Friday, October 29, 2010

"The Angels of Mons" by Carl Leckey MBE

Shortly after writing Great Britain Eats Tons of Chicken Tikka Masala, my beautiful bride wondered if her cousin, who lives in Northwest England, enjoys Indian food.

My wife’s cousin, Carl Leckey, had worked on tugboats in the busy Mersey River for many years. After that he was a lock-keeper for the British waterways. In 1985, Carl was awarded a Churchill travelling fellowship to study ports and harbour services in the USA and in China. Subsequently, Mr. Leckey undertook a series of lectures on his findings, and in 1995 was awarded an MBE (Member of the British Empire) by the queen for services to the British waterways.

Suffering from arthritis, he underwent hypnotherapy to relieve the pain. A side effect was recalling events in his past all the way back to childhood, where Carl recalled listening to his grandfather and fellow vets discussing the horrors of World War I. A fascinating subject discussed by Carl’s grandfather and friends was an incident that happened in Mons, Belgium. The British and German soldiers allegedly witnessed a group of angels hovering in the air above the battleground, perhaps trying to stop the slaughter or give solace to all involved.

Carl’s book, “The Angels of Mons,” is about an underage member of the “Labour Corps” and his mates who drove the ambulances and dealt with grisly matters on the front lines. It is fact-based fiction that will open your eyes to the horrors of the Great War.

Mr. Leckey has written two additional books since then. In stark contrast to the gritty yet sometimes humorous “The Angels of Mons,” he has written a funny story about his time working on the British canals with zany characters that will entertain you. It is titled, “Tales of the Cut.” He has also written a riveting sequel to “The Angels of Mons.”

You can find his books at or direct from the author in the UK. Check out Carl’s web site for details.

My beautiful bride asked Carl and his lovely spouse Rose for a couple of his and her favourite recipes. Here is one that I knew would be terrific before I even cooked it. As a former homebrewer I appreciate beers, ales and malt beverages; hoppy and malty. This recipe uses a stout porter of worldwide renown, Guiness. If you ever find Guiness stout on draught, try some, it is wonderful. If you cannot find Guiness, then get a dark, malty porter. If you can’t find that, then move. Anyway, Carl and Rose call this:

Food Fit for a King

1 lb shin beef (I used Chuck, good collagen makes nice gravy) cubed into 1” chunks
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, sliced thickly
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 stalk of celery, diced
1 bottle of Guiness stout (or a dark porter)
14oz can of tomatoes, crushed or pureed
Salt and black pepper to taste
Beef stock

Season the beef with lightly salted and peppered flour. Shake off excess.
Sauté beef in oil thoroughly to brown all over.
Remove beef and sauté the onions, garlic, celery and carrots a minute.
Place beef and vegetables in a preheated casserole dish.
Pour on the Guiness and the tomatoes and simmer with the lid on.
Make sure the beef is covered, if needed add some beef stock

Cook about 45minutes or so till beef is tender.

Make dumplings and half an hour before serving add them to casserole. Again, be sure you have enough liquid.

2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter at room temperature
1 cup of milk (perhaps a little more)

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
Cut in butter and mix
Stir milk lightly into the flour with a wooden spoon
Make sure the dough is moist

With the liquid at a gentle simmer (not boiling); drop the dumplings into the casserole by either teaspoons or tablespoons. Now cover the pot, they need the steam. Check after 5 minutes, they should be almost done. Leave the lid ajar and the dumplings will crisp up slightly.

Serve in bowls with a couple of dumplings in each. Don’t tell Carl and Rose this, but if you don’t care for dumplings, you could peel and cube a couple of potatoes and cook them with the other vegetables.

By the way, you can make this in a slow cooker on low for about 6-8 hours.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


One might think that the most popular dish in Great Britain is Fish and Chips, but with 18 tons consumed there each week, the national dish of Britain is actually Chicken Tikka Masala.

As popular as this curried chicken is, it is indeed not indigenous to the sub-continent, but was concocted by an Asian chef in London. Nonetheless; it is a delectably tasty treat often ordered at Indian restaurants; the most popular curry on their menus. I wonder how many people make it at home in the British Isles or here in the U.S.A? I’ve made it a few times, each time tweaking it, but still wanting to keep it authentic to the curry house favourite.

Even if you are unfamiliar with Chicken Tikka Masala, you are sure to love this stunning, spicy delight. You might already have all the required groceries on hand, or can easily obtain them. Millions of Britons can’t be wrong, so try this Tikka.

This is an adaptation of a Cook’s Illustrated recipe by Rebecca Hays.

For the chicken
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
¾ teaspoon ground coriander powder
¾ teaspoon ground cumin powder
1/8 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon powder
¼ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
Cayenne pepper to your taste

For the yoghurt
1 cup of whole milk Greek yoghurt or regular whole milk
yoghurt plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 ½ teaspoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh gingerroot

For the masala
2 teaspoons ground coriander powder
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon powdered ginger

For the sauce
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil
2 cups finely chopped onion
3 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons finely minced fresh gingerroot
1 minced fresh chile
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tin (28ounce) tomatoes crushed by hand or in blender
2 ½ teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup heavy cream


Combine the six chicken spices and salt in a small bowl.
Sprinkle all over the chicken and press in so it sticks.
Now put the chicken on a platter, cover loosely and put in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes (up to an hour is ok).
In a large bowl, blend the yoghurt, oil (if using), garlic and gingerroot. Set aside.

Make the sauce by heating the butter and oil in a large Dutch oven over a medium flame.
Stir in the onion and cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic, gingerroot, chile and tomato paste plus the masala mixture and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, sugar and salt. Bring it to boiling, than simmer over a low flame for 15 minutes, stirring now and then. Now stir in the cream and return to simmer. Then remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

While the sauce is simmering, place rack in oven 6 inches from heat source. Turn on broiler. With tongs, submerge the chicken breasts into the prepared yoghurt. Put the coated breasts (make sure they all have a nice coating) on a wire rack and place that in a broiler pan. (I have a cast iron skillet with a ridged bottom designed for broiling hamburgers which also works very well).

Broil the chicken about 7 minutes, but keep an eye on it. Look for a slightly charred but not scorched surface. Then turn over and cook the flip side the same way.

When the chicken is cooked, cut each breast into similar- sized chunks. When ready to serve, taste the sauce for salt, then place the chicken pieces (tikka) in the sauce, and serve right away. Serve over steamed rice. You can garnish with chopped coriander leaves.

If the list of ingredients seems a little off-putting, you could mix the masala blend and prepare the yoghurt the day before to save some time. This dish is really marvelous, no wonder it’s so deservedly cherished.

Monday, October 18, 2010


In 1981, I am with a group of automobile people in Baton Rouge, Louisiana to preview the newly designed Chevrolet Camaro. It hasn’t come out yet and we are seeing it for the first time, on film in a big screen. Because of industrial spies, everything is tightly supervised. When the film starts and the Camaro is viewed, the whole audience applauds.

It was a beautiful automobile, so I suppose the reaction was ok; but the meal we enjoyed, now that was laudable. Nobody applauded, but we could have. Among the items served, a Cassoulet was astounding. A gent seated next to me said “these beans are wonderful, eh?” He was right. The sausage, the pork, the beans, all cooked with confit made a delicious dish. I forgot what else we had that day, but not that dish of beans and meat. Sometimes when you order it, it is too salty; one time mine had a greasy taste. Cassoulet is not popularly made at home because it is complicated, and you can’t always get the traditional groceries. I went to the library and looked it up, and then proceeded to refine it. I ended up with a Cassoulet that’s simple yet tasty. This is a delightful classic and serves about 8 diners. If you want to, you can make it on a weekend and freeze portions for later in the week. You could substitute other meats as well.

Prepare the beans

1 lb (500g) dried Great Northern Beans
20 fluid ounces (600ml) chicken broth
20 fluid ounces (600ml) water
1 tablespoon bacon fat
1 tablespoon minced garlic,
2 onions, peeled and cut into quarters, and stuck with 2 cloves
1 teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried rosemary
2 bay leaves.

Rinse and sort the beans. Soak overnight or quick- soak by covering with water, bringing to a boil and let sit for one hour.
Then drain and throw out soak water. Put all the above ingredients in a big pot or a pressure cooker. Either cook for one hour in regular pot, or 5 minutes in pressure cooker. When done, set aside or quick -release the pressure cooker. Remove one cup of beans. If not soft enough, boil until soft and mash them. Return to pot.(The beans can still be a little firm as they are going into the oven. The mashed beans are to give body to the casserole).

Finish the cassoulet

5 slices bacon
1 lb (500g) kielbasa or other cured, smoked sausage, sliced
4 smoked pork chops
1 lb (500g) bratwurst sliced
½ cup white wine
2 carrots, cleaned and sliced

Preheat oven to 350F (180C).
Fry bacon crisply, remove and crumple it and save the drippings. Don’t crowd the skillet, fry up the meats, some at a time, until all are browned. Deglaze the skillet with the wine, place half the beans in a Dutch oven and place meats over, including crumpled bacon, and then cover that with remaining beans. Cover the Dutch oven, put into the oven and bake for 1 hour, check midway to make sure there is enough liquid, if not add a little water.
When serving, you may want to cut the chops up so there is some for all.

Try cooking these beans and meats, they’re absolutely scrumptious.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


When I was very young, the first meal I prepared was a remarkable recipe called “boef a la mode” from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Tasting it while it was braising, I could tell it was special, and when I served it, everyone raved over the sensational taste. The beef was exceedingly tender and flavourful, and the sauce was divine. But somewhere along the way I lost that book and never made the dish again.

Recently, I am talking about food with a good cook, and the talk turns to pot roast. My mom used to make a pot roast when I was a child, and I remember she used a stale end chunk of rye bread in it to help thicken it. My friend and I agreed that using bones makes a wonderful unctuous broth, but he says last time he had no bones and tried a packet of gelatin in its place to good success. I want to try that.

I decide to prepare boef a la mode again, this time sans bones. Judging from my BW’s reaction, it is something to behold. Since it’s something I want all to taste, I’m writing it all down here. With all due respect to the exalted Miss Child, here is how I do it.


1 boneless eye of chuck roast (about 4 lbs)
1 tablespoon sea salt or kosher salt
Enough ground pepper to season beef
3 cups of red wine (a medium bodied wine you like to drink)
5 strips of bacon
1 ½ cups of finely chopped onion
1 ½ tablespoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons flour
20 ounces beef broth
6 carrots, cleaned and cut into about 1 inch slices
2 turnips, peeled and quartered
3 onions, coarsely chopped
4 tablespoons butter
½ tablespoon white sugar
½ cup water
½ lb mushrooms, cleaned and cut in half
1 tablespoon unflavoured gelatin powder
1 bunch parsley- set aside a small handful of leaves and mince them.
3 sprigs fresh thyme
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns


Take the meat and separate it into two halves where the muscle is. You can almost pull it apart barehanded, or use a paring knife to aid you. You can trim off any excess fat now.

Season each half all over with salt and put into a colander over a flat pan for one hour at room temperature.

Reduce the wine over medium flame to 2 cups, takes about 10 minutes.

Tie parsley, thyme and bay leaves or encase in a metal tea ball, if big enough.

Pre-heat oven to 300F (150C) and put rack in lower third.

Dry surface of beef with paper towel and lightly sprinkle ground black pepper all over.

Get 6 lengths of kitchen string and tie 3 around each piece of beef.

Cook bacon in skillet till crisp. Remove, drain and crumple. Keep skillet nearby.

Put 3 tablespoons of bacon fat in a Dutch oven over high flame. When very hot, brown the beef thoroughly on all sides. Take your time because this is important. As each piece is well browned, remove to a platter.

Lower flame to medium and add the onion, stirring now and again until softened. Then add the garlic, flour and crumpled bacon pieces. Stir for about a minute, and then add the concentrated wine, beef broth, herbs and peppercorns. Scrape the pan with spatula to loosen bottom.

Put platter of beef plus juices on platter into the Dutch oven. Turn flame up and bring to simmer. Put the cover on; make sure it is not loose.

Put the Dutch oven in the oven. Set your timer. Each hour (set timer for 1 hour 3 times) turn meat over in the Dutch oven (carefully- use tongs or two spatulas). For last hour, add carrots and turnips. There should be plenty of liquid in pot, if necessary add water.

Meanwhile, Put onions, butter, sugar and ½ cup water in that skillet, turn flame high.

Cover skillet, turn heat down and cook 5 minutes.

Uncover, raise flame and cook until liquid is boiled off. Add the mushrooms, a pinch of salt and cook stirring often until vegetables are browned, about 10 minutes.

Remove from stove. Sprinkle the gelatin powder into ¼ cup cold water.

When beef is done, put in platter again to rest. Use the foil to cover it loosely.

Let braising liquid cool off. Skim off any excess fat. Take out the herbs bundle and put in onion mixture. Simmer until thickened over medium flame for about 20 minutes. You should have a lot of sauce. Taste and perhaps add a little salt and pepper.

Add the gelatin and stir thoroughly.

After beef has sat awhile and cooled off remove string and slice.

Serve with the vegetables.

This dish is a couple hundred years old, but still good. It is not an everyday dish, but once in awhile… as a special dish… hey, it’s good groceries.

Monday, October 11, 2010


I remember way back, I’m in this swanky French restaurant in Manhattan. It is thoroughly very nice. The words on the menu are in French and the waiters have French names and even French accents. I eat a charming fish course and a lovely soup. Today I can barely remember the meal except for the dessert. Finishing the dinner I’m quite full, but the waiter offers me a Crème Caramel and says it’s a perfect light dessert to top off my meal. How can I vocally say no? To this day I recall that tasty custard for all its deliciousness.

The other day I’m going down the aisles in my local market with my BW (beautiful wife), the Tipster. I come by little boxes of a dry powder “Flan” mix. The picture on the box looks a lot like Crème Caramel, but when I read the box, the artificial contents are turning my stomach off.

The Crème Caramel I know is a classic French dessert. Other places know it as Flan. No matter what you call it, when you make it right, it’s a terrific crowd-pleaser. It can be very simple to make if you pay attention to the principles of custard making. Forget that instant packaged stuff; make it from scratch, you don’t have to be a French pastry baker to make a great Crème Caramel.

The most beautiful, yet easiest presentation method will employ those small ramekins or custard cups you may have lying around already, and perhaps never used. They’re good to have. I like to mould jambalaya in them and invert onto plates, but I am digressing.

Here is how to make 8 servings of Crème Caramel that will come out perfect and impress your guests. Tell your taste buds to be patient, they will be rewarded.

For the Caramel:
1 cup of sugar
1/3 cup of water
2 tablespoons of light corn syrup (facilitates nice caramelization)
Dash of lemon juice
8 clean, 6 ounce, oven-proof ramekins. Please do NOT grease them.

For the Custard:
1 ½ cups of whole milk (must use whole milk)
1 ½ cups of light cream
3 large eggs, plus 2 large egg yolks (equals 5 egg yolks and 3 egg whites)
2/3 cup of sugar
1 ½ teaspoons of vanilla extract
A pinch of salt
A thermometer to read the temperature of the custard (such as one used to measure deep frying oil or for making candy).

To make the Caramel:

· In a medium saucepan, bring all ingredients to a gentle simmer over medium heat by
swirling, not stirring.
· Wipe the side of the pan if you see crystals adhering. Use a wet cloth to do this.
· Swirl the pan around while it heats up, and soon it will turn from clear to golden coloured.
· Keep swirling the pan to get even browning, which should take about 7 minutes or so.
· Keep swirling and watching. After awhile, large, slow bubbling will appear on the surface.
· Swirl another 3 or 4 minutes and a nice caramel should be visible.
· Very carefully (it’s HOT), pour evenly into the ramekins.
· Let it cool and harden for about twenty minutes. (If you want to do this step a day ahead of
time, cover them with plastic film wrap and refrigerate. But bring to room temperature
before adding the custard).

To make the Custard:

· Turn your oven on to 350F (177C) and place the rack in the centre.
· Heat the milk and cream in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
· Stir and using the thermometer, look for a reading of 160F (71C), takes a few minutes.
· Remove from the heat.
· Gently whisk the eggs, egg yolks and sugar in a big bowl until combined, do not overbeat.
· Off heat, gently whisk the warm milk mixture, vanilla extract and salt into the eggs until
just mixed, but not foamy.
· Strain the mixture through a fine mesh into a quart measuring cup or any container that
has a pouring spout. Then set aside.
· Boil 2 quarts (2 litres) of water.
· Get a dishtowel and fit it to the bottom of a large roasting pan. You can fold it to fit, no
· Pour the custard mixture into the ramekins and place them atop the towel in the pan. Don’t
let them touch each other.
· Put the pan on the oven rack and pour boiling water into the pan, halfway up the sides of
the ramekins.
· Cover loosely with foil to allow steam to pass.
· Bake about 40 minutes, check after 35 to see how it looks. Stick a knife in the centre; it
should come up clean when done.
Now put the custards on a rack to cool off.

When you get ready to serve them, slide a paring knife around the sides of the ramekins, actually pressing the knife against the sides. Invert the custards onto a serving plate shaking gently to release them. Now enjoy them.

This preparation will produce excellent Crème Caramels. There is some detail to this method, but it makes the dessert come out wonderful and ensures success. Evaporated milk or condensed milk methods really do no compare. You don’t have to, but you can shave some dark chocolate on the caramel or some toasted coconut flakes.

Your guests may forget the entrée you served, but the Crème Caramel will be among their fondest memories, because these groceries are that good, I tell you.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Several years ago I happened to be in an Indian household and the aroma permeating that home was just wonderful. I wanted to duplicate that fabulous flavour in my kitchen, but I didn’t understand what made it so special. I had a small tin of curry powder and added a pinch to an egg salad, and it was good, but Indian? Nah! I needed to learn more.

Soon afterward I was delighted to find an Indian cookbook in a thrift store, The Bombay Palace Cookbook, by Stendahl. It promised a fascinating, wide world of new and exciting meals, but first I had to get a whole bunch of spices I hadn’t used before, like coriander, fenugreek and cardamom, as well as fresh gingerroot.

After cooking many recipes in that book, and inventing many afterward, I still like to browse though it occasionally. It’s a great book, especially for beginners. They took two recipes and broke them down into the simplest, detailed, step by step way to prepare them.

The Bombay Palace Cookbook is primarily comprised of North Indian recipes, but also features other regions of the sub- continent as well.

The book explains the ingredients and techniques (such as bhoona-ing, sort of a combination of sauteéing and braising) of Indian cookery and has separate chapters
covering soup, seafood, vegetarian, poultry, legumes, rice dishes, and desserts.

I’m quite fond of this book because when I was new to Indian food; it helped me learn to prepare it properly. And having explored Indian food, I have since reached out to the foods of Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Thailand. I have 5 big spice racks just off my kitchen, containing many different spices and herbs.

Here is a lovely recipe from the Bombay Palace Cookbook, by Stendahl.

SPICY CHICKEN CURRY (Murgh Masala) serves four

1 3lb (1 ½ Kg) fryer, skinned and cut into 8 pieces; or an equivalent amount of boneless, skinless pieces.
4 tablespoons (60 gm) butter (1/2 stick)
4 large ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
Salt to taste

Dry Masala mixture:
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 piece of gingerroot, the size of a walnut, minced
2 tablespoons of ground coriander
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons powdered turmeric
¼ teaspoon red chili powder
6 whole cloves
3 whole cardamom pods
2 sticks of cinnamon


  • Set prepared chicken aside. Pulverize the masala in a blender or food processor. Rub the mixture well into the chicken parts.
  • In a wok or heavy skillet, heat the butter and brown the chicken on both sides. This should take about ten minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes, cover and simmer until the chicken is tender and the sauce has thickened, another ten minutes.
  • Try not to add water unless you see the chicken is about to scorch. Salt lightly before serving.

    This is a good introduction to Indian food if you haven’t tried preparing any yourself. I usually use a mortar and pestle to pre-grind things like the cloves and cinnamon and cumin. In the beginning you may prefer to use ground spices until you get more familiar with masalas. But for flavour and aroma, it’s hard to beat Indian food.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...