Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The Most Excellent Parsnip - Facts & a Recipe

By Bruno Girin, via Flickr.com
Parsnips are plentiful, cheap and versatile, and
have an alluring sweetness which emerges when
they're cooked. Much nicer than turnips, I think.

Traditionally they are cooked alongside roast meat,
but not of course by (or for) vegetarians. Cut into
chunky batons they take only about 10 minutes
to boil, or half an hour to roast (preferably drizzled
with a little honey and balsamic and lightly salted).

Here are ten facts about parsnips:

 1 The early Romans thought them an aphrodisiac, and ate them accordingly.
 2 100g (about one fairly large, trimmed and peeled) contain only about 75 calories.
 3 They're rich in vitamins and minerals, more so than their relative the carrots including
       potassium, vitamin C, and traces of calcium and iron.
 4 There is no (or very minimal) saturated fat or cholesterol.
 5 Parsnips sliced very thinly (e.g. with a cheese parer) and fried or oven-baked make
       very nice crisps.
 6 The leaves and shoots can cause a sort of chemical burn or dermatitis on bare hands.
 7 Seeds for planting are short-lived so can't be kept a year, and can be slow to germinate.
 8 The caterpillars of swallowtail butterflies find the plants very tasty. (As they do carrots.)
 9 They're a traditional winter vegetable because they need a low soil temperature to
       develop flavour. Thought to be best harvested after the first frosts.
10 Their botanical name is pastinaca sativa.

And here's my recipe for:

Parsnip and Ginger Soup
This quantity serves four, and about 40 mins are needed including prep & processing.
A blender or processor are used, too. No need for added salt.

2 tbsp good oil
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
Piece of fresh ginger about the size of a walnut shell, peeled and finely chopped
     (if unavailable, use 2 level teaspoons of ground ginger but add after stage 3.)
400g parsnips (about 5 medium), peeled, ends trimmed, coarsely chopped
1 medium (about 150g) potato, chopped - no need to peel
1200ml vegetarian stock (e.g. 3 tsp Marigold bouillon powder or 2 veg stock cubes)
    This can be made up during stages 1 and 2 of cooking
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 level tsp soft dark brown sugar (optional but lovely)

1 Heat the oil in a large pan, then add the onion and ginger and fry gently for 5 mins.
2 Add the parsnips and potato and fry for a further 5 mins, stirring occasionally.
3 Add the stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 mins or until the veg are soft.
4 Stir in the pepper and sugar, and process/blitz to a fairly smooth consistency.
5 For show, serve in bowls with a swirl of organic double cream.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Easy Pasta Recipe, and Shallot Tarte Tatin

Two recipes. The first is for a great pasta dish, easy and quite cheap to make, with full instructions for uncertain cooks. (I shall never post a recipe for the dreaded 'pasta with tomato slop' which restaurants often offer as the 'vegetarian option' but which is extremely easy and cheap to produce and often offensively bland. For anyone cooking this, I beg you to add lots of onions and herbs at least!)

The second is for a tarte tatin, one of my favourites - it's not hard to make but takes a while and needs a steady hand for flipping the tarte at the end. Instructions are briefer for this one.

Penne Pasta with Peas & Lemon Cream - to serve 2 good portions. Needs 35-40 mins.
Yep, this has beans but I lost my pea pic!
Ingredients - best to prepare before cooking starts:
  200g dried penne pasta (ribbed tubes cut
  150g frozen peas
  1 tablespoon of vegetable/olive oil
  1 large clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  200ml single cream (preferably organic)
  Juice and grated zest (rind) of half a large lemon
  1 teaspoon dried oregano (or parsley or coriander)
  60g grated veg Italian hard cheese (e.g. Sainsbury)
                                                           Black pepper

Also 2 saucepans (1 small, 1 medium). Put the oven on fairly low (about 125C), and warm up an oven-proof serving dish.

1  Boil a good quantity of water in the larger pan, then add the pasta and cook as
       instructions on pack.
2  Meanwhile, boil water in the other pan, put in the peas, bring back to the boil and cook
       5 minutes.
3  Drain pasta and peas and put in the serving dish and back in the oven.
4  Heat the oil in the smaller pan, then fry the garlic gently for 2 minutes.
5  Add the cream and bring gently to the boil, stirring occasionally.
6  Add the lemon rind and juice, the oregano and cheese, and about half a teaspoon of
       black pepper.
7  Mix well and stir over the heat for another minute or so to make sure it's all hot.
8  Pile this into the serving dish and mix it all. Either serve straight away, or keep hot in
       the oven.

Shallot Tarte Tatin with Thyme and Balsamic - serves 4, about 75 mins
Crispy puff pastry base covered with shallots gooey with balsamic and sugar. Would serve 4 if there are side vegetables (e.g.tenderstem & baby sweetcorn, not potatoes), or 3 with a decent side salad. When serving, the shallots will be soft and maybe slippery, so a very sharp knife, used boldly, is best to cut wedges. (She says from experience.)

  500 shallots, round or elongated
  3 tbsp olive oil
  2 tbsp dark balsamic vinegar
  1 tbsp soft dark brown sugar
  2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves (or 1 tbsp dried)
  60g vegetarian Emmental cheese (e.g. President, otherwise Cheddar), grated
  180g puff pastry (rolled fairly thinly from a block, or most of
       one ready-rolled sheet)

Also needed: bowl, large frying pan, baking parchment, 20cm diameter non-stick shallow (about 4-5cm deep) cake tin.
After stage 3 below, set oven to 180C if fan, otherwise 200C.

1  Place shallots in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave 6 mins then peel
       (carefully if still hot). If they don't fall naturally into two pieces, halve them.
2  Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry shallots gently for 10 mins, stirring occasionally.
3  Add vinegar, sugar, thyme + 2 tbsp water. Fry gently a further 5 mins, stirring at times.
4  Line the base of the cake tin with a circle of parchment, then tip in the shallot mixture
      and smooth over to cover the base completely. Leave 10 mins to cool a little.
5  Spread the cheese evenly over the shallots.
6  Lay the pastry over the tin, and trim to leave a 5cm overlap all round. Tuck the overlap
      down inside the edges of the tin to seal in the filling.
7  Bake in the top half of the oven for 25 mins or until the pastry is well browned.
8  Allow to cool 5 mins, then run a non-stick knife/spatula gently around the edge to loosen.
9  The good bit: place a large plate over the tarte, hold both firmly, and quickly invert them.
      Carefully peel off the parchment.

Hope these recipes appeal, and please let me know if there are any 'requests' (preferably of a polite nature).

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Catering for a Vegetarian - The Devil's in the Detail

Like most people, vegetarians like to eat out, and to have a meal cooked for them. But the reason why we might avoid restaurants, or hesitate if invited to someone's home, is because of the unrecognised ingredients which are of animal origin. I'm not preaching here, but 'just saying'.

Here's a quiz: 10 questions about foodstuffs which raise concern. If you try it, a comment about how you got on (and whether you're vegetarian) would be great. If there are enough comments, I'll report back (anonymously) on the results.
     I admit I was surprised, researching, how many E numbers may not be suitable. It's because most previously animal-derived flavour enhancers, stabilisers and so on are now produced synthetically - not for ethical reasons but because it's cheaper. Very hard to be sure, unless the Vegetarian Society has confirmed OK with their logo.
Anyway, here's the quiz (followed by the answers):
From our greenhouse:
a vegetable that can spell!

1  The old chestnut: is Parmesan suitable for vegetarians?
        (a) sometimes
        (b) never
        (c) always.
 2  If a product contains egg, to be definitely suitable for vegetarians the egg should be:
        (a) free range and organic
        (b) within it's sell-by date
        (c) hen's egg only.
 3  Is E631 disodium inositate (flavour enhancer) in food OK?
        (a) almost never
        (b) can't be sure
        (c) always.
 4  E12 cochineal is derived from:
        (a) plants
        (b) synthetic chemicals
        (c) insects.
 5  Is pesto vegetarian?
        (a) not unless it says so on the label
        (b) yes - made from basil and pine nuts
        (c) never.
 6  Worcestershire sauce is suitable?
        (a) always
        (b) only if marked suitable
        (c) never.
 7  In pubs, draught bitter is OK:
        (a) yes - hops, water, yeast, sugar
        (b) usually
        (c) very rarely.
 8  Are Marks & Spencer chewy gums available in a vegetarian version?
        (a) no
        (b) yes.
 9  E441 gelatine?
        (a) always OK
        (b) depends on source
        (c) never.
10  Prawn crackers contain at least a trace of prawns:
        (a) yes
        (b) some do
        (c) no.

Here are the answers. 
 1 b - but there are veg versions available (& cheaper), e.g. Sainsbury's Italian Hard Cheese.
 2 a - 'free range' is a veg 'rule', but organic should ensure the hens aren't fed animal-derived
          food or chemicals.
 3 a - it's prepared commercially from meat or fish.
 4 c - insects are crushed to obtain it.
 5 a - the usual pesto ingredients include Parmesan, but nowadays some products don't.
 6 b - traditional Worcester sauce is flavoured with anchovies, though there are veg versions too.
 7 c - most draught bitter is fined (cleared of visible sediment) using animal products. Adnams
          and Ringwood have confirmed this. Bottled bitter may be OK (some are marked veg).
 8 b - Yay! The version where the pigs have one green ear are suitable, and have to say - lovely.
 9 c - gelatine is made from animal skin and hooves. (And used to be used in the gum on stamps
          and envelopes.)
10 a - if they're called that, then by law there has to be a trace. 

Thanks for visiting. Next time a couple of easy main-meal recipes from my archive.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Intro and 5 good low-calorie snacks and meals

Valentine's Dinner
Welcome to my new blog, and thanks for visiting.

I set this up because I'm a very keen vegetarian cook and foodie, to allow me an expression of my 'stuff', and to save having to bore followers on Twitter with my food tweets. Plan is to update weekly.

Hope you like the picture on the left. The main item looks like a cow pat but is actually mushrooms, onions, ginger, tenderstem, toasted almonds, brandy and cream in an improvised filo 'parcel'. The mousse is chocolate and Triple Sec, and you can just see the spoon for it - very small, with a heart-shaped bowl (Christmas present from the OM).

I've a number of original recipes on suite101 writers' showcase - this is a list of all of my various articles.

Here are 5 suggestions for snacks and light meals for anyone watching their calories. (Well, everyone really.)

1  2 cheese Snack-a-Jacks lightly spread with Flora light or Marmite (around 100 cals). Lovely.
2  A one-egg omelette made with a splash of semi-skimmed milk, well seasoned and 
       containing veg such as chopped cooked tenderstem, carrot, onion. 1 tsp olive oil in the 
       pan first. Maybe about 150-200 cals.
3  'Stir-fried vegetable heap' - anything to hand plus maybe water chestnuts - and a dash of
       light soy or sweet and sour sauce.
4  Enough for 2 large portions, microwave popcorn (lightly salted type) + sweet chilli dipping 
5  'Exotic' fruit, e.g. one large Sharon fruit + a few of those physalis things + 6 fresh lychees.

That's it for now. If there's anything you might like to see here, or a comment, I'd love it if you'd leave a note below.