Tahini cookies

I know sesame works for sweets (halva, sesame bars), but tahini, which is made from crushed up sesame seeds, always ended up in hummus, or even in a simple tahini-lemon-garlic-yogurt-water sauce for drizzling over roasted vegetables. But tahini in a cookie? This is something I have to try.

The recipe (adapted as always) came from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook, which is one of the few cookbooks that I’m actually looking at right now. Ottolenghi uses heavy cream in his mix, and cinnamon on top, but I went for Greek yogurt (because it’s what I had at home) and cocoa nibs for the topping, because I love the contrast of bitter cocoa and sweet cookie. I felt tempted to substitute almond essence for vanilla extract, and I wish I had. I can’t taste the vanilla, but think the sweet bitterness of almond would be a good thing to add. Next time. There will be a next time.

cookies

Tahini cookies (adapted from Jerusalem)
100g sugar
150g butter
110g tahini
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
25ml Greek yogurt
270g flour
cocoa nibs for the topping

Mix butter and suger until a little bit creamy (recipe says don’t let it get aerated, so I tried not to). Add tahini, vanilla and yogurt, and then add flour and mix until it comes together to a dough. Knead gently. Pinch off little balls of dough (about 20g each) and roll to a circle, and then dip one end in the cocoa nibs (I put them on a saucer), and put onto a cookie sheet, spaced an inch or so apart. I lined my sheet a silicon mat, so it’s easy to remove the cookies when they are done. Flatten the balls gently with the base of a glass or mug.

Bake for about 15 minutes in a preheated 400C oven. They should be golden at the edges.

Cool on a wire rack, then store in an airtight container.

Enjoy

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Magic with mangoes

mango2I’m so easily led. A friend asks if I have any good recipes for mango chutney (which I don’t), and I go haring off to Chinatown East to see what they’re charging for mangoes. And with a box of ripe, yellow mangoes going for a mere $6.99, I end up plotting my own mango chutney too. Friend plans to try the Major Grey style chutney from the Bernadin book, but I wanted something different.

Cue a blog called the daring gourmet (with a name like that how can you go wrong?), which added black nigella seeds to its jumble of spices, giving me the excuse to walk down to Little India as well. But following recipes has never been my strong point. With vague memories that adding oil can reduce the shelf life of a chutney, I decided not to fry the spices to start the process, and I also cut the sugar (those Chinatown mangoes were ripened to perfection), added an onion and sliced up lemon and more than doubled the ginger. I also forgot to add turmeric, which was a shame. But it was fun experimenting. Here’s the final recipe, with thanks to daring gourmet for the inspiration.

Mango chutney (makes 5-1/2 jars)
2 2-inch pieces of fresh ginger, minced
1 clove garlic, minced (it was a very, very large clove)
2 tsp nigella seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground cardamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp crushed dried chiles
1/2 tsp salt (add more next time)
6 mangoes, peeled and diced
1 onion, finely chopped (could double)
1 organic lemon, quartered, seeded and thinly sliced (including the peel) (could double)
1-3/4 cups sugar (use 1 or 1-1/2 next time)
1 cup cider vinegar

mango1Put all the ingredients in a preserving pan and simmer gently until it’s nice and thick and chutney like, which took best part of an hour. Crush gently with a potato masher to remove some of the biggest chunks. Bottle in sterilized jars. Waterbath, if you are a fan of waterbathing.

Chutneys mellow over time, so today’s taste may not reflect the finished product. But I admit I’m impressed so far. The texture is good, the nigella adds crunch and taste and the lemon peel adds a nice sour tang to what is otherwise a pretty sweet chutney. It’s spicy, with a definite chile/ginger bite. Something to eat with homemade bread and a sharp, strong cheese.

Rating: 4-1/2 (out of 5)

Just a few days out of the jar, this one is rather spectacular, with the nigella seeds offering an onion zip, and the ginger/chile giving it a pleasant heat. The lemon was an inspired addition, and yet you can still taste the mango, which often isn’t the case when you combine delicate fruit with vinegar and lots of spices. A very, very pleasant chutney indeed.

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I am not a winner

I was so pleased with the taste of my Sweetie-based three-citrus marmalade from earlier this month that I rashly decided to enter it in one of four competitions at last week’s Mad for Marmalade celebration, organized by the Culinary Historians of Canada. It’s an annual event, but this is the first time I’ve managed to attend, despite frequent pleas from fellow blogger/jam maker at Eat Locally, Blog Globally. And it’s certainly the first time in my life that I’ve entered a cooking competition.

Of course it might have helped if I had read the instructions before deciding which marmalade to enter, as there’s a lot of emphasis on the clarity of jelly and the texture of the final jam. “Do not add dry pulp,” the judges’ comments said firmly in the section that gave me just 1 out of 5 for texture. (I like adding dry pulp. I like the taste, and I like the extra fruitiness in what was, after all a made-up recipe.) I also lost points for leaving in a couple of seeds, although my peel scored well, which means it was “cut into attractively fine, even pieces, evenly distributed, good proportion of rind to jelly, translucent to clear, tender; not chewy.”

But the judges gave me 4 out of 5 for taste, which is what really matters to me. And I didn’t come in last.

citrus1

The event itself was a lot of fun, if only because it was so good to be in the company of a whole group of women and men (mostly women) who think it’s quite normal to transform oranges into marmalade, and who can talk knowledgeably about the amount of pectin in a strawberry, and whether blueberry apricot jam is a good combination. I happen to be one of those who think it isn’t; the dark purple of the blueberry jam completely drowns out the beautiful golden apricot and the two flavors fight with each other. But one jammer said it was the best thing he had ever made.

Among a series of morning workshop options, I signed up for Italian Marmalade, which turned out to be very similar to non-Italian Marmalade, except that the chef used a mandolin to slice the fruit and then simmered it away for the whole of the seminar. We got to taste lemon gelato, made with cream, which was seriously yummy, and enjoyed a lunch of chicken, salads and pasta. I’m even inspired to try candied peel again, if the historical method outlined wasn’t quite such a long and painful process.

citrus2I’ll update the blog when I get a chance to taste my Italian marmalade, but I have a lot of made-by-me stuff to get through first. The latest experiment — blood orange, regular orange and lemon, which has red streaks from the pulp. I guess that would have scored even fewer points.

And I’ve found new uses for my marmalade, which opens the horizons well beyond the marmalade-peanut butter sandwiches I take on the bicycle rides.

1. A very small spoon of marmalade adds a tang and a chew to my morning slow-cooked oatmeal

2. I’ve never liked marmalade in yogurt (the sourness and bitterness just don’t seem to go together), but it works like a charm mixed in with cottage cheese. Try it. You’ll be surprised.

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Hello sweetie!

A Toronto blogging friend arranged for those nice people over at Jaffa oranges to send me a six-pack sample of something they are calling the Sweetie, which turns out to be a grapefruit-pomelo hybrid, with tough peel, sweet flesh and pith that’s almost a centimeter thick. The spouse liked them just as they are, a grapefruit without the bite, but I figured it would be far more fun to invent a marmalade and blog about that instead.

sweet2The only issue. A nibble of raw peel shows that all the bitterness migrated from fruit to rind on this baby, and that one nibble left my whole mouth atingle, in a most unpleasant way. I peeled the fruit, pared off much of the pith and boiled the peels up three times in fresh water to try to dull the bitterness (in a way that worked moderately well for the grapefruit marmalade I made a while back). But even the thrice-cooked peel tasted pretty gruesome and the spouse worried it would taint the finished product if I actually used the peel. He was probably right.

sweet3I tossed that peel, and moved the experiment in a different direction, with a three-citrus concoction: two Sweeties, two Seville oranges and two organic lemons.

Three-citrus marmalade
2 Sweeties (you could use grapefruit)
2 Seville oranges
2 lemons
800 grams sugar

Peel the Sweeties (grapefruit), tug the flesh out from the white membranes and chop it roughly. Set aside. Quarter the oranges and lemons, cover with water and simmer for 45 minutes or so, until the peel is very soft. Strain the liquid and measure out 3 cups, saving the pits that float out from the fruit in the simmer and putting them in a square of cheesecloth. Add the sugar to the liquid, and then the flesh from the oranges/lemons/Sweeties, and then the peel, sliced as finely or coarsely as you choose. Add the pits from all the fruit to your cheesecloth and tie that into a little bundle for the added pectin that that supplies. Bring to a simmer until the sugar melts, and then a rolling boil for 15-20 minutes, until it sets. Fish out the cheesecloth bag and bottle the marmalade in sterlized jars. Waterbath if you want to obey USDA guidelines.

sweet4

For a made-up recipe, with guesstimates for the amounts of fruit, sugar and water, I must say this one is surprisingly good, all six jars of it. It has a firmish set, a tangy taste and just the right amount of orange/lemon peel.

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When life gives you oranges

oranges1

I know the jam-making risks taking over my life when I take it with me when I go away, but what else was I to do when a California friend left me alone in her home when she upped and went to work? Friend has an orange tree in her back yard, and a nearby lemon tree was dripping with fruit as we walked past with her two well-trained pups. Marmalade, anybody? With backyard naval oranges and a lemons, fresh from the tree.

Of course I’ve never made oranges with navel oranges and the internet recipes all suggested a three-day venture, peeling the rind from the oranges and then boiling that separately from the fruit before making a marmalade on Day 2 or Day 3. I didn’t have time for that one, and I didn’t see the point either. Let’s just make things up as I go along. It’s worked before.

Navel orange marmalade
5 navel oranges
3 lemons
2 lbs sugar
an extra splash of lemon juice

Scrub the fruit and cover them with water in your largest pot (I used the pressure cooker, without the lid). Simmer for 60-90 minutes, until the fruit and peel are very, very soft. Fish out the fruit, quarter them and allow them to cool. Measure the liquid that’s left in the pot and top it up (or toss some out) to make four cups of liquid. Add the sugar.

Scoop out the flesh from the oranges and chop it roughly, and add it to the pot, and then slice the peels as thinly as you wish and add them too. Same deal for the lemons, but save the pits carefully and put them in a square of cheesecloth to add to the liquid. That’s what gives you the pectin, and it’s the pectin that gives the set.

Bring your jam to a slow simmer and stir until the sugar is dissolved, and then bring to a rolling boil and boil for about 20 minutes, stirring very frequently. It tasted a little sweeter than I wanted it to, so I added a splash of (bottled) lemon juice), and carried on with the boil. It’s done when it starts to feel sticky rather than liquid as you stir, and when a drizzle of jam sets a little when you pour it onto a cold plate. Fish out the cheesecloth of pits, allow the marmalade to cool for a couple of minutes (to help the peel settle a little) and then bottle in sterlizied jars. I flipped the jars over for a few seconds to help get a decent seal, and I didn’t waterbath them. I’m pretty sure a marmalade is acid enough that bugs won’t grow, but I suspect that breaches the USDA guidelines so not waterbathing is not a formal recommendation.

I admit this marmalade was a little runny, but it may thicken up over the next few days, and California friend can always use it over yogurt if it’s too syrupy for bread. She says she likes it, and that’s what counts.

On to the next adventure.

orange2

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Slow, slow oatmeal

Readers of this blog will know that steel-cut oatmeal has revolutionized my winter breakfasts, especially after I found a low-risk, low-maintenance way of getting the perfect taste and texture, precooking things in advance and letting them sit around to plump up nicely overnight. This year I got more adventurous, but also even lazier, and the oatmeal is, if anything, even more perfect. It’s a high-fibre, filling and low(ish) calorie way to start the day, and it keeps me going until mid-morning at least, especially if I add a few walnuts to add a protein filler. The secrets? A $20 slow cooker from the discount kitchen store, a selection of different grains to supplement the oats, far more liquid than you ever think you’ll need and patience.

The recipe is infinitely flexible, but here’s roughly what I do. Each batch lasts me for a week or so, maybe a bit less if I feel particularly hungry in the mornings.

Slow-cooked steel-cut oatmeal
generous half cup of steel-cut oats
skimpy one-third cup of other grains (I’ve used tef, amaranth and very small amounts of freekah so far, with amaranth at the top of the list for taste and texture)
2-3 cups water
1-2 cups other liquid (apple cider, coconut milk, milk, depending on mood)
generous pinch of salt

Put all the ingredients in the slow cooker and cook on low for 3-4 hours. Stir once in the middle if you remember. Allow to cool in the cooker and then store the porridge in a tupperware in the fridge. Come breakfast time, spoon out a portion into a bowl and reheat it in the microwave. Then add fruit and nuts, perhaps some cocoa nibs for bitterness and a generous splash of milk, buttermilk, yogurt or home-made kefir (which curdles slightly in the hot oatmeal). You could add honey/sugar/maple syrup too, or even jam, but I find the apple cider offers enough sweetness for my taste.

oat

The Guardian describes tef (an Ethiopian cereal) as “the next big supergrain,” while HuffPost gives a similar moniker to freekah (wheat that’s harvested when it’s still green and then cracked and roasted), dubbing it “the next hot supergrain“. HuffPost also offers “14 reasons to eat amaranth” (an eat-everything plant — the dark green leaves are used in Caribbean cooking and known as callaloo), and says cocoa nibs are “even better for you than dark chocolate.” How can I go wrong?

I’d note I don’t like to add too much freekah, because it adds a very wheaty taste to the finished cereal. I get a wheaty taste from bread; I like my oatmeal to taste mostly of oats.

Anyone got other ideas to jazz up oatmeal?

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More marmalade

marm1I really wasn’t planning to blog about marmalade this year, if only because I’ve written about it so many times that there may be nothing new to say.

But then this year’s batch of marmalade is shaping up to be rather nice, with the perfect set, the perfect sweetness and even the perfect peel. We (mostly) cut the peel a little more finely than in previous years, and we didn’t skimp on the sugar, which has been a mistake before. But the Seville oranges were unusually large, which meant we effectively doubled the recipe, so it took longer to set, and filled the pan alarmingly full. There were a few nervous moments as large bubbles of boiling jam spattered onto the floor, the countertop and any exposed flesh they could find.

It was worth it. There were only two jars of marmalade left in the store cupboard, and that wasn’t going to last the year, and the brief Seville orange season had just started.

Here was the rough recipe:

Seville orange marmalade
(Adapted, vaguely, from Jams, Jellies and Chutneys)

9 Seville oranges
3 regular oranges
2 lemons
2 kilos of sugar (plus a little bit)

Scrub the fruit, cover with water and simmer for about an hour until they are very soft and the pith is orange rather than white when you cut the fruit in quarters. I used two preserving kettles for this one. If you take the fruit out too early, and the pith is still white when you quarter them, just throw the quarters back in the water for another 15 minutes or so.

Take the fruit from the water, and cut them up, before fishing out the seeds and pith and slicing the peel, as thinly as you like. Let the fruit cool down a bit between the quartering and the peel-slicing. Save the seeds and pith in a cheesecloth bag – that’s what gives you the pectin, and that’s why the marmalade sets.

Meanwhile measure our the water you have left from simmering the fruit. We had eight cups of water, which seemed about right for what was (in theory) only 1.5 times the original recipe.

Add the sugar, then the fruit and the bag of seeds and pith. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves, and then bring to a rolling boil until it sets, stirring frequently. Fish out the cheesecloth, squeezing it between two spoons to get out as much of the precious, pectin-rich elixir as you can. Be careful. It’s hot.

Bottle in sterilized jars. These oranges were, as I said before, unusually large, and we ended up with 17 jars.

Waterbath for 10 minutes (although I reckon this baby is probably acidic enough that bugs wouldn’t grow anyway).

Eat, on toast for breakfast, with yogurt for lunch, or (my favorite) as a peanut butter and marmalade sandwich on a bike ride or a ski trip. You can even bake with it, for a seriously yummy chocolate marmalade brownie style cake.

Enjoy.

marm1 copy

I now have this irresistable urge to experiment with quince orange marmalade, after spotting quinces in the market on Saturday. I only need a couple of quinces and 4-6 oranges, right? Just a small batch?

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