I was absolutely delighted to receive a review copy of Crazy Water Pickled Lemons by Diana Henry from Octopus Publishing. My Levantine genes will out, so it’s no surprise that Mediterranean cuisine is a favourite of mine. Much as I love Middle Eastern food, however, this book has a wider reach than a classic Claudia Roden for example. Subtitled enchanting dishes from the Middle East, Mediterranean and North Africa, it is a gentle blend of cuisines, flavours and techniques, adapted by Diana to form her own take on this culinary heartland.
Before receiving this book, I’d never heard of Diana Henry – shame on me! Now an award winning food writer for the Sunday Telegraph, Diana didn’t come to food writing until relatively late in life. She has, however, always been an avid cook and food adventurer and her enthusiasm shines through the book and leaps out at surprising moments. First published in 2002, Crazy Water Pickled Lemons was the first of six books that Diana has written (so far). This is a revised edition published this year.
For me this book is evocative of the Arabian Nights, avidly read as a child. Later as a teenager, I was somewhat bemused by the unexpurgated version I’d got hold of. Anyway, the book itself is hypnotic in its sensual, magical, exotic and haunting qualities. The very chapter headings are compelling in their otherworldliness. Take for example, Fruits of Longing highlighting figs, quinces, pomegranates and dates, Plundering the Stores where almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts and dried fruits come to the fore, The Spice Trail with its mouth watering use of cardamom, chilli, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, coriander, pimenton and saffron and Heaven Scent with recipes using flowers and flower waters. And the drowsy photography fits right along, with half glimpses of foods remembered from some nostalgic dream-time. This is not usually my favourite form of food photography; I like to see the finished article in all its clarity which gives me an idea of what I am aiming for or aspiring to. But here, this form of photography fits well. Yet, despite this whimsy, the content is very much grounded in reality. This is a book of recipes that would be familiar to thousand of home cooks around the Med.
As a vegetarian, I was slightly disappointed to see so many meat and fish dishes, but there are some nuggets to be pulled from the predominantly carnivorous pages. Kushary was one I was particularly excited by. A meal of rice, lentils and macaroni, this is one of Egypt’s national dishes and is particularly prevalent in Cairo. Despite having eaten it a number of times whilst living there, I have never yet made it. There are also plenty of ideas for mezze including flat breads and pickles. And of course, with the Med’s notoriously sweet tooth, there are a number of treats to keep the sugar lovers amongst us satisfied. Diana’s writing more than makes up for any lack of flesh free dishes, indeed this book is a joy to read. Each chapter begins with a three page contextual narrative which tantalises so you can hardly wait to plunge into the recipes that proceed it.
Pickled lemons I’m assuming all are familar with, but what is this crazy water referred to in the title? Fellow vegetarians, read no further, it’s all about sea bass. In Diana’s own words “Ah, the title dish. And I must say I initially fell in love with it for its name. It’s from the Amalfi coast and nobody really knows why the dish is called “Crazy Water”. Some have suggested it alluded to the sea-water used by fisherman to cook their catch at sea, others that the “crazy” refers to the heat imparted by the chilli“.
No review is complete without at least one recipe being tested. I don’t really associate the Med with chocolate, so I was somewhat anxious that I wouldn’t have any chocolate recipes to try. But I needn’t have worried, there are four to choose from and all of them sound enticing and exotic: chocolate and rosemary sorbet, herb-scented truffles and stuffed figs dipped in chocolate. The one I chose to try first was a chocolate, hazelnut and sherry cake with sherry-raisin cream. This will be featuring on my blog at some future date, but for now I can report that the recipe was surprisingly simple, easy to follow and every bit as good as Diana promised.
With two left over egg whites from making ice-cream and a Forever Nigella entry to submit over at Maison Cupcake, chocolate macaroons were my indulgence of choice. Sarah of Maison Cupcake has changed the rules, maybe as a new year’s treat and we can now make whatever Nigella recipe we like – hooray! After my last attempt at macaroons, which were delicious but exceedingly faffy, I thought I wouldn’t bother with the piping fiasco this time and just spoon the mixture straight onto the baking trays. Admittedly my first attempt gave a slightly more uniform result, but the difference was marginal and saved me a whole heap of time and mess. Inspired by the herb flavourings for truffles in my newest book Crazy Water Pickled Lemons, I added a couple of things that were not mentioned in the Nigella recipe, namely star anise and rosemary.
This is how I made them:
- Whisked two egg whites until nearly stiff.
- Added 12g cardamom sugar (caster) and whisked until completely stiff.
- Sifted in 12g cocoa, 65g ground almonds, 125g icing sugar and a pinch of star anise.
- Folded the sifted ingredients into the egg whites as gently as I could.
- Spooned teaspoonfuls (22) onto a baking tray lined with baking paper.
- Left for 20 minutes – to form a skin apparently which presumably is meant to eradicate cracking!
- Baked at 180C for 12 minutes.
- Removed from the tray with a spatula and as most of them had merged together whilst baking, cut them apart.
- Left to cool on a wire rack.
- Melted 75g milk chocolate (G&B 37% cook’s chocolate) in a pan over hot water with 5 tbsp double cream, 20g unsalted butter and a sprig of rosemary.
- Stirred until all was melted and smooth.
- Removed from heat and fished out the rosemary.
- Beat this with a spoon until it was thick enough to spread. As my kitchen was colder than the fridge, this didn’t take very long.
- Used generous teaspoonfuls to sandwich the macaroons together ending up with 11 fairly substantial biscuits.
Leaving the macaroons out to form a skin didn’t work, just like the last time. My macaroons came out exceedingly cracked. That’s OK, I like the cracked homemade look. However, they were just as delicious as I remember them. Crunchy on the outside and chewy in the middle. The presence of the star anise and rosemary were subtle, but noticeable and added a certain hint of sophistication and exoticism to the proceedings.
CT went off on one of his streams of consciousness and identified the taste of China and correctly described the taste as being like China meets the Med. It’s a marvel, he said with what you can do with an egg – the perfect food. At least that’s what I think he said – his mouth was full at the time.
Next time I make macaroons, I will stick to the spoon method as it is infinitely preferable to messing around with a piping bag and for incompetents like me, there is no discernible difference in result.
Of all the food blogging challenges out there, Random Recipes from the delightful Dom of Belleau Kitchen is my absolute favourite – excluding We Should Cocoa, of course. I love the way it makes me discover new recipes or cook something I might never normally get around to or even think I want to make. I’ve been unable to participate in the last two challenges and this has left me feeling somewhat bereft. However, it’s a new year and I am determined to apply myself more effectively. This month, it’s a new year, a new book, in other words we’re to pick a random recipe from our newest book or in my case books.
I had two food books given to me for Christmas this year: Tea with Bea and Cooking with Chocolate. I was very happy to have either of these picked. CT did the honours and it turned out to be Tea with Bea. Page 63, CT announced when I asked him to pick a number. At this point, my heart sank a little, page 63 was the chapter heading for tarts, but pastry really isn’t my forte. Well, I mused, I can’t very well make a chapter heading, I’ll get CT to pick another number. Feeling my resolve weakening, I gave myself a stern talking to and went for the first tart that involved chocolate. This was the ultimate coconut cream pie and not only did it sound superb, but it didn’t involve pastry – yeah!
This is how I did it:
- Smashed up 400g of digestive biscuits in a large mixing bowl with the end of a rolling pin.
- Melted 100g unsalted butter. Bea had stated somewhere between 75g and 100g would be needed, but I was rather dubious how such a little amount would stick the biscuit crumbs together. My normal recipe is for half the butter to biscuit, so in this case would expect 200g butter. But, I thought I’d try it and hoped for the best.
- Stirred the butter into the biscuits and divided the mixture into two tart cases (I didn’t have the recommended 23cm pie dish).
- Pressed the crumbs as best I could into the bottom and sides of the dishes.
- Baked for 15 minutes at 150C then left to cool.
- Whisked 2 eggs yolks with 3 tbsp vanilla sugar (caster sugar) and 1 heaped tbsp custard powder until well incorporated ( should have added 1 tsp coconut extract, but I didn’t have any).
- Brought 250ml coconut milk nearly to the boil with 50ml coconut cream.
- Poured the hot milk onto the egg mixture and whisked thoroughly.
- Poured the whole lot back into the pan and stirred over a low heat until the mixture was thick and just starting to bubble.
- Took off the heat and stirred in 50g unsalted butter.
- Stirred until all incorporated and the custard was smooth.
- Left to cool.
- Combined 300ml (was meant to be 500ml, but I had misread recipe and didn’t buy enough) with 100ml coconut cream (not in the recipe), 1 tbsp icing sugar (meant to be 50g), 1/2 tsp vanilla extract and 1 tbsp orange rum (meant to be a shot of malibu, but I didn’t have any of that either).
- Whipped until peak forming stage.
- Toasted a handful of coconut flakes in the oven for a few minutes until crisp but not burnt (rather overdid mine, but they were still delicious).
- Melted 50g 38% milk chocolate in a bowl over hot water.
- Whisked the cold custard then divided between the two tart cases.
- Spooned the cream over the top.
- Scattered over the coconut flakes.
- Tried to drizzle the chocolate over the top, but as it didn’t melt properly (I invariable have problems with melting milk chocolate), I soft of dolloped rather than drizzled!
Looking nothing like the elegant creation depicted in the book, this was nonetheless delicious, or as CT said, ambrosial. It was all about the cream and coconut, the sweetest thing being the chocolate. It had a great mix of textures with the chewiness of flaked coconut, the crunchy biscuit base and the smooth cream. The overall effect was of a very light dessert, but very moreish. Even without the coconut extract and malibu, it tasted very coconutty.
Unfortunately, it was as I feared and the base was way too crumbly as it didn’t have enough butter to hold the mixture together. This combined with the soft custard & cream meant I had to spoon the mixture into bowls rather than cut a slice and serve on a plate.
All in all, I wasn’t very impressed with Bea’s recipe writing skills, but I was impressed with her concept and ultimately taste will always win out over presentation with me.
Nice antidote to all that We Should Cocoa healthiness! Thank you Dom.
As some of my regular readers will know, I try to ensure that most of my baked goods contain mostly healthy ingredients. Indeed they are a good vehicle for nuts, fruit, seeds and various super foods. I generally use at least half wholemeal, spelt or other healthy flours in my baking. I use organic eggs where possible and properly free ranging hen and duck eggs when it’s not. I believe organic butter where the cows have been grass fed is also nutritious (in moderation). Chocolate, it goes without saying is good for you 😉 My main concern is sugar – I haven’t managed to convince myself on this one. I use raw sugars in the main and do use other sweeteners such as Rapadura and agave syrup sometimes. But these substitutes are expensive and I do have rather a sweet tooth. I just hope, the other nutritious ingredients counteract the bad of the sugar. For more information on Rapadura and other ingredients I use see ingredients are the key – ties in very nicely with this month’s healthy theme.
But when Chele announced that the theme for this month’s We Should Cocoa was healthy eating, I thought I’d go the whole hog and produce something that was properly good for you. One of my Christmas presents from CT was a packet of chia seeds. Chia seeds are said to be super healthy: they contain omega 3, vitamin B, complete protein, anti-oxidants and fibre. It is also claimed they can replace half the conventional fat in any recipe with no discernible effects on taste and texture. The secret is to soak the seeds in water for 15 minutes before using. They form a gel, which is then ready to be used. This seemed to be a good opportunity to put these claims to the test.
So for added nutrition, I rather nervously thought I’d create a muffin recipe using wholemeal spelt and oats, some of the pumpkin butter I made back along, Rapadura rather than sugar and of course, chia seeds. I also had a jar of raw chocolate and almond spread that I hadn’t yet used and thought this would be suitable for the chocolate element.
This is what I did:
- Spooned 1 level tbsp of chia seeds into a jug.
- Topped it up with water to 50ml and left to soak for 15 minutes.
- Beat 2 eggs with 120g rapadura and 35ml sunflower oil for a few minutes until well incorporated and bubbly.
- Beat in 2 heaped tbsp pumpkin butter.
- Stirred in the chia seeds (which had indeed turned to gel)
- Sifted in 200g wholemeal spelt, 2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda.
- Folded this into the egg mixture together with 50g rolled oats.
- Spooned this into 12 muffin cases.
- Placed a small teaspoon of raw almond and chocolate spread on top and scattered over a few oats.
- Baked at 180C for 23 minutes.
These had a nice flavour with a rich aroma of molasses, but they weren’t overly sweet. They were firm, substantial and chewy and had a crunchy top. CT’s comment was “it tastes like it’s probably good for you”. They’d be ideal as a breakfast muffin, but I think I’d feel a bit short changed if I got these as a tea-time treat. The chocolate spread was really good and I’m not sure why I haven’t used it before.
PS 18 February – Nearly one month after making these, I’ve just found two muffins hidden in one of my cake tins and amazingly they are not only still edible, but really nice – I shall have to rename these indestructible muffins!
A surprise late Christmas gift arrived in the post the other day. It was actually a prize from Rose of Now & Then Delicious for the mince pies I made from orange pastry and my homemade chocolate mincemeat. I was well chuffed that I’d won and really pleased to have this little copy of baking: 100 everyday recipes published by Parragon Books arrive through the post. It has lots of standard recipes in it, but also quite a few little gems, such as fig and almond muffins, that I’m quite keen to make. As I had a friend’s birthday cake to bake, it seemed only polite to try one of the recipes from this book.
Chocolate fudge cake was the chosen one. This was a 20 cm sandwich cake; as I don’t have any 20 cm moulds (I really must get some as they would be REALLY useful), I thought smaller would be better than bigger, so went for an 18 cm cake and four cupcakes. I also cut down the quantity of ganache used.
This is what I did:
- Creamed 175g unsalted butter with 175g vanilla sugar (caster) until well incorporated and fluffy textured.
- Beat in 3 tbsp of syrup and a pinch of salt.
- Beat in 3 medium eggs alternating with a spoonful of the flour mixture.
- Sieved in 175g flour (half wholemeal, half white), 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 40g cocoa and 40g ground almonds.
- Stirred this in alternating with about 50 ml of milk (although would have used water as stated in recipe if I didn’t have some milk that needed using up).
- Spooned into two buttered 18cm tins and 4 cupcake cases.
- Baked for 20 minutes at 180C.
- Melted 150g dark chocolate (used Green&Blacks 72% cook’s chocolate) in a heavy pan over a gentle heat with 1oz dark muscovado sugar and 110g unsalted butter.
- Stirred until smooth.
- Added 5 tbsp double cream and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract.
- Stirred and left in my cold kitchen for about 1/2 an hour to firm up – but not set!
- Used some to sandwich the two cakes together, then spread most of the rest over the top and around the sides of the cake, leaving just enough to top the four cupcakes.
- Decorated with silver stars on top and alternating pink and white sugar flowers around the edge.
The cake proved to be a great hit at the impromptu birthday party, which followed on after a brisk walk along the river Fowey. It was a nice moist cake with a good slab of ganache in the middle. If that sounds solid, it really wasn’t. The ganache had a melt in the mouth texture and was darkly chocolatey. It also tasted slightly fudgey due to the brown sugar, but was not overly sweet.
Sweet pastries and breads is the challenge for Teatime Treats this month set by Karen of Lavender and Lovage. This event is co-hosted by Kate of What Kate Baked. I thought I had a sweet tooth, but you should see what these two get for tea!
I was going to enter the cinnamon and chocolate buns I made for this tea party back in the summer, but still haven’t posted. But then I picked up my copy of Short & Sweet and there was no looking back. Dan’s top tea cakes were just crying to be made; not only did they use loads of peel (and I had quite a lot of my candied lemon and orange peel to use up), but they also had chocolate in them. Chocolate? Really?
Well, you could of course use beef dripping, but if you’re a vegetarian like me, you can, according to Dan, substitute this with a good quality white chocolate as the cocoa butter gives a softer consistency to the crumb than would butter. It all sounded rather intriguing and I was keen to try it out.
I sort of followed Dan’s recipe, which you can see here, but I used half bread flour and half wholemeal. I also only used 50g currants and I added 150g fresh cranberries cut in half. I used G&B white chocolate and my own mixed peel – which I cut into pieces with a pair of scissors.
I found this rather a lengthy and faffy process and I wasn’t at all enthused by the stickiness of the dough which I found quite hard to work with. I was also rather upset that the tops got burnt, if making these again, I would not bake them at such a high temperature. But I have to say these were the BEST tea cakes I’ve ever eaten. They were also huge. I divided the dough into ten pieces rather than the nine that Dan had stated and they were still massive. This of course was by no means a bad thing, but twelve or a baker’s dozen would have produced a more reasonable size.
So what made them so good? The combination of tangy citrus peel &, the tartness of cranberries and the balancing sweetness of the teacake itself. The crumb was deliciously soft just as Dan had promised. CT hates mixed peel, but he loved these tea cakes slathered in butter stating they were possibly the ultimate comfort food.
This was one of the first #shortandtweet challenges, which I now wish I’d done along with everyone else. I shamelessly called for help when I was having problems folding the very sticky dough. You can see the round-up here and get an idea of what better ones than mine might look like.
I’m also entering this into Ren’s commendable Simple and in Season blog event, which is something I thoroughly approve of. Do check out her blog Fabulicious Food, a title which represents her blog’s contents very well.
Having seen Phil’s We Should Cocoa entry in the Orange challenge from As Stong As Soup in December, I couldn’t resist making these for my mother’s birthday. Nonnettes, it seems, are little known outside of France. I searched on google for more information and alternative recipes, but Phil’s was the only one I could find in English (I gave up after page 6). The name means “little nuns” and they are a speciality of Dijon in France. They are little spiced honey cakes made with marmalade and rye flour and unusually, no eggs.
In My Kitchen – some cook’s chocolate, an early Christmas present from Green & Black’s. Some already used in my glitzy mendiants but most waiting patiently for their moment of glory.
In My Kitchen – a red Emile Henry clafoutis dish given to me by my mother for Christmas – as yet unused but hopefully soon to be filled with sumptuous clafoutis.
In My Kitchen – a Japanese ginger / wasabi grater which doubles as a fish sculpture, it’s even got scales – a Christmas gift from a friend.
In My Kitchen – four redoubtable rocoto chillies, the fifth recently incorporated into my chocolate ice cream. Harvested long after the main crop (used for our chilli sauce), these are still ripening in a cold greenhouse – in January? Yes, January.
In My Kitchen – Tea with Bea, a thank you gift for baking cakes at a Winter Solstice party. As it happens, I didn’t actually bake for it as the party was cancelled due to the excessive rain and mud we experienced just before Christmas.
In My Kitchen – chia seeds, a present from CT. It’s a Mexican superfood, although most of it is grown in Australia.
In My Kitchen – maca, another gift from CT. Sometimes known as Puruvian gingseng, this also packs a powerful punch. How I’m going to use it, I have no idea.
In My Kitchen – two pots of gold glitter, a kind gift from Susan of a little bit of heaven on a plate.
In My Kitchen – a weighty tome – Pierre Herme’s chocolate book, a Christmas gift from CT
Although I’d love to enter the Short and Tweet twitter challenge (#shortandtweet) every week, I know this is not feasible, but I am trying to enter it on a monthly basis. You can see the upcoming schedule of bakes here. This week I am not only still on holiday, but one of the chosen recipes is a chocolate cake – errr – no brainer! This has been chosen because of the January austerity measures imposed on our stomachs – it contains only a small amount of fat and sugar using pears as a partial substitute.
As I only had a small (220g) pack of pears left behind by a Japanese visitor, I made approximately half the quantity. It was a bit difficult to half three eggs, but as they weren’t particularly big, I used two and rounded up the other ingredients rather than down to compensate. The only convenient sized mould I had was a loaf tin, so that is what I used. Not having any walnut oil to hand, which I’m sure would have been really good, I used a combination of sunflower and pumpkin seed.
I upped the calories a little, by drizzling on some 37% G&B milk chocolate – or perhaps blobbing is a better description. It’s certainly not as pretty as Dan’s picture in the book. You can see his recipe, originally published in the Guardian, here.
Without giving any clues as to it’s identity, I asked CT what he thought. This was his stream of consciousness whilst tasting “smells of cupcakes from my childhood. Resilient cake, not crumbly but has a springy texture. Not very sweet. Nice, slightly banana flavour, slightly grainy, like oats? Seems like the sort of thing someone from the 1950s, wearing a waistcoat, would be eating with a mug of tea, after a hard days graft in the fields”.
When he found out this was made with pears, he cried, “ahh sclereids” – blooming botanists! Sclereids are, apparently, the grainy bits you get in pears, so he wasn’t too far off the mark with the grainy and fruity associations
We both really liked this cake, both the flavour and texture and it really didn’t need the chocolate on top, although this did make for an, err, interesting look!
As usual, my ambitions were way bigger than my abilities, so I didn’t manage to do quite as much as I was hoping. I did, however, put a few hampers of varying sizes together to give as gifts for Christmas this year – oops I mean last year! Vanessa Kimbell’s wonderful Let’s Make Christmas event inspired some of these and do follow the link to find many more ideas for home made foodie gifts. I’d wanted to decorate the boxes to make them look suitably festive, but ran out of time. Luckily, I don’t think anyone minded.
This is what I made:
Amaretti – recipe taken from the outright winner of Vanessa Kimbell’s Let’s Make Christmas event back in November, as judged by Dan Lepard – Claire of Claire’s Handmade Cakes.
Butterscotch Banana Cupcakes – another winning Dan Lepard recipe from Short & Sweet. I made these for the tool hire boys next door, who uncomplainingly take in our parcels when we’re not at home and let us know when something has been delivered.
Candied Nuts – I was lucky enough to take home a jar of candied pecan nuts from Jaynerly at Let’s Make Christmas. I was so taken with how good they were that I had to make some for the hampers, although mine were mixed nuts. Not having any maple syrup to hand, I used date syrup instead. Fortunately, it worked really well.
Candied Orange & Lemon Peel – very nice to snack on and also perfect for cooking as it is infinitely better than the mixed peel you buy in tubs. This time I peeled the fruit first, which made for a tidier result, but left me with a lot of orange and lemon flesh that I didn’t really now what to do with. I also used star anise in the syrup and coated the peel slices in caster sugar after I’d drained off the syrup. I’ve just made another batch for my own consumption.
Chilli Sauce – our chillies ripened much better this year than they did last, which meant we got a good hot chilli sauce with a gorgeous orangey red colour.
Chocolate Almond & Cranberry Bites – were a bit of an afterthought as my review copy of 200 Christmas recipes arrived just a few days before Christmas and I needed something quick to make.
Glitzy Chocolate Mendiants – were the items I was most pleased with. Despite having a chocolate blog, I’m really nervous about working with chocolate in it’s pure form as I have not yet mastered tempering. Thankfully, the chocolate behaved itself this time.
Mixed Spice – I’d never thought to make up my own mixed spice before. I don’t know why not as I make up various curry mixes. But I got the idea to do this from Karen’s amazing blog, Lavender and Lovage. I used star anise, cardamom, black pepper and coriander as well as the standard cinnamon, allspice, cloves and nutmeg that you would expect.
Orange Liqueur – another recipe taken from the creative Karen of Lavender and Lovage.
Orange Shortbread – I doubled my standard shortbread recipe omitting the cocoa and adding organic orange zest to the mix. I wanted to use my “home made” stamp for something and these seemed the most suitable candidates.
Pumpkin Spice Syrup – I forgot to take a picture of this one, but it was delicious. We liked it as a drink with hot water, my mother used hers over ice-cream. I have Hannah of Home Baked to thank for this one.
Spiced Apple Chutney – this is Nigella’s recipe in How to be a domestic goddess and it’s a lovely one which I make every year. This year I made two lots, one for us and one to give away.