It’s baking in here!

November 17, 2010


My joy at having the use of an oven continues unabated, with the production of a cake I first made in my very early baking days. It’s a gateau aux carottes, courtesy of the king of the food bloggers, David Lebovitz.

Never having been much of a fan of the carrot cake, this recipe caught my eye precisely because it has hardly any carrot in it. It actually has more in the way of nuts, and being a huge fan of nutty cakes, I thought I’d give it a go.

David’s recipe lists almonds as the nut of choice, but I had a bag of lovely homegrown walnuts, given to us by my mum’s friends Sue and Barry, so I decided they’d make a perfectly respectable replacement.

These particular walnuts were quite small, and had the hardest shells I’ve come across. It took me quite some time to get them all out – a task that was done under the watchful eye of Lottie, the miniature Schnauzer, who is partial to a nut or two. (Actually, what am I saying, she’s partial to pretty much anything that’s edible…)

The final weight of the nuts wasn’t quite enough, so I topped it up with some oatmeal. I remembered that this cake came out quite flat and biscuity, so I though the addition of some oatmeal would add a flapjack-like texture (and flapjacks are my mum’s favourite sweet treat, so I knew she’d approve).

One other adjustment I made from David’s original recipe was to do something I often do with cakes, and that is replace some of the required amount of caster sugar with brown sugar. I find it gives a lovely caramely flavour, which is just delicious – especially when, in this case, it’s combined with nuts.

It turned out to be a big ol’ cake in the end, but thanks to the brown sugar, nuts and oatmeal, it’s one that just gets better and better with time. Which is lucky, because, as partial as Mum and I are to a cup of tea and a slice of cake, I think even we’d struggle to polish off this in a single sitting. And one thing’s for sure, it’s too good to waste.

Ovens above!

November 14, 2010

I am with oven – finally! Unfortunately, it’s not my own. I’m staying with my mum in France for a week or so, and as is expected of the mother who taught me much of what I know, cooking-wise, her kitchen is well designed, fully stocked and an absolute joy to work in.

Now that I have an oven at my disposal, I’m certainly making the most of it, and reached for the ‘on’ switch almost as soon as I had walked through the door. (I tend to do most of the cooking when staying with Mum – something that gives pleasure to both of us.)

I never have to worry about there being a lack of fresh vegetables, herbs and all sorts of foodie extras at Mum’s, and I can usually find pretty much everything I need for a recipe, no matter what it is.

Mum had some chicken legs in the freezer that she wanted used up, so, after an inspection of her fridge, I found the perfect accompaniments – a large bulb of fennel (one of my favourite vegetables, and impossible to find in Istanbul), a bag of mushrooms and some red onions. Which, in my eyes, added up to baked chicken and fennel.

So, I thinly sliced the fennel, a red onion and a handful of the mushrooms, scattered them evenly in a largeish baking dish, then added a couple of sprigs of rosemary (from the garden), finely chopped, and a couple of roughly chopped cloves of garlic.

I poured over enough hot stock and some white wine to just cover the vegetables, seasoned with a little salt and a fair old grinding of black pepper, then popped it into an oven heated to about 220º for 15 minutes or so. I often find that vegetables take much longer than you’d imagine to soften in an oven, so thought I’d give the fennel et al a head start.

While the vegetables were beginning to cook, I browned the chicken legs – which I’d jointed, so they wouldn’t take quite so long to cook either. Then they were added to the now semi-cooked vegetables, and placed back in the oven for about half an hour at 180º.

Once the chicken was cooked, the skin beautifully crisp, and the fennel soft and sweet, all that was left to do was steam some broccoli, and spoon up. There was plenty of juice left – in fact, I’d probably put in a bit too much liquid to start with. But, never one to be wasteful, I simply used it to make a leek and mushroom soup the next day. Both were delicious.

Sounds meh, tastes mmm…

November 11, 2010

I’m thinking of changing the name of this blog to Bare Cupboard & Claudia, after the Julie & Julia film. After all, I seem to be blogging my way through Claudia Roden’s The New Book Of Middle Eastern Food in much the same way that Julie Powell did with Julia Child’s Mastering The Art Of French Cooking.

And today was no different…

I actually made this dish for the first time last week in Istanbul, when I found a bag of seriously softening carrots in the bottom of my fridge. I did what I always do in this situation, and that’s head for the index of a few cookbooks to see if I had enough other ingredients to make something interesting with whatever it is I want to use up.

In this case, I found a recipe that, I have to admit, sounded like something Nanny would have forced upon some sorry Dickensian school-children. Boiled carrot salad. But once I’d read the list of simple ingredients, I had a feeling it was going to taste much better than the name suggested.

Fortunately, I was right. Unfortunately, the photos I took made it look as though Nanny had had a punch-up with the mashed carrots – and lost. Best left for another time, I decided.

And the ‘other time’ presented itself to me today. I arrived at my mum’s in France yesterday, a stopover on my way back to London (only a visit – I haven’t fled Istanbul altogether!), and after a quick rummage in her well-stocked fridge, I found some similarly floppy carrots. Boiled carrot salad for lunch, then.

So, the first step is to, er, boil the carrots. In salted water, with a couple of roughly chopped cloves of garlic. Once the vegetables are super-soft, mash them with a hefty pinch of cumin seeds (I usually just crumble them between my fingertips, rather than grind them to a fine powder), a teaspoon of harissa paste (I used pul biber the first time I made it, and actually thought it tasted better), a splash of wine vinegar (either red or white will do), and a good glug of olive oil. I found that it also needed a bit more of a seasoning with salt and pepper. Don’t mix’n’mash too thoroughly, as it’s tastier when a bit chunky. Leave it to cool a little, then scatter with a few more cumin seeds, a little cayenne pepper (or, in my case, pul biber), and another glug of olive oil.

Mum and I ate it with an avocado salad, some crunchy baguette, and a glass of delicious Muscadet. We both agreed that it was very tasty, and could easily become rather addictive. Nanny would be proud…

Here comes the mushroom man

November 4, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, while wandering around Kumkapi market, I spotted a man sitting at the side of the road with a shoe box on his lap. The shoe box was full of wild mushrooms of all sizes, shapes, colours, and probably levels of edibility. Clearly mushroom season had started.

Being a huge fungi fan, I was sorely tempted to buy some, but something told me it perhaps wasn’t the most sensible thing to do. And I may well have been right – Suleyman later told me there are occasionally cases of people coming to sticky ends at this time of year, after consuming wild mushrooms that had been picked by someone who doesn’t know their Cantharellus cibarius from their Cortinarius rubellus.

So, I was delighted to see a stall at Fatih Pazar yesterday overflowing with what were clearly carefully selected mushrooms.

A halting conversation with the vendor resulted in the information that this was a selection of field and forest fungi from the region around the city of Bolu, about half-way between Istanbul and Ankara. It’s an area known for natural springs, high mountains and pine forests, so I was hoping its vegetation would reflect that unspoilt environment.

With prices starting at about £3 a kilo, I barely knew where to start. It would have been very easy to walk away with several kilos of mushrooms, but even the greediest of gourmands can consume only so much. So, after examining the fungi fare on offer, I went for what I think are saffron milk caps. (Unfortunately, my Turkish is nowhere near good enough to have come to that conclusion from my chat with the mushroom man, and I had to do some internet research instead – but if anyone knows different, please do tell me.)

My shopping companion, Mireille, and I decided to walk home from the market – which is a good hour away from home – so I had plenty of time to think about what I was going to do with my bag of goodies. By the time I got back, I was starving, and knew exactly what was going to become of my mushrooms – sautéed saffron milk caps with garlic, thyme and lemon juice, atop some toast.

The large meaty mushrooms were perfect for this. They held together well in the frying pan and were strong enough in flavour to take on the garlicky, herby aromas. A squeeze of lemon juice stopped the whole dish from becoming too heavy, but, nonetheless, the results were a hugely satisfying autumnal late lunch.