Friday, 9 August 2013

What's in your fridge?

A really interesting survey on European fridge habits was published the other day.

The British press have majored on how the UK is the hummous capital of Europe - go chickpeas! - but I thought more surprising was the statement that a third of British people don't keep fruit in the fridge.  Only a third?  I suppose it depends on the type of fruit but I always think the default for fruit is that it's outside the fridge - certainly for things like apples/pears and citrus fruit.

Not surprising but still worth highlighting is that the French are better at exporting their cheeses than we are - 10% of British households have Roquefort in their fridge but only 1% of French/Spanish/German households have Stilton in theirs.  Now, I love Roquefort, don't get me wrong (it is probably my very favourite cheese) but I always find it depressing that we're so bad at exporting our food and drink.  I love the variety that you get in the UK - that pubs will have British real ale and Belgian fruit beers and American real ale and so on… but I also find it sad that it's so hard to find British stuff overseas.  There's so much great stuff being made by small producers in the UK but their market is so much smaller than small producers in Europe.  Why do we get Swedish sparkling cider but the Swedes don't get our fantastic (but lethal) still farmhouse cider?  

I suspect it comes down to the general issue that the British find patriotism embarrassing and are more inclined to think that produce from overseas is better. It has its advantages - not just the big cities but the whole country has amazing variety and I love that - but it can sometimes be depressing.  I visited, a while back, Rich's Cider Farm in Somerset (delicious cider, by the way, and you can order boxes online) and the pub closest to the farm (at the time of visiting) sold… Magners.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Courgettes - marinaded in lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic

Courgettes with lemon and garlic

A few things lately have reminded me that courgettes can be awesome.  In particular, the other day we went to a great pop up restaurant which served pizza with courgettes on top.  

I decided to recreate the courgettes at home as a side dish - they work really well as a light summer side dish and it's also really straightforward to make.

Essentially:  slice courgettes as thinly as possible, put in bowl.  Add olive oil and lemon juice (I like a 1:1 ratio but you may prefer it less lemony), and crush in some garlic (I like lots but you may prefer less).  Add salt and pepper and leave to stand for an hour or so.  Voila!

Lemony garlicky courgettes

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Roasted garlic and parsley flatbreads

Roasted garlic and parsley flatbreads
Apologies for the unscheduled hiatus - life, in general, has continued to be full of good food but sadly lacking in time to write about it.

Anyway.  The other day, my parents visited, bearing the usual offerings.  No, not wine or flowers, those would be strange.  A couple of boxes of mangoes (they are in season so it is compulsory to eat at least a box of 12 a week) and five bulbs of garlic.  Now, usually anyone is welcome to bring multiple bulbs of garlic to my house (please take note) but, in this case, I had bought myself our usual weekly supply (4-5 bulbs) the day before.

What to do?  Well, the situation is ongoing so the full answer remains to be seen but - obviously - part of the answer had to be roasting a couple of bulbs.  While one can dispose of roasted garlic fairly straightforwardly with a spoon (if one is feeling civilised), on this occasion, I decided to make flatbreads and stuff them with roasted garlic and parsley.

To make the filling, I roasted some garlic, mixed it with some chopped parsley, drizzled some olive oil on top and added some salt and pepper.

Mmmm, roasted garlic
I used Nigel Slater's recipe for the flatbreads, which worked fairly well overall.  I love making breads on the hob, it's how most Indian breads are made, and it's just plain more fun than the oven approach.  I am tempted, at some point, to try finishing them on the barbeque to get that slightly burnt, smokey thing going on.

The only tweaks I made were that, because his recipe calls for 10g of yeast and yeast comes in 7g packets, I went with 14g of yeast.  I suspect that's why mine weren't the flattest flatbread of all time but it still worked fine...  I also didn't care for his method of stuffing the flatbread - he suggests getting a ball of dough, putting the filling inside and then rolling them out.  Totally didn't work for me so I switched to shaping them with my hands into a disc, putting in the filling, folding it over again and squishing a bit with my hands.

Dough before it grew immensely
Stuffed flatbreads ready to be cooked
Roasted garlic and parsley flatbreads are go!
I really enjoyed these and am already plotting what to fill them with next..  currently, burnt aubergine and feta is the lead contender..

Friday, 17 May 2013

Banoffee frozen yoghurt

Banoffee frozen yoghurt
The other day I fancied some ice-cream was overpowered with guilt for not using our ice cream maker more but couldn't quite be bothered to make proper ice-cream.  The solution:  frozen yoghurt!  This seems to be marketed as a healthy alternative to ice-cream which I think is slightly bizarre as it's genuinely pretty tasty in its own right.  I love yoghurt in general, though.

I was not in a recipe-following mood so went for pottering down to the local fruit and veg stall and picking what looked good:  bananas.  What goes with bananas?  Toffee.  So I tried to acquire some caramel from the supermarket but the supermarket failed me.  So I bought some honey and some Hobnobs.  Obviously.

It actually turned out really well.  I decided to bake the bananas to intensify the flavour - for about 20 minutes at 200 degrees with honey drizzled on top and cinnamon. Having baked the four bananas, I mashed them into 500ml of Greek yoghurt and added a bit more honey and cinnamon.  Popped into the ice-cream maker and, after it had been doing its thing for 30 minutes or so, dropped the Hobnob pieces in.

Am definitely doing that again.  Also, baked bananas on their own were pretty good - I am contemplating further uses for them.

Monday, 6 May 2013

vegetarian etiquette

So, as I've mentioned before, I love Hadley Freeman.  I read her book - Be Awesome - recently.  It is, well, awesome.  I think she may be one of the few people who loves the Princess Bride more than I do.  And that's a compliment of the highest order.

It was one of those really self indulgent reads for me in that I spent most of it thinking "YES, I totally agree."  Except, sadly, for the section on "how to be an unannoying vegetarian" which seemed to boil down to:  you should sit in the corner on all occasions apologising and eating crumbs from the omnivorous table.  Which I found particularly strange because a lot of the rest of the book is about how women should spend more time being clear and honest about their needs.  Just apparently not if they need food to be vegetarian.

I get the impression that Hadley is, like some other vegetarians I have come across, a self-hating vegetarian.   Here's a simple test to determine whether you are one too:

If someone you know suggests going out for dinner and asks you if you have any preferences, do you:

a) suggest going to a steakhouse as you're fine with a side salad and the bread basket.  No, really, you're FINE.  In fact, you love salad.  And bread.

b) say "anywhere with a vegetarian main course option not involving beetroot* is good for me"


c) say "sure, but it has to be macrobiotic, vegan and serve wheatgrass shots"

If you answered a), I'm afraid you are a self-hating vegetarian.  You need to realise that your feelings matter too.  And also that people who are eating with you want you to be happy with the meal too as they don't enjoy watching you looking hungry with your side salad.  Plus, they wanted some of that bread.

If you answered b), you are normal.  I.e. like me.  Hey, it's my blog.

If you answered c), you are weird and, to be honest, people probably don't ever ask you out for dinner anyway.  Admit it.

So, here's my take on the etiquette of being vegetarian.

If you're invited to someone's home for a meal, tell them that you're vegetarian.  People like Hadley Freeman will gasp "but you don't want someone to make something SPECIAL for you!"  Well, actually, that's what going to someone's home for a meal is like.  When I invite people round for dinner, I do cook something special for them.  I don't usually cook myself a three course dinner, make sure the tablecloth is perfectly clean, iron napkins and use matching crockery and glassware.  I want to make something special for them.  I have, in fact, invited them because I want to do this.  I try always to check about dietary needs when I make the arrangements but, if I forget, I want people to let me know.  I would hate it if someone came round for dinner and ate nothing but the bread because they hadn't told me that they hate mushrooms and I'd made a feast of mushrooms with mushrooms on the side.

If I'm going out to dinner with friends and we're picking a restaurant, I think I have as much of a right to a view on where we go as everyone else does.  Hadley suggests that vegetarians just go wherever omnivores want to go and, if necessary, eat side dishes.  It slightly makes me wonder what her friends are like.  Mine will spontaneously say "oh, but that only has one vegetarian main course, is that ok for you?" or "Oh, no, we can't go there, they have nothing vegetarian for TheMightyAubergine" because, well, they are my friends and they wouldn't be happy if I had to sit through a meal with only side dishes to eat.  Of course, I don't expect to get my first choice of restaurant every time, but I do think that my views are just as important as everyone else's.  Not more important but just as important.

Hadley also says that you should never take your omnivorous friends to a vegetarian restaurant.  I.e. that your omnivorous friends are being perfectly reasonable to take you to places with no vegetarian main course but obviously it's evil for you to take them somewhere with no meat.  Just doesn't make sense to me.  Now, I am actually not that big a fan of vegetarian restaurants - all too often they are tedious places with wheatgrass shots and under-salted food (what is with that anyway?  salt is not a meat product, people!) - and, of course, I would never force a particular restaurant choice on any of my friends (see above - I think that sort of decision is one best reached by consensus) but I have no hesitation about suggesting vegetarian restaurants when appropriate.  For instance, I am going to a show with friends soon near the Gate so I have suggested going there beforehand.  If my friends said that they didn't like the look of the menu, but suggested somewhere else with a decent vegetarian option, I'd cheerfully agree with that.  But, in fact, my friends have said that they're happy to go to the Gate.  So, everyone's happy.  Except for Hadley.

*Beetroot is EVIL.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Restaurant review - The Port House, Strand

I am often sad that the newly arrived fashionable tapas restaurants in London tend to be poor for vegetarians - it's not that they don't have any options but those options rarely work together as a meal.  I was therefore pretty excited when we passed The Port House a while ago and took a look at the menu and found that it has plenty of tasty looking vegetarian options.

Not only that but it has a gin and tonic menu.  Seriously.  This is my awesome orange and cinnamon G&T.

Anyway - we had a really good lunch there.  The highlight for me were the aubergine tempura with hummus - tempura were just perfectly fried, crispy, not too greasy, and the hummus was flavoursome.    Honourable mention to the goats cheese salad and the picon blue that we had.  It was also - for central London - really good value for money.  We had 5 tapas between the two of us, admittedly almost all of them vegetarian, and a drink each and the bill came to about £40.   The atmosphere was also very nice - candlelit, quiet, tables spaced reasonably from each other.

The only downside was the bizarrely judgemental waitress.  When we ordered 5 tapas, she practically snatched the menus out of our hands and told us that "that would be enough".  We decided that perhaps she was trying to be helpful and let us know portion sizes.  However, while 5 was perhaps half a tapa too many, it was pretty much the size of lunch that we wanted particularly as a couple of them were mostly vegetables.  When she came back and saw that we'd finished, she gasped disapprovingly, cleared plates, then came back with dessert menus "Do you want dessert? [without pausing] No, you've had enough."  We didn't have dessert.  (Though, in fairness, we weren't planning to anyway.)  I'm not quite sure what makes anyone decide to take a job as a waitress when they are judgemental about people's eating habits.  It seems an unwise choice to me but there we have it.  

I liked the food so much, though, that I'm still planning to return - it's probably the only tapas restaurant in London where, as a vegetarian, you could go back a second time and order completely different dishes.  

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Genoa, Liguria

Apologies for the lack of posts for the last three weeks, have been busy - in both good and bad ways - lately.

One of the good things was a visit to Genoa (or, as the Italians call it, Genova) in Liguria.  It is not only has pretty palaces and churches and museums and coastline and things but ALSO fantastic vegetarian food.  Obviously, Italy has always been a great place to travel as a vegetarian but, in my view, it can get a bit samey.  Liguria has some quite different vegetarian food, though.

Behold pretty coastline

And pretty church
Back to the food.

Firstly, there is pesto.  Who doesn't like pesto?  The Ligurians do it with funny stubby gnocchi like pasta called trofie which is extremely tasty.

Trofie al pesto - photo from here
Secondly, there is farinata.  Farinata are gram flour pancakes but done Italian style so with tasty things like onion or artichoke or gorgonzola in them.  They are delicious.

Farinata - photo from
Thirdly, there is focaccia con formaggio which is, you've guessed, it focaccia with cheese.  It tastes more like pancakes with cheese in the middle - bit like khachapuri and that is, obviously no bad thing!

Focaccia con formaggio
And THEN, as if all that was not enough, they have torta con verdura - yes, you at the back, that does mean vegetable tarts.  Lots of them.  You can have a tart made from green beans and potatoes or broccoli and brie or artichokes.  They are all good.

And ALSO you get all the more standard Italian vegetarian goodness like pizza.  And wine.  And gelato.

In terms of the food, I think that was the best trip I've ever been on.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Lobio - kidney beans in plum sauce

lobio - kidney beans in plum sauce
There are many delightful things about Georgian cuisine - the most obvious being khachapuri which I've posted about before.  My second favourite Georgian dish is lobio - kidney beans in plum sauce.  I tried making this a while back, using an attractively straightforward recipe involving plum jam.  It was nice but not like the lobio that you get in a good Georgian restaurant.

So, when I took Claudia Roden's "The Book of Jewish Food" out from the library, one of the first recipes to catch my eye was the one she gives for lobio.  It was amazing.  I think I demolished about 10% of it in the kitchen while supposedly cooking other stuff to go with but actually, mostly, just sneaking bits of lobio.

Mmmm - Lobio
One of the things that's interesting to me about it is that it doesn't really taste of plums.  I am not a huge fan of fruit in savoury food but that doesn't matter for this because what it adds to the flavour is not fruity/sweetness but sourness/depth/something.  

It's actually remarkably straightforward to make as well - definitely something that the Mighty Aubergine household will be returning to.  A warning - like all of the recipes in this book, it makes lots, not that that is a particular problem..

Essentially, you steam a pound of plums until they're soft, then peel and stone them (this is probably the most annoying aspect of the whole recipe), add to a bunch of coriander and whiz in the food processor with some garlic (about 4-5 cloves), chilli powder (about a tea spoon), some lemon juice (to taste but roughly half a lemon's worth).  And of course a bit of salt to taste.

Whizzing plums and coriander

Lobio sauce - post whizzing
And then you add to 500g of cooked kidney beans (either tinned or dried - I prefer the latter but mostly, if I'm honest, because I'm cheap rather than because of some incredible difference that I can perceive in the flavour) and voila - lobio!

You can serve it warm or at room temperature - either is good.  Obviously, it's best eaten with khachapuri but, let's face it, what isn't best eaten with khachapuri?  But you could if - for whatever reason, you don't want to make khachapuri - eat it with bread, rice, or couscous or as part of a general mezze selection.  I am tempted to experiment with using the plum sauce to go with other things...

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Restaurant review - The Yellow House, Canada Water

Like Cafe Amisha, The Yellow House is one of the restaurants that we frequent when we are tired and don't want to cook. Which means that I always forget how nice it is.

We went the other day and had fondue to start which was interesting - I am more used to fondue as a main meal.  For my tastes, the fondue was a little too boozy,the booze slightly overwhelmed the cheese which was a shame because the texture was perfect.

The pizzas that we had to follow were perfect, though - crust nice and thin and flavoursome.  One of the things that I particularly like about The Yellow House is its selection of small sweet things.  As regular readers will have noticed, I don't have that much of a sweet tooth but every now and then I fancy something sweet at the end of a meal.  Restaurant puddings are usually too much for me but a couple of chocolate truffles or pieces of fudge are perfect.  The handmade chocolate truffles at The Yellow House are absolutely amazing, some of the best chocolate that I've ever had, I think mostly because of how freshly made they are.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Restaurant review - Prix Fixe, Soho

Looking for a nice but inexpensive place to grab a pre-show meal in Soho, we chanced upon Prix Fixe where the two-course set menu before 7pm is a bargain at £13.90 (no, I don't know how they came up with that figure, either.)

The set menu has six vegetarian main courses (counting the main course salads and omelette), all of which sound lovely - no tame mushroom risotto here.  I went for the grilled aubergine, roast pepper and goats cheese roulade to start - which was perfectly cooked, lovely blend of flavours and just the right amount of food for a starter, enough to whet your appetite but not so much that you don't want your main.  Because I'm a sucker for savoury pancakes, I went for the zucchini & dill pancakes as a main which were really good.  I pretty much always love pancakes but these were particularly well done - it's easy for savoury pancakes to be dry or overwhelmed by sauce but these were perfect, lovely crispy on top, and an interesting texture to the lentil and salsify sauce.

All in all, it was great.  I will definitely be back next time I am in search of a pre or post theatre meal in Soho.