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Posts Tagged ‘Ottolenghi’

Granted. I’ve been absent for a long time – family life combined with running your own business can do that to your social networking life – but I’m ready to get back to food blogging. It’s something I really enjoy doing and have missed. I only hope that I can find the time and energy to do it again.

I might have been away from my blog but I haven’t been far from food. It’s just that my approach to food has adapted to suit the limited time available for cooking and, naturally, to my little boy’s developing tastes.

_EP_8202-01For a while, when LC was little, I struggled to cope with not having time in the kitchen after work (cooking had always been my creative outlet and the way I relaxed) but we’re now over some very difficult hurdles and there’s a little more time on an evening to cook. I’m working through recipes in the cookbooks that gathered on my shelves over the last two years and were subsequently neglected as well as rediscovering old favourites. Books like Persiana, Made in India, New Indian, Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, Comptoir Libanais, the River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook and, more recently, Indian Kitchen: Secrets of Indian home cooking have reignited my passion for cooking and, importantly for me, my desire to experiment and create ‘new’ dishes.

I’ve had a little ‘me’ time when I’ve been able to hone some skills and learn new ones. I’ve been on a baking course with Hart’s Bakery and almost perfected my sourdough, I joined Wai Yee Hong and Bishopston Supper Club for the first ever #dumplingfest and learned how to make samosas with a new foodie friend, Arushi.

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Seeing LC enjoy food and want to spend time with me in the kitchen has really helped. I feel immensely proud when he names fruit and vegetables, can recognise ingredients in a cooked dish or sniffs the air and tells me he can smell that I’m cooking curry! I also felt slightly embarrassed when nursery staff reported how, as they told the children they were going to bake cakes, he jumped it to explain to them all how to make one and listed the ingredients needed.

He wants to help with everything from growing vegetables in the garden to shopping, stirring, whisking and even sweeping up. He’s been a great excuse to make time in the kitchen to do things I’ve never done or haven’t done for a long time; make pasta, stale bread gnocchi, oatcakes, meringues, jellies and cakes. He’s eager to learn, soaks up everything I teach him and demonstrates what he’s learnt in his play kitchen where he makes paella, risotto, pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausage sandwiches and a bloody good cup of tea!

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And what about eating out? We still do that, just not as frequently. We have sneaky days off with LC in nursery so we can have breakfast or lunch out, or sometimes both! We eat out at lunchtime with LC and occasionally we indulge in a night out, with the help of the amazing people in our lives who offer to babysit.

The Bristol food scene continues to thrive. The variety and quality of food available is outstanding. We’ve had incredible steaks at The Ox, the most amazing chicken wraps from Matina in St Nick’s market, Sunday lunches with a difference at the Kensington Arms, Yurt Lush and Bishopston Supper Club, tapas to die for at Bravas and Pata Negra, the best brunches at RosemarinoBaker & Co and Souk Kitchen, consistently good food at out local, The Victoria Park, stunning fish and chips at Salt and Malt, spice fixes from the Jamaican Diner, authentic Indian cooking from Romy’s Kitchen, a complete surprise tasting menu at the Lido and fantastic salt beef from Aron’s Jewish Delicatessen.

_EP_3760_1Further afield we’ve tucked in at the Hardwick and eaten the best pea and ham soup we’ve ever tasted at the Hind’s Head. Even further afield we were wowed by the food and hospitality in Copenhagen. Aaman’s open sandwiches, DOP hotdogs and Papiroen street food market were highlights of our trip. Sadly there was no visit to Noma!

So, I’ve discovered that there is still room for food in our lives…it’s just that we’re on a diet!

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I wouldn’t consider myself someone who gets caught up with trivial things and I like to think that I don’t judge a book by its cover. In the case of Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi all that went out of the window and I can honestly say I would buy this book just for the cover; a soft, cushioned cover, which as far as I can tell, serves no other purpose than to make you want to pick the book up! It’s a tactile book, so pleasing to touch, to hold and, in that same therapeutic fashion as bubble wrap, to squeeze.

If you can bear to take a pause from stroking the cover for a few moments, inside you’ll find a collection of recipes from Ottolenghi’s New Vegetarian column in the Guardian. Many of the recipes have been reviewed, refined and re-written for the book. It’s not because the recipes weren’t successful, but because Ottolenghi believes that a recipe isn’t set in stone. Changes to the recipes reflect the way in which his cooking and writing style has developed over the years. He also believes that each time you make a dish you find ways to tweak it, to enhance it, to make it suit your mood or your guests’ tastes.

Presenting food in chapters based around favourite ingredients has become a popular choice for cookery book writers. Though there is an even more unsystematic approach to the chaptering in Plenty – favourite ingredients combined with botanical categories and associations which make sense only to the author. This approach reveals something about the way he thinks when cooking and developing recipes, focusing on one ingredient at the heart of a dish and building the recipe around it, adding influences from the flavours of his childhood and the chefs at the Ottolenghi restaurant.

Yotam Ottolenghi isn’t a vegetarian but he has a real knack of creating interesting, colourful dishes, packed full of flavour and which just so happen not to contain meat or fish. Whether or not you’re a vegetarian, the dishes are a joy to cook and eat and every recipe cooked so far recommended.

Anyone, like me, who already owns and has devoured most of the recipes in Ottolenghi: The Cookbook may find that this book has less of the flair and excitement and none of the jaw-dropping and tempting desserts of the first but should still find plenty of inspiration.

Get cooking:

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I spent the weekend at a very different work Christmas party, not my own company’s Christmas party, but that of my partner’s, Element78. This year, the MD, Iain, decided that rather than the usual meal and drinks in town he’d invite partners and organise something a little different; an away weekend to Springhead, a beautiful, rural, self-catering centre in Dorset. 

When, in the pub one Friday evening after work, I offered to manage the Christmas dinner cooking for him, I could see the weight falling off his shoulders. And so, the idea came about that each member of the E78 team and their partner would be responsible for organising one element of the weekend to share the load.  Then began a couple of months deliberation, discussion and delegation.

My attention turned to menu planning. Unaware of how good the facilities would be but knowing we were going to be out and about during the day and there’d only be a short time available for cooking, it had to be something which could be turned around in as short a time as possible…no giant turkey then! 

The hardest part, besides calculating how many potatoes to order (after all, there is a rule which states that no matter how many roast potatoes you cook, there just aren’t going to be enough), was finding something suitable for the vegetarians. Whilst I insist on having veggie night once a week at home, I’m not vegetarian and nor could I ever be (I could not come to terms with life without chicken or pork with crackling!), I do like to look at the vegetarian options when we’re out for dinner. I’m often appalled at how unappealing and thoughtless the dishes are compared to the meat or fish dishes, especially on Sunday and Christmas menus. My challenge had to be to come up with a vegetarian option which not only went with all the trimmings but which made my vegetarian diners feel special and that their meal was a star of the show. 

Initial numbers worked out at 14 meat eaters and 3 veggies but as the days before the big weekend passed, messages were being relayed my way about the changing numbers. One day it would increase, the next decrease. It was impossible to know how many I would be feeding on the night. There was only one thing to do; keep calm and carry on!

We arrived back from an afternoon of virtual warfare (one to keep the boys happy!) around 6, dinner was to be served at 8. Time to get cooking. I’m very thankful to Jed and the small team of helpers who took orders to get potatoes peeled, carrots chopped, sprouts shredded, peppers stuffed and utensils washed. Within the hour everything was prepared and anything that needed to be in the oven was – there was plenty of time for G&Ts and to change into party frocks before the final flourish and service. Ramsay’s kitchen nightmares this wasn’t, but I could get used to the shouts of ‘yes chef’!!

Dinner went down incredibly well and people couldn’t have been more complimentary, with pretty much everyone (final headcount was 21) asking for one recipe or another. I achieved my aim with the vegetarian dish and was overwhelmed by the comment of ‘this was the best Christmas dinner I’ve had’. I can’t help but think that I’ve got a job for life at future E78 Christmas party’s but, do you know what, I’d be more than happy with that outcome!

Here it is, the Element 78 Christmas 2010 menu:

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Mouthwatering, refreshing, heavenly, magical, exquisite… Ottolenghi: The Cookbook was our February Book of the Month at Cookery Book Supper Club.

Yotam Ottolenghi starts his introduction to the book with “If you don’t like lemon or garlic…skip to the last page”. Well, if you don’t like lemon and garlic you’re missing out on some divine recipes and if you do head straight for the last page, you’d be disappointed to have jumped past the plethora of meringues, cakes and other baked goodies

I have bought this book countless times as presents for other people, gorged myself in the Islington restaurant, been engrossed in Yotam’s New Vegetarian column in the Guardian for some time and finally received the book myself for Christmas…I was a happy bunny!

The only problem was deciding what to cook and take with me to the meeting.

There is no doubting that we were all bowled over by this month’s book, Ottolenghi: The Cookbook. The prose, the photography, the ingredients and the end results are sublime. The book really is a feast for all your senses and Nigel Slater’s review on the cover of the book couldn’t sum it up any better: ‘This is simply wonderful cooking…modern, smart and thoughtful. I love it!’.

The Ottolenghi philosophy is one of food bringing pleasure, that you can keep it simple and still delicious and that food should be fun – to buy, to cook and to eat.

What is surprising about the book is the sheer number of delicious vegetarian recipes – side dishes and main courses. And before all you meat-eaters run for the hills, you should give them a go! The attention to tastes and textures is so well thought out that for one evening, at least, you won’t miss the meat.

So, let’s cut to the chase! What can we recommend you get in the kitchen and make tonight? Would it be wrong of us to say – everything?!

A shocking big hit was the cucumber and poppy seed salad. Genius! We’ll never look at the dull cucumber in the same light again. Who would have thought that a cucumber could be so good?

The chargrilled broccoli with chilli and garlic, a recipe that is synonymous with the restaurant, makes an exciting side dish.

Hands up if the thought of cauliflower conjures up memories of school dinners? Ooo, the smell! May I introduce you to the addictive cauliflower and cumin fritters with lime yoghurt? Eat hot, warm or cold, in a pita with houmous and some salad. Divine!

Oxtail stew with pumpkin and cinnamon. A real winter warmer – and boy did we need it on that cold night in February. A long, slow-cooked dish with hearty flavours, finished with a zing from the gremolata. It’s one I’ll be cooking again and again.

We served the stew with a mograbiah salad (in the book it accompanies the barbecued quail) but the lemony and herb spiced accompaniment worked really well with the stew. Mograbiah is a large variety of couscous common in the Arab world. It’s also known as Giant or Israeli couscous. It’s almost pasta-like in consistency, dense and chewy unlike normal couscous which has a more grainy texture.

As if that’s not enough to tempt you, I’m going to appeal to your sweet tooth and your pudding stomach. Giant cinnamon and hazelnut meringues. They speak for themselves really. A trip to one of the restaurants or delis in London is well worth it just to see the piles of these in the window!

A quick run-down of our other tried and tested dishes:

  • Caramelised endive with Serrano ham
  • Portobello mushrooms with pearl barley and preserved lemon
  • Roast potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes with lemon and sage
  • Marinated turkey breast with cumin, coriander and white wine – try it also with chicken or lamb
  • Sardines stuffed with bulgar, currants and pistachios

And dishes we didn’t get around to making but are at the top of our wish lists:

  • French beans and mangetout with hazelnut and orange
  • Marinated rack of lamb with coriander and honey
  • Turkey and sweetcorn meatballs with pepper sauce
  • Buttered prawns with tomato, olives and Arak
  • Brioche
  • Parmesan and poppy biscuits
  • Plum, marzipan and cinnamon muffins

The new book, Plenty, is out at the end of April. I’m looking forward to adding it to the book club list. If it’s anything like Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, it won’t be disappointing.

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