Tag Archives: recipes

What does ‘spicy’ mean to you…?

This weekend I spent Saturday at the BBC Good Food Show manning the stand of my lovely friend Sanjay (Sanjay and I bottom right, above) and his even lovelier business Spice Kitchen UK, along with Sanjay himself and his lovely Mum, aka Mamma Spice…

Above: Sanjay and his Mum, and examples of their beautiful spice tins covered with beautiful wraps made from saris, handmade by Mamma Spice.

What a great way to spend a day, surrounded by such beautiful products, supporting lovely people and talking about spices. It made me realise just how much I know about spices, and food history, and ways to use spices, and the various spice mixes, it was a revelation to myself if no one else!

It also made me realise that the people I was talking to seemed to fall into 3 groups:

Those who love spices, and are comfortable and confident using them, and loved finding spices available of such great quality;

Those who are venturing into the world of spice and would like to learn how to use spices more in their cooking*;

And those who totally disregard spices and tell you that ‘they don’t like spicy food’.

And it’s this word ‘spicy’ that made me want to write this post.

When I talked more to this group of people, if they stopped long enough to chat, what I discovered is that most of them viewed ‘spicy’ food as hot, as in chilli hot. They’re experience has often only been hot curry and they haven’t been impressed and have therefore written off ‘spicy’ food as a result.

To me, food cooked with spices is full of flavour and aroma and warmth and layers. The decision to add chilli remains with the cook, although using spices is not a prerequisite for including chilli. I often use collections of slices in dishes where no chilli is included.

One lady told me specifically, and quite disdainfully, that she didn’t like spicy food and didn’t use spices, but her son did and she bought him a spice tin as a gift. Before she walked away, I couldn’t help myself and asked her if she makes Christmas cake; she answered that she does. So I asked if she puts spices in it; and she answered that she does, listing cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. And so, I said….you DO cook with spices 🙂

So, what does spicy food mean to you? Is it a description that has become synonymous with chilli hot food? Is a better description for food full of flavour developed from spices, but not chilli, ‘spiced’ food? What do you think?

*By the way, to those people who want to know more about cooking with spices, I highly suggest that you take time to read recipes and see how cooks and chefs put spices together. I would cook exactly to recipes for a while whilst building your confidence, then start ditching the measuring spoon and going with your gut. And remember that there is no right or wrong here, just degrees of flavour.

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Wild garlic flower oat cakes…

I fancied some oat cakes recently, I have no idea why, I haven’t had an oat cake for years, but sometimes something just takes your fancy doesn’t it?

So I decided to look up some recipes and see how to make them myself. There’s many recipes if you search for them, all with their slight variations; I read a few, got the basic idea, and devised my own plan.

I have continued foraging for wild garlic this week, in particular for the flowers; the plants are now flowering like mad and I think they’re so very pretty, as well as being tasty. I’ve collected them to use raw in and over dishes, and I’ve dried some in the oven for other experiments, so when I was pondering oat cakes, wild garlic was still very much on my mind.

For the first batch I made, above and below, I added crumbled, dried wild garlic flowers to the oat dough, as well as pressing dried flowers into some of them.

In the second batch, below, I added some dried and crumbled wild garlic leaves and added some non dried flowers instead to see how they would fare..

I also made a version with added sesame and pumpkins seeds, which worked well too, just not as pretty 😉

So whether you fancy some plain or pimped, here’s the recipe I used:

Ingredients

200g oats (I’ve used thick Scottish oats)

1/2 – 1 tsp salt to taste

50ml olive/rapeseed oil

A few tablespoons of boiling water

Method

Preheat your oven to 160C fan, 180C.

Line 1 large or 2 medium baking trays with baking parchment.

Put 100g of the oats into a mixing bowl, and the other 100g into a blender and run it to make a fine oat flour.

Add the oat flour & salt to the whole oats and add any extra ingredients that you want to add: a handful of seeds, some herbs, spices, chopped nuts…the possibilities are endless.

Drizzle over the oil.

Add 2-3 tablespoons of hot water and start to mix it all into a dough, add extra water as necessary to bring it into a usable dough.

Generously flour your work surface and roll the dough out to about 3mm thick.

*This is the point at which I pressed the flowers into the oat cakes.

Cut out the oat cakes with cookie cutters, I used 6cm and 8cm diameter ones.

Use a palette knife or fish slice to lift the cut rounds onto the parchment paper.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, turning once halfway through.

*The time required to bake them may change depending on how much water you’ve added and what additional ingredients you’ve included.

Assess the oat cakes yourself to ensure they are as cooked and crunchy as you want them to be.

Allow them to cool to harden further.

Enjoy them on their own or adorned with whatever topping you like.

Store them in an airtight container. Mine softened after a couple of days but they were still good and the wild garlic flavour worked well.

My weekend brunch.

I hope you have fun with some oats cakes!

A week of wild garlic…

Every year, around this time, I see so many posts on blogs and Instagram of people sharing their wild garlic creations. And each year I’m so envious!!! I’ve tried wild garlic once, having paid a fortune for it at a local ‘posh’ greengrocers, and I know it’s lovely, but I’ve never found any locally to be able to forage for myself…until this week!

I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for weeks around where I walk Bob every morning; I know that wild garlic tends to grow in wooded areas, and where we walk isn’t wooded at all. Except for one small area, and this week, there it was! I finally found my own local supply of wild garlic…

In this small wooded area, running along a path we walk up and down regularly, is an area of bountiful, gorgeous wild garlic.

Oh the joy! I cannot tell you how excited I was!!! And by the look of it, no one knows it’s there, or maybe just doesn’t know what it is, which is even better 🙂

I immediately sent the photo above to Kellie, who is a wild garlic guru, to double check my find, but I was pretty sure I was right. I collected some there and then, using one of the nappy sacks I can for cleaning up after Bob, and returned the next couple of days with bigger bags and some gloves and foraged to my hearts content.

So, there’s been lots of careful washing and drying of leaves and stalks and flowers in my kitchen all week, the smell has been amazing, it’s got such a lovely smell, not as strong as bulb garlic, but you can tell what it is; and there’s been lots of concoctions, which I am sharing below. It honestly feels like such a gift from nature, and has made me smile all week; the pure simplicity of collecting, cooking and eating gorgeous fresh food direct form the earth is wonderful – I totally get those of your who grow your own food!

The leaves, stalks and flowers are all edible, and all have different strengths; the stalks have a stronger flavour than the leaves, and the flowers are stronger again, but none as strong as bulb garlic. You can eat them all raw or cooked. You can sauté the leaves like spinach, you chop it and add it to salad, the possibilities are endless. So here’s a few rough ideas to tempt you, apologies for the lack of quantities, I’ve just provided lists of ingredients and suggestions…

Chargrilled red pepper & WG harissa

Long red peppers, chargrilled, peeled and deseeded

Wild garlic leaves and stalks, washed and dried

Tabil spice mix (toasted cumin, coriander & caraway seeds, ground)

Pul biber flakes

Olive oil

Lemon juice

All in a blender and whizzed tougher.

WG & preserved lemon harissa

Wild garlic leaves and stalks, washed and dried

Spring onions, whites and greens roughly chopped

Half a preserved lemon, roughly chopped

Ground cumin & coriande

Pul biber flakes

Olive oil

Lemon juice

All in a blender and whizzed together, but not for too long, it’s nice rustic.

WG flower homous

Make your standard homous recipe but leave out the garlic, and add some carefully picked wild garlic flowers at the end, stirring them in by hand. Leave it a day before eating it for the flavour to develop.

WG cream cheese

Whizz up WG leaves and stalks, or just the stalks, or just the leaves, with your choice of cream cheese.

WG & pumpkin seed dairy free pesto

WG leaves and stalks chopped up with toasted pumpkin seeds, olive oil and lemon juice. Add your choice of cheese at will 🙂

WG & spring onion salsa verde

Wild garlic leaves and stems, washed and dried

Spring onions, whites and greens, roughly chopped

Homemade apple cider vinegar

Pomegranate molasses

Ground cumin & coriander

Pul biber chilli flakes

Olive oil

Chop all together in a blender to the consistency of your choice.

WG, tahini & yoghurt sauce

Blend WG leaves and stalks with tahini, yoghurt and lemon juice, and use at will like this, or add to other ingredients to create a dip, like below

Spiced carrot & WG, tahini & yoghurt dip

Carrots cooked in olive oil with red onion and garlic and my Moroccan spice mix, whizzed up with some of the tahini and yogurt sauce from above.

And to finish…

This was a mixture of some of the WG cream cheese mixed with the WG pesto, plus some boiled chunks of sweet potato and topped with wild garlic flowers.

I’ve also sautéd leaves with added spinach and quinoa, and eaten a fair amount of raw leaves in the process too!

I hope I didn’t lose you halfway down the page with all of my WG creations?! If you find some, I hope you enjoy it as much as I have 🙂

Buttermilk sourdough loaf…

This loaf came about from pure experiment because I had some lovely lively starter and wanted to do something different with it, plus I have always got various cartons of buttermilk to hand nowadays, and so this idea was born.

This recipe produced a lovely silky dough which baked into a crusty loaf with a wonderfully soft interior and a great flavour, and the smell was amazing! Due to the inclusion of plain all purpose flour the crumb is pillow soft rather than the usual chewy sourdough crumb, and the buttermilk only adds to that.

I made this loaf with a ‘sponge’ method…

The evening before you want to bake the loaf mix:

100g of very bubbly lively starter

284ml carton of buttermilk

150g of all purpose flour

Mix it all together really well, get it as smooth as you can, then cover it and leave it out on your kitchen counter overnight. (Top 2 photos below)

Next morning it should have grown and be spongelike. (Bottom 2 photos above – you can see how much it’s grown between the two sets of photos)

Now add:

300g strong white flour

1tsp salt

A splash or two of warm water

Mix it all together roughly, cover again and leave for an hour. (Top 2 photos below)After that hour, bring it into a dough, not too tight, not too sticky, performing some pulls and folds in the bowl to pull it into a smooth dough. (Bottom 2 photos show before and after pulls and folds)

Cover and leave on the counter again.

After a couple of hours you should already see this dough growing happily, the dough may even be starting to grow out of the bowl already; perform just enough pulls and folds to pull it into a ball with a smooth finish, don’t handle it too much.

Place the dough, smooth side down, into a well floured banneton.

Cover with a plastic bag or shower cap and place in the fridge to slow down the proving process and to increase the flavour. You should find that it keeps growing nicely over the next few hours, even in the fridge, as below. This was how the dough looked after only a few hours in the fridge. It grows very fast!

When you’re ready to bake, take the banneton from the fridge and leave the dough to warm up to room temperature whilst your oven warms up.

Heat the oven to 200C fan/230c non fan.

When the oven is ready, place a piece of baking parchment over the top of the banneton, then place the pan you are baking it in over the top and invert it all together to turn the dough out into the pan. You should have a lovely pale dough that holds a good shape.

Slash as you like, then put the lid on the pan and put it in the oven to bake for 50 minutes.

After 50 minutes carefully turn the loaf out onto a rack to cool. Allow the loaf to cool for at least an hour before slicing.

As you will see, the crumb is closer than a standard sourdough, which is perfect for making my son’s school sandwiches. In fact, the interior of the loaf was softer than any bread of any type I’ve ever baked. I’ll definitely be baking loaves like this again and again.

And I have now made 3 loaves the same way, this was the third one, and again, the interior is beautifully soft…

I’ve also made a loaf with whole milk this week, but I’ll share that next time…in the meantime, I’ll take my loaves to this week’s Fiesta Friday and wish you a happy weekend!

NOTE: please always keep in mind that flours differ around the world, yours may need more or less liquid than mine, just as your oven may behave differently from mine.

The foods of our past…

I have recently been reading a lot about English food history. It started with an interest in the Victorian era and has developed on from there, and I have now finished my second book about English food history from medieval times to modern day. I find it truly fascinating and I am reminded time and again that nothing is new; no recipe is ever 100% original: we may revise, remodel, recreate, we may update, rediscover old recipes, forgotten ingredients and lost methods, and we apply new methods, modern appliances and ideas, but nothing is ever truly brand new. Food’s been around for too long.

I am loving making these ‘new’ discoveries and learning about our food heritage, so I’d like to share a few fascinating facts in amongst my posts and I hope you enjoy them.

For example, as you know, I love Middle Eastern cuisine and in the UK the recent boom in interest in Middle Eastern cuisine may be responsible for introducing many people to having pomegranate seeds being strewn across salads and savoury dishes, above is an example of one of my past dishes doing just that, as opposed to merely eating them as fruit or in a sweet recipe; I had no idea that we actually grew pomegranates in the UK in medieval times. Likewise, Middle Eastern fare has also introduced many people to the delights of dried barberries, like below, and again, we grew barberries in the UK in medieval times and they were used widely in recipes.

Sweet potatoes have been riding a huge wave in recent years, we’ve baked them, made them into fries and wedges, they’ve been put into cakes and breads and desserts, slices have been toasted, anything that can be done to a potato has been, but the reality is that they’re not new. The methods are new, but not the potatoes. Sweet potatoes are actually the first potatoes that we ate in the UK in the late 1500’s, (and even then they were being cooked with spices and added sugar), white potatoes were introduced soon after but their full popularity didn’t catch on until the early years of the 17th century.

Almond flour, almond paste, almond milk, almond butter – so much the remit of healthy eating these days – again, nothing new here; in medieval times all of these were used widely in cooking, not for boosting health, but for ease. Almond flour was used widely to thicken sauces or in place of breadcrumbs; almond milk was a safer bet than some dairy milk, it also kept for longer, and was sometimes more easily accessible; likewise with almond butter, instead of dairy butter during a period when storing fresh foodstuffs for any period of time was impossible.

For this post, I’d like to focus a bit more on bread…anyone who knows me, or reads my blog, or follows me on Instagram, will know that I am an avid and regular sourdough baker so the ‘rise and fall’ of bread in our food history always interests me…

Bread has featured heavily in every era of British food history, in various forms, as with most cultures and their food histories. In England in medieval times, and for several centuries following, white bread was considered king. The best loaves were considered to be white ‘manchet’ loaves and would have been readily enjoyed by the gentry and aristocracy, and aspired to by those with less means. To achieve this though, bread was often being whitened by unscrupulous bakers for centuries, adding lime, chalk and particularly alum as a bleach. And as industrial knowledge grew and milling capabilities advanced, the wheat germ was being milled out of the grain to make it even whiter, but therefore vastly reducing the breads nutritional value at a time when bread was a key staple of the nations diet.

Down the social scale, breads were often made up of a mix of wheats and grains, depending on what was available, and when their availability was limited, loaves could be boosted by pea powders. When wheat and grain harvests were very poor, whole loaves might be made from peas and beans, so whilst white bread was considered the height of sophistication, it lacked the nutrition, and I imagine flavour, that the bread that the poorer people were being given.

When you think of the rise of artisan bread makers we currently have, and the supposedly experimental breads that are being made with ancient grains, you realise again, that nothing is new. The mixed grain loaves that were considered as breads for the poor would now be considered the better choice by many – I know I’d happily choose a brown or mixed grain loaf over a straight white one. And the use of pea powders is very interesting – current interest for pea protein powders, and beans being used to bake cakes and breads seems so innovative, but they’re not. Which makes you realise just how creative cooks were all those hundreds of years ago.

What I also loved learning about, is the use of ‘trenchers’: these are basically bread plates.

Prior to the ceramic plates that we know today, our ancestors used pewter plates; before that, in Tudor times they used thin wooden boards to eat off…but before ALL of them, in Medieval times, people ate off bread trenchers. These were slices of bread cut especially to be used to eat off. Four-day-old coarse wholemeal bread was cut into 2-3 inch thick slices, about 6 inches wide, and diners placed their meat on the trencher. Alternatively, the trenchers could be hollowed out loaves, much like we sometimes see creative people using to serve soup nowadays.

In grander homes, if the trencher became saturated it was replaced with a new one and the sodden one was thrown to the dogs, or they were collected and given as alms to the poor. In poorer homes the diner ate the trencher as well as part of their meal.

Can you imagine how good that bread must have tasted with the juices of the food soaked into them?

Which is why this fascinates me in particular because in the Middle East if you eat in a Lebanese restaurant, for example, you will often be served your food choice sitting atop pieces of thin round Arabic bread. Only last week, my husband was served his chicken shish (kebab) sitting on a piece of lovely thin bread in our local Turkish restaurant. Throughout the Middle East, marinated meat dishes, lovely salads, even chips, will be served on top of a slice of khobez bread. This means that whatever juices, flavours, dressings and/or oils are on/in the food, soak down into the bread and that piece of bread ends up tasting AMAZING and often the best bit of the meal! Just like bruschetta covered in tomatoes roasted in garlic & olive oil, or a slice of sourdough with runny egg oozing into the holes….hmmmmmm….so good! Is there anything that isn’t good on a slice of bread?

I guess that’s what pizza basically is after all…

So, with this in mind, next time you serve up a salad, maybe tabbouleh, or fattoush, or some tasty marinated spiced meat kebabs or vegetables, especially if they are barbecued, lay a thin bread like khobez or open pitta bread underneath them, or, go the whole hog and ditch the ceramics completely – bring back trenchers I say and enjoy all those lovely flavours soaked into tasty bread! AND save on waste and washing up – what’s not to love?!

I hope you’ve enjoyed these little snippets and that you don’t mind me sharing more in the future 🙂

Happy Easter to those celebrating it, and happy Fiesta Friday to all those bloggers taking part, this week we are co hosted by our wonderful FF founder, Angie, ably assisted by Abbey.

**The information in these books has been collated by historians from letters, diaries and books as well as records, inventories, orders and receipts found or kept from large, grand and royal households, and from the businesses that supplied them. Consequently, much of the information can only be traced back to medieval times, which in the U.K. denotes the period of the mid 1100’s to the late 1400’s, before we entered the reign of Elizabeth I.

EDIT: I’ve been asked by a few people what books I’ve been reading so here is my list so far…

The Art of Dining – A History of Cooking and Eating by Sara Paston-Williams

A History of English Food by Clarissa Dickson Wright

The Greedy Queen: Eating with Victoria by Annie Gray

How to be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman

The Victorian House: Life from Childbirth to Deathbed by Judith Flanders

If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley

Pimping leftovers with Petra’s goodies…

I LOVE leftovers; to me, leftovers, or foods eaten a day or two after cooking/preparing them, taste vastly better than they did on day one. Flavours develop to create something so good that I pretty much always plan for leftovers and extras…

Today I had a variety of cooked vegetables and fresh herbs to use up and I decided to pimp them with some new products in my cupboard: last year my lovely blog friend, Petra, from the blog Food Eat Love, starting selling her homemade food products at her local Saturday market. She started off with amazingly pretty fresh pastas and sauces, and then expanded into sauces and crackers and jams and chutneys. Recently, she sent me some goodies to try, and I have used most of them in my dishes today. Let me show you…

These are what Petra sent me to try…lucky me! The two bottles that you can’t see the labels on are a ‘very hot hot sauce’ and a sweet chilli ginger sauce.

I’m afraid the dry tomato and coconut chutney was devoured first a little while ago, it was so good I literally ate in from the jar in two sittings..

If you can try this stuff, you really should! Included in the ingredients are cobnuts which give the chutney a great texture. But the rest I played with today…

So to today’s pimping…this was my lunch platter…

It includes…

Leftover broccoli & cauliflower, blended with yoghurt, crunchy hazelnut butter & Petra’s sweet chilli ginger sauce which added great flavour to the vegetables.

My homemade garlic mayonnaise pimped with Petra’s very hot hot sauce – perfect pimping.

Leftover roasted carrots & red onions blended with tahini, yoghurt & lemon juice…so good, the lemon juice and roasted carrots always works well together.

Fresh flat leaf parsley & coriander chopped up with my pickled garlic, spring onions, ground cumin, Aleppo chilli flakes, salt, olive oil, my homemade apple cider vinegar & Petra’s caramelised Seville orange & chilli treacle – I often add pomegranate molasses to my salsa verde concoctions and this was a great alternative.

All eaten with Petra’s Carta Di Musica flatbreads which are wonderfully thin and crunchy.

How’s that for a tasty lunch? And a perfect use of leftovers! Even if I do say so myself…;)

So a big thank you to Petra for letting me try some of her great products. I shall be sharing my concoctions with everyone at this week’s Fiesta Friday, which is after all, where Petra and I ‘met’. In the meantime, do check out Petra’s Instagram page if you’re an instagram user and enjoy her beautiful pups as well as those gorgeous pastas…one day I’ll get to try some of them!

A very useful masala curry paste…

I’ve made this curry paste several times recently, it adds great flavour to any dish, plus it’s packed full of goodness and immunity boosting ingredients for this time of year.

I’ve used it to make masala sauces, added it to soups, and vegetable curries…

I’ve baked eggs into the sauce…

And I’ve made chicken curries for my boys with it.

I highly recommend making a huge amount of it and use it lavishly!

I have used lots of spices from the lovely Spice Kitchen UK and you’ll find the full recipe on their blog…I hope you like it!