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Red pepper and potato tortilla – a great lunch!

10 Jul

I think the first time I had a tortilla was in Majorca.  They brought little squares of tortilla to go with our drinks at lunchtime.  I must say I had never thought of eating what is basically a fat omelette, cold, but it was delicious.  I love this recipe because it is so quick and easy, using bottled peppers and either left over new potatoes or even good quality tinned new potatoes.  It makes a great lunch to have with salad and any leftovers can be eaten cold if you get peckish.  Not that we ever have leftovers, it is too good to leave any!  Tortillas are similar to their Italian counterpart, frittatas.  Both are much thicker than an omelette as we know it in the UK , possibly due to the beating of the eggs which contribute to a much thicker, lighter batter.  It is thought that tortillas date back to the mid 1800’s when poor people would have their own hens and grow their own vegetables.  They provided a cheap but nutritious meal for the family.  Today good quality eggs are no longer cheap but, in comparison to the cost of meat, they are still a great option.

There have been numerous health issues related to eggs.  Some say that eating too many eggs will raise cholesterol levels and cause an early death from heart disease.  Others researchers have said this is a load of rubbish and you can eat as many as you like.  I remember Edwina Curry once warned us off eating eggs due to the risk of Salmonella but, many years later we are still eating them and I haven’t heard of a dramatic rise in deaths attributed to this.  All in all I suppose if you eat them in moderation you should not come to any harm.  Knowing how to understand egg labelling may help to reduce the risk.  Here is a brief summary.

Under European legislation eggs must be stamped with their best before date and this should not be more than 21 days after laying.  It is sometimes difficult to see what the stamp on the eggs say but it is usually clearly marked on the egg box.  I always buy them with as near to 21 days left as possible.  If you are unsure, a fresh egg will lie flat in a bowl of water and, as they get older, they will start to turn more upright.  Apart from the date stamp on the egg there is also a code which will give you information about the farming methods for where the egg was laid.  Look at the first letter of the egg stamp for this. 

  • 0 indicates the egg is organic
  • 1 means it is free-range
  • 2 is that it is a barn egg
  • 3 is that the hens are caged

Well, here is the recipe.

Red pepper and potato tortilla                                    Serves 4

  • 6 large eggs, beaten
  • 250g/8 oz cooked new potatoes, sliced (you can use leftover potatoes or even tinned if you are short of time)
  • 2 red peppers from a jar, drained and cut into strips
  • a handful of chopped parsley
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • salt and black pepper
  • Olive oil
  1. Preheat an oven to 220C/200c fan/gas 7.
  2. Add the peppers and the parsley to the eggs and season and mix well.  Set aside.
  3. Heat a little oil in a non-stick ovenproof deep omelette pan or frying pan.  Gently fry the onion until it is soft but not coloured.  Add the potatoes, mix well, gently squashing down a little.  Cook for 4 minutes, turning occasionally, or until the potatoes are starting to turn golden and are slightly crisp around the edges.  Tip the potato mix into the eggs and stir well.
  4. Add a little more oil to the pan then tip in the egg mixture.  Move it around the pan a little so all the ingredients are evenly distributed.  Cook on the hob for 3-4 minutes then transfer to the oven and continue cooking for a further 10 minutes.
  5. Turn out onto a plate and slice.

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Balti potatoes – my favourite side dish for a curry!

29 Apr

I have been making this side dish for a curry for years.  It was my Mum’s favourite.  Whenever she came down for the weekend, which was about twice a month, she would always ask for either a curry or a stir-fry.  She would never let me get away without making these potatoes if curry was on the menu.  They are quite spicy but you can calm them down a bit by putting in less chilli.  The recipe is for four people but I usually make extra as I find it is never enough.  Fennel seeds are one of the ingredients in this dish giving it a subtle but distinctive flavour.  I thought it would be good to find out a little more about this herb.

Fennel is part of the parsley family, and every part of the plant is edible.  Grown as a perennial in the Middle East and Europe, fennel has been harvested for hundreds of years.  If you have ever grown fennel you will know it is easy to cultivate but difficult to get rid of.  We had a plant in our herb garden and, years after we had pulled it up, we were still finding new fennel plants springing up in the most unlikely places.  Butterflies love it and I think the spread of the plant could be due to the seeds being spread by the butterflies and birds.

The slight licorice flavor of the herb complements sausages, fish and salads, making it popular in many cuisines.  The Greeks know it as maratho, named the herb after the famous Battle of Marathon, which was fought on a field of fennel.  It is used extensively to flavour their meats and stews. It is an ingredient in the Chinese 5 Spice powder and the Italians love to roast the bulbs in olive oil and sprinkled with parmesan or slice them raw in salads.  Fennel seeds are often used to add flavour to Italian sausages and they are a prime ingredient in some Indian cuisines.

Apart from the versatility of fennel in cooking, it has numerous medicinal properties.  Carminative properties of fennel are known from ancient times, as recorded in the Latin phrase “semen foeniculi pellit spiracula culi”, which literally means “the fennel seeds make blow the arsehole”.  Some may recognise the distinctive liquorice flavour in Gripe water, used to calm colic in babies, or in a cough linctus to calm the cough reflex.  In the Indian subcontinent, fennel seeds are eaten raw, sometimes with some sweetener, as they are said to improve eyesight.  Ancient Romans regarded fennel as the herb of sight. Root extracts were often used in tonics to clear cloudy eyes. Extracts of fennel seed have been shown in animal studies to have a potential use in the treatment of glaucoma.

Well, now we know fennel is great to have in the garden, lets look at the recipe.

Balti potatoes                                                    Serves 4

  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 3 curry leaves
  • 1 scant tsp crushed dried red chillies
  • 1/4 tsp each of onion seeds, mustard seeds and fenugreek
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 3 garlic cloves finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp grated fresh root ginger
  • 2 onions sliced
  • 6 large new potatoes (to make about the equivalent amount of potato to onion when raw)  sliced into 1/4 inch thick slices
  • small handful chopped fresh coriander
  • 1 red or green chilli, seeded and chopped finely
  1. Heat the oil in a wok.  Lower the heat slightly and add the cumin, curry leaves, dried chillies, onion, mustard and fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds, garlic and ginger.  Cook for about 1 minute or until the seeds start to pop then add the onions.  Cook gently for about 10 minutes or until the onions are soft and golden brown.
  2. Add the potatoes, coriander and green chilli.  Mix well, cover the pan and cook over a low heat for about 7 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.  Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.

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Mushroom hash – perfect with a fried egg!

21 Apr

I have been making corned beef hash for years  (see recipe on blog) and thought how great it would be to make a vegetarian hash.  This mushroom hash is so simple and yet so delicious.  I served it with a fried egg to make it a complete meal, they went really well together.  I’ve included a little chopped chilli but this is optional as I know some of my friends don’t like spicy food.  I try to include at least one day a week when I only eat vegetarian food, but of late I have tried so many great vegetarian recipes I have found I am eating them more frequently.  I have to say I am no expert on vegetarianism so I thought I would see what I could find out.

The Vegetarian Society Defines a vegetarian as ‘Someone who lives on a diet of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits with, or without, the use of dairy products and eggs. A vegetarian does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or by-products of slaughter.” 

in the early 1800’s, there were a number of groups in Britain considering adopting a meat-free diet. They varied considerably but one key group involved in the setting up of the Vegetarian Society were the followers of Reverend William Cowherd, known as the Cowherdites. Reverend  Cowherd was the founder of the Bible Christian Church who believed that eating flesh was unnatural and was likely to make people aggressive.  He would preach abstinence from eating flesh to his congregation in Salford, and worked with them, encouraging self-improvement through education.  It was probably the practical support he gave that swung them around to his way of thinking, by providing warm food, medical help and free burial. His followers continued his work after his death and the wife of one of these, Martha Brotherton, published the first vegetarian cookbook in 1812.

If anyone is interested and wants to know more about the history of vegetarianism it is worth visiting the Vegetarian Society’ website. Just click on the link below:

Here is the recipe.

Mushroom hash                               Serves 2

  • 12 oz floury potatoes (Desiree are good), peeled and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
  • 2 oz butter
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 small handful chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 red chilli, deseeded and thinly sliced (optional)
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 10 oz mushrooms, thickly sliced
  1. Simmer the potatoes in boiling salted water for about 4-5 minutes until just tender.  Drain and reserve.
  2. Heat half the butter with a little of the olive oil in a non-stick frying pan and fry the potatoes over a medium to high heat, turning occasionally, until they are starting to go crisp and golden (about 10 minutes).
  3. In a separate frying pan heat half the remaining butter with a little olive oil and fry the onion over a low to medium until it is golden (about 10 minutes).  Tip into the potatoes, mix well and cook together for a couple of minutes.
  4. In the empty pan, melt the remaining butter and olive oil and cook the mushrooms and chilli (if using) over a high heat for a couple of minutes until they are lightly coloured on all sides.  Add the mushrooms, parsley and garlic to the potatoes.  Mix well and cook over a high heat for 1 minute to allow the flavours to meld.  Season to taste and serve with a fried egg. 

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Cauliflower, potato and red pepper curry – who needs meat?

26 Dec

I really like vegetable curries but I get a bit fed up with the usual dishes using mainly root vegetables.  This recipe is fantastic and can be eaten either as a main for vegetarians or as a vegetable dish to be served with a meat curry and rice for a dinner party.  You can vary the vegetables to suit your own taste.  The three I have used really went well together and I threw in a few frozen peas near the end of cooking time to add a bit of colour.  If there are any vegetables left over after we have eaten this I am going to make them into pakoras by adding them to a thick batter made of gram flour and water.  We can have them for lunch tomorrow with some raita and a tomato, cucumber and onion salad.  Yum!

I am serving this tonight to accompany a chicken curry and rice to share with friends.  I remember years ago when I first cooked for friends, I was absolutely terrified.  As the years went on I realised that a stressed hostess was no good at all so I started to relax and enjoy myself.  We went through a phase of having themed dinner parties.  My Mum bought me a leather-bound menu holder for 10p at a car boot sale and I would type up the menu, using the language of origin, and put it on the table for a bit of fun.  We would scour the shops for ethnic beer and wine to accompany whatever meal I was preparing and we even went as far as sourcing typical music for the area.  Some might call this anal but we had lots of fun times while it lasted.  One of the funniest was when I did a Chinese meal for my brother and sister-in-law.  Our next door neighbour at the time was Chinese and he typed up my menu for me in Chinese with the English version underneath.  He even gave us some tea, one lot to have before the meal to improve the appetite and one for when we had eaten to aid digestion.  I remember he lent us a Chinese CD that sounded a little bit like the Goons singing Yinta Yinta.  I don’t know how we ate the food for laughing.  I suppose all this led up to me wanting to write this blog.  It isn’t because I think I am a fantastic cook but I thought it may help others who feel as terrified as I did all those years ago.  The aim is to cook simple meals that taste great and have been tried and tested, as well as provide pictures of each step to help others visualise what it should be looking like.  I’ve messed up a bit for this recipe as I forgot to take a photo of the first 2 steps.  Hopefully it will not mar the ability to replicate.

Cauliflower, potato and red pepper curry                      Serves 4

  • 100g/4 oz ghee (or unsalted butter if you can’t find any ghee)
  • 1 small cauliflower, cut into small florets
  • 450g/1lb small potatoes,  quartered or cut into 3/4 inch chunks
  • 1 red pepper, deseeded and cut into 1/2 inch squares
  • Handful frozen peas
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 450g/1lb tomatoes, sliced thinly
  • 450 ml/3/4 pt hot water
  • salt to taste
  • pinch asafoetida
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 brown cardamom
  • Chopped fresh coriander for garnish

For the paste

  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 inch root ginger, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp hot chilli powder
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  1. Heat 1/4 of the ghee in a large saute pan and fry the asafoetida powder for 5 seconds.  Add the cauliflower, potato and red pepper, mix well and fry for about 5 minutes over a moderate heat.  Remove and reserve.
  2. Grind the cloves and brown cardamom to a powder.  Heat the remaining ghee in the same pan and add the onion, ground cloves and cardamom and cumin seeds.  Mix well and cook over a low-moderate heat until the onions have browned.
  3. Put the onion, garlic and ginger into a small processor and chop until very fine, almost a paste.  Grind the coriander seeds and add, with the onion paste and other paste ingredients to the fried onion.  Cook for about 3 minutes.
  4. Return the vegetables plus the sliced tomatoes to the pan, mix well to coat with the onion spice mix and then fry for about 5 minutes.  Add the water and the salt and continue cooking for about 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender but not mushy.   5 minutes before the end of the cooking time add the frozen peas.
  5. Serve hot, sprinkled with the chopped coriander.

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Potato, asparagus and mint salad – absolutely divine!

3 Aug

 This salad has to be my number one favourite.  I could eat it alone but it excels as an accompaniment to any meat or fish dish.  We served it with the barbecued poussins and it was absolutely delicious.  The mint flavour really lifts it and, of course, it contains one of my favourite foods, asparagus.

Did you know that asparagus can grow 10 inches in 24 hours?  It comes in three colours, green, white and purple.  The green asparagus is readily available and is possibly the most popular.  I have seen the white asparagus in Spain, usually limp and soggy out of a jar or on a salad.  I, personally, think there is no taste to this and it is repulsive.  I have never seen the purple variety. 

Asparagus is loaded with vitamins and minerals.  Potassium, crucial for heart function and a key player in muscle contraction.  Vitamin K, essential for blood clotting.  Folate, prevents anaemia.  It is a strong diuretic and has been found useful in treating swelling associated with rheumatism and arthritis as well as bloating in PMS related water retention.

The fact that I was most interested in, however, is why does it make your pee smell?  Apparently you must have the right gene to be able to smell it but for those who have, which includes me and my husband, I can tell you it is a really strong, weird smell.  I first noticed it when we started eating asparagus while we lived in California.  I thought there was something wrong with the drains to our apartment!!!  The smell is caused by sulphur-containing compounds that are created when asparagus is digested.  They don’t have any harmful effect on our health so , no worries, just don’t pee in a public lavatory after you have eaten asparagus.  The smell is noticeable after only 15 minutes of eating it!

We were introduced to asparagus by Chinese Eddie.  He was a fantastic old gent (over 90 yrs old) who lived in our complex.  In his youth he used to work in the asparagus fields around Woodland Hills.  His top tips were always buy asparagus with the thickest stalks as these have matured and have a much better flavour. Hold the tip and the end and bend the asparagus, it will break at the natural point so you can discard the woody bit, and don’t over cook, it needs only 3-4 minutes in boiling salted water before it is ready.

Here is the recipe.  I hope you try it, you are in for a treat.

Potato, asparagus and mint salad                                 Serve 4

  • 500g new potatoes
  • 2 packs asparagus tips
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 3 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • handful fresh mint, leaves picked and chopped
  1. Peel the potatoes and cut into bite sized pieces.  Put in a pan of boiling, lightly salted water.  Bring back to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes or until just tender.  Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate and cool.  Reserve the cooking liquid.
  2. In the meantime, put the onion in a bowl and add the vinegar and oil.  Mix well and leave to marinade.
  3. Bring the pan of water back to the boil then add the asparagus.  Bring back to the boil again the simmer for 3 minutes or until the asparagus is just tender.  Drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking process.  Dry on kitchen paper.
  4. Add the potatoes, asparagus and chopped mint to the onion.  Toss lightly so all the vegetables are coated in the dressing and serve.

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Quorn Chicken and Tarragon Pie – low fat and tasty! Or replace the Quorn with chicken. Yum!

30 Jan

I feel like I have been neglecting my vegetarian friends so here is a Quorn recipe I make for my daughter-in-law Tracy.  Just so my son and daughter are not left out I replace the Quorn with chicken.  I have been trying to make Quorn recipes in earnest for the last three years, since I retired and decided to cook for the kids once a week.  Now I feel I am on a mission.  Quorn have actually made a great cookbook and also have recipes on-line but I still like to experiment.  This recipe is easy to make and really tasty.  It is perfect for a vegetarian of course, but also is great for anyone on a diet.  I’m not sure how it fits with the Slimming World diet but I seem to remember Quorn is free on Green days.  Perhaps my friend Ali could let me know? 

Did you know that Quorn was actually invented to help solve world hunger?  In the early 1960’s there was a predicted population growth that threatened food and protein supplies.  Scientists were trying to find a solution and even looked to making protein out of coal and saw dust!  In 1965, Lord Rank, who owned a Company that includes the Hovis brand, decided to put this as a challenge to his Research and Development department.  In 1967 an organism was found occurring naturally in the soil in a field in Marlow, Buckinghamshire.  I cannot think for the life of me why they would be looking there!!  There was obviously a lot of work to do to make this into a mycoprotein, turn it into something edible, pass all the strict food laws and make it in sufficient quantities that they could supply demand.  It wasn’t until 1985 that the first retail product was launched, a vegetable pie.  Research continued and in 1990 the first Quorn branded cooking product was launched, Quorn cooking pieces.  Today Quorn make over a 100 different products in their ready meals section, as well as a full range of products to enable customers to make their own meals up.

Quorn itself is almost flavorless so when you make a recipe you have to make sure there is plenty of flavour in the other ingredients as the Quorn will take this on.  Curries, chillies and pasta sauces are obvious excellent choices and I have experimented successfully with many of these.  However, Tracy is pregnant at the moment and curries is definitely off her food list.  Hence the pie.  I hope you give it a try.  Here is the recipe.  If, like me, you are not too keen on Quorn, replace it with cooked chicken, its lovely.

Quorn chicken and tarragon pie         Serves 2

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 150g Quorn chicken style pieces
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 3/4 pint milk
  • 1 tsp dried tarragon
  • 2 small handfuls of frozen peas
  • Salt and pepper
  • 500g potatoes (suitable for mashing)
  • knob of butter
  • a little extra milk
  1. Fry the onion in the oil over a low heat for about 10 minutes until it is softened but not coloured.  Add the Quorn pieces, stir around and cook for another 3 minutes.  Remove from the heat.
  2. In a separate pan, make the tarragon sauce.  Melt the butter then add the flour.  Mix well and cook for a minute.  Very slowly, to avoid curdling, add the milk.  When all the milk has been added stir in the tarragon and continue to cook over a medium heat until the sauce thickens.  Season to taste.
  3. Add the sauce to the Quorn mix and stir in the peas.  Cook over a low heat for about 10 minutes then place the mix evenly in an ovenproof dish.
  4. Meanwhile,cook the potatoes in salted water.  When tender, mash with the butter and milk to make a creamy consistency.  Top the Quorn mix with the potato then cook in a preheated oven, 190C/180C fan/Gas 4, for 25-30 minutes or until the potato is browned on top and the base is bubbling. 

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