And now, a treat: Chocolate nut butter

This is not a polemic, or an industry ponder. Instead, it is just a lovely thing. My friend Anno wanted this recipe and I cannot believe that no one has put it on t'internet, so I will do so now.


Necessary sidebar:

The recipe is from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's book, "River Cottage: Light and Easy". We've bought a few of Hugh's books, including his polemic style tomes on meat and fish (don't look at me for the meat one). You can chart his age and changes by how his hair looks on the front pages. What I like about his style is that he de-clutters, and things do have a tendency to be non-fussy, but fresh and delicious. His veg only book I found (and I'm speaking as a vegetarian, here so I do eat a hell of a lot of vegetables) is the least used, potentially because in fact it relied upon milk, cheese and eggs a bit too much to do the hard work. "Light and Easy" meanwhile eschews most of those ingredients and it's bloody great. Lots of super-delicious tastes, and no wheat either. The soup section's a bit 'raw food' faddy but we've already tried a good few things out from other sections - my current favourite being roasted sprouts and Puy lentils. Fantastic. Oh, and the Italian gram flour pancakes! A revelation. So incredibly easy and delicious. And and and... many more. Buy it today!

So without further ado, and with no permission from River Cottage, but my fervent wish that everyone make this instead of buying that crap from the shops, even if Mel Geidroyc used to do the ads:


Chocolate Nut Butter: the recipe

You can get away with doing zero cooking for this.  

  • 100g blanched hazels or almonds, ready toasted if you like
  • 50g runny honey (if you can buy a squeezy bottle, perfect)
  • 25g odourless coconut oil (don't be freaked out if you've never used it, you can get this in supermarkets - looks a bit like white hydrogenated 'vegetable lard', but comes in a tub (and isn't hydrogenated)
  • 1.5 tablespoons kick ass cocoa powder (I'll leave it up to you if you heap them)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • A pinch of seasalt if you want
  • 1.5 tablespoons water

If you haven't bought pre-roasted, take your blanched hazels and put them in a preheated oven to 180 degrees and toast lightly for 5-10 minutes and cool them completely. The heat affects the oils in them so better to not grind them up hot (I know this, they go all pasty and weird.

Hugh says whack it all in a food processor, and scrape it down the sides a bit so it all blends. I meanwhile only have a blender with a herb/coffee grinder attachment, so I measure all the ingredients together in a single bowl with the exception of the hazels, which I grind, then stir the whole thing together with gusto, using a teaspoon. Once it's come together, put it in a clean jamjar (with lid) and store it in the fridge. It'll keep for a week. There will be none left in a week. Make some for your office's kitchen and it will be gone in a day.

Note that in "Light and Easy" the recipe uses double these amounts exactly. However, if you're purchasing roasted hazels, they tend to come in handy 100g packs, and you also then don't feel slightly overwhelmed by having to eat the whole jar in a week. Half a jar seems much more civilised. Last week was the first time I had done this - ripped open a 100g roasted nut pack, got the other ingredients in a bowl, whizzed the nuts - I doubt if the whole thing took me more that 5 minutes. 5 minutes away from swooning. It is very strong chocolate-y and with a classic Italian toasty hazels smell - it's unsurprisingly pretty filling too, so does really well as an at least semi-healthy snack on some decent (sourdough, natch) bread. Seriously, I can't actually talk this up enough, it's bloody delicious.

The kids demand I make it weekly. I will comply (until I've shown them how to make it).

The Iron Man

James' reading hazily comes more in to focus by the day. If he tries hard he can read whole sentences from his Kipper & Floppy books. More often though he'll flop back and whine that he wants to be read to - as long as I talk him through letter sounds and we construct one or two words per session, I'm not too stressed. He does everything in his own time.

The books he enjoys being read to him are becoming far more complex however. He's starting to really enjoy Pooh stories - much more so than Nora. He's been sitting happily through the Horrid Henry stories since Christmas. Nora was complaining that she'd read all her books and they're all boring, so I picked out The Iron Man from their shelves (repackaged as "The Iron Giant" which is an annoyingly more memorable title), knowing she'sd never looked at it.

As I held the beautiful second hand paperback in my hand, with the name of that wonderful writer on the front, looking at the kids sitting on the bed waiting to read something and looking sceptical, I felt a teary choke in my voice. This was the first time in their lives they were going to hear the story.


And here's the thing. I realised I could barely remember it. The dragon section had totally obliterated itself from my brain and I'd been infected by the delightful, but almost entirely unrelated film, called of course, "The Iron Giant". And another thing, reading Ted Hughes' beautiful words (you have to read it out loud, it's like a feast for your aural senses), I was struck again by something I'm slowly learning as I go along - how different it is being a boy. To a four year old James, this was a wonderful story. A massive, elemental metal man, eating old cars and tractors, schlunching across fields and muddy farms, chewing barbed wire with glowing blue / red / green eyes like massive lamps. And the story of a brave boy, but a brave boy with compassion, who senses and feels that something is wrong.  Then the whole thing turns in to a huge, enormous, stupendous, crazy story about a giant dragon the size of a planet! How much more BOY could you get! 

He loved it. Nora loved it. It's completely bloody fantastic, and I would strongly recommend you buying it immediately to read aloud to your kids.

An aside pulling together a few things related to the DRC

What the hell is the DRC? Or, should I say, DR Congo which let's face it, we all read as "Doctor Congo" at some time or other.

I was telling some friends about a graphic novel I was given for my birthday that goes by the name of "Unknown Soldier: First six comics, reads very well, although it is basically the classic anti-hero 'modern' reading of the superhero. Bulgy bloke wearing some kind of facial impediment/mask; a bit moody, a bit attractive, carrying moral ambiguity and a great big fat weapon; goes in to wargasm at the slightest opportunity, thus affording lots of chopped off heads, blood sloshing around the page like an abattoir... you know the sort of thing? Transfer that identikit character to the Democratic Republic of Congo during the African World War. Lots of research, lots of DVD's of Congolese natural surroundings, villages and stuff used as reference material for the illustrator. It's really not bad (just formulaic, which you can say about a hell of a lot graphic novels), and I read it on the way to work.

That then got me interested in finding out a bit more than the stuff I already knew about the DRC ie: rape of the land, the Belgian King Leopold, absolute rabid lunatic leading the Lord's Resistance Army, unbearable *unbearable* human consequences... the injuries to those left alive by the Lord's Army are and were so unbelievable, I'm sure that many of them wished that they had been the ones that died. 5 million people died, and yet the western media only really talked about it on specialist 'foreign correspondent' news programmes. I remember listening to "Our correspondent" on Radio 4, and, similar to the appalling horror the Haitian people went through recently, I found that the radio left so much for your imagination to fill in, it was actually far more horrific than watching news footage. Not that there was much of that with the DRC wars. I had to switch the radio off because the story a little boy was telling, about him having to watch his sister raped and killed, then have to kill his best friend with a machete (because if he hadn't, he would have been killed himself)... I felt weak for turning it off, so later read his story on the Beeb news website. I'm sure I mentioned it on here at the time (can't find the URL now, annoyingly, but search for Congo and there's a ton of Foreign Correspondent stuff on the Beeb).

So. The story of the DRC up to where they are today is worth an investment of time, if only to think - surely this must be the very worst experience of colonialism and post-colonial breakdown on the planet. Surely? Surely they're over the worst? In Africa, it can be difficult to sort the wood from the trees. Here's a couple of links to whet your appetite:

The Wikipedia DRC page gives a potted history which makes clear what the country was like before, and after colonialisaton. If you're not scraping your jaw from the floor, I'd be amazed. 

And here's a brilliant blog by a Congolese bloke called Alex Engwete. Firstly, to take you right up to date after the Wikipedia history, here's Alex talking about the military/political deal that took place between the DRC and Uganda at the beginning of 2009, which has succeeded in annexing part of the country, and made the violence worse, in Alex's (and many other Congolese' opinions): "Two African Scumbags of the year 2009". He's not mincing his words, and he backs up his argument with good sources. And in case you want some more of Alex's great, rambling writing, here's the front of his blog which, joyously at present features front page a trip he recently made to Edinburgh. His descriptions of his, and his fellow countrymen/women flying are excellent.

Whilst I was noodling around Google I came across a few links discussing Congolese graphic artists and the possibility of some home grown graphic novels about the African World War. Tantalisingly a little out of reach for a cursory search, I'll do my best to come up with something, they're bound to be well worth surfacing. Meanwhile, the interesting news is that "Unknown Soldier" is now painted by a Congolese artist, Pat Masioni, so the later copies, from about 13 onward, will be even more authentic looking than the early ones.

Lebanese cooking

Not as any sort of political gesture particularly, although there may be some empathy with people driven from their homes or killed. Meanwhile, earlier this year, McK bought an absolutely brilliant cookery book by claudia Rosen called "Arabesque" by a woman called Claudia Roden. It's been sitting on our kitchen bookshelf ever since, in the usual way.

In perusing it vaguely the other day, I saw a lovely Lebanese omelette recipe, and I'd been thinking about doing a spinach with blackeye beans and caramelised onions recipe for a while, so I thought - just do the bloody thing. Andthen one thing led to another. These are the Lebanese recipes I've attempted so far:

Spinach with beans and caramelised onions: really nice but I did too many beans. Will do again some time.
Cheesy omelette/s: This you do either as one big omelette (spanish style) or as small individual omelettes. My lovely friends Yoz and Bob were coming over with wee Dexter so for that reason, as well as thinking that maybe Nora might have some, I did them as individual omelettes.
Absolutely *delicious*. Basically, you mash feta, and do your omelette er, batter, I guess, with fresh mint, fresh flat leaf parsley, spring onions and white pepper. Mix it all up together, and splat half ladel-fuls in to the omelette pan. Out came these fantastic, sun shaped, crispy little chesy delights, bursting with fresh,crunchy onion flavour, and the aromatic mint and parsley - wow. Wow. What's truly marvellous about this food is that whilst in the UK we have come to understand that"the meditteranean diet" is very healthy, we tend to put the blinkers on once we've got to Spain. Here is more Med food which is closely linked to Greek, for example and is positively humming with fresh healthiness.
Then today I went a bit bonkers and made green lentils with caramelised onions and pasta (nice and earthy but I made too much really) and much more impressively, an astonishingly delicious lentil soup with rice. So incredibly simple. Stock, lentils, rice, coriander, pepper. 45 minutes of cooking and yet more caramelised onions plus some ground cumin (my favourite spice) placed on top. The real clincher though is a quarter of a lemon, drizzled in to the soup when you have yours placed in front of you. Mysterious, new but there again, comfortingly familiar.

There are many more recipes I want to do from the Lebanese section - the idea is to "do" one culinary adventure at a time. The Moroccan section has some delicious looking vegetarian dishes too. Meanwhile, there's still one portion of the soup left (but not for long). I don't think I'd be sticking my neck out if I said that I may well be cooking that for myself for lunches fairly regularly when I go back to work.

You know what else? Much vegetarian food that you find in UK based recipe books is dull as ditchwater, tasting of nothing. The ubiquitous tomato is dragged in at any opportunity as if to say "Look! It's Meditteranean, it must be good!". But here in the space of a few days, I've discovered really new, and exciting tastes - very different from anything I've had in restaurants, using completely fresh and easily get-able ingredients. The food is for the most part extremely simple to make and yet is fantastic. That book was an excellent investment.