Birthday Dinner Woes

Yesterday was my husband’s birthday, so at his request I cooked him a special birthday dinner. I’d say that overall it was a learning experience.

The dinner itself was one of his favourites: chicken thighs marinaded in Pataks Tandoori Curry Paste and coconut milk, cooked on the smoker grill (which is finally fixed). Despite appearances, it wasn’t actually burned, although it was definitely overcooked. Now that it’s running properly, the grill heats up better and faster than before, and I failed to take that into account. As sides I toasted some garlic naan bread on the barbecue, and we also had steamed butternut squash with butter and salt. I know I’ve prepared this meal better in the past, but it was still tasty.

The difficult part — and the greatest learning experience — of my husband’s birthday dinner was actually the dessert: a frozen lemon torte. We’d had this dish at a barbecue hosted by my husband’s boss a couple of months ago, and we both really liked it. Sadly, I could only have a mouthful, as it was filled with whipping cream. As we were leaving the party I requested the recipe from my husband’s boss’ wife, and she made sure to send along a copy a few days later. Sadly, I have no idea what recipe book it comes from, since she just sent me a photocopy of the one page.

The challenge for me was making this dish without the use of cow’s milk. I was sure that I should be able to make it with coconut milk instead; internet research indicated that it is possible to make an imitation whipped cream from coconut milk. Strike 1 against me was that the milk hadn’t separated after I’d placed the can in the fridge overnight; most instructions for whipping the cream call for using only the solids from the can. I’m not sure if it’s a canning/processing technique or an added ingredient, but my coconut milk didn’t separate. Further Googling told me that I could probably make whipped cream even with non-separated coconut milk, but I would have to whip it longer (15+ minutes), use a thickening additive, and it would still only form soft peaks. Well, mine didn’t even get that thick. I whipped it with a hand mixer for almost half an hour and just got slightly fluffier milk. By this time it was almost two in the morning and I was exhausted, so I combined all of my ingredients, threw the pan in the freezer, and hoped for the best.

I was really worried about removing the springform pan after dinner, which is why I took photos in advance just in case it all fell apart without support. It wasn’t quite that bad, but it did get mushy really quickly. I’d say that the lemon layer, which was supposed to have a mousse-like texture, was a lot more like ice cream. I mean, that wasn’t bad overall, but it wasn’t what I was hoping for. Also, the lady finger bottom crust, which should have been held down by the mousse, actually floated to the top of the too-liquid lemon mix, and then froze that way. After adding the meringue on top, the cookies ended up being more of a central layer than a crust.

In the end, the torte ended up being more of an ice cream cake with a meringue topping — but at least I could eat it! I really want to have a go at this recipe again, with less of a time limit and more than one brand of coconut milk to try whipping. Actually, I noticed on a grocery store trip today that there is a brand that sells full-fat coconut cream, so that may be the next thing I try. If I ever get the non-dairy version working to my satisfaction, I will post the recipe, I promise!

Victorian Curry

I really enjoy trying recipes that are not only new to me, but ones that are actually quite old. My collection of vintage cookbooks is slowly growing, one thrift store, garage sale, and used book sale at a time. But that’s not the only place that historic recipes can be found. YouTube is a great resource, and I love to have it playing in the background while I’m cooking, giving me ideas for my next meal. That’s how I came across the English Heritage channel, and How to Make Curry — The Victorian Way.

If you visit the actual video on YouTube, the written recipe can be found in the video description.

Now, of course this is English curry from the 1800’s, not authentic Indian dish at all. The ingredients are ones that were possibly to obtain locally or ones that were fairly easy to import; this was generally a dish served to the burgeoning middle class at the time, and the most expensive imports just didn’t make it that far down the social ladder. However, an English soldier or merchant who’d had a chance to try authentic Indian food — and liked it — would probably like something like this dish when they returned home.

I tried making Victorian-style curry for dinner last night, and I’m happy to say that it went pretty well. The recipe breaks down the components of their curry powder, but not the quantities of each spice, so I had to make an educated guess. I put in:

7g turmeric
5g ground ginger
3g white pepper
3g ground cardamom
5g ground coriander
2g cayenne pepper

This ended up being a pretty hot curry, at least to my kids’ tastes (my husband and I actually enjoyed the burn). I think next time I make it I might halve the amount of cayenne pepper, or even quarter it — which may lead to some difficulties in measurement because my scale isn’t sensitive enough to read weight under a gram. Perhaps I need another, more precise scale?

I was pleasantly surprised by the combination of ingredients in this recipe. As the video suggests, I included two chopped shallots and three diced cloves of garlic, since unlike Lord and Lady Braybrooke, I like both. I thought that the five (five!) onions would make it taste too much of onions, but it really didn’t. I couldn’t taste the cucumber at all, though I suspect that it played a part in thickening the sauce (and adding vegetables to a recipe rarely makes it less healthy). The apple was a nice, sweet touch. I did appreciate that this dish is dairy-free without having to make any changes. I’ve found that many curries, at least the ones made in North America and Europe, use cream or coconut milk to thicken the sauce. I have no idea whatsoever if this is also true of authentic Indian dishes, but I’ve never claimed to be an expert on such things. Not having to alter the dish in this respect was a nice change.

I’m hoping to make up some mince pies and gingerbread the Victorian way for the upcoming holiday season. I also have yet to try anything from my English 18th Century Cookery book, so that’s up there on my list. I’m also looking forward to trying a few of the recipes from my recently-acquired The Tudor Kitchens Cookery Book: Hampton Court Palace book, which I found at a local thrift store. This book has both original and modern interpretations of recipes originally from 1485 to 1603, so it should be a little bit easier to follow than those from 18th Century.

Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala

Yesterday ended up being hot and humid, so I wanted to make a dinner that didn’t require heating up the kitchen all that much. Community Table’s recipe for Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala had come across my feed recently, so I thought I’d give it a try. How does cooking something for eight hours not heat up my house? Well, I put the slow cooker out on a table in the garage.


I wish I owned the pretty dishes that they use to serve it in the video.

I had high hopes for this recipe, because a) true to my heritage, I like making easy food where you just put everything in a pot and we boil it for seventeen and a half hours straight, as Denis Leary put it; and b) this dish smelled absolutely fabulous while it was cooking. My garage has never smelled better, to be honest, and sometimes I use my bread maker in there. But when I actually took a bit, the flavour just didn’t live up to the hype. It was just… Bland. There was no depth.

Now, I’m no expert when it comes to Indian cuisine, but if I ever try this recipe again I would change a few things. Instead of just throwing everything in the pot raw, I would first toast the spices, then brown the onions and the garlic in a bit of olive oil, and then brown the chicken. This would pre-cook some of the ingredients, so it probably wouldn’t be necessary to have it in the slow cooker for as long, maybe 4 hours. Instead of chicken breasts, which have a tendency to be dry (even in sauce), I’d use chicken thighs. I’d use fresh tomatoes run through a blender instead of canned tomato sauce for a fresher taste. I’d add a few more veggies chopped up bite-sized; sweet peppers and mushrooms go well in this kind of dish (cooked first on the stove as well in bit of olive oil), but I could probably throw in anything on hand. It’s not like I’m going for authenticity here.

If nothing else, this recipe is in desperate need of salt, which enhances flavour. I added salt after I served the dish and it really did help, but I think it would be so much better if it was done during the cooking process. However, I’m not sure exactly how much salt is required for the whole potful (which feeds my family twice over, by the way). Salting to taste unsafe to do when the chicken is raw, so I’d really have no choice but to pre-cook the chicken anyway, and if I’m doing that I might as well make use of all of the previously mentioned techniques as well.

Indian Coconut Curry

Last night I decided to make coconut curry again, but with a more Indian flavour. The one that I made previously was more of a Thai dish (although certainly not an authentic one), mostly because I used Blue Dragon Thai Red Curry Paste. This time I used Pataks Mild Curry Paste; the company specializes in flavours originating in India.

As is probably evident from the picture, I made a few more changes, based mostly on what was in my fridge and pantry. I replaced the carrots with mushrooms, I switched the shrimp for chopped chicken breast, and I served the dish over rice instead of with noodles. Also notably, I ran out of time to roast the vegetables in the oven (which takes about an hour), so I cooked them up in a frying pan on the stove with the chicken once it was sealed. I also needed to boil down the sauce a bit once I added the curry paste and the light coconut milk because the veggies were more steamed than anything else and hence added a lot of moisture.

So I made a tonne of changes, but the dish still turned out successfully. This all goes to show how much you can mess with this recipe and still have great results! My kids ate all the food on their plates and then came back for seconds, which is how I rate dinner success in our house. Also, they ate all of their veggies without complaining, which is a huge win. Thank you, Brothers Green Eats, for introducing me to this dish!