I have maintained relative silence on here for a little while, mainly because I have been distracted by a new job and move to London. Having said that, my new job includes the added perk of access to a kitchen garden so I have been pilfering lots and cooking lovely things to be blogged about later. In recent weeks, the garden has exploded as everything comes into bloom. Most exciting for me was the flowering of all the different herbs that punctuate the garden. I had never tasted chive flowers before but the punch of onion in these tiny purple flowers really surprised me.
Another great thing about being back in London is the amazing green grocers that is within walking distance of my house. If you are anywhere near Newington Green and searching for a particular ingredient, head straight for the imaginatively named Newington Green Fruit and Vegetables, the range will astound you. I chose from their vast array of mushrooms, to go with my chives, but unfortunately had to steer clear of the girolles as a whole week’s salary spent on mushrooms seemed a bit of a waste. Those that I did get were delicious in any case, served simply on some crusty bread with ricotta, olive oil and the chive flowers.
Now we are nearly three weeks into January, New Year’s resolutions are being abandoned left, right and centre. Bar and pub owners around the country breath a sigh of relief as people realise just how meaningless their lives are without alcohol, drop the “dry-january” facade and neck a double whiskey on the way home from work. Likewise those friends whose instagram feeds were overflowing with smug pictures of brightly coloured salads, meat substitutes and the veganuary hashtag have gone conspicuously quiet. After all it is hard to type with fried chicken grease all over your hands.
But fear not my will-power deficient friends, here is a recipe for something veganish that is actually pretty tasty and may just restore your faith. Also, you may not believe me but, much like the proverbial puppy, veganism is not just for January. Yes that is right you don’t just have to be a vegan for a month then go back to gorging yourself on steak for breakfast. You could make this recipe all year round, and (and here’s the big one) you don’t even have to be a vegan to cook it. The only real difference from a normal risotto is that it doesn’t have any parmesan in it but the courgette pesto means it still tastes creamy and delicious. After all, most of us do very little for the environment except throwing the odd wine bottle in the recycling, so skipping the grated cheese on a couple of dinners is the least we can do.
I am a big fan of East Asian cuisine whether that be convenience sushi, underwhelming looking Vietnamese restaurants or greasy, hate-yourself Chinese takeaway at 2 in the morning. Having said that, I always shy away from making Asian food at home. In my head to make a proper stir-fry or a Vietnamese/ Thai curry I would either have to invest a vast amount of time and money sourcing all types of specialist ingredients, most of which come in bottles large enough to live in and which I would never use again; or give up and get it out of a Blue Dragon sachet, in which case I might as well sack the whole thing in and get a takeaway.
However, this is not always the case. In my search for more varied and interesting vegan and vegetarian dinner ideas I stumbled across a recipe for thai green curry which seemed to mostly use ingredients I already had (here is the original). And, being skint and lazy I decided to make substitutes for anything I didn’t have (eg. palm sugar). The end result was surprisingly easy to make and delicious. This recipe is really versatile so is great for using up any leftover veg and even those slightly more exotic ingredients can be bought fresh from most supermarkets meaning there is very little waste or extra cost.
Recently I have decided to heavily cut back on the amount of meat I eat. I do not possess any where near the requisite will power to become a vegetarian full time but I have pretty much stopped buying and therefore cooking with meat. This is in part a money saving venture but predominately I just enjoy being able to smugly reflect on the microscopic sacrifice I am making for the good of the environment every time I get on a plane or accidentally put some plastic in the normal bin.
Actually cooking without meat is pretty hard, especially if you like trying out new things in the kitchen. At first it was an exciting challenge, but after about a month of the same 5 vegetables variously disguised as curries, chilli and stew, I was starting to get pretty bored. This shepherds pie, despite not exactly reinventing the wheel, does provide a bit of a contrast. The lentils are a good alternative to mince and give a fairly similar texture and the whole dish is comfortingly familiar; perfect for a chilly winter night.
A full English breakfast is one of the world’s most glorious things. It is one of the only meals that is appropriate to eat “all-day” and it is pretty much the only thing that can truly help to cure a hangover. Whether you are a ketchup or brown sauce person, whether you love or loath black pudding and whatever accompaniments you think should be included, be they potato cakes, potato farl, tattie scones, oatcakes or lava bread, pretty much everyone loves a good fry up.
Having said that, there are some downsides to having a full breakfast every weekend. Aside from the inevitable damage to your coronary arteries, fry ups are a bit of a faff to make and they are not cheap either, due to the endless roll call of varying pork products required. For this reason, I have decided to lay off the fry ups for a bit and try out some lighter, cheaper and less complicated breakfasts for my lazy Sunday mornings.
This hash ticks all of the boxes, it is really cheap and quick and only includes one cancer bearing pork product, which must surely be a good thing. It is also entirely made up of stuff that most of us have lying around meaning that hellish, hungover/ half-asleep traipse to the local supermarket can be avoided.
Summer is officially over. An anger has been sweeping over me slowly for the past week. I’m pretty pissed off that nobody asked my permission, or at least warned me, before the drizzle set in. Goodbye pipe dreams of bbqs and drinking in the park, hello slightly unflattering winter coat and depression.
On a lighter note, however, this means diets are out and over eating is in, let the gluttony begin! I can’t start on the pies just yet though because I am off on holiday next week. I’m not a big fan of flash diets but however shit the weather, serious pastry chomping cannot start until after the beach season, unfortunately.
In my predicament, I turned to risotto. This is perfect comfort food, it is quick and warming. I ran in from the rain the other night and popped this on the stove as I went upstairs to peel off my wet clothes. I ate it piping hot, each forkful scolding my mouth on the way down. It is creamy, earthy, mushroomy deliciousness!
Normally when I make mushroom risotto I use dried porcini mushrooms to make stock but joy of joys this crappy weather has coincided with the week before pay day. Thus this recipe is a slightly cheaper version than my usual but still equally, if not more, delicious.
Yesterday was one of those days that revolved around food. in the office, it seemed like all anyone could think or talk about was food. We talked about what to have for lunch, what we were having for dinner, what we used to love as children, our weird and wonderful food creations (apparently cheese and banana toasties are about to sweep the nation), and somewhere between the best sandwich (pastrami with sauerkraut, pickle and mustard mayo on rye) and the worst spicy sauce shocker stories (a devilish burrito from wrap it up!) we talked at length about stuffed vegetables.
Stuffed mushrooms we decided left a lot to be desired unless done perfectly, they are too often soggy and tasteless. Stuffed courgettes are good (I love courgettes) but theres not enough space for the filling. And so the price for the worlds best stuffed vegetable goes to the pepper. We passed on to chillies, chilli con carne, burritos but still the thought of stuffed peppers stayed with me. I had to have them.
This is one of my favourite recipes for stuffed peppers as, although there are quite a lot of ingredients it is really quick and easy to make and super filling. I usually have these on their own but they are great as a side too, perhaps with a tomato and chicken bake or meatballs. They are also perfect at a BBQ as they go well with the meat but are nice and filling for vegetarians. Remember to use vegetable stock though if serving to vegetarians.