Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Vegan Mushroom Risotto (egg free, dairy free, gluten free)

At what point does it dawn on you that you’re beginning to age? Is it the back that creaks as you get out of bed, and doesn’t really function until mid-morning? Is it those stubborn pounds of weight that have lodged around your middle and wobble uncomfortably as you attempt some desperate exercise? Or is it the Campbell de Morgan spots that spring up somewhere on your torso? They look red and menacing and fill you with a Skin Cancer Fear, but apparently they are benign and harmless, and not worth bothering about; a bit like you in a few years’ time.

Perhaps you are like me, and you still nurture some hope. You think your bad back is caused by having young children. You think the weight will drop off at some undetermined point in the future, and that the grey hair issue will easily be solved by some very expensive highlights. Yet however good you are at denying the changes wrought by advancing years in your own body, sometimes it can be meeting up with friends that brings the whole ageing thing home to you.

Some dear and lovely friends came to visit us last summer. We first met at a dubious cocktail party in a hotel in China. I can’t remember who introduced us, but I do remember being so very happy that at last, here were some people we could have fun with. And we did make it our chief aim to have fun. Over the next couple of years we lived the strange, privileged, hedonistic - and occasionally desperate - life of young, childless expats in China.

Although some of the images have blurred (it must be my age), I do recall many rampaging nights in a northern city of China. The drinking that began any time after 11am and continued long and hard into the early hours. The terrible striped ‘team shirts’ bought for our weekend assault on Beijing. The glee we felt from our podium as an entire Chinese nightclub followed us in the intricate dance some know as The Macarena. The huge platters we ordered and devoured in Korean restaurants, Chinese restaurants, Mexican restaurants, and pretty much any other restaurant that got caught in our tractor beam.
The hours we spent cycling dusty roads and exploring remote, stinking markets; trying to fill our weekends, and make sense of our twenties that perhaps were being lost in this bustling Chinese city? It was a frenetic, surreal time that probably took its toll on our livers, but forged friendships that still serve us well today.

When Mac and Fran arrived last summer, we were outwardly much the same. I couldn’t discern any signs of ageing; perhaps that’s because I still think I look rather like a 16 year old. Ok, we had a few more wrinkles, quite a few more children, but essentially our outer shells remained the same. We were happy, excited and ready to party.

Following some afternoon drinks, we decided to fill up our swimming pool. Two hours later it was Fran who called the proceedings to a halt.
‘It’s getting late, the children haven’t eaten, this is going to take hours, I think we should stop now’.
A hush fell over the group; surely these staid words had no place in our friendship?

We all nodded in agreement,
‘Yep, time to call it a day. I’m a bit chilly anyhow, and I could do with a sit down and a nice cup of tea’.

As Fran and I prepared a meal for the children, the penny dropped. Perhaps it was Mac falling asleep on a garden bench before dinner that really brought it home to me, but I suddenly saw that we were no longer young. We wanted to get our children to bed so that we could gently sip some more wine, eat a relaxed meal, drink a few pints of water for fear of a hangover, and get to bed at a decent hour. We no longer had the energy of our frenzied China years.

That evening I attempted a mushroom risotto for the ageing Gang of Four. It didn’t work out well. I’ve since perfected the recipe, and had every intention of serving it last weekend when once again we were all reunited in a beautiful house overlooking Lac LĂ©man. Unfortunately my husband had fallen asleep before dinner, Mac was pruning the hedge, and Fran and I were too tired to cook. So we ate the kid’s leftovers, polished off the wine and were in bed by 10pm.

How long will it be until our teeth sleep in a glass by our beds? Until the Mazda RX8 is replaced by one that can ride on pavements? Until the Karen Millen jacket is swapped for a tartan rug to keep our knees nice and warm? At this rate I’m pretty sure I won’t make platinum member of SAGA.
Older and Wiser Mushroom Risotto (Serves 6)

Now this will be a great meal for me when I’m in my dotage; all soft and creamy. If the oyster mushrooms are a bit too challenging for my dentures, I’ll just have the nurse blend it all to a smooth paste. Then I shall regale the rest of the lounge with tales of my life and hope my children still love me enough to come and visit.

For the mushroom part: (can be made up to 6 hours ahead and kept in fridge)
You can mix and match with the mushrooms; use chestnut shrooms if you prefer, skip the oyster mush and increase the button mush, the choice is really yours. I would advise against using magic mushrooms, I'm pretty sure that's illegal and I've heard they make you ears turn green.

500g button mushrooms
20-30g dried porcini mushrooms
150-200g oyster mushrooms
1 large onion
4 cloves of garlic
small bunch of fresh parsley, leave some to garnish
olive oil to fry
1-2 tbsps yeast extract
130ml (approx) to soak the dried mushrooms
150ml dry white wine
black pepper to taste

For the risotto part:
500g risotto rice
60g dairy free spread
400ml white wine
1 litre of boiling water
2 GF stock cubes
  • Put the porcini mushrooms into a jug and cover with approximately 130ml of boiling water
  • Wipe and slice the button mushrooms and set aside
  • Gently rip the oyster mushrooms apart, pausing a second to stroke their velvety surface against your cheek
  • Chop the onion - finely or into strips or rings, up to you - and the garlic and most of the parsley. Leave a little parsley to garnish the plates...if your guests are still awake that is
  • Put the onions and garlic into a large frying pan and fry gently for about 5 minutes
  • Add the button and oyster mushrooms and fry gently for a further 5 minutes until they start to give off their juice. If you are staring in a pleading manner at the pan and they are not giving off their juice, cover the pan and that should do the trick
  • Allow the mushrooms to simmer gently whilst you fish out the porcini from the jug - don't throw the stock away
  • Squeeze out the porcini over the jug, then finely chop and add to the mushroom mix
  • Add the yeast extract to the porcini stock, stir and then add it to the pan
  • Add the chopped parsley and the 150ml white wine, turn the heat as low as it will go and leave it to simmer - stirring occasionally - until nearly all the stock has evaporated/been absorbed by the mushrooms. This could take 20 - 30 minutes. There should be a small residue of stock left in the pan, but the mushrooms won't be submerged
  • Set the magical mushroom mix aside
  • Mix up the two stock cubes with the litre of boiling water
  • In a large saucepan, gently melt the dairy free spread
  • Add the risotto rice and stir until the rice is coated
  • Glug in about 250ml of the 400mls of white wine and stir. It will absorb quite quickly
  • Add a good glug of stock and stir
  • Now, I was about to ask you in an exasperated manner, 'have you ever managed to cook risotto rice as per the packet instructions? Don't you find it takes loads more liquid than they say?', but marvel of marvels, tonight my risotto rice, did cook really easily. Keep the heat really low, add the liquid, stir, then cover the pan. Keep twitching and dithering and stirring every 3 minutes or so. Worked a treat
  • Repeat the adding of liquid, stirring, covering, dithering, twitching and stirring until all the stock and wine has been used up, OR until the risotto rice is tender with a slightly firm centre
  • When you think the rice is just about cooked, add the mushroom mix to the rice and stir to combine
  • Give it 5-10 minutes until the mushrooms are warmed through, then tutti frutti it's all terminale! (I did French and Spanish, not Italian)
  • Serve with a good grinding of black pepper and if you can eat parmesan cheese, go right ahead and sprinkle it on
  • Top tip: if you are eating this in a standing position, do make sure your zimmer frame is placed on even terrain. It's best not to take chances at our age

© Pig in the Kitchen

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Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Gluten Free Breadsticks (egg free, dairy free, gluten free)

If you were to look at a map of my brain you would see vast swathes of inactive grey matter. ‘Trigonometry’ reads one, ‘Logical Thinking’ another, ‘Ability to respond Rationally When Tired’ yet another. You would also see some interesting, mountainous spikes labelled; ‘Ability to Rant’,Plate-Smashing-When-Furious Capability’ and ‘Slightly Sick Sense of Black Humour’.
For every blank swathe and mountainous spike there is at least one deep, dark pit. ‘Inability to Keep Up With The Washing’, ‘Ignores Dust For Weeks’, ‘Does Not Regularly Change Sheets’, ‘Does Not Unpack Shopping Bags for Days’. It is because of these domestic chore-related dark pits that I feel an overriding sense of failure when I walk through my front door. And I spend a lot of time behind my front door...not doing the boring chores I'm supposed to be doing and thus feeling like a failure.

It’s not all gloom and doom though, I’m beginning to think that feeling like a failure on a daily basis is a good thing. It means that I have created a fantasy world. This world is a little like the Tardis; it doesn’t take up much space on my brain map, but if you open the door marked ‘Fantasy World’ you’ll be sent hurtling down an Alice In Wonderland-esque hole, and who knows where you may land? Come on, let’s go and see…

The party is in full swing. The enormous, tastefully decorated, tidy, clean and elegant house is looking magnificent. Exotic ornaments hint at a life well travelled, and quite stunning photographs on the walls suggest that the owner could be related to Ansel Adams. You feel a little overawed as you peer into the oak-panelled drawing room; there is an electric hum to the air, beautiful people conversing with knowledge and sophistication. Then your hostess sees you and approaches with a friendly welcoming smile; it’s all ok, no need to stand on ceremony here.

She welcomes you warmly and deftly grabs a glass of champagne from a passing waiter,
Here, drink this, I’m so glad you could come, how are the children?’After listening to you attentively she is called away by one of her catering staff, anxious for her to check their work in the kitchen. As she walks gracefully towards the kitchen, you are struck by what a marvellous physique she has. How can a woman who has had four children look so fantastic? She could easily be mistaken for a world-class tennis player, and you feel sure that she must have a live-in hair stylist; the sleek and shining mane could belong to a model.

‘Makes you sick doesn’t it?’ comments a guest, ‘I wouldn’t mind if she were a bitch, but she is simply the kindest, most thoughtful creature I have ever met’.

It’s true’ adds another guest, ‘a patient loving mother, so understanding of her husband’s frequent business trips, a real flair for maintaining domestic order and her clothes...! Do you know I’ve never seen her scrape her hair into a slightly greying ponytail, wear ripped jeans, pull on an old duffle coat and then hope she can get away with it if she dabs some lip gloss on her chapped lips!’

Other guests shake their heads in amazement, ‘She really is a unique and special person’.

Then the hostess appears from the kitchen. She is laughing gaily with one of the staff and looks quite simply radiant. She heads towards you bearing a silver platter. As she draws near, you can see a tempting array of bowls; guacamole, salsa, hummus, it’s all begging to be sampled. She smiles at you,
‘Here, try some, and – please – let me know what you think of the breadsticks. They’re a new recipe, so do be honest about what you think, constructive criticism is very valuable to me’.Her lapis lazuli eyes shine with fervour as she adds,
‘It’s so important to be humble in life isn’t it?’You willingly accept the breadsticks and scoop up tasty mouthfuls from the bowls. For an instant your world sways blissfully to a new and exciting culinary beat,
‘Oh, those are delicious’ you breathe.

She smiles simply and a flattering blush colours her smooth, flawless cheeks,
‘Thank-you. Thank-you very much indeed’
As her long slender legs glide away, you are quite simply slack-jawed with amazement; can this woman be for real?

Hope you enjoy these dear readers; in fantasy or in reality, they taste pretty good!

Gluten Free Fantasy Breadsticks
If you are desperate for breadsticks for your grumpy, crimson-cheeked, teething baby to chew on; please don't be put off by the salt and pepper pictured on these breadsticks. The lovely hostess mentioned above added that for her grown up party. You don't have to though; simply leave them naked.

100g / 1 cup cornflour / cornstarch
50g / 1/2 cup of potato flour
100g / 1 cup brown rice flour
1.5tsp dried yeast
0.5 tsp xanthan gum
1 tbsp sugar
0.5 tsp salt
50g / scant 1/4 cup dairy free spread
180ml (approx) tepid water
  • Heat the oven to 190 degrees celsius and line a baking tray (or two) with baking parchment
  • Put the cornflour, potato flour, rice flour, dried yeast, xanthan gum, sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl. Mix with a mini whisk to ensure even distribution of ingredients
  • Put the dairy free spread into the bowl, and rub it in to the flours until the mix resembles fine breadcrumbs (my eldest daughter came up with that plan; she's so clever)
  • Add the tepid water a little at a time, you may not need it all. You should end up with a thick mix, a bit like a thick cake mix. Beat with a wooden spoon for a minute or so, to incorporate all the ingredients and to get rid of any lumps
  • Now, take a piping bag and choose a thin nozzle; mine measures about 5mm in diameter
  • Dollop some mix into your piping bag and very gently pipe long, elegant breadsticks onto the baking trays
  • Pour some olive oil into a bowl and painstakingly brush the surface of each stick with oil. I used my finger, but one of those silicone pastry brushes would probably be quicker. If you want to season the sticks, sprinkle over some sea salt and black pepper
  • By the time you've piped out all of the mixture and daubed the sticks in oil, you can put the baking tray straight into the oven - no need to leave them to prove
  • Bake for about 10 minutes or until they are golden brown
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool
  • Shimmy out to your waiting guests. You are magnificent and you are sumptuous...and you really need to get a housekeeper to maintain order in your house

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