The sky is bright and cloudless, the sun already making its presence known. Fresh coffee calls to sleepy people and glasses of fruit juice drip condensation onto the counter top. Strawberries, blueberries and raspberries piled high in a bowl next to bread, fresh from the bakery, and locally sourced butter. Breakfast Al Fresco beckons, and as I open the French doors onto the flower-scented patio, stretching and smiling at the prospect of another glorious day… at home!
While dreams of sipping grappa in Greek tavernas, or eating tapas in a Barcelona bar are on hold, and the closest I’ll get to a French Vineyard is the wine department at the local supermarket, the possibilities to ‘travel with our taste buds’ becomes an appealing alternative.
Escaping reality in the pages of a recipe book is something I have often done, whether seeking solace with a tried and tested family favourite, or testing my culinary skills with a recipe that requires ingredients I can barely pronounce. Food has always been a great way to experience other cultures or evoke happy memories, and as we are unable (or unwilling) to travel to far flung destinations, bringing the tastes of foreign climes to our own homes seems a perfect solution.
Whilst chatting to my friend who was supposed to be on a family holiday in Morocco, we came up with the idea to create a staycation food tour, hopefully discovering some new favourite recipes in the process…
New French Table by Emily and Giselle Roux
With daydreams of sun-drenched French villages I launch into the first book.
This is a great, rounded selection of recipes that are sure to be useful time and time again, and my cooking tour of discovery began with Pissaladiere. Thanks to sheets of shop bought puff pastry, this is a really achievable first recipe. While the onions are softening I made the Minestrone with Orzo, and enjoyed both together sitting outside imagining hard that I’m on holiday. Both of these recipes were delicious and achievable, the minestrone will be a great recipe for whatever seasonal vegetables are on hand and a nice easy soup for Autumn too.
Fiori de Zucca by Valentina Harris
If I’m going to try and learn new skills from my cooking project, I thought I should add a risotto to my repertoire. With a deep breath and a little time and patience the recipe for Classic Milanese Risotto came out fantastically- I served this with a green salad and a little bread to mop the bowl.
More ambitiously I attempted the Boillabaise, but being a bit squeamish I get the fishmonger to prep the fish for me. I can’t deny the deliciousness of the finished result, but this was messy and time consuming to make.
Recipes aside, this is a really lovely book to read, the kind of cookbook to keep beside your bed for a read (or is that just me?)
Orange Blossom and Honey by John Gregory-Smith
My attempts at cooking were more modest with this one, but thanks to mint running riot in the cool green of my garden I made gallons of mint tea, and became quite proficient at Beghrir: thin, holey crumpet-like pancakes that are utterly delicious served hot and dipped in melted butter and honey.
THE MIDDLE EAST
The Jewelled Table by Bethany Kehdy
This is a great introduction to middle eastern cooking, with easy step by step recipes and even some suggested menus for different occasions. All the recipes seem really achievable to the slightly nervous beginner, and I chose a very easy one to begin with: Kuku, a green herby fritatta. This was really fresh and delicious and something I’m sure to cook in the future.
I also decided to take the time to make Labneh- something I’ve always wanted to make but have never taken the time to do so. As it turns out, time is really the only concern, this is so easy to make and really delicious with hot pitta bread and some veggies for dipping.