Posts tagged ‘Quick’

December 6, 2013

Bimba’s first stew

Here I am. Me trying to find space again, words again, after all in my life has changed.

So the last year and a half I have been busy making a baby. Growing it, battling the hormons that made all the enjoyment related to food disappear for months, fighting tiredness and worry, and then, after Bimba arrived,  trying to survive months of sleep deprivation. Food is yet another chore more often than not, and I do feel grateful for ready meals and not having to cook for the first time in my life.

It is hard work, and it is fun. In a way. At least, I think this is how I’ll remember it a few years down the line.

But now Bimba is discovering food other than eating me. I did manage to cook a couple of times and I have a couple of new recipes I want to write, but Bimba has not tasted them yet. I will post them here, and she will taste them, in due time.

I have already forgotten what her first taste of food was, probably an apple, maybe a peach. So I need to start recording, because I don’t want to lose it all. A few days ago I made her a beef stew. Experiments so far with meat had not been too successful: meatballs are too dry, ragu is difficult to swallow somehow, though she loves the taste. She gums a piece of chicken happily enough though. I put a pile of chunks of carrots and meat in front of her, and a little pot with the sauce to spoon, which I thought was out of reach. She grabbed the pot immediately and it landed on the floor. With the open side up and most of the sauce still in. I could not believe my beginner’s luck.

She then grabbed a chunk of meat with her tiny, greedy hands. She sucked it with that puzzled expression she always has when she tastes something new, then dropped it on the floor. She immediately went for more. She is a little cave man at the moment, crazy about proteins, meat and fish and yogurt. Pasta and potatoes are seen as useless plastic, more or less. She loves vegetables though and she loved the sauce of the stew, flavoured with her current favourites, bell pepper and tomato. We liked it as well, after adding a bit of salt. I loved that I would not have cooked it were it not for her.

Almost forgot: when I eventually sat down to eat that evening, much later, while I was telling Bimba’s dad how much she loved her stew, I finally raised my eyes. The walls and ceiling were covered in sauce splatters. Messy, happy times.

Today I took a break from being a mum and used some of the time to write this post, and some to make her some salt free pitta bread. I love doing things for her in my own me-time.

Bimba’s first stew

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 onions, yellow

2 carrots

2 red bell peppers

500 g stewing beef (it was chunk steak), cut in large strips

1/2 tablespoon smoked sweet paprika

1 bay leaf

1 can of peeled tomatoes

tiny hint of ground black pepper

Cut the onions in wedges and the carrots in chunks of unequal shape. Cut also the bell peppers in wedges. Heat the oil in a pressure cooker. Brown the meat, then add the chunks of vegetables. Brown for a few more minutes, then add the bay leaf, the tomatoes, paprika and pepper. Add some more water, close the pressure cooker and cook for about 30-45 minutes until the meat is tender but not completely melted (if you want the baby to be able to grab it). Let any excess water evaporate over high heat until you have a nice thick sauce with chunks of soft vegetables in it. It tastes better the day after.

June 21, 2012

The smell of curry leaves

Stir -fried Chettinad Chicken

It’s been utterly quiet around here lately.  At some point, I just stopped thinking about food all the time. My mind was somewhere else.

Five – no wait! six? -  years ago I made a career choice. I moved away from what I wanted to do when I was a child, because it was not quite how I thought it was going to be, and I could not cope with the differences. Besides, pursuing that career would mean no decent job for a few years at least. I took up another job, a job that was any job but that, because I didn’t want to have to deal with it ever again. It felt too painful.

March 20, 2012

The first day of spring

Spring greens in red pepper paste

There is something magical in solstices and equinoxes. They stir ancestral, deep resonances inside me. I always forget equinox days though: they are not obviously bright or gloomy like the peaks of summer and winter. But this year I wanted to celebrate. This Saturday I planted a few handful of seeds in my garden. It’s going to be a struggle with the snails – and they’ll win as I well know, but I’ll try at least.

This quiet, unassuming recipe comes from the second Riverford cookbook; actually it is from a recipe by Madhur Jaffrey, as reported in their introduction.  I expected it to be an everyday recipe, and it is: easy and quick. But it tasted so good I know I’m going to learn the recipe for this paste by heart. The problem with spice pastes is that if they are not in your DNA – and they definitely are not in mine – you have to read a recipe for them. No matter if it takes ten minutes in the end, I find I have to rummage through my overcrowded spice cabinet for a good half an hour, going back and forth to the recipe measuring, toasting, getting it wrong.. It is just not obvious to me what needs to be roasted, what needs to go in last, what needs to be ground, what can be left whole, although I am developing a feel for it. I have no such doubts when cooking a European recipe, even a more involved one. I read it once and I normally don’t even need to look at it again. So during week time, when I’m busier, I rarely venture into spice-hunting mode. Now, this recipe is not spiced, although it is hot, but it tastes as if it is. It is grown up and complex, and makes spring greens, a vegetable I find a bit perplexing (should I think about it like a mild cabbage? Or rather, a cabbage-y chard? Or rather, a sweet kale? ), find their right place in the world. Of course you could use the paste for something else, and I most definitely will.

Spring greens

Spring Greens with Red Pepper

from Everyday & Sunday Recipes from Riverford Farm

Ingredients:

1/2 red pepper

1/2 red onion

1 garlic clove

3-4 drops fish sauce (they call for blachan, but I didn’t have any)

1 red chilli, deseeded

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2-3 heads of spring greens,  chopped

1 teaspoon sugar

squeeze of lemon

salt

Method:

clean and chop onion, pepper, garlic and chilli. Whizz in a food processor with a bit of water to a rough paste. Add a little splash of fish sauce. Heat the oil in  a wide pan. Stir in the paste, and cook for a few minutes, stirring, until fragrant – about 5 mins. Add in the spring greens, some salt, stir, cover until wilted. Add a bit more water if needed. Let cook for about ten minutes until the greens are tender. Adjust salt and serve, hot or cold.

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February 27, 2012

Soup again: a twist on vichyssoise

Vichyssoise

I found this gem of a recipe in the most unlikely location. As much as I love shopping for food,  I am not a big fan of supermarkets: I don’t like being in an overcrowded, artificially lighted environment for long, if I can avoid it.  They are convenient though, so a trip there now and again is almost inevitable. One of the most annoying features are those piles of products on offer, luring you into buying, buying, buying.

A ready-made soup from  the New Covent Garden Soup brand caught my eye: the flavour combinations looked quite inviting. I did not buy any however, for fear of being disappointed, once more, by a nice packaging and some clever marketing. I have not tried their soups to date, so I can’t judge their products. But when I stumbled upon a cookbook published by them, entirely devoted to soups, I could not resist having a good look at it. And indeed, although the editorial form is nothing short of irritating (no ingredients index, a “hand-written” font that is almost impossible to read on the dark green background), there are many recipes worth trying in this little book. I started by recreating the lentil, tomato and coriander soup that had caught my eye. It is a very simple soup, with no other ingredients than the named ones, plus a sautéed onion, a bit of cumin, coriander and pepper: it tastes rich and satisfying, it can be made with products probably already sitting in your pantry, and it comes together with five minutes’ active time.

February 9, 2012

Sweet and sour chilli sauce

chilli sauce

 

I should have told you about this first. I wanted you to have plenty of time before the Seville orange season is over to enjoy this sauce. But life goes on, and the days are short and the time to take pictures is even more compressed with these gloomy winter days, and my harissa was mouldy and I could not find it new nor had I time to make some. Whiny me.

Whining apart, I hope you have some time left, or you let me know how it turns out with oranges and limes, or other souring agents. I will stick to my favourite ingredient for this period of winter. Bitter or Seville oranges are a rare find in Italy. When we did find some, we’d always make Vin d’Orange, the most elegant and sophisticated drink ever. Very boozy too: all too easy to drink too much of it in the first warm days of spring, maybe on the first barbecue of the season.

Here Sevilles are plenty and cheap: all greengrocers stock them and they’d invariably warn me that I have picked up marmalade, not normal oranges. I buy loads of them, although I have never made marmalade with them. I make sorbet, curd, and a variety of orange flavoured cakes. I soon found out that Sevilles are brilliant in savoury food as well: wherever you’d use lemon or vinegar, roughly. Which is more or less everywhere for me.

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February 5, 2012

Nutella day: pear and Nutella mini-pies

Nutella pear pie

World Nutella day found me unprepared this year. I’m in a period when my relationship with food is changing. I feel a need to become lighter and less cluttered in general, and part of it is reflecting in the way I eat. I have started again some physical activity, and although I am quite limited by my ongoing knee problems, I have recovered all of my addiction to moving. I finally feel my body becoming more compact, more flexible, the way I am used to feeling it. In this picture I just don’t crave unhealthy food that much. But everything in moderation, including moderation. It is World Nutella Day after all, and such occasion should not go unnoticed.

January 20, 2012

Pasta with cannellini and mussels

Pasta con cannellini e cozze

An alternative and popular technique for cooking pasta is to cook it as if it were a risotto, adding water a little at a time. It  does require slightly more attention than the normal method, and certainly cannot be applied to all sauces, but it is more convenient for an easy weekday dinner, since it really is a one pot meal. It is all the more surprising that I never used it while I was living at home with my parents, and only started when my partner told me of his favourite way of making pasta with chickpeas.

The technique works particularly well for two categories of sauces: seafood sauces, where the starch in pasta actually binds an otherwise too thin sauce, and legume-based pasta, and I make all of them like this now . It is a bit like making a pasta e fagioli, but with less water so you can eat the end result with a fork. It is  particularly forgiving, since you don’t have to stir that much, provided the food does not stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.

November 10, 2011

Italian fast food: linguine with mussels

Linguine with mussels

It is easy to overlook things I am  used to. I don’t think much of them, I have always done them in this way, and I take them for granted. A wrong attitude surely, and particularly undeserved when it is directed to Italian classics. I always have some ace up my sleeve, that makes it easier to  smile and invite someone over for dinner, even if it is late in the evening and I have prepared nothing, or to resist to another greasy takeaway, considering that more or less with the same time and effort I can have a plate of home cooked food ready at the table.

The secret to all of this is pasta. You probably already know that, given the popularity of events such as Presto Pasta Nights. It is all too easy to turn pasta into one ‘piatto unico’, a little feast that will leave everyone with a happy belly and a smile on their face. I have a few recipes I always resort to, and this is one of my favourites. It is easy to tweak and twist, but complication is not really required, and actually, it should probably be discouraged here.

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August 4, 2011

100th post: scones, and the next move

Brown butter scones

All this time I’ve been missing the sea, its smell, the way it reflects light. Some people tell you that if you are born by the sea, you can’t do without it. I wasn’t born by it, but I belong to the sea anyway, never had a doubt about it. I am a different person when I am close to the sea.

One of my last days in Wales I took a break from packing and went to a yoga class with my bike. As I was cycling back home, I stopped. I took that ride almost every day, apart from the darkest part of winter, to go to work. It went from my house down the hill, then  it ran through the heart of the forest. I’d check for mushrooms in autumn and bluebells in spring. The path then continued by the sea, between the city centre and the beach, until the office, some 3-4 miles further down. I had gorgeous summer days on that path. I had harsh days as well: when there had been a tempest the night before it would be covered with a thick layer of sand. With high tide some sprays would hit me. By the time I came to the office my heart was beating fast and I felt alive. I developed an addiction to weather forecast – I checked the excellent met office ones trying to guess if I was to have half an hour window without too much rain, or whether the wind gusts would just be too strong. Wind is the worst enemy when cycling by the sea, it can literally stop you if you are going against it. I learned not to mind rain that much, on the other hand. Like my landlord once said, while trying to unblock a pipe in our garden under a torrential rain: “It’s just water”. It is.

July 26, 2011

Nibbling roasted chickpeas

Roasted chickpeas

Summer is gone astray here. It rains and rains and rains. There are no chances to enjoy my favourite activities at home, which are two. I have a shared garden that nobody else uses, where we can have barbecues. We had no opportunity for a barbecue since last month. And then, I have a terrace above my head. I rarely go there, surely not in winter when it is covered with snow. But the views are great and it faces west, so sitting there in the evening with one of the excellent German beers and something to nibble on is a great way to unwind after a working day. There are a couple of challenges involved though:  making sure the bare wood on the floor is not wet or humid, which requires this rain to stop for at least a couple of days; trying to convince the cats not to jump down from the roof; and managing to climb the very steep ladder down even after a beer. Which makes the snacking part vital. The food must be easy to carry (you need at least one hand to climb up that ladder, so one trip for the beer and one for the snack), it must be tasty, it must be healthy because I can’t keep on putting on weight, and then you have to have some dinner, right?

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