Wednesday 29 June 2011

Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music... Ad Infinitum

This is not a normal column tonight. For the first time ever I have a guest on "Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music... Ad Infinitum". And what a guest she is! Photographer, travel writer and chronicler of her barrio. She has already been featured here as part of a photography exhibition on Cuba I reviewed last year. She also recently started her own blog, Eat Hackney (, and that was the main reason why I asked Helena Smith to be your hostess tonight. That invitation's given me another idea. How about opening the space up to you, readers and fellow bloggers so that we can share recipes and music? This would be only for the duration of the summer. Usually this is a time when blogs are barren lands but how about turning them into lush and fruitful forests of culinary knowledge? The format is simple. You can do as Helena did and write about your barrio, your little neck of the woods and what makes it so different from the rest of the world when it comes to food. Submit a recipe you really like. It can be one you cook yourself, or one that reminds you of someone. In Helena's case, it's her mum's roast chicken with almonds and herbed rice. And then, there's the music. What music do you think should go with that recipe? Or maybe melodies you're listening to as you're cooking it. Whatever you decide, there must be music. If unsure, just read the title of this section. Please, make sure that you send me links to proper clips (official videos or live performances) and that they are embeddable so that I can upload them. Deadline is Friday 15th July. In the meantime, I'll leave you with our host for tonight Helena Smith. ¡Gracias Helena!

I’ve been lucky to travel a lot as a guidebook writer and photographer, and I’m an enthusiastic eater wherever I go. But the place where I live, the London borough of Hackney, is such a diverse place that it occurred to me I could make a global food journey on the doorstep. You can eat every kind of cuisine here: Nigerian, Georgian, Caribbean, Italian, all varieties of Indian… the list is pretty much endless.

I love the way that food evokes home for different communities: it’s a way of sharing precious traditions and memories. I want to celebrate this with my new blog Eat Hackney, and in my own way counter David Cameron’s nonsense soundbite about multiculturalism not working in Britain. I just interviewed the French/Algerian owner of L’Epicerie in Clapton, and he said his deli works better here than it would in France, because we’re more open and curious about food. By extension, I think we’ve become more open to other cultures, and we’re a richer and more interesting country as a result.

The dish that conjures home for me is Robert Carrier’s Roast Chicken with Almonds and Herbed Rice. When my Mum asked me what I wanted for my birthday or other treat, it was always this dish, elided to chickenandalmondsandraisinsandrice. You can see how often my Mum cooked this from the photo of the little book, published in 1971. [picture below] It seems an old fashioned recipe now as the chicken is drowned in butter, but this is what makes it so delicious.

I grew up in a small village in central Scotland with big windows and mountain views, and the soundtrack to the Sunday roast was jazz, which my folks love. So my first cooking track is Fats Waller, who I adore for his joyous naughtiness and irresistible piano playing. As this is a feature about cooking I’ll choose You’re Not the Only Oyster in the Stew. I love the way he rhymes “Paree” with “only one for me”…

I always listen to loud music when I cook, and alternate cooking with dancing. I’m a big fan of Cuban music – of course! – so I’ve chosen Homenaje a Benny Moré by Gente de Zona which makes me chuck down the wooden spoon for a boogie. Ai Mama!

Another favourite dance track is Tonkara by Staff Benda Bilili from Kinshasa. Most of the band are severely disabled as a result of polio. I saw them at the Roundhouse recently and it was pure joy to see them dance, and to hear their super high-energy Afro funk, with those trickly guitar sounds and pretty melodies. I lived in Africa when I was a kid, and this reminds me of another landscape and another home, with a different mountain view.

Roast Chicken with Almonds and Herbed Rice

Large chicken
90g seedless raisins
100–140g butter
Salt and pepper
1 chicken liver
4–5 tbsp corn oil
1 large onion
340g long grain rice
1 1/2 chicken stock cubes
1 tsp dried thyme
90g flaked almonds

Soak raisins in warm water to plump them up.

Preheat oven to moderately hot (200ºC, 400ºF).

Season 2–3 tbs of the butter with salt and pepper, kneading it thoroughly with your fingertips. Divide seasoned butter in half, flatten out slightly and slip a piece right down between the skin and meat of each chicken breast, loosening the skin away from breast gently with your fingers.

Season the bird inside with salt and pepper; add chicken liver and 2 tbsp butter. Rub outside of chicken generously with salt and pepper and spread with remaining butter.

Roast chicken with for 1hr to 1hr 15min, or until tender and crisp, turning it occasionally. Halfway through cooking time, baste with 2–3 tbsp boiling water.

Meanwhile, prepare rice: heat oil in a large, heavy saucepan. Add finely chopped onion and sauté gently until soft and golden. Stir in rice and continue to sauté gently, stirring, until each grain is separate and golden.

Dissolve chicken stock cubes in 1 1/4 pints boiling water.

Remove rice from heat and stir in stock and cried thyme. Cover and simmer very gently for about 15 minutes, or until rice is tender and fluffy, but not overcooked, and all the liquid has been absorbed, Stir gently with a fork two or three times while rice is cooking. (If necessary, it can be kept in a buttered bowl covered with a folded cloth over a saucepan of hot water until chicken is ready).

Arrange rice on heated serving dish. Place well-drained, roasted chicken on top and keep hot while you finish sauce.

Transfer roasting tin with buttery chicken juices to top of stove. Add flaked almonds and sauté until a deep golden colour, stirring constantly. Remove almonds from tin with a slotted spoon and keep hot.

Drain raisins thoroughly and add them to the roasting tin with 2 to 3 tbsp boiling water. Simmer for about 2 minutes, scraping bottom and side of pan with a wooden spoon. Season to taste with more salt and pepper if necessary, and spoon buttery sauce over chicken and rice.

Sprinkle with sautéed almonds and serve immediately.

© 2011

Next Post: "Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music", to be published on Sunday 3rd July at 10am (GMT)


  1. What a great idea, and I love Helene's post! All the music was awesome, and that recipe sounds great. I'll struggle a bit with the British measurements, but we Americans should struggle a bit more, anyway! Thanks, Cuban --

  2. Thanks to you both for your lovely comments. In fact, I will be contacting you shortly to see if you would be interested in contributing your own recipes. I know that you both like cooking! :-)

    Greetings from London.

  3. food, music and travel ... who can resist..
    Interesting read.


  4. Fantastic idea - and the new header and gorgeous lady ain't half bad either. I love to cook and would be honored to contribute a recipe or two. Most of my blog writing is on art but occasionally I venture into the food area. But I know that whatever you decide to post or whoever you chose will be delightful and insightful.

  5. Great idea, and a wonderful post. I'm a new subscriber to Helen's blog. The music is great; I have music on all the time when I'm home. I'm going to try Helen's chicken recipe after I move to my larger apartment, later this month.

  6. Many thanks for your kind comments.

    Greetings from London.

  7. "Fruitful forests of culinary ideas," is a great idea. I would love to participate! I enjoyed Helena's music - those dancers in the Gente de Zona song - oh so suave! Chicken with roasted almonds and raisins sounds interesting.

  8. Hello readers and Cuban! It was great fun to write about food and music - I definitely recommend it.


  9. Thank YOU! Especially you, Helena, for giving me the opportunity to feature your blog.

    Greetings from London.

  10. What a wonderful idea! Would you believe I went to the beautiful church at St Endellion in Cornwall this morning to do some research for a blog post on the music festival there - so the connection was in my mind this very day!! And then I came back and saw your comment on feastsandfestivals. Synchronicity reigns...



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