To the lovely lady that came up with the idea of Foodie Penpals, I tip my hat to you. Being food mad and wanting to talk about it all the darn time can be a challenge if you don’t want to bore your friends into a stupor and eventually have them cross the street when they see you or let your calls go to answer phone. Nobody wants to check their voicemail and hear how upset you are with Jamie Oliver for fibbing about the time taken to make a quail scotch egg, or how thrilled you were to discover that actually Sainsbury’s does stock that hard to find Tahitian vanilla paste, phew. Know your audience people. Luckily for me, I have a blog to air my views and can waffle on to my hearts content about cooking and food, and now I have found a way to meet other like minded people – by sending and receiving parcels of food and food related gifts specifically tailored to personal tastes and likes. Genius. Sending to me this month was the lovely @KatieATolastadh who did a fantastic job of tailoring a parcel for me and wrote a rather sweet letter explaining the reasoning behind her choices. So what did I get? Well living as I do in a shell of a house I had to specify that I had no oven and hob so whatever was sent would need to be ‘saving up for a new kitchen’ friendly, and also that I love spicy Asian food. Katie really put a lot of thought into it and sent me some Palestinian Za’atar, Harissa paste, Hebridean sea salt and oatcakes and some damson plum tea. Receiving some genuine Scottish items from the remote islands that she comes from was a real treat and the reasoning behind the salt was that it was a kitchen warming gift to ensure my food would always be full of flavour. Told you she was lovely! Sadly the Harissa paste bottle got shattered by a heavy handed postman which was such a shame as Katie had made a real effort to protect the contents and the glass had shattered into such tiny fragments that try as I might, none could be salvaged. It smelt so good as well and I really love the sharp heat that comes with a spoonful of Harissa on an otherwise plain dish. Moroccan and Middle Eastern food is really having a bit of a moment and ingredients that may have been impossible to find only a couple of years ago are now sprouting out all over the place. It’s absolutely a cuisine I’d like to explore more, particularly as it appeals to the spice fiend within me.
I’ve not yet used much from my parcel but today I cooked some Palestinian Za’atar chicken using the spice mix sent my way. In truth the main reason for chucking this on some chicken was inspired by the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode ‘Palestinian Chicken’. I’m absolutely certain that anyone with the good sense to read my ramblings would also be fans of Larry David and the scrapes he gets into, but if by some cruel twist of fate you haven’t seen it, please please do. It’s inspired and unbelievably funny but also tackles comedy that others might shy away from, such as Jewish people having affairs where no one would see them…. in a chicken restaurant run by Palestinians. But hey, if the chickens good you can do away with the taboo.
I coated my chicken in Za’atar, olive oil, lemon juice and salt and let it marinate overnight before chucking it on the Foreman grill. Unfortunately I don’t think I put quite enough spice on the chicken as it was a little bland as well as over cooked, and I know the Za’atar tastes good as over the weekend I was dunking fresh bread into oil and the spice and it was tasting tickety boo. The good thing is there is absolutely loads of it left so plenty of chances to experiment and find what works. With the chicken I made homemade hummus from a recipe Katie sent me by Yottam Ottolenghi, although I was missing tahini paste which is an essential ingredient which I was convinced I had. It will come as no surprise I’m sure, but as well as a well stocked cookbook shelf, my kitchen cupboards are heaving with spices and exotic ingredients. I only use about 4 of them on a regular basis, but you just don’t know when a pot of mace will come in handy (turns out never, so far). While very garlicky and tasty, it just didn’t feel or taste like hummus so I will have to try again in the future but absolutely with tahini paste next time. Dinner then was too dry and not flavourful enough for me, and hammered home how much I miss having an oven. It’s now a top priority and makes me realise how crazy I am about baking and cooking, with all the therapeutic qualities it contains. I haven’t helped matters by buying another cookbook, The Homesick Texan, which tortures me with its pictures of enchiladas, ribs and baked goods. I’m going to do some serious oven shopping so I can really get back into the swing of things and cook the stress out of me!