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...

urm..?

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Pea, avocado and mint dip

Bright green, summery, fresh, and kind of healthy-ish.

Serves around 6 as part of a mezze (mezze is probably the best kind of meal).

Ingredients
2 cups green peas – I use frozen garden peas, which I prefer to petit pois, but it is up to you I suppose. Some broad beans would probably work too, but I don’t like them
1 ripe avocado, preferably the crocodile-textured hass variety.
1 small or ½ a large clove or garlic
1 tbsp crème fraîche, or cream cheese, or ricotta. Or leave out.
Juice of ½ a lemon
6 leaves of fresh mint or a generous tsp of dried mint. (I used dried as I didn’t have any fresh, and it worked really well.
½ tsp each of mustard seeds, sumac, ground coriander, and chilli flakes
salt and pepper

Method

Defrost the peas if you need to. Blend everything together with half the mint and lemon juice, and a little bit of salt and pepper. Taste and add more mint, lemon, salt and pepper as needed. If you like your dips with texture then you can add some finely chopped spring onion, shallot or radish once it has been blended.



Thursday, 16 June 2016

Cornbread with cheese and seeds

This is technically the third variation of this recipe on the blog, but I do feel like they are all valid, and delicious in different ways. This is the only version that is fully gluten free, and baking it as a loaf makes the cornbread much fluffier and more decadent.

Serve with a hearty Southwestern style stewy thing, like a beany thing, or a chilli con/sin carne. Heston Blumenthal says, and I agree, that cornbread is a much nicer accompaniment to a chilli than a crispy taco shell.

Ingredients
230g fine polenta/cornmeal
100g gram flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp each cumin, cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, nutmeg
2 eggs, lightly beaten
½ grated sweet potato or carrot (optional but interesting), or alternatively 1 cup sweetcorn
300ml/ ½ pint milk, or dairy-free alternative
1 large handful grated cheddar cheese
A few cherry tomatoes, halved (if you have some spare)
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds
1 tbsp nigella seeds
1 tbsp olive oil

Makes 1 large loaf

Method

Preheat the oven to 200c.

Drizzle the olive oil into the loaf tin, and put it in the hot oven. The oil needs to be hot when you put the batter in, so it might be worth doing this before you weigh out the ingredients and get everything ready.

In a large mixing bowl mix together the dry powder ingredients, add the eggs and milk and mix until you get a smooth batter. Then mix in the veggies (if using) and cheese.

Take the loaf tin out of the oven (be very careful of the hot oil) and pour in the batter. Scatter the seeds and cherry tomatoes (if using) over the top, and bake for about 35-45 minutes, until risen and golden. The cooking time is an estimate as my oven is not the most predictable, so maybe check the cornbread after about half an hour, the classic cake technique of poking with a knife or skewer will work just as well for this.





Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Carrot Tzatziki

This is based on something I had in Turkey a couple of years ago. Everything I ate in that trip was very simple, earnest and vegetarian, but just so delicious. Good quality veggies, and a generous amount of olive oil and garlic had a lot to do with it. And also the fact that it was holiday – everything tastes better on holiday.

I had never really thought that plain yogurt could be delicious until I went to Turkey. I always thought it was just plain yogurt. One way to recreate this back in the UK is to buy Middle Eastern brands of yogurt, or at least to buy full-fat yogurt instead of low or fat free. It is amazing how much difference full fat makes to the flavour (and I think the jury is out on how much it could really impact your waistline).

Obviously there is nothing wrong with regular tzatziki, its just that sometimes there are carrots that need using up, and it is good to ring the changes every once in a while. It is definitely better with fresh garlic, but if you want a more ‘social’ version, use garlic powder for a subtler garlic-y hum.

Serve this as part of a mezze, or with whatever you would usually use tzatziki for.  When I made it, I ate it with shakshuka and dukkah, and it was very delicious. There is no photo unfortunately – the lighting wasn’t quite right, so the gorgeous orange, gold and white-flecked tzatziki looked not so luscious, more nauseous.

Makes a generous mezze bowl for 4 – 6 people

Ingredients
1 medium sized carrot, grated (only peel if it really needs it)
300g greek yogurt, preferably full fat
1 clove crushed garlic, or 1 tsp garlic powder
Pinch of salt
½ tsp dried mint (use fresh if you have a glut of it in the garden, but dried I think works better for this)
1 generous tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil

Method

Squeeze the grated carrot a bit to get some of the excess liquid out. Then simply mix everything together. If using fresh garlic, I would advise making it at least an hour before you are ready to serve, to allow the flavours to start to relax and develop.


I ate it with warm tortillas and dukkah – very delicious.

Pomegranate, tomato and herb salad

This tastes like proper Israeli falafel stand/kebab shop salad, and I mean that in a very good way.

Ingredients
½ cucumber, finely diced
1 pomegranate, de-seeded (save some of the seeds for scattering over everything later)
Bunch parsley
1/2 bunch mint
1-2 (depending on size) echalion or banana shallots
3-4 medium vine tomatoes seeds removed
1-2 tbsp Pomegranate molasses
1-2 tbsp Olive oil
2 tsp sumac
Salt and pepper

Method


De-seed the pomegranate, finely dice all of the veggies and roughly chop the herbs. Lightly dress with 1 tbsp each of olive oil and pomegranate molasses, and half the sumac. Season with salt and pepper. Let it sit for a bit before serving, around 10-20 minutes or so. Drizzle the remaining olive oil, pomegranate molasses and sumac over the top before serving. Fresh coriander and some finely diced red or green pepper is good in it too (if you like it).

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Cookbook round up

I’ve done a few of these before, going through some of my favourite cookbooks and talking about what recipes I particularly like or am looking forward to making. Despite my blogging silence over the past year, my love of cookbooks is just as strong. I have continued buying books, covering them in post-it notes, reading them religiously, and not really cooking enough from them at all. I’m working on it. So here is a run down of some of the more recent additions to my cookbook collection, and the recipes that have caught my eye.

Honey and Co - Food from the Middle East
Honey and Co - The Baking Book
Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer

A few months ago at the staff cookery competition at my workplace (endlessly smug, see here), I had to do this whole interview thing while the judges were eating my food. I wasn’t really prepared for it, and microphones are scary enough at the best of times. The interviewer was throwing all of these questions at me which in hindsight weren’t the most challenging, but after nights of not sleeping due to the fear of cooking competitively, and then cooking competitively, I was a bit frazzled. But then the interviewer asked me what I thought the best Middle Eastern restaurant in London was, and everything became clearer. I could answer that no question. Honey and Co. And then Oliver Peyton looked up from the food (my food!) and there was a moment of recognition/approval. And then he said that they made the best shakshuka in London. High praise indeed.

I love Ottolenghi too, their food and their cookbooks are just incredible. But what Honey and Co has in spades is love. I know it is such a cliché (and I can’t really believe that I wrote that), but read their books, go to their restaurant (follow them on instagram) and you will know what I mean. They aren’t posting from test-kitchens or various site around London, its just them, their delicious food, and photos of their staff, joking around or holding flowers. The books are beautifully and thoughtfully written, with stunning photos. Their books have won loads of book of the year awards too so it isn’t just me.


One of my favourite things about Food from the Middle East is how the chapters are organised, with sections devoted to dips, pickles, bulgur wheat – to name a few. I haven’t made a huge amount from either of the Honey and Co books yet, mainly due to the fact that I haven’t been cooking as much as I would have liked, but everything just looks divine and I have tasted a few things that other people have made.

Delicious things I have tasted from Food from the Middle East include:
Butternut and tahini dip with hazelnuts - three of my favourite things, combined in an excellent way,
Carrot and butternut fritters or latkes,
Feta and spring onion bouikos (like super cheesey scones),
Mint and lemon chicken with apricots and potatoes,
Courgette stuffed with lemon rice and currants. I made this for a dinner party once, when I had a lot of people to feed. Deliciously flavoured risotto rice is spooned inside de-seeded courgettes, and then baked in the oven – was well as tasting delicious it was pretty hands off, which is always a good thing.
Feta and honey cheesecake on kadaif pastry base – I’ve eaten this in their restaurant, it was incredible. Feta in a cheesecake may seem strange, but it is good in the way that salt caramel is good. This recipe is like a restauranty version of the classic Palestinian dessert knafe – a recipe for which is in The Baking Book, and also looks wonderful. Kadaif pastry can be purchased at a lot of Arabic stores.


Things that look delicious in The Baking Book (given to me for my birthday by the wonderful Brianne) that I want to make include:
Sweet cheese buns,
Shakshuka – I make my own, but if this one is the best in London, it is definitely worth trying (15 cloves of garlic!)
Burnt aubergine burekas,
Spiced cauliflower muffins,
All the babkas – because, well obviously.
Peach, vanilla and fennel seed cakes,
Tahini sandwhich cookies filled with white chocolate and rose (I’ve promised my mum that I would make these for her birthday),

Chriskitch – Big Flavours from a Small Kitchen
Chris Honour and Laura Washburn Hutton

I got this book for my birthday from the brilliant and super foodie Michael and Rachel, and I absolutely love it. Chriskitch is a little café in Muswell Hill, a place where Jay Rayner discovered the joys of salad


One of the things I love about this book is that even though it is not a vegetarian or kosher book, I can eat practically everything in it. Which is so unusual and very special. The book is about epic salads, big flavours, generous feasts and vivid colours. And it’s a bit different – the flavour combinations and ingredients are clever and unusual, it is things I wouldn’t have thought of myself or seen elsewhere. And it all sounds so good. I haven’t made anything from this book yet, but I haven’t had it for very long. Recipes that have especially caught my eye include:

Watermelon, feta and pumpkin seed salad – flavoured with basil sugar and herbal tea. I love the idea of ripping up a herbal tea bag and using it in a salad – I’m sure it tastes delicious and would really confuse people about what they were eating.
Salmon ceviche with caramelised pineapple and raw fennel. I love raw fishy things, and the idea of pairing it with crunchy fennel and super sweet cooked pineapple sounds genius.
Salmon with herbs, walnuts and tahini. What I love about this recipe, and what actually made me fall in complete love with this book, is that the first recipe in the ‘mains’ section is for a whole side of salmon. This just makes me so happy – sometimes I will cook a whole side of salmon if I am hosting a lot of people for a meal, and it isn’t that easy to find recipes specifically for that. I love that vibe – it is lush and generous, simple to make with bright and complimentary flavours.
Whole chicken roasted with balsamic vinegar and rosemary. There are a few meat recipes in the book like this, that same vibe of generous and super flavourful. It’s a whole chicken, or a shoulder of lamb, of a big roast beef. No stingy small portions or dinners for two here. It is for people who love to cook, and share delicious things with others around their table.
Blue cheese, Guinness and sunflower seed bread. All of the breads in this book look absolutely incredible, but I will probably make this one first. It is a self-raising flour bread and so doesn’t need anything scary of time-consuming like kneading or proving. 

Salt sugar smoke: how to preserve vegetables, meat and fish
A change of appetite – where healthy meets delicious
Diana Henry

Diana Henry is an absolutely wonderful food writer that I have fallen in love with over the past year. I have been following her on twitter and instagram, and listening to her whenever she is interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme. She knows so much about food, and writes absolutely beautifully.  As well as recipes and thorough explanations about method, the books are full of wonderful memories and stories, just like all the best cookbooks. They are also styled beautifully, in fact I think the photography in her foods is my favourite of all of my cookbooks. Her book about chicken, A bird in the hand, is also excellent, but it is my Mum’s and I haven’t had a chance to really absorb it yet. Like Chriskitch, Diana Henry’s books also have a much larger proportion of recipes that I can actually eat – not a lot of shellfish, or meat paired with dairy, and not that many recipes focused on pork or bacon either.


 I originally bought Salt sugar smoke as a gift for some friends who like making jam and things, and flicking through the book for a few days with another friend before I had a chance to pass on the gift, I fell in love with the book and both me and my friend bought copies of our own. Although I haven’t made very much from the book yet, but my brilliant friends have, and it has all been very delicious.

Salt sugar smoke is encyclopaedic, it covers every aspect of preserving, written in an easy to understand, sensible way. I definitely want to try the white peach and raspberry jam, and I recently acquired a jelly bag and stand from Lakeland so that I can make the apple and thyme jelly. There are a few mustard recipes in the book –it hadn’t even occurred to me that mustard was something people could make in their own homes, but I definitely want to try all of them. I love the idea of me becoming someone who brings friends and family little jars of fancy homemade things.  Naomi has made the elderflower and rhubarb cordials and they have so delicious. I hadn’t realised that elderflowers grow so abundantly all over the place, and now that I know what they look like, I definitely want to make my own cordial with foraged elderflowers this summer. And the gravlax, all three recipes for it.


A change of appetite is a healthy eating book. It doesn’t feel like a ‘diet book’, like some kind of trend or fad thing to get on board with, just really well reasoned, sensible ideas about food. Diana Henry calls it ‘accidentally healthy’, things that are delicious and healthy in the way that they are supposed to be. No substituting mascarpone with low fat yogurt and calling it tiramisu here. What I love about this book is that Diana Henry understands the complex relationships we have with food, and how ‘diets’ can be so loaded. Food is so much more than fuel, it is inspirational, emotional and special, and it isn’t that easy to think of in clinical terms of calories and daily percentages. She writes:

“My biggest problem was thinking about food in terms of ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’. I can’t think of meals a sets of nutrients. A meal is a colourful assembly of foods – many of which we don’t quite understand in terms of health – that should be, first and foremost, enjoyable…I’m much more into living life to the full than I am into thinking of my body as a temple.

The recipes in the book are a mixture of Middle-Eastern and Asian in style, and all look so good, laid out in chapters designed around the seasons. Some of the recipes that I will definitely be making include: 
Japanese ginger and garlic chicken with smashed cucumber,
Cucumber and yogurt soup with walnuts and rose petals,
Goats cheese and cherry salad with almond and basil gremolata,
Gooseberry, almond and spelt cake,
Roast tomatoes and lentils with dukkah-crumbed eggs,
Red lentil and carrot kofte with pomegranates and tahini.


Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Roasted red pepper and tomato soup with quinoa and thyme



I’m not really into the whole “New year, new you” clean eating, guilt free thing. Eating clean just makes no sense, and thinking of food as ‘dirty’ just seems to me like a fast track to a really unhealthy and damaging relationship with food, and being someone who is really boring to talk to at parties.


That being said…


I am trying to think a bit more about what I eat. Like what makes me feel bloated and ill, and why however much pasta I eat I am always hungry about an hour later. So I’m trying to find ways to make quinoa more interesting, because it really is more filling and less bloating. And then I can read articles like this one about the quinoa industry’s affect in Peru, to remind myself that we can’t win, and everything is terrible.
  
I’m also making an effort to stop throwing so much stuff away, like disposable coffee cups and food. I bought some little plastic tubs so that I could freeze soup and curries and things in relatively small portions. This means that when I cook at the weekends I don’t need to eat the same thing every day for a week, and the freezer is filling up with tasty homemade things that I can surprise myself with when I don’t feel like cooking.

This soup was thick and warming and absolutely delicious, totally worth the effort of the additional roasting stage. It is also really filling. I am so pleased that I have little frozen portions of it for the cold grim days coming up in the next few weeks.

Serves about 6

Ingredients

5 red peppers
6 medium sized tomatoes
3 cloves garlic (skin on)
1 large onion, diced
5 ish sprigs of thyme
150g quinoa
1 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt/ course salt
About 20g butter (or just use a little bit more oil – butter is great though)
1 flat tbsp/1 cube vegetable or chicken stock powder
Ideally sherry vinegar, if you don’t have use white wine vinegar or cider vinegar
1 tbsp crème fraîche (or vegan equivalent)
Freshly ground black pepper

Serve with croutons, toasted almond slivers or toasted pumpkin seeds

Method

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees.

Cut the peppers and tomatoes in half, and arrange the peppers skin down, tomatoes skin up on a roasting tray. Arrange about half of the thyme sprigs among the veggies. Hide the cloves of garlic under the pepper shells to stop them burning. Sprinkle a bit of salt on the tomatoes. Roast for 30-40 minutes.

After the veggies are roasted, pinch their skins off as soon as they are cool enough to handle, and peel the garlic cloves. Roughly tear or shop the peppers into strips. Discard the thyme twigs.

During the veggie roasting/cooling stage, and heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan on a low heat and sauté the onions for 5 – 10 minutes until softened and translucent. Put the kettle on while the onions are cooking so that hot water is ready for the next bit.

Add the quinoa to the pan and pour in enough hot water to cover, plus a bit more so the liquid rises about 3 cm above the quinoa and onions. Be a little hesitant with the water, its easier to add more water later rather than dealing with too much liquid. Add a generous pinch of salt and bring to the boil. Put the lid on and simmer for about 10 minutes. Then add the garlic, tomato, pepper, and any remaining roasting pan juices, more water if it needs it, and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Blob the crème fraîche into the soup and blitz with a hand-blender until it is silky and thick. Then add the leaves from the remaining thyme sprigs, about 1 tsp of vinegar and a grind of black pepper. Taste, and add more seasoning if it needs it.

Yum



Thursday, 7 January 2016

Roasted cauliflower steaks with tahini and dukkah

So,
I’m back. I’ve missed you.

2015 has been an interesting year, and although I took a break from blogging, I didn’t stop cooking, or eating, or buying cookbooks, or obsessing about food basically all the time.

I’ve been trying to think about what my food highlights of 2015 were, and its tricky because it was a very good year, but they definitely included:

1. My first ever proper thanksgiving dinner courtesy of my brilliant family in the US, including a whole smoked turkey which was absolutely the most delicious turkey I have ever eaten. I also experienced my first ever turkey-coma, which is a thing.


2. Growing my very own tomatoes for the first time


3. Coming second in a cookery competition at my workplace, with bona fide proper foodie Oliver Peyton actually eating food that I had made.

















So yeah, second place! Pretty great right? For the competition I got to wear whites and cook in a large restaurant kitchen, with all of my ingredients portioned out in little plastic tubs like on the telly. I absolutely loved it – all shiny metal surfaces, massive pots and big knives. I won a copy of the National Gallery Cookbook, which is a really lovely combination of beautiful art and tasty recipes, and a whole load of Peyton and Byrne vouchers, which is very handy. Seeing as asides from food I absolutely love going to art galleries, this was a pretty excellent prize.

For the competition I chose to cook a vegan meal, as I don’t eat non-kosher meat and I thought that the chances of me overcooking fish in the pressure of a competition was too high. Once I was cooking vegetarian, the jump to vegan wasn’t actually that difficult, as most of what I wanted to make was vegan anyway. I also thought it was important to demonstrate that it is possible to create filling and delicious meals that don’t have animal products in it.

For the competition we had to make a savoury main, and my dish was:

Celeriac and artichoke sofrito with roasted cauliflower, dukkah and a pomegranate herb salad.

I’ve made the celeriac dish many times before and you can see the recipe for it here, all I changed was adding frozen artichokes and canned chickpeas instead of potatoes. I chose it because a. it is bright yellow and yellow makes people happy b. it is really delicious c. it cooks surprisingly quickly for something so hearty.

I’ve blogged about cauliflower with tahini before, but this was a bit different – its all competitiony and fancy.  It is more complicated, but definitely worth it if you want to impress a bit more than usual. And it is really, really tasty. Reserve the cauliflower off-cuts to use in something else, like soup, mash or cauliflower ‘rice’ (which sounds gross).

Shana introduced me to the joys of dukkah. It is like a middle-eastern crunchy rubble – the soggy crumbs that I have started seeing on top of some brands of humous does definitely not count. Dukkah is delicious on its own with bread and olive oil (in little bowls for alternate dipping), sprinkled over scrambled eggs, garnishing dhal, or with practically anything else.

Ingredients

Cauliflower, cut into steaks about ½-2/3 inch thick
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
Date syrup

For the tahini sauce:
(this will probably make more than you need, but always useful to have some in the fridge)
3 tbsp tahini (don’t use organic tahini as it is like cement).
Juice of half a lemon
Water
Salt and pepper

For the dukkah:
2 tbsp Coriander seeds
2 tbsp Cumin seeds
2/3 cup Hazelnuts (or almonds)
1 tbsp Nigella seeds
2/3 cup Sesame seeds
1 tsp Sea salt

Method

To make the dukkah, toast the seeds and nuts separately, either in a dry frying pan or in the oven. Rub off hazelnut skins (or buy blanched). Roughly smash/grind in a mortar and pestle with the salt. End result should be rubble, as opposed to paste.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Fry the cauliflower steaks in olive oil over a medium heat, about 5 minutes each side, seasoning as you turn, until golden. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes to ensure that they are cooked through.

To make tahini sauce, put a few tablespoons of tahini in a bowl and add a little water and most of the lemon juice. When you start stirring, the mixture will seize and become grainy, but don’t worry this is normal. Continue adding water and mixing until the sauce becomes creamy. Add more lemon juice to taste along with a little salt, and some garlic or garlic powder (optional).

To serve, drizzle the cauliflower artfully with the date syrup and tahini, and scatter dukkah over the top.