Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Heart of Glass

Spaghettini Asiatiche Dolce con Cocco & Vaniglia e Lamponi Freschi alla Menta
Sweet Glass Noodles with Coconut & Vanilla and Fresh Raspberries and Mint

Now that is a pretty little dessert there, isn't it? Fresh, light, simple and delicious... what's not to love? And do you want to know what else- it's totally healthy and a no-guilt delight that you will have this put together in next to no time as well! So grab a little saucepan, hold on to your horses and let's quickly put this little crowd-pleaser together and have some fun!

I don't know what I was thinking to tell you the truth... sweet glass noodles? Now that is something I have never seen before- which is almost reason enough in itself to give it a try, no? Basically, I was inspired mostly by sweet spaghetti dishes like the classic lemon spaghetti with vodka and cream. And by the fact that Peggy donated the berries. Oh, you all don't know Peggy? She's the sweetheart at work who always comes along with little treats for me to try out and who occasionally is my ride when I hop out into suburbia to see my folks... so thanks again Peggy! I am dedicating this one to you!

So suddenly, I had this little tub of berries to take care of tonight.... hmmm, what to do? I thought of making some kind of pastry or an ice cream... I could easily think of a number of more traditional recipes than this one.... But I think my dessert (in all modesty!) is much easier and much tastier... and way cooler!

In a small saucepan, bring a little milk to a gentle boil, add sugar, vanilla, coconut flakes and cinnamon and add the glass noodles. Stir them into the milk well and turn the heat down to a very light simmer. For this dessert, I prefer to cook the noodles a little longer than usual, so that they will have a nice, soft, smooth consistency. Let the noodles boil for 5 minutes and then turn off the heat and let them cool down. This recipe tastes better either at room temperature or chilled.

And I am almost too embarrassed to say that, that is all there to it! All you need to do now is to serve up your creamy, flavorful noodles, with plenty of fresh mint and a light drizzle of honey. Enjoy something delicious and new- but with familiar combination of berries and mint... and the creamy, custard flavor of vanilla- but without the guilt!

You know it's got to be good!

Bump and Grind

Polpettone Piccante in Camicia con Zucchini alle Erbe Aromatiche
Spicy Poached meat Loaf with Herb-Infused Zucchini

Ground meat can sometimes be a bit of a challenge- as versatile as it is, it does somehow end up becoming a burger or a meatloaf somehow. Well this is basically a cross between the two- but with a very different flavor and a very different cooking method! When was the last time you poached a burger or meatloaf? Oh- you haven't ever done that? Well then- let's see what we can do to change that...

I started out by chopping an equal-sized piece of pork tenderloin and a small piece of steak into small pieces and grinding it, together with the following ingredients in my trusty little kitchen wizard. I added a shallt, a clove of garlic, the juice of a lime, a tablespoon of Annato paste, a teaspoon of tomato paste, a half teaspoon of cumin, a teaspoon of dried oregano, a handful of mint and a handful of parsley, a good shot of Tabasco, salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. That's a lot of herbs and spices there! But that's also a lot of great flavor that I am sure you are going to enjoy!

Make sure that the ingredients are well integrated and shape the meat into a roll. Place it on a sheet of Ceran-wrap and roll it tight, twisting the ends together and easing it into a nice compact shape. Now take this roll and wrap it again in the same way in aluminum foil... and you are already to get your little loaf poaching! Once you have brought your water to the boil, reduce it to a gentle simmer and set the roll in there and let it gently cook for 7-8 minutes. In the meantime- go grab that zucchini and get slicing!

The zucchini goes into a dry pan and should be heated gently at first. Sprinkle it with salt and flip it over and after a while, it will begin to give off a little moisture and to soften up. When this starts to happen, sprinkle it with Herbs de Provence, a hint of nutmeg and a dusting of pepper and turn up the heat. Now add a little oil to the pan and a couple of slices of garlic. By not having any oil in the pan at the beginning, we coaxe the natural flavors of the zucchini out without drowning them in oil- the oil we are adding now is basically to glaze and dress the zucchini, not to fry it in. The trick is to trick the zucchini into cooking in its own juices- which allows us to keep all of the flavor... It's petty easy!

The other thing that is easy is serving this up nicely! After the meat had cooked for 7-8 minutes on either side, I let it rest for 5 minutes or so, to let all of the juices settle and then cut it into 1" slices. Arrange these on a bed of the herb-infused zucchini and add a little shredded mint and lemon zest. A couple of cherry tomatoes and a little parsley round everything of nicely... and a couple of lightly buttered, steamed Fingerling potatoes would be a great accompaniment for this... as would a nice glass of Nero d'Avola! So that is what I recommend you go fix for yourself!

Monday, 29 August 2011

Try a Little Tenderness

Fette di Vitello con Verdure Fresche e Orzo
Strips of Veal with Fresh Garden Vegetables and Barley

I was in the mood for something light and healthy tonight, but was loathe to make do with another salad. I had a couple of slices of veal in my fridge that were demanding my attention and how could I ignore them? So I opted for the clean, fresh flavors of carrot, celery and red pepper and prepared this here little number, served on a bed of barley and full of natural goodness... I hope the veal was as happy as I was with the results!

Barley... firm and chewy and sadly neglected, is one of my favorite grains. I prepared this batch with some finely chopped parsley stalks- they are full of flavor and it drives me crazy when people throw them away and only use the leaves! Cover the barley with just enough water and season with salt, pepper, a little finely chopped garlic and a little nutmeg...bring it to the boil and let it simmer for 7-8 minutes, or until it has soaked up all of the water, adding a little if necessary. Turn off the heat and add a tiny squeeze of lemon juice, and a drizzle of olive oil, stir well and allow to sit and steam in the hot saucepan until you are ready to serve. That's all there is to it.

The rest is even more simple- it just takes one frying pan and a little time. The way to do it, is to flash-fry the veal first... so crank the heat up high and fry with a little crushed garlic for 2-3 minutes maximum on all sides... sprinkle generously with paprika powder, season with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice and set to one side. Now do the vegetables... carrots and celery first as they are the firmest. Cover them with just enough water that the pan isn't dry, salt and pepper them and let them simmer for 3-4 minutes, until the water is completely evaporated. Spread them out on the pan so that they are not lying on top of each other- the large cooking area will make sure that they cook quickly and evenly. The idea is to only use as much liquid to cook the vegetables as is absolutely necesarry and to not lose any of the flavor by pouring it away... it is not rocket science! Food is so much tastier if it is not diluted-down... give it a try- you will see and taste the difference! Remove your cooked veggies from the pan, run under the cold tap to retain the color and prevent them overcooking and do the same with the peppers and the spring onions.

Now that everything is ready, you can put them all back into the frying pan, add a drop of olive oil and a pat of butter and toss gently to give everything a gentle glaze. Sprinkle with a hint of sugar, grate again with a hint of nutmeg and lightly caremelize everything- just enough to give it a tiny hint of yummy sweetnes. Serve on a bed of barley with ample parsley... so light and so delicious! Each individual flavor stands out on its own and the combination of the vegetables, meat and barley is simple, satisfying and scrumptious! But don't take my word for it... try it yourself!

Sunday, 28 August 2011

A Taste of the Old Country

Lombo di Maiale in Agrodolce alla Siciliana con le Mele
Sicilian-Styled Sweet and Sour Pork Loin with Apples

Sweet and sour is one of the worldwide best loved of all flavor combinations. The first thing that springs to mind when we think of it, is of course the Chinese variety, which although it has become so very ho-hum and out of fashion, still has an air of the "exotic" about it. And yet there are dishes in most cultures that combine sweet and sour elements, as are there many pork dishes that are prepared with apple- another great, classic combination. It really isn't so different and exciting anymore. Which is why I set about putting together a dish that would be refreshing and new, but based on some traditional Sicilian flavors.... something a little like this...

The combination of capers, olives, and sun-dried tomatoes, is almost as Sicilian as you can get. Add pine-nuts into the mix and you are almost ready to join the cosa nostra- we are seriously talking old country! So I decided to use exactly those ingredients, to flavor the apple slices I wanted to used as a side to my rolls of pork. I cut the apple into slices- I used the variety called "Pink Lady", which has a very rich, deeply sweet flavor and sautéed them gently at a moderate heat with a tiny pat of clarified butter. I sprinkled them lightly with cumin seeds, salted and peppered them and grated them with a little nutmeg. I then added some sun-dried tomato cut into strips and some black olives , turned the heat up high, gave them a good squeeze of lemon juice and light sprinkle of finely chopped parsley. Next step is to crank the heat up high and to de-glaze the pan with a shot of white wine. I chose to use a sweet Sicilian wine called Zibibbo, which compliments the sweet apple and the sour lemon juice. The resulting juices of all these ingredients, go to combine and become a deliciously sweet and savory mix. Take the pan off the heat and set it to one side whilst we prepare the rolls...

For the rolls, I started out by preparing a "Julienne" of carrot and celery which I boiled in roughly a half cup of salted water until it had all evaporated... approx. 5 minutes. Once the water was gone, I added the juice of 1/2 a lemon, salt, pepper and honey and set these to one side.

The little slices of pork-loin went into the same pan for 1 minute on either side and then were rolled, using the carrots and celery as a filling, I then rolled them together and wrapped them in a thin strip of bacon... pretty clever, eh? Starting off with the end-pieces of the bacon on the bottom, I seared the rolls shut, which eliminated any need for skewers or anything like that. Flip the rolls over to get them brown on all sides for 4-5 mines and then de-glaze the pan with a shot of Zibbibo wine. I seasoned the rolls with crushed garlic, dried thyme, a little cinnamon, a couple of cloves, some finely chopped ginger, salt, pepper and a little honey.

Now... we are going to remove the rolls and to transfer those apple slices to the meat pan to pick up all of the good meat juices. The apples will turn a beautiful golden color and as soon as that happens we can prepare our dishes!

Lay out the apples and sun-dried tomatoes and set the pork rolls on top. Spread a few olives and some pine nuts around and we are all ready to serve! Whether you decide to add more of the meat juices is a matter of taste- but this is a winning combination which ever way you decide to enjoy it! A chilled glass of Verdicchio or Trebiano would be a perfect accompaniment to the fruity and tangy falvors here... go ahead- give those taste buds the treat they deserve!

Life's a Peach

Avena + Cocco Croccante con Pesche Fresche e Crema alla Vaniglia
Coconut and Oat Crumble with Fresh Peach and Vanilla Cream

Everybody loves a crumble, a crispy and delicious topping to a sweet dessert. The trouble most of the time is, that they are ladened with butter, sugar and worse still, they are usually topping something equally sweet. Now, there is nothing wrong with a delicious apple or berry crumble... but how about a light, Summery, healthy and guilt-free treat instead? Are you up for it! Cool- let's get to it!

This is a similar recipe to my crunchy breakfast cereal- it is made of oats, coconut and raisins, is cheap, cheerful and easy to make. But it will take at least 20 minutes of standing at a stove-top stirring. The thing is- the light and fluffy on the inside, but fluffy on the outside consistency of this crumble makes it worth the while. It is much lighter than those dense, sugary concoctions- and I am pretty sure that you will appreciate the difference in taste and texture and enjoy this healthier choice.

Start off by browning your oatmeal, coconut flakes and raisins in a dry frying pan. It will take 5-6 minutes before they start to brown. Once that happens, sprinkle a little hot water over them- just little splashes and keep stirring. The dry ingredients will now start to clump together. Keep stirring until these larger clumps start to brown. Once that happens, drizzle some honey directly onto the pan, in the spaces between the oatmeal. This will start to bubble immediately-and when this happens, stir some oatmeal over it to soak it up. Now sprinkle some more water onto it and give it a good sprinkle of cinnamon. Keep stirring! I told you you would be there for around 20 minutes! I repeated the procedure with the water 4-5 times and the honey twice. The water lets the coconut flakes and the oatmeal expand and become soft and fluffy, it dissolves the honey and the cinnamon which then gets soaked up and gives the crumble a nice, deep flavor... yummy!

The vanilla cream is made my whisking cheese curds and yogurt together in equal quantities... the juice of a lime goes in there along with the zest- although not necessarily in that order! I sweetened it with honey and that was it- light and refreshing and so good with the peaches!

And that my little foodie-friends, is all that there is to it! A fun breakfast, a terrific snack or a satisfying dessert... make of it what you will... but by all means make it! You'll like it!

Friday, 26 August 2011

The Upper Crust

Filetto di Maiale in Crosta di Cuscus con Funghi Saltati
Couscous-Crusted Filet of Pork with Sautéed Mushrooms

And my newly discovered romance with couscous continues... I guess I really did fall in love with the stuff all over again this year! It is so easy, healthy and versatile... so what's not to love?!! 

I started out by finely chopping some shallots, spring onion greens and parsley and adding these to my couscous. I then poured some hot vegetable stock onto it, stirred-in a little saffron and let it sit and swell and become yummy... and the cool thing is that it DOES. All by itself! That's what I love about it- no cooking, no risk- no problem!

The pork was sautéed in a dry pan as usual, briefly on either side, then grated with a little fresh ginger and de-glazed with a splash of cider. Sound good? Let's make it a little better! Grate a little apple and stir some mustard into it. I would use a Granny Smith or a Cox's Orange apple- something with a strong, tangy flavor and a hot Dijon Mustard. Spread this onto the pork and then cover with basil leaves. Pat them down so that they stick to the mustard/apple mix. Now cover with the couscous and add a light drizzle of olive oil. Off it goes into a moderate oven to finish cooking whilst we take care of those mushrooms...

The mushrooms need to go into the pan you have just fried that pork in... there are good and delicious juices there and we are going to use them! So in they go at a mild heat, so that they start exuding some juices of their own- after a minute or two, add a small pat of clarified butter and some shredded spring onion, a little crushed garlic and a splash of Calvados to pick up on the apple flavor in the pork...  Now crank up the heat briefly to give them a little color, add a tiny squeeze of lemon juice and get ready to enjoy a great meal!

Whilst you lay the mushrooms out on your plate, turn the broiler on, to brown the couscous- this will only take 1-2 minutes. I would serve this with a cider rather than a wine... ice cold, refreshing, fruity and just plain good! All you have to do now is to enjoy!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Cheesed Off

Bastoncini di Pizza alla Feta, Miele e Timo con Crema di Fagioli Verdi e Salsa Piccante
Pan- Roasted Pizza Tubes with Feta Cheese, Honey & Thyme, with a Green Bean Dip and Spicy Salsa

In the mood for a healthy, quick treat for a hot Summer evening? Well good- I'm glad that you are- because I was too! Feeling playful and experimental and on a mission to use up my last leftovers in the fridge, I came up with this nifty little idea. 20 minutes in the making, these crispy rolls of pizza dough, filled with Feta cheese, honey and thyme, really hit the spot! 

First things first- there's a little pot of fresh green bean dip in this here recipe! So let's start with that, so that it has a chance to cool off by the time those pizza tubes are ready. Boil the beans in well salted water for 5 minutes. For each portion (approx. 1 mug full of raw beans) add a clove of garlic and a spring onion into the mix.  After 5 minutes, drain and rinse under a cold tap to retain the bright green color. Now give them a whiz in your preferred kitchen machine, along with a handful of basil, a tablespoon of mint and a good splash of olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar and a dusting of nutmeg and set to one side.

As for those pizza- tubes... they are almost as embarrassingly easy to make as they are embarrassingly tasty to eat! Who knew?? I simply cut off a 1" strip from the Feta, halved it, and then drizzled each half with honey. I then sprinkled the cheese with thyme and a little cumin. Spread a little Dijon mustard on the pizza dough, set your cheese on top, and simply roll and wrap the cheese sticks... the dough will stick and seal all by itself. And anyway- all that you need to do is to place it onto a hot grill pan and wait for 2-3 minutes- and then flip it over to the next side for 2-3 minutes and so on until it is crispy and brown all round. 

And on to that dipping sauce- which is nothing more than Thai sweet chili sauce, Ajvar, tomato paste, lime and grated ginger... stir that together and add a little sugar and cayenne pepper and see what you think! Tastes pretty good to that savory Feta cheese and that's for sure!

I enjoyed mine with some peppery- fresh watercress which went nicely with both the cheese and the beans- and again I have managed to put something together that even my vegetarian friends out there can enjoy. Although I can't help thinking that wrapping the cheese in Pancetta before wrapping it, would have been a good thing.... But I shall have to remember that variation for next time...

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Between the Sheets

Ragù di Pollo con Pomodorini, Olive, Caperi e Sedano alla Siciliana & Lasagne
Sicilian Styled Ragu of Chicken, Olives, Tomatoes, Capers and Celery on Lasagna

Another hot, humid, cloudy and stormy day in Frankfurt- sigh! And as our Summer draws to an end, I have to face up to the sad reality of the fact... that we haven't even had one! Still, somehow, I managed to find a 15 minute break in the torrential rain and the thunder and lightning and get home dry this evening. I took that as a good omen and a sign from above that I should rejoice and celebrate my good fortune with something yummy for supper. As it was feeling decidedly Fall-like... this was what I made! Not bad for 20 minutes of effort!

This is a nice and different way to put together a quick pasta dish- the sheets of lasagna taste silky- smooth cooked this way and are a great complement to the rich and tangy tomato sauce. Lasagna is the name given to the pasta form and not to the recipe that immediately springs to mind, with the layers of meat, cheese and bechamel sauce. That dish is called "Lasagne al Forno". or "oven baked lasagna". All kinds of "flat" pasta are classified as "lasagne" in Italy, from narrow linguini to broad pappardelle. But let's not mess around with any of that stuff tonight- let's go straight to the broadest and boldest pasta of all and get cooking!

Let's start by cutting our chicken breast into slices and starting it "frying" in a dry pan. Make a very fine dice of carrot, cut the celery into slices and add these both to the chicken. Now add the capers and black olives, stirring constantly. Once the chicken starts to brown, add your herbs and spices (if you do that from the start, they tend to burn). I added finely chopped garlic, dried oregano, rosemary and thyme. Season with salt, pepper and a little cayenne and remove from the heat.

Time for the lasagna! I would suggest 2 sheets of pasta per person- that should be plenty... but if you are feeling hungry- knock yourself out! Bring your well-salted water to the boil and add the lasagne sheets. Allow to cook for 4-6 minutes at the most, pour off the water gently, whilst keeping them in your saucepan and run cold water over them to slow down the cooking process and to rinse off excess starch, which would make the pasta sheets stick together. It may sound silly, but leave a little water in the saucepan and return them to your stovetop- there should be enough residual heat to keep the pasta warm whilst you finish the sauce...

Usually a ragu will cook for a couple of hours at least- but you will have this one finished in just 5-10 minutes... isn't that neat? Remove the chicken and vegetables from the pan and turn the heat back on. Add a good tablespoon of tomato paste and stir it in well, then after a minute or two, de-glaze the frying pan with a good shot of red wine. Or two. Add the chicken back into the mix and a couple of spring onions cut into approximately 2" pieces. After 2-3 minutes, add the sliced cherry tomatoes... again- add them too early and they will overcook, lose there shape and color and just not be as nice. And you should be almost ready to rumble!

I carefully took the lasagna sheets and drizzled them lightly with olive oil, grated them with nutmeg, and started to arrange them on my plate. I laid one sheet out and layered some of the spicy. saucy chicken over it, then added the second sheet of pasta on top and repeating the procedure... pretty easy!

A light drizzle of olive oil, some salt, pepper or peperoncino and a basil leaf or two as a garnish and we are in business! As you all know, I prefer the heady flavor of a salted Ricotta cheese to that of parmasan- but that is of course MORE THAN perfectly fine with this dish. And all you need to do now is to go grab your your friends and a bottle of Corvo and enjoy!

Monday, 22 August 2011

One Hot Chick

Petto di Pollo Fritto in una Panatura di Cocco Speziato con Insalata di Patate e Fagioli
Spicy Coconut and Turmeric Chicken Breast on a Potato & Bean Salad 

There's nothing like a nice crispy, spicy piece of fried chicken now, is there? It is something almost everybody enjoys, hot or cold, tangy or tame- it's just one of those universal crowd-pleasers. So you are thinking, "if it ain't broke- don't fix it", aren't you? Well it certainly ain't broke, so it doesn't need fixing... but I would still like to show you how you can fix it in a different way! And after all, The Colonel's secret spice mix has still not been made public- so let me share a different one with you that is very, very different and just as finger lickin' good as the old classic...

It's the coconut and the spice that makes this chicken so different. And the fact that it is not breaded at all! I started out my seasoning some coconut flakes with turmeric and some other powdered spices, like galangal, kefir lime leaves, lemon grass and a little Chinese 5 spice powder. Easy so-far, right? Make sure the spices are well incorporated into the coconut flakes and dip and coat the chicken breast in it. No flour, no egg, just coconut flakes and spices. Keep pressing the chicken into the flakes and you will be surprised how much it will pick up and also how much of it sticks... it works just fine.

I fried mine in a Teflon pan in just a half teaspoon of clarified butter, keeping the heat moderate so as to not let it burn. The trick is to flip the chicken over as soon as the butter has melted, so that both sides get moistened. The coconut has essential oils which will be released if you heat the chicken softly and the flavor is just so much nicer... so be patient and get that salad going in the meantime!

For the salad, slice some Fingerling potatoes and boil them for 2-3 minutes in well salted water, after which time you can add the trimmed and cut beans. Continue boiling for a further 3-4 minutes and then pour off the water and run under the cold tap to prevent the beans from losing their color and the potatoes from overcooking. Whilst they are still warm, add some chopped spring onion, finely chopped parsley and chives, grate with nutmeg and drizzle with olive oil.

I enjoyed mine with a squeeze of lime juice and a gentle sprinkle of ground chili, but I am sure a Thai sweet-chili sauce would also be delicious with this. A little extra, were a couple of crispy-fried sage leaves... mmm! The great thing is that this whole dish takes great either hot or cold... which made it perfect for a sunny Summer day like today...

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The Chanterelles- Comeback Tour!

Pizza con Finferli, Pancetta, Olive, Pomedorini e Formaggio Saignac
Pizza with Chanterelles, Pancetta, Olives, Cherry Tomatoes and Saignac Cheese

I guess that by now you have noticed that I am a "waste not, want not" kind of guy- especially when it comes to food. That is why you will often get 2 or 3 recipes in a row on here that use the same ingredients. Because they just happen to be my groceries! If you live alone, you will know that it often takes a while to get through a carton of eggs, a hunk of bacon or a bunch of carrots, so you often have odds and ends in the fridge. But to me, that is much more of a blessing than a curse. It just gives you more possibilities to try out and experiment new combinations of foods and flavors without taking huge risks... if you end up trashing a leftover, it ain't gonna hurt as much as something you bought for a particular recipe.

And if you get a little creative about things, you need never worry about that "oh I don't want to eat the same thing two days in a row" thing either. I personally have absolutely no problem with that anyway... I try to make food that is so delicious that I have no worries about eating it twice!

So, back to my little pizza and it WAS little, at just about half the size of a regular pizza- but just enough for my lunch today! I had a handful of Chanterelles from last night, already washed a cleaned and ready to go. I was thinking of making maybe an omelette... but was suddenly taken by the idea of the omelette instead, as I have never seen an omelette with Chanterelles before. But before you get busy conjuring images of me sifting flour and crumbling yeast, making a dough and kneading it into shape... I have to disappoint you yet again, by saying yes, I did use a store-bought dough. Sure, a pizza dough, a pastry base, even fresh pasta- all of these things are easy to make. But we are talking about a snack here- a half-portion of food for one person. Life is too short to be proving a point all the time! The ingredients that went onto my topping were fresh and good... the dough is basically just flour and water... end of discussion! On with the show!

I popped the dough into the oven to pre-bake a little and in the meantime put the Chanterelles into a dry pan with some chopped bacon. I added a little cumin seed, nutmeg, lemon pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice and a little chopped green onion. By now the pizza base was firm enough to add the topping. I made a mix of Dijon mustard, yogurt and a little olive oil and brushed the dough with it and then added the mushroom/bacon/onion mix on top, making sure to distribute things equally. Then I added some halved cherry tomatoes and black olives and popped it into the oven for 5 minutes.

After 5 minutes, take the pizza out and add the cheese. The Saignac goat cheese is soft and melts really quickly- putting it on top from the get-go, would have melted it away to nothing and burned the remainder! So now is the time! All it will take is 1-2 minutes under the broiler... et voila! Lunch in 15 minutes, leftovers well used... and another mission accomplished in the kitchen! Yay!

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Mellow Yellow

Spaghetti ai Finferli con Fagiolini 
Spaghetti with Chanterelles and Green Beans

With this crazy, up again- down again Summer weather, it is no wonder that the rains are bringing out the yummiest of the mushrooms right now, the deliciously tasty Chanterelles! Now, I know that may sound like a 60's female vocal group, but it just happens to be the name of one of the most flavorful of all mushrooms- and such a beautiful yellow coloring they have too!

Of course, there has to be a slight downside to this extreme yumminess- and that is, in this case, that the Chanterelles are very time consuming to clean. They are, I think, one of the few mushrooms that does grow on the ground still nowadays, rather than on polythene sacks like all the rest of them. So, grab an old toothbrush or a handful of kitchen roll and start brushing those little devils into shape... it isn't easy or fun but the resulting flavor explosion is well worthwhile! Please don't wash them unless it is truly necessary! It is always best to keep mushrooms dry, as they will otherwise become waterlogged and have a slimey consistency- as well as a much depleted aroma. With regular mushrooms, it is much easier to take a small paring- knife and to peel away the outer layer of skin. Of course, with these little beauties that's hardly possible- so brush or wipe away what you can and give them a quick in-and-out bath to remove the rest.

So- having the Chanterelles taken care of, let's get busy!

Boil the spaghetti in a mix of half water and half milk to give it a creamier flavor but the minimum in calories. I like that little trick of mine! Whilst the pasta is boiling, in a Teflon frying pan, start out by frying a handful  of pancetta or bacon until it exudes its fat and begins to gain color. Now add the mushrooms, a little finely chopped shallot, a little garlic- and a good amount of heat!

After about 5 minutes cook-time for the spaghetti, add to the boiling water a good handful of beans and allow them to cook for the remaining 2-3 minutes.

As soon as the pasta is ready, drain it off and add it to the mushrooms, along with a generous grating of nutmeg, a sprinkle of chopped parsley and a drizzle of olive oil and go call everybody... dinner can be served!

Grind generously with red chili flakes and serve with a chilled white wine and there you have it... a delicious, light and easy meal that is guaranteed to please!

Friday, 19 August 2011

Vive le Différence!

Lenticchie Rosse in Agrodolce con Pancetta e Granatina, con Formaggio di Capra e Cetrioli
Sweet & Sour Red Lentil Salad with Grenadine & Bacon and Saignac Goat Cheese and Cucumber

Indeed I have returned from 10 wonderful days in the Provence... sigh! And how incredible it was too! So many amazing sights and sounds... and so much delicious food to be discovered and enjoyed!

There are so many simple and tasty dishes that are perfect for a Summers day- and one of my favorites was the lentil salad, with a hint of Oriental spice and cumin. French cuisine is not always complicated and fussy and in fact it is the simple, regional dishes that taste the best to me. So this evening I raised my Beret and my glass and gave my own salute to the South of France!

For the lentils, I decided to try something a little unusual... but I guess that has become the usual thing that you would expect from me by now. I finely chopped a small shallot, a quarter of a stick of celery and a half of a clove of garlic and heated them up with a handful of finely chopped bacon in a dry Teflon pan. Once the shallot is translucent, add a cupful of lentils and stir them in so that they soak up the juices from the bacon. Sprinkle with a little Raz al Hanut spice if you have it or with some ground cumin and coriander powder if you don't. De- glaze the pan with a shot of Pastis if you have it- failing that, Sambuca or Ouzo will do- depending on how Greek or Italian you are. If you happen to be French, you should have no problems... If you have none of these things, you are in trouble.

My thought was, that by stirring the lentils in a frying pan, rather than heaping them on top of each other in a saucepan, they would not get as "damaged" and therefore remain firmer- and not turn into a sticky mass of red paste and lentil-skins, which is what sometimes happens if you cook them a little too long... and I was right!

Add a teaspoon of Ajvar, a squeeze of tomato paste, a pinch of cayenne and the juice of a whole lime. Allow to simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper and dress with a little olive oil and honey. Finished! Ready to serve! But no need to rush- this tastes better at room temperature anyway...

The cheese I used was a Saignac goat cheese... mild, creamy and Camembert-like. It softens very quickly at room temperature and is a lovely, gentle, complementing flavor to the spicy lentils. I served it up on a bed of cucumber slices, with a little herb salt and finely sliced spring onion.

So that was supper! Amazingly, I discovered a bottle of Viognier at my supermarket- and that went into the freezer as soon as I got home... and into my glass as soon as supper was ready! If that all sounds as good to you as it tasted for me- I will say Santé and Buon Apetít! Enjoy!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Don't change for Dinner- Let the Dinner change for you!

Spaghetti con Zucchine Grattugiate e Pancetta Croccante
Spaghetti with Grated Zucchini and Crispy Bacon

You know, when it comes to food, it really IS all a matter of taste. Some like it hot, some like it not. Some people love the shock of the new, other like the traditional and the comforting. And some people like me... just love to have variety and a healthy mix of old and new- with a little craziness thrown in now and then for good measure!

This is basically a very simple little dish, but presented in 3 different versions. It's amazing how good a simple zucchini can taste- incredible that so many people claim they find them to be bland or tasteless... it all depends what you do with them! The important thing is to try to bring out their natural flavor and sweetness and compliment it. Bacon is great with zucchini (and almost everything else!) and so is nutmeg. So... why not use both?

Ok, let's not beat about the bush... put a mix of half milk, half water on to boil... it will give the spaghetti a nice creamy flavor whilst keeping it light and healthy. Start cooking the spaghetti and get busy with the rest. First of all, put your bacon rashers into a dry Teflon pan and fry until crispy and brown. Remove and drain on some kitchen towel. Add the grated zucchini, some finely chopped garlic and some spring onions to the pan and fry them gently in the rendered bacon fat. Season with a little cayenne, salt and pepper.

If you are of the vegetarian persuasion, you can always skip the bacon and use olive oil... I suppose. But trust me- those little piggies would have wanted it this way!

By now your spaghetti will be finished... drain it, though not too thoroughly and transfer it to the frying pan. Grate generously with nutmeg, stir in well all of the tasty zucchini and allow to simmer for a while. And whilst you are doing that, you can prepare a little tomato and basil pesto...

For the pesto, take a 4-5 cherry tomatoes, 2 good handfuls of basil, a clove of garlic, half a teaspoon of chili flakes, a tablespoon of grated, salted ricotta cheese,some toasted almonds and of course a good olive oil. Pop them into your machine and give them a whiz. Now go and grab 3 dishes because it will be difficult to decide which way to serve this up! Because all 3 combinations are equally delicious!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Mediterranean Bake-Away

Broccoli e Patate al Forno, Gratinate con la Ricotta Salata
Oven-Baked Broccoli and Potato Gratin with Salted Ricotta

It will not surprise you to hear that it was another cold and rainy Summer night in Frankfurt I'm sure. I wish they had told us in May, that Summer was officially over and that we would be having a 6-Month Fall period this year. That would have at least been fair! So here I am in August, making an oven-baked vegetable gratin... had it been warmer and sunnier it would have been an omelette! But even on a gray and dreary day, it turned out to be equally as delicious... and then some!

So I am almost there and have almost emptied out the fridge before my trip this weekend. Tonight I used the last couple of eggs, a couple of stems of broccoli, a couple of small potatoes and whipped them up into this colorful creation. Olives, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh chives and a little salted ricotta added all of the real flavor... as well as some tasty herbs and spices... wanna find out how I did it? Cool! Here we go!

Let's start off by slicing up those little potatoes finely and frying them along with some thinly sliced bacon. A hot, dry frying pan is all you need as the bacon has more than enough fat. In the meantime, trim your broccoli into bite-sized chunks and slice up a couple of sun-dried tomatoes. Sprinkle the potato and bacon with cumin seeds and grate generously with nutmeg. After 3-4 minutes, the bacon should be beginning to go crunchy and the potatoes will also have a little color. And I know you will think I am crazy, but the next thing to do is to add a half a cup of boiling water.this will de-glaze the pan and pick up all of the good bacon flavors. Add the broccoli and allow to boil until the water is evaporated. The water will make sure that everything cooks nicely and infuses everything with the nice, smokey flavor of the bacon. Please don't worry- that bacon, along with everything else is going to crisp-up wonderfully in the oven!

Now beat 2 eggs per person and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Separate the yolks and the whites and prepare them as follows: add a splash of milk and some grated, salted ricotta to the yolks and whisk up the whites until nice and fluffy. Gently fold the egg mix together, so as to not lose the extra body you get from the fluffy egg whites. And now you can start layering your vegetables and egg, ready to bake! I added sun-dried tomatoes and a few black olives, to give a more Mediterranean flavor and a sprinkle of salted ricotta for that Sicilian touch! Mmmm!

So there you have it- another shoe-string meal that is bound to please and that is ready to serve in under 30 minutes! Yet again!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Wolf in Lambs Clothing

Spiedini di Agnello alla Menta su Cuscus Aromatico con Basilico e Pomodorini
Minty Ground Lamb Skewers on Aromatic Couscous with Basil and Cherry Tomatoes

Yes, I am indeed proud of myself over this evenings meal! The last little handful of ground lamb, a scoop of couscous and a few odds and ends and I am continuing on my quest to empty the fridge before I leave! And doing a mighty fine job of it may I add! It really is astounding, even to myself at time, just how little you need to put together a good and satisfying meal. My dad always said that hunger is the most important ingredient in any meal- and he has a valid point! But the most important spice is imagination. Fortunately, I have a great deal of both come suppertime!

For the couscous, I boiled up some chicken broth and poured it over the couscous until it was covered. Whilst it was absorbing the liquid, I quickly chopped a spring onion, a handful of parsley and a handful of cilantro, which I added whilst it was still warm. I also added a teaspoon of turmeric and a half teaspoon of powdered ginger, along with the juice and zest of a lemon. The whole thing was rounded off with a good drizzle of honey and a little grated ginger, then fluffed-up and allowed to cool whilst I prepared the skewers.

The skewers were made of a simple mix of ground lamb, finely chopped shallots, parsley, plenty of mint, nutmeg, coriander powder, a good pinch of cayenne and a little sumac. I added a sprinkle of breadcrumbs, just to help bind the mix a little better. Knead together until you have a nice, compact mix and roll into separate portions that you can skewer and fry in a dry Teflon pan... as usual! There really IS enough fat in there folks- as you will soon see once the heat is on!

The skewers should be ready in 5-6 minutes, which will give you plenty of time to prepare the couscous and sides for serving. I pressed my couscous into a shallow dish to get it in shape and then drizzled it lightly with sesame oil. Around the outside, I had basil, cherry tomatoes and black olives... which as well as looking pretty, combined really well with the couscous later... the mix, together with the lamb skewers is slightly oriental... and very delicious! And all put together in just a few short minutes! Just as you have learned to expect from me! And have I ever let you down yet? Enjoy!