I love baking cakes, and have made hundreds over the years for family and friends. My late mother was a professional cook and passed on many tips and recipes which I have adapted to suit today’s trend for organic and free-range food. When my two children were small, I made novelty and celebration cakes from home, and when they became more independent, I ran a coffee shop in Mill Hill making not only dozens of cakes a week, but, salads and imaginative baked potato and sandwich fillings. However, the cakes were always the talking point. This Caramel Frosted Gingerbread became a favourite.
Growing up in a middle of the road, Ashkenazi home in north Manchester, there were only two types of beans in our culinary repertoire: baked beans and butter beans (and a few has-beens, but we won’t go into that). Baked beans were a symbol of assimilation but butter beans frankly were a step too far— mealy, stodgy and unpleasantly ubiquitous in chicken soup – and so uncompromisingly large!
One of my favourite ways of preparing chicken is to make these marinated yakitori chicken skewers. Mirin is a sweetened sake or rice wine with a light syrupy texture and it adds a wonderful taste to this dish. In Japan yakitori chicken is a street food and many people will grab some from special stalls on their way home from work. Here in Britain it is served up as a delicacy in trendy Japanese restaurants. Traditionally it is made with chicken thigh rather than breast as it has a better flavour and remains lovely and moist.
Caponata is a traditional aubergine dish from Sicily. It is a delicious blend of aubergines, tomatoes, olives, sugar and vinegar, giving it a sweet and sour twist, and there are endless versions. Jews lived in Sicily in large numbers until the Inquisition in 1492. When they left they brought their cooking traditions and ingredients, introducing this delicious dish, to the central and northern regions of Italy. The original recipe is made with deep fried aubergines. However, here I propose a lighter version with shallow fried aubergines. The Caponata is good eaten hot, warm or cold.
Jews have long had a love affair with Chinese food but we have rather neglected that other British passion, Indian cuisine. Perhaps this is because many Indian dishes have an unhealthy reputation or combine meat and dairy products. However there are many which are both healthy and kosher. Either way, we are missing out so it is time that we caught up with our compatriots.
Cupcakes are certainly all the rage at the moment, and who could resist these red velvet cupcakes with luscious cream cheese icing? Mine are slightly different from other versions as I prefer to use sour cream and chocolate rather than buttermilk and cocoa and much less red food colouring than most recipes require. I also add cranberries — but if you prefer you can leave these out.
Its quite fun to wrap your cupcakes in beautifully designed cupcake wrappers (take a look at www.squires-shop.com). These would make any tea party a special event.
Frittata is an Italian classic, and can be made with the vegetables of your choice, with or without cheese. It is a type of Italian omelette but served unfolded and round, taking the shape of the frying pan in which it has been cooked.
Before you wonder what on earth I am doing including oyster sauce in a kosher recipe, let me explain. There are two types of oyster sauce — one that would definitely not get past the Beth Din and the other a vegetarian oyster sauce prepared from mushrooms. This, together with the rice wine vinegar, adds a delicious Chinese-style savoury taste, and I like the combination of the minced meat with crunchy water chestnuts. It is very versatile — serve in lettuce leaf boats or with rice or noodles. This would also make a delicious filling for tortilla wraps or tacos.
What puts the X into X-Factor, the missing ingredient that makes something X-tra special? Of course, we all like to believe we have the X-Factor, that we can belt out a tune like Whitney (I regularly try in the shower) and dance like Fred Astaire (I am showing my age here. OK, like Justin Timberlake for younger readers.)
I realise I may not have the X-factor when it comes to singing and dancing, as no one comes near my bathroom when I am taking a shower. And when I watch myself dance on bar/batmitzvah videos, I immediately reach for the fast forward button.