Monday, July 21, 2008

beautiful on the inside

Mmmmm mmmmm - open wide for a mouthful of mud and snow covered in little white worms! Or at least, that is what my lovely pie has ended up looking like in this picture. It's not the most glamourous of gastronomical spoonfuls, in any sense.

But to hell with glamour. As the newscasters shower us with ever more scary statistics and shadowy harbingers of impending economic doom, and the frequency with which we converse about energy bills and the price of a loaf of bread multiplies exponentially, there is a place for a little humble pie. Simple - yes, ugly - maybe so. But tasty, comforting, cheap and easy too...

I've told you before of my love for lentils, I'm sure. And may have even mentioned how smitten I am with sweet spring cabbage... So, whilst for most people the idea of the two together may engender merely mild disgust, or even sniggers at the supposed flatulent effects of these two fibrous heavyweights, I am licking my lips with glee.
This is then, a fairly basic little recipe. It's nothing particularly new or clever, but with a little seasoning trickery and some rich luxurious dairy products sneaked in, it's really much more delicious and satisfying than you might imagine of a lentil and cabbage pie...
Saucepan-Style Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie
(Serves about 4)
* Chop an onion, a couple of sticks of celery and a carrot in to small dice
* In a heavy over-proof cocotte (if you have one - otherwise use a normal saucepan and transfer to oven dish later) heat a little olive oil over a low flame, and cook the diced veg, stirring frequently until softened
* Add in half a cup of lentilles vertes, a couple of bay leafs, a finely chopped clove (or two) of garlic, and stir until the lentils are coated in oil.
* Add a good squirt of tomato puree and mix in
* Top up with a couple of cups of stock, bring to the boil and lower to a simmer (stir every couple of minutes and top up with water/stock if it looks like getting dry)
* Meanwhile, cube about 6-8 small potatoes (3-4 larger ones), peeled if you like (though I rarely bother) and cook in salted boiling water.
* After about 15-20 minutes, your potatoes should be done, and your lentils will just want another 10 minutes or so. At this point, drain the potatoes and add half a pointed (spring) cabbage, finely shredded, to the vegetable pot. Add also a can of chopped tomatoes.
* Mash potatoes with a generous knob of butter and a splash of cream (or milk if you don't have cream) and maybe a little parmesan, or any other hard cheese of your choosing.
* Once the lentils are almost cooked, and the cabbage wilted down, mix around, adjust seasoning for taste, and then top with the mashed potato (transfer first to an overproof dish if your saucepan isn't ovenproof)
* Pop in an oven preheated to 200C and cook for 20-30 minutes until browned on top.
* Serve.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

oh for some breeze and a biscotto!

I don't know if you've read that book by Joshua Ferris - half my fellow tube-travellers seem to have their noses buried in it so maybe you have. 'And Then We Came To The End', it's called, and it's set in a modern-day workplace. The workers are 'creative types', as opposed to the accounting types that surround me here, but there were some gems of workplace observations that I think will wring a wry smile of identification from most any of us who spend our days under humming fluorescent lights, wrestling with supposedly ergonomic chairs, staring into the glare of our screens. One phenomenon well known to anyone of the office-worker clan is those fluctuations in the passage of time. How the morning, punctuated by coffee breaks and cemented together with email updating can fly by, but then the afternoon can leave you dazed, beleaguered, emerging into the outside world, feeling a time-space continuum must have been breached and surely a decade has passed by...

Oh, sometimes - like now - time drags. And eyelids droop and minds melt, and thoughts turn to the joy of being free...

Like last bank holiday - (praise be for the 3-day weekend!) - when I walked up to Hampstead Heath, and I could curl up in the grass, and feel the wind playfully muss up my hair as I lost myself in a book and watched the city from through the grass.

And then I went home and made biscotti. And they were so incredibly easy. I love things that turn out good but take so little effort. Perfect! I thought, for impressing people who come round for dinner. For a simple dessert - a little vin santo dribbled over some good vanilla ice cream, biscotti on the side. Or just a good little nibble to go with the coffee.
Or, you know, they can always just sit there in a tupperware box on the counter, and I'll eat one when I get home from work, or as a little 'breakfast dessert' after my toast and cereal, or take them to work for my morning tea break etc. etc.
I just finished the last one, 5 weeks later, so that's what I'm thinking of now, lying in the grass on the heath, or having a slow cup of milky coffee in the sun, a zesty, nutty little biscotti for dunking and crunching alongside
Unfortunately, I don't have the recipe I used right here... but hold on and I'll post it as soon as possible, so watch this space.

And now, there are 38 minutes til hometime. I've expertly wasted a good chunk of afternoon work time so I had better do something before I escape into the lovely warm summer's evening...

Update - I've finally got internet access and the recipe together at the same time!

Biscotti (adapted from Leith's cookery bible)

Mix in a bowl: 200g plain flour; a pinch of salt; 1/2 tsp of baking powder; 40g ground almonds; 75 g sugar; 75g chopped or flaked almonds.

Make a well in the centre and add two lightly beaten eggs. Gradually incorporate dry ingredients to make a firm dough.

Roll the dough into a long sausage shape about 2 cm in diameter. Slice into two or three sausages so that they fit on a baking tray.

Place the rolls at least 5 cm apart on the baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven (190C/350F/gas 5) for 20 minutes.

Remove the rolls from the oven nd turn the temperature down to 80C/175F/gas 1/4

Cut the rolls at a 45-degree angle into 1cm slices and place on the baking sheet. Bake for a further hour, turning the biscuits over after 30 minutes. Leave on a wire rack to cool completely.