an adventure into my cookbook collection: soul-searching, doing things differently & the truths I learn along the way...

deseeding pomegranates is feminine & erotic, unless you hit them with a wooden spoon...

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Saturday, 19 April 2014

Apple cloud pudding from heaven


From Florence Greenberg’s Jewish Cookbook (first published in 1947)

Happy Passover (Pesach) everyone! Is anybody else really craving a sandwich or a big bowl of pasta right about now?

This is definitely (in my opinion) the best specifically Pesach dessert of all time. I mean, there are other good desserts to have during Pesach, like pavlova and chocolate mousse, but as this one has matzo meal in, it is only really made at Pesach – who would want to cook with matzo meal at other times (except for schnitzels or fried fish)?

I’m posting this recipe now because there are still a few days of Pesach left – I really do urge you to make this if you can. It is seriously wonderful. This pudding is kind of like an apple kugel, but much lighter, and supremely apple-y. If I was Nigella Lawson I would call it a ‘slightly slumped soufflé’.

Serves 4  - could potentially serve more, but everyone will want second helpings

Ingredients:

450g cooking apples
3 eggs, separated
100g caster sugar
3 tbsp fine matzo meal
1 tbsp ground almonds
zest and juice of 1 lemon
½ tsp cinnamon

Method:

Preheat the oven to 190c

Use a bit of butter or margarine to grease a deep-ish baking dish.

Peel the apples and the grate them – don’t core them first, but rather grate around the core (to save you from grating your fingers off). Mix the grated apple with the lemon juice and zest immediately to stop it from discolouring.

Whisk the egg whites until stiff.

Beat the egg yolks with sugar until pale and creamy. Add the lemony apple, matzo meal, ground almonds, and cinnamon. Mix thoroughly, and then fold in the egg whites (it will look a bit gross at this stage).


Pour the apple mixture into the baking dish, and bake for 1 hour. When it is ready it will look cake-y on the top, and light and wobbly in the middle. It isn’t the prettiest of desserts, but it is so ruddy delicious that no-one will care.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Courgette and lime loaf cake


Adapted from How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson.

This is the sixth recipe that I have made from How to be a Domestic Goddess, which is good-going for me (I have a habit of buying cookbooks and not cooking from them at all). Other recipes I have made from the book include chocolate cherry cupcakes (see the recipe here), and burnt-butter cupcakes (which I will write up soon).

I made this cake because I had a lot of courgettes. Or rather, I had some courgettes, and one thing led to another, and they multiplied, considerably (next time I buy two courgettes I will have to separate them). So I have been eating courgettes for days. But I’m not sick of them, because they are brilliant, and as this cake proves, so versatile.

I love the simplicity of an un-iced loaf cake. It seems more acceptable to be eaten throughout the day. Nigella’s original recipe was for a filled and iced cake. When I first made this cake I did make the icing, but even though I reduced the sugar from the original (as I always do with Nigella icing) it was still tooth-achingly sweet, and the wrong consistency. So I decided just to go without, the cake is sweet enough on it’s own and doesn’t need it.

Due to the dampness of the courgettes and the use of oil instead of butter this is a very moist cake – squidgy and delicious. The cake will continue to get more squidgy and delicious each day after it is made.

Ingredients

250g courgettes – this will range from between 1-3 courgettes, depending on how big they are. Weigh before you grate.
60g raisins or sultanas
2 large eggs
125 ml vegetable oil (or other flavourless oil)
150g caster sugar
225g self-raising flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
Zest of 1 lime with about 1 tbsp lime juice

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (160 with fan).

Grate the courgettes unpeeled – not too finely, you want strands, not mush. Put the grated courgette bits into a sieve and leave it sit over the sink while you prep the rest of the ingredients, to allow the excess liquid to drip out.

Beat the eggs, oil and sugar together in a bowl until light and creamed together. Then add in the self-raising flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Mix well, and then add the raisins and grated courgette.

Pour the cake mixture into a lined or greased loaf tin, and bake for 45 minutes, or until it is risen and golden. 

Test to see if the cake is ready by inserting a cocktail stick or skewer into the centre of the cake – it should come out clean.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Roasted butternut squash macaroni cheese


I probably shouldn’t be writing about macaroni cheese in April. With butternut squash, sage and
hazelnuts, this macaroni cheese is definitely a winter dish. Seeing as how the sky has been completely grey for weeks, I think it is ok, even if not legitimately macaroni-cheese weather. Ultimately, all that really matters is that it is completely delicious, perfect comfort food for any time of year.

Macaroni cheese is a special kind of dish. I have spoken to a few people and it seems that macaroni cheese is the one exception to aversions to processed food. When I had my first job and was spending all my money on rent and hair dye, I would sometimes buy Sainsburys Basics Macaroni Cheese for dinner (75p). Feel free to judge me, but at the time it was delicious. Of course homemade is much better, made in the oven not the microwave.

There is less cheese in this recipe than other macaroni cheeses, and also more vegetable, so I would like to think that is somewhat healthy, relatively speaking. The use of butternut squash also makes it pleasingly orange coloured. 

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 medium sized butternut squash – on the smallish side of ‘medium’. Peel and cut into roughly 2cm sized dice.
1 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt

250g pasta (approx). I actually never make macaroni cheese with macaroni - somehow it always has to be called macaroni cheese though, I guess that ‘conchiglione rigati cheese’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Make sure you choose a pasta type that has a hollowness, or other texture conducive to this kind of sauce.

For the sauce:
1 pint milk
50g butter
50g flour
Handful grated cheddar. Throw in a bit of crumbled blue stilton (or similar) if you have it
A few grinds of fresh nutmeg
¼ tsp English mustard
3 -4 sage leaves, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the topping:
Approx 1 ½ tbsp breadcrumbs
1 tbsp parmesan (or vegetarian equivalent)
1 tbsp toasted hazelnuts (I used the ready-chopped ones for this)
About 2-3 sage leaves, chopped

Method

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Arrange the squash cubes on a baking tray, toss with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast for 30-45 minutes, until cooked through and caramelised in parts.


To make the sauce melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and stir to make a roux. Cook the roux for a minute or two, stirring continuously, to remove any ‘raw’ flour taste. Add the milk about half a ladle-full at a time, stirring continuously to prevent lumps and ensure everything is completely amalgamated.

Once all of the milk has been incorporated, add the nutmeg, sage, cheese, mustard and seasoning (taste to make sure it is seasoned properly). Then take about half of the roasted butternut squash cubes and mash or blend them into the sauce. I used a potato masher for this, which worked really well.


Cook the pasta for about 3 minutes less than packet instructions. Drain it and mix with the cheese-y squash sauce (use a bit of the pasta cooking water if it the sauce is too thick) and the remaining cubes of roasted squash in an oven-safe relatively deep dish. As I was using a ‘stuff-able’ pasta, I used a spoon to wedge some squash cubes into each pasta shell.

Mix together the topping ingredients and scatter them over the top of the macaroni cheese. Bake at approx 200 degrees for 20-30 minutes, until the bake is bubbling and the top is golden and crispy.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Spiced black bean soup


For T.O.M

As I have written before, I have a bit of an obsession with Mexican culture. I have realised since writing that first post that it isn’t just about the gory history and the beautiful art, its about death. Or rather, about life and death – by acknowledging death, life can be really noticed, and appreciated much more. Colours are brighter and more saturated, music is louder and flavours are stronger and more vibrant.

This soup is adapted from Thomasina Miers’ book Mexican Food Made Simple. This is the third recipe I have made from that cookbook, the others being warm corn salsa and ceviche, and I definitely think it is wonderful. Mexican recipes can be tricky, the ingredients aren’t necessarily that easy to get hold of in the UK, and it is quite pig and shellfish focused, not that easy if you are vegetarian or kosher. This book however is really accessible and contains loads of suitable and delicious authentic recipes.

When I first made this soup, known in the book as ‘sopa azteca’, I was completely blown away by how delicious it was – I did not expect something so simple to make to taste so complex. It is rich and deeply savoury – it tastes almost meaty even though it is vegan.

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

Two 380g cartons cooked black beans – don’t drain
2-4 fresh plum tomatoes, depending on how big they are
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
½ onion, or a whole one if it is smallish, diced
1 tsp chiptle paste
500ml chicken or vegetable stock
juice of 1 lime
salt and black pepper to taste.

Garnishes: (optional – it is very nice on its own too)
Tortilla chips, broken up
Feta or goats cheese, crumbled
Tomato salsa
Sour cream
Diced avocado (tossed with lime juice to stop it discolouring)

Method

First you need to toast the tomatoes and garlic. Heat a frying pan (no oil needed) and when its really hot, add the tomatoes and garlic cloves. Let them blacken on all sides (charred splotches is fine, don’t worry about blackening them completely) and remove. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the skins and roughly chop. Don’t worry if you can’t get all the skin off the tomatoes.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, add the diced onion and sauté for about 5 minutes until translucent. Then add the garlic, tomatoes and chipotle paste, and fry off for about a minute before adding the beans with their water, stock and lime juice.

Let the soup simmer for 20 minutes, blend, and season to taste. Serve on its own, or with some of the garnishes suggested above.


Sorry again about the lack of photo – have a poem instead.


FRIDA KAHLO COMES TO DINNER
Christine M. Strickland

Frida Kahlo has come to dinner,
Late, as usual, a little drunk, as usual,
Scattering fag ash like confetti,
Partnered by her perpetual pain
Whose grim claws she wears as lightly
As the ribbons on her dress.
Undefeated, her thirst for life unquenched,
There is more energy in her hair
Than in my entire body.
The brass band of her beads and bangles
Transforms her limping steps
Into a fiesta dance, all rainbow skirts
And flashing teeth and eyes.
Frida Kahlo has come to dinner,
Though eating frankly bores her,
Gets in the way of talking, drinking,
Smoking, making love.
Aware of this I give her tiny pastries
Olives, nuts, morsels of spiced meat;
Fuel for her flame, swallowed without tasting.
Frida Kahlo has come to dinner
And the carnival never stops.
Her long hands are two kites,
Trailing coloured tails of laughter,
Sketching, in the smoky air between us,
Whole galleries of portraits.
Frida Kahlo has been to dinner
And is now gone, taking the party with her,
Leaving this withered Puritan
Faded, dusty, unbearably alone.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Roasted leeks with walnuts, yogurt and tarragon



Because she is wonderful, when my flatmate Shana came back from her last trip to the States, she brought back some cooking magazines for me to flick through, and I found ideas that inspired this recipe. American cooking magazines are so much fun, British ones look like dowdy sensible aunties in comparison.

I had never cooked leeks in this way before. They had always been a hidden ingredient in something else, and never the main element of a dish. This recipe really makes leeks shine, they are sweet and oniony and delicious.

This would make a brilliant starter or side for two people (increase quantities as needed)

Ingredients

3 leeks
1 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt
15g walnuts
75g natural yogurt
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon
Approx. 2 tsp chopped fresh tarragon

Method

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees

Clean and trim the leeks, and cut them in half lengthways. A clever thing to do (which of course I forgot), would be to keep the stem of the leek, to stop them falling apart when you cut them open.

Arrange the leeks on a baking tray, drizzle them with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast them for 20-25 minutes, turning occasionally, until softened with some delicious roasty dark bits.

While the leeks are roasting, toast the walnuts in a dry frying pan (or put them in the oven), until they are fragrant and a bit charred in places. Let them cool and brush off any burnt skin with your fingers. Toasting really transforms the flavour of the walnuts so don’t miss this step out. Crumble up a few of them for the artful garnish later.

Make the yogurt dressing by mixing together the yogurt with 2 tsp of extra virgin olive oil, lemon zest, tarragon and a pinch of salt. Save a little of the tarragon for the artful garnish later.

To serve, arrange the luscious, roasted leeks on a serving plate, and use a grater to grate some of the toasted walnuts all over them. This might seem a bit odd, but it works really well.* Drizzle with the yogurt dressing and garnish with the reserved artful garnishes - tarragon, and crumbled walnuts.

*It was a bit of a revelation actually, as it is so hard to find vegetarian parmesan. 

Monday, 17 March 2014

Homemade labneh with parsley and pistachios



Someone once said ‘blessed are the cheesemakers’ and I think they had a point.*

When I was in Italy in the autumn we went to visit an artisan cheese factory somewhere in Umbria. It was all a bit stinky and damp, but the cheese was phenomenal.

Here is a way to make the super delicious Middle-Eastern yogurt-cheese labneh. It is also a bit damp, but not stinky. Much much love to Shana for showing me the way, and for the use of the genuine Australian cheesecloth.

To make approximately 500g of labneh you will need:

1 kg natural yogurt (low fat is fine)
Cheesecloth/muslin
A big bowl

To make the labneh exciting and delicious you will need:

Extra virgin olive oil
salt
½ clove garlic, crushed (optional)
Big handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
Handful pistachios, chopped
1 tsp sumac
Lemon juice

Method
  
Fold the cheesecloth in half and drape it over the big bowl. Pour the yogurt into the cheesecloth, gather the edges together, and knot or tie with elastic bands. Liquid will immediately start seeping through the cheesecloth. Hang the ball of yogurt so that it can drip freely, and leave overnight. 



Note the ingenious use of cupboard handle to hang cheesecloth
The following morning, untie the cheesecloth and scrape the thickened yogurt-cheese into a container.  Add a generous pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil, and mix well. At this stage you could also add a bit of garlic if using, some sumac, or any other nice spice. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Before serving, stir through some fresh parsley and sumac, and scatter with the pistachios, and some more parsley. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice.

You could also roll the labneh into balls, roll the balls in za’atar or chilli flakes, and store in the fridge in olive oil, which is very nice too.

*Because cheese is amazing. I'm not saying that I am especially blessed by making labneh. 

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Roasted cauliflower with tahini and date syrup


Dear wonderful followers, occasional readers, and one-off Googlers,

Sorry that things have been a quiet round here. I have been having a bit of a hard time in the part of my life that isn’t to do with food or films. I realised that I completely wear my heart on my sleeve, so I have been trying to keep to myself, to contain any misery. I know it isn’t emotionally healthy, but I have never been very good at following my own advice.

What is interesting is that in spite of all that is going on with me, I have been eating relatively healthily, and doing more exercise than usual. Partly it is because comfort-eating is such a f**king cliché, and partly is that eating well and doing some endorphin-generating activity does actually make me feel better. I never thought I would be the kind of person who sweated voluntarily, but it seems to really work for me. I have been told on a few separate occasions that I have the legs of an athlete, so maybe the rest of my body will catch up soon.

Cauliflowers are for me probably the big fluffy duvet of the vegetable world. This recipe is really delicious, and I have been eating a lot of it lately. It is a bit like a healthier, Ottolenghified cauliflower cheese.

One medium-sized cauliflower will make enough for a mezze dish for up to 4 people. I tend to buy the extra-large cauliflowers wherever possible. I have left the quantities here vague so that you can scale up/down depending on how much you are making.

Ingredients

Cauliflower – separated into florets (ranging in approximate size from walnut-egg).
Olive oil
Sea salt
Tahini sauce (directions on how to make can be seen here. Omit the garlic and add enough liquid to make a good drizzling consistency).
Date syrup
Za’atar

Method

Preheat your oven to 200 c (180 with fan)

Toss the cauliflower florets in olive oil and arrange them in one layer on a baking tray. Grind some salt over them, and roast them for 25-35 minutes, or until cooked through and browned in places. Try not to eat all the pieces straight out of the tray, and let them cool to room temperature.

Arrange the cooled cauliflower on a nice plate (this is very important), and drizzle with tahini in artful swirls. Add an artful swirl of date syrup on top of the tahini (a little goes a long way), and sprinkle some za’atar over the top.

And feel better.