The Missing Ingredient

images.jpegI don’t remember how I came across this book – could have been through Gastropod? – but I thought it sounded like just my thing. Time as an ingredient makes a lot of sense, when you consider it! And overall, Linford does look at some interesting points in connecting food with time; I learned a few things and was encouraged in my love of cooking and food.

However, this book turned out to be not quite what I expected. On reflection, I think I was expecting something more like Michael Pollan’s Cooked, where he meditates on particular ways in which fire or air or whatever have an impact on cooking and food at length. This is not that. Instead, this is a long series of vignettes. Some of them do go over pages – there’s a good few pages on pickles, and on smoking, and the wonders of freezing., among others. But in general each topic within each timeframe (seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years) is relatively short, addressing the connection between the topic and time – the seconds between different stages of caramel, the time it takes to make true traditional Modena balsamic vinegar – and usually not going into the depth that my heart really wanted. (And sometimes the topics chosen in each chapter seem to be tangential to the concept of time as an ingredient, but maybe I missed the point.)

If what you’re interested in is a series of short stories about time and cooking, that you can easily dip into and out of, that are sometimes amusing and sometimes poignant and that remind you that cooking and good food are good things, then you will probably enjoy this book.

Year of the Earl: Fortnum and Mason

This Fortnum and Mason tea, Earl Grey Classic, was foraged for me by the lovely Gill, along with a few other F&M teas; apparently she and a friend had a delightful time in London, discovering that you can get minimum quantities of tea in nice resealable bags so you can taste test a whole range of teas. I approve of this idea. A lot.

Basically this tea is what it says on the tin: a classic Earl Grey. It’s not a massively citrus-y tea and it doesn’t appear to have cornflowers, either. It’s a nice, light Earl Grey – probably still not going to appeal to the EG haters in your life but for me, it’s a nice comforting cuppa that doesn’t require a lot of thinking about. It doesn’t stand out as exceptional, but if I lived in London I would consider indulging in more of this.

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Simple, by Ottolenghi

Unknown.jpegIt seems like half the people in my extended family got this book for Christmas. Certainly I did, because when I saw it at a friend’s house I sent a link to the Fishpond listing to my mum, with the subject heading OH MY AN OTTOLENGHI BOOK I DON’T OWN and because she’s a smart lady she knew what to do.

Jerusalem will always be my best and favourite and the book by which I judge all other Ottolenghi books, which is probably unfair to him but that’s my brain. So Simple is different from that; it doesn’t feel quite as Middle Eastern-y to me. Having said that, that may be because a) I cook a fair bit in that style (caveats for being Anglo-Australian etc), and b) I live in an area where getting sumac and the like are straightforward. This is not a criticism, it’s just a Thing.

Simple reflects one of the tendencies I’ve noticed in cookbooks over the last several years: reassuring people that cooking isn’t hard, and giving a convenient shorthand for picking recipes. Since I have friends who were new to cooking, started a recipe at 7pm without reading to the “… now cook for two hours” bit, I think this is very useful.

S – short on time

I – ingredients: 10 or fewer

M – make ahead

P – pantry (what you have in it)

L – lazy

E – easier than you think

Me, I think that last one is a bit of a cheat, but I do also approve of encouraging people to do things that might seem difficult.

I adore it. Chapters include Brunch, Raw Veg, Cooked Veg, Rice Grains and Pulses, Pudding… and one of my very favourite things that is cropping up more recently, the Meal Suggestions and Feasts ideas. Thank you for helping me think about what pairs well!

So far the thing I have made most frequently is cauliflower ‘tabbouleh’. Grate cauliflower, add a lot of herbs, serve. It’s delicious and works exceptionally well with roast chicken. Soba noodles with lime, cardamom and avocado is brilliant on a summer’s evening, with some added lamb – the lime and avocado and lots of herbs are a delight. The blueberry, almond and lemon cake is easy and delicious; I also made an alternate version with hazelnut meal and cherries.

There are so many recipes in this book that I want to make that it will definitely be on high rotation this year. This is a very good place to start if you’ve never cooked anything from Yotam Ottolenghi before.

Adelaide Breakfast

That’s right thrill seekers, sometimes I DON’T drink Earl Grey.

I know, it’s a shock.

I went through a big phase of drinking Breakfast Teas from T2 a while ago, and I’m still drinking the last of them. Today I’m drinking Adelaide Breakfast.

As far as I can tell, T2 has a breakfast tea for most of the big cities they have shops in, and they try to make the flavours somehow reflect the city. Which could lead to all sorts of weirdness…. The Adelaide one is described thusly:

Adelaide is known for its wine and charm, a romantic part of the world where only the best will do. Cranberries, sweet blackberry leaves and lemongrass take you on a surprising taste journey.

So… yeh. I guess the cranberries kinda reflect the wine regions? I don’t know.

This is definitely a tea on the sweeter side of things. Which is nice for me but I know a lot of people prefer their tea less sweet. The cranberry and blackberry leaves come through with the dry leaves and when it’s steeped.

I quite like this tea. Having said that, I think I’ve got about one more cup’s worth left and I probably won’t stock up on it again for a while. *Ahem* I might have more Earl Grey still than I quite know what to do with…

 

Whittard of Chelsea: Elderflower Early Grey

When we were in the UK some time ago, I visited Whittard of Chelsea and got completely overwhelmed by their amazing range of tea. I came home with just two, because I decided to be sensible even though it hurt, precious. One of those I bought was Elderflower Earl Grey, because how could I not??

The site says it’s got ‘hedgerow elderberries’ and speckles of elderflower blossoms. The dry tea smells quite strongly of elderflower – not in an overwhelming sense, but it is the dominant note. This is true of the tea itself; in fact, I get no bergamot at all. It’s possible that if you took the bergamot out I would notice the difference, but I’m not entirely convinced. For me, this is very much Elderflower Earl Grey. Which isn’t to say I don’t like it – when you’re in the mood for a fairly fruity, on the sweeter side, tea, this is quite delicious. But it’s not hugely Earl Grey.

Very nice, but I won’t be putting in international orders to get more.

Year of the Earl: on slacking off

Perceptive followers of the blog will notice that I haven’t posted in um, a little while. I have still been drinking Earl Grey – a lot – but… yeh. The blogging has fallen off as other things have distracted me, and as I’ve mostly-subconsciously rebelled against my self-imposed weekly expectation of tea reviews. Now many of those were written in advance, but nonetheless… it’s got to be an imposition lately, and so I’ve just… not done it.

Oops.

I have been drinking Elmstock Earl Grey at work. It’s pretty close to becoming one of my gold standards for Earl Grey. It’s clearly bergamot-y, but it’s not overwhelming; there’s no oiliness or other unpleasant taste. The leaves are quite small, which does somehow seem to affect the delicateness of the taste… but maybe I’m imagining that and it’s more about the way the bergamot has been used. At any rate, this is an excellent one and I’m very pleased to be drinking it.

I’ve also been drinking Byron Bay Earl Grey, which was sent to me to sample. It’s another in the classic line of Earl Grey: no flowers, nothing but bergamot and leaves. The taste is pretty standard – that is, full-enough flavoured for the Earl Grey lover, not a punch in the face for those unsure.

I have… a few Earl Greys that I still haven’t even tasted, let alone reviewed. So I’ll be trying to get back on that over the next while.

Seven Culinary Wonders of the World

Unknown.jpegThis book was sent to me by the publisher, Murdoch Books, at no cost. It’s out on 1 November; RRP $35.

I was intrigued by the idea of looking at culinary traditions and histories through seven key ingredients, and those chosen here seem quite appropriate. Not comprehensive, since you could argue for others (like corn, or potato, were my first thoughts) but nonetheless widely used in a variety of cultures over the world and with interesting histories attached. Linford’s chosen seven ‘wonders’ are: rice; salt; honey; pork; tomato; chilli; and cacao.

In each chapter, Linford talks a little about the chemistry or something scientific of each ingredient, but that’s not the focus. There’s more about the history, although it’s still very much an introduction – how something like the tomato moved from the Americas to the rest of the world (I love that tomatoes are, relatively speaking, new to Italy), as well as the development and cultivation over time of different types (the ambition to create inedibly hot chilli is completely foreign to me). There’s a fairly wide-ranging look at how different cultures use different ingredients; because this is a relatively short book (about 230 ish pages), this is by no means exhaustive, which may annoy some people if she hasn’t chosen a particular culture. Still, she does talk about the use of chilli, for instance, in Mexican and Indian and Thai and Malaysian and Korean and Chinese and Portuguese and Italian and American (esp Texan) and Hungarian and Spanish cookery. And finally, there are recipes. Again, these are not comprehensive, but there’s no way it could have been. For pork, she has everything from Chinese pork potstickers (dumplings) and char siu to sautéed chorizo with red wine  to glazed ham; for honey, it’s baclava to honey-glazed shallots and grilled goat’s cheese with honey. The recipes are set out nicely on the page, and each one only takes up a page (possibly a requirement in choosing?)

My one reservation with this book is that sometimes the language got repetitive. It’s as though Linford, or her editor, assumed that people would mostly not be reading this straight through (I did), and so they thought that repeating certain key phrases would be both a good and not noticed. I noticed. And while it wasn’t enormous clumps of text that were repeated, it was obvious enough that I got a bit impatient.

Overall this is a nicely-presented book: I love a good hardcover, although I love a cookbook with a ribbon even more! Each chapter has its own colour for the page numbers and the recipe text and the illustrations (there are some nice illustrations throughout – not photos), which is a nice touch. This is a nice book for someone like me who likes the background to ingredients as well as a variety of recipes.