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Crab chilli is star fish

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.

Hot as the fiery furnace – but this is a furnace you want to keep dipping into.

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.

If you’re a crab lover, it’s the supper of gods.

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.

If you’re a crab lover, it’s the supper of gods.

My take on Yotam Ottolenghi’s rice noodles with lime and crab chilli oil from Guardian Feast Issue No.191

Original recipe:

Yotam Ottolenghi – rice noodles with lime and crab chilli oil

Is that the joyous scent of mint?

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.

The journey back to full health post-Covid – even with a double vaccine – is not totally straightforward

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.

A microcosm of all things Ottolenghi

The Husband

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’.

Classic Ottolenghi: a whole host of ingredients. And heavenly scented mint.

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.

My take on Yotam Ottolenghi’s roast cauliflower with yoghurt and red pepper sauce from Guardian Feast Issue No.190

Original recipe:

Yotam Ottolenghi – roast cauliflower with yoghurt and red pepper sauce

Cooking for the soul in Covid isolation

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?

Our garden in July – before it was wonderfully overrun with grandchildren

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.

The abundance of fridge, cupboard and garden. No fennel, but all that basil made for a delicious pistou!

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.

Stay safe and well. x

Original recipe:

Meera Sodha – Fennel and courgette pistou soup

Stuff the peppers. Love the green sauce

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.

Thomasina is the queen of the unobtrusive finishing touch which turns simple into superlative

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.

My version of Thomasina Miers’ simple fix of peppers stuffed with olives and goat’s cheese (with the all-important green sauce!)

I’d happily eat this again!

Student daughter

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.

The pickle-herb-heat riff rocks

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.

The magic of the sauce: Thomasina’s green sauce really is the dream topping for the stuffed peppers

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!

Original recipe:

Thomasina Miers – peppers stuffed with olives and goat’s cheese

What links Gordon Brown, Simon Armitage, William Dalrymple and Salley Vickers?

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.

Gordon Brown

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.

Gemma Milne debunks technology hype and conspiracy theories

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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Williamson-Constantine-photo-1-1024x683.jpg
Poets David Constantine and Heidi Williamson both published by Bloodaxe Books

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.

Alwyn Turner

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.

Soothing kiss of kitchari

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.

Dreamy cooling evenings: moon, bridge and swans in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland

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.

At least a session of penitential gardening has a good impact on the garden!

Original recipe

Meera Sodha – kitchari with tomato and turmeric

Addendum

The Sunday vegan memo was one The Husband missed. Just as the rice was having its 10-minute-rest, he rushed into the kitchen announcing he’d bought some fish that needed eating. So…

Meera’s kitchari with added fish

Garlic focaccia: easy like a Sunday morning

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?

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

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.

Original recipe

Meera Sodha – ten-garlic-clove focaccia

Peachy buns of Liam, take a bao!

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.

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.

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.

Original recipe

Liam Charles – roast peach bao buns

Yotam’s dish made pepper pigs of us!

‘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.

So darn delicious you could serve them with old shoe leather and they’d still dazzle and dance around all your senses

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. 

Not the pointy peppers required by Yotam but what was available on the day at Berwick market

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.

Original recipe:

Yotam Ottolenghi – sweet ‘n’ sour peppers with pine nut crumble

The judgment of scones

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 Yotam Ottolenghi's 'pull-apart scones with za'atar and feta' from Guardian Feast. Sublime gluten free, vegetarian beauties.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Original recipe:

Yotam Ottolenghi – pull-apart scones with za’atar and feta

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