Monthly Archives: May 2013

Recipe: New potato and avocado salad


I liked the green olive dressing from the asparagus and egg recipe so much that I had to find something else to use it in. Warm new potatoes absorb the flavours perfectly.

 photo DSCN0736_zps548d98d1.jpg

100g new potatoes
1 ripe avocado
1 small head crisp green lettuce like romaine
for the dressing
1 tbsp vinegar (cider or white wine)
3 tbsp olive oil
6 green olives, finely chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh basil

Cook the new potatoes in plenty of salted boiling water for 10-15 minutes.
While they are cooking, mix the dressing ingredients together and season well with salt and pepper.
Once the potatoes are cooked, drain them and then cut them into quarters.
Put them into a bowl and pour over the dressing and stir. There will be too much dressing for the amount of potatoes, but that’s fine, you’ll be adding the avocado later.
Cover the bowl and set aside, letting the potatoes absorb the dressing.
Once the potatoes are cool and you are ready to serve, peel and cut the avocado into slices, or into chunks depending on your fancy.
Carefully stir the avocado into the potato and dressing mixture, getting it nicely coated.
Serve on a bed of the crisp lettuce.

Serves 2 as a starter.

If you wanted this as a main course, I would double the amount of potato and possibly add some hard boiled egg slices on top.

Recipe: Grilled asparagus with egg and green olive dressing


I feel a little guilty about griddling asparagus, as it seems harsh treatment for such a noble vegetable. Griddling, however, does perk up a bunch that’s been hanging around in the fridge for a bit.

asparagus with egg & green olive dressing photo DSCN0735_zpsecc4b713.jpg

1 bunch of asparagus (about 10-12 spears)
2 hard boiled eggs, chopped
6 green olives, finely chopped
1/4 tsp mustard
1 tbsp vinegar (cider or white wine)
3 tbsp olive oil

If you have a griddle pan, coat the asparagus spears in oil and griddle on a medium to high heat.
If you are using a frying pan, heat the oil in the pan before adding the spears.
Heat them for about 4 minutes each side.
Add the olives, mustard, vinegar and olive oil to a bowl and mix thoroughly.
Season with salt and pepper.
When the asparagus is cooked, place on a plate, scatter with the chopped egg and spoon the dressing over.

Serves 2 as a starter or a light lunch with crusty bread to mop up the dressing.
If you want to make a vegan version, the dressing does very well without the egg.

Recipe: Pasta and asparagus with lemon and basil


Asparagus season is my favourite time of year. As a vegetarian I’m really pleased to see a vegetable take pride of place on menus and cookery magazines. The British asparagus season is one of the triumphs of the culinary calendar and well worth waiting for. I’m lucky to have a nearby deli that gets a supply from a local farm. As I can’t grow it myself, this is the next best thing. Freshness is the key to the flavour. If you’re buying from a supermarket check that it’s British asparagus, the stuff shipped from Peru (why?) is only an expensive disappointment.

The first bunch on the year is only served one way – boiled and served with melted butter for dipping. After that, I start looking for something different, but I still want to retain the flavour integrity of this very special ingredient.

This recipe is nearly as simple as serving it with melted butter. I think it showcases the best of Italy and Britain – good ingredients, cooked simply and left to speak for themselves. And use the best olive oil you’ve got for this. It’s a celebration of the season.

Pasta with asparagus photo DSCN0731_zps2a301cc6.jpg

200g pasta (rigatoni or penne)
1 bunch asparagus (about 10-12 spears)
1 fat clove garlic, crushed
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tbsp olive oil
2 fresh basil stalks, finely shredded

Put the pasta on to boil in plenty of salted water.
Break off the tough end of the asparagus spears and trim off the pointy leaves on the stalk below the tips.
Cut off the tips of the asparagus spears and slice the stalks on a steep diagonal.
Three minutes before the pasta is due to finish cooking, add the asparagus to the pan.
Add the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and basil to a bowl and mix throughly.
Season with salt and pepper.
Drain the pasta and asparagus.
Toss in the dressing and serve.

Serves 2
You can add a grating of vegetarian parmesan-style cheese, but personally, I prefer this dish without.

Recipe: Quesadilla/Sincronizada


Loads of food cultures have a variation of cheese and bread heated together. We have the cheese toastie. In Mexico they have the quesadilla, using corn or flour tortillas. There are two variations, the quesadilla where one tortilla is filled and folded in half and the sincronizada where the filling is sandwiched between two tortillas. In both cases the tortilla is dry fried (or fried) on a frying pan or griddle. You’ll tend to find sincronizadas called quesadillas if you see them in restaurants and having started writing this blog entry I think that’s because quesadilla is easier to spell.

They’re a great and easy snack/lunch to make. Once you have the technique down pat, then there are a wide variety of versions you can make. I’ve listed some ideas at the bottom. In my experiments with this I’ve found flour tortillas slightly easier to handle, although the corn ones have more flavour. I would also warn people to keep the filling fairly frugal to be sure that it cooks through properly and to make it easier to eat.

I’ve done two recipes in this entry, a cheese based one and a vegan option. To be authentic for the vegan one, I should be using refried beans, which you can find in some supermarkets now, but in fairly large tins. As I’m giving the recipe for two people, I’m going to use baked beans. If anyone wants to report me to the Mexican Embassy over this, their number is 020 7499 8586.

Quesadilla photo DSCN0725_zps381529f6.jpg

Ingredients – cheese
50g cheese, grated
1/4 red onion, finely chopped
1 tomato, deseeded and finely chopped
1/3 red chilli, finely chopped
1 tbsp coriander, finely chopped
4 small flour or corn tortillas

Ingredients – baked beans
1 small tin baked beans
1/4 red onion, finely chopped
1/3 red chilli, finely chopped
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp coriander, finely chopped
4 small flour or corn tortillas

Add the filling ingredients to a bowl and mix well. If you’re doing the baked beans version, try and mush the beans together a little as you mix.
Season with salt and pepper.
Put a small frying pan on a medium to high heat.
When it’s hot add the first tortilla and spread half the filling over it.
Heat until the bottom of the tortilla is looking a little browned and crispy.
Cover the lower tortilla and filling with a second tortilla and press down.
Using a fish slice or a spatula, carefully turn the tortilla sandwich over.
Heat the tortilla until it is now toasted.
Remove from the pan and cut into quarters.
Repeat with the remaining ingredients.

Serves 2 as a light lunch or snack.

Once you have mastered this technique then the variations are only limited by imagination and taste. Off the top of my head you could try tapenade and mozzarella; hummus and chopped green olives; mozzarella, tomato and basil; crumbled falafel and tapenade. You could even try a sweet version with peanut butter and grated chocolate or Nutella. Cheese on toast was never this good.

Recipe: Veggie shepherd’s pie


I have a confession to make. I’ve been a vegetarian for 35 years, but until last month had never cooked soya mince. I never liked meat much anyway when I did eat it, so I’ve never been able to see the point of using substitutes. I do have quorn occasionally and am a fairly recent convert to veggie sausages, but that’s about the lot.

Recently I had a craving for veggie shepherd’s pie (well, my protein levels are pretty lousy, and I fancied comfort food as well …) I used to make it a lot about 20 years ago when it was red lentils with everything. I didn’t go off it or anything – I just moved on to trying other things.

The recipe was resurrected and tweaked as I was staying with friends and was making myself useful by doing some of the cooking. And the domestic goddess friend just happened to have some soya mince in the freezer … Otherwise, it was a mix of whatever was in the fridge that needed using that day. So fiddle to your heart’s content!



Large onion

A couple of cloves of garlic

Soya mince

Red or puy lentils (I used a small tin of the latter as there happened to be one to hand)

A couple of large carrots (cut into cubes)

Some stray mushrooms

Tin of chopped tomatoes and about a tablespoon of tomato puree

Vegetable stock

Mixed herbs, salt and black pepper

Mashed potatoes for the topping


Fry the onion, garlic, carrot and mushrooms. Tip the soya mince in and add vegetable stock as required – not having used it before, I was surprised by how much moisture it sucked up. Cook for about 15 minutes. Add the lentils, the tinned tomatoes and the tomato puree, and cook for another ten minutes or so. Season with salt and black pepper and also add mixed herbs. Tip into a large oven-proof dish.

Meanwhile, cook and mash the potatoes. There was a parsnip or two approaching their use-by date at some speed, so they got chucked into the mash as well. You could do it with sweet potato if you fancied a change. Add oodles of black pepper to the mash.

Spread the mash on top of the vegetable mix. Grate cheese on the top if you’re vegetarian as opposed to vegan. Warm through in the oven for about 15 minutes – longer if you want the top to go crusty.

We served it with broccoli and green beans. Even the resident meat eater, who doesn’t think he’s had a proper meal if it hasn’t included pig products, approved!

Living Below the Line: Day 5


The last day of the challenge. I spent it working from home, succumbing at last to the diarrhoea that’s been plaguing me all week.

The thing I have to complain about today is water. I’ve been drinking nothing but water and I’m sick of it. Water, of course, is one of the hidden privileges of this challenge – you are allowed an unlimited supply as thought it’s free. It isn’t. We have water rates here in the UK, which belie the original investment in sewerage and mains that set up the supply. That investment is still ongoing in many countries where you can’t take water for granted.

No bean curry today, probably to the relief of my digestive system. I had the pasta sauce as soup instead. I think it makes a better soup than a pasta sauce.

As far as the eating goes, the challenge is done.

The brilliant news is, thanks to the generosity of my friends, we have raised £185!!! I think that’s brilliant considering my target was £100.

Thank you to everyone who’s donated some money. I also want to give a special mention to the guys at work who have been really encouraging as I’ve sat down to lemon curd sandwiches for breakfast and the dreaded bean curry for lunch.

So that’s how I did in fundraising, how about nutritionally?

This is what I bought.

Item Price Cost
1 Wholemeal loaf (800g) 0.50 0.50
1 Jar of Lemon Curd 0.22 0.22
2 PacketsFrozen Mixed Veg 0.75 1.50
2 Tins Tomatoes 0.31 0.62
4 Tins Kidney Beans 0.21 0.84
1 Tin New Po 0.15 0.15
1 Jar Curry Sauce 0.26 0.26
1 Packet Stock Cubes 0.15 0.15
1 Packet Spaghetti 0.19 0.19
1 Packet Digestive Biscuits 0.30 0.30

I didn’t eat all of that in the end. I only used two tins of kidney beans and one and a bit packets of frozen veg. Once I put that all together, this is how it matches against the Reference Nutrient Intake (the stuff you get with traffic lights on supermarket ready-meals).

RNI* £1 Diet %RNI
Energy (kCal) 1940.0 1622.3 83.6
Protein (g) 45.0 50.1 111.2
Sugars (g) 270.0 266.0 98.5
Fat (g) 70.0 32.0 45.7
Saturates (g) 20.0 12.4 62.2
Fibre (g) 24.0 33.2 138.5
Salt (g) 6.0 6.0 100.7
Sodium (g) 2.4 2.5 102.7
Calcium (mg) 700.0 1132.0 161.7
Iron (mg) 8.7 12.7 145.6
Vitamin A (ug) 700.0 2402.1 343.2
Folate (mg) 200.0 220.9 110.4
Vitamin C (mg) 40.0 51.0 126.6

*Reference Nutrient Intake
Figures from the FSA Manual of Nutrition 11th Ed

I think that’s pretty good. I’m on or slightly under for the stuff they warn you about and overachieving, frankly, on the vitamins and other good stuff. The calories are a little worrying at 15% lower than they should be. It wasn’t always that way. When I first put the shopping list together I was determined to get some fresh fruit or vegetable in there. I changed and trimmed it until I could afford an 84p bag of apples. I thought this was wonderful until I worked out the nutrition stats. I was only getting half the calories I should be and the fresh apples weren’t adding that much to the vitamins etc. I ditched the apples from the shopping list and bought the tinned potatoes, pasta and digestive biscuits.

That’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned from this. All the fresh fruit and veg and good nutrition in the world won’t work if you don’t get the calories you need. Sometimes on a very restricted budget you have to eat crap just to get the calories in. (The fact that good, fresh food is so expensive is something I’ll come back to in another post.)

The second thing I’ve learned is that not just armies, but everyone, marches on their stomach. Having nice, appetising food to eat makes the day go better. It doesn’t matter how nutritious something is, if you don’t want to eat it, it’s a misery to have to. We also need to fix the food supply economics in this country so that the only tasty food available to poor people is not junk food.

Third thing I’ve learned is that I’m a coffee addict. Not physically but mentally – I do like my cup of coffee in the morning!

Fourthly, I’ve already mentioned this, but I have very generous and encouraging friends.

Fifth, we are all privileged in this country to have an all year, constant abundance of food. That is just not true for a lot of countries. And I am among the privileged of the privileged to be able to buy to eat what I want when I want it without, really, counting the cost.

Thank you all a third time (it can’t be said enough) for helping me raise so much money. And thank you for reading my tales of the challenge.

Live Below the Line: Day 4


This has been the toughest day so far. The problem is lunch. I made the tactical decision when starting this challenge to make two big pots of food to have for lunch and dinner. It worked with dinner – the pasta sauce is fine – it still needs garlic and black pepper – but it’s nice. The bean and vegetable curry isn’t. It’s not completely inedible, but it’s not something I want to eat more than twice at the outside. I have to eat it five times and I’m really, really sick of it. It’s starting to blight my mornings as the time to eat looms every closer. That is so wrong for a work-day lunch. Lunch should be a highlight of the day, a little boost to get you through til home-time. This meal sits in the office fridge like a tax demand.

The best Colemanball I ever heard for myself was on the radio one time. A stately home cook had been fired and was suing her employers for wrongful dismissal. According to the radio news reader, her employers said her food was ‘bad and inevitable’. That’s what the bean and vegetable curry has been.

But! I have a plan. There’s enough tomato sauce to have it for soup tomorrow lunch and then dinner in the evening. To be honest I’d eat plain pasta if it meant I didn’t have to eat that bloody curry again.

So I have that good news. And other good news the Live Below the Line campaign has raised over £550,000 so far. If anyone wants to add to the total, you can do so here. Thank you.

Live Below the Line – Day 3


I had a headache for the morning, today. I’m putting that down to caffeine withdrawal, although I wouldn’t have said that I drank enough to warrant withdrawal symptoms. Mind you, I wouldn’t have said that I had any sort of a coffee addiction, but I find I’m really missing my morning dose of over-priced brown foam. I didn’t look forward to lunch today anymore than I did yesterday. It’s really weird. It’s a perfectly edible curry and I realise that as soon as I’m eating it. It’s just that I never want to eat it.

I don’t feel that about the pasta sauce I have for dinner. Although that might be because I’ve realised that, if you add a teaspoon of sugar to the recipe, it’s the same as for Heinz Spaghetti. I have clearly stumbled on their secret recipe!

My meals are getting quite a bit of attention in the office. Quite a few people want to know what I’m eating and why I’m doing it.

This is one of the reasons why. If you want to help you can donate at my Below The Line page.