The lamb tajine cook off: Laughing Lemon’s take


You may remember from a few posts ago a mention to Laughing Lemon’s Moroccan Feast, a tajine and The Spicery’s lamb with apricots and almonds. It was not my intention by then to start a cook off, but as I tried different recipes comparisons become inevitable.

This one is the Laughing Lemon’s take on it, probably as close as it can get from his Mother’s recipe. The ingredients are almost the same ones that The Spicery’s: lamb, honey, almonds, apricots, prunes. However, there are no tomatoes on this dish.  As it turned out, it was a such sweeter and its flavours, more delicate and balanced. Probably, this take has much less spin to the original dish.

PS  Please don’t say Jack I made the couscous following the instructions on the pack (plus pomegranate, mint and lemon juice).

Cooking classes with the Laughing Lemon: fennel and carrot salad

carrot fennel salad

You may have noticed a lot of Middle Eastern flavors in this blog as of late. Jerusalem – the latest Yotam Ottolenghi‘s book – is partly to be blamed, but… this was how everything really started: The Laughinglemon‘s Moroccan Feast. I knew I would like it when I saw it, and registered without further ado. What I was not expecting was Jack’s pulling his mother’s old family recipes and throw at us a  family meal cooked from the heart with all love and care. The kind of thing I will cherish for a very long time. * grab kleenex to wipe a stubborn tear *

As most mothers, Jack’s mother didn’t write her recipes down – why bother if they are normally passed down from generation to generation? And, when she explained the dishes to her sons, she did it as every mother would do. An essential ingredient was forgotten, directions would range from “let a cook for little while, but be careful not to overcook” to a whole time mother classic “add a little bit just like that” or failing to mention the little detail which would have avoided to set the kitchen on fire. Jack and his brother are trying to recover the recipes slowly but surely. and this Moroccan feast is the result of it. The most curious of all was the sudden realization that Jack and I might actually be related. Both our families are of Jewish extraction. Mine became Roman Catholic to escape the Spanish Inquisition. His, most likely fled to Morocco around the same time…

Religion and familiar disputes apart, this spicy carrot and fennel salad was one of the heroes of the day. It is not so straightforward as it might seem and it has a long list of spices, herbs and condiments. The result is totally worthwhile the effort – a fresh and crunchy dish with bold flavors. The type of thing which made K.  lose her normal calm-cool-collected state to fight for the last bit (She won. I still have a black eye…).

Cooking classes with the Laughing Lemon: cauliflower soup

“Mum, guess what?” I said on the phone , “I am taking a cooking class about soups!”.  A big silence followed. A few seconds latter, a very distressed sister came to the phone. “Who are you, what have you done with Burntsugar and why are you torturing my Mother?”. Err… I probably was not tactful enough to break up the news that indeed I now like soup and even take the time to cook it. Everyone in the family vividly remember epic fights about plates of soup not being promptly finished, if eaten at all. So, enrolling in a soup class could only the result of something one very wrong – but very very wrong.

Recipe books have fantastic recipes of soups, packed with flavors and textures to go with the kilometric list of ingredients,  but… where is my basic recipe? And what happened to my broths? And my stocks? As soon as I saw the basic soup techniques on the Laughing Lemon, I knew I had to do it… My Mother wouldn’t obviously start teaching me know and pass all the family secrets, and if  I wanted to know more, Jack would be probably the one to answer to all my metaphysical soup dilemmas.  Indeed he did – when we left the class we had tried puree, creams, broth, stocks,  chunky soups…. And, we got to taste them all.

As soon as the occasion presented,  I made this lovely cauliflower cream  Jack taught us. It cannot be easier: just steam cauliflower and yellow onion. Once it is soft, put in a glass of milk and plenty of water and let simmer. When the cauliflower is soft, blend and sieve. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and is ready to go. Seriously, it is all it takes. Very filling, very healthy and with a reasonable calorie count – I mean, what else can you ask from a soup?

For more information about the Laughing Lemon cooking classes can be found here.

Cooking class with the Laughing Lemon – the pesto battle

So, for over 40 years, I consistently refused all cooking classes my Mother ever offered. I am even (semi) proudly self taught. My poor suffering testers guests are all alive and still show up for dinner every now and again. What would make me, food-blogger wannabe, take cooking classes all of a sudden? Have I gone softie, in my old age?

Well, not really… The analytical and brainy answer would be something along the lines of filling the gaps in my culinary knowledge. Which is fancy to say  I have no clue about Italian cuisine, including pasta and its sauces, pizzas and risottos… It is not the kind of thing Portuguese and Spanish tend to cook , and, lets face it, not its secrets are exactly passed along generation to generation. It can try, but clearly, it is not my forté…

The right brain answer was – of course – because I wanted to. I had heard so much about the Laughing Lemon and learnt so much with his blog and posts on the, that it seemed even disgraceful to have missed his classes for years.

It was probably one of the best things I did to fill my culinary knowledge gaps. And, it was not only educational – it was also great fun. With infinite patience,  Jack showed us different methods for making a pasta sauce, and explained which pasta types are appropriate for each sauce style. To make it even better, we even had time for a demonstration of old vs new cuisine techniques (and eat them). I can promise you the Internets if filled with pages and fora discussing this particular issue – should a pesto be made with a mortar or a blender? Which one of the methods gives a better pesto? Does it matter, really? The battle of pesto was served…

The class was divided in two: the Team Mortar, with all the persons who had a bad day at work; the Team Blender, with all the persons who were calm, cool and collected. Both teams got the usual ingredients: fresh basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, salt and Parmesan cheese. And, this was what happened:

Team Mortar 

The crushed garlic, basil, pine nuts and salt were dropped  in a big mortar. Then each of the team members used the pestle to grind the ingredients down to a paste. After 20min of great effort, the cheese was folded in and  evenly mixed with the green paste (a lot more grounding, needless to be said). Finally, the olive oil was added little by little, mixing with a wooden spoon until well incorporated in the mix. At the end, Team Mortar had a green paste with some floaters and pellets.

Team Blender

Chit-chated for 28 min, and then suddenly realized Team Mortar was * almost * done. Quickly placed the ingredients in the blender, and buzzed it three times (app) until it was homogenized.  Then  checked for consistency and taste (a little more salt), buzzed a few more times, and a perfect smooth and green mixture was obtained.

Everyone tasted both pestos and voted as honestly as they possibly could. It was a close draw, but the smoothness and consistent taste stilted the scales in favor of the Blender Team.  It seems that normally, the Team Mortar wins, but not with this tough crowd.

For more information about the Laughing Lemon cooking classes can be found here.