Barley and Me

This Friday I’m flying home to Bryn Mawr for a couple of weeks. There are so many amazing memories I associate with my home, particularly surrounding weekend meals. It begins at the Farmers’ Market on Saturday morning to prepare for the upcoming 36 hours of culinary bliss. Depending on the time of year, dinner could be a rich bowl of boeuf bourguignon, a divine plate of chicken parmesan, or a simple swordfish steak with risotto on the side. The risotto has always been my absolute favorite – the absolute crème de la crème. Swordfish and risotto season is the best. It is the time of year when a crisp glass of white wine hits the spot. It is the time of year when I can sit on my back patio, reading, while my dog lovingly lays by my side in the summer breeze.

Like the naughty but lovable title character of John Grogan’s Marley and Me, a dog can provide such comfort. Though they do require a heaping amount of tender loving care, like the delicate grains of a perfect risotto, the reward is worth it. At times a bit temperamental, riled up pups and heat sensitive risottos can be alleviated with some gentle affection.

I can’t wait for four days from now; there is nothing like the comfort of a bowl of my father’s risotto and my dog lying at my feet.

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Lemon Parmesan Risotto:

1 cup pearl barley

1 onion

1/2 cup white wine

~3 1/2 cups chicken stock

1 cup Parmesan cheese

Juice of 2 lemons

Parsley to garnish

1 tbsp olive oil

6 strips bacon (optional)

 Instruction:

1. Heat olive oil in saucepan over medium heat. Sweat onions until soft and translucent. Add barley and sauté until it turns translucent. (Another trick for sautéing the barley is to listen until you hear it “crying.”) Add white wine and stir, allowing barley to absorb the moisture.

2. About 1/2 cup at a time, incorporate chicken stock. After each addition, allow the barley to absorb the liquid on a gentle simmer. After 3 cups of stock have been added, try a barley grain. If still relatively crunchy, continue to add liquid. If al dente but bouncy, barley is ready.

3. When barley is ready, squeeze lemon juice into saucepan; stir. Turn off heat and add Parmesan, stirring to let the residual heat melt the cheese.

4. Optional: form bacon strips into disks using muffin tin and slightly smaller (oven safe) cookie cutter. Cook bacon at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes; until crispy. Fill bacon disks with barley; garnish with parsley and Parmesan shavings.

Enjoy barley risotto with John Grogan’s Marley and Me, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

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A Dill’s House

One of my favorite meals growing up was cold tuna noodle salad. It’s colorful, rustic, and extremely quick to make. I loved this dish so much that I had no ability to wait until an actual mealtime to dive in. This worked against me, however, because this salad is at its finest when it sits for a while and the flavors can combine.

In Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Torvald accuses his wife Nora of being child-like. This tension ultimately leads to the demise of their marriage. When I was a child, my impulses caused me to devour the tuna salad without patience. I didn’t understand the marriage of flavors that can only come with time spent melding in the refrigerator. Now that I’m older, I have better foresight and understanding of the dynamic of crunchy raw vegetables, creamy mayonnaise, and flaky tuna.

The conclusion of A Doll’s House is left ambiguous, but what’s clear is that something about Torvald and Nora’s life together needed to change (or improve, in a way). In creating this recipe, I decided that the salad was a bit too unsophisticated. Incorporating fresh dill is the slight modification needed to ensure that the curtain won’t come down on this nostalgic dish.

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Tuna Noodle Salad

5 oz can tuna

5 oz (~3/4 cup) pasta (whichever shape you prefer)

1 red pepper

1 yellow pepper

2 stalks celery

2 carrots

1/2 OR 3/4 cup mayonnaise (depending on how creamy you like your pasta salad)

~2 tsp dill, chopped

1 tsp salt & pinch of pepper (more of each for seasoning to taste)

Insruction:

1. Cook pasta in salted water, following time on the box (will vary on size and shape on the pasta). Drain and rinse in cold water (to cool down pasta, as this is a cold salad).

2. While the pasta is cooking, drain tuna and shred with fork. Dice peppers, celery, and carrots. Finely chop dill.

3. Combine veg, tuna, pasta, mayonnaise, half of dill, and salt and pepper in medium-sized bowl. Chill in fridge for at least an hour, allowing flavors to meld. Season to taste and garnish with dill.

Enjoy tuna noodle salad with Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

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The Spy Who Cumin From the Cold

I’ve been having an addiction problem recently; I just can’t seem to quit sourdough bread. Practically every breakfast place in London has an artsy chalkboard “specials” menu boasting any variety of mushrooms, poached egg, smoked salmon, avocado, all resting comfortably on a hefty slice of sourdough. The horrifying thing is that these restaurants charge ten pounds for one slice of slightly dressed up bread, and often I am left starving and penniless for the rest of the day.

Like Alec Leamas, the protagonist in John LeCarre’s The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, I have trouble keeping up with London prices. I know how quickly transportation can suck up funds, switching from tube to taxi to bus depending on worker strikes (or trying to shake agents tailing you). By the time Sunday comes around, I’m not eager to spend my remaining pennies on a meal I can clean up in three bites.

And so, for the same price, I’ve set out to produce an appetizer that can feed about six people. This spiced dip has elements of espionage: bringing heat, but in a very subtle way. The flavors seem sweet at first, but a powerful kick catches you off guard. Using an entire loaf and minimal (yet flavorful) ingredients, I can continue to fuel my bread addiction and feel a bit better about my spending habits.

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Cumin-spiced vegetable dip:

Sourdough loaf, sliced

2 eggplants

1 red bell pepper

1 garlic clove

2 tbsp cumin

4 tbsp olive oil

Salt & pepper

Instruction:

1. Slice sourdough loaf into quarter inch-thick pieces. Lay on baking sheet and drizzle with half of olive oil, then sprinkle with half of cumin, salt, and pepper. Bake in 350 degree oven for 5-7 minutes (until bread is golden brown and toasty). Set aside to cool.

2. Peel eggplant and cut into quarter inch-thick disks. De-seed pepper and cut into quarters. Toss eggplant, pepper, and peeled garlic clove in remaining olive oil, cumin, salt, and pepper. Turn oven up to 400 degrees and roast vegetables for 8-10 minutes (until tender and turning brown).

3. When vegetables are cooked, peel skin from pepper and put in food processor with eggplant. Blend to desired consistency (from chunky to smooth). Season with salt to taste, and garnish with chopped fresh parsley.

Enjoy cumin dip with John Le Carré’s The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

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The Porks of Being a Wallflower

When I met Sam last year, I was shocked to learn that she was a teenager (though has moved up to the next decade of life since then). Immediately I was amazed by how creative, talented, mature and – well – together she is. In our Marketing and Food Product Design class, we were asked to come up with a new product for the market. The only limitation was that the product had to contain blueberries. Sam’s brilliant idea to combine the two best components of breakfast time – bacon and blueberries – is absolutely inspired (and perhaps somewhat influenced by her summers spent in the good ol’ USA).

As the characters in The Perks of Being a Wallflower find ways to cope with teenage years, these small muffins can carry pretty heavy flavors and still turn out beautifully. Everyone handles adolescence in different ways, and sometimes seemingly random and (let’s face it) super weird qualities can produce a magnificent result. I could barely tie my shoes when I was nineteen; meanwhile, Sam is now running a pub in Berkshire.

And so, this post celebrates both a head chef at the age of twenty and brilliant friend, who possesses an appreciation of the finer, American things in life: bacon and carbohydrates.

IMG_9865Bacon Blueberry Muffins

110 g flour

110g butter

65 g caster sugar

2 eggs

1 1/2 baking powder

100 g blueberries

300 g bacon

Brown sugar

Instruction:

1. Melt butter in a pan with bacon. Turn off heat and let the bacon infuse into the melted butter for about 5 minutes.

2. To candy bacon: generously coat strips of bacon with brown sugar. Sandwich between parchment paper and two baking sheets, and bake for 10-12 minutes. When bacon has cooled, slice into small pieces.

3. Whisk sugar and eggs in a medium bowl. Add melted butter, then sift in flour and baking powder. Fold in blueberries and bacon. Transfer batter into greased or lined muffin tin.

4. Bake muffins in 350 degree oven until toothpick comes out clean.

Enjoy bacon blueberry muffins with Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

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Atone-Mint

Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, and this past weekend I celebrated in the best way possible. With my sister’s tailor-made Celtic playlist on repeat, I sat in a cozy pub in a small English river town and watched the Ireland v. Wales rugby game. Though loyalties in the pub were split down the middle (and Ireland ultimately lost the game), the sense of community was very strong.

There are, however, things I miss about the US (and particularly, the Boston) way of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. I miss the kelly-green clothing exploding on sidewalks, wondering about the disgusting process that must go into turning beer green, and most of all, sipping on a McDonald’s shamrock shake.

In so many years past, I haven’t questioned the decision to consume a frozen, neon green, fast food drink. Now, as a somewhat grown up, I can look back on the decision to partake in such an unnatural dessert. Like Briony, Ian McEwan’s main character in Atonement, decisions and judgment calls made in younger years must now be called into question. I’ve retained the minty flavor and festive sentiment, but have attempted a slightly more refined presentation. Sometimes we need to atone for our past choices.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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Peppermint cupcakes:

1 cup flour

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1/2 cup boiling water

50 g dark baking chocolate (or milk chocolate if you prefer)

3/4 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 tsp peppermint extract

2 eggs

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup vegetable oil

Instruction:

1. Whisk boiling water, cocoa powder, and baking chocolate in medium bowl.

2. Continue to whisk, adding peppermint extract, eggs, sour cream, and vegetable oil.

3. Sift flour, baking soda, and salt in gradually.

4. Pour smooth mixture into greased or lined cupcake tin. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean.

5. Let cool, then decorate with favorite icing recipe.

Enjoy peppermint cupcakes with Ian McEwan’s Atonement, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

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The Things They Curried

A couple of weeks ago, my boyfriend and I decided to make my favorite comfort food, chicken divan, for dinner. However, we made the fatal error of forgetting to take stock of the cupboards before going to the grocery store. Edward insisted that he had the essential flavoring agent – curry powder – at home. This was a fair assumption, as his apartment has accrued dozens and dozens of spice bottles over time. When we got back and realized that the one spice missing from the collection was, in fact, curry powder, we set about making our own blend. We went online and researched the different spices in a typical curry powder, but we left the proportions to our own taste buds. Our end result was a spicy, chili flake-focused, ingredient that gave the otherwise simple casserole a heated kick.

Like Tim O’Brien’s writing style in The Things They Carried, making a list was what truly showed me the complexity of the flavors in curry powder. Instead of chucking in a tablespoon or so of one thing, I was able to break that thing down into turmeric, cumin, and many other elements. It wasn’t until I broke down the main ingredient of chicken divan that I could appreciate all that goes into making the dish truly comforting. (Though now the comfort comes with a fiery dose of chili flakes from time to time.)

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Filling:

4 chicken breasts

4 cups chicken stock (enough to cover the breasts)

3 cups broccoli

1 can of cream of chicken soup

3/4 cup mayonnaise

1 1/2 tbsp curry powder (DIY: turmeric, cumin, coriander, cayenne, chili flakes, salt, pepper)

Topping:

2 cups breadcrumbs

1 cup cheddar cheese

1 cup parmesan cheese

3 tbsp melted butter

Instruction:

1. Poach chicken breasts in stock (12-15 minutes). When cooked, use two forks to shred meat into bite-sized bits. Steam broccoli.

2. Combine cream of chicken soup, mayonnaise, and curry powder. Add chicken and broccoli. Season to taste with salt.

3. Make topping by combining breadcrumbs, shredded cheese, and melted butter. Grease a baking dish with butter and spread filling evenly. Top with breadcrumb mixture. Drizzle top with olive oil. Bake in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, until golden brown.

Enjoy chicken divan with Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

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A Wrinkle in Thyme

I work as a nanny for four French children between the ages of two and six, which can get a bit exhausting at times. The four and six-year-olds are inquisitive (to say the least), constantly asking me, “Where are you going? When are you coming back? Why are you reading that? Will you come play with me?” The two-year-old twins, just learning how to express themselves clearly, ask “Quoi? Quoi? Quoi” while pointing to various objects throughout the house.

The children’s questions are pretty easy to answer, but questions from elsewhere are more difficult. For example, a recent exam for my culinary science class asked about the properties of gelatin, and why in a panna cotta the structure could stay firm in its mold but also spread so well on a cracker.

I must admit, though: at times it gets tiresome, and every once in a while I wish the children (and my culinary science professor) would just stop asking questions. But two weeks ago, as I listened to the children’s mother on the phone with family in Paris, I realized the importance of being able to question. The journalists and cartoonists who worked at Charlie Hebdo were murdered because they questioned extremists through word and art. They were robbed of their expression, which robbed them of their lives.

Though there may be times when I don’t feel like answering the children’s questions, I realize it is important to encourage such curiosity, even if only in a small way, so that they may always feel the freedom to express themselves. In Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, give the children hints and direction throughout their journey. Their names alone represent the importance of questioning as a way to illuminate darkness. An inquisitive mind and a childlike curiosity are great powers, and they make finding any answer an exciting adventure, as Meg discovers in L’Engle’s beloved novel. (Although even now, I just prefer to leave the properties of gelatin as a big question mark.) DSC_0254

Savory panna cotta:

350 ml heavy cream

150 ml whole milk

125 g goat cheese

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

~10 sprigs of thyme

1/2 teaspoon of salt

4 gelatin leaves

Instruction:

1. Soak gelatin leaves in cold water for several minutes.

2. In the meantime, on medium heat, whisk cream, milk, and goat cheese until cheese is melted. When simmering, add thyme, lemon zest and juice, and salt, and turn off heat. Let sit for five minutes, then strain into a bowl.

3. Squeeze excess moisture from gelatin leaves and whisk into hot, strained cream mixture until dissolved. Optionally transfer to pitcher to make pouring into mold easier.

4. Pour into any mold of your choosing, then chill in refrigerator until set. (Depending on size of mold, this could take anywhere from one hour to overnight.)

5. When set, use a paring knife to loosen the edges of the panna cotta from the mold. Turn out onto plate, and serve with crackers, an arugula salad, or any sort of chutney.

Enjoy thyme and goat cheese panna cotta with Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Thyme, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

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