Oat and Lentil porridge

Porridge is excellent for breakfast, or for particularly lazy lunches or dinners. Here’s my favorite version which is delicious and very filling! You can try doing this in the microwave, I suppose, but I don’t think it would be as nice, and you’ll need a very big bowl so it doesn’t boil over or explode.

Serves one.

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup oats (preferably not instant oats)
  • 1/3 cup lentils (green or red, but I prefer green)
  • 1 stock cube (I use the chicken-style vegan ones, but use whatever you like)
  • 1 tbsp grated parmesan cheese (or nutritional yeast)
  • pinch salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Method

Put the oats and lentils in a saucepan with a cup and two thirds of water (or in any case a ratio of oats/lentils to water of 2:5) along with the stock cube, and then put it on a really low heat. Bring it up to a simmer (it’ll be quicker if you put a lid on) and then let it simmer partially covered for 20 minutes if you’re using red lentils, or 30 minutes if your’re using green lentils, or however long it takes to get the consistency you prefer. Make sure to stir it every now and then, and scrape the lentils that have stuck to the bottom of the pan (if you’ve used a non-stick pan, which I don’t recommend, you’ll need to try your best with a plastic or wooden implement, but you’ll have a much easier time if you have a pan that isn’t non-stick and a metal spoon).

About five minutes before the end of the cooking time, add the cheese (or yeast), a pinch of salt, and a good grinding of black pepper, and when it’s done, well, you eat it!

Spaghetti with a mushroom ragu for two

This is a delightful little dish that’s simple and fairly quick to make. You can use fresh mushrooms, but I suggest using dried because they are cheaper, have much more flavor, and you can use the soaking liquor for the stock. If you do choose to use fresh mushrooms, then use vegetable stock. Chicken or chicken-style vegan stock will overpower the flavor of the mushrooms.

For the mushrooms, I used a mixture of shiitake, button, cep, and black fungus, but I don’t think the black fungus worked all that well (except for giving the dish a dramatic look!). I think dried mushrooms are excellent, but if you do use fresh, you’ll need about five times the weight. If you use nice mushrooms, that’ll be expensive, but you might be rich so you do you. Either way, don’t bother using just baby button mushrooms, and certainly don’t use oyster mushrooms because your sauce will taste of nothing.

It serves two people. Or one person twice.

Ingredients

  • 50 g dried mushrooms
  • Olive oil (about twice as much as you think you’ll need, but not so much that you’ll be deep frying)
  • 1 onion (or a couple of banana shallots would be nice)
  • 2 fat cloves of garlic, minced (or two big dollops out of a jar)
  • 60 ml or so of vermouth, or whatever you have – sherry, Madeira, Marsala etc.
  • 2 tbsp thickened cream (double cream in the UK, heavy cream in America)
  • Some basil, parsley, and parmesan cheese (as much as you like of each)
  • 250 g spaghetti (I use Barilla no. 7 spaghettoni)

Method

Begin by soaking the mushrooms in warm water for about half an hour (you’re going to ask me how much water to use: use enough to cover them in whatever vessel you’re soaking them in, and in any case at least 300 ml to 400 ml, but not too much, otherwise the lovely stock will be too weak.) While they are soaking, chop the onion and have a glass of wine. Add the chopped onion and garlic along with a good pinch of salt to the oil in a large frying pan, but don’t put it on the heat yet.

Once the mushrooms are rehydrated, drain and chop them, reserving 250 ml of the soaking liquor.

Now put the frying pan on a medium-ish heat and soften the onion, not until it’s brown, but until it’s really soft; it’ll take five to ten minutes, depending on the heat, but don’t be tempted to turn the heat up to rush it.

Next, add the mushrooms to the pan, and grind in some black pepper. If it’s a special occasion, you could grate in some nutmeg too – mushrooms love nutmeg. Cook the mushrooms over a fairly high heat until they are tender and any liquid that went in with them has evaporated.

Now pour in the vermouth (or whatever you are using) and allow that to evaporate too (it’s flavor we’re after here; we’re not making soup). Then pour in the reserved soaking liquor (or if you used fresh mushrooms, add 250 ml vegetable stock or something with an inoffensive amount of flavor). Turn the heat down to low, and simmer for about half an hour – until the liquid has reduced by about half and it’s thickened up.

While all that’s going on, bring a large pot of water to the boil and add a frightening amount of salt (like, I grab a handful of rock salt and throw it in), add the pasta and cook it for one minute less than it tells you on the packet, unless you’ve got dentures you’re worried about, then add some extra time so it all goes soft. Time it all so that the pasta will not be sitting around waiting for the sauce.

After the sauce has been cooking for half an hour and has reduced sufficiently, add the herbs and the cream (you can use more or less cream, depending on your taste, but don’t drown out the taste of the mushrooms, and remember you’re not making soup!). Bring it back up to a simmer (it shouldn’t curdle, unless you’ve used reduced fat cream for some reason, though I can’t imagine why you would). Then immediately drain the pasta and add it to the pan, mix it all together thoroughly, then serve onto warmed plates. Sprinkle over some grated parmesan cheese (or shaved if you’re trying to impress).

Enjoy!

 

Vegan Chili

I like vegetarian cooking, but have long had a problem with vegetarian chili, and in particular the texture. Without overcooking the beans and vegetables it’s always seemed like a spicy vegetable and bean soup. A friend suggested blending it a bit with a stick blender. I loved it!

Serves 4 hungry people, or 6 people whose appetites are smaller

Ingredients

  • Oil (I used sunflower oil, but olive oil is good too.)
  • 1 onion (I used a red onion, but a brown onion would be just as good)
  • 1 red capsicum
  • 2 carrots (on the larger size, but not the tree-trunk sized ones)
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic (or three big dollops of already-crushed garlic from a jar)
  • About a heaped pudding spoonful of ground cayenne pepper (be bold; trust me)
  • Ground cumin, more than a teaspoon, less than a tablespoon
  • Ground smoked paprika, about the same amount as the cumin
  • 1 teaspoon mixed Italian herbs (I know, it sounds ridic, but it works)
  • A good heaped tablespoon of cocoa powder (NOT drinking chocolate)
  • 2 400 g cans of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 400 g cans of beans (I used Woolworths Mexican Beans mix, which is a mix of kidney beans, pinto beans, and black beans but you can use any beans you like)
  • 1 400 g can of sweetcorn kernels (or you can use frozen if you have some in the freezer)
  • 400 ml vegetable stock (I used stock powder and an empty tomato can full of hot water)
  • A few drops of Tabasco sauce (enough to put the willies up you a bit, but not so much you’re genuinely afraid)
  • Splash of white wine vinegar

Note: try to get the “no added salt” version of the canned stuff; it’ll taste better.

Method

Chop up the capsicum, carrots and celery and dice the onion. Warm the oil in a big saucepan or pot or casserole or something (I used the 3 litre Ikea 365+ pot, which was a bit snug, and I reckon the 5-litre one would have been better) and toss in the chopped vegetables. Keep the heat low and turn them over in the oil before putting a lid on. Stir them every now and then and after about fifteen minutes they should be tender. If not, leave them a bit longer, but you don’t want them mushy; just tender.

Now turn up the heat and put in the garlic, the spices and the herbs stirring to combine, and then add the cocoa powder. Stir that in too: it will combine with the oil and vegetable juices and go lovely and glossy – that’s when it’s time to add the tomatoes, drained beans, and drained corn, as well as the stock (or water and stock powder). Use the stock too rinse out the tomato cans. Stir it all together and bring it up to a simmer.

Once it’s simmering, turn the heat down so it’s simmering gently and let it cook for about half an hour, stirring occasionally and making sure nothing’s sticking to the bottom.

After half an hour add salt and pepper to taste (if you add salt before you cook the beans they’ll end up tasting of nothing – that’s also why I recommending using cans with no added salt).

Now take it off the heat and leave it to cool down for a couple of minutes. It won’t get cold. Use a stick blender to give it a bit of a whizz – just a couple of pulses, but don’t go crazy: you’re not making soup. If you don’t have a stick blender (and honestly, if you don’t you really should get one, and a decent one – the best you can afford) you can put a couple of ladlefuls into an ordinary blender and whizzy whizzy before adding it back to the pot (and if you don’t have any kind of blender you could put a couple of ladlefuls through a mouli, or go at it with a potato masher, but I really do recommend doing something to get the contrasting textures).

Finally stir in a splash of white wine vinegar, check the seasoning and serve! I put some slices of avocado on top and it was delicious. I often put broken tortilla chips on chili too, and, while I don’t really like it, a lot of people put corriander leaves on the top. A dollop of sour cream and that grated Monterrey Jack cheese is nice if you’re not concerned about it not being vegan

Steaks, sauces, and Delia Smith

This was originally published in 2012

Steak au poivre, peppered steak, steak with peppercorn sauce: call it what you will; it’s pretty much a culinary classic. I’m inclined to believe it is French because of its name, the use of flaming brandy and the French love of pouring rich, creamy sauces over anything that is put on a plate.

First a note about steak. Well a few notes actually. Rump, sirloin, and rib-eye are delicious cuts, full of flavor and so totally inappropriate to be cooked in a rich sauce like this one. Fillet is perfect: it is beautiful to cut, but needs a lot of help in the flavor department, and is an ideal cut to serve with rich, creamy sauces. It’s expensive, but one often deserves a treat! If you can afford fillet, buy good quality meat, and the steaks must be thick!

Secondly (and I mean this), I am very opinionated about how steaks should be cooked. My first opinion is that it is a shame to cook a steak at all. That said, for this dish cooking is necessary. The recipe below gives instructions on how to cook your steak if you like it rare. If you don’t like it rare, I wouldn’t bother to cook it at all: you will destroy the delicate texture of the fillet and will have wasted a lot of money on what is an expensive piece of meat.

The sauce is very rich and creamy, but hopefully the finished dish will not resemble what is so often served up in third-rate Italian restaurants; a glib bit of meat swimming in cream and brandy. Delia Smith’s version of this recipe includes no cream or brandy and is, although delicious, not nearly as indulgent as my version!

Steak au Poivre

Serves 4

4 fillet steaks
3 large shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves, chopped
4 tsp black peppercorns
75 ml brandy
200 ml red wine
400 ml good beef stock
90 ml double cream
2 tbsp butter

Begin by flash frying the steaks. I prefer to fry steak on a heavy cast iron griddle, but a large heavy-based frying pan is perfectly suitable. Get your griddle as hot as possible – heat it over a high heat for a good fifteen to twenty minutes. There will be smoke, but do not be afraid: an extremely high temperature is necessary. Spread a layer of butter over each steak (not the pan!) and lay butter-side down on the hot griddle and fry for one minute on each side, turning every thirty seconds. Remove the steaks to a warmed plate.

Next, over a medium heat, melt the rest of the butter in a large, thick-based frying pan (if you fried the steaks in a pan, use the same one). Add the shallots, garlic and peppercorns to the pan, and soften gently for about five minutes.

Now comes the tricky (and potentially dangerous) bit. Heat the brandy in either a large metal ladle or a very small saucepan. Once the brandy is hot, return the steaks to the frying pan, light the brandy with a match and (standing as far back as you can) pour the flaming brandy over the steaks. Swirl it around gently to keep the flame going as long as possible, but as soon as the flame dies, remove the steaks back to the plate.

Now add the red wine to the pan, turn the heat up to high and reduce the wine by about one half; this should take around five minutes. Next add the beef stock and let it boil for around ten minutes or until the stock has reduced by about two-thirds.

Now turn the heat back down to medium and stir in the cream. Allow the sauce to thicken a little and return the steaks to the pan to warm through. Spoon the sauce over the steaks. Once warmed through, serve immediately with grilled corn cobs and stir-fried savoy cabbage.

Note for readers in Australia/New Zealand. Fillet steak means eye fillet; shallots mean eshallots – the french shallots that look like small onions; not shallots that might also be called spring onions or scallions.

Microwave Cookery

I rather like cooking using the microwave. I know many people baulk at the idea of using a microwave for anything other than reheating leftovers, but there are some pretty great things you can do with a microwave.

Chicken

You can roast a small-to-medium chicken in a microwave in about half an hour, and it will be delicious and the meat will stay moist and juicy – no fear of a dry chook, which can happen if you overcook a chicken in the oven. Remember to shield the breast bone and the ends of the legs with foil though.

Eggs

You can buy those microwave egg poachers, which are quite handy, but what the microwave is really good for is making scrambled eggs when you are catering for a lot of people. Just whisk the eggs in a large bowl (and unlike when you’re making scrambled eggs the traditional way, you want to get them really really frothy here) and then microwave on low power, stopping every 30 seconds to whisk again, until they are done.

Cakes and puddings

Yes, you can bake in a microwave! The microwave is quite good for making sponge puddings – the type that has jam or syrup on the top – much quicker than steaming. And a pineapple upside-down cake is a great make in the microwave too. My favorite though is my microwave mug brownies. Ready in a flash, and so easy. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

2 tbsp melted butter
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup flour
¼ tsp baking powder
2 tbsp cocoa powder
¼ cup milk

Method:

Mix all the ingredients together in a mug.
Microwave on high for 1 minute and 15 seconds

Tip: before adding the milk, mix everything else together first. Make sure everything is mixed together very well.