Tagged: Italian inspired

Saveur’s Rainbow cookies

NaBloPoMo 2012. Thirty straight days of postings. We did it, you guys!

When the month began, we were fairly certain this could go either way. Work schedules can be unpredictable and life always is. The cooking didn’t worry us since we do that most days, but writing every day and worrying about things like daylight for photos; this did have us concerned. But we figured we’d give it a go.

So why did I sign up for this anyhow? For me, it was mainly to challenge myself to write under the constraints of time. I’ve been known to agonize and linger over posts for hours. One of the few reasons there was a lull on this space was because I just didn’t have that kind of time to devote to it after. But I knew I didn’t want to give up on our little world here, because even through the lingering, I enjoyed the writing. NaBloPoMo forced me to be disciplined about it. This may not be my day job, but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be some sense of ritual about it. Work and life are important, but so is this wish to keep writing. I also needed to find out if I just imagined I wanted to write or if in fact, I could write if it was required of me. It is the work that is put into it and the telling of the story that matters.  It doesn’t matter if I misspell words. (What nonsense are you talking, girl? Sacrilege!) Then there was the self-imposition I had about posting at least five recipes a week. That was the plan I stuck to, somehow it worked. But ultimately, what mattered was that I want to write and that I do it. Nupur said it perfectly. Writing allows you to work things out. You can be your own therapist and best friend. Most times you just need to be able to write your heart out. Write my heart out, I have.

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Luisa Weiss’s Pasta e Ceci with Rosemary and Chilli

One fine fall Friday six years ago (which by the way, was nothing like today. It’s raining. I love it!) I sat at my desk eating my peanut butter sandwich, my go-to this-is-what-I-pack-when-I’m-in-a-hurry lunch. It had been a rushed, busy day and I was going into a busy weekend with company coming and no time to have planned my dinner, so I thought I’d look up some recipes. I have no memory of what it was I googled that day but I do remember that in the middle of the search page was a link that led me to the first food blog I’d ever seen. And with just one click I tumbled down into a wonderful rabbit-hole, filled with the most wonderful stories, writing and recipes. I’ve been in free fall ever since.

That first food blog lead me to others. There were just so many incredible people about there, chronicling their kitchen stories along with their lunch, more than happy to tell you about the difference between chimmichurri and pesto. They spoke about home cooking or what they ate in restaurants. After that first mad connect-the-dots dash through the links on each page I identified a few well-written blogs with outstanding voices that captured my imagination. One of those was The Wednesday Chef by Luisa Weiss.

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Linguine with Mushrooms in a Lemon-Thyme sauce

When life tosses you lemons, what do you do? If you are anything like me, I guess you do your damnedest to lob them right back. The problem is, in this little game you have going on, life is almost always the stronger player, and it is harder to play that googly you just got tossed, especially if you weren’t expecting it. You blink and you miss, the bat kisses air, or worse, you hit the ball in a completely different direction, and not a good one. This is why you learn to make lemonade. (Not blinking would also be a good skill to learn, but “Constant vigilance!” à la Mad-eye Moody would be rather tiresome after a while.) Better to hold on to that lemon for a bit while you decide what to do with it. Lumbering about blindly never did anyone any good.

In case you are wondering, this is not how cricket is played. But we’re not talking about cricket so much as we are about lemons. In our house, we could go without milk and bread but there will always be lemons in the house…lemons and limes. My husband loves them more than he loves his guitar and his camera and that is saying something. Amey’s love of all thing sour is legendary. He adores lemons, loves limes, is enthralled by vinegars. His idea of ‘improving the flavour’ of any dish involves adding one of these ingredients. He is the only person I know whose fried rice is actually vinegar rice. If we had grown up in the United States, his favourite candy would have been Sour Patch kids, hands down, no contest.

College, while offering him several freedoms, also put in his sights, front and center, the tamarind and green mango vendor’s cart. This guy showed up with his cart, rain or shine, with kayris (green mangoes) just before summer and tamarind all year round.  While other kids were busy with restaurants, Amey snacked happily on morsels of green mango dressed in salt and chilli. The vendor knew him by name and had his order ready when he saw him coming. This guy was happily immersed in salt and sourness while the rest of the kids were flirting with alcohol.

Being married to someone who likes sour food and likes to cook comes with its challenges. He used it on everything with a heavy-handed abandon reminiscent of Paula Deen and butter. It took some time for me to convince him that not everyone thinks of lime juice as a staple. Granted his culinary quirk is way healthier than butter, but let me tell you, there is such a thing as too much acidity in your food. You will not know this until you have someone squeeze a whole lime into your plate of dal and rice…or make you a hot dog that could pass the litmus test. A chilli fiend and a lime fanatic…our early days in cooking bought some sore trials to its consumption for both of us. The years have taught us well, w-ell, maybe they have taught him better. I can still be heavy handed with the chilli. Amey, however, has honed his handling of the acid and citrus to a fine slant. Granted, he still puts too much vinegar on his rice. But now, it is his own plate of rice. He has learned that there is your own palette and that of others. More importantly, he has also found that he appreciates the subtlety of citrus as much as he enjoys the more in-your-face flavours.

One of his early experimentations was a take on a lemon cream sauce. A dish he loves to eat when we are out is the Chicken Tequila Fettucine served at California Pizza Kitchen. That pasta dish made him happy enough to try a version with cream and citrus on his own. Born out of this was a lemon-cream sauce. With some serious, careful honing, something I rarely have patience with, he has perfected the sauce. It is creamy, unctuous, just tart enough to make the presence of the lemon felt strongly but not overwhelmingly. A gentle, soothing sauce with a burst of refreshing flavour to bring sunshine to the most gloomy day.

Broken Linguine with mushrooms in a lemon, cream and thyme sauce
Serves 3-4

Garlic – 6 cloves, chopped fine
Red Onion – 1/2, diced fine OR Shallot – 2, diced fine
Thyme – 1 tbsp of leaves
Lemon zest – 1 fruit
Lemon juice – 1/2 of one fruit
Dried porcini or wild mushrooms – 1/2 cup (chanterelles would be excellent here)
Cream – 1/2 cup
Sausage (optional) – 2, diced
Cayenne pepper – 1/2 tsp
Orange Flower Honey – 1/2 tsp (use regular honey if you don’t have this)
Linguine – 3/4 box
Olive oil – 2 tbsp
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan for grating over

– Reconstitute the dry mushrooms in about a cup and half of boiled hot water. Set aside for about fifteen minutes until the mushrooms go soft and the water has become a rich, brown broth.
– Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Break the linguine into three pieces and throw into the pot. Boil pasta as per directions on box.
– Meanwhile, Heat the oil in a shallow pan on medium low. Add the garlic and fry until slightly brown.
– Add the onions and saute until translucent. Add the thyme.
– Roughly chop the reconstituted mushrooms and add to the pan, along with the broth. Mix to incorporate, then bring to a boil.
– Add the lemon juice and zest and cayenne pepper. Season with salt and pepper.
– Stir in the cream. Season with salt and pepper.
– Reduce heat and simmer the sauce for a bit and let reduce slightly. Add the honey and mix it in.
– Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add the sauce and toss together to coat the strands of pasta.

Serve with a fresh grating of Parmesan over each dish, along with some fresh ground pepper.

Cook’s notes:-
This sauce originated in a pure lemon and cream version, which made for some sticky pasta incidents. We tried variations with half-and-half, wine and vegetable and chicken broths. There was no definite depth of dimension until we started to use the mushroom broth (which, by the way, is now a favourite ingredient in our cooking). Amey balanced the flavours with some orange blossom honey which he’s partial to. Its citrus notes worked wonderfully in this sauce, making it one of the most delicious pasta sauces I’ve eaten. He’s also tried variations with other herbs. While they all work with varying degrees of success, we both agree that thyme works best, gently infusing and disappearing into the sauce more completely than anything else. Also it is great as an additional garnish.

What else you put into the pasta is entirely up to you. Shreds of roast chicken would be great, as would bacon. Leave the meat out completely and you have a vegetarian version. Strips of sautéed peppers, steamed asparagus or artichoke hearts would be brilliant with this sauce. I love to put sun-dried bits of tomato on mine. This is the sauce I will ask for more often than others when Amey decides to make pasta. To him, it is also an appreciation of how he and his tastebuds have evolved.

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Tyler Florence’s Herbed Focaccia with caramelized onions and goat cheese

Baking was something I didn’t really get to think about when I was younger. Bread was something you got pre-sliced from the market or from the pav walla (travelling bread seller) who made his rounds on on his bicycle in the mornings; cake was best left in the hands of the experts. Sure I’d been making making the dough for chapatis (a staple Indian flat bread) since in my teens. And there were the rare puris and parathas, but that was it really. Then I came to this country; kitchens here came equipped complete with oven, and people around me discoursed on bread baking and the wonder of warm loaves coming out of the kitchen as part of normal routine. Friends in grad school baked as means of stress relief and down in Texas, everyone knew how to bake their own biscuits and pies. It made me feel like a bit like I did on the first day of architecture school, lost and completely out of my element. Sure, I could wield a frying pan with the best of them but I had less of an idea what to do with a loaf tin. Antithetical ideas like sweet potato pie made my mind spin (a sweet vegetable pie? really?)… And biscuits, why on earth would someone call those heavenly savoury light bread-like creations biscuits? Biscuits come out of a tin or packets of butter paper and are sweet! It was a whole new world!

I was extremely ambivalent about trying all this on my own. First, it sounded a bit tedious and very easy to mess up (working the flour just right, bread dough different from pastry dough, all the mixing and measuring, cold butter, warm water…argh!); secondly, I was really not looking to make cooking more pulled out than I make it. I’m not one of those people who finds cooking therapeutic and relaxing. I’m downright nasty in the kitchen if you try to interfere with my weird work method. Cooking to me is adventurous and exciting; there is wonder in seeing things come together. But adventure and relaxation do not mix. A picnic in the park, it is not. So more years went by, with me standing in the sidelines as far as baking was concerned, cheering away at the accomplishments of others but very undecided about trying it for myself. I predicted disaster and so kept putting it off for other things I knew I could attempt successfully. My sister though, urged me to give it a shot. “Start with something simple…” she said, “like a box cake from the supermarket.” I decided it couldn’t hurt to try. If I messed it up, I’d chalk it up to experience. Good thing too, because the experience went very well. Those Betty Crocker boxes are genius, even belligerent cavemen could turn out cakes like cordon bleu chefs. There was warm comfort in a pan with that cake. Even though all I did was add some oil and eggs to it, there was a feeling of serious accomplishment when I pulled the fluffy chocolate cake out of that oven. It was the kind of euphoric feeling I’ll never forget, the nudge I needed to dive headlong into this well-heated world. I grew from strength to strength; mixing and stirring and ladling things like a happy little baker. There were cakes and brownies and cookies, even pies. There were some misses but also there were hits, hits that roared up the charts. (My favourite compliment was relayed to me by my elder sister a year ago. She told me my nephew refuses to eat commercial apple pie, claiming the only one he liked was the one his aunt made…er..that’s me…my nephew likes my apple pie best, isn’t he the sweetest little munchkin?? Wait, don’t tell him I said that. He’s fifteen now, he won’t like being called the sweetest little munchkin, w-ell, at least he’ll never acknowledge it.)

The one thing I still felt unsure around, was bread. All the talk of ‘starters’ and feeding the starter and being concerned about its well-being and mucking about with yeast; yeah, all that  just seemed like too much work. But you have to try something before you knock it. I was nervous about trying this culinary adventure without some guidance from experience. So many questions! So I signed up for a bread making class at the Tante Marie Cooking school in San Francisco, a school, I discovered, that I had lived nary a block from, without knowing it for almost five years! (Such is life no?) The instructor for the day’s class was a wonderful chef called Jim Dodge, who made the class fun and educational. He taught us about starters and blooming yeast and different kinds of bread. More importantly to me, he painstakingly worked with me to break my set-in-concrete habit of kneading dough into tomorrow, like I would for chapatis. Chapati dough can take a lot of beating ..er..kneading. Bread dough, I learned, is more gently kneaded and sort of shaped at the same time, with not as much heavy pressure as I’m used to wielding. Ok, no pressure at all really, you do as little kneading as possible after the dough has come together. We also learned the importance of letting the dough rest and rise, scoring the loaf (to give the bread some expansion paths so it doesn’t crack elsewhere) and the lovely hollow thunk it produces when it is perfectly baked and you knock on it. All this was in the wonderful home and garden of the lovely Tante Marie herself, Mary Risley. I made some lovely new friends and was richer in not only in experience, but in sourdough starter from Jim Dodge’s mother lode, several recipes and two of the loveliest loaves of sourdough bread you ever saw. My very own, very first, baked breads. Warm and crackly and smelling of herbs and heaven!

Still I was right about the amount of work. I forgot all about feeding my starter and it died a tragic death alarmingly soon. I have no stand mixer and realised I was very tense about working the dough entirely by hand once I was on my own. The recipes I’d so happily acquired sat forlornly on my kitchen counter, with me still a bit nervous about trying them out. A few weeks ago though, Amey gave me a good talking to. What is the point of taking a class and not even trying to do it on my own? My pointing out lack of kitchen equipment didn’t work either. I was sternly reminded that man didn’t come out of the primordial soup armed with stand mixers, and that bread had been around almost since then. Finding myself unable to argue with that bit of logic, I turned to my trusted cookbooks for an easy recipe I could try without fear of assured disaster.  And there it was, tucked away in Tyler Florence’s beauty of a book, this recipe for focaccia. What immediately appealed to me was the complete absence of a starter. Several authors assure you that bakers are happy to hand you some of theirs. I was in no mood to test out this theory. And then, there is the fact that this is focaccia. It is my favourite kind of bread. I love the soft yielding bite and slightly dense texture of this bread. The recipe seemed pretty doable, armed with my fairly new knowledge of bread as I was. I’m glad I tried it. This one’s a hit that will stay on the charts a lo-ong time.

Herbed Focaccia with Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese
Adapted from Tyler Florence’s Stirring the Pot
Makes 8 slices/servings

For the dough:
Unbleached all-purpose flour – 3 1/2 cups
Dry active yeast – 2 tsp
Honey – 2 tsp
Salt- 1 tsp
Fresh thyme leaves – 1 tsp
Dried oregano – 1 tsp
Ancho chilli powder – 1 tsp
Olive Oil – 1 tbsp
Warm water – 1 cup

For the topping:
Red onions – 4, medium, cut into slivers
Goat cheese – about 2 oz
Parmesan cheese – 2 to 3 tbsp, shredded
Balsamic vinegar – a turn of the pan
Olive oil – 2 tbsp
Salt and pepper to taste

– Dissolve the honey in the warm water, then gently stir in the yeast. Place aside for 5 to 10 minutes. If the yeast are active, there will be some foam on the surface of the water.
– Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Add the thyme leaves, dried oregano and ancho chilli powder.
– Slowly add in the warm water with yeast, stirring to combine together. When all the water has been incorporated, knead the mixture into a sticky dough.
– On the counter or on a base, sprinkle some flour. Pat the dough onto the surface and knead well, until the stickiness of the dough reduces considerably. Knead the dough for a bit until smoothish to the touch. Then add a tablespoon of oil and finish kneading the dough to develop a smooth surface. Punch the dough to flatten a bit, then fold it onto itself loosely.
– Place the dough in a bowl. Cover with a towel and keep in a warm place for about an hour for the dough to rise.
– Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a large pan on medium heat. Toss in the slivers of onion and toss to coat.
– Season well with salt and pepper. Mix well and then let the onions caramelize to a rusty gold, then to a deep purple. This should take about 30 minutes. About 10 minutes before they are done, pour in the balsamic vinegar and toss with the onions to coat.
– Check the dough at about an hour. It should be considerably larger, about twice its original size.
– Layer some parchment paper onto a baking sheet and rub it with some olive oil. Put the dough out on the pan and push it out to the edges with your fingers to flatten it out onto the pan, about 1/2” or so thick. Dimple the surface of the dough gently with your fingers.
– Cover the flattened dough with plastic wrap, then the towel and set aside for 15 minutes.
– Set the oven to heat at 400°F.
– Uncover the dough. Spread out the caramelized onions out to cover the surface of the dough. Crumble the goat cheese over the onions. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese over the entire surface.
– Place into the heated oven and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the bread goes golden brown.

Serve by itself or with a side salad.

Cook’s notes:-
This is the kind of bread recipe that is totally geared towards the novice bread baker. Even though I’d done something this once under supervision before, I believe someone who doesn’t know the first thing about bread baking can do it, as long as they have the initiative and some amount of patience. I switched out the sugar for some honey and messed around with herbs and ancho chilli powder, but it all really worked in the recipe. The house smelled warm and inviting and I saw so many passersby glance at the building windows as I sat reading there while the bread baked. We really had a hard time waiting for this one to cool down because our senses kept demanding we try the bread right way. The bread bakes nice and golden and the entire thing is like a very thick crust pizza, totally amazing and very delicious. The cheese melted in fluffy little puddles all over the burgundy onion and was a wonderful tart counterbalance to the sweetness of the onions. There was just a bit of heat in the dough from the chilli powder, which worked very well with the key flavours of cheese and onion.

The texture of the bread is dense and yielding. My technique, or lack thereof, didn’t seem to have mattered one way or another, since whatever I did seemed to have worked. This is the kind of recipe you work at as you sort through other stuff on the weekend, cleaning out a closet, doing laundry or some such thing. As you get done with your task, the bread comes out of the oven and a meal is ready. Watch out for burns as people try to grab pieces before the bread has time to cool. If you manage to get slices on to a plate, this would go really well with a leafy salad, maybe with some walnuts (which I think might work really well sprinkled on the bread too). It does quite well by itself too though, it is quite filling. This would make excellent picnic fare. We ate it standing in the kitchen over the baking sheet, dropping crumbs everywhere. Not one piece made it anywhere near a plate!

Unlike me, give this one a try sooner rather than later. You will be mighty pleased with the results. With the advent of autumn, your kitchen will appreciate the warmth as well. I was glad the bread baking experience was a successful one. At a point in the process, when the bread was in the oven and the aroma enveloped me like a hug from my mum, I took a deep breath, sighed and realised that cooking can be, well and truly, comforting. That is even better than it being relaxing.

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Pasta with Broccoli in an Orange-Cream Sauce

Between work and exams and one of my favourite pop stars dying (RIP MJ), I’ve been reading Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia (which by the way is a pretty wicked read!). Readers of her long-completed cooking project and blog must be familiar with her engaging style, which is very much what drew me to the book. Though I discovered the blog after the project was completed, I still haven’t managed to make my way through all of the postings and it’s really hard to wrap my head around her successful endeavour, which certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted. I know being a ‘sometimes meatatarian’ there is no way on earth I could have pulled that off. Plus being the aforementioned type of meat eater, just having read the passage about the bone marrow extraction made me want to sear the images my brain supplied permanently out of it. And there is no way in hell that I am plastering eggs all over my kitchen in order to learn to toss an omlette. Just the idea of an egg-plastered kitchen had me breaking out in hives.


While Ms. Powell and I certainly don’t see things the same way (I fervently hope the level of wastage she describes is artistic license and far from the truth, my mom would have various choice things to tell her about starving children) several passages of the book had me chortling in empathy. And what I am loving most about the book so far is how much a part of everything her husband is, actively or passively. That resonates so much with me because Amey is practically always part of my maddening (for him) ideas of the time, sometimes willingly, sometimes kicking and screaming. But he is always supportive of them, half-baked schemes though they may be. Like the time that I thought I could live through a no-sodium, no fat, no flavour (kill me now!) diet, telling him confidently that I could do it. In my zeal for the thing, I chose to ignore the fact that the diet included fish, something that I could never eat and no salt, something I can’t live without. After three days of scrabbling around, steaming, baking and boiling several veggies, meats and halibut (god, what was I thinking??), I enthusiastically started the diet on the fourth day. One bite of the prescribed morning breakfast of steamed, unsalted, peppered fish had me throwing up in the sink and simultaneously howling and babbling incoherently on the bathroom floor about all the fish in the fridge I was delusional enough to think I could eat. While Amey handed me a glass of orange juice to stop the gagging until I calmed down, he packed his lunch, two cautious little boiled halibut sandwiches with salt on the side. And that was his meal for two days until he gamely worked his way through the fish. I’ll bet he gagged through it, that stuff was vile! Amey isn’t even much of a fish eater. Truth be told, he must have eaten five fish dishes in his entire life. But that’s what he does when my plans get out of hand. *Sniffle* gotta love him! Julie Powell would understand exactly what I mean.


Life throws the guy many such curve balls since he has me for his wife. So he was understandably quite nervous when I eyed our gigantor pile of oranges and pronounced I was making pasta. I had wanted to bake a cake for a friend which required a couple of oranges but since a packet of six was on sale I’d happily bought the entire thing thinking I’d juice the rest or something. Well, in middle of a mercurial last two weeks, the cake didn’t get baked and there were oranges all over our tiny counter. Something had to be done and for no reason in particular I decided that I had to make a sauce out of the oranges. Not an orange sauce. But a sauce, a savoury sauce, using oranges. I’m sure it’s been done, there’s nothing new under the sun. But I’ve never done it before. All I had for instruction was something I’d read in one of the Jamie Oliver tomes about “Orange being best friends with (a couple of things).” Amey guardedly offered the wisdom that maybe this was not the best idea. Couldn’t I try a tested orange sauce recipe first? But the oranges were staring forlornly at me and had to be given a fitting send-off. They couldn’t all be juiced. So two of them met their timely end in this unctuous sauce.

Pasta and Broccoli with an Orange Cream Sauce

For the sauce:-
Red onion – 1/2 or Shallots -2, diced fine
Juice of two navel oranges
Zest of one orange
Cream or Half-and-half-
1 cup
Ancho Chilli Powder – 1.5 teaspoons
Cumin Powder – 1/2 tsp
Gruyere cheese –
1/2 cup grated
Vegetable stock – 1 cup
Ginger – 1 tsp, grated or minced
Corn Starch –
1/2 tsp
Habanero Chilli sauce – to taste (optional)
Salt & Pepper
to taste
Olive Oil – 1 tbsp

Pasta – we used 1 pack of rotini
Broccoli- one crown sliced into thin florets
Garlic – 3 cloves, sliced thin
Chilli flakes – 2 tsp
Olive Oil- 2 tsp

– Boil the pasta in plenty of salted water and drain when cooked al dente.
– While the pasta is boiling, in a skillet, heat the oil and add the garlic. When the garlic is gently browned, add the broccoli florets and saute for a minute or two, then add chilli flakes. Saute until the broccoli is cooked through.
– In a saucepan, heat the sauce portion of olive oil and add the shallots. Cook until translucent.
– Then add the ginger and stir for a minute. Add the orange juice. Turn up the heat to boil.
– Turn the heat down a bit to simmer. After a few minutes, add the orange zest and cream and turn the heat back to medium.
– Add the veggie stock and Ancho Chilli and cumin powders. Stir to incorporate. Add the cheese and stir until it melts into the liquid.
– Add the cornstarch and stir to incorporate completely. Let the sauce simmer for a while until it thickens slightly. Add the habanero chilli sauce at this point if using.
– Add salt and pepper to taste. The gruyere is already salty so you may want to taste it just a bit before you add salt.

Pour the sauce over the pasta and toss along with the sauteed broccoli. Serve hot with grated or shaved parmesan.

Cook’s notes:-
Sweet oranges do make a pretty decent savoury sauce. I admit I was a little worried when I saw swirls of orange once all the liquids had been mixed. I thought I might end up with orange juice floating on a stock and cream mixture. But once the cornstarch and cheese were added, everything came together pretty well. The sauce turned into a lovely kumquaty-yellow-orange. The pasta itself smelled citrusy yet earthy at the same time and the first bite broke into spiced orange flavours in the mouth. The sauce is light and just coats the pasta with none overflowing in the pot or plate. It worked well with this shape of pasta, though I’m pretty sure it would work with penne too.

What surprised us is was how well the garlic-sauteed broccoli worked with the background hints of orange and chilli. The ancho chilli powder isn’t very spicy, just adding a gentle heat to the proceedings. That’s why the habanero is optional; to be used if the chilli flavour is to be kicked up several notches. Use paprika if you don’t have ancho chilli powder. Fortunately, this mad scheme could be categorised under fairly successful. At least it’s not messy flaked fish for Amey to have to finish off. Maybe I should have had some anchovy paste on hand, that would have been nostalgic! Come to think of it, it probably would have worked real well in the sauce.