Harissa chicken with chickpeas, olives and preserved lemons

After 3 months on a cool larder shelf, the long anticipated wait to try my preserved lemons is over. I incorporated them in this suitably North African supper dish, which delivers a nice balance of piquant flavours with a combination of harissa, spices, olives and preserved lemon. I used chicken thighs as I always consider this brown poultry meat to be superior in flavour and more moist than chicken breasts. It is also more economical, an important consideration when using free range chicken. My updates about gardening, fishing and wildlife follow or you can cut straight to the recipe at the bottom of the post.

The Hebridean weather pendulum

The harissa chicken casserole could be eaten at anytime of year.  It has a sunny, refreshing, summery disposition, yet has the depth of flavour and warmth that are reminiscent of casserole comfort required in cold weather. The schizoid personality of the dish then perhaps matches the spring weather here at the moment: wild swings from calm periods with blue skies to short sharp shocks of wild, squally downpours rolling in on weather fronts from the Atlantic.  Then there have been a few days of persistently strong gales of 30-40 mph.  The relentless nature of these days makes dog walking fairly tedious (when facing the prevailing wind, at least) – and as for seed sowing – tricky.  Even the broad beans are likely to be cast out of my hands in the gusts.  Carrots? Forget about it, the seeds would be cast in the wind and likely end up germinating somewhere on the west side of Skye.

Gardening with grit

With another long term forecast for a week of wind and unsettled weather, I have decided to ignore our typically erratic Hebridean spring weather and am determined to make the best of the light nights to get on with planting and sowing. I did, after several attempts, manage to dive out between showers and plant my potatoes, having spent a week of evenings and two weekends digging the soil over in readiness, including removal of 2 huge rocks that had fell into the centre of the old blackhouse from the walls.

The second rock levered out with deer posts - it took us over an hour to remove it

The second rock levered out with deer posts – it took us over an hour to remove it

Intact collection of bottles and jars from the blackhouse

Intact collection of bottles and jars from the blackhouse

Within the walls of the old blackhouse, where there once stood an inn, then a post office (before the war, we think), we gathered quite an inventory: remains of one sheep, 4 broken teapots, countless spoons, bottles and containers, mounds of broken crockery, ink pots and a candlestick!

Planting potatoes is not the most stimulating job, but made that bit more interesting by trying to do so between the showers, looking up, trying to judge when the next one would hit as the black clouds of doom and rain sheets approached from the west. The best indication is always the preceding acceleration in wind speed, the blast serving as a warning that you are most likely to get pounded by heavy rain at any second. Then it is over in minutes, sunshine and fragments of blue sky allowing a window of opportunity for more planting.

Frustrating as this was, I had no excuses to prevent me from getting on with organising the polytunnel for the coming season.  Despite a couple of rips which we patched, the tunnel has stood up remarkably well in what is its 4th season.  We feared the plastic would be shredded during the first winter, so we are delighted that the plastic has almost made the anticipated 5 year lifespan, even out here. My chilli and tomato seedlings, raised in a heated propagator are robust and strong.  Pea and beans in sown root trainers will be ready for planting next week and a plethora of herbs have germinated, including 5 varieties of basil that I will sow successionally across the summer.

harissa chicken post 006

Strawberries in planters protected in the tunnel

Strawberries in planters protected in the tunnel

Chillis- 6 varieties

Chillies- 6 varieties

Robust tomato seedlings

Robust tomato seedlings

I am as organised as I can be for this time of year – for planting at least.  There is a lot of construction, maintenance and repair work to be done – gates to be repaired and built, fruit cage to be constructed, deer fence ongoing, dry stone walling, ad infinitum….  I don’t want to think about all that too much, best focus on one task at a time or the list becomes overwhelming. To add the ‘to do’ list, we have started thinking seriously about the timeline for extending and renovating the house, a task that will become all-consuming next year.

Adverse angling

The initially cold spring, followed by windy weather has impacted on our fly fishing results too and the brown trout are still fairly deep and inactive. A trip to South Uist for a fly fishing competition last week was a damp squib. The beautiful and productive machair loch, Loch Bornish yielded nothing for the 15 or so anglers present – after 5 hours in the cold and wind.  The highlight was a flock of 90 whooper swans present on the loch in the afternoon.

whooper swans

This week’s outing was arguably even tougher.  40 mph winds whipping the line erratically across the choppy waters of the vast Loch Caravat that nestles within the remote interior of North Uist.  Blanked again.  Still, I did get nice views of black-throated divers.  We walked for miles along the west shore of the loch, the only shore we could fish from with the prevailing wind behind us.  Ironically, at the end of the outing The Man Named Sous caught a fish about 10m from where we started fishing.

loch caravat

BBC Outer Hebrides wildlife spectacular

The week, the mobile cinema of the Highlands and Islands, The Screen Machine was here in Lochmaddy, North Uist.  As part of the programme, they offered a special preview of the a new flagship BBC wildlife documentary series, an episode of which is devoted entirely to the Outer Hebrides. The series is called Hebrides: Islands on the Edge (there’s lots of info in this link) and it is part of the BBC’s up and coming ‘Wild Scotland’ series of programmes. The screening featured episode 3, covering the Outer Hebrides and it was indeed spectacular – and a Screen Machine sell out.

screen machine

hebrides on the edge

The production team of Maramedia have worked on filming this BBC commissioned series for the last 3 years and I have been lucky to be involved with some of their activities, in a very small way.  There have been many contributions from the numerous knowledgeable naturalists across these islands that have helped to support the production team to obtain the spectacular footage.

The director Nigel Pope engaged with local people and naturalists from the start, meeting with the committee of our natural history society, Curracag, which I chaired until recently, calling upon the expertise of our members and very capable naturalists in the wider community.  I also provided some licensing advice for filming of protected birds during the series in my previous job. Nigel and his crew are extremely experienced and knowledgeable about the ecology of the species they film.

He very kindly provided a talk for Curracag members about his work on the series and that of the world renowned wildlife cameramen who shot it.  Nigel and the crew previously worked on other BBC wildlife spectaculars including Big Cat Diaries and Life in the Freezer. At the time of the talk last summer, Nigel had not decided who may narrate the series and was looking for suggestions.  It turns out they did very well in obtaining the services of a high profile Scottish star, actor Ewan McGregor and his narration worked very well on episode 3.

The series is not about hardcore natural history but is excellent eye candy that provides an insight into the character of these islands and their inhabitants. I think the footage in episode 3 captured the essence of the scenery, weather and wildlife of the Outer Hebrides perfectly. Some of the footage, particularly of divers, is incredible.  I have no doubt it will do wonders for wildlife tourism in the Outer Hebrides, which deserves to be put on the map as a special destination to see a unique combination of species in a spectacular setting.  The wildlife and scenery were, after all, key reasons why we ended up living here in the first place. If you have the chance, do watch the 4 part series on the BBC or the web, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

Making preserved lemons

And so to the recipes. I have at least 6 different variations on recipes for preserved lemons and have not tried all of them.   I prepared some as a Christmas present for my mum and they worked so well, I could not resist making more when I saw bumper amounts of lemons in a local shop at 20p for 6. The recipe is very simple.  Once prepared, the lemons are best left for at least 2 months.  I left these for 3 months. Here, I have used Ottolenghi’s recipe.

preserved lemons 013

preserved lemons 016

Ingredients

6 unwaxed lemons

6 tbsp sea salt (I use Maldon Salt)

2 sprigs rosemary

1 large red chilli

Juice of 6 lemons

Olive oil

Method

  • Sterilise a jar big enough to hold all of the lemons
  • Wash the lemons and make a deep cut all the way from the top to the base so you are left with 4 quarters attached at the top and bottom of each lemon.
  • Stuff each lemon with a tablespoon of salt, opening up each of the slits and stuffing it in.
  • Push them tightly into the jar and leave in a cool place for a week.
  • After a week, remove the lid, press down the lemons hard to squeeze out their juice and add the juice of 6 lemons, rosemary and whole chilli and cover with a thin layer of olive oil.
  • Seal the jar and leave it in a cool place for a least a month, but the longer the better

You can swap the rosemary and chilli for any appropriate flavour that you like.  I also prepared a batch with coriander and caraway seeds.

Harissa chicken with chickpeas, olives and preserved lemons

This recipe was inspired in part by the availability of my preserved lemons, but also because I have been reading Paula Wolfert’s tome, ‘The Food of Morocco’ to increase my understanding about the delightful cuisine of the country. Her introduction serves to remind the reader that Moroccan ingredients are fairly simple and that some amazing food can be made from a few well selected cheap cuts of meat, combined with herbs and aromatics and pulses and grains to produce honest dishes with incredible depth of flavour.  I try to incorporate those ingredients that typify this ethos here.  I think I am at the beginning of the process of understanding Moroccan food.  I have a long way to go, but will relish the journey.

Chick peas – try to find time to soak and boil dried chick peas in preference to tinned. They are worth the extra effort as they have a much deeper more intense almost meaty flavour.

Harissa – This is easy to make, but on this occasion I used some authentic Moroccan harissa paste purchased for about £1 for a big tub from a shop on Golbourne Road, London.

Ingredients

8 chicken thighs, bone in (free range if possible)

200g dried chickpeas, soaked and cooked (or 1 400g tin, drained)

2 tbsp Harissa paste

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 fennel bulb, finely sliced

1 large onion, finely sliced

1 tsp cumin seeds, dry fried and ground

1 tsp coriander seeds, dry fried and ground

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

pinch of cayenne pepper

1 tsp sweet paprika

1 preserved lemon, pulp removed, skin rinsed and finely chopped

150 g mixed black and green pitted olives

200ml chicken stock

olive oil

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 170C

Method

  • Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and sear them in a casserole dish with some olive oil over a medium heat until lightly browned.
  • Remove and allow to drain on some kitchen towel.
  • Add the onion and fennel to the casserole dish, then the garlic, cook until soft and translucent. Add the harissa and spices, stir gently.
  • Return the chicken to the casserole dish, add the chickpeas, olives, chopped preserved lemon and stock.
  • Put in the oven for 45 minutes to allow all the flavours to infuse into the meat and chick peas.  Serve with cous cous and flat bread.

harissa chicken

An alternative meat and two veg

For those readers fond of the double entendre, I should first say that by this I am referring to the meaning pertaining to food, i.e. the British stereotypical standard, run-of-the-mill, unremarkable dinner, with a meat and two kinds of vegetable.  It is still a bland dinnertime trap that it is easy to fall into in the UK, especially at home, but also when eating out.

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day and unusually, I was visiting my parents that weekend.  I don’t often see my mum on the day, as we live so far away, so I thought as a gift I would prepare dinner.  Considering all the stupendous meals my mum has cooked for family and friends over the years it’s the least I could do.

The problem with eating out on Mother’s Day, much like Valentine’s Day or Christmas is that it is not always advisable to visit any but the finest restaurants in my experience. Somewhat understandably, menus are more designed for mass catering on such days, restaurants are invariably busy and noisy and staff overstretched. Often generic  ‘Mother’s Day set menus’ are on offer that are not necessarily representative of what an establishment usually serves.

My alternative meat and two veg was delivered for main course consisting of sirloin steak, beetroot and sweet potatoes.  In a final attempt to purge Ottolenghi recipes from my brain (actually this is a lie, I will not be able to resist, but temporarily, at least), I chose to adapt  these from his column in The Guardian as I considered these to be as far from the bland meat and two veg image as a dinner could achieve – without actually removing the components that exemplify the concept.

Harissa marinated beef sirloin with preserved lemon sauce

I found this complement of ingredients irresistibly attractive. I bought local Aberdeen Angus sirloin steaks from a very good local butchers.The slices of steak were not too thick and were given no more than a flash fry and rested.  The flavour of this quality beef was exceptional. Although the sauce was described as preserved lemon, and this was the hook that drew me towards it, in actual fact, it predominated of tomatoes a bit too much for my palate.  That said, the addition of sweet roasted yellow peppers and some Hungarian sweet paprika as well as chilli flakes enhanced the depth of flavour and the preserved lemon gave a distinctive tang which accompanied the marinated steak well without overwhelming its flavour.

Ingredients

1½ tbsp harissa
4 beef sirloin steaks, trimmed (about 750g total)
Salt and black pepper
2 large yellow peppers
2 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
400g tin chopped Italian tomatoes
½ tsp flaked chilli
¼ tsp Hungarian sweet paprika
1 tbsp preserved lemon skin, thinly sliced
2 tbsp chopped parsley

Method

For the sauce:

  • Rub the harissa into the sirloin steaks, season with a quarter teaspoon of salt and some black pepper, and leave to marinade for at least an hour (or in the fridge overnight).
  • To make the sauce, roast the peppers in the oven for at 200C for 45 minutes until charred all over. Place in a bowl, cover with clingfilm until cool, then peel them and cut into long, thin strips. Discard the skin and seeds (my mum kindly did this bit while we were walking the dogs).
  • Heat the oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Fry the garlic for 30 seconds on medium heat, add the tomatoes, chilli, paprika, a quarter teaspoon of salt and some black pepper, bring to a simmer and cook for seven minutes.
  • Add the pepper strips, preserved lemon skin and parsley, and cook for seven minutes, until the sauce thickens but is still easy to pour. Set aside and allow to come to room temperature.

For the steak:

  • Preheat the oven to 100C. Place a ridged griddle pan on a high heat and, when smoking hot, add the steaks and cook for a minute a side.
  • Transfer to a baking tray and rest for 4 minutes, for rare, 6 if you prefer medium. Serve with the sauce.

harissa steak

Roast beetroot salad with yoghurt and preserved lemon

I have always enjoyed the pairing of beetroot with roasted cumin and the extra dimensions of the fresh dill and chicory delight and amuse the palate with contrasting and complementary  layers of flavour.

Ingredients

600g beetroot
2 tbsp olive oil
1½ tsp cumin seeds
1 small red onion, peeled and very thinly sliced
20g preserved lemon skin, roughly chopped
2 tbsp lemon juice
30g dill, roughly shredded
Salt and black pepper
3 tsp tahini paste
200g Greek yoghurt
1 chicory, cut widthways into 0.5cm slices

Method

  • Heat the oven to 220C. Wrap the beetroots individually in tin foil, place on a baking tray and roast for 30-60 minutes, depending on size and quality – check that they’re done by inserting a knife: it should go in smoothly. When cool enough to handle, peel, cut into 0.5cm-thick slices and transfer to a mixing bowl to cool down.
  • Heat the oil in a small frying pan and add the cumin seeds. Cook for a few minutes, until they start to pop, then pour the seeds and oil over the beetroot. Add the onion, preserved lemon, lemon juice, half the dill, a teaspoon of salt and a grind of black pepper. Mix well.
  • Transfer to a serving bowl. Stir the tahini into the yoghurt and add to the salad, along with the chicory. Give it a minimal stir, so the yoghurt and chicory mix in only slightly and there is still some clear distinction between the red and the white, with some pink ripple. Sprinkle over the remaining dill and serve.

beetroot salad

Roast sweet potato with red onion, tahini and za’atar

I have saved the best ’till last. I have made this roast sweet potato dish before and it is no exaggeration to say that this is one of the best vegetable side dishes I have ever eaten.  The colours of the dish are intense and appealing but as much as it looks delectable, the flavours combined are truly mind-blowing.  The first time I made this I served it with chicken, hazelnuts and rosewater. The fact that most of this side dish was demolished before we got round to eating the chicken is testament to its deliciousness .  It served yet again to remind me that vegetarian food can be more delicious than so many meat-based dishes.

Although the recipe can be found in ‘Jerusalem’ using butternut squash, I prefer sweet potato so substituted accordingly.

Preheat oven to 200C

Ingredients

700g of sweet potatoes, cut into large chunks
1 large red onion, cut into wide slices
3 tbsp olive oil
1 1/4 tsp Maldon salt
a few twists of black pepper
3 tbsp tahini paste
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, pounded into a paste
3 tbsp pine nuts
1 tbsp za’atar
handful coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Flaky sea salt

Method

  • In a bowl mix the sweet potatoes and onion with the olive oil, a teaspoon of Maldon salt and a few twists of black pepper.
  • Spread the vegetables on a baking sheet and roast in the oven 30 minutes, or until the vegetables have taken on some color and are cooked through and charred a little. You may need to pick out the onion earlier, lest it burn. 
  • While the vegetables are roasting, make the sauce. Place the tahini in a small bowl along with 2 tablespoons of water, lemon juice, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt. Whisk until the sauce is the consistency of honey. You might need to add more water or tahini, depending on consistency.
  • Toast the pine nuts in  a frying pan until golden brown. Remove from the heat and transfer the nuts to a small bowl.
  • Spread the vegetables out on a large plate or a serving platter and drizzle over the tahini. Sprinkle the pine nuts, followed by za’atar and the parsley. Add a few flakes of the Maldon salt and serve.

sweet potato

London: Unabashed Food Hedonism

I spend most of my year cooking home grown food or foraged wild meat and fish at home on North Uist, therefore, when we do get away for a trip, there tends to be a focus on eating the best food we can access/afford wherever we head. This could be Michelin star dining; The Kitchin and Martin Wishart in Edinburgh being our two Scottish favourites, or, as in our trip to London this week, more relaxed, less austere and affordable eating experiences.

I love cooking and preparing food but even I need a break from cooking from scratch on a daily basis. The perfect antidote to ‘Cook’s Fatigue’ is to recharge the batteries with a visit to London, one of my favourite cities in the world and, of course, I had accumulated a list of places I had to eat and some foody items I had to purchase while there. Some of you who read my blog will not be surprised to learn this predictably included a visit to Ottolenghi and Wahaca but this also extended to indulging in some street food and Portuguese food nostalgia, both of which I have been dreaming of for some months.

Bear with me, this is inevitably a long post, so feel free to cut to the chase of the tagine recipe.

Our reason for visiting London was primarily work-related in that The Man Named Sous, (elevated to his real name Eric for this post, given the redundancy of his nom de blog for our London trip) was displaying instruments at the British Violin Making Association annual violin makers event.  I was certainly required as a porter for the event, as we arrived from Edinburgh by train with various instruments including cello, violin and viola.

He had been working very long hours to finish a new cello for this event and another last week in Glasgow where it and other instruments he made were played in the Violin Makers Scotland showcase concert at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. So new is the cello, pictures of it have been posted in his Facebook page, but have not yet made to his website, Eric Jackson Violins (shameless plugging here, but I am proud of his skill to produce very fine instruments as well as his commitment to his profession).

The event at Old Sessions House, Clerkenwell Green was a success and it was good for both of us to catch up with people we had not seen for a few years, such as flatmates Eric shared a house with while studying at the Newark School of Violin Making. After the event, we had a few pints in the delightful The Crown Tavern across the road from the venue with violin maker and musician pals and rounded the night off with a curry at Cafe Saffron, Aylesbury Street, which was excellent, good value and service too.

We were staying at a friend’s flat in Highgate, North London, except our friend was not there but in transit back from Algiers, although we did make the acquaintance of his Hungarian friend also staying at the flat. It was nice to be able to spend time with him of an evening, exchanging tales of London, Hungary and the Hebrides, and he also cooked us up a fine Hungarian Goulash as well as kindly gifting me some Hungarian sweet paprika, which I had long ran out of, but used to pick up when I worked in Hungary during my PhD.  I included some of this distinctive spice in my tagine recipe at the end of this post.

paprika

After so much intensity and immersion in the violin making world, we delighted in spending a couple of well-earned days snatching time to explore some of London’s culinary and cultural offerings, although, must it be said it was a bit manic, cramming as much in as we could in so little time.

Street food is currently very much in vogue in the UK and the best place to find a diverse selection is London.  We had heard about the Moroccan Soup Stand in Golbourne Road, which recently won a BBC Radio 4 Food Award. I then read a great post by Craig at Mad Dog TV Dinners, who has great local knowledge of the best markets to visit in London.  He wrote an inspiring and enlightening post about Golbourne Road where I learned about the Portuguese community and associated shops there. Thanks to Craig for the info, his comprehensive post should be read in conjunction with this one to get the full flavour of the experience.

This made a visit to the area mandatory as I was in need of some Portuguese food nostalgia after my recent post about living in the Algarve.  On arrival at Golbourne Road, we found Lisboa Patisserie first (don’t know why it isn’t called Lisboa Pastelaria), so we had to start our afternoon with coffee and pastels de nata.  These were the most authentic I have eaten in the UK. Delicious crisp flaky pastry layers, perfect deep wobbly but steadfast custard within and a deep dark caramelisation on top.  One would never have been enough, and had I not been planning to visit the Moroccan soup stand further down the road, I could have eaten a third!

pastel de nata

The award winning Moroccan soup stand was next. It wasn’t excessively busy and we got a table and were quickly served by the very friendly and helpful proprietors. I had Bissara (green split pea) soup and Eric had Harira.  It was lovely to sit outside sharing a table with Portuguese customers on a beautifully clear crisp afternoon. The soup was really delicious and we decided to go for a tagine next, opting to share a chicken one. Needless to say it was delightful and came with bread to mop up the deliciously aromatic gravy.  A bargain for such authentic cuisine at £6.00.

tagine

Afterwards, we naturally gravitated towards the unmistakable smell of bacalau (salt cod) emanating enticingly from the Lisboa Deli.  I wanted to buy some to take home as it has been many years since I have eaten it and I don’t know of anywhere in Scotland that sells it. At the back of the shop, in a room dedicated to bacalau, stood a stack of huge sides of dried cod so loved by the Portuguese, next to a bandsaw on which my kilo of bacalau was cut for me.  Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of this unique set up. I bought some other nostalgic items including quince marmalade and chorizo, becoming aware that if I bought much more, we would not be able to carry it home, given we were already laden on the way down, and I had not yet visited other shops in the street.

As it was, by the time we got to the end of the block, we had bought olives, harissa, an array of herbs and spices and a large bag of rose petals.  We just had to and would worry about how we would carry the stuff back to Scotland later.  We had a fantastic relaxing afternoon in Golbourne Road and I will certainly be returning for supplies and great food next time I am down in London, not to mention to buy a tagine dish, which I simply couldn’t carry this time.

Later that evening, we dropped in at Wahaca at Covent Garden for some Mexican tapas and cocktails.  The restaurant had been recently refurbished and was vibrant and friendly.  We enjoyed a couple of margharitas – the passion fruit version was great, along with a snack of fennel pork scratchings with guacamole, lovely, although I didn’t sense much fennel.  We shared a small selection of tapas dishes including chicken tinga tacos, chicken guajillo tostadas and chipotle chicken quesadillas, then realised everything we ordered contained chicken!.  I also ate them before I realised I should have perhaps photographed them (oops!). Pretty tasty they were too, and surprisingly, not too hot.

wahaca snacks

We could not leave London without a visit to Ottolenghi, but rather than going for lunch or dinner, we opted for brunch at Islington.  As readers will know, I adore the Ottolenghi ethos, flavour combinations and recipes.  Although Ottolenghi sits on a pedestal as high as The Shard, I was not at all apprehensive that a visit may not live up to my expectations.  In fact, the experience was indeed sublime and the food, service and experience utterly flawless.  We both opted for shakshuka.  It had enormous depth of flavour and the perfect balance of heat and richness while still allowing the flavour of the egg yolks to shine through.  The labneh was a a perfect foil to the warmth and richness of the peppers and tomatoes.

shakshuka

This was served with a perfect cappuccino, one of the best I have had in London (no mean feat since we always seek out the best coffee shops, especially those revered NZ places in Soho).  A second cappuccino accompanied the grand finale of the famous Ottolenghi cakes.  It took us a considerable time to choose, the selection was mesmerising.

Otto coffee

otto cakes

In the end I went for a passion fruit meringue tart. In truth, I can’t resist anything containing passion fruit.  I was not disappointed.  This was genuinely one of the best cakes I have ever eaten. Crisp light pastry, oozing passion fruit custard with the perfect balance of sharpness to match the uber light and not too sweet soft, delectable meringue. I was smitten.  Eric chose the rhubarb and ginger cheesecake, which was gargantuan and delicious.

otto meringue

meringue open

otto cheesecake

The display of salads looked so enticing and if there was anyway I could have squeezed in another mouthful, I would have tried some.  At least there’s an excuse to return next time we are in London.

otto salads

In order to recover from our brunch, we visited the Courtauld Gallery to see the ‘Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901’ exhibition.  This was a wonderful opportunity to see a unique exhibition reuniting major paintings from his debut exhibition. Picasso was only 19 years old and this prolific year of his life shaped his future career, notably in the second half of 1901, when Picasso quite radically changed the direction of his work at what was the beginning of his now famous Blue period.

Picasso is undoubtedly one of my favourite artists and when I visited the Picasso museum in Paris over 20 years ago, his work left a huge impression on me. I feel very fortunate to have viewed so many of his early works in one place. It was delightful to see the steps of transformation before the progression to his most famous works which went on to define him as one of the most important artists of the 20th Century.

No visit to London is complete without an afternoon/evening in Soho. There is always a great buzz and an enormous choice of great coffee shops, bars and restaurants. Top coffee shops include Flat White and Sacred, where we stopped for a cappuccino.

We stopped by at Fernandez and Wells to indulge in some charcuterie and prosecco choosing a three meat platter for £12, consisting of Limoto Iberico de Bellota, Schiena (an Italian version of speck from Trentino) and Cecina de Leon (beef air cured and oak smoked, an interesting alternative to bresaola).

fenandez and wells

charcuterie

Of course, we always dwell for a while in The Crobar. This small, friendly bar is well known in rock and metal circles and has the best classic rock and metal jukebox you will find nowadays (I just realised I make myself sound very old by adding the word nowadays). Everything from classic thrash like Slayer to contemporary heavyweights Mastodon as well as classic and some stoner rock is blasted out.

Staff and patrons are very friendly and it has an exceptionally long happy hour. On arrival, we were deliberating about what to drink and the barman asked where we were from.  ‘Scotland’ we stated blandly and generically.  Turns out he was from Dundee and gave us the rather weird shots we chose on the house.  It is also one of these places that occasionally attracts rock stars and journalists. The night we were in, legendary rock journalists Malcolm Dome and Jerry Ewing were standing at the bar.  I would never have noticed, but Eric has a brilliant memory for names and faces, especially anyone related to music or film.

Crobar

We eventually caught up with our friend, who returned from Algeria sans luggage and had himself been so busy on return, we had only a few hours to see him and his partner (also a friend) for dinner at her home in Kentish Town before we returned to Edinburgh next morning.  It was great to catch up with them and hope we can reciprocate when they visit our Hebridean home.

Lamb Tagine

Inspired by our visit to London and pulling together some experiences from the Moroccan Soup Stand, Portuguese cooking, visit to Ottolenghi and my Hungarian paprika gift, I made this tagine while visiting my parents on our return from London.  The lamb shoulder was purchased from an excellent local butcher. The preserved lemons included in the recipe were some I made and gave to my mum as a gift at Christmas and are so simple and easy to make. I serve this with Portuguese broa bread, my recipe described in a previous post.

Ingredients

600g lamb shoulder, diced

2 onions

5 small tomatoes

skin of 1/2 a preserved lemon, chopped

2 bay leaves

large pinch of saffron

60g dried apricots

80g green olives

600 ml vegetable stock

400g waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks

40g toasted flaked almonds

1 400g tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

For spice rub:

1/4 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp ground all spice

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground turmeric

3 green cardamom pods, contents ground

1/4 tsp Hungarian sweet paprika

1 tsp harissa

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

salt and pepper

1 tbsp olive oil

Method

  • Combine all the ingredients for the spice rub with the oil and rub into the lamb pieces.  Leave to marinade for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
  • Add a splash of olive oil to a casserole dish and brown the pieces of lamb.
  • Remove the lamb and add the onion, soften and caramelise slightly.  Return the lamb to the casserole dish or place both in tagine, if you have one.
  • Add the tomatoes, saffron, olives, bay leaves, apricots, chick peas and vegetable stock.  Slow cook in a low oven about 150C for 2 1/2 hours, add the potatoes and preserved lemon with one hour to go, scatter the toasted almonds over the top and serve with bread and /or salads.

tagine

Polenta, coconut and marmalade cake

Having had little time to browse the numerous new recipe books acquired at Christmas, I thought it was time to delve into one.  Looking for mid-week cake inspiration, I flicked through Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s delightful ‘Jerusalem’ and found just what I needed – a cake containing marmalade – semolina , coconut and marmalade cake.

However, as ever, I didn’t quite have all the ingredients, so a semolina cake morphed into polenta cake and orange juice was replaced by pink grapefruit juice. Nothing too radical, so I figured the resulting mix was unlikely to fail, from a bake perspective at least.  More of a question over how it might taste. I use the introductory text in the book as justification. Given the statement that semolina cakes soaked in syrup are pretty ubiquitous across the Middle East and there are so many variants, I might as well go the extra step – wholesale replacement of one of the key ingredients. In for a penny, in for a pound!

I am pleased to say, no harm done in using polenta – or pink grapefruit juice. The orange blossom water in the syrup gives the cake a real aromatic lift.  The amount of sugar in the syrup is high.  I cut it down a bit and still found it very sweet, although this is unsurprising for a cake recipe originating from this part of the world (and containing a syrup!). However, serving with natural yoghurt mixed with a few drops of orange blossom water complemented the cake perfectly and unleashed the coconut flavour and citrus tang, offsetting the sweetness too.

Note to runners: Another thing, I found that just a little bit of this cake half an hour or so before a run improves your pace.  No indigestion guaranteed.  Justification to indulge indeed!

The recipe is that I used to accommodate changes in ingredients.

Preheat oven to 160C (fan)

Ingredients

240ml grapefruit juice

180ml sunflower oil

160g Seville orange marmalade, homemade, of course

4 medium eggs, free range, of course

grated zest of half a pink grapefruit

70g caster sugar

70g desiccated coconut

90g plain flour

180g polenta

2 tblsp ground almonds

2 tsp baking powder

Syrup:

150g caster sugar

120ml water

1tblsp orange blossom water

To serve:

Natural yoghurt mixed with a few drops of orange blossom water

Ottolenghi coconut cake

Method

  • Mix together the wet ingredients: oil, fruit juice, marmalade, eggs and zest. I used my KitchenAid to mix the wet ingredients, then added the dry ingredients: sugar, coconut, semolina, almonds and baking powder. This should form a runny cake mixture.
  • Grease and line a cake tin, capacity 1 litre (or 2 x 500 g as the recipe suggests), pour the filling in and bake for 45-60 minutes for 500g, 1 hour 20 minutes or so for 1 litre tin.
  • Check with a skewer that the cake is cooked all the way through, if it is clean, it is. I also covered the top with foil to prevent burning, given the longer cooking time for a bigger single cake.
  • Just before the cake is ready to come out, add the syrup ingredients to a pan, bring to the boil, remove from the heat and pour over the cake(s) when they come out of the oven.
  • I pierced the cake with a cocktail stick to help the syrup percolate and permeate the cake.
  • Leave to cool completely then slice and serve with yoghurt and orange blossom water.

semolina cake

Amaretti biscuits – solace for the coffee geeks

I am always seeking the perfect biscuit to accompany coffee and amaretti always come out on top as the ultimate combination, whether your preference is cappuccino, espresso, flat white or americano. I have made several batches of these particular amaretti biscuits over the festive period. The recipe comes from the delightfully delicious Ottolenghi cookbook. It did not mention in the recipe that they evaporate if left unsupervised for even short lengths of time, but every time I turn my back they are gone!

This is a very simple and easy recipe that is a refreshing change from the traditional amaretti.  These have a perfect zesty twist, are crunchy on the outside and slightly gooey in the middle.  I replaced the sour cherries cited in the recipe with dried cranberries.  This is only coincidentally seasonal since I had no sour cherries.

Cranberry Amaretti

Ingredients

180g ground almonds

120g caster sugar

grated zest of a lemon

3 drops of natural almond extract

pinch of salt

60g dried cranberries, roughly chopped

2 free range egg whites

2 tsp honey

icing sugar for rolling

Preheat oven to 170C

Makes about 20 amaretti

KitchenAid - a delight after the absence of a mixer following the demise of my grandmother's1960's Kenwood Chef that I inherited.

KitchenAid – a delight after the absence of a mixer following the demise of my grandmother’s 1960’s Kenwood Chef.

Method

  • Put the almonds, sugar, lemon zest, almond extract and salt in a bowl and mix.
  • Beat the egg whites and honey to what Yotam calls soft meringue consistency.  I beat them until moderately stiff as they fold in and hold more air with a slightly firm consistency. Beating the egg whites can be done by hand or using a food mixer, which I used. (my new KitchenAid – Christmas present to self after the recent demise of my Kenwood Chef).
  • Fold the egg mix gently into the dry ingredients to form a soft paste.
  • Take a small amount of mix and roll in your hand and then in some icing sugar before placing on silicone/parchment on a baking sheet.  I rolled these to the size a bit smaller than a walnut, otherwise they are too big to cook sufficiently inside.
  • Bake for 12 minutes, let them cool and indulge.

Cranberry amaretti

Cranberry amaretti

The (temporary) demise of fine coffee 

Something that strikes fear in the heart of any coffee geek is the loss of the beloved daily dose of quality espresso and cappuccino.  We are both geeks that find it impossible to live without at least a few quality shots per day.  Someone recently asked me if I had to live without red wine or coffee, which would it be.  I would ditch the wine without question, as would The Man Named Sous.  So, you can probably tell, our appreciation of coffee is serious.

We have fantastic, so-called ‘Prosumer’ machine, an Izzo Alex Duetto II, Italian engineered, a dual boiler machine with tight temperature and pressure control to provide consistently excellent shots. It also has stunning Italian styling, as one would expect.  Hold on, I need to go back a phrase or two. Italian engineering.  This is essentially where the problem lies.

I do not want to suggest that sometimes such products can be style over substance – this is certainly not the case for our much-loved coffee machine, but the experiences we have had with this machine are a stark reminder of the ‘temperamental’ nature of Italian engineered goods, in our experience.  I am thinking principally of a beautiful Ducati 851 sports motorbike owned by The Man Named Sous.

The Ducati looked and sounded wonderful – bright red eye-candy, an elegant and slick single-seater, compared with my equivalently pointy (but reliable and faster) Japanese brute (a Kawasaki ZXR 750). The problem was, the electrics on the Ducati never worked for more than one run. Lights and dials failed regularly, and with no reserve tank (very practical) and no odometer, each journey distance had to be calculated out to make sure there was enough fuel to get home. The electrical issues with our Alex Duetto II make it only slightly more reliable than the Ducati 851, although at least you won’t have to push it home.

Alex Duetto II Review

Alex Duetto II, the Ducati 851 of coffee makers?

Our Alex Duetto II, the Ducati 851 of coffee makers?

The machine is well crafted and made of heavy grade mirror finish stainless steel, inside and out. It is manually operated with a lever, which is a bit more interactive than a push button electronic set up.  It also allows simultaneous use of the steam wand while pouring a shot, thanks to the double boiler, a feature that very few home machines have.  The steam wand produces a powerful jet of steam so milk frothing takes a bit of practice to get it under control and to produce the desired microfoam. The machine has a water reservoir or can be plumbed in.

However, despite its good looks and flawless coffee production performance, alas, we have had a few issues with the electronics of our Alex Duetto.  A failed PID unit (this key component does all the temperature/pressure control) after about 18 months, fortunately within guarantee this was replaced by Bella Barista, the company who we bought the machine from.  At Christmas 2011, the temperature probe failed, so we had no coffee until the part was ordered after the holiday.  On Christmas morning just past, a similar fault has occurred, which we suspect also to be a result of the probe failing, so again, we are in an espresso desert until there is time to resolve the issue.

Diagnostics for this machine would not be possible without the engineering background of The Man Named Sous who has capably and confidently found each fault, removed the faulty part and discussed technical solutions with Bella Barista, who have offered a great service throughout.  We are very fortunate to have this skill in the house because sending the machine back for repair would be very costly – it weighs a mammoth 35kg.  I’m not sure how the average punter copes with maintaining this machine if living a remote area. The machine was also a serious investment and the current Alex Duetto IV model costs about £1900 – and that’s before investing in an equivalent quality grinder.

It took several months of committed research by The Man Named Sous as he indulged in his passion for techno-geekery, weighing up the pros and cons of just about every available machine on the market before settling for the Izzo. There is no doubt in our minds that we chose the best machine on the market for home use.  Despite these niggling issues, owning the machine is a delight, and judging by other reviews, I think we have been a bit unlucky and very few issues have been cited.

Although it makes producing a good shot as easy as it could be at home, it took about a year to really get to grips with producing A1 quality espressos and cappuccinos, taking into account grind adjustments and the differences in different coffee varieties and blends, moisture content of batches of beans, etc. We have had very helpful tips from the staff at Artisan Roast, Bella Barista and have found really invaluable online demonstrations to help us get it right.

We currently buy freshly roasted beans sent mail order, 1-2 days post-roasting.  We usually opt for single source but also like to try blends.  The plan is to start roasting our own green beans and experimenting with our own blends later this year, but we need a shed to accommodate a roaster – not something you want to do in the house, but can’t wait to start experimenting with roasting.

Amaretti and cappucino - when the Alex Duetto was opertaing smoothly.

Amaretti and cappuccino – when the Alex Duetto was operating smoothly.

Rosewater delectation: Pistachio and rosewater meringues with Turkish delight ice cream

I adore floral flavourings; elderflower, lavender, orange blossom and jasmine, but my favourite of all is rosewater. Rosewater has a long and illustrious culinary history. It is a stalwart of Middle Eastern and North African cooking, also featuring in Indian cuisine. When used with restraint, rosewater gives a characteristic flavour and alluring fragrance that takes you straight to the edge of the Med.

Rosewater is the leftover liquid or hydrosol remaining when rose petals and water are distilled together for the purpose of making rose oil, so it is a bi-product. It is also relatively cheap and easy to obtain from delis or wholefood shops and has a reasonably long shelf life, so it is always handy to keep in the store cupboard and a little goes a long way.

Bulgaria produces an estimated 85% of the world’s rose oil and hence is also a key producer of rosewater. I was lucky enough to visit this beautiful country a couple of years ago.  It was a conservation trip to look at how the Bulgarian government manages areas of high conservation value in national parks and other protected sites in Bulgaria, focussing on the Stara Planina in the Balkan Mountains, central Bulgaria, particularly the Central Balkan National Park. The beech, oak and hornbeam forests are stunning, as are the high alpine meadows.  These habitats hold impressive numbers of rare species of invertebrates, higher plants and fungi and I was fortunate to see a diverse range of each.

Coincidentally, driving south from the Balkan Mountains, we travelled through the Rose Valley. This valley is world famous for growing roses and for centuries has been the centre for rose oil production in Bulgaria. We stopped near the town of Kazanlak, centre of the rose oil industry and walked through the rose fields at the peak time for harvesting, early in June.

Bulgarian rosefields in full bloom

Bulgarian rosefields in full bloom

The intoxicating scent of the beautiful pink damask roses was everywhere. Honeybees covered the flowers, pollen baskets full, contributing to honey production, another industry that had formed a common sense symbiosis with rose oil production.

Rosewater is a versatile flavour and can be used in savoury and sweet dishes.  It is more aromatic and flavoursome uncooked, but still retains the essence of its aroma and character if cooked.

I have been including rosewater in numerous recipes recently, experimenting in order to get the flavour balance right.  Having some good quality Turkish delight in the house (rose flavour, of course),  I decided I wanted to make Turkish delight ice cream, one of my favourite flavours, but always such a rare find in all but the most comprehensively stocked gelaterias.

My expectation was that this would need careful addition of a little rosewater to the cream, as the Turkish delight was pretty pungent with rose flavour.  To balance this, and again having a look through Ottolenghi, I found the perfect accompaniment – pistachio meringues, a hint of rosewater included.

This is also a thrifty strategy since ice cream uses copious amounts of egg yolks and meringues egg whites, so the recipes marry economically too. The pairing of a cooked and uncooked rosewater sweet treat commenced.

Pistachio and rosewater meringues

This recipe is from Ottolenghi, his first book.  The Ottolenghi outlets in London are famous for their meringues, so after looking at the images, and anticipating capturing some of my favourite flavours within, there was no point in resisting…

The first thing the recipe states is that a good free-standing mixer is essential.  Following the demise of my 1960’s Kenwood Chef, I was without such a gadget.  I didn’t have much choice but to get on with it using my handheld mixer, which was pretty awkward, but worked.

The recipe suggests dolloping the meringue onto the plate of crushed pistachios and rolling it around.  This sounded like something you would need to be well practised at to master, and I didn’t even attempt it as I could only imagine how inelegant it might look.  I opted for the safer option of sprinkling / throwing the pistachios on / at the meringue after spooning them onto a baking sheet!

I cut the recipe ingredients by half.  I thought the quantities were excessive (10 egg whites) and by halving, I could neatly use almost all of the egg whites left over from making the ice cream. This made about 12 moderately large meringues.

Heat the oven to 200oC initially

Turn down to 110oC for meringues

Ingredients

300g caster sugar

150g egg whites (about 5 large eggs)

1 tsp rosewater

30g finely chopped pistachios

Method

  • Place the sugar on a baking sheet lined with parchment and heat in the oven for about 8 minutes until hot and dissolving at the edges.
  • When the sugar is almost ready, on high speed,  mix the egg whites until they start to froth, about 1 minute.
  • Pour the hot sugar slowly over the egg whites.  Once all the sugar is added, add the rosewater.
  • Whisk on high speed for 10 minutes or until the mix is cold.
  • The mix should be stiff and silky.  Taste to check flavour and add more rosewater, to taste.
  • Turn the oven down to 110oC and line a baking sheet with parchment paper, sticking it in place with a bit of meringue mix.
  • Dollop the meringue onto the paper.  Yotam recommends the size of an apple, mine were a bit smaller, about apricot size. They expand a lot during cooking so leave enough space between them.
  • Crush the pistachios using a food processor and sprinkle over the meringue.
  • Place in the oven for about 2 hours.

The meringues should be firm outside and a bit soft in the middle.  They will keep for a few days in an airtight container.

Pistachio and rosewater meringues

Pistachio and rosewater meringues

Turkish delight ice cream

After much deliberation, last Christmas we gave a present to selves of an ice cream maker.  The Cuisinart professional model we have has a built-in compressor, so is pretty straightforward to use and no need to freeze the bowl beforehand.  You can make this recipe without an ice cream maker, it just requires regular hand churning of the mix as it sets, which can be a time-consuming commitment.

Cuisinart ice cream maker

Cuisinart ice cream maker

The Man Named Sous would not mind me saying that he is pretty obsessed with ice cream. I must admit, I was fairly ambivalent to most and pretty selective about what flavours I consume and from where.  Home made ice cream is a revelation and extremely decadent. It should be accompanied by some sort of portion limiter and health warning as it contains shocking amounts of egg yolks, fat (in the form of cream) and sugar.  Oh well, everything in moderation, you only live once, and other similar excuses for indulging oneself.

For this recipe, I used a basic custard as I would for many other ice creams.  I favour the recipe and methods used in ‘The Perfect Scoop’ by David Lebovitz, so have adapted from that. Surprisingly, this marvellous book does not have a recipe for Turkish delight ice cream or my other all time favourite flavour pistachio (to be visited another time).

Makes about 1 litre.

Ingredients

250 ml whole milk

150g caster sugar

500 ml double cream (!)

pinch of salt

6 large egg yolks

1 tsp rosewater

natural red food dye (optional)

8 pieces of Turkish delight, cut into small chunks

A little icing sugar

Method

  • Warm milk, sugar and 250 ml of cream and salt in a pan and remove from heat once sugar has dissolved.
  • Pour the remaining 250 ml of cream into a large bowl and set a sieve over the top.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks.  Slowly pour the warm mixture onto the egg yolks then scrape back into the pan.
  • Stir constantly over a medium heat until the mixture coats the back of a spoon.
  • Pour the mix through the sieve onto the cream add the rosewater and a couple of drops of natural red food dye (if using) and leave to cool and refrigerate.
  • Once chilled, churn in an ice cream maker for about 45 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, chop up the Turkish delight and roll the small pieces in some icing sugar to coat them so they don’t clump as you add them to the ice cream. Fold the pieces into the ice cream when it is ready, just before you freeze it.

The meringues and ice cream worked well together and would probably have been enhanced by the addition of fruit.  Mango, plum, peaches or strawberries would work, either fresh or in a coulis.

Next aim is to make my own Turkish delight.

Turkish delight ice cream with pistachio and rosewater meringues

Turkish delight ice cream with pistachio and rosewater meringues

In celebration of the short and sweet – Ottolenghi style

I am looking forward to the new series starting next week on Channel 4, Yotam Ottolenghi’s Mediterranean Feasts. I follow Ottolenghi’s regular column in The Guardian for recipe inspirations and only recently acquired my first Ottolenghi cookbook, his eponymously titled first book. I have hardly had my nose out of it over the last month. What a truly inventive chef, who has almost single-handedly revolutionised the UK perspective on cooking food inspired by North Africa and the Med.

Yes, when I find books by an inspirational chef it is always tempting to get onto the web and order everything they have published. Having done that, I know the resulting recipe saturation means I don’t really explore each book in depth and they become coffee table objects, gathering dust but no food splatters – the real mark of love on a cookbook.

After a visit to Nick Nairn’s Braeval restaurant in Aberfoyle back in 1996, my first real experience of Michelin star level fine dining (it was a genuine revelation), I indulged in almost every recipe from that first Wild Harvest book, which is now extremely dog-eared (and food splattered). I don’t use it so much now, but still leaf through the pages and revisit nostalgic memories of the flavours generated from within. I do use it to remind myself of his marvellous creme brulee recipe – the finest, easiest and most reliable I know.

So far Ottolenghi has inspired me to try 20 or so recipes over the last month, a mixture of savoury and sweet. Most I have enjoyed and would recommend and all without exception are unfussy and simple to prepare, part of the Ottolenghi philosophy. I plan more Ottolenghi cookbook forays over the next week. To celebrate the beginning of the long overdue TV series next week, here are a couple of the tasty sweet recipes I have tried and loved.

Pistachio shortbread

Much as pistachio is my favourite nut (well, vieing for the title with hazelnuts), the draw of this recipe is the aromatic inclusion of the ground cardamom, reminiscent of the decadent sweetness of baklava. Apparently Persian baklava typically has the essence of this sweet pastry that I favour – infused with pistachio, rosewater and cardamom.  I do not have a sweet tooth, but enjoy a modicum of this divine filo delight, preferably served with an authentic cardamom-infused Turkish coffee.

But cardamom with shortbread?  Oh yes, this turns my experience of this Scottish stalwart on its head.  I must admit, I veer away from some traditional recipes and I have never made shortbread. I remember helping my mum make it,  pressing the playdough-like sweet buttery mix into a wooden mould depicting a thistle, but I was never excited by its buttery decadence.  I was deterred further by the fact that traditionally, some recipes call for the inexplicable inclusion of fine semolina which is supposed to add a grainy, crumbly texture and is, in my opinion, a spoiler.

So, much as the pistachio and cardamom encouraged this shortbread virgin to give it a try, so did the inclusion of ground rice, to my mind much more refined and a superior choice than semolina.

The recipe suggests crushing the contents of 8 cardamom pods.  I wanted to know how much ground cardamom this equated to, as I also have ground cardamom in the store cupboard.  You can buy it online from the Ottolenghi store, but I also found it in our local North Uist independent shop at Bayhead.  They keep a surprisingly extensive range of herbs and spices. The cardamom I ground from the whole pods was, unsurprisingly, much more intense than the ground I had in store and amounted to about half a teaspoon, although I would add more if using pre-ground.

While making this recipe using the Kenwood Chef I inherited from my grandmother (a 1960’s model, I think), I was surprised to find how much icing sugar appeared to be puffing up out of the bowl.  Then came a whiff of electrical burning and I realised the motor on the old Chef had expired.  I thought of all the clootie dumplings my grandmother had made with it and I had killed it with my first batch of unconventional shortbread.  I can imagine what she would have said.  She was a bit scary.

Oh well, looks like I will need that new KitchenAid after all, but it will have to get in the queue behind the new washing machine, which broke the same day as I broke the Chef, helpfully spewing it’s soapy contents over my feet as I absent-mindedly opened the door.

I know shortbread is decadent with butter quantities that could reduce the European butter mountain, but a nice treat once in a while…enough of the pre-amble, although, one final warning.  Most of Yotam’s recipes appear to use every bowl in the kitchen, except this shortbread (see next recipe as an illustration). Here is the recipe:

Pre-heat the oven to 150oC

Ingredients

8 cardamom pods, split and contents ground in a pestle and mortar

200g unsalted butter

25g ground rice

240g plain flour

1/2 tsp salt

35g icing sugar

60g shelled pistachio nuts

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 tblsp sugar, vanilla flavoured, if available

Method

Crush the cardamom in a pestle and mortar.

Use an electric mixer (if you have one)  to turn the butter, ground rice, flour, salt cardamom and icing sugar to a paste. It’s a bit of a battle without the mixer, but achievable using a wooden spoon or scraper.

Take the dough, dust with a bit of flour and roll into a log 3-4 cm in diameter.  Wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for an hour or so.

Chop the nuts reasonably finely, brush the log with beaten egg and roll in the chopped pistachios.  The dough is quite forgiving, so don’t be afraid to apply a bit of pressure to get a good coating.

Wrap and put the log back in the fridge for at least 30 minutes ( I forgot about it, but a couple of hours did it no harm).

Unwrap and cut the log into slices about 5 mm thick.  I experimented with the thickness, but found 5mm to be just right, 1cm too thick.

Put on a baking sheet lined with parchment, each about 2cm apart, sprinkle with sugar and bake.

Recipe suggests 20 minutes, mine needed about 28, but you have to know your oven and watch them as they shouldn’t be more than pale golden.

The dough can be stored in the freezer if you want to make smaller batches.  I got 23 biscuits out of the full recipe.

Pistachio shortbread – Does what it says on the tin – wonderfully short and aromatic.

Pear and Amaretto Crumble

Oven temperature: 170oC

150g apple (peeled weight) cut into 1.5 cm dice

150g pear (peeled weight) cut in the same way

30g toasted walnuts, roughly chopped

grated zest of a lemon

2 tblsp Amaretto

210g plain flour

3/4 tblsp baking powder

3/4 tblsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cloves

45g ground almonds

3 eggs

180ml sunflower oil

230g caster sugar

1/3 tsp salt

120g crumble mix (see recipe below)

Method

Grease you loaf tin/s with butter and line with parchment.

Mix apple and pear with walnuts, lemon zest, and Amaretto. In another bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and cloves. Add the ground almonds.

Separate 2 of the eggs, keep the whites separate while mixing the yolks with the third egg.  Beat together the oil and sugar in yet another bowl for one minute.

Slowly add the yolk and egg mix, then add the sifted dry ingredients followed by the fruit.  Mix until just incorporated.

Whisk the egg whites with the salt to form stiff peaks (using yet another bowl – that’s 4 so far!) and fold gently into the cake mix. Put the mix in the cake tin and sprinkle liberally with the crumble.

Bake for 45 mins to an hour, or until a skewer comes out clean when pushed into the middle of the cake.  If it gets a bit brown on top, stick some foil over it until it is ready.

Crumble recipe

300g plain flour

100g caster sugar

200g cold unsalted butter cut into small cubes

Method

Thankfully, no need for another bowl. Fling the mix into a food processor and pulse until it forms a breadcrumb consistency, or mix using your hands. If you use a processor, make sure it just turns to breadcrumbs and no more, or you will have cookie dough.

Put the excess in the freezer to use another time.

Pear and Amaretto crumble cake courtesy of Ottolenghi. Light and decadent.