Creamy Mushroom Rice

My creamy mushroom rice, a fabulously comforting one pot dinner.

A casual conversation about the perils of mushroom foraging with a co worker earlier in the month left me with a real craving for the humble fungi. I love mushrooms, and they will soon star as Food Heroes in their own right, but I have to admit I’m too scaredy to attempt picking my own.  I would no doubt get it wrong and end up with a terrible case of toxic intestinal shock and/or dead, not to mention hugely embarrassed. I prefer, for now, to stick to my greengrocers rather than tripping off with an empty basket to a local fungus filled forest.

shrooooooms

The below recipe came forth from a glut of brown mushrooms on the cheap in M&S and a drizzly British summer day making me lean towards the comfort dinner.
For those who wonder, I use paella rice as I am notoriously unsuccessful with incorporating long grain rice into anything other than the kitchen bin. Also, I like the shorter, fatter rices and this dish would work equally well with arborio (risotto) rice too. If you insist on long grain check the fluid levels in the recipe as they may well need adjusting. Enough about the rice.
For similar curiosities, yes that is a tiny amount of chilli you want it there as barely a suggestion of warmth. This is an earthy comfort dish, you don’t want heat in there, ideally you wont even notice it.
Finally, use whatever mushrooms you like. I had a great result here with a mixture of brown/chestnut mushrooms and buttons, but you could use any really, and the more exotic varieties just add to the visual pleasure of a simple dish like this. Try cutting the different types to odd sizes for some texture but don’t go too chunky on your pieces.

Creamy Mushroom Rice

Serves 2

1 medium white onion
2 cloves garlic
1tbsp olive or sunflower oil
1/4 tsp chilli flakes or cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground corriander
300g of your favourite mushrooms
175g paella rice
500ml chicken stock
2 tbsp soft cheese such as philadelphia
Handful of finely chopped chives
6 slices of parma ham

You’ll need a wide pan at least a couple of inches deep with a lid and have your stock made up before you begin. Start off finely chopping the onions and garlic, fry these off in the olive oil with the spices. Cook on a medium heat so the onions become translucent but don’t start to brown. Add in your mushrooms, stirring gently for a couple of minutes- do not cook them completely. 
Now throw in your paella rice and mix well into the other ingredients before adding your stock. Bring to the boil then turn down to a simmer and cover.
Try to leave it alone for the most part- a little jiggle of the pan is more than acceptable but constant lid removal and stirring should be avoided. If you must, check after ten then twenty minutes to check that all the stock hasn’t gone (top up if needs be).
After 25 minutes your rice should be firm but cooked and more or less all of the liquid absorbed.
Take it off the heat and stir in the soft cheese and chives and black pepper to taste. Serve immediately with a little bundle of the parma ham.

Variations: This dish is easily vegetarianised by swapping the chicken stock for vegetable and leaving out the ham. You could instead swap the parma ham for one large, crisp fried portobello. Vegans can ditch the soft cheese for a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to finish, a smoked oil would be really lovely. Chives could be swapped for thyme or parsley as desired. 

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Home Sprouts Part Two: Quinoa

Quinoa. Amino acid rich wonder grain, heralded by healthy living types the world over as the answer to pretty much everything. The only trouble I find, is that it’s kind of a bitch to cook as the window between rock hard and granular mush is very slight indeed.

As a result, I have a load of quinoa in the kitchen on the side just hanging around because I can’t be bothered to cook it badly. Enter my new home sprouting project.  We’ll try that then, quinoa sprouts, worth a go.

I’d like to have lots to write here, but it seems that the gods of complicated grains do not favour me this week. I soaked, I rinsed, I left in temperate climes without direct sunlight.

I returned home each night and awoke each morning, eager to see the little green shoots of emerging life and nutritional gold. There was nothing. Actually that’s not true because throughout the process my little sprouting jar was producing a massive and revolting smell. Something like old spilled beer and pub carpets. Appetizing stuff.

Having remained patient for almost a week and cultivated nothing more than an insidious odour, I have accepted failure on this occasion and abandoned jar.

I am not giving up however and will try again soon, though my next effort is going to be black beans.

But in a related aside, how do you pronounce quinoa?

Food Hero: The Baked Potato

A lovely baked potato. Perfect.

You know, there was a day a very long time ago that I was under the impression that I didn’t like potatoes. Unthinkable, obviously, it turns out I just really don’t like boiled potatoes (sorry Mum). I mean, what a bloody waste of a perfectly good vegetable! Or tuber or complex carb, whatever, your options are plentiful, why just boil it? Roast, chipped, mashed, boulangere, dauphinoise, wedges, skins, skinny fries, bombay, hotpot, love it! Chopped and boiled and that’s it? Non.

If forced to pick a personal favourite way to serve the humble pomme de terre, well I’d struggle, but who doesn’t enjoy a baked potato? I certainly do, and frequently do at that. It covers so many bases. Need a comfort dinner? Baked potato and chilli. Cheap and simple? Baked potato, cheese n beans. Diet friendly? Salad, spud, tuna. It goes with a steak or a sauce, eggs or fish or cheese. Filling, high fibre, lots of vitamin C, and if you cook it right it’s like a hug on a plate. And how do you do that? I mean cook it right, not hug a plate. Well it’s simple enough really, get a grown up size spud, stab it a bit and cook it, you can’t go wrong. Well actually you can, you can go very wrong and that is a tragedy indeed and said tragedy is easily avoided with one careful consideration. Just think about it. Baked. A baked potato does not come from a microwave. A nuked mutliation of a soggy shrunken calorie bundle comes from a microwave. From the oven however, now that’s a different matter.

Oven. Bake. Yes! What microwave?

It’s not hard. About 200 degrees C, about an hour. Prick in a couple of holes in it to avoid explosive tendencies, and let it be until a knife or skewer passes easily into the middle. If you can spare another eight seconds of your precious time, maybe rub a little olive oil and a sprinkling of salt over the skin before it goes in. Then just wait. Think of all the things you can do with that hour! Saintly things like the ironing or ringing your mother or going for a run, all with the perfect excuse not to over do it, because the dinner is on. Or be more self indulgent. Have a bath, watch an episode of whatever guilty pleasure DVD box set you’d never admit to owning, have a trawl through ebay and buy a load of comedy crap you don’t need. Have some you time. It’s only an hour.

Then low and behold, it is there. Crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside, hot and yummy throughout and just begging to be given a bit of butter and plenty of black pepper and enjoyed. Remember those horrid shrivels that used to come out of the microwave? No, neither do I.

Now eat up and shut up, because I’m trying to watch Prison Break.

Home Sprouts Part One: Puy Lentils

Gardening doesn’t really come easily to me, mostly because I don’t have a garden unless you count the sunless patch of communal grass riddled with fag ends and staffy wee at the front of my block of flats. 

In fact any hands on cultivation of that land could well end up in literally green fingers. Ick. So I do what I can inside and have reared a lovely mini lemon tree from a mere pipling (it smells gorgeous but will never bear fruit) but that’s about it. Which is a shame as growing stuff is fun! Then I saw a post on here about about growing one’s own alfalfa sprouts in a jar in the kitchen. I always thought that sprouting was the complex domain of undeodorised vegans with massive special sprouting home thingies and frankly it looked like a bit of a bore. Imagine the surprise that one can grow bean (or legume or seed or whatever) sprouts with just a mutilated jar and some water, and about five minutes twice a day. I’ll have some of that.

Obligatory facts now- sprouts will give you all the goodness of whatever you are sprouting from in a slightly lesser form but are generally low in calories, high in fibre and usually very high in protein relative to their size. You are basically consuming the energy high stage of growth that turns a seed into a proper plant. Eating life, but it’s a plant so you don’t have to feel guilty about it. They are good for you, and if consumed fresh very tasty indeed.

My first batch was to be puy lentils, as I had some in the kitchen at the time I decided I wanted to do this. Following my aforementioned inspirer’s instructions and a little googling, I put a big handful of lentils into the bottom of a large jar, covered them in water then left to soak overnight. In the morning, they were drained, rinsed and returned to the jar. I then stabbed some holes in the jar lid and left it on the side in the kitchen, out of any direct sunlight (not hard in my place). Then that evening, I rinsed them again. The next morning, I rinsed them again. That evening…….yeah, you got it. After 3 days tiny shoots could be seen to emerge, and they grew pretty rapidly from then on, getting to a nice harvesting size after a week. If you don’t want to eat them straight away they can go into a box in the fridge at any point, which will stop them from growing any more and they should keep fresh for another week. If you can wait that long. I couldn’t, and I ate mine this very lunchtime with a salad and I can say they were delicious. Crispy, refreshing and slightly earthy in taste, there was a vague hint of their lentil beginnings but nothing over powering. My only advice would be to avoid the unsprouted one or two in the mix, which were horribly bitter.

Incredibly easy and, I’m sad to say, tragically exciting to come home to after a hard day in the office when they are in the quick growing stage. It’s like magic. Healthy magic you can eat.

Next time, we’re trying quinoa sprouts. Stay tuned.

 

 

thanks to http://www.energiseforlife.com/sprouting_benefits.php for some background reading

 

The Ultimate BBQ Prawns

Chuck another one of those bad boys on the barbie.

It’s great to be a girl during BBQ season. Call it sexist but it’s unarguable- Man Make Fire. Man push around lumps of meat over fire. Woman cut up salads then sit in the sun with gin.

And on this occasion I didn’t even get salad duty, for the win as the cool kids say. Although I would like to surmise falsely that my winning humour made it a special day for my family types, the star of the afternoon had to be Dad’s BBQ prawns but it was a close call between those and some very good pork ribs. But forget the ribs, we’re talking seafood.  Want to make your own? Well you should.

Quantities are tricky for this one as with many marinades I think it’s best to have a little tinker until you find your own perfect blend. The below list should get you started at least.

One bulb of garlic, minced
Fresh ginger, about a 3″ piece, minced
2 or 3 red chillis, fresh and thinly sliced. Seeds in or out to your taste
Juice of one lemon
Pinch of sea salt/ rough rock salt
A good squeeze of maple syrup
A good slug of vodka.
Maybe another slug of vodka. Just in case.

all soaked up and ready to go

Get your prawns, preferably tiger or king prawns, shell on (they should be gutted, which will leave a handy slit down the back) and split into several zip lock plastic bags. You can, if you wish, take some strips of chilli and press these into the cleaned gut cavity across the back of the prawns, to give some concentrated kick to the flesh. Mix together your marinade ingredients as above in no particular order and pour in over your prawns. Seal the bags, refrigerate for several hours, over night if you like but you should jiggle them around once in a while and you MUST keep them cold. Note to the wise, taste your marinade before going on the prawns but not after, that way leads to a day in the loo rather than in the sunshine with some yummy grub.
Cooking time as with any BBQ depends on how hot your fire is and how fat your prawns are- just always cook until the flesh has gone fully opaque which shouldn’t be more than 15 mins on a reasonably hot bbq. All done. How easy was that?

Best served on a big plate in the sunshine with some lovely salads and maybe a rib. And a chicken wing. And some potatoes. And a glass of wine. Maybe another chicken wing too.

Variations: Hardcore gastro-boozers may wish to swap the vodka for whiskey- this would work very well with the lemon and ginger for a more firey result. You could swap the maple syrup for some fresh coriander and lightly bruised lemongrass to go for an overall thai effect and it should work with any seafood, however you cook it. I aim to give it a go on some seared scallops in the near future. Enjoy.

 

Apple & Cinnamon Cakes

Apple and cinnamon cakes. Maybe not so pretty, but super tasty.

There are some combinations in life that you can’t go wrong with. Gin and Tonic. Hot dogs and gherkins. Ben and Jerry. And yes, it’s old school and something of a combo cliché: Apples and Cinnamon. But it’s old school and clichéd because it works! Personally, being one of my favourite spices (top 3 at least) I will put cinnamon in anything from pie to curries, but as well as being all earthy sweet and yummy it is also thought to have blood sugar regulating properties and is high in magnesium, fibre and vitamins C and K. Not bad for a bit of bark. I wont go on about apples being good for you, don’t worry. But they are you know.

So here it is, a reasonably simple cake recipe. I don’t have much more to say on the subject, other than it is was originally bastardised from my mother’s banana cake recipe, born on a day when I just couldn’t be bothered to go to the shops to buy bananas. Works best as cupcakes or small loaf.

Ingredients

4 oz butter
6oz sugar
2 eggs
2 medium sized eating apples (I like braeburns)
8oz plain flour
1tsp cinnamon
1tsp baking powder
1tsp bicarbonate soda
1tbsp milk

First off, cream together your sugar and butter. I believe that a strong armed approach gives the best result for a cake mix, but I also know what it is like to have a life so if you have a blender, go for it.
Next add your eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly but slowly to avoid the mixture splitting.

Grated apples give a lovely, chunky texture to these cakes.

Wash and core your apples, then grate on the roughest setting you have. You can peel them if you like, I don’t tend to though. You could sub this for 3-4 tablespoons of stewed apples or, horrors, a pre-made apple sauce.  Gently stir this into your butter/sugar/eggs mix straight away to avoid curling or discolouration. I’m not a fan of cooking apples and would suggest you use a nice, crisp eating apple like a braeburn or cox. Avoid Granny Smith types.

Now sift together your flour, baking powder and cinnamon and set aside.

magic frothy milk

In a small pan, heat up the milk until just starting to boil. Take off the heat and immediately add the bicarbonate of soda, stirring rapidly. Stand back and make oooh, aaaaah noises as the milk bubbles up into a frothy mess. Now stir this into the wet mix before folding in the dry ingredients.

This quantity will make about a dozen cupcakes or a small loaf, I prefer cupcakes! Either option should cook at 175C (or gas mark 4) check after 15 mins for cupcakes, 20 for a loaf. They should brown up nicely and an inserted skewer will come out clean when they are done. You can eat these more or less straight away if you have no powers of restraint, however I like to let them cool to room temperature then store in an air tight box- they develop a lovely stickiness over night.

Pitt Cue Co. Your new favourite restaurant.

ed March 2016- Pitt Cue has since relocated to the city, check their website for up to date location and booking details.

Being obsessed with the edible is not a rare trait in my family I have to say and more often than not if we are not cooking and eating when we get together, we’re probably talking about it. 

Cue now a conversation with my older brother on the impending 32nd anniversary of my birth, where he suggested a night of ribs and cocktails. Not a combination that immediately comes to mind to anyone but what the hey, he’s been right before so why not? Little place, used to be a pop up restaurant, bloody great ribs. Sold.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Pitt Cue Co, Soho. Blink and you’ll miss it, a pokey looking bar on the corner of Newburgh St. But if you’re in the area just after five on a friday, as I was, you will notice the odd punter hanging around the closed front door. They multiply exponentially, as I discovered shortly after being hurried out of the pub across the way to line up in the rain in the effort of making the first dinner sitting of the night. There are 30 seats in the Pitt Cue Co, and you can’t book any of them. You want in, you wait. Seemed a bit trendy and pretentious to me at the time. We got in the door a little after the official 6pm opening time and were directed to the bar with an anticipated 45 minute wait for a table in the main restaurant downstairs. You can eat from a high shelf along one wall of the bar but given how busy it gets I wouldn’t recommend this.

From the left a Camp America, Maple Sour and New York Sour. Saturday morning headache anyone?

Pitt Cue is simple and American in theme, and it’s fantastically done. The bar offers a ridiculous multitude of whiskies, all bourbons or ryes unless I was mistaken, a bunch of cocktails and a few beers. Wine is available if you absolutely must, but the order of a Friday night waiting for your table has to be one of the listed main cocktails, which go by name only on the menu but bar staff are happy to explain if needs be. The winner for me was the cheekily pink Camp America but I should insist that if you’re going here, and not driving, you should sample a house special- The Pickle Back. This is a two part aperitif consisting of a shot of bourbon, followed immediately by a shot of pickle juice. Yes, pickle juice, as in the juice the gherkins have been sitting in. Sounds wrong. I can’t find the words to tell you how marvellous it is. Have one.

No messing big rib dinner. Nom.

Where whiskey is king upstairs, slow cooked meat is in charge in the snug dining area downstairs, and maddeningly delicious snap shots of it cooking waft up the stairs as the evening goes on so when you get down to your table, you are more than ready to eat. The menu is brief, and it is all meat. Pork or beef ribs and pulled pork always available plus some specials. I say again- it is all meat, sorry veggies!  We were a party of four and between us took in beef ribs, pork ribs, chipotle slaw (spicy!), bone marrow mash (I will be dreaming of this for at least another 2 weeks) and a devilishly good take on deep fried mushrooms. All served in a no nonsense cast iron dish, with a lump of bread for sopping up the uber tasty sauce and some house pickles. It’s not pretty and it’s not cutlery friendly, and you’re likely to be sitting very close to some complete strangers. This might be where the bar time comes in handy by loosening social inhibitions until one feels comfortable to just get stuck in. But you’ll forget any need for manners or wiping the rib sauce off the end of your nose soon enough as the food, although apparently simple, is a wonderful combination of sticky sauce and tender, fall off the bone meat which few other outlets are able to accomplish, without fail, every plate.
It’s an amazing, casual, but perfectly executed dinner. The posh option came for us in dessert, with a choice of a beautiful Pimms based eton mess or a beyond decadent dark chocolate and cherry tart. Both were fantastic, and beautifully presented. Neither lasted very long.

What a dinner, what a venue. Yes, ok fine, maybe it is verging on the too cool side with the no reservations and the pokey bar with the equally pokey cocktails, the limited menu printed on flyers that stick to the spilled whiskey on the chunky wooden tables. It’s an about-town-trendy’s dream, it’s just so fabulous darling! But it is. And such good value too averaging about £12 per plate (but the cocktails will do some damage to your bill). No one there is unhappy about the wait outside in the rain or the elbows they caught in the bar. They all heard about it from a friend and love it so much they will be back next week and they simply have to bring so and so with them. It’s infectious, this new found love of all things Pitt Cue, and after just one visit I am now a full convert.

You must go.

Go on.

Are you still here?