being veggie

CCC Intinery Update

I’ve not been very adventurous in the kitchen the last couple of weeks. The first week it was intentional, my big pasta bake from my last post, was meant to see me through my week of early shifts and it did. Then I was able to make a surprise visit to my parents for the weekend, and this week while I’ve been on annual leave it has, honestly been mostly too hot to cook anything complicated. I made myself a nice giant couscous and beetroot salad – with sprouting broccoli and baby sweet corn alongside the essential feta cheese – and some tasty beetroot hummus to use up the rest of the beetroot, and those lurking flat breads.

I was thinking about what I could make for the coming week – perhaps a stir-fry? – and I wasn’t feeling inspired, so I decided to look to my cupboards for inspiration and remembered that I had actually documented what was in there so I looked up my list and updated with some new acquisitions. While I was off work I’d given my kitchen a good tidy out, re-organised some cupboards and sorted out some better storage solutions. It seemed a waste to just throw that empty box that the Christmas crackers – the kind you have with cheese, not the kind you pull – came in, it’s a good sturdy plastic box, so now it’s keeping all the less usual dried ingredients I’ve picked up lately for one recipe or another and haven’t got round to trying. (There’s two different kinds of flour, both loose and pre-made polenta, split yellow peas, pinto beans and randomly a bag of caster sugar – spot who intended to bake lots this week before the heatwave hit…) Hopefully having them all in one place will encourage me to actually use them up!

First up we have a can of jackfruit, I dug up a recipe for a bean chilli with jackfruit, because a) I love chilli and lately my chilli has felt a bit uninspired so that seemed a good option for trying out a new ingredient and b) that’s an ideal bulk cook meal for the week ahead. Also, lately I seem to have lost the ability to leave the supermarket without at least one can of some variety of beans or another and this recipe uses several different kinds.

At some point I found a flat-bread recipe that called for corn flour – in the American sense of maize flour, rather than in the UK sense of the starchy stuff you use to thicken sauces – and went to the effort of tracking it down. The recipe book in question had a bunch of recipes that used it so it seemed a good plan at the time. However the recipe book has long been back at the library – and for obvious reasons I can’t get it back out – and most other recipes that I would expect to use it, give substitutions for the sensible reason that it’s actually a weirdly specialist ingredient here, I eventually tracked it down a health food shop, I guess because it’s gluten free? Anyway, eventually I’ve tracked down a tortilla recipe that at least uses some maize flour so that seems a fun accompaniment to my chilli.

That’ll still leave quite a lot of maize flour, so I had the bright idea of making cornbread or at least cornbread muffins, but all the UK recipes I’ve come across seem to use polenta rather than maize flour – and frankly a lot of chefs seem to treat the two as interchangeable, heck the BBC Food website, usually my ally in these matters, offers ‘maize’ recipes that use both polenta and cornmeal interchangeably. I am a terribly confused penguin.

(More importantly, if you’re a vegetarian and therefore don’t put bacon in your cornbread, what do you put in…? Spring onions maybe?)

Finally, given how nice the weather has been lately, it seems like a good time to take another run at making Bubble Tea. After the success of my tapioca pudding, I feel like I have a better grasp of how long to cook my pearls for now, so I have a more realistic view of the time investment required.

I’ve got a few more ideas lurking about, but I think that’s quite adventurous enough for one week…

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CCC – From Italy to India

And back again…

I fell down a hole in the internet watching Indian cooking programmes – a classic 90s series from the BBC and a more recent series on Netflix that was in Hindi with subtitles – and got side-tracked from my efforts to cook my way through my little Italian and Pasta recipe book. It was a very tasty detour, I made Matar Paneer again, along with a lovely dal – it’s been ages since I last cooked with urid dal and it’s such a good and different flavour even before you add the spices, nutty and fragrant – and a quick and dirty quorn korma, the leftovers of which ended up as lunch one day, wrapped up in a flour tortilla.

This week it’s been back on the wagon for Italian cooking and I’m back to working my way through the recipe book. First up I tackled a pasta frittata, I’ve never actually made frittata before so that was it’s own adventure. I cut the recipe down by half – largely because it called for six eggs and I only had three – and didn’t sufficiently cut back the pasta, so it was a bit, bumpy, on top rather than the even surface I’d hoped for. It was also supposed to be made with mackerel, which wasn’t happening, so I substituted quorn and also swapped out frozen peas and used frozen edamame beans instead. I ended up using my in-between sized frying pan – which I’d been debating whether to keep or not as I’d never previously used it – which proved the perfect size for the purpose. Though if I ever make a full sized frittata for guests, I’m definitely using my big frying pan, as it’s oven safe and I was a bit nervous of my wee frying pan’s handle when I realised it would need to go under the grill. (I left the handle sticking out and it was fine.) While I feel the recipe may need some further refining for my preferences, it makes a nice lunch or light summer dinner, particularly with some oven chips.

Having both mushrooms and leeks needing used up, I did a bulk cook of baked macaroni – unusually for me, I bought actual macaroni, as I needed more pasta anyway so saw no need to substitute – I must confess, I turned it into a more traditional pasta bake sauce, rather than a creamy mushroom and leek topping for the pasta, and used panko breadcrumbs I found in the cupboard instead of faffing around grating bread crusts and frying them, I did mix them with not!parmesan for a more authentic flavour. I do think I prefer crème fraîche as part of that kind of sauce – where you make a roux – rather than as the sole base of a sauce, it was creamy and indulgent here, whereas on it’s own in a sauce I tend to find it a little sour/tart tasting. I used about half the pasta, mushrooms and leeks the recipe called for and still ended up with enough food for four portions so I dread to think how much the full recipe would have made.

One of the unexpected side pleasures of my meal planning adventures, is that I often have lots of left-over odds and ends in the fridge, that are ideal for throwing together more adventurous weekend brunches. On Sunday I had some ‘ripen-at-home’ apricots left and grilled them with a dollop of mascarpone I’d bought for another recipe, and drizzled with honey and it was revelatory. I’ve always considered mascarpone a rather bland ingredient – nice in a sauce but not really worth the extra cost – and rather cloying if you try and serve the leftovers with fruit or cake. However, whether it was the grilling itself, or some alchemy with the honey, but the combination of it and the grilled apricots was like an explosion of joy in my mouth – just divine.

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CCC Week 3

One of the unexpectedly useful things about writing these posts is that they help keep track of how long this whole strange situation has been on the go. Sometime it feels like there’s some kind of weird time dilation field over everything so that things simultaneously feel like it’s been forever and no time at all. Writing what essentially amounts to a lockdown food diary helps keep track of things. We’re now into the fourth week.

Week three of lockdown didn’t really produce much in the way of exciting cooking. I did, however, manage to cook the two meals I’d planned for at the end of last week. I made some slight tweaks to the recipe for Matar Paneer to suit my own tastes but it turned out delicious, exactly what I wanted to eat at the start of last week. Towards the end of the week I made my sweet potato and kale bubble and squeak, even though I had to pick up more sweet potatoes as it turns out to not actually be a ‘use up your leftovers’ sweet potatoes recipe as you need pretty much a whole bag of them. On previous occasions that I’ve made this recipe I’ve always felt I had either too much or too little for the oven dishes that I have, but I now have one of my gran’s old pyrex casserole dishes which is both the perfect size and has a lid. No need to faff around with cling film for the leftovers! In an unusual point of connection between the two dishes, hot paprika was the hero of the hour ensuring that both dishes were the correct amount of spicy.

The weather is now mild enough that soup feels excessive, so realistically unless I need to break into my freezer stash, that’s it for soup for the next few months. (I don’t think I mentioned it in the previous blog entries, but at the start of this whole situation, I made several pots of soup and frozen a couple of portions of each kind for emergency, mostly in case I got ill. Most of the top drawer of my freezer is now given over to tubs of soup.)

Several of my cooking plans lately have been scuppered by the newest thing to be in short supply in the shops – eggs. There are over-ripe bananas in the bowl, I could make banana bread – no eggs. I’m not really eating soup so no point making soda bread, I could use up that buttermilk in pancakes – no eggs. I’ve got spinach and feta needing used up, could make those egg and spinach breakfast muffins – no eggs. I was so pleased that I’d succeeded in getting chopped tomatoes – and passata – at a reasonable price, only to be stymied by no eggs.

I suspect that the packet of flour tortilla wraps that are currently the sole occupant of my bread bin might be this week’s lunch-time heroes. So far they’ve already housed the last of my mini potato waffles – I’m trying to make space in the freezer – on a bed of cream cheese and spinach. A pot of chilli is almost always a good shout, there could be burritos, or quesadillas or even enchiladas quite easily, and that would definitely lend itself to freezable leftovers.

This week has started off well, with the yoghurt-maker doing it’s thing and veggie sushi for tea tonight, I usually make far too much rice but I made enough for three rolls of maki – one pepper, one carrot and one mixed – which seems much more manageable. I don’t remember now what I opened the Ketjap Manis for but it’s that much thicker than soy sauce so it’s ideal for dipping sushi into.

So while I’m on a roll, this coming week I also want to make, bao buns with mushroom filling – I found pre-made bao buns in the reduced chiller and I’ve a recipe for a tasty sounding filling – English muffins, as I may not have eggs but I do have plenty of flour and banana pancakes, because Jack Monroe to the rescue I’ve found a way to make pancakes with buttermilk but without eggs, all while using up my over-ripe bananas – victory!

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Covid Cupboard Cooking: Week 1

While I was working on my last post I ended up getting distracted and creating an inventory of my food cupboards, which seems the ultimate in procrastination but has actually turned out to be very useful in terms of meal planning. I’ve always been a fan of meal planning and food shopping with a targeted list, but in these strange days it’s become even more important than before. Also it means that if I find myself faced with a bargain I can make the impulse buy or not based on knowing exactly what I have in the cupboards that I can cook it with.

As part of this challenge I’m attempting to use up some of the dried pulses and tins that having been lurking longer in my cupboards than I’d like. Also those little ends of packets where I had just too much to fit in the available jar. (The section of my cutlery drawer that houses my freezer/packet clips is full to busting in a way it hasn’t been since I first moved in and still had an empty freezer.) To that end I’ve used up some lurking dried mung beans in my – broccoli and blue cheese – soup, freeing up a jar to keep the rest of my quinoa in, and made giant couscous for dinner one night using up the rather sad end of a packet so that it all fits in one jar. I don’t know that the packet of cheddar and sundried tomato bread mix that I turned into a loaf the other day really counts towards this challenge – as I only bought it as a treat a couple of weeks ago – but it sure does taste good. I’d planned to do more bulk cooking this week but I discovered that there was actually very little free space in my freezer. There were, however, lots of half used packets of things lurking at the back of drawers so I’ve also been trying to use them up. First up were the end of a bag of edamame beans that had frozen solid – I’ve fully defrosted them and chucked a handful of them in almost everything I’ve cooked this week. They work really well in giant couscous and with gnocchi, but less so in an omelette. I also finished off a packet of ‘no duck’ Chinese pasty things which were definitely elevated by being served with some edamame and the Ketjap Manis I unearthed in my cupboard inventorying.

I’d also stocked up on frozen fruit mixes as I’d thought fresh fruit might be harder to source at the moment, but on my last grocery run, I discovered that evidentially lots of people had had the same thought as I was able to pick up a pile of bargains in the fruit and veg section – I got a bag of carrots, a cauliflower and a bunch of spring onions for the princely total of 22p – and other than bananas and tangerines, fruit seems plentiful. So it looks like I won’t need to keep my jam gooseberries for keeping up the vitamin C and can actually make jam with them.

Oh and I did track down those dried black beans, it turns out they’re in a cupboard in my mum’s kitchen – a cupboard that, despite my not living there in six years, is still referred to as ‘my’ cupboard – if they’ve been there all this time I suspect that pickling them will be the only way to still get any use out of them at this stage.

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Missing Sushi

One of the things I miss most after moving to the Highlands, is Japanese food. I had been thoroughly spoiled in the Central Belt always being under an hour away from decent Japanese food.

One of my friends likes to entertain her work colleagues when we’re meeting up for sushi dates, telling them that she’s going for sushi with the friend that introduced her to sushi – and that said friend does not eat fish. Which is funny and also true. I don’t eat fish.

The first time I ate sushi, it was at Yo Sushi on Oxford Street and the friends I went with encouraged me to eat the veggie options and work up to the raw fish. I ate and loved the veggie options and chickened out of the raw fish, but I was determined so I went again when I was back in Glasgow, gave my friend the same advice and savoured all the veggie options while she fell head over heels for the raw fish element. Somewhere along the way I became a vegetarian and she was diagnosed with coeliac disease and sushi became our go to dinner choice because it easily accommodated both our dietary requirements.

Anyway…

I love and miss eating sushi on the regular – the M&S veggie sushi option is better than nothing but all too often a disappointment – and then I realised that I could just, learn to make it myself! I could get the ingredients and the kit fairly easily, learn to roll sushi – I got a book from the library and where that failed youtube came to my rescue – and then make myself cute little bento boxes of sushi for lunch. (Tasty and Instagrammable!)

I started out with sushi balls which are apparently the easiest to make, and while the first few fell apart a bit when eaten, I got the hang of compressing them properly and the later ones in the batch could be safely dipped in soy sauce without collapsing.

My second attempt was in making sushi rolls of the conical variety which seemed a manageable step up in complexity. However this was stymied by the fact that I’d accidentally picked up nori strips rather than sheets so they were too narrow for my purpose. And honestly for most practical purposes as far as I can tell, as they’re about the width you want a maki to be but not long enough to actually hold one together. Perhaps cut into even thinner strips to hold pressed sushi and it’s topping together? I’m not sure you could even make the little sushi boats – whose proper name I’ve forgotten – with them. So the experiment went on hold until I could get hold of some nori sheets.

Once I’d acquired more sensibly sized nori sheets I cooked up another batch of rice – much better consistency this time, and I suspect using actual sushi seasoning rather than making my own from the recipe book helped – and took another run at it. My sushi cones were less than successful, but after some trial and error with the sushi mat I think I’m beginning to get the hang of rolling maki – I have a tendency to over load my nori with rice and not leave room for the filling. But with practice I’m definitely getting better at both general rice handling and also at properly portioning out my rice. My rolls are still chunkier than I’d like but I can now make futomaki that I wouldn’t be ashamed to take to work in my lunchbox even if I’m not quite ready to serve them to anyone else yet!

I may however, need to invest in an actual sushi knife, either that or a whetstone, as apparently I don’t own a single knife sharp enough to be able to cut sushi rolls in an easy or neat fashion!

Sushi

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Why No Meat?

It’s an odd time to be a vegetarian. That may be an odd claim to make, but in a strange way it’s true.

In lots of ways, it’s actually a really great time to be a vegetarian. While it would still be quite difficult to eat out in my neck of the woods if you’re a vegetarian who doesn’t like cheese or mushrooms, things are definitely improving. (Indian restaurants are the saving grace of many a northerly vegetarian.) The range of foods on the menu and options in the supermarket has come on in leaps and bounds these last few years. No longer is the vegetarian the ghost at the feast, indeed I know a fair few non-vegetarians who will go for the vegetarian option because it’s a little more interesting, less bland and uninteresting than whatever is being offered as standard to the carnivores.

The thing is that I’m not a ‘meat is murder’ vegetarian and that status seems to stymie both rampant carnivores and intense vegans. I grew up in the countryside, surrounded by dairy farms, my parents growing their own vegetables and raising chickens. I learned early not to name anything you would later need/have to eat and that you really can taste the difference between a fresh free range egg and one from a caged hen. It made me both unsentimental about eating animals and sharply aware that cruelty in the process was unnecessary. Back when I was eating meat, I never quite got the whole outrage over halal meat, a slit throat seemed a pretty quick death to me – and frankly as long as the death of quick and clean, I was always more concerned with the animal’s living conditions when it was alive than the last ten minutes of it’s life. (Sometimes the greatest kindness you can do an animal is to make sure the blade is good and sharp.) I’m not morally opposed to eating animals; I’m morally opposed to the cruelties of industrial and factory farming.

I became a vegetarian for a variety of reasons. There was no one thing that made me a vegetarian; rather there were an accretion of issues over years that built up until becoming a vegetarian seemed inevitable. I’ve long been cognisant of the environmental impact, from excess methane from cows, to MacDonald’s clearing rainforests to graze cattle, to the damage to the sea floor from deep-sea trawlers. When I began to think about vegetarianism in regard to myself, it was during the initial ‘meat-free Mondays’ campaign; I appreciate that kind of collective action, lots of people making a small change to create a big difference. If you want to change people’s habits, make it easy for them. (When I was a student, my flat-mates didn’t recycle glass until I stuck a bin in the corner of the kitchen with a silly multi-coloured label on it and a promise that I’d empty it. By the end of the term they were washing out their glass jars before they put them in my bin and by the end of the year, whoever was taking the bin out would take the glass to the bottle bank while they were out.) I didn’t really intend to become a vegetarian; I planned to be a flexitarian. I tried out vegetarianism for a month at a time on an annual basis for a while, trying to cut down my meat consumption only for it to slowly creep back up. I always noted an improvement in my health. I felt less lethargic and less prone to bloating and gastric discomfort. (I suspect now that I may have had a mild intolerance to chicken.) I ate better in general because I had to think about what I was eating and plan my meals more efficiently. I never really thought that my own health experience might be more widely applicable but increasingly the science is showing that excess meat consumption is having widespread, long-term health impacts throughout the developed world. Doing something that improved my health and had a positive impact on the environment and meant I could stop worrying about how to access the animal welfare of producing the meat I ate, made it an easy choice to make.

This seems to provoke a particularly intense response from hardened carnivores and vegans alike. My failure to fit neatly into their mental dichotomy seems to provoke a particularly virulent ire, as though their usual arguments not being appropriate to me, is a personal affront. Perhaps I just came to vegetarianism to late or by too roundabout a route to have manifested that zeal and sanctimonious righteousness that seems expected from me from both sides. I just think we should eat less meat, and be more ethically responsible about sourcing the meat we do eat. That doesn’t really work as a campaign slogan or printed on a t-shirt. Perhaps it’s a product of these times; that we seem caught in the politics of extremes, of the black and white argument, where you are either for or against something with no nuanced ground in between.

Strange days indeed.

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Beetroot Double Feature

This month I’ve been doing a mini-challenge, not just with food, but with a variety of projects. At the start of July I declared this month, ‘finish the things’ month. I’ve a bit of an unfortunate tendency to start far too many projects and not finish them, and while I’m certainly better at that than I used to be, it’s an on-going work in progress that needs regular stock-taking and attention. Mostly this month has involved finishing half-read books, watching documentaries I have book-marked in tabs and not starting new craft-projects. However, I’ve been trying to do it more generally in my cupboards, which has meant (alongside using up bottles of moisturiser & shampoo with tiny amounts left in the bottom) that I’ve been trying to cook up my cupboards rather than buying more things.

As part of my project to re-habilitate beetroot, I’ve taken to keeping one of those vacuum-packs of cooked beetroot in the fridge as emergency vegetables during winter. Quick and easy to use, lasts for months in the fridge. However, you do need to remember to actually use them, as it’s easy to forget about them once the better weather – and greater vegetable availability/variety – returns. Handily I discovered I had some giant couscous needing used up, so I picked up some feta cheese cubes, cropped some spinach from my container garden and made my summer variant of beetroot risotto. However, because I was only making enough to use up the remains of the couscous I was still left with half a packet of – now blended – beetroot. Which prompted the question: what else to make?

One of the major challenges that I’ve faced with my ’52 ingredients’ challenge, is that I end up with lots of new things to use up. It’s all well and good finding a recipe to try several new ingredients on, but I end up spending the rest of the month trying to use up the remains of said ingredients. (Most recipes involving tahini only require a spoonful or two, but it comes in a sizeable jar. I got to the point where I tried eating it on toast but that was a decidedly joyless experience so we’ll be giving that one a miss.) Which limits the options for making things with other new ingredients and so we get stuck in a vicious circle. However, while searching for other recipes for beetroot, I discovered a recipe for a selection of Summer picnic dips, one of which involved beetroot.

It’s technically called Pink cannellini and beetroot dip, however, I didn’t have cannellini beans in the cupboard but I did have a jar of black-eyed beans. Black-eyed beans and Beetroot dip has a pleasantly alliterative sound, and, I’m pleased to report, a pleasantly mellow flavour. It was a four-fold success. It used up my left-over beetroot before it could go off, it meant I tried a new ingredient (black-eyed beans) and it helped use up one of last month’s ‘new’ ingredients (a generous tablespoon of tahini paste). Which in itself would have been good enough for me, but it was very tasty and I’ve been trying it with various different things for picnic lunches.

Based on that success, I’m definitely have a bash at their hummus recipe. I’m pretty sure I’ve got some pumpkin seeds in the cupboard to decorate it with…

Picnic lunch

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April Ingredients

So March was a complete wash when it came to this challenge. I sort of have the excuse of having been sent to another city for work for a week and then having a horrible cold for another couple of weeks but ultimately it’s just proof of my procrastination that I didn’t get any new ingredients tried out last month. So this month I decided to try and get a jump on the month and start things off early doors. And it was a good job that I did, because after that first week of industriousness I didn’t actually manage to try anything else new, despite my best intentions.

Tinga Paste

Pretty much every American I’ve ever known has told me that Mexican food here is not remotely like Mexican food stateside, never mind anything like the food in actual Mexico. So I can’t remotely claim that I know if this is remotely a legitimately authentic Mexican ingredient. However, what it is, is delicious. Not having a high tolerance for chillies I wasn’t exactly going to dump an entire jar over some chicken – or in my case ‘chicken-style’ quorn – as per the jar’s instructions, however I did stick a couple of spoonfuls into my pot of veggie chilli and ended up with a smoky, mellow heat that definitely made me want to experiment with it further.

(I’m going to try making it into a marinade for quorn/chicken and put in quesadillas, or perhaps fajitas. Maybe I will finally achieve truly satisfying veggie fajitas…)

Frozen Smoothie Mix

For things other than smoothies, I might add. They actually make a great cheap and easy source of out of season fruit in bleak mid-winter (or as was the case for me, when spring is refusing to spring, you’ve got a lingering cold and a craving for fruit that isn’t apples or tangerines). I started making my own little fruit pots back when I started swimming before work, to fend of my muffin cravings, and finding myself on the early shift, I wanted a treat to motivate me through to my breakfast break. I’d made peach yoghurt in my yoghurt maker so I wanted to make the fruit puree with fruit that would compliment it. The frozen tropical smoothie mix proved a lifesaver, I picked out all the mango and pineapple – and most of the watermelon – cooked them down with some ginger, gently mashed them and voila – success! Breakfast was both cheering and tasty. However I was then left with a pile of frozen kiwis – and the remaining watermelon and stray pineapple chunk – that needed used up. Just sticking them in a smoothie seemed like admitting defeat. So instead they will be cupcakes! I know, I know, but do you know how hard it is to find recipes for kiwi fruit that actually involve them being cooked rather than acting as decoration/accompaniment? Many fruitless and frustrating hours were wasted.

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Emergency Back-Up Dinners

Back in December, when I rescued dinner disaster from jaws of defeat with a Tortilla Pizza, I mentioned that I was adding that particular recipe to my Emergency Back-up Dinners list. After finding myself making emergency back-up tortilla pizza for my dinner this evening, I thought it was probably high time that I actually wrote about emergency back-up dinners.

I am, and indeed have, if not always been, certainly been my entire adult life, a chronic procrastinator. I can procrastinate anything, some people merely procrastinate on things they don’t want to do or things that are hard, I procrastinate on things I want to do and enjoy. As a student I tried to use food to motivate myself, which was a truly terrible idea, as I’d end up procrastinating eating until I started to feel nauseas. Hence why I ended up turning food prep into a self-care routine. I make detailed plans on what I want to cook, because otherwise I’m capable of standing staring at a cupboard full of food for the best part of an hour, frozen by inertia, unable to figure out what I want to eat and getting ever hungrier. While as an adult, my relationship with food is much healthier, if I’m having a bad day, I’m entirely capable of procrastinating on making dinner until its two late to make whatever I actually wanted to make.

So for those days, I have Emergency Back-up Dinners. Simple, straightforward dinners, that require minimal prep, short cooking times and only a few ingredients. They almost always involve some variety of cupboard staples that I almost always have in the cupboard and can use as a base. Also, because, often once I get started on cooking I’ll feel inspired to do something more adventurous, they’re also recipes that can be easily made more complex if you find yourself with extra energy or ingredients.

Melting Sunshine Rice
This was the very first of my vegetarian appropriate emergency back-up dinners. I’ve made so often over the years that it never even made it into my hand-made recipe-book, instead its ingrained in my brain. It came from a ‘Low-fat cooking’ recipe book I found at the back of a drawer in my mother’s kitchen over a decade ago. I think, technically, it was probably meant to be an accompaniment rather than the main dish, but its pure sunshiny comfort in a bowl all by itself. The main theme of the recipe is yellow. Cook the rice with a generous teaspoon of turmeric. Throw in a couple of handfuls of frozen sweet corn. Chop up half a yellow pepper into small pieces – I don’t think that’s actually in the original recipe but it does taste good – and depending how crunchy you prefer your peppers either add while the rice still has few minutes of cooking left or once you’ve drained your rice. Once you’ve drained the rice, return to the pot and tear up some mozzarella cheese (or any other suitably melt-y cheese you have in the fridge) and stir through the rice so it gets nice and melted. Spoon into bowls and enjoy. (You can put leftovers in a box in the fridge for an edible hug for lunch on a cold day, or eat straight from the pot if it’s been that sort of day.)

Sesame Hot Noodles
This has been in my repertoire almost as long as the Melting Sunshine Rice, and is a recipe firmly in the ‘that shouldn’t taste as good as it does’ genre. Cook a nest (or two) of egg noodles according to the packet instructions. Mix together a couple of tablespoons of sunflower and sesame oils, with a tablespoon of peanut butter and a crushed or finely chopped garlic clove. Once smooth, add finely chopped chilli to taste, three tablespoons of sesame seeds, four tablespoons each of soy sauce and lime juice and mix well. Drain your noodles, dump the gloopy disaster into the pan and stir through noodles until heated through. Serve and wonder aloud why on earth this tastes so good. If you’re feeling fancy, you can always stir-fry some spring onions, mushrooms and the protein of your choice and them to the pot, but its pretty satisfying just the way it comes.
Sesame Chilli NoodlesSesame Hot Noodles
Apparently some people have couscous in their cupboard that isn’t quick cook? I’m not one of those people. Couscous has always been an emergency food for me, whenever I go on holiday or other long journeys I take an emergency packet of lemon and coriander couscous with me in case of food disasters. In more civilised circumstances, I just dump a few ounces of couscous into a pint of vegetable stock, leave until its drunk all the stock, wilt some spinach in a pan with some feta cheese and stir through that and a couple of generous teaspoons of harissa paste. The best part of this dish – aside from being, as far as I’m concerned, the tastiest way to eat couscous – is that when you take your leftovers to work for lunch the following day, your colleagues will act like you’ve made the fanciest of lunches. Especially if you used the giant couscous they sell now. Unless your colleagues are actually from either side of the Mediterranean, then they’ll be on to you…
Harissa Couscous with Spinach & Feta
Emergency Back-up Ramen
Packet noodles – with those little sachets of flavouring – were a staple of my student days that I look back on with mix love and loathing. However, more recently I’ve discovered some in the world food section of the supermarket, that actually lives up to the name. They do in fact attempt to make a semi-decent basic noodle soup. So for ages I kept them in the cupboard as an emergency dinner, when I looked in the fridge and thought, that’s an odd assortment of veggies, and I’ve got some cooked meat and I really can’t be bothered making a stir-fry… These days I can only use the sesame flavoured ones, which handily makes a nice noodle soup all by itself, and I now have to throw in a handful of frozen quorn pieces in a the small frying pan, with a couple of spring onions, and a mushroom or two, and maybe half a pepper you’d forgotten was in the fridge. And suddenly you’ve got enough food for two, and can divide the noodles and accompaniments in two, have noodle, quorn and veg soup for dinner and noodles, with quorn, veg and whatever stir fry sauce has been lurking unloved in the fridge. (In a true emergency mix a tablespoon each of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, lime juice, corn flour and Chinese five spice together in a pot heat through until it thickens and pour over your leftovers. Despite almost never buying it, I almost always have sticky plum sauce in the fridge. It keeps well.)
Ramen!

Not Remotely Mexican Quesadillas
I love quesadillas. I do not, in any way shape or form, make remotely authentic quesadillas. Generally I make them with leftover veggie chilli and lots of cheese. However I have also been known to fill them with anything that fits the bill of thick, unctuous and spicy. Almost always, when I’ve made a stir fry or a curry in bulk, will end up with a three decent sized portions and one, awkwardly small sized portion. A portion that, if it were chilli, would be the perfect size for quesadillas. And honestly if you’re using up leftover korma or goan curry, and you happen to have some paneer in the fridge, its amazing in fake quesadillas.

Categories: being veggie, challenges, feeling philisophical | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The Joy of Brunch

I love brunch. Possibly the most millennial statement I could foreseeably make, but, as I am both a foodie and a millennial – and, as such, a foodie on a budget – it’s one that I feel comfortable standing by. One of the great discoveries of last year for me, partly, though not entirely, a product of both working shifts and giving up alcohol for several months was the joy of brunch dates. There are specialist places now – a bit hipster, but my goodness the food is great – which makes the whole process feel more like a treat and less like an apology for all involved. A great deal of my foodie-ness is a product of learning self-care as a student – I do a great deal of bulk cooking both because it works out cheaper and also because it makes my life easier in the future. But there are few greater joys for me when I have a day to myself or even just a free morning, than putting together a really nice breakfast or brunch.

In summer I love to make my own yoghurt and find all kinds of tasty and adventurous ways to use it up. My favourite being to make my own little compote pots, gently cooking some summer fruits and berries with a little ginger, toasting some oats and flaked almonds and perhaps adding some to a smoothie that needs thickened up a little. I must confess that when I was younger I always thought that muffins – the American style muffins, not the English ones, those have always been in the category of ‘posh toast’ for me – were too sweet for breakfast. However, once I learned to make my own there was no stopping me. The fact that the second variety of muffins I successfully pulled off were savoury – spinach and three cheese muffins are things of glory, especially if you perk them up in the microwave for 30 seconds before eating – undoubtedly helped.

Spinach and 3 Cheese Muffins

However, it’s in winter – especially wintery Sunday mornings – that I make the truly decadent brunches. Egg-heavy cooked breakfasts have always been associated with Sundays for me. When I was a kid, my dad used to make brunch for us on Sunday mornings and all his brunch recipes involved eggs. (Looking back on it, this was probably largely because we kept our own chickens and if you have plenty of fresh free-range eggs at your disposal, why on earth wouldn’t you?) And what I wouldn’t give to figure out his old ‘toad-in-a-hole’ recipe that he hasn’t made since I was in single digits and therefore can’t remember how he did it. Even in my earliest student days when I barely cooked at all, on a Friday morning, when we’d all been out the night before, I would gather up all the left-over eggs and bread and make French Toast for anyone that wanted it. Cooking eggs for breakfast will always be an act of care and indulgence.

One of the first pieces of kitchen equipment I bought myself after I moved to Inverness was a small omelette pan. It felt like a ridiculously indulgent purchase at the time, but it’s proved surprisingly useful for a variety of things – my other frying pan is a large heavy-duty, oven-safe frying pan – and is the perfect size to make a one-person omelette. Mastering the art of a good omelette and eggs scrambled exactly to my liking were both moments – years apart though they were – that felt weirdly like milestones of adulthood.

Fancy Scrambled Eggs

An awful lot of fancy brunch recipes have the unfortunate tendency to revolve around either salmon – I didn’t eat fish even before I was a vegetarian – or avocados – I like guacamole just fine, but getting ripe avocados here is more trouble than its worth – so I when I find a fancy egg based brunch recipe it is a thing of joy. Eggs in purgatory are decadence personified, but really needs a friend to make cooking it worthwhile. Baked eggs in halved peppers are a slightly precarious but ultimately delicious proposition, while spinach, feta and egg muffins are decadently glorious. Even just treating myself to some soda bread or cheese muffins to toast, butter lightly and serve with scrambled eggs is somehow soothing to the sole. And frankly adding a little paprika to most things makes everything feel that bit classier.

DSC_0387Omelette muffins!

I do sometimes make brunches that don’t involve eggs. I don’t often make my own (English) muffins, or my own lemon curd, but when I have both on hand there are few greater joys. I’ve never quite mastered making my own crepes, so I prefer to leave those to the professionals, but nonetheless I’ve had some fun trying! Just the other day I made what I insist on calling ‘posh cheese on toast’ where you toast some fancy bread (a nice roll, soda farl or muffin halved is particularly good for this) under the grill, then spread with either tomato paste or pesto, and then layer on some nice cheese (those slices of smoked cheese are the perfect size, but any cheese with a low-ish melting point will work, mozzarella is good if you’re in a hurry and/or really hungry) and stick it back under the grill to melt. If you’re feeling fancy you can put a couple of cherry tomatoes on the side or a sprig of parsley on top. While this morning, I made my own take on breakfast burritos, a recipe I concocted out of what I happened to have in my fridge and freezer one Saturday morning, when I needed something reasonably substantial and was distressingly out of eggs. I know that for some people waffles are sweet things, but for me the default setting of waffles is potato, and I like to keep emergency waffles in the freezer – normally the mini ones for both space and versatility reasons.

Breakfast BurritoPosh cheese on toast!

So my breakfast burrito consists of the following, cook half a dozen mini waffles by your preferred method, take one soft flour tortilla and warm lightly, then spread with sour cream, prep a handful of spinach and arrange on the tortilla. Once the waffles are cooked pile them on top of the spinach and sprinkle over whatever cheese you have to hand, and stick the whole thing back in the – now off, but still warm – oven or under the grill for a minute to let the cheese melt. Fold the whole thing up like a burrito and voila! Breakfast of champions! I had some chopped red pepper left over from dinner last night, so I sprinkled them over the waffles too, and they added a delightful crunch. You can replace the sour cream with cream cheese if that’s what you have in the fridge, but I made a big pot of chilli last week so sour cream it was.

There’s just something about having made myself an excellent brunch that sets me up right to have a productive weekend, like a big comforting hug in food form. A reassurance, that no matter what else I may or may not manage to achieve over the weekend; one thing at least has been a complete success.

Categories: being veggie, challenges, feeling philisophical | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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