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February, 2014

  1. Food Blog Photography

    February 23, 2014 by sarah

    I have had fun this weekend with my camera!

    I normally take photos for the blog in our conservatory because the light there is good. But that is the crux: the light must be ‘good’ to get ‘good’ photos. So when it is dark, like it is for most of the winter and certainly when I get home from work, or it is very overcast, like it has been every day this winter, I struggle to get good lighting. And photography is all about the light. I have the most success first thing in the morning on a cloudless day when the light is diffuse but these are so rare that I have been thinking about alternatives. So I have made our spare bedroom into a product studio. A spare table top on the bed, sheets of mounting board for the back drops and some white foam board as a reflector. The exposures are much longer so I need to use a tripod which is going to take some getting used to. I am used to hand holding, and often increasing the ISO to compensate, and so adjustments in position small or large were automatic and easy but now with a tripod I have to think about where I want the camera to be to get the angle I want and then move the tripod to get this. Day one, frustrating. Following days, hopefully progress.

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    A high-key photograph of coconut macaroons with a vintage vibe. Low-key photograph of ‘posh crackers for cheese’  on natural wooden background.

    The next stage will be to learn how to use flashes so I don’t need to rely on any natural light!

    I am loving my Nikon D7000 and 35mm 1.8 lens, though I am always surprised by the quality of photos out of my point-and-shoot a Nikon Coolpix P 7700.

  2. Spice 3 – Cardamom – middle eastern cardamom biscuits

    February 23, 2014 by sarah

    When I started reading about cardamom, I realised that I had been spelling it wrong for years. But then why do we pronounce it ‘cardamon‘? But I suppose that is the English language for you!

    Cardamom are small pods containing little black seeds of the most wondrous, sensuous perfume. It hints of the pages of the Arabian Nights, seductive ladies in diaphanous materials and exotic places! Cardamom is native to the Indian sub-continent so it is little wonder it is used is the cooking of these countries; it is related to ginger. It is the third most expensive spice, surpassed only by saffron and vanilla, but only a little is needed to impart its heady fragrance. Unsurprisingly it is used in a multitude of curries and rice dishes of the Indian subcontinent, but also in milky puddings and kulfi from this region. In the Middle East, it is often used to flavour sweet dishes and coffee, as we had in Morocco. Its furthest reaches of significance is in the multitudes of Scandinavian baked goods that use cardamon such as Finnish pulla, an enriched sweet dough scented with cardamom.

    There is a relative of the green cardamon, the black cardamon, which is definitely savoury and smokey, almost bacony, in flavour. I will use this in another entry as it is almost completely different in flavour and aroma to the green cardamom and cannot be substituted.

    The effort in this recipe in extracting the little seeds from the tough green pods and grinding them fine enough not to notice the bits in what you are cooking. Apparently, you can buy ready ground cardamom but the volatile flavours and aromas are very quickly lost. I achieved my ground cardamom by crushing the pods and using a nail to release the seeds into a pestle and mortar and using old fashioned elbow grease to grind the seeds, sieving them into the recipe to make sure it was fine enough.














    Middle eastern cardamom biscuits

    225g unsalted butter at room temperature
    100g icing sugar
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    150g ground almonds
    150g plain flour
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    10 cardamom, seeds ground finely, sieved
    Topping – 100g icing sugar
                      – 20 cardamom pods, seeds ground to give about 1 teaspoon of ground powder when sieved 
    Preheat the oven to fan 150 C and line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper.
    By hand or hand machine, cream the butter and icing sugar until light and fluffy. Add the ground almonds, flour, salt and first lot of ground cardamom and use a wooden spoon to mix thoroughly until comes together in a dough.
    Use a small ice-cream scoop or a dessert spoon to measure out the biscuits and using your hands, roll each into a ball and place on the baking trays with about 1″ between each ball.
    Chill the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes or the freezer for 15 minutes and then bake for 15-20 minutes until slightly coloured gold.
    In a bowl, mix the topping ingredients together. After baking, leave the biscuits on the trays for a few minutes until firmed up and then dunk in the topping mix while still warm. Put on a cooling rack to cool completely and then completely immerse in the topping mixture. They can be stored in the icing sugar mixture for up to a month.

  3. Asian-style Butternut Squash Soup

    February 19, 2014 by sarah

    Whenever I make this soup, the colourful bowlful and cheery flavours brightens up the dampest of wet winter days. Saying that though, I can tell spring is close now; the dawn chorus has returned, it is just about light when I get up, the sun has some warmth in it when it is out from behind a cloud and little shoots are appearing in the garden and on our walks. I suppose we should be grateful for living on the top of a hill and not in a flood, but the incessant mud and grey skies are very soul draining.

    I have never eaten a soup of this style in Asia and I am not sure it could ever be called an ‘authentic’ Asian recipe, whatever that may mean, but the flavours of that part of the world are in this soup and the cheerful colour reminds me of the sunnier latitudes. I hope it cheers up your winter days too.

    This recipe is adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘River Cottage Everyday’. I think cutting up raw squash is asking for an injury; sharp knife and a round, moving and very hard object do not make a good combination. In this recipe I get round that problem by roasting the squash whole first so it is meltingly tender and easy to prepare. I usually do this when the oven is on for something else, for example our evening meal, to save energy.


    Asian-style Butternut Squash Soup
    1 butternut squash, medium sized
    1 large onion, finely chopped
    1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
    1/2 teaspoon ready chili in vinegar or a small medium hot fresh chili
    knob/thumb sized amount of fresh ginger, finely grated
    1 garlic clove, chopped
    about 1 litre of vegetable stock (from a cube/pot is fine)
    2 tablespoons of peanut butter
    juice of a lime
    To Serve – fresh coriander, toasted seeds
    Place the butternut squash on a baking tray, stab a few times with a sharp knife and place in a medium to hot oven for 30 minutes to maximum 45 minutes until it is soft all the way through when you insert a sharp knife.
    Allow the butternut squash to cool sufficiently to handle; this takes about an hour at room temperature. Scrape the flesh of the squash into a bowl using a large spoon or your clean hands, discarding the skin (unless you want to add that for extra fibre) and seeds with the fibres (unless you want to wash the fibres off the seeds and roast them for the topping – too much hassle for me).
    Heat the oil in a large saucepan and then add the onion and a pinch of salt (the salt stops the onion catching); cook until the onion is soft, sweet and translucent. Add the chili, ginger and garlic and stir for a minute or two until fragrant. Add the reserved butternut squash and enough stock to cover the squash. Cover, bring to the boil and simmer for about 15 minutes to meld the flavours.
    Add the peanut butter and lime juice, stir until the peanut butter has melted. Blend the soup with a hand blender or in a blender. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning as required. Serve!

  4. Spice 2 – Sumac – with homemade cream cheese

    February 14, 2014 by sarah

    When I envisioned this blog project, I was going to try to stick to well know spices mostly, in order to explore their potential in new ways. But I was in the supermarket the other day, and found myself staring at the spice section ticking off which spices I had and which I didn’t have. Sumac was the only spice I knew I didn’t have in my cupboard so I just had to have it! And then when I got it home, I realised I knew nothing about it or how to use or even what it tasted of. The packet unhelpfully suggested ‘add to Middle Eastern dishes’. Luckily my new cook book arrived last week and Sophie Grigson’s ‘Spices’ helped me find the potential of this unusual spice.

    Sumac is made of  the dried berries of Rhus coriaria and used in the cuisines of the Middle East, North Africa and Sicily. It tends to be sprinkled on hummus or yogurt, added to salads and along with thyme and sesame seeds is an ingredient in za’atar seasoning used for dipping of olive oil soaked bread. Tasting it neat, it has a zing citrus like tang but no other aromatic tenancies. I was a little under whelmed tasting it but I think it is probably more suited to lovely sunny days, BBQs and salads than the rainy, windy weather we are having at present. I will do more experimentation if the weather improves and add another recipe for this spice.


    Homemade cream cheese (lebneh) with sumac

    500g/ml pot of yogurt, preferably full fat Greek type
    1/4 tsp salt
    extra-virgin olive oil
    bread to serve, preferably homemade sourdough
    Stir the salt into the yogurt in its pot. Place a plastic sieve over a glass bowl and line the sieve with muslin that has been sterilised by pouring boiling water over it. Tip the yogurt into the muslin lined sieve and cover the whole lot with cling film. Place the bowl in the fridge and leave for about 24 hours so that the whey drains out of the yogurt.
    Serve the cheese sprinkled with sumac and drizzled with the olive oil. Scatter over the pomegranate seeds; the sweet burst of the seeds make a pleasing contrast to the creamy yogurt and slightly sour tang of the sumac. Eat within a day as this is a fresh cheese and does not last.

  5. Fee, Fi, Pho, fum – Vietnamese Duck soup

    February 14, 2014 by sarah

    I love food travelling; in other words, making a dish or meal that transports you to somewhere else. That is what this soup does for me. One sniff and one taste, I am back to Hanoi in Vietnam. Making these travel inspired dishes is also a whole lot cheaper than going there, even if it only lasts for the duration of the soup supping!

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    Please feel free to alter the vegetables to whatever you have or what ever is on offer at the time. The garnishes are also personal preference too. In Vietnam, they arrive on a dish separate from the soup and it is up to the diner to add which and what and how much to give a personalised soup.

    Vit Phô – Vietnamese Duck Soup

    Serves 2-4, depending how greedy and if a main dish or snack/lunch dish

     1 duck carcass (left over from the Sunday night roast duck)
    spice mix (1/2 a cinnamon stock, 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds, 1/2 tbsp fennel seeds, 3-4 star anise, 2 cardamom pods, 4 whole cloves)
    2″ knob of ginger, don’t bother to peel, just cut or slice roughly
    1 or 2 red chilis, depending how hot they are and how hot you like it (I only had dried)
    1 tbsp fish sauce
    1 large onion, do not peel but roughly cut into wedges
    1 nest/layer of vermicelli rice noodles per person (I added 2 which was enough for 3 servings)
    mix of vegetables e.g. bok choi, mangetout, mini sweetcorn
    To Serve-
    thinly sliced red chili
    limes cut into wedges
    bean sprouts
    fresh coriander herb
    sweet chili sauce (my personal favourite)
    To make the pho broth, in a large pan that will hold the duck carcass fully submerged and has a tight fitting lid, put the duck carcass, the whole spices, ginger, chili, fish sauce and onion (and fresh coriander stalks if you have any). Add enough fresh water until the carcass is just submerged. Bring to the boil then turn down to a simmer. Allow to simmer for at least an hour, and ideally 2-3 hours.
    Remove the duck carcass from the broth and leave to cool on a plate. When cooled enough to handle, pick off the meat (and skin – it is traditional) and reserve the meat and throw away the bones.
    Strain the broth through a sieve into a clean pan, taste and adjust salt levels if necessary. Bring back to a simmer and add the noodles, vegetables and reserved meat; simmer for a minute or two then ladle into bowls and serve with the accompaniments, which are essential not optional.

  6. Throw-together flapjacks

    February 12, 2014 by sarah

    Working a full 11 days in a row is not fun, I can tell you. So to sustain me (and the other half) through the drought of real food, I made some flapjacks. Because they take like 10 minutes; because they are chewy; because they are crunchy; but because all, they are jummy!

    Throw-together work night flapjacks

    150g butter (NOT veggie spread)
    75g muscovado or soft brown sugar
    about 100g of golden syrup (this is about 4-5 tablespoons)
    350g porridge oats, rolled oats, oat-based museli, quick oats i.e. any oaty thing in the cupboard to make up the weight
    75g raisins, sultanas, chopped apricots, seeds etc. (optional but give character)
    Melt the first three ingredients in a pan over a low heat until butter melted and sugar dissolved.
    Mix in a large bowl with the oaty stuff and fruit.
    Tip into a greased or lined tin (around about 9″ square or 30cm x 20cm, or whatever), press down lightly with the spoon or spatula.
    Place in oven preheated to fan 160 C for 20-25mins until golden brown.
    Allow to cool for 15 minutes before cutting into squares, rectangles, triangles, isosceles etc.
    Allow to fully cool in the tin before taking out and storing in air-tight container for up to a week (if it lasts that long).
    N.B. the inevitable crumbs in the tin are perfect for sprinkling on breakfast cereal like posh granola.

  7. This week…

    February 6, 2014 by sarah

    It really feels like spring may be just around the corner. Crazy really as it is only the first week of February.

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  8. Winter Fun In the Sun

    February 2, 2014 by sarah

    I am just back from a weeks ski holiday in Vallandry, France.We had a wonderful break and we very lucky with the weather. It dumped 30 cm of snow the night we arrived and a little more mid-week which kept the slopes in good condition and plus we had two fantastic sunny days, which are unusual for January. I am proud of passing the ESF class three and feeling comfortable skiing in any conditions and any terrain, though I will always hate moguls! I hope the photos inspire you too!

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