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...


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.