Archive for April, 2010

April ‘Meanderings’ …

Pictured (top to bottom)
North African Style Pickled Lemon & Lime
Moroccan Style Beef Stew with Oranges & Beetroot
Coriander & Chickpea Couscous Salad
Moroccan Style Plum Pudding

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This month, after posting Chocolate Rice Krispie Cakes, which were an Easter treat, I have been adding dishes from North Africa and enjoying using the jolly striped Tagine I received for my birthday back in February.  Firstly, though, I added my personal spice mixture for Ras el-Hanout plus a simple recipe for preserved or Pickled Lemons (or alternatively lemons and limes).  These, along with the spice mixtures of Za’atar and Harissa are some of the distinctive flavours of North African food.  I posted several main course dishes: using chicken, lamb and beef.  I also included Coriander & Chickpea Couscous Salad our favourite recipe for couscous and finally a delicous dessert that is flavoured with rosewater, a fragrant and often used ingredient in the food of the region, particularly in sweet dishes.  Orange flower water is also commonly used in both sweet and savoury foods and was an ingredient in my Beef Stew Tagine (pictured right).  (See further down for a full list of dishes posted in April.)  There is one more North African dish (North African Style Fish Fillets) which will be posted during May when I will be adding fish recipes.

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I found a very helpful book in the library, Illustrated Food and Cooking of Africa and the Middle East: A Fascinating Journey Through the Rich and Diverse Cuisines of Morocco, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Turkey and Lebanon by Josephine Bacon and Jenni Fleetwood.  There are so many attractive recipes and I was sure I would be making more.  In fact I loved this book so much I ordered my own copy!  It is a book I will enjoy leafing through, particularly for the excellent regional ingredient and cooking information at the front.

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Easter is a busy time in our household, mostly centred around our church and its family as we celebrated Jesus’ death and Resurrection.  On Easter Monday it was good to take a break after the busyness of the previous week and to share dinner with our own family. For this meal and I cooked a Roast Beef dinner with all the trimmings (Yorkshire Puddings, Roast Potatoes and vegetables).  For dessert I made a recipe which I recently rediscovered when hunting through some recipe books: Delia Smith’s Lemon Surprise Pudding (remembering that this recipe is so delicious it always has to be doubled!)  Alongside I served some Sliced Caramel Oranges, which made a really refreshing accompaniment.

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On television I have just finished watching Sophie Dahl’s new cookery programme, The Delicious Miss Dahl. Sophie Dahl and her recipes were both attractive to watch, but I was not really sure about the format of the programme, which I found rather irritating.  I just wanted to see and learn about the food!  There were some lovely and not too difficult recipes, though, including: Arnold Bennett omelette, Peanut butter fudge, Rich chocolate pots with brandy-soaked cherries, Rhubarb and rosewater Eton mess (BBC site recipe no longer available), Toffee apple and pear crumble, Cardamom rice pudding with spiced plums, Borscht and Flourless chocolate cake.  The one recipe I have tried so far from the series is Lentil shepherd’s pie with champ, which I adapted very slightly and was much enjoyed.  I will post my version in due course.

April Recipes 

Chocolate Rice Krispie Nests

Coriander & Chickpea Couscous Salad
North African Style Pickled Lemon & Lime
Ras el-Hanout

Moroccan Style Beef Stew with Oranges & Beetroot
Moroccan Style Lamb & Rice Pilaf
Moroccan Style Lamb Stew with Pumpkin & Preserved Lemon
North African Spiced Baked Chicken with Pickled Lemon

Moroccan Style Plum Pudding

Meanderings Revisited (links to original post):
Fruit Curds
Prawn & Tomato Korma
Sausage & Courgette Pasta
Sliced Caramel Oranges

Read Meanderings ‘a la carte’ from previous months  

‘For what we are about to receive…’ May 2010 and beyond

Food Focus – Fish & Bananas, though not together in the same recipe!
Recipe Book(s) used:
…from my shelf
Taste of the Sea by Rick Stein & Fish for Today (John West) 
…from the Library – 200 Fab Fish Dishes: (Hamlyn) by Gee Charman
Non Fiction Food book (still reading) Climbing the Mango Trees by Madhur Jaffrey

Coming up next month are some delicious and relatively uncomplicated fish recipes alternating with banana recipes.  These will be especially useful if you have a bunch on the dish that are a bit past their best and starting to brown.  I will also be dipping into some books of recipes from the Far East: Far Eastern Odyssey by Rick Stein and Far Eastern Floyd by Keith Floyd, being just two.

Also this month I am off to Paris for a few days.  This is not my first visit, so it will be a chance to visit some places not previously explored: we are particularly interested in seeing the Marais area, Pere Lachaise Cemetary (better than it sounds!) and Parc des Buttes Chaumont.  Apart from sampling the food I am especially looking forward to a visit to the Musée d’Orsay, the major art gallery housing Impressionist paintings. Wonderful! We always look forward to visits to France, home of wine, cheese, patisserie and lots of other good things beside!

Happy Cooking & Eating!

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It is possible to detect the influence of France in Moroccan cuisine, not unsurprising as the countries have historical links.  This dessert feels as if it is closely related to the French dish Clafoutis (or it’s close relative Flognarde), although the egg custard is replaced by a sweet ground rice pudding mixture.  However the addition of rose water (or orange flower water, which is listed as an alternative) firmly connects this dish with the southern shores of the Mediterranean.  The suggestion of rice pudding might make the casual reader feel that this is a rather homely dish, as they are usually linked with nursery food rather than dinner parties.  However this would make an unusual and delicious dessert as part of N African style meal, especially made in individually sized portions.

The recipe comes from a wonderful book I found in the library, Illustrated Food and Cooking of Africa and the Middle East: A Fascinating Journey Through the Rich and Diverse Cuisines of Morocco, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Turkey and Lebanon by Josephine Bacon and Jenni Fleetwood (to give it its full title).  The ingredients are all as listed in the book, except I found it necessary to increase both the ground rice and sugar by 1tbsp.  This increase of the sugar content  is, of course, optional but is recommended for those with a sweet tooth as plums can often be acidic.  I made the original suggestion of Plums combined with Rosewater, but other fruits could also be used.  Orange flower water is a suggested alternative addition and I can imagine that this would be delicious used in combination with Apricots or Peach.  The addition of flaked almonds adds a lovely crunch to the smooth texture of the ground rice: don’t be tempted to omit them. Finally, I added a generous dusting of icing sugar, which enhanced the cracks in the surface of the plums and where their juices had run into the whiteness of the rice.  I further handful of toasted flaked almonds on top would be a good addition, athough not included in the original recipe, particularly for a special occasion.  I am sure this recipe could be made a short while in advance and reheated just before serving, although I would add the sifted icing sugar and additional split almonds just before taking it to the table.

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Moroccan Style Plum Pudding
(Serves 4)

450g/1lb fresh plums (alternative suggestions – apricots, cherries or greengages)
600ml/1pt skimmed or semi-skimmed (half fat) milk
60ml/4tbsp ground rice
45ml/3tbsp cold water
45ml/3tbsp caster sugar (15ml/1tbsp extra for those with a sweet tooth)
75g/3ozs flaked almonds – reserve a few to toast for decoration (or add a few more)
30ml/2tbsp rosewater (alternatively orange flower water)
icing sugar to dust

1.  Preheat the oven to 190oC/370oF/Gas 5.

2. Remove the stones from the plums and halve them.

3.  Bring the milk to the boil in a pan.

4.  Blend the ground rice with the cold water, a little at a time, mixing well to remove the lumps.  Pour the hot milk over the rice and return it to the pan.  Simmer over a low heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until it thickens.

5.  Stir in the caster sugar and flaked almonds.  Continue to cook for 5 more minutes.  

6.  Stir in the rosewater (or orange flower water).  Simmer for 2 minutes.

7.  Butter a shallow ovenproof dish.  Carefully pour in the almond rice mixture.

8.  Gently arrange the prepared plums (or other fruit) on top, spacing them as evenly as possible.

9.  Bake for 25-30minutes, until the fruit has softened.  As it cooks the fruit juices will run slightly into the white almond-rice mixture, which is unavoidable.

10.  Dust with icing sugar and serve immediately with a little pouring cream or crème fraîche if you like a slightly more sour taste.

11.  Scatter with a few toasted split almonds to decorate.

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Unflavoured, couscous is really unexciting.  However, flavoured with oils, lemon and herbs or spices it can be transformed into a delicious accompaniment not just for North African dishes, but as a side dish for simply grilled meat or as part of a cold or warm buffet.

This is my variation on a recipe from the book Sarah Brown’s Vegetarian Cookbook. I have several books by this well known vegetarian writer who introduced a BBC vegetarian cookery series in the 1980’s. (See my version of the original recipe: Chickpea & Couscous Salad.) I have changed or substituted some of the ingredients for this version: the original included 1tsp miso (shoyu or soy sauce could be substituted) and 1tsp lemon juice, which I have changed to preserved/Pickled Lemon – also lots (and lots) of chopped fresh Coriander (and it must be fresh).  This is a simple unspicy dish, but would be good with a sprinkling of Sumac, a commonly used eastern spice (see recipe for Grilled Chicken with Sumac & Roasted Banana) or, for a hotter taste, add ½-1tsp Ras el-Hanout or Harissa paste at the same time as the oils.  Cooked couscous keeps for several days in the fridge and may be frozen for up to three months and should be thoroughly defrosted before it is eaten.  If it has coriander added the flavour could be affected when defrosted.

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Coriander & Chickpea Couscous Salad
(Serves 4)

225g/8ozs couscous
400g/14oz tin chick peas, drained & rinsed
570ml/1 pint boiling water
30ml/2tbsp olive oil
15ml/1tbsp sesame oil
15ml/1tbsp chopped preserved/Pickled Lemon or lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
5/6 chopped spring onions or ½ red onion, finely chopped
4-6 tbsp chopped fresh coriander (depending on personal taste)
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Sumac powder (optional)

1.  Place the couscous, drained chick peas, oils, garlic, spring onion and chopped lemon or lemon juice in a large heatproof bowl or jug.

2.  Pour over the boiling water and mix together with a fork.  The couscous will absorb the liquids quite quickly.

3.  Add the fresh coriander, reserving a little as a garnish if you wish, and season.

4.  If it is to be eaten hot, this salad should be made just before it is served as it cools quickly.  (If necessary, it can be briefly reheated in a microwave, but may need a little more water if this is done although it is best not made too far in advance.)  Alternatively it can be left to cool and is ideal served cold, perhaps as part of a buffet.  

5.  Sprinkle with reserved coriander, or a few individual leaves and a little sumac powder (optional) or ground black pepper.

100_4946 Chickpea Couscous Salad

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Chickpea & Couscous Salad
Here is my version of the original recipe by Sarah Brown.  Good hot or cold.

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I am experimenting with some North African recipes at the moment but also, as always, trying to be mindful of not overdoing it with the calories in day-to-day dishes.  For this reason it is always good to find something that sounds tasty but falls into the ‘not quite so naughty’ category.  (Eating this recipe cannot guarantee a smaller waistline but it is certainly not an unhealthy option.)

Some weeks ago, in a charity shop, I found a copy of The Time to Eat Cookbook by Sîan Davies, a book published by the diet help organisation WeightWatchersAlthough I am not following the WeightWatchers regime there are some delicious and simple recipes in the book, following sensible healthy eating rules.  All give an idea of the total calorie numbers, but as I am slightly adapting the original recipe I shall not be including this information.  However, as the changes are mostly healthy options, this recipe broadly keeps to the ideals of the original.  The changes I have made are: using Ras el-Hanout, a North African Spice Mix which can be bought ready made or mixed at home, the option of tinned plum tomatoes in place of fresh ones and the addition of chopped preserved/Pickled Lemon, which is popular in cooking across North Africa.  Alternatively, dried fruit (raisins, dried apricot or prunes), which are also often used in North African dishes, could be added in place of or as well as the pickled lemon and/or aubergine.  This would obviously affect the calorie count of the dish, giving bigger portions.  I have chosen not to add any calorie counting details to my recipes.

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Moroccan Style Lamb & Rice Pilaf
(Serves 4) 

350g/12ozs lean lamb mince or diced lean lamb
1tsp olive oil (or less, leave this out and dry fry if possible)
1 large onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2tsp Ras el-Hanout (originally ½tsp each ginger & cinnamon plus 1tsp paprika)
1 aubergine, diced & salted
225g/8ozs courgettes, diced – if small ones then sliced
225g/8ozs long grain rice, pre-soaked and drained in at least 2 changes of water
220ml/½pt/10fl ozs water and 2tsp vegetable stock, or lamb stock if available
400g/14oz can plum tomatoes, diced 
450g/1lb chopped fresh tomatoes (plum type if available) & a little water, as needed
2tbsp chopped preserved/Pickled Lemon (optional)
2tbsp chopped fresh mint, reserving a little to garnish
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

1.  Fry the lamb mince for 5 minutes in as little extra oil as necessary, ideally using a non-stick pan should mean it can be dry fried.  Drain off any excess oil before continuing.

2.  Add the onion, garlic and Ras-el Hanout (or ginger, cinnamon and paprika).  Stir well.

3.  Drain the aubergines.  Add to the pan with the courgettes, juice from the tinned tomatoes (if using – set aside the drained tomatoes to stir in when the pilaf is almost finished), rice and stock.  (Any extra dried fruit should be added at this point.)  Bring to the boil. 

4.  Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, until the rice has absorbed the liquid and is soft.  Check periodically to make sure that it does not boil dry.

5.  Add the tomatoes (or the drained tomatoes set aside when the liquid was used at stage 3), preserved lemon and most of the mint and heat through. 

6.  Transfer to a warmed dish and scatter over the remaining chopped mint before serving.

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This substantial dish, with the often used combination of lamb and chickpeas, is flavoured with sour preserved Pickled Lemons (simple to make at home) and hot chilli based Harissa paste, both commonly used flavours in North African cuisine.  Given a good slow cooking, either on the stove top or in a Tagine, the lamb is tender and soft.  It should be served with a simple couscous, perhaps flavoured with some of the juice from the pickled lemons and some additional coriander.  Alternatively it can be flavoured with some balsamic vinegar, some additional mint and some green peas.   I often add chick peas to couscous, unless they are already included in the main dish.

This recipe, originally named Moroccan Style Stewed Lamb with Pumpkin & Preserved Lemon by Antony Worrall Thompson comes from the UKTV food website.  I have adapted it slightly, using lamb fillet, reducing the amount of Harissa paste for a milder flavour and substituting tinned chopped tomatoes.  I have also added a cinnamon stick, a lovely complement to a lamb dish and a flavour traditionally used in the cooking of North Africa.

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Moroccan Lamb Stew with Pumpkin & Preserved Lemon
(Serves 4)

450g/1lb lean leg of lamb (I used lamb fillet)
1½ tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp olive oil
1 large white onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
400g/14fl oz tin of tomatoes, chopped or 4 skinned & chopped fresh tomatoes
1 tbsp harissa paste (use 1tsp for a milder taste)
1 cinnamon stick (optional – my addition)
325ml/12fl ozs water (425ml/15fl ozs  if using fresh tomatoes)
400g/14fl oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
350g/120zs peeled pumpkin, cut into 2.5cm cubes
1 preserved Pickled Lemon, finely diced (2-4 tbsp depending on personal taste)
2 tbsp chopped mint
1 tbsp chopped coriander

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 150oC/300oF/Gas 2 if using a Tagine, or a similar lidded pot.  Alternatively, this dish can be cooked on the stove top without using the oven.

2.  Cover the lamb with ground black pepper.  Heat the oil in a large saucepan.  Brown the meat on all sides.

3.  Chop the onion and add it to the pan with the crushed garlic.  Cook until the onion is soft and slightly browned.  Add a little of the water if needed if the mixture starts to stick.

4.  Stir in the tomatoes, harissa paste and the water (or the remainder if some has been used already). 

5.  Heat to simmering, cover and cook on a medium heat for 1¼ – 1½ hours.  Alternatively, transfer mixture to a Tagine and bake in the oven.  Check periodically and top up with water if necessary.  Cook until the lamb is almost tender.

6.  Add the drained chickpeas and diced pumpkin.  Cook until the pumpkin is tender, about 15 minutes more. 

7.  Chop the preserved lemon, mint and coriander, stir into the meat mixture. 

7.  Serve with simply flavoured couscous or flatbread.

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We love the flavours of North Africa: with ingredients such as spicy coriander and cumin, fragrant cinnamon and orange flower water, hot chilli and ginger, sour pickled lemon, salty olives and sometimes even the sweetness of fruit, although readers of other pages on this site will know that I am not keen on very sweet fruit with meat.  I was delighted, therefore, to be given a Tagine for my birthday: not absolutely necessary to cook the dishes but lovely to look at and use for serving and especially for entertaining.  Along with the Tagine, I was also given a recipe book containing a good selection of ideas for using my new pot.  This was the first recipe that caught my eye: we love beetroot cooked with meat and in combination with orange the dish sounded unusual and delicious. 

This recipe was taken from Tagine: Spicy Stews from Morocco by Ghillie Başan.  I have altered the quantities and proportions a little and have adapted the recipe for cooking in the oven.  (My Tagine cannot be used on the stovetop as I have an electric cooker with a ceramic hob.)  I served the Tagine with wedges of butternut squash oven baked with olive oil and a sprinkling of Ras el-Hanout, a spice mixture which is exclusive to North Africa (I mix my own) along with Couscous flavoured with pickled lemon and fresh coriander.  I often add chickpeas to the couscous mixture but these would also be good added to the Tagine at the same time as the orange segments.

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Moroccan Style Beef Stew with Beetroot & Orange
(Serves 4-6)

1-2 tablespoons olive oil (original uses ghee)
3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 large red onions, halved lengthwide and sliced
1inch/2.5cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated (amount can be increased)
½ red chilli, deseeded and chopped
2tsp coriander seeds, crushed
2 cinnamon sticks
3-4 beetroots, peeled & quartered (uncooked)
1lb/500g lean beef, cut into bite sized pieces
2 or 3 thin skinned oranges, segmented
1tbsp dark, runny honey
1-2 tsp orange flower water
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 knob of butter
2-3 tbsp shelled pistachio nuts
a handful of fresh coriander, chopped (original uses flat leaved parsley)

This recipe can be either cooked on the hob, as in the original instruction, or at Step 6 transferred to the oven and baked. 
If using the oven it should be pre-heated to 160oC Fan/170oC/325oF/Gas 3

1.  Melt the oil in a pan (alternatively a Tagine or lidded casserole dish suitable for stove top use) and stir in the garlic, onion and ginger until they start to colour.

2.  Add the chilli, crushed coriander seeds and cinnamon stick.

3.  Add the beetroot pieces and cook gently for 2-3minutes. 

4.  Add the beef and gently cook for 1 minute.

5.   Pour over enough water to almost cover the beetroot and beef.  Bring to the boil. 

6.  Transfer to a Tagine or ovenproof dish with a well fitting lid and place in the oven.   Alternatively leave in the pan, cover and reduce heat.  Cook for 1 hour, until the meat is very tender.

7.  Add the orange pieces, honey and orange flower water and season.  Cook, covered, for a further 10-15 minutes.

8.  Melt the butter in a small pan and lightly brown the pistachio nuts over a medium heat.

9.  Sprinkle them, with the coriander or flat leaved parsley, over the meat mixture and serve.

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This recipe came as a surprise.  It landed in my email Inbox from someone I do not know, via two people I do as was part of an internet recipe sharing scheme that I had taken part in (not really expecting to receive any replies).  I had forwarded recipe exchange emails twice before, but in both cases had heard nothing more, let alone receive the flood of good recipes that the emails promised me!  (By the way, I usually delete emails that ask me to forward them to others and promising me ‘rewards’, but this seemed like an interesting idea.) 

I love the flavours of North African cooking, especially the spices combined with the sourness of pickled lemon with the saltiness of  olives, but I am not especially keen on dishes which include a lot of very sweet fruit.  However, in spite of this, I did not leave out the prunes as most of my family are very fond of them: I just chose to add some olives as well, especially for myself.  As the prunes and olives are added towards the end of the cooking time their flavours complement the dish without really cooking fully into it affecting the overall flavour.  I always use home made Pickled Lemon which is simple to make.  This recipe is ideal for cooking and serving in a tagine, if one if available, but it is not absolutely necessary.

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North African Spiced Baked Chicken with Pickled Lemon
(Serves 4)

1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp cardamom seeds
½ tsp paprika
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp oil from pickled lemons or Olive Oil
4 chicken portions, skin on
2 medium red onions, cut into wedges
2 medium green peppers, de-seeded and thickly sliced
2 fresh bay leaves
8 slices of pickled lemons
8-12 plump no soak prunes
8-12 pitted green (or black) olives (optional – not in original recipe)
1-2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh coriander or flat leaved parsley, to garnish

Recipe needs a day long or overnight marinade to allow the flavours to develop. 

1.  Heat a small, dry frying pan on a low heat until warm. Add the whole coriander and cumin seeds and cardamom pods.  Cook, shaking the pan frequently, for a few minutes until the spices give off their fragrance.  Do not overcook so they burn.  Grind the roasted spices in a grinder or pestle and mortar. Combine with the paprika, ½ tsp salt and ½ tsp ground black pepper. Mix to a paste with the oil.

2.  Cut diagonal slashes on the skin side of the chicken and rub in the spice paste.  Alternatively remove the chicken skins and rub the pieces with spice mixture.

3.  Place the chicken in a tagine or baking dish with a well fitting lid.  Add the onions, peppers and bay leaves. Turn so that all the vegetables are coated with the oil. Cover, leave to stand for at least 4 hours.

4.  Preheat the oven to 190oC/370oF/Gas 5.  Uncover the chicken and cook for 20 minutes, occasionally basting with the juices.

5.  Lay the lemon slices over the chicken, tuck in the prunes and scatter over the olives.  Cook for a further 15-20 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked and the vegetables are starting to brown.

6.  Garnish sprinkled with the chopped herbs.

7.  Serve with couscous, pilau rice or millet.

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Pickled lemons are traditionally used in North African dishes.  The sourness of lemon or lime and the saltiness of olives can be cooked together with meat or fish, often in a traditional Tagine, or served as an accompaniment at the meal.  (I will be posting a delicious recipe for North African Spiced Baked Chicken with Pickled Lemon in the next week or so.)  The pickle is delicious finely chopped and stirred into Couscous.  The original recipe also suggests placing pieces on fish fillets before baking or using the lemon oil/vinegar as in dressings or on fish and chips for a spicy lemon flavour.  I tried, unsuccessfully, to make pickled lemons some years ago and was loth to try it again, but I experimented with a very small quantity with a different recipe and this time found it to be extremely successful.  The lemon and/or lime pickle is very quick and simple to make and can be used after three or four days, although three weeks is recommended to allow the fruit to start to soften.

This recipe was taken Crosse & Blackwell/Sarsons Vinegar Perfect Pickles by Suzanne Janusz.  (The recipe for Lime Pickle, a spicy accompaniment for Indian Food with a very different taste, was taken from the same booklet.)  This recipe is for finely sliced lemons and limes but it can be made with lemons or limes alone and I have seen whole and halved lemons prepared in a similar way, although I have not tried this.  I see no reason why larger pieces of fruit could not be used although they would probably need longer to absorb the pickling mixture.  It is better to make several small sized pots as the lemons start to deteriorate, becoming over soft, once the pot has been opened.  For this reason too it would be wise to reduce the ingredients, making a smaller amount, where the pickle is just for occasional use. 

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North African Style Pickled Lemon & Lime
(Makes aprox 1ltr/1½pints)

6 lemons or limes (I used a mixture – 3 of each)
25g/1oz salt
15ml/1tbsp paprika
30ml/2tbsp caster sugar
75ml/5tbsp sunflower oil
300ml/½pint white distilled pickling malt vinegar

This recipe needs to be started the day before.

1.   Scrub and finely slice the lemons and/or limes.

2.  Layer the fruits and salt in a non-metallic colander or sieve.  Cover with a non-metallic cover (not touching the fruits) and leave in a cool place for 24hrs.

3.  Before preparing the pickle wash and sterilise the jars.  I usually do this by filling them with boiling water and putting the lids in a separate small bowl of boiling water.  Pour away the water just before filling each jar and once the jar is full immediately take the lid from the bowl and without touching the inside screw it onto the jar.  Although the contents for the jars in this recipe are not heated the hot lid should contract and form a seal: if re-using a jam jar with a ‘pop in/out indicator’ on top this may well contract.  However, the seal cannot be guaranteed so it is best to make occasional small quantities rather than one large batch.

4.  Do not rinse the fruit.  Layer in sterilised jars sprinkling paprika between the layers.

5.  Mix together the sugar, oil and vinegar. Pour this mixture (unheated) over the fruit.  Seal the jars. (See note above at 3.) 

6.  The jar should regularly be gently shaken to mix together the oil and vinegar.  Allow to mature for a few days and ideally up to three weeks before using.  Store in a refrigerator once open.

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Ras el-Hanout

Ras el-Hanout, meaning literally “top of the shop”, is a blend of herbs and spices that is used to flavour food across North Africa.  There are many recipes online and all are slightly different but have quite a number of ingredients in common.  Ras el-Hanout is now widely available in specialist and ethnic shops but as I had almost all the ingredients in my store cupboard I decided I would have a go at making my own.  The one ingredient I did not own was dried rose petals, but I felt I would like to include them for the exotic fragrance they would bring so I was pleased to track some down in a local Turkish Cypriot supermarket.

I found the mixtures on two websites (the Epicentre and the BBC) particularly helpful and my mixture is broadly based on these recipes, plus the optional addition of lavender which appears in some of the mixtures and which I feel also gives fragrance associated with the Mediterranean region.  The ground cloves and black cardamom pod are also optional.  Sometimes Ras el-Hanout mixtures list more unusual ingredients.  These are often difficult to obtain, but are less essential so they are not included in my mixture.

A word of warning:  the essential oil in Lavender is considered to be unsuitable for those who are pregnant as it can bring on premature labour.  It would be wise if the Lavender was omitted when serving a dish flavoured with Ras el-Hanout to someone who is or might be pregnant.  (Keep Lavender ready ground for adding separately.  Add pinch or two to the spice mixture as needed rather than including it in the whole mixture.)

Ras el-Hanout

1tsp ground cumin
1tsp ground ginger
1tsp turmeric
¾tsp ground cinnamon
¾tsp freshly ground black pepper
½tsp ground coriander seeds
½tsp cayenne
½tsp ground allspice
½tsp ground nutmeg
½tbsp fennel seeds
2tbsp dried Damascan rose petals (but I would add more in future, say 5g/½oz)
½tsp mustard seeds
2 blades mace
8-10 green cardamom pods
1 black cardamom pod (optional)
½ tsp cloves (optional)
Keep separately and add a pinch as required (see note above):
Ground dried lavender (optional)

1. Gently roast all the ingredients over a low heat in a metal frying pan.  This should not take long: just until the seeds start to pop.  Toss gently once to ensure even cooking.  When the seeds pop again remove the pan immediately before they burn. 

2.  While it is still warm grind the mixture to a fine powder in a grinder or pestle and mortar.

3. When cool store in an airtight container.

4.  Use as a flavouring for North African savoury dishes and couscous.

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On Good Friday we make Hot Cross Buns to remember Jesus’ death on a cross and it therefore seems appropriate to mark Easter Sunday and beyond with the symbolic use of eggs to represent the resurrection and the new life that Jesus brings.  I bought some little pastel coloured sugar coated eggs to decorate my Simnel Cake in a ‘take a bag and scoop and do-it-yourself’ shop.  Then, on a whim, I bought a few more: I, or perhaps my daughter, could make some little chocolate cereal nests.  Most people with children are likely to have had these brought home from school and may even have made them in a family home cooking session.  However I realised that the last time I made them it was with a special kit that came with a packet of Rice Krispies so I did not really have a recipe.  Searching online was simple and there seem to be two methods.  One includes butter/margerine and golden syrup.  The quick and simple method, the one I have chosen, is just melted chocolate and cereal, with the optional  of adding extra ingredients such as coconut, raisins or cherries.  Cornflakes can be substituted for Rice Krispies as can, I understand, Shredded Wheat: I have not tasted this last, though it could look rather like the twigs in a nest.

An internet search led me to the Netmums site and a recipe called Chocolate Crispies.  There are two or three other simple recipes (including one for Banana Flapjack, which is a good way of using a glut of ripe bananas).  We included some sultanas for good measure, finishing with sugar eggs – a hen and chicks were also added as Easter decoration.  The original recipe is for a larger amount of chocolate but we scaled it down for the one bar of chocolate that I had bought and found 24 nests to be ample (I was more generous with the raisins than the original). There is also a suggestion that cornflakes or other cereal could be used if you don’t have rice crispies and that the nests could be served with chopped bananas.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Chocolate Rice Krispie Nests
(Makes  24)

150g/5ozs chocolate (I used dark: Green & Blacks Fairtrade 72% Chocolate for Cooks)
80g/3ozs Rice Krispies
50g raisins
Mini eggs: sugar coated, foil coated or jelly type – 1 per cake
Alternative extra ingredients: coconut, glace cherries, dried cranberries, chopped nuts – amount may be more or less than 50g depending on personal preference.)

1.  Gently melt the chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of water on a low heat. (Alternatively use a bowl and quick bursts of heat in the microwave.)

2.  Put in the rice crispies and raisins (or alternative extra ingredient if you have chosen one) and stir until well covered with chocolate.

3.  Place individual paper cases into small tart or muffin tins and put spoonfuls of the mixture into these. 

4.  Place 1 or 2 mini eggs on top while still the chocolate is still soft (number depends on size of eggs/nests and personal choice). Leave to cool and set – can be put in the fridge for a short time.

5.  Lovely for tea-time on Easter day decorated with a small edible egg, or at any time of the year replacing the sugar egg with half a glace cherry.  At Christmas a piece of cherry and two pieces of green angelica give the seasonal look of holly.

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