Pastie pasttimes

The weather’s cooled noticeably in the past few days, so it seemed appropriate to work up some hearty(-ish) cold-weather fare — veggie pasties!

Being a Hairy Dieters recipe, the pastry for the pasties was potato pastry — made with 275g cold mashed potato to every 80g flour and 40g butter. It’s interesting stuff to work with — it holds together pretty well and chilling in the fridge works to firm it up if you only leave it there for an hour or so, but leaving it for four or more hours as I did is liable to make it go a bit soggy/sticky. Careful application of flour to implements, hands, pastry and working surfaces should help counteract this, though.

When cooked, the pastry had the texture of smooth mashed potato under the crispy outer layer (though it firms up nicely once the pasties are cooled and kept in the fridge for a bit). This did throw me somewhat — I instinctively expected more of an all-flour-pastry feel and initially thought the pasties hadn’t cooked properly. That proved incorrect, though πŸ™‚

Filling-wise, the recipe called for 100g each of swede and celeriac in addition to the onion, but I used equivalent quantities of carrot and potato (both finely diced) instead, for reasons of expense and serious dislike of celeriac. It worked pretty well, and the potato/onion/carrot combination is absolutely traditional for the Marazion area of Cornwall, so I feel perfectly justified in making this particular substitution.

The pasties themselves turned out well, although they were more erratic-lump-shaped than pastie-shaped… Practice makes perfect, I guess. Also, they took rather less time to cook than stated in the recipe, which instructs for 45 minutes at 200C. As it turned out, some quirk of ingredient quantities and preparation combined with the thinness of my rolled-out pastry meant that 30 minutes on a high shelf at 180C proved perfectly sufficient. A nice little saving on electricity!

I got 8 pasties out of the recipe, which means I have plenty in the freezer for emergencies πŸ™‚

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More salad

Noodle salad this week, since it’s still very much salad weather πŸ™‚

I made a few tweaks to the recipe, I have to admit — leaving out the red pepper and carrot (because the recipe instructed that they be used raw, and I can’t comfortably eat these raw) and the asparagus (a little too pricey for my budget when I was shopping for the ingredients for this salad). I also used a couple of packets of fresh udon noodles from my local Asian food shop rather than egg noodles from Sainsburys — it worked out a few pence cheaper, and the udon noodles were fabulous! Good, thick strands with just the right amount of firmness and they held on to the dressing, vegetables and tofu pretty well πŸ˜€ I’m definitely going to look up udon recipes for future reference now!

One other tweak that I made was to steam the babycorn and mangetout rather than blanching them for a short time in boiling water. I bought a bamboo steamer from the Asian food shop a couple of weeks ago, and this was a perfect opportunity to test it. It worked brilliantly! The veg was cooked to perfection, and even the steamer smelled good πŸ™‚ An excellent investment, I feel, especially as steaming is a brilliant way to cook veg without losing nutrients (as happens in boiling and so on).

Veggie pasties next week — I’m looking forward to the pastry-wrangling already!

Salad days

Things are getting pretty warm and humid in my neck of the woods (enough that it’s making the pollen count overwhelm my hay fever pills…), so cool and refreshing salads are the way to go as far as supper is concerned.

This week’s recipe is especially good for such a purpose — tomato, feta and watermelon salad. On paper, it looks rather outrΓ©, but it really works!

A bed of subtle, peppery rocket leaves, layered up with black olives, halved cherry tomatoes, cubes or chunks of watermelon, with cubes of feta (oven-baked for 15 minutes at 200C with lemon juice, lemon zest and paprika) — a magnificent combination! The sharpness of the tomato, the mellow fruitiness of the olives, the subtlety of the rocket and the rich, strident salty-savouriness of the feta set each other off perfectly. My salad also had a spicy-hot edge, as I only had hot paprika (mixed with cayenne) in stock, rather than sweet paprika. It still worked, though πŸ™‚

Chowder cuddles

Sadly, the title doesn’t refer to plushie bowls of chowder (can you even get those?), but to the vegetarian chowder I made over the weekend — the recipe intro refers to the dish as ‘a cuddle in a bowl’. That’s a worthy description — this is a very hearty, comforting soup that is very easy to make.

One onion sautΓ©ed with a couple of sticks of celery (though I used the whole head so nothing would get wasted) and some chopped garlic, about 400g diced potato (a 40/60 mix of ordinary and sweet seems to work best), 800ml vegetable stock, 2 finely sliced leeks, 100g sweetcorn (the recipe says to use frozen, but for some reason that’s become next to impossible to find in my local area so I used a small tin’s worth instead) all simmered together for a good long time to get everything really well-cooked and soft, and 200ml whole milk added right at the end of the cooking time — this recipe gives very generous portions and is pretty filling, so it will most likely make for as good a winter dish as it does a summer dish.

One of the things I like about this recipe is that it doesn’t need blending at any point — only a gentle squishing withΒ  a potato masher at the end of the cooking time to break up the vegetables and help the potato starch thicken the soup a little. This makes for an interestingly varied texture.

I’m definitely putting vegetarian chowder on the semi-regular roster — I’ve a feeling much experimentation will be necessary to find out which thicknesses and ratios of ingredients work best πŸ˜‰

Mulligatawny musings

Mulligatawny soup this week — I mainly selected this recipe out of curiosity, to see if the sensory issues that made me loathe carrots in soup and chickpeas in any non-hummus context had changed at all.

Happily, they have! Both ingredients were rendered perfectly palatable by the cooking procedure, and the rest of the dish was pretty good too πŸ™‚

I omitted the step of partially blending the vegetables into the stock — for one thing, my stick blender is a bit naff, and for another thing, I prefer my home-made soups chunky (the texture of them when they’re liquidised is… ekkk). I also used 100g of sticky rice (my preferred type of rice), added before the 20-minute simmering, rather than 100g of basmati rice cooked separately and added near the end. These tweaks came together to make the soup more of a spiced vegetable stew, but that was all right ^^

1/2 teaspoon each of turmeric, cumin seeds, dried coriander and ground ginger seemed to work pretty well as a substitute for mild curry powder, though in retrospect I should perhaps have used 1/4 teaspoon of the turmeric — its flavour came through quite strongly in the finished dish. Next time, I could probably use less dried chilli as well, given that the soup had a very noticeable spicy kick. It fits with the current warm weather, though — spicy heat = more sweating = cooling down faster πŸ™‚

All in all, I think this recipe was a success and is something to put on the ‘occasional’ roster πŸ™‚

Mmmmmiso

This week’s recipe was something I’ve been looking forward to trying out since I got my copy of Hairy Dieters Go Veggie — vegetarian miso soup!

I’ve been a great one for miso soup ever since I first tried it in a lovely little sushi place in Vancouver, Canada some years ago. The standard recipe, though, calls for dashi stock, which is made using bonito — dried tuna — flakes, and hence isn’t suitable for vegetarians.

This recipe calls for vegetable stock, garlic, ginger and miso paste for the soup base — I’d recommend using low-salt stock cubes if you don’t have the time or resources to make the stock from scratch, as miso paste can run quite salty. I got the ginger from my local Asian food store, which proved to be a good move — a few pence more than I’d have paid at Sainsbury’s, perhaps, but the flavour was much stronger and more interesting than the supermarket ginger.

The vegetable component was chiefly composed of mushrooms — a 100g tub of shiitake and a 200g tub of ‘specialist’ mushrooms (maitake, shiitake, oyster and enoki) covered things pretty well. I have to admit, the enoki mushrooms worried me a little, given that they’re much longer and skinnier than the sorts of mushrooms I’m used to, but they turned out to have a very acceptable flavour and texture. Enoki mushrooms figure in a recipe for beef sukiyaki I have in my collection, so I’ll definitely be casting a close eye over that at some point ^^

The bulk of the rest of the vegetable component was specified in the ingredients list as ‘2 to 3 heads of Asian greens’. I wasn’t certain of what specific vegetable that referred to, so I picked up a bag of pak choi from the Asian food store, reasoning that it has green leafy bits and is Asian. It worked really well! Very easy to chop (even when I absent-mindedly spent a few seconds trying to use the blunt side of the knife…), lovely flavour and it cooked and softened very well, neatly nullifying my worries that the saucepan wouldn’t be able to hold everything.

The end result was pretty darn tasty! The miso was a subtle, savoury background presence while the garlic, spring onions and ginger provided a good kick that stopped everything being too bland. The mushrooms and the dried shredded seaweed I sprinkled on top added some good umami notes.

As an unexpected bonus, I was able to calculate that one teaspoon of miso paste in a standard mug, plus dried shredded seaweed, (maybe) some chopped spring onion and boiling water to fill would make a very acceptable quick miso soup for snack-attack type moments! πŸ™‚

Not playing socca

Socca and salsa this week — chickpea flatbreads served with a concoction of deseeded diced tomatoes, raw diced red onion, herbs and a bit of chilli. Yum yum!

The socca turned out more like pancakes than crispy-at-the-edges flatbreads and I’m not entirely sure why. They tasted good, though! I’m less sure about the flavour of the lightly caramelised wedges of onion that the recipe mentions adding to the pan after the batter — they tasted quite ‘roasted’ and I’m not a fan of roast onions — but the introductory commentary for the recipe did mention that they were entirely optional, so in future I can feel comfortable cooking up a batch of plain socca to go with sausages and gravy or something. I did also get an idea for lower-calorie onion bhajis — make up a quantity of gram flour batter, stir in a large quantity of finely chopped onion, dollop the mixture into paper cake cases set ready in cupcake or muffin trays and bake at 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for 30-45 minutes. I’ll definitely try that at some point!

The salsa was absolutely delicious — fresh and zingy — and it goes very well with lots of stuff besides socca. Brussels pate, mushroom pate, cream cheese… you name it! I’ll definitely remember this for future reference πŸ™‚

Spinach-wrestling

Work has been very intense over the past few days, with one manuscript coming in almost as soon as the previous one was submitted… Things have quietened down a little now, though, which gives me some breathing space πŸ™‚

Ferocious though it was, the pace of work over the weekend did not prevent me from making feta-and-spinach cigarillos! I used three 100g bags of pre-washed, ready-to-eat spinach instead of the 150g frozen spinach mentioned in the recipe — partly because they were on yellow label and partly because I thought it’d shrink down in the cooking anyway.

The quantity of spinach necessitated that I use a whole pack of feta — 200g, as opposed to the recipe requirement of 100g — in order to keep the right ingredient ratios. This did not trouble me unduly, as I already had plans to use any filling that didn’t go into the cigarillos for a big filo parcel/pie to go into the freezer for iron rations.

It turned out that I should probably have cooked the spinach down a bit before making the filling — even with the double feta, the ingredient ratio still skewed quite heavily toward spinach and the filling itself was rather awkward to handle when I was assembling the cigarillos. At least I got an additional densely-filled pie out of it! ^_^

Ingredient-wrestling awkwardness and wobbly ratios aside, this recipe turned out rather well — the filo pastry didn’t fall apart during or after cooking and the cigarillos tasted pretty good πŸ™‚ Next time, though, I’ll probably either use a bit less pre-washed spinach and cook it down somewhat, or I’ll use frozen spinach as per the recipe. This one is definitely in my ‘to remember’ pile. I’m also thinking of trying this sort of filling in a pie using the potato pastry from the ‘miscellaneous’ section of this particular recipe book.

A special satay

Tofu satay this week! Another good ‘un from the Bikers πŸ™‚

The marinade for the tofu was lovely and punchy — lots of lime juice — though I might have added slightly too much dried chilli, as there was an intense kick of heat after a few seconds when I tested it. In any case, eight hours of marinading the tofu cubes lent them a delightful flavour. I don’t actually have any bamboo or other skewers, so I couldn’t impale the tofu for grilling — I put the marinated tofu (plus the marinade; no point in wasting it) into a pie dish and put that under a medium grill while I made the peanut sauce. It worked pretty well πŸ™‚

The peanut sauce is one of the best things I’ve gotten from the Hairy Dieters books! Smooth, delicious, just enough kick from the soy sauce, lemon juice and black pepper to balance out the smooth richness of the peanut butter. I used sweet chilli sauce rather than sriracha — personal preference — but this didn’t diminish the flavoursome aspects at all. I also had to use 50ml of semi-skimmed milk with a tablespoon of coconut powder stirred in instead of coconut milk, and the latter is rather expensive and it didn’t make sense to pay for 400ml of the stuff when I only needed one-eighth of that amount. The substitution worked out all right, though, and there was something incredibly satisfying about stirring all the sauce ingredients together and seeing the peanut butter slowly integrate with everything else πŸ™‚ I’ll definitely be keeping this peanut sauce recipe in mind for other dishes — for example, a casserole of chicken on a bed of caramelised onion, with the peanut sauce poured over the top. Delicious!

The other Dieters recipe I’ll be doing this week is the artichoke and lemon dip. Not a meal by itself, admittedly, but it should go well with the last of the Jarlsberg twist bread (another Bikers recipe, this one from the Big Book of Baking) I made last Friday. It was soft, moist, delicious and rose like the devil thanks to some very lively yeast and the unseasonably warm day. I’ll be using artichokes canned in water rather than oil — nowhere to store the drained-off oil and I don’t want to waste anything — but that should be ok. Apparently the texture of the artichokes in water should be slightly mushier, which should help when it comes to combining the dip ingredients.

Bon appetit!

Spinach is good!

Creamed spinach with hard-boiled eggs was this week’s Hairy Dieters recipe. I hadn’t had spinach in many years and so didn’t have especially lofty expectations, but I was blown away by how good this recipe tasted!

Turmeric, nutmeg, cinnamon and cumin mixed with the sautΓ©ed onion — strongly scented during the cooking, but tempered by the cream to a delicious background complex of flavours. The spinach cooked down magnificently and its flavours worked well with everything else. The recipe instructed that the egg(s) be boiled for exactly six minutes — approximately long enough to have the white fully solidified and the yolk still soft but no longer runny. Some care was definitely necessary when taking the shell off, but it was worth a little fiddling to get to the eggy goodness whose texture worked perfectly with the creamed spinach!

The recipe as given in the book was listed as serving 4 people (249 calories per portion) as a starter, snack or brunch, but it could easily serve 2 or 3 people as a light supper (at about 333 to 500 calories per portion).

Bon appetit!