Tag Archives: Vegetarian

Fantastic Finger Food Part 1

I was asked to provide some finger food for a friend’s birthday party. I agreed to do a number of savoury dishes.

Most of my friends and I are what is often referred to as hippies. I hate this term, not jut because it is usually levelled at us as a pejorative, but also because I like to think that my views are a more modern take on the environmental and peaceful aims that a lot of hippies espoused in the 60s.

One thing I guess we do have in common is a reluctance, or downright refusal to eat other animals. Many of my friends are vegetarian, including the birthday girl. So I made a whole range of veggie finger foods for the occasion. Here are a few selected highlights.I even managed to make some of these vegan!

Bloody Mary Tomatoes

Bloody Mary Tomatoes

Boozy Tomatoes – rated 18

This one starts with a confession. This was originally a Delia Smith recipe. I am not a massive fan of the patron saint of the British home cook, if I am honest. This opinion may get me strung up from the nearest pasta tree, but there, I have said it. I know she has done many good things to improve cookery skills and so on, but I find most of her recipes a little staid. Then there was the infamous bean incident that we no longer discuss, but let’s just say that her  (rubbish) cheat for beans left a party of hungry walkers without a stew for several hours too long, and left me beside myself with embarrassment. Luckily, I think they all got a little merry and didn’t notice exactly how late their dinner was.

All that said, this recipe will blow your socks off.

The basic premise is that this is a bloody mary in solid form, which saves on washing up of all those pesky glasses.

Firstly, mix the ingredients for a bloody mary. The following figures are really rough, and you should mix it to your taste anyway.

200 ml vodka

1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

Dash Tabasco sauce

1/2 tsp celery salt

If you are particularly keen on other things when you make a bloody mary (eg I did know someone who insisted on adding some English Mustard Powder) then add that too. Why not? Give it a good whisk to blend the ingredients as well as you can.

Cut crosses in the bases of a load of cherry or baby plum tomatoes. A mix of red and yellow is also attractive. Place these quite snugly in an airtight container, with the cross facing upwards.

Pour the bloody mary mix over the tomatoes. Seal the container, and marinate in the fridge for as long as you can. Two days is ideal, but I often forget that they should have this long, so often only do one.I also forgot a second bowl in the fridge at a party, and the booze kept them good for a couple of weeks.

Drain them, then arrange on a plate to serve. You can keep the vodka mixture for another batch if you like.

These are really popular, and will go quickly. It will be up to you what excuse you use to make sure any kids at the party eat the undoctored tomatoes, and not these.

Marinated Tofu Skewers

Tofu Skewers

Tofu and Tomato Treats

I found this recipe over at raspberry eggplant. I wasn’t able to find ginger soy sauce, so I made my own by using dark soy, and lump of garlic about 2cm thick, which I then grated into the soy. This does the trick, and imparts a lovely flavour to the tofu, but it does leave it much blacker than the ones that Roopa has photographed over there.I have tried water down the soy, but that does not seem to make much difference.

Nevertheless, they went like hot cakes, despite being cold skewers.

Well, I don’t want to bore you with overlong posts, so the next lot of these will appear tomorrow.

Update: I was asked on facebook what was between the tofu on the skewers. It is cucmber, that I peeled to give a stripy effect, deseeded and cut into similar-sized lumps to the tofu. Roopa used them in her original recipe. I also think cherry tomatoes would work just as well.

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Top Tips

Broad Bean Plants

Better late than never

I got my broad beans in really late this year, through a mixture of snow and laziness. There was snow in both November and February, rendering the soil unworkable. However, since I love broad beans so much, I managed to shake myself, and get them planted, eventually.

Almost all gardeners will tell you to pinch out the tips of the beans once they get the first bean pods. This is to stop them getting taller, meaning that they concentrate their energy into beans. They also say it will help prevent blackfly infestations.

What a lot of them don’t tell you is that they also make a really delicious vegetable in their own right, with a subtle broad bean flavour.  You can have them steamed or quickly boiled. They don’t keep very well though, so they really are the gardener’s treat. This really is the best advert for growing your own, just so that you too can try this treat for yourself. They will even grow along the edge of your balcony in a deep window box – a pretty, edible, and practical windbreak.

Braod Bean Tips

Gardener's Delight, washed free of blackfly

I added mine to a risotto, following the same method as the one I gave in the masterclass the other day. I made the white risotto base, then added the tips, and some cooked, double-podded broad beans along with the last ladleful of stock. I used Crème fraîche instead of the butter at the end, along with some chopped dill. Then I served it all up with a nice green salad, which included some wild garlic leaves.

Risotto and salad

Tip Tops!

So lovely, light and fresh. Will you try to grow some just to see what you are missing out on?

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Risotto “Masterclass”

Versatile flavours

So many flavours from one basic dish

I was talking about risotto the other day, when a few friends persuaded me that I should do a ‘risotto masterclass’. I suspect the fact that I have a larger than average kitchen (not difficult in a city where a ‘kitchen’ constitutes having a microwave on a shelf and a hob in many of the flats in the rental sector!) also had something to do with it, but I was flattered enough to go ahead.

We made three flavours of risotto – fennel, lemon and ricotta; pumpkin; and mushroom.

This is not to say that I made three risottos initially. My friends wanted to have a class so I wanted to show them how versatile risotto is with adding flavour, and how simple it is as a method. So, I started with a simple, white risotto, and we took it from there.

A good time was had by all, and I hope that they went away feeling more confident in making risotto, and experimenting with flavour.

Of course, there are more complex ways of building up flavour within the risotto, but adding ingredients at the end is a good way to get started!

I do most of my cooking by eye – especially as I wanted to make this one large enough to split into three, but the recipe that I give below should be enough to serve 2 people with leftovers. Leftover risotto is so versatile, that it really is worth making the extra.

Recipe: White Risotto

Ingredients

150 g risotto rice (risotto rice comes in a number of varieties, or is probably labelled just ‘risotto rice’ in your local supermarket. We used arborio for this one)

1 medium chopped onion,

1 tbsp olive oil

1 glass white wine (or you can use vermouth or another spirit relevant to your flavouring, such as Pernod, etc)

750 ml – 1 l stock (the stock you use can depend on what you are going to add. On this occasion I used vegetable stock)

Thyme

Knob of butter, or dash of cream or oil

50 g parmesan, freshly grated

Method

Sweat the onion in the olive oil until it is translucent, but not coloured. Add the rice, and stir until the rice is slightly translucent round the edges. Add the thyme at this stage too – the leaves but not the stalks.

Meanwhile, Bring the stock to the boil, and then leave it on a gentle simmer. I always make my own stock and freeze it in roughly  500 ml portions, so I use one of these, then add hot water as I run out. If you want a particularly ‘meaty’ flavour in the risotto, there is no reason why you cannot use all stock. It is important that you are adding warm stock to the rice, so I just leave it on the hob while I am cooking the risotto.

Turn up the heat a little and add the wine. Allow the alcohol to burn off and the rice to absorb the liquid. If you don’t want to have alcohol, this step can also be missed out altogether.

Add your stock, starting with just enough to cover the rice. Allow this to absorb completely before adding more, then add more a ladleful or so at a time. You will need to stir the risotto to stop it catching on the bottom of the pan. Much better chefs  than me (well, chefs, in fact) say that the more that you stir it, the creamier it will be, especially at the end stages. This will reduce the amount of butter or cream that you need to add at the end.

Taste the rice as you go. Before it is ready, it has a chalky quality to the grains. It is ready when this chalkiness is lost, but the grains are still a little al dente (especially important if you don’t want claggy leftovers). At this point, stop adding more stock.

Take it off the heat, ad beat in the butter or cream (which must be cold). Add the parmesan and seasoning. You will need quite a lot of pepper.

This is the basic recipe. Then you can flavour it by adding herbs, veg, meat. Whatever you like really.

The flavours I added for the three risottos were as follows:

Fennel, Ricotta and Lemon

I sliced a fennel bulb thinly, lengthways. Then I braised this gently in olive oil, with 2 garlic cloves, also sliced thinly. I added all the vegetables and the oil to the rice, mixed in a little ricotta, and the grated zest of the lemon. I then added the lemon juice, a little at a time to balance out the other flavours. I added the chopped fronds of the fennel as a garnish.

Pumpkin

I made a large dice of about 1/4 of an orange fleshed pumpkin, and roasted this, with some unpeeled garlic cloves, and some crumbled dried chillies in some olive oil with sprigs of thyme. This took about 3/4 hour at 180 degrees. I stirred these in at the end of cooking the risotto, and served with taleggio. If you wanted you could halve the above pumpkin, and boil half. Adding it with some of the last stock, which will make the risotto orange, and help build up the flavour. Roast and add the rest as above.

Mushroom

I fried a selection of sliced mushrooms in butter and garlic, with a generous amount of thyme leaves. I stirred them in at the end of cooking the risotto, and stirred through some fresh chopped tarragon. To build up the flavour even more, you could use a mushroom stock, or add the soaking liquor from dried porcinis to the stock as you cook it.

The recipes are simple, as I said, but adding your favourite flavours like this is an easy way to make a risotto recipe your own.

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Wild Garlic Tarts

Wild Garlic Tarts

Wild Garlic Tarts  

Wild Garlic – it is more than likely available in a wood near you right now. It looks quite innocuous, and is easy to walk past. However, walk on it, and there will be no mistaking the smell of garlic.

I love the stuff, and have it in soups, salads, as pesto, I use it as a pot herb, and anything else that I can think of. You can eat the leaves, bulbs and the flowers (although it should be noted that in many places digging up the entire plant is illegal, so only use the flowers and leaves), and all of them have that distinctly garlic taste.

Of course, there are a few basic guidelines to stick to when foraging, and don’t take the whole patch. Apart from needing to leave some for next year’s crop, wild garlic does not keep all that well, lasting about a week in the fridge. And it bruises easily, which only speeds up the deterioration.

One word of caution is that it is possible to confuse the leaves with lily of the valley early in the season, but there really can be no confusion once you smell the plant. If it doesn’t smell of garlic, just don’t eat it!

I had invited a couple of friends over to dinner, and happened to have had a foraging session the day before. I also collected nettles and other wild greens, but these can sometimes be a little ‘niche’ for most people. I thought introducing them to the delights of wild garlic would be an easy and very tasty way in.

As  this was to be a starter, I decided that little tartlets were the way to go. Plus, I had been given some beautiful little individual tart dishes that I wanted to try out.

With savoury tarts, I often prefer cheese pastry. Back in Britain, then only a good cheddar would do for this pastry, but now I live in the Netherlands, and I am not prepared to pay a small fortune for cheddar in a country that prides itself on making its own cheese. I have not necessarily bought  into the fact that Dutch cheeses are the best in the World, but there are enough specialty shops that you can find a good, tasty cheese. For a good cheddar substitute I usually use a piquant belegen boerenkaas (literally ‘sharp mature farmer’s cheese’, which is often unpasteurised).

These are great served with a salad (you can even use foraged leaves if you like), and a fruity dressing. I used home-made blackberry vinaigrette, but balsamic or raspberry would do equally well.

The recipe below is enough for 6 tartlets. If you have fewer people, then both the pastry and the filling will keep in the fridge for up to a week (although the pastry must be tightly wrapped, or just freeze it and thaw before use).

Recip: Wild Garlic Tarts

Ingredients

For the pastry

75 g butter

175 g plain flour (or a mix of half white and half wholemeal plain flour)

50 g of a tasty cheese, such as mature cheddar or piquant belegen boerenkaas

1/2 tsp dry mustard powder

Good pinch of cayenne pepper

For the tart filling

50-100 g wild garlic leaves, cut to a chiffonade

100 g good camembert, finely chopped (any well-flavoured rinsed-rind soft cheese would be good in this dish)

3 eggs

100 ml cream or milk

Freshly grated nutmeg

Paprika

Method

Firstly, make the pastry. I have had very little success in getting good results from using a food processor to form the dough. If you find this easy, combine the ingredients in a food processor, then add cold water to form the dough.

I rub the butter, mustard powder and the flour together by hand. For this I use cold butter, and often have cold hands, so I’m not working the dough too much. You can achieve cold hands by dint of poor circulation, or running them under a cold tap for a few minutes before working the dough.

Once the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs, I add the cheese and the cayenne. I don’t add salt, because the cheese should contain enough. Then I combine the lot with just enough cold water to form a dough.

The pastry needs to rest in the fridge for at least half an hour, but I often go and do something else, then get back to it when I have finished.

Roll out the pastry thinly, and put into the greased tartlet tins. You can also make one large quiche with this recipe. If making individual tarts, I find it easier to cut out smaller discs from the pastry, using a side plate as a template, then gently transfer the thin pastry to the tart tins, and cut to size. Pastry will shrink when you cook it, so it  is better to be generous. You can always trim it later, but you can’t unshrink it.

Blind bake in a hot oven at 180°C. To blind bake, I cover the pastry with rice in greaseproof paper, you can also use beans or ceramic beads. Once rice has been baked in this way, you can no longer cook it normally, so I keep mine in a jar to recycle for every blind bake.

Once the base of the pastry is dry (usually 10 mins) remove the blind bake and put back in the oven until the pastry has browned slightly, and is crisp.

Meanwhile, make the tart filling, by lightly beating the egg and cream, then adding the wild garlic leaves, cheese, paprika nutmeg and mixing well. Season to taste.

When the tart cases are out of the oven, allow to cool slightly, and fill with the filling. Return to the oven, and bake for 15 minutes, or until the topping has just set (could be up to half an hour if making a large quiche).

Serve warm or cold.

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Asparagus Soup

As a child, I didn’t eat many vegetables. As an adult, I eat many more, and I love to eat seasonally. This is why you will probably often hear me saying that such-and-such a vegetable is my favourite. It would probably be more accurate to say that such-and-such a vegetable is my favourite right now.

At the moment we are into the asparagus season, and it is cheap and plentiful. And right now, asparagus is my favourite vegetable.I eat it with eggs, in salads, on its own with butter, in risottos – you name it.

In general, the bottom end of the stalk becomes tough and woody, so it is best to cut, or snap it off. I really hate throwing food away, especially something as tasty as asparagus. So,  I decided to try to use these woody stalky bits up.

Soup is the obvious answer. First, I tried to blend it in a food processor, but this just resulted in smaller woody bits in the soup. I also have a food mill, and one day I tried it through that, and it turned out that the low tech version was the best, since the woody bits are not passed through the mill. I really recommend these – I picked mine up for a tenner back in the UK, and I use it weekly.

This year I planted my own asparagus, and freshly cut asparagus should not have the woody stalky bits. I wonder if this soup will continue to feature in my spring repertoire? I hope so, it really is good!

The following recipe varies in amounts, depending on how many stalks you have been saving in the fridge. The stalks will keep for up to 10 days (depending on age when you bought them, and the width of the stalks), so you can save them up from a couple of bunches to get a good amount, if you like.

Recipe: Asparagus Soup

Ingredients

1 chopped onion

1 tbsp olive oil

Asparagus stalk ends

Chicken or vegetable stock

Thyme

Crème fraiche (cream or milk would also work)

Method

Sweat the onion and thyme in the olive oil, until the onion is fairly soft, but not coloured.

Add the asparagus to the pan, and cook until it has turned a vibrant green

Add the stock. You need to allow enough stock to cover the vegetables in the pot by a couple of cm.

Bring to the boil, then simmer until the stalks are tender to the point of a knife. The time for this can be anything from 5 minutes for the really thin stalks, up to 20 minutes for the later season asparagus.

Take off the heat and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes. Then, pass through the food mill into a clean pan.

Add a little crème fraiche. Again, the amount you add will depend on the amount of soup that you have. Season with salt and pepper.

This soup can be served hot or cold, especially if you are having a really warm spring/ summer, like the one that we are having now.

If you are serving it cold, add a little water to thin it, allow to cool completely, then refrigerate for an hour or two. Garnish it with croutons, cooked asparagus tips, small dice of cucumber (seeded and peeled), or some of all three. A little chervil can be chopped and stirred through, or used as a garnish as well. Check for seasoning before serving, as cold soup can often need more seasoning that its hot counterpart.

If you want to serve it hot, warm the soup gently, without boiling. The soup can be made ahead of time, and warmed through at a convenient time. Garnish with cooked asparagus tips, chervil, or a dollop or swirl of the crème fraiche. Serve with buttered brown, rye or sourdough bread. I prefer bread, as opposed to toast with the hot version of this soup.

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