Continuing my post-France cleanse, I’m still attempting to be a vegan as much as possible, give or take the Girl Scout cookies that have miraciously popped-up in New York City these days. Nevertheless, being a veggie has not been as restricting as I have always imagined…although I do get a few groans from friends when making dinner plans. Although I often lack the discipline to resist those delectable afternoon Tagalongs, being a vegetarian has challenged me to explore new ingredients and think creatively about all those stockpiled beans and whole grains in my cupboard. Needless to say, let’s talk about barley! Plus or minus the mushroom barley soup of my childhood, the grain was more or less foreign to me. I picked up a Goya bag of it from the market, cooked it up, and was hooked. It can be mixed with soymilk milk and sugar for breakfast, mixed in with soups, or as a perfect addition to a chopped salad. And it’s a nutritional powerhouse! Amino acids! Fiber! Antioxidants! And let’s not forget that it has a similar texture of pasta! What’s not to love?
This afternoon, I had planned to do my own take on the classic mushroom and barley medley by just cooking the barley as instructed and giving it depth by adding sautéed mushrooms. I started by sautéing the mushrooms with shallots and onions. In the meantime, I had some homemade vegetable stock simmering away next to me. To my chagrin, I had all the components of a risotto at my fingertips. Since barley has the same rounded shape as Arborio rice, why not give it a try as a risotto? I threw the barley in with the nicely caramelized vegetables and added a half-cup of broth. I stirred the bubbling barley mixture until the liquid evaporated then added another half-cup of the broth. Continue stirring in the broth one half-cup at a time until the barley plumps up and the risotto begins to develop a creamy texture. But be prepared to stir; elbow grease is the only fool-proof ingredient added to risotto. I added a splash of red wine to give it a touch of depth and sweetness. And added a little brightness with a handful of chopped parsley and a small squeeze of lemon juice. And top it off with a handful of parmesan cheese (controversial for a vegan, but necessary for a risotto) and a little drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. And voila! Your accidental dinner is done!
So I am back in NYC after a two-week trip to Butterville. Don’t get me wrong, I love that I have the ability to pick up and return to France whenever I can. But after returning to New York from my hiatus vacation to Paris, my bod is barking for some detox. Mind you, I strive for clean living and eating in my homeland. I have subsided off of a lentil-heavy, poverty-inspired diet over the past few months in New York. But as soon as my feet touch the ground and are accessible to a boulangerie, there is no turning back. But this time around, there was a bit of a change…
C, Monsieur Meat & Potatoes himself, recently picked up on the organic, pro-veg trend. Halleluiah, I say! I am not a vegetarian, but I strive to be. A presque-etarian, if you will. But there were countless dinners for C where I would shellac, layer, and roast vegetables in all their seasonal glory only to hear post-dinner about his need for meat. The ultimate expression of his transformation was when he suggested we try out a macrobiotic restaurant, which was recommended to him by a friend. Now I don’t know much about macrobiotics, but I do know it’s crunchy and something Gwenyth discusses in Instyle Magazine. From the limited menu, we both ordered the veggie bowl. It arrived as a sephia color wheel of lentils, vegetable porridge, seaweeds, and grain cakes. Sadly, it lacked texture and all the color and life that make vegetables so exciting for me to prepare and enjoy. C so generously spooned most of his dinner onto my plate and I knew that this dinner’s final destination would be McDonald’s. Sure enough, we wrapped up the evening sitting side-by-side as I enviously watched him happily eating his McNuggets wishing I hadn’t filled up on millet cake. Nevertheless, we are taking small steps towards culinary compatibility!
I never tasted panna cotta until about a year into Paris, in the early ‘wining and dining’ days of my courtship with C. After a beautifully prepared Italian dinner at Swan et Vincent, a neighborhood restaurant in the Bastille quartier, he ordered panna cotta for dessert. It came to our table humbly in a ramekin with a veil of raspberry coulis. But its simplicity was a marvel! It had the luxurious texture of a proper pudding, but with an absolutely pure taste of cream, milk, and vanilla bean. Panna cotta is to pudding as gelato is to ice cream. Panna cota and gelato showcase the flavor of their ingredients without being weighed down with eggs. And luckily, for the humble home cook, this makes it a lot easier to make, too!
I hold no grudges against animal hooves, but the inclusion of gelatin in recipes always intimidated me a bit before making this. But much like quinoa or fennel, it was just a matter of time and a good recipe to take away any culinary fear! A basic mixture of cream, milk, and sugar is heated until warm enough to melt good-quality dark chocolate and the softened gelatin. If you are more vanilla than chocolate, the chocolate can easily be replaced with a halved and seeded vanilla bean. The mixture is poured into individual cups and chilled. I do not know who I am quoting when I say this (too much Saveur Magazine), but the finished panna cotta should have the ‘wobble of a woman’s breast’. And remember, respect for quality, pure ingredients will leave you with an exceptional result every time! Enjoy!
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