each one across into 4 slices, the each slice lengthwise into about 4 more pieces. Toss the aubergine with about ½ tsp of salt and leave to drain in a colander for about 30 minutes.
Heat a large, preferably non-stick frying pan over high heat. Toss the aubergine pieces with the oil, and put them into the frying pan (in one layer) and cook until nice and brown. Tossing them with oil then cooking them this way helps prevent them from absorbing too much oil. Set the cooked pieces aside in a clean bowl and repeat with the remaining aubergines.
Grind the fennel seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds and black pepper (or peppercorns) as finely as you can.
Put the ginger, garlic and chilli into a mini food processor with 3 tablespoons of water and grind to a smooth paste.
Put 2 tablespoons of the remaining oil into the frying pan and add the dry spices. Leave to sizzle until fragrant then add the ginger/garlic/chilli paste and leave to fry for 2-3 minutes. Add the turmeric, then the tomatoes, 3 tablespoons water and ½ tsp salt. When it bubbles, add the chick peas. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, until reduced and thickened slightly.
Put the fried aubergine slices into the curry sauce and stir well to coat. Simmer until the aubergines are just soft then add the coconut milk. Simmer for 5 more minutes. Stir in the fresh coriander and mint and serve.