Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Who Needs Meat?

My Beloved just about insists on having meat or fish almost every day for his supper.  On the rare occasions I serve a vegetarian meal (maybe on two consecutive days) he seems he is feeling 'weak'.  Myself find I get anaemic if I don't eat some meat, but generally I can manage several days without any, as long as I have other animal protein such as meat and eggs.

Now, many readers have asked for vegetarian recipes, and am hoping that these don't have to be animal free, so that I can include eggs, cheese and maybe - occasionally a small amount of fish, and although there are vegetarian meat substitutes, also vegetarian cheeses, I will leave the reader to omit or include any ingredient that fits in with their style of eating.
Please note that the dishes suggested today each serve two but the amounts of each ingredient can always be halved to serve one, or doubled to serve four.

The first recipe today is how to make that Moroccan spice 'Ras el Hanout'.  Recently I bought some ready made in a jar, and it really is lovely - not at all 'hot', more fragrant and spicy.  There are many recipes that use this spice, and although it can sometimes contain as many as 15 different spices (as can some curries), this is the simpler version that is easily made from spices that many of us already have (and I had but didn't realise it until I read the recipe and by then had bought the jar).
The recipe below uses the spice seeds that are then ground together, but if you have only the ground seeds, then use these instead.
Ras el Hanout:
2 1/2 tblsp cumin seeds
2 tblsp coriander seeds
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp ground turmeric
half tsp cardamom seeds (from 10 pods)
good pinch saffron (optional)
Grind everything together and store in a small pot. Keep in a dark cool place.

Now that we have this spice, why not make this Moroccan salad.  It could be called a winter salad because most of the veggies are seasonal (but any that aren't will be in the supermarkets all year round). 
One good tip:  when cutting onions into quarters, remove the top and skin only, leaving the root intact.  Then, when divided into sections, the layers keep together and look quite attractive when plated up - especially the red onions.
Obviously pomegranate seeds are optional, we could instead add sunflower or pumpkin seeds, or maybe chopped nuts.  Those of us who roast vegetables are used to adding butternut squash, bell peppers, aubergines and courgettes, so we can alter this dish according to the seasons. 

Roasted Vegetable Salad: serves 2
1 large sweet potato, cut into chunks
2 red onions, cut into wedges (see above)
1 large parsnip, peeled and cut into chunks
1 large carrots, trimmed and cut into chunks
1 tblsp ras el hanout (recipe above)
1 tblsp olive oil
salt and pepper
4 oz (100g bag) baby spinach
4 oz (100g) pomegranate seeds
2 oz (50g) feta cheese, crumbled
4 tblsp sherry vinegar
Put all the veggies into a bowl with the ras el hanout, the oil, and seasoning to taste.  Tip this in a single layer onto a parchment lined baking tray.   Roast for 40 minutes at 200C, gas 6 turning the vegetables halfway through, and once tender/cooked, leave to cool for 15 minutes.  Then put into a bowl with the spinach leaves, pomegranate seeds, cheese and vinegar.  Toss well together and serve.

One of my favourite ingredients when cooking veggie meals is the pulses.  These contain loads of vegetable protein, and I always like to keep plenty in stock, either home-cooked (then frozen) or canned.
Although it is cheaper to soak/cook dried beans, canned are not that expensive, so much depends on how often beans will be served.  Myself used to cook several different beans at any one time (each having their own saucepan), and - after an overnight soak - they would be boiled until tender (fast boil for the first 10 minutes, then they can be simmered).
Once tender drain well and rinse with cold water if you wish.  Drizzle a little oil over them while still in the colander then spread them in a single layer over a parchment lined baking tray.  When cold put them in the freezer (open freeze) and when solid the oil will help them be easily separated into 'free-flow' when they can be bagged up and stored in the freezer.  

Recently I bought a can of Heinz Five Beanz, and although enjoy eating them as-is, they do make a very good soup.  The five beans are: red kidney, haricot, pinto, borlotti, and cannellini. 

Below is a soup made with black beans, with the addition of a chilli paste and some spices.  Myself use this just as a guide, substituting the black beans with a can of the Five Beanz, and adding a dash of Heinz Fiery Chilli Ketchup instead of the chipotle/Tabasco.  So we could make this soup using any canned or home-cooked beans we have.  Even - I suppose - baked beans?
The given suggestion of using a 'pickled onion' garnish at first seemed a bit strange until I realised that this was a different sort of pickle and once tried I really like it.  To save me using fresh limes, I use lime juice in a plastic squeezy bottle.  Work out cheaper in the end as it can be used for many dishes.

Bean Soup with pickled onions: serves 2
juice of 2 limes (see above)
1 onion, thinly sliced
salt and pepper
half tblsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
half tblsp ground cumin
half tblsp smoked paprika
half tblsp chipotle paste or Tabasco
1 x 400g can black beans (or your choice)
400ml vegetable stock
soured cream or Greek yogurt
Put half the lime juice in a bowl with half the onions, adding seasoning to taste, then set aside for half an hour or so.
Meanwhile, put the oil in a saucepan over medium to high heat, then fry the remaining onion until softened and translucent, adding seasoning and the garlic towards the end/. Stir in the spices and paste/or Tabasco and cook for a minute before adding the beans, stock, and remaining lime juice.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes, then blend to a puree.
When ready to serve, reheat in a clean pan, and serve in individual bowls with a sprinkling of the drained onions and a drizzle of the soured cream. 
Serve with warmed tortillas if you want to be traditional.

Final recipe today is for another salad - this time a cold one, and more of a store-cupboard recipes than a seasonal one (although in a way it could be depending on your choice of fresh salads). Am including this dish because it again uses beans (and we don't have to use the same ones), and also eggs (for extra protein).
This is a good way to use up whole-meal bread (this tends to get stale faster than some supermarket white sliced - but you could use white if that's all you have).  The lettuce could be ice-berg, Little Gem, or we could use mixed salad leaves, either home-grown (on the windowsill), or a mixture of baby spinach, rocket and watercress. Anything you fancy.

Bean and Egg Salad: serves 2
2 hard-boiled eggs,
8 spring onions,(or two banana shallots)
2 tblsp olive oil
1 thick slice wholemeal bread, broken into crumbs
1 x 400g can cannellini beans (or other)
juice of half a lemon
1 tsp Dijon mustard
half small red onion, finely chopped
handful fresh parsley, chopped
few crisp lettuce leaves, chopped
Half the eggs and set them aside. Heat half the oil in a frying pan and tip in the crumbed bread with a little seasoning, and fry for 3 - 4 minutes, turning occasionally until crisp and golden all over.  Using a slotted spoon remove and drain on kitchen paper.  Then set aside.
Trim the spring onions, and chop (or slice the shallots) and put into a bowl with the lemon juice, mustard, red onion, parsley, the remaining oil and the lettuce.  Add seasoning and toss together then arrange on a plate (or on two individual plates), placing the halved eggs on top and then sprinkle the crispy crumbs over the lot and serve immediately.

Before I leave, must mention a new series that could be well worth watching (I saw the first today), Seems each is repeated early the next day, so could be watched before work, or taped (or seen on iPlayer I suppose).
Series is called 'Rip Off Britain: Food' 11.00am BBC 1 (rep. 7.35am BBC 2 following day).  At 11.45am BBC 1 is a further consumer series, about whether certain domestic products are worth the money.  Again worth a look-see.
This (Monday) evening watched two more consumer programmes, one called 'What's really in our trolley' followed by 'Shop Secrets:Tricks of the Trade'. Nothing really new there, seem to have heard it all before, but always worth being reminded.

However much we feel we want 'the real thing' when eating out (not-quite-cheese, and pre-formed turkey posing as ham used to top pizzas), have to say that if it tastes OK I'm not too fussed about whether it is what it professes to be.   Dare say I've (unknowingly) eaten horsemeat in my time, and even now am not that bothered.   What does bother me (and probably the same for everyone) is that we are led to believe that what we buy is what it should be, when now patently it often isn't.

As ever, the only way to make sure we get our money's worth and eat good food, is to home-cook meals from scratch.  If we are (still) concerned about whether minced beef IS all minced beef, then we should buy the beef in a chunk and mince it ourselves.

Yet, there is a part of me that realises that when it comes to nutrition, often the bits of meat that we would normally discard (and now so often ground up to 'pre-form' into something else) can have just as much food value as the more expensive meat that we are used to buying.  Maybe we are becoming too particular.  On the other hand, maybe not particular enough.  What are your thoughts on this - and why?

A thank you for the comments.  Was a bit perplexed by one from Nora Taylor (new name to us, so welcome), as it read as though she though I was always cleaning my home (as if!).  My previous comments had been about a book that taught young marrieds how to keep house, and this in the days when we were expected to stay at home and be very domestic.  Very different today.

Your seasonal veggies in New England (US) are much the same as ours CTMOM, although very recently we have seen a lot more 'greens' appearing, and - would you believe - the first strawberries are now being sold (although probably hot-house grown in the UK). 
After the spell of fine weather, the high pressure has now moved further south and so winds and rain are again forecast with temperatures in the mid-teens (if lucky).  Then expected to improve. 

Cooked a couple of lamb shanks today (those that didn't get cooked yesterday) and they were just perfect.  Meat fell from the bone when I lifted them out of the casserole.  One has been frozen together with some gravy, to reheat and eat in a week or two.
Memory good today - except I left the oven switched on (having turned it low just to keep the meat hot while I cooked the potatoes and peas).  B noticed it was on, so switched it off for me.   As he has often left the gas hob lit (usually with nothing standing over it - only once has be left an empty pan on and burned it), he can hardly complain.  Even so - I need to keep myself focussed when cooking or I might do something silly again.

It's now well after midnight, so already Tuesday.  Will be back again tonight writing Wednesday's blog.  Hope you can join me then.  Bye for now. xx