Posts Tagged ‘mint’

Nanny Rhino and the law of tea

Yes, that’s right. I’m fobbing you off with something from my Nanny Rhino, rather than writing a proper blog for you. Again. Apologies. I have been busy (for ‘busy,’ read: lazy).

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Tea. What a wonderful wonderful beverage. Not much beats a tea. As a non-drinker (of the alcoholic variety, I of course, do drink other things), tea is as wacky as it gets in my world. Well, apart from when I occasionally drink coffee.

 

I do get quite wacky with my tea sometimes. When I first moved to university and happened to have a peppermint tea at someone’s house, a whole new world opened up in front of me. And it was very exciting indeed. I used to have a small travel kettle in my room which just brewed enough for one cup. I also had a rubbishy student job at a coffee place inside a train station. They would open at the crack of dawn to get the early commuters and close late at night to get the drunken husbands desperately trying to sober up with espressos before returning home to their wives.

 

I was often on the early shifts, which meant arriving at 5.30am. Whether cycling or taking the bus, I needed to leave myself about twenty minutes. So my alarm would go off at 4.15am and I would grumpily throw back the duvet and force myself over to the desk to put the kettle on. A mug with a tea bag would be waiting, having been placed there the night before. The kettle would boil, the water would go in and while it brewed, I would gripe about early starts and it surely being against the Human Rights Act and I could possibly sue my employers. Then the tea would finish brewing, I’d ditch the bag and, depending on which tea it was, I’d add milk and have a sip.

 

Things slowly seemed kind of nice then. I could hear the birds singing and see the sun rising. I would put in headphones and listen to I Don’t Know Why by Norah Jones (always the same song, because of the line “I waited till I saw the sun.”) and write. I was doing a joint honours degree and one of my subjects was Creative Writing. The lecturers had advised us to write for twenty minutes every morning. I realised what I always realise at that time of day, when my grumpiness has slid off and down under the floorboards some place and all the nice things about being awake in an empty world while everyone else sleeps become obvious. There’s just me. Me and my cup of tea. My day feels nicer when I start it that way.

 

Yesterday morning, for example, even though I didn’t have time to have tea at home, I managed an earl grey and a scone in between all the breakfast and coffee orders at work. It helped.

 

I have been known to branch out quite spectacularly when making tea. I went for milk-less tea for a long time, which led to forays into the world of fresh mint tea (plucked from my own garden), cardamom concoctions and licorice infusions. When living abroad in Namibia, my friend, Lucy, and I, in our poverty, drank a lot of rooibos tea, to keep our tummies full! It was dirt cheap for a box of fifty and every evening, we would stand at our window in our kitchen and watch the sun set over the water. We were living on the coast, our little house looking out over the Atlantic ocean, and got the most beautiful skies I have ever seen in my life. Colours I didn’t think belonged in a sky – greys, oranges, pinks, reds, blues, purples. Rooibos tea will always mean beautiful African sunsets to me.

 

Careless brewers, who throw the bag in walk away from it, then return later in the day to add milk, should be publicly reprimanded for killing tea. Teabag squeezers also need the same level of punishment.

 

Don’t just leave it there for ten minutes! It shows you don’t care. It comes out like black coffee and is far too bitter. And don’t go the opposite direction and try to brew it too quickly by taking a teaspoon and squeezing your bag against the side of the cup! What’s wrong with you? You’re suffocating it. Let it brew gently. Unless you have so little respect for yourself that you don’t mind drinking tannin, then please do not squeeze. 

An Italian feast – the vegetarian version

I must apologise in advance as I forgot to take photos of the antipasti before we dug in and devoured it all… Oops!

After my last post about food, which was posted to Facebook, a friend I haven’t seen in a while read it and jokingly asked to come to dinner in a “You-can-invite-me-to-dinner-anytime,” kind of way. Spotting an opportunity to prepare another feast, I responded with a genuine invitation. Another friend was invited and the date was fixed. I had a day off so scheduled my day around preparing the food.

We decided to go vegetarian as one of the party doesn’t eat meat and I couldn’t be bothered to do two sets of food.

And so the fun began.

I started by making the tiramisu slightly wrong by whisking the sugar with the egg whites instead of the yolks. I just kind of put it all together and fridged it and hoped it would taste fine. Then I made little things called Esse biscuits, which are quite specific to Venice, although why a biscuit shaped like an S should be Venetian is beyond me.

Then I ploughed on through the grissini, the music paper, the pesto, the gnocchi, the soup, the lentil dish and some salads. It was 3.30pm, two and a half hours before my guests would arrive. So I did what any reasonable person would do at that point. I had a nap.

I woke up about 5pm and dived back into the kitchen, spearing mozzarella and basil, toasting (burning) bread and taking the truffle butter out of the fridge.

After a little help with directions, my friends arrived, one of them taking charge of toasting new bread as I couldn’t seem to stop burning things.

So the antipasti was grissini, music paper, truffle butter, pesto, bruscette with ricotta, broad bean and mint, more bruscette with roasted grape and thyme, roasted walnuts, and goat’s cheese. O, and a white bean houmous-type thing, which was unexpectedly delicious. I just used some tinned cannellini beans and heated them gently in a pan with a bit of water, an onion, some bay leaves and a bit of olive oil. Then I removed a few beans, whizzed what was left and left it on a low heat to thicken. I put it in a bowl once finished and put the beans I had removed back on top with a little lemon and white truffle oil.

As mentioned earlier, I only afterward remembered to get a photograph of the antipasti. Here it is.

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Yep. That’s all that was left to photograph by the time I remembered…..

Next up was the mains.

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A panzanella, which was well received. In case you are unfamiliar with a panzanella, it’s a bread and tomato salad, basically. It’s one of those things that I’ve had a few times and it’s been pretty average. A nice homemade panzanella, though, is well worth the effort.

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Here we have; bottom left, a chickpea, fennel and leek soup; above that, the white bean houmous; front right, gnocchi in a cavolo nero sauce; top middle, a zucchini, basil and rocket salad.

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There was also this vegetable lentil dish dressed with basil oil and mozzarella.

Once we’d eaten all that, we were stuffed and couldn’t even think about dessert. No, honestly! I can’t fit a single thing in! I’m so full. I need a while to let it all go down. What’s that? You’re getting the dessert out? Just to look at? Ok. O… Well, maybe I’ll just have a little try….

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Baked figs on the left and tiramisu in the glasses on the right. We obviously scoffed them. I admitted my sugar-in-the-egg-whites mistake but it was generally agreed that we couldn’t tell. 

Next we had coffee and the Esse biscuits.

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A discussion about the film version of Roald Dahl’s The Witches then took up the remainder of the evening and I went to bed dreaming of being turned into a mouse….

Another Italian feast

Yesterday, two of my favourite friends came over. One had just handed in two peices of work, which signalled the end of her dissertation. The other is half Italian. I therefore went crazy on the organising front and decided to make a feast of epic proportions, much like the last time someone came for dinner.

This time though, I was equipped with truffle oil…! The night before, I had prepared the delicate carta di musica – music paper – and made the pesto. Where last time I went for a rocket and walnut pesto, this time I was without food processor (it broke when I used it to whizz almonds for cantuccini) so I made the simpler traditional basil and pine nut pesto as it’s easier to bash together in a pestle and mortar. I lightly toasted the pine nuts first and it gave them a really creamy texture.

Then the morning of the big feast, I made walnut brittle, which I then bashed into breadcrumb-size peices and added to a delicate mixture of whipped cream, whipped egg white and whipped yolk and sugar. I froze the whole thing to make semifreddo, which means half-cold in Italian. It basically comes out like an ice cream but is different, somehow.

I also whisked a few eggs with sugar, 00 flour, crushed nuts and I forget what else, to make cantuccini. I fridged the whole thing first, to let it chill and set a little, to make the baking process easier later.

Then I went bread crazy for a bit, making my pizza dough and leaving it to rise and then tackling the grissini. I had just bought them at the shop last time and felt a bit like I’d let myself down. So this time, I made them from scratch. I melted a bit of butter in a pan then added milk. In a bowl, I put 00 flour, dried yeast, salt and a handful of parmesan. I added the butter and milk to this, kneaded it for a while, then left it in a warm place to rise. Although I was supposed to be using strong white flour, I couldn’t find any in my cupboard. So I used 00 flour and wholemeal flour mixed together and hoped it would be fine.

It was fine! Surprisingly. And I even thought it looked a bit more interesting than if I’d used totally white flour. Check them out.

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I love the uneven nature of the sticks, how some are a bit short and stubby and others are quite long and thin and smooth all around. They also got a great reaction from my guests, one of whom said it was their favourite thing out of everything we ate.

After making these, I rolled my pizza dough into twelve balls (used one to make myself a pizza for lunch, just to test it, you understand), put them on a tray covered in a damp towel and fridged until needed.

Finally, after a whole day of prep, I was ready for guests. And here it is in all its glory. The antipasti…

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Prosciutto, figs and mint.

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From the back, you can see truffle butter, pesto (in the glass), grilled aubergines with tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil (at the front) carta di musica (to the left) and in the centre, the homemade grissini wrapped in salami milano and pickled chicory. The little purple thing off to the right contains truffle oil and balsamic vinegar.

There was much dipping of grissini into truffle butter and eyes lighting up. The pesto was a firm favourite with my half Italian friend, who kept an eagle eye on it whenever anyone else took a slightly-too-large scoop on their breadstick.

We also had tomato, mozzarella, basil sticks as well but herein lies the problem with mozzarella. The better quality you use, the higher water content it has. Which means that it gets all over you when you’re touching it and all over whatever you’re trying to do with it. So my basil leaves and tomato wedges were covered in mozzarella water, making them unpretty for photographs. But they were there, honest.

Next up was the mains, for which I went traditional Italian…

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With a courgette, rocket and basil salad with a lemony-parmesany dressing…

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My half-Italian friend polished most of this off single-handedly.

For the pizzas, I just rolled them fairly small and topped them with whatever I felt like. Chicken, fennel, white asparagus, romano peppers, truffle oil, proscuitto, courgette, mushrooms, red onion, mozzarella, chilli flakes. And so we ate. And we ate. And we ate some more. The mains and the antipasti were all lingering around in front of us and we just kept nibbling. A mouthful of pizza. A bit of grissini dipped in truffle oil. A tomato, mozzarella stack. It just went on. And on. And on.

We waited maybe five minutes before I discreetly cleared the plates and got bowls out for everyone. Loud declarations of “O, I can’t eat dessert yet, no way!” were made.

“Don’t worry,” I said, calming their fears. “I’m just putting the bowls out. And the semifreddo needs to be out of the freezer to soften up for a bit.”

But, of course, I set up all the stuff on the table and our stomachs forgot about how full they were and we got started.

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Ok, from left to right. Slow-baked figs, then cantuccini. In front of the cantuccini is a little dish of walnut brittle, a jar of honey, then to the right is the walnut semifreddo. The order of things for the semifreddo is as follows – scoop some semifreddo out and put it in your bowl, drizzle with honey, top with walnut brittle. Add into the equation a few figs and try using the light  crumbly cantuccini to transport the last few bits of ice cream to your mouth and suddenly, you’re not full anymore. You’re back in the game. You’re ready for action! More semifreddo! More figs! More honey!

We sat, shell shocked and taken aback, viewing our destruction before leaving the scene of the crime to go and watch a program about plane crashes (don’t ask, I wasn’t in charge of the dinker).

And now I have leftovers for at least the next week. Well, I say ‘the next week’…. They’ll last me a day or two….