Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Veggie Christmas dinner

Being in Germany over Christmas, one must have the special meal a few hours earlier than in the UK. Heiligabend is the important time to share food and exchange gifts. So, this year I took a couple of recipes from the Guardian newspaper website and amended them, as one must.

Mushroom_tartFirst is the mushroom tart (left). This one looks a little over-baked, but it was rescued from the oven in time. The creator, Yotam Ottolenghi, admits the recipe is complicated for what is, essentially a stuffed mushroom starter. However, even by my standards it was interesting. The mushrooms are marinated in a hot mixture of fresh thyme, rosemary, vegetable stock, garlic, lemons, cinnamon, butter, salt and freshly ground black pepper! They then sit in a baking tray with pastry and topped with pine nuts and parsley. And to ensure a snug fit, I added grated carrot mixed with honey.

The main course owes its origins to a recipe by Tom Hunt – Fig, chestnut, ricotta, and beetroot-top rotolo.Root_pie Actually, it became a bit of a pie (I used the same pastry that I had used for the starter and I was unable to roll it, not least because Tom Hunt’s recipe uses pasta and not pastry). Mine, therefore, is more of a root pie – grated beetroot, carrot with onions, leek, fennel, dark brassica leaves, chestnuts, figs, red wine and flavoured with fresh mint and black pepper. It was started in a wok before being transferred to a dish and baked for 30 mins at about 150 degrees celsius.

It was complemented with roast potatoes and Quinoa salad containing broccoli and pomegranate seeds.

If there is any thought about it, chestnuts tend to be quite dry, so a sauce of some benign kind might have helped. Again, interesting.

Cooking kohlrabi

2014-05-31 19.56.13I’ve never cooked kohlrabi before. Probably because it looks too much like a turnip. I have never liked turnips.

So, to find one in the refrigerator required some action. I diced it and sautéed it in olive oil in a wok along with a few mushrooms, cooked black lentils and cashew nuts (left). I seasoned the mixture with black pepper and fresh parsley. I then wrapped the mixtureKohlrabi in rice paper (right) and fried until crunchy. Not entirely successful. Rice paper needs to be dampened to use but, if it is too wet, it will not fry very well. In fact, not at all.

I think my rolling needs to be better, but as for the taste, not bad.

 

Halal meat

HalalRecent revelations that most UK supermarkets are selling unlabelled halal meat is not really a surprise. Supermarkets respond to demand – the halal market in the UK is huge (estimated to be something in the order of £1bn). Not to be in that market, with so much money at stake, would breach of most supermarkets’ responsibilities. That is, to make money for shareholders.

From what I understand, halal slaughter – which usually involves no pre-stunning of animals – is allowed in the UK under religious exemption. As an atheist, I have a problem with that. But the arguments made by some that too much attention is given to slaughter and not enough to the quality of life, has some merit. But as an atheist vegetarian, I’m inclined to reject that, too. Too much meat is eaten. It is unsustainable in terms of ‘production’, and not so good for the human population generally consuming too many saturated fats.

With respect to the argument about too much attention is given to the moment of slaughter, I have this to say. So often I hear that halal slaughterers are skilled and make their incision with precision such that the animals lose consciousness almost instantly and hence do not suffer. Now it is quite some time since I have had intimate experience of animal slaughter, what is clear is that animals remain commodities. Slaughter is an industrial process. Slaughter is not a craft profession. It is a volume business.

Finally, where animals are stunned, they are unconscious when they are strung up and bled. Correct me if I am wrong, but where animals are not stunned, they will be hung upside down prior to throat cutting. That seems unnecessarily cruel and offensive.

 

Working with a professional chef

The birthday of my beloved, Ilonka, demanded this year a special celebration. Friends, family and others were invited to the2014-03-23 20.29.11 house for music (a piece of Cabaret – Rotraut Arnold; a four-piece jazzy ensemble – Vobbs, and a violin duet – Alex and Daniella) and food.

The food needed to be good for some of Bayern’s most sceptical carnivorous palates. We bought the recipe book from our favourite restaurant in Brighton, Terre-a-Terre and proceeded to convert the words and pictures into the real thing. We employed the services of a professional chef, Jana Bezold, to help manage the process. Her sheer food  and team management skills were invaluable.

DSCF0441Anyone familiar with Terre-a-Terre knows only too well the complexity of the menu, ingredients and jiggery-pokery needed to pull off each dish. The dishes are the work of creative chefs who primarily understand vegetarian food and take risks to create the unexpected by mixing textures, flavours and colours. Ultimately, one goes to a restaurant to eat food that is not so easy to make at home. This was our challenge: to convince 50 guests from different backgrounds, of various ages and tastes feel they are having a memorable food experience.

It took us over four hours to buy the ingredients from three shops. The ingredients ranged from potatoes to powdered mango, Papaya to Peanuts and pickled ginger. We opted for a couple of utility dishes, vegetable lasagne and spinach pie, not least because we had some children visiting who are not so adventurous and forgiving.

So, on the menu was: Chana Chaat, minty mushy peas (on toast), rice paper blankets (filled with salad), rice noodle salad, marinated tofu kebabs, samosas, quinoa and beetroot salad, aubergine parcels.

Our chef, Jana Berzold trained in one of Munich’s traditional Gaste Houses. Very meaty, veryCooking3 hectic. She then graduated to a Michelin starred restaurant in the city. She now works at a vegetarian café/restaurant in the city called Gratitude (http://www.gratitude-restaurant.de/). She worked through our menu and visited the kitchen to check that it was suitably equipped. She fielded our questions about ingredients as we struggled to identify and differentiate all that we needed. And then she turned up at 0830 on the morning of the event ready to cook.

Not all was in order, I sensed. She arrived with a box of own utensils, bowls and pans. Of particular importance were knives. Sharpe knives. It is a bit of a cliché, but our knives just were not up to the job. Onions do not get rapidly cut, sliced or diced with a blade anything less than razor sharp. Lesson one.

I also sensed that the training delivers a competence beyond reading recipes. The authors of theQuinoa_Kibbi_rolling recipe book note in the introduction that they were reluctant to publish the recipes because the alchemy required to make them work requires a skill that most amateurs do not have. We had the alchemist. She instinctively knew the balance of ingredients, herbs and spices. Taste is everything. If it does not taste right – or even taste, as was the case with the rice noodle salad – then add…something. It is that something that eludes many of us. Lesson two.

Cooking is a team pursuit. And most in the team are kitchen assistants who take orders from the authority figure. Some TV chefs thrive on authority derived from fear. Jena demonstrated a more subtle authority. She inspired participation. The opportunity and willingness to learn demonstrated by the passing helpers was derived absolutely from Jena’s sense of mission. Lesson three.

When it came to serving, the snack food on arrival was appreciated not least because it was late in the day. Guests were actually hungry. More than nibbles, less than a main course. Colour. Also, when there are a variety of  unfamiliar dishes, guests like to try them all. Rightly so. And finally, it seems wholly appropriate to ask guests to bring dessert. Desserts are utilitarian – everyone can do dessert, whether it be a cheese selection, cheesecake or pralines. And certainly we were not let down. The array was impressive. And again, everything had to be tried.

A final Observation, seating. Guests do like to sit down and talk. We hired and borrowed benches and tables. These were decorated and well used, I suspect also that guests stayed longer because eating was not so hurried. And clearing was also easier.

For the labourers like myself, the enjoyment came from seeing guests relaxing, experimenting and anticipating  what was next. There was enough to see off even the most seasoned partygoer.

 

 

Recipes in an era of high food prices

Food has always been important for me. Very early on I went vegetarian and against my best interests it was an essential criterion for any girlfriend. Intimate eating with a meat eater suits me not at all.

I learned to cook by my first landlord, Patrick. Even though I only lived with him for three months, he taught me the basics of vegetarian cooking.

I have a number of staples that I will share in the future, but I am always on the look out for new dishes, especially those that seem counter-intuitive with respect ingredients. Yesterday, I cooked one of those dishes with surprisingly good results. I extracted it from the Guardian life and style section. It is the creation of Angela Hartnett (actually, her head chef, Diego) who is chef patron at Murano restaurant in London. The dish is called aubergine gratin. The counter-intuitive bit is cooking with balsamico vinegar. But it works.

Serves 2

Ingredients:

1 large aubergine; 50ml olive oil; salt and pepper; 25ml good-quality balsamic vinegar; 250g buffalo mozzarella; 4 large tomatoes, halved; 1 tbsp chopped basil; 20g chopped black olives

Peel the aubergine, discard the skin and dice into large cubes.

Toss the diced flesh with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Roast in an oven preheated to 200C for 10 minutes (I gave it 15 minutes).

Remove from the oven and toss with the balsamic vinegar before mixing with the tomatoes, olives, mozzarella and basil. Check the seasoning to taste, and return to the oven at 200C for another 5 minutes (for me it needed a bit more time, another 10 minutes, even).

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/oct/10/angela-hartnett-aubergine-gratin-recipe?INTCMP=SRCH

Rising food prices

Source: David Monniaux, Wikipedia

I woke up this morning to the not unexpected news that food prices are rising. Particularly wheat. In the UK we are talking about yields being 15 per cent down. The dry spring and wet summer are the key factors for the UK. Drought in the prairies in the US and Russia have just compounded the situation.

Speculators are, clearly, going to do well out of this. It strikes me that a monkey could have speculated on this when the seeds were originally sown. I’m told that it will be hard for poultry and pig farmers as half of the grain crop goes to feeding these secondary sources of protein. I do feel that it is about time that the price of chicken and pork reflected the real world a little better. Maybe more of us can cut down or even eradicate meat from our diets. It is not going to get any better.

However, rising food prices do hit the poor disproportionately. The Guardian quotes Tim Lang, professor of food policy at London’s City University speaking on the Today progamme on the BBC. “Lang said the poorest 10% of households in the UK had seen a drop in food affordability of 20% in the last eight years and that this was also a “disaster for public health” as the price of healthier produce such as fruit had risen by 34% in the last five years. Lang, who coined the phrase “food miles”, said: “Most analysts think the long drop in food prices, of affordability, is over. We are now in a new world, a world of new fundamentals, not just bad weather this year but a long-term squeeze.””

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/oct/10/food-prices-rise-wettest-summer