Sometimes you fall at the first hurdle. I certainly did when I started cooking Yotam Ottolenghi’s gluten free dish: rice noodles with lime and crab chilli oil.
I trekked to the supermarket to get coriander but didn’t check that I had gluten free rice noodles in stock. Doh! No matter. In truth, this dish is good for both gluten freers and gluten imbibers – just use the appropriate noodles. As Yotam says: the star of the show is the crab chilli oil. It’s blooming delicious.
It feels a bit counterintuitive to hoy a pile of brown crab meat into hot garlic, ginger and chilli-infused oil (along with miso and tomato paste) and cook for 30 minutes. But there’s a wonderful alchemy here. A fishy, ozoney intensity that smacks of fish sauce but has a crab-induced sweet and savoury hum.
The chilli oil is hot as the fiery furnace – but this is a furnace you want to keep dipping into. A balancing citrus tang comes from the addition of a healthy slug of lime juice on the hot noodles.
Oh divine pleasures of taste and smell, I salute you! This week’s recipe from Guardian Feast encapsulates the gloriousness of carefully thought-through vegetarian recipes. Every element of Yotam Ottolenghi’s dish delivers flavour, aroma and texture, culminating in a mouth-explosion of deliciousness. And, with a plant-based yoghurt instead of cow’s milk, it would be easy to veganise.
It’s been a bit wild in our household recently. We went hot foot from Covid self-isolation to my niece’s wedding in Suffolk. It was a heart-expanding weekend celebrating love, friendship, family, hope and the future. I am so glad we were there to witness my niece and her partner’s commitment to each other and to partake in the communal breaking of bread and raising of glasses that sealed the deal.
In truth, the journey back to full health post-Covid – even with a double vaccine – is not totally straightforward. Smell and taste are slovenly in returning as are full energy levels – particularly since I’ve now developed pleurisy. But I’m sick of being poorly so am ignoring my scratchy lung and weary body.
Grateful thanks to my friend Barbara for dropping off Issue No.190 of Guardian Feast which I missed out on because of all the wonderful wedding shenanigans.
Bring on roast cauliflower with yoghurt and red pepper sauce which The Husband dubs ‘a microcosm of all things Ottolenghi’.
Yotam has a magic touch when it comes to marrying sharp-sweet-crunch-soft-fragrant-umami. But, dear reader, the magic moment was harvesting and preparing the mint: oh, hallelujah! I could smell its joyous scent! Such sensory delight after weeks of stunted smell brought a tear to my eye.
As ever, Yotam has you frying, toasting, mixing, crushing – but, the brilliant thing is, it’s all easily doable and manageable in the 25 minutes the cauliflower takes to roast. Turkish pepper paste would perhaps have furnished the dish with a hint of sweetness not found in my substitute tomato paste. However, ‘mild Turkish pepper paste’ was not available in the local shops here in Berwick. Next time.
About five days into our Covid-ridden self-isolation, The Husband and I congratulate ourselves that we’re continuing to survive on garden produce, store cupboard items and what’s in the fridge – we haven’t even run out of milk yet. However, none of this really matters as two key elements of life have gone missing in action.
We asked friends to drop by a copy of yesterday’s paper. It’s as if Rachel Roddy is mocking us in her taste and scent-infused column in Guardian Feast Issue No.189 about pizzette fritte – little fried pizzas. She writes:
‘Frying dough – like grating lemons, opening a new packet of coffee or cheese snacks, chopping herbs or grinding spices – is one of the great smells.’
Rachel’s right, of course, the smell of toast, grilled bacon, sweet blackberries, toasted nuts and seeds, all up there too: mmmmmmmm… but the simple truth is, Covid has taken our olfactory sense. We can’t smell anything. De nada. No taste either.
The first time I really noticed the lack, was after a particularly robust fart. I know we all think our own gassy expulsions are either fragrant or odourless, but I’ve lived long enough with mine to know that they are vicious incendiary devices. However, The Husband brushed close by without his customary ‘Oh!’. And so began the listing of all the things we could not smell or taste: that’s everything. A sort of never-ending no-smell I-Spy. When you’ve been banged up together for a week, you get your kicks where you can.
It is all very weird and quite distressing. But also interesting.
We still get taste groups: sweet, sour/bitter, heat (spice), salt, but that’s it. We can taste the bitter back taste of coffee but not the pleasing aromatic beany earthiness; we get the spicy punch of our Thai prawn curry but no hint of the sea or richness of coconut.
What is scary is that you can’t do the sniff test on on-the-brink items in the fridge. You also can’t smell burning (as The Husband discovered when he burnt his potato waffles – he’s working his way through his crime-buys from Iceland). The aroma of your cooking is absent as is the taste-as-you-go option – no matter the deliciousness of the ingredients.
Of course, we are by no means alone in our unhappy state – and it’s a salutary reminder that many are permanently without their sense of smell and/or taste. The eldest stepson suggests it’s a good year to release an unsatolfactory cookbook – and I’m sure there are clever people who are already on the case.
The Husband and I agree we can’t live on crisps and jelly tots. But what to do with our zero powers of taste and smell?
Yotam Ottolenghi’s peanut butter cornflake brittle has several things in its favour: it’s crunchy, sweet, salty and it’s a great use of the desultory pile of cornflakes left by the departing grandchildren last week. The only substitutions are desiccated coconut instead of flakes and salted peanuts instead of unsalted – but that’s probably a positive in the circumstances.
This is a cracking granola-esque snack which would be nice crumbled on your morning fruit and yoghurt. It’s got a great crunch and very satisfying mouthfeel. It certainly brightened up our bitter coffee water. Very easy to make and definitely one for the cupboard in future.
By yesterday (Saturday) evening, all I could think about was Rachel’s little fried pizzas. The very idea of them made my mouth water. They had to be made: we have basil coming out of our ears, four ripe tomatoes, parmesan and plenty of flour. Yes, it would use some of our dwindling milk supply, but needs must! I set to.
All that tomato, olive oil, garlic and basil, you know it’s going to be good. And even if you can’t smell the dough frying or taste the full nuances of flavour with Covid palate (no basil or garlic zing), these are satisfying, fun-to-make bites. Rachel says the dough usually only puffs on one side – not mine – dough balls of delight! After juggling the unctuous sauce onto the first few, The Husband devised a press-and-plop method which worked well.
A bit like making Japanese gyozas (which we’re very fond of doing), these little darlings are a communal effort – particularly the tearing off of plum-size pieces of dough, flattening them and the sauce distribution – oh, and eating them while they’re piping hot with a glass in hand. Student Daughter has already put in her order for them when she’s allowed back home. Bring it on!
It’s 4.30pm on Saturday. Earlier, we waved goodbye to all our children and grandchildren after a truly brilliant week together. The first time we’ve gathered as a full group in two years.
Beds stripped, sheets and towels on the washing conveyor belt, broken Lego binned and forgotten drawings and toys gathered up. However, our true focus is the final prep for our annual Open Garden day – it’s on Sunday: tomorrow.
There are 17 gardens around Berwick opening to raise funds to support the beautifying and upkeep of our local parks here. It’s a great occasion – all the more so because we couldn’t do it last year – full of socialising and gardening knowledge-sharing.
I get a text. Not a Love Island text calling me to the firepit – although, when I read it, it feels a bit like we’re about to go up in smoke. We’ve been exposed to coronavirus. We’re back home from the local walk-through PCR testing station by 5.30pm. I’m beginning to feel a bit coldy and achy. The Husband says he’s fine, but I think that sniff of his is suspicious.
We have cakes defrosting, the makings of 40 bacon rolls, a friend’s jam and more cakes arriving on the Sunday morning. The garden’s not perfect (it’s been a bit neglected by us and rampaged by the grandchildren in the very best of ways!) but it’s still looking good. But what if we have coronavirus?
I take the decision to pull out of Open Gardens.
Our PCR tests come back positive on Sunday morning. We take stock of the mountain of cakes and bacon. We slump in front of the telly all day, catching up on Love Island, watching people stroll past our window in the sunshine clutching Open Gardens trail maps. We’re groggy, fluey and lethargic – and a tad sorry for ourselves. We eat cake and bacon rolls.
By Tuesday I’m not sure I can eat another piece of cake or another bacon roll (The Husband’s not so sure!). I flick listlessly through Guardian Feast Issue No.188, even though I honestly cba to keep up with my ridiculous plan to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Feast during 2021.
However Meera Sodha – angel Meera – catches my eye with her fennel and courgette pistou soup. It looks so green and healing. Just thinking about spooning it into my body makes me feel better. Plus I have courgettes growing in the garden and a total abundance of basil. Okay, so we don’t have fennel. And we can’t nip out and get any. I never quite got round to sorting home delivery from any of our local supermarkets. At the beginning of Lockdown 1 it was impossible to register, let alone place an actual order, so I gave up. I find some sad celery in the bottom of the fridge and fennel seeds in the cupboard which I decide will do.
I use our ‘compost bag’ plus a shrivelled carrot to make veg stock. I’m not going to say that my compromises delivered the perfect solution. Fennel is clearly a signature ingredient in this soup. Hey-ho – as I so often say – sometimes you just have to use what’s on offer.
Whatever I lacked in my store cupboard, Meera’s soup made up for in healing benevolence. The perfect food for feeding the coronavirus-ridden body and soothing the angst-ridden soul. As we slurped it down, The Husband and I gave grateful thanks that we are both double vaxed and that we are not suffering the full and awful impact of the illness that so many around the world have had to endure.
As I tackle yet another recipe from Guardian Feast, it strikes me just how many riffs there are on the same ingredients – and how still they keep coming. Surely there can’t be many more combinations of ingredients to explore and write about?
This thought led The Husband to reminisce about a teenage angst he claims to have had. Apparently he worried that the ‘last possible permutations of all the melodies’ would be used up in the 60s. That every tune would be derivative. Isn’t everything basically derivative? I asked in my usual brutal, unromantic way.
Yotam Ottolenghi’s soft amaretti with coffee sauce and whipped cream from Guardian Feast Issue No.186 is a cross between deconstructed cookie dough ice cream and a caffeine-rich affogato.
The recipe is simple enough – whisking, whipping and rolling (stop it!). I had an issue with my amaretti dough which was so loose it was impossible to shape into the required 18 x 28g balls. Yotam had no guidance for me. I winged it and thickened the dough with a goodly extra serving of ground almonds.
There are real touches of genius in this recipe. The smattering of salt at every stage gives a wonderful ting in the eating. The teaspoon of lemon zest hums gently in the background. The coffee sauce delivers a rich, heady bass note. Overall, the dish harmonises to create a reet posh dinner party pud vibe.
And there we have it: perhaps there’s always a new melody to be found within an established set of ingredients. I’ll let The Husband know. I’m sure he’ll appreciate it.
What fruity delight will tickle our fancy from the ‘summer fruits special’ Issue No.185 of Guardian Feast?
Well, it’s hot, we have a gallon of cream (this happens when The Husband is in charge of the weekly supermarket shop), a bar of Bourneville, a couple of punnets of almost pre-macerated raspberries, a slightly mangy lime and the tail end of a bottle of tequila.
Hello, Thomasina Miers’ semifreddo with chocolate drizzle and raspberries. I’d say this is the perfect pud to serve at a dinner party. It’s easily made in advance and it tastes so gooooooooooooooooood!
We used to have an ice cream maker. Goodness knows where it is. I’m put off ice cream making without the trusty whirring paddle because of all the freezing-beating-freezing-beating palaver. Fortunately Thomasina’s semifreddo requires no in-out-beat-it-all-about stuff: you make the custard and stick it in the freezer till it’s done. Then add the other bits. My kind of frozen cream. Just make sure you allow for the four hours freezing time (although, as Thomasina says, overnight is even better).
And then the raspberries:
Finally the chocolate:
This is a clever pud – no ingredient dominates but all enhance the overall flavour. I love the way the cool semifreddo takes charge and solidifies the melted chocolate as you drizzle it on. My lime zest went in the marinating raspberries. I’m guessing Thomasina sprinkled hers over the finished semifreddo. No matter, a sprig of basil delivered a splendidly festive effect!
I enjoyed the eating of it so much, I had two slices. If I made it again (and I can’t think of a reason not to!), I’d use a better quality dark chocolate. We happened to have the Bourneville in stock, but it’s a tad sweet against the overall creamy fruitiness.
Not a full blogpost this one but a nod to joyful unexpected visits from family and how food makes everything even better!
London Daughter turned up this weekend in Berwick. Wonderful.
As well as a wild Saturday night scoffing spag bol and playing Monopoly Deal we (London Daughter) cooked up Meera Sodha’s vegan sweet potato yaki mochi with black sesame sauce from Issue No.181 of Guardian Feast.
London Daughter fancied sweet mochi but we had two sweet potatoes along with the bag of glutinous rice flour left from creating Ottolenghi’s chocolate and coconut mochi roulade a while back. So, Meera’s savoury sweet potato yaki mochi trumped Tim Anderson’s strawberry and red bean paste mochi dumplings from his marvellous book Nanban.
These fab crispy-chewy, stretchy-springy orange patties of delight are like a cross between pancakes and hash browns. The black sesame sauce is the perfect accompaniment – except my blender refused to grind the sesame to the glistening smoothness of Meera’s. At least not without melting its engine.
We served our yaki mochi with a salad of broad beans and courgettes from the garden – blanched, doused in lemon juice and a splash of olive oil, fresh chilli, salt and pepper. It turned out to be the perfect accompaniment.
I’m often drawn to the ideas of Thomasina Miers’ The simple fix meals in Guardian Feast but seldom seem to cook them. I think it’s something to do with the fact that they look like something I might put together myself without the aid of a recipe.
This attitude has probably meant I’ve missed many a super meal. Thomasina is the queen of the unobtrusive finishing touch which turns simple into superlative. In the case of her peppers stuffed with olives and goat’s cheese it’s the transformative green sauce that steals the show.
We’ve arrived at Issue No.184 in my attempt to cook at least one recipe each week from Guardian Feast magazine.
The Husband announced that he’d bought pointy peppers from the supermarket shop so it was serendipity that Feast fell open at Thomasina’s recipe.
One of this recipe’s strengths is that you can pretty much get everything done while the potatoes cook and the pepper halves get their first 15-minute softening roast. In a sense, you’re creating a vegetarian potato hash to fill the peppers with – but the marriage of flavours in Thomasina’s Mexican inspired peppers stuffed with olives and goat’s cheese is truly sublime. The pickle-herb-heat riff rocks.
The Husband is still muttering under his breath about capers: ‘How could I let us run out? Running out of capers is practically a crime against humanity.’ Unfazed by this calamity, I used the handful of capers we had and upped the quantity of pitted green olives. We also only had three pointy peppers rather than the required five. One pepper is diced and used in the stuffing – fortunately I had a jar of roasted red peppers in stock and used one of those chopped in the hash mix.
No fresh oregano lurking in the recesses of the fridge or garden either – I used dried alongside the fresh tarragon and parsley.
While the peppers are taking their second roasting – this time fully stuffed – you have plenty of time to neck a glass of the tipple of your choice and make the green sauce. Who’d have thought that blitzing garlic, oil, capers (erm, olives), lemon juice and chilli would create the dream topping? Student Daughter declared she’d ‘happily eat this again’ – and she doesn’t even like tarragon.
Just one word of caution. This is, as billed, a simple recipe. However, it does use quite a lot of pots and implements in the creation – well worth it in my opinion but also worth knowing when you start the prep.
As for Thomasina’s suggestions for using up the leftover stuffing and sauce during the rest of the week… we wolfed the lot in one sitting!
Big news from the Berwick Literary Festival team: poet laureate Simon Armitage, former prime minister Gordon Brown, best-selling novelist Salley Vickers and acclaimed historian William Dalrymple will all be celebrating words – written, spoken and performed – with us in October 2021.
Read on to discover more about our programme and the stunning line-up we’ll be presenting this autumn from historic Berwick-upon-Tweed. The Festival will be online again this year, with a couple of fabulous live events in association with The Maltings Theatre & Cinema.
As ever, The Friendly Festival in a Walled Town will be kickstarting debate across age groups, with a wide-ranging programme showcasing a blend of genres and topics – from poetry to politics, environment to science and technology, and history to social justice.
Programme co-ordinator Mike Fraser says: ‘It is the most exciting programme we’ve created to date. There really is something for everyone. From poet Hollie McNish (winner of the Ted Hughes Award) to poet laureate Simon Armitage, from William Dalrymple the authority of the history of India, to acclaimed novelist Salley Vickers and from Gordon Brown to journalist and political commentator Steve Richards. Our topical sessions include technology, conspiracy theories, the environment, the impact of Covid-19 and human rights issues.’
Gordon Brown will explore concerns raised in his impressive new book Seven Ways to Change the World (June 2021). Poet laureate Simon Armitage will be reading live on stage at The Maltings Theatre from Magnetic Field, his recent collection inspired by the West Yorkshire village where he grew up and began life as a writer. Hollie McNish will delve into her new collection Slug – expect strong language and adult content wrapped in caringly and carefully sculpted poetry.
William Dalrymple’s ambitious and extensive book The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of The East India Company tells a timely cautionary tale of the first global corporate power. Celebrated novelist Salley Vickers will introduce her new work The Gardener, to be published in November 2021.
Michael Taylor, author of The Interest: How the British Establishment Resisted the Abolition of Slavery, highlights issues around Black Lives Matter themes in his story of the ferocious campaign of the British pro-slavery lobby in the nineteenth century. Gemma Milne will provide answers to questions such as whether robots really will steal all the jobs in her critical examination of technology hype and conspiracy theories.
Humankind’s 15,000-year love affair with the canine race is the basis of Simon Garfield’s book Dog’s Best Friend – another timely topic given the rush for lockdown dogs during the past 18 months. The pandemic is on GP Gavin Francis’ mind in his examination of caring for a society in crisis: Intensive Care: A GP, a Community & Covid-19. And nature-loving friends Anna Deacon and Vicky Allan present a fresh perspective on the environment in For the Love of Trees – their book telling stories of people’s relationships with trees from across the UK.
Northumberland-based international poetry publisher Bloodaxe Books will again join the Festival. Poets David Constantine and Heidi Williamson will read from their recent collections and explore the passing of, and passing on, of memories and experience.
The age of disillusionment and the rise of anti-establishmentarianism – taking in the invasion of Iraq, phone hacking, the banking crash and Big Brother – is the theme of Alwyn Turner’s book All in it Together: England in the Early 21st Century. The fascinating life of sporting polymath Lottie Dod, the World’s First Female Sports Superstar is Sacha Abramsky’s subject. Diarmaid MacCulloch’s acclaimed biography shines new light on the life of Thomas Cromwell.
And a final word from Festival chair Michael Gallico: ‘Given the uncertainty about live events and venue capacity when we planned the schedule, we’re again offering a free online programme, but with the addition of two live headline events in association with the Maltings Theatre. Dyad Productions were a great success in 2019 and we are delighted they’re returning in 2021 with Female Gothic – lauded as ‘how horror ought to be done’. To have poet laureate Simon Armitage on the Maltings’ stage is real recognition of this Festival’s reach. We’ll be building on the strong online presence we established last year – and we’re very fortunate to have Gordon Brown as one of our online speakers in 2021. As ever, we’ll be promoting Berwick as a tourist destination to all festival goers.’
For full programme details visit the website here. To be sure of keeping up-to-date with Festival news and insider information join our mailing list here. If you’re not already a Patron of the Festival, why not sign up? There are all sorts of benefits and you’ll be supporting our Friendly Festival in a Walled Town to keep on celebrating words here in North Northumberland.