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!

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!

The Unbearable Lightness of Bean

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This past January, I moved to London with no acquaintances and – more importantly – no concrete housing plans. As a perpetual planner, this was a very uncharacteristic thing of me to do. The first month of my living in London was a mess of hotel hopping, a brief two-hour commute from a small English village, and almost winding up in a convent with a 9pm curfew. Exhausted, I finally came upon the dorm-style housing that would be my home for the next five months. The building was right next to a cafe that served a lovely Tuscan salad, and I fell so in love with the dish that I set out to recreate it.

One of the key themes in Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being is the uniqueness of a single life. The decisions we make and the experiences that come of those decisions are unable to be replicated, giving our individual lives a certain ‘lightness.’ I cannot exactly imitate the cafe’s Tuscan salad exactly, but the choices I make regarding the ingredients and their proportions achieve a different and unique dish.

This book was given to me by a very important person in my life – someone I would not have encountered were it not for my decision to ‘wing it’ with housing in my early days abroad. The novel follows four characters whose lives collide in different ways. Like the confetti of ingredients in this summer white bean salad, no single figure would play the same role without the others complimenting and contrasting it. There are many textures and flavors in this dish that one would think it’d be overwhelming, but the salad achieves perfect lightness.

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Summer Salad:

5 cups baby arugula

1/2 cup cannellini beans, drained from can, chopped roughly

1 tomato, diced

6 or so scallions, sliced thinly

Parmesan cheese shavings (several shavings per serving)

4 or so slices of prosciutto, cut into thin strips

2 slices of sandwich bread

Salt and pepper

Vinaigrette:

1 lemon (juice of)

1/3 cup olive oil

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Salt and pepper to season

Instruction:

1. Croutons: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice bread into cubes, about 1/2 inch thick. Drizzle liberally with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Bake for about 10 minutes.

2. Bean salad: Dice tomatoes, add salt, and let sit over a strainer to remove some moisture. Add sliced scallions and chopped white beans. Let ingredients sit in strainer for a bit to allow flavors to blend. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Vinaigrette: Whisk chopped parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil. Season with salt to taste.

4. Assembly: Toss arugula in vinaigrette and transfer to plate. Top with bean salad, prosciutto, parmesan, and croutons.

Enjoy a summer white bean salad with Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and check in at warandpeach.com for more recipes and book reviews!

The Girl with the Dragon Cashew

Over the weekend, we hosted an open house so that I could see family and friends before moving to London. From Saturday morning until well into the Sunday brunch hours, people from various walks of life came and went. In the midst of the haze of food, wine, laughter, and plenty of hugs, I began thinking about how each person at the party had influenced my life and my decision to begin an adventure across the pond. Every guest differs in age, personality, and role in my life, but they’ve all contributed a bit to what happens next.

Cooking is like solving a mystery. As a chef’s job is to find the perfect flavor combination, a crime novelist must make multiple seemingly random elements come together in the end. In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels, Stieg Larsson introduces multiple characters, each with a complex history that contributes to the plot. Like a fiery red pesto with surprising flavors, this novel’s many elements make up a delectable story. The audience may not understand throughout the creation process, and to the outside eye, some of the ingredients may seem bizarre, but the end result makes perfect sense.

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1/4 cup cashew nuts

1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (I used the jarred kind soaked in olive oil, drained.)

1/4 cup basil

1/2 tbsp red pepper flakes

1/4 cup olive oil

Salt, to season

1/2 pound angel hair pasta

Instruction:

1. In food processor, combine cashew nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, and red pepper flakes. Slowly add olive oil and allow it to incorporate as processor is still going. Season with salt.

2. Cook angel hair pasta in boiling salted water. Mix with pesto and thin out with a few tablespoons of pasta water, if necessary.

Enjoy fiery pesto and angel hair with Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and check in at warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

Me Talk Parsley One Day

Parsley Confetti Ravioli

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When my sister and I moved out of the house for college, my parents developed some eccentricities because of their newfound and undirected attention. They began watching British sitcoms from the early nineties each night. My mother became so addicted to Scrabble that she has now taken to giving it up for Lent to control herself. My father began adopting plenty of new children – the herbs in our backyard. Every day he waters, prunes, and primps. They have flourished so much under his care that they’ve taken over a large percentage of our back deck.

With parsley coming out of my ears, I decided to use the opportunity to my advantage. Just as David Sedaris took his father’s bizarre habits and turned them into the hilarious anecdotal short stories of Me Talk Pretty One Day, I’ve taken my father’s herb garden and used it for my own craft: cooking. Adding parsley to pasta dough for a confetti pattern makes the dish whimsical and fun. As Sedaris achieves lighthearted and bite-sized stories that are loaded with many different colors and flavors, these raviolis are encouraging my father and his quirks to grow. If only there were a way to melt my mother’s Scrabble tiles into a soup…

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Whole wheat pasta sheets:

3 cups whole wheat flour

4 eggs

1 tbsp salt

1/4 cup water (as needed)

Ravioli filling:

4 oz mascarpone

2 oz ricotta

4 oz mozzarella, grated

2 oz parmesan, grated

4 oz (1/4 pound) prosciutto, diced finely

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Salt and pepper

(You can play with the ratio of the four cheeses, depending on which flavors you like, but make sure there is enough mascarpone or ricotta to bind the rest of the filling together.)

Instruction:

1. Pasta dough: In a standing mixer, combine flour, eggs, salt, and water. Knead on countertop and form into a ball. Wrap in cling film and let rest at room temperature for fifteen minutes or so.

2. Filling: Combine four cheeses, prosciutto, and parsley. Season as needed and transfer to piping bag.

3. Assembly: After dough has rested, use pasta machine to roll out sheets (to gauge thinness – I rolled each sheet to 6 out of 8 settings). Pipe filling and make small raviolis, pressing the sheets together with a fork to seal.

4. Cooking ravioli: Drop raviolis in boiling salted water. When raviolis are cooked, they will float to the surface. To be safe, let them cook for a minute more. Serve with butter and parmesan shavings.

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Enjoy parsley confetti ravioli with David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day, and check in at https://warandpeach.com/ for future recipes and book reviews!

The Grape Gatsby

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The first time I went to France and tried a crepe was during my early high school years. My family spent several days in Paris, and one day we went to lunch at a small hole-in-the-wall creperie with limited seating and a loudly singing proprietor. I ordered a simple ham and cheese filling, followed by a strawberry and nutella for dessert. I was amazed that the same foundation, a simple crepe batter with only four or five ingredients, could be a vehicle for such different and unique flavor combinations – sweet or savory, creamy or fruity.

Around the same time, I was assigned to read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. In middle school, I did not have a very good relationship with reading. I would lazily skim for school assignments – getting the gist of the plot but missing the beautiful character descriptions and the subtleties in the language. The Great Gatsby reminded me of the wonderful creativity of literature. It lifted me out of my reading slump. I read it slowly, taking my time with each chapter. I listened to the dialogue in my head, and pictured the Gatsby mansion and its lavish parties. Like my first experience at the Paris creperie, I was amazed by the variety of the book and how different it was from any literature I had ever experienced.

Fitzgerald’s writing style is light and crisp, full of dynamic characters and elegant surprises. Any crepe can parallel these themes – never becoming too heavy or unmanageable, but providing enough variety in texture and flavor to be interesting.

I am always looking for parallels between my passions, and cooking and reading intersect in their endless possibilities. One can never run out of books to read or recipes to try. If ever in a slump, look for something different from anything you’ve tried in the past; it will surely revive you!

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Crepe batter:

4 eggs

2 cups whole milk

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons butter, unsalted and melted

Filling:

1 cup red grapes, halved

1 cup goat cheese, crumbled

3 chicken breasts

Basil

2 tbsp flour

2 tbsp butter

2 cups whole milk

Salt, pepper

Juice of 1 lemon

1 cup white wine

Instruction:

1. Combine flour, sugar, and salt. Whisk milk and eggs in separate bowl. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients in portions, whisking in between additions so as to avoid lumps in the batter. Whisk in melted butter. Cover batter in cling film and allow to rest for 20 minutes. (You can mix these ingredients in a blender, but I like to whisk by hand to have more control!)

2. Season both sides of chicken breast with salt and pepper. In a sautee pan over medium-high heat, sear chicken breasts on either side for a golden brown color. Finish in a 350 degree oven for about 10-12 minutes (until firm and cooked through). Remove from oven and cover  with tin foil to retain moisture as the chicken cools a bit.

3. For cream sauce: melt butter in small saucepan. Add flour and stir over medium heat, allowing flour to cook out for a minute or so. Add heated milk bit by bit, whisking between additions to avoid lumps. In a separate saucepan, bring lemon juice and white wine to a simmer and reduce by half. Add lemon wine mixture to the milk pan; season with salt and pepper.

4. Halve red grapes, crumble goat cheese, cube chicken, and chop basil.

5. Assembly of crepes: grease a non-stick frying pan with butter on medium-high heat. Spread a ladle-full of thin batter in the pan, creating an even layer. Allow first side of crepe to cook for about 45 seconds; flip with spatula and allow second side to cook for about 30 seconds. Add fillings (cream sauce, grapes, goat cheese, cubed chicken, basil) to crepe and fold to contain all elements.

Enjoy your crepe with The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and check in at warandpeach.wordpress.com for future recipes and book reviews!