Angel Cakes?

Just a brief post to recommend Angel Cakes Tearoom at New Buckenham.  Stacey and Ryan are onto a winner here.  Beautiful village, great walks (we fell in through the door after a 6 miler across the fields), great service, great business ethos, perfect food.  What more could you ask?

I had a corned beef and pickle sandwich – nothing stinted – butter, proper chunks of corned beef and big dollops of Branston. David had tuna mayo which was falling out the edge of the sandwich. Nice garnish (though maybe just a touch of dressing on it would have been nice) and crisps.  And the tea…….  loose leaf, hot, strong and the best cuppa I have had outside my own kitchen in a long time.

Great banter, and lovely potential to

  • get out of the house on a work day and just pop in here for lunch
  • meet clients here
  • take my mum out for tea
  • meet friends

Upstairs, Stacey was beavering away putting the finishing touches to chocolate eclairs.  She came waltzing downstairs with six on a platter. I couldn’t resist. David said he didn’t want one but it didn’t prevent him from eating half of mine, I noticed!

I’ll be back.

Long day, cold night, hot pilau

So let me tell you about my day….. up early and do a 100 mile round trip to mother’s, counsellling myself to be good, not get cross and to be kind. I did all those things, we had a good natter, I checked through the ‘falls alarm’ details fitted last week, at last we agreed it would be a good idea if I did a supermarket order for her once a month we agreed a timetable for me reminding her to check the falls alarm and at the same time do the Waitrose order. I made her two latte’s, went to the Co-op, mended the phone and reminded her how to turn up the heating thermostat.  We agreed the rules (hers) for her 90th birthday party in May so nothing will be a surprise. Only as I had one foot in the van  did she hit me with her plan to get a mobility scooter. She’s subtle player, my mum.

Home in bright sunshine but by the time the tyres hit the drive it was snowing.  I inspected the crocuses and the #snowdrops, the white camelia buds about to get frost damage and smelled the heavenly scent of the Daphne Odora. And the hellebores were out.  Then I tackled two collapsed panels of side fence –  wind injured last week whilst we were gallivanting in blizzards at Seahouses.  Looking forward to a couple of hours with Jonathan Raban and the wood burner, I collapsed like a frozen thing into the kitchen.

But instead of Jonathan Raban I was sidetracked by Nigel Slater in Turkey on iPlayer and images of vegetable pilau kept floating around in my head.

Last night’s dinner was a good old standby and we had some left over.  Pilau would bulk it out.  Last night we had

Chick peas with coconut, chilli and tomato

This is so ridiculously easy and easily adaptable without fuss.  Pulse two onions, three fat cloves of garlic, a thumb of fresh ginger and a medium sized red chilli in the food processor. Then add two big carrots and pulse again but only so the carrot is chopped not puree’d. Heat some oil sufficient to cover the bottom of a medium sized saucepan or large terracotta dish, throw in the onion mixture, turn around in the oil. Add a cinnamon stick. Sweat for ten minutes.  Add a tin of chick peas and the juice, add a tin of chopped tomatoes, half a tin full of cold water, half a tin of creamed coconut, a tablespoon of pomegranate molasses (or brown sugar).  Mix together, clamp on the lid, bring to a slow simmer and then leave it for three hours. Then remove the lid, add some salt to taste. Take off the heat and just before serving add chopped fresh coriander.

Anyway, half that was left over from last night. Now for the

Pilau

use a small Le Cruset for this, purchased in alimoges in 1982. It gets very hot on its little bottom and it gives the right amount of ‘crunch’ at the base of the pilau. Essential, I think.  On the hob, add oil and butter to the pan then add sufficient chopped vegetables (whatever you like) – I used cauliflower, onion, loads of garlic, carrot, aubergine, tomato.  Cook on a high heat, then add 1 tsp each of cumin and coriander powder, three ground black cardamom (or green, there is nothing precise here), three ground cloves, one teaspoon turmeric, a teaspoon of fennel seed and about a teaspoon of salt.  Mix well into the vegetables, then add two handfuls of brown Basmati rice, then a layer of spinach, then one handful of rice.  Pour in 500ml stock and put a lid on it and put in the oven.  The idea is to cook the rice with the lid on and crisp up the base.  Leave it for 45 minutes then check it. It should be done. Take off the lid, and dot with butter and a little home made garam masala (use ‘search’ on this site).

 

You can serve this with some of my chutney and pickle recipes, or just with yogurt.

I have been writing this whilst it is cooking and I can smell it is nearly done..  Himself has kindly poured me a glass of red and I am looking forward to settling down in the depths of the sofa for an hour (with or without Jonathan Raban) before a conversation with a couple about their wedding plans latter in the year (see my alter-ego http://www.humanist.org.uk/dawnrees if you are planning getting hitched) and hopefully you will find I am jus the same on that site too – loving life, loving food, loving new things, loving couples in love)!

I like bread and I like butter. But I like bread with butter best.

Bread making has been an on-off affair in this household.  In the early years there was Pete’s bread from the original Metfield Bakery and sold – ah, now there’s a memory – in Marion and David’s shop Beano’s in the early 1980s.  Once Pete sold the bakery it was not the same.  His was dense and damp and with a good weight to the loaf. Later it had a more open texture, more aerated, lighter.  I preferred the former.  But in those days there was no need to make it because Pete made it better than anyone.

For years income dictated that wherever we lived the houses were cold and draughty and not conducive to a rapid ‘prove’ in the dough. Then came the packed days of work, teenagers, long hours, unpredictable timetables. So another excuse not to make bread. The revelation was the purchase of a Panasonic breadmaker which was (is) marvellous – for cooked loaves, and dough for rolls, pizzas, ciabatta and focaccia.  Then came the second revelation.  Marion and  Saskia kindly bought me a weird silicone thing called a LEKUE.  You can still buy them in Lakeland and online. It couldn’t be simpler.  You add all the dry ingredients to the bowl, then add water, mix around with a wooden spoon to a wet dough, no kneading, fold the top over, prove for two hours then put in the oven to bake in the same bowl. Couldn’t be simpler and I thoroughly recommend it.

450g wholemeal bread flour

150g white bread flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

a glug of oil

1 tsp fast acting dried yeast

a handful of sunflower and pumpkin seeds

a handful of milled linseed

about 500ml warm water or sometimes I use part water part Kefir or plain yogurt.

 

Mix it all together, close the lid on the Lekue for an oval loaf or leave it open for a round loaf, prove for a couple of hours then into a hot oven (200c) for about 35 minutes, then slide the loaf out of the Lekue (careful it’s hot) and return the loaf upside down to the oven reduced to 180 for about 10 minutes.

The only problem with bread like this is that you have to eat it.  And because it’s good bread, what better than butter. And Marmite?  Try resisting it when you are working from home and tied to a computer screen the whole of January!

Kefir – further adventures of a fermenting novice!

I thought my first encounter with Kefir was on The Archers. In fact, having read more about it,  I must have drunk it in Sweden, in Russia, in Siberia, in Turkey, in Mongolia and not realised what it was.

Kefir is a cultured and fermented milk drink. It can be made with cow, sheep, goat (and probably yak, camel, mares although that is likely to be in short supply where you are).  It can also be made with soya milk and nut milks  including coconut, although I understand that you will need to start the culture with ‘proper’ milk.  It works best with full cream milk. Why? Because it is a live yeast/bacteria culture that feeds on the proteins in the liquid milk and animal proteins are more robust in that regard.

I started with a Kefir grains purchased via the internet.  You might have a friend who has some spare – the grains multiply quite quickly as you go through the process so advertising in local Facebook Marketplace or Freecycle might yield quick and local rewards.

I first became a fan of raw milk when I passed the dinky little Friesian painted hut at Fen Farm near Bungay where there is an automatic dispenser for the milk. £1 for 2litres of full cream milk. It is delicious.  However when I decided to make Kefir I looked for a source  closer to home so now I go to the delightful Coston Hall near Wymondham. Exactly the same set up.

The watchwords here are scrupulous and cleanliness.  Himself laughed at my ‘special’ cupboard.  You don’t need much equipment.  I have two new 1litre Kilner jars, one nylon sieve, one dedicated wooden spoon, two plastic jugs but I keep them separate from all my other kitchen stuff.

Wash your hands.  Remove the Kefir grains from the package – they look like plump little transparent pearls.  Drop them into a plastic jug.  Add 250ml of  milk and mix carefully with a wooden spoon (don’t use any metal utensils). Pour all this into a Kilner jar, close the lid and put somewhere warm (the airing cupboard in our house) and leave it. Don’t fiddle with it!!  In 24 to 48 hours take a look and you should see a) bubbles and b) a clear separating vein of  whey. If you don’t see it, be patient. Check again the next day.

Little whoops of excitement (mine) came from the airing cupboard when I looked and found that separating vein.

When this happens, pour the contents carefully into a clean plastic jug through a sieve and help the liquid through with the wooden spoon. Do this  gently.  You will find the grains in the bottom of the sieve.  Drop these grains into a clean jar and add 250ml milk. Repeat the process about 4 times.  The purpose of this is to give the grains a good ‘feed’  and to make them robust.  This is a living organism and needs to be cared for. The remaining liquid part will get thicker every time (I eat it on muesli).

When the liquid comes out really thick it is time to increase the amount of milk, first to 500ml, then 750ml  then 1litre. By the time you get to 1litre you will probably need to leave it to ferment for 4days – sufficient to use about 250ml a day for two people once you are ‘brewing’ 1litre quantities.  After a couple of weeks you will have a really robust ‘starter’ (just as you would for sourdough or ginger beer, for example).  Once you get going you will get into a lovely rhythm and you might find that your starter is so robust that the volume of Kefir you are making looks like it might get out of hand!  Now is the time to be generous – use half the grains and give the other half to someone else. they will need to start the process from scratch.

Bur what about when I go on holiday I hear you cry?  Well there are two options….. either you leave the grains in a cool place for no more than a couple of weeks with just a little milk but at low temperature to reduce its activity, or you lodge it with a trusted friend who feeds it and has free Kefir.  They might even be future recipients of a starter culture themselves.

I found it very helpful to look at YouTube clips such as this one from HappyKombucha to get the whole process embedded in my head, and I noticed a distinct difference when comparing the  commercial Kefir made with pasteurised  and unpasteurised milk which I bought from Asda, Tesco and a wholefood shop to begin with.  True Kefir should have a slight ‘fizz’ to it nd I have found that those made with pasteurised milk do not have this.  This is the main reason I use raw (unpasteurised) milk from TB-free registered herds.

Happy Kefir making. I am by no means an expert, but do contact me if you are making it and want to talk about it.

Fermenting in the airing cupboard.

All sorts of things happen in our airing cupboard.  Like proving dough, storing bicycle helmets, Culturing kefir grains (see subsequent post), hidden toys between the sheets and  it is wonderful hide-and-seek territory; and it has sufficient constant warmth for fermenting.

January is always open head and open heart territory.  Don’t get stale, try something new.  I’ve already started with fermenting on a small and very domestic scale. Sufficient for us.  Yet again I was inspired by Cornersmith, I’ve mentioned it before.  Anyway, here’s a few things I’ve learned along the way.

Fermented carrots

A jar of fermented carrot, with its friend pickled fennel, just lounging around in the fridge.

These seemed the easiest to start with and We’ve used fermented vegetables as side dishes and as part of dishes such as in salads, roasted vegetable taboulleh, Freekah with aubergine.

Fermenting is, in its simplest terms, a method of preserving. You either use a starter culture, whey or brine.  I use brine as it is the easiest way to start.  Fermenting might sound a bit of a fad – it is all about ‘good’ bacteria – but it is embedded in worldwide culinary culture; think sauerkraut, kimchi etc. Think East European. North European. Scandinavian. Think Middle East, Far East. Fermenting is ancient and universal – it isn’t new at all. So although ‘good bacteria’ might sound like a fad, finding such bacteria is normal and natural and is embedded in old cultures across the world.

Start with something easy and inexpensive like carrots or radishes.  Take 10g salt and add 500ml filtered water then bring to the boil and leave to cool.

Sterilise Mason or Kilmer jars making sure they are absolutely spotless.

Mix 1 thinly sliced onion with 40g grated fresh turmeric  and 40g freshly grated ginger.  You can substitute ground turmeric (1 heaped teaspoon) but fresh ginger is a must. Slice 500g carrots very thinly. Mix all these ingredients together then pack into the jars. be careful not to bruise the vegetables (I use a pestle to gently press them down).

Pour in the brine. Add one thick carrot or celery stick across the neck of the jar so all the ingredients are submerged. Seal the jars.

Let the jars sit at room temperature for 2-4 days when you should notice small bubbles inside the jar.  The longer you leave at room temperature the more lacto fermentation will progress but it does depend a lot on the ambient temperature.  Being too parsimonious to have the central heating on all day, the only place where we have consistent temperature in our house is the airing cupboard! Once fermentation is underway the environment within the jar is hostile to bacteria.  The ferment should smell slightly yeasty or sour.  It should have visible bubbles.  The kids might look slightly rounded if you are using metal tops. It should not smell foul! Put the jars in the fridge after a few days to slow the fermentation.  You might need to release a little ‘gas’ from the jars occasionally so keep an eye on them. Should keep up to 6 months in the fridge.

After you have experimented a bit, you might want to get more daring!

From Olia Hercules Kaukasis published by Mitchell Beazley and one of my cook books of the year.

Straight from Olia Hercules book Kaukasis comes fermented beetroot and cauliflower.

Make a brine with 1litre filtered water and 25g salt. Add aromatics such as allspice, coriander seed, pink peppercorns or sprigs of thyme.

Peel four beetroot and slice very thinly. Break one cauliflower into florets. Peel a few garlic cloves and one or two sticks of celery chopped into bite sized pieces.

Put all the vegetables into a 3litre sterilised jar and pour in the brine and aromatics and as before, wedge a piece of celery or carrot across the top. Now pour in the brine making sure everything is covered.

Cover the jar with a piece of muslin and leave the jar at room temperature for 5 days or so – it depends on how warm your kitchen is. Look for bubbles. Once there are bubbles, remove the muslin and out on the lid.  Keep in a cool place for a couple of months.

Good luck, and let me know how you get on!

 

 

 

New Year Reflections, gremolata and aquafaba!

I was talking with Bruce and Peter this afternoon – something along the lines of  ‘not everything that’s important can be counted, and not everything that is counted, counts’. I think it’s an Einstein quote.

New Year, for me, is always a time for reflection…. what have I done, what will I do this year?  On my list are the following:

– only do work that is of value

– spend more time with people who are kind

– walk daily!

– write more

– try hard to desist from attempting stupid things like standing on cupboards and falling off, being reckless with sharp kitchen knives

– spend more time on the beach

– increase wedding and funeral bookings

I have been thinking about this whilst meditatively (a-la Nigella) making gremolata this afternoon. 

I have also pondered on making small themed books for Will and Anna – family food, family recipes.  For years I have talked about publishing a cook book and it is all there in skeleton form.  But have I left it too late and maybe I should be more picky about where I put my energy? I am undecided. Answers on a postcard please.

Many people have said to me that they see me as someone with loads of energy. And it is true – mostly I have. But sometimes I don’t. Being perceived as someone with boundless energy is great however there are other parts of me to discover! Go on, give it a try! Invite me to do something with you that is something known to you but new to me.

I have a low boredom threshold and it drives my energy bank, of that I am certain. In using energy I create momentum, change, challenge and I like those qualities to be present and tangible in my life.

But in true Erickson terms, the stages of life are evident and although creative, I am also a realist. So I am rethinking that drive, recalibrating it; making it work for me in my mid 60s in ways that will still bring me joy, adventures, new experiences. For the past few years I know I have been drawing on my 40 year old energy bank.

Life remains an adventure. I want to have adventures. Having had a good go at leaving this mortal coil a few years ago, you could say I am living on borrowed time.  I prefer to think of it not as borrowed time but as a gift and the best gift of all.  So sticking around a bit longer, always being up for having fun, always cooking and getting a dozen people around the table will remain key driver for me.  Of that, too, I am certain.

So this weekend has been a time of deep reflection -reading my two new cookbooks – Two Kitchens by Rachel Roddy and The Modern Kitchen by Anna Jones – pootlong  about collecting rosemary from various people (for which, thanks to Bruce and Peter, Anna and Karen) and thinking about friends who have struggled this year. You know who you are. You should know that you inspire me.

I have also been doing further experiments with aquafaba and made the best toad in the hole to date.  I said I would update the lovely Rachel and Dean – this is the next instalment and I think I’ve cracked it – use two tablespoons of chick pea water for every egg you would have used.  I used four tbsp chick pea water in lieu of two eggs.  Whisk  till light and fluffy.  Four tablespoons of plain flour with a little salt, whisk into 200ml milk (any kind), fold in the whipped aquafaba.  I used chestnut and tofu sausages (click here).  Cook toads  as normal.

And so, I wish you a peaceful, healthy and happy 2018.  You deserve it! We all deserve it!

 

 

Pasta dumplings

It is a dead cert that I will get a brilliant cookery book or two for Christmas. This year it was Kaukasis by Olga Hercules who – since her previous publication Mamushka – has become one of my favourite food writers. The fact that I was given two copies of Kaukasis, one from my daughter in law and one from my daughter just goes to show they both know me well. It wasn’t a problem as someone will be the lucky recipient of the second copy at some point during the year.

It is also a dead cert that rarely do I stick to a recipe as written on the page.  For me, all my (many) cook books are simply inspiration. A starting point. Dyushbara were no exception. In Georgian kitchens these little pasta dumplings would be filled with a mixture of spiced lamb and pork which in my ‘normal’ world would be fine. Except we are approaching 2018 and again I am leaving meat and fish and dairy off the menu for a few weeks.  And David is always and forever a vegetarian and I wanted him to try them too. So there was no meat and the pasta substituted tofu for eggs (there are other similar recipes for egg-free pasta on this blog).

First to the filling.  I spent a relaxing 5 minutes chopping onion, garlic, squash and half a dozen vacuum packed chestnuts and dark green kale into small pieces then I sweated them off in good Sicilian olive oil provided by Nino and Marion until the mixture was very soft.  Further flavourings of a scrape or two of nutmeg, a crushed clove of garlic, some chilli flakes and a little shake of smoked paprika were added.  I mashed it all together and left it to cool.

Then out came the Kenwood and its pasta attachment and into the food processor went 400g OO grade flour, 150g fine semolina, 175g  tofu, a teaspoon of salt, churned a bit till the tofu was mixed in then added  2tbs olive oil and 2tbs cold water. Processed again until it all came together into a clump.  If you press a little pasta between two fingers and it feels dry of grainy, add a little more oil and process again.  Then gather it all together into a ball, knead very lightly then cut the ball in half.  Put half into the freezer for lasagne sheets another day and wrap the other half in cling film,  and put into the fridge for 30 minutes.

Do a little test run with your pasta machine to make sure you remember how to work it! Alternatively, scatter a work surface generously with fine semolina and roll it out with a rolling pin. Either use the pasta machine or a rolling pin to roll out strips of dough then cut into 2cm squares, put just over half a teaspoon of the stuffing into each square wet the edges then fold once, corner to opposite corner, making a triangle. Pick it up and pull down two neighbouring corners to make a ‘tail’  (see picture).  Do this as many times as you need to get a collection of pasta dumplings on your tray.  Apparently in Georgia women make these swiftly and less than half the size. As they do in Italy.  Not in my kitchen – my fingers are not nimble and although this was a bit of a zen experience I wasn’t that keen!

At this point you can freeze them if you wish, or drop into a wide shallow pan of stock for 2-3 minutes remembering that home made pasta cooks in no time at all,  and serve in individual dishes with a little stock in the bottom and  sprinkled with sweet crispy fried kale or grated parmesan.

I can hear you muttering “too much hassle Dawn”.  But if you have a spare afternoon and it is too wet and cold to go fossil hunting in West Runton and the traffic in Norwich is sufficiently atrocious to prevent any attempt to get to the Rembrandt exhibition at the Castle Museum, then what could be lovelier then pottering around in the kitchen and messing up someone else’s recipe!

 

Post script – they were delicious!

Gravlax – you still have time!

My late pa-in-law Dennis was always in charge of the Gravlax at Christmas. And it was always gorgeous.  So I make no bones about it – this is the recipe he gave me. I have just added one twist to it.

Take one large fillet of wild salmon. Please don’t use the farmed stuff – it’s pale pink and it hasn’t worked hard enough and it is all flabby like a wet tissue.  A wild salmon is bright pink, firm and dense in texture.  Many, many books and people will tell you to ask for the ‘thick cut’ – ie furthest away from the tail where it tapers off (where it is not so thick).  If you buy the whole fillet it is often cheaper and you will have plenty to cure and sufficient at the tail end to mix with pasta, creme fraiche, dill and anchovy for a quick supper, leaving the nice thick rump and head end for your gravlax.

The gravlax takes only minutes to prepare.  First wash your hands and work surface thoroughly, and pour boiling water into the container you are going to use, to sterilise it.  Finely chop a large bunch of dill leaves (the equivalent of four of those little packs from Waitrose).  Put the dill in a large bowl with six tablespoons of rock or seasalt, two tablespoons of light muscovado sugar, two teaspoons of black pepper and mix together.  Now take your fillet and first cut off the thinner bit at the end, where it starts to taper.  Cut the remaining fillet in half across the fish so that you have two thick fillets of equal (ish) size.

Use any container that can accomodate the fish and where it will fit snugly inside.  Dry the container after sterilising it. Put one third of the dill mixture on the bottom.  Place one thick fillet skin side down on top of the dill. Now add another layer of dill on top of the fish and finish with the second fillet and the remainder of the dill mixture.  Press down hard.  My addition to the Dennis recipe is to add 75ml of vodka before putting on the lid or covering in clingfilm then adding a heavy weight on top to press it all down.  Put in the fridge of 24 hours then remove from the fridge and carefully remove the contents of the container onto a plate, upside down.  Now use a fish slice or a pallet knife and return to the container, this time with the fillet that was at the top, now at the bottom.  Scrape any dill mixture that might have escaped back onto the fish, and any vodka juices.  Now leave in the fridge for another two days without touching it.

On Christmas Day, take it out of the fridge about an hour before you are going to use it, scrape away the dill cure, take one fillet and carve it thinly across the grain (not down) and eat for breakfast with scrambled eggs and rye bread.  Oh and the first glass of fizz.   At least, that’s what we do. Works every time.

This will keep for about a week in the fridge so long as you return it to the fridge in the original container and the cure as soon as you have carved it, and cover it tightly.  Doesn’t last that long in our house though.  You will get about 15-20 servings from this.

RIP Dennis and thank you.

Quick, light, easy pickles for last minute guests and as gifts

You can make all these in less than 45 minutes!

Davinder’s Lemon Pickle

Sandip brought these round one night – he is always so generous with his foodie gifts and they are always so delicious.  Later on his mum Davinder texted me the recipe for which I was very grateful – it couldn’t be easier.  Slice a lemon into eight pieces. Do this with 6 lemons. Put in a stainless steel bowl with a teaspoon of turmeric, as many chilli flakes as you dare, a couple of fresh chillies if you double dare.  Add six tablespoons of salt and half a small bottle of lemon juice. That’s it.  Pack everything into sterilised jars and add the juice and leave a week before eating. Keep in the fridge.

Cornersmith’s Fennel Pickle

This is from one of my favourite cookbooks – Cornersmith  – which is a co-operative in the suburbs of Sydney.  They take excess garden and allotment produce and make lovely things with it. Including this. I’ve adapted it slightly. One day I will go there. Slice two bulbs of fennel and one brown onion very thinly.  Put in a stainless steel bowl along with one tablespoon of fennel seed, one tablespoon of mustard seed, one tablespoon of nigella seed, one tablespoon of chilli flakes. one tablespoon of salt.  Mix.  Put 500ml organic apple cyder vinegar in a stainless steel saucepan along with 60ml agave syrup. Bring to the boil.  Pack your fennel tightly into sterilised jars and pour over the hot vinegar and seal.  Ready in a week, or sooner.  Will keep in the fridge for about a month but no longer. Great with cold meats and anything vegetarian, it doesn’t mind which.

Gremolata

You’ve read about this  before but it is my go-to condiment for fish, vegetarian, pasta, meat – the lot.  Go out in the garden and cut a very large handful of rosemary. Come indoors and turn on Radio 6Music. Remove all the leaves from the stems by stripping them off against the way they grow.  Use a nifty zester to remove the zest from three lemons.  Chop 4 large cloves of garlic.  Now get nifty with a knife or a mezzaluna and chop everything very fine – don’t use a blender or processor as it over-processes it and loses the freshness.  Put everything in a stainless steel bowl and add an equal quantity of seasalt or rocksalt.  Pour into a jar or jars.  Will keep for ages.  I suggest you don’t use this in cooking but rather use it as a last minute sprinkle just as the dish is finishing off in the oven – or on pasta once its drained.

Easypeasy apple, quince and maple syrup tartin

This tartin is simplicity itself.

If you have some poached quince in the freezer, which I had because last year was a bumper crop and I had loads (because John had sent out an appeal in Wingfield and I was invited to empty a whole tree by a delightful gentleman).  Defrost the quince and cut into apple sized slices, goodly thick though.  Cut a good rosy apply into 8 slices, taking out the core.  Put 2oz raw cane sugar – a mixture of soft brown and muscovado – in the bottom of a tartin tin (tin, tin, tin) put it on the hob and let it melt and begin to caramelise. Don’t stir it because it will crystallise. Just be patient and eventually it will melt.  Take off the heat. Add 20ml of good quality maple syrup then add a good knob of butter (if you wish). This will turn the base of your tartin into a delicious maple caramel mixture. Be careful it doesn’t spit at you.  Don’t stir.  Then add your apple and quince.  Set to one side and off the heat. Don’t stir!

Take one pack of frozen shortcrust pastry.  You might have to wait a bit until it is a bit softer than completely frozen (but it mustn’t be rollable). Alternatively think ahead and get it out of the freezer about an hour before you want to make the tartin. I forgot. I shoved it in the microwave on defrost for a minute.  Now comes the magic bit.

Take a good old fashioned cheese grater and grate sufficient pastry to cover the apples and quince and so it is about 2cm thick.  Or more, it just means you will need to add a few minutes to the cooking time.

Put the tin in the middle of an oven at 190C for 20 minutes then whack up the heat to 220 for 5 minutes if you are going to eat it today.  Don’t whack it up if you are going to freeze it.  Whatever your choice, take it out of the oven.

I’m going to freeze mine. I’ll take it out of the freezer on the morning I’m going to use it and then put back in a medium oven – about 160 or so for 20 minutes then 220 for 5 minutes.  Leave to rest for 5 minutes then place the serving plate (best have one with a slight lip) over the tin and carefully invert it. Place the plate on a flat surface and lift off the tin. The whole tartin will appear as if by magic and the magic mapley juices will run across the plate.

It’s done. It’s easy. It’s impressive and you neither have to make pastry or roll pastry. You grate it! Great!  Hope you enjoy it.

An easy supper for a cold winter night

image from http://www.bithincamero.com

OK so we’ve been out all day and driven 100 mile round-trip in all weathers except sun. It’s rained, hailed, snowed, was foggy and now it’s freezing fog and raining again.

The first priority when we arrived home was to get the woodburner going. The next, kettle on.  Then the easiest prep for the easiest of suppers.

Roughly chop a half of one medium sized cauliflower – into moderately sized florets but you don’t need to be careful about it.  Slice one onion. Peel and chop four cloves of garlic.  Chunk a couple of sticks of celery, chop two medium sized potatoes and slice one red pepper into thick slices.  Chop half a preserved lemon having first scooped out the flesh and discarded it.  Throw everything into  big bowl.  Season liberally with seasalt, chopped rosemary and grate in the rind of one lemon.  Add one dessert spoon of powdered turmeric and the same of hot smoked paprika.  Add 30ml olive oil.  Mix thoroughly and go away and read a book for a couple of hours in front of the fire and drink tea.

Turn on the oven to 190C.  Put just a little oil into a baking tray and put the tray in the oven to get smoking hot.  Whilst it is getting hot add 250ml tomato juice or a tin of chopped tomatoes to the contents of the bowl in which you are marinading the vegetables.  Add one 1litre jar or two tins of chick peas and their water.  Mix in with the vegetables. So far so easy huh?

Remove the smoking hot tray from the oven.  Pour in the contents of the bowl. Squeeze over the juice of half a lemon. Put the tray back in the oven for 40 minutes.  Pour a gin and tonic.  Go back to the sofa and your book.  It just gets easier and easier!

When 40 minutes is up, empty one bag of pre-cooked rice into a jug and microwave for two minutes.  Chop some kale into a saucepan and add a scant amount of water, clamp on the lid and set to high so that it steams rather than cooks – just for a couple of minutes – you will know you’ve done it right if you don’t need to drain the kale and it’s done!

Take the tray of scorching hot vegetables out of the oven and drizzle some pomegranate molasses over the top – maybe 20ml or so.  Take a jar of aubergine chutney out of the cupboard. Take a jar of fermented carrots out of the fridge (recipe to come later) and pour 150ml Kefir into a small bowl – or you can use good organic yogurt  – and sprinkle with some fennel seed.  Now let everything that is hot rest for five minutes.

Now plate up – some rice, some roasted cauliflower and chick pea with sauce, some crispy kale. all garnished with carrot, some chutney and some cooling raita.  All in the time it takes to drink a G&T and read a couple of chapters.

Woodburner is burbling away. Himself is watching Japanese woodturning on Youtube with his headphones on. I’m on the sofa contemplating a second G&T and whether I should read another chapter of David Storey’s Saville or watch the final episode of Outlander. It’s been that sort of a day.

Nibbles #cringe

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The word nibbles makes me cringe. It reminds me of gatherings with my parents and at their friends houses, things on sticks, messy, too many small plates, glasses and (at that time) fags to juggle.  As in a previous post, my preference is to throw a few things on the table when people in that have not taken an age to prepare.

The aim is to not make hard work of the ‘few things thrown on the table’  – do as little cooking as possible, keep creamy things to a minimum if you are like me otherwise there will be an unholy mess, concentrate on high flavour, low fuss – and nothing that requires last minute attention and everything must be easy to assemble.

Like what?

  • high quality crisps of course
  • a plate of charcuterie, good olives and cheese
  • stuffed peppadew peppers from a jar
  • Nino’s Sicilian olives pepped up with cumin and  chopped preserved lemon
  • chicory leaves with crumbled olive-oil slicked toasted breadcrumbs and gorgonzola
  • chick peas tossed in smoked paprika and olive oil and roasted
  • old bread toasted and cut into squares with a smear of sobrasada (creamed chorizo)
  • shop-bought rye bread cut into squares with horseradish, smoked salmon and dill leaf
  • toasted naan bread cut into squares  piled high with curried potato and pea
  • rice paper wraps, dipped in hot water and wrapped around shop bought prawns and sliced lettuce and a dab of chilli sauce
  • little cups made of tortilla wraps pressed into small bun cases and flashed in the oven to make them crispy then fill with halloumi, chopped tomato and basil
  • bowls of cornichon

After all you want to have fun don’t you? Or would you rather be a slave to the kitchen?  I have posted previously on ‘nibbles’ along the lines of Abigail’s party, and I guess someone might be doing mini yorkies with roast beef, or little quiches, or sausages, or crudite and dip. But that person won’t be me.

Anniversary Pie

I know, I know. It’s been a while. More than a while. It has been a busy  year and I apologise. I have been remiss. I have failed to post. I have been doing other things. And a bit of me wondered whether you might be bored with my persistent food blogging. So I stopped for a while.  But so many of you have said in the past few weeks “what’s happened?” “where are our Christmas recipes?” “have you given up?”.  And I realised that nothing had happened, being me I had simply filled my time with other things; the Christmas recipes are still in there. And no I haven’t given up!! When have you ever known me to give up?

So here’s a new pie that I invented and which made its’ maiden appearance at Marion and Andrew’s first wedding anniversary celebration at ours last week end.  The meat eaters had some marvellous pheasant with deep orange and pomegranate sauce. But the vegetarians had the star, which was the new raised pie. I seem to have become addicted to making wholemeal hot watercrust pastry and it is now my pastry of choice for pies and for flans. It neither shrinks nor cracks, it is very mouldable. Most of all it is easy.

8oz wholemeal flour, half a teaspoon of salt, 1 oz coarse oatmeal.  Mix these together in a bowl then add 15ml white wine vinegar, 30ml olive oil, about 60ml hot water (maybe more but you will have to judge that by the feel and how the mixture binds together). Sometimes I add some grated cheese.  Knead lightly then set aside for 30 minutes to relax (the pastry, not you!)

Wash and peel 300g Jerusalem artichoke and slice thickly then cook gently with one chopped leek in butter and garlic. Season with salt and black pepper. Set aside.

Chop 300g of good old gnarly carrots and cook gently in butter, lemon juice and a tiny bit of sugar at the end. Allow to cool. Season with white pepper, then add a little chopped tarragon or basil. Not both.

Unpack one whole vacuum pack of chestnuts and dice.  Saute some field mushrooms with garlic and add the chestnuts and at the end a little bit of dark soy sauce.

Now you are ready to construct the pie – or pies.  If it’s pies then it will make 3 small pies.  Either prepare 3 empty bean tins by removing labels, washing thoroughly then grease the OUTSIDE and dust with coarse semolina before you roll out 3 circles and form the pastry by hand around the outside of the tins until it comes up the sides about 3.5cm.  Then put them on baking parchment and into the fridge for 20 minutes to firm up.   Or (this is easier) use a small loaf tin, grease and line with coarse semolina then roll out the pastry into a rectangle and line the tin.  Then whether it’s loaf tin or baked bean tin, add layers of the filling – if using baked bean tins then remove the tin, obvs!!  Make sure the filling is good and moist as there is no meat in here to give you juices!  Then roll out the lids, brush the joins and tops with egg wash and put in the oven at 190C for 25 minutes and then turn down to 170 for 10 more minutes.  Take out of the oven and leave to stand for 10 minutes before serving.

What’s the deal with coarse semolina?  Those who follow this blog regularly know that I use it instead of flour to dust the inside of pans and tins.  For savoury dishes I use it liberally as it helps keep the crust crusty and the gravy inside!!

Veganuary Day 31 Chocolate and Chestnut Celebration Cake

img_8105What an auspicious day to finish my veganuary culinary adventure. It is my son Will’s 39th birthday today.  How on earth did that happen? Surely I cannot be that old? #pausesforaminute Oh! Yes. I am!

To celebrate the birthday of such a lovely man is a pleasure. That he is my son is my privilege.  And I shall see him at the week end  and we are eating at Patricias which The Guardian described as ‘a little belter’. We shall see. And so can you in my new ‘review’ section on this blog.

So I thought I would share this lovely cake with you as the final Veganuary ‘passing out parade’.  It is one of Pippa Kendrick’s recipes.  Not only does she live in Norwich and used to live next to Marion, she also writes brilliant books about food for people who have sensitivities to certain ingredients. For myself – I have few, but her recipes and particularly her cakes are simply delicious. This is one of my favourites. By the way, the photo is not of the chocolate and chestnut cake (although it was a layer therein) but of Marion and Andrew’s wedding cake.

To the cake:

You need to heat your oven to 170C and grease and line a 20cm cake tin.

Blend 4tbsp ground flaxseed with a quarter of a teaspoon of baking powder and 6 tablespoons of water.  This is a totally effective replacement for eggs in cake.  Set it aside for a few minutes and the flax will swell up. You will be left with a thick paste.

Now put 110g sunflower mararine in a bowl with 150g sweetened chestnut puree.  Mix it until it is pale, light and luffy then add the egg replacement paste a little at a time, whisk as you go until it is fully incorporated into the puree.  Sift in 110g plain flour (gluten free if you are intolerant of flour) with two tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder and a pinch of salt and incorporate it all using a metal spoon.  Now add 6tbsp almond, soy or rice milk.

Spoon it into the tin and bake for 35 minutes until it has risen and springy.  Remove from the oven, let it cool for 10 minutes then remove from the tin onto a wire rack.

Break 75g dairy free chocolate into a bowl and melt it in a bowl placed over simmering water.  Remove from the heat and stir in the chestnut puree.

When the cake has cooled, spread the ganache over the cake, cut into slices and serve.  Believe me. It is gorgeous. My mouth is watering.

Veganuary Day 30 Roti Canai

roti-canaiThis is an extremely easy dish. And extremely yummy.  The only new trick you  might need to learn is tempering – no, not as in ‘keeping your temper’ but cooking spices in very hot oil and adding them at to the dish at the last moment.  See? Not difficult.

Put about 150ml yellow split peas in a large pan, cover with water and bring to the boil then add 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric and half a teaspoon of ground ginger.  Boil away for about 10 minutes and remove the scum that forms on the top.  Now add one aubergine chopped into 1cm chunks, one chopped onion, five chopped tomatoes, one chopped carrot, a medium sized chopped potato and a medium sized green chilli (chopped). So far so easy.  Add about 500ml of boiling water and then simmer until the vegetables are soft and the whole lots looks a bit like porridge.  If it gets too stiff, add more water bit by bit.  Remember that you are then going to stir in 200ml full fat coconut milk,  so don’t make it too runny before you do this, add some salt to taste and about a tablespoon of tamarind paste.  Actually, add two. It adds a wonderful sourness. Stir it all around.

Now put a couple of tablespoons of oil into a small pan, fry a chopped onion and four or five sliced garlic cloves 1 teaspoon mustard seed, 1 teaspoon cumin seed, 1 chopped green chilli and a little turmeric powder at the end of the frying.  Fry for a couple of minutes then pour it over the dal and stir.  Check your seasoning – you will probably need to add more salt.

For the roti, either use the recipe for flatbread on this blogsite (just ‘search’ flatbread).  Or make flaky roti using 450g plain flour, 1 teaspoon of salt and one teaspoon of sugar – mix the dry ingredients with about 300ml water then knead it (or make in a mixer with a dough hook) and cover and leave to rise in a warm place for at least a couple of hours.  Then grease the work surface with oil and oil your rolling pin.  Take a nugget of dough about the size of a satsuma and roll it out, then continue to stretch it with your hands, rubbing oil into it as you fold over the layers. What I mean by this is as you stretch it out, fold the edges to the middle as you go round.  Then roll and stretch it all out again without folding, making  sure the dough is rolled and stretched into a strip, not a circle, then ‘pleat’ each strip (ie one flatbread) into a much thinner strip (remember I said pleat not plait!).  Then roll this strip into a circle, like a Catherine Wheel,  and finally roll it out agin to form an average sized flatbread.  It sounds a bit complicated but it isnt. You are simply making the dough, letting it prove, breaking off a piece, rolling it out then stretching it into a strip that is longer than it is wide.  Then pleat it so the length has four or five layers and then roll it round from the centre, finally rolling it out into a flatbread shape again.  Cook on a medium heat on a skillet.  You will end up with a fluffy bread that flakes as you eat it.

Veganuary Day 29 Almost there (Eat your heart out Andy Williams)

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Andy Williams. Thanks to Sky.com

I always wanted to be the girl Andy Williams picked out of the audience, and danced with real close, at the end of his show.  Which is showing my age of course.  Listen to this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBVBg0If46U if you need a reminder.  No clips of the closing sequence, but some of you will remember how it went.  Oh how I wanted to be that girl in the black and white polka dot dress with the circular skirt and the can-can petticoat.

And then – I wanted to be taller, thinner, more clever, always the one who got the handsome man.

And now – I just want to be me.  So I remain short, not thin, averagely clever but I really do think I got the handsomest man.  He is not Andy Williams. He is far better.  So I win!!

And so – this Veganuary month is almost finished and what have I learned?

  • I do not have to eat meat, I choose not to eat meat 99% of the time
  • It is not difficult or time consuming to prepare and eat plant based meals
  • I like soya milk, especially when I make it myself
  • Making soya milk is easy
  • Shops that call themselves ‘vegan’ in general have a very limited stock of ‘real’ food
  • People who come for dinner can eat for the whole evening and not notice that they are eating plants (not animals)
  • the arguments about balancing ecosystems and ‘positive’ stuff  that relates to meat production, employment and countryside management can be countered by arguments  that are just as valid about GM production, methane production, animal welfare and agri-business
  • Generally, you will eat more vegetables, roughage and whole grains in a good and well balanced vegan diet, than eating  a meat based diet
  • I feel much better for it, I really do

Today has been a busy day. Those of you who know me, will know that I cram a lot into a day. Those who know me well, know the reason for that.  However eating vegan has not affected my energy levels nor my stamina – Today I started at 8. I’ve had a tricky phone conference setting up a new piece of work, which took an hour; done two hours work at the computer, been for a march round the block, driven to Norwich and had my eyes tested, had coffee with my good friend and fellow-traveller, driven home, drafted out a report, marched round the block, sorted out the lovely man who is replacing our fence, taken delivery of a Raleigh Shopper for David’s bicycle renovation projects, ordered two dial-phones for my mum, driven back to Norwich, done a one hour radio interview, come home, lay on the sofa, checked out the child care requirements for tomorrow, written this blog.

I have not starved during this vegan way of eating, and neither has food preparation has taken hours and hours.

Today I have consumed:

Oaty porridge with pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, almonds and figs with half a pint of soya milk

Two apples, two pears and an orange

A chilli and bean burrito stuffed with salad from the vegan stall on Norwich market

A slice of wholemeal toast with tofu cream cheese, tomato, bean and alfalfa sprouts with walnuts

About 2l of water

I am about to take a mug of hot almond milk infused with maca powder and coco nibs to bed with me.  Me and Julian Barnes have a date and I don’t want to miss it.

Ordinary life – as lived by a temporary vegan  who is considering indefinite leave to remain.

Veganuary Day 28 Different ways with vegetables

 

img_0871Little Gem lettuce with peas

Does your fridge suddenly ‘grow’ lettuces?  Mine does

Because it does, this little gem (sic.) came to pass. It is adapted from a Little Gem, pea, avocado and mint salad I make in the summer.

But this is winter. Take two little gem lettuce and slice lengthways into eight. Snick the bitter end off (but not too much). Chop a small bunch of spring onions including the green bits. Add a little olive oil to a shallow pan on a medium heat. Add the onions then the lettuce then two cups of frozen peas, 50ml water and a squeeze of juicy garlic. Turn the heat up high. Clamp on the lid and when it is steaming, give it 3 minutes. Then remove from the heat and stir in two tablespoons of coriander chutney (seebelow). Swirl around a bit.

It is divine.

Green coriander chutney

Take one bunch of fresh green coriander.  Two cloves of garlic.  Half a green chilli.  A teaspoon of sugar.  A squeeze of lemon juice. The thick residue of a tin of coconut milk (just drain the fluid from the tin, you should have a good half tin of coconut if not dilute it slightly with the fluid you’ve just drained).

Put the garlic, chilli and coriander in a small food processor or Nutribullet.  when finely chopped add the sugar, lemon juice and the coconut.  Whizz madly.  Check to see if it needs salt.  Pour about half of it onto your Little Gem with peas.  Keep the other half for when you have a curry tomorrow!

Stir fried sprouts

Slice your sprouts into 1cm thick slices.  Chop some onion and a clove of garlic.  Grate the rind from half a washed lemon.  Heat some oil in a wok or wide pan until it is smoking.  Add the onion first, swirl around for about 30 seconds. Then add the sprouts.  Add the garlic last. Stir around for no more than a minute. Then add the lemon rind, seasalt and lots of black pepper.  Take off the heat. Add a little more olive oil.  Serve.

Carrots with caraway

Sweat half an onion in the bottom of the pan in olive oil (be generous).  After five minutes add carrots cut into chunks, a dessert spoon of caraway seeds, half a teaspoon of sugar and half a chopped preserved lemon.  Don’t add salt.  Pour in a cup of water and bring it all to the boil then put a ring of greasepeoof paper on top of the carrots (it’s called a cartouche) and then the lid.  Now turn the heat to barely on and cook for about an hour either on the ring or in the oven.  Don’t remove the lid or the cartouche until you are ready to serve.  The carrots will be meltingly soft and suffused with sweetness, countered by the bitterness of the lemon and warmed by the caraway.

Cauliflower

I love cauliflower but this is one of my favourite ways of cooking it. (No, it is not cauliflower ‘rice’ although that has its place, to be sure).  This cauliflower is roasted.  Take a whole cauliflower and break it into large-ish florets.  Then cut each floret into slices about 1.5cm thick.  The idea is that you want to make them lay flat on the surface of a baking sheet.  Put the florets in a bowl and mix with the following:  5ml seasalt flakes, a good grind of black pepper, two teaspoons of cumin seed, one teaspoon of turmeric powder, one onion chopped (but not too fine), a few chilli flakes, 30ml olive oil or rapeseed oil. Mix well.  Put a sheet of greasproof paper on the baking tray and pre-heat in the oven set at 200C.  Then turn out the contents of the bowl onto the baking sheet and roast for about 30 minutes.  Some of the florets should look a bit charred – this adds to the flavour in my opinion.  If you don’t like ‘a bit charred’ then take out of the oven a bit sooner.

Courgettes

We get through a lot of courgette but I don’t ever give them the star treatment.  They are a good workhorse in the kitchen. And sometimes they have to stand alone as a vegetable.  Chop courgettes into rough chunks.  Don’t make them into smooth circles, but alternate the direction of your chopping so you get irregular shapes. Try and make them a good 2cm at the thickest part.  Dredge with seasoned coarse semolina.  Put a little oil in a wide pan and heat it smoking.  Then add a small chopped onion, lots of chopped garlic, fresh thyme leaves. Have some chopped fresh parsley and chopped fresh basil ready.  Then throw in your courgettes and keep moving them around so they stir fry but never ‘catch’.  After four minutes or so, add cherry tomatoes that you’ve cut in half.  Toss these into the pan and leave for two minutes.  Then add seasalt and black pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. Take off the heat and then add the parsley and basil.

Celeriac

So many ways with celeriac.  One of my favourite and simplest ways is to make mash with equal amounts of potato and celeriac.  Or to slice it into 2cm thick slices, slather it with oil, chilli flakes and coriander powder then roast it till it is soft on the inside then slightly charred on the outside.  Eat it as a burger, slapped in a bun with red slaw and horseradish.

 

Veganuary Day 27. Burnt aubergine with black lentils

In my kitchen
In my kitchen

Sorry about the no-show on Day 26.  We went to our first djembe drumming lesson.  I came out totally confused but having had the best time!
Easypeasy supper thanks to Yotam. Roast an aubergine rubbed in oil either under the grill, on a gas ring or with a blow torch. Roast deep and hard till the skin is charred and the insides are soft. Put aubergine in a sealable sandwich bag. Yes, really!

Chop equal proportions of celery, onion and carrot. Sweat in rapeseed or olive oil till soft with half a chopped chilli plus seeds then squeeze on a clove of garlic and sprinkle on half a teaspoon of ground cumin. Pour 25ml red wine vinegar on the sautéed vegetables and boil till almost gone then add a packet if Merchant Gourmet black beluga lentils, chopped fresh parsley and 150 ml vegetable stock. Cook gently till most if the stock has been absorbed then season with a little salt and lots of black pepper. Keep warm.

Rub the aubergine around in the bag till the charred skin is loosened then remove from the bag and pick out most if the black bits. Put the squishy – and it must be squishy – aubergine in a bowl and mix till roughly puree’d. Season with black pepper, add a bit more oil, a little smoked paprika and some chopped almonds.

Pile the lentils into a dish, top with aubergine and dairy or soya yogurt sprinkled with chopped coriander and nigella seeds.

Yum yum with flatbread.

Veganuary Day 25 The day I fell off the wagon

img_7448Only a brief post on this bitingly cold day.  Just to say that today, I fell off the wagon.  It’s all Gail’s fault. She was coming round. We were going to hatch a plot.  Then she cancelled.  I did my walk, then settled down to work, the final push quality checking a big document.  Lit the woodburner.  But I could feel those wintry icicles outside and and I neede warmth.  I needed comfort. Oh well, I thought, I was going to make some scones for Gail anyway. I’ll make them and David can take them to work tomorrow.  So out with the flour and the butter and the eggs.  As they cooked the house filled with   a heavenly buttery warm-cake smell.

Hardly were they out of the oven than I had eaten one, all crumbly and moist and fragrant. Steaming it was.  Plus a large mug of tea.

In penance I took some round to Jas and Dick next door, with a jar of black currant jam.

I cannot tell a lie. I fell off the wagon.  I only ate one.  But it was all Gail’s fault.

Veganuary Day 24. Lasagne

img_3817So you remember the tofu pasta?  Well half of it was languishing in the freezer. So here goes another experiment….. frozen pasta. In lasagne.

I decided after the first attempt that the pasta needed to be cooked before adding to the dish.  So I poached the sheets gently in simmering water for about 3 minutes then drained them on kitchen towel.

Before that I made a good batch of David’s tomato sauce and in a separate pan I sautee’d mushrooms with garlic and then some whole leaf spinach and left it to cool.

Then it was simply a matter of layering it up – sauce, pasta, spinach and mushroom, lookey-likey soya mozarella (yes, I know, but I thought I’d give it a go), pasta, sauce, pasta, sauce, lookey-likey cheese.

It has just come out of the oven (45 minutes at 190C) and I am leaving it to reduce from scorchio to tolerable before dishing up.  With an extremely healthy salad that includes my home spun sprouted seeds and a very garlicky dressing.  I’ll be crocheting macrame saucepan holders next!  If it looks good when I slice it I will post another picture.  If you don’t see one here, it didn’t hold together that well!

40 minutes later……..

So.Here it is. Held together nicely.  These are the lessons learned:

  • tofu pasta freezes well
  • the lasagne sheets benefit from ‘poaching’ before use
  • use plenty of sauce because it will be absorbed by the pasta
  • season everything really well because the pasta will ‘dull’ the seasoning
  • dont bother with the looked-likey tofu mozzarella – it didnt add anything
  • have at least four layers of pasta then it will hold its shape when you cut it.

 

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Veganuary Day 23 Udon noodle supper

01efdaebb89cc7048904e1cc5986b0ddc9eed5c90aTo be honest, a bowl of udon noodles with mushrooms is not the prettiest dish on this planet.  So here’s a lovely bright photo of Spain instead, to cheer you up.

This supper, or a version of it (depending on what’s in the fridge), is a regular.  It’s quick, uncomplicated and very tasty. Although it is a bit brown. Hence the ‘cheer up’ picture.

To serve two, you will need onion, garlic, mushrooms (a variety would be good, but if you only have a few chestnut or button mushrooms kicking around in the bottom of the fridge, they will be just as good).  Plus onion, garlic, chilli flakes, cornflour, soya milk and/or soya cream, mushroom ketchup, fresh herbs, the other half of the jar of Seitan from the other night, pak choi.  I haven’t given precise weights of ingredients simply because this is so simple you should practice doing it by eye instead of weight! Call it the Rees method.  Approximate.

Chop the Seitan into smaller chunks and marinade in two tablespoons of soy sauce. Sweat the chopped onion with garlic and chilli flakes.  Then add chopped mushrooms and cook till just done. Add the Seitan and its marinade. a tablespoon of nutritional yeast flakes and a couple of tablespoons of mushroom ketchup.  Combine all the ingredients then take off the heat.  Sprinkle about a tablespoon of cornflour over the contents of the pan and add about 100ml of soya milk and about 50ml of soya cream. Combine and then stir till it thickens. Check the seasoning but remind yourself that the soy sauce and the mushroom ketchup is a seasoning in itself, so you probably won’t need any extra salt.  Add chopped fresh basil leaves.

Meanwhile, cook the Udon noodles as per instruction on the packet and simultaneously (steady now!) steam the pak choi that you’ve quartered.  It will only take three or four minutes.

As soon as the noodles are done, drain and put in individual bowls.  Pour the mushroom and Seitan sauce over them, and top with the pak choi.

It’s slurpy. It’s yummy. It’s quick (15 minutes start to finish). It’s easy. So what are you waiting for?

Veganuary Day 22 Green pie

Green pie

img_3809What a great evening!  Old friends.New friends.Good food.

Good food usually means lots of prep but I was going for scrumptious but simple.

So, for the green pie, be kind to yourself.  Take one pack of filo pastry.

Cook 500g of spinach and 500g of kale in separate pans and a scant amount of water in each. Take the spinach off the heat before it turns to mush. Drain into a colander lined with kitchen towel.  Cook the kale for a bit longer then drain in the same way and then strip the leaves from any chunky stems.  When cool, chop the kale and the spinach into smaller pieces and only then, season with sea salt.

Meanwhile, sweat two chopped onions in olive or rapeseed oil and when very soft, add two grated cloves of garlic and a grating of nutmeg.

Prepare a 21cm springform cake tin by greasing it and dusting liberally with coarse semolina.  Have a pot with oil and a pastry brush close to hand.

Clear as much work surface as you can. Ideally you would have a run of about 1200cm. Lay out sheets of filo in a strip, overlapping on the short side and brush the joins with oil – so you have one long line of filo.  Spread the onion and mixed greens in a line about 2cm wide along the length of the pastry, and about 1.5cm from the bottom edge. Chop a large handful each  of mint and basil and sprinkle over the greens. Then sprinkle with nutritional yeast flakes (in a non vegan version I would add crumbled feta cheese).  Then brush the remaining exposed pastry with a little oil and roll up from the bottom so you end up with a long sausage. Coil it tightly inside the tin and brush with more oil.  Cook in the oven at 180C for about 30 minutes till golden brown.

Bulgar with walnuts (Kisir)

Put half a cup of water in a bowl with two cups of boiling water.  Cover with two cups of boiling water.  Chop or crush half a cup of walnut halves.  After 30 minutes the bulgar will have absorbed the water.  Mix with the walnuts, chopped spring onions, two tablespoons of tomato purée, chopped fresh dill and a good slug of pomegranate molasses.  The final ingredient is the most important in terms of flavour….. half a preserved lemon – removing the pulp and finely chopping the flesh.  Dont add more salt because the preserved lemon is salty.

Roast red peppers with black garlic

img_3810Slice three red peppers and remove the white pith.  Remove. 4 cloves of black garlic from its skin and chop into pieces. Roast in olive oil for about 20 mintes.  Allow to cool then put in a bowl with one tablespoon of balsamic vinegar.

Serve with a luscious salad of avocado with bitter leaves and a basket of flatbreads.

Veganuary Dawn 21. Aquafaba Blood Orange Cake

Blood orange cake
Blood orange cake

I am always on the look-out for blood oranges in January. Their season is relatively short and they are so juicy and the flesh and juice such a rich colour, that they are impossible to resist.  They look pretty innocuous in the farm shop – indeed there weren’t that many around as the harvest – particularly in Spain – has been affected by snow and frosts.  So I had the last half dozen in the farm shop and wasn’t tempted by the hybrid on offer.  I had a taste. But it wasnt the same and had a much thicker skin.  No. I like the thin-skinned originals.

There are eight for dinner tonight and I am cooking  Turkish.  Herb pie, flatbreads, duk-kah, roasted red pepper with black garlic, cucumber and fennel pickle salad, aubergines in pomegranate molasses.

What I am really looking forward to it the experiment with the ubiquitous clementine cake, which I have adapted using blood oranges and aquafaba, and which we are having for pudding.

Put four blood oranges (or six clemetines and a lemon) in a saucepan so they are a snug fit, cover with boiling water and boil away for a good hour.  Let them cool and then whizz to a pulp in the food processor.  Take five tablespoons of aquafaba (the water from tinned chickpeas – see previous posts – or search ‘aquafaba’) and a tablespoon of cider vinegar, and whisk until frothy not foamy – so it looks like well-whipped egg whites. The aquafaba takes the place of the eggs in the original recipe.

Put 200g ground almonds, a heaped teaspoon of baking powder, 30ml unflavoured oil and 175g soft brown sugar in the food processor with the blood orange pulp and combine at high speed, then pour into a clean mixing bowl.  Gently fold in the whipped aquafaba with a metal spoon then pour the batter into a 21cm round springform tin that you have oiled and dusted heavily with coarse semolina.  Put in the centre of the oven, pre-heated to 180C, to cook until firm in the middle.  Note that these proportions are smaller than the previous recipe so I would check it after 30  minutes and then lay a double thickness sheet of baking parchment over the top, then leave for 10 more minutes.  It should be done by then.

Remove from the oven and onto a cooling rack (still in the tin). After half an hour, run a round-edged knife round the tin and invert the cake onto a wide plate.

Whilst the cake is cooking, thinly slice two or three more blood oranges.  Put 100g soft brown sugar in a wide shallow pan with 150ml water.  Bring to the boil and reduce a bit then add the slices of orange and any juice that is on the cutting board.  Cook in the pan until the syrup is thick and the oranges are almost sticking to the pan but not quite. Remove from the heat.

When the cake is cool, arrange the oranges on top of the cake and pour the syrup over the top. Sometimes I add more syrup. There is often some in the fridge.  Earlier in the year it was quince and lime syrup. At the moment it is Seville orange syrup that I drained from a batch of Seville orange and quince marmalade that would not set.

This cake is a complete experiment on my part. I am eager to see how the aquafaba works.  The cake itself looks great at the moment.  But we’ve not eaten it yet! I will report in later!

 

Veganuary Day 20 Soya milk and Pesto

img_3806Yesterday’s ‘cold’ in my head and the achy joints that threatened to interfere with weekend plans, have receded a bit.  Probably helped by the kill-or-cure approach to finishing off the massive wood pile on our drive. We had a convoy (of two) barrows going from front to back, and with every circuit I managed to sort out in my head what needed to be done in the back garden in a few weeks time.  It’s the ‘garden’ equivalent to my ‘swimming pool’ meditation where similar issues get processed.

Anyway. In between barrows, helping out a neighbour, reading the paper and making a trek to Tesco to find some Mamade for my mum (more about marmalade another time) I made some soya milk, experimented a bit more with aquafaba in a cake that’s tomorrow’s Day 21 post sorted) , some pesto and some soup.

When I re-read what I have written on these blogs I often wonder why I rarely do one thing at a time.  I dont know the answer but I think its something to do with running things in parallel means you get more done. Rarely is there sequential activity going on.  It must be the project manager in me. I shall ponder more on that in the swimming pool.

Soya milk – making your own

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The first lot of soya milk going through the muslin

First the soya milk.  I actually like it. Some people don’t and prefer nut milks. I am happy with both.  I haven’t made any tofu yet but I think Marion has a batch going at the moment so I will ask her to do a guest blog. I use organic and GM free soya beans from the wholefood shop.  If you want to read a bit more about the soya production/consumption debate you could google it of course, or you could start here.

Put 125g soya beans in a bowl and cover with 500ml boiling water.  Soak overnight.  If you

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Squeezing it out!

are not that keen on the taste of soya beans in the milk then discard this water the next day, rinse the beans, then put in a large and powerful blender with 750ml water.  Blend on high for a good 30 seconds then lay some muslin in a colander (knew I kept those baby muslins for something 35 years ago) and pour in the contents of the blender.  Squeeze the liquid through the muslin and return the dry-ish residue to the blender with another 500ml water.  Blend again and go through the same sieving process.  Pour into bottles or containers that are scrupulously clean and have been scalded with boiling water.  Put the lid on that’s it.  About 1.25l of soya milk.  Some people add a little sugar. I don’t. Some people flavour it with vanilla. I don’t.

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The final product

Walnut and basil pesto

This is, of course, an adaption of traditional pesto which contains lashings of parmesan.

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Walnut and basil pesto

In a pestle and mortar, completely crush one fat clove of garlic with half a teaspoon of seasalt.  Then add half a dozen walnut halves and crush to a pulp.  Then add few large fresh basil leaves – probably about 10 and about 10ml of any oil. I used rapeseed.  Keep pounding it till it becomes a mush.  Plonk a teetering teaspoonful in the middle of a bowl of some home made leek and potato soup and tell me it’s not gorgeous.  Of course, other nuts are available, and other herbs. You could invent your own blend.

 

Veganuary Day 19 Pie, there must be pie!

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Seitan pie before its lid is on

It is cold and I want to get warm. Me and three year old Otto have had a busy day.  Trampolining. Playing Octonauts.  And moving logs in our wheelbarrows.  Him one log at a time.  Me a barrowload at a time.  And we both have colds. So after the gym pick up for Monty (6), by the time I got home I was hungry as a hunter but achy in the back region and with a very dull head.  To be honest, I was tempted by temptation itself and called in at Asda (also looking for MaMade for my mum) where I was momentarily seduced by Linda McCartney pies.  They even morphed into my basket, as if by magic.  Then I read the label and muttered ‘No Dawn. Walk away from the pies’.  Such a wholesome image.  So many ‘safe’ additives.

So when I got home I was determined there would be pie. I needed pie. It had to be made.

Turn the oven on to 190C.

First the pastry.  Four tablespoons of plain wholemeal flour, one of plain white flour and two of fine oatmeal.  A little salt.  Rub in about 40g  mararine.  Dont shout! I know.  But it was avocado oil margarine. With no canola or palm oil.  Then add a tablespoon of olive oil.  Bring it together with a little water then leave it to rest while you do the rest. Why, you might ask, why the oatmeal.  I have done a lot of experiments with wholemeal flour in order to get the right ‘feel’.  As with so many things re vegan and vegetarian, you really have to adjust a lifetime of eating habits. And that includes tasting habits too.  The oatmeal gives the pastry a more open texture without adding more fat.  And in my opinion it solves the age-old wholemeal pastry problem which is that it tends to be hard as bullets unless you load it with fat. However, if you add about 10% oatmeal it will be softer.

img_3795Next, wash and quarter some average sized potatoes (unpeeled).  Put in a bowl with black pepper and two teaspoons of turmeric, a slug of oil and a tablespoon of coarse semolina. And a sprinkle of seasalt flakes before they go in the oven.

Sweat chopped onion, garlic, celery, celeriac and squash in a shallow wide pan in some rapeseed oil, or similar.  I only use a little oil, so keep an eye on it then add half a glass of water when it looks like its just beginning to stick. This saves  you using more oil than is necessary.  Season with sea salt, black pepper and thyme – fresh if you have it.  Cook for another five minutes with the lid on, till the vegetables are on the firm side of soft.

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Seitan marinaded in light soy sauce

Meanwhile open a jar of Seitan.  Now I’ve talked  about this before in other posts – essentially it is the total protein of wheat grain and it comes in a jar in chunks. It looks disgusting and the last time I posted about it I couldn’t bear to expose it for public scrutiny! Or derision! I used about a third of a jar, sliced it into smaller chunks and marinaded it in light soy sauce and a grated clove of garlic for a few minutes.  Then I added the seitan and the marinade to the vegetables, stirred them round, put the lid on and started a quick and easy sauce.

 

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The pie as it came out of the oven

Put one teaspoon mustard powder in a bowl with two teaspoons of tomato purée, half a tablespoon of nutritional yeast flakes and about 150ml water.  Mix it round then add to the veg and seitan in the pan.  Heat gently till it thickens. Take off the heat. Allow to cool with the lid off for about 10 minutes. Check the seasoning and adjust if you need to.  Then pour it into a dish and pop the little singing bird in the middle to stop the middle bit of the pastry dipping.  Top with the pastry and brush with oil. Put the pie in the oven on the bottom shelf and the potatoes on a hot baking tray on the top shelf.  Swap them over after 20 minutes and cook for a further 20.

Yummy.  Ready in 5 minutes starting from……… NOW!

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A slice of pie anyone?

 

 

 

Veganuary Day 18. Aquafaba yorkshire puds

img_3776Day 17 explained what aquafaba is and told you how to make mayonnaise with water and no eggs.

Today we have further aquafaba antics in the form of Toad in the Hole. With no eggs.

Put six tablespoons of chick pea water in a bowl.  Gill tells me this is equivalent to two eggs.  Add 10ml cider vinegar.

Now let me introduce you to Elvis.  Elvis is my 25 year old electric hand mixer.  When we could still be bothered to put it back in its Elvis box it sat the top shelf.  Now the Elvis box is long gone.  However Elvis is still here.  Why Elvis?  The serial number on the box was ELV15.  When Anna saw it she called it Elvis. And Elvis it remains.

Anyway.  Whip up the bean water and vinegar until it looks like whipped egg white.  Then sift in 120g self raising flour and a teaspoon of baking powder. Whizz it madly until combined, adding 175ml of soya milk as you go. Now you are required to make a judgement call.  Does the batter look thick/thin enough?  Compare it in your mind to other batters your have made.  If you think it is still too thick, add more soya milk – up to another 75ml.  This is the mistake I made this evening when I made it for the first time. I added the liquid all at once and it was too thin.  Bear that in mind.

Whilst I was gathering the batter ingredients together, I turned the oven on to warp factor 200C and quickly roasted the chestnut sausages straight front the freezer till they were just done.  When I took them out of the oven I turned up the oven to 220C, and added a slug of oil to each hole in a muffin tray.  I was insufficiently courageous to attempt my normal pagoda-style one-yorkie-in-a-single-roasting-pan version.  With good reason. I should have listened to my instinct.

When the muffin pans were smoking hot, I gave the batter one more riff with Elvis, twitched my hips a bit, snarled, then poured some into each of the muffin tin holes, dropped half a sausage in each and quickly returned them to the oven.  They were done in 15 minutes.

img_3774Now dont get me wrong.  They were actually really tasty.  And passed muster as a yorkshire pudding.  However, to be honest, the batter could have done with being thicker and so they didn’t rise as much as I would have liked.

And for those of you who think I can cook anything, well I probably can. But I don’t cook everything well. It is always trial and error. And sometimes I make mistakes.

However, next time…………. and there will be a next time……..  it will be different!

Veganuary Day 17 Aquafaba (aqua-what?)

img_3766 img_3768It is true.  There is nothing new under the sun.  I reckoned I knew a lot about ingredients and kitchen stuff. But until about three months ago I had never heard of Aquafaba. Aquawhat?

Mr Google will tell you everything you need to know, but I will save you the trouble.  Aquafaba is the water from a tin of chickpeas. Or Pinto beans. Or Haricot beans. Or any beans – except baked beans.  The salted water from the bean can contains magical properties – protein strands that mimic egg white.  The theory is that if you whip it, it not only looks like egg white, it behaves like egg white.  So the only question is, does it work or is it a gimic?  Look at sites like Aquafaba.com and they will tell you all about its history, the science and more stuff than you probably need to know in order to make mayo. Even The Guardian is talking about it. And it has its own Facebook page.  There’s millions of stuff about it.  Trillions.  So why had I never heard of it?  And does it work?

Yesterday I promised I would try out Yorkshire pudding today – it being full of egg and milk n’all.  But this morning I was sidetracked.  I was just about to sit down in the office – to work – when I started thinking about mayonnaise.  Never been a great fan. And since I had a nasty dose of campylobacter last year from dodgy restaurant hollandaise, me and eggs are not good friends. So why not give the eggless mayo a try, I was thinking,  whilst procrastinating about other more urgent tasks.

Your best friend today is not the food processor but a stick blender. Consider me a sort of matchmaker – you and all the implements that I have in my kitchen. Some never used.  The stick blender is the implement you plunge into a saucepan full of soup when you want it to be smooth not lumpy.  the sort of implement that if you don’t have it fully submerged in the liquid, produces a fountain of scorching hot leek and potato soup that lands down your front at lightning speed.

Put 1 tbsp of cider vinegar in a  small-ish jug along with half a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of ground mustard and 3 tablespoons of chick pea water straight from the tin.  Whizz them for a few seconds till they are well blended then gently and slowly pour in three-quarters to a whole cup of good quality oil – I used a mixture of grapeseed and extra virgin olive oil whilst whizzing away with the blender. (I hope you are impressed with my one handed blending-whilst-videoing-on-my-ipad trick) until the mixture thickens and thickens some more.  Check the taste. It should taste like mayo.  Mine certainly did.  You could add some grated garlic, or some fresh herbs, or some grated lemon rind depending on what flavour you are seeking. Or you could just have plain old mayo.

I put mine in a jar and then in the fridge. It’s supposed to get thicker in the fridge. It has.

I hope that if you visited this page more than half an hour ago you can now see the second half of the page that I accidentally deleted.  In the process I have learned a new skill.  To those who kindly pointed out that half the post was missing and I implied it was their machinery, I apologise.  I promised that the link would be back in 10 minutes.  I was sidetracked by doing a Google cache search for the lost half.  I found it.  Now I have changed it.  Knowing how to access Google cache –  it’s a handy skill to have.  I didn’t know I had it until 10 minutes ago!

 

 

Veganuary Day 16 Sauces and gravy

P1020631“The problem with vegan and vegetarian food Dawn, is you can’t get a good gravy”.

I wish I had a quid for every time someone said this to me.  The fact is that it just isnt true.  However if you want gravy to taste like the gravy you would have with mile-high roast rib joint then obviously any non-meat gravy is just not going to!  In my adventures in vegan and vegetarian-land, however, I have learned a thing or two.  Here are some of them:

  • avoid processed food that wants to look like meat – it tastes nasty. So if you want to eat meat – then eat meat
  • If you want a vegetarian sauce that ‘tastes’ like beef or chicken gravy use gravy granules.  Read the labels….. they contain no meat but they do contain maltose, dextrose and all sorts of other rubbish
  • If you want a tasty vegetarian sauce or gravy made from scratch it is not difficult
  • A freezer is the eighth wonder of the world
  • Keep a good stock cupboard (arrgghh – I sound just like my gran).  The fact is of course that the more ingredients you have, the more options you have.

 

In my stock cupboard there live the following that assist the ‘gravy’ dilemma:

  • Nutritional yeast flakes that you can get in most wholefood stores and some supermarkets.  These add a lovely savoury flavour to many dishes, and to gravy.  Technicians call it ‘umami’. I call it lip smacking good.
  • Marmite (or similar) but not Bovril (obviously)
  • Soy sauce
  • Tomato puree
  • Burgess Mushroom Ketchup
  • Passata (tomato sauce in a box or a jar  – or a tin of chopped tomatoes put through the blender)
  • red lentils
  • cornflour
  • stock – either cubes or pots or home made
  • turmeric powder
  • smoked paprika
  • good old tomato ketchup and HP
  • mushroom ketchup
  • ground almonds
  • fresh herbs
  • spices
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Here are some regular attenders at the sauce and gravy table.

Cashew cream sauce

Put two cups of cashews in a bowl with 1.5 cups of water. Soak for two hours only, then blend with two cloves of garlic, a flat teaspoon of salt and 15ml olive oil.   That’s it.  Could it be simpler?  No.  It’s easier than making gravy.  You can then use this sauce as a base for other flavours, you could add pesto, harissa, chopped parsley or coriander.  If it feels a bit too thick, then loosen it with some almond milk.  You can serve it hot or cold, thick or thin.

David’s basic tomato sauce

I like to think I am a good cook – never a chef – but David makes a mean tomato sauce.  Here goes.  Gently fry one finely chopped onion and two cloves of garlic and add a sprinkling of chilli flakes.  Then add half a wineglass of red wine and reduce to practically nothing on a high heat.  Then turn the heat down and add a tin of chopped tomatoes, or passata, and some salt, black pepper and chopped capers.  Then let it simply burble away in the pan until it is thick and reduced, and the oil is splitting in the sauce. Yes splitting, not spitting!  This is the stage of ‘cooked-ness’ when the main ingredients of the sauce begin to very slightly separate from the oil.  This happens when the sauce is cooked slowly – about 30 minutes in the pan.  The key here is to use a wide shallow pan and not a saucepan.  You can add whatever fresh herbs you like at the end (never at the beginning) – such as basil, chopped rosemary, tarragon, parsley etc.

Coconut and lentil gravy

Cook a cup full of red lentils in two cups of water until they are ‘floury’ – about 15 minutes.  Fry a chopped onion and garlic in olive oil.  Add a teaspoon of turmeric powder and a teaspoon on ground cumin.  Add four chopped tomatoes or four juicy tinned tomatoes on a high heat and let them sizzle for five minutes, break them up with a wooden spoon then add half a tin of coconut milk and the coooked lentils.  Now cook again for 10 minutes without a lid, ensuring all the ingredients are combined.  Season with salt and black pepper then blend with a stick blender into a smooth sauce.  This is particularly good with dishes that combine brown rice and other vegetables because  nutritionally, the brown rice plus the lentils complete a protein chain and without that pairing your body will not extract the full nutritional value of either the rice or the lentils.  More about this another day.

Mushroom and onion gravy

This is the one for chestnut sausages or burgers or toad in the hole!  First, soak some (a couple of ounces) dried mushrooms in 200ml boiling water for at least half an hour.  Chop and gently fry one onion with two cloves of garlic (getting the message here?) in a shallow pan with the tip of a teaspoon of hot smoked paprika.  Then add peeled and finely chopped fresh mushrooms.  Keep stirring. Take off the heat and add three flat teaspoons of cornflour.  Now loosen the cornflour with the liquid from the soaked dried mushrooms. Then chop the soaked mushrooms and add to the pan plus a good tablespoon of Burgess’ Mushroom Ketchup (from most supermarkets, usually on the shelf with the Lea and Perrins). Bring almost to the boil, stirring all the time, then taste and season at the end.

Roast gravy

This is the one we use for dishes like nut roast, stuffed cabbage etc.  Roast onions, garlic, potato, carrot, celery in a roasting pan with a bay leaf or two, until the vegetables are well cooked but not charred.  Add 750ml boiling water to two vegetable stock pots (like Knorr).  Mash the vegetables down with a potato masher and then sprinkle on some nutritional yeast flakes – probably about a tablespoon and season with pepper. You probably won’t need salt.  Remove the bay leaves.  Now slowly add the  liquid stock to the vegetables and bring to the boil on the top of the stove, stirring all the time and breaking up any lumps.  When fully combined, let it cool a bit and pour it through a sieve if you must or just use a stick blender, to combine it all.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Now I don’t know about you, but I find this a right hassle so the best thing to do is when you have a spare hour, make a whole batch and then freeze it.  It tastes  lovely.

Tomorrow I am going to have a go at cooking with Aquafaba (chick pea water) – it contains miraculous molecules and proteins that make it act like egg. I am going to have a go at making yorkshire pudding with it!

 

Veganuary Day 15 Roast squash with chillies and cashew cream

At the market in Carcassonne
At the market in Carcassonne

Today it is bright, clear, crisp, nose-tip pink cold.

I have been sitting in the office here all day, a slave to the keyboard. it is 16.00 and – having been eating what Nigella would call ‘temple food’ today, which is neither warming nor comforting –  I am in need of something earthy and colourful and satisfying.  Squash.  They look warm before you have even cooked them!

For four people, chop a medium sized squash – of whatever variety – into half then quarter it.  This makes it easier to deseed and then peel.  Then chop the squash flesh into large chunks.

Now you need a bowl or a plastic bag.

Throw in the squash, some peeled shallots or peeled onions cut into quarters or smaller depending on the size.  Then add half a dozen plump cloves of garlic. You could also add some potatoes if you wish.  And some celery chopped into chunks. Or some peeled carrots. Or some beetroot.  Then add half a dozen medium sized tomatoes.  Oh, and a chopped red chilli or some chilli flakes.  And some sea-salt flakes and black pepper. And a small shake of turmeric powder and smoked paprika.  Think that’s it.  You get the idea – throw in anything you like so long as it is good and c0lourful.

With all the vegetables in the bowl or in the bag, pour in 30ml of good olive oil or rapeseed oil and mix it all around and to increase the flavour let it sit there for a good hour.

Pre-heat the oven and a roasting pan to 190C then when it is up to temperature empty the contents of the bag or bowl onto the tray and roast for about 45 minutes. Don’t turn it or the vegetables will start to break up.  The idea is that the edges should char very slightly.  After 30 minutes mix together a tablespoon of tamarind sauce (mine from Asda) with soy sauce then pour over the hot vegetables, squashing down the tomatoes so that they release their juices.  Grate some lemon rind over the top and a sprinkle of finely chopped fresh rosemary (please don’t use the dried stuff).

When it’s ready it should smell divine – hot, smoky, paprika-ey.   Turn into a bowl and serve with brown rice, or jacket potatoes or just with a good slice of bread.

In non-vegan land I frequently add chopped feta about 15 minutes before the end.  In vegan land I also serve it with a cashew cream (see Day 16 – sauces).

Go on treat yourself. You probably have most of these ingredients in stock.  If you prepare it now you can put it in the oven when The Archers comes on!

#Veganuary Day 14. Okora burgers

img_3710I have some soy experiments running at the moment. Soy milk and tofu production, with lots of help and advice from the fount of all knowledge and all round good mate Marion.  We have undertaken many mass catering projects over the years.

Anyway……. a bi-product of skqueezing (oh, that was a typo but I rather like its onomatapoeic resonance so I will leave it there) soaked soya beans to extract the ‘milk’, is all the solids that remain. Called Okora. (The automatic spell check made Okora into Korea, but that wouldn’t be right at all!).  There are a thousand and one recipes for how to use the okora on many Vegan websites.  I will offer just one at this stage for fear of boring you.

I soaked and drained 250g soya beans and when I had pulped them and extracted the milk from the solids I had about 400g of solids remaining.  These solids are highly nutritious and there is no way I was going to discard them.  I had a little think and made something up.  So this is the recipe for okora burgers.

Put your bean pulp in a bowl.  Add one large onion that you have pulsed in the food processor, and grate in two cloves of garlic.  Add one flat teaspoon of cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper, plus two flat teaspoons of ground cumin and half an average sized bunch (how on earth do you measure that I wonder?) of finely chopped fresh coriander. You could also add a tablespoon of unsweetened desiccated coconut if you wish.  Mix it all together.  It will look fairly dry if you have squeezed most of the fluid out beforehand.  In non-vegan land, at this stage, I would probably add an egg.  But in vegan land, I added a tablespoon of nutritional yeast flakes (adds an umami savouryness) and a good dash of dark soy sauce.

Okora burgers before they go into the freezerWith clean wet hands, form into burger shapes and make sure they are not too thick. Best more like quarter-pounders than Big Macs’.  Coat in coarse semolina. Now lay them on a baking tray lined with baking parchment and put them in the freezer for half an hour to firm up.

Shallow fry in a flavourless oil that you’ve heated in a shallow pan on a medium heat.  They are a bit friable, but they are delicious, so I recommend that you don’t put too many in the pan at once so you can turn them carefully after five minutes without knocking the edges off the sides as you do so.

I have tried eating them straight away, but I think they are better frozen when cooled, then cooked in a hot oven for 20 minutes or so, on Formed okora burgerstop of a couple of slices of tomato seasoned with salt, chopped rosemary and a little lemon zest.

Tonight we are having them with yellow potatoes, lots of dark green and a rich mushroom and onion gravy enhanced with Watkins mushroom ketchup, surely one of the best condiments ever invented?

 

Veganuary Days 12 & 13 Ceps, Porcini and all things mushroom

mushroom-976592_1920We are huge fans of mushrooms in this house.  On non vegan days, lots of them, cooked in butter and garlic – on sourdough toast  – over a leisurely breakfast on Saturday. With lots of coffee, and long conversations before we get started with the day.

Or large and small mushrooms chopped and fried with onion and garlic and a little potato and finished off with cream. On non vegan days.

Or sautee’d with leek and garlic and topped with sourdough breadcrumbs and parmesan and flashed under the grill. On non vegan days.

Or very lightly smoked, chopped fine in the food processor and mixed with a little salt, black pepper and cream cheese then dropped into hot pasta. On non vegan days.

But what about the VEGAN days?  Mushrooms in all their various forms can definitely hold their own without need for dairy.

On Day 11 I was browsing around Norwich market and at the front of my favourite fruit and veg stall  were some beautiful ceps. I had no inkling that I was going to buy ceps that day but they looked so wonderful it would have been a sin not to.  So I bough four big fat ones.  I was succumbed to an unbidden vision of them settling into a fragrant fennel, leek and pea risotto. And so it was.

Leek, fennel and pea risotto with porcini mushrooms

rotfurohrling-1571066_1920Risotto is a friendly  and comforting meal and at home we always have it in a bowl. Never on a plate.  It is quite hard to spoil it and my preference is for it to be ‘soupy’ and definitely not dry like a paella. Don’t get the two confused.  This is why you use different rice for these two dishes.  Arborio rice – for paella – has a shorter grain and a starch that melts around the edges of each grain which gives the risotto creamy texture. Paella rice is harder has a long grain which means the grains tend not to stick to one another.

For two people, saute finely chopped onion (one small), celery (one stick) and fennel (half a medium sized bulb) in olive oil. When soft, add two chopped cloves of garlic and the grated zest of half a lemon. Then add a mug full of arborio rice and move it around gently to coat the grains in oil. Then turn up the heat and add a wine glass full of Noilly Prat or Fino sherry or dry white wine. My preference is for the Prat. Let it bubble and splutter and boil away until the alcohol has reduced to almost nothing. Then turn the heat down to low and add a ladle full of hot vegetable stock, stir, and gradually add stock as needed (every time it has all but disappeared from the rice pan), it really does make a difference if you add the stock bit by bit and stir every few minutes. Don’t be tempted to throw it in all at once. In fact,  consider it your gift to yourself. This is all you need to do for the next 20 minutes. Just stand, ladle in more stock and stir. It is a contemplative and simple task.  You will probably use about 750ml stock using this method.  You can be clever and make your own stock – which I sometimes do – or use one of those lovely Knorr (or similar) stock pot thingys.

Wipe two medium sized ceps and make sure they have no evident grit.  Slice them into thick slices, length ways, and drop into good olive oil and garlic and fry gently until they are tinged with golden brown at the edges. Did I just say ‘golden brown’? …… until they are brown at the edges.

Back to the risotto.  Check the stock level in the risotto – by about 20 minutes it should be nearly ready – by which I mean the rice will be just cooked and there will still be stock in the pan –  and it should be looking creamy.  At this stage check the seasoning. I suggest you don’t add salt early in the cooking because if you are using stock pots or cubes they are likely to be salty. So check the seasoning and adjust toward the end of the cooking time, and if you are not vegan,  add a handful of parmesan and frozen peas and a large knob of butter. And maybe a little chopped fresh mint leaves.  If you are vegan, just add the peas and the mint!  Cook for a couple more minutes and then serve.  Just be aware that the longer you wait at this stage, the quicker the rice will absorb any liquid, so always have a little more liquid than you think you need in the pan because by the time you have fiddled for a couple of minutes the thirsty grains will have sucked it all up.

Make sure your bowls are warm then spoon in the creamy risotto.  Top with the ceps, a grating of lemon zest and sea salt flakes. And parmesan if you must.  In our house it is obligatory to eat this curled up on the sofa, accompanied by slurping and little gasps of pleasure.

Mushroom pate – would that be smoked or unsmoked madam?

mushrooms-1167181_1280Take 250g mushrooms of any type and check they are grit and dirt free. If you are smoking them, either use your home smoker or if you don’t have one I suggest you use an old saucepan and a camping gas stove and do this outside.  Throw a small handful of the  wood shavings of your choice into an old pan or enamel breadbin with a rack (maybe an old cooking rack cut to size).  Huge Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage book on simple smoking and preserving is a good one and gives you more detail.  Place the mushrooms on the rack and light the wood shavings (make sure the rack is a few inches above the shavings so any initial flames don’t flare up and scorch the mushrooms).  Put the lid on and allow to smoke away for about 15 minutes.  Then remove them and allow to cool.

Now to our old friend the food processor.  Process the cooled mushrooms (or the unsmoked mushrooms) until finely chopped then add one tub of Tofutti cream soy cheese (or cream cheese for non-vegans), and combine with the mushrooms. Check whether it needs any salt, and add a couple of grinds of black pepper and a little tiny grate of nutmeg. That’s it!  Remove from the processor then if you like you can add chopped chives or herbs such as chopped dill or tarragon.  It really is yummy  — on toast, in sandwiches, on crackers and in jacket potatoes – but make sure use it up within a couple of days.

#Veganuary Day 11 Fennel pickle

img_3746I am feeling a bit lazy tonight so we are just having a chestnut sausage and casserole with jacket potatoes and Savoy cabbage.

But I wanted to share with you a little gem from another favourite book, this time Cornersmith. Cornersmith Cafe is in a suburb of Sydney and it works partly because it operates a fairly sophisticated barter system.  Local people bring their excess produce in exchange for fresh sourdough or pickles or pies. Wonderful.

So this recipe is lifted straight from Cornersmith and with thanks.  Great book.  Hope I can visit you one day!

Thinky slice two bulbs of Fennel. Mix them with a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of chilli flakes and a teaspoon of Fennel seed. So far so simple. It continues.

Pour 400ml cider vinegar in a saucepan with 100g caster sugar. Bring it to the boil and boil for 2 minutes then take off the heat.  Sterilise 3 standard sized jam jars (I swill it round with vodka) warm the jars slightly then pack with Fennel and pour in the vinegar. Wipe the tops with paper towel, then snap on the lids then release a quarter turn and put in a deep tray or saucepan full of boiling water – the water almost to the lid.  Let the water simmer away for 10 minutes then remove from the heat and tighten the lids.

Cool then store in a dark cupboard. When you open a jar, keep it in the fridge.

This is such a fresh, cool pickle. It is mild and full of flavour. Scrumptious.

#Veganuary Day 10. Pomegranate Molasses

img_3729The best pomegranate molasses I ever tasted was that which smothered the fried aubergine in El Viejo Molino.  Deep, syrupy, smoky and actually more savoury than sweet.

Yesterday I was in Argos – no,no,no – thank you David, it was Asda (Asda, Aldi,Argos…. what is it about four letter words starting with A?) anyway… I was in Asda, rifling through the discounted fruit and veg and what did I spy but 12 pomegranate for a quid. Yes!
Back home, having having halved the golden beauties with their perky little topknots, and tapped them on the backside to release their jewels I ended up with half a bowl of juicy ruby red seeds. They went  straight into the blender then I squashed all the juice I could get out of them – about 750ml.  Then the juice went into to a wide shallow pan with the juice of half a lemon. That’s it.  Brought to the boil then simmered for about an hour, whilst reading my book and occasionally, laconically stirring. When reduced by half it should coat the back of a spoon and feel sticky.  Decant into a sterilised bottle.

img_3744TBH it is probably cheaper to buy it in a bottle when the pomegranates are full price. But at 12 for a quid it was worth the experiment.

#Veganuary Day 9. Spinach and mushroom Lasagne

img_3728Q. What do you get when you cross a food blogger with a computer?

A. Sticky keys!

Baboom!!

Tonight’s dinner is quick and simple. And it is a test to see if the pasta I made yesterday (the other half that is in the fridge) is still usable today.  The answer is yes, but with a couple of caveats.  1. Double wrap the pasta in clingfilm if you are using it the following day. Bring it back to room temperature before you roll it – take it out of the fridge a good couple of hours before you want to use it.

Then  either roll by hand or use the magic machine, and cut the rolled strips into rectangles about 110 cm X 90 cm.

Sweat half a pack of washed spinach in a shallow pan with a lid on and no water.  This will take about 2 minutes on a high heat. Remove the pan from the heat and remove the lid.  Sauté chopped mushrooms in olive oil and garlic and season well.  I am not giving proportions here, use your own judgement depending on how img_3725 img_3726big is the dish you are using.

Put some of last night’s tomato sauce on the base of the dish. Then a layer of pasta. Then a layer of spinach and mushroom (squeeze the spinach a bit of it looks too wet). More pasta. More tomato sauce. Then top with the walnut ‘Parmesan’ left over from last night and a few more breadcrumbs mixed in and about 20ml olive oil.

Bake in the oven for 25 minutes tops at about 180C. Just check that the top isn’t scorching and if it looks a bit too brown before the sauce is bubbling, cover loosely with a lid of tin foil.

You could serve this with a salad, but we are having a hot salad of seasoned butternut squash, onion, garlic, red pepper, roasted in a pan till crisp and very slightly ‘caught’ then a squeeze of lemon juice at the end, with a freekah (cooked green wheat) and sunflower seed topping. Serve at room temperature.

If you only read the recipes on this blog and not the front page, you might wonder why sometimes my recipes are a bit ‘approximate’ that’s because in my world, cooking is about following your instinct once you know your ingredients.  Pierre Pepin caught the essence of what I mean when he said “a recipe is a teaching tool, a guide, a point of departure, but never a hard rule”. I concur.  http://www.davidlebovitz.com/jacques-pepin-how-following-a-recipe-can-lead-to-disaster/

 

#Veganuary Day 8 No-egg pasta!

img_3708I didn’t believe it, but it’s true. You can make pasta without eggs. I know because I’ve just made some. And , as it says in one of my favourite vegan cookery books Crossroadsit is impossible to tell the difference!

The incentive, I have to admit, was anticipating the virgin outing for my Kenwood pasta rolling attachment.

Put 300g of 00 grade flour, 300g semolina flour, half a teaspoon of salt, into your food processor and mix thoroughly.  Then add 175g of firm tofu (drained) – mine came fresh from Tofurei in Norwich, two tablespoons of olive oil and three tablespoons of cold water. Pulse in the food processor until it looks like breadcrumbs then turn the processor on full till it combines into what looks like a ball of pastry.  Mine didn’t combine that well, but as I was using fresh tofu from Tofurei, which wasn’t very wet, I added another tablespoon of oil and another of water.  Then I tipped it out onto a floured surface and gave it a good knead.

Now, I am by no means an expert pasta maker. In fact this is only my second attempt. But I am told that for pasta, it is all in the ‘feel’.  And it felt OK – so I wrapped it in cling film and put it in the fridge for an hour to rest. What this does is, combined with the kneading you did earlier, the gluten in the wheat will become more elastic and gives the pasta its ‘stretch’.  I have to say I felt a little uncertain, and still wondered whether it was slightly too dry.

However an hour later I was relieved to find, when I removed it from the fridge, that it had ‘relaxed’. Unlike its maker! I cut the dough in half, wrapping the second half in clingfilm and returning to the fridge. Then I cut the other half in half again and covered its twin with a damp cloth. Then I fed the first quarter through the pasta machine as per the instruction manual –  and with more than a little help from David. I have to admit that got a bit excitable as it turned from a very slightly crumbly dough into a silken smooth sheet after nine turns through the roller!  Sadly – being Norfolk – our idiosyncratic wifi is failing to load the videos, so at some point I will tag onto someone’s super high speed wifi in Norwich. Until then………

Being a bit tight, I didn’t purchase the Kenwood pasta cutter, so I laid the strips out on a table and cut them by hand and then hung them on the back of the kitchen chair (see impending video). It was a hugely satisfying and rewarding hour in the kitchen.

img_3706I made a simple tomato sauce laced with chopped capers and then set to making the vegan ‘parmesan’ recipe, also in Crossroads.  Simply, using a very sharp knife, shave slivers of walnuts into a bowl and mix with a little chopped fresh rosemary, a little sea salt flakes and some nutritional yeast flakes to give it that umami edge.

The pasta takes no more than two minutes to cook in boiling salted water. Drain. Put 25ml olive oil in the bottom of the pan, add one chopped garlic clove and a good grind of black pepper, then return he pasta to the pan (now off the heat) and swirl in the garlicky oil.

If you don’t have a pasta maker, you can roll out the pasta by hand, folding it in half width ways and length ways  as you go.  it’s easier to work on a quarter of the dough at a time, and use lots of flour whilst you are rolling.

#Veganuary Day 7 Freekeh with greens and almonds

img_1602This is a quick and easy one. After a busy day (reading, gardening) I just want something quick and easy. Freekeh – which is green wheat is, like quinoa, stacked with protein and doesn’t need to be combined with legumes to complete the protein chain (unlike, for example, brown rice).

Simply boil it in a little stock or water. It only takes 10 minutes. Lovely combined with chunks of roasted pumpkin and shallot and the sweetest, smokiest black garlic sent by Fran from the Isle of Wight. My own experiment with black garlic has yet to produce anything remotely like the Isle of Wight black garlic.

1-photo (15)Now to the main act. Collejas. Greens with almonds to you! It’s one of David’s favourite dishes and he is in charge of cooking it in case you think I’ve had a sex change.

img_1612Chop any sort of greens (David used Savoy here, but spring greens are just as lovely). Saute chopped carrot and onion in olive oil or Yare Valley rapeseed oil till soft and then season. Remove from the pan, then add a good handful of whole almonds (preferably with skins on) and saute them for a couple of minutes. Remove from the pan. Whilst cooling, quickly blanch the greens in about 100ml of water with a lid on tight till slightly underdone, then drain – keep the cooking water. Crush the almonds, but keep some chunky bits. Put the cooked freekah, carrot and shallot back in the pan with the oil, add the greens then throw in the almonds. Season. Add a small amount of the reserved cooking water, clamp on the lid and cook for one more minute. Voila! Great with a jacket potato.

#Veganuary Day 6. Tadkha is the word

img_7332When David had his 60th birthday tea, as he was leaving the lovely Sandip pressed a plastic box into my hands and said something like “you will be exhausted tonight, have this box of ……..” but I didnt catch the word. However he was right. We were exhausted, and when I opened the box about 8pm that evening a heavenly waft of fresh and deep curry paste rose to greet me. This is what we are having tonight and having checked with Sam earlier, the word is ‘tadhka’ which means something like curry-paste-base-for-any-meat-or-vegetable-curry.

Today me and my man had a lovely relaxed mooch around Norwich, wandering up Magdalen Street, visiting Three Magdalen Street and its fab modernist original pieces of furniture; Loose’s where I was tempted by two Swedish school lockers and some little Swedish saucepans; then up to revisit the Little Shop of Vegans where my original impression was confirmed. Catering to a particular market, it is a great ambassador for the vegan diet and is heavy on T shirts and soaps, has two fridges with  many products mimicking meat but sadly no fresh soya milk or soya products. Hey ho.  Then we went to Desh – the wonderful Halal supermarket. Bought Doodhi (bottle gourd) and little aubergines, some fresh dill and coriander.  Then into the centre of town and back to Tofurei which was a little more lively than when I was there earlier in the week but which -perversely for the first soya based dairy in Norwich – sells lovely chocolate, strawberry or vanilla (sweetened) soya milk but no plain unsweetened soya milk.  However the soft fresh tofu looked divine and the tasty morsels of herbed tofu sausages and burgers were really lovely, as was the the truly scrumptious Tyne Chease boxes – we bought the smoked chease – and the cakes were mouthwatering.  I am going to make some pasta with the tofu tomorrow (tofu instead of egg). Yes, I know. Wierd. But I am told you cannot tell the difference….. watch this space.

img_3685Then, because it cannot be ignored, and to enter its portals is to guarantee purchasing at least one book, to The Book Hive where I spent my Christmas money. For once I bought only two  We had lunch and mint tea in Moorish, the Felafel bar in Lower Gate Lane and we confirmed that the Norwich Lanes, with their independent shops and eateries, knock The Malls in Norwich into cocked hats.

We staggered home, and himself immediately disappeared into the workshop for four hours whilst I pottered about in the kitchen. And so to dinner.  I made some dough for flatbread which is currently proving in the best spot in the house. On the floor. In the bathroom. By the oil filled radiator.

Then I set to and made the Tadkha.  These are the things you need to prepare.  First, chop 3 onions in the food processor until nearly a paste and dry them in a non stick wok on a high heat for about 15 minutes. Keep checking that they are not sticking.  Then mince 3 cloves of garlic and 6 green chillis into it (easier to do this with a pestle and mortar). Add to the onions then add about 25ml olive oil.

Dry roast the following: a dessert spoon full of cumin seed, half a dessert spoon of coriander seek, a small stick of cinnamon, 2 black cardamom img_3689pods, remove from the heat when they are popping and allow to cool a little. Then grind in either a pestle and mortar, or I use a coffee grinder specifically kept for spices.  Add to the onion mixture, turn down the heat and cook gently with the lid on for about an hour. Yes, an hour.

Then add a tablespoon of tomato purée and cook for about 5 minutes until the oil separates.  Add half a tin of chopped tomatoes.  Add two inches of grated fresh ginger (keep some in your freezer and grate from frozen) and a small bunch of fenugreek leaves (I substitute with fresh dill).  Add a little salt, a dessert spoon of garam masala and turmeric powder, stir and cook for a few more minutes.  Then its done. It should look deeply red and be a thick paste.

This  may appear to you to be fiddly and time-consuming but it isn’t once you get into the swing of it.  Just turn on 6Music and relax. My kitchen cupboard is stocked up with fresh spices and you might want to start your collection too. But don’t let them get stale. They don’t keep forever and the beauty of Tadkha is that it is fresh, deep and vibrant all at the same time, because the flavours develop in the pan and the ingredients are freshly ground.  So dont be tempted to use ground spices (with the exception of turmeric in this instance).  I keep every day use spices in my masala dabba img_3690and the rest of the stock in sealed bags in a basket where they wont get too hot or damp.

So what have I made for tonight? I chopped the lovely little aubergine and bottle gourd purchased in Desh and fried off in a pan with a little onion. When soft I added about four hefty tablespoons of the Tadkha and loosened it slightly with just a little water.  You could also use yogurt. Then I cooked the vegetables in the sauce for about 5 minutes, and added a handful of spinach leaves. Then I turned off the heat and kept the lid on.

I also cooked the eternal standby in our house. Chick peas with chilli, cinnamon, coconut and fresh coriander and it couldnt be simpler.  Fry two large chopped onions with some chilli flakes and an inch of chopped fresh ginger in very little oil.  When the onion looks like its going to stick, add the water from a tin of chick peas and cook for a further five minutes.  Then add two tins of chopped tomatoes, two tins of chickpeas (you will have used the water from one, but drain the other)  and a tin of coconut milk, a flat dessert spoon of ground cinnamon, a flat dessert spoon of brown sugar and a grind of black pepper.  Let it cook for about an hour then add just a little  salt to taste. Before you serve, stir in some chopped fresh coriander leaf.

So cooking today took a little while, because I had to make the Tadkha. But I only used about a third of it so now there is some sitting in a jar in the fridge.  Its a good standby , and in a similar vein as having Thai green curry paste to hand, it means you can produce a quick curry by adding it to chopped chicken or lamb and adding a little more water or some yogurt.

So now, I am going to roll out the flatbreads and freeze what we dont eat.    And make a simple raita with grated cucumber (centres removed), salted then mixed with yogurt and fresh coriander. Except I wont eat that bit because its Veganuary!!

By the way. If you are in Marylebone, make sure you visit Sam’s sister Ravinder’s restaurant Jikoni, which opened to four star reviews last year.

#Veganuary Day 5 Ten lessons learned about a stir fry

img_7305A Curate’s egg sort of a day, that included further considerations about  a tender submission, breakfast with David going over legal documents, some impromptu and unexpected advice from the accountant prior to seeing the solicitor about Important Grown Up Things like Wills, Power of Attorney and Advance Declarations (Living Wills). Then a long drive for my professional supervision session in Kings Lynn followed by a wonderful sunset on  the quay. Then driving home I witnessed a horrible RTA involving the frail old man I had seen in the garage 5 minutes earlier, who had driven away with his lights switched off. Stayed with him till the police came then drove home. No food since breakfast and subsequently very hungry.

But the gods were not with me. They never are when I cook in the wrong frame of mind.  I marinaded the fresh tofu I bought in Tofurei in light soy sauce, grated ginger and garlic, lemon grass and sesame seeds. Made a flat omelette with spring onion, one egg and sprinkled with sesame seeds. When it was cool I rolled it then sliced it (this is the non-vegan version, just leave this bit out if you like).img_3673

We live in the sticks and don’t have new fangled luxuries such as mains gas. So I use a camping stove to stir fry. First lesson. In the winter, don’t leave the gas canisters out in the cold utility room. Gas pressure was rubbish for stir frying but I carried on regardless. Second lesson. Don’t forget to buy soba noodles. I had, so had to use vermicelli noodles instead which I hate as they always stick together no matter how hard I try and how many times I throw them in cold water as soon as they are done. Fourth lesson. Don’t forget to remove the tofu from the marinade when you fry it. I was in such a hurry I threw it all in the pan which meant it didn’t crisp up. Sixth lesson. Stir fry the vegetables (sliced leek, pepper, spring onion, mushroom, garlic, ginger) swiftly.img_3668 I couldn’t because the gas pressure was too low. Seventh lesson.  Check you have all the ingredients you need. I didn’t so we didn’t have any rice wine and had to raid the Fino sherry bottle instead. Eighth lesson. Don’t break the no drinking rule you set for yourself. I did. When I swigged some dry sherry from the bottle. Ninth lesson. When mixing cornflour with some light soy sauce, get the proportions right or you will end up with a claggy sauce. I did (have a claggy sauce). Tenth lesson. Don’t transfer the wok to the hot plate in a vain attempt to get more heat, when you already know the wok doesn’t conduct the heat properly on the halogen hob. It will only make you more cross. It did.

We ate it. I was grumpy. The egg strips were scattered on the non vegan dish. The flavour was delicious. It looked like a dogs dinner. We shoukd’ve had a takeaway, and the kitchen looks like  bomb has hit it!

And all the time, I couldn’t stop thinking about the poor old boy in the car who looked so frail and alone in his ripped up car, and wondered if  he had family to care for him.  Dinner didn’t matter but he does.

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#VeganuaryDay4 Keeping warm

img_3667Quick post for Day 4 as I am off to the cinema. But it’s cold. Cold. Cold. And I wanted something warm to cheer me. Like Horlicks or some other sugar laden drink from a jar.  But the fount of all knowledge, generosity and goodness – Kathy Payne -http://kathypayne.co.uk/about-kathy/my-toolkit/ has taught me a thing or two, I can tell you.  One example is maca powder.

Related to radish, it tastes nothing like radish. It tastes like Horlicks. And it’s jam packed with Vitamin B and Vitamin C.

In my mug, I put half a teaspoon of maca powder and a good sprinkling of coco nibs (from Holland and Barrett). I mixed them together with some nearly boiling water and half a mug of unsweetened almond milk, then gave it a good whizz in the Nutribullet. Then I added another half mug of almond milk and heated it in the microwave.  Believe me. it’s just like Horlicks – except it won’t spike your blood sugar and it is good for you!

#VeguanaryDay3 Kale for Cathie

IMG_6819Oh for goodness sake. Don’t you just want to dive under the covers on the first working day of the new year?  The house is quiet, there are still stray baubles under the sofa. That red wine stain on the carpet is still there. It is an attention seeking stain. The bins are overflowing outside and the bin man isn’t coming till tomorrow. And there is a bag of kale on the shelf that needs to be used.

The first deceit of the day  was to pretend I was getting up, I wandered sleepily round the house whilst David got ready for work; I skulked until the coast was clear, then I dived back into bed with avocado on toast and a sprinkle of toasted oats and pumpkin seeds. So far, so virtuous (I). Then I spent the next hour repeating the mind-games of yesterday …. I will just read that Elena Ferranti book until she mentions Nino ………  I will just read it to the end of the  page….. I will just read it to the end of  the next section. Then I will get up. Ha!  Well I did! So there!

Then the mad flurry. Straight into the office (which is next to the kitchen), reconnect the printer and dive straight into the database of research I am compiling for a client.  Five hours hard graft. So far, so virtuous (II), with an on-off internet signal. Then the signal disappeared completely.

Swearing, I left the office. Into the kitchen. Peered into the fridge. As we were pitifully low on stocks of tofu, soya milk and Tartuffi and with a strong desire to visit The Little Shop of Vegans – a new shop opened in Magdalen Street, and Tofurei  – Norwich’s first shop-based micro dairy – meant a drive into Norwich, and a quick meet up with Cathie to hand over fundraising cheques.  Kale, she said. What can I do with kale?  Her question loitered in my brain and met its friend the bag of kale sitting on the shelf at home.

Finally there was a quick run into Rainbow for grains and yeast flakes, where I scooped up a bag of soya beans with a vague notion of trying to make soya milk myself (I’ve signed up to Tofurei’s tofu making course in the spring, so watch this space!)

Anyway. To kale or not to kale, that is the question?  In our house it’s a yes. We love the stuff. Quickly steamed, drizzled with tahini; mixed with spinach and feta (vegan’s avert your eyes!) in a filo pie; chopped up in garlicky mashed potatoes and seasoned with white pepper instead of black; toasted lightly in olive oil then steamed and returned to the pan with chopped toasted hazelnuts. Or just plain old bubble and squeak with leftover potatoes.

Tonight’s beauty is to use it as a salad by mixing cooked and finely shredded kale with equal quantities (by volume, not weight) of cooked brown rice and cooked red quinoa and then smothering in a rich dressing.  Shred the cooked kale and remove the stalks. Combine with the grains. Add a little chopped red onion, a shake of caraway seed and a tablespoon of chopped fresh dill. Mix it all up. Then pour over as much dressing as you like – enough to make it glisten.

For the dressing take one empty but clean 350g size jam jar. Grate two cloves of garlic into it. Add half a teaspoon of salt, two teaspoons of Dijon mustard and two teaspoons of agave syrup.  Then fill the jar one quarter full with lemon juice or white wine vinegar and top up with a good quality olive oil, rapeseed oil or groundnut oil.  Put on the lid. Shake vigorously and spoon as much as you need over your salad and mix it all together.   You should have dressing left over – keep it in the jar and use it tomorrow. It’s lovely if you add chopped fresh basil leaf to it, or chervil.

Cheers!

#VeganuaryDay2 Jackets

img_3658Elemental would cover it, I think. Mist, fog, sun, rain, hail, snow. And pounding seas. We threw some provisions in the campervan (yesterday’s soup, rolls from the freezer, hummus, tea bags) and trundled off to West Runton fired-up and optimistic, and with the sound track of Springsteen’s new album.

There followed a headlong-into-the-elements walk up the beach to Sheringhm and back, picking out some fossils as we trudged at 45degrees top-of-the-head-leading, three layers, hats, gloves, the lot. Marvellous.

Lunch was a bit of a steam-up in the van and then we fell into the comfortable conversation mode that always emerges when we are sitting knee to knee in the van. The best conversations happen in that van – what we want to do this year, priorities, family visits, work deadlines, holiday dreams.

Now we are home. It is freezing. The gritter lorries are out. I don’t want to spend ages cooking – I am completely hooked on Elena Ferranti’s Neapolitan novels – so tonight’s vegan dinner is a simple but comforting one.

img_3663Jacket potatoes all crisp on the outside and fluffy on the in. And a ratattoule hastily thrown into the pan,  chopped onion, courgette, red pepper, aubergine, garlic sweated in oil and a little bit of water. Then a scattering of smoked paprika, black pepper and half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon. And in go a tin of any beans (today it’s cannellini) including the juice.  And green beans left over from Saturday. Stir round then cook with the lid on for 10 minUtes then add a tin of chopped tomatoes and an equal amount of cold water.Add a good dash of white wine vinegar and a squirt of agave syrup (or a dessert spoon of brown sugar).  Bring slowly up to a simmer then cook with the lid off for about an hour and a half. Or two. The longer you cook it the more unctuous it becomes. Add salt at the end rather than at the beginning because otherwise the bean skins go a bit tough. When it is done I shall add the 50g or so of tofu I have left over from yesterday, broken up then stirred in. And a good handful of chopped fresh basil or fresh coriander just before serving.

To be honest with you, if you cook it long and slow it will go thick and treacly. When it gets to that stage it is simply wonderful for breakfast on toasted sourdough.

img_3663I am off to the sofa now, woodburner is blazing. 2 hours with my book before dinner pausing only to put the jackets in the oven an hour before we want to eat.

#VeganuaryDay1 Chestnut sausages

Brown rice, chestnut and tofu sausages
Spiced chestnut sausages

I posted these sausages in the summer when I started trying out the new sausage-making attachment on the Kenwood.  They were lovely, and like most first-time recipes, needed just a little tweak  – so if you are re-reading this recipe, I left out the red pepper and the spring onions.. Today is January 1st and the first day of my annual vegan-and-alcohol-free month. Himself is still welding something in the garage and, according to rumour, is also trying out his new biscuit jointer (don’t ask!) Instead of walking on the beach in the damp grey drizzle with thousands of others, we stayed at home. Pottering.  My pottering is nearly always in the kitchen.

Last time I made these sausages, I realised that if you go through the faff of making sausages, you might as well freeze a load. So the ingredients here will do about 24 sausages. They are very easy to make and this time I have not used the sausage machine (one task too many for a relaxing new years’ day) but simply formed them into sausage shapes instead.

In the food processor, whizz one onion to very fine dice then put in a big bowl.  Grate in one clove of garlic. Whizz three 180g vacuum packs of chestnuts in the food processor leaving some little chunks, but mostly to look like coarse breadcrumbs. Empty into the bowl.  Add a mug full of fine wholemeal breadcrumbs (I happened to have some left over bulgar so I added some of that too). Mix together with your hands.  Add about 300g  of firm tofu (don’t go yuk – you can’t taste it and it acts as the binder). Make sure your hands are really clean then dive into the bowl to squidge it all together so the ingredients are evenly distributed..

Now add a good tablespoon of finely chopped fresh sage and some thyme leaves, one flat teaspoon of paprika and one of allspice (not mixed spice – that’s different!) two teaspoons of ground cumin, a shake of fennel seed, about one tablespoon of miso, a good grind of black pepper and 25ml light soy sauce. Squidge away again. Taste a little to check the seasoning. Don’t use dried herbs here, they will taste bitter. Just make sure that the fresh herbs are finely chopped.

Lightly grease a baking tray. Fill a bowl with cold water.  Wet your hands then form sausages from the mixture and lay on the baking tray. When all the mixture has gone, put the tray with the sausages in the freezer until they are frozen then transfer to a bag and keep till needed.  They cook better straight from frozen, so don’t defrost.

Last time I added cooked brown rice as a filler and that was lovely too and gave a lovely texture to the sausage. These sausages are smoother and with a herby flavour.

Now – think roaring fire, mashed potato, lots of dark greens and onion gravy!

Preparations for vegan January

img_3632I don’t go all Zen after Christmas, but I do like to take stuff to the charity shop, rifle through the food cupboards to see what’s gone and what remains.  My my body and my gut need a rest. Above all, I crave greens. Platefuls of greens.

So eating a vegan diet in January – Veganuary – serves me well, psychologically and physically. It recalibrates the way I think about food and it challenges me to eat more carefully. I always feel better at the end of January having done it.

Today – after two weeks of mass catering for SistemaNorwich curry night then a week of guests arriving, staying, leaving, and extra lovely people turning up unexpectedly – the fridge is back to its normal content level and I am particularly pleased that no food was wasted – we have two spare butternut squash and a bag of kale, that’s all.

Today, himself is pottering in his workshop doing a bit of welding and I’ve been to Myhills to pick up my Christmas present to myself – a quince tree and a robin pear tree.  The rest of the day will be taken up with browsing through my favourite books looking for something lovely to add to my list of vegan recipes. I’ll be posting a few over the next four weeks.

Some favourite books in my bookcase(s) …..

Absolutely anything by Claudia Roden. Especially her books on Spanish and Jewish cuisine. What’s great about them is she is not only the best food writer ever (in my opinion) but  she takes care to include  the origin and history of the development of flavours  and cuisine along the trade routes. Similarly, Clifford A Wright takes this approach in his massive tome ‘A Mediterranean Feast’. I first encountered it on the bookshelf of Guy Hunter-Watts’ house Dar Hajra in Montecorto. It entertained and delighted me for a full  week in the rainy Grazalema mountains.img_3638

Of course, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tammimi are legends – if a little repetitive – and Sam and Sam Clarke’s Moro collection, again championing Spain and North Africa, along with Argo der Haroutunian, have the Spain and North African themes covered. They are well thumbed, tomato and turmeric spattered masterpieces, earmarked, tagged and with notes in the margins, and taken to bed again and again to savour and to comfort.img_3637

Denis Cotter is also a hero of mine.  We accidentally fetched up in Cafe Paradiso in Cork about 15 years ago. In my view it is the best vegetarian restaurant we’ve encountered and that first  meal was the most memorable too.  His recipes are a bit complicated but they are delicious and consistent. All his books are in my ‘special’ bookcase in the kitchen, whilst the also-rans are on the reserve boockcase in the den!

img_3636A relative newcomer to the shelf is The Ethicurean – not strictly vegan to be honestl – but has particularly wonderful soup recipes, for example roasted courgette and cobnut soup with ginger, turmeric and mint, and roasted tomato and liquorice basil soup. Strangely, Mark and Linda moved to Wrington, just down the road from The Ethicurean, just a few months ago. It is on my ‘to visit’ list.

Other relatively new arrivals to my shelves were selected from Kitchen Arts and Letters in New  York. If you’ve never been and are in NY, then I recommend. If you can never go, then choose a day when no one else is at home, and lose yourself in its website. You won’t be sorry. Crossroads written by LA vegan restauranter Tal Ronnen is a vegan cook’s blessing – how about butternut squash purée on flatbread with charred greens and Brussels sprouts, or chives & vegan fettuccini with asparagus and morels? Tempted?  And then there is Veganomicon by Isa Moskowitz and Terry Romero.  I mentioned this last year and have tried practically every recipe since then, especially lovely are black beans in chipotle adobo sauce, banana-nut waffles and lost coconut custard pie. Although every one is a winner! Only today I was inspired by Veganomicon to transform a standard ‘vegetable drawer’ soup by making a sage and walnut pesto to drop into the middle of each bowl.

img_3641img_3640Now, to my old stager. I think it’s out of print now. I bought it in Jarrolds remainders box (the flyleaf tells me in 1991). The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Yamuna Devi.  I promise you, you will not go near any of the popular curry tomes if you own this. The living outcome of its influence is the number of times curry is on the menu in this house and the relative ease in which curry for up to 70 at one sitting can be organised!

And finally I come to the fermenting bible which is Fermenting Vegetables by K&C Shockey. This, along with cold smoking,  is my 2017 project.

So, good friends, I wish you a healthy, happy and peaceful 2017. Keep reading, and please share the blog with your mates too and get them to sign up for blog updates (you could do the same). There’s a cookbook in here somewhere!

 

 

 

 

#12Days Fast puddings Day 1

Pudding doesn't have to take forever to prepare.
Pudding doesn’t have to take forever to prepare.

OK. I know. I promised sauces and gravies today, but quite frankly that’s a pretty boring way to finish the #12Days blog series.

Today is a quiet day……….. the grandchildren are at home and building their own family Christmas traditions. The grown up children are visiting, but at the moment are out visiting the nephews. My mother is still in bed, and having lived on her own for the last 37 years she is making the most of breakfast in bed, the crossword, three cups of tea and her radio on full blast.  David is wrapping his presents and  as for me  …… well I am a bit footloose to be honest.  Katie and Will always do the food on Christmas Eve (Canadian Tortiere and slaw – follow link) so that’s catered for.  Tomorrow we are having pheasant either in a pot or roasted – not quite decided yet – and Boxing Day we are having the guinea fowl.

So today I thought…… what about fast puddings?  We are not really big pudding eaters – certainly not Christmas Pudding – and after all the scrumptiousness of the main course, a big pudding is not high on our list.   So if you are of a similar frame of mind, or – like me – fancy a pudding way past the meal, and probably about 9pm after too much wine and contemplating another, then this is the page for you.

Icecream and Pedro Ximinez

Take some good quality vanilla icecream from your freezer. Put a scoop in a dish and pour over about 30ml dark, treacly Pedro Ximinez sherry.  Divine.

Icecream and Malteser sauce

Take some good quality vanilla icecream from your freezer. Bash a bag of Maltesers or chocolate Santa’s gently with a rolling pin. Scatter over the icecream (after all, MacDonalds do it already and call it a ‘flurry’).

Toasted croissant with raspberry sauce and cream

Take one stale croissant. Split it in half and toast it lightly.  Whizz some raspberries or blackcurrantes n the blender with a little icing sugar, warm them slightly, add some Kirsch or Creme de Cassis, and pour over the hot croissant. Serve with cream or icecream.

Floating Islands with dragons blood

These are Monty’s favourites and so easy to do.  Whisk 3 egg whites with 60g caster sugar till firm.  Put 300ml milk and water (50/50) in a wide shallow pan and bring to a gentle simmer.  Then spoon dessert spoons of meringue on top and poach them 5 minutes each side. Drain on kitchen paper.  Pour 500ml ready made custard (I love the Madagascar custard from Waitrose) into a saucepan and heat it up. Then whizz a good handful of raspberries to a puree with some icing sugar.  Pour hot custard into a dish, put a ‘floating island’ meringue on top then drizzle with ‘dragons blood’ or caramel sauce from a well known supermarket.

Cheat’s Banoffee

Use one digestive biscuit per serving. Buy ready made condensed milk caramel from the supermarket (or you can make your own by boiling a tin of condensed milk – tin pieced once – for about 2.5 hours then store in the fridge). Whip some cream. Chop some bananas.  Now construct.  Biscuit first. Then a dollop of caramel. Then chopped banana. Then cream.  And maybe the grated foot off a chocolate Santa.

Pancakes and fresh fruit

Two heaped tablespoons of flour, half a teaspoon baking powder, a little salt, one egg, 150ml mixed water and milk (50/50).  Mix madly with a hand whisk.  Dollop spoonfuls onto a hot greased griddle or frying pan. Wait till the bubbles start to rise then turn and cook on the other side.  Serve with chopped strawberries, raspberries, blueberries – in fact any berries – and cream or icecream

My favourite cheat

I am not a fan of hot Christmas pudding. But cold? With a slab of cold butter? And a good slug of Advocaat on top?  Now that’s what I call a sofa treat!

Wishing you all the very best for the festive season. Signing off now until the new year – I hope it is a peaceful, healthy and happy one for all of you.

#12Days Get ahead with the veg! Day 2

photo (1)I’m offering some suggestions for get-ahead festive veg. You know what it’s like…… opening presents takes an age and you are planning on eating about 3.   Will they please hurry up with thenunwrapping? My advice is to get ahead and do your veg tomorrow. Then on Christmas Day, quaff back the fizz and relax!

Roast potatoes. My tips.

  • Peel and cut into big chunks. Plunge into boiling water for 3 minutes,  drain. Chuck them about a bit in the colander. Heat fat in a big roasting tray – my preference is duck fat or coconut oil – guaranteed for real crispness – then throw in the potatoes, turn them round in the fat. Put back into the oven  for 30 minutes till they are almost done and starting to go crispy. Then take them out. Either leave,  in a cool place, covered with a clean cloth,  and finish off the next day  in the same pan for 20 minutes, or cool then down and freeze, and cook from frozen for 30 minutes.
  • This method works for roast parsnip, celeriac, any root vegetable in fact
  • If you like you can add slices of onion and chunks of garlic  and black pepper for the second roasting.

Sprouts

God, do I really have to mention sprouts with chestnuts,  or sprouts with lardons? No! I will not!

  • Cut the sprouts in half and stir fry in a wok with some olive oil until slightly charred (you can add chestnuts if you like – I use Merchant Gourmet, vacuum packed
  • This is Hetty’s method. Prepare your sprouts in your usual way, boil them in salted water until just done and drain well. Then mash them with a potato masher till broken up but not mushy.  You will need to use your judgement now because you need to return them to the pan with a little olive oil, a squeeze of garlic, some black pepper, a good grind of nutmeg, and enough double cream to bind it together. Serve in a piping hot dish.

Carrots

  • wash your carrots and if they are big, cut in half lengthways and again so you have quarters. Butter a baking dish, add the carrots, season with salt and black pepper and the juice of one lemon plus a flat dessert spoon of soft brown sugar. Cover with foil and bake on the bottom shelf for about an hour. You could do this the day before then reheat them.

Parsnips

  • Peel your parsnips, plunge into boiling water for two minutes then drain them. Heat some oil in a roasting tray. Add a dessert spoon of cumin seed. Put the parsnips in the pan, drizzle honey over the top then roast for 45 minutes. Or roast for 15 minutes the day before and put back in the oven for 20 on the day

Dauphinoise potatoes

  • probably the easiest potato dish dish in the world, with the exception of jacket potato!
  • use your food processor to slice your peeled potatoes into thin slices (To serve 10 you will need 2kg)
  • pour 1litre full cream milk and 500ml double cream into a large saucepan and add two crushed cloves of garlic and some salt. Bring to a medium heat then add the sliced potatoes and bring almost to the boil.
  • Generously butter a large shallow dish then pour in the milk and potatoes.  Double wrap with foil and cook in the oven at 175C for about 90 minutes. Remove the foil for the last half hour.  The potatoes will have absorbed all the liquid.  At this stage you can either serve immediately or, cook the day before you need it and reheat the next day.

Cabbage

  • Wash and thinly  slice dark green cabbage then drain. Quickly cook the greens in a scant amount of water until they are slightly underdone, then drain and refresh with cold water, to keep them bright green.  In a wide shallow pan, heat olive oil and a little garlic. Add the greens, stirring round quickly, then add chopped almonds (not flaked almonds, use whole almonds which you can break up by placing in a plastic bag then hammering with a rolling pin!  Stir the greens around in the hot oil till reheated, then serve.

Cauliflower

Put two slices of stale bread into the food processor with a couple of green spring onion tops. Pulse. Drizzle with a little olive oil and season with a grind of black pepper and a grating of lemon zest.

Cook your cauliflower in the usual way until it is just cooked. Drain it well then return to a buttered dish.  Put a little,oil in a wide pan and heatbit, then add the breadcrumb mixture, stir round to brown it slightly then sprinkle over the cauliflower.

i could go on and on (against my nature, surely?!). But this should give you some non standard options, many of which you can do tomorrow to give you more present opening time on Christmas Day!  Good grief, as I writemImrealise it is only 30 minutes to Christmas Eve.  One more posting on #12Days. Thanks for all your feedback.

#12Days Cakes that pass as Dessert Day 3

img_8106If you are not partial to a traditional Christmas cake then you can whip these cakes up in 5 minutes.  Useful to have in the back of your mind when half a dozen people descent without warning and there is no cake in the house….. or when the Christmas cake is just a pile of crumbs on the cake board.

The cake in the picture is one-such. You don’t need to turn your cake(s) into a 5 tier wedding cake, but each layer is quick and easy.

Clementine and lemon cake

This one is an adaptation of Nigella’s classic. Which must be drawn from much older North African and Spanish recipes for Polenta cake.  It is even easier if you have some of the fruit already puree’d and in the freezer (which is a great way to use up those Satsuma and Clementine that are lurking in the fruit bowl and just past their best0.

Put 6 clementine/satsuma and one lemon (halved) in a pan with boiling water and boil them for about 10 minutes. (Nigella says an hour but quite frankly, its unnecessary). Remove from the pan and place in the food processor when cool.  Then whizz till liquidated. Then add 250g ground almonds, one teaspoon of baking powder, 200g golden caster sugar and six eggs into the food processor and whizz till they are all combined.  Pour into a lined 20cm springform cake tin and cook at 180C for about 50 minutes. Test the centre with a skewer. Cover the top with greaseproof if it looks as if its getting too dark round the edges.  Remove from the oven. Cool. Then spoon over some orange and lemon syrup made whilst the cake is cooking.  Serve just warm with creme fraiche.

Black forest cake

In the food processor, process 200g soft butter with 200g caster sugar, 25g good quality cocoa powder, 4 eggs and 200g plain flour with 1.5 teaspoons of baking powder till it is a soft dropping consistency.  Spoon it into two lined sponge tins and cook at 180C for about  25 minutes. Test with a skewer. Remove from the oven and cool in the tins.  Use one cake and freeze the other.  Drench the cake with kirsch (about 2 tbs), then just before serving cover with cream and drained (tinned) black cherries. and a grating of chocolate on top. Dare you not to love it!

Sticky date and apple cake

This is simplicity itself, from one of my favourite cook books The New Sugar and Spice by Samantha Seneviratne.  Makes frequent appearances at our table, and this one is for Dean.

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a 20cm springform cake tin.  Put 100g chopped dates (you can buy them ready chopped in Holland and Barrett) in a saucepan with about 100ml water and bring slowly to the boil to soften them, then take off the heat, add 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, mix and then put somewhere to cool.

Beat 125g soft butter with 125g soft brown sugar for about 3 minutes (in the mixer) then beat in 2 eggs and 6 flat tablespoons of minced fresh ginger. Then add 250g plain flour and 1.5 teaspoons of baking powder and beat until combines.  Now stir in the dates and fold in 2 chopped tart apples.  The mixture should have the consistency of a firm batter. If it doesn’t then add a little milk.

Pour the batter into the tin and bake for about 25 minutes.

You can now either eat it as a cake or serve as a pudding.  If pudding, then melt 100g brown sugar with 40z butter, a little salt and when melted, add 100ml double cream.  Put the cake on a wide plate or dish, poke some holes in the cake and pour over half the liquid, let it soak in then pour on the rest.  Voila!

Mincemeat tart(s) with marzipan

Sounds sweet, right? It is!  This is my little invention as the traditional mince pie leaves me a bit cold. So you can either make this as individual mince pies or as one big pie.

Take one pack of frozen shortcrust pastry. Easy so far then! Take one or two jars of mincemeat, depending on how big your pie, and grate in some orange zest. Line either the little tartlet tins with pastry (I use muffin tins because I like more mincemeat than pastry) or a pie or sponge tin. Fill with mincemeat. Instead of pastry topping (who wants more pastry?) roll out some marzipan to about 1.5cm thick and cut out shapes (stars, santas, reindeers – anything really) and place, dotted about, on top of the big pie, or one in the centre of each individual mince pie.

Bake in the oven till cooked and the marzipan starts to melt.

 

OK. Now I have to go to the butcher to get the Christmas meat. Happy cooking. Hope you agree these are easy to make and where the standard ingredients will already be in your cupboard.

#12Days Quick and easy soups Day 4

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http://www.claresuttonimages.com Thanks Clare!

OK, so people arrive and you’re not expecting them.   Or they arrive but they bring more people. Or you just love eating soup with fresh bread. Soup is so lovely – warm, heartening, reviving, welcoming.  Over the festive season, there is often a gap just asking for a bowl of soup. Here are some favourites. Soup recipes were requested by Dean, currently somewhere in the Far East but due home in 11 days I believe!

The first soup here was a real hit at a photoshoot I catered for at a glamping site in North Yorkshire.  20 hungry women photographers, two children, two gas rings, a firepit and a barbeque.  For three days. In mid-March.

It was huge fun and a challenge to cook warming breakfasts, elevenses, lunches, teas, dinners in a field.

All the recipes are for eight people but it is so easy to double up the quantities as needed. Soup (unless you are  making consomme (which I am not) is an imprecise science and so dependent (in our house) on what is in the cupboard.  I’ve chosen recipes that are quick and easy to rustle up and all can be frozen except the last one.  Most can be prepared and steaming in the bowl within 30 minutes.  You might notice that there is not a stock cube in sight.  The flavour is in the ingredients themselves, and the spices/herbs you choose. Thats why these soups taste dense and authentic.

  Tomato, white bean and chorizo soup

Sweat a couple of finely chopped onions, two celery sticks and garlic in some olive oil and butter. Add two mugs full of chopped squash  and stir round. Sweat with the lid on, on a medium heat for five minutes. The add two chopped chorizo sausages (skin removed). Fry for five minutes. Add a teaspoon of smoked paprika, some black pepper, some salt and a flat dessert spoon of sugar. Mix. Then add two tins of chopped tomatoes and half a can of passata, two tins of water and two tins of drained canellini beans (or butter beans, or chick peas, or borlotti beans). Simmer gently for about 20 minutes. Adjust seasoning. Done.

Leek and potato soup

Peel 1kg potatoes and chop into small chunks (just to make them cook quicker).  Put a good glug of olive oil and some butter in the bottom of a pan.  Add one finely diced onion, one clove of garlic, three medium sized leeks sliced, then the potatoes and a bayleaf. Turn down the heat and sweat gently for ten minutes.  Then add 750ml water, some salt and bring to the boil, then simmer till the potatoes are cooked.  Whizz in a blender or with your stick blender, then return to the pan.  Check seasoning.  I prefer white pepper to black pepper in this soup.  Add a 50/50  mixture of double cream and milk to bring it back to a medium thick consistency (at the moment it will be gloopy) or the consistency you like best.  Check seasoning again and add a good grating of nutmeg at the end.

Roast vegetable soup with coconut and coriander

Set your oven to 200C and put the roasting tray in the oven. Use a roasting tray as a measure.  Chop a mixture of red peppers, squash or sweet potato, onion , carrot into medium sized chunks.  Add one chopped red chilli and two cloves of crushed garlic. Pour all these into a plastic bag (I use a carrier bag).  Add black pepper, fresh rosemary and parsley and about 50ml olive oil. Squish it round a bit so everything is coated in the oil then turn out onto the hot roasting tray and return to the oven for about 25 minutes.  The vegetables will roast and slightly char at the edges. Then place the roast vegetables in a blender and whizz them to a puree.  Pour into a saucepan. Add three tins of water to the blender and whizz up again to gather the last grains of flavour and pour into the saucepan. Add one tin of coconut milk.  Stir the ingredients together, check the seasoning before eating.  To add another element, make a coriander pesto by combining two tablespoons of fresh coriander (chopped fine), a good grating of lemon zest, a crushed clove of garlic and a tablespoon of pine nuts with either a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, or with plain yogurt. Crush them all together in a pestle and mortar and add a dollop to the middle of each bowl when you serve it.

Chickpea and spinach soup

Soften a large onion in olive oil and butter with as much garlic and chilli flakes as you dare. When they are soft, add one peeled and chopped eating apple. Fry again to soften further.  Add a teaspoon of cumin powder and half a teaspoon of coriander powder.  Drain two tins of chickpeas but keep the liquid.  Add the chickpeas to the apple and onion, stir round and add 1.5 teaspoons of ground turmeric, a little smoked paprika, and a little grate of nutmeg. Coat the chickpeas with the spices in the bottom of the pan and then add the liquid from the cans plus two more cans of liquid.  Add salt.  Cook for about 20 minutes then wash about 300g spinach leaves and pile them into the pan and put the lid on.  Cook for five minutes on a medium heat until the spinach has collapsed. Stir into the liquid and beans and check for seasoning.  Serve with flatbread, and a dollop of good yogurt in the centre of the dish.

Easy lentil soup

This must be the oldest and most trusted soup recipe in our family.  I must have been cooking it for about 45 years at least.  In a large saucepan, gently fry onion, garlic, a chopped apple in oil and butter till they are soft.  Then add four large chopped tomatoes.  Then add a teaspoon of cumin seed and a teaspoon of cumin powder. Add two mugs of red lentils and 750ml of water plus salt.  Bring to a gentle boil then turn down the heat to medium and let the lentils cook away till they ‘split’.  Then stir for a couple of minutes.  Check for seasoning and add a good splodge of tomato puree.  Whizz it all up in the blender or with a stick blender and it will become creamy.  Serve with yogurt of a spoonful of chermoula in the centre.  (Chermoula is roasted cumin and coriander seed, cinnamon stick, black peppercorns, black cardamom and chilli seeds, preserved in oil.  They flavour the oil and then you pour a little in the centre of the soup – or use it to flavour roast meat or fish. This reminds me that I must add Chermoula to the list on this blog).

Cullen Skink

Or Cillen Skunk as we call it.  This is probably the easiest soup in the world if you always have some smoked, undyed haddock in the freezer. To be honest it is better with fresh smoked haddock but this is unlikely at Christmas isn’t it?  Just make sure your haddock is defrosted if you use frozen.

Chop peeled potatoes into 1.5cm dice.  Finely dice an equal mixture of onion and leek. Fry the onion and leek in butter and then add the potatoes. Add the tip of a spoon of ground turmeric. Cook them very gently on a low heat until they are all soft.  Then gently poach two or three smoked haddock (depending on the size) in 300ml full cream milk with a bay leaf.  Do not overcook the haddock.  Remove the fish from the milk then pour the cooking milk and 300ml single cream into the pan containing the onion, leek and potato.  Check seasoning. Flake the haddock into large-ish flakes, watch out for bones and remove them. When the milk/cream is just moving in the pan and coming to a simmer, stir all the ingredients and add some more salt and white pepper if you think you need it. Then add the fish to warm it through (it will have already cooked in the milk).  Serve into piping hot soup bowls. Sprinkle with parsley. You can add a poached egg on top if you fancy it!

#12Days Gravlax Day 5

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A good thick salmon fillet

This Gravlax is a practically unadulterated version of that shared with me by Dennis – my late father in law. Dennis died earlier this year so this is a tribute to him.  The gravlax was his domain every year and it is also mine. I love preparing it, I love the smell of it, and most of all I love the taste of it on Christmas morning with hot buttered toast and scrambled eggs. And a glass of something cold and sparkling. Then let the present-opening commence.  Another ‘best way’ is on dark rye bread with a gherkin.

Maybe the bestest way is to eat it is late at night when everyone else has gone to bed – shave some slivers off the salmon and eat it illuminated by the fridge light, standing with your back to the kitchen (because if you have your back to the kitchen whilst stealing something from the fridge a) whatever you are stealing has no calories and b) you might get away with bluffing it if you are caught).  You might possibly want to – dip the ends into a little horseradish-laced mayonnaise, clutching a cold roast potato in the other hand.  Naughty. Nice.

For 8 people, sufficient to last you a couple of days, you will need one (or two) middle cuts of salmon, each weighing about 400g.  Ask for the middle cut because the shape and thickness will be symmetrical.  Leave the skin on. Use tweezers to ensure all the bones are removed (run your fingers along the length of the salmon and you will be able to feel it if there are any bones – they stick up like little teeth). Just tweezer them out either with special fish-bone tweezers. Or with your own eyebrow tweezers. Just clean them before and after – can’t have your eyebrows smelling like fish!

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Onion and apple on the base, then the fish, then the cure

Trim the fish so it is roughly rectangular, if you need to. Now mix 1 tbsp black peppercorns (ground) with 50g coarse sea salt, 100g chopped fresh dill and 70g caster sugar.  This is the cure for the fish.  Line a dish (or airtight container) with clingfilm so it hangs over the edges.  The container should be  almost the same size as the salmon. Add thinly sliced white or red onion and a thinly sliced eating apple so it lines the base of the container. If you use only one fillet, simply cover it completely with the cure and sprinkle with some vodka, wrap it and turn as Method 1.

Method 1 – Place the salmon skin side down then pile on about 90% of the cure and put the other piece of salmon on top skin side, up and then the remaining 10% of the cure, so it’s like a sandwich.  Wrap the clingfilm round to make a parcel, then place even weights on top of the fish parcel (use a small board if you can, to get even compression)

Method 2 – my preference – place the first fillet skin side down, pile on 50% of the cure, then the second fillet skin side down and cover with the rest of the cure.  Then for both methods  drizzle about 150ml vodka over the top. Put clingfilm over the top and drape it down the sides. Then place even weights on a small board on top of the fish to get even compression. Anything heavy will do.  Then leave it, completely covered for 5 days (no turning).

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Add alcohol if you wish

As you can see from these pictures, I use Method 2. I have also drowned it in sloe gin instead of vodka.  This makes for a very distinctive gravlax – with a pretty mouthwatering alcohol edge!!

On Christmas Eve, remove the clingfilm – whether you used Method 1 or 2.  Keep the fish in the container and cover with a cloth to let it breathe.

On Christmas Day, lift one fillet out of the container, scrape off the cure, then shave off thin slices and serve whatever way you wish.

A lovely sauce to serve with it is a good mayonnaise spiked with creamed horseradish, or cold full-fat yogurt with finely chopped cucumber, cornichon and capers.

You might like to try this with Knakerbrod, click on the link.

It really is that simple.

#12Days Crunchy salad Day 6

p1000972After a fundraising curry night here, and staring at the carnage and leftovers in my kitchen this morning, I think we all need a crunchy salad today.  This one is actually for one of my oldest and dearest friends – Marion – who requested the recipe after I made this as a contribution to her wedding feast when she and Andrew a few weeks ago. To be fair it was a hastily constructed piece of work as I was juggling the five tier wedding cake at the time – and the picture of the cake is much more attractive than a bowl full of salad!

Anyway, this salad is either for your Christmas repertoire, or would serve as a saintly dish after all the festivities have died down and you just need something wholesome, non alcoholic and low fat!

Use any mixed green salad leaves as a base – lettuce, crunchy chicory, spinach leaves. As for proportions – well it depends on how many people you are feeding so you will have to judge this one. Chop a small butternut squash into 2cm dice, and drain two tins of chickpeas and put them all in a bowl with some olive oil, salt, black pepper, crushed garlic and smoked paprika. Mix them around a bit to distribute the seasoning then roast on a shallow baking tray for about 45 minutes until slightly charred at the edges.  Grate one large carrot. Cut a cucumber in half and scoop out the wet middle, then chop the whole cucumber into wedges.  Chop cherry tomatoes in half. and season separately with salt and black pepper.

Open one vacuum pack of freekah (green wheat) – about 100g.  Open one vacuum pack of mixed sunflower and pumpkin seeds (about 100g) – drizzle these with a little honey.

Now make the dressing.  As a base, use the following: two grated cloves of garlic, one teaspoon salt, one tablespoon agave syrup or honey, two teaspoons Dijon mustard. Place all these in a 450g jamjar. Add white wine vinegar or lemon juice and olive or rapeseed oil to the proportions 1:4 (acid to oil).  Shake vigorously.

If you are making this salad in advance, put a good amount of the dressing in the bottom of the bowl. Then add the tomatoes, the carrot, the cucumber, chopped spring onion tops, and chopped basil and flatleaf parsley.  Season.  Then add the green leaves on top.  Do not mix at this stage (this is a good tip – leave the wet ingredients at the bottom of the bowl steeping in the dressing, add the leaves but dont mix until you are ready to serve).  When you are ready to serve (and you can leave the bowl – covered – for many hours and so long as the green leaves are not touching the dressing it will stay fresh) mix the green leaves into the rest of the salad and put in your serving bowl, then add the roasted squash and chickpeas, seeds and freekah and mix it all around. And it is done.

The basic dressing you can enliven with a range of ingredients depending on your taste – you could add fresh basil, or dill, or yogurt with mint. You could add chopped capers or cornichon. However if you are making the dressing for the festive season, I suggest make a jamjar full of the basic dressing then enliven it with other ingredients as you wish.

Now.  Having hosted a lively Christmas curry event last night there is a scene of utter devastation to deal with in another part of the house. Bin bags at the ready!