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Tropic Thunder

I’ve never cleaned a kitchen so thoroughly.

Admittedly, after making a cake, I usually feel that blowing the crumbs off the counter-top counts as a decent job. This time I used disinfectant and everything.

A family friend is generously hosting me in the incredibly chic area of Bandra in Bombay while I’m here working for a worthy music charity. Leaving any sort of food out in this climate is a major no-no as it will lead to an ant infestation faster than you can say Rahul Kapoor. I had been warned, and I wanted to be invited back.

My host, VC, had been planning a dinner party to introduce me to some of his friends and colleagues. It turns out that these soirees invariably involve one of his guests cooking for him. And why not? This time the bubbly, Italian, Alessandro was to step up to the plate. I’d been regaled me with tales of his glorious, al dente dishes and my hopes were high. I couldn’t stand by without bringing something to the table so I offered to make some appetisers and a dessert.

I had a free day as it was one of the (seemingly) hundreds of religious holidays in India, so had plenty of time to shop and prepare. The brief: there would be seven of us for dinner, a casual but cool affair. VC doesn’t actually have a table so we would be standing around the breakfast bar - all the better for sharing. The verdant Pali Village Market is overflowing with fresh fruit and vegetables, which I’d been ogling every morning. I wanted to make something fresh to start with, to stock up on some deficient vitamins, and then impress with a cake, to cater to my host’s sweet tooth.

After a thorough rifle through Vijay’s kitchen, I’d discovered jaggery (the Indian equivalent of muscavado sugar), candied ginger, port, baking powder and organic flour. Unexpected finds for someone who seemingly doesn’t cook were some electric weighing scales, a loaf tin and a magimix. Bonus. The plums I’d seen in the market earlier inspired the no-fuss choice of a plum and ginger cake. Amazingly, the mini supermarkets on Pali Market stock all manner of organic baking and health foods, no doubt to cater for the discerning local clientele. I found ground almonds, almond essence and Lurpak butter without so much as breaking a sweat (a feat indeed in Bombay). I also picked up a couple of bottles of Spanish red wine from the off-licence, who cheerily informed me that they could deliver chilled alcohol 24/7 if need be. Good to know. Indian avocados, lime and chili clamoured for a lurid guacamole, and some beautiful looking cherry tomatoes were calling out for an accompanying salsa.

Alessandro had flown in that day from Italy and unfortunately left his ingredients behind in his haste to catch his flight. Porca puttana! We were treated to dried pasta and shop bought pesto with frozen knodel and cheddar cheese in a can (who knew that was a thing?). All bought locally. I hid my disappointment and was nevertheless grateful to devour a plateful of comforting pasta after a couple of weeks of exotic food and recurring tummy upsets.

Also, the contrast with my delicious home-made offerings was all the more flagrant and everyone was duly impressed. Apart from the token male model, who wasn’t able to consume anything except neat vodka in anticipation of a shoot the next day.

I think I’ll be invited back.

Guacamole dip

Serves 8, takes 10 minutes

perennial / starter / gluten free / dairy free / vegan / vegetarian / nothing fancy / easy peasy / party / ready in a jiffy / date night / baby (without the chilli)

This guacamole is quick to throw together and a nutritious appetiser. I served it with black corn chips.

* Avocados - 2 large, very ripe

* Coriander - a large bunch, chopped

* Limes - juice of 1

* Chilli - 1 small red, deseeded and finely chopped*

* Olive oil - a glug

Remove the flesh from the avocados, dice and place in a mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and a generous pinch of salt. Mash with a fork, or your hands if the avocado is ripe enough.

*My only major kitchen mishap was being too blazé with the chilli. I didn’t put too much in the food, but I did have burning fingers for hours afterwards. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - use protection.

Cherry tomato salsa

Enough for 8, takes 15 minutes

summer / autumn / starter / gluten free / dairy free / vegan / vegetarian / nothing fancy / easy peasy / party / ready in a jiffy / date night /

The sweet tomato, spices and fresh onion make this a punchy but refreshing salsa.

* Cherry tomatoes - 500g, chopped into quarters

* Spring onion - 2, finely sliced

* Garlic - 1 clove, crushed

* Chilli - 1 small red, deseeded and finely sliced

* Sugar - 1 tsp

* Olive oil - a generous glug

* Coriander - a large handful, chopped

* Lime - juice of 1

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.

Plum and almond cake

Serves 8, takes 30 minutes, plus 45 minutes baking time

dessert / not too tricky / quietly smug / autumn / summer / party / vegetarian / baking

Plum and almond cake

This was an experiment which turned out good. Moist, succulent and tangy. The pictures are not so good as I FORGOT to line my loaf tin with baking parchment. Also if the plums were cut into halves rather than quarters they would hold their shape better and give more of a ’tatin’, less of a 'smudge on a plate' look.

* Plums - 6 large, stones removed, halved

* Candied ginger - 1 tbsp, chopped

* Powdered ginger - 1 tsp

* Sugar - 1 tsp

* Sweet alcohol - a splash (madeira, amaretto, sweet wine...)

* Butter - 120g

* Jaggery (or soft brown sugar) - 150g

* Eggs - 3

* Ground almonds - 100g

* Wholewheat flour (or plain) - 50g

* Almond essence - 1 tsp

* Ground ginger - 1 tbsp

* Candied ginger - 2 tbsp

* Baking powder - 1 1/2 tsp

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Line a greased loaf tin with baking parchment, with enough paper so that you can fold a sheet over the top of the cake to cover it in the oven.

Place the plums in a small saucepan with 1 tbsp candied ginger, 1 tsp powdered ginger, 1 tsp sugar and a dash of sweet alcohol. I used port. Put a lid on the pan and simmer for five minutes. Remove from the heat and pour into the loaf tin.

Blend the butter and remaining sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating to combine. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.

Pour the mixture into the tin over the plums and fold the extra baking parchment over the top to lightly cover the cake. Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool for half an hour and then turn the cake out onto a serving plate.

Serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of greek yogurt.


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