Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Her First Mothers' Day

Last weekend was our first experience of a commercialized holiday as parents, as Sunday was Mothers' Day in Switzerland. Thinking that, at 2 1/2 weeks old, Lydia might be a bit too young to buy some treats and pamper her mum, her dad stepped up to the plate.

What did I do?

Well, I spent most of Saturday evening and Sunday morning preparing an Indian feast. We had invited Christelle's sister (Caroline) and her fiancé (Pascal) around for the meal, and they had been piling the pressure on my shoulders in the build up to Sunday by saying how much they were looking forward to it. As someone who doesn't really know much about cooking indian food, it seemed to be an enormous challenge.

I scoured the Internet for recipes, printed off a few that I liked, and went out to the supermarket to get everything I needed. My plan was to do a proper three course meal, consisting of starters, a main course and a dessert. Deeming this to be somewhat overambitious, given my limited skills in the kitchen, Chris thoughtfully offered to provide the dessert, so that was one less thing to worry about.

My preparation started on the Saturday evening, as I spent roughly 3.5 hours chopping onions, garlic, chilli, ginger and peppers, and carefully filling Tupperware with spices for each of the dishes I had planned. I know I often make fun of Chris for her love of Tupperware - she has loads of plastic containers that have taken up box space during 6 separate house/apartment moves, some of which has never (to my knowledge) been used - but on this occassion I was truly grateful, as I used just about every pot and bowl in our cupboards to hold either vegetables or spices. I lined the containers up in small piles according to which meal they were for, and stuck the printed recipes on the cupboard doors in the kitchen for reference the next day.

Exhausted, I went to bed. Lydia woke us up during the night for a feed, and I made the mistake of trying to rub the sleep out of my eyes. I wouldn't normally consider this to be a mistake, but as I had not washed my hands properly after chopping chillies I soon regretted my actions. My eyes felt like they were on fire and became redder than a robin's breast. Ouch! I had to lay down with a cold flannel over my eyes to try and soothe my pain.

The next morning I woke up bright and early to get cracking with the remaining preparations and the cooking. Thankfully the pain in my eyes had gone and my eyesight was intact, so I was able to concentrate on what I needed to do.

The dining table
(it's not blurry on purpose -
that's Chris' camera skills)
The coffee table
I started by tidying up the apartment ready for our visitors, and then set about adding a few decorative touches. I set the table for the meal and opted for a red and dark wood theme. Think it looked fairly good, although possibly a little bit simplistic.

I also added some similarly-themed decorations to our coffee table for the nibbles - Bombay mix and Sri Lankan spiced peanuts (ok so Sri Lanka isn't in India, but the food is pretty similar).

At about 9.30am, I began cooking the food. A full 3.5 hours later, we sat down to eat the starter. Yes, that is a ridiculously long amount of time to spend cooking a meal. Yes, it was hard work. And no, I don't think I will do that again. The reason it took me so long was because I was trying to follow 4 different recipes at the same time - once again, I am not very good in the kitchen, so I think I can safely say I bit off more than I can chew there.

However, when the food finally arrived on the table and we began eating, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it tasted pretty good. Here is a run down of what I cooked.


Homemade Onion Bhajis
Onion Bhajis
(almost forget to take a
picture before I ate it all!)
I was surprised at how simple these were to prepare, as it was basically a mixture of some spices, flour, egg and water, which you stir until it makes a thick sauce and then add fried onions to it. The tricky bit was to fry the onion mixture - the key part of making an onion bhaji. The recipe said to fry them for "a few minutes" on each side, but when I did this for the first one it came out blacker than Black Thursday (see Life's Greatest Gift to know what this means).

The first couple were therefore rendered inedible by anyone who doesn't fancy eating burnt batter. The next few were much better, and passed the taste test with flying colours. Definitely happy with this recipe, although I would add more onions next time as I didn't think the bhajis were onion-y enough.

Poppadums and sauces
Ok so I didn't actually make my own poppadums - I bought a packet from the supermarket. Hey, I was already pressed for time so if I had also tried to make these we probably wouldn't have eaten until Monday! I did fry the poppadums in oil to give them extra flavour though, instead of taking the easy option and microwaving them.

Selection of sauces - Mango Chutney, Lime Pickle, Cucumber Raita
These were all homemade from various recipes that I found on the Internet. The taste for all 3 sauces was pretty much identical to the sauces served in Indian restaurants in the UK, so I was really pleased with them. The cucumber raita in particular went down well with everyone, so this was a miniature triumph.

Main Course

The main course - Chicken Bhuna, Sag Aloo, Basmati Rice

Chicken Bhuna
Chicken Bhuna
This was a real challenge for me as the only curries I had tried to cook previously used certain flavours of curry paste (which ultimately defines the taste of the dish), whereas the taste of the Bhuna would be determined by the various spices I added to it. The chicken is first marinaded in a mixture of melted butter and garam massala, and then popped in the oven to cook.

In the meantime, I fried the spices in a large pan and added chopped tomatoes and other ingredients, before then combining this with the marinaded chicken and sticking it all in the oven to cook.

The end result was genuinly delicious, definitely had a real Bhuna taste to it and I was very happy with how it turned out. I think Pascal also quite liked it, as he asked for a second helping and also took some home with him to eat for dinner! The only thing I would do differently next time is to add more chillis, as I didn't think it had enough heat. I would also make sure to wash my hands more thoroughly before touching my eyes next time.

Sag Aloo
Sag Aloo
I tried to make a Sag Aloo (traditional Indian dish with potatoes and spinach) a few weeks ago, but it really did not turn out very well. It basically tasted like boiled potatoes with warm spinach, which is not really what I was aiming for.

For this meal I tried a different recipe, one that used more spices and ingredients, and the result was a much improved effort.

This time, the Sag Aloo was a much closer match to what I had eaten in the past when dining at Indian restaurants in the UK, and seemed to be well received by my guests - nobody left any Sag Aloo on their plates, so they either really liked it or they forced themselves to eat it out of respect for the chef. Next time I do this dish I would parboil the potatoes first; the recipe didn't require this as the potatoes were supposed to soften during the long cooking process, but I thought they were still a bit hard even after being on the heat for around 1.5 hours (an hour longer than stated in the recipe).

Basmati Rice
Overcooked Basmati Rice
Instead of just boiling some basmati rice and serving this with the main course, I decided to do something a bit different. I found an interesting recipe for basmati rice on the Internet that involved using onions, cloves, cardamon pods, cinnamon and some other ingredients, and decided to give this a whirl. Everything was going smoothly until the other dishes (the Bhuna and the Sag Aloo in particular) took longer to cook than expected.

This unfortunately messed up the timing for the various components in the meal, and the end result was a soft, soggy mess that could only barely be called rice. While the flavour was quite nice, it was not a pleasant texture and so this was the biggest disappointment of the meal. It is tricky to cook rice when you don't know how long the other things are going to take, so this probably just needs me to practise more.

I also served naan breads with the meal (both Plain and Garlic & Coriander), although these were bought from the shop and simply heated up, so I didn't bother taking a picture of them. Just as well that I didn't make them myself, as they were barely touched by my guests, who (quite rightly) preferred to fill up on the rest of the main course.


Mango Sorbet
As mentioned above, I concentrated on the starters and main course and Chris kindly sorted out the dessert. We don't have an ice cream maker, or the patience to make it ourselves, so this was a shop-bought tub of sorbet. It was nice, but I wouldn't really grade this as part of the meal because it doesn't take much effort to buy it ready-made (saying that, it was quite a mission trying to scoop it out of the tub as it was still really frozen). As with the naan breads, the fact that I didn't make it means I didn't bother to take a photo of it. If you want to see shop bought sorbet then go and buy some from a shop.

Lydia and Pingu
After we had sufficiently filled ourselves to the point of bursting, including ending the meal with coffee and biscuits, we headed out for a walk to see Pascal's parents, who live in the same village as us.

It was absolutely stunning weather outside - perfect blue skies with temperatures in the late twenties and almost no breeze.

It was so warm, in fact, that just walking for 20 minutes left us feeling hot and gasping for a drink. Lydia didn't seem to mind the heat though - she slept peacefully with her penguin friend Pingu for company.

Lydia surprises her
maman with a gift
 Apart from being a good little girl, Lydia's other gift to her maman on Mothers' Day was a "Smart Box" - one of those experiences packages where you can choose different activites to do.

Now that Chris is able to walk properly again instead of having to rest with her feet up (as she had to do during the final months of her pregnancy), Lydia obviously thought it would be nice to give her the opportunity to go somewhere different.

Lydia even managed to give the present to her maman herself, albeit with a bit of support from her dad.

And so, Chris' first Mothers' Day was a pretty good day, and we all slept well with full bellies. Until Lydia woke us up for her night time feed(s).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ce fut une super journée pour nous aussi! Quel travail impressionnant tu as fait!!! Mais le résultat en valait la peine car c'était délicieux!!! Bravo encore Paul, on remet ça quand tu veux ;-)