Archive for the 'Winter' Category

A RECIPE: Wintry red wine lentils

wintry red wine lentils

These lentils have become a firm resident in my fridge at home. I make a big batch up at the weekend enjoy the aromas of bacon rosemary and red wine wafting around as I potter about the apartment; satisfied that a week of good meals awaits. Not only do I love this way to cook lentils but I have started somewhat of a love affair with these little pebbles and even Don seems relatively content despite the lack of a big steak or chop on the table. It starts with the smell of pancetta filling the air as it renders it’s fat. Then the holy trinity of carrot, onion and celery meddles in the mix- that homely smell that always leads to random visitors peeking into the kitchen and then an enthusiastic glug of red wine a spoonful of dijon and a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme carry the party through until the lentils are satiated. You may find it hard to believe that it’s not a beef stew simmering on the stove.

I confess, it was only recently when I,  post-run and collapsed on the sofa, that I was lazily grazing my eyes through Nigella’s Feast cookbook that I thought to cook them. This was one part curiosity, one part already having all of the ingredients and one part knowing that I wouldn’t have to leave the sofa and stand on my aching legs for very long. That’s the irony of all this running- I spend half my day Saturday running and the other half unable to move. Talk about balance.

I always knew that I liked lentils- the way they could absorb flavours, the fact that they could be saucey or dry and the way that they comfortingly fill a hungry belly. I’d always been happy to order lentils off the menu, and there was that one lentil salad recipe that I made back in cooking school that still lingers in the back of my head itching for recreation; but I’ve never actually hunted down the recipe. I guess they just never screamed make me as loud as rib roasts and chocolate cakes do. Now all they do is scream.

Lentils are far from the timely, cancel your weekend plans and plan far ahead category that I had previously placed them in. In fact lentils arrive in a whole different category of cooking and one that I assure you is quite pleasant and not half as time consuming as one would think. The beauty of this recipe is that it can either serve as the base for a more complex meal or you can eat them as they are. I’ve turned them into soup by adding extra broth and blending half of them, I’ve made salads with roasted sweet potato and feta, stirred through caramelised onions and walnuts- you get the idea.  But be warned once you start making them- they won’t stop screaming.

Continue reading ‘A RECIPE: Wintry red wine lentils’

A BIG Family Christmas

With a family as big as mine, Christmas remains a far cry away from a quiet little retreat in the country. And on the years when we don’t all manage to fly our carbon fueled feet half way around the globe to meet up, it all feels a bit too quiet.  For one thing, when there are twenty-one family members- including three teenage boys (plus another six men who eat as if they still were), there’s a impressive amount of time, planning and stamina that goes into feeding them throughout the week of Christmas. With several birthdays to celebrate, big family Christmas’s always resemble my first week at University, complete with freshers flu at the end.

I grumbled in a recent posting that the obligation of Christmas present buying was tedium incarnate and whilst this Christmas proved no different to any other, bigger appetites meant there was an increased focus on the need for food. And lots of it. Don and I usually make decisions about what to eat when we’re hungry but here- it was no use deciding what to eat for lunch at lunchtime, menus for mealtimes were devised over lengthy group emails back in October and duties were divided up around the family.  And yet, for some reason, by some stroke of serious luck I managed to slip through the sieve, so to speak, and got off rather lightly. Although there was something rather unnerving about how much I enjoyed not being the one wiping away sweat beads dashing  between stove and dining room table. The price for such a luxury as actually having a holiday when on holiday was to make pavlovas for dessert one night.  Easy.  Or so one would assume.

If I’m ever asked to make a pavlova in somebody else’s kitchen again there will be a few pointers that will need clarifying before I agree to it:

1/  Will there be a bowl big enough to whisk eight egg whites in?

2/ Will there be a baking tin big enough to cook my pavlova on?

3/ Will there be an electric whisk?

To say that I got an arm workout that day would be grossly underselling my efforts. My appreciation for electric kitchen tools has never been more defined- and neither have my biceps for that matter.

Happy New Year!

Winter outside, summer inside

America is a country of extremes- they just don’t do things by half, it’s all or nothing. Portion sizes are huge. When you order a muffin you’ll get a muffin large enough to feed your entire family, and some. At an event I went to last summer they weren’t selling meagre chicken drumsticks but deep fried turkey legs- the length of my arm and the circumference of my thigh. I was told a taste of one of these cave-man-like delicacies makes a person weak at the knees. What I didn’t ask was whether the knee weakness was due to the clogged arteries preventing blood flow to the brain or because they tasted so unbelievably good. I’m going to hope that it’s the latter but assume that it’s the former. But it’s not just size that is extreme or obscene (you decide) that I’m thinking about. Right now, as I’m sitting in my apartment in a sleeveless tee shirt and shorts with the widows open in the middle of January I’m thinking about extreme temperatures. It’s freezing outside. Apparently it’s going to get even colder and this is just the effect of global warming. But meanwhile I’m sitting in my sauna/apartment desperate for some cooler air so that for just once I might be able to go to bed and snuggle-up under my duvet without perspiring like the man controlling the turkey fryer. I was expecting to feel this kind of heat in the summer- but this included getting a tan. I shouldn’t complain, as I don’t pay the heating bills- it’s all controlled by the landlord. But I know that come the heat of the summer I’ll be sat inside in my sweats and fleece- lined coat with the windows open trying to get warm. It just doesn’t make sense to me. It makes deciding what to cook for dinner a challenge. Outside I want a hot bowl of soup, warming and filling. When I get home I want salad finished by cooling bowl of ice cream. This soup is winter warming but with the addition of cooling avocado and tomatoes on top it feels more summery. If the tomatoes are really poor, then use whole tinned, strained from their juices.

Spinach bean and chorizo soup
The Italians cook something similar to this called Ribolata- but I’m not Italian, nor am I an expert in Italian cuisine, so I’m sure that you’ll find this very different to anything you’re used to. This serves 6-8 depending on how accustomed you are to American portions.

100g/4 oz chorizo, chopped
1 large onion, diced
3 large carrots, diced
3 celery sticks, diced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
8 ripe tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and chopped
450g/1 lb spinach, washed and tough stalks removed, chopped
1.3 litres chicken stock (good quality is better)
2 x 400g tins cannelloni beans
½ loaf of stale ciabatta, torn into 1inch chunks
8 crispy slices of proscuitto, to serve I find it easiest to do this between sheets of paper towel in the microwave)
1 avocado, diced, to serve
2 tomatoes, diced, to serve

1 In a large pot, fry the chorizo until crispy, remove from the pan, leaving most of the fat (this has a lot of flavour in it so use in place of oil). Slowly fry the onion, carrots and celery in the pot, covered for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes and garlic, cover and cook for a further 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2 Add the spinach, stock and beans, bring up to the boil and let gently simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Add the chorizo back into the pan along with the ciabatta and cook to heat through. Serve in large bowls topped with the crispy proscuitto, diced avocado and tomatoes.

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