Saturday, 25 February 2012

An update on Barbarella, upcoming festivals & that damn car...

I'm happy to say that Barbarella is looking mighty fine.  Kitchen fit out is almost complete.  Flag poles are on their way and I now need to reaquaint myself with a sewing machine.  I'll post some new photos once I pick her up.  In case you missed this earlier, this is what I hope's to come...

Some other VERY exciting news I have to share is that I will be collaborating at the Exeter SW Festival of food and drink with James Nathan (winner of MasterChef in 2008).  You can check out what he's been up to here

We are both working hard in planning our menus and making the most of what the SW has to offer.  For me that's going to include some organic Devon made smoky tempeh, Cornish butter and New Forest mushrooms.  For James, I believe there's some rather marvellous local lobster, chicken and pork making an appearance.  Please do come and see us if you are down for the weekend.  We're both doing demos too.  It's all going to be so much fun...

I'm also really busy with cooking classes, recipe writing and planning menus for my first events.  I will be at the Ramsbottom Chocolate Festival on 31st March and 1st April if you want to come and check out my new street food venture, and maybe enjoy some gourmet Asian delights :0)

Jackie x

Monday, 20 February 2012

Another family favourite recipe from our house…

We love a good vegetarian lasagne in our house.  I don’t think you can better the homemade versions.  I think the dish benefits from being left overnight and baked the following day.  This recipe is what we’re having for dinner tonight.  It can be made without the aubergine, and the puy lentils can be substituted for soya mince or similar product.  I know I often include fresh herbs and you can substitute with dried ones if needed.  But I would encourage you to grow these herbs yourself if you can.  Of course, you can make your own pasta too, but I tend to leave that kind of thing to my MasterChef pal Sara Danesin.

There is nearly always enough to make a second lasagne, which I always freeze.  For busy working families, nothing quite beats homemade ready made food in the freezer!

Recipe for Roasted Aubergine & Puy Lentil Lasagne

12 large tomatoes
250g puy lentils
2 aubergines
4 cloves of garlic
1 carrot, diced
1/2 stick of celery, diced
1 large onion, diced
1 red pepper
Dark soy sauce, 1-2 tbsp
Vegetable stock, 2 pts, good quality vegetable bouillion works best
Small sprig of fresh thyme
Handful of fresh marjoram
1 bay leaf
Black pepper, white pepper & sea salt
300ml milk
2-3 tbsp plain flour
40g butter
100g grated strong cheese
1 packet of good quality lasagne pasta

  1. Saute ½ onion and one clove of crushed garlic in olive oil until softened.  Add puy lentils, sauté for further minute then add 1 1/2 to 2 pints of stock and simmer until lentils are fully cooked and soft.  Add further stock as needed.  You are aiming for them to absorb most of the liquid without leaving too much broth. 
  2. Remove hard core of tomatoes and place whole on baking tray, along with 3 garlic cloves. Roast on high heat until well roasted and starting to blacken. Blitz with handblender. Set aside.
  3. Remove ends and slice aubergines lengthways, approx 1.5cm thickness.  Drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper.  Roast on high heat until golden brown and soft. Set aside.
  4. Saute remaining onion, carrot, red pepper and celery, then add cooked lentils, soy, bay leaf and fresh marjoram.  Add half of the blended tomato sauce (or as much as you want).  Bring to simmer and check seasoning.
  5. Heat butter in small pan, add pinch of salt and plain flour and cook to make roux.  Then slowly add milk, whisking all the time until reach a creamy consistent sauce.
  6. Layer some sauce in bottom of large deep baking dish and cover with pasta.  Then layer over lentil and tomato mix, followed by layer of roasted aubergine, allowing the aubergine to overlap to create nice thick layer. Add another layer of lentil mix and then top with another layer of pasta, and on top of pasta pour creamy béchamel sauce. Sprinkle top with cheese and salt and pepper.
  7. Bake in medium hot oven at 190 C for 30-40 mins until bubbling and top is golden brown.   

Monday, 13 February 2012

My big fat veggie cottage pie recipe...

What we need to warm up our little cockles during this oncoming freeze are some satisfying and tasty recipes to fill up the whole family.  This recipe is not about MasterChef standard food, it’s about hearty and delicious vegetarian home cooking.  As much as my children love Asian cooking, they also hanker for traditional British style food and I think it’s time to share some of our favourites.  First up….

Recipe for my big fat veggie cottage pie:

2 large carrots, diced
2 leeks, slices & washed
2 large onions, diced
1 stick of celery, diced
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
3 large field mushrooms, diced (or whichever mushrooms you prefer)
450g vegetarian mince
You can use soya, quorn or even tofu mince (a new product from Cauldron Foods).  You could also omit any vegetarian mince and use several different kinds of mushroom or use puy lentils instead, to keep the dish vegan.  Make sure you cook the lentils for at least an hour from the end of step 3, and add plenty more water as it reduces.  I would also add a little more seasoning if using puy lentils.
1 large cup of frozen peas
Dark soy sauce, 1-2 tbsp
Vegetable stock, 1.5pt, good quality vegetable bouillion works best
1 tsp marmite
Sprigs of fresh thyme & rosemary – rub between fingers first to release flavour or chop
2 bay leaves
Black pepper, white pepper & sea salt
Maris piper potatoes
Knob of butter or margarine
50g grated cheese (optional but mature cheddar works best)
1 large tomato, sliced
Red cabbage (optional)

  1. Peel and boil potatoes for mash.  Once soft, leave to drain for five minutes then mash with butter, a splash of milk or cream, and season with salt and white pepper.
  2. Sauté onions until start to soften then add remaining vegetables, apart from mushrooms.  Once vegetables start to soften add mushrooms and vegetarian mince (if using) and cook for further 2 to 3 minutes. 
  3. Add stock, soy, marmite, fresh herbs and bay leaves.  Bring to simmer, add salt and pepper to taste and simmer to reduce slightly. (If using puy lentils, add more stock and cook for further hour). Add large cup of frozen peas.
  4. Layer mixture in a large deep over proof dish.  Aim for at least 2 inch depth of mixture at bottom, then layer creamy potato over top.  Lay tomato slices over top of potato and sprinkle with cheese if using.
  5. Bake at 190 C until bubbling and top is golden and crispy. 
  6. Serve with sauted red cabbage.  Finely slice & wash cabbage and add to pan with splash of olive oil, splash of balsamic vinegar and a little salt & pepper.  Cook on a high heat for 4-5 mins keeping the lid on pan so the cabbage slightly frys and slightly steams at the same time.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The great vegetarian debate... or the elephant in the room?

After last weeks episode of MasterChef where myself, Tim, Sara, Tom, James and Annie were invited back to take part in the programme, and a rather fab dinner cooked for us by the final 12 with JT on the pass, there has been somewhat of a hoo ha about the fact that I ate seafood. After last years anti vegetarian backlash, this year it seems the fundamentalist veggies have gone on the attack.

It's impossible to defend yourself on twitter in 140 characters or less and I think this topic is worthy of more consideration as there are so many elephants in the room that we all shy away from discussing when talking food politics.

I am not ashamed that I ate seafood. I have never said that I am 100% vegetarian. I have only ever described myself as having a mostly vegetarian diet. Of the 760 or so meals I eat each year,757 or so consist of no meat or fish products. Does this make me pescatarian or vegetarian? I don't think that either label fits entirely. The fact that I have had to defend myself across the camps illustrates one of the underlying problems that alienates vegetarians and non vegetarians in the first place.

For me, the priority is about creating a great plate of food regardless of whether there is meat or fish on the plate. In my younger days, I was more radical and yes, it did alienate people. One of things I have learned over the years is that life, politics and more specifically, food politics is a complex debate and that things are rarely black and white, but in fact many shades of grey.

I stopped eating meat and fish as a teenager because I was saddened at the farming conditions that existed at that time. I never disliked the taste or texture of meat and fish, and in fact, it has always been a struggle to resist the temptation of falling off the vegetarian wagon. There ain't nothing like the smell of bacon in the morning! When we went travelling as a family, we spent extended periods of time in remote places. Often this meant we lacked access to protein (we soon learned that carrying a jar of peanut butter and crackers was essential). But as someone who has struggled with iron deficiency anaemia throughout my life, not because of my 'mostly vegetarian' diet but because my body struggles to absorb it, along with with B12, I became more relaxed about supplementing my diet with fish. Having a more relaxed attitude (about more things than just food too) was something that I gained from travelling. The fact that I was eating line caught local fish played a big part too.

When we returned in 2006, I decided that I would allow myself to enjoy seafood on my birthday and if it was a very special occasion (such as having the master chef final 12 cook for us or when the producers took me out for dinner at the fanciest restaurant I'd ever been to in my life). Does this mean I care any less about how we farm meat or the environment destroying methods employed in the fishing industry? I don't think so.  I'm a practising Buddhist which means I try to observe the precepts and follow the eightfold path.  This is what guides my choices these days.  Not someone telling me that I'm not 'pure' in my vegetarianism.  Interestingly, someone said to me in a cooking class last night that although they are completely vegetarian, they have one exception of using fish sauce in SE Asian food.  Who am I (or anyone else come to that) to tell this person they wrong to describe themselves as vegetarian?

My biggest concern is that when people react like they have, it does nothing to move the debate forward and further alienates vegetarians from non vegetarians. On the one hand, it illustrates a kind of fundamentalism that, let's face it, does nothing to serve anyone's cause. On the other, I've always felt that if we have a spectrum of beliefs, then we need the radicals at one end to balance out the people at the other end who couldn't give a monkeys about anyone or anything. But their knee jerk and somewhat narrowminded reaction to me eating fish is a real waste of their energy.

There are so many important issues in food that we shouldn't feel like we have to shy away from discussing. It's important that we see the contradictions in our own behaviour and choices. So let's get stuck in...

Most vegetarians consume dairy. The dairy industry is one of the most intensively farmed of all the food industries. Even organic dairy doesn't prevent the cull of male 'useless' calves because the public have got it into their head that all veal is bad. Very few have taken to understanding the difference between milk fed veal and rose veal. The former is illegal to farm in the UK (as far as I'm aware) and the latter is really no different to eating lamb. I admire Jimmy Doherty's efforts to get Rose veal back on the menu. Why? Because it's more sustainable than culling them. And having seen how happy those pigs are on his farm, I have no doubt the calves will be raised with the greatest care and attention.

Then there's eggs. Once again, the useless male chicks are literally thrown away (actually into a blender like machine). So vegetarians need to be very careful about the stones they throw because their house is most definitely made of glass. And that's before we even start discussing whether someone has a leather bag, shoes or a down jacket (and I have all 3).  Maybe a 'pure' vegetarian doesn't wear leather, but there's a good chance those Converse trainers they might be wearing were probably made in a SE Asian border town where human conditions were last than satisfactory. 

The list can go on and on.  Palm sugar and palm oil, for example, are responsible for the destruction of unique natural habitats that threaten the existance of certain animals.  Does this mean palm sugar isn't vegetarian, if it is indirectly responsible for endangering them? Does shipping food across the span of the planet make that produce non vegetarian, because coral is dying from the increase in water temperatures caused by global warming? (If coral isn't cute enough, we could talk polar bears here).

My point is, I have spent many hours of my life being overwhelmed by thinking about all this stuff and the one thing I know is that as a forty something woman, there are some things in life where I will never see the answer clearly, and that some of my views are contradictory and shifting, because thats generally what happens when you look at all the evidence, and changes to that evidence.  Why do think researchers disagree with each other so much?

The crux of the issue for me is about treating animals and the environment with care. Sustainability is more important to me than going all gooey eyed over a cute cow (and yes I do think they are cute with their Ermentrude eyelashes). I'm not saying I personally want to eat one. But I accept that people will always want to eat meat and fish. I would rather join in the debate to help make that happen more sustainably and in a way that reduces any cruelty and pain for the animals. And if I can encourage people to eat less meat and fish because I can make an equally good plate of food without it, then that's even better.