Deep Dark Mushroom Barley Risotto

chestnut-portobello-mushrooms

Velvety and nutty textured this is the comfort that the creeping of Autumn is calling for.  It’s deeply savory, it’s salty and it’s brightened with parsley and a breath of lemon juice.  Let’s give rice a run for it’s money!

barley

Pearl barley.  It used to be an old world something food that Grandma’s put in their stews, now it has a new lease of life as the star of the show.  Salads are built around it (particularly good with grilled chicken, plums and basil), it’s soaked with flavour giving stock and stuffed into delicious things.  It makes a great sweet dessert (more on that later) and it’s a beautiful rice substitute.

Here, it is used exactly the same way you would for a normal risotto, except it is way less needy than rice.  It doesn’t need to be constantly stirred to give up a silky result.  As long as you’re on watch as the cooking time draws to a close, so you don’t add too much liquid, you’ll be left with a risotto that falls from the spoon the way it should.

parsley-lemon-parmesan

This makes enough for two of us for dinner

12g (ish) dried mushrooms – I had shiitake to hand
50g butter
1 medium/large onion, diced quite small
250g pearl barley
800ml chicken/mushroom/vegetable stock – I used one Kallo chicken and one Kallo mushroom stock cube
150g portobello mushrooms
350g chestnut mushrrooms
25g butter
ground black pepper
1 garlic clove minced/crushed/chopped
handful of chopped parsley
1-2 tsp lemon juice
handful of finely grated parmesan/grana padano

Pop the dried mushrooms into a bowl and cover them with boiling water.
Into a deep saucepan add the butter and the onions on low. Cook until the mushrooms begin to go translucent but not brown.
Have the stock/s to hand. Tip in the pearl barley and stir to coat the grains with the butter. They will catch on the bottom of the pan as they absorb the butter, they don’t ‘fry’ in it, so once they’re coated pop in the stock and bring to a boil then turn to medium/low.
While this is bubbling away slice up your mushrooms and put them into a separate pan with the butter, pepper and garlic. Let the mushrooms cook and begin to wilt, they’ll give up quite a bit of water. Boil off most of this water but not all of it. This is concentrated mushroom stock, it is delicious savory flavour, it is UMAMI!
Turn the heat off under the mushrooms. Slap on a lid and they can just wait their turn.
Pour the dried mushrooms and all their liquid into the barley.
Check the barley, it should be approaching al dente. Nutty chewiness is good, a raw snap is not. If it’s approaching the delicious chewy stage but still has lots of water left, whack up the heat to boil it off but stir occasionally to prevent burning. Don’t worry, barley is resilient. On the flip side, if it’s not ready yet but seems to be drying out – add more water or stock. (If using stock cubes don’t add more than two! Just add more water or it will be too salty.. yes, there is such a thing as too much salt).
When it’s ready turn off the heat.  Add the cooked mushrooms and all their ‘resting juice’.  Add in the parmesan, parsley and lemon. Mix it through. Taste it to see if it needs any seasoning adjustment.

Like a risotto, slap on the lid and let it sit for five minutes. I’m sure you can find something else to do for that time. Toss the salad, soak the dishes, make sure everyone has wine cutlery or just go feed the cat.

Dish up and devour.  Salad goes really well, but so do wilted greens with a little lemon juice.  Savoy cabbage, broccoli.. whatever you fancy or have to hand.

Leftovers are also really good cold, eaten from a bowl with a spoon.  Just gonna put that out there..

Fresh Szechwan Steak Garden Rolls

szechwan-peppercorns-thai-basil

That photo, my friends, that one right there?  That is what tongue tingling flavour looks like.  Really!  I wanted something fresh and crunchy that didn’t mean deep-fried and heavy.  I would say that it was a desperate cling to summer and it’s fresh flavours but it’s not.  I like summer, don’t get me wrong but Autumn is my kind of time.  Breezy, fresh air whirling about, trees getting their Autumn/Winter wardrobe in, not to mention all the layering I can do!  Fine knits, deep jewel colours…Gah, I can’t wait!

herbs-steak-garden-rolls

You might need to have a little scout around for two of the ingredients in this.  Szechwan peppercorns and fresh Thai basil.  They are absolutely worth it though, really truly.  I would not lie to you about food.

The Thai basil is a bit more aniseed than Italian basil.. a little bit like tarragon too.  Tarragon and Italian basil put together, maybe?  But not spicy like star anise.. a clean aniseed, citrussy.  Ah hell just try it! It’s different and wonderful and combined with the Szechwan pepper will make your tongue tingle.  Szechwan pepper is different to black pepper.. it’s citrus and bright and doesn’t have the same heat.

If you can’t find either of them, no sweat!  Go for black peppercorn steak and coriander with the mint, just as fresh and bright and less of a shopping faff.

szechwan-peppercorn-steak

Smother your steak in a little sesame oil and crushed Szechwan pepper.  Sear it on a grill so it’s medium rare.  Sorry, I love the pink beef!

szechwan-peppercorn-steak-grilled

garden-rolls-steak

Let the steak rest whilst you faff about getting everything ready for wrapping.  Once you chop the two other items it’s really a very quick recipe.  And so full of flavour – or did I say that already?

rice-wrappers-and-fillings

The dipping sauce is minced garlic with a tablespoon of this that and the other.  Simple.  Fast.  Delicious.

szechwan-peppercorn-steak-garden-rolls

Yeah, rolling the rice wrappers is a little tricky but you quickly get the hang of it. As long as you use a clean damp cloth you’ll be fine.

This recipe gave me 10 rolls, or it would have done if I hadn’t eaten so many as I was making them.

250g good steak, rump is fine
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp Szechwan peppercorns
Vietnamese rice wrappers
Vermicelli rice noodles
Spring onion, cut into strips
Carrot, cut into strips
Fresh Thai basil
Fresh mint

Dipping sauce

2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp lime juice
1 crushed garlic

Cook the vermicelli noodles until al dente and rinse with cold water.
Rub the steak with sesame oil and press with the crushed Szechwan peppercorns. Sear the steak to your liking, mine was 2 minutes a side.
Let the steak rest.
Mix together the dipping sauce ingredients.
Get your rolling area ready. Lay down a damp clean cloth, get a bowl of water big enough for the rice wrappers and bring the fillings close to hand.
The rice wrappers can be a little tricky but you’ll get the hang of it. Dip it in the water and rub it until it becomes pliable and floppy.
Lay it onto the damp towel and begin to layer the fillings.
Place one Thai basil leaf and one leaf of mint down first, this way they’ll show through when you wrap them up.
Add a few strips of spring onion and one of carrot. One or two strips of beef, depending on their size and then a bundle of noodles. Fold over the bottom of the wrapper over the filling. Fold in both sides and roll ‘er up.
It might take one or two goes to get the amount of filling right but they’ll all be good eating!

Blackberry Flaugnarde

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Just in time for the weekend! This would be pretty amazeballs after a Sunday lunch. Apparently you’re not supposed to accompany a flaugnarde, not even a little cream.  In my mind though, it’s starting to get a little cold outside so some softly whipped cream would be a delight.

Most importantly though – this dessert is simple. S.I.M.P.L.E. You mix together four ingredients, pour it over fruit and the oven does the rest. That’s it. Done. Finito. Means you can get on with your weekend relaxing, lounging in pyjamas (can’t be just me, can it?) And still be rewarded!

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I ended up using 450g blackberries cause they’re so damn delicious right now, but you could use cherries (which would turn this flaugnarde into a clafoutis!) or blueberries.. some raspberries.. Go for it.
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So. This recipe really should sort out four of you.. especially if you’re taking me up on that cream offer.. but the two of us hungrily devoured it. Oops.

Four big tablespoons of plain flour (or 1/2 C)
Five big tablespoons of caster sugar (or 1/2 C) and some extra for dusting
3 eggs
1 capful of almond extract (I mean it’s lid.. not a cup, dear god!)
350ml milk
450g blackberries
Icing sugar for flinging on top whilst it’s hot

Set the oven to work, about 180c.
Grab your dish.. the flaugnarde will rise in the oven and then settle down so choose something that will hold all the fruit and have a little extra height.  Butter the dish and dust it with sugar.
Turf in the fruit.
Add the flour and sugar to a mixing bowl and stir it together. Add the three eggs and mix it well but quickly, overworked flour goes rubbery.
Add the almond extract and the milk.
stir it all together and pour over the fruit.
Into the oven for about 40 minutes but keep an eye on her.

flaugnard

Eat it hot, warm, cold.. just eat it. I’m off to make another one.

No. Really.

Fast and Healthy Asparagus & Tomato Frittata

Fast and Healthy Asparagus & Tomato Frittata

Fast and Healthy Asparagus & Tomato Frittata

I’m not joking around here.  This asparagus and tomato frittata is fast and it is healthy (unless you make it mostly cheese, then it’s just cheese isn’t it?).  It’s pretty much my take-to-work-breakfast staple.  And lunch, and dinner in the summer when it’s hot and all your body wants is salad, vegetables and ice pops.  It’s vegetables and protein, what’s not to love? 

The silicone baking pan makes all the difference for me, I literally throw everything in, RAW, and shove it in the oven.  That’s it.  If silicone wonder-pan is occupied with other goodies I’ll pop a wax paper/baking paper liner in the bottom of the pan so I can just turf it out when it’s done.  I can’t think of one person who enjoys scraping off burnt egg.  Fact.

cherry tomatoes with asparagus and spring onions for frittataI. could. not. stop. eating. the. tomatoes.  I must have a deficiency only satisfied by tomatoes.  I eat a lot of them. (With too much salt and soaked in vinagery salad dressing. Ahem.)

Raw asparagus and tomatoes ready for frittata

There really aren’t a lot of ingredients for this.

1 bunch of asparagus – about 15 slim spears
10 cherry tomatoes – halved and quatered
5 spring onions – chopped
12 eggs

What you see is what you get.  I snapped the asparagus into two with my hands and cut the tomatoes into either halves or quarters so some could sneak through the asparagus.

But asparagus is woody, you say?  Nah.  The trick to getting rid of the woody end is it to hold the spear in both hands.  One hand on the end and the other hand half way to the tip of the spear, bend it and it will snap where the woody part ends and the stalk becomes softer.  DO NOT THROW AWAY THE WOODY ENDS!  Keep a plastic bag in the freezer (or tupperware box if you have space, I don’t – little kitchen!) with vegetable odds and ends to make stock.  I’m serious!  Onion peelings (yes! the papery skins!), mushroom stalks, celery ends, unwanted herb stalks – but why you wouldn’t use those I’ll never know – any bits of vegetable, it all makes flavour.  It’s so much nicer than using those nasty nasty MSG filled stock cubes (except Kallo, y’all know I love ’em).  There will be a separate post where I’m going to use many exclamation marks to get my point across about this, just you wait.

tomatoes-and-asparagus-with-spring-onions-frittata

Anyway! Next add in the chopped up spring onions, raw again.  Everything will cook just enough in the oven with the eggs.  Who wants soggy vegetable frittata?  Bleugh!  Don’t be afraid to jam pack the pan with vegetables, they’ll all float about and have a swim in the egg custard when it’s poured in anyway.

Parmesan grated into egg custard for frittata

My favourite – a big soft heaping of grated parmesan.  Salty deliciousness. I’ve got about 12 eggs in there.  Yes. Twelve, we need that protein!  I just grated about a handful in, I didn’t want it too cheesy cause I’m trying to get my weight down (hah, never happen).  I also added a pinch of salt, a little black pepper (’cause, y’know, eggs) and about a dessert spoon of truffle oil, just for a background savoury flavour.  Absolutely not necessary or required, I just couldn’t help myself.

parmesan-egg-custard-frittata-2

That’s it!  Mix it up and pour it all in.  Bake it at about 180 C and keep checking on it after 25 minutes until it’s not too wobbly and is cooked through in the centre.  Turn it out quite soon after it’s done so you can drain away any liquid that may have been released by the vegetables, I poured off about a tablespoon but still.. we don’t want it soggy!

Parsley and Walnut Pesto

parsley_and_walnut_pesto

The Great Parsley Trilogy Part Deux.  This was the real super star when it came to actually using up the bulk of the parsley.  It takes a lot of it, I’m not gonna lie, but it wouldn’t be parsley pesto with only a token amount now, would it.

I’m afraid I didn’t use or record measurements.  It was very much a go as you feel happening.  That’s ok every now and then, right?  It was basically all of the things I needed to use up.  The parmesan, all the parsley and some walnuts which had been lurking in the baking cupboard for almost too long.

ingredients_for_parsley_and_walnut_pesto

Aglio_e_olio_ingredients

This made two small jars, or two mugs full.. maybe two US cups.

Approximately 400ml of really good quality olive oil.  The best you can afford, it’s a main flavour here so you’ll taste the difference!
Two handfuls of finely chopped parsley
One sliced clove of garlic – but there are two in the photos? Yep.  It was way too much, even for me
A handful of finely grated parmesan
100g walnuts (I know the weight only because the packet said so, heh)
A big squeeze of lemon juice, about 1 tbsp
Truffle oil to serve

Now, I made the mistake of doing this in a blender. No way. If you have a food processor you use that baby! I’d rather bash it in a bowl with a rolling pin than deal with it in a blender again.
Parsley and oil first, to get things on the move.
Then walnuts, garlic and parmesan.
Add the lemon juice bit by bit to your liking.
So far whenever I’ve cooked with this I’ve drizzled truffle oil over the top. Truffles and walnuts? Absolute winner.

Aglio e Olio

aglio_e_olio

I had promised myself that by the end of Thursday the parsley would be all used up.  I got home from work absolutely famished (I’ve started to try out walking to and from work – less pennies, hopefully less inches too). Cue aglio e olio!  So simple, so amazing and so delicious.  Simple always is, isn’t it?  I really shouldn’t act so surprised.

I think perhaps the only thing I did differently was to keep my garlic quite sharp, I only let it take on a mere hint of colour around the edges (sounds awfully pretentious, no?).  I like it with a bit of bite.

This time I was only cooking for one.  Something I’m not very good at, I think I’m always under the illusion that I’m feeding twelve.

100g spaghetti – I grab it out of the packet so that the spaghetti fits between my thumb and first finger when I put the tip of my thumb to my second knuckle.. if that makes any sense to any one!
1 clove garlic – sliced thinly
2 tbsp good quality olive oil – it really makes a difference, particularly as this is a minimal dish
bunch of parsley chopped – mine was about a small handful
grated parmesan – again, about a small handful

Boil up your spaghetti in salty water, I always remember our Italian customers (and now chefs on telly) saying you should cook your pasta in water as salty as the sea.
While that’s going on, gently warm up the olive oil and sling in the garlic. I pretty much just heated my garlic through. Letting it sizzle gently for about four minutes on the lowest heat. Most other folks seem to go for a light browning. Go wild, just don’t burn it.  Burnt garlic is bitter and nasty.
Again, at this stage people talk about adding chilli flakes – if I had had any, I surely would.
Drain the pasta when it’s al dente but don’t drain all the liquid off, keep about two tablespoons in with the pasta.
Chuck in the garlic and oil and coat everything, then the parsley and parmesan. Mix everything around, the parmesan along with the starchy cooking liquor make a beautiful emulsion so everything clings together.
Shove it in a bowl or eat it straight from the pan, no one’s looking!

lemon_for_aglio_e_olio
What I did do when I was almost finished was sling it a little bit of lemon juice, no more than a teaspoon maybe, just to brighten things up a little bit.

Of course you can embellish it with capers; olives; seafood; sundried tomatoes; wilted greens (chard!) etc. etc., but it’s nice to know that something simple and cheap can be wonderful without other ingredients.

The Beginning of The Great Parsley Trilogy

Featured_parsley_bunchAlso known as “How the hell am I going to use up all that parsley without buying a ton of ingredients?”.  I needed some parsley for a lentil moussaka and this is what came home with me.  A mega Italian flat leaf monster!  I could not and would not let it go to waste.  I also wanted to use it up by incorporating things I already had.  Yeah, I could have made salsa verde for steak but there’s an extra (delicious) spend right there.  This girl is on a budget.

The crazy part of my life is still ongoing.  Little Portuguese Kitchen was an enormous success.  Demands were made for another event as soon as possible so we’re trying to find five minutes in which to pour over our diaries and select another two dates.

Throughout all of this, and other extra curricular life bull hockey, I’ve still been stuffing my face.  My own kitchen has taken a little bit of a back seat though.  There have still been the best meatballs ever (I’ll tell you about them, one day); a deeply savoury lentil moussaka; three different incarnations of saag paneer; my childhood gumbo soup and so much more.  For now though, I think the parsley trilogy is a good way to ease back in.

Coming over the next few days – also known as “When I make the time to write them up”..

aglio_e_olioAglio e Olio – Yep.  Apparently everyone knew about this but me.  Easy and awesome.

parsley_and_walnut_pesto Parsley and Walnut Pesto – With a little bit of truffle oil.  Maybe my new favourite thing.

parsley_gnocchiParsley Gnocchi – This stuff is incredible, my first attempt at making gnocchi and my first eating of it too.

And all of them are simple as.  Promise.

Börek – Delicious Savoury Turkish Pastries

borek-ingredients

I’m living the crazy life at the minute.  No, really.  For me, it’s C R A Z Y.  I’m in panic-organising mode.  Next week I’m hosting a Birthday dinner for twelve.  During the day of this I-can-do-anything offering I’m over preparing for our first supper club as Little Portuguese Kitchen which takes place the day after Birthday dinner.  Isabel and I are cooking for twelve strangers, a set Portuguese menu.  And whilst we are super able and capable and organised and have both worked in the industry for a long time – we’re getting a little nervous! milk-oil-wash-borek-pastry

Needless to say I’ve not had a lot of space for leisurely cooking at home, or even I-desperately-need-to-eat-something-which-isn’t-takeaway-and-actually-has-the-things-my-body-needs-to-keep-running-at-mental-speed cooking at home.

I’ve been visiting a wonderful teeny tiny Turkish cafe/food place in the market in town.  They do pretty awesome wraps, full of salad with slivers of smoked sausage and delicately spiced lamb kofta.  They’re keeping me going, don’t worry!  They also happen to sell delicious börek.  Layers of filo pastry stuffed with soft spinach, salty feta, a little parsley and dill.  Bloody marvellous.  I eat far too many, particularly as my custom is so regular that they will often give me and the partner in crime one for free.  Spinach-for-borek

I woke up.. Tuesday?  Yes, Tuesday.  With a need for börek.  I ran around to the supermarket and filled up the basket (also with a lot of unnecessary things)  But no filo pastry.  Not even in the frozen section.  I came home in a sulk at my snobby outburst and slightly resentful at the package of puff pastry.  I am an idiot.  Of course the puff pastry, when rolled to about 3mm thick did a marvelous job.  thin-puff-pastry-for-borek

It actually didn’t take that long to make.  Truly.  Oven on, sweat onions and spinach while making pastry thin.  Squeeze, mix, fill, top and bake.  Done.  With a sharp lemony salad?  Amazing. squeezed-borek-filling

borek

Maybe too much cheese to spinach?  Nah.  Never too much cheese.borek-before-baking

There we have it.  If we hadn’t been so greedy this would have served six for lunch with a salad no problem.  I think next time however I really will use filo pastry but I’ll make individual ones, rolled up like sausage rolls or really obese cigars.  Sesame seeds are a must.

2 tbsp olive oil
550g spinach
1 onion
Small bunch of parsley
2 tbsp olive oil (yes, more)
1/2 cup whole milk or plain yogurt
salt & pepper
1 egg
2 egg yolks
400g feta cheese
1 package room temperature/slightly chill puff pastry (or sheets of filo – better)
2 tbsp sesame seeds

I had my oven at about 170 – it’s a fan oven which doesn’t run as hot as normal so 180 should be fine for ovens which are true.

So.  Oven on.
Olive oil and onions into a pan on a low-medium heat to turn translucent and brown ever so slightly. When the onions are looking likely, turf in all the washed spinach. Yes. All of it. Mix it about to get it to begin to wilt. When it’s an intense green and less than half the volume it began, slap a lid on and turn off the heat.
Cut off a chunk of puff pastry. For the size of my dish I cut off between 40% and 45% and the same for the lid – I know it’s an awkward way to phrase this but it’s true. I was left with a slice of unused puff pastry about as thick as my finger. I don’t got sausage fingers.
Anyway, roll out the pastry to it’s big enough to fit the dish and is as thin as you can get it. Brush with whisked olive oil, milk/yogurt and seasoning.
If using filo, keep the sheets not being used under a towel to stop them from drying out. Whisk up the olive oil, milk/yogurt and seasoning. Lay one sheet of filo and brush with this mixture (I would be tempted to put a bare sprinkle of sesame between these layers I feel). Repeat for three or four layers. This is the base pastry. If you’re making individuals you can leave it at that for parceling or rolling up. Or cut the size down if you want them smaller. Your choice.
Put your spinach mix into a strainer or a clean tea towel. Do it in batches if you need to, just get all that liquid out. Make it dry.
Break up the feta and mix in with the spinach. Only add extra salt if your feta is lacking or you like to live dangerously.
Pile this into the pastry lined dish, or arrange on the pastry to wrap up how you wish.
Roll out your other piece just as thinly if using puff. Make another three/four layers of filo washed with the oil/dairy mix if it’s not puff.
Mush up the two egg yolks with a brush or your fingers and slather it on top of the pie. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and pop her in the oven. I baked mine for about 35 minutes and turned once cause my old banger of an oven has hot spots!finished-borek
I shouldn’t have eaten it when it wasn’t piping hot. But I did and it was delicious. Go for it, Spring is coming – we’re allowed to crack out the pasty/quiche and salad routine.

I might be quiet but I’m still eating..

Tea and Double Chocolate Banana Bread

I’m in that stage of being almost ill, where body is tired and head stuffy.  The weather, too, is struggling to launch itself into Springtime, the sun is shining at the minute but it’s still quite cold.  And windy!  It’s a wonder the snowdrops have kept their heads.

This morning, well.. it’s just after eleven a.m. here and I’m still in my ‘jamas.  I sleepily stuffed in that slab of Smitten Kitchen’s excellent Double Chocolate Banana Bread pictured up there and my tea is half drunk and now cold.  I am apparently unable to complete a cup of tea before the temperature plummets.

Dinner on Wednesday night was built on a desire to have one of the Pasta’n’Sauce packets without actually having to eat it.  No MSG for me thank-you-very-much.  Instead it was baked pasta with cauliflower, kale and leeks with a roasted broccoli cheese sauce.  Sounds complicated but from turning on the oven to washing up the dishes while it baked it wasn’t longer than 35 minutes – including time for the oven to heat up!

Parmesan roasted broccoli

There have also been meatballs with marinara and a plain but still awesome banana bread, soups and many instances of velvety scrambled or poached eggs with piquant avocado on sour dough.

Poached egg on avocado with sourdough toast

Phew! Just got the weekend to get through!