Thursday, 29 October 2015

Tasting Jerusalem #26 – Date Syrup

Dee - The featured ingredient from August 2014 was Date Syrup.  It is dark, thick and sweet, and resembles treacle or molasses but with a more subtle taste.
It’s not an ingredient I use very often, so I was interested to see which recipes it featured in.  There were two which attracted my interest: The Butternut Squash and Tahini Spread on page 69, and the Chunky Courgette and Tomato Salad on page 84.  In the end I chose the salad, for the simple reason that we had more of the ingredients to hand, but rest assured the spread will be making an appearance as soon as an opportunity presents itself.

Chunky Courgette and Tomato Salad
The inspiration for this recipe was a Palestinian dish called Mafghoussa, meaning ‘mashed’, which is made by cooking tomato, courgette and green chilli on a grill and then skinning and mashing them all together before finally mixing in a tangy yoghurt sauce.  The version presented in the book adds a lot more ingredients and the vegetables are not mashed together.
The tomatoes and courgettes in both the original recipe and the version in the book are supposed to be cooked on a grill or barbeque but as I don’t currently have access to either I had to roast them in the oven.  I also added leek and potato to turn the dish into a main course rather than a salad.
I am very fond of slow roasted vegetables and this was a great way to serve them.  The softness and slightly charred edges made for a great taste experience and retained at least some of the spirit of the original recipe.
The Date Syrup was used as a key ingredient in the yoghurt sauce, where it was joined with lemon zest and juice, chilli and chopped walnuts.  I decided to lightly toast the walnuts, though this is not specified in the recipe.
The vegetables and the sauce were carefully stirred together and finally garnished with chopped mint.
As the photo above shows, this isn’t a photogenic dish.  In fact it looks a bit of a mess, but what it lacked in finesse it more than made up for in flavour.  The sweetness and richness from the Date Syrup and tanginess of the lemon juice in the sauce were perfect partners to the roasted vegetables.
Jay commented, without seeing the write-up for the recipe which said the same thing, that it would be good with bread, but if I was doing this I would leave out the potato as it may make the dish too heavy.
The recipe as it appears in the book is somewhat hidden, as there is a two-page photograph before it and Tabbouleh, a better known recipe, after it.  Without a photograph of the finished dish it could be an easy one to miss, but I am glad I made it and both Jay and me enjoyed it very much.

Footnote:  Date Syrup can also be mixed with porridge.  Drizzling is recommended, but I stirred a teaspoon’s worth into the bowl, which gave it a bit more richness and depth of flavour.  I think something closer to a tablespoon of the syrup would be needed to add sweetness.

“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)

Thursday, 22 October 2015

A themed evening of Britpop and recipes from the River Café Cook Book

Written by Dee

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to find a copy of the River Café cook book in a local charity shop, so snapped it up quickly full of enthusiasm to try out some of the recipes.
The book was written by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, who were chefs and owners of the now legendary River Café Restaurant in London, which launched the careers of Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and a number of other chefs.  Rose has now passed away but the restaurant remains under Ruth’s ownership.
This is a book of Italian cuisine, with the emphasis on using the finest quality ingredients and little need for expensive or sophisticated kitchen gadgets.  Back in the mid-1990s I can remember the hype surrounding the whole River Café philosophy and although I never had the chance to eat there, I felt drawn to the attractively photographed food.  It was cooked and served in a top London restaurant, yet it had a home-cooked look and feel to it.  Of course, there was no such thing as a food blog back then, and without uninterrupted access to a kitchen where I could try and replicate the dishes at home, not to mention cooking skills which were rudimentary at best, the fabulous photos and tempting recipes eventually faded from memory.
Fast forward nearly twenty years and I watched an interesting television documentary about the restaurant, in which the book was featured quite extensively, and added it to that never-ending list that I keep of cook books to buy.  I searched on-line for details of the documentary but couldn’t find any reference to it at all.  It’s a shame, as it would be great to see it again.
With the book now bought, the next step was to select the recipes to cook first.  There were many to choose from and I could have easily designed a full-on banquet, but Jay reined me in and helped with the selection.  In the end, we settled on a few fairly straightforward recipes that we could enjoy on a Friday night.

For the main course we chose Bistecca di Manzo con Rucola (Steak and Rocket) with Verdura Mista in Graticola (Marinated Grilled Vegetables).  We don’t have a griddle pan so ended up coating the vegetables in oil and seasoning them before roasting them.  They came out well; softened with slightly charred edges, and certainly delivered the robust flavour that the recipe required.  The steaks were simple seasoned and then fried according to preference, which is rare for Jay and medium for me, then served on top of dressed rocket leaves.  The steaks were supposed to cover the rocket leaves completely so that they wilted down evenly, but we left a few peeking out, so that they could be seen in the photo.  We used a mix of olive oil and balsamic vinegar for the dressing, though the recipe calls for red wine vinegar.  We have some excellent Portuguese olive oil which added a rich smoothness to the dish.
Although there weren’t a huge number of ingredients on the plate, the combination of flavours was delicious, and the quality of the ingredients certainly shone through.

The book also includes a great dessert section at the back and, while the authors admit that not all of the recipes are ‘authentic’ Italian, there is much of interest in there; several sorbet and ice cream recipes and frequent inclusion of chocolate.  Chocolate Nemesis was listed as the most popular dessert at the restaurant, but I opted instead for the Torta di Nocciole e Ricotta (Hazelnut and Ricotta Cake).  This proved to be a great choice and I was again happy with how it turned out.  Just as well really, as the ingredients listed were enough for two cakes. 
I was initially wary of the 8 eggs that were used in the cake batter, but these provided a pleasant lightness of texture, and the cake wasn’t too sweet tasting despite having 250g caster sugar in the mix.  The chopped hazelnuts provided a nice contrast to the light cake and there was also a slight citrusy bite from the small amount of lemon zest that we added.  We cut right back on the quantity stated in the recipe, which we felt would have swamped the other rather delicate flavours.  We also cut back on the grated chocolate for the same reason.  This was sprinkled over the baked cake as soon as it came out of the oven; the idea being that it would melt and form a glaze.  I was most impressed with the finish that it provided.

We enjoyed everything we made, and the simplicity of the recipes and presentation of the food, which admittedly we didn’t take as much care of as they had for the book, were such that the evening ended up being much more than just retro-dining.  The other recipes that I have perused look like they have stood the test of time, so I’m looking forward to trying out a few more of them soon.

The Soundtrack:  Various Artists - Common People; Britpop: The Story
First things first: This compilation doesn’t include any songs by Oasis or Blur, so can only really be considered an incomplete story of Britpop.  Secondly, some of the artists featured, such as Placebo, James and Kenickie do stretch the definition somewhat, but nit-picking aside, this isn’t too bad as a compilation.  Although it doesn’t include the two biggest names, there are still quite a few hits included.  Some of my favourites include Sleeper’s ‘Inbetweener’, Cast’s ‘Alright’ and Monaco’s ‘What do you want from me’.
No, it isn’t strictly music to dine to, but I was after some sounds that were around at the time that the book was out, to complete the theme.  I didn’t allow myself enough time to put a playlist together but this turned out to be close enough to what we were looking for.

I do enjoy putting these themed menus together and have a few more planned for the future, so watch this space…

Monday, 12 October 2015

Tasting Jerusalem #25 – Tabbouleh

Dee - When I found out that Tabbouleh was October 2015’s featured ingredient I was slightly worried, having made the Tabbouleh recipe as part of Tasting Jerusalem #22, where it was served on a flatbread with labneh and pickled chilli (click here for details).

Luckily all was not lost, and I found the recipe for Parsley and Barley Salad on page 81.  The commentary accompanying the recipe explains that the original name for the dish was Parsley and Barley Tabbouleh but was later changed as it was felt that it wasn’t recognizable enough to retain the Tabbouleh element.  For the purposes of this blog entry however, it was a perfect base for a little more experimentation.

Tabbouleh in its best known form, with parsley and bulgur wheat, is always a challenge for us at home as Jay doesn’t like parsley, so we either end up making two batches of it, or substituting the parsley with something else.  We’ve found that Kale works nicely in this regard; It has a different flavour profile to parsley, being more earthy and subtle, but still works well with the other ingredients.  I also decided to substitute the barley for Palestinian Maftoul, as I still had used some of it previously in Tasting Jerusalem #16 but still had some left over and uncooked. 
With these two substititions I can’t call this salad a Tabbouleh but I’m happier to present this than risk repeating myself by allocating the same recipe to two entries.

Kale and Maftoul Salad
The first stages of making this salad were to marinate the feta in a mixture of seeds, olive oil and za’atar.  This was a dry marinade, which was new to me, but I loved the idea and looked forward to seeing how it tasted.  With the inclusion of za’atar, I considered pairing this entry up with Tasting Jerusalem #24, but decided to keep the two separate to avoid confusion.
I then put the Maftoul on to cook as it takes longer than bulgur wheat.
The Kale that formed the backbone of this salad was washed and finely sliced before being fried on a little oil for just a few seconds to give it a nice rich colour and plenty of bite.
I also cooked the spring onion, garlic and green pepper, rather than leaving them raw as instructed in the recipe, as we were making this salad for lunches so didn’t want lingering onion or garlic breath.
Once the Kale and Maftoul were cooked, everything was combined and stirred together, with the cashew nuts, lemon juice, allspice and seasoning added last.  I only used a small pinch of allspice as I felt it was in danger of overpowering the rest of the salad.  That turned out to be for the best as both Jay and me were pleased with how the salad had turned out.
The feta, which topped the salad was a very fine garnish indeed, and the marinade worked extremely well to add extra spice and tang to each bite.  Yes it was another step away from a traditional Tabbouleh but in the end, a salad this good deserves a place in the spotlight.

“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)

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Tasting Jerusalem #24 – Za’atar

Dee - July 2014’s featured ingredient was Za’atar, in its spice-mix form.  There is a fresh herb with the same name, but I have never seen it anywhere.
The spice mix is a particular favourite of mine, and it appeared as a garnish for the labneh balls in Tasting Jerusalem #15, and also as an ingredient in my own za’atar spiced flatbread recipe in Tasting Jerusalem #22.  It is a very versatile spice mix, and as well as being included in a bread dough and as a garnish, it can also be mixed with olive oil and spread on top of flatbreads, or simply with bread dipped in olive oil then za’atar.
There isn’t a recipe for it in the book, but it is becoming more widely available in the shops now.  It is also quite simple enough to make and as with so many Jerusalemite condiments, recipes can vary quite a bit.  The essentials though are Sumac and Sesame seeds.  The following recipe, which I use, makes a small jar’s worth, and will last for ages;

50g Sesame Seeds, toasted
2 Tablespoons dried Marjoram
2 Tablespoons dried Thyme
2 Tablespoons Sumac
Pinch of Salt

Roasted Butternut Squash and Red Onion with Tahini and Za’atar
The recipe from the book that I chose to make was on page 36, following on from an essay all about the spice mix on the previous two pages.
It was simple enough to make, but resulted in a multi layered dish featuring some quite strong flavours that all complimented each other very well.  I left the skin on the squash, to help it keep its shape as it roasted in the oven with the onion.  The specified time of about 35 minutes in the oven was fine and the vegetables gained a soft but tasty consistency, aided by the seasoning.
While they were roasting I made the tahini sauce, leaving out the garlic.  I didn’t want it to be too thick so added a little more water than the recipe stated to achieve the pouring consistency that I wanted.  Toasted Pine Nuts and chopped parsley were then added, with the za’atar going on at the end as a final garnish.

The final dish looked impressive as well as tasting great, and as mentioned before there were layers of distinctive flavours created very simply, making the dish an instant hit with both Jay and me.  We made double the quantity of the recipe and enjoyed it for lunches during most of last week.

“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)

Monday, 5 October 2015

Book Review: The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning by Wendy Trusler and Carol Devine

Reviewed by Dee
Wendy Trusler and Carol Devine’s ‘The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning: A Polar Journey’ arrived with us unexpectedly one morning.  Neither of us had ever heard of it before, and I initially thought that it would be a fictional work speculating over perceived challenges and hazards of living in what must be one of the least hospitable places on Earth.  In fact it is a thoroughly factual work bringing together two accounts of a series of expeditions to the Bellingshausen Research Station on the South Shetland Islands which are located off the Antarctic Peninsula.  The first account covers a project to dispose of rubbish which had accumulated at the station over nearly 30 years, while the second is a catalogue of recipes which were used during the expeditions to feed the team members.
Prior to embarking on the project, the two authors had distinct skill sets; Carol being the Environmentalist and Wendy the Cook, but as the story progresses, the narrative is shared out more evenly.  This interweaving of recipes and stories is not unfamiliar to me, reminding me of both Anna Del Conte’s ‘Risotto with Nettles’ and Yasmin Alibhai Brown’s ‘The Settler’s Cook Book’, both of which I enjoyed reading and still have in my collection.  However, this book is distinct in that it is presented as a diary running from the birth of the project through to the return home.  I won’t go into any more detail about the clean-up operation as this is a food blog and I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but the daily entries are concise enough for the book to be read in short sessions.
As for the food and the recipes, well, this was quite a surprise for me.  I didn’t have much of an idea about what the occupants of an Antarctic research station would have done for food and prior to reading the book would have hazarded a vague guess at a combination of dehydrated Ready-Meals and Kendal Mint Cake, but that turned out to be quite wide of the mark.  What the book delivers instead is a selection of recipes inspired by Canadian, South American and Eastern European cuisines, in line with the nationalities of the team members at the research station.  Ingredients were delivered by ship from Argentina, allowing for simple, tasty home-cooked meals to be prepared.  Some of the recipes, as Wendy freely points out, were donated by colleagues on the expeditions, providing a sense of commonality and I found myself thinking of them collectively in the context of a miniature fusion cuisine.
The recipes were all easy to follow and for the most part were made up from easy-to-obtain ingredients, making it difficult to select the recipes for the review.  We finally chose a salad and a pate with a small amount of cooking, and a fully-cooked stew.

King George Island Salad
Asparagus Pate
The pate recipe in the book called for jarred white asparagus but unfortunately only the green variety was available.  We could have chosen something else but I quite fancied this so decided to see how it would taste with the substituted green asparagus.  The soft texture of asparagus from a jar is frankly unpleasant but it was fine to use as an ingredient for the pate, where it was blended together with garlic, parmesan, cream cheese, lemon juice and a little mayonnaise.  We used less than the whole cup of mayonnaise in out recipe, as we wanted a less creamy taste.  It was simple to make and the baking time specified in the book was about right, with no burning of the parmesan coating on top of the pate bowl.
The salad is named after the largest of the South Shetland Islands and the location of the Bellingshausen Research Station.  It was another simple recipe to prepare, with the only cooking being to fry the bacon bits.  The other ingredients were asparagus, cumin seeds, avocado, and a dressing of Balsamic Vinegar.  The book again called for white asparagus spears but instead of the jarred asparagus we went for fresh green asparagus instead.  Although this did sacrifice authenticity somewhat, it made for a great tasting salad, with each ingredient being easily recognisable in the overall taste.  If we’d been able to source white asparagus we would of course have used it.  That’s our defence and we’re sticking to it.
The photo above shows how we enjoyed the salad and the pate; for lunch with some crispbreads, which we assumed would have been a store cupboard staple at the research station.  Also, the commentary for the pate recipe recommended it be served with crackers or flatbreads so we were close enough to be in keeping with the spirit of the book.

Roasted Red Pepper Goulash with Smoked Paprika
The commentary for this recipe mentioned the availability of good quality Argentine beef, so we too chose the best quality that we could afford.  The ingredient list was for eight to ten servings, but even after halving the quantities, we were still able to eke out six servings.
I especially liked the roasting of the peppers and keeping them on one side before being stirred into the stew at the last minute.  This enabled them to retain their sweetness and some of their colour rather than losing too early on in the process.  As the recipe commentary stated, there was no need for wine to add depth of flavour, or flour for thickening.  The slow cooking of the stew, and patience, added both of these qualities to it.
I also loved the accompaniment of noodles tossed with caraway seeds.  Although it sounds incongruous, certain types of pasta and dumplings are not unfamiliar in Eastern European cuisine and the caraway seeds are of course commonly used.
Taken together, this was a very hearty and tasty meal, and one which I imagine would have been very popular in the evenings.

There has been some speculation in the media recently about the future of the cook book and while I personally will continue to buy and use them right to the bitter end (if indeed it comes to that), I think that this book will weather the storm.  The reason is that it can be enjoyed by home cooks but also by people who don’t wish to cook the recipes from it.  It is nicely laid out, with good photography and content which would make for an interesting television documentary.
The final word must be about the food though:  The Antarctic setting makes this an ideal Winter recipe book and we are sure to be cooking from it again.

Thanks to Jay’s parents for buying us this great book.