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, 27 November 2016

Red lentil, tomato and orange soup

I am writing this recipe watching ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’ and eating some mars bar rice crispie, could literally not be more food now if I tried.*

This is my Mum’s recipe. It is one of the most comforting, warmest and most delicious soups on the planet. It is also surprisingly uncomplicated to make.

This recipe gets a bit non-linear. I know that is not so acceptable with recipes and food writing, but it is just how my brain is working at the moment. (I’ve been thinking about Kurt Vonnegut a lot lately).

Serves probably 6

Ingredients

225g red lentils
1 large carrot, sliced
1 onion, sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 or 2 garlic cloves, crushed or chopped
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 orange
400ml veg stock (you might need to add more water)
salt and pepper

goes really well with a crunchy garlic-y crouton

Method

Peel the orange with a vegetable peeler. take care when doing this as oranges are strange things to peel, and so some finger stabbing/peeling may occur (it is worth it though). Use a pointy-ish teaspoon or similar implement to scrape the white pith out of the back of the orange peel. This is the only tedious bit of this recipe, and in the right frame of mind, it can be oddly satisfying. Juice the orange and save the juice for later.

In a large saucepan, heat the oil and lightly fry the onion slices. If you start this off before you start scraping the orange peel pith, then by the time you are done, the onions should be lightly browned, and ready to go. Add the garlic when you are about halfway through the orange peel.

Add the rest of the ingredients (except the salt and pepper), bring to the boil, cover and simmer for about 30-45 minutes, or until the carrots and lentils are cooked. Check it periodically and add a bit more water if needed.

Add the orange juice, blitz the soup, and season to taste.


*of course one can always be more foodie



Sunday, 14 August 2016

Courgettes stuffed with lemon rice

Adapted from Honey and Co: Food from the Middle East


This is a recipe of favourites. This cookbook is possibly one of my favourite cookbooks, from one of my favourite restaurants, and Instagram feeds. And as you know, risotto is one of my favourite things to eat, lemon is my favourite flavour, and courgettes are fast becoming one of my favourite vegetables. So it is an all-round win.

The preamble to this recipe is also probably one of the best in all of my cookbooks. It makes it hard to write this blog to be honest, because I don’t have a really charming story about vegetarian BDSM, or at least, not one that I want to share as publicly.

It’s a simple recipe – usually I am so guilty of over-complicating, and taking things too far. But with this recipe I have held back - I haven’t added anything to it, other than tinkering with the quantities. I considered adding garlic, or preserved lemon, or toasted almonds, but it is so good just like this. And also otherwise all of my food would probably taste the same.

This recipe seems complicated but it is actually really easy. I always appreciate recipes that you can just leave in the oven to do their thing, and that can be left hot for a while without getting ruined. I’ve made this quite a few times now. It is vegan and gluten-free without being obviously or annoyingly so, and uncomplicated enough that it will supplement any other dishes being served.

Serves 5 - 6 as a main meal, or a generous 8 if serving with other dishes too

Ingredients

5 – 6 even-sized courgettes, as straight as possible (depending on how big they are, and how big your tray is – see below)
2tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, or two large echalion shallots, finely diced
1 tsp (level) each of cinnamon, allspice and turmeric
½ tsp cayenne pepper
225g risotto rice
70g currants
zest and juice of 1 large lemon
750ml water
6-10 cherry tomatoes, halved (you could also use a few roughly chopped big tomatoes, but it won’t look as fancy)
1 small bunch of parsley, pick out the large stalks and chop medium-fine
Salt

Method

You will need a roasting tray with high sides for this one. Slice the courgettes in half lengthways and use a teaspoon to scoop the seeds out, creating a hollow. This is a very satisfying activity. Line them all up in the roasting tray (how many courgette boats will fit in the tray may also affect how many you make).

Pre-heat your oven to 200c, or 180c if you have a fan oven.

Heat the oil in a very large frying pan, turn the heat down low and add the shallots. Fry for a few minutes and then add the spices. Fry gently for a few minutes and then add the rice and stir to coat and toast slightly. Add the currants, lemon and water, season with a teaspoon of salt, and turn the heat up. Let the rice boil for about a minute, and then empty the frying pan into a colander sitting over a large bowl – keeping the rice and all the liquid. Mix the cherry tomatoes and parsley into the rice.

Use a spoon to distribute the rice evenly between all of the courgette boats, and then carefully pour the liquid into the tray around the courgettes. The liquid should come roughly halfway up the sides, so add a little more if you think it needs it, but be aware that the courgettes will also release a lot of liquid. Place a sheet of greaseproof paper on top of the courgettes, and then seal completely with foil (the greaseproof paper helps them to steam). Bake in the oven for about an hour – you can check them halfway through the cooking to see if they need a baste, but its also fine to just leave them to do their thing. And that's it!


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.