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.
Hooray its pancake day. The first of the two sugar-filled, coma-inducing feast days, allowing children everywhere their first glimpse into adult life as they wake covered in vomit and shame following the previous day’s over indulgence. I, like many, will most certainly be found passed out with chocolate smeared all over my face in 6 weeks time. However, full disclosure, I probably won’t be eating pancakes today. I’ve got work and a hangover and this weird thing is going on with my eye. It’s all too much. In the words of the immortal Karl Pilkington “why am I being told when I can have a pancake? Have em when you want… Pancake Tuesday? Nah I won’t bother I’ll have a trifle.”
I thought I would embrace the spirit of the thing though and share this recipe because pancakes are very yummy, particularly these ones. You can have make them savoury, like the smoked salmon cream cheese and spring onion ones above, sweet, mixing blueberries or banana in with the batter, or my personal favourite sweet and savoury, with crispy bacon and maple syrup. Get creative and even slightly gross with your flavour combinations. Why not? You should only really eat pancakes once a year after all.
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.
Everyone seems to be getting ill at the moment and I am no exception. I have a cold and I hate having a cold because all I want to do is watch terrible, antiques-based day time TV, while cradling a lemsip laced with whiskey. And yet because I am not physically unable to do other things, like shower or go to work, I am expected to them, without complaint.
Also, when I am ill, all I eat is soup. This is partly because, if I am forced to make my own meals, anything more complicated than emptying a can and microwaving is far too taxing. Additionally though, there is something supremely comforting about a steaming hot bowl of savoury liquid accompanied slabs of bread and butter. This means that even when the illness is coming to an end and I am functioning well enough to put a pan on the hob, soup is still my meal of choice.
This recipe is really easy. It has far fewer ingredients than traditional borscht, meaning it won’t be too much of a shock to the system after being out of the kitchen for a bit. Also, the deep, earthy beetroot flavour makes a bit of a change if you’ve been living off tins of heinz for a week.
Over the last few years, food fashion has shifted away from the quirky and sometimes crazy molecular gastronomy of the last decades to a focus on fresh, local produce cooked at its best. I am not about to don my wellies and skip off down a country path in search of dandelion leaves, although leaving a juicy blackberry on a bush is pretty much sacrilege. Really, though, this new fashion has had very little impact on the way I cook except that I have started to pay more attention to the ingredients of the season.
In part, this focus on seasonality is due to the fact that my parents have a vegetable garden, which provides me with a plentiful source of free food. However, if you grow it yourself, you can’t get asparagus in December. This puts me in a bit of a bind because the veg selection gets a little bit more limited at this time of year; there are only so many ways you can cook a carrot!
Beetroot is one thing that comes into its own in winter though and its earthy flavour is a really comforting addition to many dishes. This dish is a really simple mid-week supper that makes great use of seasonal produce. It’s warming and comforting without being too heavy, meaning it is a great antidote to the plethora of stews and pies and puddings that will have you heaving your gut off the floor come January.