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...


Saturday, 26 February 2011

Quick Moroccan Carrot Salad

To make the perfect Moroccan carrot salad, toss still-warm coin shaped pieces of cooked carrot and chopped parsley in a dressing made from olive oil, lemon juice, a crushed garlic clove, 1 crushed dried chilli and an extraordinary amount of ground cumin.  This can also be made using cooked beetroot (thank you Shalem family), and is equally fantastic.  

The one issue with salads to make them the best they can possibly be is to take them out of the fridge enough time before you are ready to eat so that they can come up to room temperature.  Having things super-cold dulls the flavours (which is why melted ice-cream is so nasty btw) and then you might as well have just bought the salad from a shop.  Saying that though, if you want to try a really great Moroccan carrot salad, the one made by Yarden is pretty fantastic, and authentic tasting.

Vegetable Tagine

Firstly, a big thanks to everyone who has been reading and commenting on the blog, I really appreciate it.  And please do feel free to recommend cookbooks, ingredients and cooking styles; this really is an adventure for me so I’d love any input.  And of course you can invite yourself over for a meal :) 

I have now been living in my flat for five months, and its been really fantastic.  I really have to say a big thanks to my fabulous flatmates, Hannah and DY.  For anyone considering moving in London, I love Willesden, it rocks.  One of the best things about living in the flat, for me is hosting Friday night dinners. The first ever Friday night dinner was hosted in October, before we had a table or any chairs.  We arranged the living room with rugs and cushions around a central low table made of cardboard boxes and it was beautiful, I wish I had taken a picture. Due to the lack of conventional Friday night dinner seating, the food had to be the kind of thing that could be eaten from a bowl, with just a fork, and so the Moroccan theme was born.
Dinner in Essaouira

I went to Morocco for 2 weeks a few summers ago, and while I am in no-way any kind of expert on Moroccan food, we did eat a great deal of it when we were there (please message me if you are thinking of going and want any advice).  This dish really does taste like Morocco.  By which I mean, incredibly warming and summery at the same time, spiced but not spicy and incredibly complex.

This recipe is actually not from a book I own, but from the BBC food website.  Difficulty 2/5 time: 30 mins prep, 1/ 1 ½ hours cooking.  Reheats very well too.  Tastes 4/5 I have now made this tagine twice, and it worked perfectly the first time, slightly less so the second time, because I put too much liquid in it.  I know this seems like a complicated recipe, but its actually really simple, essentially you are just making a delicious marinade, and cooking stuff in it.  yes I know that wasn’t at my usual standards of eloquence.

For the chermoula
1 red pepper
 4 cloves
 3 tsp coriander seeds
 3 tsp cumin seeds
 3 cloves garlic
1 red chilli
1 tsp smoked paprika
bunches coriander
bunches flat leaf parsley
10 leaves mint
1 lemon, juice and zest only

For the vegetables
8 baby shallots, (or small baby onions)
400 g sweet potatoes, cut into chunks
 1 fennel, quartered
 3 kipfler potatoes, cut into chunks
1 red pepper, cut into thick strips
3 baby aubergines, cut in half length ways
1 courgette, cut into about 6 disks
4 roma tomatoes, cut in half
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
10 prunes, pitted
 500 ml vegetable stock
 400 g canned or cooked chickpeas (optional)

1. For the chermoula (Wikipedia definition here): grill the red pepper on all sides until the skin is blackened and the flesh is soft.  This first time I made this our oven had not been koshered yet, and so I stuck a fork in the pepper and blackened it over a flame on the hob.  Using the grill, as I did when I made it more recently is much much easier, but make sure that you put some foil under the pepper, as a lot of goo comes out and it will be a massive hassle to clean the grill pan/tray.  Put the pepper in a sandwich bag or a bowl covered with cling film, and leave it sealed and steaming for at least 5 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, lightly roast the cloves, coriander and cumin seeds in dry drying pan. Tip the spices into a mortar and pound until sufficiently broken down.
3. Remove the red pepper from the bowl, peel of the skin, remove the seeds and pound with the spices until mushy.  Then add the herbs (finely chopped) and bash again.  The original recipe suggested using a blender/food processor, which would work better but I don’t have one (I do, but its lost in the garage).  Anyway, what’s lovely about this is that the pepper stays a little lumpy, and the herbs stay distinct too, which would all be lost if you used a blender.

4. For the vegetables: coat the vegetables in the chermoula mix and lightly fry in a large heavy based saucepan or tagine.  Obviously it is totally up to you whichever veggies you decide to use, I have yet to make this with fennel or baby shallots, but large onions in slices seems to work pretty well too. 

5. Top with tomatoes (I just used a can), cinnamon, bay leaf (I didn’t use this), prunes and vegetable stock. Cover and cook for about 1 hour until the vegetables are just tender. Add cooked chickpeas (if using) and cook for a further 30 minutes.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Little lemony pots

I’m really not sure what to call these, they are kind of like a cross between eton mess and lemon cheesecake, partly inspired by a dessert called ‘Ipanema Mess’ that I had in Las Iguanas.  This is a store-cupboard thing, in the sense that I already had most of the ingredients and was wondering what to do with them.  They are incredibly easy.

With most desserts, going for the low fat never really works, and its honestly not worth the bother.  However with this, and actually with most eton-mess style emss things, yogurt seems to work really well in the place of whipped cream.  Actually, the sourness seems to balance out the sweetness of the meringue and the fruit, making it a much less rich and more interesting experience.  It also makes it the kind of dessert you don’t feel so guilty about eating at brunch/lunchtime.

For each ramekin you will need:

Approximately 1 ½ digestive biscuits, bashed into crumbs. When I made this I used chocolate digestives as it was all I had, but I really don’t recommend using them – they don’t crumble as well, and I don’t think that the additional chocolate element adds anything to the dessert.
Spoonful of margarine/butter, melted
Lemon curd
Natural yogurt
Meringues. I used small shop-bought ones which were great as it was one for each.
Is you have fresh lemons (I didn’t) a bit of zest grated over the top would be really lovely. I have to say though, there was something really beautiful and simple of the white all by itself, and it does make the lemon more of a surprise when you find it.

Mix the cookie crumbs with the melted butter, and press into a straight layer in the bottom of each ramekin, approx. ½ - 1 cm thick.  Put them in the fridge for a couple of hours until set.
Put a blob of lemon curd in the centre of each dish, as much as you want to, but remember that it is really, coma-inducingly sweet. Fill the rest of the ramekin until almost full with the yogurt, and then crumble the meringue over the top.  Keep in the fridge until ready to eat.


There is something about a cooked breakfast or brunch that is just the best thing, eaten at any time of day. In actual fact I think that its these things that work best at precisely the wrong time of day, like how amazing cereal is in the evening. 

Claudia Roden, in The Book of Jewish Food, writes that ‘[Shakshouka] is used to all kinds of dishes involving fried vegetables with eggs broken on the top.  A variety of vegetables, from potatoes and broad beans to artichoke hearts and courgettes, are used in Tunisia, where the dish originated, but it is the version with onions, peppers and tomatoes that has been adopted in Israel as a popular evening meal.’  Claudia Roden is perhaps one of the best food writers there is, but I didn’t use her recipe, rather I took inspiration from it. Also, I have always associated Shakshoua with breakfast, not as an evening meal.  There has been a lot of stuff on the tv about Israel lately, and it inspired me to make this dish.  I’m sure that its not what the producers of The Promise or Louis Theroux had in mind, but all I can think about is holidays in Israel, and Israeli breakfasts.

This makes enough for about 3-4 eggs.  You will need a large frying pan with a lid.  As I’m sure you are aware my cooking style is not exact at all – you may want a lot more or less spices in this, its up to you.  You can make the sauce in advance, and just reheat it  when ready to cook the eggs.

*    1 Red pepper – chopped into medium-sized chunks

*    1 medium onion – diced
*    Can chopped tomatoes
*    Eggs – 1 or 2 each, depending on how hungry you are
*    Tomato puree – about a dessert-spoonful
*    Handful of parsley, chopped
*    ½ tsp Paprika
*    ¼ tsp Chilli powder
*    ½ tsp Cumin
*    Salt and pepper
*    Olive oil

Heat olive oil in a frying pan and fry the onion and pepper on a medium heat.  After about 5 minutes, add the spices and fry for about another 5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, parsley and tomato puree, season with salt and leave to simmer for at least 15 minutes.  The longer the sauce cooks, the richer it will be. 
When ready for the eggs, make some spaces in the sauce for each eggs and add one to each hollow, being careful not to split the yolk. Turn the heat up slightly and put the lid on the pan.  The eggs will take about 5 minutes to cook, but do keep an eye on them.
When the eggs are as set as you want them to be, grind some black pepper over the top and serve with some crusty bread.

There is also a nice recipe for this in Tessa Kiros’ Apples for Jam which is much simpler and uses garlic, which would be a great addition.  She also notes how great this eaten straight from the pan.  I wholeheartedly agree.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Fruity Couscous, for Hannah

I never used to like couscous, it was just too boring.  This is an adaptation of a recipe that my mum makes, and it really is amazing.  She would serve it with a roasted Portobello mushroom on top (see mushroom burger post).  This makes a really fantastic appetiser or entrée for a slightly pretentious dinner party.  This is a really easy thing to make, the ingredients are cheap and it will accompany many different middle-eastern style stew-y things.  Please be aware that all these quantities are very approximate.

·     75g almonds, roughly chopped (I blanch and chop them myself, as its cheaper to buy them in their skins.  To blanch them, simply put them in some boiling water for 5-10 minutes, and the skin will peel off very easily. The skin is quite bitter and not suitable for this recipe, so make sure you peel them, or buy them already blanched).  You could also use pine kernels.
·     150g couscous
·     1 medium onion (red if you have it) diced
·     zest and juice of half a lemon, or a whole one if you like it very lemony.
·     Handful chopped parsley
·     3 tablespoons sultanas, or a mixture of sultanas and apricots

Boil the kettle.  Put the couscous in a large bowl and add boiling water to cover plus about 1 – 2 cm.  Fry onion until soft and starting to colour (see polenta post), add the almonds and let colour.  Then add the lemon zest, juice, dried fruit and parsley, and warm everything through.  By this stage, the couscous should have absorbed all of the water.  Run a fork through it until its fluffy, and then mix it together with the lemony mixture, and keep warm until you are ready to eat it. Yum yum.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Comfort food part 3 - Pomegranate salsa

This is comfort food in a different sort of way. It’s incredibly fresh and revitalising, and will generate lots of ego-boosting compliments.  I wont get into whether ego-boosting compliments is a reason to cook for people, it comes under the whole vanity project thing, and just gets depressing.  I’d like to think that I love cooking for people because I really like making people happy, and feeding them in a jewish-mother kind of way, but I cant deny that being told the food you make is delicious doesn’t make me feel great.  I seem to spend so much of my day with a cloud over my head, so every little helps I guess.  Part of the reason why this salad is great is that it seems to go with everything.

·     1 pomegranate
·     1 cucumber
·     3-4 spring onions
·     juice and zest of half a lime (oh santa please can I have a zester.  While peeling and chopping zest does show off my awesome knife skills, its not so efficient…)
·     handful of mint, chopped

Chop the spring onions and cucumber into small bits, making sure to use the green of the spring onion too.  I tend to cut the seeds out of the cucumber as I find them too watery and annoying, but I leave that decision up to you.  If you happen to have a hamster, save them a slice of cucumber and 1 or 2 pomegranate seeds.

Now I don’t mean to get all weird, but for me there is something incredibly feminine and slightly erotic about deseeding pomegranates.  Pomegranates have such a resonance with femininity through culture and mythology, representing fertility and a certain element of temptation.  I’m sure there are some interpretations of the Garden of Eden where the fruit is a pomegranate, and of course there is Persephone in the Underworld.  Somehow when deseeding pomegranates I feel incredibly calm, and feminine.  I’m sure this all makes me very strange, maybe I’ve just been single for too long.  I had a similar experience a few months ago when I was asked to fill up a very large urn for a reception at work.  It was so large that we had to use jugs, and all the water jugs we had were that very traditional amphora shape.  I noticed that I was pouring the water in a similar pose to the women in typical art nouveau or Aquarius imagery, and I felt incredibly feminine, and not in a betrayal of my gender empowerment kind of way or anything.  This is turning into a very odd post…

Anyway, to make the salsa, mix everything together, at least 1 hour before you want to eat it, so the flavours have a chance to settle.  And that’s it.  Some people find deseeding pomegranates quite tricky what with all the pith, but if you take your time and are methodical it should be fine.  Some suggest bashing them with a wooden spoon to get the seeds out, but I really don’t get this.  I have tried it and I cant say it made any difference, other than being messier and totally ruining the zen-like femininity of the moment.  And I’m not sure why the spoon has to be wooden.  You can also deseed over a large bowl of water, being that the pith is supposed to float to the top or something, but this then washes off some of the delicious juice bleeding out the cut sides of the fruit. Take the seeds out over bowl you are going to use, and be careful and it’ll be fine.  Just don’t wear a white shirt.

Proserpine: Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882). Oil on canvas, 1874

Comfort food part 2 - Fried eggs and mashed potatoes

Don’t worry I’m not going to tell you how to make either of those things.  Sometimes I worry that this blog is turning into a big vanity project, and I really don’t want that to happen.  I really don’t think I’m a particularly good cook, and I certainly don’t think that I can fry eggs better than you (dear readers).  What I’m trying to say is, if you haven’t tried this, and like the sound of it, give it a go.  As far as comfort food goes, its great.  

This is a dish that is made with left-over mashed potato.  When I made it, it was especially comforting as it was left-over mashed potato, made by someone else, you can’t really get better.  Just as long as the someone who had made it did a lovely job, with milk and butter and plenty of salt, pepper and 2 grinds of nutmeg (thanks Mum).  Throw half a chopped onion in a very large frying pan, and fry on a medium heat until half done.  Add in the mashed potato and reheat, frying the onion and getting little brown patches in the potato at the same time.  When the onion is cooked at the potato is hot – it won’t take very long, move it all to the sides on the pan and out the way.  Add a splash of oil to the centre of the pan and when its hot, fry the egg.  Serve the egg on top of the potato with black pepper and chilli sauce.

Comfort Food part 1 - Mushroom Burgers

Hello everyone.  I haven’t written anything in a while, and its been really weighing on my conscience, which is quite odd, as its not like I’m beholden to anything or anyone.  Or at least, I keep telling myself that.  The other day my friend was telling me that she met someone who defined himself by what he liked to do, rather than what he actually did.  This really got me thinking.  I’ve met a lot of new people lately and the first question asked always seems to be ‘what do you do?’ Fair enough, its a socially excepted way to start asking someone about their lives and hopefully it’ll lead to more interesting conversations, but still, saying the same thing over and over again gets so exhausting.  Also, I really don’t think that my job defines who I am at all, its just what I happen to do, and that can get a bit depressing.  So I was thinking that if I wanted to describe myself by what I enjoyed doing as opposed to my job, I could call myself a ‘food writer’ or possibly a ‘food writer/film critic/lay-about/professional window-shopper’ or something.  If I am going to call myself a food writer, I really ought to write more about food.

I haven’t made anything new lately, having neither the inspiration nor the time, so here are a couple of non-recipe food ideas, the kind of ultimate comfort food that just seems to work in a dreary February, and goes especially well with your brand of self-indulgent voyeuristic TV guilty pleasures, mine currently being ‘Big fat gypsy weddings’.

·    Portobello mushrooms (1-2 each, depending on how big they are)
·    Olive oil & Balsamic vinegar or butter & a couple of crushed garlic cloves
·    Cream cheese & pesto, mixed together
·    Wholemeal round rolls
·    1 large tomato (only if you can find nice looking red ones, otherwise don’t bother)
·    1 red onion
·    Rocket

Basically, it’s a large roasted mushroom in a bun, but totally works.  Wipe clean some large Portobello mushrooms and arrange in a single layer in a roasting dish (make sure its some with sides, to collect all the lovely juices.  I have suggested 2 different flavourings for the mushrooms, the garlic butter is a classic, but the oil and vinegar gives an amazing sweetness, like a marinated steak.  So either mix together butter and crushed garlic and put a generous teaspoonful on top of each one, or drizzle them with olive oil and a little bit of balsamic vinegar. Roast at about 180 for 20 or so minutes, until they start smelling super-mushroomy and looking quite burger-like.  One of the best things about burgers is all the bits that come with them, so make sure you have proper round buns (wholemeal) and chips (see below). When the mushrooms are almost done, cut the rolls in half and stick them in the oven to toast up a bit.  You don’t want them too toasted, but rather just enough for the surfaces to harden slightly, so that they don’t fall apart as soon as you put all the delicious things in them.  I have specified pesto cream cheese, tomato, red onion and rocket, that’s just a personal thing, I love the combination of sweet/rich/fresh/bitter.  That’s just me though.  Also, save all the juices that will have accumulated in the bottom of the roasting dish – don’t put them on the burgers because it’ll make them too soggy, but save the liquid and use it as a base to make the most amazing pasta sauce, mushroom risotto or soup.

For the potato wedges – I’m hesitant to tell you how many potatoes to use, because I don’t want to betray how greedy I am when it comes to chips, but you know how many you would use, besides if you make too many, I’m sure someone will finish them:
·     potatoes (floury not waxy) cut into wedge shapes as according to your preference.
·     olive oil
·     paprika or fajita seasoning.  Discovery and Old el Paso make these incredible spice mixes, and they are really cheap.  Somehow they make this great flavour combination that really tastes just right
·     chili powder
·     salt

pour into a large bowl 1 tablespoon of oil, followed by a heaped teaspoon of the paprika or fajita spice, a quarter teaspoon of chilli powder, and a large pinch of salt. Add the potatoes to the bowl and mix together so that they all get coated in the spiced oil.  Arrange on a baking tray in a single layer and roast for about 35 minutes – turning them over halfway.  If putting them in the oven with the mushrooms  -give them a 10-15 minute head start and it should all be ready at the same time.