Sunday, 30 November 2014

Small Wonder!

Carciofini a Brodo Vegetale con Orzo Perlato, Menta & Limone
Baby Artichokes & Pearl Barley in Vegetable Broth with Mint & Lemon


Little artichokes, little effort- lot's of flavor! That's my kind of meal on a cold and dreary evening- good, healthy and sensible food, still cool and different and interesting.

I could have prepared this with rice of course and turned it into a creamy and delicious risotto... but that would have meant butter and cheese and calories... but much more irritating than that- standing at the stove and stirring for 45 minutes! Which normally is indeed a joy... except tonight I was not really feeling well and this was the perfect solution. All of the yumminess, less of the calories and less of the work involved... yay!

 It still needed a little prep-work with the artichokes- and it still needed between 45 and 60 minutes of simmering, but I was able to sit back and relax whilst that was happening. And sometimes in Winter- you need to have that kind of dish!


For 2 bowls I needed 2 baby artichokes, 1 shallot, a little lemon zest, a little fresh mint and parsley, some vegetable broth and 2 cups of pearl barley. Like I said- it didn't take much in the way of ingredients! But it tasted sooo rich and delicious all the same!


And before you begin to worry too much... I DID eat mine from a larger bowl than this! I just wanted to offer you good people the prettiest pictures I could- not to starve!


The simple prep-work began with topping and tailing the artichokes, cutting away 2/3rds of the leaves at least... which seems wasteful- but they ARE inedible! I then cut the artichokes into this slices, which made it really easy to remove the "choke" with 2 simple cuts, which let it fall straight out in a net, triangular section.

I also cut a couple of strips of lemon zest and finely chopped them, chopped up the stalks of the parsley, finely sliced the shallot- and put my pan onto the heat with a little of olive oil in it, ready to get started.


I fried the artichoke slices, shallot and parsley stems for 2-3 minutes, then added the pearl barley, which I stirred in and stir-fried until it had absorbed every last drop of oil.


I then added the hot, light vegetable broth, until everything was well covered, added a small handful of chopped mint, a good pinch of lemon zest and then let it gently bubble away for around half an hour.


After 30, I took a look to see if it needed any more broth adding, stirred it through, returned the lid and let it carry on gently simmering away.

Mine took around 50 minutes in all to get to the point that the barley was doubled in size, tender and chewy and delicious. Make sure that you have plenty of broth in there- add some, or simply some water, if you notice it drying up too much during cooking- this should be like a thick and creamy soup.

I added a last bit of finely chopped parsley and lemon zest- and then grabbed my bowl and got ready to enjoy!


Freshly ground pepper, a dash of olive oil and be ready to swoon after your first spoonful- and yes... make sure to choose a bigger bowl! You're going to like this!


Of course the vegetable broth brings plenty of flavor- but the artichokes give such a very strong flavor of their own that it's amazing! Add lemon and mint into the equation and you have a perfect Southern Italian- or Sicilian combination!


Simple- elegant, delicious... perfect!

Christmas Cookies, Reloaded

Fritelle di Spekulatius & Mandorle con Confettura di Mirtilli Americane
"Spekulatius" & Almond Pancakes with Cranberry Jam


It's Christmas Time- and there's no need to be afraid... isn't that the way the song goes? And indeed, there's no need to be afraid of letting good food go to waste as long as you stay responsible- and it can be something really wonderful that comes out of it too!

Seriously, there are so many people who have so little compared to us, that we would do well to stop and think for a minute occasionally, especially at the time of year where people love to be decadent. Or do these look anything less than delicious to you?


You will indeed be surprised when you see how simple these were to make and how little it did to do so. Those cookies that have turned stale and begun to go soft? Thank goodness that through the ages, smart housewives, mothers and of course fathers, have invented many dishes to make use of them.

My mother used to layer them with a simple custard and then slice it up once it was set- I am sure you are all familiar with some such dish or other.

Because if you are the kind of person that would throw them out- shame on you!


To make 4 little pancakes, I needed 8 "Spekulatius", which are German, spiced cookies that we get here at Christmas time- gingerbread would be a good alternative. 1 egg, 4 tablespoons of plain yogurt, a good handful of slivered almonds... and that's it! A couple of teaspoons of jam on top- I used cranberry- and you have something really decadent and delicious made from those cookies you were about to trash for being past their prime... hah!


The transformation that takes place when you turn the Spekulatius into a batter is pretty amazing... think of a freshly baked, firm yet fluffy gingerbread. Now hold that thought. And grab your frying pan! Because you KNOW you want to try this!

Yes they are simple, yes they are small, yes they are delicious. Anything else you might need to know about these? Huh? Good! Now... back to how to make them!


Simply crumble up the cookies and add the egg and the 4 tablespoons of yogurt to them. Remember- you will always have better results if you use whisk that looks like a chick. Every good cook knows that...


Give them a good stir together and soon enough the cookies will dissolve into the egg and yogurt, leaving you with a nice, shiny batter. Time to add the almonds and grab your frying pan... that was it! All the hard work is done!


Spoon the batter into a lightly buttered pan and let them sizzle away at a moderate heat for a couple of minutes, until the edges begin to look a little drier than the rest- then they will be safe to flip over.


A couple more minutes from the other side and there you are! All done- all finished- all delicious! And all for you!


The powdered sugar is there, purely for decorative purposes... but the jam? Oh- that is a must! the perfect combination!

One last thing... I have just realized I still have some more of those cookies in the kitchen... I'll be back in a while- hehe!

Saturday, 29 November 2014

My Star Roll

Involtino di Maiale, Senape, Mela & Rosmarino con Cavolo a Punto al Ginepro & Gin & Patate
Pork, Mustard, Rosemary & Apple Roll with Gin & Juniper, Pointed Cabbage & Potatoes


As you can see, I decided to treat myself a little this evening- and it was a lot less work than it looks- trust me! Which made it all the better of course!

Nothing too extravagant, nothing too exclusive, but the result a veritable feast- because as nice as it may be to spend lots of money (if you have it- which I don't!!) on exclusive and expensive ingredients... at the end of the day, it is the flavors and the combinations thereof that will make your food special... or not. And it is never a question of expense to get flavor into your food...


One little apple, one sprig of rosemary, 3 juniper berries, a shallot, a bay leaf and a shot of gin were the main flavor-givers in this meal and that is about as frugal... nay, CHEAP as you can get. But boy do they do a good job together!


One of the stars of the show here was the pointed cabbage, which I fear may only be available here in Germany, for all of you good people spread out in the rest of the world- and it is So lovely and mild and delicious- sigh! So, failing this, an alternative would be Savoy cabbage I guess.

So as you can see, this was a very small one... but that's ok! I'm not exactly huge myself... yet! Haha.

But seriously, back to what you would need to make this, per person: 1 slice of lean pork shoulder, 1 small apple, 1 tablespoon of mustard, 1 shallot, 2-3 juniper berries, 1 bay leaf, 1 shot of gin, a little fresh rosemary and a couple of potatoes on the side.

This is about as close as I will get to making something that seems a little festive this year, living on my lonesome and all. But that is one of the main reasons that I made it... just to show that is needn't be a stressful or complicated affair to make something like this. I was finished in less than 45 minutes... and I had a little gin and tonic whilst preparing it- so none of it seemed like work at all!


Nothing, but nothing goes better with pork than apple... well, except for mustard maybe! And especially if it happened to be a fig-infused mustard like this one was. Like I already mentioned- you don't need a lot of money to get the flavor in there and with aromatics like these, they will be flavors that everyone will enjoy.


For the pork rolls, I began by flattening the meat- as you can see, I used a little rolling pin, but a hammer, or even just the base of a glass works fine too- just don't overdo it! Instead, what I chose to do was to make lots of little cuts into the meat, across the grain, using a very sharp knife.

I then spread the meat generously with mustard, seasoned it with salt and pepper and scattered it with finely chopped rosemary.


Next came some fresh apple, which I simply grated on top- peel and all- it's all good!


And then the meat was finished and flavored and ready to roll... literally!


I held mine together using 2 metal clips, but you can ties or skewer your rolls- no need to fuss- or to worry about the filling escaping- that's not a problem in this dish.


Sear the pork roll from each side in a little butter, together with some fresh rosemary- this will give you a good, aromatic base to start developing a sauce from.


Next, add half of the shallot, very finely chopped and the rest of the apple, grated and including the juice, Add salt and pepper, a splash of white wine and let it simmer away whilst you take care of the cabbage.

At this point you can also start boiling the potatoes as you are now only 20 minutes or so away from serving... oh- and pour yourself a gin and tonic if you like! I did!

For the cabbage, you will need to simply slice it as thinly as you can, to bang 2-3 juniper berries with a rolling pin and to finely chop the other half of the shallot... and to heat up a pat of butter in a frying pan...


Add the juniper berries and the shallot first, to get the butter nice and aromatic- the berries soon re-hydrate and become really soft as you can see.


Add the cabbage, give it a stir and a toss, sprinkle with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar... and after 3-4 minutes- add that shot of gin!

Place on the lid. turn down the heat and let it steam away for 5 minutes or so. At the same time, turn over the pork roll and check the potatoes... they should nearly be ready too!


The cabbage should be perfect after 10 minutes- soft and sweet and delicious, the clips or thread can be removed from the pork roll... and all you need to do is to add a pat of butter, a pinch of salt and a little finely chopped rosemary to the potatoes before serving!

And as you can see- the result is well worth that little bit of effort... because it tasted every bit as wonderful as it looks! Buon appetito my friends- I hope you try this out some time!

Friday, 28 November 2014

Pizza del Sud

Pizza in Padella con Melanzane, Salami di Cavallo, Pomodorini & Ricotta Salata
Frying Pan Pizza with Eggplant, Horse Salami, Cherry Tomatoes & Salted Ricotta


It was an "it's Friday- time to use up all of those left-overs" kind of affair when it came to suppertime tonight... so I was thankful to have a roll of pizza- dough in the fridge to lay them out on!

I had eggplant left from the other night and some of that delicious (whether you approve or not!) horse-meat salami... and I aimed to make the most of them! And what better way to do so than this?


I love making these pizza-in-a-frying-pan creations! There's no better was to get a crispy, perfect base and crust every time in a regular oven, or to get a quicker and easier, good result! Oh, sure, you can use those pizza stones and other mullarky, which are basically a whole lot more time and energy and trouble than they are actually worth... do it my way once and you will never make your pizza another way again- word!


So, here you have them- my ingredients laid out for all to see! 1/2 of an eggplant, 6-7 cherry tomatoes, 1 shallot, 2-4" of salami, a handful of basil leaves, a little fresh thyme and some salted ricotta cheese for grating... and of course that supermarket pizza base! I wanted to make myself a snack-dinner- not win a Nobel prize for pizza-making!


You know, for a quick half-hour fix, this was not a bad deal! For sure it was better than any carry-out or home delivery pizza... and a whole lot more alternative and special in the topping! Where else would you get so much of the taste of the South of Italy on a pizza- other than in the South of Italy, eh? Ha! Try beating THAT argument!


I peeled and cut the eggplant into strips, sliced the salami, shallot and cherry tomatoes finely and then cut 3-4 of the slices of salami into a fine dice- that's all I needed to get things started in the frying pan and in the meantime, I turned on the oven on the highest setting to get it nice and hot and ready for action!


Step one was to fry the eggplant strips, together with the shallot and the finely chopped salami, for 4-5 minutes, until it became nice and soft and was just beginning to brown. I then set it to one side and allowed it and the pan to cool down.

In the meantime, I cut my pizza base to size to fit the frying pan- and as soon as it was cool enough, in went the pizza base, straight back into the same pan... and on went the topping!


I laid out the basil leaves first, then set the salami and eggplant out nicely and evenly space, and then the tomato slices in-between the gaps. I sprinkled the tomatoes with the fresh thyme and seasoned everything nicely with pepper- no salt, as the salami and the ricotta are both very salty in them selves. And yes, the ricotta was grated onto the top as the finishing touch... and plenty of it! Before getting the party started though, I folded over the edges of the base to give it a thicker and crisper crust... one of my favorite things about pizza after all!


Onto the stove-top it went, on the highest setting, for just 2-3 minutes, until the base became firm and came unstuck from the frying-pan all by itself. At that point, it went into the oven on the top shelf, at the top setting for 10-15 minutes, until the crust was golden brown, the salami and ricotta had become crispy and delicious and the tomatoes had soaked-up the flavor of the ricotta and thyme... yum!


Juicy eggplant and tomatoes along with salty ricotta and salami- combined with basil and thyme and set on a crispy dough base... what's not to love about that?


Crispy, savory- and yes indeed, delicious! this is not one of those oozy-cheesy pizzas, which you know I don't like anyway... but it is really rich and flavorful- which you know that I DO like!


See how the shallot has become caramelized and crispy? THAT'S what I love about this! And together with the basil and thyme to accent the other flavors... I am pretty sure you will love it too!