Latte Explorations

It wouldn’t be nanoblomo on this blog, if I didn’t squeeze in a wee entry on hot beverages. Last year, when the annual, parental cry of Christmas present hits went up, I dredged up the idea that I’d like a milk steamer. I’d gotten slightly obsessed with coffee lattes – the only kind of coffee I actually enjoy – over the last few years and had recently discovered the odd sub category of tea lattes, especially the ones that shouldn’t really work. (I know from unfortunate experience that milk in green tea is vile, so why on Earth is a matcha latte so darn good?) Being able to make my own seemed a good way to save myself both time and money of a morning. I got myself a little insulated mug – its got owls on, its very cute – picked out a little milk frother – try to find a non industrial milk steamer outside of a coffee machine proved to be an exercise in banging my head off a wall – and bookmarked a whole bunch of recipes for my favourite odd tea lattes and planned to beat the January blues with them.

Of course, life happened in January and I didn’t have a commute to need to make lattes for, so my careful plans fell by the wayside. Other than a couple of uninspiring attempts at better hot chocolate my milk frother has been gathering dust in my cupboard. However, November has arrived, with driving rain and gloomy grey skies, and in the aftermath of a grinding cold, my commute has been in dire need of a cheer up. So I decided to break out the milk frother and bring myself some much need seasonal cheer.

A while ago, I came across a tub of the instant matcha sachets – on one of those, end of line shelves in the supermarket – and made grand plans to have a go at making my own matcha lattes. (They can be rather hit or miss, either divine or a little…dusty, depending on which barista you get in the coffee shop.) I had delightful plans for comparing and contrasting between those made with the ground matcha and different kinds of green tea bags. Would a Tokyo Fog turn out to be more my thing? What would you call the same thing made with Jasmine tea? (A Beijing Fog? Given the air pollution issues in that city that doesn’t sound entirely appetising.) Yet, once again, I didn’t get around to actually doing anything about my exciting plans until gloomy mid-winter came to call. I’ve been glorying in a seasonal special at my favourite tea shop called a Matcha Maker, which is essentially a white hot chocolate matcha mash-up. It’s utterly heavenly, so once I master the straight forward matcha latte, I need to perfect that one. Though first I’ll have to figure just how they make it!

This week I have, for reasons that don’t need explored at this juncture, been working on perfecting my London Fog. I’m not entirely sure what it is about a well-made London Fog, but there’s something deeply comforting about drinking it. Somehow it brings out the best of the Earl Grey, that deep aromatic flavour and almost floral scent. I suppose in certain ways its my ideal form of tea drinking. My preference when it comes to standard tea is strong with lots of milk (several of my colleagues just leave the bag in for me when they make my tea – as does the lass in my favoured tea shop when she makes me a London Fog) and when you make a London Fog you make the Earl Grey into a highly concentrated brew which you then top up with a decent serving of hot frothy milk. It’s hot, soothing, flavoursome and just a little sweet. Perfection.

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Homegrown Adventures

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here on a regular basis, but I wouldn’t want you to think that I’ve not been cooking in the interim. Perhaps not cooking as much as I’d like, but certainly cooking and even occasionally being adventurous. This month has largely involved cooking from my garden and the gardens of various friends.

We’ll start with my own garden adventures. In the Spring of this year, I finally got round to starting my own, long wished-for, container herb garden. I started with a basic selection of herbs to see what worked and what didn’t. And more importantly, what I cooked with and what I didn’t. Apple-mint, thyme, rosemary, parsley, purple sage and lavender. I was warned about the prolific nature of mint, so kept it in its own container within my larger herb container, but honestly it was the parsley that nearly took over the world. I have eaten a lot of parsley this year, I had no choice, it was that or watch helplessly as it colonised the entire container. I’ve used it as a substitute for coriander, I’ve used as a garnish on all sorts of things, I’ve cooked it in soups and omelettes. Never has my food been so well seasoned as it was this summer.

Tiny herb garden ahoy

Having only narrowly avoided drowning under the parsley, I didn’t have a great deal of a rosemary crop, but having gone to such effort to save it, I felt the urge to do something special with what I did salvage. So I decided to make herb infused oil. Over the last month or so, a jar of oil has been gently infusing on a sunny window-sill, its burden of rosemary and thyme getting an occasional shake on the passing. Some of it has even been bottled into a pretty little gift bottle. So I guess I better start cooking with my own share, in its rather more prosaiccontainer: a former jar of mayonnaise.
Herb oil

More recently I’ve acquired a Bay Tree, which, as the Autumn as turned, has reminded me that there are other ways to preserve herbs for the winter. As beautiful as my purple sage is to look at, I’ve hardly cooked with it. So I’m attempting to dry some in two different ways to see which works best. One set are being tied up in a cool dark place to air-dry and the other are going in the bottom of the oven on as low a setting as I can get it. We’ll see which works best.

This Autumn has seen the most extraordinary glut of apples. Almost everyone I know with an Apple Tree (and a few more I didn’t even know had one) has been pressing bags of apples onto everyone they know this year. I ended up with unexpectedly red cooking apples – the owner of the tree claims that every other year they’ve been green – that ended up becoming parsnip and apple soup, and several mini apple pies. I also ended up with nearly 3kg of proper tiny crab apples. (I could have had more if I wanted. They’re owner just got sick of picking them she had so many.) The only thing to really do with them was make jelly, so I ended up buying a jelly bag and getting the pure and ridiculous joy of straining them overnight, like a small scale version of my mother’s jelly-making shenanigans from my childhood.

Cooking Crab ApplesStraining the Apples

It took me…a while…to get the jelly to set, but I did finally manage it, so I now have a ridiculous hodge-podge of sizes and shapes of jars of apple jelly. The real mystery of which, now that the excitement and novelty of finally achieving jelly has faded a little, is emerging. Why, if the apples were yellow, the juice that I extracted post straining was yellow and the sugar was white, is my jelly, a bright vibrant red?
Apple Jelly!

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Cooking the Book – Being a More Adventurous Cook

I must confess, the only reason I have anything to write about for this post, is because I wrote the last post. It wasn’t until I was posting it that it dawned on me that I hadn’t actually cooked anything new from my book last month. Which caused me to squash in some extra cooking at the last minute.

However, what it did also do was make me cook something on a day might not otherwise have cooked at all, or eaten remotely well. Instead I ate something delicious and deeply satisfying, like a hug in food form that would keep me going for several days afterwards.

This month’s recipe was a little bit of an adventure. It started with some broccoli. My housemate went away to visit their cousin and left me a note asking me to use up their broccoli. So when I broke open the recipe book, I knew that it needed to involve broccoli in some capacity.

I came across Sesame Beef and Broccoli with a Honey Soy Sauce and that was my original intent, but as I looked further into it and its practicalities and realised it wouldn’t work with the protein I had on hand. (Although the illustrative photo show small lumps of meat that I could easily substitute with the packet of seasoned tofu I had in the fridge, it turned out that you needed a steak, which would be coated in sesame seeds and only later chopped up.

What I ended up making was a combination of that recipe and the recipe for Chicken and Cashew nut Stir-fry with Hoisin Sauce and Five-Spice Rice. I swapped the Chicken out for the tofu pieces – good texture, didn’t fall apart the way most other tofu I’ve tried does – and not having three different colours of peppers or any spring onions on hand, traded those for mushrooms, one kind of pepper, some baby sweetcorn and the all-important broccoli. Handily, par-boiling the broccoli and sweetcorn gave me a vegetable stock to make the sauce with so I felt brave enough to tackle making my own stir-fry sauce. Disappointingly the recipe suggested a bottled hoisin sauce, or using corn flour and soy sauce instead. So I took that idea and combined it with what remains my favourite Chinese sauce that I can actually make myself. It’s a combination of soy sauce, limejuice, rice wine vinegar and mirin. (It should really have brown sugar too, but I don’t think it would have worked cooking the sauce the way I did, in the middle of the stir-fry.) It’s a firm favourite of mine and it did not disappoint here.

I’ve tried making five-spice rice before with little success, where some spices can be thrown into the cooking liquid and give a delicate flavour to the rice, I’d always found five-spice rice to be strangely bland using this technique. However all was revealed to me, if you toast the spice mix first then stir the rice into the toasted spice to coat it and then add the water, you get a much tastier more flavoursome result.

Stir fry of great joy

In a call back to my original choice of recipe I swapped the cashew nuts for sesame seeds for scattering duty. Something that I used to do all the time, but rarely do these days.

So really I was more using the recipes as a set of guidelines for techniques I wanted to try, rather than a set of strict instructions. However, I feel that given that the recipe is literally called ‘how to be a better cook’ I think Lorraine would probably approve of that methodology.

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Cooking the Book – Summer Edition

Despite my high hopes, I failed to keep the momentum going and complete any of my targets during July.

I did however manage to cook quite a bit over the last few months, making variations on a variety of recipes I’d previously written about. June’s Bean and Lentil curry has been made on several occasions to good effect and I made a summery version of Beetroot and Feta risotto with giant couscous, baby sweet-corn and some wilted spinach. If nothing else, these challenges are making me a more adventurous and experimental cook.

At the start of August I made what turned out to be the yellowest curry in creation! I’ve tried to make my own korma on many occasions and they’ve varied from disappointing to tasty-but-not-a-korma. This one the closest I’ve managed to what I expected a korma to taste like – my favourite curry house, in Stirling of all places, is the only place I’ve ever encountered a variety of kormas, and they’ve ruined me for everywhere else. I made it with quorn rather than the suggested chicken, but otherwise I stayed pretty faithful to the recipe as it exists in the book, which was pretty good for me! I do have a tendency to improvise as I go!

September’s Pumpkin and Parmesan Soup was a complete and unadulterated success. Well, I say unadulterated. Technically, it was actually butternut squash and a suitable for vegetarians hard Italian cheese soup, but regardless of the semantics it was delicious. The kind of soup that makes you want to head back for a second bowl and sees you buying really nice bread to go with it and enhance the whole experience. (I recommend a nice sourdough. And a garnish of fresh basil.) As per the recipe’s options section, I did in fact make it with frozen pre-prepared butternut squash, as I could feel a cold threatening and wanted something filling and veg heavy to ward it off. It was quick and it was tasty. I’d never made soup involving cheese before last year, and I do rather feel that it’s a whole culinary landscape that I’d been rather missing out on.

Unfortunately, I’ve not been baking at all this summer. After my June hopefulness, I never did manage to bake anything else. I keep having good intensions but they never quite seem to come to anything.

But you never know, Autumn is well and truly upon us, the season for hot, cosy, comfort food is here. Weather suited to my preferred kind of cooking. I’ve got some cooking apples sitting temptingly in a bowl on the kitchen. Perhaps there will be pie. Or even an Eve’s Pudding!

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Returning to an Old Friend

Many years ago, when I was first exploring the world of tea, I decided that I wanted to become the kind of person who drank green tea and set about exploring the world of green teas.

(I like to say that my twenties were all about working out who I wanted to be and figuring out how to achieve that, whereas my thirties have been about becoming and being that person.)

One of the problems of being known among your friends, relations and acquaintances as someone who likes green tea is that you get given a lot of green tea. By given a lot of green tea, I don’t mean that people see an unusual green tea somewhere and buy it for you as a present, or keep a box in their cupboard for when you visit – a few people do, in fact do this, and it’s lovely and much appreciated – but rather that you become designated drop of point for spare green tea. There was a while in the late 00s where green tea became the trendy health drink of choice. I’m not sure how or why, but lots of diets and general health improvement articles and advice seemed to involve drinking gallons of green tea. For a while it seemed as though everyone was trying to cut down on their caffeine and trading in their afternoon coffee or tea for a cup of the green stuff. I’m sure some of them found a deeply satisfying replacement or supplement to their hot beverage repertoire.

Now, for most people whose entire experience with tea drinking involves teabags of the kind purveyed by Tetley, PG Tips or Typhoo, served with milk and/or sugar, changing over to green tea requires a bit of getting used to. I would go so far as to call it an acquired taste. There are a lot of terrible green teas out there, that are, to me, the equivalent of those cheap generic tea bags that my dad calls ‘floor sweepings’ tea. Even with decent green tea, its fairly easy to make a terrible cup of tea with them, its very easy to make weak insipid tea and even easier to leave the bag in too long and end up with bitter stewed tea. Which should actually not be a surprise to the average tea drinker, as while most people who drink tea will claim a cup of tea is a cup of tea, given the option they will evince surprisingly specific requirements for their cuppa. (I’m a strong tea with lots of milk kind of person – leave the bag in if you’re not sure – or neart le torr bainne gorm at work.) Learning how other people take their tea is a gesture of friendship and affection. But rarely do people consider this when they try green tea. Therefore the fad for green tea mostly led to those people having a box of green tea lurking in their cupboard, for months, with half a dozen tea bags out of it and then gifting them to me when they discovered that I actually liked the stuff.

For years I never had to buy the stuff, just keeping on top of the forsaken boxes of tea kept me in more green tea than I could face. To the point that I was completely scunnered of the stuff. I had some beautiful Jasmine tea that I’d picked up at one of the Chinese supermarkets in Glasgow and I couldn’t face it. For years. Even when I liked green tea, it wasn’t an everyday drink. It was something I had to be in the mood for, something I drank after some excellent Asian cuisine or as an accompaniment to a good book. I’ve spent most of the last five years refusing green tea anywhere that wasn’t a Japanese restaurant – for some reason, even the complimentary cups they do at Wagamama’s are reliably great – and exploring other teas. I’ve discovered lots of teas I love along the way, but every time I came across some nice looking green tea, I’d feel wistful that I knew I wouldn’t enjoy it the way I once had and so would pass it over.

A few months ago, I was visiting my parents and discovered a small stash of Jasmine tea bags. Out of curiosity I made a cup and a beautiful aroma rose out of the cup, it was a truly gorgeous cup of tea. I gathered up the remaining bags and rationed them out over the following months. Slowly, carefully I’ve been experimenting with green teas again. Mostly Jasmine teas, but with more generic green teas, a flavoured green tea here, an iced tea there, the surprisingly pleasing matcha latte when I’m in the mood. (Why are matcha lattes so good? I’ve accidentally put milk in green tea on several occasions and its vile. It shouldn’t work – and admittedly depending where you get them, it sometimes doesn’t – but somehow, a good matcha latte is divine.) At work the other day, I unearthed a box of green tea, which a Malaysian colleague had brought back for the office from a recent holiday to Korea. It is one of the mildest, loveliest green teas I’ve ever drunk. The box is massive and now lives on my desk, because I’m the only one who drinks it. It’s amazing. I’ve rediscovered my love of green tea.

But I’ll be keeping that to myself most places, in fact lets just keep it between ourselves, because we’re about due for another cycle of ‘green tea is good for you’ and if people find out I’ll start to receive boxes of unloved green tea once more. And I’d really like, to just keep on, enjoying my green tea.

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Cooking the Book – June Edition

I thought I might have trouble meeting my targets for this month as I was away from home for a substantial chunk of the month. However, it turned out that the spells away from home would end up acting as motivators, as I ended up cooking both my target items out of the need to use up food I had in the house before I went away for a week.

First up I made what turned out to be a massive pot of veggie chilli. The recipe in question was actually Baked Sweet Potatoes with veggie chilli, which was utterly delicious, but I did end up making a variety of other dishes with the leftover chilli. (Or to give the dish its full name – Baked sweet potatoes stuffed with a hot bean and lentil chilli with red peppers and port. Except it was cheap red wine rather than port.) I think I’ve almost mastered the art of successfully spicing my chilli without the aid of one of those packet spice mixes. I’ve been a bit disappointed in some of Lorraine’s other takes on ‘chilli’ but this one is pretty good, though I heartily recommend adding a few large mushrooms and draining your chopped tomatoes before adding to the chilli wouldn’t go amiss. Also the recipe suggests fresh parsley if you don’t have any coriander – or like me, you’re one of those people for which it tastes like soap – and having a glut of the same in my herb garden I was delighted to find that works extremely well.
Baked Sweet Potatoes with Chilli
June’s monthly bake was once again brownies. This time they were pear and dark chocolate. It was an adaption of a raspberry and chocolate brownie recipe. Last month I bought some small pears and though they took a couple of weeks to ripen, once they did they were delicious and I absolutely didn’t mind heating two a day for a week when they all ripened at once. So I bought another bag of the exact same pears and, naturally, after 3 weeks – including one with a bunch of bananas sitting on top of them – they remained brick hard. Unfortunately a lot of recipes that involve pears state silly things like ‘use two perfectly ripe pears’ as though everyone I know who cooks pears is only cooking them because they won’t ripen! So I gave up and poached them (Japanese-style in mirin with star anise) and stuck the poached pears into the brownie mix. I like this brownie recipe better than the one for the beetroot brownies, because you melt everything in a pot rather than trying to blend the room temperature ingredients in a blender – eminently more sensible in my opinion. Though if I make them again I think I’ll add cinnamon – I’d normally use cinnamon sticks when poaching the pears but I couldn’t find any until I turned up a box hiding behind the brown sugar and by then it was too late.
Pear and Dark Chocolate Brownies

They are particularly nice warm with a generous spoonful of leftover crème freche…

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Cooking the Book – May Edition

I hoped, that last month’s post would knock something free in my brain and I would be able to get back to cooking adventurously and writing about it. It did actually knock something loose, because I managed to hit both my targets for the month within a week of writing the post. Hooray!

I manage to combine both my challenges in one during May by baking something from my new cookbook. Technically this is a more substantial variation on a theme from a previous cookbook of hers. I’ve previously made pesto pastry puffs (and for that matter nutella puffs too) from instructions that were a side-not on another recipe – a way of using up left over pastry. This time they’re the main feature and you’re supposed to fill them with chorizo and lemongrass. I chose to make a vegetarian version picking and mixing from the alternate filling option that the recipe offered to some up with smoked cheese and sundried tomato paste puffs.
Constructing the Puffs
With the chunkier filling these are somewhat more substantial than the previous versions I’ve made, but that’s no bad thing, turning them from canapés to a light lunch. They are absolutely amazing hot, but are a bit claggy cold and don’t re-heat well so I’d recommend only making them when you’ve a few people round for nibbles to help you eat them up while they’re still warm. Either that or just make a smaller batch, or maybe a half batch each of the savoury and the sweet?
Smoked Cheese and Sundried Tomato Puffs

The second one is a bit of a cheat. I wasn’t originally going to count it, but its fun so I’m going to mention it anyway. The recipe book that I’m working through at the moment is front heavy on canapés and cocktails and the like. One of those funny little things, was making fruity icecubes for cocktails and summer drinks. As the weather was rather nice for a sizeable chunk of May – it seems a very long time ago, looking out at the June rain – I decided to try my own version with blueberries. Blueberry icecubes, I’m delighted to report, are rather tasty, though I think if I make them again, I might add a teeny amount of blue food colouring to the water to really make them pop visually. The downside of blueberry icecubes, is that if the blueberry is too close to the top of the cube and end up poking out of the water as they freeze, they sort of pop, and look like they’ve frozen mid explosion. Which is kinda comical looking, but not very appetizing if you’re serving them to someone else. There’s probably a reason the recipe suggested raspberries or strawberries.

Blueberry icecubes

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Can’t Cook, Election Will Eat Me

It’s been that sort of few weeks. You know its bad when your go to de-stress activity is too stressful to contemplate. (Also my laptop broke down and was out of commission for about three weeks, adding a whole extra level of unnecessary stress.) However, I have almost been keeping up with my cooking challenges

In February I hit both my targets, making something from my new cookbook and baking something. On the baking front I made a pie, before there are few things more comforting on cold winter nights than a pie. This was a mushroom and chestnut pie, for which I finally got round to buying an actual pie tin, so I managed to actually get the pastry ratio right to give it a full lid! Though I did end up making too much filling for the pie due to it not being my usual ‘deep-dish’ pie, and I found the filling to be a little dry – I think it would have benefited from a bit of spinach of to keep it moist, or made just a more runny sauce. I have the fear of ending up with a ‘soggy bottom’ but I think my insistence on blind baking my pie before-hand probably means I’m safe on that front.

Mushroom & Chestnut Pie

From my new cookbook I made a variation of the ‘Carribean cups’. One of the alternate versions Lorraine suggests is to fill the cups with chilli con carne and I happened to have some leftover veggie chilli in the fridge needing used up. These are a slightly fiddly but delightful little dish. They make a fun lunch, the kind of thing that with a bit of practice would make a good way to turn leftovers into something a bit different when you unexpectedly have guests for lunch. Though probably only the kind of guests that don’t mind getting a little messy.

Carribean Cups

I was somewhat less successful in March, but nonetheless I managed some other successes. I discovered I had a bag of pearl barley in the cupboard, that had clearly been bought for a particular recipe many moons before and then forgotten about, as it needed used up that month. So I did a bulk cook of the pearl barley and attempted to fork my way through one of the Guardian’s four ways with a bag of what have you articles. In the end I only made two of the recipes but I made the sausage casserole several times and it’s a thing of gloriousness. Finally I’ve found an effective and tasty way to cook quorn sausages so that they a) taste nice and b) actually successfully quash my occasional bouts of sausage cravings. It’s a really satisfying and filling comfort food this dish and I recommend adding a couple of sticks of celery to it if you have them. Add them just before the spinach, so they get nice and tender but still retain a bit of bite to give the casserole more texture. I only used them because I found some lurking under the spinach in the salad box but I now can’t imagine the dish without it.

Sausage Casserole

In April, despite best intentions involving muffins, no baking actually happened. However, I did actually cook something from my cookbook adapting a chilli con carne recipe for quorn mince. Which was, fine. Over the years I’ve evolved my own veggie chilli recipe that I make a few variations on, depending on what I have in the fridge and this recipe couldn’t hold a candle to it. I mean, how much can you truly believe in a chilli con carne recipe that doesn’t involve kidney beans anyway? Perfectly edible, just a bit disappointing.

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Ten for Ten

So, the news has broken, that ideally we should be trying to have ten portions of fruit and vegetables each day instead of the previously recommended five. Now, even as a vegetarian who comfortably gets their five a day most days, I thought, that’s a bit steep. Yet I remember as a kid, discussing with my mum the whole 5 a day thing and her telling me that actually it was meant to be much higher – 7 or 8 portions – than that but they picked five because they thought that was a reasonable amount that wouldn’t cause people to revolt. And really, at 80g a ‘portion’ that’s not all that much once you’ve weighed some actual fruit.

So I decided to do a fun project over the first ten days of this month to see how easy it was/how much I needed to change my diet in order to get my 10 portions a day. I should add, that I made this decision at about six this evening, while waiting for the oven to heat up and contemplating how much baby sweet corn I would need to have with my dinner to count as a portion, so I’m starting from a reasonably neutral position of a normal workday. Also that I didn’t weigh my portions until dinner so I’m making rough guesses on those.

I was actually surprised by how few portions I ate today. In the process of researching how much an official portion is I made some frustrating discoveries. The guidelines encourage diversity in your fruit/veg consumption, so multiple portions of the same thing don’t count. Potatoes aren’t a vegetable! (Though sweet potatoes are…) Kiwi fruit are only half a portion each – I don’t think I’ve ever eaten more than one kiwi in a sitting; one is the perfect size to tuck in your lunchbox or to chop on your cereal. Which all meant that the big bottle of homemade smoothie I took to work with me today – I’m recovering from the cold so I’ve been making a lot of smoothies lately – with its two kiwi fruit and three pears – only counts as two portions. Thank goodness for my kale and blue cheese soup at lunch, I’ve no idea how to count a liquid but I reckon between the giant leek, three sticks of celery and half a bag of kale, there has to be at least 2 portions per serving.

I was also surprised how much baby sweet corn I did need to make up the portion. I’d picked up a packet of reduced baby sweet corn and mange tout on my way home and ended up using half of each to make up my 80g portion. (Apparently what those packets contain is essentially a portion of each veg.) However, when I actually came to eat my veggies, there did seem to be an excess of them, so clearly I’ve just been skimping on them in the past!

All in all though, today’s eating was pretty average and I still managed seven portions of fruit and veg over the course of the day. It’ll be interesting to see how much better or worse I do once I start thinking about them properly.

Dinner - ten for ten challenge

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Seasonal Eatings

There’s a little bit of a vegetable crisis in the UK at the moment. While the weather here has been suspiciously mild, Spain – where something like 80% of Europe’s salad vegetables are grown – and Italy have been experiencing flooding and snow. Hence, the noticeable lacks of things like lettuce, spinach, courgette, aubergine and broccoli.

My main question is, who’s eating all that salad at this time of year? It’s cold here, what are they playing at? On the other hand, not being a fan of either aubergine or courgette, the news of a shortage gives me a surge of relief, perhaps I’ll see more ‘vegetarian options’ on the menu that aren’t centred on either vegetable!

This winter appears to be one that is determined to make me think more actively about seasonal vegetables and seasonal eating more generally. I suspect there must either have been a bit of a cauliflower shortage earlier this year, either that or there’s been a glut of the stuff the last few winters. Since becoming a vegetarian, I’ve grown used to buying a big cauliflower cheaply to bulk out winter curries and soups. At the start of the season there appeared to be very few of them around and once they did appear they were twice the price they’d been the year before. Handily beetroot was plentiful and reasonably priced so I’ve been continuing my experiments in rehabilitating it into my diet with some enthusiasm.

It wasn’t until spinach disappeared from the shelves that I realised quite how dependent I’d become on it as a source iron and general colour in meals. I also hadn’t noticed, quite how often kale could be found on special offer, or just reduced at the end of the day. I still need to pump up my iron levels, so I’ve been experimenting with substituting kale for spinach. Now that I’ve learned the trick to quickly and effectively steam cook my kale it’s proving surprisingly versatile. I’m still a bit dubious about trying it in muffins or on pizza, but so far it’s been delicious in dal and a perfect substitute for broccoli in many a meal. Weirdly, on the broccoli front, while there’s been an utter dearth of those familiar little trees around the place, I’ve been able to pick up packets of broccoli florets (or mixed broccoli and cauliflower florets) in the reduced section on a regular basis. So broccoli and cauliflower cheese has become a regular treat for me (I made it a few weeks back with leftover Xmas cheese, brie makes a really very decadent sauce) and sweet potato and kale bubble and squeak is an unexpected delight.

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