I started this blog a month ago and I admit, I’ve let it go to my head. I’ve become starry eyed and delusional. In my head I’m a top chef, food writer and photographer. By some quirk of nature – like John Travolta in Phenomenon – despite all those years of failure, I have suddenly learnt to cook Asian like David Thompson, take photos like Lord Bailey and write with the wit of Oscar Wilde and the imagination of Roald Dhal. I am male Sophie Dahl (and as Englishly beautiful).
I was sure my blog would become an internet sensation. I’d give up my day job; be wined, dined and whisked away to weekly five star resorts and be a household name. The world was my oyster. Until yesterday. You see, last night’s attempt at an Indian feast brought me crashing down to earth. With a hefty bang. Crater sized.
I did it to myself.
Thinking I was something I’m not, I bit off a lot more than I could chew. It didn’t help that we’re trying to sell our flat and had our first viewings. And my daughter had her swimming lesson in the afternoon. So we were a tad busy. Because of this, I rushed a few things, forgot one or two other things and ended up with something not quite what I was hoping for. In fact, it was well short of what I was hoping for. This is what I intended to cook:
- Twice cooked beef masala
- Prawn and pea patia
- Carrot chutney
- Coriander and coconut relish
- Pullao rice
- Paratha bread
If you are eagle eyed, you’ll notice that there is no twice-cooked beef masala in the photo. There isn’t even once cooked beef masala. Why? Well, sweating like a racehorse and my missus asking me whether dinner would be finally served today or the next, I thumbed through the recipe and realised that I had to cook the beef twice (the clue is in the title I hear you say). After marinating for 20 minutes, you have to steam the beef for 45 minutes, and then cook as normal. At 7.30, with my wife looking rather forlorn and her glistening, sad looking doggy eyes staring at me as if to say ‘if I don’t eat now I don’t think I’ll make it’, I made to decision to forgo the beef masala.
The other contributing factor to my demise was the carrot chutney. I don’t know why I did it, because in Some like it hot I advise the world to buy chilli jam instead of making it. You have to make so much of it and it takes so long. Why oh why didn’t I listen to my own advice?
I can’t prioritise you see. Given it’s standing in the feast (it’s a chutney, not even an entrée, side dish or a main course, so bottom of the pecking order) I should have either left it until last or left it out completely. Instead I devoted most of the afternoon to it.
Why did it take so long? Peeling and dicing a kilo of carrots didn’t help (the carrots filled up a medium saucepan and after adding the rest of the ingredients, I had to change the pan because it was overflowing). And being the typical cook that becomes obsessed with new dishes, I stood over it every second of cooking time, and I didn’t do anything else. Yes, before you say it, I can’t multi-task either.
Then I decided to make Paratha bread. I hardly ever make flour based recipes because pastry and bread are two areas that I rarely get right. I put it down to hot hands (I’ve tried cold water, ice cubes, dry ice and even a stint in the freezer but nothing works).
Maybe I’d fallen for the romance of cooking Indian bread. Maybe it was because supermarket bought is so disappointing. So I gave it a go.
Paratha is sort of like naan, but you shallow fry it after you’ve kneaded it and folded it like puff pastry (I didn’t even heed the warning signs when the recipe mentioned folding like puff pastry). I used wholemeal flour, added warm water and ghee (I didn’t have any ghee so I attempted to make my own).
The recipe calls for an elastic dough. And this is where I started to become delusional. It was more plank than elastic; more chewing gum straight out of the pack than masticated; more brittle muscles than stretched and warmed up. But I convinced myself otherwise. When it came to it, I fried the plank, and served it. Looks great on the picture, but it needed two people to lift it to the table. You needed a hacksaw to get through it.
So with things going horribly wrong in every department, I made the prawn and pea patia. This went ok, as per the recipe. But I expected the final dish to be hot, sour and spicy. What I got was sweet, thick and, well, sweet. My wife, who has a very sweet tooth, commented that it was sweet. I think my three-year-old daughter would have liked it on a lollipop stick.
Even my reliable Pullao rice cocked up. You can’t really go wrong with frying a few spices and then adding rice and water, covering and leaving it for a few minutes with the lid on. I’ve done it a gazillion times. And the result has always been fluffy, tasty, and authentic. Not today. I got spicy rice pudding. No idea why. I just did.
So my friends, I humbly apologise if I’ve acted like a rock star front-man when I can’t even make the school quire. This weekend has been a very humbling experience. Something I’ll remember for a good while.
But you don’t become a skilled mariner by sailing quiet seas.