How to: roll a perfectly round….

chapati, roti, paratha, tortilla, dumpling wrapper…

millions of recipes out there, but what most of them fail to do is explain how to get them round  ….I guess it’s because lots of recipe writers grew up in houses where they’re made all the time and they absorbed the process through osmosis 😉

Being a creature who takes awhile to work things out sometimes, I didn’t clock on to this little trick even after I’d spent hours watching dumplings being made in China and gone and bought myself a special little dumpling wrapper rolling pin ( I have a serious love affair with jiaozi going on) – they’re slightly tapered at one end – I just thought I needed more practice, but I was using it the wrong way round.

Anyway – the trick is, to lean slightly more heavily on one end of the rolling pin than the other, while turning the dough a little bit after every roll – I’m left handed so I turn mine counter clockwise….(continuing the clock analogy) you want turn the dough about 5 or 10 minute spaces towards you each time.


101 uses for Jaggery sugar

Jaggery, which comes in blocks or small round discs, is unrefined sugarpalm sap which has been boiled down and reduced. It gets made all over the Indian sub continent and throughout South East Asia. It is anything from golden to nut brown in colour.  I usually buy the golden kind from Thailand, which is like the tropical answer to maple syrup. It has a rich complex smell and flavour – buttery, malty – imagine a piece of butterscotch or a ‘Werther’s Original’ only much, much better…at least, the golden coloured one is. As you can tell, I’m a fan 😉
It is quite hard to cut, and would take ages to dissolve a whole mini cake, but it grates really easily. As well as using it for Asian cookery, it’s really useful for English style home baking.
Seeing as I still haven’t got my cooker piped in, it’s going to be ages until I’m baking again, but this is a quick list of its many uses for dairy free/vegan versions of butter recipes, substituting the sugar in the recipe and using a vegetable oil/hard fat.
The golden kind from Thailand:
With a vegetable solid fat, like Trex, for crumble etc.
With coconut oil for crispy flapjack.
With liquid oil for florentine bases and butter caramel popcorn.
Gently melted and then a plant based milk or cream added for a condensed milk looky likey.

Melted with a little water, it also makes a very acceptable substitute for the multi-layered flavours of honey.

Darker ones are great for darker style (Dundee, Christmas, Jamaican coconut drops, Parkin, Ginger Cake) cakes and sweets as they are more toffee-ish and less buttery.

really red tomato sauce

There seems to be 101 recipes for tomato sauce – I’m not talking Heinz/condiment, I’m talking cooked, plain or otherwise, to serve over pasta, polenta, potatoes, whatever…so, personally, I totally reject the idea of adding carrots, celery etc – the holy ‘soffrito’ or ‘mirepoix’ trinity of some european cooking….this, below, is either tomato, tomato and onion or possibly tomato, onion and red bell pepper (spanish sofrito) sauce- I add garlic to everything I can, but you, dear reader, may do as you please 😉
The secret of keeping your sauce really red is to fry the tomato puree/paste before you add tomatoes, tinned or fresh, or any water…you might like to think of this as ‘fixing’ the colour, like using a mordant when you’re dying things with natural based dyes.

for a chunky base you may wish to start with onions – if so, for 4 ppl, chop 2 onions quite finely and lightly fry in 2 tablespoonsworth of oil until they turn translucent..then add garlic and fry for 1 minute further…
for a finer base, start with the garlic, minced, gently cooked for 1 minute until fragrant but not yet golden..I recommend 2 cloves per person serving, but do as you will 😉
Then add an equal amount (to the oil you have used) of tomato puree. Stir until the oil becomes orangey red and the puree becomes a shade darker…then you can add your can/carton(s) of chopped tomatoes, or chopped fresh tomatoes – preferably de-seeded (and, if you’re using them, finely sliced or pre cooked red peppers). Cook for a further few minutes, quite a few minutes if the peppers were raw, n.b. it is better to add raw peppers along with or even before the garlic, at any rate before the tomatoes if you’re using canned/carton toms- wait until the (raw) tomatoes give up some juice and/or the peppers soften – then taste – you might need to add salt, and/or a teaspoon or so of sugar. At this point, you can stop, and in a separate pan and a little oil, start to add other ingredients…herbs, chilli, fennel seed, even polpette or bolognese ingredients, then add in your really red tomato sauce and water, little by little, if you want a thinner, less rich sauce.
Re: bolognese sauce..I have been to Genoa, and it’s true that their pesto alla genovese is amazing and the very best I’ve ever had in a commercial premises – but I’ve never been to Bologna – is their meat sauce really that good? All I know is they have a bad arse reputation for some of Italy’s most brilliant and outspoken feminist thinkers…so, shout out to the Bologna massive anyway.
Above all, don’t overcook your version of this sauce – frying of the puree only impedes, rather than stops it going that dreaded washed out orange :-0 goodness, I sound like such a snob.

Olives and olive oil – top tip

I love olives, especially the black slightly crinkly one with stones – they are the ripest (stoned black olives in brine are actually semi ripe, otherwise they couldn’t be pitted mechanically, and then dyed black – they do have their uses, but you have to know the name of a good brand, ‘cos they often taste like chipboard) – however, I don’t eat them every day, or even every week – and they end up drying out or getting a slightly winey fermented flavour – I’m sure this happens to lots of people.
On the other hand, who can afford the really expensive fruity olive oil that you keep just for salads (the too good to cook with kind) anymore?
So, next time you buy olives in a pack, take a clean jar with a lid, place olives inside and cover with ordinary olive oil – your olives will last for months and months and the olive oil will become fruity and olivey and taste considerably posher than it did straight from the bottle. My jar is about 10 months old and still as fresh as a daisy.

The cheapest and best olives in Whitechapel are sold in £1 bags from the Algerian stalls on Whitechapel market – otherwise try Turkish/Moroccan/Algerian shops where they’re sold loose or in packs – all good quality. The cheapest and actually award winning olive oil is in Lidls – Primadonna brand, £2.19 -£2.80 for 750ml, depending if they’ve got it on special offer, which seems to be quite often.