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What is mise en place?

It is defined as: n, in professional cooking, proper planning of equipment and ingredients for a food preparation and assembly station, Et. French ‘put in place’, (usage cooking)

[From: Webster’s New Millennium™ Dictionary of English, Preview Edition (v 0.9.6). Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. 27 Feb. 2007. <Dictionary.com >]

What are you recommending this then?

Well, I saw this entry about it on The Happiness Project, a blog about erm.. happiness that I read, and it is certainly linked to the recipe I’ve got to post today. Although the focus of Gretchen’s blog is about life and happiness, other more food-focused blogs that discuss it, like this one, show that it can make cooking easier.

By having all the ingredients ready and diced, all the implements checked and on hand, and (the bit I fail on usually..) by reading a recipe all the way to the end, you’re far less likely to feel rushed and also to have an accident/disaster. It’s just like the TV cooking shows, but you don’t get a production assistant to fill up all the little glass bowls. (Sadly, after a long day at work, it also doens’t allow you to pull out a here’s-one-I-prepared-earlier, no matter how dearly you might wish to….)

Just something I’ve been thinking about as I settle in to a new kitchen, badly in need of better pots and implements (which is really adding to the challenges of cooking in it, really, must keep buying more things!) I’m also trying to inspire my housemates, two of whom are kitchen novices to get into cooking, and this makes the whole experience more zen.

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Mjudrah

(Also spelt Mjudra, and Mujaddara, Mejadra or Mudardara, apparently – I pronounce it mm-judd-ruh, but am no authority.)

This is a staple from my Kirketon Road, Darlinghurst/Sydney days – a delicious, nutritious and filling Lebanese dish. As a traditional peasant food, there are endless variations of this dish (village to village, plus Skip modifications), but this is the one I learnt. This humble dish is cheap to make, so is very handy when one is paid monthly, in any currency. A large batch (and it’s super-easy to make a double batch) both reheats nicely and can be made from agreements you should always have on hand.

M’judrah

Ingredients (makes 4 serves)

  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 1 Tbsp (to a generous glug) EV olive oil
  • ½ cup brown rice
  • 1 cup brown lentils
  • About 1L hot water (enough to cover the lentils by about 20mm)
  • 1-2 good quality stock cubes (feel free to post me some Massel Ultracubes, Aussies)

Method

  1. Saute chopped onions in olive oil until very soft.
  2. Wash lentils and rice (I don’t really do this, but a lot recipes online feature it.)
  3. Add both lentils and rice to onions and sauté a few minutes more, stirring well to coat with onion juices and oil.
  4. Add hot water, stock cube and some salt to taste.
  5. Cover, bring to a boil and simmer for at least 25-30 minutes, to taste – some people cook it much longer to make it like a thick porridge. Add water if necessary to prevent things from drying out, but no more.
  6. Can be served hot or cold – I like to eat with plain yogurt on top.

Notes

  • This dish has relatives – the Indian Khichdi and the Welsh/British Kedgeree. This is one of the many gems I’ve learned at my weekly Marylebone Farmer’s Market outing with Andrea and Elizabeth – have my eye on some smoked haddock next Sunday, so watch this space for a Kedgeree attempt.
  • I did lots of research into other people’s recipes online here, even though this is a meal I just make from memory – it is worth mentioning this page, Memories of a Lebanese Garden, which was one of the most beautiful I found.
  • Two very common variations: use of caramalised onions as a topping, and cooking with wheat or other grains instead of rice.
  • Will post the green bean salad I usually serve with this dish here shortly.
  • This image of Mjudrah above is actually from here – will take my own sometime, but wanted to show that this dish is very mushy looking.

KurzLangLogo

Another place that had caught my eye on my lunch time walks around my office, Kurz & Lang is another lunch spot that offers both great produce and something a little different. I’m not sure that a month in Germany for a World Cup subsisting on sausages makes you an expert, but I am confident that the bratwurst here are authentic – they’re imported fresh from small independent producer in the rural area between Frankfurt and Cologne in Germany.

The menu is simple – a few different types of sausage, served with bread, delicious German mustard and ketchup (the lunch special costs another 60p for delicious sauerkraut and grilled potato cubes.) I couldn’t eat it everyday (and still wear my own clothes,) but it was tasty and delicious – and I looked after myself by getting some extra fruit from a nearby vendor.

This review shows they’re open late on weekends, and it’d be perfect after a few beers in the evening. Kurz & Lang also serve a list of German beers, including my favourite Löwenbräu.

Kurz & Lang, 1 St. John Street, Smithfield, London EC1M 4AA (Farringdon tube – 020 7253 6623)

  • Great produce, authentic German food, and good service – 4 stars.

Was really pleased that several people are enjoying this – so even though most of this section’s fans are in Australia, in the middle of summer, this was a good supper recipe inspired one in the thelondonpaper I read on the way out to Shepherd’s Bush for the Socceroos game last night.

This dish is really quick and simple, and of course can be modified wildly to your taste and what’s in the pantry. It’s a good way to get some vegies into your diet, will reheat nicely after work and is a light, healthy dinner. Serve with a bread roll and some snow peas for lunch.

Bacon, Bean & Pasta Soup

Ingredients (Makes 4 serves)

  • 8 rashers rindless streaky bacon
  • 2 leeks rinsed, halved and chopped
  • 4 carrots halved length-ways and sliced
  • 400g tin mixed beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1.5L stock, vegetable or chicken
  • 2 Tbsp tomato puree
  • 50g small pasta shapes
  • flat-leaf parsley
  • Parmesan cheese

Method

  1. Fry the bacon in a large non-stick pan (something big enough to make soup in) , until it is golden – streaky bacon will cook in it’s own fat, leaner bacon might need a little olive oil.
  2. Add the leeds and carrots and cook for about 5 minutes until softened (add some garlic and ginger here if you need the immune boost, or an onion if you have one and want to thicken this up a little.)
  3. Tip in the beans, stock, puree and pasta. Simmer until the pasta is cooked (packed will be a guide, but around 10 minutes)
  4. Stir through the parsley, serve in bowls with grated or shaved parmesan on top.

Notes

  • If you don’t keep tomato puree in the house, I don’t recommend touching tomato paste – you can always add a tin of tomatoes (mush them if they’re whole in the tin) and reduce the liquid a little. You should have tinned tomatoes in the pantry – they’re gold.
  • If you’re a vegetarian or bacon-hater, you can use some good un-salted butter to cook the leeks and carrots, and a vegetable stock as appropriate.

Known in my office as the café for “posh Italian sarnies”, this has been the early favourite as I have been trying to get out and explore the streets and lanes near my place of work.

Piada serve piadines, a filled flatbread. My research suggests they’re a northern Italian street food – from the Emilia-Romagna region. It’s a thin dough cooked (with olive oil) on a hot plate, and filled with simple but delicious produce. There are 13 different piadines on the menu, numbered zero through to quattordici (this superstitous bunch have skipped 13!) – so far I’ve had the Otto, with perfect spinach and mushrooms.

I’ve found some recipes here and here, but for inspiration check out the menu at the Piada website.

Piada, 12-14 St John St, EC1M 4AY (Farringdon tube – 020 7253 0472)

  • Delicious and fresh, with high quality produce and good service – 4.5 stars

Predictably, I usually use a Donna Hay recipe here – but this is a simple recipe, so I’ve just done a quick search and found a basic ingredients list and a few tips. My food processor is sitting under my family home in Melbourne, lonely and abandoned, but this type of pastry is easy enough by hand.

Shortcrust Pastry

Ingredients (makes enough pastry for a 25cm tart shell)

  • 240g plain flour
  • A good pinch of salt
  • 180 g unsalted butter at room temperature, diced into small cubes
  • 60 ml icy cold water – use an ice cube if you have it, or run the tap cold

Method

  1. Sift the flour and salt together into a bowl from height, to incorporate as much air as you can.
  2. Add cubes of soft butter, and cut into the flour with a knife.
  3. Rub butter in using just your fingertips, rub butter into flour until it resembles breadcrumbs.
  4. Add water very slowly and carefully – a tablespoon to begin with, then just small dribbles- I find just moistening your fingertips gives a small measure. Continue until it comes together as a dough.
  5. Rest the dough in the fridge, wrapped in plastic film or inside a plastic bag, for 20-30 minutes. This is so the gluten can do what it needs to do – so don’t serve this pastry to coeliacs.
  6. Remove, allow to warm up for a few minutes and then roll out for use – most recipes require you to blind bake the shell before introducing the filling. Bonne is a guru at this.

Notes

  • Suitable for use in savoury tarts and pies. Some sweet dishes use a Sweet Shortcrust Pastry (also called Rich Shortcrust Pastry)- as above, but with an egg yolk or two in with the butter and tablespoon of caster sugar added after the butter has been mixed in.
  • Pastry can be made in bulk and used as a standby from the freezer – make double and freeze for a month or two. Best defrosted a day in advance.
  • Sydney chef Damien Pignolet recommends using teaspoon of lemon juice made up to 60 ml with very cold water. You’lll still need to watch the texture if you do this – no two batches will need the same amount of liquid.
  • Delia Smith has a good, detailed, and illustrated lesson on her website that’s pretty good. She notes: “Being light with your fingers is not a special gift, it’s just a conscious decision, a signal the brain gives to the fingertips, and then a bit of concentration.”

Last weekend I went to the Marylebone Farmer’s Market with Andrea, who I’ve been staying with, and Elizabeth, a friend from my World Schools days. They go every week, for the ring of the market’s opening bell, followed by an almond croissant at the nearby Patisserie Valerie. Last week I only got a little bit of goat’s cheese (herb tart to follow) as I am yet to have a kitchen of my own, but I plan to make this a regular habit for my fresh food shopping. Also nearby is a gorgeous food store, La Fromagerie, which has gorgeous gifts written all over it.

In anticipation of the big move this Thursday (and by big move, I mean bus trip/walk with one bag, rather than road-trip with Mum & Tom over 1,000+km) and my return to a kitchen, I’m setting up one of the two sections the blog needed – a proper recipe section. I plan to add to this about once a week, so that I can build a seasonal archive of recipes and food stories.

Once I’m more settled, I plan to get my Mum to scan a few Donna favourites from my much missed mag library in Australia, but I also have a few favourites around and about to add…

V x