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Early Days
Spaghetti á la Corbeau
Indian food
Khushma Cottage (Hitchin)
My Favourite Fish Cakes


  1. Chicken Mulligatawny Soup
  2. Spicy Aubergines
  3. Tarka Dhal
  4. Sindh Mung Dal

I have been fond of food all my life. A fondness for red wine developed later! Since I am fond of food I am also fond of cooking, which I regard not just as a means to an end but as an artistic skill in itself; and, yes, I have tried making wine but the results of my efforts were so seriously deficient in comparison with those of the experts that I much prefer these days to let someone else turn water into wine. Real ale is not bad either but I have never been passionately fond of spirits.

So, on this page, I would like to place some information about some of the food and drink that I have learned to love, some of the restaurants that I frequent because they serve good food and drink and some of the recipes that I use when cooking at home.


I was brought up in a very conventional gastronomic atmosphere. In those days, just after the Second World War, food in England was thoroughly British: roast beef, stew, roast leg of lamb with mint sauce, pork chops, roast chicken for a treat - probably at dinner on Christmas Day - toad in the hole, fried egg and chips, fish and chips, sausage and chips, chips and beans and fried tomatoes, toast, boiled eggs, corflakes, custard, jelly, home made jam, cups of tea, SPAM!!!


My first essay in cooking resulted from being a boarder at Bishop`s Stortford College. At weekends the kitchens seemed virtually to close down and the provision of hot food was very meagre. Sunday tea, for instance, was always a cold meal. For a growing lad such as I this was insufficient, so I would get tins of food such as baked beans and spaghetti and add other ingredients to them, to bulk them out. My culinary pinnacle was `Spaghetti á la Corbeau` (or should that be `Spaghetti au Corbeau`? – who cares!). This involved opening a large tin of Heinz spaghetti, adding a few chopped fresh tomatoes, some HP sauce and some chunks of boiled potato. Not a feast, but it served two – me and a friend – so I always had company, whether at school or at home and, when I was courting later, Celia, my girlfriend, whose mother let her nowhere near her own cooker, seemed very impressed with the results of my recipe.


I was first introduced to Indian food by my tutor, Peter Tranchell, when I was at Cambridge University. He took a group of us out for a meal one evening and we went to a newly opened Indian restaurant in Trinity Street. I have hardly stopped eating Indian food since. I won`t say I loved it `from the word go` but my taste for it was kindled. I liked the difference in taste that the spices made. After we moved to Hitchin Celia and I would regularly and frequently have a take-away meal from the `East and West` Restaurant in Nightingale Road. This was owned by the father of one of the girls at Hitchin Girls` School. Later we took first Nicholas, then Jonathan, then Jenifer - our three children - to the restaurant and inculcated in all of them a taste for Indian food which they retain to this day. Unfortunately, the `East and West` closed some years ago, suffering from the competition of other Indian restaurants that opened in Hitchin in more central locations. Sad to say, the place is still boarded up. The owner tried his hand at selling hardware for a time but that didn`t work either and the shop has been unused for a number of years. I still see him around Hitchin sometimes. Indeed once I saw him serving in another restaurant, the `Khushma Cottage` - how were the mighty fallen!

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I now frequent the `Khushma Cottage`. Mr Miah, the owner, is a charming man, very friendly, with a wicked laugh and a great sense of humour. His restaurant is based on the outskirts of the town centre, between the centre itself and the railway station. From the outside it looks rather insignificant and inside it is nothing spectacular. It is also rather small, being able to seat about 20 people only. This is not usually a problem though! Poor Mr Miah suffers from his location, but that means that those of us who know the quality of the food in this restaurant have no problem in getting a table – I have never had to book! I suppose that putting up information about the `Khushma` on this web site may possibly change all that! The food is really good. My favourites are chicken tikka jalfrezy, tandoori kidneys, achari lamb and balti chicken morisa. I like my food `hot`, as they say – a funny phrase really when it means how many chillies or how much cayenne pepper you like rather than the actual temperature of the food (mind you, I do rather like Indian food cold sometimes and have not been averse to eating some for breakfast!) – as I say, I like it `hot` and made the mistake once of complaining in the `Khushma` that the chicken tikka jalfrezy did not have enough chillies. I should have kept my mouth shut – literally! When it came back it had more venom than an irate rattle snake! I was with my brother David and his wife, Edna, at the time and they both thought it was very funny.

By the way, I have only once tasted a phal. It burnt my mouth to bits and I have never had one since. Eating should be a pleasure and I see no point in ruining my palate for weeks on end just to be macho or something.

I have had many pleasant evenings in the Khushma Cottage. Once, after Hitchin Symphony Orchestra had given the first amateur performance of the Elgar-Payne Symphony No. 3, Tony Payne and his wife Jane Manning, John Norris and Ann Vernau (both from The Elgar Society) , Peter Aknai (Chairman of the orchestra) , Janet Hicks (Leader) and myself (Conductor) all piled into the Khushma Cottage to have a celebratory meal. A report of the concert - and of the meal – was published in the next Elgar Society News. It made glowing reference to the restaurant and Mr Miah, proud owner, has this report adorning the walls of the restaurant to this day!

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I recently came across a recipe for fish cakes. It was a revelation. I gave up eating fish cakes years ago because they tasted so bland, the ones that were bought in shops, that is. I had forgotten about them for ages and had pushed them so much out of my culinary consciousness that I had virtually forgotten that they could exist. Certainly I never gave a moment`s thought as to the possibility of eating them again. But one day I was thumbing through a recipe book, as I often do, idly looking for something that might take my fancy. This book was a paperback: Wendy Hobson`s The New Classic 1000 Recipes, published by Foulsham (ISBN 0-572-02575-0) - or "wendy hobson`s the new classic 1000 recipes, published by foulsham", as the book itself, rather in the manner of e.e. cummings would have it. It had a recipe for fish cakes and it appeared surprisingly easy to make them. Now, recently I have had to change my diet because of my high cholesterol level and one of the things I have been advised to eat more often is fish. Well, being at Southend for a couple of years enabled me to realise again the delights of eating fresh fish well cooked and so my mind was receptive to trying my hand at making some fish cakes. I consulted a few more fish cake recipes and got the general drift: mix equal quantities of fish and potato, cover them in breadcrumbs, cook, eat, enjoy!! I had in the freezer some tuna steaks which had been selling at half price in the local Sainsbury`s, so I got them out, thawed them, then weighed them, weighed out an equal quantity of potatoes, peeled the potatoes, cut them up, boiled them, cooked the tuna for a few minutes on a griddle, strained the potatoes, put them in a large bowl with the fish, mashed them and the tuna together with some salt and pepper and some herbs (parsley?) until they were well-blended, then shaped them into little discs. Now, here`s the fun part! You can make your fish cakes whatever size and shape you wish. You can have petite ones, nice and round, like an ice hockey puck. Or you can have larger ones for the more healthy appetite! You can, of course, make them into discs, but how about trying balls or cubes or - for St Valentine`s Day - hearts!! I will not let on what I do, but suffice it to say that I find that two at one meal is enough - and I have a healthy appetite!

After you have played about a bit and indulged your latent artistic skills for fish cake shaping, lightly beat an egg in a bowl, then dip the fish cakes into the egg mixture so as to cover them with it. This is the sticky bit - literally! When they are covered, dip the cakes into the breadcrumbs and cover all over. They are then best rested in a `fridge for some time - however long you can spare. To heat the cakes, pour some oil into a shallow pan and fry them for a couple of minutes or so, turning them over once. Delicious! It just goes to show yet again that you can`t beat home cooking, food made with fresh ingredients and without artificial colourings and preservatives. It is also comforting to know what ingredients have been used in the food you eat and where they come from, i.e. which part of the animal (or bird or fish).

Curiously, two days after I had made my first batch of fish cakes I went to the local fish and chip shop one evening for some tea and saw some fish cakes there. They were lovely and orange - obviously stacks of artificial colouring had been used - and they were beautifully uniform in size (not like mine: I can never tell what shape or size the next one`s going to be when I make them!); they were also very thin, I mean very thin - and the breadcrumbs looked nice and plastic! I shan`t be buying them from there, I can tell you!

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I adore this recipe. Like many of my dishes, it is adapted from the book, Madhur Jaffrey`s Illustrated Indian Cookery, revised edition published by BBC Books 1994 (ISBN 0-563-37013-0). This standard text, first published in 1982, introduced many an adventurous cook to the delights of Indian food cooked at home. It appeared just 18 years after I had tasted my first Indian meal, a meal which was followed in the next two decades by many more. At last, to be able to buy a book and to learn to cook wonderful dishes at home, this was approaching paradise!

I find now, however, that Madhur was - perhaps rightly - cautious in her use of spices. After all, she was trying to introduce foreign food to a nation which prided itself on food uncluttered with such things. (Yes, we had also forgotten our Medieval and Elizabethan roots!). She was battling against such folks as my Mum and Dad who ( - I remember it well! - ) when on holiday in Tenerife once were seen to extract some tins of corned beef and spam, tea bags and other English home comforts from their suitcases. I know this to be a fact: I was there! And I expect that there were thousands like them. Madhur was battling against such creatures as they - and in the case of my parents she lost the battle, lost it comprehensively! However, in my case she need not to have been so cautious. I love spicy food and like it `hot`. So I frequently increase the dose of spices given by her. This recipe is a good example of that, for I have `upped the ante` on the garlic, ginger and cayenne pepper and also the potatoes (to make it thicker) and the lemon (to make it `lemonier`!).

Here, then is my version.


• 175g of red split lentils
• 1 litre of chicken stock
• ½ teaspoon of ground turmeric
• 200g of potatoes
• 10 cloves of garlic
• 6 cm of fresh ginger
• some chicken meat
• salt and pepper
• some cooking oil
• 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon of ground coriander
• ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
• 3 tablespoons of lemon juice

This will make 4-6 servings, depending on the size of portion and on the appetite of the consumer(s)! I usually make twice the quantity myself: it keeps me going for a day or two! In this case, I double all the quantities.

Note that the chicken meat can be a breast portion or any other portion and could also be left-overs. Madhur recommends about 200g. I just use what I have: the soup as I make has a nice thick texture - thanks to the amount of potatoes - and more or less chicken suits it equally as well. As usual with recipes, don`t be slavish to the book - experiment. This whole recipe is in fact an experiment and is very unlike in texture and taste the example given in Madhur`s book.


• Put the lentils, chicken stock and turmeric powder in a pan and bring the liquid to the boil
• Cover the pan with a lid and simmer the liquid for 1 hour
• While the liquid is simmering, peel the potatoes and cut them into pieces, immerse them in boiling water, turn down the heat and cook them until they are done, then strain them and set them aside
• While the potatoes are cooking, finely chop the garlic and ginger, either by hand - if you have a suitable board and half crescent chopper - or by electrically blending them (perhaps also adding a little water, but this will thin your soup a trifle)
• If you are using raw chicken, cut it into pieces of the size you would like, place the pieces in a bowl and sprinkle them with salt and black pepper, tossing to mix
• After the liquid has cooked for one hour, add the potatoes and purée the soup base; do this in a blender in batches, then pour the puréed soup base into a bowl - or, if you are a masochist, purée it through a sieve!
• Pour some cooking oil into a pan and heat it; when it is hot, put in the chopped garlic and ginger, the cumin, coriander and cayenne pepper; fry this mixture until it is slightly browned and separates from the oil
• Add the chicken pieces; if the chicken is raw, cook it gently for 5-6 minutes, then add the soup base; if the chicken is cooked, the soup base can be added immediately
• Add the lemon juice
• Now for the tasting! You will need to taste the soup and add more salt, pepper, lemon juice as your taste buds tell you. If the soup is too thick, add a little water or stock and try again. Adjust the seasonings and liquid until you are satisfied
• Enjoy!

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I adore this recipe nearly as much as the one for Chicken Mulligatawny Soup. Like that recipe, this one is adapted from the book, Madhur Jaffrey`s Illustrated Indian Cookery, revised edition published by BBC Books 1994 (ISBN 0-563-37013-0) and again I have fiddled about with it! Not to worry: apparently Madhur Jaffrey got the original recipe from Shankerlal, the master chef at the Lake Palace Hotel in the city of Udaipur and I would be most surprised if she didn`t tinker about with it a bit - maybe to reduce the `spiciness` of it for English post-war palates! The great delight of the dish is that it can be eaten hot or cold. In fact, within the last 24 hours I have eaten it hot as an accompaniment to balti chicken morisa and boiled rice and also cold as an accompaniment to my delicious favourite fish cakes! It can also be eaten with salad or on toast. Madhur recommends it hot as an accompaniment to rogan josh or beef stew with a bread such as paratha, with roast lamb and boiled rice even - and cold served with cold chicken, lamb or sliced ham or on lettuce leaves. A wonderful dish!


• 5 cm of fresh ginger
• 10 cloves of garlic
• some aubergines; Madhur says small or large, but I say that the small ones are incomparably better because you get more skin per square inch (sorry, per square centimetre!) - and we all know where the nutrients and taste reside, don`t we! She also recommends 750g - which, she states, will make 6 servings - but I cook however much takes my fancy, usually a bit less than she recommends
• some cooking oil
• 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds
• 1 teaspoon of kalonji (or cumin seeds)
• 1 tin of plum tomatoes
• 1 tablespoon of ground coriander
• ½ teaspoon of ground turmeric
• 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
• 1 teaspoon of salt


• Finely chop the garlic and ginger, either by hand - if you have a suitable board and half crescent chopper - or by electrically blending them (perhaps also adding a little water)
• Chop the tomatoes. Now don`t tell me you have bought a tin of ready-chopped tomatoes because I have very strong feelings about this: it takes only a few seconds to chop the contents of a tin of plum tomatoes, either in a food processor (they usually come with a small container and blade for small quantities like this) or by hand if you have one of those wonderfully suitable half crescent chopping blades and boards that my son, Jonathan, bought me for Christmas once - one of the best presents I ever had! - you could even put them in a bowl and chop them singly with a knife on an ordinary chopping board - don`t do more than one at once unless you want juice all over the place - but don`t tell me that paying twice as much for a tin of tomatoes chopped by somebody else is good house-keeping economy - it isn`t - and if you are the kind of person that does that kind of thing then you are lazy and don`t deserve to read any more of my nice recipes, so go away!
• Where was I? Oh, yes: cut the aubergines into small pieces (slices, wedges, whatever!) about 2 cm thick and 5 cm long (or whatever!)
• Pour some oil into a pan and turn the heat to moderately hot
• When the oil is hot, fry the aubergines pieces in batches in a single layer, turning them once and letting them become reddish-brown on each side; when each batch is cooked, remove the pieces and strain them in a sieve over a bowl
• You may need to add more oil occasionally, but I try not to, because of my high cholesterol level, which is another reason why I prefer the small aubergines: they have more skin and it seems to absorb less oil than the flesh - at least that`s what I tell my doctor!
• I would strongly recommend now putting the aubergines on one side so that the majority of the oil has a chance to strain off - again this gives my cholesterol level a chance; indeed, I usually let them strain over night and rejoice exceedingly when I see the great rivers of oil that are in the bowl and won`t be in my blood-stream!
• Whenever you are ready to take the plunge, make sure your pan does have some oil in it (!) and turn the heat to medium
• When the oil is hot, put in the fennel seeds and kalonji (or cumin seeds); after a few seconds in which the fennel seeds darken slightly, put in the chopped tomatoes (chopped by you, that is, no one else!), the chopped ginger and garlic (Oh, all right: I confess: I have been known in the past to buy jars of ready-chopped ginger and garlic, but I much prefer these days to buy my ginger and garlic in bulk and to freeze them. I freeze the garlic as peeled cloves and chop it when it has thawed - it is remarkably convenient - and the ginger I freeze in little balls of choppings - they can easily be unfreezed in the microwave and taste perfectly ok - try it. BUT DON`T BUY READY-CHOPPED TOMATOES UNLESS YOU WANT TO MAKE ME CROSS!***); add also the coriander, turmeric, cayenne pepper and salt
• Stir the mixture and cook it for 5-6 minutes. Madhur Jaffrey recommends "breaking the tomato pieces with the back of a slotted spoon" at this point. You see, she doesn`t buy ready-chopped tomatoes!
• Increase the heat slightly and stir and cook the mixture until it is of the thickness you like
• Now add the aubergine pieces and spoon the sauce over them, being careful not to damage the cooked aubergine more than you can bear!
• Continue to cook the food for about 5 - 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and very gently - more lifting and replacing than stirring! - until the aubergine pieces are soft. They may need the shorter or longer time, but they taste better overcooked than undercooked! It depends how thick the pieces are, how high the heat is, what day of the week it is and what colour your grandmother`s hair was!
• Remove the aubergines and either serve hot or let them cool and serve cold. The advantage of letting them get cold is that you can then easily remove some more oil (oh, the torments of a high cholesterol level sufferer!) - I store them in the `fridge in a shallow dish propped up at one end at a slight angle on something else and this helps the oil to run to one side so that I can easily spoon it away later. The aubergines are perfectly good when re-heated, too.

*** Actually, within the last few hours of updating this section in the early morning of Wednesday 14 May 2003, I have been speaking to a great friend of mine, Phil Hendy, who has a flat in Chester and he assures me that tins of chopped tomatoes with herbs are available at Sainsbury`s supermarket in Chester for the remarkably good price of 11p. Now if this is true - and Phil is an English gentleman whose word is to be trusted without question - then this is a very good reason for us all moving to Chester to take advantage of this bargain. Phil says he uses the herby tomatoes when he makes chilli con carne, but I expect that they would do equally as well in this recipe. So forget all I said about chopping tomatoes; go to Chester and stock up!

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• 6 ounces of yellow split lentils or red split lentils - or a mixture of both
• ¼ teaspoon of turmeric
• 1½ pints of cold water
• 1 teaspoon of salt
• 3 tablespoons of oil
• 3 cloves of garlic
• 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds


• Put the lentils, turmeric and water in a saucepan and bring to the boil.
• Simmer them for 45 minutes.
• Meanwhile, slice the garlic into thin slivers.
• Add the salt to the lentil soup, stirring gently to mix.
• Gently fry the cumin seeds and the slivers of garlic in the oil until the garlic turns light brown (approximately 2 minutes).
• Pour the oil, garlic and cumin seeds into the lentil soup.

I just love Tarka Dal and it is so easy - and relatively quick - to make that I make it on a fairly regular basis. It makes a very warming supper on its own, but can be used at any time, of course, with or without other dishes.

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• 6 ounces of yellow split lentils
• ¼ teaspoon of turmeric
• 1½ pints of cold water
• 1 teaspoon of salt
• 2 tomatoes
• 2 green chillies
• 12 curry leaves
• 1 tablespoon of coriander
• 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
• a pinch of asafoetida
• 3 tablespoons of oil
• 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
• 3 cloves of garlic


• Put the lentils, turmeric and water in a saucepan and bring to the boil.
• Simmer them for 45 minutes.
• Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes and green chillies and slice the garlic into thin slivers.
• Add the salt, chopped tomatoes, chopped green chillies, curry leaves, coriander, lemon juice and asafoetida to the lentil soup, stirring gently to mix.
• Simmer the mixture for 10 minutes • Gently fry the cumin seeds and the slivers of garlic in the oil until the garlic turns light brown (approximately 2 minutes).
• Pour the oil, garlic and cumin seeds into the lentil soup.
• Garnish with fresh coriander.

This is a variant on Tarka Dal, but it has those tomatoes in - which I love - and green chillies. I think the combination of tomatoes and green chillies makes a wonderful taste. I must admit that I tend to put in more tomatoes - and more chillies - than I have listed here. If you are feeling equally brave, then do likewise, though I would -for the first time of trying this dal - stick to the quantities given until you see how you like it. Oh - and I forgot - those curry leaves are a lovely addition, delicious to chew on!

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