Pearl barley soup

I don’t really love soup. That is the polite way of phrasing it. Or how my daughter would. The truth is, I just don’t like it. Soup, to me, is a poor excuse for proper food. It leaves me hungry even when I am full. That is, unless it is packed full of flavours and really thick, almost to the point that you can stand a spoon in it. This is that kind of soup. Some would not even call it a soup, but rather a take on risotto. It really is not, but that is another matter not to be discussed right now. The recipe serves 2 as usual.

2 shallots

1 stick of celery

3 potatoes (waxy)

a thick disc of butternut squash

100g pearl barley

800-1000ml stock (veal, chicken or veg)

1 bay leaf

a few sprigs of lemon thyme

a handfull of parsley

salt, pepper, coriander, nutmeg

olive oil

parmesan cheese (optional)

Finely dice the shallots, then gently fry in a glug of oil over low heat with the bay leaf and thyme for some 15 minutes.

While the onion is frying, dice the celery, butternut squash and potatoes into small cubes (1x1cm). Add to the onion mix after the 15 minutes are up, and fry for a further 5.

Season with ground coriander, grated nutmeg, salt and pepper. Add the pearl barley and mix well, then pour in the stock. Bring to a gentle simmer, and leave for 25-30 minutes (lid on). You want the pearl barley to retain some of its bite, but it should not be hard (i.e. al dente is what you are looking for).

Spoon into bowls, grate over some parmesan, and sprinkle w chopped parsley. Add a grind of pepper and a bit of olive oil if you like. No bread needed, the soup is hearty enough as it is.

Full Court Press

imageI like coffee. In fact, I love coffee. And geeky foodie conversations. Both can be had at Full Court Press, and the place has somewhat of a Scandinavian feel to it, although the candles are missing (just saying). Going to FCP is, in short, a pleasure.

i have heard people say the place is pretentious, hipster and cold. I don’t think so! The guys are passionate about coffee, they are always welcoming (and smiley), they guide you through the coffee menu if you wish (regardless of whether you are an afficionado or not), the music is certainly not hip (or loud), and while the decor is by no means traditional English, it is certainly nice – Scandi spartan, clean, shabby chic. What is wrong with that? Makes me feel right at home.

I have sampled various beans and roasts at FCP over the past year, usually made as flat whites or cortados. Often the suppliers (bean selection changes weekly; there are two to choose from) are well-known: HasBean, Clifton, Extract or Square Mile. I would like to see Monmouth, and I dream of Koppi, Tim Wendelboe and the Coffee Collective (as does the owner), but I understand why, at present, this is not possible. Scandinavian shipping costs are simply too dear. Not many people would pay £7 for a cup of coffee (outside of Paris, that is).

Today I had a cortado made with beans from Guatamala supplied by Square Mile (Ladera; washed). It was delicious – citrussy without being sharp, bold without being harsh. Just delicious on a late, rainy afternoon. I shall be back for further delights – coffee, banter, and Hart’s bakery produce. And if they start stocking single origin dark chocolate too – which no other place seems willing to do due to low profit margins – FCP will unquestionably be my first port of call when out for a coffee in Bristol.

FCP

Full Court Press, 59 Broad Street, Bristol BS1 2EJ
Open every day.
http://www.fcpcoffee.com

Pot roast chicken in vermouth

This is comfort food. Perfect for stormy weather.

2 chicken thighs

1 stick of celery

1/2 fennel bulb

4 banana shallots (or baby leeks)

4 medium potatoes

lemon thyme

100 ml vermouth

100 ml stock (veal, chicken or veg)

a handfull of almonds

salt, pepper, olive oil

You will need an oven-proof casserole for this – preferably one of the le Creusset ones. It should be just big enough to take everything – you do not want the chicken to touch the liquid.

Finely dice the celery. Slice the fennel finely, and peel the potatoes and cut into thin coins.

Brown the chicken thighs on all sides in a little olive oil. Remove from the pot and set aside.

Turn down the heat. Sweat the celery and fennel in the chicken fat left in the casserole. Add a glug of oil if there is not enough. After 5 minutes or so, add a few sprigs of lemon thyme, the vermouth and stock. Season w salt and pepper, and leave to simmer for some 5 minutes.

Layer the potato coins neatly on top of the celery/fennel mix. Season again, then place the chicken thighs on top, and tuck in the shallots. Season once more, and let the dish simmer (lid on, but ever so slightly ajar) at the lowest possible heat for 30 minutes. Set the oven to 175 C (fan).

Transfer the dish to the hot oven, lid removed. Leave to roast for approximately 20 minutes. It may need 5 minutes less, or 5 minutes more. Just keep an eye on it.

While the chicken casserole is roasting in the oven, gently toast the almonds (preferably blanched) until nicely golden brown. Set aside.

Remove the casserole from the oven. Plate up and sprinkle over the toasted almonds and some of the juices.

Puy lentil, butternut squash and spinach Autumn salad

It is Autumn. A cozy season without the stress of Christmas, which is why I like it. I am Scandinavian, so anything that serves as an excuse to light candles is good to me per definition. The only downside to Autumn, apart from the cold, is the inability to deal with the rain in the UK. Everything grinds to a halt. Trains suddenly cannot depart, and you are stuck. Often on a train that no longer moves, on a freezing cold and over-crowded replacement bus, or simply on the platform. This Autumnal salad can be eaten in any of such places, but it is best enjoyed warm at home.

1 mug of puy lentils

veal, chicken or vegetable stock (enough to cover the lentils by 2-3 cm)

1/2 butternut squash

1 shallot

100 grams of spinach

a good chunk of feta

a handful of olives

100g chicken breast (optional)

a handful of toasted almonds (if not using chicken)

olive oil, lemon juice

cumin and coriander seeds, chili flakes, salt, pepper

Set the oven to 200C (fan).

Peel the butternut squash with a potato peeler, then cube into pieces of roughly 2×2 cm. Coat lightly in olive oil, sprinkle over dried chili flakes, and gently crushed cumin and coriander seeds. Give a good grind of salt and pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Roast for some 25 minutes.

Dice the chicken into pieces of 2×2 cm. Add to the butternut squash and mix well. Roast for a further 20 minutes approximately, but turning the oven down to 175 C. You want the butternut squash to be slightly charred around the edges.

Gently simmer the lentils in the stock for 40 minutes or so. Until tender, in other words, not mushy. Drain and set aside.

Finely chop the shallot, and mix with the lentils. Add the olives, and crumble in the feta. Then, shred the spinach roughly (or do not shred at all), and combine with the slightly cooled lentils. Finally, add the roast butternut squash and chicken. Give a good stir, and check the seasoning. If you are Italian, drizzle over a little olive oil.

Growing

I grow stuff. Lots of it. I absolutely love it. It is addictive, just like running. The ache you get from digging, sowing, weeding and harvesting is one of those nice ones. Admittedly not as nice as the one from finishing a long race, but still a pretty good one.

I am afraid I do not have green fingers, though. What grows, what wilts and what never sees the light of day is almost entirely up to nature. I have read the books, I have followed prescriptions. All to no avail. I shower everything with equal amounts of care and attention. But somethings are successful, while others are not. Regardless of whether similar crops grow on the neighbouring plot. On the bright side, I just love my allotment, no matter which crops it brings and their volume. I have enough. Not a little of everything, but quite a lot of some things. These vary from year to year, so at least we do not get bored.

My allotment is my haven. It is my daughter’s amazing bit of wilderness in the city. This is where she learns about nature. About vegetables, fruit, flowers, animals and insects. About life. And about the produce that forms the basis of our cooking. Our most treasured time together. She loves digging, watering, weeding and harvesting. She is exhilarated by feeding spiders. And she is waiting with great anticipation for the day she sees another fox. And rat. She also eats anything as a result. Lambs sweetbreads with roasted beets, grilled mackerel with fennel sott’olio, mussels with borlotti beans, rabbit with olives and anya potatoes. Amélie is 4, and a foodie if there ever was one.

Bagels

My first post is about bagels. Because I love them. And because I made them this morning for a lazy, cosy brunch. Fill them with what you like. My favourite is pastrami with French mustard, gherkins, and cream cheese. My boyfriend is partial to poached eggs, paper-thin slices of fried, crisp speck, and sauce mornay. Or just Nutella.

Bagels – 12 pieces

1 tbsp oil

1 tsp salt

1 tbsb cane sugar

300 ml water

7g dried yeast (1 sachet)

400g strong, white bread flour

100g spelt flour

(1 tsp bicarbonate of soda)

Optional: various seeds (nigella, sesame, poppy)

Mix all the ingredients but the flour together. Once the yeast has dissolved, add the flour. Knead in a food mixer for 5 minutes (or by hand for at least 10 minutes) until the dough is springy and shiny. Leave to rise on the kitchen table for some 3 hours or overnight, covered by a damp kitchen towel or a piece of oiled clingfilm.

Set the oven to 175 C (fan assisted, otherwise 200 C).

Divide the dough into 10-12 pieces. Shape each piece into a ball, and pierce in the middle. Stick two fingers in the pierced hole and twist the piece of dough around to enlarge the opening. It needs to be big as the dough will contract.

Bring a large (pasta) pot of water to the boil. Once at boiling point, add 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda. Add 2-3 bagels to the pot of boiling water, making sure they do not touch. After 30 seconds of poaching, turn the bagels over and poach for another 30 seconds. Transfer to a lined baking tray, brush with a little milk, and sprinkle with seeds. Repeat for the remaining bagels.

Once all the bagels have been poached, transfer the baking tray to the oven (middle rack) and bake for 14 minutes. Check on them after 12 minutes or so. They may need 2 minutes more, or even 4, depending on your oven. You want them only slightly golden.

Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool. They will have a slightly crisp crust at first, but after 15-30 minutes they should turn perfectly chewy.

Enjoy!

P.S.

My 4 year-old happily assists in making these. They only take about 30-45 minutes to make after proving over night, so perfect for a brunch or lazy breakfast.