A special satay

Tofu satay this week! Another good ‘un from the Bikers 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂 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!

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Salento – southern Puglia — Diane Seed

When I first started taking people to Puglia in the Nineties it was relatively unknown outside Italy. Local people would stop to stare at my motley group when we visited the food market in Monopoli, and very little English was spoken. In July and August northern Italians would drive south for their summer holidays but […]

via Salento – southern Puglia — Diane Seed

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 sautéed 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!

I am a true millennial

I’ve had avocado toast for supper two days running…

Partly because it’s relatively cheap, quick and easy (essential when there’s a long and emotionally intense manuscript to be proofread on a tightish deadline), partly because I bought a two-pack of avocados and partly because it’s the first recipe in Hairy Dieters Go Veggie.

It went pretty well, although I think I added a little too much lemon juice to the avocado mix. I’ll probably use balsamic vinegar next time — should prevent oxidation just as effectively as lemon juice and has a sweet edge to the flavour to temper the acidic sourness.

I hadn’t actually had avocados on their own for well over a decade, so I’d forgotten just how creamy they are — certainly enough to temper my fiercely strong dried chilli flakes to scarcely a hint of warmth when I added my usual cautious small pinch to one mashed avocado.

All in all, I think this recipe was a success and I’ll keep it in mind for when the summer heat really gets going.

Hairy Dieters Go Veggie

I’ve FINALLY gotten around to this one, the latest in the Hairy Bikers’ series of glorious low-calorie recipe books 🙂 (the recipes are low-cal, not the books XD)

As the title suggests, there’s not a lick of meat anywhere in this particular volume — it’s all veggie, all the way. This helps keep the calories down a fair ol’ way, and is a good impetus for getting more creative with cooking one’s veg.

As per usual for Hairy Bikers books, the recipes are detailed and easy to follow, with preparation/cooking times and calorie counts for each dish. The book is as much a feast for the eyes as a feast for the stomach!

Given the all-veggie nature of the recipes, this particular book has slightly more recipes than usual that hit my ‘nope’ factor, through containing aubergines, courgettes, parsnips and other things that I really don’t like. This is a reflection of my personal tastes rather than a flaw in the book itself — there’s still plenty of good stuff there! For example, avocado toast (that millennial classic, though I’m not sure whether  I’m  actually a millennial), an avocado-based chilli chocolate mousse and caponata pasta. This last one contains capers and courgettes going by the ingredients list, but I’m working out ways to omit them and keep the dish tasting good.

One particularly interesting section is the soups — especially the vegetarian miso soup (miso soup usually uses dashi stock, which contains tuna in the form of bonito flakes). I’m a sucker for good miso soup, so this is a recipe I’m particularly looking forward to. The ingredients list mentions ‘Japanese greens’, not further specified, so I’m not entirely certain what to use there, but I suppose that if all else fails, spinach or pak choi should work reasonably well.

There are quite a few tofu recipes as well, such as a ‘TLT’ (tofu, lettuce and tomato sandwich) with smoked tofu, as well as an ingenious tofu satay. I’m pretty interested in these, though I’m a tad wary owing to the fact that tofu is soy-based, and soy products don’t always agree with me. It shouldn’t be too much of a problem if I do all the preparation correctly, though — sufficiently well-processed soy tends to be ok 🙂

All in all, the most recent Hairy Dieters book lives up to the standard set by its predecessors and is well worth a look!

Spring is sprung

The weather is FINALLY getting more springlike over here 🙂 The clocks have gone forward too, which always messes with my rhythm for a couple of days…

The upshot of that: this week’s culinary thing was almost identical to last week — pasta with home-made tomato sauce out of the freezer. The only differences were that this week I used whole-wheat fusilli, and that I added the rest of the frozen prawn from a couple of weeks ago.

There was about 5/6 of the block left, frozen pretty solid, and I was a bit reluctant to let it thaw overnight in the fridge because I was worried about the packaging slumping or splitting and sending melted prawn-water everywhere. My solution was to put the block in a sieve supported over the sink in the morning and let things defrost at room temperature. This certainly worked on the thinner outer layers of ice, but the main block was still frozen solid.

To deal with this, I boiled about 1 litre of water in the kettle, poured it into a saucepan and carefully placed the block of prawns into the water (this specific order of operations was intended to minimize the risk of damaging the saucepan from thermal shock). I’d intended to maintain the heat of the water on the hob, but this proved unnecessary — the outer layer of prawns was released almost immediately and I was able to work them off with a wooden spoon and set them aside in a bowl. The ice block, obviously, had a significant cooling effect on the water, but this only brought the temperature down to between blood heat and room temperature. This was sufficient warmth to gently thaw off further prawn layers, which I was able to extract with my (clean) hands. The result was a sizeable bowl of prawns which had been thawed but, for the most part, were still raw and hence would not be overcooked in the finished dish.

The procedure from there was pretty much the same as last week — cook pasta, drain, add sauce, heat through. I added the prawns at the same time and cooked and stirred until I was sure they were properly cooked (one can’t take too many chances with seafood). The end result was just as good as I’d anticipated, and went deliciously well with a few pieces of extra-mature cheddar melted over the top 🙂

The first day of spring — Diane Seed

Today is the official beginning of spring, Palm Sunday and Greek Independence Day. It seems an auspicious moment to return to my blog and newsletter after a silence of nearly a year. A ruptured Achilles tendon, misdiagnosed in Italy, and subsequent poor medical care, led to several months in a wheelchair, following a successful operation […]

via The first day of spring — Diane Seed

Improvising with onions

This week’s thing is actually connected to something I did a few weeks ago, but which didn’t come into play until now.

A few weeks ago, my dad did a batch of home-made red onion chutney and gave me half, which amounted to three jars’ worth. It needed to be eaten fairly quickly and I knew I wouldn’t be able to do that if I used bits here and there in sandwiches and so on, so I hit upon the idea of making a batch of pasta sauce and freezing it in portions.

I decided to make a tomato sauce — the onion chutney was quite sweet, which would complement the sour/sharp flavour of tomatoes rather well, and I had half a tube of tomato purée sitting in my fridge waiting to be used. I opted to use a ratio of one can of plum tomatoes per jar of chutney, counting the tube of purée as being equivalent to one jar.

While the onions in the chutney were technically already sautéed, I started things off by heating some oil and cooking the chutney with it anyway, just to get things heated up properly. I then added two lamb stock cubes, generous quantities of basil and oregano, a good pinch of paprika, black pepper, the tomatoes and tomato purée, and the rinsings of the chutney jars and tomato cans. I then brought the mixture to the boil, stirred well and let it simmer with the lid off for about twenty minutes so as to reduce it a bit.

I got two large tubs (each worth three meals) and one small tub (one portion) out of this experiment, which filled out my frozen food emergency stash nicely.

I was a bit stumped for what to make for this week’s big cooking thing, so I fished out one of the large tubs of tomato sauce and cooked it up with some spare pasta. Delicious! Lots of umami and subtle flavours — the sweetness from the onion chutney was quite noticeable, but not overwhelming. It certainly went well with the extra-mature cheddar I melted over the top!

All in all, I think, a successful experiment ^^ I’ll definitely keep a note of this for future occasions.

Adventures in prawn-wrangling

Conchigle alla crema di scampi this week — and it was an interesting ride…

You see, I’d covered the king prawn component of the ingredients by buying a 900g box of them from the freezer section of my local Asian food shop. Excellent value for money — way better than Sainsbury’s £4 for 225g — but the packaging once I’d opened the box caught me a bit off-guard. The prawns were all frozen into one big block and I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that it took me at least ten minutes of fruitlessly attacking the block with a carving knife to work out that I could simply boil a kettle and pour the water over one end of the block to separate off the 12 prawns I needed that way.

It worked, I’m happy to say — I managed to get about 10 or 11 prawns by dint of careful pouring and peeling them out with my bare hands, then carved the rest of the softened/partially thawed bit off the end of the block with the knife I’d been using earlier. The resulting pile of seafood-y goodness looked to be about the right size, and the recipe worked out ok, so I’m treating this as a useful learning experience.

I made sure to cook the prawns extra well, even though they’d been partially cooked already from my boiling-water trick, just to be on the safe side (can’t take too many chances with seafood!). The final dish tasted really good and I didn’t get food poisoning from undercooked prawn, so I think that counts as a win! 🙂

Back to normal

Back to pasta-y experimentation this week 🙂 A simple sauce of walnuts, garlic and mascarpone — delicious!

Not much to say about it, to be honest — crushing walnuts in a pestle and mortar, chopping garlic, sautéing them in butter, stirring mascarpone into the nut mixture and parmesan into the just-drained pasta before combining the two and portioning out… Simple, elegant and delicious!