Herbed Chili Labneh

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I am a sucker for those articles that tell you how to make the type of products you normally buy. You know the ones, with pictures of East London/Portland/Brooklyn types with plaid shirts, tattoos and massive beards standing outside the shed on their allotment that they use for home smoking their own duck prosciutto, or ridiculously photogenic young couples on farms posing with their pet goats, Poppy and Sunflower, whose milk they use to make their own organic cheese with. I love the idea of making my own cheese, smoking things, preserving things. I just never do it. I bought cheese cloth with great intentions, but instead I just make labneh. It’s straightforward and quick to make and provides just the right amount of smug DIY satisfaction. Labneh is a tradtional Middle Eastern strained yoghurt ‘cheese’. Basically you just buy some thick yoghurt, and strain it through cheesecloth for a day or two with some salt, garlic and spices until it has a thick, smooth consistency and a rich tangy flavour. You can use it as a dip with some crispy pitta bread, as a substitute for cream cheese, dress some roasted vegetables with it or really anything you fancy.

Ingredients

  • A tea towel sized piece of cheese cloth or muslin
  • 250g natural or greek yoghurt
  • 1/2 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1-2 teaspoons chili flakes of your choice (plus a bit extra for topping)
  • 1-2 teaspoons dried dill (as above)
  • 1 teaspoon zaatar
  • A pinch of salt
  • Olive oil

Method

  • Line a sieve with the cheesecloth, folded to make a double layer
  • Add the yoghurt and remaining ingredients besides the oil and stir well to combine
  • Leave in a fridge overnight over a bowl to drain the excess liquid
  • Grab the corners of the cheesecloth in the morning to form a bag and squeee the labneh well to drain out any remaining liquid
  • Serve topped with some extra dill, chilli flakes, chopped fresh chili if you have it, and olive oil

 

Review: The Temporary Bride by Jennifer Klinec

Temporary Bride

This post is a bit of a change of pace for the blog, reviewing a memoir rather than a restaurant or recipe. The author of The Temporary Bride, Jennifer Klinec, contacted me and asked if I’d like to review it here (yes this means I received it as a gift, but rest assured this review is my own opinion) . Jennifer is Canadian of Croatian descent and travelled the world for quite a while, settling (coincidentally) both in South Dublin, near where I grew up, and Clerkenwell in London, where I lived. She set up a cookery school in London after escaping the corporate world, and travelled to different countries in the Middle East to learn to cook traditional food. When she travelled to Iran, she found herself drawn to the son of the woman teaching her to cook, and, as you can probably guess from the title, temporarily married him

I thought a lot about this book, and writing this review. I haven’t reviewed a book since English class circa 2001 and it’s not an area I feel very comfortable in, which is odd since I’m a compulsive reader. I also struggled a bit with this book, and it took me a fair bit of work to realise why; I was trying to turn it into something it’s not meant to be. By way of background, I studied public international law, and so when I think of Iran, I think about it through a certain prism.  I tend to read about it from the perspective of activists, international relations experts, and journalists. The two Iranian people I have actually met were both people damaged by the regime, an academic desperate to leave but unable to abandon his ageing parents, and a student who protested in the 2009 uprising, was imprisoned, and saw his friends executed before fleeing.

But the politics or morality of the Iranian regime not what the Temporary Bride is meant to be about and that’s what makes it interesting. It’s about everyday life, for ordinary people, in an extraordinary country. This is a book about food, and travel and identity, and it does what it says on the tin.

At first, I found it challenging to get into, it struck me as slightly ‘Eat Pray Love’ and I found some romanticising of arranged marriages and patriarchal control a little difficult to stomach. But as the author settles into Iran, the book relaxes into it’s style and subject, and captures the culture and the people beautifully. It seems like a complex society to get a handle on, and the extent that Jennifer manages to understand it and integrate into in a short period of time is impressive. Although it is of course about romantic love, a consistent theme of the  book is the authors love of food.  She describes food in evocative, glorious detail, and her pleasure in remembering those experiences shines through from the page. You want to try everything she describes, even kalleh pacheh, the mutton head stew she gets up at 5am to eat. I would have loved to see some recipes worked into this book Like Water for Chocolate style but that’s just me.

I don’t think it is possible to read The Temporary Bride, and not want to visit Iran. The descriptions of beautiful cities, bakeries, little courtyard gardens and bergamot forests are enchanting. At the same time, Jennifer’s relationship with Vahid throws the complete culture shock of the experience into sharp relief. The limitations, constant vigilance and caution feel stifling to read about, and make for compelling reading. The claustrophobic control of the police state and societal opprobrium does weigh heavily as the relationship develops. I found it interesting how well she adapted to the boundaries, having described her childhood and adolescent as particularly unrestrained and free. The solution which they come to, a temporary marriage, is an interesting phenomenon in and of itself, and gives an interestingly pragmatic sheen to the otherwise dogmatic approach to sexuality of the authorities which control their relationship.

Ultimately, the book provides an insightful, and atmospheric look at a country that doesn’t often get an outsiders perspective.

 

 

Lemon and Rosemary Cake

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My attempts to grow herbs can be summarised as a series of small victories overshadowed by great losses. I have wiped out fields of basil and mint plants at this stage, not to mention the tarragon bush that slowly slipped away despite my best efforts. Rosemary is the sole thing I can successfully grow, even when there is ice on the ground outside.

My window box of herbs has become a battle ground of a different sort. Located on the ground floor windowsill of my house, it is routinely stolen and dumped somewhere around the neighbourhood every month or so. The first time it happened, our lovely local binman found it and returned it, providing a rollercoaster morning for my faith in humanity. Since then I have painted the address on the back, and now each time it is stolen, without fail, someone brings it back to my doorstep. It’s reassuring to know that the balance between the amount of (insert insulting description of the kind of person who steals a windowbox of your choice here) and decent people in my area seems to be at least 50/50.

I am not a habitual cake maker, so when I came across this recipe from Suzanne Brady, who makes beautiful cakes for a living, I knew it was one to trust. The recipe is from her site Cove Cake Design. It’s simple, fresh and pleasantly zesty. It is also dangerous, because it is the kind of cake that tastes delicate enough to eat any time of day. This amount makes a 9 inch bundt cake, or in my case 9 inch springform cake and one 8 inch loaf tin cake.

Ingredients

Cake

  • 225g unsalted butter (plus extra for greasing)
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 350g plain flour
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate soda
  • 6 eggs
  • 250ml natural yoghurt
  • Zest of 2 medium lemons (buy a microplane, it’s an excellent investment if you like lemon zest)
  • 3tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary

Lemon Rosemary Syrup

  • 100g caster sugar
  • Juice one and a half lemons
  • Sprig rosemary

Lemon Icing

  • Juice half a lemon
  • 100g icing sugar

Method

  •  Preheat the oven to 160°C
  • Grease your tin(s) of choice very well with melted butter.
  •  Sift flour and bicarbonate of soda together
  • Cream butter, caster sugar, lemon zest and rosemary together  until light and fluffy.
  •  Beat in eggs one at a time, adding one tablespoon of flour with each egg.
  • Fold in remaining flour, followed by the yoghurt.
  • Pour into greased  tin and bake for 45mins-1hour.
  • Keep an eye on it from about 40 minutes on (I covered mine with foil for the last bit when it had turned a lovely golden brown colour).
  • Slide a skewer or knife into the middle to test the cake, when it comes out clean it’s ready.
  • Meanwhile make the syrup by placing all the ingredients in a saucepan and heating gently until the sugar has dissolved and syrup has reduced a little. Remove rosemary sprig.
  • When cooked  leave the cake(s) to cool for a few minutes before turning out onto wire rack.
  • While still warm, pour syrup over cake and leave to cool.
  • Make the icing by adding lemon juice to sifted icing sugar until it has a liquid dropping consistency.
  • Drizzle over the cake once cooled a bit.
  • This stores well for a couple of days in a tin (if it lasts that long).

Dry Fried Green Beans – Two Ways

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This has become  my go-to after work weekday meal. It’s genuinely quick and easy to make and you can have all the basic ingredients lying around your store cupboard. Every time I cook Chinese food, I wonder why I don’t do it more often. Growing up, Ireland was the place which pioneered the three in one (fried rice, chips and curry/sweet and sour sauce) as a staple of Chinese takeaway food so it got a bit of a bad reputation as stodgy junk food. Pretty much all of our restaurants were Cantonese then, although the idea of regional cooking was still a long time away. It was living in Melbourne that opened up my eyes to all the different types of Chinese food. Now Dublin is leaps and bounds ahead of what it once was, and I actually tried this dish for the first time here, in one of my favourite restaurants, M&L Szechuan.

The general method and the first sauce are adapted from the beautiful Appetite for China website. The second sauce was made as part of an impromptu dinner on New Year’s Day, when all the shops in Holland were closed, and we were working off whatever we could find around the house. It turned out really well, and just has the kind of ingredients the odds are you already have lying around. You could use any kind of hot sauce instead of sriracha really, its all about getting the balance of sweet, spicy, salty and sesame together.

1 main course portion, or two side dish portions

Ingredients

  • 200g green beans or fine beans
  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil
  • 3 spring onions, finely chopped white and light green bits only
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 6 dried birdseye chillis
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon toasted, black or smoked sesame seeds

Sauce 1

  • 4 teaspoons black bean chili paste
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons rice wine
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce

Sauce 2

  • 4 teaspoons sriracha
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon sushi vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Method

  • Trim the beans and chop into 1 inch pieces.
  • Make sure they are completely dry before frying.
  • Heat the oil over medium/high heat and add the beans.
  • Fry, stirring frequently for about 8 minutes, until the beans have some brown blistered skin and have softened.
  • Meanwhile, make the sauce by mixing the ingredients together in a bowl.
  • Remove from the heat and drain on some kitchen paper.
  • Add the ginger, chopped spring onion, garlic and birds eye chillis into the pan, and cook very carefully over low heat for 1-2 minutes until fragrant (burnt garlic is the absolute worst, I tend to alternate taking the pan on and off the heat to be extra careful as I have a gas stove).
  • Add the sauce to the pan and stir around to mix.
  • Add the beans back in and cook for 2 minutes to combine all the flavours and reduce the sauce a bit.
  • Serve immediately.
  • If you’re not a fan of overly hot things, fish the dried chilis out before eating, they are pretty fiery to eat.

 

Leek, Taleggio and Thyme Toasts

Leek Toast

This was the first thing I ate in 2015. If you don’t count that 2am oliebol that no-one can actually prove happened. It was an attempt at brunch, that in fairness, ended up being more like early dinner. I don’t like brunch. I don’t like coffee, mornings, eggs or cocktails that pretend they could provide you with your RDA of anything. This is the kind of thing you can have ready to go on days when you know that eating something green will probably be the height of your achievements. It isn’t really a recipe, more of an idea for nice things you can put together easily on bread. You could substitute taleggio with whatever melty cheese you’d like. I’d say Crozier Blue, camembert or goats cheese would be winners too.You can also cook the leeks the night before so they’re ready to go when hunger finally persuades you to part with your duvet.

Serves two

Ingredients

  • 3-4 small leeks, chopped into 2cm rounds, white and light green bits only
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil plus a little extra for the bread
  • 4 large slices of bread (I used 1/2 ciabatta loaf, sliced in half lengthways)
  • 75g taleggio cheese
  • A few sprigs of fresh thyme

Method

  • In a large pan, heat the olive oil over a medium heat.
  • Add the leeks, cover with a lid and sweat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and sweet.
  • Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  • Rub the slices of bread with a bit of oil, and toast until a grill until golden on both sides.
  • Add the leek, dot with little cubes of taleggio.
  • Grill until the cheese is soft (1-2 minutes).
  • Top with thyme leaves and serve.

 

 

 

 

Duck Confit with Wine Braised Shallots

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I know, I know. It’s January 1st, and you are mentally replaying moments from last night. Like when you said ‘Champagne doesn’t give me a hangover’. And when you found that bottle of incredibly sweet liqueur at the back of the cupboard from three years ago.  You just want to quietly sit and think how many kale smoothies you will drink to atone for the last week. How healthy, and energised and trim you’re going to become. And here I am putting up a duck confit recipe with boozy shallots to boot. But sure it’s Thursday, surely 2015 doesn’t properly start until Monday…

This was my dinner last night, along with lots of creamy mashed potato. I then discovered the Dutch tradition of eating Oliebollen (like a delicious cross between a doughnut and a hot cross bun) on New Year’s Eve and really made it my own. There may have been some baked Camembert thrown in as well. No regrets.

This isn’t a traditional duck confit, it’s a quick cheats way I borrowed from Melissa Clark by way of Food 52. The shallots are from Ottolenghi’s latest book, Plenty More. They make a thick winey sauce (not pictured) which is perfect for serving with the duck legs.  This serves two, but can easily be scaled up.

Ingredients

Duck:

  • 2 duck legs
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • A crumbled bay leaf
  • Some fresh thyme leaves
  • Pepper
  • Olive oil

Shallots:

  • 8 shallots, whole but peeled
  • 200ml stock (I used  rich beef stock for maximum flavour)
  • 400ml wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorn
  • 25g butter
  • Olive oil

Method

  • Season the duck legs with the salt, bay leaf, thyme and pepper.
  • Wrap in cling film and refrigerate over night.
  • Heat the oven to 165C before cooking the next day (our oven was gas, and a little hotter so the duck turned out more crispy, though still very tasty).
  • Pan fry the duck legs, fat side down, over medium heat in a pan or oven proof skillet for 20 minutes to render out as much of the fat as you can (don’t cook too high or they’ll just burn without getting all the fat out).
  • Either transfer to a small oven proof dish with the duck fat or use the skillet.
  • Flip the legs over so the skin side is up and they are surrounded by the rendered fat.
  • Cover with tinfoil and cook in the oven for 2 hours.
  • Remove the tinfoil and cook until crispy (another 40 minutes to 1 hour).
  • Meanwhile, pan fry the whole shallots in a medium saucepan with some oil over medium heat until they start to colour – about five minutes.
  • Add the wine, stock, bay, thyme, and black peppercorns.
  • Bring to the boil, then simmer gently for one hour.
  • Remove the shallots,  strain the sauce and then bring the sauce to the boil to thicken.
  • Season and add the butter to the sauce.
  • Add back in the shallots and serve with the duck.

 

Harissa

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Harissa is a traditional chilli sauce found across North Africa. It’s also a perennial favourite for trendy menu bingo, holding its own against relative newcomers like kale, burrata and lardo di colonnata. At this stage, with recipes from Jamie Oliver and jars of the stuff in Tesco, it’s practically mainstream. This recipe comes from Morito, where they serve harissa with freshly made bread. This stuff is an entirely different animal from the fiery paste you get in the beautiful Le Phare du Cap Bon tins. It’s actually really mild, perfect for chili amateurs just dipping their toe in the water. You can use this as a sauce with grilled meat, fish, or vegetables, or as a dressing for salads. I’ve used this to dress pearl barley, roasted vegetables, feta and dill to make a packed lunch salad. It keeps well, and would make a perfect handmade Christmas present for any fans of spicy food.

Makes a 400g jar

  • Ingredients
  • 250g red chillies, halved and deseeded
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 100g roasted peppers
  • 2 tablespoons ground and toasted caraway seeds
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons toasted and ground cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tablespoon toasted and ground black cumin
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 2 tablespoons wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon honey (optional)

Method

  • Blend all of the ingredients together with a stick blender or in a food processor. Season to taste.
  • You can store this in a jar in the fridge for a couple of weeks.
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