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..?

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Chestnut, mushroom & onion pie

Recipe adapted from ukshallot.com

If the world doesn’t end tomorrow, I recommend that you try this out at some point. I think it might be, along with the sausage and apple hot pot one of the most grown-up things I have ever made. It is rich and perfect for winter, one of those vegetarian recipes that really does tick all the ‘depth of flavour’ boxes. Also, as it only uses a small amount of wine – you can drink the rest! If wine isn’t really your thing, I recently discovered that Sainsburys are selling mini bottles of wine, 3 for £5. This is great for if you want to cook with wine but not necessarily open a whole bottle, or just really don’t want to drink a whole bottle.

I know that most of the time I come across as quite a confident cook, but in reality I’m really not. In theory I know how to make most things because I watch so much cooking television, but no matter how many hours of ‘Great British Bake Off’, I still can’t pluck up the courage to make my own bread or pastry. It’s weird really because cake and macaroons hold no fear for me. I think that I just don’t trust/understand the alchemy that is yeast, and have nightmares about the dreaded ‘soggy bottom.’ I’m a bit of a scaredy-cat really – I stopped riding my bike aged seven because I didn’t like how it went faster going downhill, and don’t even get me started on ice skating or cable-cars. What this means, is that in terms of baking, my fear of pastry even spread to the ready-made frozen stuff, and this was in fact the first time I have used it. Now I don’t normally own up to this sort of thing, but I feel that I need to tell you, because the photograph of the little pies doesn’t look so brilliant. It’s all a learning curve I suppose, and they tasted amazing anyway.


Ingredients (makes enough for 6-8 small pies, 1 big one or a stew for approx. 4 people)

200g cooked chestnuts (such as Merchant Gourmet vacuum packed)

2 bay leaves

1 sprig fresh rosemary

200ml red wine

300ml vegetable stock

25g butter (I don’t normally cook with butter, but it really makes this dish - can use vegan margarine)

1tbsp olive oil

12 shallots or baby onions, peeled & cut in half

400g chestnut mushrooms, cut into quarters

2 tbsp Beurre Manie (1 tbsp flour mixed to a paste with 1 tbsp softened butter/marg– I used a microwave to help this process)

2 tsp (not heaped) Dijon mustard

2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 sheets of puff pastry (some ready made pastry in supermarkets is actually vegan)


Method

Melt the butter in a frying pan, add the olive oil to stop it burning and fry the onions until slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, bay leaves and rosemary and cook for a further 4-5 minutes.  

Add the chestnuts, red wine and vegetable stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20-30 minutes until the onions are soft, stirring occasionally.
Add the beurre manie, stirring constantly until is dissolves, and cook for a further 5 minutes until the sauce is thickened.

Stir in the mustard and flat leaf parsley and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

If serving this as a stew, you can serve it immediately or reheat – it reheats really well, but does get a little too thick if left on a low heat for a long period of time.

If making this into pastry, let the mixture cool down completely (information I know thanks to the ‘wellington’ challenge on Great British Bake Off). I tried some small squares of pastry into triangles, and some larger rectangles of pastry into squares. Whatever shape you do, you will get about 4 from each sheet of pastry.

Dollop a spoonful of the mushroom mixture into the pastry, being careful not to go to the edges (I failed). Fold the pastry over carefully to create your desired shape, and crimp the edges closed with a fork.

Brush the pastries with a little milk and bake in a pre-heated oven (180-200c) for roughly 25 minutes or until puffed and golden.


not the prettiest, but tasted amazing

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Celeriac Sofrito


I first tasted this dish a few weeks ago when I volunteered, together with Moishe House and Brondesbury Park Synagogue at Rumi’s Kitchen, in Cricklewood Mosque. About once a month, a group of people come together and cook for the homeless. What’s wonderful about it, is that it isn’t so much about the food, but about creating a sense of community. Much love to Becky for introducing them to me. See below* for details about Rumi’s Cave.

I had never worked in an industrial-sized kitchen before, and absolutely loved it. The pot I was stirring was so big that it went over four rings on the hob, and the heat was so intense that two of us were stirring together to keep the celeriac from sticking. The original recipe was chosen by someone from the synagogue, it is an Ottolenghi dish, served with oniony meatballs. This recipe here is my adaptation.

In Jerusalem, Ottolenghi/ Tamimi explain that a sofrtio has its origins in Sephardic Jewish cooking, and refers a cooking method. Originating from the Spanish verb sofreir (to fry lightly). It involves slowly cooking meat in a pot on the stovetop with only oil and very little liquid. The result is a very tender texture and rich, comforting flavour. Turmeric, garlic and lemon are traditional flavours for this. Although traditionally associated with meat, it works incredibly well here with just veggies.

Celeriac is a pretty new ingredient for me. I have never been the biggest fan of root vegetables, but celeriac is brilliant. Every day on Masterchef Professionals someone seems to be making celeriac puree, so it can’t just be me. I have made this recipe a few times now, and I really love it. It’s sunshine-yellow and lemony, and the spices add an incredible warmth. I’ve added a few potatoes for a little variety in texture – the celeriac becomes really soft and almost creamy.

Makes enough for 4-6 as a side dish.

Ingredients
2 tbsp olive oil
1 celeriac, peeled and cut into approx 5cm x 1.5cm batons. I intentionally cut some a little small and some a little big, for different textures.
About 8 small waxy potatoes (I use charlottes) cut into quarters
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp each cumin and coriander
1 tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed
¾ tsp smoked paprika
1 mug-full of chicken or vegetable stock (1 cube) – you may need a little extra liquid
Juice from half a lemon – more of less depending on your preferences
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

The potatoes take a little longer to cook, so start them off cooking before you peel and chop the celeriac. Heat the oil in a large saucepan/or deep frying pan and add the potatoes, stirring quite frequently on a medium heat. Add the celeriac when it is ready, along with the turmeric, fennel seeds and other spices. Fry these all together for 5-10 minutes, until the spices start smelling fragrant and the veggies look cooked at the edges. Add the garlic and fry for another 5 minutes, stirring all the time to prevent it from burning. Then add the mug of stock, and simmer for at least 20 minutes. As there isn’t that much liquid, you will need to stir quite regularly to prevent it from sticking to the bottom (you may need to add a little more liquid, but don’t add too much).  When the potato quarters have cooked through and the smaller wedges of celeriac have started to disintegrate and thicken the sauce, season with the lemon, salt and pepper. Goes very well with thick Greek yogurt or Labneh.

8 celeriacs cooking in the giant pot at Rumi's Kitchen
Another volunteer and I stirring the giant pot. I love my apron 
my normal-sized version - slightly too orange as my hand slipped with the paprika - tasted nice though

Served with herby labneh and pomegranate seeds

*Rumi’s Cave is a community space located in the heart of Kilburn in London. It is run by charity, Ulfa Aid as a way of engaging and reaching out to the community. At Rumi’s Cave, we aim to create an environment of spirituality, creativity and learning for everyone, despite race or religion. Their mission is: Spirituality, Creativity, Education, Community, Charity.


Sunday, 25 November 2012

Dark chocolate peanut butter cups




I think I could probably write an entire cookbook based on recipes using peanut butter – seeing how much I get through, maybe Skippy will sponsor one. My love for peanut butter cups, and probably peanut as ‘sweet’ comes from my first trip to New York as a conscious foodie aged 14 (all I remember from my trip at the age of 4 is getting soaked by my cousin Josh at a water fountain outside the Smithsonian). Reese’s Peanut Butter cups completely changed my world. Coming home from that trip my suitcase basically consisted of peanut butter cups, some variations on the theme including cookie and grape jelly, and a pair of Steve Madden platforms. Well I guess that’s what happens when a 14 year old is in the US without parental supervision. Speaking of foodie consciousness by the way, this trip was also the first time that I tried, and fell in love with, both sushi and aubergines (I had been afraid of them previously). It also put an end of my refusal to eat red meat. Much much love to all my American family for contributing to this enlightenment.

These peanut butter cups were another one of the chocolates made with T.O.M on our chocolate day a few weeks ago. The original recipe comes from Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess, which I think I count as my favourite book just because of the title. See evidence of me getting carried away with being a ‘domestic goddess’ here. T.O.M and I have made this before in its original state, the peanut butter square, but this time on our chocolate day we were feeling a little more ambitious.

When I told a colleague that I was planning on making peanut butter cups, her response was ‘you know that you can get them in the shops right’? Obviously it takes a little more time to paint the cupcake cases with melted chocolate, but it really is worth it. The dark chocolate gives them a bitterness that is a perfect foil for the sweetness of the peanut filling, and makes them feel a little more grown-up, and different from Reese’s. See my post on honeycomb-peanut chocolate bites (also Nigella) for some thoughts on why salty peanut goes so well with chocolate.

Makes about 15 cups, more or less depending on how big you make them, obviously. T.O.M and I made a double batch, from which we made about 18 cups and a big rectangle of chocolate peanut butter squares.

Big thanks again to Steven for the tremendous photos

Ingredients

       50g muscovado sugar
       200g icing sugar
       50g unsalted butter or vegan margarine - softened
       200g peanut butter – crunchy or smooth depending on preference
       Make sure that you have about 400g of dark chocolate, although you probably wont need all of it.
       Cupcake cases

First make the chocolate cases. Melting chocolate can be very temperamental, so I tend not to melt more than 50-100g at a time. Either use the microwave or a bowl suspended over a pan of simmering water making sure that no steam or condensation makes its way into the chocolate, or it will seize. Using a teaspoon (or a clean paintbrush) coat the base of the cupcake case with melted chocolate, carefully working the chocolate up the sides to about a third of the way up. Set the cases aside to firm up.

In a large bowl, mix together the sugars, butter and peanut butter together. I know it seems like a scary list of ingredients, but trust me it works – the muscavado sugar gives a brilliant sandy texture. Use a food processor for this if you want, it is not the easiest thing to mix by hand.

When the chocolate cases are hardened, take a small handfuls of the peanut mixture, roll it into flat-ish circles using your hands, and press them into the cases. Make sure that the peanut doesn’t come up higher than the edge of the chocolate, otherwise there will be gaps and cracks in the finished cups.

When this is done, melt a little more chocolate to cover over the tops. Make sure that the chocolate is completely hardened before turning them out of the paper cases – but don’t put them in the fridge.






Monday, 5 November 2012

White Chocolate Mendiants with Fennel Leaf and Pink Peppercorns


These are I think the most beautiful things I have ever made, and would make an excellent gift for Christmas or Chanukah. Apart from my love of Hundertwasser (backgrounds here and on Twitter), my favourite form of visual art is Japanese landscapes paintings, especially Edo Period. I actually own an original Hiroshige print, probably my most prized possession. I can (and do) stare at it for hours feeling all happy and serene. These little chocolates look just like Japanese Cherry Blossom paintings, and as soon as I saw a photo of them I completely fell in love – the way you would if you saw your favourite kind of art reproduced in chocolate (unless you are a big fan of Damien Hirst, or potentially any of the YBAs actually).

Every so often, although not often enough, T.O.M and I get together and have a chocolate baking day. And we are getting pretty good at it. We always buy twice as much chocolate as we need, but nowadays we don’t seize any, we just eat all the leftovers. For the past few months I had been incubating in my brain some sort of thing involving pink peppercorns and white chocolate. I couldn’t quite work it out, but I knew that it had to be something spectacular. Conveniently I had given T.O.M a bag of pink peppercorns recently and so everything just fell into place. I found this recipe via Google, and as soon as I saw this one, I knew I had to make it. It is an El Bulli recipe, and I found it here.

Mendiants isn’t exactly the right kind of name for these, but I needed to find something better to call them other than ‘thingies’. (From Wikipedia) A Mendiant is a traditional French confection composed of a chocolate disk studded with nuts and dried fruits, representing the four monastic orders of Dominicans (raisins), Augustinians (hazelnut), Franciscans (fig) and Carmelites (almonds). Not really the most interesting thing I have ever written on here – but I’m sure it will come up in a pub quiz or on University Challenge or something. Answers on a postcard, or comment below, about what Saint, or saintly figure these could represent.

Ingredients

You will need some fennel fronds from the top of a fennel bulb. We had to go through an entire box of them in Sainsburys to find one which hadn’t been completely trimmed, and then ended up cheekily picking leaves off other ones and putting them in the same bag.

With the peppercorns, they need to be lose and not in a grinder – you only want the pink outer layer – the centre is black and not as pretty.

With regards to the white chocolate, the Green and Blacks one is very good as it has tiny flecks of black vanilla running all the way through it. It is pretty pricey though – we used a third Green and Blacks and two thirds Sainsburys own brand, and it seemed to work very well.

You will need lots of greaseproof or baking paper, a chopping board or other flat thing, and a flat bottomed glass.

In order to make these beauties, first carefully clean and check the fennel fronds – be careful as they are really delicate. Carefully remove any squashed leaves, dirt and caterpillars. Once dry, pick off miniature tree-shaped fronds and arrange them on a sheet of greaseproof paper that has been wrapped around a chopping board or something. Leave quite a lot of space between them. This is a fiddly job, but the whole point of these is how they look, so do take the time to do it carefully. Its pretty therapeutic actually.

Once the fennel leaves are in place, arrange a few flakes of pink peppercorn over each one, trying if possible to get them in the ‘branches’.

Carefully melt the chocolate using a bain-marie or microwave of you are feeling confident, and using a spoon put a blob over each fennel leaf-peppercorn arrangement. Take care when doing this, and don’t do it from a height – you need to make sure that the arrangement doesn’t get distorted or crushed by the chocolate.

Once this is done, place a second sheet of paper over the chocolates, and use the glass to gently press each one into a flat circular disk, encasing the fennel-leaf and pepper flakes into the chocolate ‘like a fossil’. Leave to set, using the fridge only if you have to.

And there you have it. So easy and so beautiful. I’m thinking of other variations of this – potentially with tarragon. Or maybe in keeping with the colour theme, some flakes of pink Himalayan salt.

With much love and thanks to T.O.M, and to Steven for being completely lovely whilst being thrown out of his own kitchen, and taking these incredible photos.



this photo taken by Claudie




Saturday, 3 November 2012

Cold Soba Noodles with Chilli and Peaches


Adapted from Plenty. This salad is one of the nicest things I have made in a while. It is sweet, refreshing, sharp and spicy. Multi-coloured, and pretty easy to put together too.

One of the things I love about my community is the pot-lucks.  When I first moved in just over two years ago, the concept terrified me. As some of you may know, sometimes, I can be a little tightly-wound – the thought of coming together for a meal comprising of unknown food was too much to cope with. What if the balance of carb/ veg/ protein was off? What if there was too much humous? What if there was Indian and Chinese food? But of course, I was wrong.

The unknown is the best part. Debbie D says this much better than me:

[Communities] such as Wandering Jews, Carlebach Minyan and Grassroots Jews are fuelled by vast pot-luck dinners. Alongside shop-bought goods, guests can showcase their signature dishes to a chorus of ‘Mmm, who made this?’ The quality and quantity of food may vary, but the symbolism of each guest contributing to a communal meal is not lost on the convenors of these transient communities.” (http://cartoonkippah.com/come-lchaim-with-me-a-new-dining-experience/)

At this year’s Grassroots Jews New Year, I was privileged to be part of a pot-luck with about 200 amazing people. ‘Mmm, who made this’ went round a lot. This dish came to me through a rumour – someone said, I can’t remember who, that there was a noodle salad with mangoes and aubergine that I just had to try. When I saw it I recognised it immediately as being from the vegetarian cookbook Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. And it was delicious. I’m still not sure who made it, but they kindly left the recipe, which is now taped to the fridge in the Moishe House.

Cold noodles is one of my favourite things to eat, and so a week ago I decided to try out this recipe for myself. When I got to the supermarket though, the new-in-season peaches looked so fantastic that I knew I needed to use them. I had also just spent what felt a week of my life grilling aubergines and didn’t really want to cook with them either (you can have too much of a good thing). So here is my variation of the soba noodles in Plenty, with peaches and a few other tweaks.

Serves 3-5, as a salad.

Ingredients

100ml rice vinegar
1-2 tsp honey* (more or less, depending on your tastes)
2 tsp soy sauce (likewise)
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 medium sized fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
1-2 tsp toasted sesame oil
grated zest and juice of 1 lime

250g soba (buckwheat) noodles
2 ripe peaches, stoned and sliced (I like to leave the skin on for the colour, it also prevents the fruit from disintegrating into the salad)
1 large handful beansprouts
Toasted broken-up cashews, about ½ a cup
2 spring onions, whites and greens sliced on the diagonal
½ a bunch of fresh coriander, roughly chopped

To make the dressing, warm the rice vinegar with the honey – I used a microwave. When the honey has melted in and everything is warm, remove from the heat and add the garlic, chilli, sesame oil and soy sauce.

Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions (my packet said to cook for 4-6 minutes and I boiled them for 4, but in hindsight I should have taken them out at 3). Drain them and rinse them under cold water to halt the cooking process. Shake off the excess water and leave them to dry a little on a tea towel.

In a large bowl mix the noodles with the dressing and the rest of the ingredients. If not serving immediately, leave out the coriander until you are ready to serve, otherwise it will wilt.

*I have labelled this vegan despite the honey, so feel free to use some sugar or agave syrup if you would like to



Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Baba Ghanoush, my way


Here is another ode to the aubergine. A dip of roasted, smoky aubergine and tahini. When I first came across it, its greyish and lumpy appearance wasn’t the most appealing to be honest, but the taste soon won me over. In The New Book of Middle Eastern Food Claudia Roden describes baba ghanoush as “exciting and vulgarly seductive” – possibly one of the best compliments anything could have. People also make a version with mayonnaise, which I hate with a fiery passion. Somehow it transforms this wonder into a sweet, eggy sort of wallpaper paste.

There are infinite ways to make this, and this one is my favourite. And I really do love it. My flatmate Claudie just asked how long it keeps in the fridge, a perfectly valid question, but the answer is that it never lasts long enough for me to find out. According Jerusalem, there is apparently major disagreement as to whether proper baba should have tahini in it, or just olive oil. I am in the tahini camp.

I wrote in the miso aubergines post that I wasn’t sure how aubergines have become such a symbol of Jewish food – but I have done a tiny bit of research and of course Claudia Roden and Yotam Ottolenghi/ Sami Tamimi provide the answers. Apparently, while aubergines were brought to Spain and Italy by Arabs, Jewish people are credited for introducing them because they took them into the countries when fleeing various aggressors and moving and trading among the Arab Moorish and Christian cultures in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Ottolenghi/Tamimi writes in Jerusalem:

“Few ingredients have reached the level of veneration achieved by the humble aubergine or have found their way to almost every table in Jerusalem. Everybody loved to be associated with the aubergine – it’s like the local celebrity. The number of people who claim to have invented baba ghanoush, or at least elevated it to the level of fine food, is extraordinary.”


Ingredients:

2 aubergines
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed – you can either use these raw, or fry them slowly in olive oil until glossy and sweet
olive oil
tahini sauce** 
ground cumin – freshly toasted and ground if you have the time, this is however one of the few recipes where I give you permission to use the ready-ground
smoked paprika
lemon juice
salt and pepper
handful chopped fresh parsley – optional but very tasty

Turn the oven to 190-200C

Method:

Prick the aubergines all over with a fork or sharp knife. Put them in the oven and bake for at least 45 mins. You can check on them after this time by pressing them gently with a fork or some other non-finger implement – they should have wrinkled and be soft to the touch. Depending on how hot/pre-heated the oven was, this could take a good hour. This would be a lot more authentic by the way if done on a barbeque. I wouldn’t recommend scorching them over a flame on the hob though – however fun it may be to stick a fork in a pepper and burn it over a flame (terrifying flatmates in the process), aubergines are just a bit too big. And the concept of covering your entire hob in foil and just leaving the aubergines on the rings for half an hour sounds a bit much. Leaving them alone in the oven is just easier.

Once the aubergine is soft and a little collapsed, allow it to cool until it can be handled – this is a hands-on messy bit. Putting the aubergines on a large plate or oven tray, carefully peel away the skin, reserving any flesh that comes away with it. Break the aubergine open a little to allow some of the excess water to drain away – you don’t want a watery baba! At this stage I also remove some of the big clumps of seeds – there is hardly any flesh on them and I just don’t think they are that good. Give whatever flesh is left a squeeze or shake to get rid of any remaining water, and chop the whole thing up – so that it goes a little pulpy in parts.

Add the chopped aubergine flesh to a big bowl with the tahini, garlic and parsley if using. Add about ½ teaspoon of cumin and ¼ teaspoon of the smoked paprika, a few spoons of lemon juice, salt and pepper. Mix well and taste, adjusting the different seasonings to your liking. I like it with a lot of lemon, and sometimes also a little bit of hot chilli powder or cayenne pepper.

I love it with pita, quickly warmed in the toaster – so that the edges are a little charred, but it is warm and soft in the middle. Apparently it goes very well with rye crackers too.


** Tahini: I used to buy this in little jars from health food stores or supermarkets, but over the past few years I have become so addicted to it that I now buy it in 1kilo plastic tubs from local Middle-Eastern stores. I use it whenever I make humous, baba, as a dressing for salads, roasted fish or meat, or as a dip in its own right. I always turn it into a sauce first  – when using the paste ‘neat’ it has too cement-y a texture.

To make tahini sauce, put a few tablespoons of tahini in a bowl and add a little water and lemon juice. When you start stirring, the mixture may 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, pepper and some garlic. This makes a good salad dressing with a little honey added too. 




*BREAKING GEFILTEFEST NEWS* For next year's festival, there will be two new awards, 'The Gefiltefest Jewish Cookbook Awards'. One will be a public poll for the best English language cookbook, and there will be a panel of expert judges giving a separate award. Any publisher is welcome to submit books relating to any aspect of Jewish food, as long as they are published between May 2012 and May 2013.







Friday, 12 October 2012

Satay noodles for drunken nights


Peanut butter noodles for when you come home too drunk to function, and too hungry to sleep. Needless to say, this dish was one of my staples when I was at university. They are also very good for hangovers.

For the sauce
1 heaped tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
½ tbsp soy sauce (more can be added later to season)
½ tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp honey
juice of at least ¼ a lime

Noodles –
I would go for medium egg noodles here, but rice noodles work well too. This dish isn’t refined enough for soba or buckwheat, and it would be a little ‘much’ with udon. Spaghetti does not count, under any circumstances.

Additions –
If you are too drunk to be handling sharp objects, go for some frozen veggies – peas, corn or edamame. Asda does a very handy frozen stir-fry mix, which is perfect for drunken cooking. A packet of fresh mangetout/ sugarsnap peas or baby corn would also do nicely. If you feel that you could handle a knife safely, some sliced spring onions, a little sliced carrot, and a wedge of fresh coriander would be good too.

Method –

It couldn’t be simpler. Cook the noodles in boiling water according to the packet instructions. Remember to use a fork to break the block up, so that you don’t get a big solid lump of noodle.

While they are cooking, mix/melt the sauce ingredients together in a mug or bowl, using a little boiling water to melt the peanut butter into a smooth sauce.

If using any veggie additions, add them to the water with the noodles a minute or two before the end of the cooking time.

Drain the noodles, mix with the sauce and serve with extra lime juice, and fresh coriander if you have any. At this point I will usually then write my name on the noodles in siracha. And make sure you drink plenty of water.



Thursday, 11 October 2012

Syrian Artichoke and Cheese Casserole


This is a recipe that I tested for the Gefiltefest cookbook. The book is a compilation of recipes from different Jewish chefs from around the world, and I was delighted to be asked to be involved with putting it together. I have written about Gefiltefest and my involvement with it before, in the Aubergines pouched in Miso post.

I think I drove the cookbook organisers a little bit crazy with my pickiness when it came to what recipes I would test – which is all a bit ridiculous seeing as my intention when I started this blog was to stretch myself with my cooking. Sorry about that guys - will be more ambitious in future, and will get over my fear of yeast!

Its funny because I never would have made this of my own volition, but I just love artichokes so much I knew that I needed to give it a go. I was a little hesitant as I usually avoid cooking with so much cheese because, well, so much cheese, and also on a practical level, it tends to split and get all oily and gross. Heston Blumenthal tackled this issue during his TV series ‘How to Cook Like Heston’. Of course I did buy 'Heston at Home' (couldn’t help myself), but haven’t attempted anything from it yet, for obvious reasons. Anyway, you know what? Despite all the so much cheese, and the simplicity of the dish – essentially it’s a big baked frittata/tortilla/Eggah – it was FANTASTIC, and everyone I made it for loved it too. So there.

This recipe is from Gil Marks. He is an award-winning writer, historian, rabbi, and chef, is a leading authority on culinary subjects and Jewish cuisine. His books include Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, Olive Trees and Honey, and The World of Jewish Cooking. I co-own Olive Trees and Honey 
(thanks to Alli), which is a lovely, vegetarian, kosher cookbook. His recipes give an interesting perspective on Sephardic cuisine especially, as I had previously only associated it with non-dairy dishes.

Gil writes:

“Artichokes are popular in various Mediterranean countries, where they are prepared in a wide variety of ways. Among my favorites, is this simple Syrian-Jewish dish. It is both a comfort food, yet capable of serving as an appetizer at parties.”

A note of artichokes: Frozen artichoke bottoms are not the easiest things to get hold of – but certainly so much easier than preparing the artichokes from fresh. I also feel that if you had whole globe artichokes, it would be a bit of a travesty to do anything with them other than eating them whole, leaf by leaf (heaven). After a little bit of research I found that I could buy the frozen bottoms in Yarden – a kosher supermarket in Golders Green. A bag cost about £6.50 and this recipe used about a third of a bag. Very useful if you want to make the stuffed artichokes in Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s new book Jerusalem, or just add them to a simple pasta dish, or whatever else you fancy.

*Update 23.01.13* I just discovered frozen artichoke bottoms in the Arabic supermarket on Willesden Green High Street (next to the bus stop by Dominos) for £1.89!!!

Serves 6-8

Ingredients
2 tablespoons (approx) olive oil

1 large yellow onion, diced
8 - 9 quartered artichoke bottoms, thawed if frozen
6 large eggs, lightly beaten

3 cups (350 grams) grated Cheddar cheese, or similar.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste 
(Gil specifies a teaspoon of salt, but this seemed like a little much for me with so much salty cheese).

Method

Preheat the oven to 175 C. Grease a 2-litre casserole.
In a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and fry until soft and translucent (5-10 mins). Add the artichokes and sauté until nearly tender (5-10 mins). Remove from the heat.
Combine the eggs, cheese, salt, and pepper. Stir in the artichokes.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared casserole. Bake until golden brown (35 to 40 minutes).

5.  Best served warm, also very good at room temperature. If you run a knife around the sides of the casserole, it will turn out onto a plate very nicely.


Variations


1. Reduce the eggs to 3. Combine 1 cup (145g) all-purpose flour and 1 teaspoon (5 ml) baking powder, then stir in 1 cup/240 ml milk. Stir into the egg-cheese mixture.

2. Add 1 teaspoon (5 ml) dried oregano and pinch of red pepper.

3. Substitute 570g blanched chopped broccoli or spinach, excess water drained out.
4. Hannah, who is actually a little bit Syrian, said that you can also make it using some kind of cottage cheese/ ricotta instead of all the cheddar, making the whole thing a lot lighter. Presumably much more subtle a flavour though.


With foodie love and thanks to Gefiltefest for encouraging me in all things foodie and social action-y, for giving me this recipe, and letting me post it.







Sunday, 23 September 2012

Corn muffins with chilli and cheese


This recipe is an evolution, or adaptation of the cornbread recipe I wrote about here and here. I love it when you get that true moment of experimental inspiration ‘I wonder what would happen if…’ its my favourite type of cooking, and it works, when it really really works, its just so amazing.

One of the many things I love about cooking this recipe is how incredibly quick and easy it is, and also very light on the washing up. These savoury little cakes make a lovely addition to any picnicy/potluck kind of meal, and of course go especially well with rich chillis, soups or stews. Best eaten fresh.

230g fine polenta/cornmeal
100g plain flour
1 tsp salt
2tsp baking powder
2 eggs, lightly beaten
300ml/ ½ pint milk
1 cup (or so) frozen sweetcorn (take out of the freezer about 5-10 minutes before, so it starts to defrost a tiny bit)
1 fresh chilli, deseeded and diced (I used red for the colour, but some sort of pickled jalapeno would be nice too. A crumbled dried chilli, or some chilli powder would work, but fresh is better in this instance)
2 spring onions, whites and greens finely sliced (make sure to slice the greens lengthways before washing them, to get rid of the dirt they can accumulate)
grated cheese (I used a mixture of mozerella and cheddar) 1 large handful – more or less depending on your preferences
pumpkin seeds
olive oil

Makes 20 – you will need a non-stick cupcake tray – preferably two of them

Preheat the oven to 200c.

Drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil into 20 holes in the cupcake tins, approximately a quarter teaspoon per cake, and put the trays 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 corn, veggies and cheese.

Take the cupcake trays out of the oven (be very careful of the hot oil) and portion out the batter between the 20 oiled sections. When they bake they rise into very elegant and considerate cone shapes, so you don’t need to worry about any Hiroshima-style cake explosions. Scatter a few pumpkin seeds on the tops of each cake, and bake for about 13 minutes, until they are risen and golden. As soon as they are cool enough to touch, pop them out of the trays so that they do not continue to absorb oil.


Apologies for the lack of post-bake photo – I was too busy eating them!

Version made at a later date with coriander leaves added to the batter


Monday, 13 August 2012

Beer-can Chicken


The juiciest chicken you will ever have. Fact. This one was a family effort, my main contribution was in the initial inspiration, and the eating. My Mum did the prep, my Dad did the barbequing.

As some of you may know, one of my guilty pleasures is American cookery shows, the trashier the better. Diners, Drive-ins and Dives is a current favourite – its basically just watching a loud, fat, bloke eating meat sandwiches, but its riveting. Another one, Hook, line and Dinner has recently blown my mind by showing that Sitka is in fact a real place, and not just a magical Yiddish enclave invented by Michael Chabon. I saw the recipe for Beer-can chicken on one of these similar shows, and it seemed so totally mad that I knew it had to be attempted.

In order to do this you will need a barbeque large enough to fit a chicken standing upright with the lid down.

Method goes like this:

Get a can of beer, give the outside a bit of a clean, and drink about a third of it. Add some flavourings to the beer if you fancy it, like a bit of garlic, some dried herbs and lemon.

Get a chicken, give it a coating of olive oil and salt, and shove it on the can of beer (arse first). If you have the kind of barbeque with a griddle-like non-slotted section, you can place it directly on that, if not, you will need a tray of some kind. Leave it in the barbeque with the lid down for at least an hour before checking to see done-ness.

In order to un-pop the chicken from the beer can, you will need 2 pairs of hands, and probably 2 sets of tongs. Carve, and enjoy.

Beware of widgets 

Please don't be confused by the tray in this picture - the bird wasn't cooked on it, but it seemed like a perfectly sensible recepticle for transferring the chicken from the barbeque to the kitchen for its dismemberment


Saturday, 4 August 2012

Butternut Squash, Spinach and Peanut Curry


This recipe is from the ‘soulful grub’ section of Spooning with Rosie by Rosie Lovell, which I wrote about in the Interlude 2 blog post. She writes that this is the dish she makes when she is feeling really blue, and this is something I can really relate to. It is rich, filling and comforting, and really easy to make. It is, “just the thing when you are feeling the effects of a late night or the sudden onset on despondency.” Its just all about the peanut butter. As you may have noticed, I cook with it a lot. I tend to always have 2 jars on the go – a 40oz (over a kilo) jar of crunchy skippy for eating, and something cheaper for cooking with. All of the three peanut butter-based stew/curries are very different, but I think that this one, together with the kale and pineapple one are some of my most successful vegetarian entrees ever. This dish was really delicious and I highly recommend it. Thanks to Vikki for pointing it out to me.

As with any of my recipes, feel free to adjust/change the veggies as you please.

Ingredients

1 small/medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks
1 large onion, diced not too small
1-2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into slightly larger chunks than the squash
1 aubergine cut into chunks, some trimmed okra or whatever else you fancy
2 garlic cloves, smashed and finely chopped
1 fresh chill, finely chopped (she recommends removing half of the seeds – I actually didn’t have one so used 2 small dried chillies, I like it spicy)
2tbsp sunflower oil
1 tsp curry powder (I used medium heat)
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tins chopped tomatoes
3 generous tbsp peanut butter (preferably crunchy)
1 bag baby spinach
Generous pinch of granulated sugar
Lots of black pepper (freshly ground, not that horrible cigarette-ash powder stuff)

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, add the squash and onion and sweat for about 5 minutes before adding the garlic and chilli. Fry for a few more minutes and add the spices. Coat all the veggies and cook for a few minutes more. Add the tomatoes and the sweet potato and bring to the boil. Put the lid on and let everything simmer for 15-25 minutes, until the veggies are cooked through, but not falling apart.

After the are cooked, skim a ladle of sauce off the top of the pan, and place it in a jug or bowl with the peanut butter. Blend it all together until fully incorporated and then return to the pan and stir into the curry. Fold in the spinach, plus a little water if its too thick and the sugar. Put the lid back no the pan for a few more minutes until the spinach is wilted and the curry has a silky, thick texture. Season with lots of pepper and serve in bowls with rice and/or bread. This is really good with a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Green beans and Mangetout with Hazelnuts and Orange


Here is another recipe from the wonderful Ottolenghi cookbook (I just pre-ordered the next one-yippee!). This salad is refreshing, crunchy and a little unusual. The nuts make it more substantial than a standard veggie salad, adding a warm and protein-y element.

I have made this salad twice. The first time I cooked the green beans and mangetout seperately as the recipe suggested, and it worked fine, but having all that water, saucepans and colanders was a bit too much of a logistical challenge for my very small brain. So the second time I made it, I cooked the veggies all-together, carefully timing it so that the mangetout went into the water after the green beans had been in for 3 minutes. But then small brain struck again, and I realised that it was far too much to all fit in the colander at the same time - and they need to be drained pretty quickly so that they can be refreshed, and the cooking ceased. I won't go into the details of the mental bean-balancing act that followed. So i will write the method staying true to Ottolenghi, and leave any time-saving ideas to your own judgement.

I have scaled down the oil somewhat from the original recipe - the addition of orange juice is mine as well (seemed silly not to incorporate it).

They suggest toasting the hazelnuts in the oven, but i always use a frying pan. For a simple reason that I always burn nuts and seeds if they are not toasting under my watchful gaze! I leave the choice of toasting venue up to you.

I recently tried a variation on this made by Suzy, which included fresh green peas, and dill and red onion instead of the chives and hazelnuts. Also potentially lemon instead of the orange - I forgot to ask.

They say that it serves 6 – but it stretches much further depending on how many other dishes you are serving with it.

Ingredients

400g green beans, stalks trimmed
400g mangetout (or sugar snaps, that works too)
70g hazelnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
1 orange, zested and juiced
20g chives, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp hazelnut oil (or walnut oil, which is what I used)
salt and pepper

Bring plenty of water to the boil in a large saucepan (you need a lot of space for the veggies, to preserve the colour). Blanch the beans in the water for 4 minutes, the drain them in a colander and run them under tap water until cold. Leave to drain and dry. It is really important to make sure that they get completely cold so that they don’t continue to cook – no-one wants overcooked green beans! Repeat this with the mangetout, but only cook for 1 minute (see above note).

Mix the garlic and chives with the oils, zest and a tbsp or so of orange juice, and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Toss the dressing with the green beans and mangetout, and scatter the hazelnuts over the top.