Friday, February 6, 2015

Tweaking Ottolenghi Recipes


I have two cookbooks (Plenty and Jerusalem) by Yotam Ottolenghi, the London-based Israeli restauranteur, and have tried quite a number of recipes from the books and from those gleaned online, where he is everywhere.

I like his big bold flavours and sometimes unusual combinations, but I also have some caveats--his penchant for not easily obtainable foods (cobnuts or barberries, anyone?), the high fat content, the complexity of many recipes, their narrative style which does not always progress in the most logical order, the cooking times that sometimes bear no relationship with my experience. You wonder whether his recipes are actually tested in a home environment. I've been surprised in going through my cookbook notes that I've often had comments like "disappointing", "too dry", "mango doesn't work in this",

So I tweak his recipes, trying to reduce the fat where possible, substituting or omitting unobtainable ingredients, adjusting proportions and cooking times. I go to him for vegetarian inspiration, because he does have great ideas.

Here is one of my favourites.

Cauliflower Cake

This is a great vegetarian main dish. It would make a good dish for a picnic or buffet because it can be eaten hot or cold, and is sturdy enough to be picked up and eaten with your hand. In small slices, you could serve it as hors d'ouevres.

The original recipe calls for 10 eggs (!) and is intended to make a 24-cm cake that he says will serve 4 to 6 people. The man is mad, as that will easily serve 8-10 people. The following recipe makes an 18-cm cake that will serve 4 people as a main course with sides. I've reduced the oil, eggs, and cheese, increased the proportion of onion, and simplified the method.

1 tablespoon of butter
2-3 tablespoons of nigella seeds (aka black cumin, onion seeds) or sesame seeds
1/2 head of cauliflower (350-400g)
1 tablespoon (15ml) olive oil
1 red onion
1 teaspoon of finely-chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon dried basil, or 10g fresh basil, chopped
4 eggs
3 tablespoons (45ml) milk
90 grams flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
freshly-ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
100 grams of sharp cheese, such as parmesan, aged Gouda or aged cheddar


  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.
  2. Line the bottom of an 18-cm springform cake tin with parchment paper and use the butter to grease the bottom and sides of the tin. Sprinkle in the nigella or sesame seed and toss them around to coat the bottom and sides. This will add a pleasant crunch to the crust. (If you haven't got an 18cm springform, you can line a loaf tin with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on the sides so that you can lift it out.)
  3. Cut the cauliflower into medium florets and steam covered over simmering water for 10 minutes until just tender. Set aside to drain and cool.
  4. Peel the onion and cut a few rings off to use as decoration, and chop the rest of the onion rather finely (1.2 cm dice). Mince the rosemary.
  5. Over medium low heat, saute the chopped onion and minced rosemary in a tablespoon of oil for about 8 minutes until soft. Take off the heat and mix with the steamed cauliflower and basil.
  6. In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, turmeric, salt, and a generous amount of pepper. Grate in the cheese and mix well.
  7. In a small bowl, beat the eggs and milk.
  8. Add the egg mixture to the flour and cheese mixture and stir until just combined.
  9. Gently fold the vegetables and herbs into the batter, then pour into the prepared cake tin. Decorate the top with the reserved onion rings.
  10. Bake for 35-45 minutes until golden brown and let cool for 5 minutes. Take knife around the edge to loosen the cake, before loosening and removing the side ring. 
  11. Serve warm with a green vegetable and sharp salad (steamed spinach and three-bean salad or tabouli). Or let cool and wrap in cling film and eat it the next day.




Sunday, December 28, 2014

Ginger Cheesecake

I have a new love. For years I've been true to Susan Mendelsohn's Lemon Cheesecake, but this year I saw Mary Berry bake a white chocolate and ginger cheesecake. It was love at first sight, and with a few tweeks, I made it as dessert for our Christmas meal. The general consensus was that it was one of the best cakes we've ever had, so you are forewarned!

This recipe is for a 20 cm spring-form pan, which I don't have. Instead I made it in an 18 cm pan, and used the extra to make a 10 cm tart.

If you have leftovers you will notice that the ginger flavour gets more pronounced after a day or two. I baked it on Christmas Eve and served it Christmas Day and the balance between ginger and white chocolate was perfect then.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Spatchcocked Turkey

This year, after detours to ham and venison in the past couple of years, I returned to tradition for the Christmas dinner, so a small free-range turkey was on the menu.

Some years ago I discovered the technique of dry brining turkey to completely season the meat. This year I discovered spatchcocked turkey for more even and much faster cooking. (Isn't spatchcock a wonderful word?) I've done this with chicken so I don't know why it hadn't occurred to me to do this with turkey before.

My turkey was just over 6 pounds and I dry-brined it with about 2 tablespoons of sea salt, three days before it went into the oven . On Christmas Day, I removed the wishbone, removed the backbone and flattened the turkey. Then loosened the skin and tucked herbed garlic butter under the skin of the breast and over the sin of the legs. It roasted for 20 minutes at 250 degrees and another half hour at 200 degrees, then rested for 20 minutes before I carved it following the directions here. It was easy to do and looked great.

I like to make my version of Jamie Oliver's make-ahead gravy a couple of days in advance. I find it hard enough to juggle the timings for appetizer, oven room and vegetables, so not having to make gravy reduces the stress. This year I included a chopped fennel bulb and only one carrot.  It was good!

As usual, good company and good food made for a memorable meal.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Apple Muffins

I have a new favourite muffin recipe. It's a bit more work than my Madrigal Muffins, but sooooo yummy.

This is an adaptation from a recipe that appears in our family cookbook, but I've dialed down the sugar, upped the fiber, replaced butter with oil, changed the spices, and simplified the method.



Sunday, August 17, 2014

Time-Life: Scandinavia

I've gotten somewhat behind with the the Time-Life books cooking schedule. Part of it was the interruption caused by my holiday. The good part of that was that I was able to pick up the rest of the Time Life set that I purchased last year. It had been languishing at my sister's since then.

Another part of the interruption is perhaps how uninspiring I found the Scandinavian book. Traditional Scandinavian cooking seems to be just as plain as Dutch cooking. The baked goods looked the most interesting of all, but I really don't feel like making Danish pastries (which are of course, Viennese pastries.)

Nevertheless, I found one recipe that sounded interesting and that was the Norwegian fish pudding, which can also be formed into balls and added to a soup. So I decided to try my hand at Bergen fish soup with fish balls, but with a twist from Louisiana (hello Creole and Acadian Cooking!).

I made the fish stock following the recipe but found it very bland. Since I was also making jambalaya, I had some shrimp shells, so I added them to the fish bouillon, which ended up being more flavourful, a bit more colourful, and perhaps a less delicate match for the fish balls. Ah well, the resulting soup was good.

The fish balls were an interesting addition. They added a soft and fluffy texture that complimented the delicate flavour and texture of the soup. I can imagine children enjoying this soup.

Norwegian Fish Soup

My adaptations to these recipes were to and shrimp shells to the stock for the fish soup. I used the last of my parsnips for the fish stock so didn't have any for the vegetables in the soup, so substituted celery. Given how sweet parsnips can be, I suspect that this was a good idea anyway. And I used fresh dill to garnish.

Fish Pudding /Fish Balls
The following ingredients make a small fish pudding and about 25 fish balls.  Or you could just make one or the other.
MetricAmericanIngredient
600 grams1 1/2 poundscod filet
30 ml2 tablespoonsmilk
60 ml1/4 cupcream
10 ml2 teaspoonssalt
20 ml1 1/2 tablespoonscorn starch
freshly ground pepper, to taste

  1. For the fish pudding, butter a small loaf tin and dust with bread crumbs. (A mini tin is good if you are making a half recipe fish pudding.) Preheat the oven to 175 C/325 F
  2. Mix the milk and cream. Cut the fish into chunks, making sure to remove any bones that may still be in the fish fillets.
  3. In a food processor gradually add the fish pieces with some of the cream mixture, pulsing them to form a smooth puree, and scraping down the sides as necessary. Add the salt, corn starch, and any cream mixture that hasn't been used yet.
  4. For the fish pudding: Press and smooth the mixture into the prepared loaf tin so that no air pocket remain, then cover with some buttered aluminum foil. Place the tin a roasting pan and add boiling water until it reaches three-quarters up the side of the tin. Bake for 60 to 75 minutes. The pudding is done when the top feels firm and a cake tester comes out clean. Turn the pudding out onto a serving plate.
  5. For the fish balls: Place the fish puree in the fridge for a half hour or so to stiffen up. Scoop out using a tablespoon and roll into balls using your hands. You can put the balls back into the fridge until ready to cook in the fish bouillon or water for 2-3 minutes. After cooking, drain them and add to the fish soup just before serving.
Fish Stock

2 medium carrot, chopped
1 medium parsnip, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 large potato, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 parsley stalk
6 peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
4 liters water
900 grams / 2 pounds white fish remnants, such as white fish bones and heads (I can get this free from my fishmonger)
Optional: shells from about 20 large shrimp

Put all the ingredients except the shrimp shells into a soup pot, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes.
Drain the broth through a fine sieve into a large bowl or another large pot. Press the solids with a spoon to get as much of the moisture into the broth as possible. Discard the solids.
Rinse or wipe the soup pot and return the broth to the pot. Boil the broth until it has reduced to half the volume (about 2 liters).
Now add the shrimp shells, if using, and simmer for 10 minutes.
Drain the stock  into a large saucepan through a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth.

Fish Soup

25-30 fish balls, or 1 pound of fish filet such as cod or halibut
2 medium carrots, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 leek, white part only, finely chopped
2 egg yolks
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon finely chopped dill

  1. Bring the fish stock to a gentle simmer and add the fish balls. Cook them for 2 to 3 minutes, then scoop them out with a slotted spoon to drain on paper towels. If you are using a fish filet, simmer it whole until the fish flakes. Then remove to drain.
  2. Add the carrots and celery to the fish broth and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Add the chopped leek and simmer for another 3 minutes.
  4. Beat the egg yolks and gradually beat in about 1/2 cup of the hot broth, a few tablespoons at a time.
  5. Gradually add the egg yolk mixture to the soup, stirring all the while.
  6. Return the fish balls to the soup and heat through, but do not bring the soup to the boil. If you are using fish fillet, cut it into pieces and return to the soup.
  7. Garnish the soup with dill and serve.



Sunday, May 4, 2014

Time-Life: Cooking of India


As anyone who follows my blog knows, I adore Indian cooking. What I have learned about Indian cuisine to date comes mostly from Madhur Jaffrey, who has introduced the English speaking Western world to the delights of Indian home cooking. I also had a little recipe booklet from the Time-Life Foods of the World series but it provided no background information.

But that's changed. Through the wonders of the Internet I was able to order the Cooking of India from the Time-Life series, and am learning more about the background and cultural differences between North and South India, at least as they were in the 1960s. The world, and India, have changed a lot since then, but it's still an interesting read. I'm lucky to also have young Indian colleagues with whom I can discuss both food and Indian traditions. I'd love to get their perspective on the world depicted in this book.

Cooking of India was written by Santha Rama Rau as part of the Time-Life Foods of the World series and tackles the almost impossible task of providing an overview of Indian cooking for a Western audience with limited or no experience with Indian food. She has an interesting background with one parent coming from the north of India and the other from the south. It was a progressive, Brahman, middle-class (not to say wealthy, by Indian standards) background.

I think my favourite chapter is the first one, in which she describes her grandmothers' kitchens (probably in the 1940s), one in nothern Allahabad, the other in south-western Mangalore.

The heat of these recipes has been radically reduced to accommodate Western tastes. However, Northern Indian cooking is much milder than that of the south. Not that long ago I ate at the home of an Indian colleague, and her cooking was very mild, and she hadn't adjusted it for me. She said it was a very typical meal for them (a cauliflower curry, eggplant bharta, rice, and chapatis).

I think most of the recipes have been stripped down to their basics, but they are accessible and tasty. You'll find more elaborate recipes and more complex spice mixtures in other books and the internet, but I will be forever thankful to it for introducing me to baingan bharta.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Time-Life: Spain and Portugal

The Spain and Portugal volume of Time-Life Foods of the World was a much more satisfying read than the Quintet of Cuisines. The writer Peter S. Feibleman actually lived in Spain, knew the people, and could write great descriptions of landscapes and cultural events. I think I'd like to read some of his other books, such as his biography of Lillian Hellman, with whom he had a long friendship.

I found the recipes I tried less successful, whether it's because they were simplified too much or whether the food itself is less appealing, or perhaps just poor technique on my part.

I've been to Andalusia and had wonderful home-cooked meals with fresh produce at a lovely B&B (Villa Matilde near Anjar), but I found eating in restaurants frustrating. Oily, mass-produced paella, monotonous salads of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, boiled eggs, tuna, and ham. The overwhelming emphasis on meat, the lack of vegetarian meals, or even vegetables that were not served in oil, made lunches particularly unappealing. It's hot, you want a light lunch and the only vegetable choice is that same old salad! The consequences of mass tourism, perhaps. However, I do remember a delicious supper of sea bass baked in salt in Malaga, and I loved Seville and would like to go back there.

Anyway, back to this book. In general, they call for at least 2 times as much olive oil as I would use, and I cut the amounts whenever I thought it appropriate. Ingredients are simple with very few extra flavourings beyond salt and pepper. In some case, I adapted a couple by adding some hot peppers to give them a bit more kick.

I've not provided the recipes, but will be happy to post if anyone wants them.