Monthly Archives

February 2015

Food

Grilled Halloumi

The first time I had halloumi, I was actually in London, not its native Cyprus.

It was a spring day in April, and I had just hopped off the 140 double decker bus from London Heathrow to my friend’s flat in Harrow in northwest London.  It had been a year since I had seen Megan, and I felt a smile of relief spread on my face when she met me in the lobby of her office just outside the bus station.

We first met when we lived in Salt Lake City, but were only acquaintances until we both moved away.  While I lived in Asturias, Spain, she was studying in England and I flew to London and took a train to Crewe (near Manchester) to meet her.  When I moved back to Salt Lake, she visited me the following year, and a year later here I was again visiting her, this time in London.

We walked the few blocks to her place, where she unlocked an exterior and interior door, revealing a narrow stairway up to a shared landing, kitchen, and bathroom.  She shared the flat with an Italian 20-something guy, Carlo, who had come to work as a chef and send money home to his family, as well a middle-aged British woman who looked after the home for a trust. (We borrowed Carlo’s room late at night while he was at work so we could jam out at the piano to Josh Groban’s “Closer” album…we are a magical duet.)

Megan and I sat in the tiny kitchen and chatted as she chopped a cesar salad and fired up the overhead broiler on her little retro stove.  I watched – slightly jet lagged – as she turned over slices of halloumi.  I didn’t know what it was and had never tried it but was glad to do so.  I loved watching her flip it under the broiler…I could tell by her hungry anticipation that it was one of her favorite things to eat.

The slices of halloumi transformed from white to golden brown under the flame of the broiler, exactly the color of a perfectly roasted marshmallow.  The inside was soft and the outside slightly crisp, and the first bite into the briny, salty cheese was heaven.

After lunch, Megan head back to work and I stripped to my unders and crashed face first on the bed, slipping into a sleep-drunk stupor until my lost luggage arrived from Air Canada a few hours later.


Here in the USA, I’ve found halloumi at a few grocery stores that usually have a few more imported products or a higher-end vibe.  It ranges anywhere from$8-$11 for a small package.

Halloumi is a semi-hard goat and sheep milk cheese from Cyprus.  It is brined and often seasoned with mint in the brine, although I find that the mint flavor is trace.  It’s a cheesy miracle because it doesn’t melt when you grill it, so you can get a gorgeous charred flavor on it!

I usually slice and broil it, but occasionally opt to throw it in a hot, dry cast iron grill pan for about 5-7 minutes on each side.

You will love a few slices of halloumi drizzled with citrus olive oil (olives crushed with fresh citrus) and a few torn pieces of mint.  The bright flavor of citrus and the bitter of the olive is a champion partner to halloumi!  I also love to dip or drizzle it in grape must; the sweet raisin flavor of the must is a perfect combination with the salty, light flavor of the cheese.

halloumi

 

Stephanie’s favorite things: Atlantis Halloumi Cheese | Leonardi Grape MustEtruria Mandarin Olive Oil
Food

Wild Mushroom & Amaranth Risotto with Thyme Cream

 

In my perfect world, I would open my front door in the morning, walk a few yards to the woods to forage, and be welcomed by an enormous patch of mushrooms begging me to pick them and saute them up in a frying pan.

wild mushroom & amaranth risotto

I know, I know.  You’re either completely disgusted by the thought of it, or absolutely delighted.  I fall in the latter category, obviously.  I find mushrooms are a great divider of humanity.  I’m always the Debbie Downer in the room of starving friends trying to figure out what everyone wants on their pizza.  “Cheese!” “Pepperoni!” “Pineapple!” shout everyone.  I roll my eyes at the mediocrity of the world’s palettes.  (How are we even friends?)  And then my deep, bordering-masculine voice bellows from the corner, where I’m concealed under a hoodie.  “MUSHROOMS!”

(I also beg for sausage and green olives, but that’s another post.)

The room turns to look at me, booing and scrunching their noses at me.  The nerve!  How can she eat that repulsive fungus?!  No way.

Well, my friends, yes way.  I clawed my way out of the womb crying for mushrooms.  For as long as I can remember, my parents and I had a Mother’s Day tradition of hopping in the car and heading to the forest to go mushroom hunting for morels.  It was usually the perfect day to do it…post-melt of copious amounts of snow led to a lush, damp soil for the morels to pop up, but still before the bracken ferns reared their summery heads.  The contest was to see who found the first morel.  We’d get about fifteen miles into the forest and then drive along the side of the road at 5 mph, shouting commands at dad driving to stop or back up because we thought we spotted one.  It was often a pine cone or a stick under a leaf, causing a ‘shroomy shadow.  Occasionally, the hunch was worthwhile enough to open the door while the car was still in motion and leap out into the woods to examine more closely.  Once one was found, we all hopped out and became a morel mushroom search party.  One time, there was a morel on the top of a sandy eroding hill, about twelve feet tall.  Two of us jumped out and raced climbing up the slippery hill to grab the first mushroom.

When we arrived home with our bounty, it was torture to wait until the next morning while the mushrooms soaked in salt water overnight to draw out any little crawly buggers that may be hiding inside.  But the wait was always worth it!  Morels are delicious morsels that should be considered golden nuggets of the food world.  We always sauteed them in butter and salt and usually sneaked a few before adding them to an omelet for breakfast and gravy for dinner.

Morels aren’t readily available here in Utah, and it’s also the middle of February, so when my craving for a medley of wild mushrooms hit, I head over to my local neighborhood grocer (Harmon’s) to pick up a variety.  I was only planning on frying them up, but while in the store I thought of making a cream, which led me to remember a fantastic mushroom-barley-thyme dish I made once.  At home, I perused my cupboard and spotted a container of amaranth I hadn’t yet used.  Actually, I had never yet cooked with amaranth, so this was an experiment.

It won on the first try.

The mushrooms, cream, and thyme meld together to make a great sauce that would be fantastic over pasta.  Stir in some amaranth to make a risotto that is primal friendly and gluten-free, and add some greens for freshness.  I almost used some Italian flat-leaf parsley, but I wanted to use up the broccoli micro-greens I purchased.  (Side note: the micro-greens look like little clovers, so this would be great for a St. Patrick’s Day themed dinner!)

Heat some olive oil and toss the mushrooms in, allowing them to cook for a few minutes.

wild mushroom & amaranth risotto

Add a few cloves of crushed garlic and some sprigs of thyme.  I like extreme flavor, so I added about 8-10.  After a few more minutes, pour in 1/2-3/4 pint of heavy cream.

wmrmushroompan

Turn the heat to medium-low and let cook, allowing the thyme and garlic to infuse the cream.  The cream will begin to bubble around the edges.  This means it is thickening.  Beautiful.

Meanwhile, add 1/2 cup of amaranth to a saucepan and add 1 1/2 cup water or broth.  Bring to a boil, and then cover and let simmer on low for 15 minutes.

wild mushroom & amaranth risotto

The amaranth will being to turn like porridge, a mix between Cream of Wheat and couscous.  Add it to the mushroom and cream mixture and stir well until it incorporates.

Add a handful of greens to stir in and wilt.  Right before serving, add a fresh handful of greens and salt and pepper to each dish as desired.

wild mushroom & amaranth risotto

 

Plate it up and enjoy!

wild mushroom & amaranth risotto

Wild Mushroom & Amaranth Risotto with Thyme Cream
 
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A rich, velvety spin on an old standby comfort food, risotto. Amaranth gives this dish its smooth texture. Any mixture of wild mushrooms will make this dish shine!
Author:
Recipe type: Sides
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4-6 servings
Ingredients
  • For the mushrooms and thyme cream:
  • ½ pint black trumpeter mushrooms
  • ½ pint yellowfoot chantarelle mushrooms
  • ½ pint shiitake mushrooms
  • handful portobello mushrooms, sliced
  • handful white button mushrooms, sliced
  • ½ to ¾ pint heavy cream
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
  • 8-10 sprigs fresh thyme
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • For the amaranth:
  • ½ cup dry amaranth
  • 1 ½ cup water or broth
  • To finish:
  • 4 oz broccoli micro-greens or Italian parsley
Instructions
  1. Heat olive oil in a large pan and add mushrooms. Allow to saute for a couple minutes.
  2. In a separate small saucepan, add amaranth and water or broth. Bring to a boil (about 3-5 minutes), and then cover and reduce to low. Let simmer for 15 minutes.
  3. While the amaranth is cooking, add chopped garlic and thyme sprigs to the mushrooms. Cook an additional few minutes to allow the mushrooms and oil to soak in the garlic and thyme flavors. Add a little salt and freshly ground pepper.
  4. Pour cream into mushrooms and keep heat on medium. After a few minutes, the cream will begin to bubble around the edges and tint from the mushrooms. The bubbling will let the cream thicken a bit. Turn to low after a few minutes of bubbling and stirring.
  5. When the amaranth is nearly finished, it will start to turn to a porridge-like consistency that resembles a cross between Cream of Wheat and Moroccan couscous. Remove from heat and stir into the mushroom mixture. Stir gently for about a minute, or until the amaranth is incorporated into the mushrooms and the entire mixture melds together.
  6. Stir in a handful of greens. Just before serving, add some fresh greens to each dish.

Food

Five-minute Tabbouleh

As a teenager, when my family would go out to eat, I’d order a big, greasy ruben sandwich.  The giant plate was always delivered heaped with piles of thick-cut fries and a beautiful helping of corned beef and sauerkraut nestled between marbled rye.  Without fail, every time I ate my way to the bottom of the fry pile, I came upon a parsley garnish smooshed under an orange wedge.

I had no idea what they expected me to do with the parsley.

Dad and I would mock the poor parsley – and sometimes kale leaf – and belittle its status as anything useful.  What were we, rabbits?

As the years went on and I moved out on my own, I ditched the “eat anything deep fried” habit and became close personal friends with anything fresh.  I haven’t met a vegetable I don’t like – except canned peas.  I am still trying to figure out their purpose in the culinary world.

My first run in with tabbouleh wasn’t a good one.  I was a sophomore in college at Northern Michigan University, double majoring in Spanish and Music Education.  At the end of the year, the Spanish Department had a big fiesta in the language lab.  As Professor Orf happily strummed away at the autoharp in her lap, she pointed us to the tabbouleh she made.  It was green and white and granular and new, and I thought I’d try it out.  It tasted pretty good.  At the end of that evening, however, my stomach decided otherwise and tabbouleh was no longer incubating happily in my digestive tract.

five-minute tabbouleh

Fast forward about eight years and you’ll find me in kitchen, a slave to culinary experimentation.  Over the years I’ve learned that I have a deep love for small plates (tapas, mezze), Mediterranean and Levant cuisine, and cultural traditions.  One summer day as I sought air conditioned sanctuary in the produce aisles of the grocery store, I spotted parsley overflowing in a basket on the top shelf.  Does anyone else feel like those crazy produce sprinklers come on every time you reach for something?  Where’s the fire?

Parsley became crack to me.  Squeeze some lemon, add a little olive oil and salt and you’ve got a fresh salad.  Take it a few more steps and you’re forking your way through a bowl of tabbouleh.

I’ve looked through various traditional recipes for tabbouleh, and there are so many variations depending on the region.  Some use bulgar, some use couscous, some are heavy on the herbs and others on the grain, some use onion and some use cucumber.  I couldn’t decide on one, and I make tabbouleh different every time, depending what I have on hand.  One this is for certain: I’ve become addicted to parsley!  It is incredibly energizing and clean feeling, and not a bad source of vitamins and minerals either…Vitamins K, B, C, and Iron to name a few.

I’ve also got my roommate hooked on tabbouleh.  Last New Year’s Day, she and her friend woke up after spending all night dancing.  I fed them tabbouleh for breakfast, and they both commented on how energized they felt after eating it.  It’s magical, my friends.

This version is one I made one afternoon when I came home starving.  It is so quick and easy, and light and fresh.  I think it’s a great accompaniment to fish!

I hope you grow to love tabbouleh as much as I do.

fivemintabbouleh

Five-minute Tabbouleh
 
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A crisp, bright herbacious salad perfect for when you crave something light and fresh.
Author:
Recipe type: Salad
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Serves: 1-2 servings
Ingredients
  • 1 bunch of Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 bunch curly-leaf parsley
  • ½ bunch of mint
  • handful of dry bulgar wheat
  • ½ lemon
  • a few cherry tomatoes (or 1 roma tomato, or ½ large steak/slicing tomato)
  • ½ cucumber, peeled and seeds removed
  • extra virgin olive oil (to taste)
  • salt and pepper (to taste)
Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, add a handful of bulgar wheat. Squeeze ½ lemon over the bulgar wheat and gently mix with your hand to ensure all the grains have been covered by lemon juice. If your lemon is a bit dry, add a little water. Let sit for about 15 minutes, until the grains have softened.
  2. While the bulgar is soaking, finely chop the parsley and mint.
  3. If you can, seed the tomatoes. If they’re too small, don’t worry about it. Remove the cucumber seeds with a spoon. Dice the tomatoes and cucumbers.
  4. Toss the bulgar, tomatoes, and cucumber in with the parsley and mint.
  5. Drizzle a bit of extra virgin olive oil (a couple teaspoons or a tablespoon) and salt and pepper to taste.
Stephanie’s favorite things: Golchin bulgar #2 | Sicilian extra virgin olive oil (it’s strong and bitter) | Morton Salt Kosher Salt