Posts Tagged With: spinach

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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Cooking the Book – April Edition

In which I attempt to do more writing earlier in the month, so I don’t spend the last weekend of the month frantically cooking and frantically writing. One or the other please!

This month’s first experiment was Feta, Spinach and Basil Omelette Muffins. They’re really just mini baked omelettes but they are little bundles of delicious perfection. I’ve made them three times in the last month and I think I like them more each time. The first time I made them, they were mostly just egg and spinach with a little garlic and chive cheese I had left in the fridge and they were pretty good. But the second time I made them I had feta in the fridge and bought a small jar of sun-dried tomatoes specifically for the recipe – I’m not really a fan of them – and they were elevated to something amazing. In my original attempt the nutmeg was a bit much, but with the salty feta and the sundried tomatoes added to the mix, the flavours balanced perfectly.

Omelette muffins!

You’re supposed to mix the sun-dried tomato in with the eggs, herbs and spinach but I have enough trouble portioning the mix out correctly as it is, so I just put a piece in each muffin tin and then pour the mix over the top of it. Ensuring that I don’t have to fish bits of tomato out to ensure equal tomato distribution. The other advantage of putting the sundried tomato in first, is that a little of the oil it was stored in will seep out and stop the muffin sticking to the tin, removing the need to grease it.

I had great plans for what I was going to make as my second April dish. I was debating between Beetroot risotto and pumpkin & sweet potato gnocchi. But then: disaster! The gas man came to fit a new meter, did his checks and…condemned our cooker. So my elaborate cooking plans for last weekend went out the window. We do now have a shiny new oven (that goes above 190ºC!) but I was forced to scale back my ambitions.

I fell back on my old failsafe and made a smoothie. (Breakfast Green Super Smoothie, to be precise.) A proper green smoothie too, as its essentially pear and spinach. (It was supposed to be kale, but I’ll still not ready for that, and I had a bag of spinach in the fridge just sitting there.) And, well I can see why the turmeric is optional I think I’ll give that a miss next time, but otherwise pear and spinach is really nice – I couldn’t taste the ginger at all. I might add some kiwi next time go for epic greenery!

Super green!

It also meant that I started May will a tall glass of overnight chilled smoothie and some cute little egg muffins – well, I had to check they still worked in the new oven didn’t I?

Spinach and feta omelette muffins with the greenest of smoothies!!

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Cooking the Book – February Edition

Given that I had made my two things for this challenge by the end of the first week of last month, you would think I’d have managed to write about them before now, wouldn’t you? Not so much.

First up was a smoothie. I love smoothies. I got a blender in my final year at uni and it was a revelation in terms of increasing my fruit intake and reducing my food waste. The summer I lived in Bournemouth was essentially three months of glorious weather and I developed a repertoire of lovely refreshing smoothies – to the extent that a couple of my friends bought me a smoothie recipe book for my birthday. I practically lived on them that summer and then, didn’t really ever make them again once I came home. As I once again have my blender to hand and Eating Well Made Easy has a whole section of smoothies I thought it was high time I got back into it.

I have to admit I’m a bit baffled by the whole ‘green smoothie/juice’ trend that seems to be going on in smoothies these days. That glorious summer in Bournemouth, I used to make a lovely fresh smoothie made with tomatoes and bell peppers, but let’s be honest, while we eat them as vegetables, they are – technically – fruit. I’m a bit baffled by this whole putting spinach and kale in your smoothies thing. (I have a friend who swears by it, but she has IBS and needs all the help she can get tricking her body into accepting nutrients – it makes sense for her.) I like both of those things, but for me kale is a winter veg – my parents grew it when I was a kid, I preferred it to cabbage – you put in soup. I can’t get my head around it.

I braved putting spinach in my smoothie and honestly if you’re putting in enough blackcurrants or what have you, you can’t taste it so I’ve accustomed myself to it. The first time I made it (It’s called Bright Eyed and Bushy Tailed cutely enough.) I put a small amount of pepper in it as instructed and that’s literally all that you taste. As noted above that’s actually a smoothie flavour I enjoy when the weather is hot, but when there’s as many other ingredients in the recipe as this has, it’s a bit disappointing that you can only taste one of them. On the second attempt I made it without the pepper and that was much fruitier and conventionally tasty.

Healthy Breakfast!

My second recipe was Saag Aloo Soup. It’s literally runny Saag Aloo, but that’s no bad thing. I think I prefer it as a curry than as a soup but its really quite tasty in either consistency. It doesn’t look particularly inspiring – hence the lack of photos – but its a tasty and filling for lunch on a winters day. I recommend serving with Nan Bread. You could probably make it with kale instead of spinach too, though you would need to cook it for longer, but as far as I’m concerned that would be a much better use for it.

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Pi Day

Monday was Pi day. (It’s an import from the US 14th of March becoming 3.14 over there.) And is traditionally celebrated by the making and eating of a pie. Ideally one decorated in a geeky math related fashion. However you choose to celebrate it, it’s a good excuse to make a pie. I usually forget and kick myself over having missed it, but handily this year several people I know posted about it so I was reminded. Reminded in time to pick up some pastry on the way home and in time to figure out what on earth I would fill it with.

I’ve made pies before, but they’ve mostly been sweet pies. I have a set of four small pie tins and I make pear pies reasonably regularly because the pears that we get here have an unfortunate tendency to go from hard as bricks to made of squish with very little time in between. (Sometimes they will be both at once, that’s particularly annoying.) In which case the only thing to do with them is to poach them and pies are an excellent way to use up lots of poached pears at once!

Pear pies

Savoury pies are a slightly more daunting task. Why you might ask? Because, having become a vegetarian as an adult, I have very little experience of non-meat-based pies. (Other than that terribly Scottish, utterly delicious but very unhealthy classic: the macaroni pie.) I decided to start with something I knew would work. My mum makes an excellent chicken and mushroom pie. She makes a white sauce, adds mushrooms – I suppose technically making it a mushroom sauce – and cooked chicken, making a lovely creamy pie filling. I knew I had mushrooms in the fridge so that made a good starting place. For some reason, while I make a good mushroom sauce and a good cheese sauce, my white sauce is always a little hit and misses. So I decided to go for a mushroom sauce. I dug around in the fridge and found some rather nice garlic and chive cheese, so I added that to my sauce – along with some actual garlic – and there was a bag of spinach that I reckoned would go nicely so I prepped that and let it wilt in my sauce.

The 500g pack of pastry left me with not quite enough pastry to make a solid lid for the pie. (It would probably have been fine if I used an actual pie tin, but as noted previously I have a set of four little pie tins and no normal sized pie tin. I do however, have a cake tin, so I used that instead and made what I’m calling a deep pan pie!) But as I’ve rather fallen in love with latticework pie tops – blame Pushing Daisies for that one – I made one of those instead. This adds an extra layer of excitement as when it’s cooking you can see the filling bubbling away through the ‘holes’.

DSC_0249

I’m massively, unreservedly happy with how my pie turned out. I made mashed potatoes with it and it was excellent. I’ve one slice left which I’m having for tea tonight – I’m doing tattie scones with it tonight for speed so we shall see if that work as well as I hope! All in all an excellent plan.

Pie & Mash

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Back on the Wagon

So I’m back in Inverness and back to being a vegetarian. (So much easier to maintain when all your friends and colleges know you as a vegetarian and there isn’t meat in the fridge needing used up.) It’s been a month now and I’m really not missing the meat – outside of the occasional rubbish sandwich options – and I’ve been taking the time to experiment with different veggie options.

My last stint up here means I have a good selection of veggie staples to work with but I wouldn’t be me if I weren’t pushing my culinary barriers. I’ve always been a bit dubious about ‘meat substitutes’/’meat-free meat’ because, well they’ve always seemed a bit pointless to me. (Plus once you’ve tasted a good homemade veggie sausage the quorn variety really doesn’t cut it.) I have, however, tasted some good veggie burgers, whether mushroom or cheese and broccoli so I thought it might be time to branch out. I tried veggie Kiev’s. I like sweet potato, I like beans, I kind of miss Kiev’s. Nope. Perhaps if I find a good recipe to make myself I’ll give them another try, but based on the shop-bought variety it just doesn’t work. They taste of neither beans nor sweet potato, of the cheese and garlic filling there was no sign and honestly I just got an overwhelming mouthful of spice. So next up I tried some quorn ‘meat-free’ chicken. (For anyone, like me who doesn’t know what exactly quorn is – the label really doesn’t make it clear – it’s a microfungus, sort of like mushroom but more like yeast is my understanding.) While I have successfully moved to making veggie chilli, burritos, tacos and quesadillas, I haven’t yet made veggie fajitas that I’m entirely satisfied with. So quorn. I treated it like the chicken it claimed to be and marinated it in the spice mix and oil and cooked it all up with the veggies. It certainly has the texture of chicken, but it has its own taste that came through even under the Mexican spice. I’m not convinced.

Quesadillas
(Veggie quesadillas that I made as part of my cupboard cook up before I moved back up here, mushrooms, beans, spices, passata to bind and three different kinds of cheese. Bliss.)

Speaking of sweet potato, I’ve long been a bit wary of it due to only really eating it as an ingredient in sub-standard veggie burgers – grated up and tasteless – but after using it in the mash for the excellent Lentil and Bean cottage pie, I decided that I ought to give it another proper go. So I have a Lorraine recipe for Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Lasagne and I love squash so that seemed a safe enough bet. One of my pet hates with veggie lasagne recipes is that they often use vegetables that don’t stand up to the cooking process, so you end up with mushy goo or lumps of uncooked veg. Or they throw out the pasta entirely and replace it with aubergine. Which is just, not lasagne anymore. Lasagne substitute for gluten intolerant people it may be, even a nice layered vegetable bake if you like aubergine, but not actual lasagne. This recipe side steps the issue of cooking the pasta and the veg at the same time, instead you pre-cook your squash and sweet potato first so they can then be mashed together (making a nice consistent texture), then part cook your lasagne sheets, add in an extra layer of spinach and only bake for long enough to finish off the pasta, cook the spinach enough that its tender but still intact and get everything else nice and hot. It falls apart a bit more than some meat varieties do – though I always bulked my mince out with beans or mushroom and broccoli – but not impractically so, as the veg mash holds together pretty well so gives it some stability. It tastes amazing too. I normally put mozzarella or smoked cheese on the top of my lasagne, and while I do think the Parmesan works well here I’ll probably use a mixture in the future. Though talking about the Lentil and Bean cottage pie, I might try adding passata to the filling of that recipe and see if that works as veggie lasagne filling…
Veggie Lasagne
Lasagne 2

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Bake More Often: Off-List Edition

I suppose I should really stop teasing with my illusions to an epic weekend of baking and actually talk about what I made shouldn’t I?

Well, it started with Sausage Rolls, we had sausages that needed using up, and in my quest for a recipe to cook them up, I remembered that Sausage Rolls were on my list and not knowing how much puff pastry I’d need grabbed a big pack on my late night supermarket run. (For reference a 1KG pack is too much – I fed a family of three twice, plus lunch for two and still managed a one-person fake-pie for myself on the Monday night!) So having successfully managed sausage rolls, I had a dig through my recipe books in search of something to use up the rest of the pastry. I stumbled across a recipe that struck straight to my childhood nostalgia – vol-au-vents. But what to put in them? The recipe called for feta cheese and pomegranate and in my opinion vol-au-vents should be hot with an equally hot filling. Handily my mum was making ham soup so I pinched some of the meat, she made a nice white sauce and a tasty filling was born.

Vol-Au-Vents

If I had issues about ‘proper’ baking with the sausage rolls, they were nowhere to be seen with the vol-au-vents. Perhaps it was the cutting out and construction work involved in putting them together, but they definitely felt like ‘real‘ baking. I do take a couple of issues with the recipe as written though. First up, why get rid of the inner circles? Bake them separately and they make cute little hats/lids for the vol-au-vents, judicious application of the rolling pin would doubtless resolve the overly puffed result I got. Secondly, once they’ve been in the oven it tells you to cut out the puffed up centres and discard – cut them out certainly, but they squash down easily enough under the weight of the filling, and if you really want to remove them they make a tasty treat for the peckish cook. Particularly tasty, I find, with mashed potatoes and broccoli.

Vol-Au-Vent Meal

While I had the oven on and was using up things in the fridge, I made some Spinach and Cheese (Cheddar, Parmasan and Cream-cheese to be precise) Muffins. These are an old tried and tested favourite of mine and make an excellent savoury breakfast. A wee 30 second blast in the microwave before eating re-melts the cream-cheese nicely. Handily they also cook in the oven at the same temperature as the vol-au-vents, so I was able to whip them up while the vol-au-vents were chilling/resting in the fridge and stick them both in together.

Spinach and 3 Cheese Muffins

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