Sfiha, or Lahm Bi’ajeen

There are heaps of different spellings for lahm bi’ajeen, it seems, and also lots of different names depending on the ethnicity of the version you’re referencing. I know it better as lahmacun, for which there is also many spellings, or just Lebanese pizza. Lahm bi’ajeen is the spelling in Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, which we used the other night.

The ingredients are as follows (from the Ottolenghi site):
230g strong white flour
1½ tbsp milk powder
½ tbsp salt
1½ tsp fast-action dried yeast
½ tsp baking powder
1 tbsp sugar
125ml sunflower oil
1 medium free-range egg
110ml lukewarm water
olive oil, for brushing

… and I ended up spending a fair bit of time being embarrassed that I’d made a mistake, and searching the internet for other versions of the dough recipe, because look at that amount of oil. When it had sat for the requisite hour, there was very little rising in evidence… but there was a little puddle of oil that had seeped out. It had felt incredibly oily to make. And when I made it into the little rounds, it still felt incredibly oily. I certainly hadn’t bothered to brush it with more oil. And even after the next two sets of quarter-hour resting: basically no rising. I know it’s meant to be a flat bread, but the instructions do say to expect some rising. It’s fair to say I was pretty unhappy with the situation.

My darling made the topping:

250g minced lamb
1 large onion, finely chopped (180g in total)
2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped (250g in total)
3 tbsp light tahini paste
1¼ tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
tsp cayenne pepper
25g flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 tbsp sumac
25g pine nuts

I was surprised by the tahini but wow was it fantastic. He double-minced the lamb, which made it incredibly fine – the place we go to for Leb pizza makes their meat pizza with basically a paste, and that’s what he managed too. While I was all ready to throw it all away and go to bed hungry (because I’m dramatic when I’m starving), he put them onto the pizza stones (on baking paper because of all that oil), and kept an eye on them. And… all the oil meant an incredibly crispy base, and of course the topping was brilliant. So they were indeed delicious and made me feel a bit silly.

Not silly enough, though, to think that I’ll be making this again with the exact same recipe. I think next time I’ll halve the oil and see how that goes.

Cook as I say, Not as I do

UnknownMany, many years ago a dear friend gave me Cook as I say, Not as I do.

I have never cooked anything from this (well, not yet) but I will never get rid of it. Partly because of its provenance and partly because it is just so funny; I really want to be able to share it with the young people in my life (ok, mostly girls, because the characters are mostly girls and it deals with girl issues).

There are eight separate chapters. Each chapter is a vignette of a daughter’s life, in correspondence with a maternal figure in her life. Sometimes the relationship is good, sometimes a bit wonky, sometimes non-existent. Sometimes the relationship is like Saffron and Edina in Absolutely Fabulous. Sullivan introduces the collection as being a set of found documents, “apparently abandoned by their original collector” – and while the found footage idea can sometime be a bit dubious, in this case of such domesticity I think it works.
Every double page has a letter from the mother-type on the left (very occasionally the daughter speaks back) – they’re in a wild variety of handwriting, and many of them go in for a species of guilting. The righthand side has a recipe of some sort, and these too reflect the mother’s personality: to whit:

Divide the raisin bran in half. If you had to share everything the way I did when I was young, this part will be easy.

I love it.

Sipping vinegar

aka drinking vinegar

aka shrub

This is another recipe that I got courtesy of Kate of Just Add Moonshine. I have no idea where she got it from, and a very cursory search online doesn’t find me the recipe she gave me.

Sipping vinegar is for adding to soda water or other sparkling water, or gin and tonic or… other alcohol, I suppose. It’s very easy to make: it just involves fruit, white or cider vinegar, and sugar. The variations Kate told me about are lemon or apple. The lemon was ok but the apple – I used pink lady – was fantastic.

Three apples, grated

1 cup cider vinegar

1 cup sugar

Put it all together in a saucepan; wait til the sugar dissolves then leave it simmering gently for half an hour. Then strain it – Kate’s method is to put a Chux into a sieve over a bowl or jug, and leave it to drip for however long.  The vinegar is really strong, of course, so you’ll need the rangehood going; I’ve taken to doing the straining outside, because it’s still pretty potent at that stage.

I’ve also tried it with mango leftovers – pips and skins, after cutting them up for dehydrating – and an apple to make up the quantity. It wasn’t very mango-y, tragically, and I’m not sure I can face sacrificing a mango or three to make sipping vinegar.

The end result: it is a little vinegary, of course, but the sweetness cuts through it nicely; refreshing is a good word for it. You don’t need too much for it to add a good flavour. The above recipe gives about a cup or so of vinegar; I haven’t noticed it going off, and I suppose it lasts for quite a while with those ingredients. I have no idea how many drinks you’d get out of that much – depends entirely on how much flavour you require.

It’s definitely worth giving it a go.

Camp cooking

Those are welding gloves, because that cast iron pot gets placed directly into the campfire. And then it has to be taken out again.

We quite like camping, of all varieties. We have more tents than would seem entirely sensible. We also have a Landcruiser troop carrier that we’ve recently kitted out with a frig, and a rather nice cooking set up. Because we also quite like cooking. The solution to either eating just Latina pasta or steak all the time, for my beloved, was this cast iron pot. Throw a mini roast in with some potatoes, a carrot, maybe a couple of shallots and as much of a tin of tomatoes and some water as will fit… put it onto the coals of the firepit you’ve had conveniently and cheerily smoking for an hour, and another hour or so later you’ve got dinner.

Things we didn’t realise: that the lid has one direction in which it sits flush. The other way around, it doesn’t. The theory is that this is for those occasions when you do want steam to escape, which I guess could be useful, but… it was frustrating when we didn’t realise.

We also didn’t realise how to care for cast iron, because it arrived sans any instructions about seasoning or care. So we found that out the hard way. Fortunately it’s not the sort of thing that can be easily destroyed, which I guess is the whole point with cast iron, right?

Anyway. The results have been… acceptable. We’ve only used it twice. Once while actually camping when we were quite pleased with how it turned out, even though frustrated by the lid. The second time was to check out how well we’d seasoned it, and that was somewhat less awesome. Partly it was because we used a larger piece of meat so it was squishier and therefore more bits of carrot ended up burnt on the side. Partly it was because cooking a la camping (we still used the firepit, in the backyard) just isn’t the same when you’re not, like, camping.

I think this is going to be a good addition to our camping experience. I think I have to find my recipe for damper as the next experiment.

Candied walnuts

IMG_0838When I moved house a year ago, the amazing Kate of Just Add Moonshine (JAM) sent a jar of candied walnuts. And oh my goodness, they really are like adult candy.

Take your walnuts and add a fair bit of sugar, sage that’s been fried in some butter, and salt and roast… and make sure that the other people in your house don’t know where they are. These will just go, because they are just so easy to eat by the handful.

I’m giving them away as Christmas presents.


IMG_0844… but not as you know them.IMG_0843

No, these ones are made with sweet potato. Dehydrated sweet potato.

I’ve been experimenting with my dehydrator. I had rather hoped that dehydrating sweet potato would have them closer to a chip-like consistency. Alas, I was sorely mistaken. Nonetheless, I looked through The Ultimate Dehydrator Cookbook  for how I might use my newly dehydrated sett potato and when I saw brownies… well, I had to experiment. A brief google has revealed to me that sweet potato brownies are Quite The Thing with faux-paleo types who still want to have their sweet things, so I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised.

You rehydrate the sweet potato with boiling water; add honey, and then mix it with flour and cocoa, basically. Cook for 30 min or so and bam. Lovely moist brownies. The one problem I had with the recipe is that it tells you to pour over the water, leave for 20 minutes, and then ‘whisk’. Perhaps my sweet potato was too dehydrated or not enough, or more water wasn’t boiling enough (??), but there was no whisking possible with that vegetable. Bar mixing was required.

I’ll admit that they weren’t quite as sweet, or as toothsome, as I tend to prefer in brownies… so the swiss meringue buttercream got an outing. And that combo was indeed magnificent. It was gleeful giving it to people at work and then telling them it had sweet potato in it.

Swiss meringue buttercream

IMG_0836When Katherine, at the Sweetfest, mentioned that her swiss meringue buttercream recipe was from Martha Stewart, I wondered whether my Martha Stewart’s CAKES would have the recipe. And it did. And then we were invited to a friend’s house, and I had banana and walnut cake in the freezer already, and so… experiment! (Of course, it’s also online.)

Stewart’s version makes 9 cups’ worth and requires a swoon-worthy amount of eggs and sugar. So I’ve written the halved ingredients into the book itself, and then I realised that I only had 150g of butter anyway so I just figured out how much sugar and so on that required; the answer was 2 whites, and so on.

It’s a very straightforward process to make the frosting, happily. Yes there’s whisking of sugar and whites, but that didn’t take too long. The rest of the process was easy.

I didn’t flavour the buttercream aside from the vanilla, since it was going on a banana cake anyway. It was easy to spread onto the cake, which is an important thing for me. I had enough left over that I could have frosted the edges if I wanted, but decided that that would be a bit of overkill – especially when I discovered that the buttercream will last in the freezer for three months. So into a jar it goes. No idea where it will be used in the future.


A podcast that combines a love of food with science and history. Gastropod is pretty close to the perfect storm for me.

I discovered it via RadioLab, which is also another of the most perfect podcasts as far as I’m concerned. The hosts, Cynthia and Nicola, are both foodies and food writers – they write a lot for other venues, and Nicola at least has a blog of her own. So they have lots of knowledge and connections which they bring to bear; sometimes one is expanding on something they’ve already written an essay about, for instance.

I’ve gone back to the start of the podcast, and I’ve only listened to the first five or six episodes, but I anticipate listening all the way through until I’m up to date. The first episode was a little stilted; it was clearly scripted and they were trying to make it still conversational instead of a purely academic sort of thing. So some bits were quite awkward, but it was the first episode so I was prepared to be tolerant – and they’ve definitely improved as they’ve each got more comfortable with the format, so I’m really pleased for them and for my ears.

The episodes so far have covered really interesting topics. The first episode made me dead keen to get Bee Wilson’s Consider the Fork, about the development of culinary instruments; then they’ve talked about seaweed  (sorry, sea vegetables), and about ecological eating, and ‘The Night of the Radishes’ and the idea of ‘subnatural’ cuisines and yeh, they’re very clever and I’m really enjoying the eclectic nature of their podcasts.

Nicola is a Brit who’s lived in America for a long time. Her accent is a bit disconcerting, especially for an Australian I think.