Dishoom Sundays in Lockdown 2020

Awadhi Lamb Biryani in all its glory.

One of the more glorious traditions that has emerged during Lockdown 2020 for our family has been Dishoom Sundays.

For those of you unfamiliar, Dishoom is a legendary Indian restaurant in London with equally legendary queues (this was in the Before Inside Times, obviously, when we could do amazing things like eat in restaurants). It really didn’t matter what time you strategically decided to arrive to avoid the queue. You were going to have to stand in it, whether you liked it or not. But it was absolutely worth the wait.

Dishoom specialises in the food of Bombay, now known as Mumbai. Its cookbook provides recipes for all the Dishoom favourites, but also gives a hat tip to all of its favourite restaurants in south Bombay. As it happens, Tim lived in this exact neighbourhood for three months in 2017, so he was lucky enough to visit many of the restaurants and street vendors highlighted in the book (and we got to try a few too, when we visited). The Dishoom cookbook was published in September 2019 and was an immediate hit. Tim gave me the cookbook for Christmas, knowing how much we all love Indian food.

Kirstin and I even discussed the possibility of choosing “Dishoom” for one of our months, but it fell at the final hurdle, which was, “Are there plenty of recipes that we can make on a weeknight.” The answer to that is a categorical NO because while they are all utterly delicious, they also represent a serious investment of time. Like Grandma always said: It’s worth the wait!

But now that time feels irrelevant and weekend time in particular is just a construct, we’ve got all the time in the world to tackle some of these delicious gems. It also helps enormously if it’s a team effort, because like I said, it’s a serious investment of time. We’ve now made Awadi Lamb Biryani several times now. I mean, sure, it takes the entire afternoon, but this is what Dishoom Sundays are all about. Every time we have it, we all swoon at its deliciousness. (Needless to say, right now, that’s a very nice thing.)

In addition to some sort of main dish, we’ve also become dab hands at some of the Dishoom side dishes, including Raita, Chapati and Kachumber. They’re all excellent.

So now when we’re going to have Dishoom Sunday, we don’t even get into specifics of what we’re going to be making. Instead, we just announce the joyful day and settle in for a very delicious meal.

Dishoom Sundays: A lockdown tradition that will continue well past lockdown.

Dishoom Sundays in Lockdown 2020

“Bittersweet Brownie Shortbread” from NYT Cooking App

I think it’s probably time to give credit to the Lockdown 2020 heroes and heroines for our family.

  1. BT Broadband: After three full months of lockdown, it has not yet dropped, seized up or even buffered, even through all the working, emailing, editing, university lectures, sixth form classes, engineering final exams, Microsoft Teams meetings, Google Hangouts, Zoom meetings, Zoom classes, Zoom family reunions, Zoom cocktail hours, and more. Impressive. Truly.
  2. Buddy the Dog. Emotional support available 24/7 when we need it most. Also allowed us to leave the house at least once a day with a credible excuse. (Please don’t tell him he’s second on the list. He’s number one in our hearts. Pictures also available upon request.)
  3. Our mail carriers, delivery people, rubbish collectors and shop workers. A thank you isn’t enough. (Special shout out to the amazing food shops on Royal Hill in Greenwich, who haven’t let us down yet and are working harder than ever.)
  4. These shortbread brownies. I have been baking like a madwoman, (probably because I’ve felt a bit on the edge of insanity) with homemade baked goods (nearly always) available in the house, but these are in the No. 1 spot on the league table. Thank you, shortbread brownies.

Not only have I made batches for us, but I’ve made some for friends, neighbours and anyone who I thought could use a butter-sugar-chocolate boost. Everyone’s reaction has been the same: “Oh, wow. These are amazing.” When they ask why, I tell them it’s very simple: anything with more than a pound of butter in it is bound to be delicious. And they are.

The only tip I have to share with you regarding these delightful concoctions is to expect them to disappear far quickly than you anticipated, and then get ready to bake another batch.

If you’d like to make these yourself, click through this paragraph to find the recipe on the New York Times Cooking website.

“Bittersweet Brownie Shortbread” from NYT Cooking App

“Rainbow Sprinkle Cake” from NYT Cooking App

How’s your global pandemic going? Last Friday and Saturday was eventful for us: we had a Quarantine Birthday (happy 17th birthday Nicholas), an American university commencement via Zoom (congratulations Gianna) and a Facebook Live wedding from California (congratulations Taylor and John). Given that all those happy occasions happened within a span of 48 hours, all I can say is: Whew.

As per tradition, the birthday boy (or should I say young man) was allowed to pick whatever cake his heart desired. For the second year in a row, he picked this cake, from the New York Times Cooking App. Having made it for him last year, I made a few adjustments: I doubled the recipe (because it made too small a cake for our liking the last time) and I used my own cream cheese icing recipe, simply because it has never failed me and after several disastrous outings with other recipes, I just return to that one like a trusted friend.

Another thing to know is I did NOT use European Union-approved sugar sprinkles for this. Oh, no. The vibrant colours you see in the sprinkles above can only be attained by using good American sprinkles, where they continue to use all the chemicals so you can get the fun colours. It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make, as the EU-Approved sprinkles only use natural colourings, so they end up being a bit insipid, especially after you bake them.

(Sadly, after stocking up enthusiastically on American sprinkles in 2018, it looks as though our stash is now dangerously low. Not sure what I’ll be able to do about it given the current travel situation. I might have to see if I can secure an intermediary. This is important, because honestly, those sprinkles look and taste about a thousand times better than the ones we can get here.)

The cake was a smashing success. The picture above doesn’t really do it justice, but it was great. Our philosophy to get through this with good food and good times continues.

If you’d like to see the recipe, click through here to find it on the New York Times site. I’m sure it’s good even with European sprinkles, but remember to double the recipe to get three 9-inch layers.

“Rainbow Sprinkle Cake” from NYT Cooking App

“Grilled Cheese Sandwiches” from “Food52 Genius Recipes”

We’re in Day 8,754 of Lockdown 2020, or at least it feels like it. My lack of posts does not at all reflect the amount of cooking I’ve been doing. In fact, sometimes I feel like all I do is cook. With one son who’s 20 and another who’s 16 (17 later this week), I cannot adequately describe the amount of food I need to cook, keep on hand and plan for every single day.

The one thing I am adamant about, however, is that breakfast and lunch here are strictly self catering. I make sure that we’ve got the supplies on hand, but I’ve got enough other work to do that I can’t drop everything and make something special in the middle of the day on top of the (pretty nice) dinners I’m making every night. I’ve made this clear.

The self-catering proviso also dovetails nicely into my ongoing project to teach the boys how to be better cooks. So I was more than happy to demonstrate the other day when Andrew (20) asked me to teach him how to make a good grilled cheese sandwich/cheese toastie.

Ever since I used this recipe from Food52’s Genius Recipes, I’ve never tried another method. Also, I should make clear that I haven’t had to refer to the cookbook again. The genius hack is this: spread mayonnaise on the outside of the bread (rather than butter) before you start to grill it. The cheese you pile in the middle is down to personal preference, but I tend to use a mix of cheddar and mozzarella. Since the lockdown has begun, I’ve learned to keep bags of grated cheese on hand for this exact purpose– and also for quesadillas, which really are just a grilled cheese in a tortilla.

In any case, now that Andrew is adept at making his own, he’s been doing it more regularly. We could say he is the Pandemic King of the Toasties in this house. Nicholas, for his part, would be Pandemic King of the Quesadillas, because he likes them better. No matter. They’re both happy and healthy, and you can’t ask for much more these days.

“Grilled Cheese Sandwiches” from “Food52 Genius Recipes”

“Rib-Eye Steaks with Peppercorn Sauce”

I have quickly concluded that the only way we’re going to survive this global crisis is by making the best dinners I can for my family. I may not be able to make sense of this global pandemic, but by god, I can cook. And cook I will.

Using that rationale, I decided that it would be Steak Night at our house. Regular readers of this blog know that we love a good steak here, and that hasn’t changed amid all of this either. So I turned to Gordon, who had a most excellent recipe for rib-eye steaks with peppercorn sauce.

Reader, it was delicious.

(This photo does not do this dinner justice. It looks a bit like a picture you’d see on a laminated menu of a dodgy restaurant. I can assure you that it was utterly delicious. Maybe it’s the green plate…)

Our family dinners have become the highlight of everyone’s day here, and this was no exception. May the good dinners continue for as long as we can continue to get good food supplies in.

“Rib-Eye Steaks with Peppercorn Sauce”

“Halloumi, Asparagus and Green Bean Salad” from “Quick and Delicious”

You can be sure that I will happily test any recipe that requires me to eat half a block of halloumi cheese. This, friends, was that recipe.

I will readily admit that I am a stress eater, so you can imagine what it’s been like for the last 10 days. But this– aside from the aforementioned half block of cheese– is pretty good for me. Look at all those vegetables! It’s a plate full of goodness, I tell you.

But a plate full of goodness, even with all that cheese, is exactly what we all need right now. So please proceed with eating whatever is going to make you feel better.

“Halloumi, Asparagus and Green Bean Salad” from “Quick and Delicious”

"Tuna Steaks with Preserved Lemon Couscous" from "Quick and Delicious"

Once again, Gordon hits it out of the park. (Given that we’ve got no sports to watch for the forseeable future, I feel like I should sprinkle my writing with sports references so we can all pretend that things are normal when they definitely are not.)

Tuna may be an expensive ingredient, but it’s worth it. Also, whenever I start to overthink the price, I think about how much we’re saving by eating at home and not going to a restaurant, so I get over it quickly.

In the introduction, Gordon says tuna, “wins the speed prize because it’s served rare in the middle and is literally in and out of the pan in four minutes.” That’s absolutely true. Talk about 30 minute dinner, more like 10 minute dinners and that includes taking all the ingredients out and making the side salad. What could be better?

I should also add that I had some leftover couscous salad, which was absolutely perfect the next day when a work meeting ran over and I needed something to feed both of us. (This was before the voluntary self-isolation period, which we’re now in.)

Absolutely lovely. 10 out of 10, would eat again.

"Tuna Steaks with Preserved Lemon Couscous" from "Quick and Delicious"

“Crispy Chicken Thighs with Romesco Sauce” from “Quick and Delicious”

“May you live in interesting times,” is a Chinese curse, but for years I never understood why interesting would be a bad thing. Now I fully understand why it’s a curse, because we are truly living in interesting times.

But the one thing I can do for my family– and yes, everyone is now under one roof given that universities have sent students home– is cook good food. And that’s exactly why I intend to do for the forseeable future. It’s the one thing I know I can do well and one of the few things I can control at the moment. I will cook up a storm and enjoy every moment of it.

Much like Kirstin’s Double Lemon Chicken, this recipe has a very Diana Henry feel about it. Not only because it features chicken– one of her favourite ingredients– but also because it’s very much a “Bang it in the oven and reap the benefits” recipe. I made it on a Friday night after I had met friends for a medicinal gin and tonic (this, obviously, was pre-optional-lockdown) and I wasn’t much in the mood for cooking something complicated. We had all the ingredients to hand, it took no time to prepare and it was delicious. Win/Win/Win.

One small thing: When I said we had all the ingredients to hand, we didn’t actually. I thought we had Cavolo Nero when I first started cooking, but when I checked the vegetable drawer half-way through and clocked its absence, I quickly sought an available substitute. We had bok choy, which is not really like cavolo nero, but it worked anyway. Needs must when you’re in the middle of a global pandemic and all that.

Stay healthy, friends!

“Crispy Chicken Thighs with Romesco Sauce” from “Quick and Delicious”

“Buffalo Chicken and Blue Cheese Dressing” from “Quick and Delicious”

For those of you not paying attention in the back, last Tuesday was Pancake Day here in the U.K. I know this post is about chicken, but please be patient. For months, my husband Tim has been saying that he really wanted some fried chicken with waffles. He insisted that it was an American delicacy and we really needed to honour our American roots by having some chicken and waffles. We’ve lived in the U.K. for 21 years now, so maybe my American food recollections are getting a bit fuzzy, but I maintained that chicken and waffles was not an American thing, as far as I was concerned.

Pancake Day 2020 rolls around. Because we are American (see above), we’ve always celebrated Pancake Day with American pancakes, not the crepes that most people make here. Since pancakes are essentially waffles in another form, I told Tim that I would make his dreams come true by making him pancakes and fried chicken on Pancake Day.

Needless to say, I was still skeptical. However I thought even if I didn’t eat the pancakes and chicken together, they’re both still delicious individually. So I followed this Gordon Ramsay recipe for buffalo chicken. It’s essentially fried chicken tenders with a blue cheese dip. I already knew that fried chicken tenders would be a winner, and they were.

But I’m sure you’re all wondering, how were they with the pancakes? Reader, I am here to tell you it was a taste sensation that was out of this world. This is not mere hyperbole. It was amazing. It was so good, in fact, that I messaged Andrew at university on the family WhatsApp group to tell him what a fantastic Pancake Day meal he had missed. (He sent us a crying face emoji in response.)

Would I make this again? HELL YES. Would I have pancakes (and/or waffles) again? I’m thinking it might be tonight’s dinner.

“Buffalo Chicken and Blue Cheese Dressing” from “Quick and Delicious”

“Scallop, Leek & Chorizo Gratin” from “The Quick Roasting Tin”

Fish Friday! (Well, technically, not “fish” as previous reported here because it’s scallops, but it’s the right idea.)

I need to honestly report that this dish divided opinion at our house. I loved it. So did Nicholas. We thought it was utterly delicious. I would definitely eat this again and again.

Unfortunately, Tim did not agree. He thought all of the cream, and leeks and chorizo drowned out the taste of the scallops. I understand what he’s saying, but I have to say there’s no time when double cream is a bad idea. We had to agree to disagree.

I also need to mention that this recipe— and others in the book– include this genius hack when using leeks in a dish that you roast. Rather than having to fry them first, just soak them in boiling water for one minute, and they’re cooked enough that they can go in the bottom of the roasting pan and be finished off in the oven. Absolutely genius.

If you haven’t already figured it out, this book has been a massive hit. Of *course* will will wait until 31 January to make our final determination, but we’ve eaten very well for the last few weeks.

“Scallop, Leek & Chorizo Gratin” from “The Quick Roasting Tin”