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Mixing it Up

September 1, 2012

When you’re cupboard surprising, it usually pays to take a flexible approach to putting ingredients together. I know I’m not the only one who regularly eats pasta with soup, or having run out of kidney beans ends up putting baked beans in a chilli.

In fact I have become quite fascinated with the versatility of baked beans in general. They add an interesting sweetness (and extra protein) to tomato based pasta sauces, if you rinse off the sauce you can use them to make tasty beanburgers, and as I discovered to my parents’ disgust when I was younger, they go surprisingly well with egg fried rice and noodles. I also like to stir things into them before eating them on toast – houmous is a favourite, but peanut butter works too – especially the crunchy stuff.

My Mum used to pour a packet of crisps on top of macaroni cheese before adding the final layer of cheese – which I’ve always seen as a stroke of genius. Actually, you could probably put baked beans in macaroni cheese too. Cous cous can substitute breadcrumbs or crumble topping on anything – even sweet crumbles. And whilst a sandwich made with leftover bolognese is probably the messiest thing you will ever eat in your life (you need to develop a special way of sitting at the table to minimise spillage – or eat reclining on the floor like a Roman) it is also delicious and a good way to use up leftovers without having to boil a fresh load of pasta.

Of course, there are some more traditional but still bizarre combinations for foods. Chilli and chocolate cake is lush – I’m not at all surprised it’s becoming so popular. Black pepper on strawberries, which I sceptically tried recently, is pretty amazing.

There’s something very English about that taste for sweetness mixed with intense spiciness – I have a cookbook full of 700 year old English recipes (yes, I am a total food geek) that’s full of those kind of combinations. Fruit with ginger, hot spiced meats with almonds, and lots and lots of cinnamon. And of course there’s the slightly 1970’s habit of putting apple and raisins in curry, and serving it cold – which personally I think is a bit revolting in the same way mustard coloured lace-up shoes and wallpaper with flowers that look like fried eggs are revolting. You could say the 70’s were the decade taste forgot in more ways than one.

Then there’s battered Mars bars. I know that in the eyes of some, such things are an abomination punishable by death, but I think they’re rather nice. A bit  like a doughnut with a tasty heart attack in the middle.

I’m always trying to come up with some kind of fail safe formula for judging which foods will taste good together and which will make me vomit.  I haven’t quite managed it yet – instinct usually serves me well enough, but it’d be interesting to develop a concrete theory.

I always thought that sweet and savoury was something that didn’t work for me. I don’t like the fruity English curries mentioned above. I still think pineapple on pizza is a bit insane. And it drives me mad that people keep ruining perfectly good salads by putting sultanas and walnuts in them. No. Kindly sod off with your dried fruit.

But then I figured that, actually, cheese and pineapple on sticks tastes fine – it’s mostly the juicy tomato on the pizza that clashes with the very different juiciness of the pineapple. Coconut and almonds in curry are sweet but lovely – especially if the curry also has a really zingy flavour (like lemon or fresh chilli) cutting through the creamy softness of the nuts. From this I deduced that combining a “soft, smooth” flavour (like cream, sweet potato, artichokes, or coconut, or ground nuts, or banana) with a hot, zingy flavour (like chilli, or citrus) usually works out well, regardless of how sweet or savoury those ingredients might be. Because pumpkin somehow combines both of these qualities, it therefore goes with absolutely anything. Seriously, I give you this challenge: find me something tasty in its own right that does not go with pumpkin. I have even eaten pumpkin ice cream and found it lovely.

In all my experiments I have also discovered that there are many combinations that do not work and are revolting. Tomatoes do not go with jam, for example. Putting milk in the soda stream to make it fizzy does not work. Avocado and raspberry smoothies taste fine but you have to drink them with your eyes closed because they have the exact appearance and texture of infected snot. Onions do not go with jam, unless you’re at a posh farmers’ market and it’s onion jam, in which case it’s a bit redundant anyway. Lettuce does not go with jam. Houmous does not go with jam. In fact, maybe jam is the food equivalent of those turquoise shoes I bought once – beautiful in their own right, seemed worth the money, but just didn’t go with anything else I owned so sat in the wardrobe untouched for years until they finally got damp and went mouldy and I had to throw them out.

Perhaps don’t take my advice too much to heart though: I still can’t understand for the life of me why people put milk in tea. They are so clearly two incompatible flavours. Coffee with milk I understand, but I can no more stomach the idea of tea and milk than I can Ribena and milk. Just seems ridiculous. Yet people of Britain persist with this strange practice, and I’m beginning to accept that maybe I’m just a bit of an oddball.

Today’s recipe is what I cooked Tuesday night and it was a real risk for me, because there’s a whole lot of sweet stuff there. Stuff I would never normally put in there – the pineapple juice with garlic and paprika made me really nervous – but I think the coconut cream helped to bring everything together and it ended up lovely. It’s based on moqueca – a Brazilian curry that’s usually made with seafood or chicken – but this is a vegetarian version. The plantain are worth it if you can get them (if you can get to a Caribbean grocer they should have them, but Morrisons also stock them regularly, and they sometimes pop up at the market or general grocers), if not, and you’re feeling really brave you could try using not-too-ripe bananas or mango, but I probably wouldn’t cook them as long.

In the meantime, if anyone has any amazing unusual food combos to tell me about, or disgusting ones to warn me about, please do.

Crazy Combo Curry

Ingredients:

Olive oil

Paprika (smoked, if you have it)

3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely chopped

Teaspoon of brown sugar

A tin of tomatoes (whole or chopped, it doesn’t matter)

A large sweet potato (or two small ones) chopped into small cubes

A couple of handfuls of green beans, washed, topped and tailed.

2 Plantains

Fresh coriander (or use the frozen stuff you can get now, but definetly not dried)

A cup of fresh pineapple juice (ideally not from concentrate)

A 250ml carton of soft coconut cream. Or a can of coconut milk if you prefer.

Juice of a lemon or lime

Salt and black pepper.

Rice (to serve – if you add some lemon zest, a few fresh mint leaves, and plenty of salt and pepper to the cooked rice it goes really well with this)

–          Heat the oil in a big wok, then add the garlic, sugar and paprika. Cook for a few minutes, stirring regularly. It should smell really nice.

–          Add the cubes of sweet potato and stir to coat them in the oil. Turn the heat down slightly and cook for about 5-6 minutes.

–          Now add the tin of tomatoes. Half refill the can with water and add that too. Let everything cook for a few minutes more.

–          Meanwhile, deal with the plantains. I think the best way to peel them is to cut them in half, and then use a sharp knife to (carefully) cut the peel off in chunks. Chop the peeled plantain into disks about a centimetre thick and then add to the pan along with the green beans and the pineapple juice. Stir well to mix everything up.

–          Let the mixture simmer for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes and plantain are both tender enough to slip a fork through easily – add more liquid if you think it’s drying out. Cook the rice whilst you’re waiting.

–          Turn the heat right down low – then add the coconut cream and stir in. Add the lemon or lime juice, as much coriander as you like (in my case, lots), and salt and pepper to taste. Give it just a couple more minutes on low heat.

–          Serve with the rice.

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Here Comes The Sun

July 24, 2012

We’ve now gone almost a whole four days without rain here in Cardiff. I have ventured outside without a coat. I’ve been on the beach in swim wear, and there’s a sort of pale yellow round thing in the sky that looks vaguely familiar. I know this is probably tempting fate as much as hanging washing outside to dry is, but – I think maybe summer has finally arrived in the UK.

So tonight I decided to celebrate with my absolute number 1 hot weather dish: tabbouleh.

Tabbouleh still doesn’t seem to be that popular in the UK for some reason – a lot of people I speak to don’t recognise the name, or aren’t sure what it is until I describe it. Basically it’s a salad made from bulgar wheat and usually flavoured with lemon and mint. It’s Middle Eastern in origin – so you’ve likely eaten it as part of mezze somewhere. They often have it as a starter in Lebanese restaurants. You do sometimes get it in the salad bars in supermarkets, although it’s often not labelled as such.

Anyway, tabbouleh is great partly because it’s made with raw salad vegetables and fresh herbs – so it has a light, fresh salady feel, but the bulgar wheat adds carbs that make it feel a bit more substantial, without being too heavy. I like to eat it freshly made, when the wheat is still slightly warm (there’s no cooking involved, just rehydrating the wheat with boiling water), and I also like it eaten chilled, a few days later straight from the fridge once the flavours have had chance to develop.

My Mum introduced me to tabbouleh sometime in the 1990’s when everyone else thought it looked like cat sick. I don’t know where she got the recipe from but she used to take it as her contribution to fuddles (Those not originally from the East Midlands may refer to definition 3 here: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/fuddle).

Usually it would be gobbled up eagerly by people who said “Is this cous cous?”

She also often made a massive bowl of the stuff to keep covered in cling film in the fridge. As a teenager I used to sneak a spoonful from the bowl every time I passed through the kitchen, either on its own or with pitta bread. Sometimes I’d mix it with Tabasco and enjoy the extra kick. For some reason, I found this even more appealing than the Goody Box full of chocolates and biscuits.

 

Tabbouleh has an addictive taste. It’s something to do with the sharpness of the lemon and tomatoes, the heat of the spring onion or garlic, then the coolness of the mint all mixed in with the chunky firm texture of the bulgar wheat – it’s a really big, satisfying flavour, which makes it one of the most rewarding dishes to make and then eat immediately.

This is the tabbouleh I made this evening. I can’t claim it’s traditional in any sense, but the key elements – mint, lemon, bulgar wheat and salad veg are all there.

Za’atar, if you haven’t come across that, is a Middle Eastern condiment that I’ve started buying in the past few years – it’s tasty with bread and oil. I just chucked some into this because I thought it’d go quite nicely. I was right.

Buy the herbs growing in pots, or use ones already in your garden/windowsill obviously. Then they’ll serve you well for many dishes to come. Also, a mint plant makes your house smell nicer than any air freshener ever will.

 

Ingredients (quantities according to taste)

Bulgar wheat

A kettle full of boiled water

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

Fresh coriander

Spring onions

Cucumber

Fresh tomatoes (try and use ones that are still quite firm if possible, rather than squishy)

Lemon juice or a fresh lemon

Za’atar (if you have it)

A tin of chickpeas

Fresh mint

 

Pour the bulgar wheat into a big bowl. Bear in mind it trebles in size once hydrated. Drizzle on a little olive oil, plus a shake of salt and pepper and a spoonful of za’atar. Pour the boiled water onto the bulgar wheat so the water sits just above the wheat. Give it a little stir to mix everything up.

Now chop up all your veg and herbs, squeeze your lemon and drain your chickpeas.

Check the bulgar wheat. It should absorb all the water and be soft but still a little firm and not sloppy. Add a touch more water if it seems to have soaked it all up but still be a bit hard.

Add the lemon juice and the chickpeas and stir in.

Add all the other ingredients, a handful at a time, mixing them in very gently so as not to break anything up too much.

Taste to check the seasoning. Add more of anything you especially like. Then serve with toasted pitta bread (and – if you’re really hungry – falafel *drool*).

 

 

 

 

Skinny Dipping (sorry, possibly not as exciting as it sounds…)

June 24, 2012

Dips are fun. Dipping things in other things is fun.

When you’re a kid and constantly being berated about your table manners, food that you’re allowed to eat with your fingers, and that is unavoidably a bit messy and uncouth is a big treat. I remember when I was little liking “dippy eggs” with soldiers but not other kinds of eggs – I put this partly down to the joy of eating something called a “soldier”, and partly down to the fact that you couldn’t eat it properly with a knife and fork – you had to pick up the toast with your fingers and dip them in, and get mess everywhere. I also used to really like those little plastic pots you could get with one side with chocolate spread type stuff and the other with biscuit fingers that you dipped in the chocolate spread. This was much more fun than just plain chocolate fingers. I suppose the grown up equivalent of this is the chocolate fountain. (Does anyone remember what those pots were called by the way? Or know if you can still get them? I always found them a bit stingy on the chocolate spread, but the concept is cool).

Chips and dips are also great. They have an amazing ability to turn watching a film at home by yourself into the best kind of Me Party. (What? you didn’t see the new Muppets movie?!!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpE8CdH6fdE ).

It’s a good excuse to eat a lot of crisps, which is something I like to do , although I also enjoy dipping sticks of crunchy vegetables (one of the things that got me through Lent!) . I’m told it can also be a good way to get normally veg-phobic children and adults to eat things like crunchy carrot sticks, cucumber, celery and peppers by making them seem like lots more fun .

I like to have a few different dips at once – the option of dipping carrot and pepper sticks into several different coloured bowls is especially appealing. Also, they look great on a buffet table. Especially if the rest of it suffers from Beige Syndrome. It can’t just be me who looks forward to the buffet at boring meetings all morning and then feels a bit crestfallen when it arrives all the same colour – sausage rolls, samosas, cheap crisps, white bread cheese sandwiches. Beige food is really depressing.

Dips can be bought ready-made of course, and I often do, especially when they’re on yellow stickers in Spar or wherever. Most of the ready made ones are tasty enough, but there is a huge mark-up price wise (it costs about 10p to make the same amount of houmous they sell for a quid in Sainsbury’s for example).

If you make your own you also get to decide what goes in them – useful if you like your salsa mild, or your houmous extra garlicky, or if you just want to experiment with ingredients. Dips are a good way to try out substitutions (using a bean other than chickpeas for houmous for example), or just add extras – like tossing in a new herb. It’s unlikely to go wrong, and even if it does, you haven’t wasted that much time on the experiment.

Having said that, alterations to shop-bought dips are possible too: you can stir a bit of pesto into houmous, or add more chilli to a dull guacamole.

So here are some dip recipes – I do have quite a few (a sort of bastardised baba ghanoush and  a salsa for example), but these are favourites. They’re all easy and quick. If you have a free-standing blender it makes things easier, especially if you want to make a lot – although I’m still drawn to using the handheld blender just for ease of washing up. If you put the ingredients in a high, straight sided bowl it works fine.

Some dips will freeze well – houmous sometimes even improves after being frozen and defrosted. Guacamole, on the other hand, is best made in small amounts and eaten fresh as possible before it turns an unappetising brown colour.

Houmous

Ingredients (divide or multiply amounts depending on how much you want – this will almost fill a normal sized pasta bowl):

A tin of chick peas

Two big spoonfuls of tahini paste

Two to three big spoonfuls of nice olive oil

Garlic to taste (I usually use two big fat cloves, or three smaller cloves)

Plenty of salt and black pepper

Smoked paprika (kind of optional, but I almost always use it)

–          Drain about half the water off the chickpeas, but leave the rest as it will help with blending. Pour the tin into your blender or bowl and add the crushed or finely chopped garlic and the tahini. Blend until you’ve got a bit of a paste.

–          Add your oil, a small amount at a time, and blend it in between each addition until you have the kind of consistency you like (I think fairly thick is good for dipping)

–          Once you’re happy, stir in the salt and pepper, and your paprika to taste.

–          If you want to add other things then do, some ideas I’ve successfully tried are: tomato puree, chopped fresh chives, dried oregano, parsley, honey or brown sugar, chopped spring onions, nutritional yeast, pesto, truffle oil or other flavoured oils, barbecue sauce, leftover fajita spices, fiery chilli sauce, and peanut butter. I’ve also done a cooked version where I sautéed the garlic and heated all the other ingredients in the pan before mixing, to serve warm. Do tell me if you have any other good ideas!

–          Obviously the same principles behind making houmous can be applied when replacing the chickpeas in the recipe with any other kind of canned bean (pinto beans, black beans, cooked lentils – whatever – some work better than others, but I think that’s a matter of taste more than anything. Even if it’s not great as a dip, most are good spread on toast or in a sandwich). The next recipe is sort of doing that, but it’s tasty enough to warrant a recipe in its own right ….

Cannelini  bean and almond dip (trust me, this is lovely!)

  Ingredients:

A tin of cannelini beans

A few spoons of tahini (or indeed, leftover houmous)

Olive oil as above

Garlic (you’ll probably find you want less for this, I think one clove is enough)

About three tablespoons of ground almonds

Lots and lots of fresh chopped rosemary

A teaspoon of honey or a couple of pinches of sugar

Salt and pepper

–          Half drain the beans as above, and add your garlic and tahini, and blend well, until it’s quite a smooth paste. Then add your ground almonds and the honey/sugar and blend again to a slightly thicker smooth paste.

–          Stir in oil. I think this dip is best quite runny, but it’s up to you. Blend again until you’re happy, then mix in lots of rosemary and salt and pepper.

–          This is great as it is, but if you have the time and inclination, try toasting the almonds and garlic first. It’ll be even nicer. This is best served with warm pitta bread.

 

 

Austin’s Guacamole

This is my boyfriend’s most famous recipe. People are disappointed if he turns up at a party without a bowl of it. The ingredients seem pretty changeable but basically:

2-4 Ripe, soft avocadoes

Salad cream

Lots of lemon juice (about 2 tbsp minimum)

Chilli flakes and/ or Tabasco sauce

6-8 finely finely chopped cherry tomatoes or peppers

Salt and pepper

Pinch of mixed herbs, oregano or anything dry and green you have in the house

Couple of finely chopped spring onions, peppers – whatever salady veg you have available.

–          Put the lemon juice in the bowl first. This is important to help keep the colour. And use quite a lot – 2 tbsp is minimum.

–          Squeeze the avocadoes out of their skins, chop them up and quickly drop them into the lemon juice before they have a chance to even consider going brown. Mash them up with the back of a fork or spoon.

–          Add your other ingredients and mix them in well. Austin uses around 2 tbsp of salad cream, which gives a nice consistency, but also makes for quite a sweet flavour, you may prefer to use less. Obviously the level of heat from the chilli or Tabasco is up to you as well. Make sure you mix it in well so that you don’t have small areas of the bowl with intense heat and others with none. Best served with tortilla chips, but also nice with veggy sticks.

Not The Moral High-ground

May 11, 2012

I’ve never been one for preaching about vegetarianism.

No- wait! Come back. I promise this is not one of those pieces where someone says they’re not going to preach about something before going on to do just that. Sure I’m happy when a friend says they’re going veggy, but what other people choose to put in their mouths is none of my business. The point of this blog is to share ideas and experiences, not to tell people what to do.

Truth is, the number one reason I’m vegetarian is because (gasp!) I just don’t really like meat that much. Yes, I do think factory farming is appalling, and I don’t think producing large amounts of meat is particularly efficient or good for the environment. But frankly you can read the arguments for and against and get into a row in the comments threads of plenty of other pages on the web should you be interested.

It’s easy for me. I can pretend I’m being ethical, when really I’m just doing what comes naturally. Though I have been trying not to eat dairy produce lately (a mixture of health reasons and discomfort with the dairy industry), and I honestly don’t think I could ever bring myself to buy eggs that weren’t free range.

I’ve never really taken the “hypocrite” argument seriously – you know the one where people say you’re a hypocrite because you’re vegetarian but wear leather shoes? Or anti-fur but eat meat? It seems a bit like saying someone is a hypocrite for giving £100 to charity because they didn’t give £1000.

Ethics are not all or nothing.  You do what you can to not be a self-centred dick, in a way that fits in with your life and doesn’t make you miserable. If you live in a tiny house with no car, having cold showers and eating only organic vegetables you’ve grown yourself then that’s awesome. But not everyone can live like that. Not everyone wants to. I always think that being puritanical just puts people off trying to be good altogether. (A bit like the person who goes on a crash diet and bans all their favourite foods – sooner or later, they’re going to have a binge and be right back where they started).

I get that some people have dietary needs that would make it tough to give up meat. I get that some people just love meat so much that life without it is unthinkable (I’m used to omnivores commenting on some of my stews “this would be amazing if you just added a bit of chopped bacon to it”!). I’m cool with that. I don’t understand what’s so great about bacon – but I accept that I am in a minority. You guys just can’t get enough of the salted pig. I don’t want to take that joy away from you.

So please do keep your bacon. But maybe enjoy a few vegetarian meals a week as well. Apart from environmental concerns I reckon there are good reasons for a kitchen anarchist to explore the world of meat free meals. Some examples are:

Cost
I first noticed this when I was a student. I went on trips to the shops with heavy meat consumers and they often seemed to spend twice as much as I did. Even cheap meat, seems to cost more than non-meat protein. Compare the cost of a bag of lentils to a bag of mince for example. If you eat pulses or bean based meals for a few days then you can afford a really good, top quality cut of ethically farmed meat on a Sunday, instead of just eating the dodgy factory pap on a daily basis. I don’t know how omnivores feel about this – feel free to shoot me down – but, I know I’d rather have good cake once a week than crap cake every day.
Ease of cooking
This is probably just because I’m not used to it, but cooking meat looks awful complicated. All that checking it’s not going to give you food poisoning. By comparison, most veg is difficult to get wrong (with the possible exception of wild mushrooms, which I am still not brave enough to go near). You can just put a bit of oil in a pan, chop them up and chuck em in, and nine times out of ten it turns out fine, and tasty, and you don’t die horribly covered in your own faeces.

Factory Farming

Giving unnecessary amounts of money to an industry that puts making obscene amounts of profit above both animal and human welfare is definitely not the kitchen anarchist way. No it’s not going to go away any time soon, but it’d be nice to think that people cared enough to avoid supporting it as much as possible. That’s all.

Variety
It seems insane to suggest that cutting something out of your diet could lead to more varied eating habits, but somehow this is true. I once dated a trained chef who had never eaten chickpeas, had no idea how to prepare cous cous and didn’t realise you didn’t need to soak red lentils. Just wasn’t part of his meat-centric training.

Trying some new vegetarian recipes can lead to discovering a whole new load of foods that can make up the protein part of a meal, and make you look at vegetables a different way – as the main event, rather than a simple side dish., I’ve found the same thing since I’ve been reducing my dairy consumption – where previously I might use cheese to complete a meal, I’ve been looking at other ways of creating an intense and tangy  flavour to finish things off and have discovered lots of new ideas (one of which you can see below).

My usual method of encouraging people to eat less meat is to try and present them with good meat-free food. It is challenge to me trying to feed omnivores something veggy that they will eat as happily as a meat based dish. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

For the most part, I’ve found that omnivores like their food to come in lumps. Big solid lumps. Maybe because meat comes like that. I’ve definitely had more success with lump food (nut roast, lasagne, veggy burgers) than with mess on a plate food (stews, stir fries). So the recipe here is for a nice big solid lasagne that always goes down well. It creates a lot of washing up – but it’ll feed a lot of people because it’s so filling, and it’s worth it if you want to impress someone.

The recipe contains nutritional yeast (or “nooch” as they call it in vegan hipster circles). This is  great if you’re dairy free and miss cheese – it has a nuttty, cheesy intense flavour. You can get it in big pots from health food shops or online. Obviously you could just replace it in the recipe with grated cheese if you want (you can even add some bacon if you must), but the idea  of a vegan lasagne is so out-there I think it’s worth trying just for the surprised-how-good-it-is factor.

Everyone’s Favourite Lentil Lasagne

 

Ingredients:

 

A box of ready to use  lasagne sheets (plain, verdi or wholewheat)

For the filling:
Cooking oil
Onions
Garlic
Assorted other veg (sweet red peppers, courgettes and thin cut aubergines are personal favourites)
Pine nuts (optional)
honey (optional)
Lots of split red lentils
A tin of chopped tomatoes or a jar of tomato based pasta sauce (the sauce will be more expensive, but there’s a sundried tomato and olive one I sometimes use that works really well)
A stock cube (optional)
Dried oregano, basil or mixed herbs.
Salt and pepper

For the white sauce:
Butter, or Vitalite
Milk (dairy or soy)
Pesto, houmous or toffuti creamed tofu (or ideally a mixture of all three)
Cornflour (possibly)
Nutritional yeast

Salt & pepper

– This step is optional: chop your veg, pine nuts and garlic quite small, stick them on a baking tray, drizzle with oil, salt and honey and bake in the oven on about gas mark 5 for 20-30 minutes. Take out and set to one side.
– pour your oil in a big pan (like a wok) then fry the onions, and if you skipped the first step, your veg, garlic and pine nuts until they start to brown.
– Add a couple of cupful of lentils to the pan and stir well so they’re mixed in with the oil and onions.
– Add the tin of tomatoes or the sauce. Then refill the empty tin/jar with water and pour that in as well. Bring to the boil briefly, then let to simmer for ten/fifteen minutes until the lentils are soft. At which point add the roasted veg (if using) and the other filling ingredients and stir well.
– Whilst the filling is simmering away, start the white sauce. This is pretty easy compared to normal white sauce. Add a big blob of Vitalite to a smallish saucepan, start to melt it over a low-medium heat, then add blobs of pesto, tofutti and/or houmous and melt them. You’ll need to stir fairly continuously with a wooden spoon so you get a nice creamy paste. As you do this, gradually add splashes of milk and keep stirring it in so you start to get a nice, thick liquid sauce (it’s up to you how thick you make it – I like to go quite thick and gloopy, but runny enough to pour). Add more milk to thin it out. You can add more paste, or some corn flour if you need to go thicker.
– Take the sauce off the heat then stir in salt, pepper,  about two tablespoon of nutritional yeast, and if you like, some herbs (Last time I did this I used some fresh chives I’ve been growing on a windowsill)
– Now everything’s ready, you can assemble the lasagne in a nice deep baking dish/tray. I start with a thick layer of lentil filling, then lay sheets of pasta over that, and pour a layer of sauce over that. Then repeat. Usually i can only fit two layers in my baking tray, but you could go for more. The more layers you have, the longer it’ll take to cook through though.
– Once I’ve done my top layer of white sauce, I like to sprinkle it with something – it looks nicer to add a bit of colour than a big expanse of white. I’ve used various things in the past: bread crumbs; uncooked cous cous (gives a nice crusty finish – try it); sesame seeds (tasty); smoked paprika; or just a sprinkle of mixed herbs and black pepper. My boyfriend also likes to spray the edges of teh lasagne with oil to stop the pasta going crispy and crunchy. Personally I think the crispy pasta edges are the best bit, but I’m just putting it out there as an idea.
– Stick it in the oven at Gas mark 5, for about 30 minutes. If I remember I turn the tray around in the oven half way to help it cook evenly.  It’s ready when the pasta is soft – you can tell by poking it a bit with a spoon, or carefully tearing a bit off to try.
– Warning: this is tasty but really, really  filling. You only need a small slice per person, and it doesn’t need any accompaniments. If you want to serve something with it, I suggest a simple salad. Definitely not chips unless you don’t plan on moving for the next few hours.

The Food Has Been Drinking.

April 27, 2012

“If when you say whiskey you mean the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman’s step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life’s great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.” – Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat, Jr

Over the past few years I’ve occasionally toyed with the idea of giving up alcohol completely – I’ve gone through periods of several months without touching a drop and barely even noticed. There are various reasons for this – the main one being that I suffer from truly horrific hangovers – even a couple of glasses of wine leaves me suffering for most of the next day, and  doing something as unreasonable as attending a party can leave me virtually useless for the best part of a week. These symptoms seem to just get worse as I get older – by the time I’m fifty I swear that glass of champagne on New Year’s Eve will take out the whole of 2032. (Perhaps this is why people have to retire? I never considered this before…).

Also I get pissed really easily. And then I turn into an idiot. And this is never good. None of this knowledge prevents me from occasionally drinking far more than I should and spending the next day/week/month/lifetime regretting it. At least now I’m older that happens a few times a year, as opposed to my student days, when it happened a few times a week.

Also, I have a slight concern sometimes that the relentless pursuit of getting legless in society in general, is, y’know – probably not that great. Imagine all the amazing things we could do or think if we weren’t busy feeling like a bear shat in our heads.  I also wonder if the Straight-edgers aren’t on to something, and being teetotal might be one of the most anti establishment things you can do these days – having a clear head at all times sounds kind of revolutionary to me. I definetly think would encounter more bewilderment from people if I suddenly said “I don’t drink” than I do from not eating meat.

I do like drinking under certain circumstances. I love a single malt whisky now and then. I like good beer. I really like being in wooden beamed pubs that serve a selection of real ales with names like “Fursty Ferret” and “Pigswill” (which, I think, could double up as names of villages in East Anglia). I like to drink in places that would never so much as let a bottle of Smirnoff Ice darken their doors, and ideally have little brushes by said doors so you can clean the cow poo off your wellies as you enter. Whilst women the world over worry about turning into their mothers, here I am, slowly but surely becoming my grandfather.

I like whisky because it’s not so much a flavour as a sensation. I always think it’s a bit like slow burning wasabi or horseradish. It sends a warm tingle into your throat and nostrils and up through your head and then you feel it sitting and glowing in your stomach. You don’t need to get pissed on whisky to feel great, because just a few sips is enough to give you that glowing from the inside feeling.

Beer is another thing. I realised when I started drinking it that the old guys were right when they talked about character. Lager, in particular, just tastes like mildly flavoured fizzy water designed mainly to get people rat-arsed (Love the Hobgoblin slogan “What’s the matter lager boy. Afraid you might taste something?). Beer has all kinds of flavours, and what I’d almost call textures going on. Once you notice this it makes it all seem a lot more like trying out different foods and I figured that maybe drinking and I could get on just fine. As it happens, real ale, from a barrel seems to give me fewer hangover issues than anything else – though I still have to pretty much stick at two pints if I hope to achieve anything the next day. And I still occasionally end up drinking too much rubbish beer. It’s sort of difficult to avoid on an evening out, especially when the selection of soft drinks is even worse (I’m not entirely convinced that a glass of coke is any better for my head than the equivalent amount of Brains Bitter – it certainly loses in the taste stakes).

I still never really drink at home. I never have. I have a bottle of rum that I bought two years ago to use in baking (it’s still half full) and occasionally someone might get me some booze as a present – but I don’t have drink at home as a habit. It’s not something I pick up with my weekly grocery shop, or have in “just in case”. This has always been so actually, even when I was younger, and drank more often; I never really stockpiled booze at home.

So I always found it a bit weird when cookery books suggested splashing a glass of white wine into a risotto. Who’s going to spend a fiver on a bottle of wine just for the sake of flavouring dinner? People who are sophisticated enough to have dinner parties tell me this is not a problem: they always have wine in “the rack” or “the cellar” (I cannot imagine ever having enough wine to warrant a rack. Or having anywhere to put such a rack for that matter. Perhaps if I could also store CDs on it?)  If there isn’t already a bottle open in the fridge then they open one, slosh a bit in the food, and trust that the rest will be drunk by guests before it goes bad. This is very much not my life.

As a result, other than using the rum to flavour cakes (I’m a big fan of rum truffles, and if it works in them it works in everything else), I never really got into the whole cooking with booze thing. Spending money when you don’t need to is totally against the whole kitchen anarchist ethic. When a recipe asks me to add wine, I usually just use a bit of extra stock or water and everything is fine (I used out-of-date pomegranate juice I got on sale in a stew once, it was actually quite nice.)

I still don’t cook with wine (except maybe just after Christmas), but I did recently get curious about the concept of cooking with beer. Apart from anything else, beer is cheaper, and you can buy it in much smaller servings, so it’s less likely to go to waste. I noticed a while ago that Guinness Cake is getting very popular (my Mum made a lovely one a while back) – Google will furnish you with many excellent recipes if you’re curious about that I’m sure. But what really persuaded me to give it a go was seeing an episode of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s programme and seeing him make a kind of simple curry out of corner shop ingredients and then topping up the liquid content by just pouring a bottle of beer in. I have tried really hard to find a video clip online of this moment so I can give him full credit but I can’t locate it anywhere. If anyone else can help out, great – otherwise I’m just going to have to assume it was a dream.

Anyway, I loved the look of the curry – the beer seemed to instantly give it a nice dark, rich colour and thick gloopy texture that you don’t usually get from just stock or water unless you reduce for a long time. It looked really appetising so Id decided I’d give cooking with beer a go.

There’s a place on Whitchurch Road in Cardiff called “The Discount Supermarket” that looks from the outside like a standard convenience store, but is actually a brilliant source of a) Indian style cooking ingredients and b) unusual beers. I bought a bottle of Moroccan style spiced ale from there, which I thought would give a stew some interesting flavours. Obviously I couldn’t remember what HFW did to make his curry, and I wanted more of a rich stew really – so I made up my own recipe using the same basic principles and whatever in my fridge needed using up. I was impressed with the end result. Using the beer just adds that little extra oomph to an otherwise nice but bog-standard stew and transforms it into something that seems to have a more rounded taste. It also thickens a bit more so becomes more filling and comforting. Since then I’ve also made a lovely vegetarian sausage and bean casserole with cider (an idea I got from my boyfriend’s Mum), which was gorgeous, and infinite variations on the beer based stew. I’m going to give the stew recipe here, as it’s the most adaptable – you can pretty much put anything you want in it; it’s the basic principle that’s important here. I still like to use a rich, dark and spicy beer as I think it needs that kick, but you can use anything you fancy really – I’m guessing a can of Carlsberg is probably not going to be too amazing though.

Beer Stew

Ingredients:

Cooking oil

Onion (chopped)

Other chopped vegetables: root vegetables are best: potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips – I have used pumpkin with good results.

Tin or two of chickpeas (if you’re using cider then try haricots or butter beans)

Spices and herbs of your choice (even a sauce like HP or tomato ketchup works)

A bottle of beer or cider

A bit of brown sugar

You probably don’t actually need instructions for this but just in case:

–          Get the biggest pan you can find, pour in some oil and fry the onions.

–          After a few minutes add a spoonful of brown sugar, stir around a bit and continue to fry the onions until they’re really brown – like almost burned brown.

–          Add your other vegetables, plus your spices and herbs, stir and keep on cooking for a few more minutes.

–          Pour in your chickpeas, complete with liquid, and stir in.

–          Now add the beer. Stir well, and then bring the whole thing briefly to the boil before you turn the heat down and stick a lid on. Let it simmer away for about half an hour to forty minute, giving it a bit of a stir now and then.

–          Serve on its own, with cous cous, rice, or bread.

Incidentally, for anyone who likes looking at beers with silly names, you may find this worth a look: http://preview.tinyurl.com/6c89ctx

The Fine Art of Deprivation

April 17, 2012

So as I mentioned in the last update – I gave up sugar for Lent. Although what I actually did was give up a whole list of things: chocolate, sweets, crisps, chips, cake, biscuits and booze.
I’m not religious; I’m not trying to lose weight (I was the skinny nerdy girl at school and not much has changed since – though I’m told now I’m in my 30’s my metabolism will slow right down and within the next few years I’ll be huge unless I eat like a sparrow and train like Rocky), and I don’t think I’m a masochist, despite what some people say about my quite genuine love of running. I think mostly I just wanted to see if I could do it.

It sounds a bit weird, because I’ve spoken before about how much I dislike the culture that encourages us to deprive and punish ourselves by avoiding the food we really want to eat, and encourages us to see food as an enemy. But this is about something else really:  it’s more about the way that in the modern western world – even when we’re told we’re in the midst of a huge economic crisis – there’s still food everywhere, always, cheap, and readily available.

 

Not only will most of us never be in danger of starvation, but it’s unlikely we’ll ever face the horror of not being able to get our favourite flavour of crisps. Sugary and salty snacks -the supposed “treat foods” are the most available of all: sitting on the counter when you buy a newspaper; on the coffee table when you go round to your friends house to watch Game of Thrones; passed around the office because every single day seems to be somebody’s birthday. If you’re never more than ten feet from your nearest rat, chances are you’re never more than three feet from your nearest Morrisons chocolate crunch bite.
It’s this slightly insane abundance that makes me get into a habit sometimes, of eating treat foods just because they’re being offered to me, rather than because I actually want or especially enjoy them. Don’t get me wrong, there are loads of treats I absolutely adore – chocolate brownies,  Millionaire’s shortbread, Turkish delight,  really crispy deep fried chips with curry sauce  – I love them all and I don’t feel guilty about eating them in large amounts.
But there’s some things I’m actually not that bothered about, that for some reason, I end up eating anyway. If someone brings a bag of Greggs iced buns into the office, you can guarantee I’ll have several and I don’t even like iced buns that much.  They’re there, they’re sweet, and eating iced buns is a momentary distraction from whatever is boring or stressing me out at that moment. Same with boxes of Quality Street, bowls of leftover buffet crisps, packets of hobnobs – none of them really do anything special for me, and I never buy them for myself, but for some reason, I eat them anyway.

After all, I can eat them. It doesn’t take me any effort, it doesn’t usually cost me anything, and (thanks masochistic running sessions) it usually doesn’t even do much damage to my waistline. This is almost embarrasingly worthy , but thinking about that disgusts me a bit when a fair percentage of the world really struggles to get enough to eat.

Is unthinkingly eating food I neither need nor value really that much better than wasting food by throwing it away? I honestly feel I ought to appreciate my food a bit more than that.

There’s also the fact that a lot of those mindless treat foods contain all kinds of additives and whatnots that I can probably do without. By Easter my skin was incredibly clear and I seemed to have a bucket load of extra energy – so whether it wasabandoning sugar or abandoning additives, my body is thanking me for something.

Unthinking sugar grabbing seems to be largely an office based problem – others with desk jobs tell me they do the same thing. It’s just one more for the list of reasons that modern life is bad for us all. (Although one could reasonably argue that minimal infant mortality, votes for women and significant reduction in cases of bubonic plague are a fair enough trade off for having to spend time in meetings  eating tasteless doughnuts with people who talk about “actioning” things, instead of just doing them.)
I don’t think it was a bad idea to have some kind of enforced abstinence to stop me snacking on things I don’t actually enjoy. I figure after that maybe I’ll appreciate the treats that I do like a lot more, and try and have things I really enjoy occasionally, rather than things I don’t really enjoy all of the time. This isn’t deprivation really – seeing as the only things I’m stopping myself from eating is the stuff I don’t really want anyway.
With that in mind, here’s the recipe for the chocolate brownies that I made myself as a real treat once my Lenten fast came to an end. They are designed purely with my specific tastes in mind, so they’re rich and dark, they’re nutty, chocolatey, and very  gooey. They are everything I want from a treat. Frankly you can stick your iced buns cos these are where it’s at.

It’s a surprisingly adaptable recipe.  The gluten free flour isn’t because I’m intolerant – it’s because I once bought some Dove’s Farm gluten free flour just for a change and discovered it gave a really nice texture to things like brownies and tray bakes. If you use normal plain flour you won’t need the xanthan gum (it’s there because gluten free products can otherwise be a little too crumbly). They are dairy free, but not vegan – I have made vegan brownies in the past by using apple sauce (yes the stuff you put on pork) instead of eggs – they’re nice but it’s a very different flavour – fruity and quite light, rather than rich, thick and dark – for what it’s worth you can eat more of them without getting stomach ache. I used Vitalite for the fat in these, because it’s cheap, but if you can afford it, use the same amount of coconut oil and they’ll be even better. I like nuts, so I use lots of them – you can use any kind, and you can replace some of them with dried cherries, mixed peel, bits of chopped up banana – even something like Smarties could work.

Easter Brownies

 

Ingredients:

175g of your favourite chocolate, broken into pieces

115g of Vitalite (or coconut oil, or butter)

100g gluten free flour (I use this one: http://tinyurl.com/cczw98v)

30g coconut flour or ground almonds

4 tablespoons-ish cocoa powder (in my case these tend to be rather generous tablespoons!)

A teaspoon of xanthan gum

A teaspoon of baking powder

A pinch of salt

Several handfuls of mixed chopped nuts

4 eggs

300g sugar

A shot of rum (you can replace this with a teaspoon or two of vanilla extract if you want)

A tablespoon of walnut oil

You can add some chocolate chips/buttons if you like too. Put them in with nuts.

What to do:

–          First line a baking tray with greaseproof paper – it makes getting them out of the tray later a lot simpler. I speak from experience! I use a fairly deep 9 inch tin for these.

–          Put the Vitalite in a microwavable container (ideally a jug – otherwise you’ll make a mess) with the chocolate. Then melt it in the microwave. In my 750w microwave, this means a 40 second blast on high, then a stir, then another 30 seconds. Stir it all together so you have a smooth chocolatey liquid. Put it to one side for a minute.

–          Put the flour, coconut flour or almonds, cocoa powder, xanthan gum, baking powder, nuts, chocolate chips and salt in a nice big bowl and mix them all together.

–          Break the eggs into a different container, and then add the sugar and rum to them. Stir it a bit, then pour the chocolate liquid into it and mix it all together before adding it to the dry ingredients.

–          Now mix it all together with a wooden spoon and pour it into the tin. Definitely lick the bowl out, the mixture is gorgeous.

–          You want to bake it for about half an hour on gas mark 4 (180ºC) – the usual skewer cake test doesn’t apply here. You take it out when the surface feels bouncy under your fingers but a skewer still comes out with some sticky crumbs on it (not coated in liquid, but not clean either – this is what makes them gooey!)

–          Leave the tray to cool down before you slice them up into squares. I sometimes get over-excited and try and slice them still warm. They usually fall apart when I do this, and I’m forced to eat piles of delicious, yet aesthetically unappealing crumbs.

tick tock tick tock tick tock

March 26, 2012

Those of you still following the blog may have noticed me going AWOL for the past few months. I’m not sure quite what happened – it seems I was writing all about cherry and coconut cake one day and then suddenly I notice that three months have gone by.
Last week I finally got the kick up the arse I needed in the form of the comment from The Bystander. Bystander – you did make me feel an ickle bit guilty, but also kind of proud – it’s pretty cool to know that someone enjoys reading my witterings enough to actually miss them when they’re gone. Without wishing to be too self-depreciating, I honestly don’t get praised for many things in my fairly average everyday life, so it means a lot to know somebody actually appreciates something you do. It’s also inspired me – I’m going to get back to it. If people enjoy the blog, it’s worth doing, and it’s worth doing regularly. I’m going to try and update at least once a month from now on, no matter what. You have permission to jeer and throw pies at me if I fail.

So where have I been? Well, probably everyone knows how life just takes over sometimes. You’re in the office all day every day – every evening somehow seems to be filled with stuff to do, every weekend has a plan and all that non-urgent stuff on your “to do” list just seems to get pushed further and further down towards the section at the bottom marked “will possibly never do” way below “hoover the stairs” and “sort out my bank statements” – which is a shame and I try to avoid getting like that too often.

 

A wise person once wrote “When you’re on your death bed are you more likely to say ‘I wish I’d written the Great British Novel’ or ‘I wish I had cleaner stairs'” (I may be paraphrasing here. Or completely making stuff up because I don’t remember where I originally read this quote and I may have just dreamed it)

In amongst other things I’ve been working full time since Christmas, which is pretty unusual for me as I tend to work on short term temp contracts with nice, if slightly poverty stricken non-working periods in between – this is usually when I start experimenting with cooking new dishes and writing about the more successful ones. I’ve also just graded for my 2nd blue belt in kung fu; I’m paying tribute to my adopted homeland by attempting to learn Welsh, and doing as much work as I can on what I hope might one day become my first proper book.

So with all this going on, I find the blog falls by the wayside – and to be honest, cooking occasionally falls by the way side too. Occasionally I bake biscuits or bread.  I actually find baking quite meditative, and so if I start to feel stressed out, rather than get into lotus position and consider one hand clapping, I tend to head for the kitchen and whip up an old favourite biscuit recipe (though I have cut out sugar for Lent, so for the past few weeks, not so much) – usually some adaptation of this Nigella one does the trick:  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/nigella-lawson/cut-out-cookies-recipe/index.html

It’s a recipe I pretty much know by heart now so it’s relaxing to make. Being a big chocolate fan I often add cocoa powder, but you can also replace some of the flour with almonds, or coconut flour for more grown up biccies.

I’ve already touched on the meditative possibilities of bread making in the past, so rather than re-iterate my spiritual relationship with flour; I thought instead I’d go more practical. When time is short, like it has been for most of 2012 so far – what do you eat?

It’s totally against my principles to yield to the lure of the ready meal and let someone else dictate the ingredients in my lasagne.  Although I’m not sure I’d call it a lure as such – after all, does anyone actually like those things?

 

The main thing that bothers me about ready meals is that they’re so tiny! I admit I’m a bit of a greedy pig sometimes, but I just can’t imagine ever being full on one of those titchy £2 portions. In my student days I would occasionally by packets of 9p instant noodles from Lidl to have as cheap lunch – I’d add a handful of frozen peas and maybe some tinned kidney beans to jazz them up and kid myself that it was nutritious, but it still wasn’t unusual for me to eat three packets in one sitting. Even if you have a normal sized appetite, ready meal portions do seem a little stingy. Also, I find the level of salt in them generally makes them pretty unpalatable (and that’s before you even think about what it might be doing to your arteries – eek!)

 

 I do occasionally have a takeaway – Great China takeout on Whitchurch Road, in Cardiff do a cracking bean curd in black bean sauce (give it a go, if bean curd/tofu isn’t your thing, that dish could well be the one that changes your mind).  But I’m not wealthy – I can stretch to takeout maybe a few times a year before it starts to badly show on my overdraft. Plus I actually like cooking. I like eating food I make myself. That’s why I blog about it. I don’t want to give that up anymore than I want to stop writing my novel, or quit kung fu. (On the other hand, I’m not against the idea of giving up work, but again, not sure how my bank account would deal with that!)

So after that long ramble of excuses, let me share some of the things I eat when I’m time pressed. Please feel free to return the favour, cos this is one of the things I always need new ideas about!

Leftovers

 I kind of lied when I said I don’t eat ready meals. I make my own ready meals on a regular basis. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. During busy times of my life, I tend to cook maybe twice a week – usually once on a Sunday evening when I have a decent stretch of free time to spend in the kitchen, and on a Wednesday, when I’ll cook something reasonably simple, like a stir-fry, or tomatoes and pasta.

I try and make sure on these occasions that I cook a nice big batch of something that’s mainly liquid based – mess-on-a-plate type dishes like casseroles, stews, curries, Bolognese etc tend to be easier to portion up and freeze ready for reheating as a meal in one, whereas things like omelette and chips not so much. I’ll usually make about three times as much as I need.

My housemates are less takeaway averse than I am, so there are always little plastic takeaway containers around my house that I wash out and spoon in a bit of the sauce/chilli/curry – and a bit of rice as well, then stick it in the fridge or freezer ready for reheating when I need it (If you have a microwave at work, you can take in things like this as a packed lunch – it is a guaranteed way to make your cheese sandwich munching colleagues jealous.)

Soup is even better – I make a massive pan when I make soup, then when it’s cooled down a bit I stretch a polythene sandwich bag over the mouth of a mug and ladle in a portion. Tie the top shut and chuck it in the freezer. This is awesome because it takes up hardly any space – you can do it even if you only have an icebox.

This brings us to….

 

Tomato Soup

I may have mentioned this before as it’s one of my favourite meals I learned from my Mum: It’s possibly the easiest dish in the world. You buy a jar or carton of passata (sieved tomatoes). You add some cayenne pepper and smoked paprika, maybe a little oregano, and you heat it up in a pan – hey presto, soup. You can stir in some tofutti or cream for a milder soup. I also like to add a tin of butter beans or canellini beans and use the hand blender to mix them in, just to make sure there’s some protein in there. This is a double whammy because you can also bag and freeze it as above.

Pasta and Pesto

My go to “can’t be arsed” comfort food – I often resort to this when I’m knackered because it has a nice, stodgy reassuring quality as well as being piss-easy. I try to keep a jar of vegan pesto in the cupboard as much as possible – when I feel the need, I boil up a pan of pasta and do the old Lidl noodle trick: pour some frozen peas into the water after a few minutes, together with a tin of beans (kidney beans, canellini beans, chickpeas, borlotti beans – they all work fine). Then when it’s done I drain off the water and stir in a nice big dollop of pesto. I do try and make enough of this to save some for the next day, but I like it so much I invariably eat it all in one sitting.

 

Baked Potatoes

Now theoretically, baked potatoes are a great quick and simple meal. 10 minutes in the microwave and just add baked beans. But I’m afraid I’m a traditionalist – I like my potatoes slow baked in the oven so the skins are crispy and delicious and the inside is fluffy and hot. Microwave potatoes just aren’t worth the bother in my opinion – the skin is soggy and the inside is hard, and the whole thing just seems a bit plasticky somehow.

So I sometimes compromise – seven minutes in the microwave, then finish them with half an hour or so in the oven – you get the skin to crisp up that way, even if the inside isn’t as soft. Half an hour still seems like a long time – but the thing with baked potatoes, is that they don’t need any input from me when I’m cooking them – in fact, the less often you open the oven door to interfere with them the better. As long as I’m in the house to make sure it doesn’t catch fire, I can stick a spud in the oven, then go and do something else: make a phone call, do some writing, get a workout done – whatever, so they can be a good choice if whatever is making me busy takes place at home.

A word of warning though: usually I am hungry enough and looking forward to potato enough that I remember the spud is in the oven. I have known people forget about them though, only for the next person to use the oven to discover a disturbing charred black lump inside. This is why mobile telephones have alarms.

I could probably eat a good potato plain, with a bit of Vitalite and some salt, but I usually have them with houmous, sweetcorn or baked beans. Left over vegetable chilli is a good one too (or you can make a cheat chilli by just frying up some onions, adding a drained tin of kidney beans and a pinch of chilli powder and cooking for a few minutes).

 

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