Friday, June 14, 2013

From Plot to Platter

With the price of meat rising so speedily, to keep our purses happy, we would be wise to eat less of this and more vegetarian dishes, especially as I read recently that vegetarians usually live longer than meat eaters!!   Am sure this is debatable, but do know several vegetarians that eat no meat, fish or even eggs, that seem to have far less illnesses (including colds). 

Just eating veggies does not constitute a 'balanced' diet for we do need to make sure we have an intake of protein.  Those who eat cheese and eggs, and drink milk will get animal protein through these, but although there are many vegetables, such as pulses, grains etc that contain (vegetable) protein, these are not a 'complete' protein, so two different kinds need to be eaten at the same meal for the body to absorb it.  Baked beans on toast (pulses eaten with grains) is an example of how well the two go together. 
For those interested in eating more meatless dishes without having to be concerned about the finer details of what goes together can gain comfort from knowing that any of the one types of vegetable protein can be absorbed without using another as long as some animal protein is also eaten (which can be milk,or cheese, eggs, cream etc - it doesn't have to be meat).  So even just a mixed bean main dish would be fine if dessert was a yogurt for example. 

The recipes today are obviously going to follow this theme and be 'meatless', and will taste even better when we grow our own produce, and when we can harvest the leafy ones, the sooner we cook after picking the more vitamins we will have (these can lose 25% in the first hour after picking).

Home grown veggies can stay as fresh as if in the soil if - when pulled from the ground - the roots are left on (with a bit of soil if you like), then these roots plunged into a bowl of water so the plant - at least for a while - hasn't realised it's fate and continues to grow. With any leafy vegetable (where the leaves are eaten), the outer - darker green - leaves have the most vitamins, so always find a use for these if you can.
Nature has planned that root vegetables are intended to last for quite a while once pulled, so not so much concern about the vitamin values there as long as they are stored correctly.

First recipe is for carrot soup.  Normally we drink hot soup during the colder months, and cold soups during the hotter weather, but this soup is good at any time (especially at the moment now the weather has turned cold, windy, and wet again!!  That's the British summer weather for you.
Carrots are cheap enough especially if we choose the second grade sold in supermarkets.  These are just as flavoursome (if not more) than the cloned types sold as grade 1.  The only difference is the cheaper vegetables are what I call 'misshapes', and very amusing some of them are (esp the carrots).

As with most spiced up dishes, we can add more or less of the spices used according to our taste, so use this recipe just as a guide.  White wine is not the cheapest of ingredients, so I try to avoid including this when I can, although when anyone does open a bottle of wine, aim to pour a little into an ice-cube tray (it need fill only one 'cube') to freeze for later use - as in a recipe such as this or risotto.  It is wiser to save this wine before we start pouring into glasses as hardly anyone bothers to leave an inch at the bottom of the bottle for the 'cook's use'.  My B certainly doesn't.  If I've been poured a glass of wine and not drunk all of it, and he has - by then downed two glasses - he gives me a long hard look and says "you don't want the rest of your drink do you?" and always I reply "no, you can have it".  He's trained me well!

If you don't wish to use wine with this soup, or perhaps have only one 'cube' of wine to use, then make up the difference with apple juice or even orange juice. 
Although coriander seeds bought to grow for harvesting 'fresh' coriander leaves (stalks also can be used), the dried coriander seeds - found in supermarket spice racks - when planted, will also grow although will give a smaller leaf that still has plenty of flavour and taste. 
To my mind the amount of ingredients used would serve more than four, but as it can be frozen, then why not make the lot and freeze the surplus?
Spiced Carrot Soup: serves 4
2 oz (50g) butter, melted
2 onions, finely diced
4 lb (2kg) carrots, thinly sliced
8 fl oz (250ml) white wine (see above)
3.5 pints (2 litrs) cold water
1 tblsp toasted cumin seeds
1 tblsp toasted coriander seeds (see above)
1 small red chilli (or spoon of Tabasco)
juice of 1 lemon
yogurt to serve
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium/low heat.  Add the onions and saute (sweat) until tender without browning.  When ready, add the carrots, a good pinch of salt, and the wine, and continue cooking for two to three minutes, then add the water and bring to the boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until the carrots are very tender and 'mashable' with a wooden spoon.
Remove from pan and either cool slightly and puree in a blender or food processor, or - whilst still hot - puree directly in the pan using a stick blender.  Either way, aim to end up with the soup being completely smooth.  If too thick, thin down by adding a little water.
Grind the toasted spices with the chilli and stir into the soup (if using Tabasco or another chilli sauce add this separately).
When ready to serve, bring to the boil, adding more seasoning if you feel it needs it, then remove from heat, stir in the lemon juice and serve in individual bowls with a dollop of yogurt on top.

Since growing a selection of herbs on my windowsill have increasingly used these by the handful, not just one at a time, but a whole selection together.  Finely chopped mint, basil, chives, parsley...when tossed together with mixed salad leaves certainly add flavour to what could be a slightly boring salad. 
Here is a risotto dish that also takes advantage of the above 'fresh herby flavours', and together with vegetarian cheese makes a really lovely summer meal.
Vegetarian Parmesan is the cheese used, but myself (a non-veggie), if having no Parmesan, would ferret amongst the bits and bobs at the back of the fridge shelf to find a small bit of cheese that my Beloved has shoved there and forgotten about.  By then it has gone hard, but perfectly able to be finely grated and end up looking like (if not tasting exactly like) Parmesan.  In my opinion, many of these British hard cheeses, when left to get mega-hard (tooth breaking level) have a much stronger (and better?) taste than the much dearer Parmesan.
Either grate all the cheese or grate half (to mix in) and then shave the rest (to scatter on top).

Herb Garden Risotto: serves 4
2 oz (50g) butter
1 onion, finely chopped
9 oz (250g) risotto rice
1 small glass white wine
2.5 pints hot vegetable stock
2 oz (50g) vegetarian Parmesan
2 tblsp olive oil
2 handfuls mixed soft herbs, chopped
salt and pepper
Melt half the butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Stir in the onions and cook gently without browning until softened.  Stir in the rice until the grains are completely coated with the butter, and then keep stirring for a couple more minutes before pouring in the wine.  Reduce heat slightly, and simmer until the wine has been almost all absorbed, then add the stock - a ladleful at a time - stirring with each addition.  Only add more ladles of stock when the last has been absorbed.  By the time the rice is tender 'al dente' (takes about 20 - 25 minutes) most or all of the stock should have been used up.  If you haven't enough, then add hot water.
When ready, the rice should not be dry (as when cooking it for curry) but should be creamy with almost a thick 'soupy' texture.  When ready turn off the heat, stir in the half the cheese, the remaining butter and half the herbs.  Add seasoning to taste. 
Cover the pan and leave to rest a few minutes before serving in individual bowls, each sprinkled with remaining herbs and grated (or shaved) cheese.

One vegetable that keeps really well (at room temperature in my 'onion basket') is a butternut squash. Once this has been cut in half to use, the remainder has the cut end covered with clingfilm, then it has to be kept in the fridge and used within a week (or so).
Here is a lovely Thai vegetarian curry, one of my favourites as I love the Thai flavours (coconut etc). Goes without saying I buy my red or green Thai curry paste in a jar (use the amount according to how spicy you like your curry, you can always add more, but can't take it away), this making it easy to make a very speedy meal to make that I find especially good to eat during the summer months.

Myself prefer to use sugarsnap peas (omitting the sweetcorn) instead of mangetout as any uncooked surplus keep very well in the fridge.  If you wish to add sweetcorn you could then stir in the contents of part or all of a small can of (drained and rinsed) sweetcorn kernels.

Thai Butternut Squash Curry: serves 4
2 tblsp sunflower oil
1 - 2 tblsp Thai red curry paste (see above)
1 x 400ml can coconut milk
5 fl oz (150ml) vegetable stock
2 tblsp soy sauce
1 tblsp soft brown sugar
1 small butternut (peeled/seeded) cut into chunks
1 x 200g pack mangetout and baby corn
juice of 1 lime
Put the oil in a frying pan and stir in the curry paste.  Fry for a couple of minutes then add the coconut milk, the stock, soy sauce, and the sugar.  Add the butternut chunks and salt, and simmer for 10 or so minutes before adding the sweetcorn (halve this lengthways) and five minutes later add the mangetout and lime juice.  Simmer for a further couple of minutes.  Serve hot with rice.

Final recipe is for a traybake and am including this because it is one that suits my larder - in that most of the ingredients are those that I have stored too long and need using up.  Am sure most of us have a larder that houses 'use-me-up' items (although not necessarily these ones).

Coconut Tray-bake: makes 16
1 x 200g bar milk or white chocolate
7 oz (200g) desiccated coconut
3 oz (75g) caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
3 oz (75g) glace cherries, quartered
Roughly chop the chocolate and place in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients and mix well together. Spoon into an 8" x 12" (20 x 30cm) lined baking tray and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 20 minutes until golden brown and firm to the touch.  Cool in the tin before cutting into bars or squares.
Although not suitable for freezing, this will keep for up to a week in an airtight container.

Before I wind up my blog for today must reply to comments...  Have just begun reading the 1950's book Mandy, but finding it a bit hard going as not such an easy read as some books.  Will give the full title and ISBN number when I've finished it, by then can tell you whether it is worth reading or not (but suppose that depends more on the reader).  There is a wonderful, and quite large, thick, book called (I think) 'How We Lived Then' all about domestic life during World War II, the pages re the food rationing, clothes rationing et al make fascinating reading.  I had the book (and hope I still have it), but can't place it, so may have lent it to someone and it was never returned. Possibly more details found about this via the Internet.

Good to hear that Daisy is now on solids.  Am so pleased she is progressing so well despite her lactose intolerance.  All due to your good care Mandy.  Congratulations.

Thanks for the recipe Noor, will be aiming to make this as I have all the ingredients except 'tom yum cubes'.  Am assuming they are a type of stock cube, but also without them the dish wouldn't taste 'right'.  What is 'tom yum', and would anything similar be sold over here?

Regarding palm sugar.  Someone once told me it was sold at Morrison's, but I've never found it (at least there wasn't any on the 'sugar shelf'.  Perhaps demerara or soft brown sugar could be substituted instead.  I'd love to try palm sugar as so many recipes these days seem to use it.

Haven't thought of making beetroot crisps Granny G, but it is a good idea.  I have eaten parsnip and carrot crisps, so see no reason why beetroot should crisp up the same.  
This morning was watching 'Street Food' (or a similar name) on the Food Network, and although normally do not bother to watch this, stayed this time as one of the episodes came from Austen, Texas, and I wanted to get an idea of Texan eating (as Pam comes from that area).  It wasn't until I saw the map on the TV that I realised that Texas has a coastline, I thought it was more a 'middle of the country' state.  Silly me!!

In the above episode the cook made (in his own kitchen here in the UK) a fruit tart topped with marshmallow.  Began with a blind-baked pastry case filled with 'rhubarb curd'.  This 'curd' I expected to be like lemon curd, but it was really a custard, and particularly interesting to me as the rhubarb was diced, then cooked in a fair amount of beetroot juice until very tender.  Egg yolks were beaten with cornflour then added to the pan along with sugar, then cooked until a thick custard and allowed to cool before putting into the pastry case.   The egg whites were beaten with sugar and more cornflour (this giving the meringue a 'marshmallow' texture apparently), piled on top of the 'rhubarb curd' and baked at 160C for about 10 minutes until slightly golden on top.  Suppose could be eaten hot or cold.  It looked good anyway.

If Pam (or any US reader) has bothered to finish reading today's post (some give up halfway because I ramble on too long), could I ask what a 'Po' Boy' is? Have heard the name before, and assumed it was the short form of 'poor boy', in other words a cheap snack ('bread and scrape' as we used to call them).  The 'Po'boys' served at the Austen trailer 'street food' outlets were - to me - not what I call cheap.  More like bread 'baps' (as we call them) filled with all sorts of good food.  Similar fillings to what goes in the 'wraps' we make (or on sale).

Have reached 11.00am, so think it really is time for me to make my move into the kitchen. It's almost as thought the place keeps calling me back.  I just can't seem to keep away.
Yesterday made B a chilli con carne, cheating a bit because I added a Beanfeast Mexican chilli to the minced beef, onions, and tomato passata frying in the pan.  With added water, and - later - a can of red beans, it made a huge panful so plenty for me, plenty for B and plenty to freeze away.
Gave B an avocado to eat with his chilli (plus lettuce if he wanted any), and some freshly made and chilled Greek yogurt, and he came into the living room and said it was one of the best chillis he'd every had.  I didn't tell him I'd added the Beanfeast, but it goes to show that by adding a vegetarian meat substitute (in this case chilli flavoured TVP), it not only cuts the cost of the meal, it is also undetectable (to those who prefer to eat all meat).

B is out most of the day and as he will be eating lunch at our daughters and out this evening at the social club, he has requested I get him no supper (he will settle for getting himself a bacon sarnie no doubt).  That means, after my 'culinary work' I can settle myself down in the living room and stick my head back into my book.  Have a feeling I will enjoy this afternoon indoors more than usual.  There is nothing as nice as a good book worth reading.  Must do more of it.

Hope you'll join me again tomorrow, and let's hear from those of you who haven't written in for some time.  I remember your names, but concerned you might have moved 'to pastures new' (in other words given up reading my blog).   My hits are still slowly increasing, so presumably most of you are still logging on, but it would be nice to know.   Maybe during the next 24 hours I'll be fortunate to hear from you.  Do hope so.  Even if not, keep well, keep happy.  TTFN.