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Virtuous breakfast | Bircher muesli

6 February 2018

IMG_8860Of all places, I had a Bircher muesli epiphany at Tom (Aiken)’s Kitchen in Chelsea about six years ago. It was smooth, very creamy, mildly sweet, with a nudge of spices. It brought muesli back into my orbit.

I haven’t gone in search of that particular recipe — I suspect it to have been quite indulgent, and what I look for in muesli is a more virtuous form of breakfast — but that morning I was reminded of how delicious it can be. And in time I’ve revived the habit, which comes and goes and ebbs and flows with the mood, but is worth coming back to every once in a while.

One often thinks of muesli as a mixture of flakes, as it is commercially sold. But the intention of Dr. Bircher-Benner, who allegedly invented the morning grub at his health clinic in Switzerland at the end of the nineteenth century, was not to feed his patients more oats, but rather more raw foods, in particular fruits and nuts.

With this in mind, I have devised a mixture light in cereal and packed with other nutritional bits. Its intention is not to replace French toast, but to provide everyday healthy and none-the-less delicious morning fuel.

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Bircher muesli recipe
F
or two, to be multiplied accordingly

4 Tbsp rolled oats
1/2 Tbsp flax seeds
1 Tbsp pumpkin seeds
1 Tbsp sunflower seeds
1 Tbsp chia seeds
1 Tbsp chopped almonds and/or hazelnuts
Juice from 1 lemon
Pinch of cinnamon (optional)
A scattering of raisins or other chopped dried fruit such as dates or apricots
One grated apple, skin on if organic
Yogurt
Fruit according to the season: kiwi, banana, rhubarb compote, berries, etc…

The night before, place the oats, seeds, nuts (and raisins and cinnamon if using) in a bowl (large enough that the oats have room to swell). Pour over the lemon juice, and just enough water to soak the mixture. Let sit at room temperature until the morning.

In the morning just before eating, grate an apple into the oat/seed/nut mixture, add a spoonful of yogurt (or to taste), and garnish with any additional fruit.

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Super easy marmalade — say what?

26 January 2018

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Two years ago I made marmalade for the first time. I discovered then the fastidious pleasure of the process — recorded here. Last winter, feeling compelled, I made marmalade again. Already I have found a shortcut.

It happened inadvertently; I started the New Year making marmalade by accident. Surely there is a symbolic truth to be culled from the incident. I had planned to make this — adequately rebaptised — ‘marmalade’ cake, so, as per the recipe, I began by boiling the oranges for hours.

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But the day passed and so the moment, and the year started with boiled oranges but no cake. I do admit I let those oranges sit in the fridge for a few days, until it became high time to use them. And the easiest thing I thought to do was to make marmalade.

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But there was no time to dedicatedly slice each sliver of rind — I’ve given up midnight baking and marmalade making for the minute — so feeling inspired by the process of the cake, I simply blitzed the whole oranges in the mixer. Then recooked the orange purée with an approximate amount of sugar (the ideal proportion is one to one, if one had thought to weigh the oranges beforehand). Ta-da! Orange marmalade in a minute. Because even though there are two long-ish periods of cooking, the hands-on part is very fast.

To wit — I made marmalade again a week later, in the time it took the rest of the family to prepare dinner.

Super fast blood orange marmalade
A glug of campari at the last minute of cooking gives the marmalade a boozy bitter kick

Organic blood oranges (or regular oranges, or, if using Seville oranges, boil for a good while longer — 2 to 3 hours)
Equal weight amount of light caster sugar
Campari (optional)

Special equipment: food processor

Weigh the oranges. Scrub them under cold water. Place the oranges in a saucepan and fill with water so as to submerge the oranges. (The oranges will float in the water, but not too much as long as they are propped up against each other.)

Cook the oranges for about an hour.

Reserve the liquid and let the oranges cool just enough to handle, then cut them into quarters, remove any ostensible pips, and throw into the food processor.

Mix for a minute or two, depending on the desired consistency. ***My family is divided on this one. Some prefer the little specs of rind as shown in the pictures above, while others like a smoother consistency. The difference is a few additional twirls of the blade.***

Scrape the orange purée into a saucepan, add an equal weight of sugar, and cook on a gentle boil until the marmalade starts to gel. Depending on the quantity, it could take 20 to 45 minutes. ***The way to test the gelling is to place one teaspoon of jam in the refrigerator until it cools, and check the consistency.

Meanwhile, boil some jars and lids for 5 minutes in a large saucepan with a few inches of water.

Immediately ladle the hot marmalade into the jars and seal tightly.

Now think of breakfast this weekend…

The neverending weeknight dinner conundrum — solved for today [Kale and cauliflower gratin]

16 January 2018

In the end, whether we are working parents or at home writers, mothers of none or fathers of five, whether we live to eat or eat to live, at some point this week we’ll have to think of something to make for dinner, and chances are we’ve run out of ideas.

Eating seasonally and locally always helps, as it drastically reduces the aberrant amount of options at our fingertips. My choice of fruits and vegetables is always dictated by it; it automatically induces variety and lends rhythm to the year. I love the languid accordion sway of the seasons — Autumn’s cornucopia, which slowly retracts to the last exhausted roots of early April, when the sole relay on the line, the first leaves of wild garlic, by a wisp, signal the green bursts of revival.

Meanwhile it is midwinter, and I offer you this cauliflower and kale gratin. It materialized one day because there happened to be cauliflower and kale. It has become a frequent dinner companion.

Kale and cauliflower gratin
Goes well with a piece of fish or steak, or, simply, a fried egg

Cauliflower
Kale

For the béchamel sauce
60g (4 Tbsps) butter
2 to 3 Tbsps flour
1/2 litre (2 cups) milk
Salt and pepper
Nutmeg

Grated parmigiano or gruyère

*

Preheat oven to 175°C (375°F).

Prepare the cauliflower by removing the outer leaves and cutting into florets. Wash in cold water. Prepare the kale by removing the tough inner stalks and washing thoroughly. Cut into large strips.

Scatter the kale and cauliflower in an ovenproof dish.

For the béchamel: Melt the butter in a small saucepan. As soon as it is melted, add just enough flour to absorb all the butter (it will become solid and lumpy). Stir and cook for a minute of two. Then quickly start adding glugs of milk. Incorporate the milk slowly, a little at a time, stirring well between each addition, until the béchamel, which will start as a big clump, becomes unctuously liquid. [I often add not only milk but a little water as well.] Season well with freshly grated nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

Pour the béchamel over the vegetables in the dish. Sprinkled generously with grated cheese.

Pop into the oven for a good half hour to 45 minutes, until bubbly and golden.

Let cool a few minutes before serving.

 

L’Apéro

19 June 2017

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Summer is around the corner and the weather isn’t lying. One gloriously sunny day succeeds the next; pale limbs are bared, the parks have erupted in green, speckled with readers and sunbathers, the odd spot of color. There is no place like London at this time of year — the air is impossibly mild, fragrant. ‘Tis the season for ‘apéros,’ or better still, ‘apéros longs.’

The apéro — short for apéritif — is the cultural habit any visitor to France will learn. It is the first insight young French children have into the mysterious interactions of the adult world; that fleeting moment, saying hello to the guests before being sent off to bed. — For a French child, staying up through an apéro marks the stages of growing as assuredly as notches on the kitchen door.

‘C’est l’heure de l’apéro’! A tray is pulled, the bright clinking of glasses, a bottle or two, a bowl of ice, some olives, nuts, saucisson — the basics.

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The hallowed French tradition of apéros is ubiquitous; a pastis in the South, a beer in Paris; after work during the week, on holiday after an afternoon at the beach. It is the unwinding at the end of the day, the coming together before dinner. The apéro might include a bowl of peas to shell, some vegetables to chop. The evening could continue together, or everyone is free to go on to other occupations.

And in the middle, there are ‘apéros longs.‘ Here, the casual early evening drink morphs more or less intentionally into an informal dinner, a leisurely succession of bite-sized food and drink, that evolves organically into elastic evenings.

I’m a huge fan, especially when time becomes constricted by the other stuff of life.

Dinners are time-consuming and can be constraining, even for someone who loves to cook. ‘Apéros longs‘ are less pressure. The food must be forthcoming, and I like to bring different elements out in stages, rather than everything at once, to create a rhythm, give the evening some punctuation. But it can all be extremely simple. Starting with those olives, nuts, saucisson; continuing into a platter of prosciutto, mozarella, and basil; always some vegetables — tomatoes, fennel, radishes; cheeses. All of this only requires assembling, no cooking involved.

But of course, one could cook. Lightly charred padrón peppers, chicken liver terrine or pork rillettes, potted crab, quiches, asparagus with burrata! Things to make ahead or last minute improvisations. And, always, something sweet at the end, even if it is just a bowl of cherries or a few squares of chocolate.

Listen to the call. Apéros longs are the siren songs of elongated summer evenings.

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Asparagus with burrata

18 May 2017

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Even better than a softly oozing egg with asparagus is asparagus with creamy burrata. I don’t take credit for the pairing, a friend made this appetizer for us the other day. It is, as you can see, radically simple, and swoonfully delicious. There isn’t much more to add.

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Asparagus with burrata

Green asparagus
Burrata
Good olive oil
Flakey sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh herbs optional (basil, marjoram, mint)

Trim, wash, and peel the asparagus. **Peeling here is important for the asparagus to yield seamlessly into the burrata.**

In a pan large enough to hold the asparagus stalks, bring about 2 cm (1 inch) salted water to a boil. Cook the asparagus for 3 to 4 minutes — no more!

Strain out the asparagus and arrange onto a plate with the burrata. Drizzle some olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with herbs if using.

Basta!

Related posts
Green asparagus salad  **  Asparagus soup **


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