Fried mushrooms

…… they’re good on crostini, tossed over salad, or served on the side with scrambled eggs.

These are chestnut mushrooms. They don’t really taste of chestnuts at all, but they’re a similar colour, and perhaps would go well with the nuts in an autumn dish. All year round we can buy the little white balls. Those who love porcini, oyster or shitake mushrooms look down on the cheap version, but they have their place in everyday cooking as they can so easily be livened up with garlic, spring onions and a dash of soy sauce.

During the war, when I was a child, I disliked mushrooms. The ones we got were wide with dark gills and peel that had to be removed. But it was a special Sunday evening dish that I remember: mushroom stalks on toast. Yes, really. Because of the food shortage my mother would save all the stalks and then do something magic with them to serve fried (in what? there was no butter or olive oil) and piled on toast. I think that was when I developed a preference for beans on toast!

The Man in the Armchair kitchen loves to eat mushrooms raw in salad. I think they need to be fried to bring out the umami taste. For a slightly unconventional idea, see what’s coming up tomorrow.



Country bread
This is the kind of bread made by peasants. I’m not being critical: on the contrary, it’s real bread with no additives or preservatives, made by the same method as country people have made for centuries. Now it’s available in ‘artisan bakeries’. You’ll find these in the high streets of upmarket suburbs where the residents think nothing of spending upwards of £3 ($5) on a small round loaf.



It’s very hard to make bread like this in a domestic oven. A little while ago I wrote about the joys of making home made rolls. Sourdough or country style bread is a more complicated process. Do any of you make it? I’d love to hear if you do.

Country bread

This is the kind of bread made by peasants. I’m not being critical: on the contrary, it’s real bread with no additives or preservatives, made by the same method as country people have made for centuries. Now it’s available in ‘artisan bakeries’. You’ll find these in the high streets of upmarket suburbs where the residents think nothing of spending upwards of £3 ($5) on a small round loaf.

It’s very hard to make bread like this in a domestic oven. A little while ago I wrote about the joys of making home made rolls. Sourdough or country style bread is a more complicated process. Do any of you make it? I’d love to hear if you do.

The pattern of life

Here are some Sunday thoughts on life - which for me starts with writing.

Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy. Stephen King.

                                                  *   *   *   *

Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life. Fernando Pessoa.
                                                  *   *   *   *
Both quotes were reblogged via wordpainting.

Peach pie

Years ago my mother visited a friend who lived on a farm in USA. One of the crops was peaches and they drove through large orchards laden with fruit. Having coffee in the house, my mother was surprised to see the owners’ teenage children ‘fixing a snack’. What were they eating? tinned (canned) peaches!

In summer our supermarkets display most stone fruit before it is ripe, since it is easier to transport. The solution to rock hard peaches or nectarines is to ripen them on a sunny windowsill for a couple of days. If, as happened to me, you forget about them and they end up a bit overripe, you can use them to make a peach pie. I hadn’t made one for some time, so looking for a recipe, I came across the excellent version from Smitten Kitchen. The pie here is made from lightly cooked peaches, but since mine were so ripe and soft, I decided to omit this step and just follow the rest of the instructions. The result was delicious: a crisp, sugary crust with a fresh-tasting peach filling. (By the way, using a few spoonfuls of cornflour (cornstarch) or potato flour mixed with the fruit, stops the juices leaking into the pastry at the bottom.)

The top photo is mine, showing the lattice top; the lower one is from the recipe which you can find here: http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2012/07/peach-pie/

Unbelievable

Christmas in July. Actually for those in the food business, this is not surprising. The big stores put out lavish presentations at elegant venues to showcase what they will be selling in November. This is to give journalists time to schedule plenty of column inches to their products.

Marks & Spencer is rolling out a murky-coloured green smoothie containing …… wait for it….. Brussels sprouts. These must be the most hated vegetable, only making an appearance for a month or so around the festive period. People feel obliged to serve them; a few actually like them, but not many vegetables arouse such adverse reaction as these little green balls with the unappealing smell (while cooking).

The M & S product development team (40-strong) has spent 18 months sourcing exciting food to bring to British tables at Christmas. Far more appealing than the sprout juice, or sprout coleslaw, is what they do with ‘Christmas dinner’. They are planning a bite-sized version called Dinner on a stick and even putting the whole shebang into a pie: turkey, stuffing, sausage rolls etc. To end the meal they will be offering an edible cheeseboard made of crackers, and a Christmas cake liqueur.

This is Jewish food?

In the City of London you’ll find, tucked away behind a courtyard, the oldest synagogue in the UK, founded in 1701. Overlooking it is a modern restaurant, taking their name from this date. ‘1701’ is serving Jewish food with style. They still recognise the popularity of old favourites like chopped liver, but here it’s served on triangles of gingerbread with a mango salsa. (3rd picture).

At their summer party they offered some of the tempting dishes from their 8-course tasting menu which they call A Journey around the Jewish World. There was beetroot borscht, served in a glass and topped with horseradish foam - many miles away from the traditional soup, which had a large boiled potato sitting in the centre of the bowl. Then there were perspex spoons containing a cube of calves’ foot jelly; an intense beef flavoured bite that would also surprise anyone who remembered the original version called P’tcha or Fisnoge.

A sweet offering came in the form of a Persian dessert Sholeh Zard, a dairy-free rice pudding. The 1701 version is made with coconut milk and saffron - refreshing and fragrant. In the restaurant you would also be offered Sachertorte with a twist: adorned with chocolate crystals and salted caramel gel.

If you’re looking for innovative Jewish cuisine, head to 1701. Have a look inside the synagogue with it’s impressive chandeliers before you sit down. Click here to find out more: http://www.restaurant1701.co.uk/menu/lunch-and-dinner/hors-doeuvres/

A gift from the Armchair Kitchen

Tomorrow there’s another chance to get a FREE copy of my novel SEXTET.

If you want a good summer read (the book was chosen as “one of ten outstanding books”) download it here on Wednesday 16th July: The free offer is just for the Kindle. The paperback will cost you the price of a pizza!

Click here for the download http://amzn.to/W9IQCL

Asparagus quiche

Quiches - or pastry tarts - are no longer fashionable. But they are perfect for picnics; solid enough to transport without leaking, and tasty enough to enjoy without reheating.

This one is made with a buttery crust, filled with a mixture of what I had available: some cooked asparagus, sugar peas, frozen petit pois and a pot of cottage cheese. I don’t much like the texture of cottage cheese (all those little lumps) but buzzed up with a couple of egg yolks, seasoning and some cooked summer vegetables it makes a good filling for a pie.

You can’t tell by looking

This is hummous: a Middle Eastern dip often served with falafel and pita bread. It’s now easily available in supermarkets, but the long-life version simply doesn’t taste anything like the freshly made mixture. According to those who are specialists in this Arab/Israeli treat, hummous has to be made fresh every day. Since it’s impractical to seek out a place where they are making it all the time, we buy the processed version containing preservatives to make it last.

The hummous in the photo comes from a small producer, Me too! foods, based in London. It does have a superior flavour (in spite of the preservatives) and has the added advantage that it is kosher, gluten free and vegetarian. If you live in London, click on the picture to find out where to buy it.

The gift of food

We take presents of chocolates or wine when we are invited to dinner. We make cakes to celebrate a family birthday. We sometimes bring a cooked dish to someone who is ill, or sad. Someone I know - now a young man - used to take cakes to school for his ‘enemies’. He was an unusual boy, more keen on reading than football, so he found himself the victim of bullying. His way of dealing with this was to bake cakes and take them in to school, offering them first to those he called his ‘enemies’ - disarming them in an instant.

Oscar Wilde had another way of dealing with the opposition:

Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.”

I was reminded of this quote when I saw it on tumblr, reblogged (via purplebuddhaproject). Of course the New Testament Bible had much to say on forgiving enemies. It took the 19th century Irish writer and poet to bring humour to a serious concept.

(The photo of the hideously bright macarons was snapped at a recent food festival).

To peel or not to peel

In a long career of food writing, is one allowed to change one’s mind? In 1994 I wrote a book called A Feast in Fifteen Stories - a new start for hesitant cooks. It was designed to encourage new cooks, without intimidating them. In a recipe for roasted peppers I wrote: “on the question of peeling them - the skins will come off, with difficulty, after they are cooked, but like tomatoes, I don’t think the skin is unpleasant, unless it becomes detached.”

My viewpoint has changed in two ways: first there’s no difficulty in removing the skins of roasted peppers - once they have cooled slightly a sharp knife will lift off the first bit and then it’s easy to pull off the rest. Then, is the skin of cooked peppers ‘unpleasant’? I didn’t think so twenty years ago - perhaps because I couldn’t be bothered with removing it, but I now think the taste is so much better if you peel the peppers before serving them.

What to do with them once they are roasted? Drizzle with good olive oil or stuff them with….. well, whatever you fancy. Savoury mincemeat is good (served with rice on the side), or you can put cooked couscous or bulghur inside. Another idea is to add goat’s cheese and bread croutons.

Chocolate mousse

One of those desserts that is perceived as being difficult. The only tricky part is folding in the egg whites. Melted chocolate can seize up, or if it’s too warm, the whipped cream or eggs can refuse to blend seamlessly into a mousse and can end up separating.

Here are two different kinds: the top one is one is from a recipe I found in a newspaper on Father’s Day, as it’s perfect for Dads to make with children. It is simply melted chocolate, thick yogurt and whisked egg whites with a little sugar. When the yogurt is stirred into the cooled chocolate it begins to thicken immediately, so once you’ve done the last bit of folding in the whites, the mousse is ready to eat - no waiting, no chilling.

The lower picture shows Rosemary Moon’s Earl Grey Tea Milk Chocolate Mousse. The slightly smoky flavour of the tea cuts through the sweetness of milk chocolate and gives it an almost undetectable something.

I made the two desserts - and both were well received, but there was no winner. Since the taste of chocolate is more dominant than the other ingredients, in the end it came down to personal preference for milk or dark chocolate.

If you want to try them, you can find Rosemary’s recipe in the book I featured last Sunday: A Feast of West Sussex http://amzn.to/1shuGtq. Click on Ask Me Anything to get details of the dark chocolate one with yogurt.

Worth the effort?

Is it worth baking your own bread? You probably don’t save money. Certainly you don’t save time. Those are the ‘cons’. So what are the ‘pros’?

1. Watching a dough transform into something light and airy

2. Getting your fingers stuck in and kneading the dough - very therapeutic

3. Choosing what size and shape you want the bread rolls to be

4. Having the smell of fresh baked bread filling the kitchen and the house

5. Stashing some away in the freezer so you have something to bring out next time you serve soup

The photos show some finished wholemeal rolls and what they looked like before they were baked. Using a mixture of brown flour and white strong flour gives a light, less dense finish than if you use all brown.

Double trouble

Can anyone be bothered shelling peas any more? Yes, the fresh ones do taste different, but they are likely to be larger than the frozen ‘petits pois’ we are used to, with a more mealy texture. Becase it’s a task that is seen as intensive, it’s rarely done, yet if you sit at a garden table with a child and share a bag of freshly picked green peas, it will be a pleasure for both of you to end up with a pile of discarded pods and a precious handful of podded peas.

Broad beans are even more exciting. When you open the pods the beans are nestling in a velvety cushion. But once they are cooked, they need some further attention. They taste much better if you slip each bean out of it’s skin.

A Greek speciality served in the spring is called Aginares me Koukia (artichokes with fava (broad) beans). Here they don’t double pod the beans. It’s up to you, but I think it’s worth the effort to release the green jewels from their skin, so if you’d like to know how, please click on the picture.

By the way, the little bowl in the photo is not painted. It’s made from fimo (polymer clay) and the pattern is achieved by creating sticks of colours, that are then sliced and arranged in a technique called millefiori.



Loss of sensation



Imagine you’ve lost your sense of taste. It may really be that you’ve lost the ability to smell, as these two senses are so closely connected. Either way, whether it’s hypogeusia or anosmia (the terms for these afflictions) it will drastically alter the way you think about or enjoy food. The condition can be as a result of an accident (trauma to the head) or induced by chemotherapy, or for other reasons.



What would you do if food no longer gave you any pleasure? If the taste in your mouth was permanently bitter or unpleasant? Food writer Marlena Spieler has written movingly about how this happened to her as a result of a road accident. You can read the New York Times article here:

http://nyti.ms/1j3CqO3



Do you know anyone who has lost their sense of taste? Either temporarily, or permanently? If so I’d really like to hear from you.



And the picture? So much of taste is associated with appearance; something that looks appetising is far more appealing than a food with a dull colour. The radishes in the photo (not one of mine) are as vibrant as a flower arrangement. Sad to think that to someone with sensory impairment, one would taste no better than the other.

Loss of sensation

Imagine you’ve lost your sense of taste. It may really be that you’ve lost the ability to smell, as these two senses are so closely connected. Either way, whether it’s hypogeusia or anosmia (the terms for these afflictions) it will drastically alter the way you think about or enjoy food. The condition can be as a result of an accident (trauma to the head) or induced by chemotherapy, or for other reasons.

What would you do if food no longer gave you any pleasure? If the taste in your mouth was permanently bitter or unpleasant? Food writer Marlena Spieler has written movingly about how this happened to her as a result of a road accident. You can read the New York Times article here:

http://nyti.ms/1j3CqO3

Do you know anyone who has lost their sense of taste? Either temporarily, or permanently? If so I’d really like to hear from you.

And the picture? So much of taste is associated with appearance; something that looks appetising is far more appealing than a food with a dull colour. The radishes in the photo (not one of mine) are as vibrant as a flower arrangement. Sad to think that to someone with sensory impairment, one would taste no better than the other.