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My other cookbook indulgence

"Spices are the words that come together to create the language of food." Christine Manfield

When I indulged myself with some sort of 'Me time' a week or so ago, by cruising the bookshops at Doncaster, I bought this highly coloured cookbook from Christine Manfield.

I say sort of 'Me time' because David was also there, although he kindly wandered off for half an hour or so, so that I could be on my own.

Anyway, having checked out most of the books on that list I provided a while ago, I settled on Nigel Slater, and this one. (I may go back for more). I decided on this because many moons ago I had dined at one of Christine Manfield's establishments here in Melbourne, and enjoyed the experience very much. Also, when I flicked through the book in the shop it seemed to have some different recipes in it. So I thought it might broaden my Indian repertoire.

And I think it will, particularly if I branch out and become more vegetarian. The only review I could find was by John Lethlean who praised it to the skies for its originality, saying, "who wants another vindaloo recipe?" And I'm not at all sure why he said that because there is indeed a recipe for Pork vindaloo (shown here), and Roghan Josh too. Not to mention Butter chicken. I have written about Butter chicken before and came to the conclusion that it was one of those fusion dishes, and now is fundamentally British - well a British invention/variation on an Indian dish - Murgh makhani. And I think I did say that when I wrote that post. But Christine Manfield is, however vehement that this is an Indian dish:

"Invented in a Delhi restaurant owned by three Sikhs, the accidental flavour combination was born out of necessity to feed a busload of hungry Punjabi Hindu refugees during Partition. Traditionally made with marinated chicken cooked in a tandoor oven (chicken tikka) and served in a creamy tomato gravy, it's authentically Indian." Christine Manfield

Well there's another origin story, told with complete conviction. She doesn't mention the British one at all. Who knows. It's one of the things that makes cooking so interesting. She does imply that it's not a traditional dish though, but rather a modern invention. I might try it soon to see if it is better than the last version I tried, which was OK, but not brilliant.

No picture on this one though. And indeed, although it could be said that this is a lavishly illustrated book, only some of the recipes have pictures. Is that a bad thing? Maybe not. If you cook something from a cookbook you are not so disappointed if you have no beautifully styled and photographed picture to compare it with. Hence my intention to try the butter chicken.

The lack of pictures of finished dishes is compensated for, in part, by the masterclass that opens each section. Below are two of these. The first is the lead page for the lesson on how to make parathas - 32 pictures showing the steps to making those luscious breads you - well I anyway - indulge in when I visit Indian restaurants. The other is a recipe for Black pepper and cumin brown rice.

Still it is sometimes frustrating not to have a picture, as it is sometimes is difficult to picture the finished product from reading a recipe. However, this is just lazy and even unadventurous. In my youth I never felt the need for pictures. I was happy to read Elizabeth David's or Robert Carrier's recipes and have a go. And I was often more than happy with the results. If I saw the finished product, styled to an inch of its life, I might not have been so brave. In fact the fact that there are so many small pictures to help me make those parathas is marginally daunting. It looks complicated.

That's the thing with Indian cooking too isn't it? The long list of spices makes it all look harder than it is. Although I don't think I shall ever feel confident enough to experiment with Indian type spices. And here, although Christine Manfield is wanting to teach us she is also a little bit offputting:

"Spice blends are open to interpretation by the blender and blending is the essence of good cooking - it's akin to a sensual awakening ... It's a little like writing a brilliant musical score." Christine Manfield

Well equating mastering spices to writing a brilliant musical score puts it out of the realms of possibility for me really. Although again, I actually do try occasionally when I haven't got time to search for a recipe and I want Indian. The real quick and dirty option of course is to use a bottled curry paste, but I do sometimes have a go at mixing a whole lot of spices together. But not in any educated way. It's entirely random. Not like an Indian housewife would do. I still don't really know what goes with what, other than than cumin and coriander, and probably turmeric are almost always together. And more often than not you start out with onions, ginger and garlic.

But I am grateful to this book for providing a new group of recipes to try sometime soon. So let's have a look at a few. Sadly only one of them is online - Chettinad black pepper chicken fry, although this version is ever so slightly different as it came from her earlier book Tasting India, courtesy of SBS. The second picture is that version, the third is from the Wine Selector website and the third is from the book - which just goes to show that the same dish can look quite different on different days. If I try any of her dishes I'll have a go at a story-style post à la Nigel Slater and include the recipe.

Three more that looked interesting were Pappadams - these are the sort of thing you buy in the supermarket, but why not have a go yourself one day; Konkan Fish and Eggplant curry; and Saffron yoghurt baked quails - you could probably do that with chicken.

Although the book is very largely 'authentic' and Christine Manfield always tells you from which part of India the dish comes, there are a few on to which she has put her own stamp.

"This collection sometimes takes familiar flavours and techniques in a new direction, but still remains true to origin. It also includes recipes where I have interpreted flavours and given them a more Western appearance. In both cases, the intention is to broaden your palate, and your appreciation and understanding of India's extraordinary culinary tapestry, then and now." Christine Manfield

For example - her Indian take on steak and chips that she calls Minute steak with curry butter and Gunpowder potatoes; and for dessert Jalebi and pistachio cream.

The verdict? It's a lovely book and I'm glad I bought it. Marginally dull to read but the recipes are enticing and not too difficult. There is the occasional spice which might be hard to find, although she always seems to recommend Herbie's spices online for those. A few of the recipes are a bit trickier I think, but there are plenty that are pretty easy. I think I'll try the Black pepper chicken fry first and see how I go.


I should have said that 'Me too' does not necessarily have to be contemplative. Many would regard a bit of retail therapy unbothered by husbands and perhaps in the company of friends as ideal 'Me time'. Indeed anything in company with friends - lunch with friends. Maybe 'Me time' is simply a chance to get away from one's loved ones. Well maybe that's what the young mean. I know one would be absolutely bereft without them, but it's just nice to get away from them sometimes. So perhaps 'Me time' is simply escape into something that doesn't happen every day. So yes why not a balloon trip over the Yarra Valley - if you can afford it.


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