Meat Free Monday #4 - Sweet potato and leek pearl barley risotto with portobello and spinach

Monday, January 25, 2010
Another post-midnight meat free Monday into Tuesday feast chez nous.

The previous Saturday (now writing this 6 days later) we had been cooking for 31 in the midst of a powercut which lasted the whole night from before we got there. Burn out at the local substation. We couldn't even get in through the electric entrance gates when we arrived. One of the guests kindly reversed their car down the long drive and I transferred everything from the van, balancing on the cattlegrid in the van hadlights (don't look down) and into his car. Some 45 minutes later we were ready to cook..... without the electric oven or hob. Luckily there was an aga which I was already well acquainted with (another interesting saga with pigeons in feather and frozen pheasants for 26 guests which they had brought with them for me to cook around 11 months previously). The aga is on permenant go slow. The potatoes which normally cook in 10 - 15 minutes took 1 1/2 hours, and the water for coffee and washing up around 1 hour. If I had not pre-cooked the pheasant before we came out (even the electric oven there only goes up to 180 oC and is quite small for 30 people - and only useful when you have electicity) I am not really sure what time they would have eaten the main course. Front of house of course, everything was perfect - and everyone was really happy ("it was more than I could ever have hoped for - and that was in normal circumstances"). Chocolate fondue went down well too. With all the years of experience we had bewteen us, it was just another challenge - you have to have a sense of humour about these things. Great new trio of fish starters - but couldn't actually find the camera in the candlelight to take a photo - it really was hard to see anything - only found it by accident clearing up around midnight.

That was Saturday (and 3 1/2 hours of Sunday). Then it was a rapid turn-around on Sunday into Monday gearing up for the next party on the Monday night. So by midnight on Monday the only thing I could think of was fast food (above) - sweet potato and leek pearl barley and spelt risotto as I had served on Saturday night (the best one yet - so annoyed I didn't find the camera), and portobello mushrooms and spinach left from Gill's Saturday party. The spelt was accidental - I had picked up the wrong packet from the shelf in haste, but decided to try it anyway, and it worked really well. I used cider instead of white wine in the risotto base, and there was a bit of rosemary mixed in too from the garden - the only herb I could see out there in the dark.

Might get round to the sweet and sour jerualem artichokes later for this week's MFM.

More info on Meat Free Monday here.

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Other Meat Free Monday dishes


The ultimate mac 'n cheese challenge #2- Lobster thermidor macaroni cheese aka Lobster mac

Thursday, January 21, 2010
I don't know if this is the ultimate mac 'n cheese, but it sure is the best one I've ever made!
I came accross the idea for Lobster mac 'n cheese here on Foodista somewhere near the begining of December. Adding lobster to macaroni cheese - what could be better? A couple of weeks after that along came Fiona Beckett's mac 'n cheese challenge. It seemed like the perfect opportunity. But googling for lobster 'n mac pics I couldn't understand why they were all in bowls or ramekins -why had noone used the lobster shell? It just seems more obvious.

The other good thing about shopping in farm shops is the people you meet. I bumped into Suzie from the Overbury Estate back in October at Home Farm, and she told me about their new flour. Back in '05/ '06 the estate were milling some of their wheat in an old hand mill in the manor kitchen. What amazing flour that made - a texture and taste that is impossible to get with massed produced flour. Only problem was it had a short shelf life. If they froze it it would last, but not many people wanted to buy it like that.

Fast forward a few years and Prince Charles opened the new Stanway mill just a few miles away at the end of October last year. The wheat from overbury estate only has to travel about 10 miles to the mill. The flour above comes from that first bag - a sample I was given to try out by Mrs. Bossom of the Overbury Estate just before Christmas when I was cooking for one of their shoot lunches. They were interested to see what I thought, though I was warned that that was the first milling, and the stones are going to take a long time to grind down and be workable. They are working on June at the moment for it to be available. In fact what I had was rather rough, raw product. There was some talk too of the miller working on the gluten content - flour is a technical business these days. Indeed there was quite a bit of bran left which I sieved out (right) and saved to and to my next granola. And the remainder of the flour I am going to use for bread.

The texture of the flour was just a joy. Light and fluffy, but slightly coarser (almost granular) than shop brought flour. There's no doubt which is better. You also get the malty wholemeal flavour too.

200g flour, sifted
2 eggs

And that's it - no water. I went for the authentic version. No salt either - there is enough flavour in the sauce and lobster. You mix it like bread dough. The flour, as it turned out, was rather thirsty, so I added more egg - about another 3/4. and kneaded for a minute or two till smooth and wrapped it in clingfilm and left it to one side.

The difference after 20 minutes was amazing - a complete change from a hard dough to something elastic and pliable. So I ran it through the pasta machine a few times (c. 10 times altogether), folding it over and reducing the gauge. Have to say it was some of the best pasta I had made which I put down to the new flour.

At this point, I should say I got the next tip from here. You cut the pasta sheets into 1.5 x 3cm strips (or there abouts). Then brush the end with water and roll the up with onto a chopstick. Yes - it really is that easy!

After blanching in just off boiling salted water for 3 mins I drained it, transferred it to a clean tea towel to soak up excess water and added the macaroni to the the lobster shell (see below).

Well I was hoping to get a live lobster like this critter. But the snow meant I really didn't want to go up to Cirencester and New Wave specially. All the guests I was cooking for that week were going for meat main courses rather than fish, so I couldn't make a good fish order to be delivered (which I could add the lobster to) so in the end I found a cooked one on the fish counter at the Cheltenham Waitrose (you can always rely on them).

Thermidor sauce
I was just going to make normal cheese sauce when I thought of thermidor - how can you improve on a classic?
One of the parties the week before had been cancelled due to the holiday house being inaccessible (down a long very remote country lane full of snow). So I had this piece of St. Kenelm cheese from Gorsehill Abbey Farm to use. When I was researching local produce when I first started up coming up to 4 years ago I was suprised to find this farm was only a couple of miles away at the other end of the village so I walked over to pick up a few samples and then walked back via Barnfield - well you have to really. It really is amazing what you have on your own doortep without realising.

The St. Kenelm, a hard cheese similar to cheddar, was in this case quite a young version - not too overposwering.

Why you rarely see recipes here is I never measure anything unless its of the dessert/ pastry persuasion - so Ihope these amounts work.

25ml butter
1/8 large onion fine chopped
Glass of white wine (175 ml)
200ml chicken stock
100ml double cream
Small handful grated st. Kenelm
1/2 tsp english mustard

Sweat the onion (could use shallot instead) in the butter till soft. Add wine, stock and cream and bring to the boil. Reduce heat slightly so it doesn't burn and reduce by half. Stir in the mustard and cheese and remove from heat. Season to taste.

Then spoon some sauce on top the pasta. Slice the lobster tail on an angle and place it on top of the pasta. The claw meat goes in the head. Brush a little more sauce over the top of the lobster and glaze with a blow torch (you could use a grill of course). This makes 2 halves - it is quite rich so you probably only need one half each.

Maybe this would be a good dish for Valentine's Day?
Related posts:

Cooking lobsters for lobster mac n cheese June 2010
Truffled macaroni bries

Lobster Macaroni and Cheese on FoodistaLobster Macaroni and Cheese

Mac n cheese challenge #1 - Truffled macaroni bries

Can't resist a play on words me - macaroni bries? I ask you!
Just 3 ingredients - a self saucing mac n' cheese - how easy & luxurious does it get? I really didn't set out to use these luxury ingredients for this mac n'cheese challenge - it just kind of happened.

So what would your luxury be on your desert island be? Mine would be easy. The (self replenishing) cheese counter from a small department store in Knightsbridge called H.A.Rods. Even if under the rules of DID you weren't allowed to have a working electric item, I think just being able to look at it would be enough. Maybe it could be set in formaldehyde?

The joy of working in London was July and August were always relatively quiet as the city workers all went on holiday, so our functions dwindled down to a small ebb, and we were allowed a little taste of real life. Perfectly timed for the BBC proms season. It was just a short(ish) walk (only 2 miles) accross hyde park from Claridges to the Albert Hall. However if you hopped on the tube from Green Park and got off at Knightsbridge rather than South Ken you just had to walk past H.A.Rods on the way.

That was where I first came accross brie de Meaux aux truffes - a whole 3kg brie de Meaux sliced laterally and a whole pile of black truffles stuffed in the middle and put together and matured. How can you say no? So I got 1lb which was supposed to last all week. Well it was supposed to. But, you know, the sun was shining in the park, there were a few hours to the start (and I had a season ticket - so no queueing), I was reading a good book.... and..... well it was just too good to stop.

But I have never found anything similar since. Last year I found one 'brie with truffles' in a local cheese shop but it was like this one - looks nice, but it really hasn't got the intense flavour. But then I realised - why not just make my own?

I had had the tuffles for a while maturing away - and the organic St. Eadburgh (the Gorsehill Abbey Farm version of camembert) was the ideal cheese, I just needed an excuse to make it.
As I was thinking over Fiona Beckett's mac n' cheese challenge in December I couldn't help thinking how macaroni cheese sounds like macaroni bries (or breeze too - now there's an idea). Also I'd been meaning to try out Jan's baked camembert since the previous Feb (I'd even saved the Oxford Isis box - but it didn't fit). Why not fit all three ideas together in one?

Unlike the pasta I made for the lobster mac, I cheated and used dried for this one. After the layer of truffle and macaroni I put the other half on top and let it mature in the fridge for 3 days.

Last Sunday (17 Jan) was finally our Christmas lunch (postponed from the Sunday before due to the white sutff) - mini Christmas we call it. As I drove over to Broadway with this macaroni brie in the passenger seat I did wonder whether it was a little far fetched. But then you have to try everything once! I thought it would be nice for everyone else to try at least.

I baked it in the oven c. 10 mins @150 oC. and let it cool slightly before serving with a few biscuits to dunk in like you do with a fondue.
The verdict? Cheesy heaven. It may work better on it's own though - as in for a Saturday lunch/brunch. I polished off the remainder later that evening with toasted ciabatta to dip in - felt like Christmas all over again.

Related posts:

Lobster thermidor macaroni cheese


Meat Free Monday #3 - Beluga lentil curry with coriander yogurt

Monday, January 18, 2010
Does meat free monday still count after midnight? [Writing this now at 01:45] Hope so. Well it's still Monday somewhere anyway.
Hadn't heard of beluga lentils till Johanna's post last November. When I read the title I was expecting something quite different rather than lentils. They are however really good. Found some in the local Waitrose last week and had to try them.

A rare night off tonight. Arabian Nights at the RSC (lucky we're so close), hence the midnight (well 1am really) feast.

When I tweeted earlier for ideas with lentils @EyesBigger suggested 'curried lentil stew with greek yogurt'. Great idea.

I suppose I did something very like this recipe but with celery & carrots as well, and without the cream. I also delved into my spice collection and added fenugreek seeds, cumin, cayenne, turmeric, garam masala etc. And fresh coriander at the end.

I mixed some of the coriander in the yogurt too which went on top. And as I had some pumpkin seeds out they went on top too.

The china is really designed for outdoors in the summer. Hovering around zero degrees outside at the moment so I thought eating inside might be a better idea instead......
Lentils & poached egg will have to wait till next time.

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Meat Free Monday #2 - Egg and Chips

Monday, January 11, 2010
When I first thought of doing Meat Free Mondays I was worried if there wouldn't be enough new things to try. Now I'm worried there aren't enough Mondays in the week.
Making mini cheesecakes in muffin cases was a revelation last year. Eaten fresh from the oven, frittata can be one of the best things. I thought making frittata in the same way - in muffins cases - would be another great buffet idea. Sure enough try googling it and you get some pretty tasty versions. Here's another.

Still going through a butternut squash phase, so the frittata was:
4 eggs
(some) Milk
Ground nutmeg, s & p
Cooked spinach
Roasted butternut squash
Grated cheddar
Whole grain mustard

You also need Marg's tip of spraying the muffin cases with oil, or brushing them with oil if you don't have a spray. Stops the contents sticking to the case.

And the chips? Parnsip chips roasted in a little olive oil, having cut out the tough middle core with pesto mayo for dipping.

Related Posts:

Other Meat Free Mondays

Meat free Monday #1 - Roasted butternut squash with pearl barley risotto, baby beets and coriander puree

Monday, January 04, 2010
Made any new years resolutions? I'm realistisic and only make one or two. That way you're more likely to stick to them and move forwards. Like meat free Monday. Saw the concept in a few blogs last year. After a little reminder here just before new year, I thought why not try it. For a whole year.

After 35 days of busyness from the end of November up to last Saturday night, this morning I was hitting the carbs again gearing up for the next round. Having a personal breakfast chef is something I would reccommend to anyone. Mine (my dad, who's been helping over new year) cooked up mushroom omlette and fondant potato this morning. Definitely a good start to the new week.

Lunch was tomato soup (left from children's meal on NY eve) with sweetcorn fritter (left from Saturday night).

Tonight having a (raw) butternut squash left from NYE also I thought I'd try this. I like the idea of an edible bowl - like the fennel and apple bread bowls I made for the mussells a few weeks ago. Some people may tire of peeling squash - there are some great tips here if that is the case. When it comes to cooking for myself, it has to be said that I too like it to be as quick as possible as there's always so much else to do. So why not cook the squash in it's skin without peeling it? I cut the top part off and kept it to use for something else, and just scooped out the middle with an ice cream scoop. I'm pretty sure I remember a Jamie Oliver version like this, where it was halved, filled and tied back together with string to roast.... but maybe I'm wrong. This is an even quicker version at least.

I sat it on a few bay leaves (frosty ones picked outside my kitchen door) and drizzled on a little olive oil & scaterring of thyme, s & p, and roasted it (the oven heat helping to defrost the inside of my house).

When it was semi soft I took out the sprig of thyme in the middle and added the risotto (pearl barley risotto base, mixed with roasted vegetables, coriander, parmesan, white wine, wild rice, toasted pinenuts, chickpeas, clotted cream [marscapone had run out] and lemon juice). As I had all these ingredients around in the fridge I mixed them cold. As the squash roasts a bit longer the risotto in the middle heats through and blends together - a rather rustic version which is fine if you're just cooking at home for yourselves. If I was serving this to guests I would add the risotto in warm after the squash was completely cooked.

Don't throw the seeds away either. I keep meaning to save some to try germinating them and growing my own butternut squash (easy to do this with chillis too), but I like roasting them too. Nice to add when you're making granola, or to sprinkle over roasted butternut squash, or just to nibble on while you're busy in the kitchen....

The advantage of using pearl barley rather than risotto rice for this is it holds it shape where as risotto rice reaches a critical point and once past can become a puree - not so good. It also has a much higher fibre content ( 2 1/2 times the amount to white rice) which has obvious health benefits.

Eat with a spoon and fork so you can scoop out the roasted squash from the skin - it's comfort food after all.....

Roasted squash like this makes a good soup bowl too.
P.S. There's other posts to come from Christmas & new year, but they'll have to wait a while - so much else to do.