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, 28 December 2013

Mayan style toasted pumpkin seed dip

Hello you lovely people! I hope you that you had a wonderful break, however you choose to mark the season (if at all). I marked it by getting a year older, eating a delicious salt-caramel chocolate torte from Babkalicious and attending Limmud conference and learning a lot of new things.

I am one of those weird people who gets oddly excited about kitchen utensils, the bigger the better. My favourite Selfridges window is the one with the display of giant saucepans, and I have confused many people by stopping in my tracks to gaze longingly at it. The flat I am currently living in contains one of the largest frying pans I have ever had the privilege to be able to use, and as soon as I saw it my mind just started fizzing with new recipes to try. It is the perfect size and shape to toast a ton of pumpkin seeds, and so this recipe just had to be made (I get inspired by normal things too, like sunsets and art, I’m not a complete lunatic).

This dip is absolutely delicious, it is simple and just works in that way that ancient and authentic recipes do: toasty, wholesome, citrus-fresh and ever-so-slightly bitter. Toasting pumpkin seeds transforms them in the most wonderful way. They become crunchy and fragrant, with a complex roasted nutty flavour.

The quantities given here make enough for a smallish bowlful, or rather, enough as part of a Mexican/South American mezze-style dip selection for about 6 people. The original recipe uses a food processor, but I decided to use my mortar and pestle, and then an immersion blender. This probably kept the texture a bit rougher, which I liked, and was less complicated for washing-up purposes. But really, I just love using my mortar and pestle – it is rough stone and heavy, and makes me feel a bit more authentic.


1 cup plus 1 tbsp pumpkin seeds
2 tbsp olive oil
½ onion, finely diced (or use a whole one if it is small)
1 jalapeño, seeds and white pith removed, and finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
Small handful fresh parsley (equivalent to about 1/3 cup)
Small handful fresh coriander leaves
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
zest of half an orange

Serve: with tortilla chips, crudités, warmed soft tortillas and other South American delicious dippy things like salsa, guacamole, and sour cream.


Heat a large frying pan and toast the pumpkin seeds in a single layer (no oil), tossing occasionally, until they crackle and pop. Some will jump out of the pan in an over-excited kind of way. You may need to do this in stages if your pan isn’t big enough.  

Saving a few of the seeds for garnish, grind the rest to powder in a pestle and mortar and add to a large bowl. You will definitely need to grind them in stages.

Heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil in the frying pan, add the diced onion and jalapeño, and fry over a medium heat, stirring occasionally. Once it starts getting a little softened and translucent, add the garlic and fry for a few minutes more, and then add to the bowl with the pumpkin seed powder.

Add the parsley, coriander, lime juice, orange zest, 1 tbsp olive oil, pinch of salt, and 1/3 cup of water to the bowl with the ground pumpkin seeds and fried things, and use an immersion blender to puree everything together to a rough, humous-like texture. Taste and add a little more salt if needed.

Serve at room temperature, scattered with the reserved toasted pumpkin seeds and a little drizzle of olive oil.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Celeriac, potato and smoked salmon gratin

Adapted from a recipe I found somewhere on the internet

Aah celeriac, the Ood of the vegetable world.

This is a new discovery of mine, and I am really excited about it. It is seasonal, rich, creamy and really easy. The recipe is a bit like a cross between a gratin dauphinois and a posh Janssons Temptation - one of the best named dishes of all time ever. Who doesn’t love a bit of temptation? I guess this one could be a Dauphin’s Temptation or something. Whatever it is, its really tasty.

I have tinkered with the recipe quite a bit. When I made this the first time there was enough potato, celeriac, onion and salmon for one and a half gratins, but not enough cream. I guess most people don’t really mind if there is a bit of smoked salmon left over either. I have reduced some of the quantities to what I think would make a decent bake for 6 people, in one dish, but there still will probably be a little bit of celeriac left over – it is hard to reduce the amount of celeriac as they a are all pretty huge.

The original recipe used dill, but I actually really dislike dill, and made it instead with a bit of thyme and lemon thyme from my parents’ garden. It gave it a really interesting flavour, much less dominant than dill.

Serves 6

1 pack smoked salmon (120 – 150g, pack-sizes don’t seem to be uniform across most stores, so you might have some leftover)
1 large or 2 medium baking potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 celeriac (not too enormous) peeled, quartered and thinly sliced. (Put the sliced in a bowl of water with some lemon juice in to stop them discolouring)
300ml double cream
About half an onion, diced
Few sprigs of lemon thyme, or a mixture of lemon thyme and regular thyme
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180 c (with fan).

This dish is all about the layers. You will need a large ovenproof dish.

Layer 1: overlapping slices of potato and celeriac.
Layer 2: smoked salmon – just a few slices, it doesn’t need to covering the whole layer
Layer 3: sprinkle with diced onion and a little lemon thyme, season with salt and pepper, and pour over a little cream

Repeat layers 1 to 3.

Layer 7: Cover with a final layer of potato and celeriac, and pour the rest of the cream over the top.

Add a final decorative sprinkling of thyme and a bit of salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake in the oven for 45 minutes, remove the foil and bake for another 30-40 minutes until golden and bubbling.

Serve with a big green salad, with dark green and bitter leaves.

Unfortunately I only have a photo of the gratin unbaked, because I was too distracted by eating it when it came out of the oven

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Puy lentils with cherries, spinach and blue cheese

This is another recipe adapted from the fantastic Ottolenghi cookbook. I have cooked more from this book than any other cookbook I own.

Lentils, cherries and blue cheese might sound like a bit of an odd combination, but it really works. I first made this dish mainly because I was curious as to how the flavours would work together and had all the ingredients to hand, and I was completely blown away by how yummy it was. Sweet, salty and rich, it would make a lovely starter for a seasonal posh dinner, or a really fabulous lunch.

Serves 2, 4 if serving as a starter

125g puy lentils, or 1 can of ready cooked
2-3 shallots, or half a small onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp water
1 tsp caster sugar
60g dried cherries (I used dried morello cherries)
50ml red wine vinegar
80g fresh spinach
About 120g blue cheese (it is a strong flavour so just add as much as you fancy. The recipe specifies gorgonzola, but I used blue stilton)
Salt and black pepper

If you need to cook the lentils, wash them and then boil them in a lot of water with a couple of bay leaves for about 20 minutes, until they are cooked but al dente.

To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a saucepan, add the shallots and sauté over a low heat for about 10 minutes, until softened and golden. Add the water, sugar, cherries and vinegar, and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Drain the lentils (either from saucepan or can) and add them to the cherry sauce, stir, and if using ready cooked lentils, warm them up in the sauce. Add the spinach and keep the heat on until it wilts. Taste and season with salt and pepper (not too much salt as the cheese is quite salty).

Serve warm or at room temperature, with a little raw spinach and the blue cheese crumbled over the top.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Little orange fairy cakes

I had been planning on making orange and passion fruit cupcakes, but I realised a little too late that the seal had gone on my jar of passion fruit curd, and it had gone a bit fizzy. In a way though, I’m glad. I probably would not have set out to make plain orange fairy cakes, but actually, they were brilliant, and by sticking to one strong flavour, they really worked. I am the kind of person that always ends up over-complicating things. Always done with the best of intentions, sometimes I just can’t leave things alone, and quite often it ends up a mess. One of my intentions for the year is to keep things simple. I wish someone would say this to the contestants on Masterchef Professionals before someone else puts black olives in a dessert, or clay on a potato.

These cakes will turn out a lot better if you use a proper fairy cake/cupcake pan, as opposed to just jamming filled cupcake cases on a flat baking tray.

 Makes, annoyingly, 26 – don’t just jam all the mix into 24 cases, as they will be too full and you risk creating mushroom cloud cupcakes.

For the fairy cakes:
250g unsalted butter, softened
250g self-raising flour
225g caster sugar
4 eggs
pinch salt
zest of 1 big orange
3 tbsp orange juice
2 tbsp milk

For the orange buttercream:
250g unsalted butter, softened
200g icing sugar
2 tbsp orange juice
zest of 1 lemon

Crushed pistachio nuts
Pieces of crystallised ginger
Dried cranberries

180c with fan, 16 minutes

Cream together the butter and sugar, and then add the flour, eggs and salt. Mix together until a thick batter forms – this could be done in a food processor. Add the orange zest and juice, mix well and then add the milk and mix again. Add a little more milk if the batter still seems too thick. It should have a 'nice dropping consistency', ie. plop nicely off the teaspoon into the cupcake case. At this point you could throw in a handful of sultanas or dried cranberries if you wanted to.

Use a teaspoon to fill your cupcake cases no more than two thirds full and bake for 15-20 minutes, until risen and golden on the top (with my oven this took 16 minutes).

 Lift the cakes out of the tray as soon as possible and let them cool on a cooling rack.

Make the buttercream by beating together the butter, icing sugar and zest, and then gradually incorporating the orange juice (make sure the butter is really soft otherwise it will go lumpy). Use a piping bag or a knife to spread the icing over the fairy cakes – you want it to be thick, but not insanely so – the cake has a lovely light texture and orange flavour, and you don't want to overpower it.

Decorate the cakes with crushed pistachios, crystallised ginger, dried cranberries, or whatever else you fancy. Once the cupcakes are iced, put them in the fridge for a few hours to harden up the icing.