Tag Archives: Food

Make your own organic cheese, then put it on pizza toasts!

It’s really easy to make fresh cheese just with whole milk and lemon juice, a pan and a teatowel- that’s it! Follow my tutorial here to make the cheese, then before you hang it up to dry fully and shape it for cutting, nick some of the curds out to enjoy it straight away with these quick and easy pizza toasts. They’re made extra delicious with the rewarding feeling of having made the cheese yourself.

1. Take your cheese curds freshly rinsed and squeezed dry from the cheese cloth, they should look like this…

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2. Spoon some into a bowl and mix with chilli flakes, herbs and olive oil. This is also great with chopped capers and lemon zest!

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3. Cut large slices of bread

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4.  Top with tomato paste

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5. Add fresh tomato slices and sprinkle with sea salt

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6. Top with your fresh, homemade organic chilli and herb cheese

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7. Add olives then place under a hot grill for a few minutes, the cheese won’t melt but the top of the bread will toast, the cheese will brown a little and the olives will smell devine.

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8. Add fresh basil and enjoy!

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Making organic paneer

7160310722_32905aa198Today I made myself some cheese! This recipe is easy peasy, there’s no rennet, and you don’t need anything but fresh organic whole milk and something acidic (vinegar, lemon or lime juice). I set out to make Paneer, but stopped before shaping the cheese curds to enjoy some ricotta-like cheese with chilli flakes, herbs and olive oil.

This Indian cheese (Paneer) isn’t mature or ‘cheesy’ tasting, it’s very plain and doesn’t melt, this is because with matured cheese, like cheddar, rennet is added which further breaks down the proteins in the curd, forming a single mass which matures over time and melts under heat. Paneer doesn’t include rennet (from India, this cheese can be consumed by the vegetarian hindu population of the country) so it doesn’t mature well and doesn’t melt. But it does make a great creamy fresh background for strong flavours like curry, chilli or oregano.

So what’s the advantage of making your own paneer? Well first of all it’s fun, secondly it’s cheap (4  pints of milk makes a good bit of paneer and at only £1.69 for 4 pints of organic wholemilk, I think it’s at least £1 cheaper than the same cheese in the shops), thirdly it means you can make your cheese organic- I’ve never seen organic paneer in the shops.

So here’s how you make it, AND how to use it straight away on tasty pizza slices!

So you need:

4 pints of whole organic milk

Between 100 and 140ml of acid (vinegar, lemon of lime juice- I recommend the most tasteless, so rice vinegar or similar is good).

Here’s what you do:

Put the milk in a large pan

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Heat the milk until boiling and then turn it down to a simmer.

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Add the lemon juice or vinegar,  in small amounts until the white cheese curds split away from the green whey, don’t add more acid than you need to, just because you don’t want the strong lemony or vinegary flavour. It’s worth mentioning it looks gross at this point but don’t let you put that off.

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Drain the curds through a cheesecloth or piece of muslin, squeeze out all the whey you can (don’t spend a lot of money, a clean teatowel or piece of sheet is fine). It’ll look like this…

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Rinse the cheese curds in the cheesecloth to get rid of any acidic flavour,  then tie the cheese cloth into a parcel and rinse the cheese again, or soak the cheese in cold water, just to get all the lemon/lime/vinegar out.

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Squeeze the cheese again to get out as much liquid as possible.

Now it should look like this, soft crumbly curds.

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At this point hang the cheese up to drip out the last of the liquid.

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When the cheese has been hanging for a few hours and most of the moisture is gone, cut open the parcels, shape the cheesecloths with the curds inside into a block shape and wrap in more cheesecloth if available. Then squash with something heavy to form the cheese into a block.

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My version of something heavy- a cast iron pan filled with jars of garlic and coffee!

My version of something heavy- a cast iron pan filled with jars of garlic and coffee!

Before hanging it up, if you just can’t wait- nick a few of those curds out and add dried chilli flakes, dried herbs and olive oil, you can eat this smeared on bread or make into tasty pizza slices (see my post HERE 🙂 )

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Red Cabbage and Yogurt Salad

So Jamie Oliver made this as a coleslaw with finely grated mixed cabbages and mustard to have with bean burgers, I liked it so much I added more yogurt and made it a little chunkier to enjoy as a yogurty raita style accompaniment to have with curry.  The amazing thing about this salad is the colour of it and the point where it changes colour…amazing.

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ingredients for the cabbage raita/slaw:

-1/4 of a large red cabbage finely sliced in the food processor (or by hand) or grated with a box grater for a finer texture.

-1 small red onion, finely sliced

-A tablespoon of chopped, fresh coriander

-The juice of half a lemon

-A big pot of fat-free  Greek yogurt

So you dice up the cabbage and onion, place in a bowl and squeeze the lemon over, you’ll see the cabbage turn from almost blue-purple to BRIGHT RED. Red cabbage contains a natural litmus property which changes colour with different pHs, so this is pretty cool. Add yogurt to taste, more yogurty for Raita, less for slaw, mix in most of the coriander, mix together and then sprinkle the rest of the coriander on top. Voila! YUM!

Cabbage Raita, Brinjal Bahji with broad beans, tomato and onion pickle and coriander naan.

Cabbage Raita, Brinjal Bahji with broad beans, tomato and onion pickle and coriander naan- and two tins of stella!

Brinjal Bhaji with Broad Beans

Brinjal Bhaji with Broad Beans

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We want ugly veg!

Image credit: PropogandaTimes on CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Image credit: PropogandaTimes on CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I just finished reading a report on the amount of food wasted globally from the Institute of Mechanical Engineers. The report has been featured in the press because of the stomach-churning statement it makes- that up to 50% of the worlds food goes to waste!

In the third world and newly developing nations this is largely due to inefficient harvesting and transportation, in late-stage developing nations spoilage and poor infrastructure present problems (its well-known that India wastes up to 1/3rd of its food) and in developed post-industrial societies, where transport, storage and processing facilities are efficient, food is wasted through retail and consumer behaviour.

For some reason this type of food wastage is especially appalling, because it is not accidental wastage but behavioural, intentional waste. The report states…

“Major supermarkets, in meeting consumer expectations, will often reject entire crops of perfectly edible fruit and vegetables at the farm because they do not meet exacting marketing standards for their physical characteristics, such as size and appearance. For example, up to 30% of the UK’s vegetable crop is never harvested as a result of such practices. Globally, retailers generate 1.6 million tonnes of food waste annually in this way.”

Up to 30% of our veg gets chucked away because it’s ugly?! Not even ugly, but perhaps the wrong coloration, size or shape, or have blemishes, scratches or are in the wrong stage of ripening.

So who’s to blame here the UK supermarkets or us British consumers? Surely the supermarkets wouldn’t reject vegetables unless we wouldn’t buy the imperfections? If we have to pay 70p for a pepper, and one is half the size of the other than that lack of standardisation will leave the little pepper unsold and the supermarket out of pocket, the little pepper wasted anyway. But for items sold by weight this theory holds little traction and even in the pepper scenario if stocked correctly someone would pick that little fella up.

Previously the supermarkets could hide behind regulation; EU restrictions on appearance and varieties of fruit and veg were in place. But with the EU restrictions lifted in 2009, why haven’t we seen more wonky veg? I recently visited an Italian supermarket it was great to see the knobbly peppers and varying sizes and shapes of aubergines.

Also I just don’t believe as consumers we’d reject the ugos.

In 2012, after our crummy weather and terrible harvests, Sainsburys accepted some of the misfits.  Director of Sainsburys food Judith Batchelar even said that consumers were definitely Pro-ugo…

“This may mean a bit more mud on peas or strawberries that are a little smaller than usual, but our customers understand and love the idea.”

So why not all the time?

I think we’d actually enjoy a bit of variety as consumers, I’ve never known anyone to waste their time rifling through tomatoes for that perfect sphere of light red and last year we grew “Black Krims” (possibly the world’s ugliest tomatoes) on the plot.

“Black Krims” are heirloom tomatoes, originally from Crimea. They are a green/purple/brown colour and grow with a folded appearance, sometimes even engulfing their stalks, and have characteristic splits in them, yep, splits and scars on their skins.

Here is quite an attractive Black Krim courtesy of Marshall Astor on flickr….

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CCSharealike license

So, you get my drift, these tomatoes ain’t pretty, but they’re so sweet and tasty, we loved them and we’re growing them again this year.

I think consumers would buy ugos, like Krimmy above, and American supermarket ‘Wholefoods’ has embraced this philosophy, proudly displaying their bounties of heirloom tomatoes and even blogging about them, their scars and their imperfections.

So the next time you’re in the supermarket pick the most misshapen carrots you can find, maybe over time the straighties left in the pallets will force the supermarkets to stock more wonky ones, or just lament the wastage and celebrate your own ugly veg, like mine…

My yummy "ugly" veg :)

My yummy “ugly” veg 🙂

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Micro Salad!

It’s January, and it’s been ages since my last post. Last year’s harvest was pretty pitiful due to the bad weather in the UK, a couple of  kilos of tomatoes, a few onions, a sack of new potatoes or two and (admittedly) endless courgettes and marrows (courgettes are immortal…I swear).  Hence the lack of posts in 2012!

This year we’re going to put up our plastic greenhouse and try to grow a few plants which can cope with the weather, I wanted to get started nice and early, with some plants to grow indoors!

I was wondering what to do with a whole bunch of seeds left over from the last couple of years, some of which are, apparently, “out of date.” I didn’t want to risk them not germinating in a spot up the plot, and I’ve bought new varieties this year so I decided to plant a whole bunch in a seed tray as “micro salad.”

Micro salad is basically cress from seeds which are more expensive than mustard cress seeds- think celebrity cress.

Here’s some fancy food with a “micro herb salad” atop it

CC image by Michelle Muirhead (flickr.com)

CC image by Michelle Muirhead (flickr.com)

Micro salad can really be created from any plants which will have tasty young foliage.  But popular varieties, selected for their taste and colour are:

-Mizuna

– Radish

-Carrot

-Coriander

-Purple Basil

-Beetroot

-Chives

-Endive

-Chicory

-Land Cress

-Pea Shoots

-Kale

-Radicchio

-Red Mustard Frills

-Celery

Called micro greens in the US, this trend seems particularly popular in the states, with a number of shops selling portions of these posh cressies online, and some UK firms even following the trend, and seed companies cashing in on micro equipment and seed varieties.

So this seemed like a great way to use up my old seeds and get a teeny crop to add some class to my dinners in just days.

So I got two old vegetable containers (no drainage holes, easy peasy), filled them with seed compost and sprinkled the seeds on top (I used lemon basil, mooli radish, spinach, beetroot, carrot and onion seeds), covered with a little more soil and kept moist and just a few days later look what peeked out-

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The green shoots are spinach, the red beetroot, I actually took these pics a few days ago and I know have some cresses ready to cut- a great idea if you need a few sprinklings of greenery for your daily sarnie but hate watching bags of salad mould away in the fridge, or if you have a posh dinner party coming up in a few weeks.

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Totnes Food Market

I was lucky enough to grow up in beautiful Devon, amongst the rolling hills, Torbay palms and frequent rain showers. My family home is near to the fun and intriguing town of Totnes. A middle-class hippie paradise, Totnes combines traditional english countryside pursuits with an environmental eye, a fun open attitude, a savouring of times gone by and a good healthy dose of wheatgrass shots and ylang ylang. Last weekend my parents, my brother and I went to visit the monthly food market. My dad took his new (very swanky) camera to pap the occasion! Here are some of his excellent pictures from the day.

My favourite stall was the Dartmoor Chilli Farm stall. The guy who was running it was really nice and really passionate about his plants and ‘chilli’ culture, he told us all about the different varieties, strengths and tastes of the chillis and even showed us his Trinidad Scorpian plant (the hottest chilli in the world guys!) He and his wife live in Dartmoor and grow the chillis in an unheated polytunnel, what an admirable (and highly enviable) existence. I bought some of his smoky chipotle sauce- it is delicious!

Me and my brother Will checking out some chillis!

All sorts o’ sauce

Lots of chilli plants- from Bonsai to variegated to very very hot!

Here’s a video of some chilli fanatics reviewing Dartmoor CF’s hottest product…the DEVIL naga chocolate bar!!! Skip to 2.20 to see the Devil’s effects…

There were loads of irresistible cakes and pastries everywhere…

There was fresh Devon produce, greengrocery at it’s best…

Delicious westcountry cheeses!

Westcountry Herbs

There were lots of different types and regions of cuisine…

Thai food!

Spanish tortilla and salad

Paella

Salad from ‘Jason and the Gastronauts’

The Veggie Deli- more my style!

The Alcohol Free Zone has not dampened my mood!

Searching for Deli goodies

Mediterranean food and products

All in all a fab day out and well worth a visit if you’re in Devon on the third Sunday of the month- Thanks Dad for playing journalist!

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A tiny harvest

The pots outside our one bedroom flat (which is without garden 😦 ) are flourishing with potato, courgette and tomato plants today (the few that survived the awful beginning of the summer we’ve had that is).

Tomatoes,squash, courgettes and some scraggly peppers and dwarfed aubergines- using every square inch makes plants flourish!!!

Tomatoes (which need some shoots pulling out)

Maris P’s in a pot!

Also, our allotment, despite not being tended for about 4 weeks has produced some lovely courgettes to join the couple from our pots: F1 Tristan, Black Beauty, F1 One Ball and F1 8 Ball.

Our first harvest for the year is a small bundle of these lovely fruits!

8 ball courgette! YUM!

What a handful!

A tiny harvest

We celebrated our crop, and the lovely (short-lived) weather, with a barbeque (or two) at the allotment…pure bliss!

Chopping onions for the veggie burgers

Our homemade BBQ- a shopping basket, some bricks and coals- with halloumi kebabs and Quorn best of british sausages- nom nom

Quorn burgers, Quorn sausages, frying onion in tin foil, and halloumi and veg kebabs!

Marshmallow anyone?

Despite the poor weather these few barbeques and relaxed times have made me feel very summery indeed. To make everyone else feel a little more summery and satisfied in their agricultural endeavours in the city, you may enjoy this farm and town paper animation set to Vashti Bunyan’s Diamond Day- what could be more summery?

By the way, we used the tiny harvest to make up the layers in a delicious vegetable lasagna, where instead of a layer of bechemal sauce I make a creamy layer of courgettes cooked  in garlic, herbs and cream cheese to place in between layers of quorn mince, passata and basil.

Colourful courgettes

YUM! Part of the tiny harvest cooked

Creamy courgettes in lasagna!

Finished lasagna, topped with ricotta and spinach, then gran padano and breadcrumbs for a twist

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Anyone for Tagine?

Vegetable Tagine, lentil salad and bread at Bab Bou Jeloud, Fes

James and I just got back from Morocco where we were travelling for 2 weeks from Fes to Marrakesh (through Ifrane, Azrou, Midelt, Er-Rachidia, Erfoud, Merzouga, Todra Gorge and Essouira).  Before going I was a little worried we would have a hard time getting vegetarian food, or encounter the awkward scenario of trying to explain in a foreign language that vegetarian really does mean ‘no chicken’.

However this was simply not the case, it was actually really easy to be vegetarian in Morocco, even in fairly small towns. We had a few dishes that tasted like they were likely cooked in meat broth, which wasn’t a nice surprise, but it was always really easy to find a menu with at least a couple of veggie options on- including tagine, couscous, pasta and pizza.

I thought I’d detail some of the places we ate in the nature of food tourism or for anyone looking for places to go:

We recommend

Le Kasbah, Fes

This place was right by Bab Bou Jeloud and served up some really tasty salad, veggie tagine with lemon peel and olives and couscous for a reasonable price, the veggie tagine tasted pretty “savoury” so for purists, I’d stick with the couscous!

James+FOOD

Riad Laayoun, Fes

We stayed at Riad Laayoun and it was truly excellent, the accommodation was unique and the meal there was very good, if a little more pricey than the medina, the top ups of mint tea and cookies during our stay were really nice too.

Ksar Sania, Merzouga

There were some things that weren’t so good about staying at Ksar Sania, like the crabby colonial french owner, the overpricing and the constant subtle pressure to buy excursions or extras (go for camels, avoid all lifts or excursions elsewhere), but the food was very good indeed.

Berber Omelette, with tomatoes and peppers at Ksar Sania

Auberge Le-Festival, Todra Gorge

Excellent people, excellent food in an amazing setting, this place rescued our diminishing faith in morocco being a nice place- what more can I say? It was GORGEous (get it, ‘cos it’s in a blummin massive gorge).

A candlelight meal for two! Enjoying a salad washed in bottled water (phew!)

Vegetable Moussaka- Maroc style!

Earth Cafe, Marrakesh

We ate twice at this vegetarian and vegan restaurant hidden in the souk,  just away from the central square. The lentil burger (despite sounding dull) was actually the best dish of the 2 nights we ate there.

Spring rolls and Lentil Burger

Spinach and Goats cheese parcel and lentil burger

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Big Food at Work

Image Credit: Original image by Todd Hryckowian at flickr.com, with enhancements by Lizzy Parisotto, PLoS.

It’s rare that my interest in (/slight obsession with) food features in my workday- other than at lunchtime that is!

However,  PLoS Medicine (the medical journal I work for) has published a series on “Big Food” corporations- so my work and my interest in food industries have happily collided this week.

The PLoS Med series describes Big Food as “the multinational food and beverage industry with huge and concentrated market power” and explains why this market power needs to explored, especially “in the health arena” (as bloggers such as Yoni Freedhoff and Travis Saunders show).

Utilizing two well known guest editors, Marion Nestle (of Supersize Me, foodpolitics.com, and ‘What to Eat’) and David Stuckler (author of ‘Sick Societies’), the series jumps in with both feet in its first weeks presenting key articles from Stuckler, Nestle, Rajeev Patel and Lori Dorfman and is accompanied by an Editorial from the PLoS Medicine Editors, with Marion and David.

The series makes for excellent reading (whether or not you’re a clinician), one of the most powerful statements I’ve taken away is the straightforward introduction to Stuckler and Nestle’s piece “Big Food, Food Systems and Global Health” (text bolded by myself):

“let’s begin…with a blunt conclusion: Global food systems are not meeting the world’s dietary needs [1]. About one billion people are hungry, while two billion people are overweight [2]. India, for example, is experiencing rises in both: since 1995 an additional 65 million people are malnourished, and one in five adults is now overweight [3],[4]. This coexistence of food insecurity and obesity may seem like a paradox [5], but over- and undernutrition reflect two facets of malnutrition [6]. Underlying both is a common factor: food systems are not driven to deliver optimal human diets but to maximize profits. For people living in poverty, this means either exclusion from development (and consequent food insecurity) or eating low-cost, highly processed foods lacking in nutrition and rich in sugar, salt, and saturated fats (and consequent overweight and obesity).”

I’ll be reading the series with pleasure as it moves along- and the best thing is I can get away with reading it at work 😛

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Chargrilled peppers with cheese and coriander

This is a bit of a titchy post about my lunch, but this was so yummy I can’t not do a quick post about it.

So we had a pretty dull array of foods in for lunch a couple of weekends ago. Some hummus, bread a few sundried tomatoes in oil and some red peppers and a few grates of low fat cheese left.

I chargrilled up the red peppers in some olive oil on my chargrill pan, and whilst they were still hot added the cheese and some fresh coriander while they were in a bowl- the results made a lovely extravagant feeling lunch with little effort.

Smushed on top of some hummus-smeared bread this was really yummy. Please excuse the big bite in the photo- I couldn’t wait to sample before taking the picture!

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