Cardamom, Cardamon, Cardamum

Cardamom is one of those what you might call Marmite flavours, love it or hate it – and like Marmite, which I love, I also love cardamom. I do agree though, that a little goes a long way, and it can overpower other flavours, but subtly used it can enhance all sorts of recipes, sweet and savoury! It’s also vital as a part of a curry or tagine  mix, when combined with other spices it can produce the most delicious and aromatic dishes.

I don’t actually know much about it except it can be black or green, and is a husky pod with small black seeds belonging to the ubiquitous ginger family. As you might imagine it has been used since the most ancient times, and its’ name derives probably from an ancient Indian word – where the plant originated. It now grows in many other areas, including South America where it was planted by German coffee growers .

It doesn’t just taste delicious, on its own or mixed with other spices and herbs, it has some healthy aspects; it contains vitamins C and B-6, and also calcium, iron and magnesium – although I guess you would have to eat rather a lot of it to benefit. Health benefits seem to be everything which might be wrong with you, including hiccups!

Here is what the plant looks like, courtesy of Wikipedia:

I’ve recently been trying to make halva – my attempts haven’t been too bad, but I have yet to make the perfect recipe… needless to say, cardamom features!

In case you’re wondering, my featured image is of a dessert I made from some offcuts of an Icelandic cake recipe… waste not want not!

Variation on the goat’s cheese salad

I recently made a really delicious salad using left-overs… a small lettuce, goat’s cheese. a few other bits and pieces and seaweed from my seaweed collection…

In that random way that things happen, today I found I had a small lettuce and some goat’s cheese… I altered the recipe slightly:

Chilli seaweed goat’s cheese salad

  • small lettuce, for example baby gem
  • half a soft goat’s cheese round, cut into small pieces, skin removed (eat it on a cracker while you’re making the salad)
  • shavings of celery – including leaves
  • ransome leaves (wild garlic)
  • cashew nuts
  • laver seaweed
  • olive oil
  • pomegranate syrup
  • sea salt
  • lots of grinds of pepper (I put whole spices such as coriander seeds, fenugreek etc in the grinder with the pepper corns for a nice taste)
  • dash of chilli sauce but not too hot (I use Marie Sharp’s Green Habanero, it’s made with nopal – prickly pear cactus – green habanero, garlic and lime)
  1. cut/tear the lettuce and ransome leaves into bite-sizes and put into a large bowl
  2. add the celery, cheese, nuts, laver, salt and pepper and mix well so the seasoning runs throughout the leaves
  3. add the olive oil, syrup and chilli and gently turn over to coat everything

This salad may go a little limp if it’s not eaten straight away but it still tastes good, in fact the flavours meld in together! I even ate some the next day!

Earthquake… and sprouts

I’ve been really excited – and delighted by the response to my latest novel, Earthquake! It is the fifth story about Thomas Radwinter, and it has been interesting how the character of Thomas has changed over the course of what I guess you could call a quintet – unless that just applies to music!

In the first novel, the eponymous Radwinter (I don’t often get to use the word ‘eponymous’!) Thomas is in quite an unhappy situation, for various reasons, and during the course of the story things only get worse – until they get better! Thomas has what you might call ‘issues’ surrounding his childhood, and over the next novels, gradually he confronts and resolves many of these difficulties. So, his character does change, but many aspects of him remain the same. He’s loving, kind, funny, intelligent, self-deprecating, but suffers from anxiety and a feeling of worthlessness on occasions… As his life changes and becomes happier, he is able to indulge in things he enjoys, one of which is cooking (and food in general!)

In this excerpt he is trying to work out how to make an economical meal for his family with the odds and ends he finds in the cupboard and fridge:

I’ve somehow ended up with a pile of sprouts; this does sometimes happens, what with the allotment and Val the veg shop lady who always seems to have something going cheap for me. I guess when the children are older and all eating proper food then we’ll be glad, maybe we should get another freezer…
So what can we do with sprouts? Kylie doesn’t really like them that much and Kenneil doesn’t like them at all, so it’s really only me… I wondered if there might be a recipe for sprout soup, so had a little investigate on the internet and came across a few interesting things, some of which have a list of very extravagant ingredients… Pancetta, gorgonzola, crème fraiche, chestnuts, Marsala wine and duck fat… none of which I have. It would have to be an extraordinary basket of going cheap items in a supermarket which had all of them!
Pancetta… that’s only bacon really, isn’t it? Posh Italian bacon? And gorgonzola, sometimes when we did a cheese board when we were entertaining… wait a bit, ‘we’? By we I was meaning Rebecca and me! I must kick that thought out of the window! But that’s the trouble; you see I’d not thought of Rebecca for a single second for a very long time, and now she seems back in my mind. I still don’t know what her problem is that she wants me to help her with…
Back to sprouts, much nicer to think about sprouts than my past life… so crème fraiche… we don’t have it but we do have plain yoghurt, would that do? I’ve started making my own, so much cheaper than buying it, 60ml of live yoghurt to a litre of warm milk, twenty-four hours later and there’s the yoghurt. Chestnuts and Marsala wine… no… no we haven’t, not anything like it, and duck fat?
I looked at the method and decided to see what I’ actually did have.
I took as many sprouts as I thought I might eat, and I cut them in half, and found the green end of a leek which had gone a bit soft but was OK. I chopped it up and fried it butter and olive oil, and then instead of pancetta I fried slices of chorizo the end of a black pudding which is one of my little treats!
I didn’t have any chestnuts but I had half a bag of cashews I’d brought back from the pub and they went in with the chorizo and black pudding which was smelling mighty good I can tell you. I threw the sprouts in with the leek, and when they’d gone bright green I found ‘a glug’, as the recipe really does say, of one of Paul’s wines. I discovered some rather elderly crème fraiche right at the back of the fridge, a rather large number of days after its best before date, and a bit of very old, leathery stilton… Geoff and Daph had given it to us and the last little bit got lost in the salad drawer.
By this time Kylie had arrived back with the babies and Daph and Geoff had arrived with the swimmers.
“That smells delish, Daddy!” Kenneil announced and Cassie said ‘delish’ too.
“What is it sweetheart, it smells great!” Kylie exclaimed, and before you could say Brussels sprouts, Kenneil and Cassie were wading into what was going to have been my dinner, and I was hastily chopping sprouts and leeks and chorizo to make some more for my wife and our friends! … and none of my family actually like sprouts!!

If this tempts you to read  ‘Earthquake’ (a real as well as metaphorical earthquake) here is a link to my e-book:

For Sunday’s Tea

I was looking at some recipes in a 1933 newspaper yesterday; some of them were just the sort of thing we might find now in a cookery section of our daily, candied lemon or orange peel, boiled cake, apple puddings… some of them were a little different from what we might cook these days.

‘Cheese and macaroni cutlets’ may sound as you begin to read the recipe familiar – everyone loves macaroni cheese, and it’s really popular again these days! However, have a look at the actual recipe,; see if you would be bothered to go through all these processes:

Cheese and macaroni cutlets

  • 4oz. of grated cheese
  • 2 oz. of macaroni
  • 1 oz. of margarine
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1 gill of milk
  • ½, teaspoon of made mustard
  • breadcrumbs
  • seasoning to taste
  • 1 more beaten egg
  • oil or butter for frying
  1. boil the macaroni in the milk until tender and drain
  2. add cheese, salt and pepper, mustard, margarine and beaten eggs
  3. return to heat but do not boil
  4.  set aside to cool
  5. when cool, form into cutlets, dip into egg and breadcrumbs and fry until golden brown


Another dish which I can’t imagine anyone cooking today, and which I imagine most people would not only be revolted by, but would worry that it might give them BSE, even though sheep cannot contract it, is a dish made from sheep’s brains… yes, the brains of sheep…

This dish is the one actually described as ‘For Sunday’s Tea‘ – how tastes change! Just in case you would like to cook it for tea today, here is what you need and what you do:

  • 4 sheep’s brains
  • 6 medium-size tomatoes, cut into thick slices
  • 3 oz of butter
  • biscuit or breadcrumbs
  • cup of stock
  1. wash the brains well, clean, boil and  half or cut into three pieces
  2. thoroughly butter a deep serving dish
  3. dredge it with half the biscuit or breadcrumbs
  4. arrange half the brains
  5. place on the cut tomatoes and make a deep
  6. layer, the remaining brains
  7. add the stock and season
  8. top with the rest of the biscuits or breadcrumbs crumbs
  9. bake in a medium oven until a rich brown and serve hot

At the end of the recipe is this note… ‘This is also a delicious dish for convalescing patients…

Good Things of Life – Nottingham Pudding and Pickled Almonds

I came across some Australian recipes from 1933; my attention was drawn by Nottingham pudding, and I wondered if it involved a Nottingham jar which was like a casserole dish – a ceramic pot with a lid in which delicious things could simmer and cook. Well, no; a Nottingham pudding is a sweet, spiced batter poured into a well buttered dish (it sounds a bit like a clafoutis) and peeled, cored whole apples set into it and cooked until they are soft and the batter is crispy and light… sounds very nice, actually!

On the same page was a recipe for candied lemon peel which involved a lot of processes including brining the lemons for four days and cooking them for two hours before anything else happened. There was another recipe, for Worcestershire sauce which seemed mainly vinegar and mushroom ketchup boiled for many hours with spices and lemon then left to stand for a week before bottling… then, the recipe tells us, it will keep indefinitely.

A boiled fruit cake and an apple yeast cake, are both what you would expect, both sounding as if they would taste very good with a nice cup of tea… maybe they are the sort of things I could take on the family holiday next year!

Then came a recipe which sounds most intriguing, but I don’t think I will ever try, partly because it involves young, green almonds before the kernels have set… which I can’t imagine me ever coming across! At home as a child there was often a jar of pickled walnuts in the cupboard, my dad and I both loved them – you never see them these days; I have occasionally bought a jar but they are just sour and nasty… maybe it is time playing tricks, but I remember they had ‘bite’ and a distinctive flavour.

So if I – or you should ever come across some young, green almonds before the kernels have set, here is the recipe you need:

Pickled Almonds

  • young, green almonds before the kernels have set (no quantities are given so just use your instincts!)
  • salt for brine
  • vinegar (enough to cover almonds)
  • pickling spices
  1. wash the almonds thoroughly and prick with a darning needle (if you haven’t a darning needle, and I’m not sure any of us have such things these days, use a skewer or fork)
  2. . throw into a strong brine of salt and water (about a cup of salt to every quart of water) and leave for 24 hours
  3. heat the amount of vinegar required (enough to cover almonds), season with spices (as for pickled onions)
  4. bring to the boil and pour over the almonds
  5. put into jars and when cold tie down
  6. leave for at least a fortnight before using

I love recipes like this because it shows how people never used to waste anything; whatever the product or stage of its growth, or state of its condition it could be used for something.


Not as good as cousin Greg’s…

While we are on our family holiday we take it in turn to cook; the first day is always sausages, the last day is always left overs (although this year we also had a superb chicken curry). So, day two was pie, day three was roast, day four was Thai curry, day five lasagna and day six tagine… We don’t have deserts, we have cake! The advantage of cake is that if any of us is going out for the day and need a picnic or snack, cake is just the thing, easy to transport and no container except a plastic bag needed. We had a great and varied selection this year, Battenberg, fruit cake, brownies, ginger cake, flapjack, lemon cake.. and my favourite, halva!

Cousin Greg made the halva, and I have to confess, I think I probably ate more than my fair share! Now, there are many different sorts of halva – the word originally just meant sweet and then came to mean any sweetmeat or dessert. I associate it with Greece, Turkey and the middle east, but when I came to investigate, it’s popular much further afield! as far as Lithuania and Myanmar!

There are, it seems two types, one with a cooked flour base, and one with a nut or seed base, both mixed with something sweet – usually honey, and with flavourings and other tasty ingredients, and can also be made using pulses and vegetables such as pumpkin. it’s usually quite dry and crumbly, but with different ingredients it can be soft and almost squidgy.

Cousin Greg very kindly shared his recipe which is no-cook, tahini-based, honey-added, simple but delicious! So less than a week after we arrived home I had a go at making it…

I decorated it with almonds and pistachios

It was very easy, and it is tasty, and not bad for a first attempt… but not as good as Greg’s!


Rather a lovely lunch

I have been experimenting with seaweed… edible seaweed. I bought a small set of dried, flaked Welsh seaweeds, gutweed, dulse, wrack, laver and kelp. Some of them need to be in cooked dishes, but I have been trying others with cold recipes.

Here is a rather lovely salad lunch I made using the very excellent Welsh laver:

Goats’ cheese and laver salad

  • little gem lettuce
  • watercress
  • goats cheese (I used soft cheese, the sort which comes in a log – I took the skin off, but it is edible so up to you!) cut into small cubes
  • olive oil
  • pomegranate syrup
  • sea salt
  • a few roast peanuts (or any other nuts, or seeds, or none)
  • a couple of teaspoons of dried flaked laver (I was using just one baby gem, if you were making more for more people you would obviously need to use more laver!)
  1. cut or tear the lettuce and watercress into bite-sized pieces and put into a generous bowl
  2. add the cheese and fork through gently
  3. add the laver
  4. pour on as much olive oil and syrup as you yourself like (I like it quite oily compared to some people)
  5. gently stir it all together, you don’t want to break up the cheese too much
  6. season to taste
  7. sprinkle as many nuts/seeds as you like
  8. you can eat it straight away, but the flavour of the laver comes out if you leave it for a little while