Friday, March 30, 2007

A double dish with chickpeas

This double dish is best simplified by using chicken stock made from a cube. However, for those of us who like to use a whole chicken by having a large one halved by the butcher and using half for roasting and the other half for curries, stews and stock, the stew part of this recipe would have had chicken meat added and the dish made with real chicken stock. I would not be without a pressure cooker for such preliminaries, although it is not necessary, but economical and less strain on your economy and the country’s resources. But forget all that. Let’s make it simple.

BEEF - CHICKPEA AND MEAT BALL STEW (plus a prawn dish)

You will need:
Dried chickpeas (canned will do)
Meatballs (see below)
Pepper and salt

Prawns and garlic for the following dish

Soak dried chickpeas overnight, or overnight and much of the day.
Make meatballs by mixing together minced beef, flour, beaten egg, breadcrumbs, pepper, salt and the seasoning of one dried herb, then forming this into balls and frying them for a while until brown all over. Keep handy. (You might make more than wanted for this dish, freezing some for spaghetti and meatballs at a later date.)
Cook the soaked chickpeas in chicken stock (to just cover) in the pressure cooker for 35 minutes, or for much longer in the ordinary way. Keep some of the cooked chickpeas aside for a dish on the following day, extracting them from the liquid and coating them in olive oil to prevent them from drying out. (Treat the canned chickpeas for the extra dish with oil in the same way.)
To the cooked chick peas add chopped onion (best fried first), chopped carrot and the meat balls. Add stock to form a thicker or thinner stew as desired. Cook this slowly for about half an hour.
Test for seasoning and serve, possibly garnishing it with chopped coriander or parsley.

For the following dish put the oil-coated chickpeas in a frying pan with more olive oil, pressed garlic, pepper, salt, and prawns. If these prawns have been frozen, first allow them to thaw out and discard the liquid that they will have given off.
Fry the contents of the pan until the prawns have been well heated through.
Test again for seasoning, possibly garnish with chopped coriander or parsley, and serve.
Note: The advantage of using dried chickpeas is that they are so cheap to buy and easy to store (buy from an Indian shop). But they must be soaked overnight or more. The longer that they have been stored in their dry state (like all dried bens), the longer they will need to be soaked.


Note: I have found that some frozen peas added shortly before the completion of my delicious and simple CHICKEN AND LEMON RICE recipe improves the look and probably taste.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Sloe Gin Competition 2007

In the early 1980s Mary Perry, the landlady of The Cricketers Arms, Tangley, north of Andover in Hampshire, held an annual sloe gin competition.
As a wine writer who lived close to the pub, I was asked to be the judge.
For a small country pub this winter contest was a huge success, with sometimes around 40 competitors squeezing into the only barroom, one that would normally hold far fewer, and even then at a squash.
The present owners, Edward and Verity, re-instituted the competition, and asked me to return and be the judge once more.
Since my days of living at Tangley the pub has been expanded in size. It has attracted a large number of clients, who can now eat there and/or stay in the well-appointed chalets at the rear.
Part of the fun of old was to try to catch me out in my judgement. Sometimes the same sample was presented in two separate containers. Occasionally another spirit had been used other than the permitted gin or vodka. Additives crept in to the vintage (almond essence being a popular one).
The containers (not judged) have always been part of the fun. Anything could be used, from scent bottles to enormous flagons. This continues to be the case, one 2007 example being offered in a minuscule, metal hip-flask.
With marks out of 20 given for smell, clarity, colour, taste and balance, the 2007 cup was to be presented by Mary, herself, who returned to her old pub for the occasion.
The outright winner, Bill Catt, and the runners-up, were all regulars at the pub, and much applauded for their success. The Colvin Cup had been won again for the 2007 competition after a dormant life of some 25 years.
Sadly, I was unable to submit a sample of my own sloe gin, as I would have loved to compare it with the others on offer.
My own theory for making this delicious winter tipple is to use a wide-necked, snap-down jar, add a little sugar (to be adjusted later to obtain the right balance) and then fill it to the top with freshly picked sloes. This is then topped up with the spirit, and the lid not snapped down until its possible light fermentation is over.
Then the jar is turned upside down every day until just before Christmas, when the sloe gin should be clear and ready to be decanted and drunk.
The sloe is the fruit of the blackthorn tree, and the sloes produced from an early springtime blaze of white flowers, is small, plum-like, hard and bitter. Unless the summer has been long and hot the fruit is almost inedible.
I believe that the natural bloom on the fruit is important for success, so the less handling of the sloes the better.
Some prick each sloe with a fork or pin. I believe that the stem-opening, made when the fruit is picked from the branch, is enough to allow internal juices to enhance the brew.
But my best tip for regulars and those about to embark on this excellent bucolic pastime is not to throw away the spent fruit at bottling time, but to retain the sloes in their jar and add gin to them in readiness for the following year’s vintage. Thus, the gin used each year will have already gained a little colour and taste before being used.
Although the very flexible rules suggest that only gin and vodka may be used for competition examples, one of the best I ever tasted had been made with brandy. This one was disqualified from the competition because it had not been made from a colourless spirit.
Bought sloe gin, although offered in competitions of the past, never obtained a high mark.
In a year when sloes are hard to find, bullaces and even damsons may be used to make a winter warming drink.
In this age of instant and artificial, long may natural, rustic events like the Sloe Gin Competition continue.