December’s arrived and with it comes an extra crispness in the air, evenings in front of the log-burner and a festive feeling that’s fast sneaking up on me. Thoughts are turning to Christmas and, if I could, I’d be heading to Europe to soak up some authentic yuletide atmosphere in a traditional Christmas market. Lebkuchen biscuits, Glühwein and schnapps spring to mind.
The medieval towns do it best; Christmas time in Bruges is magical and Vienna’s on my wish list but Munich is home to my favourite Christmas market. Or, as the Germans would say, ‘Weihnachtsmarkt’.
Gin has long been my tipple of choice so I was delighted to find out this week that there’s a whole day devoted to everything gin. #WorldGinDay happens each year in June and began in 2009 (why did that take so long?). There are over 70 gin inspired events planned worldwide.
To celebrate I’m going to share with you some tips and a recipe to let you in on the secrets of how to make the perfect gin and tonic. So, let’s bow down to the botanicals and celebrate World Gin Day with a tipple or two.
There’s a rye bread that’s been baked underground in geothermal springs in Iceland for generations. The Icelandic bread is dark, dense, deliciously sweet and it’s called Hverabrauð, Thunder Bread or Icelandic rye bread. Read on to find out about our day in Iceland and for the thunder bread recipe which I recommend you have a go at making at home (you don’t actually need a thermal lake in your garden to do this).
I went on a whirlwind, 24-hour visit, to Iceland to discover how Thunder Bread is made and to catch a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the Celebrity Cruises and Waitrose ‘Taste of Travel’ food and travel series. The series is filmed with the lovely Rosie’s Deli Cafe owner and presenter Rosie Lovell.
‘Mezze Small Plates to Share,’ a new mezze recipe book by Ghillie Başan, dropped onto my doormat this week and as soon as I dipped into its pages I was transported into full-on feast of mouth-watering mezze. If you read my last post about Crete’s best eats you’ll know that I’m a big fan of Mezze so I was keen to get stuck in. The book is filled with moreish mezze recipes from the Mediterranean to the Middle East accompanied by some beautiful photography. A feast for the eyes, as well as the palate.
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Mezze Small Plates to Share – review
Mazza in (Syria and Lebanon) is also known as Meze (in Turkey and Greece) but whichever way you spell it the word is derived from the Arabic ‘Maza’ meaning to ‘taste’ or ‘relish’. In Greece, the word comes from the longer form ‘Mezedes’ meaning ‘little delicacies. Mezze is a long-held tradition in the Middle East and Mediterranean and is the perfect way to share lots of small tasty dishes during a leisurely social gathering. Mezze can be enjoyed at any time of day, as a snack with just a few select dishes, or as a full-blown feast with selections of hot and cold, sweet and savoury, dips and flatbreads to ensure every last morsel is mopped up and savoured.
The introduction to the book gives a fascinating insight into Başan’s travels around Turkey. The time she encountered an extraordinary feast of ‘hammam mezze’ with an animated group of naked women (you need to read it!) to ‘the moment that a mouthful of mezze changed the course of my life’. These are recipes with both heart and history and they’ll transport your imagination as well as your taste buds.
‘Mezze Small Plates to Share‘ is divided into five sections. Each section starts with a brief intro displayed on a background of beautiful authentic tiles. The short narrative tells a little about the recipes within, their origins and author’s insights. The food is presented on traditional Middle Eastern serving ware which adds a sense of place beautifully.
After the introduction, the book covers basic mezze, then cold mezze which includes nibbles, dips and salads. The hot Mezze section is the biggest, serving up dips and purees, fried and sauteed dishes, pastries, pies, stuffed vegetables and fruit with kebabs and pan fries. There’re also some fish and shellfish recipes and a wide variety of vegetarian dishes throughout the book.
Image Credit: Jan Baldwin
There’s a sweet mezze section and to round off, there’s ‘After Mezze’. It’d be wrong to finish a mezze meal without raki, coffee or mint tea and this section has these all covered. The recipes are all very do-able with a few dishes that would take a little more time and effort. I’m really looking forward to preparing a mezze table next time we have friends or family round.
To get a taste of working with the book I made ‘Hot Hummus with Pine Nuts and Chilli Butter’ from the ‘Hot Mezze’ section as I’d not tried a hot hummus before. It was very easy to make and I already had most of the ingredients. I halved the recipe and there was still enough for four. I served it with chunky bread and both Mr Jones and I loved it. I whipped it up in around 20 minutes plus cooking time. It’ll make a good sharing dish with friends so I’ll be making this again.
I first had this heavenly hummus some 30 years ago in a tiny village near Kars in eastern Anatolia. Taking refuge in a simple, one-roomed dwelling after a hazardous journey through PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) territory cloaked in darkness, the hot, creamy dip, baked in a clay dish, was as welcome as it was soothing. It was such a memorable discovery that I have been writing about it, and enthusiastically devouring it, ever since. When most people think of the word ‘hummus’, they think of the ubiquitous thick, smooth, chickpea purée served at room temperature with pitta bread or crudités, not this delectable, hot version, called sıcak humus in Turkish. I add yogurt to the traditional recipe to make it more mousse-like and utterly moreish.
Here’s the recipe so you can try it yourself for a little taster of what the book’s all about…
Recipe for Hot hummus with pine nuts and chilli butter
2 x 400 g cans chickpeas, drained and thoroughly rinsed 2 teaspoons cumin seeds 2–3 garlic cloves, crushed roughly 4 tablespoons olive oil freshly squeezed juice of 2 lemons 2 tablespoons tahini 500 ml thick, creamy yogurt sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 2 tablespoons pine nuts 50 g butter 1 teaspoon finely chopped dried red chilli warm crusty bread, to serve Serves 4–6 Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F) Gas 6.
Instead of using a pestle and mortar to pound the chickpeas to a paste in the traditional manner, make life easy and tip the chickpeas into an electric blender. Add the cumin seeds, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice and whizz the mixture to a thick paste. Add the tahini and continue to blend until the mixture is really thick and smooth. Add the yogurt and whizz until the mixture has loosened a little and the texture is creamy. Season generously with salt and pepper and tip the mixture into an ovenproof dish.
Roast the pine nuts in small frying pan until they begin to brown and emit a nutty aroma. Add the butter to the pine nuts and stir until it melts. Stir in the chopped chilli and pour the melted butter over the hummus, spooning the pine nuts all over the surface.
Pop the dish into the preheated oven for about 25 minutes, until the hummus has risen a little and most of the butter has been absorbed. Serve immediately with chunks of warm crusty bread.
Mezze – Hot hummus with pine nuts and chilli butter. Taken from Mezze by Ghillie Basan, photography by Jan Baldwin, published by Ryland Peters & Small.
What I love about this book is that it’s interwoven with the author’s personal anecdotes which give fascinating insights into the traditions of mezze. There are variations on the recipes – how a sweet dip can have lemon juice added to turn it into a savoury dip and how Moroccan mint tea should be served properly.
There are tips on which mezze work especially well together and the history behind some of the recipes is fascinating. For example, Mother-in-law’s meatballs are prepared for the new bride by her mother-in-law. The meatballs are hollowed out to create shells which contain a spicy filling before being sealed again. Making and
presenting the meatballs signifies that the new bride must be discrete about her new family. Fortunately, they weren’t too discrete to share the recipe!
You’ll find lots of food posts on The Travelbunny. I taunt and tempt you with accounts of the luscious food and drink I’ve gorged in places like Turkey, Iceland or Vietnam. I love going on food tours and sampling cuisines from around the world but sometimes the best tastes are right under your nose. Just outside the back gate actually which is where I pick the fruit for my favourite blackberry vodka.
There’s a rambling field at the end of our garden which is teeming with wildlife and it’s covered in a thick tangle of brambles.This year they’re heavy with plump, juicy blackberries aching to be plucked and made into something glorious. Blackberry vodka.
This post may contain compensated links. Find more info in my disclaimer.
Lush, plump blackberries
Yesterday I pulled on my wellies (there are Adders in that field), had a good old forage and picked myself a bucketful of blackberries. I’ve put some in the freezer to add a touch of berry heaven to those warming winter apple crumbles. I have jars of dark, gleaming bramble jelly stockpiled from last year so don’t need to make more jam. So, what to do with my haul of blackberries?
Ha! it’s been made into a big bottle of swirling, ruby-coloured gorgeousness. Blackberry Vodka. There’s nothing better than the rosy glow a couple of shots impart on a crisp winter’s evening.
The dark ruby colour makes it the perfect Christmassy tipple or you could use it to concoct a blackberry vodka cocktail. If you make blackberry vodka in August or early September it’ll be ready by Christmas. Delicious!
Here’s how to make Blackberry Vodka. Scroll to the end of the post for a printable version.
Blackberry Vodka Recipe
500 ml of Vodka – don’t crack open the Grey Goose, a cheap supermarket brand will do nicely.
500g of freshly-picked blackberries. Rinse thoroughly to remove any bugs.
Dark, Plump Blackberries
100g of caster sugar
2 Vanilla Pods
Vanilla pods are my blackberry vodka secret ingredient! Split the pods and scrape the seeds out – add these and just one of the pod casings into the Blackberry Vodka. The second pod I add to a jar of sugar to make vanilla sugar which is lovely for baking.
Sugar and Vanilla Pods
I doubled the ingredients because I had so many blackberries and a whopping litre bottle of Vodka. Made perfect sense…!
How to make Blackberry Vodka
Take a sterilised, airtight Kilner Jar or wide-necked bottle large enough to hold all your ingredients. Add the blackberries, sugar, vanilla pod and seeds and pour in the Vodka. Yes, it’s that easy!
Adding the Vodka…
Give the jar a good shake to help dissolve the sugar and place in a cool, dark place. Swirl the jar every day for the first week and then occasionally until none of the sugar is visible at the bottom of the jar. Forget about it for 12 weeks…
After 12 weeks strain the liquid. Rinse a muslin cloth and wring it out tightly to stop any of the precious liquid soaking into it. Place the muslin over a sieve and strain the blackberry infused vodka through it into a wide jug.
It’s important to remove the blackberries at this point otherwise the woody centre of the berry gives the Vodka a bitter taste.
Funnel the liquid into the bottle of your choice – I save any unusual bottles to make it look even more special! These vintage clip-top bottles are pretty and work perfectly for storing your blackberry vodka. You can drink now or, if you have cast-iron willpower, leave the warm blackberry flavours to infuse even more. Enjoy!