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.
There’s something in the air in Berwickland. It’s been hot for weeks. Our weekends have tumbled into our weekdays as muggy days roll into languid dreamy evenings. We’ve overdone it – working, gardening and, yes, eating and drinking.
So, Yotam Ottolenghi’s watermelon with pomegranate and mint sugar may sound cooling and seasonally appropriate, but it is the simple healing balm of Meera Sodha’s vegan tomato and turmeric kitchari that calls ‘eat me’ to us in Guardian Feast Issue No.183.
Kitchari is the perfect food for a Sunday soul slightly troubled by the memory of overindulgence the night before. And the fuel for a body wearied by hours of penitential garden strimming. Everything Meera says about this blend of rice, lentils, tomatoes, turmeric and cinnamon is spot on: cooking times, yoghurt and lime pickle accompaniments, suitable for all tastebuds.
Sunday morning. A wee bit over-tired after a lovely lazy meal with friends on a hot summer Saturday night. What better way to fumble into the day than to mooch around in my nightie baking Meera Sodha-style vegan garlic foccacia as featured in Guardian Feast Issue No.182?
Undemanding and therapeutic, bread-making – with its blend of mixing, kneading and resting – has a way of easing you into a daunting or unpromising Sunday. Plus, there’s the certainty of a comforting fresh-from-the-oven loaf to look forward to for brunch.
I’m not going to warble on about the process of making Meera’s ten-garlic-clove focaccia: take your time, follow the instructions, leave time for the proving (during which you do something undemanding like, say, clean your teeth, have a shower, read the paper, or sit quietly in a cool, dark corner), and enjoy pressing oil dimples into the bouncy dough with your fingertips when the time comes.
It’s win-win: you’ve faced a potentially lost day, achieved a loaf to sigh for and gained a garlic aura that no vampire will breach.
Life feels pretty unpredictable right now and it’s kind of nice to have a steady week-by-week mission to work on. Having said that, I am having a moment of ‘why am I even doing this?‘ with my project to cook at least one recipe each week from Guardian Feast magazine.
I guess the answer is, that as well as keeping me writing regularly, it keeps me cooking way outside my knowledge zone and, hopefully, entertains a few people along the way. I’d also like to think that some readers are encouraged to ‘give it a go’ when they spot a fabulous mouthwatering pic which turns out to be the sidekick to a seemingly insurmountable recipe. Also, to take power in substitution of niche, unobtainable or simply not-in-stock ingredients. This week, for example, I used – shock, horror – tinned peaches instead of fresh for Liam Charles’ roast peach bao buns from Issue No.181 of Guardian Feast.
Read on, because this truly is an example of a recipe that is a bit time-consuming but not that difficult. And it SO pays back the energy investment in novelty value and taste sensations.
This is the first week of Feast I’ve tackled that is sponsored – sorry, supported by – Ocado. I see this is a good partnership for both but, frankly, when you live in North Northumberland… Ocado don’t deliver to Berwick-upon-Tweed and our nearest Waitrose is 59 miles away in Edinburgh’s Morningside. So, good on you Guardian and Ocado but your little QR ingredient buy codes mean nothing to me.
The great thing about Liam’s recipe for roast peach bao buns is that you simply follow it step-by-step. I have learnt, now I’m half way through this marathon year of cooking, to get all my ingredients ready from the get-go. It makes life so much easier. For this recipe, I also had to make my own pistachio paste – not available in the shop I tried and no time to go elsewhere to search. This is not difficult. Simply whizz the nuts in a blender as you do for nut butter. I did try to husk the pistachios (soak in boiling water for 1-2mins and rub gently in kitchen roll) to achieve a super green paste but wasn’t totally successful.
I also had to pound my cloves in a pestle and mortar to get ‘ground cloves’ and for ‘ground cardamom’ whizz my cardamoms in my coffee grinder. Ingredients set. Let’s cook!
Making the dough for the buns is easy peasy (I’ve wanted to make bao for a while, so I was super-excited). The radio accompanied my 10-minuted kneading session. As did the smug satisfaction that kneading always adds to my Fitbit footstep total. Over 94,000 steps in total this week (Mon-Fri). Thanks for asking.
The dough proved for an hour and, in that time window, I achieved the roast peaches and the custard (I’d had my doubts I’d make it). I’m sure fresh peaches would have given a fruitier tickle but tinned was what I had. I thought about reducing the roasting and syrup-reduction times but my peaches held their shape throughout the full cooking timings. I didn’t have lemon thyme so just used lovely fresh thyme from the garden.
The custard (my most angst-inducing element of the recipe) was also a doddle. I cut back on the caster sugar (actually I ran out!) using 100g instead of Liam’s 150g. I also had only semi skimmed milk but whisked in a dollop of double cream – that makes full fat, right? I had to battle through the foam I’d created through possible over-whisking to see if the custard was thickening – I enlisted Student Daughter, home from uni, to do a spoon test. In the event, the thin-to-thick turn was sudden. Into a sieve it went and out it squished. I’d just laid clingfilm over it when I remembered why the butter was winking at me. You have to stir 60g into the hot sieved custard and that makes all the silky smooth difference.
A couple of year’s back I bought The Husband a steamer from the charity shop. Now was it’s moment to shine!
Just take a moment to enjoy my buns. Look at the perky shape. Look at the rich colour palette. Now imagine the pillowy, chewy bite of the buns spiked with clovey deliciousness. Then let the flavours of honey, thyme, peach, cardamom and vanilla harmonise with the crunchy creamy pistachio. And don’t forget to scoop up that dollop of custard and syrup squelching down your chin.
The Husband has since discovered that Liam’s clove-spiked boa buns work deliciously with pork pie meat (from a homemade pork pie), spring onions, lettuce and hoisin sauce. Deep joy!
For me, this recipe is everything that my challenge is about. Give it a go and let me know what you think and how you get on.
Tofu is not universally celebrated in our house. The Husband considers it ‘blandness incarnate’. In some ways I guess he’s right. A bit like bread, rice, potatoes and pasta, tofu’s basically a vessel for flavour. But just look at the miraculous flavours and textures you can create using these superhero vessels.
If you are ambivalent about tofu, read on.
Our favourite tofu dish to date has been the ridiculously easy to prepare chilled tofu with soy sauce, ginger and katsuobushi (dried fermented tuna flakes) from Tim Anderson’s inspiring JapanEasy. In his introduction to the dish, Tim concedes that the dish sounds unprepossessing. However, he also says it’s a cracking dish. He’s right: it’s lipsmackingly delicious. A perfect introduction to bean curd for the tofu sceptic.
However, it’s time we branched out. London Daughter and I agree that Meera Sodha’s dry-fried beans with minced tofu sounds both straightforward and intriguing – a good weekend supper dish. Confession time: it was the mention of Sichuan peppercorns that caught my eye. I’d bought a sackload of them when London Daughter took on Ixta Belfrage’s (from Ottolenghi Kitchen)biang biang noodles with numbing oil and tahini soy sauce.
That was from Guardian Feast back in November 2020 before my self-imposed challenge to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021 began. And so to Issue No.180 and week 25 of the challenge.
Bring on Meera Sodha’s vegan dish: dry-fried beans with minced tofu
London Daughter and I both decide to cook Meera’s plateful. We head out for ingredients – me in Northumberland, her in North London.
I manage a pack of green beans from our Saturday market and pressed tofu and dried shiitake from our local organic gem the Green Shop. I receive a WhatsApp from London Daughter: ‘Got fresh shiitake but no green beans 😂. Only in Crouch End!’
London Daughter cooks her version of Meera’s beans and tofu the night before I do. From the pics, I’d say she makes a better job of the dish than me. I rather overdo the burning of the beans but hers look just right.
The combo of minced tofu and mushrooms gives an almost meaty chew to the dish and both the daughter and I opt to chuck in a few extra red chillies on top of the crushed Sichuan peppercorns as suggested by Meera.
London Daughter declared the dish ‘salty and crunchy, quite different’. For The Husband it ‘makes tofu interesting – no small achievement!’.
Praise indeed for this underrated superhero of vegan food.
Erchen Chang’s dan dan tofu noodles
Clearly at a loose end, London Daughter decides to use up her block of pressed tofu on another dish in Issue No.180 of Feast: Erchen Chang’s dan dan tofu noodles. I suggest she might like to blog about it for me. She sends pics and comments instead:
Erchen describes the noodles as a ‘simple, savoury dish’. London Daughter describes it as:
London Daughter couldn’t lay her hands on any black vinegar and used balsamic instead. In the taste test she judged it as having ‘lots of oil, not much veg, but it’s very tasty’. She thought the heat might defeat her, but slurped down the whole bowl. She says I should definitely cook it.
Rachel Roddy – gateau au yaourt
We were completely beguiled by Rachel Roddy’s wonderful tale from an Italian kitchen this week which involves an elderly gentleman, yoghurt and a careless supermarket trolley driver. The Husband, London Daughter and I agree it would make the youngest daughter weep. We discovered through lockdown that anything involving elderly men and vulnerability (in films, cartoons, stories) will for some reason set her off.
London Daughter was so beguiled by Rachel’s story that she cooked the yoghurt cake of the tale. In the end, she was a little underwhelmed by it. She wondered if it was to do with ingredient quantities: the cake rose magnificently but remained rather dense and a ‘a bit bland’. Fortunately the youngest daughter is on her way to London to visit her sister and loves an olive oil cake (and she’s always hungry!).
I’ll sign off this week with three cheers for two superheroes of the kitchen: tofu (and its sidekicks heat, rice and noodles) and London Daughter.
‘Moroccan or Thai,’ asked The Husband as he cooked the prawns to go with my marinating peppers. I was on the phone to London daughter and gave her the choice. Thai it was. Perhaps not the obvious choice with vegan red peppers drenched in soy sauce, cider vinegar, garlic, maple syrup, sesame oil and topped with a cumin seed, pine nut and coriander crunch. The moral of the story: don’t consult someone who’s not there on your menu creation. Or, maybe, just don’t give options.
Fortunately, Yotam Ottolenghi’s sweet ‘n’ sour peppers with pine nut crumble from Guardian Feast Issue No.179 is so easy peasy and so darn delicious, you could serve them with old shoe leather and they’d still dazzle and dance around all your senses. These beauties made right pepper pigs of us!
And so my self-imposed challenge to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021 (find out more about that here), continues to surprise and delight.
I was right out of red romano peppers but Billy at Berwick market’s fruit and veg stall supplied me with some spot-on red peppers ordinaire. As there were just two of us, I halved the quantity of peppers to 500g (wish I hadn’t – so tasty!) but stuck to the same amount of nutty cuminy crumble (Yotam counsels to make double: he’s right, it’s a super crunchy, salty topping – a condiment as well as a crumble).
The only faff is peeling the roasted red peppers – but it’s worth the time. This easy vegan recipe punches above its ingredient and effort-weight in terms of flavour, aroma and prettiness.
Some weeks the urge to mix it up is irresistible. With our lockdown clan (The Husband, the two daughters and me) reunited for my birthday, this was just such a week.
We needed celebration. We needed snacking. We needed playful food. Enter Guardian Feast Issue No.178 the let me entertain you issue with Ravneet Gill’s pineapple and coconut jelly, Felicity Cloake’s perfect cheese empanadas and Yotam Ottolenghi’s zingy tofu rice paper rolls.
My challenge to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021 (find out more about that here), continues apace. This week it was lovely to have the return of the eldest daughter’s nimble fingers and strict kitchen protocol.
Read on for the usual useful insights into tackling unknown recipes and tempting mouthwatering deliciousness.
The photo of Ravneet’s beautiful pineapple and coconut jelly was simultaneously droolingly succulent and terrifying. I wanted to grab a spoon and plunge it into the photo but I wanted Ravneet to make it for me. However, part of my reason for tackling a recipe a week from Feast is to wrestle through recipes I would otherwise skip over. Here goes.
Ravneet Gill’s pineapple and coconut jelly
We only have one jelly mould in the house and I felt a tad offended that The Husband considered it ‘eccentric’ for the jelly in hand. I mean, it is ‘a great jelly mould’ as required by Ravneet, perhaps just not the one she had in mind (see below).
Since the coconut jelly (a delicious smooth, creamy panna cotta) must set before the pineapple wobble is poured on top of it, I made this over two days (I’m learning to read a recipe properly before I start it!). I used the gelatin powder I had in stock, rather than the recommended platinum leaves. It seemed fine. I ended up with more of both jellies than required – a small ramekin of the coconut and double pineapple and lime! My daughter was clearly right in her interpretation of the recipe: ‘400g pineapple, trimmed, peeled and cut into small chunks’ means the unpeeled and untrimmed weight. Oh well, double dibs on pineapple jelly? No one’s complaining.
If I were to make this gorgeous party centrepiece again – it’s a wibbly wobbly pina colada, why wouldn’t I? – I would clingfilm the surface of the coconut panna cotta to prevent it forming a slightly rubbery skin while it’s setting (although The Husband loved the ‘texture’).
The eldest daughter picked up the baton for Yotam Ottolenghi’s zingy tofu rice paper rolls and Felicity Cloake’s perfect cheese empanadas to create a welcome home feast for the youngest daughter.
Feleicity Cloake’s the perfect… cheese empanadas
The eldest daughter ordered in masarepa (pre-cooked cornmeal) specially to make these golden cheese toasty wraps.
The biggest challenge was (as Felicity hints) handling the corn pastry. Felicity counsels ‘handling it with wet hands at all times’. The issue for us was that the pastry tore and holed really easily. Wet hands helped but the biggest breakthrough was using extra masarepa and greaseproof paper in the envelope creation. That way you barely need to touch the empanadas with your hands.
Felicity suggests a range of acceptable extras to add to your cheesy filling. To be honest ours needed a bit of flavour-plumping – the blend of mozzarella and halloumi was not the most flavoursome. We all agreed that we’d add jalapeno peppers in the mix next time and probably change the cheese combo for something with a bit more oomph. We baked ours – although I can see the appeal of deep frying!
Yotam Ottolenghi’s zingy tofu rice paper rolls
Like Ravneet’s jelly, Yotam’s vegan rice rolls look so pretty and appealing on the page. We couldn’t wait to recreate them. Yotam’s right to call them ‘zingy’. Bursting with pine nuts, sesame seeds, chestnuts, ginger, garlic and chilli, they have exactly the right balance of chew and crunch and zest and heat.
The eldest daughter took charge of prep while I got the shitake shrooms soaking and searched out the rest of the ingredients. Instead of adding the fried ingredients to the cold marinated tofu, we popped the tofu in the pan and let it warm through and soak up the soy saucy flavours. Other than that, we stuck to Yotam’s instructions. Bish bash bosh: top nosh.
It’s probably the same countrywide but I didn’t realise until we moved to Northumberland that many people judge a café purely on its scones. We’ve lived here nearly 11 years and I now know people who won’t enter the doors of certain establishments because of perceived scone quality.
Such people would surely celebrate were Yotam Ottolenghi to set up shop selling pull-apart scones with za’atar and feta on the corner of Marygate in Berwick-upon-Tweed. These gluten-free, veggie beauties are scones, Jim, but not as we know them.
My take on Ottolenghi’s pull-apart scones with za’atar and feta from Guardian Feast: they are scones, Jim, but not as we know them (in a good way)!
I’m six months into my epic challenge to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021 (find out more about that here), and the goodies just keep coming.
Some may take issue with a 16-ingredient scone. They’re wrong. But they’ve probably stopped reading already so they’ll never know. The only ingredient I couldn’t source here in Berwick was ‘powdered pectin’. After much consideration and a bit of Googling, I decided to eschew gelatin and agar agar and up the quantity of ‘finely grated lemon zest’ to a full lemon instead of 1/2 tsp. My square baking tin wasn’t quite the dimensions required by Yotam, but all was well with the end product.
My za’atar was what I’d term cupboard vintage – but it worked a treat.
Only two crisis points for me in the recipe:
Yotam says: ‘Pour in the cream mix, pulse again until the ‘crumbs’ are moist but not quite coming together’ – see picture below. Also, am I the only person who, when a recipe says ‘in a small bowl’, takes it literally and then has to upgrade to a bigger bowl? There was no way I could safely whisk my cream, yoghurt and egg in my chosen bowl.
Not sure what a ‘rough 15cm long rectangle’ looks like. I made a square – see below. The pile of cheese looked impossibly huge heaped on it, but it wrapped up just fine.
As Yotam promised, I ended up with nine scones and had 54g of dough left over rather than the predicted 80g – not bad!
The alchemy of Yotam’s scones is not only in magically making something gluten free feel light and fluffy (I know enough people with celiac disease to understand the sad hefty mouthfeel of many gluten free products), but also in the perfect balance of intense cheesy herbiness and floaty pastry.