Sunday, 9 May 2010

Mexican Bean Stuffed Peppers

With this recipe I officially renounce my dislike for stuffed vegetables.  Although, in my defense, neither tomatoes nor peppers are technically vegetables - I know, I know...I'm not buying it either! Oh well, I guess it just shows that we must always be open to different things, especially those that we think we don't like.

It wasn't bbq weather, so this recipe had to be adapted for indoor cooking.  I started grilling them from underneath, then transferred the heat to the top.  From the original recipe, I changed pinto beans to black beans - as I find them softer and more flavorsome.  I also substituted the yellow onion with spring onion, since they wouldn't be cooked, I thought raw yellow onion may be too strong.

The stuffed pepper halves were super yummy and I wish I had made two!  They were also really fast and easy to put together.  The cumin is a necessity for the 'mexican' flavor - but even without they would still be tasty.  The original recipe was a take on chiles rellenos and used poblano peppers.  Sadly, living in a country which has yet to truly embrace Tex-Mex, it is near impossible to find Mexican peppers, so I substituted a large sweet red pepper - which appeared similar.  I actually think the slight sweetness of the pepper worked well with the spicy filling, and the size held the filling perfectly.  

I can't wait until the weather improves and I can try this recipe on the bbq!

Mexican Bean Stuffed Peppers
serves 1

1 large sweet red pepper (or any other large chili) - halved lengthways
1/4 cup black beans - drained and rinsed
2 thin chillies - finely chopped
1 garlic clove - finely minced
2 spring onions - finely sliced
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 cup grated cheese
pinch salt

Heat a grill pan over medium high heat and preheat grill to medium high.  Combine black beans, chillies, garlic, cumin, most of the cheese, salt, and most of the spring onions in a bowl.  Fill each half of the pepper with the mixture and lightly grill for a couple minutes in the grill pan.  Then put the peppers (still in the grill pan) under the grill for 10 minutes, then top with remaining cheese and grill until melted. Top with remaining spring onions.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Risotto Stuffed Beef Tomatoes

Of course now that I've said that I don't like stuffed vegetables I remembered another dish that I like, that is of course, exactly that.  As a vegetarian when eating out, nine times out of ten there will be one or two vegetarian dishes - one of which will be some sort of risotto.  Perhaps it is this narrowmindedness of what vegetarian food is that has made me avoid most risotto's.  Whenever I have had to try them (due to no other vegetarian option) they have been boring.  

When I finally decided to try cooking it at home I felt that it needed something more - and that something was a large, ripe and juicy, beef tomato.  For some reason, this makes it feel like more of a balanced meal to me.  The risotto itself is delicious, but I could only really ever see it as a side dish - but somehow stuffed in a large tomato just makes it a proper meal.

Following the general idea of a recipe for spring vegetable risotto, I combined it with the idea of stuffing a tomato with risotto which I had seen in several places.

Risotto Stuffed Tomatoes
serves 4 as starter
4 large beef tomato
100 g risotto rice (arborio)

1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp butter
small onion - finely chopped
1 large garlic clove - finely minced
50 mL white wine
40 g soy or edamame or broad beans* (or a mix of whatever you have)
60 g peas*
300 mL warm vegetable stock -you may need more or less than this depending on your rice
50 g parmesan - grated
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 190 C/ 375 F.  Parboil risotto rice for 6 minutes.  Drain rice, then distribute on a baking sheet in a single layer.  Cut the tops off of the tomatoes and scoop out the inner flesh.  Add the juice from the tomatoes to the stock and chop up the flesh from the inner tomato.  In a medium saucepan heat the oil and butter, add the onion and gently fry for a couple minutes.  Add minced garlic and gently fry for a further couple minutes until the onion is soft and translucent.  Add in partly cooked rice, then add white wine and reduce until liquid is halved.  

Add in a ladle of stock and heat very gently until absorbed.  Continue adding a ladle of stock at a time until the rice is al dente (about 10 minutes).  Add in the beans and peas, chopped tomato flesh, parmesan and salt & pepper to taste.  The rice should have a bit of moisture, so if it's too dry add a bit more stock.  Fill the tomatoes with the risotto and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the tomato is tender.

*I used frozen, which I took out of the freezer right before I started, then added to the cooked rice and warmed through.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Spanish Omelette

Spanish omelette (or tortilla) is a common tapas dish made of potatoes and eggs.  My partner is actually half Spanish, and the first time I had this was on vacation in Tenerife made by his Tenerifian dad.  I attempted to make it when we got home but didn't realize quite how many eggs were required, so it ended up being less omelettey then it should have been.  You can eat it warm, or at room temperature.  We tried it when it was freshly warm and then at room temperature with some cantaloupe for breakfast the next morning - it was great both times.

My partner really wanted meat in his, so before flipping I sprinkled half of it with chopped ham.  You can add loads of different things to the mix such as mushrooms, chorizo or peppers.  I added garlic which I don't think is traditional, but we love it.

Spanish Omelette
serves 6 as a starter 

1 1/2 pounds potatoes - diced (about 4 medium potatoes)
oil - enough to shallow fry (about a cup)
1 medium onion - diced
2 cloves garlic - finely minced
10 eggs
salt & pepper

In a large skillet on a low heat, gently fry the potatoes in a single layer until they are cooked through but not browned.  This takes a while (about 20 minutes) and depending on the size of your pan may need to be done in two batches.  Remove the potatoes and drain on kitchen paper, then fry the onion gently until softened, adding in the minced garlic in the last minute to lightly cook.  Crack the eggs in a large bowl and whisk lightly.  Mix in the potatoes and onions - season with salt & pepper.  Tip the mixture back into the skillet and gently cook until the bottom is browned to your liking (about 5 minutes).  Place a plate on the top of the omelette, flip the whole thing over, then slide the omelette back into the pan and cook that side.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Spaghetti with rocket, asparagus & lemon

I haven't been doing much cooking this past week - we've eaten out, ordered in and bbq'd, so there hasn't been much to share recipe wise. But here's one of the meals I make regularly at home.  I cook enough spaghetti for two, and make either spaghetti bolognese or carbonara for my partner.

This meal is one of my favorites.  It's packed full of strong flavors - peppery rocket, salty parmesan and zesty lemon (which really livens it up).   I actually found the recipe for this in a book I bought years ago - and slightly adapted it by adding grilled asparagus.  Oftentimes I'll add a large handful of baby spinach in with the rocket to amp up my iron & vitamin intake.

Spaghetti with lemon, rocket and asparagus
serves 1 generously

150 g spaghetti*
1-2 cloves garlic - finely chopped or grated
2-3 thin chillies - finely chopped (depending how spicy you like it)
1 small lemon - zest and juice
175 g asparagus - grilled**
60 g rocket/arugula - very coursely chopped
1/4 cup parmesan cheese - finely grated
2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Cook spaghetti accordingly.  Whilst the spaghetti's cooking, chop the garlic and chillies and put in a pile.  Grill the asparagus until fork tender, then slice into bite sized pieces (about an inch).  Grate parmesan, zest lemon, and coursely chop through the rocket leaves a couple of times.

Once the spaghetti is cooked, reserve some of the cooking water then drain.  Put the pot you cooked the spaghetti in over a medium heat - heat a tablespoon of olive oil, then fry garlic and chili for about a minute.  Add in the rocket, spaghetti, parmesan, lemon zest and asparagus and mix - add in another tablespoon of olive oil and a splash of the cooking water and mix until you get a somewhat creamy coating.  Squeeze in  lemon juice to taste (usually about half a lemon) then season.

*I use wholewheat spaghetti
**This is the weight of the asparagus before snapping off the woody ends - the actual weight was probably around 125 g.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Sweet Potato Fries

I love fries.  I think people in general think that vegetarians eat lots of vegetables, salads, and nuts.  I do eat a lot of vegetables, but I don't eat many salads or nuts. I still love deep fried and starchy filling foods.  I have made sweet potato wedges many times, but I came across this recipe for healthy sweet potato fries that looked too irresistable to not be tried.

They had the typical sweetness that you'd expect and overall were a nice alternative to normal potato fries, but not quite as crispy as I'd have liked.

Sweet Potato Fries
serves 2
1 large sweet potato
2 egg whites
3 tbsps flour
1 tbsp spices (I used chili powder and cayenne powder)

Preheat oven to 205 C/ 400 F.  Cut the sweet potato into thin sticks and soak them in cold water for about 15 minutes, then put on kitchen towel to dry. Lightly whisk the egg whites until light and foamy.  Coat the sweet potato sticks in the egg whites and spices, then add the flour in a tablespoon at a time until they are covered in a thick coating.  Lay the coated sticks on a rack in a single layer so none of them touch*.  Bake for 30-40 minutes, until browned and crispy.

*I ran out of room on my rack so had to put the rest on a baking tray.  I actually found that the fries on the baking tray ended up crispier than the ones on the rack - but the coating made a bit of a mess on the tray.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Red Onion New Potato Salad

I know to most people it's not barbeque season quite yet, but living in a country where the sun is rare, it's hard to resist the urge to bbq whenever it does make an appearance.  So while this recipe may be a bit early, please understand that opportunities must be taken when they can!

A friend made this simple potato salad for her house warming party a couple years ago and it was a huge hit.   I much prefer it to the typical potato salads with loads of mayo and/or egg that leave you feeling very heavy.  I made it for a bbq picnic with my partner's family - I was concerned that the raw red onions may be too strong for them, but they loved it and made it themselves when they got home.

This is great for picnics because it can be easily put together at the last minute, so the mayonnaise doesn't spoil.  The potatoes can be cooked days in advance, cooled then kept in the fridge until you need them.  When I made it for the picnic, I boiled the potatoes the night before and let them cool overnight.  Then in the morning I sliced the onions and added them to the potatoes with some pepper.  I packed a small jar of mayonnaise in the cooler bag and stirred it all up right before serving.

Red Onion New Potato Salad
serves 4

1 kg / 2 lbs new potatoes*
1 medium red onion - halved and thinly sliced
1-2 tbsps mayonnaise**
salt & pepper to taste

Boil the new potatoes until tender, drain and let cool.  Mix in sliced red onion and  mayonnaise.  Season to taste. (It's that simple!)

*Or charlotte, or any other small potato.
**A little mayo goes a long way, so add it in bit by bit so it's not too thick.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Wild Rice Stuffed Pepper

In general, I'm not a huge fan of stuffed vegetables - but I find this combination surprisingly satisfying.  The nutty bite of the wild rice grains work well with the sweet pepper and salty halloumi.  Even my meat-loving partner enjoys it (albeit as a side dish to his meat).   It is very easy to prepare and full of flavor.

Wild Rice Stuffed Pepper

1 large pepper (any color)
60g wild rice, long grain rice mix*
1/2 vegetable stock cube made up**
2 slices halloumi cheese
salt & pepper

In a small sauce pan cook wild rice mix with vegetable stock (about 25 mins).  Preheat oven to 180 C/ 350 F.  Meanwhile, lightly grill halloumi cheese slices, then chop finely.  Cut top off the pepper, remove white pithy ribs and seeds from inside.  Line a baking dish with foil then pour about 1/4 '' of boiling water in the foil in the dish.  Mix chopped halloumi with rice, season.  Fill pepper with the mixture.  Put pepper top on, then bake for 30 mins, or until the pepper is tender. 

*The rice I use is an 88% easy cook long grain/12% wild grain rice mix.
**A whole cube I used makes about 500 mL of stock, which is too much for one portion of rice, but this varies by brand.  I generally add a little less liquid than I think will cook the rice, because you can always add more.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Lettuce Wraps

It's been at least six years since I had 'Chang's Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps' at P.F. Changs and yet I still remember how delicious the savory filling wrapped in crisp fresh lettuce cups was - so I thought, I have to try this at home.

Since it has been so long I cannot truly say whether or not this came out exactly the same or not, but the idea was definitely similar.  I like that you can choose how much or little filling and dipping sauce to put on your lettuce wrap.  I also made this easily meat friendly by separately frying a chicken breast fillet, food processing it, then blending it with half the vegetarian mixture.

P.F. Chang's Style Lettuce Wraps
serves 2 as a starter

1 cup water chestnuts
2/3 cup mushrooms
1 small onion - chopped
2 garlic cloves - chopped

2 tbsps soy sauce
2 tbsps brown sugar
1/2 tsp rice wine vinegar

'special sauce'
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 tbsps light soy sauce
2 tbsps rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp ketchup
1 tbsp lemon juice
few drops sesame oil
thin sliced chili (optional)
garlic puree (optional)
hot mustard (optional)

1 tbsp oil 

lettuce leaves - washed and separated (I used baby gem but you could use iceberg or any crispy lettuce)

Mix together all ingredients for 'special sauce', refrigerate til ready to eat - you can add chili slices, garlic puree, or hot mustard to amp up the flavor if you like before serving.  Put all vegetable filling ingredients in food processor and pulse until everything is the same size (finely minced).  Mix together filling sauce (soy sauce, brown sugar, rice wine vinegar).  Heat 1 tbsp oil in frying pan, add vegetable mix and filling sauce and fry together for a few minutes until some moisture has evaporated and it has warmed through.  Put about a tablespoon of mixture into each leaf and dip into sauce as desired.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Vegetarian Scotch Eggs

I've never actually had a Scotch Egg, so when tasting this vegetarian version there wasn't anything to compare it to.  That being said, I can imagine what a hard boiled egg coated in sausage meat then fried tastes like. Visually, this vegetarian version looks virtually the same as a traditional sausage scotch egg (even my partner agrees).  Since it's made with a mix of beans instead of sausage meat it needs to be seasoned/spiced well or it will be really bland.  The construction and cooking are the same though.  In fact, I made three veggie, and one sausage meat version for my partner (which he loved).

Vegetarian Scotch Eggs
makes 4

4 large eggs
1/2 tin chickpeas/garbanzo beans* - drained and rinsed
1/2 tin kidney beans* - drained and rinsed
1/2 tin cannellini beans* - drained and rinsed
1 tbsp coriander/cilantro - coursely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

1 egg - whisked
1 cup bread crumbs
3/4 cup flour

neutral oil for frying

Hardboil eggs to your liking** (I actually boiled mine the day before making these - before I realized I didn't have any kidney beans, but hardboiled eggs will keep in the fridge for a few days, so it's also a great way to use up leftover Easter eggs!). When the eggs are cool - peel (the warmer they are, the harder it will be to peel them).  

In a food processor (or with a hand blender) pulse the beans and coriander together until nearly smooth.  At this point you may need to add some olive oil to make it smoother, but the mixture should be malleable.  Once blended, season to taste (this is important since normally sausage meat is very seasoned, so to match the flavor you may want to add different spices, but definitely salt & pepper!) 

Lay out about a 9 inch square piece of cling film (saran wrap) and flatten 2 tbsp of the bean mixture on it.  In the center of the mixture put the egg, then bring up the sides of the cling film around the egg.  Remove the cling film, then shape the bean mixture around the egg.  Depending on the size of your egg you may need more or less bean mixture to coat it.  You want about 1/4'' to 1/2'' of thickness around the egg.   

Dip the bean coated egg into the flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs.  Heat about 2 inches of neutral oil over a medium heat in a medium saucepan.  Because you don't have to cook any sausage meat, it is not as essential that you get the correct heat of the oil, as this stage will mainly be about browning the scotch egg - however, saying that, a lower heat will allow the bean and egg to warm through, making a more pleasant eating experience.  You could also deep fry it, but since I don't like to use lots of oil (and don't have a deep-fryer) I'm not sure what temperature this would be at.  Brown on all sides then put on paper towels to drain.

*Why not use the leftover beans in a chili, soup, stew etc.
**I put my eggs in a sauce pan with enough tepid water to cover.  Bring to simmer, then turn heat off and put lid on - let stand 7 minutes.  Then drain hot water and fill pot with cold water to cool eggs.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Chickpea and Spinach Curry

My first curry experience was only a few years ago.  It was a korma - and I was not impressed.  My next encounter was an incredibly oily dish that frankly made me feel sick.  It took a long time before I realized that it wasn't curries that I didn't like, but creamy curries.  I absolutely love hot curries!  We now regularly order currys and I flit between the vindaloo and phal - that's right - two of the hottest curries available.  I'll admit, I cannot replicate the curryhouse flavor, but every so often I do like to make my own at home. You can buy premixed curry spices or pastes, but if you accumulate the individual ones it's fun to experiment with different ratios yourself.  Apart from the spices, the ingredients are pretty basic, and you can add/substitute pretty much any vegetable you like.  I add slices of grilled chicken to my partners, but you could add any meat.

Chickpea and Spinach Curry
serves 2

1 tsp oil
1 tsp butter
1 onion - chopped
2 cloves garlic - finely minced
2-3 thin chilies - finely chopped (more or less depending on how hot you want it)
1 inch ginger - thinly chopped
1 pepper - chopped
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp garam masala powder
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tin chopped tomatoes
2 tsp tomato puree
1 tin chickpeas/garbanzo beans
large handful spinach
chopped coriander/cilantro

Heat oil and butter in pan.  Fry onions for 2-3 minutes until soft.  Add chilies, garlic, ginger, tomato puree and spices then fry 2-3 more minutes.  Add in chopped pepper and reduce heat to low for 5 minutes.  Add chopped tomatoes and chickpeas and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes.  In the last few minutes of cooking stir in the spinach to wilt.  Top with fresh chopped coriander.  Serve with rice, naan bread, poppadoms, onion bhajis, mango chutney, onion salad...

NB: if you're not adverse to creamy curries, or don't like a very spicy curry you can stir in natural yogurt or coconut milk at the end.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Broccoli Macaroni and Cheese

I know, I know...there are so many different recipes for macaroni and cheese out there - but since this is one of our favorite dishes I couldn't help but post it.  The first time I made my own roux (or 'white sauce') I was nervous, but it really isn't difficult!  Apart from burning the butter, you can pretty much save it any stage (and even then you can start again).   Seriously, if you normally have boxed macaroni or use a certain well known easy melting processed cheese because you're too nervous to make your own cheese sauce - don't let yourself be intimidated by fancy French cooking techniques and give it a go.
(Notice my partners meaty addition of pancetta cubes frying in the background!)

Somewhat surprisingly, the addition of broccoli was my partners idea.  It used to be his favorite vegetable (back in the day when he barely ate vegetables) and I think he feels nutritiously virtuous when eating it.  It actually doesn't add loads of flavor, but it is a great way of getting a serving of vegetables in an otherwise unhealthy extremely cheesy meal!

Macaroni and Cheese with Broccoli
serves 4

500 g/ 1 lb macaroni
2 tbsp butter
2 to 3 tbsp flour
2 to 3 cups milk
1 tsp cayenne
1 cup broccoli - chopped (I microwaved frozen, but you could steam up some fresh)
3 cups mature cheddar cheese - grated
salt & pepper

Cook macaroni and broccoli accordingly.  When the pasta is about 5 minutes from being done, melt butter in a large pot over medium heat.  Add a couple tablespoons of flour and whisk together.  The butter and flour should come together in a dough like consistency, if it is still too moist add more flour.  Keep whisking this around the pan for about a minute to cook out the raw flour.  Add a couple splashes of milk and whisk in - the mixture will incorporate the milk and become slightly moister than it was.  At this point add in 2 cups of milk and cayenne and whisk together.  Let the sauce warm up (not simmer) and thicken slightly.  If it is too thick at this point - add more milk, not thin enough - heat longer. Finally add in 2 cups of cheese and season to taste, then mix gently until its melted through (because cheese is generally pretty salty I always wait til its mixed into the sauce until adding any seasoning).  Mix in the drained macaroni and chopped broccoli, top with remaining cheese and put under a grill until browned.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Open (Breakfast) Quesadilla

Although I've called this a breakfast quesadilla, you could easily make it for lunch or dinner by omitting the eggs if you wanted.

I love Mexican Tex-Mex food (I say Tex-Mex because I haven't ever had traditional Mexican food, only the Westernized versions).  As previously declared, breakfast dishes are amongst my favorites - so why not combine one of my favorite cusines with my favorite meal of the day?  This meal is easily adapted with whatever you have on hand, and can be made meat-friendly by adding some chopped bacon or sausages, however, I don't think the meat will be missed much in this one because the beans and eggs are high in protein and super-filling.

I know this isn't actually a quesadilla since there's only one tortilla and it's not folded...actually it's more like a giant tostada (although the base isn't crispy like in a tostada).  This meal actually evolved from lunchtime quesadillas so that's why I've continued refer to it as such - but since it's neither here nor there I shall continue calling it an open quesadilla.
Open Breakfast Quesadilla
serves 1-2 (depending on greediness)

1 large tortilla
1/4 cup black beans - drained and rinsed
2 eggs - scrambled to your liking (or you could fry/poach them and put them on top)
1 small tomato - diced
a couple mushrooms - thinly sliced
a few thin slices of peppers
a couple chilies - finely chopped (if you like it spicy)
small handful black olives - sliced
2 spring/green onions - chopped (if you don't have these you could substitute thinly sliced red onion)
small handful grated cheese
small handful coriander/cilantro - roughly chopped
1/2 avocado - chopped

Put tortilla on a baking tray and lightly grill in oven on both sides.  Pile on toppings (apart from the coriander and avocado), finishing with cheese.  Place under grill until cheese is melted.  Top with chopped coriander and avocado.

Baked Soy Beans - Review

I came across these baked soy beans in the store and thought they looked intriguing.  The packet says they are high in fiber and protein and compared with nuts they are much lower in fat - 13g/100g compared with pistachios at 46g/100g. They are covered by a thin papery skin, similar to pistachios, and taste like a cross between a pistachio and a peanut.  They don't have the density or texture of a nut though, and could do with a touch more salt.  Overall, they probably would temporarily fulfill a nut craving and are healthier, but I'd rather have fewer nuts.  (I would be interested to hear if anyone else has tried these, as I hadn't seen anything like them before.)

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Beer Battered Onion Rings

It was at least a few years ago when I first made onion rings - and this was only my second attempt since then because the first try had been so dismal.  Because it has been so long I cannot actually remember what recipe I used, but I do remember the barely battered somewhat soggy and doughy covered onions that resulted.  So when I suggested making onion rings to go with our burgers, my partner was - well, less than excited by the idea. 

Due to the last attempt my expectations were low.  I am not a proficient deep fryer, and to be honest, the thought of a pan full of scalding hot oil on the stove scares me.  Even when taking the fried onion rings out of the oil I was less than convinced that they worked, quite a few of them weren't actually 'rings' - more like half moons.  However, once we'd tasted them we knew they were a success.  The batter was light and very crispy with sweet onion inside and just a hint of spice.  Had I been more patient and delicate when frying them up (as my falafel burger was cooling), I probably could have gotten more perfect 'rings' and a more even batter coating - but I don't think this would have made much difference to the flavor.

Beer battered onion rings
serves 2 as a side dish

2 medium onions - cut into 1/2 inch rings
milk - as much as it takes to cover onion rings (at least a couple cups)

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cayenne (or chilli powder)
1/2 tsp cumin

about 1 1/2 bottles beer (lager style)

Cover onion slices with milk in a bowl and leave to soak for about 30 minutes.  Heat oil in a heavy bottomed pan (ie: cast iron) in a 200 C/ 400 F oven.  Sift together dry ingredients then add beer in until you get a (American) pancake like consistency*.  Transfer pan to the stove and put on high heat.  In batches, coat about six to eight onion rings in the batter and fry in a single layer in the oil, turning over once when browned on the bottom side - then remove and put on paper towel to drain.

*You may need to add more flour or beer depending on the consistency of the batter - it shouldn't be too thick.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Falafel Burgers

To be honest, occasionally I do crave a burger - no wait - rather a 'burger-like' meal!  There is something lovely about about a toasted bun stuffed full of deliciousness with a side of something deep-fried.  I've made 'burgers' out of big mushrooms before - and they were okay - but I always had a soggy bun problem halfway through eating.  So since becoming a vegetarian I haven't really had a good burger experience, until a few months ago at a restaurant that, instead of offering a spicy lentil burger as the vegetarian option, had a Falafel 'Deluxe' Burger with grilled pepper, hummus, beetroot, rocket, halloumi, tzatziki and harissa. 

While the falafel burgers are definitely a tasty step-up from typical 'vegetarian burgers' I think the real magic lies in the toppings.  Obviously you can put whatever you like on it but I tried to recreate the toppings used in the restaurant - with a few additions of my own (avocado, red onion and tomato).  You can serve the falafels as a burger or more traditionally in pitta breads (but you can get much more stuff between a bun!)

The recipes I've seen for falafels mostly used parlsey, however, I am a huge coriander/cilantro lover so used it instead and I think it worked really well with the spices.  I made one large burger out of two falafel patties (which was more than enough) and saved the three remaining falafels in the fridge.  These will make a great quick lunch or snack - as it only takes a few minutes to fry them up.  My partner made a traditional beef burger but said my falafel burger looked really good!  I made beer battered onion rings which were the perfect accompaniment (recipe to come).

Falafel burgers
makes 5 small patties

1 tin chickpeas/ garbanzo beans - drained and rinsed (or you could use dried chickpeas, soaked overnight - about 220g rehydrated)
1 clove garlic - roughly chopped
2 tbsp coriander/cilantro - roughly chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp harissa paste
2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp oil (plus more for frying)
salt to taste  

burger bun - toasted

sliced red onion (about 1/4 small red onion)
1 tsp harissa paste spread on the top of the bun (if you don't have this - or don't like spicy flavors - you could use ketchup instead)
1 tbsp hummus spread on the bottom on the bun (the hummus I bought - no I didn't make it! - had roasted red pepper blended in it, but if you had some whole roasted peppers you could slice these up and use them instead/too)
1 tbsp tzatziki spread on the hummus (you could use sour cream or mayonnaise instead)
2-3 slices lightly grilled halloumi*
small handful rocket/arugula
a few tomato slices
sliced avocado (about 1/4) 

Put all the falafel ingredients in a food processor and blend until nearly smooth.  Form mixture into small patties, refrigerate about 30 minutes or until ready.  While the mix is chilling you can get your toppings ready.  Heat a tsp of oil in a frying pan or grill pan and fry falafel patties (2-3 per burger) for a couple minutes on each side until they are golden brown.  Construct burger!

*When building my burger I managed to forget the halloumi (which I had grilled at the same time as the falafels), so it is not in the picture, nor in my belly - sad!

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Zucchini Bread

This is one of the favorite things my grandmother used to make when I was growing up.  When she made it, I would get one loaf to take home and the other would go to my cousins.  I used to take a small slice to my room - devour it in 4 to 5 bites - then guiltily go back to the kitchen to slice most of it off bit by bit.  My Nana is quite old now and suffering from dementia and it took some time before she was able to write down this recipe (as given verbatim below) for me but now I cherish it - as everytime I make it, it reminds me of my childhood and her.
If you're thinking zucchini used in a somewhat sweet bread sounds weird, try thinking of it like carrot cake - the zucchini adds moisture, but doesn't contribute much (if any) flavor.  Obviously I am used to eating random slices of this at any time of the day due to sheer greediness, but it is perfect in the morning with a cup of coffee (similar to coffee cake) or in the afternoon as a snack with a cup of tea.

Zucchini Bread
Makes 2 9x5 loaves

3 eggs
1 cup oil
2 cups sugar
3 tbsps vanilla

Dry ingredients (sifted)
3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda/ bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
3 tsps cinnamon

2 cups grated zucchini/courgette (about 2 small zucchini)
1/2 cup chopped nuts - she always used walnuts (about 75g)

Preheat oven to 170 C/ 325 F.  In a large bowl beat eggs until light and foamy, then add the oil, sugar and vanilla and mix gently.  Next sift in the dry ingredients, then add in zucchini and nuts and mix gently until only just combined.  Divide mixture between two 9x5 pans and bake for one hour.  Let cool - about an hour - then take out of pans and wrap in foil*.

*Again, the idea of wrapping something in foil may seem strange to you, but this is how my Nana did it, thus how I do it, but you could store it in plastic wrap/cling film or a plastic bag.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Cottage Pie

I have made this recipe dozens of times and it is one of my mid-week meals that I rely on during chilly fall to brisk spring nights.  It is warm, filling, delicious and satisfying.  This dish is also great because it produces enough for a small family, but as we are only a couple, it provides enough for leftovers to take in for lunch.  I had some chives that I put in with the mashed potato (as in the picture), but normally I don't.  I've also seen different recipes that use lentils and tinned tomatoes instead of a meat substitute which I plan to try soon.
Cottage pie
serves 4

1 large onion - chopped
3 small carrots - diced
2 pints/ 1 litre vegetable gravy (I use granules as I'm not sure how to make vegetable gravy)
1 cup frozen peas
1 bag soy mince (mine was 450g)
4-5 medium potatoes - diced
salt & pepper
1 tsp oil
large handful grated cheddar cheese

Heat oil in large pot then add chopped onions and cook until soft and translucent.  Add in soy mince, chopped carrots and vegetable gravy.  Stir to combine then simmer for 20 to 25 minutes or until carrots are tender.  To make the mashed potato topping boil diced potatoes until tender, push through a ricer (or mash with a masher) then gently mix in milk, salt and pepper to taste.  When the soy mince base is done, stir in frozen peas, season to taste, then top with the mashed potato and put under the grill until lightly golden.  Top with cheese and grill until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Mushroom en croute

As a vegetarian I often cook one pot meals focused around vegetables, pulses or a grain.  I rarely cook the typical 'non-meat' and two veg that is so common for meat eaters as I find it difficult to make something that isn't meat the center of a meal.  This recipe allows a clear meat-like focus to a meal and is extremely satisfying. 

My partner made himself beef wellington and the 'two veg' were chive tossed new potatoes and grilled asparagus. As you can imagine this meal was very filling, but also delicious.  I think when I make it again I may use less spinach, as when it concentrated down the iron-y flavor was really strong and competed too much with the meaty mushroom.  Other than that it was a perfect vegetarian 'meat and two veg' meal.

Mushroom En Croute  
Serves 1 (generously!)

1 large flat mushroom
large handful baby spinach
2 thick slices cheese (I used swiss gruyere)
dusting of thyme (I used dry as I never buy fresh)
1 sheet ready rolled puff pastry
1 garlic clove - finely chopped
1 beaten egg yolk

Preheat oven to 200 C/ 395 F.  Fry the mushroom in a little olive oil for a few minutes on each side until lightly browned and cooked through.  Then fry the chopped garlic for a minute, add the spinach, season with salt and pepper and cook til wilted.  Strain the spinach well in a sieve (I used my spatula to push it against the sieve and get out as much liquid as I could).  Cut the pastry into a circle about an 1 inch bigger than your mushroom.  Lightly butter a baking tray and place on the pastry disc.  Pile the spinach in the center of the pasty, followed by a slice of cheese, the mushroom (gill side down) and the other piece of cheese.  Use a pastry brush to brush the edges of the pastry with the beaten yolk.  Drape the remaining pastry over the top, push gently to seal the edges, then trim any extra pastry.  Use a fork to fully seal the edges of the pastry together.  Brush the top of the pastry with the remaining egg and sprinkle with thyme then bake in the oven for 40 minutes, or until golden.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Brasserie Blanc

I am a hyper-keen lover of food shows, food magazines, food blogs and - perhaps sadly - reading menus of restaurants (even those that I know I will probably never go to). So my obsession with Raymond Blanc's Brasserie Blanc started months ago, and not living that close to one, it had been one of the restaurant menus that I often perused after longingly.  I finally found a few more reasons to be in the area of one last weekend and got the chance to go.

It all started well. After some intense shopping we meandered in for a late lunch (3pm) and were seated immediately. The restaurant was only about a third full but had a decent atmosphere. It has a quite open layout and we were sat, somewhat too close, next to a family with two young children. For a casual weekend lunch the proximity to the other diners was fine, but I could imagine that it may be too intimate for an evening meal.

I could not fault our server. She was attentive and professional but friendly. We both ordered off the 'Dine with wine' menu. My partner really liked both his dishes which were the Smoked ham hock and pea risotto and Pork and black pepper sausage with smooth mash - which looked great. I of course had the only vegetarian starter option, Parsnip soup, honey and lemon dressing. The soup was creamy and light, topped with crispy parsnips. I couldn't really taste much lemon dressing, but found the honey at the bottom. Personally, I'm not a fan of sweet flavors in savory foods but to be fair, the honey did go well with the soup - but I didn't love it and wouldn't order it again.
What I assume was fresh baked bread was placed on our table, complimentary and was perfect for soup dipping and sauce mopping.

The real problem came in the form of my main course, Gratinated polenta gnocchi in tomato sauce. I'm not entirely sure what I had been expecting, but what I do know is that I was disappointed. I actually saw the dish on the pass before I realized it was mine and thought it looked like a side dish. It came in a small dish, on a small plate (like what a side of vegetables would be served in) and was essentially one giant 'gnocchi' shaped polenta in tomato sauce. I realize that this is exactly was it was called, but like I said before, I looked at it, and was disappointed. It would have been nice as a side dish - as a small slice of the polenta in the tomato sauce on a plate with something more exciting. I ate about five bites then lost interest and left the rest. Since I had left about 90% of it our server asked me if there was something wrong with it and all I could come up with was that it was a bit 'Same-ish'. I think I said this because I didn't want to say boring, but the point was received. She asked if I would have preferred the special, which was Moroccon pulses (a side dish again no?) which I said I wouldn't. I don't like to make a fuss, and the dish I received was what it said on the menu, but I was grateful when our server kindly removed it from our bill.

For me I'm afraid, even this Michelan starred chef's restaurant suffers the same problem as most restaurants - limited and boring vegetarian options.  Perhaps because of its well-known namesake my expectations were higher than the usual casual dining restaurant. I did feel there was some attempt to make the options more interesting and since the menu is constantly changing, maybe I visited during a less inspired time.  All said I'm not adverse to giving Brasserie Blanc another chance, but I won't be making up excuses to go there.

Food: 4
Service: 9
Atmosphere: 8
Price: ££

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Baked Eggs in Potatoes

 Breakfast is probably my favorite meal of the day. I often will daydream about my next breakfast when eating dinner or trying to fall asleep. I love big, hearty breakfasts so when I came across the idea of baking eggs it intrigued me. Most baked egg recipes I've seen include spinach and add cream to the egg to make them very soft and creamy and don't seem very substantial. However, a recipe at the Food Network looked right up my alley so I adapted it to my personal preferences. I am not a fan of runny eggs in any situation so cooked mine til they were almost hard boiled, thus this dish came out more like a 'skillet' meal, which are favorites in American breakfast restaurants. 

It was delicious, and the cherry tomatoes added some sharpness to the potatoes and egg. When I make this again (which I definitely will!) I'm thinking of adding some chopped peppers (green and/or red) to the potato mixture and some mushrooms along with the tomatoes. Other than that it was perfect. And, if you're cooking this for a meat eating loved one, you can easily add some cooked bacon around the edge of the dish or some chopped up cooked sausage in with the potatoes.

Baked eggs in potatoes
Serves 2 as a starter, 1 as a main course

1 medium potato - cubed
1 teaspoon neutral oil (sunflower, groundnut, vegetable etc.)
1 small onion - chopped
1 clove garlic - finely chopped
2 birds eye chillies - finely chopped (if you like things spicy)
handful cherry tomatoes
2 eggs
small handful of cheese for sprinkling

fresh cracked black pepper

Preheat oven to 180 C/350 F. Parboil the cubed potatoes until they are almost fully cooked through. Heat oil in frying pan over medium-high heat, add potatoes and fry for a couple minutes until they start to color. Add chopped onion and continue browning potatoes and softening onions. When the potato and onion are nearly done add the garlic and (if using) chillies and fry for another minute, season with pepper. Divide the potato mixture between the mini-casserole dishes making a small well in the center. Place the cherry tomatoes around the edge, then crack an egg into each, season with pepper. Bake in the oven 10-15 minutes, until the egg is cooked to your liking (10 minutes will produce soft egg whites and runny yolk, mine was probably cooked closer to 20), then top with cheese and put back in the oven until melted.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Super Easy Popcorn

To me, this wonderfully moreish snack should not be limited to cinema excursions alone. My parents used to have an air popper machine which made perfect popcorn, but since I don't have one myself I thought I couldn't replicate this at home.

Of course I've bought the prepacked bags that you microwave for several minutes, but have always found them extremely stressful - memories of waiting by the microwave, listening for the slowing pops, trying to time the removal so you get the maximum amount of popped kernels whilst not letting the popped ones burn always put me off buying them. Also, these bags come pre-flavored, usually with loads of butter and salt which makes them incredibly unhealthy. So when I came across a bag of popping corn in the store a few weeks ago I thought I'd give it a go - and much to my delight it was so easy that I was disappointed I hadn't tried it before. It has never burned and I don't think I've seen one unpopped kernel in the bottom of the empty bowl! You'll need a largish sized pan that has a lid that fits tightly.

makes a very large bowl

100g popping corn
1 teaspoon oil (I use sunflower)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon spices* (I use cayenne pepper and cumin)

Put popping corn, oil and salt in a large saucepan. Put lid on pan and put over medium high heat (I consider this my largest gas ring, turned 3/4 of the way up). Shake the popcorn, oil and salt together over hob. Leave to heat up, shaking occasionally (every 30 seconds or so) to prevent burning. There will be a moment when you think it's not going to pop, but don't worry, it will, and it will be very exciting. Once it gets popping leave it til it slows down noticeably, then turn the heat off and let stand with the lid on for a minute or so to let any remaining kernels pop. Season with chosen spices.

*You can put pretty much whatever you like on the popcorn and there are numerous ideas on the web for some pretty crazy toppings. It will keep in an airtight container for a couple days before it starts to go stale, if it lasts that long!

Chinese Assorted Vegetables

One of my favorite dishes when I get Chinese is the seriously simple Assorted (or sometimes called Mixed) Vegetables. It's exactly what it sounds like - a mix of different veggies. However, the vegetables are coated in a somewhat opaque mildly flavored sauce, and I have always wondered how it was made. 

Recently I had a breakthrough and pretty much replicated this dish and am very excited because now I can make it at home, and bonus, it's very easy! Of course you can use practically any vegetable that you like. The ones I've suggested are the ones that I usually get at a restaurant.

Chinese Assorted Vegetables
serves 1-2 (depending on your appetite!)

veggie ideas
1 small head pak choi - chopped into bitesized pieces
1 large handful sugar snap peas and/or mangetout - sliced on the bias
several button mushrooms - quartered
several baby corn cobs - sliced in half lengthways

1/2 pepper - sliced into thin strips
1 clove garlic - thinly sliced
small handful bamboo shoots
small handful waterchestnuts
small handful beansprouts

3-4 spring onions - sliced into inch pieces

for the sauce 

1 tablespoon corn flour
2-3 tablespoons water
1/4 pint vegetable stock*
2 tablespoons light soy sauce

1 tablespoon flavorless oil
(ie. sunflower, groundnut)

In a bowl large enough to fit all of the vegetables, mix together the corn flour and water. The mixture should be white but not thick. Coat vegetables in the corn flour mixture. Heat wok or frying pan til smoking then add 1 tablespoon oil. Add veggies and fry for 2 minutes. Add half of the vegetable stock and mix through. You may need to add more stock to make the sauce thicker. Once the sauce is the consistency you like add the soy sauce to taste and serve with rice.

If you wanted to make this for someone who eats meat you could just fry up some sliced chicken breast in a separate pan and mix it in with their portion of veg at the end - then I'm pretty sure you've got the Chinese restaurant style 'Chicken and vegetables'.

*I haven't tried to make this using water instead of stock, but I bet it would work just as well, but you may need more soy sauce to replace the flavor lost from the stock.

NB: When I got around to taking pictures of this dish I didn't have some of the veggies on hand - so in the picture are the ingredients listed above minus the bamboo shoots, bean sprouts and water chestnuts but plus a few finger chillies.