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, 22 June 2013

Baking with my Grandmother: Swiss Roll with Strawberries and Cream

My Grandma is a phenomenal baker and sugar-craft artist. And I’m not just saying that because she is my Grandma, she really is. Just look at these photos and you will understand what I mean (sorry about the image quality). Apparently she was once asked to make cakes for Harrods, but refused, not wanting to turn her hobby into a chore.

I had a very cake-privileged childhood, and my standards for birthday cakes, and most other desserts were very high for an early age.

Looking back, it seems pretty amazing, but at the time it was just normal. I’m sure her baking has affected my own perception of what a perfect baked thing should be like. Not that having high standards is a bad thing.

One of my biggest regrets in life is that I really haven’t spent that much time baking with my Grandmother. It is one of the few things we have in common, and I really wish that I had more of an effort to cultivate it earlier on in my baking-conscious life. I’m sure that our relationship now would have been a lot better if I did. A few weeks ago I spent the day baking with her, probably for the first time ever, or at least a very long while.

My Grandma has been really feeling her age lately and when I demanded the baking day (quite bossily), she was really uncertain. An understanding was reached that she would sit and drink tea and I would do all the hard work. Of course on the day, she was on her feet the whole time, and I was relegated to the role of Sous-Chef – not that I minded of course. It was brilliant. It was a lovely day, and I learnt so much. Grandma could just look at a bit of cake batter or dough and know what it needed, and didn’t even need to set a timer for the oven – she just knew.

Swiss Roll is a light, fatless sponge rolled with strawberries, whipped cream and a little jam. It may seem a bit retro, but it does taste heavenly and freezes very well. And a perfect way to enjoy the new season British strawberries. I’m sure other variations would also be delicious – I was thinking of trying it one day with lemon curd and blackberries, or something. Make sure you serve it on a doily.


3 oz self-raising flour
3 eggs – it is very important that you make sure they are at room temperature
3 oz caster sugar
Some berry or apricot jam
Whipping or double cream, whisked until thick
1 punnet strawberries (not Elsanta), cored and cut into little bits. Grandma was deeply unimpressed that I asked for a chopping board for cutting the strawberries, instead of cutting directly into my thumb - and that I asked for a different knife - the one she used was little sharper than a butter knife.


You will need a 9 by 12 inch baking tray with raised edges, lined with greaseproof/baking paper coming a little higher up the sides. The cake is very delicate, so make sure you line the tray well, no matter how non-stick it might be.

Cut a rectangle of greaseproof/baking paper a little larger than the baking tray, and sprinkle liberally with sugar – it might help to put this on top of a wire cooling rack.

Preheat the oven to 220 c

Whisk the eggs and sugar together until it is really thick and 'leaves a trail' when you move the whisk. In a free-standing mixer this took about 5 minutes, on a high-speed setting.

When the egg/sugar mixture is thick and fluffy, gently fold in the flour, taking care to knock out as little volume as possible. Pour the batter into the prepared baking tray and bake for about 10 minutes.

When the cake is ready, turn it out of the tray onto the sugary paper, and carefully peel off the paper that was on the underside of the cake. Don’t worry if it gets a bit crumbly. You will have to work quite quickly to get the cake rolled as soon as possible. At the edge from which you are starting to roll, make two little horizontal cuts about ½ an inch deep, about ½ an inch from the edge. This helps the cake roll into itself, without breaking at a point you don’t want it to break at. Now roll the cake up, in the paper, and leave to cool.

When the cake has completely cooled, unroll it and carefully spread a thin layer of jam over the surface, followed by a thick-ish layer of whipped cream and strawberries. Roll it back up and you are done!

The cake freezes really well, and I recommend it if you are not serving it very soon after making it. If you serve it from the freezer and it hasn’t fully defrosted, it becomes a little bit like strawberry ice cream Swiss Roll, and that isn’t bad either.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Comfort Food part 4: Creamy smoked mackerel spaghetti

I don't really know why, but for the past two weeks my energy levels have just completely disappeared, and I have been feeling a bit low and sorry for myself. I really am not asking for any sympathy - I'm not that kind of attention-seeker. Sometimes I just feel a bit rubbish, for no real reason in particular. You might be the same, you might not.

I know that smoked mackerel isn't particularly sustainable these days, but as a comforting treat once in a while I think it is ok. This sauce is creamy and not too rich, lightened up with lemon and capers. And it really is my favourite thing when I need a bit of comforting (except, maybe, for my Mum's chicken pie).

The sauce probably makes enough for 2 servings, scale up as needed

For the sauce:

1 peppered smoked mackerel fillet, flaked up (if you are vegetarian, or fancy an alternative, try this with courgette slices instead)
1/2 onion or 1 large shallot, diced quite fine
1 clove of garlic, crushed
Olive oil
1 dessert spoon capers, rinsed and roughly chopped if they are massive
A big splash (roughly 1/3 a small glass) of wine wine (or vermouth or something, I have actually used cooking sake for this before)
1 tbsp cream cheese (low fat is fine)
1 blob crème fraîche (optional)
Chopped parsley, fresh or frozen, but not dried
Lemon juice
Extra salt and black pepper if you like

Spaghetti, or any other pasta you like (I am going through a whole-wheat spaghetti phase)
1 cup frozen peas per serving - because you need some vegetables

Sauté the onions in a glug of olive oil on a low heat until translucent but not coloured, and then add the garlic. After a few more minutes add the capers and wine and turn up the heat and let it bubble. When the liquid has reduced by about half, add the cream cheese, and give it a swirl with a cooking spoon to melt. Add the crème fraîche too if using, and the mackerel and parsley, and turn the heat down to very low. Don't worry if it looks a bit solid, you will be adding more liquid later.

At this point put the water on for the pasta. Boil the pasta in plenty of salted water (I tend to do it for 1 minute less than packet instructions), and add the peas when you have about 1 and a half minutes of cooking time remaining. When the pasta is ready, just before you drain it add about half a ladle-full of the cooking water into the sauce, and stir - you may want to add a bit more liquid to get the sauce to the consistency you want it.

Add the drained pasta and peas to the sauce and stir everything well to coat. Add a squeeze of lemon and taste to see if you want more salt or pepper.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Creamy kohlrabi salad with mint and sumac

This week I have been tweeted by Nigel Slater, Mollie Katzen and Esther Walker, and so am feeling like an absolute star.

Here is my version of the kohlrabi salad in Yotam Ottolenghi's wonderful cookbook Jerusalem. I know kohlrabi isn’t particularly summery, but this salad would make an excellent alternative to coleslaw at a barbecue, a picnic, or part of a light but luxurious summer evening meal.

I made this salad for the first time using mint from the mini-allotment in the garden at Moishe House London, after spending a few hours turning soil, digging up weeds and hacking up an out-of-control lovage plant. Covered in dirt, smelling like homemade rotten nettle plant food and with spiders in my hair, this salad was the perfect reward for my rare attempt at manual labour (along with hazelnut vodka, and cheesecake).

Kohlrabies look a little bit like alien baby heads. They are super delicious, tasting a little bit like a
cross between radish, cabbage, and granny smith apple. Kohlrabi is excellent in a salad as it keeps its freshness and ‘crunch’ really well, even after sitting in dressing for a few days. I have reduced the dairy content of the original recipe a lot, so there is just enough creamy-ness for the salad to feel special, but hopefully not enough to induce any food-guilt.

Serves 4


2 kohlrabies, peeled and cut into 1.5cm dice
2 soup-spoon-sized blobs of crème fraîche
1 small clove of garlic, crushed
2 spring onions, finely sliced, if you like them
about ½ tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
lemon juice
5 big mint leaves, shredded
sumac, about 1tsp
some little spinach leaves, or watercress
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mix the kohlrabi cubes with the crème fraîche, olive oil, garlic, spring onions if using and mint. Add a squeeze of lemon or two, and season with salt and pepper.

To serve, either mix the salad with your chosen leaves, or pile the salad gently on top of them. Sprinkle the sumac over the top.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Wild garlic pesto

The Jewish food festival, Gefiltefest was 2 weeks ago and an absolutely fantastic day. As well as learning about the incredible organisations feeding the homeless and redistributing food here and abroad, hearing about what locusts taste like and gorging on zchug – I reconnected with one of my favourite old teachers and met one of my favourite food writers Marlena Spieler. Spending time with the cooks, food writers and food activists* has ignited my passion for food even more – so expect to be hearing much more from me in future.

An unexpected additional joy if the festival was the masses of wild garlic growing in the beautiful garden of the LJCC. Wild garlic is amazing, kind of like chives turned up to 11. And when you pick it, you can pretend like you are in an episode of River Cottage. It is actually much easier to find then you might think, and can also be bought in Farmers’ Markets if you don’t fancy foraging.

This pesto is really tasty but quite pungent so use it sparingly. I used rapeseed oil and no cheese to keep it a little more pure, but you could of course use extra virgin olive oil and cheese, or whatever else you fancy really.

Makes enough for 4-6 servings, depending on how much oil you use

Bunch of wild garlic leaves – if you are picking them yourself go for about a handful
1-2 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 tbsp pine nuts
A little salt to taste

Optional: hard parmesan-style cheese, grated.

Wash the wild garlic leaves to remove any bugs or badger wee.

Toast the pine nuts in a dry pan over a medium heat until golden and fragrant.

Blitz everything together using a food processor or immersion blender, adding oil until the pesto reaches your desired consistency.

Serving suggestion: emulating my aspirational Queens Park Farmers’ Market yummy mummy, I served the pesto with bulgur wheat, steamed sprouting broccoli and roasted salmon. Accompany with crisp white wine or posh apple juice, and complain about getting planning permission for your grade II listed house.

people have been asking & I feel I need to clarify - this is 2+ portions, I'm not that greedy!

*An easy way that you can get involved with food activism right now is to join the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign’s London event in Hyde Park on Saturday 8th June. World Jewish Relief have organised walking groups and kiddish from several local synagogues so that those who keep Shabbat can also attend  

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Peanut butter chocolate pretzels

For a while I was thinking about giving up sugar and white carbs. Seriously. But then I thought, peanut butter chocolate pretzels, and that was the end of that.

These are absolutely incredible, and so much fun to make too. Make them for anyone and they will love you forever. I made these babies as a gift for a colleague who earned massive respect for eating peanut butter out of a jar with a spoon.

I’m still waiting for my cheque from Skippy for the peanut butter cookbook, hopefully that will happen soon.

 Makes 25-30 large pretzels – more, obviously, if you use regular sized ones.

150g large pretzels (I used Penn State giant pretzels from Asda)
50g dark muscovado sugar
200g icing sugar
50g unsalted butter or vegan margarine – softened
200g peanut butter – crunchy or smooth depending on preference
400g dark chocolate, or 200g dark chocolate and 200g milk chocolate. I wouldn’t recommend using 100% milk chocolate though, it would be much too sickly.

This is the same mixture as used in the peanut butter cups recipe. You can't just use ‘neat’ peanut butter because it is much too sticky. The dark muscavado gives a fantastic caramel-y background note.

Line a tray with greaseproof paper or foil.

Mix up the sugars, butter and peanut butter in a large bowl until combined into a soft dough-like consistency. Press small blobs of the peanut butter mixture into two of the holes in each pretzel.

Melt the chocolate carefully in a microwave or over a bain-marie, and dip the pretzel in the chocolate, so that both peanut butter-filled holes are covered. Lay the pretzels on the prepared tray to set. Although the pretzels do not need to be kept in the fridge, refrigerate them for a few hours at least to harden up the peanut butter filling.