Inspiration for the new year in my kitchen
The last slice of Christmas cake sits looking a little forlorn, vermillion cranberry sauce catches my eye when I open the fridge, I’m wondering what to do with half a jar of mincemeat, the scent of basil fills the air and I’m trying to find enough room to store all the freshly-picked, organic vegetables from the farmers’ market.
January is a kind of crossroads in my kitchen where the rich tastes of the festive season give way to fresher, healthier, lighter ingredients in line with new year resolutions. I’m finding inspiration in new cookery books on my wooden shelves, especially these:
Smart Tart by Tamasin Day Lewis
This book excites me for so many reasons. For one, it’s the follow up to The Art of the Tart, one of my favourite cook books. Tamasin is one of my ‘go t0’ references for cookery advice. Her ‘All you can eat’ compendium of recipes covers everything from cauliflower cheese to Christmas cake. She used the Unbound publishing platform to raise the funds for this book. It’s based on crowd sourcing and in April 2013 I pledged to buy the book which would be published if enough people did the same. By the end of last year it was printed and as an early ‘supporter’ includes my name – I’m thrilled. It’s beautifully made, with a thick, embossed hard cover but small enough to fit in your hand. The photography is tempting but informal, the fillings from the pies oozing from their pastry carapaces. The format is heavy on memoir and as each chapter unfolds you discover how food memories are woven into a fairly extraordinary family (Tamasin’s father was Irish poet Cecil Day-Lewis and her brother the actor Daniel). She’s always been uncompromising in tone but here are some ‘no holds barred’ chapters on food production, the sexual revolution and food, modern day eating and cookery – truly a smart tart. I devoured this book in one sitting as keenly as sinking my teeth through pastry into custard.
West Country Cook Book – home cooking from the chefs of South West Britain, photography by David Griffen
My family didn’t have many holidays, we never went abroad, and our most exciting journeys were to visit my cousins in Cornwall. As my Aunt and Uncle ran a small hotel this couldn’t be in high season summer but in the wild depths of winter. We negotiated winding B roads in our old, unreliable car with my Mother on high-stress mode all the way, making regular stops for sandwiches, our hands wiped with a damp flannel kept in a plastic bag (my Mum’s pre-cursor to wet wipes). Bilbo Baggins had nothing on us as children as we felt we were on the most thrilling adventure. The dark, brooding sea with crashing white, foamy waves, the rain stinging your face, was a world away from the estuary of the Bristol Channel (our previous experience of a beach in Weston-Super-Mare). Born in Cheltenham, married to KP from Plymouth, a time living in Bath, friends and family throughout the South West, this is my part of England and where I spend every July and August (and where I will return home to).
The book is a portrait of the South West of England through a lens of an outsider (a grockle or an emmet) who loves good food. That lens is wielded by one of the most brilliant photographers I have had the pleasure to meet and one of the nicest. David Griffen is from Australia but has made the West Country his home. At a workshop with him in 2012 I learned more about light in photography in two hours, ensconced in a railway arch lit by a fluorescent tube, than from any other course or book. Although he brought along his professional kit, he made sure that every single one of us achieved the best shot we could from our varying equipment. He’s a very practical man, with loads of boyish energy and a genuine appreciation of accomplished chefs regarding their cookery as an art form. He works closely with many top names and this book is a mission to interpret their appreciation of the bounty of the fertile South West counties. I’m not a fan of cheffy books but this is not one of them. There’s nothing over complicated here, either in the recipes or the photography. There are many fish recipes befitting a place with 702 miles (1,130 km) of rich coastline, and simple classics like Cornish rarebit with Doom Bar beer, Cornish pasties (with sweet and savoury filling) and bread and butter pudding with blackberries. I received this as a Christmas gift and would recommend it for any food lover who enjoys superb ingredients and the beauty of nature in its simplest, purest form.
Crust by Richard Bertinet
My foodie bucket list for 2013 included making sour dough. Not only did I fail even to make a starter but my usual regular bread making took a nose dive and fell off the dough wagon in the frantic schedule of those twelve months. Crust, a gift from my daughters, is just the kick start I need to get back on track. I’ve bought bread and pastries from the Bertinet Kitchen in Bath and love just gazing into its tempting windows. Richard brings his French bread-making expertise to the heart of England. He advocates a more gentle and intuitive approach to dough (shared by Dan Lepard) than our traditional British pummelling technique. A friend lent me his first book, Dough, which covers the basics. This book has even more in-depth information about working with dough, proving, shaping and outside influences such as the weather and of course achieving a really good crust. It covers sour dough and ferments extensively and uses unusual flours like spelt and cabernet grape flour. As well as traditional recipes such as Breton bread made with sel gris from Brittany there are innovations like Japanese ‘sushi’ rolls made with sake, nori and sesame and his interpretation of the Bath bun. Both books come with a very useful DVD and makes me long to attend a bread making course by him. In these times where bread seems like ‘the enemy’ to many people, I love his philosophy:
Good bread is good for you; bad bread is less good for you – it’s as simple as that. The same applies with any food – a burger made freshly with brilliant beef is a great thing; a cheap, processed burger full of additives and fillers isn’t.
Savory Baking from the Mediterranean by Anissa Helou
I’ve had this since the Emirates Festival of Literature in March but haven’t got round to cooking from it. As well as breads there are some excellent recipes for pies and tarts. If my sour dough making goes well maybe I can test it out instead of dried yeast with some of the flat breads. The cover of the book features a picture of Palmyra in Syria; a tragic reminder that just a few hours by plane from my home people are reduced to eating domestic pets as there is not even bread to eat.
Sweet Delights from a Thousand and One Nights: The Story of Traditional Arab Sweets by Habeeb Salloum, Muna Salloum & Leila Salloum Elias
I was really excited to be sent this book as a review copy. Always keen to learn more about the vibrant and varied food of the region that I live in (which is so wrongly lumped together as homogeneous Middle East cuisine so much of the time). If you are not familiar with Arabic sweets, don’t think of candy; these little delicacies range from the lightest layered miniature pastries, to crumbly date biscuits to milk puddings. In an age of mass production, we’ve lost sight of how rare these treats were in the past due to the rarity of the ingredients (honey, butter) and the time consuming nature of how they are made. They were mainly used for times of special occasion or celebration.
The authors sketch a fascinating background including poetry and tales, for each recipe and the source from ancient texts often from Medieval times (historical recipe), a traditional recipe and a modern version for today’s methods, ingredients and cooks. A fascinating historical read plus an extensive treasury of recipes from a vibrant region; the only thing that lets this book down is the few colour plates in the middle with very poor photography – it would have been better to leave it out. I’m also surprised that there is no mention of om ali (or umm ali) a very popular milk pudding – literally translated as Mother of Ali.
A couple of the recipes I’ve bookmarked are Lugaymat (which I know as lgeimat) which are doughnuts from the U.A.E. and Ka’b Ghazal from Morocco (I tasted some which were light as a feather at a recent festive cookie exchange with Tavola). This book comes from IB Tauris the same publishers as Sherbet and Spice; their whole list is really interesting especially if you want to know more about topics in the Middle East.
Premier Inn Gatwick were asking expats which special food items they missed at Christmas. I was a bit hard pressed to think of anything as Dubai is so cosmopolitan, however I knew that KP loves really good pickled onions and liquorice toffees. To my surprise they sent me some (and some other goodies as well – including a tiny bottle of port which somehow evaded the post office).
Pop over and see what’s in Celia’s kitchen (at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial) as well as links to a whole host of other kitchens.
What’s in your kitchen this January?