Tag Archives: Resolving Resolutions

A Fruity Little Snifter

Japanese quince brandy

There’s Brandy in the Jar – Oh!

As you will probably have gathered if you have read more than this post, I do like to get the maximum use from my produce, especially if I have grown or gathered it myself. In this, the last of my Japanese quince posts, I am getting even more out of my harvest. I’m also starting right in on my resolutions, by blogging about booze. And I assure you, this one couldn’t be easier.

I have read a lot about quince liqueurs with vodka and honey. I have also read a fair bit about quince brandy, which sounded a lot better to me. Especially after I was given a copy of Salt, Sugar, Smoke by Diana Henry for Christmas, and she gives some really tempting takes on Kir Royale using quince brandy and either French cider or English sparkling white wine. I am also thinking of taking the best of both ideas and making something with the brandy and this very special cider from Sussex, Gospel Green Champagne Method Cider (look out for them, they are from West Sussex, but don’t have a website. This is truly remarkable “bubbly” style cider) if I can get hold of some.

Fruit brandies of this kind, and those distilled from scratch used to be pretty popular. You may know them as eau de vie, rakia, or brandywine, and they are still popular across Europe, but especially in the Eastern countries – Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia, and as far down as Turkey.

Of course, these are meant for quince or Cydonia oblonga, but I see no reason why they shouldn’t translate into Japanese quinces too. I selected some of the nicest fruit, and set them aside.

Then the next dilemma was whether or not to go with sugar.  For advice on this, I turned to Twitter. Luckily for me, preserving queen, Vivien Lloyd and beekeeper extroadinaire, Zoë Lynch were listening, and they both said sugar was wise, so sugar it was. Thank you both, if you are reading, although I didn’t go with that much, because I figured that I can always add sugar, but I can’t take it away if the brandy is too sweet.

The brandy needs to steep  for anything up to a year, so I haven’t tried this yet, but when I do, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Recipe: Japanese Quince Brandy

Ingredients

5-6 Japanese Quince

50 g muscuvado sugar

2 star anise

Brandy

Sterilised jar wide enough to get the fruit into

Method

Slice the quince, but leave the seeds in. Layer the quince into the jar, and sprinkle the sugar and the star anise between the layers.

Top the jar up with brandy. The fruit will be fine in here, as long as the jar is full, and the fruit doesn’t get exposed to air. I used a 700 ml jar, so needed a fair bit of brandy.

Leave it in a cool, dark place for up to 12 months, taking it out to shake it when you remember.

Strain off the brandy, and pour into a sterilised bottle, where it will keep until you have tracked down some of that excellent cider. Top up with more brandy, if necessary.

Oh, and I’m also thinking that there will be a good use for the fruit, possibly added to apples. I’m sure I’ll think of something tasty to do with them.

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Resolutions Revisited

A table laden with sparkling wine

Cheers!

A very Happy New Year to you all! I hope that you had the party that I had, but that you skipped the hangover that nearly felled me once and for all yesterday!

And what a year it has been, with weddings, parties, anniversaries, and significant birthdays. It all culminated for me with a new job, and throwing a retirement party and 65th birthday party for my Dad, whose birthday was on New Year’s Eve. I cooked a load of things for that, including more tarted up mince pies and many other things, including some gluten free bits; some of which will appear here soon.

I thought that I would start 2013 with a bit of reflection on what I got up to, with a look back on last year’s resolutions, and to make a few more for the coming year. I’d also love to hear yours, if you want to leave them in the comments.

Varzea Viva, Portugal

Viva Varvea! Permaculture in Practice

Last year, I resolved to go on a permaculture course, and get better at growing food. I had a lovely 10 days in Portugal, with a great bunch of people where I learned about permaculture design. I have since volunteered in a permaculture garden at home, and it has made me a more knowledgeable gardener. I put some of the theory into action in my own garden, mostly with a lot of companion planting, and I hope to blog a bit more about that for this year’s plants.

Purple Eye Potatoes

You Can Only Get ‘Em Two Tone if You Grow Your Own

I also joined the 52 week salad challenge run by Michelle at veg plotting, and started Seedy Penpals  with Carl. All of these things have made me better at successional sowing, and growing in general. I have been exposed to a lot of new plants and new varieties this year, and I’ve met some brilliant people. Although I still haven’t met many of them in person, I have come to look on some as friends, through here and on Twitter.

Mornng Glory

I Found the Story, and It’s Inedible

I had to visit Japan for work once, and the dashis and ramen that I ate there often contained a pretty and pungent leaf vegetable that the English translation often listed as Morning Glory. I decided to track it down to try and grow it for myself. I was given a packet, and was disappointed that they are, in fact, not edible. It turns out that the little leaf I had eaten so often was actually shiso. Luckily, I’d also got hold of both the red and green varieties, and have been enjoying it in salads all summer.

I resolved to investigate more Asian and Middle Eastern food. I have eaten a lot more than in previous years; including pho, Hom Bao, a Lebanese –Inspired Chickpea dish, and have some Persian flavours in some blog posts that will follow. However, I probably could have done better.

Sprouted chickpea bread

Salad as Staple

Something else that I have done as a result of a resolution made last year is bake bread, although not as regularly as I’d hoped. Much of it has been fairly standard, so I have not blogged about it. I did manage to make some nice sprouted chickpea bread, and some hot cross buns, as well as the Hom Bao, which count as a bread, because you make a dough that needs proving.

I had hoped to do some butchery. I didn’t quite manage a whole beast, as I’d hoped, but I have deboned and jointed birds, and a rabbit or two. I have some of the adventures in photos ready to type up, but have been putting it off, because I know quite a few vegans and vegetarians follow my blog and I don’t wish to alienate or upset any of you. I may go ahead with these posts, but make most of it only visible if you click through to the whole post, then you don’t have to see the photos if you don’t want to. I’d be grateful if you are not a meat eater if you could let me know if this would suit you.

I have brewed many things, from blackberry wine and liqueur, elderflower champagne, elderberry wine (which I have great hopes for, this batch is still not ready but preliminary tests have proved promising) up to flavoured spirits from foraged goods. For reasons that I am not really sure of, I have not blogged any of the brewing. Maybe I will just get on and do so; I would like to share them.

Finally, I had a long list of places that I would like to visit. 2012 was not really the year of fine dining, so I didn’t make it to any of those on my shortlist. Ah well, there will always be exciting new and good restaurants to eat at.

And so we come to the year ahead. I have had a lot of fun making the resolutions, and stuck to a surprising number of them, even if I didn’t achieve as much as I’d hoped. So for this year, I have another list that I think is pretty ambitious, but will be fun to try and achieve.

Again, in no particular order, for 2013 I would like to:

  1. Grow unusual vegetables and fruits – especially a lot more perennials.
  2. I’m going to blog more boozy posts. I am going to make nettle beer this year, to see how that goes. I’ve also found wild hops this year, so maybe a beer from scratch could be on the cards?
  3. I want to learn how to smoke food. I’ll have to get hold of a stove top smoker (or a wok with a better lid than the one that I have), and hopefully start experimenting with smoke. My neighbour has a larger smoker in his shed, so maybe I’ll be able to work my way up to smoking with him – although I expect that will take much more than a year.
  4. I want to experiment with cheese. I’ve made soft curd cheeses, but I am just curious about the process and what could be possible in small batches, and without anything in the way of specialised equipment.
  5. I have developed a bit of an obsession with Bath Chaps. It will probably be a challenge to source a well reared pig’s head, but I’m going to give it a good try, then I’m going to attempt a brine, and we’ll see where it goes.
  6. Given my new job I’m going to have a go at some Filipino food, although maybe not some of the most adventurous dishes.
  7. Finally, I’m going to say that I intend to eat out more this year than last, and revisit the resolve to eat at some fantastic restaurants across Europe. I’m not going to list them this year, but if I do get the chance to eat at some, I am going to blog about them.

So let’s see how far I get this time.

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Garden Companions and a Lemony Salad

Foraging Spot, De Bretten, Netherlands

Pretend it’s a Salad!

Well, it has been a little while since I posted, which I blame on having broken my camera. It also means that I am about to do something that you should never do on a food blog, and that is publish a post without a photo of the food. I did have a corker to share, but it is lost, so you will have to wait until next I make this recipe. In the meantime, please enjoy the view from one of my favourite foraging spots, complete with convenient resting place for my containers.

In this area, people have also planted a guerilla garden. It has been here as long as I have been coming, and probably longer. You may be able to make out Jerusalem artichoke in the picture, and there are potatoes, pumpkins and corn at various times of the year. There is also a lot of mint, which I think was planted initially, but the conditions in the Netherlands are perfect for this herb, and now it is running rampant.

I may have mentioned that we are trying to eat healthily but with all the flavour, and one of the salads that really fits the bill is fattoush. This is a Lebanese salad that uses sumac and lemon to give a really zingy dressing. I have been buying sumac, but I’m delighted to learn that you can actually forage for this plant. It is a native of North America, but apparently it has been a popular garden and municipal plant in the UK. I shall be looking out for it here too.

Despite trying conditions for many of our crops this year, our herbs have gone crazy. So, I didn’t need to forage the mint for this recipe, but at least I’d have known where to go. I don’t take any of the other plants in the guerilla garden, because they are clearly loved and cared for, but there is enough mint here to keep Cuba in mojitos for a decade.

I am also proud to say that this salad contained my first ever Little Gem lettuce.

Since my course back in March, I have been trying to garden according to permaculture principles.  Part of this is that you try to avoid bare soil in an effort to preserve the soil microbiology, take advantage of microclimates, and to prevent the army of local cats from pooing near your veg.

OK, that last one is more a principle of mine, since they used to see our dug over soil as a litter box, little*ahem* darlings. But it does adhere to the principles of  using and valuing diversity, letting a problem become the solution, and (literally) reducing waste 🙂

Based on companion planting charts that are widely available on the internet, I decided to underplant my asparagus with lettuces, marigolds, and chicory. These included red velvet, a leaf lettuce called “Australian Yellow”, a mixed salad, and the aforementioned Little Gems. Most of them have done well, apart from the red velvet. I think this is because a cat got to the spot that night I planted the seed.

So with parsley and mint in abundance and Little Gems and radish doing well, garden fattoush was the salad of choice. A lot of flavour, with the potential of foraging. Could you ask more from a salad?

I’d be really interested in hearing about other people’s efforts at companion planting. Do you have any particular favourites that grow well, or help against pests? Please do share them in the comments.

Recipe: Fattoush Salad

Ingredients

2 pita breads, diced

1 tsp oil for frying

2 Spring onions (or more if really like them), finely sliced

Zest and juice of one lemon

3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp sumac

200 g cherry tomatoes (or baby plums), halved

½ cucumber, chopped into large dice

small bunch radishes; roots quartered lengthways, and smaller leaves

2-3 Little Gem lettuces, leaves only, chopped in half

Large handful of flat leaf parsley, leaves whole and stalks finely chopped

Smaller handful of mint, leaves only, roughly chopped

Method

In a frying pan, heat a little oil until it is quite hot. Fry the diced pita breads until they are golden. You will need to stir them occasionally. Drain onto kitchen paper.

While the bread is frying, mix together the lemon juice and zest, the good olive oil, the sumac and the spring onion. Leave aside for a  few minutes to take the raw edge off the onion.

Combine the tomatoes, cucumber, salad leaves, herbs and the radish roots and leaves in a large bowl. Dress the salad with the dressing, and toss well.

Add the pita bread, stir briefly, and serve immediately.

Sounds appetising, doesn’t it? I’m sure you can picture this one without a photo.

 

 

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A Silky Soup for September

Spiced and Silken Roast Vegetable Soup

A Change in the Seasons

OK, so I was clearing out the fridge, but this is a great way to use the last tomatoes and aubergines of the season, and the first sweetcorn of the next one.

At the moment, we are trying to avoid calorific food, but I am determined that does not mean that we will miss out on flavour. This is easy when you can pack your salads and other dishes with loads of fresh herbs, but as we near the end of the herbs in the garden, I am looking to spices to plug the gap. And they are doing a great job.

My Sister just had her hen do, and I made everyone roasted aubergine with a chermoula spice rub. Partly because I was doing vegetarian, and also partly as part of my quest to make more middle eastern food.

When I found a couple of aubergines in the fridge, I initially thought I was going to make a chermoula and aubergine soup. When you roast or burn aubergine in its skin, it develops a lovely smoky, silky texture, as you can see from Baba Ganoush and similar dips. That was also going to give the soup a richness without the need for fat or cream, which is perfect for how I’m trying to eat at the moment.

As I kept poking, the fridge also relinquished some tomatoes and half a red pepper. In the spirit of not wasting food, I decided that they could go in the soup as well. And since I was already roasting the aubergines, I may as well roast these too, making the oven use more efficient, making it easier to peel the veg, and also to develop a bit of flavour, especially of the later developing vegetables that may not quite reach their full potential.

At this time of year, the sweetcorn are just appearing too. The Big Guy loves fresh corn, and we had a few cobs, though not yet from our garden. Since the soup was to be spicy and smoky, I didn’t want to just let the golden little kernels cook in the soup itself, I wanted them to add to the overall smoky flavour, so I decided to put a cob under the grill until the kernels were browned.

I had also intended to use some preserved lemons to add to the soup, in keeping with the chermoula idea. I was going to chop them fine, and use them to garnish the soup, but when I tasted it, it definitely didn’t need a sour salty note. Instead, I opted for a spoonful of yoghurt, to counter the fact that the chilli I had used was much hotter than expected!

This soup is great for the start of September, as the summer turns to autumn, and the nights get that bit colder. And it turns out that aubergines are great to add creaminess to a soup without the need for dairy too.

Recipe: Spiced and Silken Roast Vegetable Soup

Ingredients

2 medium aubergines

½ red pepper

6-8 tomatoes

4 cloves of garlic, still in their skins

salt and pepper

2 tbsp olive or vegetable oil

1 cob of corn, with the husk removed

1 medium onion, chopped

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped

1 tsp ground coriander

750 ml vegetable stock

2 tbsp natural yoghurt

Method

Heat the oven to 200 °C

Cut the aubergine and the tomatoes in half. Arrange the aubergines, pepper and tomatoes in an ovenproof dish, and season with the salt and pepper. Slosh over 1 tbsp of the oil, and toss the veg to coat with the oil. You want the aubergine and tomato cut side up; but the pepper skin side up, because you want it to char.

Put in the oven to roast for 30-40 minutes, until the vegetables have taken on a bit of colour. After about 15 minutes, add the garlic cloves, so that they don’t burn to a crisp. You want them to be golden and soft, not crunchy.

Once the vegetables are roasted, put the grill on high, and put the corn underneath it. You will need to turn it as it cooks. If you have a separate grill, which I don’t, you can do this at the same time, it may take a while.

Meanwhile, dry fry the cumin until it is fragrant, then grind to a fine powder in a pestle and mortar, or a spice grinder.

Sweat the onion in the rest of the oil, until translucent. Add the chilli and cook for another minute on a gentle heat, then add the spices, and just cook through.

Squeeze the garlic from their skins, and add to the spice and onion. Allow to sweat on a gentle heat while you scrape the creamy flesh from the aubergine. Add this to the saucepan, and cook for 2-3 minutes to combine the flavour.

The tomato and pepper should also be really easy to skin as well by now. Mine just slipped off. Discard the skins, as these are indigestible, and hopefully the pepper skin will have blackened and blistered, so will be bitter and unpleasant anyway.

Add the flesh of the tomatoes and the pepper, along with any juices in the roasting dish to the saucepan. Add the stock, and bring to the boil. Cover the pan and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Blend the soup with an immersion blender or a food processor, until it is smooth and rich.

Run a knife down the corn, to remove the kernels, which should be brown and succulent, not black.

Divide the soup between 2 bowls, add a tablespoon of yoghurt to each, and sprinkle the corn kernels over the top.

Perfect to come home to after a day’s foraging, whether that be outside or in the fridge!

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Flowers and Spice and All Veg – Nice!

Moroccan Vegetable Stew with Cous Cous and Coriander yoghurt

Souk Food

The other day I wrote about going foraging with Liz Knight with Mum on her birthday. What I didn’t mention is that she also had one of the stalls at the Tudor Farmhouse Market. She sells all manner of spice rubs, sauces, and syrups at fairs and some shops, and they are also available online.

We came away with a honeysuckle and tarragon syrup, and a Wild Rose el Hanout, based on the Moroccan spice mix. The original translates as “head of the shop”and is a blend of the best spices that a merchant has on offer, and is therefore supposed to act as both a luxury product and the best marketing tool that the merchant as at his disposal.

As the name suggests, the Forage version uses wild roses and spice, giving a heady blend that is every bit as luxurious as the Moroccan version. Liz also recommends adding it to a fish and tomato stew, which I will definitely be trying. If you haven’t managed to get hold of a pot of this lovely spice rub, you can use Ras el Hanout instead.

You may also remember that I resolved to make more Middle Eastern food back in January. I had a Moroccan spice, although Morocco is not exactly the Middle East, I was thinking of the fragrant dishes and spices that also encompass much North African cuisine. This seemed like a good place to revisit those resolutions, and get the whole commitment to them kicked off again.

I made this for a vegetarian dinner party. Because I used fresh tomatoes, I found that the sauce was quite liquid. I actually liked it that way, but you could thicken this by using tinned tomatoes, or add some tomato puree to the stew about 15 minutes before the end of cooking.

It is traditional to keep the vegetables quite big in Moroccan cooking, which also cuts down on the preparation time, making this a pretty easy evening meal.

I garnished it with some yoghurt with chopped coriander stirred through, although it is perfectly good without it, so you can leave this out if you want a vegan dish.

Recipe: Moroccan Vegetable Stew and Couscous

Ingredients:

For the Stew: 

2 shallots, peeled and quartered

1 red pepper, cut into very large dice

2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

2 tsp wild rose el hanout

2 carrots, cut into chunks

1 large courgette, quartered lengthways, then in cut into chunks

1 aubergine, cut into chunks

About 400 ml vegetable stock (enough to come about 2/3 of the way up the pot)

1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed

4 tomatoes, quartered

Bunch coriander, including the stalks, chopped

For the Couscous: 

400 g couscous

500 ml vegetable stock

Zest of 1 lemon

1 tsp wild rose el hanout

2 tbsp good olive oil

This recipe serves four people

Method

 

On a low heat, soften the shallot for about 3-4 minutes in a deep saucepan. Add the pepper, and continue to soften. When you can see changes in the flesh of the pepper, after about another 5 minutes, add the wild rose el hanout, and the garlic, and cook until the fragrance hits you.

Add the carrots, courgettes and aubergine to the pan, and cook down for 5-10 minutes, until the courgettes and aubergines start to give and soften. You will need to stir them well when the veg first go in, to distribute the spice mix, then occasionally as they cook down.

Add the stock, and bring to the boil, cover, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the vegetables are soft.

While the vegetables are cooking, make the couscous. In a large bowl, stir the wild rose el hanout and the lemon zest through the couscous. Add the warm stock, so that it covers the couscous by bout 1cm. Cover and set aside to allow the couscous to absorb the stock.

Add the chickpeas, tomatoes and the coriander to the stew, and warm through for five minutes.

Add the olive oil to the couscous, and fluff up with a fork.

Serve the stew atop the couscous.

I liked this couscous so much, it s difficult to imagine that I won’t be stirring through some wild rose el hanout every time I make it from now on. At least until the jar runs out.

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Southern Cross Buns

Southern Cross Buns

One a Dollar, Two a Dollar…

I have been searching around for ingredients for an Easter dinner for my friends. These are mostly the same friends who came for the International Christmas Dinner, so I wanted something that would encompass all of our traditions, as well as a nod to the Dutch. Some of these recipes will appear here in the coming days, as they are much less specific to Easter, but this one couldn’t be delayed.

One of the traditions that I found out about was the Australian one. For friends from the Southern Hemisphere, Easter heralds the start of autumn, and thus is naturally a little less about rebirth and rejuvenation, even though they  do continue to keep many of the same traditions as us in the North (hint: eggs and chocolate feature in all Easter traditions, as far as I can tell).

According to this website, there are a few key differences. Anyone who has seen an episode of Border Security will know that Australians are none too keen on letting in non-native animals, due to the havoc that they wreak. It is no surprise then, that they have replaced the Easter Bunny with the much more native Bilby. However, my chocolate work needs a lot more practice, and it is certainly not up to making small chocolate marsupials without a mould.

So, I was very happy when I saw the fact that the Aussies have taken the hot cross bun, and made their own version. With chocolate.

I had already decided to make traditional Hot Cross Buns for dessert. Strictly speaking, they are served on Good Friday, but as it is my tradition to break the rules for international dinners, I am going to serve them for Easter Sunday itself. And I get to do two kinds. We will serve them toasted, to be smeared with butter moulded in the shape of a lamb, which is a Dutch tradition.

Boterschaap

Aw Look, a Butter Lamb! We Named Him Wonky

I made the British buns using the recipe from the River Cottage Bread Book, by Daniel Stevens. Then, I adapted it to make what I am calling Southern Cross Buns, which I think are good for any occasion, and you can keep the cross, since they are named after the Australian flag.

And I photographed the steps for you.

Recipe: Southern Cross Buns

Ingredients

For the Bun:

250 g strong white bread flour (plus some for dusting)

250 g plain white flour

2 tbsp cocoa powder

125 ml warm water

125 ml warm milk

1 sachet dried yeast (7 g)

10 g salt

50 g caster Sugar

1 egg

70 g plain chocolate chips

30 g candied peel (orange only if possible)

Zest of ½ orange, grated

6 green cardamom pods

For the Cross:

75 g plain white flour

100 ml water

For the Glaze:

1 tbsp apricot jam

1 tbsp water

Method

You may remember that I made my own candied peel. This is not compulsory, but it does make it a lot easier to use only the orange peel for this recipe. If you have (or wish to make) your own candied peel, chop it finely before you start the rest of the steps.

Extracting cardamom seeds from the pods

Remove the Seeds from the Cardamom Pods

Also lightly crush the cardamom pods to release the black seeds inside, and grind these to a coarse powder with a pestle and mortar.

Sieve together the flours and the cocoa. I usually skip the sifting step in a recipe, but this will help prevent the cocoa from forming lumps.Mix together with the sugar, salt and yeast

Make a Well in the Centre of the Dry Ingredients

Make a Well in the Centre of the Dry Ingredients

I found that mixing boiling water from the kettle, and cold milk from the fridge, the resulting liquid was warm, but not too hot for the yeast. You can use a food mixer with a dough hook for this recipe, but I am gadget-averse, so I had to do it with my hands. whichever way you choose, the dough is fairly sticky. Pour the liquid into the well, and mix.

After Mixing in the Milk & Water

After Mixing in the Milk & Water

Once it looks a bit like this, add the butter and the egg. This is when it gets sticky. Mix it well, so that you cannot see lumps of butter in the mixture anymore.

The mixture will get a little smoother

The mixture will get a little smoother

Then add the chocolate, candied peel and the ground cardamom. Knead this in well.

When it loos like this, cover it and leave it to prove

When it looks like this, cover it and leave it to prove

Try and leave it somewhere warm. It should take about an hour. I left it a bit longer, because I was busy with getting a lamb cooked, and other things. It was fine, and still rose nicely. Knock back – by punching the air out of it.

Cut the dough into eight equal(ish) pieces

Cut the dough into eight equal(ish) pieces

I got the proportions mostly right when I cut it. Only one was smaller than the rest. Make it easier on yourself by cutting the dough in half, roughly shaping each half into a thick sausage which you cut in half, then half again. It should be fine, if the sausage doesn’t taper too much.

Shape each piece of dough into a round. The following steps are straight from the River Cottage book, but they work really well, so they are the steps you need. Put the flat side of the dough on a lightly floured counter.

Bring a piece of the dough into the centre and press lightly

Bring a piece of the dough into the centre and press lightly

Each time that you do this, turn the dough a little, then repeat. Do this until all the dough is folded into the middle, and press firmly. Flip it over onto the other side. If you are not that confident in working sticky dough, like me, then you will probably want to flour the work surface again a little bit. More confident bakers work focaccia, which is a much wetter dough, so you will probably be fine. I found that I didn’t need to flour the buns later, because they were fine after I floured the surface.

The next bit is difficult to describe. You need to stretch the top of the bun, while tightening the pinch at the bottom. To do this, you need to flatten your hands, place the heel of one hand against one side of the roll, and the fingers of your other hand on the other side.

Step one of turning the bun

Step 1: flatten your hands at either side of the bun

Next you need to move your hands in opposite directions, and bring them together under the bun, so that it spins. This will stretch the top of the dough.

Step Two: Spin the bun, by moving hands in opposite directions

Step 2: Spin the bun, by moving hands in opposite directions

You will end up with your hands in the opposite configuration to that in which you started.

Step Three: how your hands end up

Step 3: how your hands end up

Do this little move three times per bun. Then put it on a board, and dust it lightly with flour, if you didn’t do it on the work surface.

Place them on a lightly floured board and leave to prove for another half an hour

Place them on a lightly floured board and leave to prove for another half an hour

Preheat the oven to 200°C

While the  buns are proving, mix up the flour and water, with a whisk. This will form your cross. I think the paste needs to be fairly thick. If you get the thickness right, I don’t think you need the amount of flour I have given here. I think mine was too thin, because the contrast on the ordinary bun was not good enough, so I didn’t get a cross. The contrast between the chocolate buns was much better, due to their brown colour. However, for you I have upped the ratio of flour to water. My advice would be to start with 50 g flour, and very slowly add the water, until you get a thick batter. it should leave ribbons when you pour it from a spoon, not run off.

Once you have a good consistency for the paste, and the buns have proved, then you need to make the cross. Transfer the buns to a baking sheet. Put the flour paste into a sandwich bag (or piping bag, if you have all the fancy equipment) and snip off a really small corner – be careful, the piped line is much bigger than the hole appears. Pipe the paste over the bun in a straight line, then again, at right angles to the first.

The piping bit is tricky, and needs a fairly steady hand

The piping bit is tricky, and needs a fairly steady hand.

I have to admit to a few drips where there should be none. They wiped off easily enough, but I had a thin paste. It is best to be as careful as you can.

Put the baking tray in the oven, and bake for between 15 and 25 minutes. Mine took nearer 25 minutes, so keep an eye on them. Like most bread-based products, they sound a little hollow when tapped on the bottom, when they are done.

While the buns are in the oven, melt the apricot jam and the water to make a glaze. Glaze them by painting the jammy liquid  over the top of each bun as they come out of the oven.

Leave them to cool on a wire rack.

Toasted Hot Cross Buns

Toasty!

Toasted is the correct way to serve these. Possibly slathered with butter from a wonky sheep.

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A Meal From the Vaguest of Memories

Lebanese Influenced Chickpea & Lemon Curry

Simple, Wholesome, Made up Fare

Since I am so keen on recycling, I thought that I would give you a third-hand recipe this time. The idea for this recipe came from my desire to cook more Middle Eastern food. I was browsing around, when I remembered a recipe that was attributed to an amazing Lebanese woman where I used to work, but was actually cooked for me by a former manager at a team building dinner we had to go to. She didn’t give me the recipe, but the idea was probably the best thing that I learned from her!

I really enjoyed the dish, but only had a vague memory of the flavours. When I found myself with a lot of spinach (after telling the market stall holder I wanted two handfuls of spinach, before I looked at his hands),  and having my memory jogged  while I was looking up Middle Eastern food and seeing all the chickpeas in the dishes, I decided that I was going to try to recreate that meal.

This is what I came up with, which is as close as I can get to a vaguely remembered flavour of a meal I ate over a year ago. I have no idea if it is authentic, or even close to the dish that I tried. But what I have managed is a really easy vegan supper dish that is bright with really fresh flavours. Another bonus is that it is also pretty cheap to make too.

I try always to use dried chickpeas, because I think that the taste and texture are superior to the tinned ones. In this dish they are the stars of the show, so I think that it really is worth the effort. If you want to make a large batch up, they freeze really well, so you can cook up loads, and freeze them in batches for another time. Not for this recipe though, because you will need some of the cooking liquor for this dish.

Recipe: Lebanese Inspired Chickpea and Lemon Stew

Ingredients

200 g dried chickpeas or one tin.

1 large onion, chopped

3 fat cloves garlic, crushed to a paste with the flat of a knife

Little oil for frying

2 tsp cumin

1 tsp coriander seed

Good pinch chilli  flakes ( a chopped fresh red chilli would also work here, but I only had dried)

Zest & juice of 2 lemons

150 g baby spinach

Method

If you are using dried chickpeas, soak them in cold water for a couple of hours. Place them in a saucepan, and cover with plenty of cold water. Do not salt them, it makes the skin tough, and it is better to salt the final dish, so you get better balance.Bring them to the boil, then cover and simmer until they are just tender. Drain them, but reserve the cooking liquid. This is important, you will need it later.

Toast the cumin and coriander seed in  dry pan. I used the one I was going to cook the rest of the ingredients in, because I am averse to washing up. Grind them with a pestle and mortar until quite fine.

Add the oil to the warm pan, and sweat the onion until it is translucent. Add the garlic, chilli, and the ground spices for a few minutes until the heat from the chilli hits you.

If you are using tinned chickpeas, drain them, but reserve the tinned liquid as well. Put the drained chickpeas into the pan, and let them cook for a couple of minutes with the spiced onion mixture.

Add the juice and zest of two lemons. Be careful not to get any pips in the dish. I got a stray one, and it was a really unpleasant mouthful after I bit through it. If you like, you can add a lemon shell or two, as it cooks to give an extra lemon hit. Pour the reserved cooking water into the pan to just cover the chickpeas. With the tinned chickpeas, add half water from the tap and half from the tin.

Leave to simmer for a further 15 minutes, by which time the liquid in the pan will have reduced, so that it is still fairly liquid, but more soupy and glossy. If you use the lemon shells, remove them at this point. Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper as needed. Add the spinach, and cook until it has wilted.

I served this with some brown basmati rice, but I think that it would also be great with bulgur wheat, some crusty bread or even as a side dish.

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