Friday, 3 December 2010

Holidays are comin'!

Deep breaths, deep breaths! December aka Christmas Month is here and my excitement is building daily!

Unlike others, at this time of year, my jubilation does not reside under a tree wrapped in silver and gold, it does not stand expectantly beneath the mistletoe. It lives in Kilner jars, truffle cases and star shaped cookie cutters! The time has come to inhabit my kitchen for more than my nightly supper assembly; I now have an excuse to be in it for hours on end making jams, chutneys, truffles and biscuits for my nearest and dearest. The question is; who is really getting a gift here? Is it the recipients or me: pottering around my kitchen chopping, stirring, tasting and making cute labels to stick on jars of apple and cranberry chutney? I know what my answer is.

Around about this time of year I am hoping that my friends and family are eagerly waiting the moment I hand them a basket filled with jars and boxes, as I do each year, for them to feast upon over the festive period. I am also banking on some of them dutifully returning the jars from last year so that I may fill them before returning to their rightful owners; that part is not always as reliable.

The main reason my enthusiasm is reaching boiling point is down, in part, to my choice of bed-time reading. I decided, last night, that it was time to flick through one of the several foodie magazines I had already purchased this month and came across a Danish recipe for butter cookies, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar - I will be trying these out in a week or two and will, of course, post the recipe here. Also nestled within the pages were recipes for butternut squash pithivier's (French puff pastry pies; I will be having one for my Christmas Day lunch), ice-cream spiced with cinnamon, star anise and nutmeg and calvados mixed with spiced apples for a twist on mulled wine. I had to put the magazine down at this point, it was 1am, my head was spinning with ideas and I was approximately 2 recipes away from getting my notebook out and planning my (and my family’s) meals for the next 4 weeks!

So yes, yes, I know, I am in the grip of Christmas Food frenzy. I can’t help it, it happens every year -and many times throughout the year; it only takes a friend’s Birthday or a wander around a farmers market to set me off yet there’s something all consuming about food at Christmas. Whether it is to do with the fact that you have more time to linger over it or that it’s more ceremonial and luxurious than any other time of year is something to ponder.

One thing that is important to remember, though, is not to waste pity on veggies at this time of year. Over the coming posts I intend to show you that we can get as stuck in and gain the same 7, ok 10, lbs as everyone else this time of year and have a damn good time in the process!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Book Review

As promised, here's the review of Kitchen by Nigella Lawson:

The siren with a spatula is back with another abundant offering of inspired recipes mixed with her droll style of talking, and indeed, writing about her obsession with all things kitchen related. Nigella Lawson not only knows food but knows what to say about it. Kitchen is no exception.

In the Introduction, ‘Or what the kitchen means to me, and why I live in it’ Nigella mentions that this is the type of book she has wanted to write ‘for a very long time’ but that she didn’t feel ready to share details of her ‘love affair’ with her kitchen until she got to know it more herself; this is very much Nigella’s ethos. She revels in the whole experience of food from its preparation to the evocative powers it possesses; a simple roast chicken transports her to her mothers kitchen and the ‘ritual’ of cooking two chickens at a time: one to eat and one to pick at. Having read all of her previous offerings it is clear that Nigella would not be able to complete a book that was anything other than ‘memoirs with recipes’ a term she used to describe a fellow food writers’ book in her hugely successful ‘Nigella Bites’.

Being that this book is as much about the kitchen itself as it is about food there is a handy section entitled Kitchen Caboodle – this is not Nigella suggesting we need a ‘panic-inducing’ kit in order to appreciate our kitchens; quite the opposite in fact. She discourages buying anything that will gather dust; electric cheese graters and yogurt makers both feature in her tongue-in-cheek ‘ My Kitchen Gadget Hall of Shame’ section but still suggests that some items such as a mezza-luna (a half moon shaped double handled knife) are useful to those less dextrous when it comes to finely chopped herbs and vegetables. The ‘Kitchen Confidential’ section also provides useful hints and tips, such as how to remove tea stains from cups and how to stop your onions browning too much when frying them.

Being that, above all, people will part with their money in exchange for recipes and culinary-inspiration, it’s worth mentioning the food. The recipes are split into two parts each with their own sub-sections. The first, Kitchen Quandaries, looks at how to feed children without condescending their palettes but also speedily nourishing them from under your feet with offerings such as turkey meatballs in tomato sauce and chocolate chip bread pudding. A sub-section entitled ‘Off the Cuff’ also offers advice and recipes on how to rustle up a satisfying supper by having some simple store-cupboard essentials to hand.

Kitchen Comforts, the second part of the book, is true Nigella territory. Hassle free food that feeds the soul as well as your belly. An entire sub-section is dedicated to chicken and the place it has in not only Nigella’s culinary repertoire, but her heart; she writes, ‘I don’t really feel a kitchen is mine until I’ve cooked a chicken there’ recipes for said bird include Thai chicken noodle soup and ‘my mothers praised chicken’. In and amongst the traditional recipes, there are some inspired ideas such as spiced pumpkin chutney and no churn pina colada ice cream; sure to cause a stir in jaded rut-stuck home cooks. If you are a collector of her other books you may find some of the recipes repetitive – done before but with an added sauce or additional ingredient. This is no hardship though, really, they appear to have been revamped/improved and not simply recycled.

When reading this book you get the feeling Nigella is by and on your side as she encourages you to enter your kitchen both physically and emotionally – this may seem hokey to some but true foodies will relate to this entirely. Nigella is not out to intimidate but to reassure you that you should love your kitchen and all that you do in it whether it be cooking supper for 6, a bowl of something restorative for yourself or simply spending some time pottering about in a room Nigella describes as ‘part-hub, part-haven’.

Recipe - Tomato Curry by Nigella Lawson

(Serves 4)

2 tbl sp cold-pressed rapeseed oil or regular olive oil

2 large onions, peeled and chopped

1 tsp sea salt flakes or 1/2 tsp pouring salt

4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

1kg cherry tomatoes, halved

2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp English mustard powder

1 tsp hot chilli powder

1 tsp garam masala

200g frozen peas


1. Heat the oil in a large pan, with a lid, and add the chopped onions sprinkling with salt. Stir frequently as they cook over a low-medium heat until softened (about 7 minutes).

2. Stir in the chopped garlic, then add the tomatoes before stirring in the spices and cook for about 20 minutes, with the lid on, over a low heat.

3. Cook the peas in another pan (as per pack instructions), drain and add to the curry for the last 5 minutes cooking time. By all means cook the peas directly in the curry but be prepared to sacrifice both the vivid red of the tomatoes and the bright green of the peas.


The curry can be made a day in advance and chilled. Do not add the peas, though, until you are ready to reheat and eat.

The curry can also be frozen. Cook and cool the tomatoes as above and store in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Defrost over night in the fridge and reheat, adding the peas.

I used vegetable oil when frying the onions as I had some handy; any oil with a high burning point such as sunflower oil, groundnut oil etc will be fine. Do not use extra virgin olive oil though.

Coconut Rice by Nigella Lawson

1 tbl sp garlic oil

4 spring onions, finely sliced

2 tsp nigella seeds or black mustard seeds

300g thai or basmati rice

1 400ml can of coconut milk

600ml freshly boiled water

1 tsp sea salt flakes or 1/2 tsp pouring salt

juice of 1 lime, or to taste


1. Warm the oil in a heavy based pan that has a lid, add the spring onion and the nigella (or black mustard) seeds and cook for a minute or so, stirring with a wooden spoon.

2. Stir in the rice, letting it get slicked with oil and thoroughly mixed with the black-dotted green shreds.

3. Pour the coconut milk into a measuring jug and top it up to the 1 ltr mark with the boiling water. Add this to the rice, stirring it in with the salt.

4. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to low and put on the lid. Cook for 15 minutes, by which time the rice should be cooked and the liquid absorbed.

5. Fluff up with a fork as you pour in the lime juice, add to taste to see if you need either more salt or more lime.


I used nigella seeds as I had some stored away (along with za'atar, see previous posts for details) from my tears-of-joy inducing trip to Dean and Deluca in Soho, Manhattan - they are not as easy to get hold of this side of the pond though. Nigella seeds have an earthier taste than mustard seeds, however, mustard seeds would work as they go so well in many rice dishes used to accompany curries.


Glorious! So simple, not to mention pleasurable, to make. The mildly acidic/spicy curry dotted with sweet little peas was offset beautifully by the rich, sticky coconut rice that had depth of flavour from garlic oil and onions with the luxurious creaminess of coconut milk; the last minute spritz of lime lifted it out of and rice-pudding territory all together.

As always, I would recommend veggies and non-veggies try this. I guarantee it will be enjoyed alongside a few bottles of beer on a Saturday night. Try it guys and, if you do, please let me know your thoughts on it; I'm always happy to wax poetic about food and what it does to our kitchens, bodies and souls!

Bye x

Return of 'T.V.V'

Hey you!

I've been plagued with guilt for not posting on this here blog for a while and, to be honest, I am in no position to post what with Uni deadlines looming! That said, I started this blog to tell you about the life of a vegetarian foodie and food is still very much central in my lil' world so it is with that thought seared in my brain that I find myself tapping away this Saturday afternoon.

I enrolled at Uni with the view to nurturing my love of writing and getting intimate with the craft; I am currently working on an original short story along with various writing styles which are all well and good but leave little time for my true passion: food and all things linked to it. So, imagine my outright joy when one of my fabulous lecturers casually mentioned in one of the induction meetings that we would be focusing on food for one of the modules. Food writing, food in movies, reviews, a cookbook etc etc - to say I was chuffed is a shameful I was getting an education, furthering my writing AND indulging my love of food!!! To give you an idea of what classes entail: last lecture we watched Pulp Fiction and had to identify and discuss the food that appears in the gangster flick and why...bloody brilliant, pun intended.

So, sat in my flat last night I was mulling over the prospect of actually posting on my blog and giving you lovely people something to delicious to get your teeth into...but what to do?? I have deadlines, assignments, reading!! Then it hit me, why not post some of the assignments I am given in my food related class? EUREKA!!

So, here's one to start you off,I was recently given an assignment where I had to create a biography of a particular food item/recipe. I immediately went for arrabbiata as the debate surrounding this sauce is as famous as the sauce itself...exactly what is the authentic recipe? Well I go with the Roman's on this one as this is indeed a Roman dish so one would hope they'd know their stuff.

Here's the food bio along with my favourite recipe:

Arrabbiata Sauce

Arrabbiata, or ‘angry style’ in its direct translation, is a racy tomato sauce for pasta; typically penne due to its tubular shape and surface ridges allowing for maximum sauce cling. It is fiery and unapologetic, treasured by Italians who squabble over its authenticity, whatever it may be.

Routed in Rome, there are literally hundreds of recipe variations. Roman’s will tell you that olive oil, garlic, dried chilli, fresh tomatoes and parsley are the ONLY ingredients required. Websites referring to the recipe’s origin, such as and seem to obey the ‘rules’ whereas claims onions to be a principle ingredient and that some add a cup of parmesan before serving. If taken too seriously, it can become a minefield of accuracy insecurities.

Playfully described as ‘The Cantankerous Tomato Sauce’ by due to the heat from the chilli (and the fact that it evokes passion/preciousness/anger in its devotees), this recipe appears to be used to represent a person who knows their stuff, culinary speaking. An episode of I’m Alan Partridge shows Alan having lunch with a significantly more successful colleague. Alan, unsure of what to order, looks to his co-eater who asks for ‘penne all’arrabbiatta’ in a faux Italian accent with a side of superiority; ‘this guy knows where he’s going in life’ is supposed to spring to mind at this point.

It should be known, though, that the appeal of this dish does not lie cheaply in its sassy name or in its status among its groupies. It has a vibrant yet simple flavour: something Italians are serious about. Italians do not deal well with ‘fuss’ when it comes to food and instead put their faith in top quality ingredients simply brought together. This sauce is exemplary of this ethos…if you get it ‘right’!


(serves 3-4)

60ml extra virgin olive oil

3/4 clove of garlic, finely sliced

1tsp (or more, according to taste) crushed red chilli flakes

3 medium peeled tomatoes, chopped

2 tbl sp fresh parsley, finely chopped



Heat the oil in a large frying pan. When hot add the garlic and chilli flakes, cook until the garlic is golden brown (not too much or it will be bitter). Reduce the heat and add the tomatoes and a good pinch of salt. Cook uncovered until the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes.

In the meantime cook pasta to packet instructions or until it is al dente. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce, stir to fully coat. Serve in warmed bowls with a sprinkling of parsley on each one.

Next up will be the review I did of the new Nigella Lawson book, Kitchen. This afternoon I am attempting her tomato curry with coconut rice so I will include that also, along with my opinion on it..naturally!

Until then x

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Here I Am!

Hello, yes yes I am still here/somewhere.

My apologies for not fuelling you with a delicious, meat-free post for a couple of weeks but, wait, don't hit the little red 'x' yet...I have a semi-decent excuse…I started University; I’ve decided to take this writing lark seriously. It will benefit you all in the long run when I am spewing posts of a higher calibre, I promise.

Latest points of interest in the world of 'The V.V' have been geared to the thrill of the chase in both food and sex. I’m pondering the question: you can have your cake, but do you actually want to eat it? Alongside this we will be delving into the idea of meat being increasingly thought of as a vice, in the same league as smoking and drinking...

A full post will follow shortly and I'm wanting comments on this as I am eager to learn the thoughts of others on these topics. It is outside the realms of my usual posts so this will be fun! I will provide a recipe, as usual, that I hope you will not only chase but devour completely and still want more!

A little taste...and on that bombshell....

Be back very soon xxx

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Sentimental Schmuck

Now that I have established a desire to transport as well as inform you with the written word I feel we can all move on together to new and exciting realms of food, memories, emotions and, above all, cooking and eating.

I appear to be on the verge of obsession with the idea of food memories and the emotions we attach to them whether they be jubilant, best forgotten, sensual or repulsive.

It seems I am not alone in this, having spent the weekend tirelessly rifling through the contents of my book shelves, specifically food related, I am becoming increasingly enamoured of the various authors’ ability to reach us on a level much deeper than appetite alone.

Nigella Lawson -one of my favourites - is vulgarly (and naively, I add) thought of as the curvy chick moaning and groaning her way through her T.V shows. She is an enchanting writer. Her extravagant use of adjectives along with a talent for evocation often leaves those teeny hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I was rendered furious when I read some thing’s comments on the use of adjectives: ‘material is littered with adjectives where normal people wouldn't bother; all in the name of making something sound better...’ er, is that not kind of the point?

If I told you nice people that I was going to prepare a cheese and potato pie and then insert said pie into the oven and apply heat for a pre-determined time, ingest it and continue with my life you’d be bored out of your minds, left cold. If I told you glistering individuals that I was going to generously fill a dish with mounds of fluffy, buttery, mustard spiced mashed potatoes in which handfuls of sharp cheddar cheese were hiding aching to be placed into an oven and baked for 35 minutes by which time the top of the pie would be scorched and crisp you’d be entertained and, more importantly, hungry!

It is with this sentiment that I find myself welling up as Ms. Lawson explains how, when preparing a retro classic of whitebait and deep fried parsely served with brown bread and butter, a childhood memory of eating the stuff with her late sister resurrects not only the experience but, for the brief moment she enjoys the little (poor dead) fishies, her sister too.

Other food writers, or mouthy cooks, I adore are Nigel Slater, Tamasin Day-Lewis and Antony Bourdain: supremely described as ‘Elizabeth David meets Quentin Tarantino’. You’ll remember Tony from my first post in which I re-told his fond words for people of my dietary persuasion…‘the enemy of everything that is good and decent in the human spirit’ – DELIGHTFUL, and I mean that...“treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen” my babysitter told me when I was 7.

On the subject of my childhood, and in keeping with my vigour for providing you with recipes to make up for my ramblings, here’s the aforementioned cheese and potato pie recipe. I must add that I delved deeper than I usually like to into my memories in a bid to pluck out some exotic, snobby recipe to regale you with – but, truth be told, this one persisted. True nursary food, up there with rice pudding and bananas and custard. I have pimped it, somewhat, with the addition of some caramelised onions and a spoonful of Dijon mustard. As a child I would find my mother’s version comforting yet tiresome to eat after a few spoonfuls.

Cheese and Potato Pie by The Vigilant Veggie

600g potatoes (use one that’ll give a decent mash – I used Maris Piper, King Edward is also a fine choice)
1 tbl sp vegetable oil
3 tbl sp butter
2 medium onions, finely sliced
2 tsp caster sugar
200ml milk
2 tbl sp Dijon mustard
200g cheddar cheese, grated
2 medium tomatoes, finely sliced
Salt and pepper


Bake the potatoes, left whole with their skins rubbed with a little oil and placed directly onto the bars of a preheated 200c oven, for 50 minutes to an hour, or until the flesh is completely tender; this will depend on their size.

Meanwhile, heat the oil and 1 tbl sp of the butter in a medium frying pan and add the onions. Once softened sprinkle over the sugar and a little salt and pepper and leave to caramelise for approximately 15 minutes by which time they will be dark brown and candied – set aside.

Once the potatoes are tender throughout allow them to cool slightly before cutting in half and scooping out the flesh into a spacious bowl. Mash the potatoes (using a fork or masher) to remove any lumps and set aside.

Heat the remaining butter and milk together (I popped them in a bowl and into the microwave for a couple of minutes) and stir the mixture into the potatoes using a wooden spoon to ensure they are thoroughly combined. Add the mustard and season to taste – don’t add the butter, milk, mustard and seasoning all at once, add it bit by bit until you are left with a taste and texture of personal taste.

Once personal potato perfection has been obtained stir in the cheese, reserving a little to sprinkle on top.

Decant the onions into the base of an oven proof dish and top with the potato mixture, a layer of tomato slices and a final scattering of cheese. Bake in an 180c preheated oven for 35 minutes or until burnished and bubbling.

Serve alone or with a green salad or, as I did as a child (and still do) with baked beans and ketchup.


If you haven’t the time for baking potatoes I suggest boiling them in their skins to avoid them becoming water logged creating an insipid mash.

A few spoons of onion jam mixed into the onions, once cooked, would provide a great depth of flavour, as would a few sprigs of thyme.

You could use any mustard you enjoy; be it wholegrain, English or, indeed, none at all.

Cheddar is a classic in this, for me, but this also works well with a mixture of gruyere and hard goat cheese – the sweet nuttiness of the former balancing out the lactic sourness of the latter.

Now, some homework for you; gather some friends and family and initiate a conversation motivated by a culinary memoire.

There are few things I am certain of in life, very few, but I can almost guarantee that participants will fight for air-time whilst reliving and reviving a point in their life where food made them feel a certain way. Another guarantee is that the stories will be largely romanticised from a childhood filled with strawberry picking and Nan’s bread and butter pudding – the childhood we all wished we had. Who cares? If I cared about such intricacies then I would agree with Mr. Paragraph 4’s idea that getting the point across is more important than creating a stir. I would believe that food is mere fuel!!!

In this instance the distinguishing factors of both the eats and emotions they will create do not lie in origin but in efficacy.

Enjoy, wholeheartedly.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Barely Bacon

Next up, spaghetti carbonara with Quorn Bacon Style Pieces £2 for 250g bag (found in the freezer section).

I originally wanted to do steak and chips with roasted vine tomatoes and a glass of red using Quorn Peppered Steaks but my local supermarket was ‘fresh’ out. I have since checked them out online, though, and the ‘serving suggestion’ shows steaks served up alongside some chips and vine tomatoes…typical!

Once I’d gotten over my initial disappointment of not sampling the veggie version of a bistro classic I picked myself up and, after almost freezing my fingertips off rifling through the contents of the meat-free freezer section (new territory to me), happened upon the Bacon Style Pieces. I immediately thought of carbonara and low and behold on the back of the package there was a recipe provided for carbonara! I wonder if Quorn are hiring…

This little discovery was actually double whammy in terms of my research, not only did I get to try the product but I would eat it in a way recommended by the manufacturer. Speaking of which, I did actually have a mooch around the Quorn and Cauldron websites and there appears to be some decent enough recipes listed such as Samosas, Stroganoff, Malaysian Curries and pasta dishes.

‘Simply Carbonara’ by Quorn
(Serves 2)

100g Quorn Bacon Style Pieces
175g dried spaghetti
2 Eggs
2-3 tbl sp Vegetarian Italian Style Hard Cheese, finely grated
2 tbl sp crème fraiche
Pinch of nutmeg
1 tbl sp parsley, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Fry the Bacon over a medium heat for 6 minutes

Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add the spaghetti and cook according to the pack instructions

In a small bowl whisk together the eggs, cheese, crème fraiche, nutmeg and parsley. Season to taste.

Drain the pasta, reserving 2 tbl spoons of the cooking water. Return the pasta to the pan adding the bacon and cooking liquid, mix together.

Stir in the egg and crème fraiche mixture using a fork to ensure even distribution.

Serve immediately with extra cheese and freshly ground black pepper.


I heated a little oil in the pan before adding the bacon pieces as fat won’t render out of it the way it would with real bacon lardons or chorizo, for example. I felt it needed a shove in the right direction.

Once again, my supermarket was bereft of veggie parmesan so I opted for a Cheshire cheese that promised to be savoury with citrus notes and a dry crumbly texture.

When tasting the sauce, remember it contains raw eggs so use eggs you feel confident about and that are as fresh as you can find.

Other than a few tweaks I followed the recipe to the letter and it was decent enough. I made sure I used the best full fat crème fraiche and the cheese worked well in the place of parmesan.

One less than desirable quality was that after about 10 minutes or so on the plate it did begin to seize up and turn claggy. Carbonara should be silky and sumptuous, not grainy and sticky!

Now, enjoy that recipe as it’s the last of its kind. I doubt highly that I will be treating myself to anymore synthetic, watery, additive laden foods again for a while! In the interest of being fair I did try other products along the way such as Quorn Mini Savory Eggs pack of 12 £2.28, Quorn Deli Style Turkey and Stuffing 100g £1.44 (watery with a gritty texture), Batchelors Beanfeast dried chilli (tasted like a cuppa soup with bigger chunks and more powder) and a Linda McCartney Meatballs With Pasta microwave meal 400g £1.89 and none of them have inspired me to cook or write. In fact, they’ve given me a bout of indigestion and writers block!

When I sit down to share my many, many views on an ingredient, recipe or dining experience I can go on for ages – previous posts will confirm this.

This ‘mission’ not only exposed me to a world of fake food but it took me to a place lacking in any inspiration or creativity; it’s tough mustering passion for food you don’t believe in.

I could easily sit here and wax on and on about the food and how you could do different things to it to stop the taste/texture/smell of coming through but I would be mugging us all and with this thought fresh in my mind I must now wave the white flag, abandon the mission and go back from whence I came – a world of analysing not just how food tastes but how it makes us feel and the places it can take us...I’ll leave decoding packet ingredients and value for money to someone else as it sure as hell aint my bag!

Normal business will resume shortly….

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Chicken...sort of.

A weekend of a little too much wine mixed with little decent sleep had me feeling jaded, tired and ready to say ‘sod it’ to the weekly food shop and ‘sod it’ to the meat substitute mission. I was about ready to cuddle up with a baguette filled with strong cheese and pickle and feel sorry for myself!

However, I am remarkably resilient when it comes to the subject of food, cooking and writing with an ability to spring into action should their involvement in my week be in jeopardy; self inflicted or not. It was with this fighting spirit that I headed to the supermarket to stock up.

As mentioned in my previous post I had a myriad of products to try out. I was a little concerned that my shopping bill was going to sky rocket given the fact that most of the products are £2+ as opposed to a can of pulses that are about 60p or a couple of aubergines for around £1.50 but, surprisingly, my bill was around the same as it usually is; still too high, some might say. There was less food in my trolley than normal, though, but this was most likely to do with the fact that I was going to be indulging in the easiness of a ‘meat and two veg’ lifestyle instead of the 10 different ingredients I often use to make a stew, curry or interesting salad.

The journey up the stairs to my first floor flat was somewhat easier with around 2 large shopping bags less than usual to wrestle with. So far, so good.

First up, Quorn Lemon and Black Pepper Escalopes £2.48 for a pack of 2.

Initially I was going to do a chicken, chips and peas pub grub meal but I cannot resist turning it up a notch. For inspiration I turned to the Queen of notch turning, Ina Garten aka the Barefoot Contessa. I love her! ‘How bad can that be?’ she often asks the salivating yet slightly shocked TV audience when listing the ingredients in a recipe all of which inevitably contain butter, cream and loads of salt and pepper. When you want comfort you go Contessa.

I settled on using the sauce from a chicken picatta recipe. My research shows that my initial thinking of this as an Italian dish is actually poppy cock and that it was actually created in the U.S around the 1930s; usually served with something starchy, be it rice, pasta or potatoes.

In the recipe chicken (or often veal) is pounded flat and dredged in flour, egg and seasoned breadcrumbs. I had been spared this job with the Quorn escalopes; already flattened, already breaded. Once pan fried the meat is then doused in a sauce of lemon and capers, flavours common to Sicilian cooking; the sauce is the reason I selected this recipe.

I have a sour-tooth opposite, unsurprisingly, to a sweet-tooth in that I love all things citrus flavoured- be it food or drink. Hand me a margarita alongside a bowl of lime drenched guacamole and nachos and I’m in culinary heaven, a squeeze of lemon over a curry will make it (and me) sing!

Quorn Piccata
(Serves 2)

2 Quorn Lemon and Black Pepper Escalopes
3 tablespoons butter
Juice of 2 lemons (a few thin half moon shaped slices reserved before juicing)
125ml veggie stock or white wine
2 tablespoons capers, drained if in brine/rinsed if in salt and roughly chopped
Salt and pepper
Flat leaf parsley, finely chopped for serving


Cook the escalopes as per the pack instructions, I baked them in the oven for 12 minutes by which time they were golden and crisp.

Meanwhile, in a medium frying pan melt 1 tbl sp of the butter and add the lemon juice, lemon halves, stock or wine, capers and salt (not too much, capers are very salty) and pepper and leave to simmer over a high heat for 2 minutes or until reduced by half.

Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining 2 tbls spoons of butter, parsley and seasoning, if needed.

Serve the escalopes with a mound of buttermilk mash (recipe below) and greens; I used steamed purple sprouting broccoli, the iron richness balanced the buttery mash perfectly. Spoon the sauce over the escalopes and vegetables bringing any surplus to the table for further spooning.

Buttermilk Mash
(Serves 2- 3)

700g potatoes (I used red-skin desiree potatoes for a creamy mash)
¼ cup of milk
60g butter
½ cup of buttermilk
Salt and pepper


Peel and chop the potatoes into 1 1/2 inch chunks and add them to salted boiling water for around 10-15 minutes, until very tender.

Meanwhile, heat the milk and butter in a pan (don’t add the buttermilk, it will curdle) until hot, but not boiling, and set aside.

Once cooked, drain and mash the potatoes (Ina recommended you use a food mill but I am lacking in one of those so my trusty masher was utilised) and stir in the milk and butter mixture along with enough of the buttermilk to provide a creamy consistency. Season well with salt and black or white pepper.

Against the buttery yet ever so slightly sour mashed spuds (thanks to the buttermilk, if you can’t find it use a little natural yogurt thinned with some milk) the densely salted and lemon drenched sauce provided a glorious contrast that satisfied my aforementioned sour-tooth no end.

More importantly, the escalopes were a surprising pleasure to eat. Before popping them into our mouths you would have sworn they were dressed in arsenic not butter and lemon.

Once decidedly poison free we found the texture to be toothsome yet tender almost like a very firm tofu – I say very firm as regular firm tofu makes me gag a little as it’s a bit jelly like, nice deep fried though. Taste-wise it was delicately seasoned and ever so slightly sweet, ideal for this recipe. The crisp breadcrumb coating, again was well seasoned with a lemony hit to counter any richness from the protein inside. Reasonably priced, low in calories and saturated fat yet high in protein, I will buy them again for times when I’m at a loose end or only have time to 'hit the kitchen running' as Nigella would say.

In that you’re reading this post shows I survived, and that, yes, I am a little dramatic. In that I am now preparing the next post on the other products I tried shows the escalopes filled me with enough promise to carry on...

Come back soon.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Mission Update 2

Saturday….hazaar! Feeling a little more refreshed, not to mention a little smug that I’d done all my housework the night before, I headed to my local supermarket in search of food stuffs for supper that night.

It was actually my husband’s birthday but he cruelly had to work until 9pm so I had the job of feeding and entertaining his best friend at our place until he was done toiling. The best friend in question, like all but two of our friends, is a meat eater who enjoys a good steak and rack of ribs so I spent a good half hour thinking of what to cook that was vegetarian yet meat eater friendly i.e. no tofu, lentils, grains or any other ‘hippy’ foods.

My ‘EUREKA!’ moment arrived when I recalled the time I made Mr. Best Friend quesadillas and, upon returning from a trip around the U.S, declared my offerings to be the ‘best quesadillas he’d ever tried!’ How could I go wrong?

Also, there was some left over Chili Con Quorne from a midweek meal we had previously enjoyed; the scene was set.

Chili Quesadillas
(Serves 4 as a snack)

8 soft flour tortillas
¼ Chili Con Quorne recipe (see below), heated in the microwave/on the hob
200g mild cheddar cheese, grated (mature cheese can over-power here)
4 spring onions - white and green part, finely sliced
1 red chilli, finely chopped
4 tbl sp fresh coriander, roughly chopped

To Serve:

Sour cream
Tomato Salsa (shop bought or homemade)
Ice cold beer (optional/essential)


Place a large non-stick frying pan over a medium heat and add one tortilla, spread a small amount of the chili on the base and sprinkle with a little of the cheese, spring onion, chilli and coriander.

Place a second tortilla on top and leave for a minute or so. Once the base of the tortilla is golden brown and crisp flip it over and toast the other side.

It’s ready once both sides are toasted and, when opened, the cheese has melted and looks gooey.

Slide the quesadilla onto a chopping board and start the process again until you have used all ingredients and have 4 quesadillas. If you place each finished quesadilla on top of the previous one on the chopping board it will keep the one underneath it warm.

Once done cut into quarters, arrange on a plate and serve with dips and beer.

Chili Con Quorne
(Serves 4-6)

2 medium onions, peeled and cut into chunks
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tbl sp vegetable oil
2 heaped tsp ground coriander
2 heaped tsp ground cumin
2 level tsp hot chilli powder
2 large red chillis cut in half, seeds left in or removed – I leave them in
100g sundried tomatoes, rehydrated as per pack instructions and soaking water reserved
2 400g cans of chopped tomatoes
1 cinnamon stick or ½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbl spoon best quality cocoa
Salt and Pepper
1 350g pack of fresh Quorn mince
1 410g can of kidney beans in water, drained and rinsed


Place the onions and garlic in a food processor and whizz until finely chopped, this can be done by hand also if your eyes can handle it.

Heat the oil in a large pan and stir in the onion and garlic mix, allow to soften in the oil for a few minutes.

Add the dried spices and cook for a further minute. Finely chop the fresh chilli, again I use the food processor, and add this to the onion and spices.

Whizz the rehydrated tomatoes and a little of their water in the food processor until you have a burnt orange paste, add this to the pan along with the tinned tomatoes, cinnamon, cocoa, salt and pepper and about 250ml water. Cover and allow the sauce to gently bubble away for about 1 hour giving the flavours time to mingle.

About 45 minutes into the 1 hour cooking time stir in the mince and beans, cover and simmer for 15 minutes or so. Once done, leave the lid on and turn the heat off; allow the chili to sit and relax for about 10 minutes; you can't taste all of the flavours in piping hot food plus this allows yet more mingling.

Check for seasoning and serve with rice or soft flour tortillas.

Also great on top of a chilli:
- grated mild cheddar
- sour cream
- coriander
- limey red onions
(slice a peeled red onion into fine half moons, pour over the juice of two limes and a large pinch of salt, leave to macerate for an hour or so by which time they will have mellowed out and pickled…careful, they are addictive! I actually do the same with white onions, mint and lemon and strew them over a bowl of hot, hot curry with some natural yogurt)

If cooking for vegans you can substitute, as I often do, the mince for a few cans of mixed pulses. I add these at the same time I add the tomatoes so that they take on as much flavour as possible.

Right, the gloves are now off…I’ve shared my Chili Con Quorne and quesadilla recipes with you; the circle of trust has been drawn. Please do try them though as they are delicious. The chili gets better and better and will happily sit in the fridge for a few days ready and waiting to be shoved in the microwave and scoffed with some nachos in front of the T.V.

If I am honest with myself I need to stop being a wimp in terms of these darn meat substitutes! I actually eat Quorn mince and the odd veggie sausage anyway so now’s the time to cook up some of the other products stashed in my fridge/freezer following last night’s shopping trip.

Delights include Quorn Lemon and black pepper escalopes, scotch eggs, sandwich meat and bacon ‘style’ pieces and Linda McCartney Roast (for Sunday) and a READY MEAL for my husband to try whilst I’m out of town on Friday; I’ve told him he needs to eat it with a notepad close by and to be as descriptive as possible!

I think I’ve purchased a varied selection of what’s on offer to vegetarians and, truth be told, I am actually looking forward to trying them out. That said, you would not have guessed it if you saw my face whilst at the supermarket last night…I don’t really think people are supposed to wince when selecting items for their weekday meals!

Be back very soon…..

Mission Update 1

Friday evening and I was exhausted. Not content with a full day’s work at the office I decided it was a smashing idea to clean the flat from top to bottom, strip beds, insert piles of washing into the appropriate machine and make the flat a haven of calmness in readiness for my husband’s return from work (calmness is merely an illusion, though. Those that know me will tell you ‘calm’ is not the most appropriate way to describe me; ‘neurotic’/‘restless’ now they are good ones but with clever lighting, pillows, blankets and incense sticks I can fool anyone!). Either way I was hell bent on getting it all out of the way so I could enjoy a weekend of lying down, yoga-ing, cooking and eating.

At around 9.15pm, husband safely home from a day’s graft, it was time to think about eating something. Personally I was ready to order take-out from anywhere willing to cook and deliver but my husband wasn’t keen on the idea and instead wanted to eat in as my food ‘is so much better than a take-out and half the price’…creep!

After some toing, froing, sulking and an agreement that I wouldn’t wash up I made my way to the kitchen. Needing something more substantial than pasta and sauce I decided to make use of the Cauldron veggie sausages bestowed upon me by Mr. Business Associate last week.

Pasta with sausage in tomato and chilli sauce
(Serves 2-3)

1 pack of Cauldron Sausages
1 tsp oil (olive/vegetable)
350g dried whole-wheat penne pasta (use white and/or alternative shape if preferred)
1 jar of Sacla Cherry Tomato and Chilli pasta sauce
120g Sunblush tomatoes in oil, roughly chopped
75g bag of British watercress, roughly chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper


Cook the sausages (I brushed them with a tsp of oil and baked in the oven) and pasta as per the package instructions.

Once cooked slice the sausages at an angle, to produce a larger surface area for sauce to cling to, and add them to the cooked drained pasta along with the sauce and Sunblush tomatoes.

Once heated through add the watercress and stir until slightly wilted. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Decant into warmed bowls and drizzle over a little olive oil followed by a good grinding of black pepper.
I’m usually quite iffy about using jarred pasta sauces and I’m down right purest when it comes to arrabbiata (roman pasta sauce using olive oil, garlic, dried chilli flakes, fresh tomatoes and parsley ONLY) as it’s a classic and should be treated so. However, I can happily say that I regularly make use of items that will save time and effort but still provide a satisfying supper. The tomato and chilli sauce used in this recipe is a great example of this as it provided depth of flavour and heat from the chilli that, to make at home, would take a little more effort than opening a jar. The sauce was great mixed in with the pasta and sausage and the little oily bursts of the Sunblush tomatoes rammed with herbs and garlic only made the situation better. The watercress almost acts like the herb in this recipe. Wilted watercress is a revelation, by the way. I used to use it purely as a salad leaf or whizzed up with butter, potatoes, veggie stock and cream in a soup but once you’ve tried it wilted into hot crushed new potatoes with lemon juice, olive oil and tones of salt and pepper you won’t look back!

And yes, it was better than a take-out, not to mention cheaper as the sausages were donated. And no, I didn’t wash up!

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

My mission, pledge, dread, whatever.

Being the shameless self-advertiser that I am I've been thrusting the link to my blog at anyone I feel may enjoy it as a resource for information and recipes or just a read of something different to a credit card bill, tabloid magazine or anything else that we are forced to look at on a daily basis. So after reading my post on the plight of all veggies out there ('Poor Little Veggie Girl') a business associate of mine, in a fit of generosity, compassion or annoyance sent a little package to my office containing some examples of the meat substitutes I claimed to all but loathe in my previous post.

I actually have eaten meat substitutes before and did scoff some Cauldron veggie sausages at a friends BBQ last Sunday. Oh and, FYI, there were two other veggies at the party so we got to use the BBQ first whilst those around us had to that’s how it feels to be a meat eater everyday! Anyway, the sausages were rather nice; dotted with sage and well seasoned with black pepper. Admittedly I sandwiched them between a wholemeal roll with some onions and ketchup so cant really go into the intricacies at this stage.

Fear not, though, as the package lovingly posted to me by said 'business associate' contained a packet of those very Cauldron bangers so I will be trying them again with perhaps some chips and peas (covered in ketchup of course!) and report back along with the Bachelors 'Beanfest' dried chilli, complete with dried soya mince, also in the package. I am SO trying to reserve judgement until I try it; really, I am.

Also in my sights are Quorn 'chicken style' goujons and satay sticks. I've had a poke around the internet and they have received promising reviews generally centred around the fact that they taste like the ‘real thing‘. Now, I may be dense here but I just don’t get this, if you don’t eat meat for either moral reasons or because you just don’t like it then why would you want to be reminded of it? Plus, anything that’s a 'style' of something fills me with dread along with things labelled 'flavoured', i.e. vanilla flavoured ice-cream (no vanilla pod or extract but a synthesised alternative) or cranberry flavoured juice drink (5% cranberry 95% everything else) but, again, in the name of veggie vigilance I will go with the flow. I might go to the supermarket in the dead of night to purchase the items (which may include Quorn 'pork'pies or scotch eggs) as I don’t usually buy processed foods or meat substitutes in breadcrumbs....'Hello, my name is Lucy and I'm a food snob' but also very willing to be proven wrong should the opportunity present itself.

In addition to the supermarket I'm also going to venture into Holland & Barrett as a good friend of mine, who's a vegetarian who also omits eggs from their diet, mentioned that the health store stocks a range of meat AND egg substitutes...ok I'm breaking out in a cold sweat and will leave now and return after I have sampled a substitute, or seven.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Poor Little Veggie Girl

Rick Stein was grilling some beef in the background a few weeks back and I was half watching him, half focusing on my laptop when suddenly my ears pricked up. I plonked myself in front of the T.V to witness Rick succumb to a feeling of pity. When salivating over his chunk of BBQ’d cow he turned to the camera and said to all vegetarians within earshot ‘you poor people, you’re missing this’. I simply smiled. To hear this comment is nothing new in the life of a vegetarian, especially one who dares to call themselves a foodie.

It’s often thought that veggies are repressed carnivores who secretly yearn for a bacon sandwich and dream of sinking their teeth into a slice of rare roast beef alongside goose fat crisped potatoes and a Yorkshire pud; not to mention Christmas, just how CAN you celebrate Christmas without turkey and chipolatas?!

Fast forward a few weeks to a conversation with a friend in connection with a magazine article we are working on, specifically the topic of vegetarianism. My friend, a meat eater, was suggesting ideas for the article and commented that in order to eat a balanced and, above all, interesting diet veggies do have to put in a little more graft. I have to say, I agreed with her.

The observation was made that the process of rustling up a mid-week supper, as a meat-eater, is generally a simpler and less time consuming one than us carnivorously challenged folk can hope for. For example, steak on the griddle, rocket salad dressed with olive oil, chunk of bread and glass of red…sorted! A vegetarian could have this same experience but it would either be a synthetic substitute or a bland block of tofu charred to perfection…yum?

Believe me when I say I am not a vegetarian who pushes my lifestyle choice down people's throats, it’s as much your choice to eat meat as it is mine not to. It’s the simple fact that I couldn’t face the day knowing that I didn’t have a plate of something wholesome yet indulgent to look forward to when I get home from work. That vegetarians have it harder at times, whether it be at home or when eating out, makes me work harder to research recipes, techniques and ingredients. It also makes me think about nutrition ensuring I am still getting the protein and iron I need to be healthy. The hard working, highly talented chefs I look up to and admire would have a field day with me here, telling me that I have no idea the effort that goes into sourcing and creating the recipes they superbly turn out day after day, I would agree with them100%. In this instance, however, I am not talking about professional chefs I’m talking about everyday folk who want to feed themselves well after a tediously exhausting day of being responsible grown-ups.

We are now in the midst of summer and enjoying some damn fine weather; as a result, out come the BBQs, al fresco dining and boozy weekend afternoons in the garden. Now, if you’re a meat eater, you most likely grill and are perfectly happy with sausages, burgers and chicken portions etc all sandwiched between bread rolls with a few sauces and salads. However if, like me, you’re a vegetarian who loves to cook and is used to fresh homemade food the veggie burgers and sausages available on the market don’t really cut it. I don’t actually eat meat substitutes that often in any case. I don’t choose to eat meat so why would I want to pretend to choose to eat meat? One exception to this is Quorn mince. Added to a sauce bursting with butter, onions, garlic, thyme, red wine, Dijon and some seasoning it can produce a pretty decent shepherd’s pie. Chili is also a good option, use a basic chili recipe (I’ve adapted a Jamie Oliver one over the years) and replace beef mince with Quorn mince. You may have to increase the seasoning when using Quorn mince as, obviously, it doesn’t contain animal fat and therefore doesn’t provide a huge depth of flavor on its own; you just have to help it along a little but I am yet to meet a non-vegetarian who doesn’t enjoy my Chili Con Quorne!

On the subject the summer eating, last weekend the sun was doing its thing and I fancied a light salad for lunch so I headed out in search of ingredients that would make for a something more inspiring than the usual vegetarian offerings aka a side salad on a bigger plate or the chicken-salad-without-the-chicken. As it were I also needed a few essentials for the week so I grabbed my eco friendly, smugness inducing jute shopper and headed out.

A little over £70 later I had satisfactorily justified that French brandy, dark chocolate and pecan brownie torte were essential items, alongside several others, and headed home to make my lunch:

Melon with mint and Feta (use room temperature ingredients)
Serves One

½ honeydew melon peeled, deseeded and cut into chunks
50g feta, roughly crumbled
2 celery stalks, peeled (fennel would work well too) and sliced on the diagonal
2 sprigs mint, leaves picked and finely chopped
1tbl sp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp cider vinegar
Maldon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Place the melon, feta and celery in a large bowl.

Add the mint, olive oil and vinegar and toss all ingredients together.

Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

This is a really spin on Nigella Lawson’s watermelon, feta and black olive salad from her ‘Forever Summer’ book. In her own words ‘as improbable as it may sound, this combination is utterly fantastic, both savory and refreshing at the same time’.

None of the recipes I use and often post on this blog would be utilized without my ‘why should vegetarian’s be an after -thought?’ attitude. Monday mornings would not be spent at my desk, pen in hand, thinking up meals and researching recipes for the week ahead for not only my husband and I but for friends and family. All meat eaters, they frequent our dining room each week often leaving with a parting statement: ‘I could give up meat no problem, until the smell of bacon hit me then I’d be lost…poor you…how do you do it?’

Monday, 5 July 2010

Weekend Wanderings....

Despite the previous idea to venture out in celebration of ‘Wedding Anniversary Part II’ I actually wasn't expecting to leave my flat at all last weekend for anything more than a quick reccy for more food and wine; I ended up eating out twice.

The first outing coincided with a midnight release of a well known immortal romance movie. I would love to tell you that I was reluctantly dragged there by an overexcited/lovesick 14 yr old niece and that I sat through the entire installment listing the sexist symbolism like any decent, forward thinking 21st Century gal should, but that would be classed as lying. My husband and I 'dragged' OURSELVES there after spending most of Friday daytime giddy with excitement…..we have each other, at least.

I often make it my business to take (and give) the most pleasure from a social event such as a dinner party or meal out by considering all manner of details relative to the occasion. For example, when cooking a Middle Eastern feast I simply must waft spiced incence sticks around the dining room and the lighting must be solely provided by candles sticking out of heavily bejeweled holders dramatically dotted anywhere and may be cliche and could well be absurdly inaccurate to the food's origins but it sure helps everyone get into the swing of things!

To this 'rule' a Friday night trip to the movies is no exception; I become an unashamed American-girl-on-a-date wannabe and simply must go for a burger and a 'shake followed by a gargantuan popcorn with DIET coke all of which are, more often than not, forced down my throat before the first line of the movie has even been uttered!

With this in mind….first stop, The Handmade Burger Co. in Solihull’s Touchwood shopping centre.

The menu had a small column entirely dedicated to a selection of imaginative handmade veggie burgers to suit different tastes from the onion bhaji 'burger' with yogurt and mango chutney to cheese patties all sandwiched between good quality seeded buns with some crisp salad leaves. Sides are ordered separately and I can confidently recommend the handmade uber crispy chips double fried with bits of the skin left on to make them crisper still; their fluffy insides benefiting from a dunk in some ketchup (kept in glass bottles on the table…like all good burger joints). The coleslaw is also a fine choice, again, handmade with carrot, cabbage and red peppers encased in a light dressing.

On this occasion I opted for the lentil and spinach burger and my other half enjoyed the mushroom, mozzarella and pesto burger. My burger, formed into a patty and sealed on the grill, was toothsome and well seasoned, a far cry from the coated wallpaper paste offered at other restaurants in the past. My husbands consisted of alternate slices of portobello mushroom, melting mounds of mozzarella and flavoursome pesto; he gave it the thumbs up between chomps. Both burgers and sides were quickly devoured and washed down with bottled beer and wine…saving room for popcorn and ice cream.

The bill for the two of us was around £30 (service not included) comprising a large glass of wine, bottle of beer, two burgers and 3 sides so it’s a little more than your average late night burger van but what you lack in money at the end you’ll gain in many other ways (no disrespect to the burger van man at all….honest).

Oh and, yes, they do serve milkshakes; and, yes, they are in tall ridged glasses like a proper diner complete with bendy straw! The décor, however, is more funky British eatery with floral wallpaper and witty quips on the walls but they do a decent burger, the staff are genuine and it's spitting distance from the cinema meaning I could be gently rolled to my seat once I’d had my fill…

The second outing of the weekend, again, happened by accident…
My husband, my folks and I gathered in Birmingham's Brindley Place to cheer my sister and her partner on as they completed a half marathon in under 2 hours. Whooping, picture taking and sweaty hugs over with we were all in need of nourishment so we decided to take a seat in All Bar One.
Both the inside and outside areas of the restaurant were alive with happy faces out to enjoy the Saturday sun and , like us, cheer on the runners. The large oak tables surrounded with cubed stools and wooden benches made it easy to please a crowd of people looking to engage in lively conversation with each other across a table crammed with food and glasses of wine, cider and cold beer; the large glass doors had been flung open to let in the warm breeze reminding all Brits that we are actually having a Summer….I wont say anymore, though, in case I scare it away!

The menu, available on sheets of paper at each table and also on massive blackboards at either end of the restaurant (very gastro-pub), held a pleasing amount of choice for vegetarian and non-veggies alike and drink pairings were offered with a selection of the dishes listed.

My eyes were immediately drawn to the impressive sounding dukka crusted goats cheese with mango and watercress salad, then to the falafal burger and then over to the duo of hummus with flatbreads…I could go on.

After some toing and froing I committed myself to the mushroom, red pepper and aubergine wrap with mozzarella and Asian style pesto mayonnaise accompanied with a side order of fries. However, I could have just as easily sunk my teeth into a mushroom quesadilla with red pepper and chilli salsa or maybe the asparagus, spring onion and pea risotto…ok, I’ll stop now.

The wrap itself was toasted and flavoursome and not at all doughy or chewy as I had feared it may have been. The filling was generous and well cooked with a decent ratio of bread to vegetables and cheese, however, there was a distinct lack of seasoning, even for my salt crazed palate and found myself having to sprinkle a little salt on the filling before each bite. Aubergine and mozzarella are both beautifully bland making them the perfect carriers for spices, seasonings or a spritz of lemon and I have to admit that a bit of extra oomph wouldn’t have gone amiss here.

The whole experience, however, from the hardworking, nothing’s-too-much-trouble waiter to the chic, stylish city-bar surroundings made the lunch a feel like a welcome weekend treat and the fact that the wrap and fries came in under a tenner left room in the budget for a glass or two of something fruity...

Speaking of which, how could I forget the Pinot Grigio rose, flowing as if from a tap, and gloriously described as an 'elegant bone dry stunner'?! Should they ever decide to pair a wine with a person instead of plate of food I’d jump at the chance to accompany this one….the words ‘modesty’ and ‘virtue’ should now come screaming to mind!

Monday, 28 June 2010

Magazine Meal 3

The last meal in my week of magazine testing - what to choose...what to choose?

Torn between going all out with an indulgent and time-consuming recipe or a light meal thrown together in a jiffy (leaving time to enjoy what was left of the evening sun) I opted for a recipe from July's Weight Watchers Magazine that was sin-free, simple to prepare but also promised on flavour; result!

The recipe under scrutiny this time was actually from a little book entitled 'Summer Sizzlers' given away with the magazine; also included in the book were ricotta stuffed mushrooms, bulgar wheat pilaff and broad bean and leek tortilla, to name but 3.

Chilli Corn Fritters from 'Summer Sizzlers' courtesy of Weight Watchers
(Serves 4 as a starter, 2 as a main)

50g polenta
200g sweetcorn (I used frozen and defrosted them before use)
1/2 - 1 tsp crushed chillies
3 tbl sp fresh coriander, chopped
1 tbl sp thai green curry paste
1 tbl sp fish sauce (I used wheat free tamari instead)
1 egg
low fat cooking spray

1. Place all the ingredients except the low fat spray in a bowl, and combine well. The mixture will be quite runny (adjust the amount of chillies used depending on how spicy you like your food).
2. Spray a non-stick frying pan with the low fat cooking spray and heat to a medium temperature. Use your hands to form the corn mixture into eight balls and flatten into cake shapes.
3. Cook for about 2 minutes on each side until cooked through and golden. You may find this easier to do in two batches. Serve immediately.

I served the fritters with broccoli stir fried in vegetable oil with slithers of garlic and a few crushed chilli flakes. For a more substantial meal cooked brown rice could also be added to the pan with the broccoli for a tasty side dish.

Now, you do have to watch out with some thai curry pastes as many contain fish sauce and/or shrimp paste, as standard. I used Suree Brand Thai Yellow Curry Paste from my local deli but have also found similar veggie pastes in major supermarkets...just be sure to read the label or even make your own if you have the time and energy after a day at work.

The fritters were spiced to the point of lip-tingling but balanced delightfully with the sweet 'pop' of the corn kernels; the salty kick of the tamari provided a needed savory note that made these little bites addictive. It was certainly a good thing that the entire batch was a mere 8 (Weight Watchers) points but truly a bad thing that I had to share them!

I hope that from this post and the two that preceded it you can see that there are some damn good eats to be had out there on the magazine stands of your local shop or supermarket and that they can be slotted into the weekday just as easily as a bowl of pasta or cheese on toast but with a much higher return!

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Mazagine Meal 2

How to follow the aubergine....hmm....quite a daunting prospect.

After trawling through the 6 other magazines I've acquired this past couple of weeks I settled on a dish by 'all year round summer' guy - Bill Granger.

The recipe, Spinach, Watercress and Parmesan Cake came courtesy of a feature in July's Sainsbury's Magazine entitled 'Sunny Delights' so was an absolute must given the high temperatures, light evenings and all round holiday vibe we have been enjoying lately in the UK; had we the time I would have loved to pack it in a picnic basket with some crusty bread, chilled rose and a blanket. (Also in the feature was a recipe for baked eggs with three cheeses and tomato salad which looked tasty..another time maybe. It did, however, inspire the tomato and black olive salad below).

The 'cake' was actually a take on a frittata in that it relied on eggs and milk to set the mixture which was later cut into wedges and enjoyed with two salads; one, a simple selection of green leaves and the other, a tomato and black olive salad.


Spinach, Watercress and Parmesan Cake by Bill Granger

1 tbl sp olive oil
15g butter plus extra for greasing
2 leeks, trimmed and chopped
100g young leaf spinach
1 x 75g bag watercress, tough stems removed
a whole nutmeg, for grating
500ml milk
6 large eggs
50g parmesan
sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to 180c, fan 160c, gas 4. Heat the oil and butter in a pan over a medium heat. Add the leeks and cook gently until soft; about 10 mins.
2. Butter the inside of a round ovenproof dish, about 25x6cm deep. Add the greens to the leeks and season with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and a grating of nutmeg. Cover and leave to wilt for five minutes. Using tongs, remove the leek and greens from the pan and put in a food processor. Reduce the liquid in the pan to 1 tablespoon and add to the greens. Then add the milk and eggs and blend until almost smooth. Pour into the greased dish and scatter with parmesan. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden.


I swapped the leeks for an onion and few celery stalks (plus inner leaves) as I had them handy already and figured they would still offer the oniony/herbal hit provided by using the green and white parts of leeks.

I also forewent the parmesan in exchange for organic British cheddar as vegetarian parmesan is now only available sporadically in my local supermarket - much to my annoyance. The cheddar worked very well, though.

When transferring the wilted leaves to the food processor (step 2 of the recipe) there was no liquid left in the pan to reduce, therefore, this stage was not necessary to me in my kitchen.

The final product was light as air due to the ingredients being whizzed in the food processor which, incidentally, allowed the flavours from the vegetables and spice to permeate throughout the entire dish making the frittata intensely flavoured with iron rich leaves and mellow spicy nutmeg.

Tomato and Black Olive Salad
Serves 2

2 large plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
100g dry black olives, roughly chopped
Sunblush tomatoes (approx 8 quarters), roughly chopped
1 tsp dried thyme
2 tbl sp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbl sp red wine vinegar
maldon salt
freshly ground black pepper

1. Add all ingredients to a bowl and mix thoroughly, season to taste. Adjust seasoning and oil/vinegar ratio according to personal preference. Leave to sit at room temperature for at least an hour to allow all the flavours to mingle and settle in.

The tomato salad gave balance to the soft, milky frittata with the acidity of the British tomatoes and red wine vinegar ensuring any richness was promptly cut through without removing any of the comfort factor.

This cake will definitely be called upon again as part of light brunch on a lazy Sunday or served cold straight from a picnic basket - a cake by name but virtuous by nature...perfect!

Friday, 25 June 2010

Magazine Meal 1

Its always a 'good idea at the time' scenario when you set yourself a task or goal on a Sunday/Monday; youre feeling refreshed and ready to tackle a new week of work and play in equal measure or, in my case, testing vegetarian recipes from June-Julys foodie mags.....

Upon arriving home on Tuesday evening after a day that can only be decribed as 99.99% hard graft and 0.01% play my intentions were geared more to beans on toast - and that was at a push - than roasted aubergines with a buttermilk sauce, however, my desire to write this post compounded with my need for something delicious to soothe my exhausted body and mind perked me up somewhat.

As it turns out this recipe was almost as simple as beans on toast but with results above and beyond.

Aubergines with Buttermilk Sauce by Yotam Ottolenghi
Serves 4 as a starter - or 2 as a main course.

2 large and long aubergines
80ml olive oil
1 1/2 tsp lemon thyme (I couldnt get any so used 1 tsp dry thyme)
1 pomegranate
1 tsp za'atar spice blend
maldon sea salt
black pepper

For the sauce:
140ml buttermilk
100g greek yogurt
1 1/2 tblsp olive oil plus a little drizzle to finish
1 small garlic clove, crushed
pinch of salt

1. Preheat the oven to 200c/400f/gas 6. Cut the aubergines in half lenghtways, cutting straight through the stalk. Use a small sharp knife to make three or four parallel incisions in the cut side of the aubergine half, without cutting through the skin. Repeat at a 45-degree angle to get a diamond-shaped pattern.

2. Place the aubergine halves, cut side up, on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Brush them with the olive oil - keep on brushing until all of the oil has been absorbed by the flesh. Sprinkle with the thyme and some salt and pepper. Roast for 35-40 mins, at which point the flesh should be soft, flavoursome and nicely browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool down completely.

3. Meanwhile, cut the pomegranate in two horizontally. Hold one half over a bowl, with the cut side against your palm, and use the back of a wooden spoon or a rolling pin to gently knock on the pomegranate skin. Continue beating with increasing power until the seeds start coming out naturally and falling through your fingers into the bowl. Once all are there, sift through the seeds to remove any bits of membrane.

4. For the sauce, whisk together all the ingredients, taste for seasoning, then keep cold until needed. To serve, spoon plenty of buttermilk sauce over the aubergine halves without covering the stalks (they are just for decoration). Sprinkle za'atar and plenty of pomegranate seeds on top and garnish with thyme and a drizzle of olive oil.

As I had no thyme I sprinkled chopped fresh mint to echo the middle eastern vibe of this dish...coriander or parsley would also be great.

I have to confess that I was concerned the dish would be overly rich and creamy for my citrus and spice loving palate with the densely oiled aubergine and creamy sauce; boy was I was worng!

The aubergine was not at all greasy but instead lucious and tender. The garlic spiked sauce was complimented beautifully with pomegranate seeds that literally burst little intervals of perfumed fruitiness into the mix. The addition if the za'atar seasoning with its lemony tang courtesy of the ground sumac, to name but a few of the spices included in this unique blend, was inspired.

Now, za'atar is not as widely available as it should be and my own pot came from Dean & Deluca on a recent trip to Manhatten. Now I am not suggesting you fly around the world for this but it is worth tracking some down online, not only for this recipe but to be sprinkled on hummous topped toasted bread or mixed with olive oil to dress tomato, cucumber and parsley salads as part of a mezze type affair. The buttermilk sauce could also serve as a stand alone dip or the whole recipe (with the cooked flesh scooped out of the aubergine and the pomegranate omitted) plonked into a blender and whizzed up ready to be smeared on hot toast or gobbled up with some flat bread as a tribute to baba ganoush. This is what makes this recipe a new favourite, it has inspired me to create a handful of other recipes from its basic idea...I could go on.

I am pretty sure I have made myself clear now and I urge everyone to try it whilst I go about hunting down more recipes from Yotam Ottolenghi.

My husband agreed and, as we reclined on the sofa, was rubbing his hands together in anticipation for the rest of the week.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Magazine Meals

Those that know me will not be shocked to learn that I ADORE food and lifestyle the point where I will automatically go to the latter pages of all non-food related mags in search of the recipes, food news...anything!
It's been the same since I was old enough to read and its gotten worse now that we live in a world obsessed with TV chefs, Come Dine With Me and, now uber trendy, dinner parties (think Jo Wood's country pad with dinner guests such as Kate Moss et al lingering over bowls locally-grown-watercress-soup).
It's got a lot to do with the recession nibbling away at everyone's bank accounts and desire to leave the house. Either way, the market is full of these magazines now and I love everyone of them!
So in tribute to these inspired and thoughtful magazines I have decided to cook 3 of my 7 suppers this week from 3 different magazines..the first being this evening's supper courtesy of July's Cook Vegetarian (as mentioned in my previous blogs for bringing the fabulous apple and cinnamon muffins to my attention).
The recipe - Aubergine with Buttermilk Sauce (offered by Yotam Ottolenghi; vegetarian columnist for The Guardian) which I intend to serve with a simple green salad and granary bread from a gorgeous little bakery near my office.
I'll let you know I how get on....

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Fathers Day Feast

Sunday was Fathers Day and, therefore, a great excuse for me to flex my creative foodie muscle and get to work making gifts and treats.
This always involves an hour or so pouring over my veggie (and non-veggie I might add) cookbooks, magazines, favourite websites and usually a show or two on the Good Food channel on Sky...all in the name of research, of course!
After my extensive, selfless 'research' I settled on wholemeal apple and cinnamon muffins for 2 reasons:
1. Dad's a diabetic so the wholemeal flour is better for him as is the natural sweetness from the apple.
2. I make a very similar version of the muffins each Christmas for the hugely traditional family breakfast where we have them warm with butter and jams...and a few bottles of fizz to keep everything festive! I wanted to evoke happy memories for my dad (and indeed myself) and food has a truly magical way of doing this.
The recipe came courtesy of July's issue of Cook Vegetarian (some amazing recipes in there this month...see future blogs for details!).

Muffin Recipe:

125g self raising flour
50g wholemeal flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon (I used 2 as my dad and I are cinnamon freaks!)
75g caster sugar
100g oats (reserve a tbl sp for sprinkling)
2 eggs

200ml milk
2 large ripe bananas, mashed
75g butter, melted
1 tbl sp demerara sugar

(The recipe also used 1 bramley apple peeled, cored and finely diced making them the Apple and Cinnamon Muffins they claimed to be but I wanted to do something more as this was a gift afterall)

I made the basic muffin batter by sifting the flours, baking powder and cinnamon into a bowl and then adding the caster sugar and oats. The dry mixture.

The eggs and milk were then beat into a separate bowl and the banana and butter added. The wet mixture.

The wet mixture was then added to the dry mixture and the two folded sure not to overmix or they will be tough and bread-like...not desirable in a fluffy muffin!

Most of the advice in the first points came courtesy of the magazine but I then went about implementing the twist..I distributed the batter between 3 bowls and to one I added 1/4 of diced a apple, to another a handful of roughly chopped dried sour cherries and 2 tbl sp dessicated coconut and to the final bowl a selection of roughly chopped and crushed nuts (brazil, almond, pecan and walnut etc) making sure to thoroughly combine the ingredients in each bowl whilst avoiding overmixing...

The batters were then spooned into a muffin tin lined with 12 muffin cases (4 per batter), a sprinkling of oats and demerara over each one and then baked in a preheated 200C oven for 15-20 mins. (Mine took 18 mins in total but all ovens vary so keep an eye on them and take them out when they look golden and feel firm).

It's worth mentioning that the muffins will continue to firm up after you take them out so, if they feel a little tender or the bottom of them feels soft it may be best to take them out and let them cool. I found this out a few years back when making labour intensive coconut muffins; after cooking them for the suggested time I kept prodding and putting them back in the oven until they felt totally firm and, as a result, was left with dense, bready muffins and I was heartbroken given the time and money I'd spent!

Once cooled and decidedly un-breadlike (I can now confidently recommend this recipe) they were placed into a gift bag; they did look and smell the business!

I reserved a few for hubby and I to enjoy with a milky coffee that evening and a spreading of peanut butter for breakfast...delish!

Also on my list was what to have for lunch that day; my husband and I being the only vegetarians. So, after a midweek phone chat with my mum, we settled on homemade pizza - a crowd role was that of bread base maker. I borrowed a basic recipe from Jamie Oliver:

800g strong bread flour
200g fine ground semolina flour or bread flour
1 level tbl sp fine sea salt
2x7g sachets of dried yeast
1 tbl sp golden caster sugar
approx. 650ml tepid water

(this made 8 medium-sized thin bases)

I did, however, replace the white bread flour with brown bread does give a different taste and texture of that in white pizza dough - less soft and elastic - but if you only eat brown bread anyway its not a big shock plus this lower GI option was more friendly to Dad's health...another fathers day gift in my eyes!

My folks agreed to supply a medley of toppings such as oregano infused tomato sauce, mozzarella, artichokes - chargrilled and steeped in garlic oil, olives, capers and basil - I had to draw the line at pineapple...although pinenuts can be sensational when lightly toasted and used with basil, garlic oil and veggie parmesan (using non-animal rennet) - a kind of deconstruct pesto pizza!

I figured we could make an activity of it - ie make your own plus I was intrigued as to what my family would put on their own pizzas, the composition, ratio of cheese to tomato sauce etc...I guess I'm weird like that but the cooking and eating habits of others can speak volumes about them - just take a look at someone else's trolly in the supermarket, as I do, and you'll know what I mean.

The pizzas were served with a simple salad of British rocket, watercress and peashoots along with thick slices of beef tomato all doused in chilli oil and aged balsamic and sprinkled (a little too liberally some might say) with salt and freshly ground black pepper...a must on a pizza!

The muffins and pizzas went down a storm with all dad has since text me using the word 'magnificent' whilst scoffing his 3rd muffin of the day - cheers Dad!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Anniversary Celebrations

Wednesday was my 1st wedding anniversary so, with somewhat modest amounts of money, time and energy the husband and I set about having a thrill filled, romantic nostalgia fest.

I can almost guarantee that in the lead up to the evening we each had only one thing on our minds..however, that one thing was different for each of us.

Without overstepping the mark by explaining what I think my husband was after I will tell you the trail of my thoughts - what were we going to cook/eat/order/drink??

For me, the food when eating out generally has to cover 4 bases - is it veggie, is it reasonably priced, how many points is in it (weight watchers out there will know what I mean here) and has it been made with love and attention? Now, the latter seems a little hokey I know, but if the food has been prepared with the consideration of a robot...I swear you can taste can taste it in the complete absence of seasoning, seasonality and authenticity. I'm no food snob but if you're going to offer me a salad of balsamic beets, goats cheese, walnuts and radicchio please don't plonk down a plate of flaccid mixed leaves, overcooked and under balsamic'd beets, 2 walnuts and a suspicion of goats cheese...your not only mugging me but you're mugging yourself!

With my above thoughts at the forefront of my mind we (I) had already decided we were not eating out which was handy as the majority our bank balance had recently been converted to euros and frittered away on churros and hot chocolate (recipe to follow), sangria, inexpensive yet quality wine and food magazines - we found a shop that stocked UK magazines and I was delighted to be able to get my fix of foodie journalism whilst lying on the beach!

So, what to eat? Firstly, I'm a gal who likes fizz...prosecco, jugs of asti with lime juice, champagne, we grabbed 2 bottles of quarter decent prosecco to accompany a selection of healthy, light and sensual nibbles to be eaten lingeringly with our fingers in an intimate setting of pillows, incence and candlelight...

Our affectionately named 'marriage mezze' included bowls full of Greek kalamata dry olives with their addictive salty/metallic taste that ensures the prosecco drinking is effortless! Cherry tomatoes on the vine - grown in the UK but with the taste of the Med. Cous cous with herbs and roasted vege dressed simply with olive oil and lemon. Sweet Potato and Harissa dip for a sweet, spicy kick which, when coupled with pitta breads split in half, sprayed with oil, sprinkled modestly with sea salt and paprika and baked until golden was the bees knees...the pitta chips also came in handy for shovelling (sensually of course!) mouthfuls of the cous cous.

And pud...

Cheesecake style cream - light cream cheese, greek yogurt, icing sugar, vanilla extract and a smidge of lemon to lift it.

And to dip....cherries, strawberries, really dark chocolate and our fingers...some ginger/oaty biccies would have gone down a treat had I had some lying around.

Sat together on a rug in our living room a glass of wine in one hand, a morsel in the other and matching glazed and bloodshot eyes we both began the battle not to yawn or appear anything but still 100% captivated with one another...when, really...I wanted a paneer and spinach curry mopped up with a floury chapati whilst I slobbed about in my leggings with no make up on watching bad TV...and my my poor hubby? He simply wanted to close his eyes.

But we persisted, such was our persistence that we ran out of booze and had to walk hand in hand to the local shop to buy more..whilst there and giddy from the fizz and lack of substantial food, I decided ice-cream and chocolate were my wisdom!

When we got back we flopped on the sofa; he drank the wine, I scoffed the chocolate to the point of regret/nausea and we both passed out! Happy Anniversary!

The cold light of the next morning provided ever-infuriating-always-too-late hindsight and, whilst powerwalking off the chocolate and wine, I decided that nibbles are all well and good at the weekend over cocktails with pals but that on a weekday night we needed and deserved that little bit more after long hours at work and hectic schedules and that wedding anniversary toasting material should be CHAMPAGNE ONLY (no corner shop fizz)!

So.....despite our efforts, we have rebooked our anniversary celebrations for 2nd July aka payday and the start of the weekend so we can enjoy ourselves with a little more cash and, more importantly, a little more time! And, whilst my darling otherhalf now forgets about it for the next 2 weeks, I will obsess about where and what we will eat using my mental checklist all the while hoping the waiter does'nt roll his/her eyes or huff when I ask if the risotto has been made with vegetable stock!

Either way we will be going out to eat which can be a veggie (and a weight and cost conscious) person's this space...