Sea Bass with Ginger & Garlic

Current meal standards and expectations are very, very low. This is the only ‘new’ thing I have made in the past 7 weeks — I think that’s a new record for me, even in all of the craziness of the PhD. I started a new job in mid-January, which had meant a complete change in my personal and professional life. I’m lucky now if I manage to eat an evening meal, let alone make one from scratch or try a new recipe.

Most weekends, I travel back to London. I leave work around 3:45pm and arrive back home in the capital by 7:45pm. However, on the weekend that I made this, H. came up to visit me. The recipe had caught my eye in the Guardian magazine and I set out especially to make it — to try something new.

Regular readers will know that I don’t make a lot of seafood in the UK. I decided to make an exception for this and got the fish at a local fishmonger. This dish was, to put it simply, wonderful. Aside from the fact that the fish fell apart a bit– too much handling — it was spot-on. The tastes were wonderful. Ottolenghi is known for his big punchy flavours and this didn’t disappoint. Both H. and I agree we’re going to make it again. I followed the recipe carefully and would recommend doing the same. It is essential to have everything prepared before you start to cook.

sea bass

Tahini Cookies

Over the last couple of years, tahini has become one of my favourite ingredients. I have used it in everything from cheesecake to salads to smoothies and the results have always been good.

I’d had my eye on the recipe in Jerusalem for a while and finally got around to making them one evening last week. The cookies are easy to prepare with only a few ingredients. Here’s how to make them:

Tahini cookies, from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

  1. Preheat oven to 200°C (note: I found this a little high and would recommend 180).
  2. Beat together 130g caster sugar with 150g unsalted, softened butter.
  3. Once creamed, add in 110g light tahini paste (nb: I used regular), ½ tsp vanilla essence, and 25ml double cream. Then stir in 270g plain flour.
  4. From here, the recipe says to knead until smooth. I found this wasn’t really necessary as the dough came together quite easily. It’s definitely the first time I’ve seen kneading in a cookie recipe.
  5. Shape the dough into cookies, press down with a fork, sprinkle with a bit of cinnamon on top (I forgot to do this), and bake for 15-17 minutes until golden brown.*

*The baking time says 15-17 minutes. I had my first batch in for 14 mins and a few of them came out very black on the bottom (see below!). The second batch was in for 11 mins and still a few of those were ‘over-coloured.’ I am blaming my ancient oven for this one but, as a forewarning, make sure you keep an eye on them.

Both H. and I loved these, as did some special overnight visiting guests we had, and I think I’ll definitely be making them again soon, possibly experimenting with a little less sugar (I think they’d be just fine with 80-100g). The texture is very similar to shortbread but the taste is smooth and unique — just the right amount of sweetness for breakfast, dessert, or a snack.

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Sweet & Spicy Beef Pie

The idea of savoury pies really appeals at this time of year — short days (soon getting longer!), damp, and lots of rain and wind just begs for warming and filling meals. As I mentioned recently, I had the good fortune of hearing a talk by Ottolenghi last month, which inspired me to look through all of his recipes again. I chose this one as it looked really moreish and I thought perfect for this time of year. Also, I’d never made a savoury pie before.

I used only beef, no pork, for my pie, which I think possibly had adverse effects. I don’t want to say that this failed….it didn’t. Taste-wise it was great, if a little dry. However visually the pie looked awful. The problem was the dish I used. It was too deep, so the crust went too far up the sides, and the ratio of crust to filling was too high. I only used about 300g of pastry (the standard size it seems to come in here), and about 400g of mince, which I thought would work fine. [Side note: as I was re-reading the recipe to write this post, I noticed that the last instruction is to break off the excess crust — hmmmmm]. I think I needed a bit more meat though, and for that meat to be fatty — I used what would be called lean beef in North America (as opposed to extra lean or medium). I also think it was slightly overbaked — it is a very fine line when it comes to eggs, and I don’t like runny eggs, so prefer to err on the side of caution.

The TASTE however, was lovely. As the title indicates, it’s both savoury and sweet, the latter coming from the gingerbread-y, Christmas-y spices of allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg, plus sweet paprika and cayenne pepper.

We served it with a nice green salad which was the perfect pairing to balance out the heaviness. 🙂

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Pear & Almond Loaf

I recently had the great pleasure and privilege of hearing Yotam Ottolenghi speak. He gave a talk on Jerusalem, his hometown, at SOAS as a part of their food policy seminar series. It was extremely well-attended (no surprises there), and I was surprised at just how warm, inspiring, articulate, and intelligent he was (and academic — his masters thesis was on “ontological status of the photographic image in aesthetic and analytic philosophy,” and he almost started a PhD before going into the food world!). His personality definitely matched the impressions I get from his books and columns.

Attending the talk re-invigorated my Ottolenghi love and prompted me to go through the cookbooks of his that I own and re-acquaint myself with his recipes. At this time of the year (or 2 weeks ago when I made this), markets are filled with pears and apples and so I thought this was a perfect fit.

The introductory description for this recipe, from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, says that God must have had this cake in mind for mid-afternoon tea breaks. I’m inclined to agree, although I’d pair it with coffee instead. In fact, it’s a perfect cake for Kaffee und Kuchen, a traditional German afternoon activity. 😉

The stages required for this loaf, truth be told, are slightly annoying and will dirty many bowls in your kitchen. You can find the recipe online here, so I won’t repost. I made a couple of small changes — I substituted whisky for the Amaretto and almonds for the walnuts.

There was something slightly retro about this cake. I think it was the density and the nuts. It reminded me of a cake for parents or grandparents — I know my dad in particular would love it. A little note on the crumble topping (butter, flour, sugar): that is something I’d usually not do, just because I’d think it tastes fine without (in fact for the loaves and muffins I’ve made of his before, I’ve not bothered). However this time I decided to make it and I have to say that the extra work is worth it: the crumble topping really added to the cake.

Apologies for the poor quality of the photo!

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Chocolate Krantz Cake

This was the most elaborate dessert I’ve made in a while, but also one of the tastiest and most satisfying! We finished off our mezze with this cake (recipe online here, originally from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi), which is a yeasty bread-ish dough mixture with a chocolate and pecan filling.

Like baking some types of bread, making this requires a bit of advance planning (although I did do it all on one day, but started early). There are a number of steps but none too tricky. I’d recommend having a helper on hand as some parts are a bit harder to do on your own– and it’s also fun to make this cake with another person!

Its flavour is quite subtle but really delicious — it almost feels like a healthy dessert. I will definitely be making it again!

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Flattened dough with chocolate spread & pecans
Rolling up the krantz.
H. rolling up the krantz.
Before it cooked.
Before it cooked.
Finished krantz
Finished krantz cake.

Mixed Middle Eastern Mezze

A couple of weeks ago H. and I had my cousin P. over for dinner. Instead of one big main I decided to do a mezze of different smaller dishes, something I had been wanting to try at a dinner party for a while. As it happens a lot of the recipes are from Ottolenghi, but I didn’t really plan it that way. Overall I was really happy with the food. It was mostly quite healthy (lots of vegetables) and not overly heavy which was nice. If anything I think I could have had one more substantial dish, maybe something with potatoes, more for the boys though!

Here was the menu:

Toasted pitas & hummus (plain & roasted red pepper) I have made hummus loads of times before but never with roasted red peppers. I was really pleased with the result! We used our food processor to make both and I have to say, unfortunately I would not recommend this particular model. We’re becoming increasingly frustrated with it. It has some serious design flaws, the most serious of which is the non-existent locking system for one of the blades. Hummus was everywhere.

Spicy carrot salad (from Jerusalem, similar to this) This is a mix of chopped carrots, onions, and spices — I also added mixed greens. The spiciness comes from harissa paste and really adds a kick. I enjoyed the salad but because it has so many onions in it (regular readers will know that onions are not my favourite!), it wasn’t my favourite.

Roasted cauliflower with tahini sauce (based on this dish from Jerusalem) I adapted this and chose to roast the cauliflower instead of frying it. This went over very well and is really easy to prepare if you make the sauce in advance. I would describe tahini as an acquired taste but personally I love it and think it’s quite versatile.

Pearl barley, parsley, & marinated feta salad  (Jerusalem) I was really pleased with this dish. The pearl barley is a nice departure from couscous and quinoa which we eat more regularly. There’s not much of it in there though, so I’d recommend upping the quantity of barley. The marinated feta is delicious. All in all I think this is a really different and creative salad – typical Ottolenghi.

Meatballs with a cilantro-lemon sauce. I made the same meatballs I made at Christmastime except I used beef this time. This time they were a little dry for me because the beef was too lean. As usual, the sauce always goes down well though.

Mixed green salad with chicken This was the most cobbled-together dish of the night. I’d originally planned to do a fennel & saffron chicken salad but at the last minute switched to this because I couldn’t get any fennel. I poached the chicken and then made a simple quite lemony vinaigrette.

And for dessert, a chocolate krantz cake (coming in a separate post!).

A few (quite random and not very good-quality) photos below.

Red pepper hummus.
Red pepper hummus in the cursed processor.
It wouldn't be a dinner party without a toppled plant! (Thanks ahem to the WIND
It wouldn’t be a dinner party without a toppled plant! (Thanks … ahem … to the WIND!) And yes, we have lights in our floor. Don’t ask.
Chicken salad
Part of the chicken salad
Carrot salad
Spicy carrot salad

Lunches part 3

Part 3 in my lunch series has been a long time coming — it’s been almost a year (!) since I posted Part 2 (Part 1 here). To give a quick summary, this series is about lunch items that can be prepared quickly and that take the dullness out of what is often for a lot of people a ‘throwaway’ meal.

7. Leftover vegetarian chili
Yes, it may seem a bit odd to includes leftovers in this feature, but this really makes the best lunch, especially on a winter’s day. You can make the chili the night before or even freeze it in advance (it’s easy to throw together and once assembled you can leave to simmer for as long as you like). The way I make it would perhaps be considered by some as a ‘loose’ version of chili, but I’ll share my method regardless: sautee garlic (and onion, if you wish) in a bit of olive oil. Add 2 (400g) cans of chopped tomatoes, followed by whatever veg you like (I like carrots, peppers, and some tomatoes). Add 2 cans of red kidney beans, + spices (I used a little cumin, ground coriander, garam masala, and my personal favourite to add to a chili, a little cinnamon). Simmer (the longer the better). Best with a bit of grated cheddar, chopped fresh coriander, & a dollop of sour cream on top! This makes enough for 2 meals for 2; adjust as necessary.

8. Cheat’s tomato soup
I’m calling this a cheat’s soup because it’s not made with fresh ingredients which for some reason to me feels like cheating! However I’ve made this loads of times and enjoyed it each and every one. What is imperative for this recipe is the tomatoes — find ones that are good quality. I cannot stress this enough. To make, simply sautee a little garlic and/or onions in some oil, add 2 cans of diced tomatoes along with salt and pepper, and simmer for anywhere between 10-20 minutes. Then puree the soup and add in a dollop of cream or creme fraiche (you do not need a lot to create a bit of a ‘creamy’ feeling). My favourite garnish herb for this soup is dill, but lots of others would work too. Best served with crusty bread!

9. A version of Ottolenghi’s conchiglioni
I am even surprising myself that I’ve included an Ottolenghi dish in this series, however this is a great-tasting pasta and has to be one of the easier dishes in his repertoire! It’s also, in Ottolenghi’s words, comfort food at its finest. The recipe is from Jerusalem. I have made it several times with many substitutions and variations. The basic ingredients you need are pasta, plain Greek yogurt*, feta cheese, basil, chili flakes, and nuts. *When I first told H. that I was making pasta with yogurt he had a confused and disgusted look on his face. I promise that it works though! To make it, simply prepare the pasta as directed, and once cooked combine with a large dollop of yogurt, some basil leaves, chili flakes, feta, and nuts as desired (pine nuts work the best in my experience). You can also mix spinach leaves in which I’ve found to work really well.

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Plum, Marzipan, & Cinnamon Muffins

Last weekend, H. played a concert. It was an informal, community-type affair and afterwards guests stuck around for coffee and baked goods. My contribution was meant to be carrot cake and these muffins. Fortunately I made two things because the carrot loaf, for reasons that are still unknown to me, absolutely failed (my guess is too much carrot = too wet = did not rise).

As with most Ottolenghi recipes (this one from his original self-titled cookbook), these are not just any slap-dash muffins that can be thrown together at any minute. Of course there are multiple steps involved, the first being the plum compote (cut up and de-stone plums, add some sugar and a cinnamon stick and pop it in the oven for ~15 mins). After the compote is made, the muffins are assembled (some of the compote is added into them). This was the first time I had ever used marzipan, and it was surprisingly easy to work with, grated into the mix.

The recipe calls for 480g flour, which I thought seemed like a lot for 10-12 muffins [note that I got 16]. It was. Unfortunately I found the muffins slightly too dense. They were tasty, but their texture was a bit off. That was disappointing.

I made the choice not to put the rest of the compote on top for reasons of convenience, because it would have made transporting them 100x harder. However also works on top of cereal or granola or alone with plain yogurt.

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Falafel

Every once and a while some endeavours in the kitchen just fail completely. This is what happened to my first attempt at making falafel. Man, I was disappointed. I love falafel and was really looking forward to making it, especially because I’d had a particularly rough day and was counting on the restorative process of making and enjoying a meal! 😦

I used Ottolenghi’s recipe from Jerusalem. What went wrong then? First I couldn’t get the food processor to work properly. That set me back a good 30 minutes. But the real problem came during the frying of the falafel(s?). Ottolenghi says to use a generous amount of oil, which I did. But the oil wasn’t hot enough, and when I fried them, they completely fell apart. This sort of thing has happened to me once before, although whatever I made (can’t remember!) was able to be rescued that time. Not so now. The falafel became crumbs… a horrendous crumbly mess!

We still ate it (sort of), with a cucumber and tomato salad, homemade hummus, and coriander-yogurt sauce. H. kept assuring me that it was still tasty but of course I was disappointed. Stay tuned for v. 2.0 . . .

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Broken falafel, broken dreams

Shrimp Salad with Tamarind-Coriander Dressing

I’ve gotten a little out of chronological order with my posts because this is definitely more of a late summer salad. Oh well. The recipe first appeared in Ottolenghi’s Guardian column about a month ago, but I think could be used year-round with frozen shrimp and corn if one was inclined.

I don’t think the title of the post/recipe really does the salad justice. There are so many delicious and essential components: the greens, shrimp, pancetta (I used bacon), corn, coriander, and mint. As you may be able to tell, I took a few shortcuts on the grilling, namely, I didn’t grill my prawns or corn. I also used mixed greens rather than just rocket. Otherwise I followed the recipe pretty closely.

This is definitely a coriander-heavy salad which regular readers of this blog know that I love! We ate this on its own and it was absolutely delicious (and the portion size is large for 2 people). As with a lot of Ottolenghi recipes the combination isn’t always the most obvious and at some points you doubt whether it’s going to all come together, but it usually does. I think the dressing could also work on lots of other stuff too. 

shrimp salad

(For anyone interested, the bowls are from Denby Pottery in Derbyshire).