Saturday, 25 February 2012

Smoky swede/ rutabaga mash- vegan

I found some flat-leaved parsley in the garden; it makes for an attractive and tasty garnish

I have a tough job on my hands; I'm attempting to convert my husband and kids from swede-haters to swede lovers! I was a swede-hater too myself until I was in my late teens (I blame the disgusting 1970's school dinners!) but now I like its mustard-y pungency, its delicate colouring and the way it goes tender and melt-in-the-mouth when you cook it. 
It is a healthy food, like all members of the cruciferous family, containing calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, manganese and natural sugars. (For more info on swedes follow this link to a great site.)  It does not deserve its reputation as only fit for animal-feed. Swede is also a very cheap Winter vegetable in the UK, so well worth a try. I've managed to slip a swede into our shopping trolley a couple of times, but I've had only limited success including it in soups and stews as it gets carefully picked out! Hmmm...Time for a re-think....
This recipe easily serves 6 as a side dish to a roast dinner, either nut roast or seitan.

1 swede (mine weighed 1kg unpeeled)
1/2 tab soy sauce/ tamari/liquid aminos
seasalt and coarse black pepper to taste
1 tab light olive oil or similar oil (higher smoke points are safest for cooking)
2 -21/2 tsps smoked paprika, depending on quality and freshness (the sweet kind rather than hot)

  • Peel and dice the swede. Peeling is essential here because it won't soften enough to mash unless you do peel it.
  • Steam the diced  swede until very soft.
  • Add the oil and seasonings and mash until really, really smooth. It's worth putting in the effort to get it almost puree-like.
  • Adjust the seasonings if necessary, then, if you are not going to serve it up straight away, cover and keep warm until needed.
And the verdict from my swede-hating family this Sunday lunchtime? Out of seven people, 5 ate it. Result! :) Just the two youngest to persuade now.... anyone got any more swede ideas?

Thursday, 23 February 2012

How to create your own recipes and write them up: 10 tips

 I often get looks of puzzlement- and even disbelief- from people when I tell them that the recipes on my blog are my own inventions. Experienced creative cooks wonder if making a note at every step spoils the flow of inspiration and less experienced cooks wonder how I work out the exact quantities to use. Still others intend to write their creations down but somehow never quite manage it, and their greatest dishes are sadly forgotten. It does, in fact, take a bit of practice to get into the habit of recording things as you cook, but with time I have discovered that making some small changes in my kitchen makes it a lot quicker and easier and I no longer have to take time out of my usual routine to cook up new dishes. These days I normally fit it all into the hour or so I take to cook a family meal. (It's the only way I would ever find time to do it!) So I hope the following things I've learnt as I went along will be of use to any of you readers out there who have a cookery writer inside just waiting to burst out...

  1. It's all about being organised! (As with any other aspect of cooking.) Plan to cook something new, then allocate a day and time for that recipe. As with any kind of writing, inspiration may come at any time, anywhere, so remember -or jot down- what you've thought of and make sure you get hold of the ingredients you want in time for when you want to cook it. (If you're anything like me, your idea will just keep nagging away at you until it becomes a compulsion and you have to do something about it!)
  2. When it's time to cook, make sure you have a notebook (NOT scraps of paper!) and pen and your camera in the kitchen. You may not be able to run off and leave your cooking to hunt for them later. I avoid taking my laptop into the kitchen in case I damage it, but if you have a larger kitchen and somewhere safe to put it, you might want to type up your recipe as you go, although you would have to be fastidious about making sure your hands were clean before and after typing- personally, I'm not sure I'd have the patience for this when I'm "in the flow."
  3. DON'T assume you will remember exactly what you did tomorrow, or even later on today! I have probably forgotten as many recipes as I have written down by making this mistake, so make sure you have a readable record in your notebook to use when you do the final write-up.
  4. Have measuring equipment handy, even if you don't usually bother. I always get out a teaspoon, a dessert spoon, a tablespoon, a measuring jug and scales.
  5. Get the quantities accurate: There are 2 ways of doing this; by starting off with an amount in mind/ from a previous recipe of yours or by pouring out a quantity that looks right and then measuring it. In either case, you will first need to decide how many the recipe will serve. The next thing is to make sure that the quantities of ingredients are accurate in relation to each other, ie: that they are in the correct proportions. This is especially important for cakes, which can be a complete failure if the ingredients are not in the proper proportion to each other. Experienced cooks will just have a "feel" for this, in which case all that is required is to record how much you used of everything as you go along. Less confident cooks or those who are trying out a new genre of dish for the first time may want to start by looking at other recipes for an idea of the proportions. I started off by making my own adaptations to recipes that were already written down, gradually getting further and further from the original until I could honestly call it my own. I learned a lot from others, and I'm still learning now.
  6. Get good pictures: Especially if you are a blogger, this is really important. A great picture makes your recipe more attractive to readers and shows what the finished product should look like. It is the proof that you really did cook that recipe, and that it works. You could even, if you have the time, take step-by step pictures, especially for a specific procedure (such as making chapattis) that would benefit from a visual approach. I have seen some great blog posts in which the authors have even photographed the ingredients and labelled them. You don't have to be a professional photographer these days to create a decent picture, but try not to use a mobile phone if you can help it as you won't get the definition and detail. Your pictures should be in focus, reasonably well lit and detailed enough to be of use to your readers. Photograph in natural light if possible- outdoors can be really good- and take several pictures from different angles. Avoid taking pictures of steaming hot food unless you want them to come out blurry! I usually let a portion of the food cool while we are eating, then once the mealtime pressure is off I go back and set up the shot. Make sure your food is attractively presented, and free from ragged edges and crumbs. You can retouch/ edit pictures quickly and easily using such basics as Windows Live Photo Gallery but if you get the shot right when you take it, this won't be necessary unless you need to crop your picture. Practice makes perfect!
  7. Be consistent in your write-ups: By this I mean don't use a mixture of American, Imperial and metric measurements; choose the one you are most comfortable with  and stick to it. Be consistent with your layout too, as it makes your recipes easier to read, eg: if you use bullet points, always do this in the same part of the recipe and employ other features such as bold, numbering or italics consistently too. For a blog, you don't need every single post to be about a proper recipe, but the more of these you have, the more useful your blog will be and the more readers will come back to it and try out your recipes. Try to be consistent in your style of writing, too, so that you develop a "voice", either formal or informal.
  8. Get spellings and grammar right: - You don't have to be an expert, but it makes you sound less of an authority on your subject if there are glaring mistakes in your writing.
  9. Be detailed: You might know what you're doing, but remember that you are writing for other people, who may not. Add any little tips you have found help your recipe to come out just right, make sure your instructions are as clear as possible and ensure cooking times are accurate, and that your readers have another indicator besides time to let them know when the dish is cooked, (eg:"..when it's brown and crispy but not too dark.") as ovens vary. Also, check your recipe for errors, especially in quantities, before your publish/ submit it.
  10. Cook it again. .. and again, and again! For a blog, you can make it obvious in your post that you are blogging about the first time you made your recipe, or tell your readers that this is an old favourite. For a recipe which is to be published in print for a book or article, it needs to have been tested at least 3 times, usually by different people. (I am currently contributing to a recipe book, and the editor will be sending out other contributors' recipes to me to test, while my own will also be tested by the others.) Of course, you will want to make your recipe again yourself if you liked it, anyway. Many of the recipes I created specifically for blog posts have become regular meals in my house. Sometimes I keep refining them and trying out different ingredients to make them even better (in which case I may turn them into another blog post), and sometimes they stay just as they are.
I hope this advice is useful, and for those reading this who are already seasoned writers of recipes, please comment on your own top tips for creating successful dishes and write-ups; I'd like to learn and share more kitchen wisdom!

    Tuesday, 21 February 2012

    Sticky Prune Cake- vegan, no added sugar

    Sticky prune cake- a much less naughty tea-time treat! ;)

    The place: Down to Earth wholefood shop, Princes Street, Dorchester, Dorset, UK. The time: A sleepy Summer afternoon in 1979. I am twelve years old, and me and my mum have just discovered wholefoods. Mum and Dad eat meat, but I am hovering on the brink of vegetarianism (I finally take the plunge in 1981). I love the wooden floor, the cowbell that jingles as you open the door and the big bulging sacks of muesli and brown rice; the aromas of coffee, spices and organic fruit mingling together to produce a fragrance that speaks to me of delicious pure things and a different lifestyle.... and on the counter (which is unadorned by anything so symbolic of capitalism as a till- they add up on brown paper bags) the sunlight catches something amazing- something shiny and golden-brown and sweet-smelling, that is labelled "Sticky Prune Cake"...
    ... I never did get to try any, and later, when I became vegan for the first time round it was out of bounds for me as it was made with egg. For some reason this memory resurfaced a couple of days ago, and, being a big fan of anything prune-related, as my regular readers will know, I couldn't help inventing my own vegan and even healthier version. (Take a look here and here for more about prunes from this blog.) Hope you like it as much as I did!

    150g ready-to-eat prunes, chopped just a bit bigger than sultanas
    200g organic plain wholemeal flour
    4 tsps baking powder
    2tsps ground cinnamon
    75ml peanut or rice bran oil
    100ml date syrup plus 1 1/2- 2 tabs to be added when the cake is baked
    150ml soya yoghurt
    • Combine all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl, add the chopped prunes and mix well, ensuring they are not sticking together and are evenly distributed through the mixture.
    • Measure out the oil, date syrup and soya yoghurt in another container and stir to mix.
    • Add the wet to the dry mixture and beat well for about a minute. You will find that this mixture is a little less wet than my regular sponge cake recipe
    • Spoon into a 2lb metal or silicone loaf tin. (If it's metal, oil and line with greaseproof paper/ baking parchment.)
    • Bake in an oven preheated to 180C for about 20 minutes, or until it is browned on top and a thin skewer inserted into the centre of the cake emerges clean. (If you don't have a fan oven, I'm guessing you may have to cover the top of the cake with greaseproof paper for the last 10 minutes or so of cooking.)
    • Now here's the magic sticky bit: wait about 5 minutes after you take the cake out of the oven and then, before you remove it from the loaf tin, spoon some date syrup over the top and spread it so that it soaks into the cake. A few minutes later, take the still-warm cake carefully out of the tin and place on a dish or plate. Cover the sides with date syrup too.
    • When the cake cools, the outside will be sticky and shiny, and the date syrup will have soaked a ilttle way through to the inside. Eat it as it is, or you could try it hot with custard as a pudding.
    btw, this has gone out to the excellent Tickling Palates blog's "I Love Baking" event. Check it out for both sweet and savoury baking inspiration :) You can also follow this link to Radhika's fb page for more event info and sharing.

    Sunday, 19 February 2012

    Simple Chana Dal

    I like it thick, but you can thin it down and make it into a soup

    Serve with rice/ chapattis and vegetables for a substantial meal

    As I was listening to a radio discussion on "comfort" foods I noticed that home-made soup was a very popular one. I also realised that hot, soup-y dal is one of my own favourite Winter "comfort" foods, as it is warming on the coldest of days, and reminds me of my mum. This chana dal will suit everyone: in our house some of us like a little chilli, some of us like a lot and some of us don't like chilli at all, so I leave the chilli out of dals and put red chilli powder out as a condiment at mealtimes so everyone can add their own to their plates. This is a really easy and basic recipe- you can add some extra flavours of your own if you like. I prefer chana dal to yellow mung dal, as it's more hearty and satisfying.

    These quantities easily served 6 of us as an accompaniment. If you serve it alone or just with chapattis it would probably serve 4 or 5 people.
    1 1/2 cups (250ml=1 cup) chana dal
    6 cups water
    10 larg cherry tomatoes (4 or 5 ordinary-sized ones)
    2 tsps seasalt
    3 tsps turmeric (haldi)
    1 tab cumin seeds
    1 tab powdered coriander seed
    1 heaped tsp powdered ginger (or the equivalent in fresh ginger root)
    1 tsp hing
    2 tabs peanut oil

    • Cook the dal in the water until soft and starting to break down. I always use a pressure cooker as it's so quick and you don't need to pre-soak the dal. (Tip: don't add salt when cooking pulses as it greatly delays softening.)
    • If you like, you can use a good old-fashioned potato masher to break the dal down a little further.
    • At this point, if you have pressure-cooked the dal you may want to add 2 more cups of water.
    • Chop the tomatoes and add to the pan with the salt and turmeric, all the while keeping it gently simmering on a low heat.
    • In a small pan, heat the oil and cook the cumin seeds until they release their aroma and are just browning (be careful not to overbrown them, or the dal will taste scorched). Remove from the heat and stir in the hing, ginger and coriander.
    • Add to the dal and see it sizzle!
    • Continue to simmer until the tomatoes have broken down and the dal has thickened somewhat, according to your taste.
    • Make sure it is served piping hot.
    So what's your favourite comfort food, and why? Please use the comments below to tell me.