Last week my best friend and I discovered a little gem in Saint Gilles called Cafe des Spores. It’s a restaurant specialising completely in mushrooms. We thought it sounded quirky, as well as brilliant – we are both mushroom lovers. But we didn’t expect it to be exquisite gourmet food.
The meal began with three little dishes: truffle soup, fried mushroom dumplings and stuffed champignons. The truffle soup was delicious, and as expected with truffle, the smell was divine. The dumplings were nice, but probably my least favourite part of the meal – indeed tasty, but rather simple.
However, the stuffed champignons were spectacular, on many levels. First of all, they arrived sprinkled in some sort of dried fish flakes, which fluttered like butterflies in the heat for several minutes. Marianne and I were so freaked out about it that we had to ask the waitress if part of the food was alive. She just giggled at us. Having overcome our fear, we dug in and were shocked by the taste explosion. Tangy ginger, umami-fishy flakes, rich meaty stuffing and mellow mushroom mixing wildly. Perhaps that sounds weird, and it was, but it was also absolutely delicious.
For starters we had a salad of watermelon, tomato and mushroom (pictured at the top of the post). It was very refreshing as the sweet and sour flavours came together with the dense mushrooms rather unexpectedly. But it was very tasteful, and we scooped everything off the plate rather quickly. We also has mushroom gnocchi, which was mellow and autumnal, tasting of porcini (although, as can be seen from the picture, it was some other sort of mushroom – I’d never tried it before). It wasn’t as sensational as the salad, and the gnocchi were a bit too soft, but it was still nice.
For mains there were two choices: duck with girolles and a salmon dish. As salmon is more staple than chicken in Sweden, we both opted for the duck, especially as it was accompanied by our favourite mushroom. The duck was perfectly pink inside, and the girolles packed with flavour. While it looks like a rather small main, it was just the perfect size at this point.
Since none of us are dessert people, we opted for the cheese with cherries instead of mushroom-infused sweet stuff (which would perhaps be the most intriguing part of the menu). The truffle pecorino was very strong, and tangy to the point where it almost hurt our mouths. It was again something of a taste sensation, and a perfect finish to the meal.
These unexpected taste trips coupled with high-quality house wine, friendly service and nice atmosphere meant it was a lovely food experience, perhaps the best I’ve had in Brussels so far. The bill, which came at 71 euros, felt perfectly reasonable given the high quality of the food. I will definitely be going here again. Nine meatballs out of ten.
I know rabbit might not be for everyone, and many of you will be thinking of this:
And not of this:
But I can assure you that rabbit meat is delicious… a bit like chicken (looks exactly like it…) but gamier. I recently spent a week at my parents’ house in Paris where rabbit meat is as common as chicken’s and was presented with two rabbits to cook for dinner. I had never cooked it and did not have many ingredients so decided to go for something I know how to do well: a wine stew. I mean you can never go wrong with wine and meat… add some butter and it’s heaven!
For this recipe you will need (enough for five people)
– Two rabbits cut in smallish pieces (ask your butcher to do it, it’s usually in six pieces)
– Two carrots, minced.
– An onion, chopped.
– 300 grams of mushrooms, roughly chopped (preferably a mix of nutty mushrooms).
– Two bunches of thyme.
– Half a bottle of wine (pour the rest into a glass and drink it to get over the fact you’re eating a cute bunny).
– A lot of butter
Start by adding a knob of butter to a pan and brown the rabbit pieces. Reserve and do the same with the mushrooms in batches so they brown but don’t become mushy. Put them aside with the rabbit and add more butter to the pan. Add the onion and carrots and sweat them for 5-10 minutes. When they become soft, turn up the heat and add the wine and the thyme. You can also add a bay leaf at this point.
Let the wine reduce to half and then add the rabbit and the mushrooms. Make sure they are covered and add water if needed. Season with salt and pepper and let cook for at least 45 minutes on very low heat, with a lid on. When the meat looks like it’s cooked and almost falling off the bone take the lid off to let it reduce. Right now is the time to prepare the polenta. If you are experienced you can have a go at polenta flour which has too cook for 45 minutes with constant turning and gives you an arm ache and possibly some burns. If you are not an experienced Italian grandma, grab a good quality semi-ready polenta and follow the instructions. When the polenta is almost cooked add some cream or ricotta cheese and some parmesan. Season with salt and pepper and serve the stew over it.
The next day, if you are lucky to have some stew and polenta left, serve them together. If like me all you had is polenta, fry it in a pan with some butter until it’s crispy. For the courgette, slice it really thinly (with a peeler or a mandolin) fry it for 2-3 minutes in some butter and sprinkle it with salt, pepper, good olive oil and goat’s cheese. And there you go: a really easy and healthy second meal after the indulgence of rabbit and wine.
(Sorry for the low quality pictures, I only had my phone)
Because of the terribly rainy summer, Sweden is invaded with golden chanterelles at the moment. My stepmum complains over being bombarded with everyone’s beautifully instagrammed pictures of them on twitter. The chanterelles, which only grow in the wild, have a floral, spicy and slightly nutty flavour with hints of apricot, and are known in Sweden as the gold of the forest (and the price tag for fresh ones in London suggests there’s something to that name). All the more reason to write about these tasty beauties, so here is my mini-guide to finding, picking and eating them.
Finding. My sister-in-law who is from the dark forests of Värmland has what we in Sweden call kantarellnäsa – chanterelle nose. This has nothing to do with the appearance of her cute, shapely nose, but rather to her mysterious talent of finding these mushrooms in the wild. No matter how hard I try, I never find as many as she does. Her main tips are to look on small hills in the forest with a sunny side, in areas where birches grow sparsely together with large fir trees. If you lift the lowest branches of fir trees growing in these conditions, you can often find some chanterelles. Also, stay clear of patches of the forest where lingonberry and blueberry bushes grow, because if you find one of these you’re rather unlikely to find chanterelles nearby. Chanterelles like rainy summers but also heat, so like grape vine they enjoy hillsides where they can soak up as much warmth from the sun as possible (however they tend to live in the undergrowth, so you rarely find them in direct sunlight).
Foraging. Whilst picked berries can be placed and stored in plastic containers, mushrooms should ideally be placed in an airy basket lined with newspaper, and be wrapped in newspaper in the fridge when stored at home. If you actually make your way to Scandinavia to forage, mosquito repellent and long-sleeved thin clothing is essential. Mosquitos are simply a pain, especially in the forest if it’s been rainy and hot, which means they co-exist with the chanterelles. Also, large parts of Scandinavia have ticks in high grass, who sometimes carry Borrelia, a very serious disease if it goes untreated. So make sure to check your elbows, knees and other skin creases after coming back from the forest or meadows with high grass. If you’ve caught a tick, gently remove it with a tweezer. Normally that’s all there is to it, but if you get a red circular rash developing around the bite after a few weeks, see a doctor.
A final hazard of foraging in the wild is the risk of picking the wrong kinds of mushrooms. Unless you’re an expert, stick to picking only golden chanterelles which are unmistakably golden and hard to confuse with anything else. Do not pick any white mushrooms at all, as you might accidentally pick Vit Flugsvamp, aptly named Destroying Angel in English, which looks like this. Even a small quantity can lead to a slow and painful death, so it’s important to wash your hands if you accidentally touch one.
On the upside, most of the berries you find in the forest and meadows are perfectly edible, so after all those heavy warnings, here are some cute photos of blueberries and wild strawberries.
Cleaning. Once you’ve gathered a basketfull of chanterelles for yourself, it’s time to clean them so they are ready for the pan. For this you need a small brush and a knife to remove the bottom of the stalk with. Cut the very bottom of the stalk just to remove the dirty root, and then carefully remove any other dirt on the mushroom with a little brush. You can use an egg brush for this. This is rather time-consuming, but do not under any circumstances wash the chanterelles, as this removes a crucial part of their flavour. If you’re too impatient or scared of bacteria for this process, you may simply have to stick with green-house grown mushrooms.
Cooking. With their distinct flavour, chanterelles take-over or accompany a great array of dishes and they blend beautifully in salads with apple, in reindeer stews with lingonberry, or with scrambled eggs. However, I prefer to just enjoy them on their own, pan fried in butter, and placed on toast. This is particularly delicious if you bake your own sourdough bread and toast it on high heat in the pan you’ve cooked the chanterelles in (but baking sourdough bread is something I have yet to learn and most likely requires a mini-guide of its own). Pan-fried chanterelles require a hearty spicing of butter (and if you even consider replacing it with something lighter you might as well not bother), however you must not put it in at first, but instead turn the water out of the mushrooms by dry frying them. This is a heartbreaking process in many ways, as you’ll see your large batch of chanterelles shrink considerably.
Once their water has evaporated from the pan, add a large knob of butter and let the chanterelles soak in this whilst frying for a few minutes. Remove from the pan, increase the heat and pan-toast your bread in the leftover butter. Place the mushrooms on top of the toast and sprinkle with salt and white pepper before serving. Absolutely delicious.
The Blue Legume in Islington serves cheap, tasty and beautiful breakfast dishes, mains and lush fruit juices. It is very popular with fashionable mothers and their sustainable designer-wear babies, but despite of (or perhaps because of) the background noise of the odd child it is a place that leaves you with a warm fuzzy feeling inside. Read the rest of this entry »
When it’s freezing outside and you’re missing homely comfort food, there is nothing better than a stew. Although I would love to be able to cook and eat a boeuf bourguignon almost everyday, there just is no time for a five hour stew during the week. So I bring you an adaptation of the boeuf bourguignon, the equally decadent mushroom bourguignon.
Altough the main ingredient (beef) changes, the other ingredients and method remain the same (bar the five hour cooking time!). This makes a very cheap and easy to make mid-week bourguignon.
So you will need:
- Onion, finely chopped (one per 2 person portion).
- Carrot, finely chopped (1/2 per 2 person portion).
- Mushroom, with no stems and chopped roughly (500 grams per 2 person portion).
- Garlic, finely chopped (to taste)
- Beef stock (or vegetable stock if you are a vegetarian…)
- Tomato Paste (1 tablespoon per 2 person portion)
- Red Wine
- Olive Oil
- Lots of butter!
- Thyme (dried is fine)
- Small cooking onions, or pearl onions if you can find them (optional)
- Some flour (not self-raising)
- A sturdy pan
1. Start by chopping the mushrooms and frying them in your pan in butter and olive oil on a high heat so that they brown. While they are cooking chop the carrot, onion and garlic.
2. When the mushrooms are browned, take them from the pan and reserve. Turn the heat down to medium, add some olive oil to the pan and fry the onions, carrots and thyme, adding some salt and pepper to season. When the onion starts to brown add the garlic and fry for a further 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly so the garlic does not burn.
3. Turn the heat to high, add the wine and let it cook until it’s been reduced to half its original size.
4. Turn the heat down to a low setting, add the tomato paste, the stock and the mushrooms with the juice they have released from cooking (and the small onions, if using). Bring to the boil and then simmer until the mushrooms are tender.
5. While the stew is simmering start making a roux (it sounds harder than it is) and stir it in the stew when the mushrooms feel tender but the sauce is still a bit liquid. Simmer for a further 5 minutes to thicken the sauce and check the seasoning.
Serve it over your favourite carbs. We had it over pasta, but it’s great over polenta or mash. Add a little bit of butter for extra amazingness.