Friday, October 30, 2009

Marmite and Vegemite

You either love 'em or hate 'em. These sticky, pungent, almost black accompaniments for toast are British and Australian classics.

and Vegemite (the latter an Australian knock-off of the former) are made from brewer's yeast, salt, and spice extracts. Both contain added vitamins (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, folic acid) and in addition, Marmite contains vitamin B12. They are both completely vegetarian. Lots of Britons grew up eating Marmite as soon as they were weaned, and our Australian flat-mate, Matt, is a Vegemite boy.

I did a taste test to find out once and for all which of these I like to eat. Or, perhaps, which I hate less. The Marmite is darker and viscous, a bit like thick molasses. I had to twirl the knife around to keep from trailing threads of Marmite over the edge of the jar. The Vegemite is more brown than black, more solid than liquid. It spread a bit like thick, brown cream cheese. I covered half of my warm toast with each one.

The Marmite toast tasted mellow and salty. The flavour was deep and dark. The Vegemite side was also salty, but also seemed a bit vinegary. The Vegemite tasted tangy and piercing. Thinking about the differences between them was like considering a young and old advice-giver: Marmite was a calm, authoritative voice, while Vegemite was an insistent, high-pitched talker.

I think Marmite will be my unguent substance of choice from now on. I can even imagine coming to quite like it in time. But I have to say that after the taste test, I spread the other piece of toast with apricot jam, as a palate cleanser. At the moment, sweet tops salty any day for me.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

apple chips

A new shop has opened near us: Tiger, a Danish variety store. I picked up these apple chips there. They are only dried apple rings, but not at all the way I am used to them. The dried apple rings that I snacked on in Canada were thick and chewy. These are very thinly sliced and exceptionally crispy. They make a satisfying crunching sound when I eat them.

They are a perfect substitute for regular crisps because they come in good sized bags and snap in your teeth like potato chips.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

fragrant spinach and turkey

Nigel Slater's distinctive handwriting adorns the top of my new cookbook: The 30-Minute Cook: The Best of the World's Quick Cooking. I was so happy to receive it as a gift from Sonya for my birthday: Nigel is my new favourite, friendly writer. I was watching him on TV recently. "I'm a cook, not a chef," he says. This cookbook is full of practical ideas for the home cook. I can't wait to try out loads of them, like Turkish Carrots (with mint and yoghurt).

The first small green sticky note landed on a recipe for fragrant spinach. I adapted the side dish recipe by adding onions and turkey pieces and served it as a main with bulgur wheat. As always, the current contents of the fridge meant that a few substitutions had to be made. And a hungry husband with a love of non-vegetarian food is my other eater, so he had to be satisfied.

The recipe includes a technique which is new for me. At the very end of the recipe, Nigel directed me to melt some butter in a pan and add garam masala for a short time, until it foamed (as pictured below). Then I poured this onto the main part of the dish. This adds a deep, nutty spice to the earthy spinach.

Fragrant Spinach with Turkey
adapted from The 30-Minute Cook
serves 2

1 onion, thinly sliced
1 T olive oil
1 turkey or chicken breast, diced
4 large double handfuls of spinach (about 400 g), washed, and sliced if large
1/2 t harissa paste
1/2 t cumin
1/2 t mustard powder
1/2 t fennel seeds
2 T butter
1/2 t garam masala
juice of 1 lemon

Heat the olive oil in a large pan and gently sautee the onions.
Add the diced turkey or chicken and cook until it is no loner pink.
Meanwhile, boil a pan of water and plunge the spinach into the pan for 30 seconds. Drain.
Add the harissa paste, cumin, mustard, and fennel to the onions and turkey. Cook until their fragrance rises and then add the spinach. Cook for a minute.
In another pan, melt the butter over low heat and add the garam masala. Let it foam. Pour the foaming butter over the spinach mixture. Top with a squeeze of lemon juice to serve.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

rice pudding

I have been craving rice pudding recently. It's the onset of autumn that has done it, I think. I love all dairy products, and I need to smell the vanilla aroma wafting up from the warm, creamy rice. Fortunately I had some vanilla and cardamom pods in the spice drawer and a recipe calling to me from the Leon cookbook.

Cardamom Rice Pudding
serves 4
from Leon: Ingredients and Recipes

1 T butter
150 g (2/3 c) risotto, paella, or pudding rice
350 ml (1 1/2 c) full-fat milk
400 ml (1 2/3 c) double (heavy) cream
1/2 vanilla pod
3 cardamom pods
2 1/2 T fructose (fruit sugar)

In a heavy pan on the smallest ring, melt the butter, then stir in the rice. Pour in the milk and cream and stir well.
Scrape the vanilla seeds out of the pod and add the seed and the pod to the rice.
Do the same with the cardamom pods, but just add the seeds to the rice and throw away the husks.
Cook slowly, uncovered, stirring at the beginning to prevent the mixture sticking. The dairy will make a steady dome of foam above the rice. Let it cook for 30 minutes.
Turn the heat down to the minimum for the final 20 to 25 minutes.
When cooked, put the lid on and leave it to sit for a few minutes. Stir in the fructose. Eat straight away or eat cold.

I have to admit that my minimum heat on the smallest ring kept the milk and rice boiling. I stirred it constantly for the first ten minutes or so, but there was no way to cool it enough, so I just turned the heat off and put the lid on. About twenty minutes earlier I had finished using the oven for something else, so I popped the covered saucepan into the still warm oven, hoping that the rice would cook enough. This seemed to work, but the pudding was much drier than we like it. But I still managed to get the lovely, creamy vanilla aroma I have so been craving.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

house dressing

As part of my degree, I spent a semester in Budapest, in Hungary. I lived on my own and was away from my family for the first extended period in my life. I made a great group of friends on the course, and learned to cook for myself for the first time (there were a few hilarious disasters along the way!). I went armed with The Joy of Cooking and a pink notebook with a few favourite family recipes copied in.

I was somewhat in awe of my friend Kate. She had a more well-defined notion of herself as an individual than I at that time. She was a vegetarian who loved to cook and regularly had our little circle around to eat. I still have a few of her recipes, copied into my pink notebook from her well thumbed cookbooks.

Over the years I have kept in closer touch with Sarah, one of my friends from Budapest, than with Kate. But when Sarah came to visit me recently she brought with her two cookbooks as a gift for me, one of which is the Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special. Sarah chose it for me because she also owns the Moosewood book, and got as a present from Kate. When I reconnected with Kate last year I told her about the cookbook. Every time I use it I think of how influenced I was by Kate's delicious cooking.

The house dressing recipe from the Moosewood book is an easy, tasty, and versatile mix. Simply combine all the bits and blend it up.

Moosewood House Dressing
makes 2 1/4 c
adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special

1 c canola or other vegetable oil
3 T cider vinegar or fresh lemon juice
2 t mild honey
1/4 c rinsed spinach leaves, packed
1/4 c fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
2 t Dijon mustard
1/4 t salt, or to taste
pinch pepper
1 c milk or buttermilk

Combine all the ingredients except the milk or buttermilk. Puree until smooth.
With the blender running, add the milk or buttermilk in a thin stream. The dressing will become thick and creamy. As soon as the dressing thickens, stop the blender or the oil may separate.
The dressing will keep for about a week in the refrigerator. Shake before using.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

apple ideas

For the last two years, my mother has given me a page-a-day calendar at Christmas time. My "Teachers" calendar sits next to my work computer and has provided a few good classroom ideas and a few good laughs. Yesterday I was surpised to see a list of recipe ideas for apples. I'm not sure that here in the UK they have the idea that students bring their teachers apples. But apples are a firm favourite of mine; they are the perfect autumn fruit, so ruddy and crispy. Their colours remind me of the autumn leaves from home, which I dearly miss. They are cheap and plentiful at this time of year, and they are local. I am actually quite impressed by the apple ideas on this page. Here are some other apple ideas.

For an afternoon snack, eat sliced crisp apple with blobs of brie.

For "night lunch" (a bedtime snack), eat sliced apples sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. Drink a glass of milk on the side.

Make your own chunky apple sauce by simmering apples in a bit of water (with or without added sugar). Cook until the apples disintegrate. Mash a little if you like. Serve over porridge or yogurt, sprinkled with toasted hazelnuts and a little honey.

Apple crumble is always a fantastic and easy baked dessert.

Make oatmeal muffins with added chopped apple.

roast duck dinner

Sonya, you will be proud! I roasted my first duck. Sonya has been telling me for years that it is easy to roast a whole bird, and over the last few months I have done quite a few chickens. And my first duck was a success. I used some advice from How to Cook Everything and pricked the skin all over before I put it in and every 15 minutes thereafter. I made some roast potatoes and broccoli on the side--Ant was a very happy man. Meat, potatoes, veg, and lots of gravy is his idea of heaven.

After the roasting, I poured off the duck fat. I am told (by Jamie Oliver, and my friend Geary!) that duck fat makes the best roast potatoes. So I have this little jar to use for our next roast dinner. Bittman said that I needed to pour off the fat but not the juices--I have no idea if I did this correctly! I just poured in everything in the pan. I suppose that later the fat and juices will separate more convincingly and I'll know if I managed it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

food blogger conference

Oh wow! There is a UK Food Bloggers Conference coming up in London soon. I read about it on Sunita's World. (By the way, Sunita's blog is an amazing place of gorgeous photos, tasty recipes, and family stories. I love it.) As soon as I read about the conference I went and RSVPed. Who else want to come?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

slow cooker stuffing

For our Thanksgiving dinner, I had to carefully plan the itinerary. I had invited more friends that can realistically fit around our table. I was worried about not having enough oven space to cook all our food. So I planned it all very carefully, making the pumpkin cheesecake and nut bake a day in advance and laying out what I had to do on Sunday afternoon. I used my new hand blender to whizz up mountains of breadcrumbs for the stuffing from some lovely wholewheat bread. It was stale bread but I also toasted it to make it a bit more dry.

And because our oven space was completely in use due to the turkey and roast potatoes, I made the stuffing in the slow cooker. Earlier in the year Mum sent me her slow cooker book from Company's Coming, and it provided just the recipe.

Slow Cooker Stuffing
makes 8 cups
from Company's Coming Slow Cooker Recipes

1 c chopped celery
1 c chopped onions
1 T parsley flakes
2 t poultry seasoning, or herbs
1 t salt
1/4 t pepper
10 c dry bread crumbs
1/4 c hard margarine or butter
1 T chicken or vegetable bouillon powder
1 1/2 c hot water

Mix the first six ingredients in a large bowl.
Add bread crumbs and stir.
Combine margarine, bouillon powder, and hot water in a separate bowl. Stir to melt the margarine and dissolve the bouillon powder. Pour over bread mixture.
Turn into a 5 litre slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 5 to 6 hours. Add a bit more hot water for a more moist stuffing.

This recipe made the stuffing ridiculously easy on Sunday afternoon. I made the crumb mixture on Saturday, and on Sunday just added the hot water mixture and started it going as soon as we got home from church. It was ready when we sat down to eat at 5 pm.

Planning the whole meal in advance on my little index card was a bonus. For most of the afternoon I was ten minutes ahead of schedule!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

superfood salad

Here's a recipe from the Leon cookbook, which I love. Ant and Kirbie and I enjoyed this salad a few weeks ago when we were eating leftover roast chicken one day. I just happened to have the key items on hand: broccoli, cucumber, seeds (to be toasted) and peas. It was super tasty. I made some aioli to use in the dressing, but messed it up a bit by not reading the instructions through--we were in a hurry!

Below is the original Leon recipe, complete with instructions for marinading the chicken overnight. But I think it's a perfect salad for using up leftover chicken (or any protein item) you have on hand. Also, the recipe calls for very little quinoa. Since you're boiling the water anyway, cook a larger amount and use it to make your lunch salad.
Chicken Superfood Salad
serves 2
from Leon: Ingredients and Recipes

2 T quinoa
1/2 a head of broccoli
300 g chicken thighs, marinated overnight (see below)
2 handfuls of rocket
2 handfuls of baby spinach
2 tomatoes, chopped
120 g frozen peas
1 lemon
2 T extra virgin olive oil
alfalfa sprouts
3 T aioli
2 T toasted seeds (pumpkin, sesame, and pine nuts, for example)
chopped mint and parsley

Cook quinoa according to package directions.
Heat a griddle pan and grill the chicken.
Steam or boil the broccoli.
Pour boiling water over the peas to thaw them, then drain.
Build the salad on two plates: layer leaves, tomatoes, broccoli, peas, the juice of half the lemon, olive oil.
Put the chicken on top, and sprinkle with quinoa, sprouts, aioli, seeds, and herbs. Serve with the other half of the lemon cut as wedges.

Chicken Marinade

Cut each thigh into four portions and marinade overnight with 2 T olive oil, 3 T lemon juice, and 1 or 2 garlic cloves.

pizza maths

I learned via Kottke that a round pizza with radius 'z' and thickness 'a' has the volume pi*z*z*a. Hahaha! (Other maths jokes if you follow the link: not food related!)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

turkey lentil pilaf

Do you think this is a bit over organised? I laid out the spices with the spoons for measuring them as I was cooking today. Everything in my life seems to depend on organisation at the moment. In fact, being a teacher often seems primarily about staying organised. Maybe that's why I like my job!

In the end, Ant and I thought this pilaf was a little bit boring, despite having an interesting spice combination. Next time I would add some chopped spring onions and a squeeze of lemon juice to liven things up.

Turkey Lentil Pilaf
serves 6
from Simply in Season

500 g ground turkey or chopped chicken
1 c chopped onion
2 or 3 garlic cloves
3 T fresh mint, chopped, or 1 T dried mint
1 1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t peppercorns, crushed, or 1/4 t pepper
1 c dried lentils
3/4 c brown rice
2 c broth or water
1 large tomato, chopped, or 1/2 c tomato sauce

Cook the turkey or chicken in a large pan until it is no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
Add the onion and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes, until tender.
Add the mint, cinnamon, and pepper and cook for 2 minutes.
Add the rest of the ingredients and cover. Bring to the boil, reduce heat, and simmer until rice is cooked, 45 to 50 minutes. You may need to add water as the rice and lentils absorb water.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

maths and cooking

Here's a handy graph showing kitchen efficacy by a group. :)

Monday, October 12, 2009

food rules

Have a look at this list of lovely food rules collected by Michael Pollan. He requested them from readers of a health blog and got more than 2500 responses. He collected his favourite twenty. Of these, this is my favourite:
"Don't eat anything that took more energy to ship than to grow."
Which one sticks out to you? What is your food rule?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

risotto reflection

I was watching an episode of Nigel Slater's Simple Suppers, and Nigel cooked up a simple leek risotto. It looked so tasty and comforting. Nigel was saying how he likes to make risotto at the end of a tiring week since it is warm, filling, cheap, and tasty. It reminded me of what Ele said recently, that risotto is amazingly easy, but impressive for a lot of people. It requires a bit more stirring that other dishes while they are cooking, but really, it's not at all hard. And it's an easy pantry staple.

I can see why Nigel and Ele think of risotto as a comfort food. Nigel finished his risotto cooking with this reflective comment, "You know, at the end of the day, I can't think of many things I'd rather do than just stand, very quietly, with a glass of wine in one hand and a wooden spoon in the other, just gently stirring the risotto. There's something very peaceful about it, very calming, all the stuff of the day seems to fade into into insignificance, because I'm just stirring my supper."

Saturday, October 10, 2009

roasting chicken

A cooking discovery: a small chicken fits in my slow cooker! I thought I would try this out one day and amazingly it worked really well. It took about three hours on high, and was very tasty. I didn't bother with any seasoning or anything--just threw the chicken in there and walked away! Talk about a lazy way to cook. And there was lovely roast chicken as a result. It is worth trying again soon!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

food talk with thirteen year olds

I have a tutor group of thirteen year olds. Today before the morning bell went three of the boys came up to put down their bags and stopped to talk with me. They were telling me about a really spicy curry one of them had tasted--"full of peppers in vinegar, Miss, a whole bottle!" I told them that when I eat a really hot curry I usually need a tissue to blow my nose while my eyes are streaming and I'm drinking milk. Another lad mentioned that his dad likes to order in curry with chips, and the chips from the curry house are the tastiest ever.

"What makes them tasty?" I asked.

"Oh, you know, how nice they are when they are soft inside but crunchy outside!" And another boy piped up about how he has been to "TIFG Fridays" once.

"I love their Oreo milkshakes," I replied. He agreed, and this got the boys onto all their favourite milkshakes.

Then one said that he likes to eat a massive burger when he goes out--"so big it's heald together using a stick!" I said that I had a burger like that once at the Gourmet Burger Kitchen chain and I had to eat it with a knife and fork.

"Oh, no, Miss, I just squished it down and opened my mouth wide," he demonstrated for me, "...and shoved it in there!"

Friday, October 2, 2009

hand blender

When Ant's friend Angela (who used to feed him at Uni before I came on the scene) moved away from London, she gave us an immersion blender. What a useful gadget! It is masterful for making blended soups, and it plays a key part in the speed of recipes like pasta with velvety sauce. (Using a regular blender means waiting for all the ingredients to cool down, then having to heat them back up again afterwards.)

I used our immersion blender three times this week: to make a salad dressing (pictured above before blending, and at the top of the post after blending), to make soup, and to make breadcrumbs. Angela's blender came with a great little beaker as well. But the blades are not so sharp any more and the motor section doesn't screw onto the blade section very straight any more either. But I saw this fancy blender at Sainsburys this past weekend, so it will be my next kitchen purchase. Or maybe someone will give it to me for my birthday?

It has a whisk and a mini food processor as well! I often think that a food processor would be my next logical (larger) purchase, but I've been putting it off until I find one with which I fall in love. I love the look of the KitchenAid mixer, but really I don't need a mixer; I need a food processor. Shame they are so ugly.

But this little hand blender will be a perfect addition to my collection of small appliances.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

food photography

I have never bothered much with fancy pictures on my blogs. All the photographs are taken with my mobile phone camera, which is only 2 megapixels and has no flash or zoom. I use it because it is so handy. It's always nearby and uploading the photos to my computer is easy via Bluetooth. There are lots of food blogs, on the other hand, that do have lovely photographs, for example, Sunita's World, Smitten Kitchen, and 101 Cookbooks. I can't imagine that I will ever be competing with them in terms of visual appeal. But while reading around on the internet last weekend I discovered this blog about food photography. I don't think it will make me into an expert, and I don't intend to buy a snazzy camera. But it's really interesting to read and the photos are beautiful. And perhaps my food styling will improve as a by-product.


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