Friday, July 14, 2017

"Photos? What photos?"

You may have noticed that some of my photos are gone. This is due to changed policies at the hosting service. I'm working on a solution.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Chicken casserole discussed

"And as for the chicken, that was a little beauty. It was that young and tender, I says to Hannah at the time as it seemed a shame to casserole it, for it would 'ave roasted beautiful. But Mr. Urquhart is very partial to a casseroled chicken; he says as there's more flavour to 'em that way, and I dunno but what he's right."

"If done with a good beef stock," pronounced Mr. Bunter, judicially, "the vegetables well packed in layers, on a foundation of bacon, not too fat, and the whole well seasoned with salt, pepper and paprika, there are few dishes to beat a casseroled chicken. For my own part, I would recommend a soupçon of garlic, but I am aware that such is not agreeable to all tastes."

"I can't a-bear the smell or sight of the stuff," said Mrs. Pettican, frankly, "but as for the rest I'm with you, always allowing that the giblets is added to the stock, and I would personally favour mushrooms when in season, but not them tinned or bottled sorts as looks pretty but has no more taste to 'em than boot buttons if so much. But the secret is in the cooking, as you know well, Mr. Bunter, the lid being kep' well sealed down to 'old the flavour and the cookin' being' slow to make the juices perambulate through and through each other as you might say. I'm not denyin' as sech is very 'ighly enjoyable, and so Hannah and me found it, though fond of a good roast fowl also, when well-basted with a good rich stuffing to rejuice the dryness. But as to roasting it, Mr. Urquhart wouldn't hear of it, and being 'as it's him that pays the bills, he has the right to give his orders."

From Strong Poison, by Dorothy L. Sayers.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


I came across this grousing article about picnics and thought I'd share it.

To add my two cents, I will say that Iceland has even more notoriously fickle weather than Britain and I have still managed to have some perfectly lovely picnics here.

Simple picnics with sandwiches and cakes and tea are lovely when the food is done right and the weather behaves, but the picnic meals where we cooked the food on the spot were always my favourite, especially the ones combined with a day at the beach: wading in the sea, collecting shells and semi-precious stones (jasper and chalcedony), and gathering driftwood, dry seaweed and garbage that had accumulated on the beach since last year's outing and piling it up to make a bonfire.
This would be followed by charcoal-grilled sausages in charred buns or lamb cutlets and baked potatoes with salad, and drinks cooled in the river, followed by a lazy hour or two in the sun, digesting the food and talking, and then, when it began to get dark, lighting the bonfire, listening to the driftwood crackle and watching the flames leap. Then home, slather on after-sun cream and to bed and a deep, restful sleep.

These picnics were always spontaneous because we could never rely on the weather forecast, but it only added to the fun and I don't ever remember one getting disrupted by bad weather. Nor do I remember wasps in the food, but there must have been the occasional midge.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Coffee as a metaphor for what's to come

It's the mid-21st century, and real coffee is scarce.

   "Now then." Roarke slid in beside her, reached for a decanter. "Would you like a brandy to fight off the chill?"
   "No." She felt the warmth of the car sweep up from her feet and was afraid she'd begin to shiver in reaction.
   "Ah. On duty. Coffee perhaps."
   Gold winked at his wrist as he pressed his choice for two coffees on the AutoChef built into the side panel. "Cream?"
   "A woman after my own heart." Moments later, he opened the protective door and offered her a china cup in a delicate saucer. "We have more of a selection on the plane," he said, then settled back with his coffee.
   "I bet." The steam rising from her cup smelled like heaven. Eve took a tentative sip -- and nearly moaned.
Source:; Photographer: rsbc
   It was real. No simulation made from vegetable concentrate so usual since the depletion of the rain forests in the late twentieth. This was the real thing, ground from rich Columbian beans, singing with caffeine.
   She sipped again, and could have wept.
   "Problem?" He enjoyed her reaction immensely, the flutter of the lashes, the faint flush, the darkening of the eyes -- a similar response, he noted, to a woman purring under a man's hands.
   "Do you know how long it's been since I had real coffee?"
   He smiled. "No."
   "Neither do I." Unashamed, she closed her eyes as she lifted the cup again. "You'll have to excuse me, this is a private moment. We'll talk on the plane." 
From Naked in Death by J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts)

Sunday, June 30, 2013

English fare in Raj era India at its worst

As described by E.M. Forster in A Passage to India:
 ...the menu was: Julienne soup full of bullety bottled peas, pseudo-cottage bread, fish full of branching bones, pretending to be plaice, more bottled peas with the cutlets, trifle, sardines on toast: the menu of Anglo-India. A dish might be added or subtracted as one rose or fell in the official scale, the peas might rattle less or more, the sardines and the vermouth be imported by a different firm, but the tradition remained; the food of exiles, cooked by servants who did not understand it.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Yorkshirewoman comments on food

The passage below might well have been written in answer to this.
...a bowl of soup was set before her. 'How very good it smells!' said Venetia, picking up her spoon. 'Oh, Imber, fresh bannocks? Yes, indeed I’ll take one! Now I know I’m at home again!' She turned her head to address Damerel. 'My aunt, I must tell you, has a French cook. He contrives the most delectable dishes, but I couldn’t help yearning sometimes for plain Yorkshire food.' 
From Venetia by Georgette Heyer

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Afternoon tea in early 19th century Yorkshire

From Shirley by Charlotte Brontë:
"Afternoon Tea Party", Jean-Etienne Liotard (1702-1789)
Yorkshire people in those days took their tea round the table, sitting well into it, with their knees duly introduced under the mahogany. It was essential to have a multitude of plates of bread and butter, varied in sorts and plentiful in quantity. It was thought proper, too, that on the centre plate should stand a glass dish of marmalade. Among the viands was expected to be found a small assortment of cheesecakes and tarts. If there was also a plate of thin slices of pink ham garnished with green parsley, so much the better.

Eliza, the rector's cook, fortunately knew her business as provider. She had been put out of humour a little at first, when the invaders came so unexpectedly in such strength; but it appeared that she regained her cheerfulness with action, for in due time the tea was spread forth in handsome style, and neither ham, tarts, nor marmalade were wanting among its accompaniments.
(Chapter VII)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Léon at table

More from These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer:

What is the matter now?”
Léon was examining a black pudding with an expression akin to loathing on his face.
“Monseigneur, this—” he pointed disdainfully at the pudding—“this is not for people to eat! Bah!”
“Is aught amiss with it?” inquired his Grace.
“Everything!” said Léon crushingly. “First I am made to feel sick upon that ship, and then I am made to feel sick again by an evil—pudding, you call it? Voyons, it is a good name! Pig-pudding! Monseigneur, you must not eat it! It will make you——”
“Pray do not describe my probable symptoms as well as your own, infant. You have certainly been prodigiously ill-used, but endeavour to forget it! Eat one of those sweetmeats.”
Léon selected one of the little cakes, and started to nibble it.
“Do you always eat these things in England, Monseigneur?” he asked, pointing to the beef and the puddings.
“Invariably, my infant.”
“I think it would be better if we did not stay very long here,” said Léon firmly.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A French teenager of the 18th century encounters English food for the first time

From These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer:

Breakfast with Ham by Pieter Claesz (c. 1597–1660)

Léon eyed the meal with some disapproval and not a little surprise. A sirloin of English beef stood at one end of the table, flanked by a ham and some capons. A fat duck was at the other end, with pasties and puddings. There was also a flagon of burgundy, and a jug of foaming ale.
“Well, my Léon?”
Léon turned. His Grace had entered the room, and stood behind him, fanning himself. Léon looked sternly at the fan, and seeing the condemnation in his eyes Avon smiled.
“The fan does not find favour with you, infant?”
“I do not like it at all, Monseigneur.”
“You distress me. What think you of our English meats?”
Léon shook his head.
“Terrible, Monseigneur. It is—it is barbare!”

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Quick and easy meze or appetizers: Bread rusks with tomatoes, olive oil and capers

I have been trying out some Greek recipes lately, mostly from two Greek cookbooks I own: Modern Greek by Andy Harris, and The Book of Greek Cooking (Icelandic translation) by Lesley Mackley. Meze are Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean small dishes or appetizers, much like the Spanish tapas or the Chinese dim sum.

Here is a meze from Modern Greek that I tried recently and loved. I did find it to be rather a lot of work to peel and deseed the tomatoes, so I didn't, but feel free to follow the exact recipe. My alterations are in the brackets. It is clearly a relative of the Italian bruschetta:

To serve 4 to 6 persons:

12 paximadia (dried bread rusks - I used lightly toasted slices of baguette)
5 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (I used fresh, perfectly ripe (completely red and slightly soft) sweet summer tomatoes and neither peeled nor seeded them the second time I made this, and it was just as good. However, it was a bit little wetter that way, so if this is going to stand for a while before you serve it, you'd better follow the original instructions and peel and deseed)
12 caperberries, rinsed (may be left out, especially if the tomatoes are perfectly ripe and sweet)
2 tbs olive oil (must be good quality oil, and make sure it's not rancid - yep, this happened to me the first time around, but fortunately I discovered it before I had ruined all the slices)
freshly ground black pepper

Arrange the rusks/toast on a serving platter and top with the chopped tomatoes. Put 2-3 caperberries on top of each, drizzle with olive oil and season with the salt and pepper.

Friday, June 14, 2013

...and one of them continues eating (continuation of yesterday's quotation):

...he whistled, looked impatiently round, and seemed to feel a great want of something. This time Moore caught and, it appeared, comprehended his demonstrations.

"Mr. Malone," said he, "you must require refreshment after your wet walk. I forget hospitality."

"Not at all," rejoined Malone; but he looked as if the right nail was at last hit on the head, nevertheless. Moore rose and opened a cupboard.

"It is my fancy," said he, "to have every convenience within myself, and not to be dependent on the feminity in the cottage yonder for every mouthful I eat or every drop I drink. I often spend the evening and sup here alone, and sleep with Joe Scott in the mill. Sometimes I am my own watchman. I require little sleep, and it pleases me on a fine night to wander for an hour or two with my musket about the hollow. Mr. Malone, can you cook a mutton chop?"

"Try me. I've done it hundreds of times at college."

"There's a dishful, then, and there's the gridiron. Turn them quickly. You know the secret of keeping the juices in?"

"Never fear me; you shall see. Hand a knife and fork, please."

The curate turned up his coat-cuffs, and applied himself to the cookery with vigour. The manufacturer placed on the table plates, a loaf of bread, a black bottle, and two tumblers. He then produced a small copper kettle—still from the same well-stored recess, his cupboard—filled it with water from a large stone jar in a corner, set it on the fire beside the hissing gridiron, got lemons, sugar, and a small china punch-bowl; but while he was brewing the punch a tap at the door called him away.

"Is it you, Sarah?"

"Yes, sir. Will you come to supper, please, sir?"

"No; I shall not be in to-night; I shall sleep in the mill. So lock the doors, and tell your mistress to go to bed."

He returned.

"You have your household in proper order," observed Malone approvingly, as, with his fine face ruddy as the embers over which he bent, he assiduously turned the mutton chops. "You are not under petticoat government, like poor Sweeting, a man—whew! how the fat spits! it has burnt my hand—destined to be ruled by women. Now you and I, Moore—there's a fine brown one for you, and full of gravy—you and I will have no gray mares in our stables when we marry."

"I don't know; I never think about it. If the gray mare is handsome and tractable, why not?"

"The chops are done. Is the punch brewed?"

"There is a glassful. Taste it. When Joe Scott and his minions return they shall have a share of this, provided they bring home the frames intact."

Malone waxed very exultant over the supper. He laughed aloud at trifles, made bad jokes and applauded them himself, and, in short, grew unmeaningly noisy. His host, on the contrary, remained quiet as before. 
From Shirley by Charlotte Brontë.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Gluttons in action:

Mr. Donne and his guests, as I have said, are at dinner; Mrs. Gale waits on them, but a spark of the hot kitchen fire is in her eye. She considers that the privilege of inviting a friend to a meal occasionally, without additional charge (a privilege included in the terms on which she lets her lodgings), has been quite sufficiently exercised of late. The present week is yet but at Thursday, and on Monday Mr. Malone, the curate of Briarfield, came to breakfast and stayed dinner; on Tuesday Mr. Malone and Mr. Sweeting of Nunnely came to tea, remained to supper, occupied the spare bed, and favoured her with their company to breakfast on Wednesday morning; now, on Thursday, they are both here at dinner, and she is almost certain they will stay all night. "C'en est trop," she would say, if she could speak French.

Mr. Sweeting is mincing the slice of roast beef on his plate, and complaining that it is very tough; Mr. Donne says the beer is flat. Ay, that is the worst of it: if they would only be civil Mrs. Gale wouldn't mind it so much, if they would only seem satisfied with what they get she wouldn't care; but "these young parsons is so high and so scornful, they set everybody beneath their 'fit.' They treat her with less than civility, just because she doesn't keep a6 servant, but does the work of the house herself, as her mother did afore her; then they are always speaking against Yorkshire ways and Yorkshire folk," and by that very token Mrs. Gale does not believe one of them to be a real gentleman, or come of gentle kin. "The old parsons is worth the whole lump of college lads; they know what belongs to good manners, and is kind to high and low."

"More bread!" cries Mr. Malone, in a tone which, though prolonged but to utter two syllables, proclaims him at once a native of the land of shamrocks and potatoes. Mrs. Gale hates Mr. Malone more than either of the other two; but she fears him also, for he is a tall, strongly-built personage, with real Irish legs and arms, and a face as genuinely national—not the Milesian face, not Daniel O'Connell's style, but the high-featured, North-American-Indian sort of visage, which belongs to a certain class of the Irish gentry, and has a petrified and proud look, better suited to the owner of an estate of slaves than to the landlord of a free peasantry. Mr. Malone's father termed himself a gentleman: he was poor and in debt, and besottedly arrogant; and his son was like him.
Mrs. Gale offered the loaf.

"Cut it, woman," said her guest; and the "woman" cut it accordingly. Had she followed her inclinations, she would have cut the parson also; her Yorkshire soul revolted absolutely from his manner of command.

The curates had good appetites, and though the beef was "tough," they ate a great deal of it. They swallowed, too, a tolerable allowance of the "flat beer," while a dish of Yorkshire pudding, and two tureens of vegetables, disappeared like leaves before locusts. The cheese, too, received distinguished marks of their attention; and a "spice-cake," which followed by way of dessert, vanished like a vision, and was no more found. Its elegy was chanted in the kitchen by Abraham, Mrs. Gale's son and heir, a youth of six summers; he had reckoned upon the reversion thereof, and when his mother brought down the empty platter, he lifted up his voice and wept sore.

The curates, meantime, sat and sipped their wine, a liquor of unpretending vintage, moderately enjoyed. Mr. Malone, indeed, would much rather have had whisky; but Mr. Donne, being an Englishman, did not keep the beverage. While they sipped they argued, not on politics, nor on philosophy, nor on literature—these topics were now,7 as ever, totally without interest for them—not even on theology, practical or doctrinal, but on minute points of ecclesiastical discipline, frivolities which seemed empty as bubbles to all save themselves. Mr. Malone, who contrived to secure two glasses of wine, when his brethren contented themselves with one, waxed by degrees hilarious after his fashion; that is, he grew a little insolent, said rude things in a hectoring tone, and laughed clamorously at his own brilliancy.
From Shirley by Charlotte Brontë.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Everyday meal in a Regency era English country home

"The Dinner Table" by Henri Matisse
I love to read descriptions of meals in novels, and knowing that Georgette Heyer would have researched it well, I have no reason to doubt that the meal described below, in a scene from The Reluctant Widow, is a genuine example of fare one could have expected to find on the dinner table of an English country house during the Regency era.
What I marvel at is the size of the meal and the number of dishes in what is, despite there being a guest at the table, an everyday meal.

"He partook lavishly of every dish and was so much moved by the excellence of the Davenport fowls, stuffed, parboiled, and stewed in butter, that he sent a complimentary message to the cook and congratulated Carlyon on having acquired such a treasure. By the time he had worked his way from the Hessian soup and ragout which began the repast through a baked carp dressed in the Portuguese way, some beefsteaks with oyster sauce, the fowls, and a floating island, with a fruit pie as a remove, he was so far reconciled to his nephew’s death as to be able to recount three of the latest good stories circulating town and to confide to Carlyon as he ecstatically savored the bouquet of the port, that he really could not agree with his old friend Brummell in deeming it a wine only fit for the lower orders to drink."

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Video: "I'm Trying to Cook"

I came across this while looking for something else on YouTube. If it sounds familiar - it's a parody of Julian Smith's satirical rap video "I'm trying to read".

Sunday, April 3, 2011

An evocation of hearty, down-to-earth English workingman's food:

However gross it might be in reality, he makes it sound like the most heavenly meal in the world:

"On my own once again, I found a snug little room over an eating-house in the Lower Richmond Road - a shambling second-floor back which overhung the railway and rocked all day to the passing trains, while the hot meaty steam of boiling pies filtered up through cracks in the floor.

The café downstairs was a shadowy tunnel lined with high-backed wooden pews, carbolic-scrubbed and exclusively male, with all the comforts of a medieval refectory. My rent of twenty-five shillings a week included the furnished room and three café meals a day - a carte blanche arrangement which I exploited fully and which introduced me to new ways of eating. The blackboard menu, propped on the pavement outside, offered a list as immutable as the elements: 'Bubble. Squeak. Liver and B. Toad-in-the-Hole. Meat Pudding or Pie.' My favourite was the pie – a little basin of meat wrapped in a caul of suety dough which was kept boiling all day in a copper cauldron in a cupboard under the stairs. Turned out on the plate, it steamed like a sodden napkin, emitting a mournful odour of laundries; but once pricked with the fork it exploded magnificently with a rich lava of beefy juices. There must have been over a pound of meat in each separate pie - a complete working-man's meal, for sixpence. And remembering the thin days at home, when meat was only for Sundays, I ate at least one of them every day. Otherwise I was encouraged to ring the changes on the house's limited permutations - Squeak, Toad, Liver and B; or as a privilege, an occasional herring. A mug of tea at each meal was of course served without asking, and was so strong you could trot a mouse on it. As for afters, there was a postscript at the foot of the menu which seemed to be painted in permanent enamel: ´During the Present Hot Spell Why Not Try a Cold Sweet?´ Winter and summer, it was custard and prunes."
From As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee (1914 – 1997)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A droolworthy feast, but just imagine the heartburn

"Here I am, Aunt Kate!" cried Gabriel, with sudden animation, "ready to carve a flock of geese, if necessary."

A fat brown goose lay at one end of the table and at the other end, on a bed of creased paper strewn with sprigs of parsley, lay a great ham, stripped of its outer skin and peppered over with crust crumbs, a neat paper frill round its shin and beside this was a round of spiced beef. Between these rival ends ran parallel lines of side-dishes: two little minsters of jelly, red and yellow; a shallow dish full of blocks of blancmange and red jam, a large green leaf-shaped dish with a stalk-shaped handle, on which lay bunches of purple raisins and peeled almonds, a companion dish on which lay a solid rectangle of Smyrna figs, a dish of custard topped with grated nutmeg, a small bowl full of chocolates and sweets wrapped in gold and silver papers and a glass vase in which stood some tall celery stalks. In the centre of the table there stood, as sentries to a fruit-stand which upheld a pyramid of oranges and American apples, two squat old-fashioned decanters of cut glass, one containing port and the other dark sherry. On the closed square piano a pudding in a huge yellow dish lay in waiting and behind it were three squads of bottles of stout and ale and minerals, drawn up according to the colours of their uniforms, the first two black, with brown and red labels, the third and smallest squad white, with transverse green sashes.

Gabriel took his seat boldly at the head of the table and, having looked to the edge of the carver, plunged his fork firmly into the goose. He felt quite at ease now for he was an expert carver and liked nothing better than to find himself at the head of a well-laden table.

"Miss Furlong, what shall I send you?" he asked. "A wing or a slice of the breast?"

"Just a small slice of the breast."

"Miss Higgins, what for you?"

"O, anything at all, Mr. Conroy."

While Gabriel and Miss Daly exchanged plates of goose and plates of ham and spiced beef Lily went from guest to guest with a dish of hot floury potatoes wrapped in a white napkin. This was Mary Jane's idea and she had also suggested apple sauce for the goose but Aunt Kate had said that plain roast goose without any apple sauce had always been good enough for her and she hoped she might never eat worse. Mary Jane waited on her pupils and saw that they got the best slices and Aunt Kate and Aunt Julia opened and carried across from the piano bottles of stout and ale for the gentlemen and bottles of minerals for the ladies. There was a great deal of confusion and laughter and noise, the noise of orders and counter-orders, of knives and forks, of corks and glass-stoppers. Gabriel began to carve second helpings as soon as he had finished the first round without serving himself. Everyone protested loudly so that he compromised by taking a long draught of stout for he had found the carving hot work. Mary Jane settled down quietly to her supper but Aunt Kate and Aunt Julia were still toddling round the table, walking on each other's heels, getting in each other's way and giving each other unheeded orders. Mr. Browne begged of them to sit down and eat their suppers and so did Gabriel but they said there was time enough, so that, at last, Freddy Malins stood up and, capturing Aunt Kate, plumped her down on her chair amid general laughter.
From "The Dead" by James Joyce

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What a lovely picnic!

... he got out the luncheon-basket and packed a simple meal, in which, remembering the stranger's origin and preferences, he took care to include a yard of long French bread, a sausage out of which the garlic sang, some cheese which lay down and cried, and a long-necked straw-covered flask wherein lay bottled sunshine shed and garnered on far Southern slopes. Thus laden, he returned with all speed, and blushed for pleasure at the old seaman's commendations of his taste and judgment, as together they unpacked the basket and laid out the contents on the grass by the roadside.
From The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

1940s party food

I read Onions in the Stew by Betty MacDonald some time last year and noted down some food quotations from the book to post on my book blog, but then I though they would be better suited to this blog. Here are some of her hilarious descriptions of 1940s party food. I can’t imagine any of it being good. Edibility may have been an optional extra in some cases.

…I looked and looked at my salad trying to guess what it was. When it could not be avoided any longer I took a bite and it was tuna fish and marshmallows and walnuts and pimento (just for the pretty colour, our hostess explained later when she was giving up the recipe) and chunks of pure white lettuce and boiled dressing. I almost gagged, both Anne and Joan nudged me and giggled, but most of the other ladies shrieked ‘delicious!’ ‘heavenly!’ and ‘so different!’ (‘different’ was quite right) and so the beaming hostess gave us the recipe…

It was at another baby shower that I first encountered a ring mould of mushroom soup, hardboiled eggs, canned shrimps (that special brand that taste like Lysol) and lime Jello, the centre heaped with chopped sweet pickles, the whole topped with a mustardy-sweet salad dressing.

An evening party during elections produced casual refreshments of large, cold, slightly sweet hamburger buns spread with relish, sweet salad dressing, dried beef and cheese, then whisked under the broiler just long enough to make the cheese gummy and the relish warm.

At another shower (wedding I believe) we were served tuna fish chow mein with rancid noodles. A garden club meeting, creamed tuna fish and peanuts over canned asparagus. A hospital group dredged up a salad of elbow macaroni, pineapple chunks, Spanish peanuts, chopped cabbage, chopped marshmallows, ripe olives and salad dressing.

I could go on and on ad nauseam and not even scratch the surface of the desserts which veer towards you ‘just take a devil’s food cake, make a filling of whipped cream, peanut brittle, chocolate chips and custard … and freeze’. I don’t know what is happening to the women of America but it ought to be stopped.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A sauce I'd like to try:

His specialty, Meyer's Superior Cocktail Dip, is made with dry Chinese mustard moistened to the proper consistency with Tabasco sauce. The unsuspecting have been known to leap four feet straight up into the air after scooping up a tiny portion on a potato chip. Strong men have come down running and gone right through the wall when they missed the open doorway.

Travis McGee, speaking of his friend Meyer, from The Dreadful Lemon Sky by John D. MacDonald.

Here's a possible recipe.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Julie & Julia

Last night I rented and watched the movie Julie & Julia. For those not familiar with it, it is a biographical film of cookbook author and TV cook Julia Child, and of blogger Julie Powell, who rose to fame in the blogging world when she cooked every single recipe from Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and wrote a deservedly popular blog about it.

Unfortunately the two biographies were not created equal. Julia Child’s life in France and the writing of the cookbook she co-authored and that made her famous is contrasted with Julie Powell’s life in New York in the naughties and her struggle to find herself. It is possible to make an ordinary life interesting, but the film manages to make Powell’s story so utterly dull and uninteresting by comparison with Child's that I wanted to shout every time the film cut from Child to Powell.

Why couldn’t they just have made a biopic about Julia Child? Lord knows she deserves a full 2 hours to herself. With her war-time career, the romance with her husband, interesting characters, plenty of food porn, an interesting setting and era and Meryl Streep in the lead role it could and probably would, have been a hit. As it stands, the only way I will watch it again is with my finger on the fast forward button to get past the Julia Powell scenes.

P.S. Look for the occasional foodie movie review on this blog in the future.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Hungarian goulash

I first tasted real goulash at a restaurant in the Czech capital, Prague (we have something called gúllas in Iceland, but it's really more like a version of ragout). My parents, with whom I was travelling, ordered something safe and generic (fried chicken if I recall rightly), but I was feeling adventurous and ordered the goulash. I was rewarded by a big smile from the waiter who was clearly delighted that the tourist had ordered something unexpected. The stew was excellent, and the dumplings were good, but lay heavy in my belly afterwards. Goulash may have originated in Hungary, but the Czechs have made it their own.

Flash forward several years:

One weekend not so long ago stewing beef was on discount at a local supermarket and I brought home a tray of it. I decided I wanted to make goulash, but for various reasons, mostly to do with unobtainable ingredients and/or the sheer number of ingredients in the recipes, I chose not to use one from Hungarian Cuisine, but instead went for one of my big mixed-cuisine cookbooks, namely The Spice Cookbook, which I have already reviewed and posted several recipes from. In it I found this excellent and simple recipe for goulash, (which I have altered a little bit):

Round 1:
1 kg. (2 lbs) stewing beef
2 tbs. shortening (an absolutely authentic recipe would use lard)
2 medium-sized yellow onions, thinly sliced

Round 2:
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp. Hungarian paprika powder
1/8 tsp. cayenne-pepper
1 cup water

Round 3:
3 average-sized potatoes, cut into eights
1/3 cup green capsicum (bell pepper), chopped into small pieces (about 1 cm, 2/5 inch)

Round 4.
1 tsp. Hungarian paprika powder

Trim any fat off the meat and cut it into even-sized cubes, about 2,5 cm (1 inch) square. Melt half the shortening in a deep frying pan or saucepan and brown the meat on all sides. Remove from the pan, add the remaining shortening and gently fry the onions over low heat until golden. Return the meat to the pan and add the Round 2 ingredients.

Simmer under a lid for 90 minutes or until the meat is almost tender enough to eat (will take less time if you use a nice, tender cut). Add the Round 3 ingredients and continue simmering under a lid for 30 minutes more, or until the potatoes are cooked through. Add the remaining paprika. Adjust flavour with salt and pepper if necessary.

Serve warm with rice or Hungarian bread dumplings, and a salad.

  • Good enough that I wrote it into my recipe notebook where I put recipes I have tested that have turned out good enough for me to make them again.
  • Works with lamb as well, but not as flavourful. I would use lamb or mutton shanks rather than cutlet meat if I try it again with lamb.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Holiday notice

I am off to India for the next 5 weeks. I will not be posting anything during that time.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hungarian ox-tail stew

Some years ago I acquired a Hungarian cookbook, Hungarian Cuisine: A complete cookery book by József Venesz. Like many of my cookbooks it is second hand, but judging from its appearance, which is more shelf-worn than kitchen-worn, it hasn't been used much. There is a lovely bit of calligraphy on the fly-leaf, indicating that is was probably a birthday present, so it makes me wonder why the previous owner let it go. Perhaps she decided it was time it went to someone who might use it more?

Whatever the reason, I am glad I acquired it, and now that I have tried one recipe from it, I will definitely be trying more. Here is the recipe, with my comments in square brackets:

Ox-tail with sour cream (Tejfölös ököruszály)
  • 2 kg (4 lb.) ox-tail
  • 150 g (5 oz.) mixed vegetables (carrots, turnips, celeriac)
  • 100 g (4 oz.) lard [my only substitution – I used butter because you can not get lard for love or money around here unless you personally know a butcher (which I do, but he lives on the other end of the country)]
  • A pinch of black pepper
  • A pinch of thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 60g (2 1/2 oz.) onions
  • 100 ml (4 fl.oz.) white wine
  • 1/2 lemon (both zest and juice)
  • 300 ml (1/2 pt) sour cream
  • 50 g (1 oz.) flour
  • 30 g (1 oz.) mustard [it doesn‘t say what kind, so I used Dijon as I didn‘t have the dry type. It turned out really good]
  • 20 g (3/4 oz.) sugar
  • 1 tsp salt

If it is whole, wash the ox-tail thoroughly in warm water, and then cold water, pat dry and cut into pieces 2-3 cm (1 – 1 1/2 inch) thick. Salt.

Cut the vegetables into thick slices and coarsely chop the onion. Melt the lard in an oven-proof dish and add the vegetables, onion, pepper, bay leaves and thyme. Add the ox-tail pieces and roast in the oven, stirring from time to time.

When nicely browned, put everything in a saucepan, add the wine, the thinly pared lemon zest [you can grate it if you want to, but it doesn't really matter, as it will not be served with the finished dish] and a little stock or water. Cover and simmer slowly for 2-3 hours [or however long it takes for the ox-tail meat to become tender]. Add a little water from time to time.

[At this point you will have a richly flavoured stew that could easily be served as it is. The next step will turn it into something delicious].

When the meat is tender, mix together the sour cream and flour into a smooth paste and add to the stew, along with the mustard, sugar and lemon juice. Cook for another 10 minutes. Remove the meat pieces from the stew and put into another saucepan, straining the gravy over the meat. Bring to the boil, remove from the heat and serve hot with bread dumplings or macaroni.
[The gravy will be very thick. The butter floated up on top, but I'm guessing that the lard might stay mixed in??].

P.S. The stuff that remains in the strainer is way too tasty not to eat it ...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Greek roasted leg of lamb

I tried this with a rack of lamb, and it was delicious. I expect that a leg would be even better, because more of it would be actually cooked in the wine.

To serve 8 (or 5-6 hungry Icelanders)

1 leg of lamb, about 3 kilos
4 cloves garlic, slivered
2 tbs olive oil
1 tbs dried oregano
1 tbs coarsely ground black pepper
1 cup dry white wine

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Cut small, deep slits all over the leg of lamb and insert the garlic slivers. Brush the meat with olive oil. Mix together the oregano and pepper and rub all over the meat.

Put into a roasting pan and pour in the wine. Put in the oven and reduce the heat to 175°C and roast for about 90 minutes (for rare meat), basting occasionally. If you use a meat thermometer, rare meat should read 60°C. If you prefer it better done, follow the instructions that should have come with the thermometer, or give the meat 30 minutes more.

Let the meat rest for 10 minutes before serving. Strain the pan juices, skim off the fat and serve the juices with the meat.

The recipe originally came from Sheila Lukins' (of Silver Palate fame) All Around the World Cookbook, a hefty volume that another BookMooch member was kind enough to ship to me from Canada.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Thai grilled chicken

This is a refreshingly fresh, medium hot marinade for chicken that I tried recently:

To serve 4:

4 fresh red chili peppers, sliced, stem and seeds removed
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
5 shallots, thinly sliced
2 tsp crumbled palm sugar
150 ml coconut cream (not cream of coconut!)
2 tsp fish sauce
1 tbs tamarind water (see recipe below)
4 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless

Pulp the chili pepper, garlic and shallots using a mortar and pestle or food processor. Add the palm sugar, coconut cream, fish sauce and tamarind water.

Cut 4 shallow slits in each chicken breast with a sharp knife. Put the chicken breasts on a shallow dish and pour the marinade over them. Turn over in the marinade to coat well. Cover the dish and set aside for an hour or so.

Preheat the grill. Put the marinated chicken breasts on aluminium foil and put under the grill for 4 minutes, turn over and grill the other side for 4 minutes as well (the breasts I used needed 7 minutes on each side), brushing occasionally with the marinade. Garnish with basil or cilantro leaves.

Serve with rice.

Recipe for tamarind water:
Pour 60 ml boiling water over 5 g tamarind pulp. Soak for a few minutes, break up with a spoon and let soak for 30 minutes. Pour the liquid through a strainer and press as much of the pulp through it as possible. Discard the remaining pulp.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Kitchen mishap

Sometimes I could just cry. Instead of a relaxing Sunday lunch I had to deal with a messy kitchen trauma yesterday.

For lunch on Sunday I cooked a duck breast in red wine and plum sauce. At the end of the meal I had half a duck breast and some sauce left over. I put the duck on a plate and poured the sauce from the pan into a glass bowl and set both duck and sauce on the counter to cool before putting them in the refrigerator.

Then I needed something from the cupboard directly above where I had put the bowl of sauce and the meat. I opened the cupboard door and BAM! a jar jumped out and landed right on top of the sauce bowl. The jar remained whole, but the bowl exploded. For a moment I just stood there, staring in shock at a pool of sauce with evil-looking pieces of broken glass in it and splats of crimson sauce everywhere. Strangely enough, none of it got on me, but there were few other places in the kitchen that escaped (except I didn’t find anything on the ceiling). Luckily, my kitchen is nearly stain proof, so the sauce wasn’t the worst part. The glass was. Heat-resistant glass doesn't break like regular glass. Besides the expected pieces of all sizes and shapes it also breaks into tiny fragments, almost like sand, and these were in all the places the sauce was, plus a few more, making it very difficult to mop up the sauce without risking some cuts. And of course I was standing right in the middle of the area with the most glass – and my feet were bare.

My first act was to take a standing jump away from the glass, to go and get myself some shoes. After I had finished wiping, mopping and vacuuming up the sauce and glass and the adrenaline started to wear off, my big toe started to throb. I hobbled into the bathroom and took off my sandal and found I was bleeding. A pressure test indicated that a shard of glass was lodged in my toe, but no amount of probing with the tweezers could dislodge it, so I ended up by bandaging the toe and hoping the damn thing will work itself out soon. Meanwhile, I have to be careful not to wear shoes that put pressure on the wound.

The worst casualty, however, was the duck breast. It had been sitting right next to the bowl when the accident happened, and was decorated with tiny glittering pieces of glass. I am not a risk taker, so instead of trying to wash off the glass, I threw it in the trash. Bye, bye dinner!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Thai chicken in massaman curry

I learned to cook this dish and several others during a short Thai cooking course I took recently. This is the only dish I learned about there that I have cooked at home so far. This curry is richly flavoured but not hot. The sauce is not very thick - in fact if you take the chicken pieces and cut the meat off the bones and add it to the sauce you could serve it as a soup.

500 g chicken pieces on the bone (about 1/2 chicken). Skinless and boneless chicken may be used but the sauce will not be as richly flavoured
1 tbs massaman curry paste
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
4 cups coconut milk
1 cup water
1/2 cup fish sauce – the Thai chef recommended the Squid brand
1/2 cup palm sugar
1 1/2 cup peanuts, whole (almonds or cashews may be used instead)
1/2 cup peanuts, finely chopped or ground (almonds or cashews may be used instead)
1/2 cup tamarind juice*
2 cups chopped onions (about 2 medium yellow onions)
12 small potatoes, cooked, cooled and peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
3-4 bay leaves

*To make tamarind juice, pour 1/2 cup boiling water over 25 g of tamarind paste and steep for 5-10 minutes, break up with a spoon, take the tamarind pulp and squeeze the juice from it. Discard the pulp and strain the juice before using. According to the Thai chef, the bottled stuff does not give the right flavour to this dish.

Cook 1 1/2 cup coconut milk over medium heat in a deep pan or wide-bottomed pot until it separates and the oil floats on top. Add the curry paste, stir well and cook for 3-4 minutes. Turn up the heat, add the chicken pieces and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes. Add the remaining 4 cups of coconut milk and the water and mix well. Allow to boil, then add the peanuts, palm sugar, fish sauce, tamarind juice and bay leaves and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Then add the potatoes and onions and simmer gently for 5-10 minutes (the onion pieces should still have a little crunch in them when the curry is served). 2 tbs of palm sugar may be added near the end of cooking if the curry isn‘t sweet enough.
Serve with jasmine rice and a fresh salad.

By the way, „massaman“ curry is sometimes spelled „matsaman“ – for example on the jar of curry paste I bought before cooking this dish. Apparently "massaman" means "Muslim" in Thai.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I'm back

After my last post I decided to take a break from the cooking challenge. It was getting to be an onerous task to be finished rather than a pleasure, so I took a long break. However, I have continued using my cookbooks more than I did before I started the challenge, which of course was the point of the exercise.

Now I am ready to start blogging about my excursions into new cooking territory again, but I am no longer going to do it as a weekly challenge. Instead I will simply write about whatever new recipes or foods I have tried. This means my blogging will be sporadic, but that can't be helped.

Monday, April 7, 2008


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Sushi: Smoked salmon rolls

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More sushi rolls

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Laden tray

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Proscuitto with melon and cheese on lettuce and toast

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Garlic shrimp

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Puff pastry with gravlax and mustard-dill sauce

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Cod roe (I think) and chutney, on lettuce and toast

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Sweets: Strawberries and choux buns with vanilla cream

Monday, March 24, 2008

Cider sorbet

I love ice cream and I also love flavoured water ices, like sorbet and granita. The problem about making flavoured ice at home is that you either need an ice cream machine or several hours of work to get the ice as smooth as the commercial stuff. When I made this experiment I was not lucky enough to have an ice cream machine (this has since changed), but I had read up on the old method of making dessert ice and decided to test it. I didn't have all of the ingredients for custard ice on hand, so I decided to make sorbet instead. I also did not have access to enough ice to make a salt/ice mixture for freezing, so I used the freezer compartment of my refrigerator.

I cooked up some simple sugar syrup, made from an equal volume of white sugar and water (in this case 200 ml of each). This I dumped into a saucepan and cooked until the sugar was melted. I then quickly cooled the syrup by putting the saucepan into the sink with some cold water. When the syrup was cool, I measured out 200 ml of syrup into a freezer safe bowl (the rest I bottled for later use). To this I added 150 ml of non-alcoholic pear cider and mixed it well. I then put a lid on the bowl and stuck it in the freezer.

After 90 minutes or so I took it out – the mixture had started freezing – and gave it a good stir to break up the forming ice crystals. I then returned it to the freezer. For the next three hours I would go back every 30 minutes and give it another good stir, and every time the mixture was thicker. Finally, when it had got hard to stir and was thick and felt very cold on the tongue, I spooned it into dessert glasses with lids and allowed it to freeze completely. When I taste tested it the texture was a little coarser than that of commercial sorbet, but it was very good, with a rich flavour much better than any commercial sorbet I had tasted. I decided that next time I had guests for dinner I would serve them home-made sorbet. The ice cream machine will make it much easier and less time-consuming.

If you want to try making sorbet, follow the description above and if you want a different flavour, any fruit juice or even fizzy drink works well in these proportions. For pure lemon or lime juice, you need to use less juice or the mixture will be too sour. Lemon sorbet, BTW, is a very good palate cleanser that is sometimes served between the courses of a meal to clear away the taste of the precious dish before a new one is served.

If you have an ice cream maker, made the sorbet mix and follow the instructions for freezing sorbet.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Recipe of the week from Sweet Food: Saffron Spice Cake

I chose this recipe because my mother recently came back from the Canary Islands and brought me more saffron than I use in about 5 years of cooking, plus I already had some.

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Serves 8.

250 ml (1 cup) freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tbs finely grated orange zest
1/4 tsp saffron threads
3 eggs
155 g (1 1/4 cups) icing sugar
250 g (2 cups) self-rising flour (or 2 cups plain flour plus 3 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt)
370 g (3 2/3 cups) ground almonds (almond flour)
125 g unsalted butter, melted
Icing sugar, extra, to dust
Thick (double) cream, to serve

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F), or 160°C if you have a convection oven (or as indicated by manufacturer or your experience).

Lightly grease a 22 cm round cake pan and line the base with baking paper. Mix orange juice, zest and saffron in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Lower the temperature and simmer for 1 minute. Remove from heat and let cool.

Beat the eggs and icing sugar until light and creamy. Fold in the sifted flour, almonds, orange juice mixture and butter until barely mixed and smooth. Spoon into the cake pan.

Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes and turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Before serving, dust with a little icing sugar and serve with whipped cream.

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Recipe review:

I started by making the ground almonds since I could not find any in any supermarket. I used my handy little electric coffee grinder and ground a little at a time and sifted it to get an even size of almond granules.

There was more dough than I thought there would be, and I ended up using two baking pans, one 20 cm and another 18 cm in diameter, and got two luscious cakes. The baking time was about 45 minutes at 160°C in my convection oven. That temperature was a too hot, as evidenced by the cakes rising a bit too much in the middle.

The cake itself is a lovely pale saffron colour, with a dense texture and a nice orage flavour with undertones of saffron, which is good because too much saffron in food tastes somewhat medicinal to me.

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Book verdict:

If you enjoy food porn and great desserts, buy it. It is full of all sorts of desserts, and the three I made during the week were all good.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sample recipe from Sweet Food: Pineapple Upside-down Cake

Serves 6-8.

20 g unsalted butter, melted
2 tbs firmly packed soft brown sugar
440 g can pineapple rings in natural juice
90 g unsalted butter, softened
125 g (1/2 cup) caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla essence
125 g (1 cup) self-rising flour (= 1 cup plain flour + 1 1/2 tsp baking powder + 1/2 tsp salt)

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Grease a 20 cm (8 inch) ring pan and pour in the melted butter to coat the base. Sprinkle in the brown sugar. Drain the pineapple and reserve 80 ml (1/3 cup) of the juice. Cut the pineapple rings in half and arrange them on the base.

Beat the softened butter and the sugar together until light and creamy. Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla essence and mix well. fold in the flour alternating with the pineapple juice (the recipe recommends using a metal spoon, but I use the beater on my mixer at the slowest speed). Spoon or pour the batter evenly over the pineapple and smooth the surface. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Leave in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.

I made this cake on Sunday, and it’s very good: moist but still light as a cloud and tastes great. Although there is pineapple juice in the batter, the cake doesn’t have a pineapple flavour. This may be due to me having used cheap canned pineapple with less flavourful juice than the more expensive stuff. Whatever the reason, the cake is still good. Another time I might use condensed pineapple juice.

I don’t have a ring pan, so I used a regular cake pan and baked the cake a little longer than the recipe suggests. I only needed 5 1/2 pineapple rings to cover the base.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sample recipe from Sweet Food: Cinnamon Gelato

I bet this is good – and since I have an ice-cream maker, it would be easy work to make.

Serves 8.

1 vanilla bean
550 ml (2 1/4 cups) thick cream (double cream)
550 ml (2 1/4 cups) milk
2 cinnamon sticks
6 egg yolks
100 g (1/2 cup) caster sugar

Split the vanilla bean down the middle and put it in a saucepan with the cream, milk and cinnamon sticks. Bring to the boil, remove immediately from the heat and leave to infuse for 1 hour.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl until light and creamy. Pour the milk/cream mixture into the egg yolk mixture and whisk quickly to mix. Pour the custard into the saucepan and cook over very low heat (barely simmering) until it begins to thicken, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon. Do not let it boil! To test for thickness, dip the spoon into the custard, then draw a line on the back of the spoon. When the line stays and the custard does not run into it, it is ready.

Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla pod and mix into the custard. Strain the custard into a bowl, remove the vanilla pod and cinnamon stick and leave to cool.

To freeze, either churn in an ice-cream maker according to instructions, or pour into a freezer-proof bowl and freeze, whisking every 30 minutes, until the ice-cream is too stiff to stir. The whisking will give the ice cream a creamy texture. Once the ice cream is set, keep in the freezer until ready to serve.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sample recipe from Sweet Food: Chocolate Mud Cake

I love a good chocolate cake, and this one looks promising:

Serves 12.

125 g (1 cup) plain flour
125 g (1 cup) self-rising flour (= 1 cup flour + 1 1/2 tsp baking powder + 1/2 tsp salt)
60 g (1/2 cup) dark cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
625 g (2 3/4 cups) sugar
450 g dark chocolate, chopped
459 g unsalted butter
125 ml (1/2 cup) buttermilk
2 tbs oil
2 tbs instant espresso coffee granules or powder
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 160°C (315°F) or a lower temperature as instructed for a convection oven.

Brush a deep 23 cm (8 1/2 inch) square cake pan with melted butter or oil. Line the pan with baking paper, extending at least 2 cm (4/5 inch) above the rim.

Sift the flours, cocoa and baking soda into a large bowl. Mix in the sugar and make a well in the centre. Put 250 g chocolate and 250 g butter and 185 ml (3/4 cup) water in a saucepan and melt over low heat, stirring constantly. Gradually stir this mixture into the dry ingredients using a large spoon.

Whisk together the buttermilk, oil, coffee and eggs and add to the mixture, stirring until smooth. Pour into the pan and bake for 1 hour 40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool in the pan, the turn out onto a serving dish, upside down.

Combine the remaining chocolate and butter in a small pan and melt over low heat, stirring constantly until smooth. Cool to room temperature, stirring often, until it is thick enough to spread. Spread the icing over the cake. Allow the icing to set slightly before serving.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Cookbook of the week #22 : Sweet Food, including a recipe for Almond, orange and cardamom biscotti

I’m back. I have had a lot going on in my life since I last posted, but now I am ready to pick up where I left off.

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This week’s cookbook was published by Murdoch Books, part of a series of themed books that are in equal measure recipe collections and unabashed food porn. There is a photo of every dish, each one designed to make the reader hungry. The book is divided into chapters for baked goods, desserts and pies & tarts, and other than the chapter divisions, there is no rhyme or reason to the way the recipes are collected, so that for example, the 5 cheesecake recipes in the book are to be found in two chapters and none of them on adjacent pages. This makes for interesting browsing. I have found that I can open this book at random and be almost certain to find something I want to try. I have had to eliminate several recipes I would have liked to try because of hard-to-find ingredients.

Note: The tbs called for are 20 ml tbs, rather than 15 ml ones.

The first recipe I chose is Almond, orange and cardamom biscotti

In Italian “biscotti” means “twice baked”, but according to Wikipedia, in Italy the term is used for any type of cookie. In North-America it refers to twice-baked pastries like the ones in this recipe, which in Italy are called “biscotti di Prato”, “cantoucchi” or “cantoucchini”.

I would like to imagine that when J.R.R. Tolkien wrote about lembas, he had something like biscotti in mind.

Makes about 40.

2 eggs
155 g (2/3 cup) firmly packed soft brown sugar
125 g (1 cup) self-rising flour (if you don’t have self-rising flour, use 1 cup plain flour and add 1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt)
90 g (3/4 cup) plain flour
125 g (1 1/4 cups) almonds
1 tbs finely grated orange zest
1/4 tsp ground cardamom

Preheat the oven to 160°C (315°F), or lower temperature as indicated for convection ovens. Line a baking tray with baking paper.

Beat the eggs and sugar until light and creamy. Sift the flours into the bowl, add the almonds, zest and cardamom and mix to a soft dough.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, divide in two and shape into two loaves, about 5 x 20 cm (2 x 8 inches) in size.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until lightly golden. Cool on a wire rack. When cool, cut the loaves into 1 cm (2/5 inch) slices with a serrated bread knife. The biscotti will be crumbly on the edges, so work slowly and if you can, hold the sides of the loaves as you cut.

Arrange the slices on baking trays in one layer and return to the oven for 10 minutes on each side. If the slices look like they are not completely dry when removed from the oven, don’t worry – they will become crisp when they cool. Allow to cool before serving.

Great with coffee.


Recipe review:
I made this recipe yesterday after I posted it. The dough was EXTREMELY sticky, so sticky that I ended up just forming it into one rough loaf and then I went to scrape a thick layer of gluey dough off my hands. Next time I will wet my hands before handling the dough. The raw loaf looked like a misshapen lump of lava, but it baked up smooth and when I sliced it it looked like biscotti should. In the instructions it says to cool the loaf – I would just let it cool for about 10 minutes and then slice it, because fully cooled it was hard to cut because the crust was so hard. The biscotti are very good, with a mild orangey flavour and just a hint of cardamom.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Recipe of the week from The Cooking of the Middle-East: Challah bread

I apologise for not including recipes from all the chapters, but to tell the truth, all the really interesting ones are quite long and involved and I am simply too lazy to type them up (but not to cook them…).
Challah is a type of braided white bread, traditional to the Jewish people. There have been some long and interesting discussions on Challah-making on my favourite food discussion forum, which made me curious, so I chose Challah as recipe of the week. In the book, the recipe and detailed instructions take up a whole page, obviously so that an inexperienced baker can make the recipe. I am going to assume some expertise on behalf of my readers, and have therefore abbreviated the instructions somewhat, and mixed them with instructions gleaned from other challah recipes and my own experience in bread-making.

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A baked loaf of challah. The egg wash gives it a dark, shiny crust

3/8 pint (12 tbs) lukewarm water
2 oz. (ca. 55 g) fresh yeast or 1 oz. (2 tbs + 2 tsp) dried
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 lb. (565 g to 680 g) plain flour
1 tbs sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs
2 oz. (3 tbs) + 1 scant tsp vegetable cooking fat
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 1/2 tbs water

Put half the lukewarm water into a small bowl and sprinkle in the yeast. Let stand for a coupe of minutes, then stir to dissolve the yeast completely. Set aside in a warm place for about 5 minutes, until the mixture has almost doubled in volume.

Put 1 lb. (450 g) of the flour in a large bowl with the sugar and salt and mix well. Make a well in the centre, add the yeast, the remaining water, eggs, and 2 tbs of fat.

Stir well together until all the flour is absorbed, then add up to 1/2 lb (225 g) flour, a little at a time, to form a dough that holds its shape as a soft ball.

Turn out unto a floured surface and knead for about 15 minutes, or as long as it takes to form a smooth, elastic dough.

Shape into a ball and put into a large, lightly greased bowl. Cover with a towel and set in a warm place to rise, until doubled in size (about 45 minutes).

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The dough, risen and unrisen

Punch down the dough and knead for a few minutes, then set aside for 10 minutes.

Grease a large baking sheet with the remaining tsp of fat. Divide the dough into as many equally sized pieces as you want in the braid (recipe calls for 4, but I used 3). Roll out into long sausage shapes, a bit longer than you intend the baked bread to be, narrowing at the ends.

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The strands of dough

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The braided loaf

Press one end of each of the strands together and braid tightly (don’t pull on the strands!), pressing together the other ends and tucking the ends under the loaf. Carefully place the loaf on the greased baking sheet and cover it with a cloth. Let it rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes.

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The risen loaf with egg wash applied.
At this stage the loaf had risen to "oh, my goodness! This is going to take over the oven!" proportions.

Heat the oven to 400°F (about 200°C, 190°C if you have a convection oven). Mix together the egg yolk and water and brush the top of the loaf with it. Bake in the centre of the oven for about 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375°F (190°C, 180°C for convection ovens) and bake for about 45 minutes longer, until the challah is golden brown and crusty. Cook on a wire rack.

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Note the difference between the areas where the wash was applied and the ones where it was not

Notes and review:
I made the bread exactly as instructed, except I used oil instead of fat. The outcome was a gorgeous-looking loaf, which was fluffy and rather dry. I don’t know if challah is supposed to be this way, or if I perhaps over- or under-kneaded it or baked it for too long, but the texture is consistent with other leavened breads I have eaten that include eggs in the recipe (such as panettone). It was not very flavourful but tasted good with butter, cheese and/or jam on top. I took some to friends of mine who liked it and their kids loved it.

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Cookbook review:
I got this book at the local flea market last Sunday and since I wanted to read it right away I decided to make it cookbook of the week. It is not just a cookbook, but an attempt to describe the cuisines and culinary traditions of the region, with a short chapter on food history added for good measure. It’s part of a series from Time-Life, published in the 1960s and 70s. All the books originally consisted of a large-format book about the food of the chosen country or region and a small spiral-bound recipe booklet, kept together in a slipcase. I have the set of slipcase and two books for Scandinavia, but in this case I only got the large-format book, which only has a few recipes.

The style of the writing reminds me strongly of certain old National Geographic articles, as the author chattily describes his and his wife’s journey through the region in search of dining experiences and recipes.

Verdict: A very satisfying read. I think I will be on the lookout, not only for more books in the series, but also for a copy of the missing booklet.

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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sample recipe from The Cooking of the Middle-East: Baba ghannoj (cold aubergine purée with lemon juice)

I love the sound of the name for this dish, just as I love aubergines.

First, however, is the recipe for Taratoor, a sesame sauce that is used in this Baba Ghannooj recipe:

3 medium-sized garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 cup tahini (sesame paste)
3/4 to 1 cup cold water
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 scant tsp salt

Mash the garlic to a paste with a pestle or wooden spoon. Stir in the tahini. Beat in 1/2 cup of water, the lemon juice and the sale with a whisk or spoon. Still beating, gradually add more water until the sauce has the consistency of thick mayonnaise and holds its shape almost solidly in a spoon.

Baba ghannooj:

1 medium aubergine (about 1 lb./450 g)
3 tbs fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tbs taratoor sauce
1 large garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
1 scant tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp olive oil
2 oz. (ca. 55 g) finely chopped onions
1 tbs finely chopped parsley, preferably flat-leaved

First, roast the aubergine: prick it in 3-4 places with the prongs of a long-handled fork, then impale it in the fork and turn over a gas flame until the skin chars and begins to split, OR pierce the aubergine, place it on a baking sheet and grill about 4 inches (10 cm) from the heat for 20 minutes, turning it to char evenly all over [alternatively, use a crème brûlée torch].

When the aubergine is cool enough to handle, skin it, cutting away any badly charred spots of flesh. Cut it in half lengthways and chop finely. Then mash it into a smooth purée, beat in the lemon juice, taratoor, garlic and salt. Adjust taste if necessary.

Serve in a bowl, garnished with olive oil, chopped onions and parsley.

To eat, scoop up with pieces of khobz (Arab bread) or pitta bread [or eat with a spoon].

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Sample recipe from The Cooking of the Middle-East: Kadin Göbeği (“Lady’s Navel” fritters)

Here is a Turkish dish with an unusual name. I usually find sweets that are steeped in syrup too sweet, but the cream should alleviate that.

1 lb. (ca. 450 g) sugar
3/4 pint (425 ml) water
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Put the sugar, water and lemon juice into a small saucepan and bring to the boil over moderate heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and cook, uncovered, until the syrup reaches 220°F (105 °C). Set aside and let it cool to room temperature.

5/8 pint (355 ml) water
1 1/2 oz. (40 g) butter
1/8 tsp salt
8 oz. (225 g) sifted plain flour
3 eggs
Vegetable oil for deep frying
1/2 tsp almond essence
3 tbs chilled double cream, stiffly whipped

Put the water, butter and salt in a saucepan and bing to the boil at high heat, stirring until the butter melts. Add the flour all at once and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until well mixed into a smooth mass. Make a well in the center of the dough and add one egg. Beat well until well mixed. Repeat with the remaining eggs. The dough should be thick, smooth and shiny.

Heat 3-4 inches (7,5 to 10 cm) of oil in a large deep-fat frying pan or electric deep-fryer, to a temperature of 360°F (180°C). To prepare the fritters, pinch off about 1 1/2 tbs of dough and roll into a ball 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter. Dip your thumb into the almond essence and press it into each ball to make a “navel” 1/2 inch (ca. 1 cm) deep. Deep fry, 5 at a time (or as many as will fit into your pan/frier with good space for turning), for about 10 minutes, turning them for even browning. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain briefly, and dip into the syrup to steep for 5 minutes. Transfer to a dish and let cool to room temperature. Just before serving, drop a teaspoon of whipped cream into the “navel” of each fritter.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Sample recipe from The Cooking of the Middle-East: Dolmates Yemistes me Rizi (baked tomatoes stuffed with rice)

This looks like a great starter:

1/2 pint (285 ml) water
3.5 oz. (100g) uncooked rice (long or medium grain)
6 firm ripe tomatoes, each about 3 inches (7,5 cm) in diameter
1 1/2 tsp salt
5 tbs olive oil
2 oz. (55 g) finely chopped onions
3 x 2 1/4 oz. (ca. 65 g) cans tomato purée (6.75 oz. or 190 g or 9 tbs)
6 tbs finely chopped parsley, preferably flat-leaf
5 tbs finely cut fresh mint or 2 1/2 tsp dried
1 1/2 tsp finely chopped garlic
1/4 tsp oregano, crumbled (how much is that in fresh?)
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring 3/8 pint (about 210 ml) to the boil in a small saucepan over high heat. Add the rice, stir a couple of times and cook the rice for about 8 minutes, or until softened but still firm (i.e. not fully quite cooked). Drain and set aside.

Cut a 1/4 inch (1/5 cm) slices off the stem end of the tomatoes and set aside. Hollow out the tomatoes, remove the inner pulp and discard the seeds. Chop the pulp and set aside. Sprinkle the tomatoes with 1 scant tsp of salt and drain them, upside down, on kitchen paper.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). while it is heating, make the stuffing: heat the oil in a large frying pan over moderate heat and cook the onions for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until they are soft and transparent but not brown. Add the rice, tomato pulp, 6 tbs of the tomato purée, the parsley, mint, garlic, oregano, the remaining salt and a few grindings of pepper. Stir fry until the mixture is almost dry (the mixture holds its shape almost solidly in the spoon).

Arrange the tomatoes, hollow side up, in a baking dish. Fill with the stuffing, packing it in firmly and put the reserved slices on top. Mix together the remaining 3 tbs of tomato purée and 3 tbs of water and pour around the tomatoes. Bake uncovered in the of the oven for 20 minutes, basting once or twice. Cool and serve directly from the baking dish.