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Mélange à trois: jelly, empanadas, rice rolls

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.

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).

My lobster jelly mould. Perhaps not quite the ‘great jelly mould’ for Ravneet’s spectacular pineapple and coconut jelly

It’s a wibbly wobbly pina colada!

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’).

Wibble wobble, lobster jelly on a plate: my take on Ravneet Gill’s pineapple and coconut jelly. Pina colada on a plate!

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.

Original recipes:

Ravneet Gill pineapple and coconut jelly

Felicity Cloake the perfect… cheese empanadas

Yotam Ottolenghi – zingy tofu rice paper rolls

Mélange à trois. What a feast!

Feast-ing: I want the lot

I’m celebrating my love of the food columns and supplements in The Guardian by trying to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021. Find out a bit more about that here.

From Guardian Feast issue No.157 on Saturday 16 January 2021, my take on three dishes no less! Ravinder Bhogal’s pineapple, kale and red cabbage salad, Meerha Sodha’s vegan Hoppin’ John and Tamal Ray’s sweet spot lemon crumble cookies. Links to all original recipes at the end of the post.

First off, I had to try Tamal Ray’s lemon crumble cookies. What better way to start a Saturday than a fresh baked cookie with your mid-morning coffee and a sit down with the paper?

As Tamal says, these are a ‘cinch’ to make, requiring pleasingly few ingredients – all in most people’s store cupboards. In our house we have a bit of a citrus mountain: all those lemons destined for G&Ts and limes for margaritas have languished in our fruit bowl in the wake of Dry January. So, it’s good to find a different outlet for the little beauties. One friend has taken to making dried limes from her lime mountain a la Ottolenghi – more of that later.

I’ve never made cookies by piling the crumbed mix up on the tray for the heat of the oven to fuse into crumbly delights – I used an upside-down pastry cutter for a regular size and shape, which worked well. Unusually for me, I managed to get the precise number of cookies (16) Tamal said I should.

Just one beef here, Tamal: January’s hard enough without more restraint. The mere idea that these crumbly citrus beauties should be ‘sealed in an airtight container, something to be enjoyed over a couple of weeks’… er, no, not in our household.

Tamal Ray’s lemon crumble cookies. Not a crumb left after two days in our household. Sorry.

On the Sunday we went for a long walk out of Berwick to Spittal, along a very waterlogged section of the Coastal Path to Cocklawburn Beach and back home through the fields and woods of Scremerston.

Views from our pre Hoppin’ John walk – a reminder of Scremerston’s mining history sandwiched between two views of Cocklawburn Beach. North Northumberland is a very delightful spot.

We were all knackered after our walk and by the time I turned to Meera Sodha’s take on all-American south dish Hoppin’ John, it was dark. Thing is, when a recipe says ‘1 1/2 tbsps Tabasco’, you start salivating and you can’t stop until you’ve scratched the itch. Hence, at about 7pm last Sunday I headed, torch in hand, down our garden, to snip cavolo nero off stalks that look as leggy as winter palms in the South of France. Meera uses spring greens but when you’ve grown something, you’re keen to use every last scrap. I didn’t have celery (and my daughters aren’t keen, anyway) so I threw in a couple of bay leaves for that earthier taste. I scraped all the shrivelling carrots, offcuts of fennel and onions off the floor of the fridge into a pan and brewed up some veg stock.

This is a seriously simple, biryani, pilau, paella type dish – perfect for a quick (ish) vegan supper. I didn’t have vegan mayonnaise in the cupboard. Those of us who worry about completism on the vegan front did not help ourselves to the bowl of Hellman’s and crushed garlic I provided.

We enjoyed Hoppin’ John so much that I made almost exactly the same meal again two nights’ later but, this time (sorry Meera and all vegans) with chicken.

Week two of my year cooking with Guardian Feast - Meera Sodha's take on Hoppin' John
We’re hoppin’ mad for Meera Sodha’s vegan Hoppin’ John in our fam

We’ve all become big red cabbage fans during lockdown – particularly in the form of Asian slaw. So, Ravinder Bhogal’s pineapple, kale and red cabbage salad was not just up our street, it was parked in our drive. We had a half cabbage in the fridge along with a bunch of coriander – and, of course, my cavolo nero from the garden instead of kale.

There’s something marvellously profligate about a recipe that has four ingredients for the main event and 13 for the dressing – bring it on! Weirdly, this very straightforward (apart, perhaps from the number of ingredients) recipe was my most eventful of the week.

First challenge: tricky allergic daughter can’t eat raw pineapple. I googled replacements for pineapple and, bingo!, apricots were an option (we had some going a bit depressed in the fruit bowl). ‘You can replace pineapple with apricot!’ I announced to my two daughters. They both looked stunned, glancing uncomfortably at me and The Husband. Then giggling. Turns out eating pineapple is supposed to make semen taste nicer. How do my daughters know such things? Not from me. Cut a long story short, I also had a rather unripe mango which proved perfect for the job! The salad, that is.

For the dressing, I only had crunchy peanut butter, so I whizzed it as smooth as I could in a blender. Makrut lime leaves are not something that feature in my cupboard. Hallelujah! for my friend’s homemade dried lime powder. A healthy spoonful of that gave the dressing a good citrus kick, so I’m calling it the perfect sub.

I also discovered that the bag of open peanuts I was finally going to knock on the head for Ravinder’s nutty garnish went out of date in June 2020. Hey-ho time to use them up. They were fine! My biggest error was misreading the recipe and putting a full 400ml can (should have been 200ml) of coconut milk into the pan for the dressing. Actually, it was fine although I’m sure it diluted the powerful kick of the dressing. It did mean that the whole sliced red chilli garnish worked well with its fierce pops of heat and flavour. On the upside, we are also still enjoying the dressing’s umami deliciousness on a range of meals.

Ravinder Bhogal's pineapple, kale and red cabbage salad from Guardian Feast
Ravinder Bhogal’s salad is tasty, filling and, with all its umami flavour sensations, something you want to just keep eating – even with mango instead of pineapple!

Lemon crumble cookies, Tamal Ray

Hoppin’ John, Meera Sodha

Pineapple, kale and red cabbage, Ravinder Bhogal

Next time from Guardian Feast Issue No. 158: Rachel Roddy’s budini di riso fiorentini (little rice pudding tarts) and possibly either Thomasina Miers’ savoy cabbage and fennel sausage ‘lasagne’ (if I can get a savoy cabbage without going to the supermarket (it’s not supermarket week!) or Yotam Ottolenghi’s macaroni with yoghurt and spicy lamb. We shall see.

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