Mountain Berries and Desert Spice, by Sumayya Usmani

Mountain Berries and Desert Spice, by Sumayya Usmani

One of my favourite cook books from last year was Sumayya Usmani’s brilliant Summers Under the Tamarind Tree, an intoxicating collection of Pakistani food.

I’ve cooked from it ever since, and my copy is stuffed with bookmarks to remind me what to do next.

Usmani’s new book, Mountain Berries and Desert Spice is its equal, showcasing the sweeter side of Pakistani cuisine.

Yes, I’m a fan, but not an immediate one.

Now, a full disclosure. I’m not a big dessert person. I often sit that course out entirely, and if I’m forced, there’s always cheese, or maybe whatever’s available without too much cream on it (in it, as an ingredient, is fine. On it is not). I’ll bake the odd cake now and then, and biscuits too, and I’ve been known to do the occasional sweet loaf, but dessert just isn’t my thing.

So, how am I going to square that with a real admiration for Mountain Berries and Desert Spice?


Sausage, sun-dried tomato and potato pie

Food & drink
Sausage, sun-dried tomato and potato pie

I made this pie yesterday.

It was a simple, lazy Saturday afternoon, and we had some friends round who we see far too little of. Everybody drank coffee and talked and sat in the sun, and the kids played, and I holed up in the kitchen, listened to John Coltrane and made a pie.

And it was a very, very fine pie, a bold and beautiful collision of meat, potato and pastry, spiked with rich sun-dried tomatoes and the sharp sting of chilli.

So, this is just sausage and potato in a pastry crust.

Very simple, very effective.

Start with the pastry. You’ll have your own tried and tested method of making shortcrust pastry, so use that. If not, 160g of plain flour, 120g of butter, and a good pinch of salt, pulsed together in a food processor until at the infamous ‘looks like breadcrumbs’ stage, then brought together with a scant 50ml of cold water should do it. More…

Saffron Soul, by Mira Manek

Saffron Soul, by Mira Manek

A few years’ ago, there was a public health campaign warning of the dangers of heart disease. It featured a middle-aged everyman who’d let himself go, a couch potato who drank too much. At one point, Everyman shovelled the contents of an Indian takeaway container onto a plate.

The message was clear – drink too much, smoke, don’t exercise, and eat badly, and you’re right in the heart disease firing line.

I remember being surprised by the choice of an Indian meal as the emblematic Evil Takeaway food.

Asian food isn’t that unhealthy, is it?

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Swedish cinnamon rolls

Food & drink
Swedish Cinnamon rolls

A few years’ ago, I did a one-day crash course in baking all things French and croissant related at the wonderful Handmade Bakery in Slaithwaite.

It was a lot of fun, and the batch of croissants I came away with were the best I’ve ever managed, mainly because of the expert guidance on hand to provide a gentle and encouraging nudge back on course when my dough laminations started to go slightly off track.

For lunch, we were given pulla breads, a type of sweet pastry from Finland that’s reminiscent of a brioche, and I’ve mimicked that recipe very successfully. These Swedish cinnamon rolls are another riff on the central idea of a rich, sweet dough, folded back on itself to enclose a filling. It’s a technique that’s simple and easy, a world away from the more precise and regimented discipline required to turn out a batch of croissants worthy of the name.

These rolls are very common in Sweden, and with good reason. They’re excellent heated through gently and served warm with coffee, especially if the day is cold and damp.


WIN: a hamper of Cloggs Coffee Company stuff

Food politics
Cloggs Coffee Company, West Yorkshire

I’ve spent a little time recently experimenting with different brewing methods, and recently took the plunge and supplemented my trusty Hario hand grinder (the best £25 I’ve ever spent) with a Eureka Mignon, something a little more capable of grinding to a consistent espresso grind. It’s a wonderful machine, and it’s opened up a whole new front in my coffee brewing technique. At last, my ancient Gaggia can sing.

All of this means that beans become more important than ever before, and I’m jumping around from roaster to roaster at the moment. The variety of coffee available in the UK now is astonishing, and there are some beautiful roasts out there.

One of my current favourites is very local, and has a long history of roasting speciality coffee in West Yorkshire.  More …