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!