Barley minestrone

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I am only calling this minestrone because I call virtually everything I eat with a spoon a minestrone. I got the inspiration for this recipe from a Croatian cookbook, and the flavour of barley immediately transferred me to my childhood, as my grandma used to cook barley quite often.

I will not post an exact recipe, as I suppose you can infer most of the ingredients from the photo. And indeed, any minestrone is more an improvisation than anything else. I would emphasise a few things, though. I used dried beans, soaked overnight and cooked in a pressure cooker. At the same time as the beans were cooking, I cooked a piece of smoked ham. I threw away most of the cooking water, I just left a cup for flavouring. The pressure cooker works so quickly that, during pressure cooking, I had enough time to chop up and prepare all the ingredients that will go in the minestrone.

Winter food at it’s best!

Three layer—or four layer, depending on how you count—apple cake

There are never enough recipes for apple cakes on the Internet. Here is another one. It is amazingly nice, a fantastic cake to serve at the end of a rich meal, alongside some tea or coffee. Of course, the photo looks like crap because it was late in the evening, I do not have proper—or any—lighting equipment… I am working on setting up my photo corner, I hope I will figure out something by the beginning of summer.

This recipe is a nice opportunity to show the different expectations that different cookbook authors have of their readers. When I found it in a Croatian cookbook, this recipe looked like it came out of the Great British Bakeoff technical challenge: no details, terse instructions, so much left to the imagination of the reader. But when I saw the layers, I knew this must be delicious. So I went to my other cookbooks and filled in the gaps. For fun, I will translate the recipe from Croatian as closely as possible. [The square brackets are my comments.]


Shortcrust pastry (see page 114) [I photographed the recipe at home in Novalja, and I did not copy page 114. So I improvised with Michel Roux’s pâte sucrée.]
0.5 kg apples, or three larger apples
2-3 tablespoons sugar
1 vanilla sugar Dolcella [product placement]
zest and juice of a lemon
cinnamon [You can conclude from the procedure that this is ground cinnamon. How much? Who knows…]
1 tablespoon apricot jam Podravka [product placement]
1 dl white wine
3 dag butter
3 dag flaked almonds
2 dl whipped cream
1/2 l pudding cream (see page 114) [Same problem with page 114 as before. I inferred from the photo that the pudding cream is vanilla crème pâtissière.]


Peel the apples, grate them, and sauté in a pan with butter. Add lemon zest and juice, white wine, and cinnamon. When it turns into a mush, add sugar and jam, and cool.

Roll out the shortcrust pastry, line the tin, and bake. [Not kidding, these are the instructions.] When the pastry is baked, spread the apple mush on it, put the layer of the pudding cream, and cover with a layer of whipped cream. Sprinkle with roasted almond slivers.

Good luck!🙂

Apple frangipane cake

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Get ready for Valentine’s day!

This is a joy of a cake. Classic, easy to make, tasty (boyfriend approved), and contains apple. I am now trying to think of a cake that contains apple and is not nice. I’m not sure there is one.

I found the recipe in a really comprehensive baking book Leiths Baking Bible. I’m not the biggest fan of naming a book after a bestselling work of fiction, but I think this one is a real classic in its category. I will explore it more, in search of more complicated bakes that the mainstream cookbooks dare not present to their three-ingredient-magic-cake audience.

The one thing I would emphasize is that the ingredients, especially butter, must be at room temperature.

The recipe makes a 23 cm cake; at first, I thought this must be a round mould, but it is not really clear from the recipe—it could also be a 23 cm square mould. In any case, I went for a heart-shaped Ikea silicone mould because I could. I have since made it in the 23 cm round mould, and it worked fine.


2 medium dessert apples
170 g room temperature butter
170 g caster sugar
grated zest of one orange
3 room temperature eggs, beaten
170 g self raising flour (or regular flour with a teaspoon of baking powder)
115 g ground almonds
50 ml milk

To finish

3 tablespoons apricot jam
1/2 tablespoon orange juice


1. Heat the oven to 190˚C. Grease your mould.

2. Peel, quarter, and core the apples. Make several cuts in the rounded side of each apple, but don’t cut all the way through.

3. Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy, then add the orange zest. Add the eggs a little at a time, beating well between each addition. Mix the flour and the almonds together and add to the mixture. Stir well and add the milk.

4. Put the cake mixture in the prepared mould and spread flat. Place the apple pieces in equidistant intervals on the cake mixture, cut side up. Press them into the mixture slightly.

5. Place in the centre of the oven and bake 45 – 60 min. The cake is cooked when the top springs back when pressed lightly with a finger. Allow it to cool for 5 minutes in the mould before carefully [carefully! not like me—see the photo for evidence] turning it onto a wire rack to cool completely.

6. Put the jam and orange juice into a saucepan. Bring to boil and sieve into a bowl. Cool until it is warm and brush over the top of the cake. [For some reason, the boyfriend does not like this glaze, so I omitted it. A friend of his shares this sentiment. I disagree.]

Spiced vegetable soup

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This is a very nice wintery starter. The recipe is from the book Persiana. I tweaked it a bit: simplified by not fry onions and made more complicated by cooking the chickpeas. I am posting the recipe as is, because I think it is really nice, with my tweaks, or without. Of course, I omitted coriander, because it is evil.


Serves 4 as a starter

olive oil
butternut squash 750g peeled, deseeded and cut into 4cm chunks
onions 2 large or 3 small, diced; plus 1 cut in half and thinly sliced into half moons
garlic cloves 3 fat, crushed
leeks 3, trimmed, cleaned and finely chopped
potatoes 3, unpeeled, cut into 4cm rough chunks
ripe vine tomatoes 5, roughly chopped into chunks
ground cumin 4 heaped tsp
ground cinnamon 1 heaped tsp
smoked sweet paprika 2 tsp
chilli paste 3 tsp
sea salt
black pepper freshly ground
chickpeas 2 x 400g cans (reserve the liquid, plus a couple of handfuls of chickpeas to garnish)
large courgette 1, finely diced
feta cheese 100g

For the herb oil

olive oil 6 tbsp
flat-leaf parsley good handful
dill good handful
coriander good handful, plus extra, chopped, to garnish
pistachio nuts, handful
lemon juice squeeze


Preheat a large saucepan over a medium heat and put in enough olive oil to generously coat the base of the pan. Add the butternut squash, diced onions, garlic, leeks and potatoes and sauté, without browning, until the vegetables soften slightly. Then add the tomatoes, spices and chilli paste and give it all a good stir to ensure the spices are evenly coating the vegetables. Cover the vegetables completely with freshly boiled water, add a generous amount of sea salt (I would suggest at least 4 heaped teaspoons, crushed) and a good amount of black pepper, stir once more and cook for 30 minutes on a gentle boil.

Insert a knife into the squash and, when it is soft, purée the mixture in a food processor or blender until you get a lovely even, smooth soup. Once smooth, add the chickpeas and their liquid and stir well. At this stage you can add some more water to achieve your desired soup consistency, and check the seasoning to see if more salt or pepper is needed. Cook for a further 20 minutes, then add the courgette and cook for a final 20 minutes before serving.

Meanwhile, drizzle some olive oil into a large frying pan set on a high heat and fry the sliced onion until brown and crispy. Add the reserved chickpeas and brown them with the onions. Using a slotted spoon, remove the onions and chickpeas from the pan and set aside.

To make the herb oil, put the olive oil, parsley, dill and coriander in a bowl with the pistachios, lemon juice, sea salt and pepper. Blitz with a hand blender until finely chopped and with the consistency of pesto. If you need to slacken the mixture, add a bit more oil.

Pour the soup into large bowls (preferably wide, shallow ones), then generously crumble in the feta. Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of the herb oil into each bowl over the feta. Finally, add the reserved crispy fried onions and chickpeas. Finish with a little freshly chopped coriander (if using). Serve with some nice crusty bread.

Apricot almond cake with rosewater and cardamom

In the academic literature, there is a tendency not to report negative results. For example, you perform (sometimes extensive) experiments to check if your favourite protein has a function of interest, and if the result is “no,” you deem this uninteresting and continue with the next experiment/protein/function.

Of course, it would be interesting to know that you performed this experiment, if only so that other people do not need to repeat your effort. There are small efforts to resolve this issue, but the fact remains that—in most cases—a negative result is not a sexy (read: publishable) result.

In the food blogosphere, I think there is a similar tendency, with the notable exception of epic fails. I am sure much of You Tube’s ad earnings is based on failed cooking experiments, with the protagonists barely escaping the nomination for the Darwin award.

This post is my small contribution toward publishing negative results with recipes.

I first saw this recipe in the show based on Nigella Lawson’s book Simply Nigella. Even with her clumsiness in the kitchen, she easily managed to prepare it, probably because the main tool is a food processor. Dump everything in, job’s done.

I had some stressful moments recently, and the best way for me to relax is to cook and bake. So I took a day off, cooking and baking, among others this cake that sounded very enticing and exotic. In the words of immortal Nigella, “I’ve been making this sort of cake, in one form or another, since my clementine cake in How To Eat, and I can’t help but feel, with a certain calm excitement, that it has reached its apogee here.” Yes, I too had to look up the word apogee. Sounded good, so I went on and made the cake.

Sadly, it did not work. A couple of reasons: 1) the polenta I used was too coarse, so you could feel it gritting in your teeth; 2) the boyfriend did not like the flavour of the cake. He is not of the adventurous type. I know, because I am not either; 3) I did not cook the cake enough, and this is completely my fault. Should have done the toothpick test.

However. I would make it again, with finer polenta, cooking it longer, and serving it as part of a dessert buffet, along with some black tea. It is truly beguiling. (This is again Nigella; she and the good people of TOEFL are the main drivers for our expanding vocabulary.)

So, here is the recipe, copied from here. In case Google decides to index this, it is gluten-free.


150 grams dried apricots
250 ml cold water
2 cardamom pods (cracked)
200 grams ground almonds
50 grams fine polenta (not instant)
1 teaspoon baking powder (gluten-free if required)
150 grams caster sugar
6 large eggs
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon rosewater
nonstick cooking spray (or sunflower oil for greasing)

To decorate

2 teaspoons apricot jam (or rose petal jam)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 ½ teaspoons very finely chopped pistachios


You will need: 1 x 20cm/8-inch round springform cake tin

  1. Put the dried apricots into a small saucepan, cover them with the cold water, and drop in the cracked cardamom pods with their fragrant seeds. Put on the heat, then bring to the boil and let it bubble for 10 minutes – don’t stray too far away from the pan, as by the end of the 10 minutes the pan will be just about out of water and you want to make sure it doesn’t actually run dry as the apricots will absorb more water as they cool.
  2. Take the pan off the heat, place on a cold, heatproof surface and let the apricots cool. Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4/350ºF. Grease the sides of your springform cake tin and line the bottom with baking parchment.
  3. Remove 5 of the dried apricots and tear each in half, then set aside for the time being. Discard the cardamom husks, leaving the seeds in the pan.
  4. Pour and scrape out the sticky contents of the pan into the bowl of a food processor. Add the ground almonds, polenta, baking powder, caster sugar and eggs, and give a good long blitz to combine.
  5. Open the top of the processor, scrape down the batter, add 2 teaspoons of lemon juice and the rosewater, and blitz again, then scrape into the prepared tin and smooth with a spatula. Arrange the apricot halves around the circumference of the tin.
  6. Bake for 40 minutes, though if the cake is browning up a lot before it’s actually ready, you may want to cover loosely with foil at the 30-minute mark. When it’s ready, the cake will be coming away from the edges of the tin, the top will feel firm, and a cake tester will come out with just one or two damp crumbs on it.
  7. Remove the cake to a wire rack. If you’re using apricot jam to decorate, you may want to warm it a little first so that it’s easier to spread; rose petal jam is so lusciously soft-set, it shouldn’t need any help. Stir a teaspoon of lemon juice into the jam and brush over the top of the cake, then sprinkle with the chopped pistachios and leave the cake to cool in its tin before unspringing and removing to a plate.

STORE NOTE: Store in an airtight container in a cool place for 5–7 days. In hot weather (or if the central heating’s on) keep in fridge.
FREEZE NOTE: The cake can be made ahead and frozen for up to 3 months (though the nuts may soften slightly on defrosting). Wrap the fully cooled cake (still on the springform tin base) tightly in a double layer of clingfilm and a layer of foil. To defrost, unwrap and leave it (still on the tin base) on a plate at room temperature for about 4 hours.

The fantastic trio: rice, chickpeas, and potatoes

It is beginning to bug me that my food photos look quite bad. I was sifting through the photos of some fantastic food that I made, and most of it looks like… puke. Even though I have a very good camera, I either do not have the eye or I do not have the abilities to shoot mouth-watering recipes. (Or both. Probably both.)

I suppose the opposite of this is what Donna Hay is doing. The photos in her book are fantastic. Even if you are not a cookbook fanatic such as myself, you would buy the book because the food looks so inviting. Have a look inside this book: The New Classics. The composition, the light, the colour balance, the props… But having tried to make a few recipes, all I can say is that they should pay good money to their food stylist(s).

This time, I will not even try with the photos. I can say that the Boyfriend said this was the best Indian meal I made so far, and that is good enough for me.

I am making a conscious effort to eat more vegetarian food, and there is no better source for this than Indian recipes. I am slowly starting to get the hang of things: it no longer takes me thirty minutes just to get my act together before starting to cook, I do not obsess anymore over every gram of ingredients, and I can hold more than one step of the recipe in my head.

For this dinner, I went for a winning trio: potatoes, chickpeas, and rice, with three dishes that turned out very well.

I will start with the easiest “recipe,” rice. Because the other two dishes were very rich in flavour, I opted for the simplest possible preparation of rice. Before, I would measure out the rice, divide, multiply, curse, get some number for the milliliters of water I need to add, and then cook the rice. This time, I followed the pragmatic approach that the ingenious Boyfriend found online: put as much water, as needed to cover the rice by about one centimeter. There we go, cooking time—or rather, preparation time—shortened by ten minutes.

Before cooking the rice, it is important to soak it in water for at least half an hour to wash out the starch. That way, the rice will be nice and fluffy. After soaking, rince, put in a pot, add water as per instructions above, some salt, bring to boil, and let simmer on a very low heat for about 10 to 12 minutes. Job’s done.

I found the remaining two recipe in a wonderful cookbook I mentioned before, How to cook Indian.

The one modification in the potato dish I made is that I used a bit of water when the potatoes started to stick to the bottom. I let all of the water evaporate before the potatoes were done, so that the dish remains dry. I could not find fresh curry leaves, so I used dry. Oh, and of course, I removed the seeds from the chillis. Otherwise both of us would have died.

What follows are the unadulterated recipes from the book.

Batatya Cha Kachrya


5 small potatoes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1/8 teaspoon asafetida
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
8 to 10 fresh curry leaves
2 green chiles, stemmed and broken in half
½ teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon red chile powder
¼ teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro


1. Peel the potatoes, halve them lengthwise, and cut into thin semicircular slices. Soak them in 3 cups (600 ml) water in a large bowl.
2. Place a nonstick sauté pan over medium heat and add the oil. When small bubbles appear at the bottom of the pan, add the mustard seeds, asafetida, turmeric, curry leaves, and chiles, and sauté for 1 minute.
3. Drain and add the potatoes, and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the salt and stir. Cover and cook for 7 to 8 minutes.
4. Add the chile powder and sugar, and stir. Cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
5. Garnish with the cilantro and serve hot as a side dish.

Masaledar Chholay


2 (1-inch/2½-cm) pieces fresh ginger
8 to 10 cloves garlic
2 green chiles, stemmed
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 large red onions, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon red chile powder
1 tablespoon coarsely ground anardana (dried pomegranate seeds)
4 medium tomatoes, chopped
1½ teaspoons table salt
2½ cups (560 grams) cooked chickpeas (canned is fine)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro


1. Put the ginger, garlic, and chiles in a spice grinder, and grind to a paste.
2. Place a small nonstick sauté pan over medium heat. Add the cumin and dry-roast for 2 minutes or until fragrant. Cool and grind to a powder in a spice grinder.
3. Place a nonstick saucepan over medium heat and add the oil. When small bubbles appear at the bottom of the pan, add the onions and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes or until browned. Add the ginger–garlic– green chile paste and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the coriander, cumin, chile powder, and anardana, and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes or until the oil comes to the top.
4. Add the tomatoes and salt. Cook for about 8 minutes or until the oil comes to the top.
5. Add the chickpeas and sauté for 2 minutes. Add 1 quart (800 ml) water and simmer for 10 minutes.
6. Garnish with the cilantro and serve hot.