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 d├ęcor, 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!