February 24, 2013

Sweet indulgence: sticky buns

If we were allowed to detect only one smell in life, I would probably choose that experienced the moment the doors of a small artisanal bakery first open. No doubt it would be a very long shortlist, but there are few things I find more soothing than that heady combination of butter, spice and yeast; and even the simple thought of beginning to work dough with my hands brings with it a welcome sense of calm.

Baking is my oasis, and I have learned that whenever it all gets a bit much and I'm feeling overwhelmed, unhappy or stressed I just need to take a step back, peruse a master or two over coffee and then pull on my apron, tighten the strings, and take a long, deep breath...

February 17, 2013

Seasonal regional: Blackberries

One of my favourite things to do during summer is go berry picking. To head off into the countryside with its hot sun, flies and prickles and return scratched, stained and with a bucket full of goodness. I mean, how else would you try to relax on the weekend?

Understandably, it might not be everyone's ideal, but to me the scent of wild blackberries as the sun first hits is just heavenly, and out there in the peace and quiet I can think of fewer places I'd rather be.

Blackberries are an aggregate fruit formed of drupelets, and are distinguished from their raspberry relatives by keeping the torus in the fruit (with raspberries, the torus remains on the plant, leaving a hole). They're commonly referred to as brambles, and as this term means impenetrable shrub, it's easy to see why.

Luckily for me my cousin has a glorious stand of wild blackberries growing on their farm, and after a thoroughly successful outing from which plenty of berries were stored, it was time to try my hand at a few new berry-based treats.

One of the best sorbet recipes I've ever come across is one that uses blackberries and rose geranium. It's a romantic combination, and one I figured would hold up rather nicely as jam, so first up was this scented take on that all-time classic, blackberry and apple jam.

Along with summer's berry bounty figs are also at their peak, and with some gorgeous examples appearing at our farmer's market stalls, dessert just had to be these little fig and blackberry pies.

Attempting to make a delicately soft butter pastry when it's 35 degrees perhaps wasn't the best idea, but despite their rustic appearance they were delicious nonetheless, and since there's no sense in having pie without cream I threw in a side of blackberry and honey ice cream, just for good measure.

All that's left now is to plot what to do with the rest of the haul...

February 10, 2013

Sweet indulgence: Latticework plum pie

Sweets are often used as a means to celebrate. We make big cakes for big occasions, create masterpieces, and tactically justify our guilty pleasures by sharing them around. And while it's fun to prepare such flights of fancy, my personal preference is for a much humbler treat. For a simple pleasure that is befitting of the time, the season, and the place. 

Like this latticework pie of plums and raspberries, with its bubbling sweet juices and cinnamon-laced crust. The blood plums, taken fresh from my mother's garden, combine magically with the warm, sweet raspberries to create a filling that is lusciously hot and tart. Topped off with a pastry that is buttery and crisp, this is a dessert that is vibrant, comforting and ever so delicious.  

The perfect sweet indulgence when you've precious time to spare...

February 3, 2013

Book Club: Jerusalem

With my new approach to TPB now thoroughly in full swing it was time to start cooking the books for the first in our series of Book Club posts, and as I stood perusing the shelves for my latest adventure I could think of no finer place to start than with the latest offering from two of my favourite chefs, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. Much like their earlier work, Jerusalem is a stunning read filled with beautiful food, stories and people, and is another perfect example of how good food doesn't necessarily need to be complicated, so long as you do the simple things well. It is a vivid depiction of their culinary homeland as they take you on a journey through childhood memories to modern food trends, and the stories and traditions recounted throughout are as vibrant and delightful as the recipes that follow.

When presented with so many delicious options it is always difficult choosing where to begin, but as I was on the lookout for recipes that would help ease the current zucchini glut I settled on these turkey (or in my case, chicken) and courgette burgers with spring onion and cumin as my preferred teatime snack.

Easy to prepare, and served simply with a tangy soured cream and sumac sauce, they were enjoyably light and delicious, and I imagine would be perfect served as anything from finger food to a scrumptious lunchtime wrap.

I opted to serve mine beside a salad of baby spinach, dates and almonds - another take on the family fattoush, and excellent addition to the side dish repertoire if ever you're looking for something to do with any leftover pita.

This salad had everything. It was sweet and tangy, crunchy and had squish. The heat from the chillies was mellowed by the refreshing bite of spinach, and all-in-all it was ridiculously moorish. With so few ingredients it was surprising just how much it had going on. A really lovely accompaniment that could certainly do just as well on its own. In a word, superb.

Jerusalem has that lovely affect of not only making me want to spend more time in the kitchen but to get out there, go travelling, and experience these cities and cultures for myself. There is still so much to learn, and I'm definitely going to enjoy finding out what else is in store. Until next time...