Tuesday, 26 February 2013

A pretty rubbish tagine

Now, I don't think I am good at cooking vegetarian meals. I've been dreaming of cooking a wonderfully tasty, beautifully spiced, exciting, good-for-you veg tagine ever since Tim and I decided to go meat free.

It's a perfect type of veggie dish after curry - spicy, interesting... Right? NOT!

Well, not the way I made it.

I came across this Seven Vegetable Tagine recipe on the BBC Good Food magazine website.

I always follow the recipies pretty religeously at first, but I didn't have preserved lemons, olives and mint. Maybe this is where I went wrong.

The result was, is... dull. It has all the right flavours, but it lacks depth of flavour, this sense of savoriness  It tastes like boiled/steamed veg covered in Moroccan spices, not a marriage of all the ingredients.

Raisins in cous-cous were about the only exciting element of the dish. And I made so much I'll have to eat it tomorrow too as well as feeding it to Tim. So - sh-sh-sh everyone - don't tell him it's not that great.

Well, anyway, you live and learn. I polished it off with some deeply savory cheddar with my mother-in-law's apple chutney.

Monday, 25 February 2013

You like some drama and a fab sweetcorn recipe

Now it's time to thank you for your support in our quest to go meat free for Lent. The blog had nearly 800 pageviews since its birth nearly 2 weeks ago (and that is not counting my own - honest!)

No, no, I am not closing down the shop - just a bit of interim results. :)

The lion share of pageviews are originated in the UK and Ukraine with the US and Germany coming third. Now, I am impressed that so many Germans/people living in Germany are reading my blog. I think I know 3 people there, either they really LOVE it and keep clicking on it, or I somehow managed to capture attention of German food lovers. Thank you, guys!

I want to thank my US friends for checking the blog out and sharing it with their friends. I suspect it's your work, Bridgette, so thank you!

Many of you are surprised to see a meat lover like myself go meat free. And I am an East European too! One of my Romanian colleagues asked whether I was stripped of my Ukrainian citizenship for refusing meat. (Crina, do not worry, I didn't notify the Ukrainian embassy - sh-sh-sh!)

A lot of you asked whether I felt better after not eating meat. Whether I felt lighter or healthier. The truth of the matter is - I don't feel any different. But to be honest, I had a fairly good diet rich in veg before Lent. And if anything, I eat more sweet stuff. Which isn't that healthy.

Anyway, thanks a lot for your support and keep checking my posts - there is lots more to come!

Inspired by our Indian veggie feast last weekend, Tim made a wicked veggie dhal dish - I'll get him to tell me the recipe - he was 'using the Force',as the results are superb! So watch this space.

I was being lazy and knocked together a quick hot lunch today - a side dish my American mum Bernie used to cook when I lived with them in Louisiana in 1994-95.

Creamed corn

Heat about 50-75g of butter in a pan. Add 1 medium diced onion and saute till soft. Add 385g of drained sweetcorn from a 425g tin, a generous amount of salt and black pepper. Cook for 5-10min.

I eat it as is with bread. It's fantastic with mash potato. Or as a side dish.

Tim was suspicious at first, he is now a fan too. 

And just before I go, here are the posts you liked the most (so far):

The clear winner is our Valentine's Day disaster (everyone likes a bit of drama).
Closely followed by my Russian winter salad
With pancakes and Gujarati feast in the third place.

Oh yes, and my shameful thoughtless sausage consumption is up there in top 5 too!  See ya'll!

Sunday, 24 February 2013

A Gujarati Feast

There is no better person than a life long vegetarian to show one how to do a veggie feast. After my sausage fiasco yesterday, Tim and I went to see his cousin Conor who is married to a wonderful girl Mena. She laid an impressive Gujarati spread for us, featuring both some familiar tastes (potato curry, paneer curry, yellow lentils, etc), as well as some unexpected and wonderful things nether Tim nor I ever heard of.

She kicked it off with 'tastings' - a little snack to have with your vino (or on its own). I never heard of such a combo and I loved it. Here is how you do it:

Dry some unsalted, non-roasted (is there such a word?) peanuts still in their purply skins in a hot oven for a few minutes. Mix with diced hard cheese (Mena used Cheddar), diced red onions and some lemon juice. You can eat this from small bowls with forks/spoons. It is sensational: savoury, fresh, crunchy and nutty. 

It is worth a try - you'll be amazed how well it works. I am definitely adding this to my menues!

Then came poppadoms with chutneys, an Indian salad of fresh toms and onions with a touch of chilli powder, raita and mango pulp. 

Mango pulp (top left) comes from a tin, but I guess you can blend fresh one if you want. Its role is to cool down those chilli flavours and to add a bit of sweetness to curries. While mango chutney is something very familiar to most, mixing sweet mango pulp with everything on the table was a bit of a revelation. And you know, it did work! I am not a big chilli fan (and Mena mercifully went easy on the heat), but there was a definite kick to her potato and potato and cauliflower curries and that mango pulp did take it off a bit. 

We liked it so much, we came home with a tin of it! 

And then the main event - the quartet of curries. Someone gave her an electric curry cooker with 4 little pots (if you are the person who did it - here is the evidence of her using it!), so instead of one curry we got 4! 

They were ranging from a delicately spiced paneer with peas to yummy yellow split lentils chana dhal flavoured with star anise.  And then those two fiery potato curries. Well, lets put it like this, neither Mena, nor Tim, nor Conor found them fiery. But I am a chilli lightweight. 

We polished it all off with some traditional Indian sweets and beautiful Indian tea with spices and milk. 

Now, this is what I call proper vegie eating.  It was slightly exotic, very filling, wonderfully varied and we didn't miss meat for one second! 

I did confess about my slip into the meat-eating ways, and it turned out that Tim also had bacon (yes, BACON!) without thinking. He cycled to work last week, went to his usual cafe and had a bacon buttie. He only realised he had it after he was eating his veggie lunch. Old habits die hard. But such a fab vegetarian meal surely makes up for it! 

Saturday, 23 February 2013

For I have Sinned

Head hanging in shame. I had a sausage. Or two. Or three.

This is what hapenned. I was at a 2-year-old birthday party with all sorts of party food - sausages, bear crisps, bread sticks - the lot. Sasha was munching his way through party sausages and bread sticks. I was munching my way through bread sticks and party sausages, contemplating whether it was a wise idea to have a snack at 4.30pm, when Tim and I were going to dinner at his cousin's house, whose wife is cooking us a veggie Gujarati meal... STOP! WHAT AM I DOING?! I dropped that sausage half eaten. I am not supposed to eat meat!!

Boy or boy, this is how easy it is for a fake vegetarian like myself to switch to the old ways... I feel a bit 'dirty' - these challenges are tougher than they look.

Anyway, hopefully a hearty Gujarati feast is going to purify my flesh loving soul.

Mena and Connor, here we come! (And I am taking a camera!)

Watch this space.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Talking salads

OK, I am back! Yesterday's food demo was a huge success. We were worried that no one would come, but at the end we had a healthy audience of 15-20 people, all munching on my lovely salads. There were lots of Indian veretarians in the room and I think Vinegret (Russian beetroot and potato salad) will make it to their tables too. Delighted.

On the note of salads, I have to say I have never been a big fan of the British salads. Lots of salad leaves, a few toms and cucumbers, olive oil and vinegar - that sort of thing. My dad would call it goat food. Meeh! Meeh!

BUT! I am very keen on the pulses/grains based salads and I made one of them, loosely based on a recipe from the BBC Good Food Magazine (and inspired by a salad I ate with my two veggie friends in EC1).

Now this is just yummy. Here is the recipe in full: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/7995/squash-and-barley-salad-with-balsamic-vinaigrette

I didn't have olives or sundried toms, but it worked beautifully without. Just use a bit more capers. And if you don't have broccoli - use any old green brassicas. 

My friend Zhenya and I ate the barley salad, while chopping all the lovely winter salad veg for the cookery demo at the Russian day in my local library. It certainly kept us going, unlike lettuce leaves in oil...

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Russian winter salad and a cookery demo

Yes, I am serious! I am going to be doing a cookery demonstration at a Russian event at my local library tomorrow. Oh, I do love a challenge!

I will be making Russian winter salads and one of them is vegetarian.

East European cooking is not famous for its veggie dishes. If you are a vegetarian or God forbid vegan, travelling to Ukraine, you are basically stuffed. It's all meat, meat, meat! That is until it comes to Lent. Russian Orthodox Lent is no joke. No meat, fish or dairy is allowed. So - heaven for the vegie-vegans! Every restaurant will have a Lent menu, though at not-so-religious people's houses your only option may still be a bowl of boiled potatoes.

The salad I would like to share with you is called Vinegret and it is a real favourite back home. Ask anyone from the former Soviet Union and they would have eaten this salad at least once this winter.

It is deliciously sweet and salty with some crunch from raw onions.

I am also submitting it to the No Croutons Required competition run by another favourite veggie blog of mine Tinned Tomatoes. This month's challenge is a potato salad.

Vinegret (Beetroot and potato salad)
(makes about 2 main course portions or 4 starters/sides)

2-3 medium waxy potatoes - boiled, cooled, peeled and diced
3-4 medium beetroots - boiled, cooled, peeled and diced (you can buy already cooked and peeled beetroots, make sure they are not picked in vinegar)
2 medium-largish carrots - boiled, cooled, peeled and diced.
1 medium onion - finely diced
5-6 medium cucumbers in brine - diced - do not bother with picked cucumbers - they are not the same.*
About 150-200g East European sauerkraut - again it needs to be salted NOT pickled in vinegar.*
One 400g tin of white beans in water - drained and rinsed.
A few good glugs of unrefined sunflower oil - very important - do not use the usual refined one. You can get unrefined oil in health and whole food shops.
Salt and pepper
Parsley leaves (optional) for garnishing

* I use cucumbers and sauerkraut made by a Polish maker Krakus. It's available in all Polish shops and at Sainsbury's and Tesco's too. The larger ones and certainly online.

It's all pretty easy - mix it all together in a large bowl. Garnish with parsley. You can eat it straight away, but it's even better after spending a night in the fridge.


Will let you know how it goes tomorrow.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Is there such a thing as vegetarian spag bol?

With the festivities over, I've started to look for some veggie recipes in earnest - the whole I idea was to discover new meat free-dishes, without relying on ready made food. So I consulted some vegetarian blogs.

One post in We don't eat anything with a face  had a recipe of a vegetarian spaghetti Bolognese, which can also be turned into Chilli Con Carne.

Tim and I like both Bolognese and Chilli, so I thought it would be a good start to the first full veggie week.

Now I should have realised there an then that it couldn't be right. Bolognese and Chilli are two different beasts, and though they are both made with mince... Well, they are not exactly interchangeable, are they?

Anyway, off I went to cook Veggie Spag Bol this morning. The recipe was simple enough - here it is in full.

What was intriguing about it that it used lentils instead of quorn. And a whole loads of veg: courgettes, onions, pepper, mushrooms, tinned toms, garlic.

And you know what, the result was good. But it was nothing like the real Bolognese sauce! It can do its job. I.e. you can put it on pasta, but it ain't no spag bol! And maybe if I tried the quorn version of it - it may have done it for me, but with lentils - no!

What it is - is a decent Tuesday night ratatouille with a lentil twist.

So, is there such a thing as a vegetarian Spaghetti Bolognese? No. Not this one certainly.

A note to self - next time go for a genuinely veggie food, not a veggie version of meaty food (and yes, in my quest for veggie recipes I did come across  veggie haggis).

But this Bolognese-cum-ratatouille is not bad!  

Sunday, 17 February 2013

The first pang - slightly salmon-ed out

I had a great culinary weekend. It was Tim's birthday yesterday and we went to see his mum.
Which meat there was lots (LOTS!) of food to eat (and none to cook - super!)

There was a cake (carrot cake cupcakes):

And salmon baked with ginger and raisins, covered with pastry with a superb herby sauce and green peas.

We wolved it. And Tim and I had a conversation yesterday about how we didn't really miss meat yet.

But it's Sunday pm and I am having the same salmon for dinner (I had it for lunch too), as Catherine gave us the leftovers.

It's delicious, but I am feeling a bit salmoned out.

As I was eating it, the door bell rang and my Sainsbury's delivery arrived. I always get a bit excited when a delivery comes. I forget what I ordered, so it's like opening a present. (I know, a bit sad).

As I unwrapped the shopping bags I found... more salmon! Fresh and smoked. My oh my! I will definitely reach the recommended weekly levels of oily fish! And suddenly I felt I needed a slice of salami.

The first pang.

Salmon anyone?

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Cooking from the pro: off to my mother-in-law's

We are off to Tim's mum today for his birthday. She is a great cook and a former food stylist too. She was amused by the seriousness of our Lent resolution and is cooking something special. Taking my camera with me and will update you on what we ate!

Friday, 15 February 2013

Where to eat veg in Wimbledon?

It's Tim's birthday tomorrow, so I am taking him for a secret adventure and then to a restaurant to celebrate before we are going to see him mum tomorrow.

Now, who would have thought that it would be so difficult to find a veggie restaurant in West London! If you look at the Square Meal website, all vegetarians seem to live in East London or there abouts. West Londoners have two great options in Hammersmith, including the original Gate restaurant, but otherwise it's caffs ans health food stores.

So opting for the tried and tested Stick n Sushi in Wimbledon town. It has decent veggie options (vegetarians, take note!), but as we eat fish (and thank goodness for that - otherwise I would be in trouble!) - we can have a feast!

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Valentine's Dinner: a bit of a disaster

Lets put it like this: the raspberries mojitos were nice.

And the fish was cooked well.

However, the beurre blanc split. Twice. And the potatoes were undercooked. And the cabbage was rubbish.

Tim was so keen to finish eating, that he offered to wash up.

Yes, not a happy cooking day for the team Calland.

Tim had a cold ready-made rice pudding from a can. And I had some cheese. We were still hungry after dinner.

Oh well, tomorrow is another day!

The raspberry mojitos were good though. Will make them again.

Here is the recipe I used:

It says you should use sugar syrup. This is how you make it:

2 parts of sugar to 1 part of water. Heat in a pan, but not boil. Cool. Use.

Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

Using the Force: Chocolate Truffles

Now I am going to blatantly show off. Look what my husband made me for Valentine's day! 

Chocolate truffles! 

They were presented to me along with a bouquet of flowers and a card from my children in a specially made box. (Cute or what?!)

It wasn't a total surprise, as it's hard to make truffles without me noticing. So I did watch Tim making them. 

My husband is one of those annoying  impressive people who can just cook things. I was very impressed by it when we were going out and he was wooing me by making all those delish dinners. 

So this one was also made by 'using the Force' and here is what it boils down to: 

Chocolate truffles
(makes about 20 - don't be fooled by the first photo, those truffles didn't fit in the box)

225g of dark chocolate
225ml of double cream
50g soft unsalted butter
a small pinch of salt (I know. Salt? Apparently it makes it taste better)
2 tsps - vanilla extract
cocoa powder for rolling them in

Melt the chocolate in bain marie (a bowl over steam), add all the other ingredients and mix till smooth. 
Takes no time, so watch out. 
Leave to cool - for a while. 
Then use melon ball or failing that teaspoons and your hands to shape the cooled and hardened ganache into balls.
Roll them in cocoa powder. 

(Now, between you and I, the final result could have been a bit sweeter, but I am from Ukraine and like sweet things)
But the chocs a delicious!
And I am touched. And impressed. 

And amused that I had to listen to the 'Force' leitmotif on youtube as a sign of admiration for my wonderful hubby. Too right I say! 

We will be having a meat free dinner today: cod with something. Tim will be 'using the Force' again. And home made raspberry mojitos

Watch this space. 

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

A pile of pancakes made by my great babushka

So, day 1 of no meat. I am having some left over pancakes for breakfast, smeared with jam Ukrainian style. I used Delia's trusted recipe (http://www.deliaonline.com/recipes/cuisine/european/english/basic-pancakes-with-sugar-and-lemon.html), but added sugar. Her sugar-free mix is a bit too spartan for my Eastern European sweet tooth.

Here they are.

The kids, Tim and I ate masses last night. (Tim made a bacon and mushrooms and bechamel sauce with cheese to go with them - our last taste of meat for weeks, which was delish and I even have some left overs for the kids).

Baking pancakes made me think of the story my babushka (grandmother) used to tell me about her mum.

Russian Orthodox Shrove Tuesday is spread over a whole week of pancake eating madness and is a true winter festival, called Maslenitsa.

My babushka grew up in a village in Western Russia called Solntsevo. She was a child number 10. So lots of cooking for her mum anyway, but every day of Maslenitsa was marked by one occasion or the other - on one day her maternal grandparents would come on another - paternal, then godparents, neighbours - you name it. They just came pouring in to eat some pancakes.

So her poor mum would wake up at 5am and make a two or three massive piles of pancakes. When babushka showed me the the height of the pile - it looked like at least 20cm (10in) high.

Now, I made 4 portions of the Delia's pancakes mix and the pile only came up to maybe 5-8cm. How much baking would would 2-3 20cm piles involve - I can only guess.

OK, off to work to be inspired by my veggie colleagues. (And to do some work too).

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Last day of eating meat

Hello everyone and happy Pancakes Day! I am Marina and I am about to go meat free for the next 40 days. My husband and I decided to give up meat for Lent. 

Not that we are religious, or that we have ambitions of becoming vegetarian (we don't, as we LOVE meat), but we wanted a culinary challenge. Because Tim says we don't eat enough veg. I'd say he should speak for himself. He and our younger son Sasha do not eat enough veg. Our older son Lyova and I eat plenty. 

But we did become complacent - we do rely on meat to provide us with easy/interesting/exciting/filling/family meals. And we definitely do not eat enough fish and would do with eating more veg. 

So, this is the task: 

40 days of Lent
No meat for my hubby and I
We will still continue feeding meat to our sons
We are not doing it hard core way - we are not going 100% vegetarian, we will eat fish, we won't worry about having meat stock in our soup, gelatin in our puddings or suet in the pastry. 
We just won't eat meat.
Especially horse meat. 

So, 40 days with no meat - what the hell will we eat? 

I will try to keep you posted on that. Every day. or almost every day. With photos. And recipes. And please comment, and share your recipes with me! 
All meat -free, naturally!