Friday, 29 May 2015

A Feast for Eurovision 2015

Dee – This is the first in what I am intending to be a yearly event to tie in with the Eurovision Song Contest, which I am a big fan of.  On the day of the contest I will put a menu together based on the cuisine of the host nation, so for this inaugural event, it was Austria.

The first thing to note about Austrian cuisine is that it doesn’t seem to be very well known outside of Austria itself.  I’d seen snippets of it on television programmes; the most prolific of which being the Great British Bake Off, which featured a Sachertorte as one of their technical bake-off challenges.  The Hairy Bikers also filmed there, and featured an amazing looking dish called Pinzgauer Karsnockern, which went straight on to my never ending list of recipes to try out.

There seem to be two different styles of Austrian cuisine; the fine dining of Vienna and the cities, and the more rustic cooking of the Alpine and rural areas.  In addition, there is a rich tradition of baking and patisserie similar to that of France.

In addition to the food, I sourced two Austrian beers, which are reviewed separately here:  A review of two Austrian Beers for Eurovision 2015

The three dishes I selected for the final menu were fairly quick to prepare, as I didn’t want to be caught out cooking once the song contest started.  Hopefully they will provide a good representation of Austrian cooking.

Starter: Schinkenfleckerl
Recipe from ‘Roast Figs and Sugar Snow’ by Diana Henry
When I first saw this recipe I knew I had to try it.  The trouble was, it consists of pasta, cheese and cream, so is not in any way low calorie.  Before attempting to cook it, I needed to find a suitable time to enjoy it so that I could burn off at least some of the calories.  In the end I settled for serving it in a small portion, as a starter, served according to tradition, on a bed of lettuce.
Despite all the ‘heavy’ sounding ingredients, the texture was quite light, and it tasted like a cross between macaroni cheese and soufflé.  The pasta used in the recipe is small and square-shaped.  I was planning to make it myself, but because of time pressure ended up using some lasagne sheets which I broke up into small pieces.  This turned out ok but I think I will take the time to make my own next time.

Main: Wiener Rostbraten
Recipe from ‘The Cooking of Vienna’s Empire’ by Time Life Books
The main course was a steak topped with slow cooked onions, which we served with cooked sauerkraut with shredded carrot and a gherkin.  It was simple to prepare and tasted great.

Dessert: Kaiserschmarren (Emperor’s Pancake)
Recipe from ‘The Cooking of Vienna’s Empire’ by Time Life Books
Named after Emperor Franz Josef I, this dish turned out to be more of a challenge than expected.  The pancake batter was exceptionally light, which made it difficult to work with, and it kept sticking to the pan, but eventually we gained control of it and managed to achieve the characteristic ‘broken’ effect.  It turned out to be quite a filling dessert despite the light texture of the raw batter.  It is traditionally served with a fruit compote, but we found it perfectly pleasant on its own.  I think next time we make it, I will up the quantity of the rum-soaked raisins, but it was still a very fine end to a great meal.

Soundtrack:  Eurovision Song Contest 2015
This year’s contest contained the usual plethora of big ballads, and it seemed more sedate than usual on the whole, but there were still some upbeat and poppy entries.  Israel’s entry, Nadav Guedj’s ‘Golden Boy’, which finished in 9th place overall, was a particular favourite of both Jay’s and mine.  I was confident of a victory for the United Kingdom but these hopes came to nothing when Electro Velvet ended up with an extremely disappointing 5 points.  Such is the unpredictable nature of Eurovision  Austria and Germany fared even worse, finishing with the dreaded ‘nul points’.  The winning song, ‘Heroes’ by Sweden’s Måns Zelmerlöw was pretty good though.
I’m already looking forward to Eurovision 2016.

For fellow Eurovision fans, I recently put together a list of my ten favourite songs from the contest, which can be viewed here:  My favourite Eurovision songs so far

For more Eurovision related food blogging, this is a great write-up of a vegetarian feast from Keep Calm and Fanny On:  A Little Piece

And for an entire blog dedicated to food and Eurovision, look no further than:  Don't boil the sauce

Monday, 25 May 2015

Tasting Jerusalem #12 – Baharat

Beef Meatballs with Broad Beans and Lemon
Dee – Baharat is a spice blend used throughout the Middle East and was August 2013’s featured ingredient.  It appears in several recipes in the book, but the one I chose was the Beef Meatballs with Broad Beans and Lemon, featured on page 196.  The dish is described in the book as being perfect for a spring supper, so I took the opportunity to cook it at the suggested time of year.
In my chosen recipe, the baharat was one of the ingredients for the meatballs, where it joined onion, herbs and capers to introduce something of a piquant and fresh taste. 
There is a recipe for the Baharat spice mix on page 299 but as with so many other spice blends, there are umpteen variations.  The key to baharat is to achieve a balance, as a lot of strong spices, both sweet and savoury, go into it.  Pepper, Cinnamon and Cloves appear to be common across most recipes, with paprika, cumin, coriander nutmeg and cardamom appearing in others.
Once the meatballs had been prepared and browned in the pan, the rest of the dish could be completed fairly simply.  I wasn’t able to find any fresh green beans, so had to use tinned ones.  They had been cooked for longer than I like personally, and I wasn’t able to recreate the colourful combination of skin-on and skin-off beans that appears in the book, but as the beans tend to play second fiddle to the meatballs in this dish, it wasn’t too much of a problem.
Once the cooking time was up, there wasn’t a lot of sauce left.  We did consider adding some water to top up the sauce quantity, as was suggested in the recipe, but in the end we decided to leave it as it was.
It was great to read that the recommended accompaniment was the Basmati Rice and Orzo on page 103, and as this is a favourite of both Jay’s and mine, we were only too happy to follow this advice.
Blanched almonds are also suggested as an optional extra, but I was happy with just the beans.  Next time I make it, I will seek out some fresh broad beans just so that I can cook them as I like them.  I also want to replicate the contrasting colour effect by removing the skins from half of them, though I’ll be doing this on my own as Jay considers it too much extra work.
The dish does have quite a few ingredients and takes some time to assemble, but once the meatballs are made, and the beans are ready, the rest of the cooking process is quite simple.  The serving quantities worked out exactly right and when served with the rice and orzo made for a good hearty meal.

“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ebury Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to  following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook Page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups’ dishes on Pinterest

(Please note: I have listed the UK publisher and have linked to the UK Amazon site.  The US details are provided on the web site)

A review of two Austrian Beers for Eurovision 2015

Dee:  “I wanted to try out some Austrian beers alongside the meal that we were cooking for the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest, which was hosted in Vienna, but it turned out to be more of a challenge than I was expecting.  In fact, the only two Austrian beers that I could find were the Trappist Benno beer and a super-strong Samichlaus ‘Christmas’ lager.  As it turned out, both proved better on their own than as accompaniments to food, yet they both excelled in different ways.”

Beer 1:  Benno
Brewery:  Stift Engelszell
Tasting Notes said:  “With an intense shade of red with reminiscences of a sunny autumn day in the Danube valley.  The fine bubbles form a compact foam with complex, spicy grassy hop aromas.  Supported by pleasant malt aroma, this Trappist beer is an intense, harmonious bitter.”
Dee said:  “Lovely deep copper colour, with a heady aroma of barley and hops.  Strong, sharp and quite bitter tasting, and front-loaded without any lingering flavours.  Great unfussy beer best enjoyed on its own.”

Beer 2:  Samichlaus
Brewery:  Schloss Egenberg
Tasting Notes said:  “Samichlaus beer is brewed only once a year on December 6 and is aged for 10 months before bottling. Samichlaus is one of the rarest beer specialities in the world and at 14%, it is the strongest of its kind. Samichlaus may be aged in the bottle for many years to come, as older vintages become more complex with a creamy warming finish. This beer can be served with hardy robust dishes and desserts, particularly with chocolates, or as an after dinner drink by itself.”
Dee said:  “At 14%, this beer is stronger than a lot of wine.  It has a deep Red-Mahogany colour and rich fruity aroma with hints of plums, figs and damsons.  Taste wise, it had only a tiny amount of fizz, and there were only the faint hints of maltiness, concentrating instead on dark juicy fruit flavours.  I initially paired it with a meal of steak and onions, and although the tasting notes suggested that it would go well with robust dishes, I ended up drinking it afterwards.  Although classed as a lager, I found it to be closer to a fortified wine, and I enjoyed it accordingly, in sips, and savouring it.  A beer of true distinction.” 

Monday, 18 May 2015

Birmingham Foodies Festival 2015, reviewed by Dee

The 2015 Birmingham Foodies Festival was held from Friday 15th May to Sunday 17th May 2015, a bus ride away from Birmingham City Centre, in Cannon Hill Park, opposite Edgbaston Cricket Ground.

Jay and me booked tickets for Saturday 16th May and travelled to and from the venue by bus, mainly in order for us both to sample the craft beers were to be on offer.  Seeing the bus slowly fill up with people the closer we got to the venue was an encouraging sign, as was the bright and clear weather.
On arrival, we found the venue to be a decent size, with plenty of room to walk around and find a spot to sit.  We’d remembered to pack a picnic blanket, but could have managed without it as the ground was dry enough.  After finding out that the event programmes cost £4 each, we decided instead to make our own way round the festival, relying on our eyes and noses to choose our food stalls for us. 

Goulash Valley
I spotted a Hungarian flag above one of the stalls, and after heading over to check out the stall, discovered Goulash Valley, who were serving a selection of Hungarian food.  As with most of the stalls at most food festivals we wanted to try a bit of everything, but that’s just never practical, so we went for a sausage served in a wrap, and goulash served in a cup.  The sausage was served in a wrap with sauerkraut, salad, mustard, barbeque sauce.  We didn’t get a photo of it as it looked too messy, but tasted great.  The sausage included the characteristic Hungarian Paprika and contained far more meat than fat, which was good to see and taste.  The goulash was a much simpler affair, consisting of beef, potatoes and stock laced with caraway seeds and that was about it.  The beef was a little on the fatty side but not unpleasantly so.  I quite liked it without the peppers and dumplings which so often get added and may now try making it this way myself in future.

Once we’d finished our first dishes and taken a walk round the festival area, Jay wanted to check out the talks and hopefully book into one or two.  The only problem though was the queue, which at about 1pm looked like this;
Initially deterred, we walked away with “maybe next year” thoughts in our heads, but quickly changed our minds, deciding that it would be a shame to miss out on something special.  Besides, we weren’t in need of more food, having just left the Goulash Valley stall, so joined the end of the queue.
The talks were listed on a board outside the registration tent, and were crossed off as they became booked up.  By the time we had reached the registration tent, one of the talks that we wanted to attend was booked up, but we managed to book places on a Sherry and Food matching presentation, and one on Beer Tutoring and Tasting.
We made the right decision to queue for tickets though, as both presentations were excellent.  I’ve written separate reviews for them which can be accessed via the links below;

Once we’d booked our tickets we were ready for some more food.  There was a noticeably large number of barbeque and pulled pork stalls, making for a very crowded market place.  In the end we didn’t try any of them. 

Raclette Stall
The second stall we visited was serving up Racelette, described as an Alpine Pizza, which was similar to an Italian pizza but with thinner dough and stronger cheese, and more of it, on top.
It was cooked in 90 seconds in a large wood-fired oven at the back of the stall.
We shared the Raclette, as we did everything we bought in the end, between us, and both enjoyed it very much.  Definitely something we’d order again.  We chose the simplest option, but there were several other options and a choice of toppings.

As we enjoyed our Raclette, we pitched up next to a tent serving Gin and Tonics, and playing 1920s jazz.  This was to become our spot to enjoy our food for the rest of the day.

Crispy Duck Wrap Stall
Jay fancied a Duck Wrap, as the Raclette was my choice, and we managed to enjoy one before the start of the first talk at 2.30.  The wrap was generously filled with shredded meat, hoi sin sauce, chopped cucumber and spring onions.

Mrs Mills Makes Cakes
Our first desserts of the day were bought from Mrs Mills Makes Cakes, who it turned out was based in Birmingham.  There were lots of lovely cakes and bakes on the stall, but we settled on a slice of Salted Caramel Brownie and one of Rocky Road.
The Salted Caramel Brownie was so good I named it my Best in Show.  It consisted of a soft dark chocolate brownie with deliciously rich salted caramel sauce running through the middle.
The Rocky Road was also very good but the brownie really was something extra special.

Exotic Tagine
For our final savoury feast of the day, we visited the large, busy and colourful Exotic Tagine stall, which was serving up various Moroccan dishes.  There was a wide range of dishes, both vegetarian and meat based, on offer and I was pleased to see that they were offering a mixed platter, which I went for.
This consisted of spiced lentils, couscous, chicken stew, lamb stew and falafel.  There were good tastes all round, but the lamb was the clear winner, with its spicing including what could have been a hint of cinnamon.  I added some harissa for a bit of extra kick, but this wasn’t made on the stall, as the rest of the food on the platter was, and had too much salt in it for my taste.

The Original Goodfillas Company
Our final food stop was with the Original Goodfillas Company, who were offering crispy filed pizza dough.  They were offering several savoury variations but it was the Nutella and Peanut Butter dessert option that proved irresistable to me.  When one of the stallholders complimented me on my choice and added that the staff enjoyed the same at the end of their shifts, I knew I was on to a good thing.
What we got was similar to a calzone, but it had been fried rather than baked, to give it a bit of extra crispiness.  It was piping hot and needed a minute or two to cool down before we cut into it.
The molten chocolate and peanut butter flowed out of the dough into a sweet, delicious mess that made for a glorious end to the day’s feasting.
While writing this review, I noticed that a few of our fellow bloggers had also tried this diet-busting dessert and seemed to have loved it as much as we did.
Too many of these would not be a good idea for obvious reasons, but for an occasional indulgence at an event such as this, it’s ideal.
A special mention must also go to the staff, who were all great and keen to hear feedback from their customers.

Once we’d finished our Goodfillas super-desserts, we were well and truly full, so all that was left was to pick up a few goodies to take home.

In conclusion, we found the event to be well organised with a friendly atmosphere.
Children appeared to be well catered for, and there was a designated play area together with events aimed at younger visitors and families.
I think it would be worth looking into the possibility of booking onto talks at the same time as buying event tickets, to cut down on queueing time at the event itself.  A few more womens’ toilets would also help to alleviate queues of a rather more urgent nature.
That said, the facilities that were provided were of a very high standard.

There are similar Foodie Festivals taking place across the country, and if they are all similar to Birmingham’s, we are happy to recommend them to anyone considering trying one out.

Sherry and Food Matching at Birmingham Foodies Festival 2015

Dee:  The first of the specialist talks that we booked in for at the Foodies Festival was on sherry and food matching.  The host was Charles Metcalfe, an author, speaker and general all-round authority on the subject of wines from around the world.  Charles maintains a web site which can be accessed via this link:  He is also noted as a singer, occasionally bursting into song during his presentations, though this one was spoken word only.
The presentation began with an introduction to the ‘sherry region’ in South Western Spain, followed by how the different types of sherry were made and even the effects of the landscape on production.
Attendees were provided with a summary sheet detailing the five different sherries that we would be sampling, and the foods that they had been matched with.  This was most useful and I have kept mine, which I’ve added additional notes to, for future reference.
Prior to the talk, I had, perhaps lazily, assumed that the only food that sherry would match with would be tapas, and was prepared for a Spanish themed presentation, but was soon to discover how versatile a drink sherry can be.
Below are details of the sherries we sampled, with their respective food pairings.  Thanks to Jay for the photos.

Sherry # 1:  Manzanilla La Gitana Hidalgo
Food Pairing:  Black Olives
Dee said:  An almost clear coloured, strong, tangy and bone-dry sherry which stood up well to the equally strong and salty black olive.
Additional comments:  This sherry should be stored in the fridge and served cold.  It also needs to be finished off soon after opening; one week at the very most.  No one seemed to see this as much of a problem when Charles pointed it out.

Sherry #2:  Tio Pepe Fino Gonzalez Byass
Food Pairing:   Smoked salmon
Dee said:  Another dry sherry but lighter than the Manzanilla.  It was a good pairing for the delicate flavour of the smoked salmon.
Additional comments:  The comments about the Manzanilla apply equally to this sherry.  I was very interested to discover that Islay malt whiskies were also a good match for smoked salmon, so will be certain to try out that pairing in the very near future.

Sherry #3:  Pedro's Almacenista Selection Amontillado
Food Pairing:  Chicken Tikka
Dee said:  Who would have thought that sherry would go well with chicken tikka?  Not me, but it does.  This one had a fruitier aroma than the first two and was rich and gold, almost coppery in colour.  The taste was still unsweetened though, but stood up well to the spiced chicken.
Additional comments:  This sherry started out as a Fino but had been aged.  Unlike the first two sherries, this one could be kept longer and did not need to be finished off quickly.

Sherry #4:  Palo Cortado Dos Cortados VOS (Williams & Humbert)
Food Pairing:  Goat’s Cheese
Dee said:  This was richer, fruitier and more alcoholic than the Amontillado.  I thought it would swamp the goats cheese, but it was more of a pairing of textures than flavours; The white, melting texture of the cheese alongside the smooth sherry.  It was a careful balancing act, but it worked well.
Additional comments:  The VOS in the name of this sherry stands for Vinum Optimum Signatum, or Very Old Sherry, and is applied to sherries that are at least 20 years old, as this one was.  There is also a VORS classification, which is Very Old Rare Sherry (Vinum Optimum Rare Signaturm) which is given to sherries with ages of 30+ years.  As with the Amontillado, this sherry can be stored.

Sherry #5:  Oloroso Seco “Don Nuno”, Emilio Lustau
Food Pairing:  Smoked Chorizo
Dee said:  This sherry was darker in colour and richer, though less fruity than the Palo Cortado.  I wasn’t able to discern any specific flavours from it.  It tasted fine alongside the chorizo, but I probably need to brush up on my sherry drinking before trying it again.
Additional comments:  Oloroso sherries were described as pairing well with Chinese style chicken, which sounds like an interesting combination.  As with the Amontillado and Palo Cortado, this sherry can be stored.

Sherry #6:  Bristol Cream
No photograph for this last drink, but read on…
Food Pairing:   Orange and Ice
Dee said:  The serving of Bristol Cream over ice with orange juice squeezed into it and the slice returned to the glass was quite a revelation, and Jay’s favourite of the session.  Definitely still a dessert drink but cold, fruity and sweet in all the right measures.  Prior to today I had only ever tried Bristol Cream once or twice at Christmas, but this new way of serving it has given it a whole new lease of life.
Additional comments:  A blended sherry that is well known in England and drunk as a dessert sherry.  Again, this one is fine for storing.

We both enjoyed this session very much, and our fellow attendees appeared to as well, even though a fair few of them seemed to be pouring their drinks away after taking a single sip.  It was a shame that we couldn’t have stayed longer but the queue for entry into the next one was already formed by the time ours had finished.

Now, must try that Bristol Cream again…

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Beer Tutoring and Tasting at Birmingham Foodies Festival 2015

Dee:  “The Beer Tutoring and Tasting was the second of the two sessions that we attended during the 2015 Birmingham Foodies Festival.  It wasn’t as busy as we were expecting it to be but seemed popular with our fellow attendees.  It was hosted by Melissa Cole, a beer sommelier, or som-ale-ier as described on her web site: Let me tell you about beer, and author of the book ‘Let me tell you about beer: A Beginner's Guide to All Things Brewed’.
Melissa was a great presenter and gave an introduction to the brewing process, along with some useful tips that I hadn’t heard of before.  For example, when sampling beer aromas; cover the glass, swirl it round, remove your hand and sniff.  Also we were advised not to cook with beer in clear bottles, and not to use it to de-glaze pans during cooking.  Melissa did explain the reasons for this but I couldn’t note them down quickly enough.
We tasted five different beers, all from either England or Scotland, which were brought to our tables and shared out.  There was some beer left over at the end of the presentation but unfortunately the sessions were running back to back, preventing us from enjoying a leisurely drink after the presentation had finished.
I’ve set out below the beers we tried, together with Jay’s and my thoughts on them.”

Beer 1:  Curious Brew
A lager made by Chapel Down, who’s English Wine was described as being of excellent quality. 
Tasting Notes said:  “Our Curious Brew is a truly premium lager for people who love beer. Brewed in England with precision and passion to create a uniquely satisfying, drier, cleaner, fresher lager beer.”
Dee said:  “A good quality lager, light gold in colour, with a pronounced yeasty aroma.  Quite sweet tasting.  Melissa explained that the stronger than usual taste for a lager was achieved by ageing, in this case from three to twelve weeks.”
Jay said:  “Sunny day, beer garden.”

Beer 2:  Heather Ale
Described as a centuries old, complex beer made with Heather rather than hops.
Recommended as a drink to accompany goats cheese or any herbal tasting food
Tasting Notes said:  “Fraoch: - The Original Craft Beer; brewed in Scotland since 2000 B.C. The Brotherhood have been guardians of the ancient Gaelic recipe for "leann fraoich" (heather ale) since 1988 and are proud to be the only brewery still producing this unique style of beer and distributing it worldwide.  A light amber ale with floral peaty aroma, full malt character, and a spicy herbal finish - This beer allows you to literally pour 4000 years of Scottish history into a glass.”
Dee said:  “The description of this beer as complex was spot on:  I was first greeted with an earthy, peaty aroma, but the taste was as different again: Strong, yet floral.  It reminded me somewhat of the Alba Scots Pine Ale, from the same brewery, which I reviewed as part of our write up for New Year’s Eve (click here for details).  I’ve become very fond of these old Scottish beers made with bog myrtle, heather and pine.”
Jay said:  “It was interesting.  The taste didn’t last.  It was quite ‘short’ in the mouth.  I would enjoy this after a walk in the hills.”

Beer 3:  Pure Gold
Brewery:  Purity Brewing Co.
A beer from a brewery based locally to the festival venue.  Recommended with spicy foods, salmon and shellfish.
Tasting Notes said:  “A sparkling orb, searing through an azure sky and a glass of ‘Pure Gold’ in the hand, worries can wait a while, life is all the better for moments like this.
Pure Gold (3.8% ABV or 4.3% ABV in bottles) is a refreshing golden ale with a dry and bitter finish. Brewed with English Maris Otter, Caragold and Wheat malts, plus Hallertau Northern Brewer, Bobeck and Hereford Goldings hops. Winner of nine awards.”
Dee said:  “A strong grassy aroma with plenty of hops in the taste.  An English golden ale with quite a summery feel.”
Jay said:  “It’s the taste of summer, sat in a field.”

Beer 4:  Caesar Augustus
The second Williams Brothers beer of the session, but this time a hybrid beer, brewed like a lager, but with the addition of more hops than usual leading it towards an IPA.  
Tasting Notes said:  “This Lager /IPA hybrid is a revolution in refreshment and flavour. All the crisp clean notes of the finest lager but with the discrete bitter finish of a well-balanced IPA. It's not confused about what it wants' to be, it's just the best of both worlds.”
Dee said:  “Light golden in colour, with a strong, peachy aroma.  Another light, summery drink, with hoppy and floral tastes in equal measures.”
Jay said:  “Really fruity and luscious on the nose, although the taste was less pronounced than the aroma.  Still a good beer though.”

Beer 5:  Longhorn IPA
Brewery:  Purity Brewing Co.
This IPA arrived in a can, and prior to drinking it, there was some discussion around the merits of canned beers opposed to bottled beers.  This particular one had a layer inside the can which prevented the drink from tasting too metallic, and the can also acted as a vessel to preserve the freshness of the beer.  We found out that hoppy tasting beers are particularly well suited to cans, although they need to be poured into glasses rather than drunk straight from the can.
Tasting Notes said:  “Longhorn IPA is an expertly brewed craft keg ale named after the herd of Longhorn cattle that feed of our spent grains.
We use only the finest natural ingredients to create and American style IPA that is full of character and which leaves you wanting more.
Brewed with Marris Otter, Rye, Crystal Rye and Caramalts to create a copper warming colour and hopped with Northern Brewer, Chinook, Galaxy and Simcoe Hops Longhorn has both citrus and tropical fruit tones.”
Dee said:  “Bitter and earthy aroma.  Slightly fruity taste, but the bitterness remained.”

Friday, 15 May 2015

Koshari, Fruit Cocktails and Cake

Dee – Tonight’s menu represented the culmination of a number of ideas that we had for cooking and baking over the course of last week but, for one reason or another, didn’t get round to making.  We took a look at what we’d intended to make and decided that they had the makings of a great Friday night tea.

The recipes for the food are from Amy Riolo’s ‘Nile Style’, which is our go-to book for Egyptian cuisine.  I wrote a review of it a few months ago (click here for details) and used recipes from it in a recipe challenge organised by one of our fellow bloggers (click here for details).  The fruit cocktail drink is also Amy’s but is a more recent addition, taken from the recently published Mediterranean Diabetes cookbook.

I’ve wanted to cook Koshari ever since I first found out about it a couple of years ago.  Basically it’s a giant carb-fest of lentils, rice and pasta, topped with a piquant tomato sauce and garnished with fried onions and chickpeas.  It seems to have originated in the 19th Century and quickly became  popular both in restaurants and as street food.
The recipe is fairly simple to follow, but separate pans are required in order to cook the various ingredients that make up the dish.  There is also a degree of co-ordination required as everything needs to be kept warm before serving.
As this was my first time cooking the dish, I went for a fairly mild tomato sauce, using the specified quarter-teaspoon of chilli powder.  This made for a tasty and only slightly sharp tasting sauce that still kept its flavour even when we stirred it in with the rice, pasta and lentils. 
The fried onions and chickpeas made for a lovely garnish and introduced a sweetness and softness from the onions that married well with the tomato sauce.  I might try spicing up the chickpeas next time I make the dish, but that’s just my personal taste: They still tasted fine as they were.

The Koshari was served with a simple Arugula (Rocket) salad called Salata bil Gargeer in the book, which provided a fresh and flavoursome side dish.  The pepperiness of the leaves and citrus-kick from the lemon juice ensured that the salad wasn’t overpowered by the carbs in the main dish.

The fruit cocktail drink is called Assir Fawakha Taza, and consists of pureed strawberries, sugar orange juice, pomegranate syrup and pomegranate seeds.  Initially we followed the recipe instructions and added each ingredient to the glass one by one.  This produced a very photogenic looking drink, but we quickly discovered that stirring everything together delivered a very pleasing fruity, almost sherberty taste.  Jay loved it and was happy with the amount of sugar that went into it, but I think I might try it again with a bit less, or even without sugar at all, to see how that tastes.

For the dessert, I chose the Egyptian Pound Cake, called a Torta in the book.  This was an interesting one as it looked remarkably similar to an English style sponge cake with yoghurt added to the batter.  I’m not sure how it found its way into the Egyptian kitchen, but the commentary accompanying the recipe describes it as being very popular, especially for breakfast.  Jay had the cake as it was but I had mine accompanied by yoghurt, as recommended in the recipe.  I was very pleased with how the cake turned out.

For a menu that came together as a backing up of several separate projects, I was very happy with tonight’s meal.  I would happily make all of the courses again, and it’s great to know that there is still plenty of Koshari and cake left over.  Whether or not the cake makes it past breakfast tomorrow morning though, remains to be seen…

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Tasting Jerusalem #11 – Yoghurt

Conchiglie with Yoghurt, Peas and Chilli

Dee – For May 2015’s featured ingredient, yoghurt, I chose an interesting sounding recipe for Conchiglie Pasta with Yoghurt, Peas and Chilli, that is detailed on page 111.  The yoghurt plays a central role in the dish by acting as the base of the pasta sauce.
The recipe itself is a version of a traditional Palestinian dish of possible Turkish origin called Shish Barak, the difference being that Shish Barak features meat filled dumplings rather than pasta in the yoghurt sauce.
As with the Hot Yoghurt and Barley soup which I made for Tasting Jerusalem #4 (click here for details), I was extremely nervous about cooking with yoghurt on account of some previous disasters caused by it splitting as soon as it entered the cooking pot.  Despite this, I still ended up risking all by using fat-free Greek yoghurt which is even more prone to splitting than the full-fat version.
The yoghurt and the pasta were both available in 500g packs, so I made the whole quantity as specified in the recipe.  It listed six servings, but I think we will probably be able to stretch it to eight if we serve up slightly smaller portions for lunch.
There was nothing complex about the recipe, although care was needed when adding the cooked pasta to the yoghurt in such a way that it didn’t split.  We were extra careful with this and thankfully it worked out fine.  The dish was prepared in stages; the yoghurt sauce, the peas, the pasta and the pine nuts and chilli garnish all needing to be made separately before serving.
Once everything was ready, the pasta, sauce, peas, basil and feta were stirred together, with the pine nuts and chilli being sprinkled on top as a garnish.  I was lucky enough to have some Turkish pul biber to mix in with the pine nuts, providing much less heat than chilli flakes would have done, but the recipe explains that chilli flakes can be used, with some smoked paprika mixed in.
We both really enjoyed this dish, and Jay commented that it was full of spring flavours, just right for a clear May evening.  I found it to be light in texture yet still quite filling, with the pine nuts and pul biber adding small bursts of crunchiness, colour, spice and a toasted nutty flavour.  As the commentary accompanying the recipe stated, the taste was quite different to the much more familiar Italian pasta dishes.  We enjoyed it hot for our tea but I think we will see if it is as good for lunch at room temperature.

“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ebury Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to  following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook Page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups’ dishes on Pinterest

(Please note: I have listed the UK publisher and have linked to the UK Amazon site.  The US details are provided on the web site)

Tasting Jerusalem #10 – Salads

Baby Spinach Salad with Dates and Almonds

Dee – July 2013’s spotlight on salads offered an extremely wide choice of recipes to choose from as they feature prominently in the book as starters, side dishes and main courses.  They range from simple salads featuring only a few ingredients, to complex and time consuming dishes containing the long lists of ingredients that have become one of Yotam Ottolenghi’s calling cards.
I have already included one salad as part of the Tasting Jerusalem project when I prepared the Fattoush for 2013’s focus on Sumac (click here to read the entry).  That was one of the more involved dishes, adapted from one of Sami Tamimi’s family recipes, so I decided to try out one of the simpler recipes:  Baby Spinach Salad with Dates and Almonds on page 30.
This salad turned out to be simple to follow, quick to prepare and there was little trouble obtaining the ingredients.  I didn’t use Medjool dates, though they are available in most international or large high street supermarkets now, as is sumac, the only other less readily available ingredient in the recipe.
The only cooking required for the salad was toasting almonds and frying chunks of pitta bread.  It was important to leave them to cool, otherwise they would have wilted the spinach, which although it would still have been edible, the texture would be disrupted and the salad wouldn’t look so good.  Red onion slices and chopped dates also needed time to marinate in a mixture of vinegar and salt.
Once this was all done, both preparations were tossed together with the spinach leaves and the whole salad dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and chilli flakes.
Jay and me both loved this salad.  It was another fabulous dish made up of a careful balance of a few ingredients.  It was particularly important to achieve that balance with this salad as it contained a wide range of tastes; mild spinach, tart lemon juice and sumac, sweet dates, toasted almonds, crispy pitta and rich olive oil.  All of these came through clearly in the salad with none of them overpowering any of the others. 
The only compromise I made from the published recipe was to use Deglet Noor dates rather than the specified Medjool dates, as stated previously.  This was due more to the fact that I had enough of them at home to make the salad than any difficulty obtaining the larger sweeter Medjools.  I don’t think the salad suffered at all because of this.  The dates delivered the sweetness that was needed.
We made the full quantity of the salad so will be looking forward to another helping, probably for lunch tomorrow.  For storage purposes, we will be keeping the spinach leaves separate from the other ingredients just in case the marinate dates cause them to wilt.
As there are so many salad recipes in the book, we are certain to be making more in the future.

“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ebury Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to  following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook Page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups’ dishes on Pinterest

(Please note: I have listed the UK publisher and have linked to the UK Amazon site.  The US details are provided on the web site)

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Dee Reviews Pizza by Goli, Sutton Coldfield, 9th May 2015

We’d passed Pizza by Goli many times and it always looked busy, but we hadn’t been in for a meal until this evening.

It is located on Birmingham Road, in Sutton Coldfield’s heavily promoted restaurant district.  It is one of two branches, the other being in Lichfield.  When we arrived, the restaurant was as busy as we had seen it previously and when we walked in we were asked if we had booked, which we hadn’t.  Luckily there was a table available for us.  The trade-off was that we needed to be done within an hour, but that wasn’t a problem for us, so long as we were served in a timely fashion.  It was Saturday night, they were busy.  We were allocated a table in the darker, downstairs dining area that looked to be where large parties were catered for.

Contrary to what the restaurant’s name might suggest, the menu consists of a broad range of starters, pizza, pasta, meats, fish, and desserts.  We weren’t drinking wine so didn’t look through the wine list.

For the starters, I went for one of the specials; a trio of bruschetta topped with mashed up avocado and goats cheese with a garnish of caramelised red onion.  This was a great mix of sweetness and richness from the onions, creaminess from the avocado and cheese and crispness from the toasted bread.  Jay chose the Costata di Maiale; a plate of Italian style barbequed spare ribs.  These proved to be a very generous portion, closer to a main course than a starter.  The meat on the ribs was extremely tender and smothered in a tomato sauce with a large presence of fennel seeds.  We’ve enjoyed other Italian pork dishes which have included fennel seeds, and the two flavours go very well together.  We both enjoyed our starters and were looking forward to the main courses.

For the mains, I ordered Linguini Genovese; a bowl of linguini in a creamy garlic-pesto sauce, with tiger prawns mixed in and a garnish of slightly cooked cherry tomatoes.  Although big on flavours, especially the garlic, cream and sweetness and slight tartness from the tomatoes, the sauce did tend to dominate, and it was a shame that I wasn’t able to taste the prawns or pasta, though they did deliver on texture.
Jay ordered a vegetarian Pizza dell’Orto, which was topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella, red pepper, asparagus, courgettes and artichokes.  Presentation on this pizza was a strong point, with each vegetable appearing in a section of the pizza, rather than everything being mixed together.  Although unexpected in terms of presentation, it was well received.

Service throughout the night was of an exceptionally high standard.  With us sharing our dining space with large parties, it would have been easy for us to have been treated as an afterthought, but I am happy to say that this wasn’t the case at all.  Each course was delivered in a timely fashion and we were offered refills of drinks when needed.  As we left the restaurant at the end of the meal, all the staff we passed, even those which hadn’t served us, wished us good night, which I thought was a really nice touch.

The cost of the meal, including drinks, was just short of £35, which was very reasonable, especially considering the generous portion sizes.

Although we’ve had better pizza and pasta at other Italian restaurants, Pizza by Goli is still worth a visit and will appeal in particular to anyone who enjoys lively restaurants with a broad range of good quality classic Italian dishes.

Pizza by Goli Web Site