Sunday, 19 April 2009

Tomato salad au Charles

Awww, you're all just so lovely :) Thank you for all the sweet comments after my return to blogland. I feel all invigorated to continue and am very pleased to be just managing to sneak in under the wire for this month's No Croutons Required. It's Holler's birthday edition, you see, so it seemed like an extra shame to miss it.

My salad is a very simple one, but the dressing makes it amazing. It's a speciality of my friend Charles, whom I visited yesterday. Charles and I go way back, right back to the first day of university, in fact, and I have him to thank for my initiation into the ways of toasted cheese sandwiches with pickles, how not to make stock, and how to dismount from a bike while it's still moving (actually I've never dared try that again after my debut). Charles' cooking skills have moved on from the cheese toastie days and both times I've seen him recently he's made a version of this salad. It's essentially a mix of lettuce, tomato and cucumber, with assorted other raw veggies and some fruit. The first time he used sliced apples, and this time it was grapes (I nearly made myself ill gorging on all the grapes!). The dressing is what brings it all together in a silky mustardyness, and was passed on to him by his dad. I hope I've remembered it correctly though I'm sure it would stand some customising. My own salad was a a bit of a pared down version as our fridge was a bit low on ingredients - some rocket and watercress, chopped tomatoes and cucumber, and some sliced pear. I added a lot of tomatoes since they are the theme of No Croutons Required this month. I love the smell of fresh tomatoes and am hoping that I'll have some more home-grown ones this year. They are (hopefully) germinating on the kitchen table, along with some peas, broad beans, herbs, and a small cucumber plant I bought on a whim today in the garden centre.

Since it's her birthday Holler has asked that we describe a whole meal to go with our tomato offerings. I'm sending over what I ate my salad alongside as it was fun: sauteed mushrooms, leeks and chard with some thyme and basil in a bit of tomato sauce, wrapped in pancakes. I served mine with some leftover sweet potato soup over the top as a sauce. It doesn't look too pretty but I think it was birthday-worthy. And just in case it's not, I'd bring out a luscious chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream icing as a dessert :)

Salad dressing au Charles
Put into a jar:
1 thumb of vinegar (not balsamic)
1 tsp English mustard
1 tsp salt
2 thumbs of olive oil

Shake and dress.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

It's spring! (and a grainy mushroom pilaf)

The clocks have changed, the evenings are light, the sunshine is here (at least sporadically) and I have nearly finished teaching for the year. I am feeling fresh and invigorated and full of good intentions for actually doing something with the garden this year. I've been out there weeding and scattering seed about already this evening, and I have the soil under my fingernails to prove it.

The Scientist's trademark pancakes

So what has happened in this 6 week blog hiatus at Munchkin Mail? Well, Johanna has had a baby - the lovely Sylvia! Many congratulations! Our friends Tom and Tabitha have also produced number 2 sprog, as have Steve and Sarah. We met another set of friends, Dom and Becca's gorgeous little one last week, and The Munchkinette is crawling! And us? Well I've written 10 lectures, taken 20 seminars, given two conference papers and finished a book chapter. Does that count? I've also still been cooking and baking though I've got completely out of the habit of photographing anything, and so I will just have to tell you about the brownies that were so scrumptious and foolproof that I made them twice in one week, the decadent be-ganached marscapone brownies I made for Comic Relief, the banana-carrot cake I sent to the gamers, my new favourite salad - Ricki's edamame bean and seaweed (so simple, SO flavoursome), Heidi's bulgar and cauliflower chick pea hot pot which actually manages to make kale taste nice, and a delicious cauliflower and coconut milk curry I'm not sure if I can find again. I've made a few more cookies for my colleagues as well but mid-week baking really fell by the wayside with all the lectures and a whole ton of admin which came my way. Maybe next week...

Edamame and seaweed salad

I have to admit that I wasn't really sure if I was going to pick up the blog again after having a break. Although people tell me they keep up with my posts my real life (as opposed to blogland) friends are a little reticent about communicating. You might know what I'm up to, but people - I know NOTHING about what you're doing! So if you read this and enjoy it, please get in touch. Leave me a comment or send me an email with your news. Otherwise it's just me broadcasting random details about my personal life and that's not really what it's all about. Having said that, some people I've met through blogging left me some lovely messages and emails and I thank each and every one (so that's at least two :))

Mushroom wheatberry pilaf

It seems fitting to kick off the rejuvenated blog with a recipe that not only features my favourite vegetable, the mushroom but is also from my favourite cookbook - Moosewood Low Fat Favourites. I actually made it ages ago - in fact I think I even mentioned it in passing in a post - but never got round to writing about it properly. It was inspired by finding some wheatberries in a health food shop - I fancied grinding my own flour for some bread, but have yet to get round to doing that. In the meantime this was a chewy, flavoursome and filling meal which tasted great *and* good for you. I made loads and froze the rest for some day when The Scientist was out. Cricket season is about to start so I suspect that its time is nigh.

Mushroom wheatberry pilaf (from Moosewood Low Fat Favourites)
Serves 6 as a side (I had it as a main course)

1/2 cup raw wheatberries, soaked overnight
1 cup brown rice (or 1 1/2 cups cooked)
1 large onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 tsp olive oil
1 pound mushrooms, sliced (I used portabellos because that's what was in the veg box, plus some dried mushrooms)
1 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp minced fresh rosemary or 1/2 tsp dried
3 tsp soy sauce
1/2 cup dry red wine

Drain the soaked wheatberries. Return them to the saucepan with fresh water to cover. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer for about an hour, until tender.

In a separate pot, add 2 cups of cool water to the rice, cover tightly and bring to a boil on high heat. When steam escapes from below the lid, turn off the heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Return to a very low heat and simmer for about 35 minutes, or until all of the water has been absorbed.

While the grains cook, saute the onions and garlic in the oil in a large, covered skillet on low heat for about 10 minutes, until golden. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Add the mushrooms, thyme, rosemary and soy sauce and cook for 5 minutes. Pour in the wine and continue to simmer until the wine evaporates. Set aside.

When the wheatberries are soft, drain any excess liquid and then add to the sauteed mushrooms. Stir in the cooked rice, mix thoroughly and serve immediately.