Monthly Archives: November 2012

Quick bites: Kudos to the Fat Duck


One of my biggest gripes has always been restaurants and/or celebrity chefs who are perfectly happy to take your money, but don’t wish to make much of an effort for anyone who doesn’t eat meat or fish. Any vegan or vegetarian can regale you with stories about how they’ve been ripped off in the past.

I am flatly refusing to go to Cafe Parisien in Portsmouth for anything more than coffee and cake after two years of disappointing Christmas meals. The meat eaters got the full works where there was so much food they couldn’t finish it. The vegetarians got risotto. Perfectly nice risotto, but not the most generous of portions (nouvelle cuisine sprang to mind) and with nothing to accompany it. Sod that for a game of soldiers …

And it must be even more frustrating – and potentially dangerous – if you have a food allergy or intolerance. I’m not a particular fan of Heston Blumenthal (yes, I did give his pretentious new cauliflower macaroni cheese for Waitrose a kicking here a few weeks ago). But kudos to him and the Fat Duck for providing an unforgettable eating experience for a customer who is both gluten and dairy intolerant. You’ll find Celia Pronto’s account of the meal here.

I wonder if they do the same for vegans and vegetarians …



Recipe: Low Fat Oven-Baked Chips


This is a quick one – two ingredients and a simple method. These are the famous ‘Slimming World Chips’. If you haven’t been told how to make them in your first week at a club, you will be on your second. It’s the FryLite spray that makes these low-fat. And they are pretty tasty. Essentially it’s the same method for making roast potatoes.

Slimming World Chips

2 medium floury potatoes, cut into chips
Frylite spray

Parboil the chips for 5-10 minutes depending on how thick you’ve cut them.
Drain them and then shake them around in the saucepan to break up the edges a little. This is what will give them their crispy finish.
Spread them out on a baking sheet and spray with Frylite, tossing them so that every side gets some oil.
Put into a preheated oven at 220C for about 20 minutes.
I normally check on that after 15 minutes and toss them on the baking sheet so that they brown more evenly.

Serves 2
In the magical incantation of Slimming World: they’re free on Green!

Recipe: Roasted Root Vegetables with Lemon and Harissa Dressing


I didn’t intend to make this recipe. I was just going to roast some excess red onions to make a basis for a salad and then I noticed I had a lot of things in the fridge that would benefit from some roasting as well. When I put the harissa and lemon on the root vegetables I just had to share it because it tastes so good. You have the sweetness of the roots, the heat of the harissa and the fragrant sourness of the lemon and it’s an unbeatable combination.

I used carrots, parsnips and butternut squash (not technically a root veg, I know!) because that’s what I had in the fridge, but turnip and sweet potato would be great in this as well.


2 medium carrots, chopped into large pieces
3 parsnips, chopped into large pieces
1/2 butternut squash, chopped into large pieces
Juice of 1 lemon
Zest of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp harissa paste

Pre heat the oven to 220C.
Put the vegetables on a roasting tray, rub with vegetable oil and season well with salt and pepper.
Roast for 30 minutes until the vegetables are cooked and a little brown round the edges.
Put the lemon juice, zest and harissa in a small bowl and mix thoroughly.
When the vegetables are cooked, remove the skin from the butternut squash.
Toss the vegetables in the dressing and serve.

Serves 2 as a warm main course salad with some green leaves for crunch.

Quick Bites: Arsehole Coffee


I like good coffee and I’m in a semi-permanent search to find a type that will taste as good as it smells. On the list of coffees to try was Kopi Luwak coffee – the one that’s been eaten by an Indonesian civet cat, pooped out the other end and then the beans are roasted like normal coffee. The pre-processing in the civet cat’s digestive tract are supposed to make it taste smooth and wonderful. It has a wonderful price too at £145 a pound.

That’s a huge amount for coffee beans and I would have just written it off as another Idiot Tax, like £5000 handbags and the like, if I hadn’t read this article in The Guardian. Essentially, the demand for this coffee has changed its production from a cottage industry into something heading towards intensive farming. The civet cats are kept in small cages and force-fed the coffee beans. They have a miserable life and some endangered species of civet cat are being captured and used to produce the coffee as well.

It’s this kind of thing that makes me rage at humanity’s ability to exploit and mistreat fellow living creatures for any or no reason whatsoever.

And the worst thing is according to those who know about these things, it’s not particularly great coffee either!!

So, kopi luwak is off my list of coffees to try. I urge you, dear readers, not to buy it either. Don’t buy it for home. Don’t buy it in coffee shops and restaurants. If you’re not a vegetarian but wouldn’t eat foie gras, don’t drink this coffee either. I don’t want cruelty-flavoured coffee and I’m guessing most people won’t want to either.

Book Review: Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin


I hadn’t heard of Laurie Colvin until I wandered across a review of her republished collection of her food writings in The Guardian. I hadn’t heard of her, but I had read her chapter on English Food in an anthology of travel writing. It was a chapter I re-read a couple of times because I enjoyed it so much.

She wrote about more than English Food, however. Principally, she was a novelist, but she loved cooking and entertaining and she wrote about it. This book was originally published after her death in 1992 and has been republished now by Fig Tree.

In her forward Laurie writes: In foreign countries I am drawn into grocery shops, supermarkets and kitchen supply houses. and I was immediately struck by a sense of fellow-feeling because I, too, love supermarkets and grocery shops in foreign countries. She then follows this up by a quick anecdote about going to a black-tie book launch and being worried that they would be served tiny portions of delicate food and were instead, to her delight, served a more substantial beef stew with noodles. That would have been my reaction too.

Not that I get invited to book launches, black-tie or otherwise, but Laurie did. And that kind of bohemian, arty, loft-living lifestyle permeates through the book in her anecdotes of meals she has cooked and meals she has eaten. If that makes her sound flighty and arty-farty, that’s not what comes across in the book. Her voice is one of calm, good sense and an unflappable attitude to cooking. You feel that if you were cooking a meal for her she would know exactly what to do if it went wrong and would cheerfully make the best of it if things went irretrievably wrong.
If all else fails, eat out, she says in her chapter Starting Out in the Kitchen.

Most of the chapters are based around a recipe of plain, good, home cooking. The chapter on Potato Salad is mostly anecdotes about why people don’t make it themselves anymore, but she then gives a couple of recipes to try. Most of what she writes is timeless, but the 80s do make themselves felt in certain places – she is clearly battling against Nouvelle Cuisine and dire warnings against saturated fats pepper the book.

She also gives advice about what equipment you will need, how to feed fussy eaters (she included vegetarians in that list), baking bread, giving dinner parties and how to make shepherd’s pie for 150 people.

And she writes well. She never deviates from a chatty, immediate style, but still vividly describes people, situations and food. This art reaches its height in the “Repulsive Dinners” chapter. The description of the ‘Scottish genius’s’ dinner has you leaning forward with anticipation to see what will be revealed by the lifting of the casserole dish lid and then giggling with horror and relief that you don’t, as Laurie did, have to eat it.

This isn’t a recipe book. It’s a book to read near the kitchen and vicariously revel in good (and bad) food and good company of which Laurie is the best kind of hostess.

Title: Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
Author: Laurie Colwin
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Fig Tree
Date: Oct 2012
Language: English
ISBN: 0241145716
Price: £12.99

Mock Meat: Vegetarian Hot Dogs


Good food shouldn’t just be about the gourmet cordon bleu stuff. You should be able to relax and have fun with food. Hot dogs are about the best for that. If you’re a vegetarian, that pinkish-brown tube of hot pig products with dubious smokey flavour is off the menu. Unless you go for the veggie version that is!

There are two version up for tasting here – Tofu Weiner by Taifun and Quorn hotdogs. The Taifun product is vegan, whereas the Quorn product isn’t.

Hotdog packaging

I cooked both of them the same way, boiling as per the packet instructions.


The tofu-weiner is on the left, the Quorn hotdog is on the right.

The tofu weiner has a good smokey flavour, but little other taste otherwise. The texture, once past the skin, is very soft, which isn’t a good substitute for the real thing, but there is something to chew there.

The Quorn hotdog doesn’t have as strong a smokey flavour, but does have a good savoury flavour in addition to the smokiness. It also has a firmer texture, much closer to the real thing.

As with most mock meats, I wouldn’t put either on my regular shopping list, but if I really wanted a hotdog, either would be acceptable in a finger bun with ketchup and mustard. If you want hotdogs on cocktail sticks stuck in a foil-wrapped potato for a 70’s party – I’d go with the Quorn ones, they stand up better on their own.

Recipe: Mushrooms with Watercress and Quinoa


This recipe was inspired by Nigel Slater’s Mushroom Medley. I’ve changed it to what I had available in the fridge and store cupboard. I love the watercress in this, another time I might try spinach instead or some shredded spring greens added five minutes before the end of cooking.

Mushrooms with Watercress & Quinoa

250g mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp mushroom ketchup
1/2 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
500ml vegetable stock
50g quinoa
handful fresh parsley chopped
small bunch watercress, lightly chopped

Heat the mushrooms, mushroom ketchup, rosemary and garlic in a small frying pan until the mushrooms have cooked and shrunk slightly.
Add the quinoa and the stock.
Simmer for 15 minutes until the quinoa is tender and the little spirals are unwinding.
Stir in the parsley and watercress and serve while the watercress is still wilting.

This has the flavour of a mushroom risotto but without the stirring.

Serves 2 as lunch or supper.

Slimming World Syns: 0 on green