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Monthly Archives: July 2014

Taking A Walk On The Veggie Side

The idea that I would ever become a vegetarian is completely laughable. There is no food that I would rather give up less in this world, and I include chocolate in that assessment. My life without chicken wings, beef burgers, steak, roast pork, bacon sandwiches, meatballs and the like would be a miserable existence, one I wouldn’t like to think about. I’m coming out in a cold sweat just writing about it, so help me! However, that doesn’t mean that I have to be lean, mean, meat eating machine (no worries on the lean part right now I must say) who shovels meat into my mouth without considering the consequences. I’m aware that raising cattle for meat production and the amount of grain we have to feed them with are causing huge problems globally and that this is just not sustainable forever. I’m also uncomfortable that chicken processing factories aren’t doing enough to prevent chickens contaminated with the lethal bacteria campylobacter being sold in supermarkets. And if I’m honest with myself, I don’t really want to see or know about the process in which animals are killed so that we can eat them. In the developed world we’ve gotten too used to having meat every day and I don’t believe that in 20 years time it will be affordable as an everyday item. The cheapness of meat right now (you can buy a whole chicken in Tesco today for £2.48- at that price what sort of life will that chicken have had when its 6 months of existence are equal to the cost of a vanilla latte?) comes at a price to the welfare of the animals and the quality control in the factories that process it. How long this will be allowed to go on for I don’t know. I don’t believe for a second that meat should be the preserve of the middle and upper classes, everyone should be able to eat meat, but we as consumers definitely need to change our shopping and eating habits so that we can demand better from the big supermarkets who’ve driven prices so low that corners are cut. How else did horse meat get into ready meals last year? We and the animals deserve better.

Bearing all this in mind, I thought I should try and do my bit to lessen how much meat I buy and start having a couple of vegetarian meals throughout the week. Being pregnant I’m also very conscious of how many of my 5 a day I’m getting, and was getting a little bit bored of my ‘go-to’ veggie sides of peas, corn on the cob and broccoli. All good for me, but I needed more variety. Step forward Gwyneth Paltrow! If you’re looking for some healthy or veggie alternatives, she’s your gal. She might get on my tits at times with her ‘conscious uncoupling’, love of quinoa and that goddamn perfect skin, but I can’t really knock her cookbook ‘Notes From My Kitchen Table’ which my auntie bought for me as a housewarming present. I opted for her portobello mushroom and slow roasted tomato burger, which, let me be clear is tasty but is in no way a burger. It would be far more honest to label it as a sandwich, which I believe in the past both Nigella and Nigel have done. Portobello mushrooms are juicy and meaty – as far as vegetables go at least – and suit being slapped in between a burger bun but it’s definitely not a burger. For a decent vegetarian meal though, it’s handsome.

I roasted the tomatoes in the oven for 3 hours earlier in the day until they had been sapped of all moisture and the edges had begun to caramelise. The mushroom was left to sit in a marinade of olive oil, garlic and lemon juice for 20 minutes before being placed under the grill. Once the mushroom was cooked, I topped it with the tomatoes, some grilled onions and some liberally applied cheddar, then placed back under the grill for just a minute to melt the cheese. It smelt heavenly, although it needed very careful watching as it wouldn’t take long to go from perfectly cooked to burnt to a crisp. The mushroom was delicious, juicy and garlicky with a nice meaty texture, with some sweetness coming through from the tomatoes and onions. And anything topped with melted cheese is a winner in my book. Gwyneth suggests using smoked mozzarella but I made do with the extra strong cheddar I already had in the fridge – it is the best cheese in the world after all, you can’t possibly go wrong. Gwyneth most likely would not approve (nor indeed would many of my friends) but regardless I served my ‘shroom burger with potato waffles and randomly, some beetroot. What can I say, I just needed that waffly versatile taste of childhood alongside my rather grown up burger. Pregnancy means you can eat what you want, no judgement. As satisfying as it was, I did feel a little short changed afterwards and not as full as I’d like to be – perhaps a psychological effect of missing beef maybe? Still, on an upcoming weekend in London I will be going into full on carnivore mode with the intent of trying out the London Shake Shack. I’ve had the New York Shake Shack and deemed it the best and most addictive burger in the world, so I’m keen to see if its just as good over on these shores. Absolutely worth missing out on meat in my so called burger this time around.

Vegetarian meals don’t have to be boring or virtuous, they can still pack a flavour punch and be incredibly more-ish. I really will be planning on having a couple of meat free days a week and experimenting a little more with vegetarian dishes – perhaps try and give it a go yourself? After all, supermarkets and food producers won’t change if we don’t.

*There’s no photo of this burger I’m afraid because there really is no way to make a mushroom in a bun look remotely appetising, especially when accompanied by Birds Eye’s finest*

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Curry Cravings

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If you asked me to count how many times I’d attempted to make an Indian curry at home that even came close to replicating the taste of a restaurant curry, I’d be here all day. I’m not stupid, I know that I will never make a curry that could fool a hard-core curry lover into thinking that I’d ordered it from my local takeaway; all I ask is for a recipe that will be tasty enough to stop me spending £15 every time I get a craving for some Indian spice. Because really, it’s getting a little ridiculous how much I want Indian food these days. I am becoming that hard core curry lover.

I’ve tried so many times to knock up a banging curry but up until now it seemed like it was completely beyond me. I’ve found in the past that homemade curries of mine tend to be bland and watery or just taste of tinned tomatoes no matter the sheer quantity of spices involved. I’m not one for subtle tastes either, I like to be slapped around the face with flavour, none of this ‘pinch of cumin’ nonsense, give me a tablespoon. For me, a perfect curry would be strong, spicy, a little bit sour and if I’m in the mood have a little bit of sweetness. And the sauce must be thick. You can see how I’d struggle to replicate something at home that I’m so specific about when even a lot of curry houses let me down on these points. It’s a burden I must bear, having such high standards.

Well the other week I finally broke the curse of the homemade curry, and the curry itself didn’t even tick all of my ‘perfect curry’ boxes, for it was that well loved British classic chicken tikka masala. I’m partial to a CTM but only on the rare occasion I’m not in the mood for something with a bit more spice. You know what you’re getting with a CTM, it’s got a strong savoury flavour and an unctuous thick sauce that’s perfect to mop up with a massive naan bread. Snobs can shove the “it’s so inauthentic” argument where the sun doesn’t shine – sure, maybe it isn’t authentically from the Indian subcontinent, but what it is authentic of is British and Indian cultures and tastes mingling as well as a reflection of the multiculturalism of Great Britain and how we embrace that which is different to us. Things to be celebrated, surely? Every dish is authentic of something.

I found the perfect recipe by way of The Guardian website, which unbeknownst to me up until two weeks ago has a resident food writer who on a regular basis writes up how to make the perfect version of a particular dish. Imaginatively, the series is called ‘How To Cook The Perfect…’ and goes back a few years so there is a jackpot of cooking expertise to delve into. As you can imagine, once I’d stumbled upon this I was in recipe nirvana. What the author (Felicity Cloake) does is cooks several different versions of the same dish from a variety of cookbooks and chefs, then picks out the best ideas, techniques and ingredients from each version and uses all this information to create The Perfect version. It’s genius. It also demands a tremendous amount of patience, I cook one version of one recipe and if it doesn’t turn out perfect then I condemn it, being the fickle, impatient person that I am. Felicity does all the hard work so that I then don’t have to.

In the ‘How To Cook The Perfect’ section, you can find 225 recipes, ranging from a simple blueberry muffin, to fiery jerk chicken, squidgy chocolate chip cookies, cheese soufflé, pizza, salad Niçoise, hollandaise sauce, chocolate cake, dhal, strudel, pancakes, gravy, shortbread, pesto, burgers, guacamole….. You get the idea. That is an awful lot of recipe testing, it would be nothing short of criminal not to lap up all that she has learnt and put it to practice in your own kitchen. Which is just what I did with her recipe for The Perfect Chicken Tikka Masala.

What I like about Felicity’s writing is that she explains what she found didn’t work and why, and what steps can be left out or are to be missed at your peril. She breaks it down so that you have a better understanding of the dish, which I think gives the cook a lot more confidence in what they are doing when following the recipe. The ingredient list for the CTM is lengthy, but if like me you have an entire cupboard filled to the brim with spices, you shouldn’t need to buy too much other than the fresh stuff. The Boyfriend is none too pleased with my spice collection, which takes up a lot of cupboard space in an already cramped kitchen, particularly when he is home and all he sees me cooking is chilli, meatballs and roast dinners. Hey, it’s what he wants to eat if he’s only back for a week. Loneliness and boredom is a great motivator to get in the kitchen and experiment, not so much companionship and precious time together!

The chicken is marinated in a simple yoghurt and spice mixture overnight, then the next day when you want to eat it you make the sauce and grill the chicken. You have to grill the chicken under a high heat so that you get a little bit of char, which helps add flavour and goes a little way to replicate the tandoor oven effect. The sauce isn’t as complicated as the ingredient list makes it look, and I really appreciate that she advises pureeing the sauce so that it is silky smooth, as I’ve seen and attempted many recipes that did not state this – if it has lumps of tomato and onion in the sauce, it’s not a true CTM, amiright? So you do need a blender, otherwise I can’t guarantee your version will turn out as well as mine did. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this version is equal to or better than a curry house CTM (not having a tandoori oven makes that impossible anyway), its easily the best tasting curry I’ve ever made at home. Not that the competition was stiff to begin with. Creamy, rich and full of the flavour of tomatoes and mellow spices, it put the devil on my shoulder always whispering in my ear “why don’t you just order a curry when you get home, you’ve had a long day, you deserve it” firmly in its place. I do deserve a decent curry some days, but with a bit of time and inclination it’s fantastic to know that I can make one without the guilt and the inevitable regret that always comes from a takeaway pig out. Felicity does her research and puts the work in to deliver recipes that you can rely on, so for that I’ll absolutely be using her Perfect recipes again.

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2014 in Uncategorized