Simple Vegetable Stock

Some people seem to find it enjoyable to munch on a stick of celery, or dip it into their houmous. I’m afraid I find it difficult to share their enthusiasm for eating it raw, but when it comes to incorporating that unique flavour with other ingredients it’s a different story.

Celery is one of the ‘holy trinity’ of  vegetables used to make stock. When used together with carrots and onions, celery adds a depth of flavour to soups, casseroles and other dishes that is hard to obtain any other way. Granted, stock cubes or boullion mixes are indispensable when time is tight. But I find  there is nothing to match a bit of culinary love, and a home-made stock rarely disappoints.

The basic idea of making stock is to get as much flavour as possible  from the vegetables  into a quantity of water. This can then be used straightaway as the base for a dish, or set aside for later. Stock freezes well and is therefore a great way of using vegetables that are a little past their best. The recipe below is really a base, but there’s nothing to stop you adding other vegetables as they are available. For example, fennel is a really aromatic vegetable that adds an aniseedy note to the flavour, some people add some tomatoes etc…

I’ve gone for store-cupboard herbs here, but if you have fresh herbs then so much the better. Parsley and basil are favourites, or you may prefer to use a couple of sprigs of thyme. There are no hard-and-fast rules here, it’s all about what you have available and works for you.

Ingredients (for around 1 litre of stock)
2 tsp olive oil
1 large or 1½ small onions (or you can use half onion, half leek)
2 carrots, peeled
2 sticks celery
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried mixed herbs (We use ‘Herbs de Provence’ mix, available in Asda, Sainsburys etc.)
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed (optional)

Method
1. Chop the vegetables as finely as possible. I use a food processor to grate or shred the vegetables as this reduces the cooking time, and ensures you get the most flavour.
2. Spoon the olive oil into a large, heavy based pan and place on a medium heat for a minute or so.
3. Add the vegetables and stir for 2-3 minutes to sweat.
4. Add enough water to cover the vegetables comfortably, at least a litre, and bring to the boil.
5. Turn the heat down and add the garlic and herbs.
6. Cover with a lid slightly ajar then simmer for 20 minutes.
7. Carefully strain the stock through a fine sieve and discard the cooked vegetables and herbs.
8. Your stock is now ready to be used, or alternatively to be cooled completely before placing in the fridge for a couple of days or frozen in batches.
9. To make a more concentrated stock you can reduce the liquid further by boiling until you reach the desired quantity.

Valentine wine

wineIt’s really a little late to be sharing a recipe for Valentine’s Day, but it does give me a chance to suggest a couple of very reasonable wine choices that won’t disappoint if you’re on a tight budget. (Apologies to our International friends – these selections are UK only but if you have any suggestions that you enjoy please comment away!)

I enjoy a glass of wine, or perhaps two. I don’t enjoy being taken for a ride by cheap wines with fancy labels, inflated in price then reduced heavily so you think you’re getting a bargain. This seems to be the way of things now, but there are still some honest ‘bargains’ to be found. Here is a couple, one red and the other white:

Co-operative Fairtrade Torrontes Chardonnay is not your average Chardonnay. If you’re looking for the slightly buttery taste of an oaked vintage look elsewhere as this one is fresh, dry and packed with fruit. It’s one of our favourite whites and costs £4.99. Serve well chilled.

If you don’t have a Co-op nearby, or perhaps prefer something a little crisper then Sainsburys House Muscadet (also £4.99) is a great alternative.

Aldi Toscana Rosso is an Italian red that is robust but not too heavy. It has a touch of oak, but it’s not overpowering and really does compare with wines well above its £3.99 price tag. Best opened at least half an hour before drinking otherwise it can taste a little harsh. Serve at room temperature.

If you prefer something a little lighter then Co-operative Cotes du Rhone is very easy drinking and goes down well at £4.19 a bottle.

Cheers!

Pancake infidelity

Today is Shrove Tuesday – Pancake day as its commonly known. Traditionally the day when the larder was emptied in anticipation of the Lenten fast. To be honest we’ve rarely managed to cook pancakes on the day itself since working in the City renders family mealtimes a rarity during the week. Yet as I approach pancakes this year I do so with a sense of infidelity and betrayal. I have been unfaithful to the humble pancake, seduced and forever corrupted by the spice of southern India.

I never saw it coming. I was on a business trip to Kerala, southern India, and one morning I arrived in the hotel restaurant for what I thought would be a normal breakfast. But, I was unprepared, my guard was down, and before I had time to think I had succumbed to temptation.

dosa chef

My Dosa, and the wonderful chef who cooked it!

My seductress was a Dosa (pronounced doh-sa) – a wafer thin pancake made with rice and lentil flour and filled with massala, a lightly spiced potato mix that complemented the crispy pancake perfectly.

I was smitten. There was no turning  back as my faithfulness to the traditional pancake lay in ruins. I ordered another, knowing that I would never be able to look at a traditional pancake the same way again.

Having confessed to my unfaithfulness I feel obligated to share the source of my pleasure as well as my guilt. You see, it’s no longer necessary to visit India to enjoy Dosa. Just as the dishes of northern India have permeated our food culture, the south is having it’s turn and Dosa restaurants are springing up everywhere.

Saravana Bhavan in Ilford, Essex is such a place. For well under five pounds you too can discover the delight of a Dosa, and many other vegetarian dishes. There are others too. I’ve not sampled the award-winning Prashad restaurant in Bradford but judging by their recipe book (the subject of a future post) it’s going to be outstanding.

Making Dosa at home demands commitment – the rice and lentil batter needs to ferment overnight – so I’m not offering a recipe today. But Dosa provides such a fantastic opportunity to eat out without breaking the bank that I simply had to confess.

 

Jacket Potatoes

Baked Potato

Image courtesy of lovepotatoes.co.uk

On a cold winters day there is something very satisfying about an oven-baked Jacket Potato, even before it’s smothered in butter and cheese, or any other filling that takes your fancy.

Potatoes are really healthy for you. Not only do they contain healthy levels vitamin C, but they are also a great source of iron, calcium, vitamin B6, and potassium. The skin is a great source of fibre and also contains antioxidants which can help to prevent heart disease and cancer.

When it comes to cooking a jacket potato I can’t really tell you better than the Potato Council, so you can find their recipe at lovepotatoes.co.uk.

Once you have cooked your potato you have a canvas for all manner of deliciousness. A helping of baked beans topped with cheese is a personal favourite, but why stop there?

Leek and potato make a great combination. Finely slice a leek then rinse to get rid of the grit that tends to accumulate between the layers then fry gently in a little olive oil or butter until they are soft and translucent , but not browned. Then spoon into your potato with a little creme fraiche.

Sweetcorn also goes really well. You can use tinned or frozen, just cook it as if you were going to serve it on the side. Spoon into the potato with a little mayonnaise.

If you have a favourite filling, why not share it by adding a comment below?

Seasonality

One of the best ways to enjoy fruit and vegetables at their best, and their cheapest is to buy them in season. Check out a new feature on the blog, letting you know what’s in season in February.

Houmous

Saturday lunchtime is a simple affair in our house, it usually consists of fresh bread with soup, or whatever we have around. Houmous is a regular feature, and it’s dead easy to make.  This recipe will give you around double the amount you buy in the supermarket and keeps for a few days in the fridge.

Tahini (sesame seed paste) is available in most supermarkets. Make sure you give it a good stir before using as the oil base tends to separate when stored.

Houmous

Ingredients
1 Tin of Chickpeas (400g)
75ml Tahini
2 Cloves of Garlic, peeled
Juice of half a lemon
1 tsp Ground Cumin
Small pinch of Salt
4 Tbsp water

Method
1. Drain the Chickpeas and rinse thoroughly to remove the salt from the water in the tin
2. Tip them, together with the rest of the ingredients, into a blender or food processor then blend to a paste.
3. You can adjust the flavour after tasting if you want to.
4. Serve as a dip with warm fresh bread or pitta bread

Serving
You can serve with a sprinkling of fresh paprika (as shown in the picture), drizzled with some chilli oil or some fresh coriander leaves.

Roasted vegetable pasta sauce

This is a simple and delicious sauce to serve over pasta and a great way to get veg into children who are less than keen on the idea! You can vary the vegetables you use according to what’s available, and its also a great way of using vegetables that are slightly past their best. This recipe makes a generous portion for 4 or you can make extra and freeze.

Ingredients
1 Aubergine
1 Courgette
1 Carrot, peeled
1 Red pepper
3 Cloves of garlic
2 tbsp Olive oil
2 400g packets of Passata (or you can use cans of chopped tomatoes)
Fresh basil or oregano (optional)

Method
1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (gas mark 4)
2. Slice the aubergine, courgette and carrot into pieces that are around half a centimetre thick. We peel the aubergine and courgette first as one of our children is very sensitive to textures and this makes a smoother sauce.
3. Slice the pepper, discarding the stalk and the seeds. Do not peel the garlic cloves.
4. In a large bowl toss the vegetables and garlic in the olive oil making sure they are covered. The aubergine is greedy, absorbing oil very easily so its best to do it last. (For a healthier version you can use less oil and spray it onto the veg).
5. Spread the veg and garlic over a couple of baking trays and place in the oven for around 25-30 mins. The aubergine will go dark brown but mustn’t burn.
6. Squeeze the softened flesh of the roasted garlic cloves from the skin and add to the passata, followed by the vegetables. At this point you may wish to add some herbs such as fresh basil or oregano for additional flavour.
7. Blend everything together to a consistency that suits you. For smoothest results do it in batches using a blender, but you can also use a food processor or hand blender.
8. Heat the combined sauce through in a saucepan and serve over pasta, seasoned to taste.

Fed up with horse? Eat more veg instead

This time it’s lasagne. Another nightmare for the food industry’s PR teams as black beauty one again makes it into the nations dinner plates.
There was a time, not so long ago, when we could go into our local butchers shop and buy minced beef with total confidence about what it contained. We knew because that mince had arrived in the shop as cuts of chuck steak or flank (which made a cheaper and slightly less dry mince than steak) and was minced in the shop buy the guy who served us. Sadly the shop has now gone and our choice is the supermarket or a trek to a butchers in the next town where the more expensive steak mince is our only option.
The root of the issue for us, and for Findus, is cost. It’s no longer possible to guarantee quality at a price many people are able or prepared to pay so something has to give. Unfortunately the casualty in all this is the value sector because selling chicken nuggets for 99p or a lasagne for £1.50 is, quite frankly, asking the impossible.
The truth is that while housing costs have rocketed over the last 20 years the proportion of our wages we spend on food has fallen. This perhaps gives us a clue to our predicament and explains why so many independent retailers have thrown in the towel. So we are faced with some difficult choices. If we demand traceability in our food and guarantees over the ingredients then we will have to pay more for it – simple as that.
In my mind the only practical solution is to examine what we eat, and in particular our dependence on meat as the cornerstone of our diets. We don’t have to drop it completely, but we can eat less. And if we eat less of it we can afford to be a little more choosy about what we buy when we do. When I buy a pack of mushrooms in the supermarket I can be pretty certain what they are and I can be confident they contain no cauliflower whatsoever!

Poached egg muffins

Poached eggs on muffinsSo this is our ‘traditional’ Sunday morning breakfast, think of it as a poor man’s Eggs Benedict.

You will need one English muffin, two cheese slices (we use the processed slices you can buy for burgers – because they melt well and go all gooey) and two eggs per person.

A note on the eggs, we buy free range out of conscience and because they genuinely taste better. Lidl sell a box of six for a pound, far cheaper than the other supermarkets – I think Aldi do too. But whatever you use if you’re poaching eggs they really must be fresh.

Confession time – we cheat with the poached eggs. Having had mixed success poaching one egg, let alone four at once, we have resorted to a gadget. We use silicon moulds that float in the pan called ‘Poachpods’, they are available from Sainsburys, Lakeland or Amazon and cost around a fiver a pair and are nearly foolproof – just remember to coat the inside with a little olive oil first then run a sharp knife round the edge when they’re done. A large egg takes roughly four minutes on a highish simmer if you like your yolk nice and runny.

Given my admission of failure I cannot, with any integrity advise you how to poach an egg ‘properly’, but there are plenty of others who fortunately can. Here’s one that’s guaranteed to be Jamie Oliver free http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2010/sep/16/how-make-perfect-poached-egg.

So to serve, lightly toast each half of the muffin, add a slice of cheese on each while it’s still warm then top them with your poached eggs. A sprinkle of black pepper and dash of HP sauce on the side completes the dish!

Red Lentil Dal

I’m going to start with one of my favourite dishes to cook and to eat.  It’s based on a recipe from Madhur Jaffrey, which is delicious in it’s own right, but with a couple of optional adjustments that I think really lift it.

Red lentils are one of the smallest and most widely available lentils you can buy. Unlike other varieties you can use them without soaking overnight which means that you won’t need to plan too far ahead. You can make two meals from a 500g packet, making it really cheap to make too.

The recipe is straightforward and takes just under an hour to cook, but you can do other things. I often make a large quantity and freeze portions for another meal, a source of envy in the staff room at work! Serve with an Indian flatbread like Roti or Chapati – or lightly toasted pitta bread will do just fine.

Ingredients:

8floz/225ml measure red lentils
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp olive oil
1/3 tsp asafoetida (also known as ‘Hing’ – this is optional but adds extra flavour)
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp kalonji seeds (black onion seeds)
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp dessicated coconut
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes ( this gives a medium heat – feel free to add more or less according to your taste)
Half a small onion, thinly sliced
Half a fat clove of garlic, crushed
Handful of fresh coriander leaves

Method:

1. Thoroughly rinse the lentils in cold water. This is best done in a large bowl, using a sieve to catch any lentils that escape as you pour the water out – do it several times until the water runs clear.
2. Drain the lentils and tip into a large pan with a lid. Pour in 24floz/700ml water, then bring to the boil. A white foam will rise to the surface of the water that needs to be skimmed off with a slotted spoon.
3. Stir in the turmeric, reduce the heat to very low and partially cover with a lid slightly ajar. It will take around 40 mins to cook the lentils, after which time they will be soft to eat with a texture similar to porridge. Stir occasionally to ensure they don’t stick.
4. While the lentils are cooking you can make the tarka. Heat the oil in a small pan on a low heat then and add the onion until it is soft. Then add the asafoetida, cumin seeds, chilli flakes, kalonji seeds, sugar, coconut and garlic. Stir in and cook until the onion is well browned.
5. Pour the mixture into the lentils, stir and put a lid on for about ten minutes. This enables the flavours to really mingle.
6. Serve with some fresh coriander on top.

Red lentil dal

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