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Monday, 1 June 2015

Coriander Chilli and Lime Pesto

In the food rich area of North London I live in, herbs are in plentiful supply and very cheap. And they don't come in those puddly little packets like the supermarkets supply, they come in very big bunches.

But, after having made a rather interesting curry the night before I found myself with a sizeable quantity of coriander and not much idea of what to do with it. 

Initially I thought I'd have another stab at carrot and coriander soup. But just like when I try to make stir fry, I find this usually ends up as a tasteless mess. 

Looking through several cookbook indexes brought me to pesto. But once again, many of the 'vegetarian' cookery writers kept on banging on about Parmesan - cheese that is so definitely NOT suitable for vegetarians that The Vegetarian Society has gone to the trouble of producing warning cards for people to give to chefs in order to disabuse them of their illusion.

So, I decided to have a play on my own.  I put all my coriander into my Nutribullet blender and whizzed it up with some olive oil. Having said that, next time I shall simply chop the leaves.  Then I added in some Chilli flakes until I got the right 'kick' followed by some lime, again until I got the balance right.  Then I added some chopped walnuts and grated in some extra mature cheddar. 

After a bit more playing round with the Chilli and Lime and seasonings, I gave it to my housemate for a final taste test. She was very impressed! Boil up some pasta, poured it over and there you go, a really nice tasty meal, garnished with a few cherry tomatoes too. 

Give it a try! 

Monday, 4 May 2015

A tale of two gadgets

Most of the time my diet is almost entirely vegan, but I do like my eggs. 
I do try to limit how many eggs I eat a week to just two, although this week I have eaten more. But then again, I have done at least three cycle journeys this week of at least 30 miles in length, so I've needed the protein.

For health reasons, it's probably better to poach my eggs rather than fry them. But poaching eggs can be quite a messy business. That's why I mostly for the easier option which is to fry them in light oil. 

Now, a frying pan doesn't normally count as a gadget as such. However this one does. That's because it's one of those new 'super' ceramic frying pan that all the television shopping channels constantly rave about.

I have tried using ceramic pans in the past. But they've been very cheap ones that have not worked very well. So recently I decided to spend a little bit more money and buy a ceramic frying pan that was endorsed by a couple of celebrity chefs.

One of the great claims made about ceramic frying pan this is that they are completely non-stick. On the television shows they are often demonstrating them by frying eggs without any oil.

I would love to know how they do that trick, because every time I have tried frying an egg in a ceramic frying pan without using any all and it has always stuck firmly to the bottom of the pan.

And the video below shows, even when I have used oil, the pan has still not performed very well at all.

So as far as frying eggs goes, ceramic frying pans are not all they're cracked up to be - if you'll pardon the pun!

Yesterday I spent 3 pounds on a new gadget. It's the one on the rightin the top picture. It's called a microwave egg poacher.

Like all children, as soon as I got this new toy home I wanted to play with it. So I did. And it works!

All you do is pour some water into the bottom red trays. You don't need much, just enough to cover the bottom of the trays, then you put the lid on and put it in the microwave oven for 60 seconds on full power. When that's done take it out of the oven open the lid and crack two eggs into the water trays.

Now put the lid back on and put the trays back in the microwave, this time for 45 seconds on full power. When that's done simply leave the eggs to stand in the trays for 30 seconds. Then take them out of the microwave, open the lid and there are two perfectly poached eggs!

This gadget is virtually non-stick so the eggs slide out very easily with a little bit of help from a slotted spoon. Best of all this gadget is wiped clean and washed in soapy water. There are no stains and no marks, which is more than can be said for that ceramic frying pan. If you look very closely at the picture of it you will see around the handles that there is some staining. 

So it's poached eggs all the way for me from now on. And as for that so-called nonstick frying pan, well that's on its way to the scrapyard!

Monday, 20 April 2015


Friday, 10 April 2015

A Beast of a Dinner!

My Favourite Pasta
I'm having another 'freezer week' because once again, I find myself totally stocked up with all manner of basic ingredients that I have hardly used.

There is pasta everywhere I look, loads of garlic, both wild and bulb and a freezer full of vegetables. So, I wonder, what can I do with them.

My favourite pasta is 'spirali' as shown above. I like it because it keeps its shape well when cooked and has a good solid 'bite' to it. And, there is also the fact that I can get three 400g bags of it for a pound round where I live!

So, I have loads of pasta, garlic, a lump of cheese, a big bottle of lemon juice and some black pepper. Question is, what to do with it all? Well, I also have a big bag of peas in the freezer and green beans. Now, again, forgive me for mentioning green beans again - but I love them.

First things first, boil a kettle and put a pan on. By the time the kettle's boiled, the pan is hot, so our it in and its bubbling right away. Nice way to save on electricity costs that.

Salt the water well and tip in 150grams of pasta and let it bubble away. While its doing that get out the garlic press and crush two hefty cloves - we don't want no vampire creeping up on us now do we?

Done that? OK, now grate about 50 grams of hard cheese. I used some vintage cheddar, but you can use a hard Italian if you want.

Next, cut a good slice of butter off a packet - about 5 grams should do it.

When the pasta is about half way done, chuck in 100 grams of frozen peas. Let the water start bubbling again and then after about a minute a two - when the pasta is almost ready, chuck in 100 grams of frozen green beans. Cook them until the pasta is done, but not so much as they don't have a 'crunch' about them.

Pull off about 100mls of the pasta water and then drain the rest of it off. Put the pasta water back in the pan, now back on the heat, then chuck in the garlic, butter and a teaspoon of black pepper and a tablespoon of lemon juice.

Fizz that lot together for about a minute without letting it boil dry, then return the pasta and mix it all together. Once that's done, stir in the cheese until its all melted. Then, tip it out into a big pasta bowl. And then, get your lemon juice and squeeze it over the top and serve.

This is a beast of a dinner for one, or a medium lunch for two if served with a lump of crusty bread and perhaps some very green salad. What you get is the solid bite of the pasta, the smoothness and tanginess of the butter and cheese. Then comes the hit from the black pepper and the garlic, with the lemon juice perfectly complementing the earthiness of the peas and the lovely green crunch of the green beans.

It was just an accidental combination, but it worked and so will now become another one of those staples that I will pull out whenever I cannot think of anything else.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Still wild about garlic

So, its THAT time of year again.

One of these days I will get round to harvesting Wild Garlic commercially, because a, I know where to find a BIG stock of it and b, all the top chefs love using it when it is in season.  

My First Crop of 2015
This is my first crop of this year, taken not from my big (and secret) supply base, but from a little copse in the midst of a very nice residential area just above Finsbury Park Station.
Within an hour of picking it, it was washed, blanched and popped into a jar with some chilli flakes, black pepper and Extra Virgin Olive Oil and then stored away at the back of the larder.  I shall be back to it in about a month's time when I am sure it will taste glorious. 

And talking about Garlic, I've been making garlic bread. Oh, and Soda Bread and Pitta Bread and Wholemeal Loaf. 

You see, I went on this bread making course a month or so ago at our local community centre. I spent a glorious Saturday with a load of other locals because taught how to make the food of life by a local expert.  Then, a few days later, a local Jewish couple (I live near Stamford Hill, home to Europe's largest Orthodox Jewish community) announced they were moving and needed to give away a load of bread flour. 

Now, when I say a load, I mean a LOAD. We are talking 30 Kilos here! Apparently, they used to do a lot of baking, but then the novelty wore off. It took me two runs on my bike to pick it all up. On getting it home, I gave some to the housemates, who include a local primary school teacher. My other 'housie' works in a children's hospital and is a great baker or bread, so she was very glad of it. 

But even after all my give aways I am still left with LOADS of bread flour. I've baked a few loaves with it, but in the last week or two have been focussing on pizza bases, 

My Go To Cookbook
Now, when I want to know something, I go to my Leith's Vegetarian Bible. I rather suspect this is the ultimate vegetarian cookbook. I was given it as a leaving present from the staff at the first school I taught in. To say that it was a very welcome present is something of an understatement. Next to Rosamund Richardson's books' this is the one I use most of all. 

As you can see below, it gives a very reliable recipe for a pizza base that I have used many times. It's quick, simple and produces a lovely pizza dough. 

A simple and straightforward Pizza base. 
Tonight, I used it to make a garlic bread. But of course, I had already used up my wild garlic, so I had to use the real stuff for this. Only I didn't. What you see below is what is left of the garlic and parsley bread I made this evening to go with my pasta and tomato pesto main course. 

The garlic I used for this bread was frozen. I saw this stuff in the local supermarket a week or two ago and thought I would give it a go. I so wish I hadn't. My first thought was to roast the frozen cloves in order to draw the flavour out of them. 


All I was left with was a hot, tasteless mush! So, I took another couple of cloves out of the freezer, microwaved them for a few seconds to thaw them out and then chopped them up with some parsley and olive oil. Well the result as you can see below, is a nice looking bread - that was totally tasteless. 

So, lesson learned is this. NEVER, EVER, use frozen garlic cloves again! They will be in the bin before the night is out and I will be buying the real stuff (or using the wild stuff) from now onwards. So, just in case you are ever templted to use frozen garlic, below is a picture of the stuff I bought, so you can avoid it in the future. 

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Where have you been????

Looking at this the other day, I realised its been nearly THREE YEARS since my last post!

Why so long?

I've moved from the house I used to live in following the death of my Dear Old Sweet Old Greek Landlady.  Anna Eftymiou could hardly speak a word of English, but when her temper went (which was frequently) she quickly became fluent in Anglo Saxon. She also smoked Dunhill cigarettes, despite having severe asthma. Many were the times I would hear her hacking away, followed by the sound of her electric asthma pump firing into action. And, once she'd got a good blast from that, she'd be back on the fags again.

One of her many eccentricities was to respond to smell made by my cooking with garlic (which is a virtual daily occurrence for me) by running round the house claiming their was a gas leak. Apparently, she also hated the tasted of the stuff.

Meals were not included in the rent, but despite this, she had the disconcerting knack of presenting me with huge plates of food at precisely the wrong time. And she would never take no for an answer. Now I rarely eat out, for the simple reason of a, cost and b, the fact that - and I can say this without any arrogance - I can produce a much better vegetarian meal than most (meat) trained chefs can.

One notable exception was the bar at the bottom of my street. They offered a Sunday Lunch for £9.00 with a nut roast and about ten different types of veg - which was nice. And after washing that lot down with a couple of large glasses of their rather decent house red, I waddled home with nothing else on my mind than a decent afternoon nap.

But as I opened the front door, there she stood at the top of the stairs, a large pot held menacingly in her nicotine stained hands. 'Vegetarian!' she screamed. 'Well, actually Anna' I started, but realised resistance was futile. I trooped up the stairs and took a large bowl from the side. Now, Anna was to cooking what Gordon Ramsey is to personal charm.

It think her signature dish must have been developed by the head chef in a concentration camp. It comprised of whole potatoes (mercifully peeled), large carrot chunks and cabbage leaves boiled to within an inch of their lives in water and olive oil.

I would have liked to have said something nice about it, but even I was incapable of lying to that extent. But what she lacked in culinary skills she made up for in the generosity of her portions. Once, in order to get her to give a small amount, I went to the trouble of learning the Greek word for stop - but to no avail. Like a small waterwheel, her ladle circled up from her pan and down into my bowl again and again

Fortunately, I managed to persuade her that I would take this back to my room and eat it. And having got it there, I made plans for its disposal. The solid bits were scooped into one Tupperware box and the liquid into another. Then, after my nap, I discreetly ran down to our kitchen and threw the lot away, ensuring I returned her bowl, washed and clean together with my thanks.

Eventually the Dunhills got her, assisted by her poor English skills and a failure to recognise the need to stick to a course of medication. I remember one afternoon, coming home to find she had spent the last hour struggling to make the 10 foot walk from her bedroom to her bathroom. I suggested calling a doctor, but she was having none of it. Eventually, I put my foot down and said its either the doctor or an ambulance.

Estranged from her family, we here tenants were her only visitors and I would like to think she died realising that for all her faults, we rather liked her. After she went, there was a prolonged legal battle over the house that her brother won. And so, I had to move from a house that was old, crumbling, bitterly cold and filthy in most places, except of course, for my room and the tenant's kitchen which I always kept spotless. The 1930's electrical systems were so bad that one day an engineer threatened to cut us all off. I too, used to imagine that I would return from work one day to find the house a charred shell.

These days its owned by a trendy North London family who have renovated it, including giving it the kind of kitchen that a food blogger like me can only dream of. I now live down the road in a much more modern housing association shared flat.  I still pass the house and still look back fondly on the best place I have ever lived in in my life.

Cheers Anna!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Soup - with attitude

In recent years, 'farmers markets' have become very trendy, with foodies falling over themselves to pay top dollar for produce that is no better (and sometimes worse) than supermarket goods.

There are notable exceptions. Our own Harringay Market being one, because it focuses on PRODUCED goods rather than produce. And the other, even more notable exception, is Andreas and Julia Michli's outstanding Cypriot greengrocers in St Anne's Road in Harringay.  (see below)

Sadly, this shop is sometimes a bit too easy to walk past and also gets a bit forgotten about because its tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Green Lanes.  But foodies should ignore it at their peril.

This place was a farm shop long before the idea was invented. Virtually everything they sell comes from their farms in Cyprus and Hertford. And that link to the town of Hertford has great historical significance. In ancient times, farmers from that town used to drive their cattle to market down a forest path known as 'Green Lanes', which was how the road got its name.

Being farmers as well as greengrocers means Andreas and Julia seriously know their stuff. Not sure about what goes with what? Fear not, for they will gladly assist you and provide you with superb quality goods at a fraction of supermarket prices.

I had been one of those who'd slightly forgotten about them, so when a friend sent me a meat recipe he wanted me to make 'veggie' it was an ideal chance pay them a visit.

In the picture above you will see the ingredients for a hearty soup for 4 - 6 people. The only things I added here are the stock cubes, the chilli powder and half a can of baked beans left over from breakfast.  Everything else was bought from Andreas and Julia's. Note the big bag of paprika at £1.10. That would cost £4.00 in a supermarket. In total, I think I spent about £3.50 and that was only because I decided to use fresh cherry tomatoes rather than tinned.

So what do we do here?

Firstly peel and chop up the carrots, onions and celery then sweat them in some oil for about 5 minutes. Then add in two cloves of garlic, a tea spoon of chilli and paprika and half a tea spoon of cumin. Give then all a minute to bring out the aromas, then add in the chopped tomatoes.

Now, I used cherry tomatoes here with a shot of puree, because they were so nice looking, but a 400g can of chopped tomatoes will do just as well. give it all a stir and another minute so that the tomatoes start to break down.

Crumble in two stock cubes and 750 ml of water. Bring it all to the boil, lower the heat and simmer for about ten minutes. Add in the quartered mushrooms and the beans and give it all another five minutes.  I left the mushrooms until last as I didn't want them to go mushy or colour the water.

When serving,  I suggest that a dollop of plain Greek yoghurt might be useful here, because it's soup with attitude. It's got a very spicy kick to it, but its not the type of kick that blasts the roof of your mouth off.

So there you have it a nice and easy warming soup for autumn. And its very cheap too, but only if you avoid the overpriced supermarkets and 'farmers markets' and go instead to Andreas and Julia's, a true farm shop if ever there was one.