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Sunday, 20 November 2011

Veg Soup

It being a nice, misty kind of day, I decided to take a break from the little 'pot boiler' I am writing to put something up on here.

I was nudged into doing so by meeting a couple of people, one from Finsbury Park Transition, I local group dedicated to sustainable living and HarringayOnline, our local community website.

Now, the 'pot boiler' I am referring to has nothing to do with cooking, but rather the grubby world of crime. "Camp Fire's Burning' is a 20,000 word story I wrote about three years ago in response to a series of events at the place I was living at the time. I am currently re-working parts of the story and should be able to publish it as an ebook fairly soon.

I haven't forgotten about "The Food Shops of Green Lanes" either. I'd originally planned to do that in August, but a trashed foot meant I could hardly walk during that month, but I will return to it soon.

So, whats for tea tonight? Well, how about some vegetable soup? The fantastic thing about living round here is that the ingredients are readily available 24/7 and cheaply too. As you can see from above, this is what I put in mine. The only thing missing from the picture is a can of butter beans and a couple of cloves of garlic.

Now, for once, I am not going to say much more, but rather I am going to let the pictures tell the story. I am sure you will get the idea.

Stage 1

Stage 2

Stage 3

Stage 4
Stage 5
And Finally,,,,

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Polenta, Stilton and Beans

The Italians love their polenta, but I have always found it to be rather a curious thing. This is an interesting way to prepare it. You could have small portions of it as a starter or make it a bit larger to do as a main as part of a meal. This will do two.

Pour a ladleful of polenta into a pan with some salt. Pour in about half a dozen ladles of cold water. Bring to the boil, constantly stirring it with a whisk or fork to stop it turning lumpy. Then, turn the heat right down and cover slightly and let it bubble away for about 25 – 30 minutes.

Next, take a teaspoon of extra virgin oil and warm it gently before stirring in a pinch of chilli powder. Let it fizz for a second or two, then take it off the heat. Stir a heaped tablespoon of a hard Italian cheese (not Parmesan, its not vegetarian) and some pepper. Alternatively, use strong cheddar, but half the amount.

Stick a pan of water on with some salt and bring it to the boil. Top, tail and halve a couple of good handfuls of green beans and drop them into the water.

Ladle half the cooked polenta into a pasta bowl and put a large thin slice or two of Stilton or other blue cheese on top. Pour over another ladle of polenta and let the cheese melt. Top with the green beans and then pour over the chilli oil.

What you get is the smoothness of the polenta, the strength of the cheese and heat of the chilli oil, all of which is cut through nicely by the beans, which will be slightly undercooked to give them a bit of a crunch.

Bog Standard Cafes

Though there are plenty of specialist vegetarian restaurants about, the one thing we do miss out on is the ‘bog standard’ café. In these places, you get either egg or cheese, and you can’t always be sure that any cooked dish has been kept away from meat products.

Because of that, I was very pleasantly surprised to come across the Manhattan Bagel Company in Holloway.

In addition to the usual choice between ‘egg or cheese’ they had a number of proper vegetarian savouries. The spinach borek was very tasty as were the vegetable pasties and somosas. Their cakes are nice too and all are made with vegetable oil.

Price wise, they were about right for a standard café and its just the sort of place you’d want to go for to buy a few snacks for lunch or to have a quick bite to eat on your way somewhere.

As you would expect from such a place, the décor is pure working class, but hey, that’s all you need when you need a meal and a drink in a hurry. Nice place.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

A good breakfast

To me, weekend breakfasts are the best meals of the week and something I try to make special. When I was a child, breakfasts at weekends – especially Sunday breakfasts – were a veritable feast.

My sisters and I used to put everything you could possibly put onto a plate, with most of it being meat. But you can have a vegetarian ‘fry up’ too. Or you can go for something a little more refined.

Yesterday for example, I found myself with nothing in the fridge save for some eggs, a tomato and six black olives in a plastic box from something I’d made the night before. So, what else to do but put them together?

Scrambled Eggs with Tomatoes and Black Olives

Beat the eggs in a bowl with some salt and pepper and a pinch of parsley or something I like, tarragon. Finely chop the olives and the tomatoes. Toast and butter a couple of muffins. Pop some butter in frying pan and get it melted. Add the eggs and give them a good stir. As they start to cook pop in the olives and get the warmed up. Then, in with the tomatoes – the whole cooking process should take two minutes at most.

Tip them over the toasted muffins and enjoy with a cup of strong black coffee.

Akela’s Eggy Bread with Vegemite and Cheesy Tomatoes.

‘Akela’ is the title given to the leader of a Cub Scout Pack. For many years I worked with someone called Audrey, who when she took her Cubs to camp, always cooked them Eggy Bread. Basically it’s a slice of white bread dipped into a bowl of uncooked scrambled eggs and fried. But you can still give it a bit of a zing.

Beat three eggs in a soup or pasta bowl, because this will be wide enough to drop the bread into. Now take a tomato and cut it in half. Chop up the inside of the tomato but don’t scoop the mixture out. Now, get some seriously strong cheese and grate it over the tomatoes. Push some of the cheese down into the body of the tomato and put under a medium grill or into a hot oven.

Next, take two slices of thick good quality wholemeal bread. Spread Vegemite (or Marmite) over them. Get a teaspoon of oil in a pan and heat until its almost smoking.

Drop in a slice of the eggy bread and fry it for about two minutes. Flip it over and give it another two minutes. Then, slide onto a plate and serve with the grilled tomato and some baked beans, garnished with some water cress and laced with a line of totally cold brown sauce. Smashing.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Heroic Herbs

In my area, cheap herbs are everywhere. A great fistful of coriander or flat leaf parsley will cost you no more than 50p from a local greengrocer. And these are real herbs too. I bought some Basil and Rosemary and their aroma filled the kitchen within minutes.

I also have loads of different dried herbs in airtight pots and use these all the time.

Celery and Dill Weed Soup

So often a recipe will call for a stick of celery, so I find myself with loads left over. Now again, round here celery is twice the size of what the supermarkets sell and (need I say it) a darned sight cheaper too. What better way to use it up than to make a soup with it?

Cut the bottom off the celery and then chop the rest of it up. Save a few leaves to garnish if you want, but don’t worry too much about it. Add in a chopped onion and half a chopped potato and then sweat everything over a low heat in a tablespoon of butter and certainly no more than that. After about ten minutes, cover it all with some warm stock and then put the lid back on and simmer it all until the celery is well and truly soft.

Take it off the heat and let it all cool down. Now blitz the living daylights out of it. Put it back on a very low heat and stir in a teaspoon of dried dill weed. Give a good stir, then check the flavour. If needs be stir in some more dill until you feel you have the balance right.

At this point, you might want to put in some salt and pepper, although I didn’t. The soup felt right without it. You might also want to put some cream. I didn’t but then you know my views on cream in soup.

A Cheap Stew

So, I came home this evening and thought it was getting a bit cold. So something warming was needed.

I bought 2 medium carrots, 1 turnip, 1 parsnip, 1 large potato and an onion. Total cost 80 pence. At home I had three stock cubes, a couple of tablespoons of lentils, some salt and pepper and a few teaspoons of herbs.

I chopped up all the vegetables, dropped them in a pan with the lentils, salt and pepper and covered them with the stock. Bringing the whole lot to the boil, I turned the heat down and let it all simmer until everything was cooked, but still firm. At that point, I added a tea spoon of dried parsley and oregano and half a teaspoon of a couple of tablespoons of the fresh rosemary I had left over from the day before. The only other thing I did was to add a teaspoon of vegetarian gravy mix to thicken it up a bit.

After letting the herbs develop their flavour, I tasted it. It was gorgeous! Thing was, there was enough for four people as well – and all for probably no more than £1.30. That’ll do!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Milk in soup, thats just so WRONG!

According to a certain online encyclopaedia, the term ‘chowder’ refers to soups that are traditionally thickened with milk or cream.

Now, mentioned milk to me in the context of a savoury dish and I tend to start going green around the gills. I like cream, and I use it in several recipes, such as Pasta Alfredo and Carrots in the Nevers Style. I also I very much like cheese. But the idea of using milk, especially in a soup - bluerrrgghhhhh!

Mind, I was playing round the other day and came up with this idea for a chowder that is rather nice, particularly at this time of the year when there is starting to be a nip in the air. Sorry, forgot to put a picture in, but I have made it and its rather good.

Potato and Sweetcorn Chowder

1 x chopped onion

1 x crushed garlic clove

1 decent sized potato, cut into good chunks

1 x long stick of celery, sliced

1 x green pepper, de-seeded and sliced

2 tbsp of sunflower oil

2 tbsp of butter

1 pint of pre-heated vegetable stock

half a pint of full cream milk

1 x tin of butter beans

300g of sweetcorn

Salt and pepper

teaspoon of dried sage or oregano

Melt the butter in a pan with the oil. When its nice and hot, chuck in the veg - including the onion and garlic - and let it sizzle for a while. Turn down the heat and then sweat everything for ten minutes or so, giving it the occasional stir.

Now, pour in the stock, cover the pan and let everything simmer until the potatoes are starting to cook. This should take about 15 minutes, depending on how chunky the spuds are.

Finally, add the milk, beans, sweet corn and sage and give everything another five minutes or so. Check the seasoning and then serve topped with grated cheese and some crusty bread.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

University Challenge

I have been nudged by pangs of nostalgia these past few days, remembering Autumn 1997, when I strode down Oxford’s Broad Street as a very proud first year university student.  Following a hugely successful year at Ruskin College, I transferred to The London School of Economics to complete my degree.
These nostalgic feelings have been brought on by seeing so many young people I know packing their rucksacks and overloading parental cars to head for halls of residence.  
My misty eyed memories of student life are tempered with the memory of it being a survival course. Eating well meant shopping carefully and in lots of different places to get the best value for money.
This simple recipe ought to feed a house full of hungry students quite cheaply. I call this recipe ‘pub’ pasta because its ideal for students coming back starving from the pub after a night on the beer! BTW the picture is a stock one!

Pub Pasta
1 500g bag of Spiralled Macaroni or Penne pasta.
2 Red Onions,
907g bag of Value Sweet corn,
Extra Virgin Olive Oil,
Refill box of dried Basil or fresh basil if its cheap enough.
Small bag of blanched, unsalted, non-roasted peanuts,
2 or 3 Cherry Tomatoes for each person.
100g of grated strong cheddar cheese,
Salt and Black pepper. 

Most of this stuff can be got from a supermarket, but also look out for local shops, because they can be much cheaper on things like the tomatoes, herbs and olive oil. DO NOT buy pre-grated cheese IT’S A RIP OFF.

Use a handful of pasta for each person, with a couple of handfuls spare. Cook in salted boiling water. When its half way cooked, add in a good few handfuls of sweetcorn.
While that’s happening, roughly chop the onions and break up the nuts so that they are not too small.
Quarter the cherry tomatoes.
Make a mock pesto by putting 5 or 6 tablespoons of the oil into a bowl and add the dried basil and the nuts and half the grated cheese. Stir it all together season with salt and black pepper. .
Drain the pasta and sweetcorn when its cooked and transfer it back to the pan. Pour in the pesto and gently heat it all through.  Next stir in the red onions and tomatoes and take if off the heat. Serve in bowls with some extra grated cheese and some more oil drizzled over the top. 
If you want to, when cooking the pasta, drop a couple crushed garlic cloves into the water.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Two local (Hot and Cold) food stars

Recent visits to the Green Lanes Food Festival and the Alexandra Palace Farmers market have bought to my attention two pretty amazing local producers. 

Now, before I tell you about them, I must say that I discovered them and not the other way 
round. There's no product placement going on here! I don't tell them what I am doing until after I have tasted their products and I never ask for free samples or anything like that. 

Bim's Kitchen
Bim (pictured below) makes African inspired sauces based on family recipes right here in Green Lanes. 

Now, the last time I tasted an African sauce it scarred the inside of my mouth. And whilst its true that some of Bim's sauces are pretty ferocious, others are a lot more subtle. You'll see Bim most Sunday's at Alexandra Palace and the next time you go down to Cornwall, pop into Rick Stein's, because Bim has recently become one of his suppliers.

As is well known, I go down to that part of Cornwall an awful lot and it will be rather nice to see products on sale down there that are 'on the street where you live'. Well done Bim. 
Further information about Bim's products can be found at
Sophie's Ice Cream
Prior to meeting Bim, the last time I tasted an African sauce was at the Masterchef Live show.  This was the one that was so hot that the only way I could cool down was by visiting an ice cream stall and getting a free sample. 

Now, nothing like that happened to me when I happened across Sophie at the Green Lanes Food Festival - it was just that I fancied an ice cream. So, I bought a little tub and wandered off and started eating it. 

I came back a few minutes later and commented that it was most unusual to have a chocolate ice cream that actually tasted of chocolate! It really was one of the nicest ice creams I have had in years. 

Well, then I got chatting to Sophie (above) and it turns out that she is based in Crouch End and Green Lanes had been the furthest place she had traveled to sell her goods. She is another truly local producer. She only sells in a couple of Crouch End shops, but can do orders for parties. 

I would say that next time you need some decent ice cream you should forget those 'luxury' brands and try something special thats locally produced.  Sophie can be contacted on 07792 217 118 or by email on

Back (Again)

Life has an awful habit of getting in the way of good intentions. 

Two weeks ago I said I would be writing more frequently – and then life took over.
I have been very busy, but here I am again. 

A couple of days ago, I set myself some targets for the rest of the year. One of those was to put at least one entry a week on here. It should be easy as I have loads to put up.  Lets see what real life thinks of that idea shall we?

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Green Lanes Food Festival - TODAY

What a day to return to food blogging! 

It’s the Green Lanes Food Festival today. Green Lanes is blocked to traffic. I shall be wandering down there once is starts at 12 and will be sending back photos and reports. If you are around, hope to see you there. Look for the man in the Panama Hat! 

I also have an interesting recipe for a Haloumi  cheese soup that I'll put up later. 

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Do excuse me

I have been so amazingly busy at work that I have not had the time to post on here for a while.  I have loads of stuff to put up and will start tomorrow.
In the meantime, don't forget that its the Harringay Festival this Sunday in Green Lanes. I'll be there along with lots of others.
Sadly the book won't be because, as well as being busy, I have also had a bad foot injury, so have not been able too get around the shops to do the interviews. I've not forgotten it though and parts of it will be up soon.

Friday, 5 August 2011

The Water Melon Wars - Part the Second

The greengrocer in St Anne's Road is currently winning at 30 p a kilo. Yasar Halim is a close second at 35p a kilo. Way behind on 49p is Vavuzlar, while totally out of sight is Sainsbury's at (wait for it) FOUR POUNDS AND SEVENTY FOUR PENCE A KILO!
Wonder what mug is buying it at that price.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Fursday Filla!

It being a Thursday, and the day before payday for agency workers like me, money is not exactly abundant.

So, for the last few months, I have had a 'tradition' of only using what I call kitchen scraps on a Thursday night to make my dinner.

So I pull this Rosamond Richardson recipe out and its got, black eyed beans, oil, cumin seeds, cinnamon, onions, garlic, tinned tomatoes, mushrooms, coriander seeds, cumin, turmeric, cayenne pepper, parsley and salt and pepper.

Looking at what I have in stock, I find I actually only need mushrooms. I am getting far too into this cooking lark!

Anyway, after a quick bimble to the shops, I return with half a pound of mushrooms and set to work. I've spent 65p on the mushrooms btw.

So we start by heating 6 tablespoons of oil in a pan. Then we drop in a tea spoon of cumin seeds and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. Give that about 20 seconds then chuck in half a pound of chopped onions and four clove of garlic. stir it all round and give it about a minute then add in a can of chopped tomatoes, the mushrooms sliced and 2 teaspoons of coriander seed, 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin, tumeric and cayenne pepper together with 3 tablespoons of chopped parsley.

Give it all ten minutes, then add the beans that you have drained from a tin. Now, just stick a lid on and leave it all to stew down for 30 minutes.

You can serve it on its own. YOu can also serve it on a bed of cous cous. However, to me, serving it with a good portion of mashed spuds is just heaven.

Give it a go, you will love it.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

On Rosamund Richardson

If there is one thing the world of vegetarianism needs, its a 'celebrity' chef. We need a Gordon, a Gary or a Delia to really get people interested in eating something a bit more interesting than the a fried up slice of a dead cow's behind.

In terms of skill and fine dining, Ireland's Denis Cotter would probably outswear Gordon, with Rose Elliot perhaps making a good stab at being the carrot cruncher's equivalent of Gary Rhodes. But for the Delia character, my money would be on Rosamond Richardson.

I'll drown out the cries of 'Rosamund who?' by pointing out that she has written more than 20 vegetarian cookbooks. One reason for her apparent invisibility is because her best selling books are published and sold by Sainsburys. Her small book Vegetarian Meals first appeared at the checkouts way back in 1984 and I reckon its the first proper vegetarian cookbook to have been published in the modern age.

In 1985, when I first decided to go vegetarian, Vegetarian Meals was first book I bought. Any worries I had about giving up meat were dispelled the second I took the first bite of her Eggs with Peppers dish, which was the first veggie recipe I ever cooked. Today, I regard it as my signature dish as well as a classic.

The recipe contains just seven things. A red and green pepper, 4 tablespoons of oil and as much garlic and black pepper as you can stand as well as some salt and four eggs. But put that lot together in the order Richardson tells you to and the taste will blow you away!

Tonight when I came home from work, I wondered what to have, and like I have done so many times since '85, I reached out for a Rosamund Richardson book. I've cooked more of her recipes over the years than anyone else's.

What sets them apart is their utter simplicity. There will be a short list of ingredients and a paragraph describing the method. For REALLY complicated recipes she might stretch to two paragraphs. If she uses three, we are talking Michelin starred cooking.

But out of those few things and sparingly used words comes food that completely justifies my decision to go veggie. Her recipes can be cooked by complete beginners yet taste like the belong at the Savoy Grill and would easily work their as her style of cooking would suit a busy eatery.
Try this one for example. This was a one of hers I cooked for the first time. And all I can say is wow! I've not seen her books in Sainsburys recently. But they do show up a lot in charity shops. If you find them, grab them and I can guarantee they will soon become your favourites.

Penne with Basil by Rosamund Richardson
500g of Penne Pasta
6 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
175g of Button Mushrooms quartered
2 Garlic Cloves, Crushed
3 Tablespoons of chopped Basil
142ml of single cream
25 grams of pine nuts
salt and pepper
Basil leaves to garnish.

Cook the penne in plenty of boiling water until it is al dente. Drain

Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the mushrooms and cook rapidly for 3 - 4 minutes until slightly brown. stir into the pasta with the pan juices. Add the garlic and chopped basil and stir thoroughly; add the cream and heat through. Season to taste with salt and pepper and finally stir in the pine nuts. Garnish each portion with torn basil leaves and serve immediately.

I am telling you this is totally yummy!

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Thunder and Lightning

This is simple but obscenely moreish.

Drain a can of chick peas and drop them into a pan of water.

Take the empty can and fill it one and a half times with either penne pasta or macaroni. Drop this into a big pot of salted boiling water.

Once the pasta has been cooking for a while, boil up the chick peas. When both are cooked, drain them.

Now, drop 4 tablespoons of olive oil into a pan and heat it. Next drop in two cloves of crushed garlic. Fry for about 30 seconds and then drop the pasta and chick peas in and stir it all up to get the oil covering everything. Bung in a load of black pepper and give it all a quick stir.

Spoon out into pasta bowls and top with either a dry grated cheese or some very strong cheddar, also grated.

I'm telling you this will vanish from the plate.

What I also added in was a chopped red onion and some nice crunchy sweetcorn and it was gorgeous!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

The Food Shops of Green Lanes

The idea for this blog came out of a comment I posted on Facebook. "I really ought to write a recipe book,” I wrote. Quick as a flash, my mate Ashley wrote back "Start with a blog and then turn that into a recipe book". Taking his advice, I made my first posting just over a year ago.

I've got a few followers and get a good few hits each week. I am in the UK Food Bloggers Association and am featured on harringayonline, the local community website. But while I don't yet have quite enough material for a recipe book, I have been gathering material for a related project.

The Food Shops of Green Lanes will be a guide to the marvellous food shops in my area. Here is an extract from the introduction "There is a 1.5 mile stretch of a road in the supposedly ‘deprived’ borough of Haringey along which shoppers can buy ingredients from every cuisine in the world."

The area of Green Lanes I am covering is between Manor House and Wood Green. There are THIRTY THREE food shops on that stretch. What is particularly interesting about them is that every one of them has a unique product.

I started the research for the book in June. A couple of Sundays ago, I walked the length of the road and took details of all the shops. For the last two Saturdays I have been in my local library writing up the introduction.

The aim is to have the book ready for the Harringay Food Festival on the 18th September. I’ll publish it myself as an e-pub and will also sell a few hard copies too. It’s an interesting project, not least of all because of all the historical stuff that is coming out of the research. Oh, and just to keep Ashley happy, it will have recipes in it. But it won’t be a recipe book, OK!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Mediterranean Chick Pea Stew

I'll get a picture of this later, but for now, here is the recipe. There's enough here for four and I think that the total cost of the ingredients, including the rice was not more than about £2.20 without the eggs.

1 large onion
2 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons of cumin seeds or 2 teaspoons of cumin powder
1 good bundle of fresh spinach (get the proper stuff, not the packet stuff supermarkets sell)
1 400g tin of chick peas
1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
200g of fresh french beans
1 large yellow pepper
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Knob of butter
Salt and black pepper.
4 Eggs (Optional)

Usual story; chop the onion into thinnish rings.
Pour the oil into a wide bottomed pan and get it warm.
Drop the onions in and soften them up for 5 to 8 minutes.
While that's happening, finely chop the garlic and get out the cumin seeds or powder.
When the onions are ready, drop the garlic and cumin in and cook for a minute.
Next, put the spinach that you by now have washed and chopped into the pan and wilt it down.
Next add in the drained tin of chick peas.
Then, pour in the chopped tomatoes and the knob of butter.
Get everything bubbling then turn the heat right down.
Stick a lid on the pan and leave it to bubble away for five minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
Then throw in the chopped french beans and put the lid back on and give it another 5 minutes.
Finally add in the yellow pepper that you have chopped into fairly large pieces.
Give it all another couple of minutes just to get the pepper soft rather than mushy.
Its now about ready to serve, but if you want, break four eggs over the top of the mixture and then put the lid back on and allow everything to steam away until the eggs are cooked. If you don't want to, leave out the eggs.
Serve with a goodly portion of boiled white rice.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

The Green Lanes Watermelon Wars

One thing you can certainly get plenty of round here at the moment are watermelons. The 'season' started about 6 weeks ago. Back then, grocers were charging around 89 pence a kilo. But, as the weather has hotted up, so has the competition. The greengrocers in Wood Green Shopping City had them on sale for £2.50 each yesterday, which amounts to around 50 pence a kilo.

This morning, Yasar Halim has been knocking them out at 49 pence a kilo. But, that little place in St Anne's Road is now offering them at FORTY FIVE pence a kilo. How much lower can they go? Watch this space!

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Give us this day...

Seeing this guy on Saturday Kitchen making bread makes me realise how lucky I am to have one of the best bakers in the country at the bottom of my street. Yasar Halim opens quite late and this morning, I had to hang about until quarter to nine for the first flat bread to come out of the oven.

But boy, was the wait worth it! I now know what the phrase 'baking hot' means, because my flat bread was literally too hot to handle. Brought it back home and made a couple of fried egg sarnies with it washed down with a giant cup of coffee - Amazing!

Saturday - bring it on!

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Polenta Scallops with Broad Beans and Tomatoes

I don't have a picture of this one because I have just eaten it. However, I can tell you that it tastes gorgeous.

"What you having for your tea tonight?"

I get asked this question by a young man at work every night of the week. "It's Thursday, so its kitchen scraps tonight". And indeed it was. I stood outside the grocers tonight for a fair while this evening and eventually decided that I was going to use what I found in the kitchen.

I had an onion, a clove of garlic and a tin of tomatoes as well as a good handful of dried oregano. in the freezer were a bag of broad beans. Needless to say I also had salt, pepper, olive oil and a few other bits and pieces.

The other thing was a bag of polenta. Polenta is a ground cornmeal made of maize. It is a totally neutral product that can be flavoured in any way you like.

You make it by boiling a large pan of salted water. When the water is boiling, swirl it round with a spoon and pour in the polenta. Keep stirring to avoid it becoming lumpy. As it thickens, keep stirring it and then once its nice and thick let it bubble away gently. Turn the heat off after a while and let it settle.

For this recipe, pour the polenta into a buttered baking tin keeping it about half an inch thick. Stick this tin into an oven heated to about gas mark 6. This will dry it out.

Next, slice the onion and the garlic and saute it in a pan with some olive oil and butter. Give it about ten minutes and then lob in the oregano, broad beans and the can of tomatoes. Sling in some salt and pepper. While its stewing down, transfer the polenta to a freezer to cool it down. Once done, turn it out and cut it into round 'scallops'.

Get some oil really hot in a pan and then flash fry the polenta scallops so that they are crispy on the outside on both sides. Dry on a paper towel then arrange on a plate. Spoon the broad bean mixture round it and enjoy. Very simple. A bit time consuming making the polenta, but worth it.

Cost wise, I reckon about £1 for four. You could make a smaller version as a starter, or make a few more and have it as a main course. Either way, a very tasty tea!

Saturday, 18 June 2011


Much as I like to make everything from scratch, there are times when there is simply no point in reinventing the wheel - or in this case, the pancake.
The ready made pancakes I buy contain all natural ingredients, but you don't see them in the shops every week. So when I do, I tend to snap them up. They can be used with savoury and sweet fillings.
One of my all time favourite savoury fillings is spinach and Red Leicester with red onion. This is so simple but yet so tasty and I first tasted this combination while working at a bank in the City in the 80's.
So, I start with a bundle of spinach (39p from Yasar Halim, by the way as opposed to £1 in Sainsbury). Now, this is proper spinach, not that anondyne candy floss the supermarkets sell. Its actually grown in fields and comes with the mud still on it. So, first things first, give it a darned good wash under a running cold tap. Then chop it.
Now, heat a teaspoon of oil in a saucepan and drop the spinach into wilt it down. Once thats done, turn off the heat. Chuck in some salt, a fair bit of black pepper and a good load of grated cheese. I prefer to have a 50 - 50 mix of spinach to cheese. Finally, add the well chopped Red Onion.
Now, heat up a large frying pan. You can use some oil, or if you are using a non-stick pan, you can dry fry the pancakes. Get them nice and hot on both sides and slide the pancake onto a plate or tray. Drop a good dollop of the mixture in and roll the pancake tightly over it. I find this is a lot less fiddly than trying to roll it over in the pan. Then, transfer it to the pan and give it some more heat, turning it over a couple of times, until the cheese is nicely melted. Repeat this operation until you've used up all the mix.
You can serve the pancakes with whatever you like. I had sweetcorn and some green beens, which was very tasty. Alternatively a green salad and some halved cherry tomatoes would work well. Whatever, play around, you'll find a combination you'll like.
I still have a goodly number of pancakes left (I got them from Iceland by the way), so breakfast is going to be pancakes with perhaps some of that pineapple I brought this morning, caramelised in maple syrup. I'll start me diet on Monday, honest I will.

Pineapple anyone?

Currently going at 3 for a pound - YES, I DID SAY THREE FOR ONE POUND!

Thats the amazing thing about living round here.

Friday, 10 June 2011

There IS such thing as a free lunch!

Think Hackney and think 'deprived' borough and grimness. But like Haringey, Hackney has an amazing richness of food shops and an equally amazing range of green spaces.

And it was to one of those that myself and other food foragers adjourned to a couple of Saturdays ago. The Castle on Green Lanes is an old water tower. These days, it is one of Britain's best indoor climbing centres. Behind it, the old reservoir is now a sailing club and there is a nice little country path running around one side of it.

Along this path, one will find all manner of wild goodies. Purple clover is in season right now. Infused in boiling water, it makes a very pleasant tea. We also found horse radish and wild wheat.

"This was has contained a lot of firsts" exclaimed one of the walkers. Madam, I concur. I ran winter survival courses summer edible plant walks for young people for almost 30 years, yet along this path I was finding all manner of new goodies.
One of the very nicest was Jack by The Hedge (above). Also known as Garlic Mustard because it has a garlic flavour with just a hint of mustard type heat, this plant grows in abundanc
e along pathways like this. And as it was so nice, I decided to return a few days later to pick enough to make a meal of. And here it is.

Jack By The Hedge Pasta for 1
1 Cup of Penne Pasta
1/2 Cup of Sweetcorn (Frozen is fine)
About 25 Jack by The Hedge Leaves
A good handful of 'Tom Berries' or small cherry tomatoes.
Tablespoon of grated strong cheddar
Olive Oil
Salt, Pepper

Now, just for information, a Tom Berry is something I found in a local supermarket. They are a very small cherry tomato, not much larger than a pea as the picture below shows.
So, anways, boil the pasta and while thats happening, finely chop the Jack by the Hedge and then put it into a bowl or pestle and mortar and give it a good pounding to bring the flavour out. Pour over a bit of oil and leave it to infuse. When the pasta is half way done, throw in the sweetcorn if its frozen. If it is not, then leave it until the pasta is almost done.

When cooked drain, rinse in hot water and pop back in the pan. Add in the Jack by the Hedge, cheese, tomatoes and then season to taste. At this point too, some more oil might be needed.

The end result is a really nice lunch dish with a nice feel from the pasta and cheese with little sweet bursts from the tomatoes and sweetcorn being neatly countered by a delicate flavour from the Jack by The Hedge. Very nice indeed!

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Cheese on Sticks

So, in the office, we decided to have a picnic on Saturday and we were all asked what we would bring.

"Well" I said, "Can't do much, but how abou
t that old 1980's party food, cheese on sticks? "OK" said the office manager.

So there I am at 7.30 on Saturday morning nipping round the supermarket. I am only looking for cheese because they do the best range. The fruit and veg to go with it, I can get from the local shops.

Bimble back home to have coffee and watch Saturday Kitchen. Not a lot happens in my house on a Saturday until Saturday Kitchen i
s over and done with.

Suddenly, I find time is running away with me, so I hit the kitchen with the above ingredients. Cheese on sticks? Yeh, right!

Cutting and snipping away, I soon have a foil covered grapefru3it with lots of different flavours. This is the end result. Not bad, I think you will agree.

Monday, 30 May 2011

There is such a thing as a free lunch!

Went out yesterday with the local foraging group and discovered a lot of new edible wild plants.

Been playing round with them in the kitchen and will put some recipes up later.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Egg Fried Rice

I remember paying a fiver for this once and thinking 'I could make this for pennies'.

So, lets try it and this is based on a frozen version I saw in a supermarket once.

1 Cup of Rice
3 eggs,
1 onion,
Clove of garlic,
1 mug of frozen peas,
Tiny pinch of chilli powder,
Pinch of tumeric,
Chopped flat parsley,
Half a teaspoon of garam masala,
Two tablespoons of oil,
Salt and Pepper.

Boil the rice and when its half done put the frozen peas in to cook.

Chop the onions and fry them in one table spoon of oil. After about 5 minutes add the garlic and spices, season and give everything another minute or two before taking everything out and putting it on a plate.

Beat the eggs and cook them as a flat omlette in the pan with the other tablespoon of oil.

Drain the cooked rice and peas and add them to the pan together with the onion in and spices.

Turn the heat t0 maximum and stir fry quickly. When its nice and hot, stir in the parsley and check the seasoning before serving.

You can have this as a side dish but I often use it as a lunch or evening meal by bulking it out with some fried mushrooms and a bit of salad on the side.

Vegans can replace the egg with some thinly sliced fried tofu. Nice and easy, tasty, filling and the amounts given here are enough for three and the total cost is about 70 pence.

Saturday, 28 May 2011


I suppose that being a vegetarian food blogger, my breakfast OUGHT to consist of something like organic muesli, macrobiotic yoghurt, gluten free rye bread and herbal tea - but it doesn't.

I've tried having cereals for breakfast, but I find myself starving by ten, whereas if I have a proper breakfast it'll do me all day. Of course, the creature munchers always say the one thing they'd miss is a 'proper' breakfast if they went veggie. So tell me what's not proper about this one.

This morning, I got down to Yasar Halim just as the flatbreads were coming out of the oven. They were still so warm I could have taken them back and used the as a bed warmer. One huge great loaf for just 70 pence.

Then, into the grocery section for some eggs. The cheapest 'value' eggs cost you 99 pence for six in a supermarket. YH sells half a dozen large eggs for 79 pence. I had some mushrooms left over from a risotto I'd made earlier in the week and some cheese.

The biscuits you can see are little gems. They are chocolate stars surrounded by shortcake, absolutely gorgeous and another little bargain at 49 pence. I've never seen them anywhere other than YH and I love Coffee came from Iceland, Red Mountain at £1.00 a jar. Its good strong coffee with a solid taste.

So all I did was slice the bread and spread it with some olive oil spread and Vegemite. Next I added a thin slice of strong cheddar. I sautéed the thinly sliced mushrooms and spread them over the top. I poached the eggs because thats the way I like them. They were added to the mix and seasoned with salt and a good spot of black pepper. The biscuits I have afterwards with the coffee.

I am sure the health conscious will have a flying fit about this breakfast, but let me tell you, there's no better way to start the day than with a good old fashioned 'heart attack'.

It'll certainly set me up for my walk later today with the local food foraging group. They go out once a month round the local area looking for edible wild plants. They are meeting today outside The Castle Climbing Centre at 2.00. Come along and give it a go.

Friday, 27 May 2011

A different kind of 'weekly shop'

I sometimes think that if Social Services came round and looked in my food cupboard, they'd probably want to have me taken into care!

This is my main food cupboard and as you can see, there is not a lot there but that's because there is no need for it.

Living in this wonderful area, I can get amazing food 24 hours a day and at prices that would shame the supermarkets. So, I figure, why do I need to keep loads of stuff in stock?

What I keep are raw materials. There are the pastas, rices and things like polenta and cous cous. About the only tinned good I have are beans. Now, I know you can buy dried beans round here. But, sorry, its just too much like hard work for me. I'll very often not make up my mind on what I want to eat until I get home from work, so I would never be able to plan ahead to pre-soak them.

In that big black box are various spices and things like garlic and stock cubes. Again, I don't see the point in making stock just for me. In my fridge, I keep a sealed box for herbs which helps them stay nice and fresh.

These are the things I stock up on every week. I then decide what I want to make with them and thats when I go shopping. I have nothing in the larder at home, because there are a dozen larders just at the bottom of my street - Amazing!

Monday, 16 May 2011

A Food Revelation

Are farmers markets another branch of Rip-Britain? This question occurred me when I visited one at Alexander Palace. The company running most of London’s farmer’s markets insist that produce sold at them must be truly local.

Given that, I was not impressed to see carrots grown up the road costing more than twice what my local independent greengrocer charges for ones he imports from Cyprus. And don't get me started on the mushrooms at £65.00 a kilo!

The one point I continue to ram home in this blog is that local is (or at least should be), cheaper. The main road I live near contains many independent greengrocers selling fantastic produce at prices that put the big supermarkets to shame. I therefore see no good reason to tramp several miles on a Sunday morning just to pay Fortnum and Mason prices for basic vegetables bearing the 'farmer's market' label.

If the produce did not impress me, the PRODUCED goods certainly did and one provided me with a true ‘road to Damascus’ moment.

Having tramped to the market on a breakfast of thin air, I arrived at the market feeling really hungry. The stall selling cheese toasties looked tempting, but the long queue didn’t. A few nibbles at some of the yummy chutneys offered by one stallholder got my palate going. But I avoided the African chili sauce samples. I’ve had them before – and they are (deliciously) lethal and best avoided on a Sunday morning!

The Mediterranean/Middle Eastern nature of the area I live in means I am quite accepting of something spicy for breakfast. Thus, my first course was Moroccan flat bread with spinach, feta, mushrooms and harrisa paste. Though a little bit oily, it was utterly yummy and a bargain at £2.50.

For afters I had a massive lump of the best chocolate slab cake I have tasted in years. And at £1.50 a slice this was a real bargain, as was the fresh strawberry smoothie at £1.00 a cup.

But in between the flat bread and chocolate cake, I happened across a small stall right at the top end of the market. Now, this was a truly local stall. They don’t even have a name. The daughter selling her mum’s produce said they were going to call it the Indian Den but just settled on Mrs Amin’s after her mum (and I hope I got the name right).

I looked down at the small range of goods and the lentil loaf looked good. If anyone can do good things with lentils, it’ll be someone from an Indian background.

But what really caught my eye were these little pasty type things called a Kachori.

Containing flour, peas, moong dal, coconuts, ginger, chillies, coriander, salt and a touch of lemon juice, they looked rather tasty. And at just a £1, it was worth giving one a try.

Earlier in this blog, I talked about my first taste of a true Cornish pasty. Well, the first bite into this thing was a repeat of that moment! ‘It hits every spot, doesn’t it?’ said the stallholder. It certainly did.

Firstly, there was this lovely sweet blast from the peas. Then the rest of the flavours had a little dance round the inside of my mouth. The chilli and ginger hit their spots closely followed by the coconuts and the lemon juice with the salt and coriander providing the encore.

Earlier in the week, I’d watched Scottish chef Tony Singh get pipped at the post in the Great British Menu semi final with his Indian-based food. I reckon if he’d put a couple of these true delicacies from ‘Mrs Amin’ on the menu, he’d have romped home. Served as a starter with perhaps a thick dal, they wouldn’t look out of place in a Michelin starred restaurant.

One thing is for certain. Next time I go back there, I’m taking a sealable box with me, because a few of these little stunners would be ideal for a lunch at work.

I’d only decided to visit the Farmer’s market on a whim. As I say, where I live I don’t need to go anywhere to get food. But just finding mum’s Kachoris made the trip well worth it. Thanks mum! :)

Thursday, 5 May 2011

A spot of luxury

English asparagus is in season right now and so I thought I would splash out AND pig out!

I bought two bundles and some muffins.

Gently boiled the asparagus and poached a couple of free range eggs. Toasted the muffins, put a slide of cheese on each one (yes, I know, gross, but its nice) and then put the poached eggs on top with the asparagus on the side.

Topped the lot off with some butter and chopped parsley.

Very nice!

The £20 Challenge: Meal 2

So, onto the second meal and the recipe card calls for Haddock fish cakes.

My version is

Sweetcorn and Red Onion Fritters

250 mls of batter
500g of frozen sweetcorn
1 large red onion
Chopped Parsley
Oil for frying
Salt and Pepper

Cook the sweetcorn and drain
Chop the red onion.
Make the batter up, but keep it thick.
Mix the sweetcorn, onion and chopped parsley into the batter and stir it all up.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and spoon in 4 or 5 large dollops of the sweetcorn mix
Leave them to fry until set them turn them over and fry until the other side is cooked. Then add the other dollops until all the mixture is used up.
When done, turn out onto kitchen paper.
Serve with chips, carrots mixed with peas and brown sauce.

Total cost for this one, around £2.00 for four people.

So far then, two nights worth of meals for less than £4.00. Not bad really.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

The £20.00 Challenge: Meal 1

So, can I create five meals for four people for less than £20.00?

Well lets see what happens with the first meal. The supermarket version is Turkey and Bean Pasta and this is my vegetarian version.

Mushroom and Bean Pasta (for 4)

Ingredients Qty
Carrots 220g
Mushrooms 200g
Onions 1
Red Kidney Beans 420g
Tin Tomatoes 400g
Pasta Shapes 350g
Stock Cubes 1
Clove of Garlic 1
Oil 15ml
Pinch of Chilli 1g
Dried Herbs 10g

Heat the oil in a large pan. Add in the onion and garlic and fry for 5 mins. Next, add the chopped carrots and a tiny pinch of chilli, the herbs and the finely chopped mushrooms.

Drain the Kidney Beans and throw them in with the tomatoes and the stock cube crumbled into 300mls of warm water.

Boil it all for 5 minutes and then let it simmer for 15 minutes while you are doing the pasta in a separate pan.

When the pasta is ready, drain it and drop it into the sauce and stir well. Serve in bowls.

Simple, yummy and cheap. Total cost of the ingredients (mostly bought locally): £1.26.

One nil to me!

Saturday, 30 April 2011

The £20.00 Challenge

'5 family meals for £20.00' claims the leaflet from my local supermarket.

Listing five meals for that will feed a family of four, the leaflet gives a list of ingredients that totals just under £20.00. Needless to say they are all meat and fish dishes.

Not surprisingly, all of the items listed must be bought from the store - and thats where they get you! Trouble is, most people don't shop around. If they did round where I live, they'd save a lot of money.

One recipe calls for free range eggs at £2.99 a dozen from the supermarket. The same eggs at the independent at the bottom of my road cost a quid less. The frozen peppers can be replaced by two fresh ones which would cost about 75p locally as opposed to £1 from the supermarket. Now take out the meat and substitute it with a vegetarian alternative and the costs start to plummet.

So, my challenge this week will be to create vegetarian versions of the recipes but for ONE or Two people and see how much they cost. Can I beat £20.00? I think so!

Monday, 25 April 2011

Protein Packed Pasta Sauce with pasta.

An often repeated - but misguided - criticism of the vegetarian diet is that it lacks protein. All foods have protein in them to some extent, its just that some have more than others.

TRS Soya Chunks are an excellent source of protein and they also give a bit of a 'bite' to food that you don't often get in vegetarian cooking. In my area, this product is readily available and as you can see from the price, very cheap too. I use them in this pasta source.

1 x onion
3 x cloves of garlic
25 grams of fresh basil (try to avoid using dried basil for this, all you get are black fleeces)
2 or three big handfuls of TRS Soya chunks
1 x 400 grams of tinned tomatoes
2 tablespoons of tomato puree
1 x pinch of chilli powder
1 x vegetable OXO cube
1 x teaspoon of Vegemite or Marmite
2 x tablespoons of Olive Oil
1 x tablespoon of butter
Pasta of your choice.

Pop the butter and oil in a pan and heat gently. While that is happening, chop the onions and then drop them in the oil and butter with some salt. Cover and leave the onions to cook gently for about 20 minutes.

When the onions are done, mince the garlic, drop it in with the onions and let it gently cook for about 1 minute. While that is happening, chop up the basil and throw it into the pan.

Next add the tomatoes, chilli powder, stock cube, Vegemite and soya chunks.

Fill the tomato tin with water and pour this over the mixture and then squirt in the tomato puree.

Stir it all up, bring to the boil, then cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes.

About half way through, start the pasta off.

For the last part of the cooking, take the lid off the sauce and turn the heat up and let it reduce down until its quite thick.

Drain the pasta, pour the sauce over and top it with a slice of strong cheddar.

Any spare pasta and sauce can be put into a container and taken to work next day for lunch.

Very tasty!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The Newington Green Treasures - Part 1

It first caught my eye from the top of a bus. Travelling home one night from my college, I looked down and saw "Newington Green Fruit and Vegetables".

Before my bus sped off, two things struck me about the place. The first was the largeness of the shop, which was obvious, even from the top of a bus. The second was the crowd. Greengrocers are ten a penny round my way. So when you see one packed with evening commuters even when there is a Tesco Metro not far away, you realise they must be doing something right. I made a mental note to investigate. It was to be several weeks before I found a Sunday morning that was sunny enough to warrant the walk down there, but it was well worth the wait.

The mushrooms told me the place was special. Greengrocers, mushrooms - what so special about that? Simply this; I doubt there is another greengrocer in London selling loose oyster mushrooms from a box in front of the shop. And not even Harrods has the range of mushrooms this shop sells.

You want onions? You can have English onions, Spanish onions, Spring onions, Red onions, White onions and PROPER shallots. Some garlic to go with those onions? Would that be bulb garlic, elephant garlic or smoked garlic?

Wherever you looked in this shop, there wasn't just one - but several versions of everything. Prior to last Sunday I'd only ever seen Chantennay carrots in seed catalogues. Now, here they were in front of me. They sat alongside at least four types of chilli and probably the biggest range of fresh herbs on sale anywhere in London.

This place is heaven for vegetarians and misers. The greatest con trick played on today's shoppers is that supermarkets are cheaper than local shops. Anyone who still believes that myth is advised to do some research on their favourite supermarket's website before visiting this place. After a few minutes browsing round this place you will soon realise your supermarket has been charging you well over the odds for the flavourless plastic packed lumps of so called produce they have been foisting upon you.

There is a double premium to shopping locally in amazing shops like this. Not only are they clearly MUCH cheaper than supermarkets, but you only buy what you want WHEN you need it. On the same day as visiting this place, I was passed a leaflet from a supermarket showing how to make a week's worth of meals for 4 for 'only' £20. I reckon I could produce a vegetarian equivalent of those meals for far less by purchasing the ingredients from this place.

In the short time I spent in this shop, I did get a touch of vegetarian overload. So in the end, I settled for a couple of apples (30 pence) and vowed to return later with a shopping list. They were Braeburns, and organic I think. Even if they weren't, when I bit into them my mouth exploded with flavour- simply the tastiest apples I've had in years.

The greengrocers around Green Lanes deserve a food guidebook all of their own. There are a lot more 'trendier' places to buy food in London, but I doubt if they'd hold a candle to this place for quality range or price. I shall be back there with a long shopping list fairly soon, for it is my contention that Newington Green Fruit and Vegetables is one of the best greengrocers in all of London.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

A very tasty variation on a theme

Aubergine and Chick Pea Stew

I tried this tonight and it is gorgeous.

1 x Large Aubergine
1 x Large Onion
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 x knob of butter (equal to a tablespoon)
1 x 400g can of chick peas
2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes or 1 can of tomatoes and some puree and 400 mls of water.
1 x heaped teaspoon of dried mint
1 x vegetable stock cube
Salt and Pepper

Chop the onions roughly so they form quite large pieces.

Heat the oil and butter, chuck in the salt and gently saute the onions for about 5 minutes.

Next, chop the aubergine into large chunks and throw them into with the onions. Give them five minutes.

Having done that, lob in the rest of the ingredients and some water and bring to the boil.

Turn the heat right down and simmer for 30 minutes, giving it the occasional stir.

Serve it either on its own with some buttered flat bread or with some cooked pasta on the side.

So simple, but a stunning taste.