Monthly Archives: January 2013

Quick bites: What a picture, what a photograph …


So I might have spent several years ripping the piss out of friends and colleagues for being unable to tuck into their meals in restaurants without taking a photo of it first. Me, I don’t hang about letting my food get cold …

Until I start blogging about food, that is, and I get all fussy about photographing what’s on my plate so that I can review the restaurant later. And my partner-in-crime Anth, who has a super-duper nutter turbo bastard camera that makes tea and toast and takes the stones out of boy scouts’ hooves, instructs me on how best to showcase food I’ve cooked.

I may have to submit my first effort – a pic of a pasta dish that looks like it was taken from behind a theatre safety curtain – to the BBC site after today’s neat little feature on photographing food, complete with tips from professional photographer Paul Winch-Furness.

And I think we’ll gloss over the fact it took me three visits to review Pie and Vinyl in Southsea – those around me were most amused by my anguished shriek halfway through my plate of pie, mash and mushy peas: “Arrrgh! I’ve forgotten to photograph my dinner!”

Recipe: Chilli Sin Carne


I have recently rediscovered TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein) or Soy Mince – a mince substitute that I thought had gone the way of the dodo. I think I first found it in the 90s in a local health food shop. It very much had the whiff of hair shirt and hemp shoes vegetarianism about it then. Other meat substitutes have arrived, notably Quorn, and I thought it would have died out, but no, it’s still hanging on in there in the face of Quorn mince. It also has the advantage in that it’s vegan, which Quorn isn’t.

Having cooked with it I have to say I prefer the texture of TVP and I think it doesn’t make the sauce as runny as the Quorn mince does. TVP does need long cooking though or it’ll be like the dried bits in Pot Noodles, but give it at least an hour and it will pay back any care and attention with a great texture and mouthfeel.

I’ve been fairly conservative in how much heat this chilli packs. Add more chilli powder with the green peppers if you think it needs it.

One ingredient that may surprise you is cocoa powder, a trick I learned in my meat eating days. It adds a background richness to the stew that you can’t identify as being chocolate. I have heard a teaspoon of instant coffee has the same effect, but I’ve never tried it myself.

I also make no claims to the authenticity of this chilli. I leave the Texans and the Mexicans to fight that battle on their own.

Chilli sin carne

50g TVP/soy mince
1 onion finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 chilli, finely chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chilli powder
1 400g tin beans in brine, drained (usually red kidney beans, the version I photoed uses canellini beans)
1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 tsp veg stock powder
1 tbsp vegetarian worcester sauce
2 tsp cocoa powder

1 green pepper, diced
fresh chopped coriander to garnish

Soak the TVP in enough boiling water to cover an inch above the granules. Leave for 5 minutes.
Soften the onion, garlic and chilli in a little oil in a pan.
Add the TVP including the water, plus the rest of the ingredients.
Season with salt and pepper.
Stir and leave to simmer for 60 minutes.
Check the seasoning and add more chilli powder if you want it a little hotter.
Add the diced green pepper and simmer for another 20 minutes.
Season with salt & pepper.
Serve on boiled rice, garnished with the coriander.

Serves 4

Review: Pie & Vinyl


You’ve got to love a place with a cunning plan and a niche idea – and Pie & Vinyl in Southsea has both in spades.

And it does what it says on the tin – pie, mash and mushy peas served in the congenial setting of a retro record shop. I’m all for supporting independent record shops – particularly when they serve me one of my guilty pleasures.

This isn’t fine dining – the pies are bought in, and the mash and peas are served from a hotplate. But the food is well-chosen; decent Pieminister and Buckwells pies, which can be eaten alone, or accompanied by a £6.50 meal deal (pie, mash, mushy peas and gravy or liquor).

There are a couple of dozen pies on the menu, but not all are available every day. Vegetarians get two or three to choose from – the three cheese, red onion and spinach pasty is tasty, as is the oozingly-rich Wildshroom and asparagus (wild mushrooms, asparagus, shallots, white wine and cracked black pepper). And the gravy’s good as well – thick, well-seasoned and yay, vegetarian!

Half of Pie & Vinyl’s charm is the setting. It seats no more that about 16, and it’s snug to say the least. So save your secret business deals for another setting. Tables, chairs and charmingly-mismatched crockery look like they’ve come from your gran’s parlour. And the cordials – served in eccentric teapots – are the kind of thing you’d have taken on your picnic in the 1950s. These include dandelion and burdock, rhubarb and rosehip, and the intriguingly-named sarsaparilla, which was described by my rather brisk friend as tasting like cough medicine. Whatever, it definitely cleared my tubes, matron! And for £1.75 you’ll get three or four glasses out of the pot.


The front part of the shop has poster art for sale (I know I’m going to end up buying that PJ Harvey and John Parish one before too much longer), and the records live in the tiny back room. And yes, it’s vinyl, which has never really gone away in certain quarters. If you’re desperate for a new turntable, you can buy one of those as well.

The guys who run Pie & Vinyl are friendly, and have clearly found their clientele – the slightly bohemian Southsea crowd, with a preponderance of students who gravitate towards cool new places to hang out, along with the 40-somethings who remember vinyl from the first time around. They’re also promoting the café for meet and greets for musicians who might be playing the Wedgewood Rooms that evening. A colleague of mine is still hyperventilating after being no more than a foot from David Gedge of The Wedding Present … Takes all sorts!

 Check the website for opening hours, which do vary, including a later closing time on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Pie & Vinyl

61 Castle Road




Quick bites: Don’t mention the ham …


Show me a vegetarian who hasn’t had someone suggest that they pick the meat off a pizza and I’ll roll my eyes and ask them how long since they came over to the dark side. It reminds me of university halls of residence 30 years ago when serving staff couldn’t seem to grasp that veggie and Jewish students really didn’t want the ham removed in front of them …

Sp Danny Mitzman’s recent account on the BBC site of the trials and tribulations of being a vegetarian in Italy ring true for many of us – not only abroad, but also closer to home. And as you read today’s follow-up piece – 20 of your tales of vegetarian woe – I bet you’ll be twitching in sympathy.

They remind me of my trip to Russia 20 years ago when I spent a fortnight living on bread, cucumber and tomatoes. The hotel’s answer to there being meat in the borsch was to suggest I had the first portion skimmed off the top, as the dead bits would have sunk to the bottom … The long-suffering tour guide explained to me and my best mate that vegetarianism didn’t exist in the country, and the only reason people would decline to eat meat was if the doctor had advised it.

At least it was ignorance rather than downright contrariness in the US where the hairy-chested cowboys of America’s mid-West clearly think vegetarians are wusses. A restaurant in Casper, Wyoming, refused to let me order a selection of side dishes in lieu of a main course. The fact there was no vegetarian option on the menu didn’t matter.

Recipe: Slow-braised mushrooms with herby dumplings


It’s cold and snowy outside, so how about something warm and comforting inside?

Two hours might seem a long time to braise mushrooms, but they will pay it back by mingling all their juices with the stock, to intensify their flavour. I used closed cup mushrooms for this and quartered them to give a nice meaty bite to chew on. If you’re using field mushrooms I would just slice them thickly.

slow braised mushrooms

1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
300g mushrooms, quartered
2 medium carrots, sliced
1 tsp chopped rosemary
1 tbsp mushroom ketchup or vegetarian worcestershire sauce
500ml veg stock

For the dumplings:
50g self raising flour
25g vegetable suet
1 tbsp chopped parsley & thyme

Sweat the onion and garlic in saucepan with a little oil until translucent.
Add the mushrooms, carrots, rosemary, mushroom ketchup, stock and season with salt and pepper.
Bring to a low simmer, put a lid on and simmer for two hours, giving an occasional stir in case anything is sticking to the bottom of the pan.

After two hours make the dumplings.
Put the flour, suet, herbs, salt and pepper into a bowl and mix with a little water until you have a soft dough.
Form into six to eight dumplings (depending on how big you like them).
Put them in with the mushrooms, replace the pan lid and simmer for 20 minutes.
The dumplings will swell and go fluffy.

Serve with some mashed turnip and some greens.
Serves 2.

Quick bites – Web Roundup


There has been a lot of food news with a veggie spin this week.

First of all there was the news that some supermarket beef burgers have been found to contain horsemeat! Now I’m sure all vegetarians were shocked and appalled by this and didn’t laugh at all, or at least not when the meat-eaters were around.

One item that didn’t hit the headlines particularly is that there has been a study to show that crabs and crustaceans do feel pain. To be honest, I’d never doubted this. I didn’t think that crabs (for example) think and plan the way a mammals do, but of course they had to feel pain or else how would they survive? It’s common sense. But I say that knowing that common sense doesn’t always hold up to scientific reality.

Less happy from the veggie point of view is this article in The Guardian which says that vegans and vegetarians are responsible for Bolivians not being able to afford quinoa as it’s all being sold to us. We’re also responsible (according to the writer) for rainforest being felled for soya production and scarce water being allocated to grow asparagus in Peru as well. Who knew such a small proportion of the population could have such a big effect? (And here’s me thinking that it was my support for gay marriage that was bringing about the downfall of civilisation!)

Seriously, this is one of the laziest bits of food journalism I’ve seen in a long time. For a start quinoa is not just eaten by veg*ns (vegetarians and vegans), it’s a fashionable ingredient at the moment, one that started in the veg*n world, but has transitioned to the mainstream. A quick Google would have shown her that the majority of soya production goes towards animal feed and biofuel rather than tofu and soymilk. . And as for asparagus from Peru and other imported out of season vegetables, does the author really think that only veg*ns buy and eat them? There is a discussion to be had over the impact our food buying habits have on a global scale, but that doesn’t need to be limited to veg*ns, that’s for everyone. I don’t know what Blythman’s problem with veg*ns is, but I get she is taking the opportunity to kick the moral highground out from under us. I’m sorry going veg*n is still one of the best things you can do for the environment quinoa and peasant Bolivians notwithstanding.

Recipe: Veggie Sausages


Now it might appear that this blog (or this blogger) is obsessed with sausages. It’s not completely true, but my experience in going vegetarian is that is has taught me the importance of mouthfeel when you’re eating. One of the pleasures of eating meat is not just the flavour but the dense chewiness it brings. That sensation in the mouth is difficult to replicate in vegetarian cooking and that’s one of the reasons for the proliferation of meat substitutes in the veggie world. Sausages are one of the most varied types of this mock meat and you can see from this I have enjoyed trying out different ones. However a quick look at the ingredients list of these sausages often leaves you wondering if you’re cooking or taking part in a chemistry experiment. (Actually, I used to know a biochemist who called cooking ‘bucket chemistry’.) Wouldn’t it be nice to make your own vegetarian sausage where you know exactly what is in it?

I found this recipe for seitan sausages. Now, I’ve tried making seitan before – a process that involves a lot of kneading and rinsing – and I couldn’t see how you could put any flavouring in the dough that wouldn’t get washed away in the making of it. However, this recipe uses Vital Wheat Gluten, which means all the kneading and rinsing work has already been done. I looked for it in various health food shops, but couldn’t find any until I finally tracked down a source on Amazon.

Having made the sausages, I like them. They have a chewy texture and a great savoury flavour. They get a nice crisp outer edge when fried and they hold their shape when sliced. I haven’t tried cooking them for longer than it takes to heat them up in a pan with baked beans, but I suspect they’d hold up reasonably well to a longer simmer. Best of all, I know what’s in them and I control their flavour (I’m already looking at the smoked paprika and chilli powder and considering a chorizo version).

I know this is a recipe for the dedicated vegetarian/vegan, but once you have the vital wheat gluten flour the recipe is really just a question of mixing and shaping. And if you have child labour to hand, I’m sure they’ll love rolling the sausages.


400g tin butter beans, drained
150g wheat gluten
1 tbsp garlic granules/powder
1 tsp veg stock powder
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tsp mustard powder
1 tbsp vegetarian worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp Marmite
150ml cold water

Mash the butter beans (or whizz in a food processor) until you have a smooth paste.
Put the beans in a bowl and add the dry ingredients.
Mix the wet ingredients in the water. If you need to use warm water to get them to dissolve fully, leave it to cool before adding it to the rest of the mix.
Add the wet ingredients to the mix and stir until you have a pliable dough.
Divide the dough into 8 parts.
Roll the each part into sausages about 10cm long.
Wrap each sausage in kitchen foil and twist at the ends.
Put in a steamer and steam for 30 minutes.
Take out of the steamer and leave to cool in their foil wrapping.

The sausages are fine to eat immediately, or they can be fried, mixed in with baked beans or pasta sauces etc.

Quick Bites: Recipe: Bircher Muesli


I think I’ve always liked muesli. I remember when Alpen came out in the ’70s, all Swiss and sophisticated. A step up from Corn Flakes and Rice Krispies. It was healthy too, I mean it had the Matterhorn on the packet so how could it not be good for you?

I still do like muesli, even though I’m aware the average bowl of packet muesli has about the same amount of sugar as a bowl of Frosties. What I’ve come to appreciate more recently has been Bircher Muesli – the original kind, where the grains are soaked overnight. What this gives the muesli is a sweetness and texture like good porridge but without the heating and stirring. I use porridge oats for mine and generally a mix of frozen fruits of the forest mix and sliced grapes. Bananas, nuts and maple syrup might be making an appearance this weekend as well.

My preferred mix is 35g of porridge oats, put in a bowl and covered with 80-100 ml of milk. This gives a fairly stiff consistency, but you can always add more milk in the morning if you prefer it runnier. Leave it overnight to soak and serve in the morning with your fruit of choice on the top. I don’t think it needs any added sweetness, but add yours to taste.


Quick Bites: The Vegetable Butcher


I stumbled across this blog article. The title, The Vegetable Butcher, intrigued me. It’s a tour through a vegetable market with the blogger and Rene Redzepi of Noma fame. While neither of them are vegetarians, the article is a breezy, non-patronising look at the importance of vegetables and gives inspiration for cooking. And Rene is right – there’s no need for vegetarian meals to mimic the meat and two veg format – a few mix and match dishes for sharing works much better.

Recipe: Himmel and Haggerty


I have a suspicion that the notes about how I came up with this recipe are going to be longer than the recipe itself, but here goes.

This is a mashing together of two classic recipes – Pan Haggerty and Himmel und Erde. Pan Haggerty is a Tyneside & Northumbrian dish of potatoes, onions & cheese cooked in a frying pan on top of the stove. Himmel und Erde is a German dish of apples and potatoes. I can’t say I grew up with either recipe – I grew up with the Wearside & Durham dish of Panackulty, which is potatoes and corned beef layered and cooked in the oven – but I looked at a recipe of Pan Haggerty, remembered Himmel und Erde and thought ‘Apples would do nicely in this’.

It makes a great supper or lunch dish and it’s a great way of using up the end bits of blocks of cheese if you want something more substantial than a cheese toastie. For a vegan version, this would be great just leaving the cheese out. It’s also great cold for a lunchbox the next day.


2 medium potatoes, thinly sliced
1 apple, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
100g cheddar cheese, grated
1 tsp dried sage

Put a small amount of oil in a small frying pan. Starting and ending with a layer of potatoes, build up layers of potatoes, onion, apple and two thirds of the cheese. Season with salt and pepper as you go and sprinkle in the sage as you do.
If your frying pan has a lid you can use that to cover, otherwise kitchen foil or a plate work just as well.
Heat over a low to medium heat for 20 minutes.
When you can slip the point of a knife easily to the bottom, the potatoes are cooked.
Sprinkle the rest of the cheese over the top and put under a hot grill until the cheese is bubbling and browned.
Serve with a crisp green salad.

Serves 2