14/09/2017

From Mamushka to Kaukasis

The cookbook world can be a hectic one. It seems that every week there’s a New! Shiny! thing exploding on to our shelves and Kindles, each chef or cook with something to say about their own food, stuffed chock full of ridiculously pretty photos and sparkles.

Many of these books also make the food seem almost far away from the average home cook.  Yes, I love reading them, but there’s only a few that reach out and put an image into my head of me cooking the dishes. Once you can envisage yourself making or eating something, often that’s half the battle. You get your brain tamed first, then after that things fall into place. (It’s how I learned to like peppers. I just convinced my brain to think about eating and enjoying them. It doesn’t always work. Sorry oysters. NO.)

Olia Hercules, small beloved powerhouse that she is, has written two gorgeous books to take us deep into the cuisine of her countries. Yes, countries. Mamushka is a cookbook that celebrates her family recipes, from Ukraine and Moldova to Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. Kaukasis, her latest and, I’m willing to bet cold hard money, not her last, is a culinary journey through Georgia, Azerbaijan and beyond. A cuisine that very little has been known about, and certainly one that has had huge misconceptions thrown at it.

Olia walks us through it all, telling us in an eager and affectionate voice about the history, the flavours and the people. 

I admit, I had only heard of the books when I went to the monthly Thane Prince’s CookBook Club at the Draper’s Arms in Islington. I do suffer from cookbook mania, so I try not to buy too many.

Then I met Olia. She’s frank, brutally honest – especially under Thane’s expert and probing questioning – and she is also very funny indeed. The sheet joy for life and for food shines like a beacon from her dark eyes. Sat in her gardening clothes, as she hadn’t had time to change from saving her allotment from the Council, you can see mirrored there generations of strong women, working the land, making homes, holding families together. She made a deep impression on me. Her way of speaking, her honesty, just made me want to be her friend and sit listening at her table as she talked. I’m fairly certain that we could pass an entire day talking and comparing ideas about food and family with ease. When we weren’t spilling wine over things.

Here we are. I think this is the bit where Thane said she was going to ask Olia about her sexual health later.


Olia and Thane

The recipes in these books are accessible. Nothing fancy is needed. The photos are honest, real, never beyond the normal home kitchen.

See? I’m sure my Aunt had those tablecloths.


Purslane     Serdakh

I admit, when I made the aubergine and tomato dish, there was some confusion about just how big a ‘large’ aubergine was, and how big the garlic cloves should have been, but it all worked out in the end. It was also so very delicious that I made it again two nights later. Vampires really need not apply here, because you will be repelled instantly.

I have used clarified butter in the past for Indian dishes, and have always liked its buttery smoothness so was delighted to use it again here. I made my own, and for this dish it worked amazingly well. This is not a dish to eat cold, because the butter solidifies again, but it’s to eat warm, with bread to mop every last bit of nightshade red and allium juices. You don’t want to leave anything behind. It’s one to eat and talk over, everyone dipping in the torn off bread pieces.

This is Fruit, Mint Adjika and Dairy. A sweet fruit, tangy cheese, spicy and a fresh mint paste.

Fruit Mint Adjika and Dairy


Gingeriest cake

Spread

Table

There were so many more dishes that people brought, so much to try, smells and tastes that were unfamiliar but that proved delicious.

All in all a delightful evening, and a convivial, sharing one too.

My dear Olia, I think I would love to invite you round for dinner.

29/07/2017

Halloumi and Spinach Curry

I don’t know why I never thought to use halloumi in a curry before, seeing as it is virtually the same set of ingredients as paneer, but I guess I’m just so used to it being grilled or fried up in Mediterranean dishes that it never crossed my mind.

Using it in a curry changed the texture, as the liquid from the spinach more or less braised it so it became very soft and yielding. One happy discovery on an evening where I was tired, but still wanted something fresh and tasty for dinner.


Cooking oil ( I used walnut, but sunflower or peanut will do)

Butter

1 medium red onion, sliced into thin half moons (about 3-5mm thick)

1 tsp ajwain seeds (optional)

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander powder

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1 x pack halloumi, cut into cubes

1/2 a large bag of baby spinach leaves (any tough stalks taken out)

4 cherry tomatoes, chopped finely

1/8th tsp salt (halloumi is salty, so don’t overdo the salt)

4-5 tbs water

Heat 1 tbs oil and 1 tbs butter in a large frying pan with deep sides. It will help to have a lid that fits it.

Heat the fats until the butter is melted, then add in the onions, and mix well so that all the onions are coated.

Stir and fry them for a few minutes, until they start to wilt down and soften.

Add in all the spices except the salt, and turn the heat up a little. Mix in very well, and cook for another few minutes. The spices will have soaked up any liquid, so add in 2 tbs of water, and mix.

As you cook it, the water will be absorbed, and the oils start to separate out again. Once that happens, add more water. Repeat this 2 or 3 times. This enriches the onions, making them softer and more dark in colour, and takes any flouriness out of the ground spices.

Add in the cubes of halloumi and mix them so that they get a coating of the onion/spice mixture.

Put the spinach leaves into the pan as a layer on top pf the halloumi, sprinkle with the salt, and cover.

After ten minutes, the leaves will have wilted down, and you’ll find that lots of water has come out. Do not panic.

Take the lid off, and at this stage, you could add in a few spoons of coconut milk powder if you wished, our just leave the lid off as it simmers to evaporate the water until it’s a thickened sauce.

Add in the finely chopped tomatoes, mix them in, and simmer gently until they are warmed through.

Serve over rice, or just as it is.

A little bit of lemon zest would have been a nice addition at the end, too.

Halloumi curry

15/06/2017

Borough, my Borough, and a recipe

Borough Market reopened yesterday after over a week closed, due to the aftermath of the terror attack.

I couldn’t get there for the 10am ringing of the Market bell, though I dearly wanted to be there, so I went back that evening, just to walk about, and find my traders to hug.

It had been heaving with people all day. Not gawkers who seldom spend but will grumble over the price of a cuppa and then moan if you get in the way of their photo taking, no. People BUYING. This is what the market needs, not endless photo seekers, but SHOPPERS.

These scenes greeted me. I’ll be honest and admit to being close to tears. I already wrote about what Borough means to me, here.

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I think I almost ran to Ted’s Veg, and grabbed a hold of my lady and didn’t really want to let go. I did, in the end, and then bought beautiful fresh vegetables, cheese and some of the most fresh and fragrant mint to go home and cook dinner with.

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I ran out of words and thoughts when I reached this point on my walk, and headed home, a little dazed. On the train home, I kept sticking my nose in the mint, and just inhaling.

I finally shook myself out of it when I got to Addiscombe, and managed to cook this lot up.

I’d say this would serve 3-4. Depending on the size of the mug you use. I think mine was a 10 oz old Starbuck’s mug.


Ras El Hanout Onions
2 large red onions, sliced into rough half moons (not terribly fine, probably about 5mm thick or so)
1 -2 tsp Ras El Hanout (mine wasn’t very strong, so I used 2)
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp brown sugar
3-4 tbs olive oil
Pile onions into a frying pan, add olive oil and mix well to coat.
Sprinkle over the spices and sugar, mix really well so everything has its fair share of spices.
Place over a high heat to get a char going, and toss to keep them moving around. (I use the Nigella Two Spoon technique)
Keep an eye, as you want caramelised not burnt. One or two will catch, because Onions.
After about 40-50 minutes of cooking, tossing them around every so often, add in ½ a cup of sultanas and cook for another 10 minutes.
They will eventually cook down to a sticky, warmly spiced, oniony mass.
ONIONS ALWAYS TAKE FAR LONGER TO COOK DOWN THAN THE TELLY TELLS YOU so don’t panic, you’re not doing it wrong.


CousCous
1 large mug of wholewheat couscous
1 x same mug of boiling water + 1 vegetable stock cube dissolved in it
¼ tsp fine salt (you can always add more later)
1 tsp mild curry powder (or hot, your choice)
1 tsp olive oil 1 block of halloumi, sliced into 6
1 bunch fresh mint, leaves very finely chopped
Store bought crispy fried shallots if you have them, but totally not essential.
Pitted black olives (I had a tub of these, with bits of feta in, so bunged that all in MINUS their oil)
Put the couscous in a large bowl that cling film will stick to.
Stir in the salt and curry powder.
Dissolve the stock cube in the water, then pour that over the couscous. Add the oil.
Stir well, then cover with clingfilm and set aside.
Once the water is fully absorbed, fluff it with a fork, and pop it into your serving dish.
Add the mint.
Add the onions.
Add the olives.
Fry the Halloumi in the pan the onions came out of, chop it up and pop that in with the couscous.
Mix well, and eat!

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My friend Kate and I went back to Borough this morning, to have our traditional early fried breakfast at Maria’s, and the atmosphere was different again. People were very happy to be back, but very tired after working like madmen to get everything cleaned, disinfected, cleared and set back up again. All that stock, left more or less open to everything. I can’t even think of the scenes they encountered when they got back in, or how much stock they’ve lost.

Keep going, keep supporting, KEEP BUYING.

23/05/2017

Warm Salad of Cauliflower, Almonds and Garlic

It was Easter weekend, and I’d been cooking. As ever. I had bits and pieces to use up, so this salad came together as a way of doing so. Now I think I might be buying the ingredients purely to make it again!

The almonds are used as a major flavour/texture component here, not just a garnish, which is why there is quite a large amount.

1 x 100g bag of flaked almonds

1/4 of a medium cauliflower

2 tbs barberries (you could use chopped dried cranberries or dried sour cherries)

1 fat clove thinly sliced garlic

olive oil

sea salt

Toast the small bag of almonds in a pan with olive oil and sea salt until golden. Keep a close eye on them, as they can turn fast.

Set these aside to cool. They should turn crunchy.

Chop the cauliflower into small chunks. It’s up to you what size you want the pieces, really.

Sauté the pieces in olive oil until all of them are well coated.

Add the sliced garlic, mix in well, turn the heat up and as it starts to sizzle add 1 tbs water, cover and steam til just tender.

When it’s cooled a little, mix in the toasted almonds and the barberries.

Dress with olive oil and pomegranate molasses, have a taste to see if it's seasoned enough, then top with the yoghurt, a bit more molasses, and a few more barberries if you like.

Cauliflower and almond salad

Fenugreek Fried Chicken

There is a lady called Nisha Katona who has fast become one of my heroes. Not just as a food hero, but as a hero in general. Her food is stunning, and her attitude to business, people and life…well, it’s safe to say that I admire her greatly.

She posted something on Instagram recently that made me tear up a bit.

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I knew what she meant, and felt it myself in my younger years, that my kitchen was much more strong smelling than other British ones I visited but it still made me sad that people should still feel that inadvertent yet ingrained shame about the smells of their own culture’s food. This is a screenshot from Nisha’s Instagram feed; she owns a string of Mowgli restaurants that have taken the Indian food scene by storm, and rightly so. People love her food, proper home cooking, her family recipes, the real street food, out there for all to see and taste and smell. But even with all that success, all the love for her food, even she gets that knee jerk wince.

You see, Fenugreek is that herb, that smell. I think it’s what people in this country classified as ‘the curry smell’. Fenugreek is a clinger. The loud, vivacious friend that you really love having around, because it’s not a party without them, but who never takes the hint that now might be the time when you really want to go to bed. They just…stay. Not in the way as such, but just…there.

It has been a bit of a bone of contention for many. Its very nature is to cling, to envelope the kitchen, the house and the curtains with its scent. It simply wants to be in everything, to be everywhere that you are. 

My friends at school often apologised for ‘smelling Indian’. When I went to some houses, they actively winced when the door opened.

Nisha, and her cuisine, and her Maa of course, are beauties in my eyes. The cuisine always has been, for as far back as I can remember, going to school as I did with people of all Indian creeds and colours. And yes, I do remember a friend apologising for the smell of her house, but little did she know how exciting I found it, how tantalising. I’ve never forgotten her downcast, awkward face as she said it, or the huge, white-toothed smile almost splitting her face in two when I said I didn’t care because I wanted to eat what she cooked, find out all about it, and learn how to do it myself.

I know how hard it is to be one of the only brown kids, and to have your lunch peered at and gawked at, but now thank god, I care not a jot. I have berated many a person for calling out ‘Yuk’ on another person’s food, and will never hesitate to do so again. I’ve had my fill of people who call houmous ‘tile grout’, and who wrinkle their noses at stuffed vine leaves or feta. The same goes the other way too. Fie on those who dismiss English food as all bland, or all brownbeige. Just because you are not used to it, doesn’t mean it’s bad. If you try it and don’t like it, fine! But don’t dismiss it out of hand if you’ve never even tasted it.

Nisha and others have brought delicious Indian home cooking out of the kitchen and into the mainstream, where it should take its rightful place, and for that I love and admire them wholeheartedly.

This is a dish that I cooked the day after I read Nisha’s post. I think I was feeling rather defiant. Call it a tribute. A very tasty tribute.

Fenugreek Fried Chicken

5 chicken thighs, skin on

3 tbs gram flour

2 tbs coarse semolina

2 tsp ground coriander

2 tsp ground cumin

½ tsp salt

1 tsp dried fenugreek leaves

Oil for frying

Put 2cm of vegetable oil into a deep, straight-sided pan with a lid and heat until very hot: a cube of bread should brown almost immediately (about 170C). 

Mix the flours and spices together in a plastic bag, then pop the chicken pieces in.

Roll them around in the spiced flours until thoroughly coated.

Put the chicken in one layer in the pan (you may need to do this in batches, depending on the size of the pan) and cover. Turn the heat right down and simmer for 6 minutes, then turn the chicken pieces over, cover again and cook for another 6 minutes. Prepare a rack to drain the chicken.

Uncover, turn the heat up again, and fry the chicken until it's a deep golden colour on all sides. Transfer to the rack and blot with kitchen paper. Allow to cool slightly before serving. It does stay crispy for quite a while, but it’s much nicer when still hot and juicy.

4 pieces

Singe piece

Close up

19/05/2017

Sabrina Ghayour’s Khoresh e Ghormeh Sabzi

A long time ago I met a lady. I suspect we met via Twitter – as I have met many of my good friends – and we tweeted back and forth a lot. One day we had a sofa day at her flat, she cooked me Thai Green Curry, I met her lovely mum, and I think we realised that we thought alike.

No bullshit, no fancy airs, true to our real friends and LOVING the food.

Now, first a thing that I need to get off my chest. When I say ‘loving the food’, we are both damned capable cooks. Hell, she’s a chef, my goodness, you’d think that would mean someone can cook, but it doesn’t always mean they can cook food that makes me WANT it. Sabrina can, and does, with alarming regularity. But she also eats like your average person, too. I see those Haribo and those Scampi Fries.

Not every meal needs to be a gourmet feast, or a from scratch masterpiece. You might think that strange coming from me, as I cook from scratch so much, but that does not mean I am against shortcuts, or convenience foods.

There are days when it’s beans on toast, or shop bought pizza, a takeaway or even a crisp sandwich if I am that tired, and THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT.

I do not, and never will, hold with shaming people’s eating choices. Ever. You may worry about their health, and that’s understandable, but their health is nothing to do with you, plus you have no idea how their particular body works, so keep your opinion and your advice in unless they ask you for that advice. Even then, take it easy, unless you are actually a medically and nutritionally trained Dr.

If your workmates only want a cheeseburger or a Maccy D’s chicken sandwich for their lunch, that is their right to do so. Not everyone cooks, not everyone wants to. Just because you do, doesn’t mean they can, or even want to. Their choice. If they eat one every day, then that is still none of your beeswax, unless they spill it on you or get ketchup on your desk.

Keep your nose out of other peoples lunches, and eat your own.

Ok. Done.

Onto the recipe.

This is one of Sabrina’s recipes, a veritable Persian staple. She shared it on her website, quite recently, so if you head there, she’ll give you the history of this dish.

TLDR: everyone does it differently, nobody can agree, so do it the way you like. But do try it Sabrina’s way first, because it is truly delicious. Don’t worry about the amount of herbs, they work, and give you such a fresh, intensely vegetal dish. I’ve eaten it almost every day since I made it, and I love it.

Ingredients (plus the way I did it)

1kg lamb neck fillet, cut into ¾ inch chunks (I used leg, as neck fillets were nowhere to be found.)

1 tablespoon of ground turmeric

2 large white onions, roughly chopped

100g coriander, finely chopped, stalks and all

100g flat leaf parsley, finely chopped, stalks and all

2 big, generous handfuls of dried fenugreek leaf (methi in Indian shops)

4-5 dried limes (or 6-7 preserved lemons, halved, pips removed)

2 x 400g tins of kidney beans, drained and rinsed in a sieve

Salt and pepper

Oil for frying

Boiling water

Preheat a (very) large saucepan over a medium heat, drizzle in a generous amount of oil (it coated the bottom of the pan) and fry the onion until softened. Mine just started to catch around the edges, and wilted a bit.

Add the lamb and seal it, (this takes longer than you think, as there’s a lot of it,) then add the turmeric, season well with pepper and stir well. (Wear a pinny, turmeric does NOT come out of clothing.)

Add the dried fenugreek leaves and coat the lamb well in it, adding a little more oil if needed. (Yes, it is very pungent. Don’t worry about it, the taste becomes a lot more gentle.)

Next, add the fresh herbs and stir fry them until completely wilted so they have turned from a bright vibrant green to a dark and thoroughly wilted almost-forest green, although without letting them burn. (I think this took around 15 minutes for me.)

It is so important to wilt the herbs down properly as this is what will enable the sauce of the stew to have the right consistency, so ignore everything you know about keeping things green and vibrant, this is the Middle East and we do things differently. <---- this cracked me up. It’s true.

Then, season the whole stew generously with Maldon sea salt* (you should check seasoning again about an hour into cooking time) and then prick the dried limes and add them to the pan (if using preserved lemons, add them in just 30 minutes before you serve) and cover the contents with just enough boiling water to barely cover the meat and reduce heat to a low-medium heat and cook for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

I like to check in on the stew after 20 minutes to ensure its not on too high a heat, before leaving it for the remaining cooking time. Do not be tempted to add more water, a slightly thicker herb sauce is what you want to achieve. If your sauce looks like its drying out, reduce the heat (especially if using gas) but also remember that placing a lid on top of the pan will ensure you preserve/increase liquid volume inside the pan.

I covered mine initially as lamb leg needs a bit more cooking, but did the whole thing on a gas diffuser, and cooked it for about 3 hours, uncovered for the last half hour, which is when the kidney beans went in.

The fenugreek melds in with the other herbs, and the whole becomes a fresh but soft flavour, with the rich undertones of lamb, and the fresh herbs become almost spinach-like.

The colours as you cook and when the dish is finished are simply gorgeous.

 intermediate Khoresh e Ghormeh Sabzi

Khoresh e Ghormeh Sabzi

I served mine with plain buttered rice, but it is perfectly fine on its own. A spritz of fresh lemon over the dish is good too.

 Khoresh e Ghormeh Sabzi with rice

This is definitely something I will cook again, once I’ve worked my way through my freezer stash, though I have to cook it when my husband isn’t around as he really doesn’t like that fenugreek smell. It does hang around a bit, I agree, and I think it’s lovely but I really do understand why he doesn’t like it.

So – go try it! Have fun! Sabrina’s first two books, Persiana and Sirocco, are already out there, and there’s a third on the way soon.

*Maldon has a mild flavour, whilst still having that salt tang.

30/04/2017

Red Cross Foodie Fest dinner

A while ago now, I saw an ad for the Red Cross Foodie Fest. You send them a text, they send you a spice pack, with recipes, place mats, and information. Win! (It’s finished now, but keep an eye out for future events.)

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Explore a world of flavour with our unique world food tasting experience

This summer, we are inviting you to bring your friends together and host an evening of culinary curiosity. Travel the world with five authentic international recipes, put together to take you all on an exotic adventure within the comfort of your own home.

Foodie Fest for Friends is a recipe for making funds. All we ask in return is for guests attending your dinner party to make a small donation to help fund our life saving work.

I feel fairly helpless a lot of the time, and more than a bit overwhelmed with all the things going on in the world. I try and donate where and when I can, but with this…if I could feed my friends, and in turn help feed many others, too? That worked for me on quite a few levels.

I got the pack, read the recipes, and realised that of the people I wanted to invite, 3 were vegetarian, so I decided to turn the whole thing veggie. I didn’t cook all of the recipes provided, but chose two. Ground crayfish in the jollof rice mix probably wouldn’t count as vegetarian…

I possibly slightly overdid the shopping, too. (Not the things on the shelves.) But hey ho, nothing went to waste!

Shopping

The kibbeh recipe in the pack is usually made with lamb, but I went with carrots to mimic the sweetness of lamb, and cashews to add texture. I’d also had a craving for caramelised carrots for a while. I will say now, though, next time I will make probably double the filling.

Kibbeh dough

500g fine or medium bulghur wheat

500ml warm water

1/2 tsp salt

Mix the salt into the bulgur, then add all the water. Cover and leave aside to soak. You can just leave it to get on with itself while you make the filling.

Cashew and pistachio paste

250g cashews

100g pistachio slivers

olive oil

1/2 – 1 tsp baharat spice

Spread all the nuts on a baking tray, and roast at 180C until they darken, and give off a good smell. Keep a close watch!

Set aside to cool for 20 minutes, then tip them all into a food processor.

Add the baharat spice and 1 tbs olive oil to start.

Process on medium speed for a good 5-10 minutes.

You will need to scrape the sides down halfway through.

Keep processing for much longer than you think, as eventually the oils from the nuts will be released as they warm, and the paste will become more smooth.

You will have to stop your friends from eating this out of the processor bowl.

Caramelised Carrot Filling

700g carrots, chopped in the food processor til fine, or coarsely grated (I would use more next time, probably nearer to 1kg)

1 tsp light brown sugar

1 oz butter

2 tbs olive oil

1 spring onion

2 tsp baharat spice

Melt the butter and the sugar gently, then stir in the carrots.

Mix in the spice.

Keep cooking them on a low heat until the carrot has completely softened, and started to catch around the edges.

This will take FAR longer than you think. I reckon it took about an hour for me, with occasional stirring.

When it’s softened, mix in half the nut paste, some extra pistachio slivers, and the chopped green part of a spring onion.

Leave that aside to cool off. It should look quite jammy.

 

Carrot and nut paste mix

Assembly

Mix the other half of the nut paste into the bulgur wheat. I just got in there with my hands, then added in:

A handful of salted pistachios

4 tsp sesame seeds

2-3 tbs olive oil

Mix it all together really well. It should hold together if you squeeze it into a ball.

Cashews

Cashew paste

Bulghur and paste

Press half of it into an oiled baking tray with sides.  I used one that was 10” x 14” x 1”, but I’d probably use a smaller one next time, to make the bake a bit deeper.

Press it down a lot, into all the corners.

Dollop the carrot filling onto the dough. It is very sticky, so use a wetted knife to spread it.

Add the rest of the dough, pressing it down again.

Sprinkle with sesame seeds, pressing them down a bit.

Mark into sections with a spatula, then drizzle with olive oil, making sure it goes into the marks. Don’t be scared of the oil, it will probably absorb it all, and it’s part of the flavouring.

Bake at 170C for 40 minutes until golden on top.

Mine was a bit crumbly around the edges, but it all got eaten, and actually fought over!

Edit: I have since discovered that you must knead the bulghur mixture a LOT, until it forms an actual dough. I’ll know for next time!

Kibbeh

 

Tarkari Vegetable Curry

Vegetable oil and butter

1 large butternut squash, peeled and cubed

1 large aubergine, cut into chunks

2 bags of baby spinach leaves

2 large white onions, sliced into half rings

4 large garlic cloves, chopped

3 heaped tsp ground ginger (I had no fresh, squirrels ran off with it, long story.)

1 heaped tsp cumin powder

2 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ajwain seeds (from the spice pack)

1 tsp turmeric powder

2 cartons of sieved passata (or use fresh tomatoes, but one of our guests was allergic to tomato seeds.)

6 cups of chopped mixed veg (I used cubed butternut squash, aubergine and 3 cans of chick peas)

Heat the oil and butter together.

Add the onions and cook down until they start to turn golden at the edges, then add the garlic.

Once the garlic has softened a little, add in all your spices, stir and mix well.

Add a couple of tbs of water, then cook until the oil starts to separate. Do that twice more – it strengthens the flavour.

After about 5 minutes of letting the spices cook out, add in the veg, and stir well to coat everything in the spices.

Add the passata so the veg is covered. (Squash takes a goodly while to cook.)

I left it to simmer, covered, on a very low heat for at least an hour, then stirred in 1 tbs of masala paste, as the tomatoes had reduced the intensity of the flavour a little.

Cooked for a few more minutes, then tipped in the two bags of spinach.

Sprinkle the spinach with a little salt, put the lid back on and leave to wilt, them stir it in.

This was served over plain basmati rice, with nigella seeds in, and plain yoghurt on the side. Some people did put everything in the bowl at once…

Tarkari and kibbeh

And the leftovers the next day were GLORIOUS.

Tarkari curry

18/04/2017

Spring has Sprung, and it's emerald green.

Spring is one of my favourite times. It speaks of renewed hope - and let's face it, we need all that we can get at the moment - and it calls to us as the soil warms again and the sap rises.

One of the joys of seasonal eating is that you get to enjoy things at their best, eaten when they should be, not forced under glass or ripened with gases. I am well aware that these things have to happen in order to feed our booming and blossoming peoples but there are some things that I prefer to eat only that once a year. I can wait, I will be patient.

Asparagus and Jersey Royals are two of the main things I will wait for. Jerseys, with their delicately papery skin, need no more than a little steam, or a simmer,  and butter. I don't even add mint to their water, there's no need.

As for asparagus, with its short season, that has to be kept as simple as possible. I used to steam it, but then I found a mix of griddling and steaming worked better, for me.

At Easter, as we were on the way down to Bexhill, we passed a farm shop that I love. Ringden Hall farm makes and sells the most beautiful apple juices, bottled by variety. Thankfully my local farm shop in Brentwood stocks them too, so we are never more than ten minutes away from the sharp/sweet and sweet/dry of their juices. Discovery apples make the best, I think, and we have that one the most.

This particular day, as we drove, we saw a sign for fresh asparagus. There was no way at all I was going to pass that up, so in we went.  Great bunches of it lay on the counter, alongside some freshly laid eggs. Spring at a glance. The freshness of the greenery, and the symbolism of eggs, are just something that I will always cook.

Lunch that day was a simple affair, and it made us very happy indeed.

Take 1 large frying pan.
Add in a goodly amount of decent olive oil, then pop in the spears.
I use enough oil so that each spear is coated.
Up the heat, and as soon they start to spit, add 1/2 tbs of water and put a lid on, lowering the heat to medium.
As you put the lid on, heat more oil in another pan, so you can fry your eggs. Have your eggs how you like, it's your lunch, I fry mine on a high heat to try and crisp the edges a little.
The asparagus will steam through in about 5 minutes, and then you take the lid off, and cook uncovered to evaporate any extra water.
All I do after that is add a sprinkle of sea salt, and serve it all with bread so that the olive oil doesn't go to waste. I cannot bear wasting any of that.

Quick to cook, and oh so satisfying to eat.

Ringden Hall Farm eggs and asparagus


22/02/2017

Spicy Pork and Cucumber Stir Fry

I saw this when I was looking for another recipe, and it got stuck in my brain. I always think cucumber is such a woefully underappreciated vegetable, that I am happy to find more ways to use it. Cucumbers aren’t just for salads, even though I find them to be one of my must have salad ingredients.

Traditionally this recipe uses pork mince, but I didn’t have any of that. I did have some pork belly strips, so I just cut those into very small dice.

1 English cucumber

1 1/2 tsp salt

3 smallish pork belly strips, diced (freeze them until just firm as makes it much easier to dice)

1 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp rice wine or dry sherry or even brandy (I actually used kommandaria wine, as that’s what I had)

1 tsp cornflour

1/2 tsp five spice powder

1 tsp oyster sauce

1 mild red chilli, deseeded and chopped

3 spring onions, chopped

Handful of raw cashew nuts

Cut the cucumber lengthways into quarters, and cut out the seeds. They are just too watery.

Cut the cucumber into whatever size chunks you want, then place into a large bowl and add the salt. Mix and toss until the cucumbers start to release a little bit of water, about 1 minute. Let them stand for 30 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine pork with the soy sauce, wine, five spice powder and cornflour. Mix well and let sit for at least 30 minutes (you can even do this the night before you want to cook.)

Drain cucumbers and rinse well under cold running water,l to get all the salt off.

Drain well, then pat dry with paper towels.

Heat 1 tbs groundnut or sunflower oil over high heat until smoking. Add marinated pork, spreading it out with a spatula so that it makes a thin layer. Let cook undisturbed for 30 seconds. Using a spatula, break up the pork if it has stuck together. Continue stir-frying until the pork is cooked through and golden brown. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Add another spoon of oil to the pan, bring it back up to heat, then add the cashew nuts, and spring onions, plus the chilli and garlic and cook, stirring constantly so that the garlic doesn’t burn, for about a minute.

Add cucumbers and cook, keep stirring, for 2 – 3 minutes. Return pork to the wok and mix that in well. Add 1 tsp oyster sauce, continue cooking and stirring until the cucumbers begin to look glossy, about 30 seconds, then serve either on its own, or with some rice.

Eat while still hot.

Pork belly and cucumber

05/02/2017

The Sheesh, Bury St Edmunds

 

We visited The Sheesh for the first time yesterday, and I can safely say we will ABSOLUTELY be going again. Mum and Dad have been telling us how good it was, so we were very happy to get the chance.

I've eaten a lot of Turkish food, my mum lives in Northern Cyprus, and this was easily one of the best places I've been.

When you walk in, the smell of woodsmoke hits you. Warm, and comforting, and a hint of how good the meal to come will be. It did not disappoint. The charcoal grill smell is everywhere, which just makes you even more hungry. This photo is from their Facebook page.

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The service is fast, and so friendly! They greeted me in Turkish, and Greek, which made us all smile. He even threw a bit of Cypriot dialect in there. The seating is comfortable, and they are happy to let you sit and talk, even after you're done eating. No hassle, they just let you be.


We started with cold meze platter - taramaslata, houmous, cucumber and mint yoghurt, smoked aubergine garlicky dip, tabbouleh and shakshuka. Olives and stuffed vine leaves were tucked in along with crunchy fresh cucumber slices. A basket of char grilled, soft flatbread comes with it, studded with sesame and nigella seeds. Everything was so good, vibrant and zingy, perking up the taste buds properly. It got mum and dad reminiscing about their trips to the Middle East, sitting out on the sands in Lebanon, eating under the stars surrounded by jasmine. Aw.

Tex also ordered arnavut cigeri – liver cooked with spices and served on a bed of red onions. This is the only way I can eat liver. This one was juicy, and had that smokiness about it too. Perfect.

Next, mains. Two of us had a mixed grill: chicken shish so smoky and tender that you barely needed a knife to cut it, lamb pieces that you could actually cut with a spoon, perfectly crisped lamb chop, and such a gorgeous kofte (minced meat with spices, pressed onto a long skewer) that we were speechless for a bit. Rice comes with that on the plate, and they brought a huge bowl of very fresh salad as well.

Mom had the vegetable moussaka, which was a very generous serving, lots of veggies, topped with a cheese sauce.
Dad had lamb guveç, a very hearty casserole with lots of vegetables and tender lamb cubes.
All of us were full, so they packed leftovers for us to take home.

We did manage dessert; sadly the rice pudding wasn’t on that day, but the pastries were in! The baklava and kataifi are all pistachio filled, and come warm, with ice cream. A very nice touch. They brought us complimentary Turkish tea at the end of the meal, and a plate of proper Turkish delight, soft and sticky.

There was nothing I could fault them on. Kind, very friendly service, and excellent food, making us feel like we'd known them for years. (We haven't!) We're already planning when we can get back to Bury to see the in-laws, and go again. Such a find, visit soon! We've already spotted at least 8 things on the menu we want to try.

£91 for a meal for four, with drinks and desserts? Brilliant!

Sheesh

The Sheesh, 9 Risbygate Street, Bury St Edmunds, IP33

03/02/2017

Culinary Genius: calling all cooks!

 

I’m tempted by this, but I admit, if another cook with an ego steps into my kitchen, I’m not entirely sure it would go well…

Others of a less…Mediterranean disposition may also apply. Winking smile

Have fun, and go for it!

 

Culinary Genius Flyer

20/01/2017

Comfort Soup: Quick Fasolada

I have a feeling that cheap and cheerful comfort foods are going to be big on the menu for a while.

It was so cold today, I couldn’t shake it from my bones, no matter how I wrapped up, and so some sort of soup was on my mind when I got in from work. I knew I had lentils, and split peas, but then I found that I had half a large carrot left that needed using, and an idea formed. Fasolada. A Greek comfort food dish that never fails to hit the spot.

I found a small potato, an onion and some white beans ready cooked in the fridge but I had no fresh celery. You need the celery. Honest.

I do have a celery leaf plant in the garden, but the thought of trying to make my way across a wooden deck already frost rimed and slippery as glass was not appealing, so imagine my joy when I remembered a stash of celery in the freezer. The stalks and the leaves freeze really well, they’re worth saving in a tupperware, and you can use them from frozen. The stalks might turn a bit brown in the freezer, and the leaves will darken, but they’re perfectly alright to cook with.

I didn’t have any bay leaves, or I’d have added one of those in to the stock as well, but you make do with what you have.

This is not a highly spiced soup, it’s soothing, and gentle, but you can of course add garlic or chilli if you want to.

1/2 a medium sized red onion, thinly sliced

Half a large carrot, sliced into thin rounds (about a 3” piece)

1 small Cyprus potato, or any waxy potato, cubed

1 celery stalk, chopped finely plus leaves

700ml stock (I use Essential Cuisine chicken, which is not very salty)

1 tsp tomato paste

1 cup dried white beans, soaked overnight and cooked til tender (or a 400g can, drained)

Pour a good glug of extra virgin olive oil into a large pan. I realise that this is not a useful measurement, so it’s probably around 3 to 4 tablespoons. This will also be a flavouring as well as a cooking medium, which is why I use extra virgin.

Pop in the onions, celery and carrot, stir to coat them with the oil, and cook gently until the onion is soft.

Add the beans, the tomato paste and the stock, give it a good stir and simmer for about half an hour.

Then add in the potato. Simmer again until the potato is tender. If the soup has condensed a little, just add a little more water.

Taste to see if you need to add salt, as some stocks are quite salty, and serve with a drizzle of olive oil and some crusty bread if you wish, or some cubed feta on top.

It is not a pretty soup to look at, but it is tasty, filling and warming.

Fasolada soup

30/10/2016

Savisto Coffee Grinder

Please welcome my new kitchen friend to this page.

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Isn’t it cute? Yes, I am aware that it looks a little like a red Dalek. This is in no way a bad thing as far as I am concerned. And no, every time I press the button I do not say “CAFFEINATE! CAFFEINATE” That would be silly.

This little machine is surprisingly lightweight for its size, which is something that makes me happy. When the box arrived from Savisto, I wasn’t expecting it to be so light!

Since breaking my wrist a few years ago, I can’t always lift things so easily, and hefting kitchenware about makes it ache badly. One that is as easy to lift as this is a treat.

It has a generously sized hopper, so can take a fair amount of beans.

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Teaspoon for scale:

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I put 4 measured tablespoons in, and it coped perfectly well. It’s fairly quiet too, so that’s handy for grinding beans when you don’t want to wake up the rest of the house in your search of that perfect first cup of the day.

The grind is a little more coarse than some, but it’s even. I suspect I could just have held the button down for longer though! (I have a slight worry about overheating kitchen tools, so I tend to err on the side of caution.)

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The blades are more raised than some grinders I’ve used, so the beans didn’t get caught underneath, which was a huge pain with my old one. I was forever fishing out bean shards that had gotten stuck and made the blades stop turning. The clearance on these blades worked very well.

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Because the sides are slick, the grinds don’t stick to the sides, they just slide back down into the hopper. The size of the hopper also made cleaning much easier. I could just wipe it out with a paper towel, no fuss, because my hand fitted in with no problem.

The wire tucks under nicely, as there’s a small  notch on the underside that enables the unit to sit flat.

I haven’t tried to use it for spice grinding yet, but I might do when I have a little more time. All in all I’m really very happy with this machine, and would not hesitate to recommend it to people.

Also, you know, RED DALEK.

20/08/2016

Rock, Rolls and Hollywood

I’ve always had a difficult relationship with bread. Don’t get me wrong, I love eating it, but the baking of it was always a bit of a mystery, and a challenge.

With regards to eating it, I like it rather too much for my own good, to be honest. I’m one of those lucky people who, medically, should really eat a low carb diet. Pesky endocrine system.

Bread is now a treat for me, and so I decided that if I do eat it, it has to be really GOOD bread. Not for me the products of the Chorleywood process high speed mixers, mainly because I don’t like the texture, but also because it leaves me feeling like there should have been something else in there. There seems to be no substance to it. A bit like when you read an eagerly anticipated book that never seems to get anywhere. You reach the end thinking “Was that it?” (I will add a disclaimer that I am very well aware that sometimes, the cheapest of the supermarket loaves is all that some can afford. This is not denigrating them, this is about MY personal choice.)

Bread used to be a proper ‘filler upper’. If you only had bread and small beer, you needed that bread to be substantial, to keep you going. Can you imagine a field worker or manual labourer eating two slices of Mother’s Pride or Tesco’s value and then going on to do a full day of very physical work?

Bread should be flavourful, and have a density to it, not squish to nothing and dissolve if it gets wet.

I will admit that it does depend on what you need it for, of course. A light, crisp baguette, just with butter, is a thing of beauty, though fleeting as the properly made ones last a day only. They go dry very fast.

A dense, hearty wholemeal loaf can be spectacular, eaten with chunks of cheese and pickles. The homeliness of a soda bead, quick to make and oh so fast and easy to eat.

The sourdough, the original bread more than likely, with its long leavening and proving, brings a tanginess along with the trademark holes in the body of the bread, and then that lovely chew to the bottom crust, and the crackling crisp to the top.

Thanks to the no knead crock pot method, I have been having fun making extremely nice bread at home.

No knead bread

But prior to finding that method, I bought two of Paul Hollywood’s books, and worked through some of those recipes. He has a very good way of explaining what to do, and how things work. For me, his recipes took away what I now realise was a fear of working with bread dough. A nervousness that I would somehow spoil whatever I was making and it would all collapse if I was too rough with it/not rough enough/got stuck to it.

I am much more confident in my bread making now, thanks to those recipes. I’m also a convert to using cold water for the liquid, not warm, as it makes the yeast work harder, and seems to develop the flavour much better too.

Talking of flavour, please do not skimp on the salt. It really is needed in bread making, or the taste is just flat and doughy.

I do like the flavour that the overnight or longer rises give. They use very little yeast, so the dough is forced to work hard, and on one occasion, it was akin to sourdough, without using a sourdough starter. I might even give that a try again.  Who knows.

This week I decided I wanted to bake some rolls to go with some Turner and George burgers on Friday and some Cookwitch-made burgers on Saturday. I’m not a huge fan of brioche style buns, simply because they can get a bit soggy too fast. I wanted white, soft rolls, but fairly substantial.

Cue a Mr Hollywood recipe.

You will need:

500g bread flour (I used 400g Wright’s bread flour and 100g plain)
8g salt
10g fast action yeast
20g soft unsalted butter (I used salted, it’s what I had.)
320ml cold water

Put the flour, salt and yeast in a bowl (take care to separate yeast and salt).

Add the butter and rub that in a little so it’s distributed.

Add 240ml of the water and mix using one hand like a dough hook.

Trickle in the remaining water and continue mixing until it comes together. I added a little too much, but just added a tsp of flour to bring it back.

Knead until it starts to feel springy. I oil my hands with olive oil, which really helps with any stickiness. Knead for around 4-5 minutes. (I’ve timed this and made it more fun by listening to old rock songs. It’s usually about 2 Lemmys and a Black Sabbath. Or one Hawkwind.)

Form the now smooth dough into a ball, put into an oiled bowl, cover with cling film, or put a plastic bag over it,  and leave to rise for about 2 hours. It may double in size faster if the temperature is high.

Turn out the dough on to a floured surface and flatten out into a square.

Divide the dough into about 12 lumps and shape each piece into a ball. (I will admit to weighing the dough, and then weighing each piece. You do not have to do that!)

I use an old store card as a dough scraper/cutter, and it works really well! Each lump was approximately 71g.

Rolls on a tray

Pop the rolls onto a lined baking tray and cover with oiled cling film* for about hour until they have proved again.

Rolls on a tray risen

My baking tray is 10.5 “ x 14.5”. I thought that might be useful.

Heat the oven to 220C (200C fan) and pop a roasting tray in the bottom.

When proved, fill the roasting tray with hot water and pop the rolls in the oven. The steam from the tray gives them a nice crust.

Bake for about 15 minutes until they are golden on top. Tap the bottoms and if they sound hollow, they’re done. Rest on a wire rack, so the bottoms don’t go soggy.

Rolls

07/08/2016

Carrot, Fig and Walnut Muffins

 
This is based on a Jamie Oliver recipe. It’s the sweet potato muffins from a few weeks ago, but changed around a bit.

This whole thing can be done in the food processor.

400g carrots – don’t bother peeling, but wash if grubby, obviously.
200g demerara sugar (original recipe asked for 400g, just not needed.)
Good handful walnuts (Lidl do lovely ones)
6 dried, soaked figs (I had pre soaked. Plumptious little jammy things)
2 tsp black treacle
4 eggs
300g plain flour
170ml olive oil
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp speculaas spice
1 tsp mixed spice

Cut the carrot into chunks. Whizz in the food processor until it’s very fine. I just use the normal blade, no grating attachments to clean!
Add in everything else. Whizz until it’s very well mixed.
Line a tin with cupcake cases, fill each one three quarters full.
I topped mine with a walnut.
Bake at 180C for 20 minutes.
This made 18. (I use an ice cream scoop to portion it out.)

Carrot Fig and Walnut Muffins



















31/07/2016

Strut and Cluck

 

Last year I raved about Café Murano Covent Garden to anyone who would listen. (It has now become my boss's favourite restaurant.) On our visits we made friends with the flame haired Kelly, who was the Manager. She has the knack of making you feel like you’ve just dropped in for dinner with old friends, whilst still looking after you like a valued customer.

Sadly in the December she left Murano (on good terms I might add) and I thought we’d lost touch, but then she resurfaced on the Instagram feed of a restaurant in Shoreditch whose photos I’d been ogling. Hooray! 

Yes, Shoreditch. I know, I know, hipster central. Well it is, in some ways, but it still retains a goodly chunk of the old East End spirit. It’s also one of those places that I get lost in, almost every time, so I was a little wary of heading that way, but the menu, and Kelly, made me absolutely certain that I wanted to go.

I loved the name as soon as I heard it. Strut and Cluck. Male turkeys strut, and the females cluck. Clever, eh?

They offer turkey (free range) based dishes, inspired by their Eastern Mediterranean roots, though vegetarians are also easily catered for. The mere mention of using turkey hooked me first, because I adore it, and the words Eastern Mediterranean ensured that I absolutely had to go. For the record, I will now state that contrary to popular belief, turkey is not a naturally dry meat. I think it has suffered from years of overcooking at Christmas, and I promise you faithfully that you really do not need to cook one for 6 hours until it turns to sawdust. Following supermarket cooking times will overcook it. Buy a meat thermometer, and go by that. (If a supermarket packet instruction says 20 minutes per pound plus 20, I never, ever use the extra 20. I suspect they are covering themselves for legal reasons.)

I needn’t have worried about getting lost, as I found a bus that went from my work pretty much all the way to Commercial Street, and then it was a 5 minute walk, if that. They are right opposite Ted Baker (who are very happy about this) and quite easy to find. The olive trees outside give it away slightly.

It’s a small place, as are many of the commercial units in the East End, but they’ve done the very best they can with the space and made it beautiful without being twee or going the full Cath Kidston.  Pale wooden high  tables in the bar area, and simple squares and rounds in the restaurant itself, combined with plain walls serve to make the space look large and airy.

Photo taken from their Instagram feed:

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My welcome there was warm, and very friendly. People who know instinctively to greet you with a kiss on both cheeks always makes me feel at home straightaway, plus I think Kelly may have mentioned me to the owners. Smile

Look how lovely they all are! Photo also from their Instagram feed which I was not stalking at all in any way.

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I happily ogled the furniture, wondering if I could fit one of their high tables into my kitchen.  (The answer is no. Rats.)

It wasn’t long before my dining partner arrived, and we went through to the restaurant part. Then came the menu, and oh my…how on earth was I going to choose? There wasn’t one single thing on there that didn’t appeal to me. Making a decision was going to be tough. I had a Rose Lemonade to  drink while I was trying to make up my mind, because rose is a flavour that I can never pass up, and spent a few minutes getting pomegranate seeds stuck in my straw while I tried to decide what to order.

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“Olives, we’ll get olives.I know we always get olives but those do look good…”

“Yes.”

“Ok…and oh look, butterbeans with cumin. Yes?”

“Yep, we can share those too.”

“Ok…um…oh…slow roast thigh with sweet potatoes…but then there’s sticky harissa wings…and the kofta with currants and cashews and and…”

“I KNOW.”

Eventually we narrowed it down and managed to make a decision or two.

Olives and butterbeans for nibbles.

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These beans were a revelation.  If you are only used to tinned butterbeans, these are a serious step up.  Smooth in texture, and not grainy or mealy, with a good bite to them. I am not a fan of whole seeds, I admit, but these were soft, not crunchy, and perfumed rather than overpowering, which cumin can sometimes be. I might have to try making this at home.

Watermelon, feta and mint salad as a starter for me:

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This was beautifully fresh, and the olives worked extremely well with the watermelon. The mint was just enough to add a zing to the fruit, and didn’t overpower as it can sometimes do. I think I have found a new addiction in toasted pumpkin seeds, and immediately went out and bought some. I will admit, they do conflict a little with the watermelon seeds, but I managed to pick most of the black seeds out. I’ve never been able to eat them, not even as a kid. All in all this was a mouth-watering starter. Not too much, light and cleansing.

Grilled sourdough sabikh style with aubergine, soft boiled egg, tahini and sumac for Simon. 
 

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Given the speed at which this disappeared, I assume that it was absolutely delicious. I tried a piece of the bread and tahini together, and it was the perfect combination of crunchy, savoury bread and silky smooth, slightly sweet tahini. Another one for me to try next time I go, that’s for sure.

When the mains came out, I was just bowled over by the heady mix of scents. Spicy and rich; the rounded warmth of the turkey juices, plus the spiced smells from the shawarma bound together to form a lovely cloud between our plates. Of course we took photos, because it all looked so delightful, but I was also busy inhaling those scents as much as I could. I kept sticking my nose in the jug that contained the turkey juices, and sniffing happily.

Slow roast turkey thigh on sweet potatoes, red onions and sweetzingy barberries for me:

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Poultry thigh meat has always been my favourite part to eat. It just holds so much more flavour, and easily stays more juicy. This particular turkey thigh was absolutely gorgeous. The fat from the skin had completely rendered out, leaving the skin golden and crisp, and the meat below it saturated with seemingly the essence of turkey taste.

Turkey, date and green freekeh shawarma with labneh for Simon:

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This was a beautifully rich dish, but not at all heavy. The sweetness of the dates worked with the spices, not against them, and the sweet didn’t overpower. Freekeh has a fresh and slightly smokey flavour, which is the perfect partner for the heady spices of the meat. Yet another one for me to try next time. I did mention to Kelly that I think I should just move in, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind, I wouldn’t be any trouble.

We had a bit of a rest before the dessert. To be truthful, we weren’t actually going to have any, but then we saw the menu…also the staff are so enthused about their food, that decisions were made harder because they sell it ALL to you. It’s a treat to find people who not only know their menu, but love it, too.

I went for the Levant Milk Pudding. Anything with treacle and pistachios was going to be the winner, no matter what. Pomegranate treacle, doubly so.

This was smooth, like panacotta, and with just enough wobble to make me smile. The treacle was tart, but with a sweet edge that went perfectly with the pistachios. I could happily have eaten another, and another.

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S went for the ice cream and sorbet, and my goodness, they were outstanding.

Pistachio ice cream, ok, lots of us have had that, but this one had a deep, roasted flavour to it, and a beautifully creamy texture.

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The sorbet was smooth, and with a good back tang of mint. Extremely light, and just the thing to be a palate cleanser after a rich and spiced meal.

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This is a place where I felt at home straight away. The menu is varied, light and fresh, and certainly not run of the mill. The seasonal changes already have me excited and looking forward to the next time that I can go. Life needs to stop getting in the way!

Sitting there in the twilight, with the buzz of conversation surrounding us, and the lights just starting to come on, I could have been in a Tel Aviv café, or one in Cyprus.

We all eat bread, we all eat houmous. Celebrate that together, and eat well.

(They are also open for brunches now, so if you are lucky enough to work near there, pop along. You will get a warm welcome, and amazing food.)