Category Archives: middle eastern food

One for midweek..Moroccan lamb and spinach balls with harissa tomato sauce (couscous and minty yogurt)

Sometimes my decision-making skills seem distinctly lacking. There are times when I endlessly dither over the tiniest details, instead of going with my instincts, until I drive myself (and others mad) with my inability to make up my mind. I know it’s an infuriating trait and its so stupid when I can make monumental life changing decisions, big business choices,  but can’t decide if I want meatballs for dinner or something with some Moroccan spice.

I hope for divine inspiration, umm and ah for a while, running ideas by the boy who seems impressed and so we eventually come up with Moroccan spiced meatballs. Throw in some fresh spinach (which I have in good supply now my local veg box is running again) and there. How easy was that?

A family feast ...Moroccan lamb and spinach balls, couscous and minty yogurt

A family feast …Moroccan lamb and spinach balls, couscous and minty yogurt

Moroccan lamb and spinach balls, harissa tomato sauce (couscous and yogurt with mint): recipe for up to four (although Aidan and I were very hungry after our Sunday run so ate three-quarters of them!)

For the meatballs:

500g lamb mince

100g finely chopped spinach

clove garlic finely minced

2 teaspoons ras al hanout

1 teaspoon cumin

1 egg beaten

zest of 1 lemon

salt and pepper

1 tablespoon oil to fry

For the sauce:

small red onion finely chopped

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

1 teaspoon harissa

150ml chicken stock

one dessertspoonful sun-dried tomato paste

salt/ pepper and a pinch of sugar if the sauce seems a bit tart (tinned tomatoes are often quite acidic)

**

Mix the lamb, spinach, spices, garlic, seasonings, lemon zest and egg in a large bowl. Use your hands to knead it all together so the spices are completely distributed. Form into bite size balls.

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Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the lamb balls and fry over a medium heat until nicely brown all over. Remove and keep to one side. Add a little more olive oil if necessary (you will probably find that enough oil remains) and turn the heat down a bit. Add the onion and garlic and sweat gently for about five to ten minutes. Add the tomatoes, harissa, tomato paste and stock and turn the heat up again. Bring to a gentle simmer and return the balls to the pan cooking gently for about 25 minutes, or until the sauce has cooked down and thickened. Check the seasoning adding salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar if the tomatoes are a bit acidic.

Serve with couscous (try Yotam Ottolenghi’s Green Couscous from his book Plenty it’s an absolute favourite…or make a variation as I did below..

Serves 4

150g couscous
160ml vegetable stock
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
sml tsp ground cumin
3 spring onions, finely sliced
30g rocket, chopped

juice of half a lemon
handful of coriander finely chopped

Place the couscous in a large shallow dish and cover with the stock. Cover the dish with cling film and leave for 10 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, fry the onion in olive oil on a medium heat until golden and completely soft. Add the salt and cumin, and mix well leaving to fry for a minute. Stir onion mixture into the couscous, fluffing up the grains with a fork as you go. Add the remaining ingredients mixing together well.

To finish mix a handful of finely chopped mint into a small bowl of Rachel’s low-fat natural yogurt with a pinch of sea salt.

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Food Bloggers Connect…a weekend to talk, listen, meet and eat

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Ren Behan’s pop-up Polish

I don’t often get the opportunity to meet fellow food bloggers. They are something of a rare breed here in North Wales so I was very excited about my trip to London for the Food Bloggers Connect conference.

I do little networking with food bloggers outside of Wales so it was this, and the invite to speak, that were my main motivations for attending. Usually I am the first to introduce myself, strike up conversations and generally get chatting but I felt strangely shy. It didn’t help that I’d been suffering from a stomach bug earlier in the week and hadn’t totally recovered, that humidity levels were through the roof, the heat was almost unbearable and my hay fever terrible. I felt lethargic, out of breath and generally out of sorts. Consequently I was extremely lazy with my photography, I ran out of business cards on the first day and it was all I could do to hold a conversation.

A missed opportunity? Definitely not. I made the very most of what was an enjoyable and valuable weekend. I strongly believe that every experience in life is a chance to learn and grow, and I listened to some wonderful speakers who inspired me. I picked up tips, met some fantastic people and if I had been in the mood for eating would have stuffed myself silly. I gave it a good go anyway.

It was great listening to David Lebovitz talk about how he started his blog back in the 90’s. He made his name with his genuine, warts and all approach. He focuses on his successes and failures in equal measure, keeps it real, personal and writes from the heart; something that I empathise with. I tried to have a chat with him after the session but ended up feeling like an irritating groupie among all the others wanting to talk to him, so gave up and let the man move on.

It was also great finally getting to meet Niamh Shields. Her blog has long been an inspiration to me. Like David she keeps it real. Her Eat Like A Girl blog is down to earth and funny, and so is she in the flesh. With her southern Irish accent and dry sharp wit it was like being among my family down in Cork, I felt at home with her. Sadly, I only got a brief opportunity to talk to her; mostly about Cork, random tweets and a love for Canada. She wooed me with the divine maple syrup brought back from her travels, then nearly killed me with a shot of pear au de vie. Her talk about travelling Canada was frank and funny, with lovely images to match. It  made me want to go back and see more.

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Niamh with her lethal pear au de vie

I listened avidly to the Food Cycle talk from Kelvin Cheung and Aine Morris from the Sustainable Food Trust. Later speaking to both about my attempts to cook and live in a sustainable way, and my own adventures in ‘Freeganism’. Further conversations with other bloggers led to an interesting meeting of minds; talk of local produce, growing our own and hatred of supermarkets plus a nice glass of cold Prosecco perked me up at the end of a long hot day.

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Kelvin Cheung talking food poverty

Saturday morning started with a talk by Penny De Los Santos. Penny is one of the most inspiring food photographers I have ever seen. Her pictures are expressive, vibrant stories of food, culture and for me verge on being works of art with their vivid colours, honesty and ability to make me salivate just by looking at them.  Her pictures are most often seen in The National Geographic and Saveur magazine and she has won many awards. It’s easy to see why. These are pictures I would love to take. Again I tried to strike up a conversation but felt like a blustering groupie so left it at a compliment at how much I love her photography.

Next up was MsMarmiteLover (Kerstin Rogers) who’d been booked to talk about monetisation and launching a food career. I guess it was inevitable she would include running a supper club, although she almost sailed through much of my talk. Kerstin gave me advice when I set up my supper club back in 2009 and I have remained in contact with her since, working with her on Global Feast event in London last year. She is funny, outrageous, enthusiastic and her frank, ‘don’t give a toss’ attitude has won friends, enemies and admirers (probably in equal numbers). Whatever you think of her she is a great raconteur and good to listen to.

By the time I stood up to do my talk I was feeling pretty exhausted. It was almost quarter to six, I had stomach ache and although the heat had started to subside I felt quite drained. Then the computer network started playing up making my presentation unplayable. I began to think it would all be a disaster. Then somehow it all came together; the adrenalin of talking to a group of people kicked in and suddenly I was up there telling my story. I can’t remember much of what I said, but it all went well in the end.

There were other presentations that I liked too. Aoife Cox of The Daily Spud, Ren Behan and Emily Jonzen with her shocking stories of food styling (I will never look at a roast turkey on a TV advert in the same way again….that’s all I’m saying, but you other bloggers that listened to her talk will know what I mean).

By Sunday I was done in. Plus my prodigal teen called with tales of woe and stolen purses from Glastonbury (where she’d been working) and needed rescuing from Paddington station on Sunday morning so I missed Regula Ysewijn from Miss Foodwise (who I really wanted to listen to).

I also met some wonderful people with whom I had some great conversations. Karen Burns-Booth from Lavender and Lovage , Jane Sarchet from The Hedge Combers and Louisa Foti from Chez Foti were among that first ‘meeting of minds’ group that chatted after the Food Cycle and Sustainable Food Trust talks, Regula with whom I talked British food history (anyone remember Gypsy tart?) and Rachel Brady from Well Worn whisk who became my partner in crime on day two…sneaking off like two naughty school girls for a fag behind the bike sheds and talking about how hard it is to juggle kids, family and food blogging. We definitely clicked and it will be nice to meet up again on her turf or mine.

As for the food…my highlights were Bethany Kehdy’s table of Persian, Moroccan and Middle Eastern delights. ‘Please come and join me for my book launch after this…I’ve been cooking for it for two weeks!’ she implored us. How could I resist when I adore middle eastern food.  Bethany is the author of Dirty Kitchen Secrets and her first book The Jewelled Kitchen is out. I will have to get a copy, which I should have done on Saturday evening, but what with one thing and another I just wanted to collapse in a heap. I did try the food and I only wish I could have eaten more. I loved the tiny pastries, but anything else was beyond my stomach at that point. It was so bad I couldn’t even manage a glass of wine!

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Delicious food from The Jewelled Kitchen

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More delights from The Jewelled Kitchen…beautiful, light nests…I didn’t manage to try one so can’t remember what they were topped with

On Friday Ren Behan’s Polish pop-up had me drooling over beautiful light plum-cake and traditional polish stews and canapes, while in-between we snacked on Pig a Chic skewers, Chobani yogurt and fruit, Luchito with cheese, salami and crackers. I took home some of their wonderful chilli paste.

On the last day I took home a goodie bag so heavily laden I could barely lift it. Predictably the beer, chocolate and drinks disappeared quickly. Dove chocolate was a hit with the teen and the amiano choco Bella fair trade chocolate spread has been well used; I particularly liked the sundried tomato puree from the Olive Branch Greek Mezze range which has been liberally added to all kinds of dishes.

I leave you with a few pictures….not as good as I would have liked due to my tardiness on both days, but a small taster of a great weekend.

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Ren Behan again…with delicious plum cake

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Pig a Chic working hard to feed everyone

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delicious cheese from La Fromagerie….I love that shop!

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Giant cookies

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Luchito stall with lots of toppings and wonderful chilli paste…their chilli honey was delicious

 

 

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Recipe: My version of Moro’s chocolate and apricot tart

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This recipe was inspired by my recent trip to Moro. No hold on a sec, that’s not entirely honest; inspired isn’t really the right word. Perhaps spurred on is more accurate, or maybe challenged…anyway, let me elaborate.

While I was in London I celebrated my birthday with dinner at said restaurant. As it was my birthday I was strictly banned from

a/ making notes

b/ taking pictures

My family hate me photographing their food or ‘working’ while socializing with them. The teen even exclaimed once that she wanted to ‘copyright’ her dinner so I didn’t photograph it. So this said I have no photographs of Moro, but I have a lot of good memories of the tastes, textures and combinations of flavours served to me on the night. The food was truly delicious and well worth the trip up to Exmouth market, but there was one thing that sadly failed to hit the spot; their chocolate and apricot tart.

Now I’ve read a few reviews and people have raved about it, but none of the four of us were convinced….in fact none of us even liked it! There was barely a hint of apricot and the chocolate was so dark and strong it was overpowering. It simply lacked any depth to the flavours.

I came home and thought about it a bit, strangely unsettled that something using chocolate didn’t work! So I decided to experiment a bit.

The Moro tart uses an apricot paste called amradeen, widely available in Lebanese shops, but not here in North Wales so I substituted it for organic dark apricots, doubling the measure for a stronger richer taste.

To the chocolate mixture I also added 2 tablespoons double cream, which I think lightened and balanced the flavours….More apologies for the shoddy pictures. I now have a new camera so I’m hoping my images will be a tad better from now on (hooray!!)

Sweet pastry:

140g plain flour
30g icing sugar
75g butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk

Apricot paste:

180g amradeen or 400g organic apricots

6 tablespoons of water

juice of one small lemon

Chocolate:

One bar of Divine or other good quality chocolate (about 100g, but no more than 150g) at least 70% cocoa

2 eggs yolks

100g unsalted butter

60g caster sugar

2 tablespoons double cream

Sift together the flour and icing sugar and rub in the butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and a drop of icy cold water and bring together until it forma a ball. Wrap in cling film and allow it to rest in the fridge for about half an hour. Roll out to fit an eight inch tart tin, prick the bottom lightly and line with baking paper. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes at 200 degrees, gas mark….after 10 mins remove the baking paper and cook for another 5 minutes until the base is ‘set’…i.e. firm but not turning brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Chop the apricots roughly and put in a pan with the water and lemon juice. Simmer for about five minutes or so then turn off the heat and allow to plump up and soften. Tip the lot into a blender and puree until smooth.  Spread the paste on the cool tart shell and leave to set for 10 mins or so while you prepare the chocolate mixture.

Combine the chocolate and butter in a heat proof bowl and either melt in the bottom of the warm oven or if you want to do it the ‘conventional’ way make a bain marie by putting the bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water. While it’s melting, whisk the eggs and sugar together until light, and then fold into the slightly cooled chocolate mixture along with the double cream. Spoon over the apricot tart, and bake in the oven for 25 mins, at 180 degrees. Remove from the oven while it still has a slight wobble to it, it will finish setting as it stands and cools.

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Serve with whipped cream, or creme fraiche

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Recipe…i’ve finally cracked it! Perfect falafel

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I love Middle Eastern food and one of my most frequently made staple snacks (mostly because the kids love it to) is falafel.

Falafel originated in Egypt and is another one of those recipes that varies wildly, although like many does have some basic principles.

Many seem to use broad beans although I prefer to make them with just chick peas.  In Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s book Jerusalem (Ebury) they recommend using only one clove of garlic..while other recipes use up to six! During wild garlic season I use a handful of this instead, but otherwise I would use about 3-4. I like a good hit, but not so I OD on it.

Cumin is the standard spice in most recipes and I don’t differ in that respect. A good teaspoon or two is enough for me along with a handful of fresh flat leaf parsley and a handful of coriander.

Some recipes use onion or spring onion but I like to use a small red onion…its sweeter and varies the flavour.

The mixture should be roughly blitzed in a food processor. A good sturdy model is essential. In the past my attempts to make perfect falafel with a small domestic food processor proved futile.  My all singing all dancing Magimix 5200XL is the best machine I have ever used for the job…no amount of chickpeas can daunt it!

Once ingredients have been blitzed I, like Ottolenghi and Tamimi, add a teaspoon baking powder and a spoon full of flour and leave it to rest in the fridge (I have to say I don’t always leave the mix for an hour though).I roll the balls in sesame seeds which give a nice finish and lovely crunchy texture when deep-fried.

The Perfect Falafel Recipe

Ingredients
500g chickpeas, soaked overnight with half a teaspoon bicarb of soda

3-4  garlic cloves, crushed or a handful of wild garlic leaves

a small red onion, chopped finely

a handful of fresh coriander leaves, chopped

a handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped finely

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt

a sprinkle of paprika

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tbsp plain flour

sesame seeds for rolling the balls in

vegetable oil for deep-frying

Combine the drained chickpeas with the garlic, onion, parsley and coriander leaves. Blitz in a food processor until roughly chopped.The mixture should not be a puree, but should retain texture.  Add your spices, baking powder, flour, salt and about four tablespoons of water. Leave to rest in the fridge for up to an hour.

Either heat up a deep fat fryer (which is safest) or half fill a large heavy-based saucepan with vegetable or sunflower oil.

Form the falafel mixture into small golf ball sized portions and roll in sesame seeds. When the oil is hot drop in falafel carefully.

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Don’t overload the pan/fryer…cook about 5 or 6 at a time then when golden remove and drain on paper towels.

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Something for the weekend?…Lamb Merguez stew for the boys

Sorry to have abandoned you all for a couple of weeks, life has been pretty busy on the cooking and teaching front, which of course is very good, but sadly it leaves less time for writing and blogging. Over the past three weeks I have taught year 10’s doing GCSE home economics how to make pizza from scratch and Danish Pastry; I’ve trained with Dynamo role models and cooked for talented local musicians performing at  Cho Coppock Whittle’s benefit gig (raising money for leukemia research). More on that in a subsequent post.

This week was just as busy as I’d been booked as a private chef by Outreach Rescue to cook for one of their groups for four days, to help out their resident chef Chris. Based in a lovely holiday cottage (Yr Hen Weithdy) in the village of Llanllechid I cooked a three course evening meal for nine fit fireman / search and rescue chaps!…I know, it’s a hard life this catering lark…but someones gotta do it!!

View from one of the windows

Good hearty home cooking was the order of the day as these guys were out on the chilly Menai Straights training from early in the morning. The weather was sunny, but bitingly cold so I opted to make them hot soup, cheesy frittata, spinach and ricotta crepes, which made great starters; followed by big, slow cooked one pot stews and finally hefty man-size portions of cake. Cooking once again on a four ring electric oven (all my ‘Green Man’ demons came back to haunt me!!) where cakes burn in seconds, pots never boil and everything sticks to the bottom, was the only down side.

As the week progressed there were lots of questions…”how did you make that chocolate cake so light”? “What did you do to that meat to make it so tender”?…and comments “I never thought I liked couscous til last night”….”nice baps” and plenty of wind-ups and mickey taking…”yes, it was very average”, “you’re not using a recipe book are you? That’s cheating”!Plus the inevitable…”Britain’s Best Dish…where’s the trifle then?”

I ended up feeling like the wife of nine…especially when one called “Hi darling, I’m home!” as he walked in the door one evening.

Everyone had their favourite dishes, but the undisputed hit of the week was the lamb Merguez stew which I cooked for them on Tuesday. I think it was Si that said “do you give out your recipes?” and I told him I’d just made it up…but here, just for the boys, is the recipe (as I remember it. Sorry if it’s not exactly the same…I didn’t write what I put in and I was too busy to take any pictures!)….

Lamb Merguez stew to feed nine hungry firemen:

2-3 lamb Merguez sausages per person (I got mine at Williams & Sons butchers in Bangor or Johnny 6 as most people know them) cut in half.

2 large red onions diced finely

3 cloves garlic crushed or finely chopped

thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and grated

2 to 3 medium carrots chopped into batons

couple of potatoes, small egg-plant and a medium courgette cut into chunks

large teaspoon turmeric

large teaspoon cumin

large teaspoon paprika

level dessertspoonful Ras al Hanout

a small teaspoon harissa (depending how hot you like it)

1 small stick cinnamon

1 bay leaf

1 tin chopped tomatoes

olive oil

1 tin cannellini beans

plain flour

1 litre (or so) chicken stock

salt and pepper

fresh coriander

Heat olive oil in a large pan and add onion. Cook gently for 5 minutes until beginning to soften then add carrot, garlic, ginger, potato, eggplant and courgette. Stir in the pan and coat with oil and allow to cook gently for another five to ten minutes without colouring. Add spices and a tablespoon plain flour and stir so everything is well coated and the spices begin to release their aroma. Stir in the tin of tomatoes and stock and bring to a gentle simmer. If it looks too thick add some more water or stock. In a separate frying pan heat a little more oil and add sausages to brown. They only need browning so don’t worry about cooking them all the way through. You may need to do this in two batches. When browned add to the gently simmering stew along with the tin of drained beans and continue to cook slowly for a good half an hour although you can leave this really gently simmering for longer.

If the sauce is too thin you can bubble it a little more vigorously (unless you have an electric cooker like me as it will probably stick to the bottom of the pan!!). Season with salt and pepper to taste and a couple of handfuls of chopped fresh coriander. Serve with a lovely lemony, herby couscous.

I have to finish by saying a big thank you to the nine gorgeous guys that left me speechless with their pressies of flowers, chocolates, wine…oh yes and a book!

Cheeky buggers!!! 😉

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Filed under baking, Butchers, event catering, home cooking, local produce, middle eastern food, private catering, Recipes, Sources and suppliers

Bringing the Middle East to North Wales

Merguez is a type of sausage made of lamb (or beef) that forms part of a North African or Middle Eastern diet. Flavoured with a mixture of spices including garlic, ginger, fennel, sumac, coriander, cumin, turmeric its highly aromatic and slightly spicy with added harissa or cayenne.

Anyone walking past the butchers on Wednesday probably caught a whiff of spices roasting in preparation for our next lot of sausages, lamb Merguez. The chorizo sold out in a day (but never fear if you missed out, they are making more as I write) and we wondered how long it would take these to go.

All at the butchers looked on slightly bemused as I hand ground (my spice grinder blew up that morning!) the roasted spices and their scent filled the air with what Paul described as

“memories of turkey”

Johnathan was less convinced. Not being a fan of spiced food he said to me

“are we putting ALL of that stuff in?”

“yep” I replied and he shook his head.

Once all the spices were ground to a powder and we had our Merguez spice base, we minced the lamb and mixed it with garlic and ginger, sumac, tomato and harissa…finally we added the spice powder sprinkling in enough water to produce a good mix.

After working the mixture well by hand we fried off a couple of small patties to check the flavours. Not enough heat was the verdict, although everyone liked the flavour (except Johnathan…he still didn’t look convinced). We added more harissa which added a little heat but accentuated the spices already in the meat.

Soaked sheep casings were filled with the spiced meat mixture and twisted into sausages. Unlike the chorizo they didn’t have to hang for a week; they were simply left overnight (to let the flavours develop) and then moved to the shop ready to sell. I brought a small bag of the leftover meat home with me to try out. It made fantastic burgers.

I cooked my little burgers on a griddle pan and served them with a simple couscous dish (the traditional thing to serve Merguez with), a dressed green salad and some grated cucumber mixed with natural yogurt.

Couscous:

I’m not a very accurate cook and usually just put a few good handfuls..or what I think is enough for the family. Maybe between 250 and 300g tipped into a large bowl. Cover with enough boiling vegetable stock to cover. Put a tea towel over the top and allow to stand for 10 minutes or so.

Taste a few grains after 10 minutes to check they are soft and tender. If they are fluff the rest of the grains with a fork, if not add a little more hot water and cover for another 5 minutes…but be careful not to add too much otherwise it will become too wet.

Stir in a couple of handfuls of raisins, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, some fresh coriander or parsley, the juice of a lemon and some toasted pine nuts. Check seasoning.

Green salad dressing:

3 tablespoons olive oil or rapeseed oil

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

1 teaspoon course grain English mustard

seasoning

Shake this all together in a sealed jar and pour over the salad. Toss well.

 

 

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A late middle eastern summer lunch….and a dessert of spiced poached pears & blackcurrant friande.

When supper club fans Antonia and Gail asked me to run a middle eastern/Ottolenghi inspired cookery session for their friend Liz’s birthday, the one thing they couldn’t predict was the weather. As we approached the end of September in Wales it appeared winter was well on its way, it was becoming rather damp and grim, but just when I’d pulled out those chunky jumpers from the back of my wardrobe, it all changed.

We couldn’t have asked for a more glorious day to cook and what better way to celebrate the beautiful middle eastern/mediterranean theme than lunch served on the sun-baked patio.

I rolled up and took over Antonia’s kitchen at about 9.30 unpacking two crates of equipment, fresh local veg and a plethora of exotic spices commonly used by Ottolenghi in his book Plenty. Z’atar, sumac, nigella seeds, cumin, black sesame, white sesame, smoked paprika, star anise, in their packages lay scattered across the table for my four ‘pupils’ to sniff as we discussed their common uses.

As part of the package I provided printed notes/recipes and working around Antonia’s island we shared the making and preparing of four different salads; a butterbean and rosemary hummus (which has now become my hummus of choice) and carrot and beetroot slaw with nigella and sesame seeds, courtesy of Ellie and Rosie at salad club and a Farro and roasted pepper salad and a green couscous from Ottolenghi’s book Plenty, plus his savoury tart tatin. We then made some simple flat bread and a spiced poached pear, blackcurrant friande with amaretto cream all of my own for pudding.

assembling the tatin watched by my 'pupils'!

hands on....removing the charred skin of grilled peppers for the farro salad

Gail enjoying the smell of rosemary, garlic and lemon emanating from the food processor as we made the hummus

Each lady took responsibility for preparing a salad while I tried not to take over, did a lot of washing up and tried to impart some tricks of the trade. I encouraged everyone to taste as we went along commenting on seasoning and flavourings (does it need anything else? Was my frequent question) something that we often forget to do but is very important. The only demo’s I really did were making a caramel for the top of the tatin and its construction and the sponge for the friande.

friandes coming out of the oven

It was a really communal day with a great sense of achievement at the end. Everything worked beautifully; the salads looked fantastic served Ottolenghi style on a big platter, the colours stunning in the lunchtime sun. The breads were beautifully speckled and the tatin sweet and rich. Pudding was sublime!

the table set for lunch in Antonia's garden

The lunch guests arrived to whom the ladies showed off their fantastic creations and Antonia laid the table in the garden. They wanted me to stay for lunch and of course I wasn’t about to refuse…if only could have drunk more wine, but just as we finished it was time for me to nip round the corner to pick Aidan up from school and head off home in the car.

dinner guests arriving

I’m hoping the ladies will have learned a few tips for making quick, easy and striking middle eastern feasts. First; be brave about experimenting with strange ingredients or combinations of spices and then don’t hold back with those spices and seasonings and second, most dishes (even if they seem off-putting because they have lots of ingredients) are actually quite straight forward and totally worth the effort. Personally I am taking notes for the future on how to lead a decadent retirement!!


For the poached pears I used:

800g sugar

400ml water

400ml red wine

Cinnamon stick, star anise, vanilla pod and a couple of sprigs of thyme

8 pears

Place the sugar, water, wine and spices in a pan. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for 5 minutes. Peel the pears leaving the stalks on and place in the prepared syrup. Cover and simmer gently for 20 to 30 minutes until translucent (or pierced easily by a sharp knife or skewer).

Remove from the syrup and place in a serving dish. Boil the syrup hard until reduced by half and syrupy. Spoon over the pears which can be served hot or cold with cream.

The Friande is a light almondy sponge. For mine I used:

200g icing sugar

50g plain flour, plus extra for dusting

130g ground almonds

6 x egg whites

Zest of 2 lemons

2 tsp vanilla essence

170g salted butter, plus extra for greasing

3 tbsp black currants or other berries.

For the Amaretto cream: 250ml double cream, 20g icing sugar, 20ml Amaretto

Preheat the oven to 200C / gas mark 6.

Grease eight moulds and dust with flour. Melt the butter.

Sift the icing sugar and flour into a bowl and stir in the almonds.

Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks then gently fold them into the dry ingredients with a metal spoon and a really light hand. Be careful not to over mix as the air will be lost and the sponges will flop!

Add the lemon zest and fold in the melted butter and vanilla essence, still stirring as lightly as possible. Finally, fold in the fruit.

Fill the prepared moulds and place the friandes in the oven for around 20 minutes until light, well risen and firm when pressed on top with a finger.

To make the Amaretto cream:

Whip the cream with the icing sugar until quite firm then fold in the amaretto. Keep in the fridge until ready to serve so it’s almost like serving ice cream.

Pudding!!

Totally sinful, but undeniably blissful!

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