Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Broad Bean Hummus

One of the early declarations of love I heard from Mr A&N was that he was totally, madly, utterly enamored with broad beans. The pinnacle of the broad bean world could be found in his grandparents garden; according to him, they grew the most wonderful beans known to man and his adult summertimes were spent with sighs of recollection for those beans he could no longer have. At that stage I wasn't able to tell a broad bean from a carburetor, so I needed Mr A&N to introduce me to this magical bean.

There is very little that he and I disagree on, and those few things disappear almost completely once we move into the food arena, but none of my attempts to fall in love with the broad bean brought me even slightly close to enjoying them. Also known as the fava bean in North America, I found the broad bean a bit too much like one of my only hated food stuffs, the lima bean. It was powdery and slightly bitter, and when simply boiled and dressed with a bit of butter or oil, its powdery bitterness was intensified to a degree that I couldn't face a mouthful of them. As much as I enjoyed shelling the large pods with their wonderfully velvety insides, that's as far as I've been willing to get to broad beans for a while.

And now with our weekly vegetable box delivery, broad beans have been brought straight to our door and are harder for me to turn my back on. I decided that rather than just demanding Mr A&N eat them all (hardly a hardship for him) I should again try to embrace them and maybe make them in a different way. Broad bean hummus seemed to hold out the hope of doing away with the powdery texture I didn't enjoy and forcing some different flavors into the mix. Just like chickpea hummus, I threw in garlic and some lemon, and went a bit luxury with extra butter and herbs. Served with good crusty bread, I actually did enjoy it and ate my whole slice. I might not be returning to simple, boiled broad beans any time soon, but at least now I stand a chance of enjoying both the shelling of the pods and what follows from that.

Broad Bean Hummus
enough for 1 1/12 dozen small tapas bread triangles, or 2-3 large, generous toppings for good crusty bread

  • 1 kg broad bean (fava bean) pods
  • bunch of fresh oregano (optional)
  • 2 soup spoons of cooking liquid
  • 1 large/2 medium cloves of garlic
  • juice of 1 1/2 - 2 lemons
  • knob of butter (about 10-15 g)
  • olive oil (about 1/4 C)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Boil water in a medium-sized pot and when boiling, place the oregano in with it.
  2. Shell the broad beans and when all are shelled, place them in the pot of boiling water.
  3. Boil the beans and oregano for 5-7 minutes or until the beans are nicely softened.
  4. Drain the beans, reserving a couple of soup spoons of the cooking liquid and a few springs of oregano.
  5. Place the beans, reserved liquid, and oregano in a blender. Add in the garlic, lemon juice, and butter, and turn the blender on.
  6. Slowly add the olive oil, letting the mixture blend itself for 60 seconds or so once the oil is added. If it looks to dry (or if it's so dry it's not even blending), add a bit more oil (or water if you're being healthy) and continue blending. Otherwise, test the mixture and adjust for taste. Add more oil if it still doesn't taste creamy enough, and add salt and pepper.
  7. Serve over bread, either as a tapas-style starter or as a bruschetta-style accompaniment to a main course.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Lavender, Orange, and Almond Cake

In a recent moment of culinary creativity, I bought a large bag of lavender flowers. A really rather unintentionally large bag - I ordered it from the internet and since the weight of dried flowers doesn't much register in my mental scale of weights and measures, it was much larger than I knew what to do with. It is still in my larder with barely a dent in it, battling in fragrance with some of my stronger Indian spices and making for an interesting-smelling cabnet (and one which I couldn't bear opening during my sicker days of pregnancy).

One of the two main things I wanted to do with the lavender was to try variations of lavender cake. I also wanted to try making lavender (and other) flavored chocolates, but summer isn't the best time for those experiments. The Diane Henry cookbook Crazy Water, Pickled Lemon has both a chocolate lavender truffle and a lavender cake rec
ipe - the truffles will be saved for another time, but the cake was tackled now.

The first thing to do is grind up the lavender flowers with sugar until they create a fine powder. The whole house filled with powdery floral fragrance, making me think of summer times in the South of France, buzzing bees and pots of honey. Mr A&N, on the other hand, felt as if I had emptied the contents of his grandmother's hankie drawer into the blender and was proposing to do strange cooking things with this. His impression of the cake didn't improve when it was in the oven (hot handkerchiefs) or when I urged him to try little leftover crumbs from the tin (buttery handkerchiefs).

I liked the cake enough on its own - lightly floral with a very buttery crumb to the cake - but it became more than the sum of its parts with the cream cheese frosting. The tangy cheese cut the floweriness of the cake down to size, and Mr A&N finally found that he liked it enough to have slice after generous slice. Which was helpful, since (as he reminds me) men are pregnant as well, and he didn't want me to be the only one to feel like I was eating for two.

Lavender, Orange and Almond Cake
from Diane Henry in Crazy Water, Pickled Lemon

For the cake:

  • 4 tsp dried lavender buds or the flowers from 8 springs of fresh lavender
  • 9 oz superfine sugar
  • 9 oz unsalted butter
  • juice and finely grated zest of 2 oranges
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 7 oz self-raising flour, sifted
  • 2 oz blanched almonds, ground

For the topping:
  • 10 1/2 oz cream or ricotta cheese
  • 2 1/2 oz confectioner's sugar
  • finely grated rind of 1 orange

Optional decoration of candied peel and frosted lavender:
  • 2 large oranges
  • 3 1/2 oz superfine sugar
  • 8 springs fresh lavender, flowers only
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten
  • superfine sugar, sifted

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375 F / 170 C.
  2. Combine the lavender flower and sugar in a coffee grinder or blender (the coffee grinder will give a finer powder). Grind until the powder is as fine as it can be.
  3. Cream together the butter and lavender sugar until light and fluffy.
  4. Add the orange rind, orange juice, and the eggs. Beat until well combined, adding a spoonful or two of the flour if the mixture starts to curdle.
  5. Otherwise, once the wet ingredients are well blended, fold in the flour and the ground almonds.
  6. Pour into a greased and lined 8" spring-form pan, and bake for 40 minutes.
  7. Once done, let cool for 15 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack.
  8. Make the topping by mixing the cream/ricotta cheese with the confectioner's sugar and orange rind.
  9. Spread on to the cake once it's fully cooled; refrigerate the topping in the mean time.
  10. Decorate the cake with the orange peel and lavender flower, if using (see below).

For the candied orange peel:
  1. With a sharp knife, cut the orange rind off into strips (don't worry about them not being too fine at this stage).
  2. Remove any pith left on the back of the peel, then set about cutting the peel into fine, julienned strips about the length of your little finger.
  3. Squeeze the juice from the oranges and top it up with water so that it reaches 1 cup (if need be).
  4. Put the juice in a pan with the sugar, and heat gently until the sugar is melted.
  5. Add the strips of rind and simmer until the liquid is evaporated (about 30 minutes).
  6. Remove the pieces of rind with a fork and leave to dry on a piece of waxed paper, gently separating them first.

For the frosted lavender:
  1. Brush each lavender sprig with egg white, then sprinkle with the superfine sugar so that it is well covered.
  2. Set them aside on a cooling rack in a warm place so they can dry.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

A Return

Hello world.

It's been a while, and a topsy-turvey spring-into-summer in which life got in the way of blogging. Both my parents have been in the hospital at different points in the last couple of months with their own worrying health problems. Luckily, my father has come through the worst of his pneumonia with only the need to put on some more weight to bring him back to normal. My mother stays more of a long-term worry and a last-minute trip home recently showed me how difficult things may be. It's never easy getting old or watching those close to you get old, and feels even more difficult when you have to start thinking about questions around your loved one's care.

On a positive side, I've also spent the last many weeks struggling with a different sort of problem. Happily, I am pregnant, bringing with it lots of excitement but also an entirely different relationship to
food. I've been fairly sick a good part of the time so far, and even more than the emotional strain of family problems, the physical impossibility of keeping up a food blog during the worst of the sickness was a persuading force on the blog break. It is difficult when the most exciting thing you can report for a week was that you one night felt up to eating 11 Ritz crackers and having a sweet mint tea, and then spent the next 5 nights refusing any proximity to food.

At 20 weeks now, things have evened out though still aren't perfect. Food has more of a necessity than before - I need to eat dinner by 7pm or else I'm at risk of cleaning out the nearest cupboard without any discrimination for what I'm eating. It fills my tummy, but doesn't lend itself to creative cooking and experimenting with new ideas. I'm sure life will have many more changes once baby is here, and not just on the food front.

Mr A&N (who has been wonderful throughout, please note, dear reader) and I did get to grab two weeks away in France as something of a last hurrah before family life changed. Although the pregnancy eating guidelines seem like a full-frontal attack on the French diet (no soft or blue-tinged rare cured pate...lay off the wine) I bought tins of foie gras and forbidden drinks home as my souvenirs, to be indulged in in 4-5 months time. We also got to hone our parenting skills on the farm we stayed at, adopting a hen and her six chicks. They would be found outside our door first thing in the morning for the first of their feeds, and any walks around the grounds were spent with the whole two- legged family following behind our each step. Maybe not perfect practice for a human baby, but it felt nice to be needed.