Monday, September 30, 2013

Recipe: Malaysian Chicken with Carrot and Cucumber Salad

I haven't had a healthy sort-of salad dish in a while so I thought I would give this a go- I had a jar of tamarind paste that'd been lurking in the fridge for ages, plus i got a 2kg bag of reduced carrots from the co-op for £1.13!! (£1.02 with student discount- bargain!!). I know salads arent really the kind of thing you fancy in the Autumn, but the chicken is really spicy so it does warm you up from the inside somewhat! I said serves 2-4, because it depends how much meat you want- whether you want one or two breasts. The salad serves two, and one chicken breast is enough for me to fill me up, but i fed my very hungry working boyfriend two. Depends on your appetite really.

Malaysian Chicken with Carrot and Cucumber salad (serves 2-4)
130g tamarind paste
15g palm sugar
1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
10ml soy sauce
¼ tsp hot chilli powder
1 tsp vegetable oil
4 large chicken breasts
500g carrots, peeled and grated
120g thinly sliced cucumber
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 generous tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
Black pepper to taste

1. Mix together the tamarind, palm sugar, ginger, soy sauce, chilli powder and vegetable oil. Add the chicken breasts, coat in the sauce, and marinade for at least two hours.
2. Preheat the oven to 200C. Place the chicken breasts (with all the marinade poured on top of the breasts) in a roasting dish, and roast in the oven for 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a jar (or you can whisk this together in a bowl), add the vegetable oil, vinegar, mustard, soy sauce and black pepper, and shake until well mix/emulsified. Put the carrot and cucumber in a mixing bowl, add the dressing, and toss to coat.
4. Remove chicken from the oven, spooning any marinade leftover onto the chicken, and serve with the carrot and cucumber salad.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Cheap Food Factfile : Onions

Price per kg- £1
(in some shops red and white onions are the same price, in some white onions are cheaper)

The onion is a bulb vegetables, and is part of the allium family, which also includes garlic, shallots, spring onions, leeks and chives. The onion has been cultivated for the last 7000 years- with traces of onion being found with other Bronze Age food remains. However these traces may have been wild varieties of onion, such as wild garlic, so the first record of cultivated onions (as well as leeks and garlic) comes from the Ancient Egyptians around 3000BC. Not only did the Ancient Egyptians consume onions, they also believed they were sacred, believing the several layers of the onion symbolised eternal life- which is why it is believed onions were found buried in the tombs of pharaohs.

The ancient Greeks believed that consuming onions “lightened the blood”, so they were consumed in large quantities by athletes at the time. In medieval times, onions were so important, sometimes farmers rent would be paid in onions! When the first settlers came to North America, it was believed that onions were one of the first crops planted by the pilgrims. At this time, onions were not only eaten- they were used in medical treatment, for making dyes for clothes, and were given to women and to animals in order to increase their fertility.

Onions can be grown to different sizes depending on their culinary use, however, the 2 main onions used worldwide are white (or yellow) onions and red or “purple” onions. Onions harvested at a small size, are known as “baby” or “silverskin” onions, which are often used for pickling whole.  Spring onions are onions that are harvested before the bulb has had an opportunity to develop much. 

Health Benefits
Onions are low in calories, and 80g provides one of your 5 a day fruit and vegetable portions. Onions are high in antioxidants, flavonoids, and have been proven to reduce cholesterol. Interestingly, shallots have six times the amount of antioxidants as normal white onions.  Because of the antioxidant qualities of onions (and garlic), regular consumption has been proven to reduce risk of a number of cancers (breast cancer in particular).

Nutritional Information (per 100g raw)
Calories- 40kcal
Carbohydrates- 9g
(of which sugars)- 4g
Fat- 0.1g

The biggest onion producers are China, processing over 20,500,000 tons annually. The two other largest producers are India and the United States of America.

Interesting onion facts
Despite onions being very good for us humans, they are poisonous to monkeys, dogs, guinea pigs and (especially) cats! This is why it is recommended leftovers shouldn’t be fed to pets (as our food often contains onion/garlic, as it is so commonly used in most of our cooking).

Some people are allergic to the entire onion family, but many are just allergic to raw onions. This is an allergic reaction to a protein in the raw onion that is destroyed during the cooking process.

There are some religions (particularly in India) that ban the consumption of onions, because they believe they work as an aphrodisiac.

Onion juice is commonly used in moth/insect repellents.

Do you cry when you chop onions? Well, if you have to chop a lot, the only way to completely stop it is to wear goggles (but you do end up looking like a bit of a Muppet). However, other tricks include cutting onions under running water, using a fan to keep the juices away from the eyes, and chilling the onions before chopping them. The more often you chop onions, the less your eyes will be irritated by the enzymes from the onions- your body builds up a tolerance!

Ways we like them
Onions are of course, eaten worldwide, and tend to be the base ingredient of the majority of recipes! Onions and garlic, due to their high “flavonoid” content, helps to add depth and flavour to dishes, without having to add copious amounts of spices/herbs/sugar/salt to dishes.

Many pickles/chutneys use onions as the predominant ingredient, like pickled onions (very popular in the UK, in pubs or on a Ploughman’s platter), and red onion chutney/ marmalade.

A classic recipe that uses onions as the main ingredient  is the “French Onion Soup”- where copious amounts of onions are cooked on a slow heat for a long time in order to caramelise, and then traditionally, alcohol (wine or brandy) , beef bones/marrow, beef stock and herbs are added. This mixture is simmered down, and then topped with a slice of stale baguette with grueyere cheese on top, which is then grilled in the oven.

In India, onions are often consumed raw in salads (just like the onion salad you get with your poppadoms in indian restaurants). Pureed onions are used to bulk up and flavour the majority of Indian curries.

Spring onions are used a lot in Asian cuisine, in stir fries, soups, noodle and braised dishes. A popular Chinese takeaway dish in the UK is “chicken with ginger and spring onions”.

 My favourite ways with them, definitely include the French onion soup mentioned above (one of my favourite foods). I also think caramelised onions are a great topping for tarts- see my caramelised shallot tart and red onion, goats cheese and red pepper tart recipes on the blog. When I think about it, I tend to cook much more with red onions than white- a bit I got from my mother. What’s nice is fried thinly sliced red onion, in Indian spices (cumin, ground coriander and cayenne pepper are a good mix) are great in curries, or stirred into soup (check out my masur dahl recipe on the blog). A traditional (and economical) dish my mum cooked for me since I was little was “Nepalese scrambled eggs”, where red onion fried in the spices mentioned above, with garlic, a little curry paste, and fresh coriander, is stirred into traditional scrambled eggs, and served on toast with some diced fresh green chilli on top. Don’t know how true this story is, but Mum says that in the 70s you couldn’t really get red onions in the shops, so mum and dad tried bringing a bunch of them back from Nepal, and they got stopped at customs! Pahaha! Part of me wondered whether they’d picked them out because at the time they looked like such utter hippies, lol.

I love a nice tomato, red onion, olive and basil salad- yum! Either on the side of roasted/grilled meat, or on top of grilled ciabatta as a  bruschetta topping.

I like mixing red onions, carrots, red peppers and celeriac with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasting them until they are all caramelised. I tend to use onion, garlic, and celery as a base for a lot of dishes I cook at home (casseroles, risottos, soups, stews etc.). This is similar to the “holy trinity” you get in Cajun cooking, which uses those ingredients and green pepper for the bases of their recipes.

When I had access to a garden, I successfully grew a load of purple (or red) spring onions, and they were so unbelievably delicious, I recommend that if you have a patch of land that you have a go growing them yourselves (and it’s cool because you cant get them in the shops).

I think, out of many of the cheap ingredients we use when we are on a budget, the majority of households tend to always have (and I think definitely should) at least a couple of onions in the cupboards. If you don’t already, I thoroughly recommend you start!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Recipe: Pork Chops, with caramelised red onion gravy and orange noodles

A rather greedy and very unusual dish! Pork chops are regularly in my shopping trolley at the moment- the Co-op sell six of them for a fiver, AND theyve started doing 10% student discount as well, awesome! Sizzled pork chops, with heaps of caramelised red onions, and some tasty noodles to soak up the scrummy sauce. I know it's an odd combination, but give it a go- totally worth it!

Pork chops, with caramelised red onion gravy and orange noodles (serves 2)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
4 pork chops, seasoned with salt and pepper both sides
4 red onions, sliced thickly
2 tsp dried rosemary
Pinch celery salt
1 tbsp maple syrup
LOTS of black pepper
500ml chicken stock
2 tsp flour, mixed with water

2 stacks medium egg noodles
¼ tsp turmeric
Splash toasted sesame oil
Splash dark soy sauce

1. Preheat the oven to 100C. Fry the seasoned pork chops in the oil in a large frying pan (may have to do this in batches) 3-4 minutes each side. Place on an oven tray and put in the oven to keep warm.
2. In the same pan, add the onions, rosemary and celery salt, and fry on a high heat for 10 minutes, stirring often. Add the maple syrup and black pepper and fry for a further 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and flour, and cook on a high heat for 10 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are soft and the sauce is very thick.  
3. Meanwhile, boil a pan of salted water. Add the egg noodles and turmeric, and cook according to the packet instructions. Drain, toss in the sesame oil and soy sauce, and put onto two plates.
4. Remove the pork chops from the oven, place on top of the noodles, and spoon over the caramelised onions. Serve!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Recipe: Szechuan Pork Fried Rice

Considering how I love trying new foods, and considering how much I eat, iot is very rare to find an ingredient that I have never tastes/cooked with. My friend gave me a big bag of Szechuan peppercorns that he got from a nearby Thai shop. Such strange stuff! despite the fact they kinda look like pepper, and smell like pepper, they are actually a member of the citrus family. It is a popular ingredient in the perhaps more well known "Chinese 5 Spice" spice mix. When prepping them, you use the husks, and get rid of any of the little black centres that may still be present if you buy the spices whole. I would describe the flavour being like a combination of white pepper, fresh red pepper, and lemon zest- and it has a really odd "tingly" effect when you eat a dish that has a lot of it in as well. This is a delicious dish, that really compliments the flavours of this unusual spice!

Szechuan Pork Fried Rice (serves 2)

180g long grain rice
2 tbsp vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp crushed ginger
1 green chilli, finely chopped
1 yellow pepper, julienned
½ pointed cabbage, shredded
180g diced leftover roast pork

1 tbsp crab-apple and chilli jelly (or use sweet chilli sauce)
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
Splash toasted sesame oil
30ml water
1 tbsp crushed Szechuan peppercorns.

1. Cook the rice in boiling salted water, 1 minute less than what the packet recommends. Drain under cold water, transfer to a bowl and set aside. Mix together the crab-apple jelly, soy sauce, sesame oil, water and peppercorns, and set aside.
2. Heat the oil in a large wok. Stir fry the garlic, ginger, chilli, pepper and cabbage for 4 minutes. Add the pork, fry for a further 2 minutes.
3. Add the reserved cooked rice and sauce, and stir fry for 1-2 minutes, until all the ingredients are well combined, and the rice is piping hot. Serve!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Cheap Food Factfile: Pasta

Price per kg (Basics pasta shapes) 78p per kg

Pasta is traditionally made with durum wheat and water, sometimes with egg or olive oil added for colour/texture. The first mention of pasta or a pasta like equivalent was written in 100BC by a Roman poet, Horace, speaking of a dough, made into thin sheets, deep fried and consumed. He called this “Lagana”, which developed later with layers of meat sauce, became one of the first pasta dishes, what we know of today as “Lasagne”. The popularity and consumption of different pasta dishes were made by the Romans and the Turkish- it is believed that the first record of dried pasta was in the 5th century, where the Turks would dry thin strips of pasta dough (would have been like Tagliatelli) to take on long journeys. Some of the first pasta dishes/recipes that we consume now were created in Sicily in the 12th century. By the 14th/15th century, pasta was regularly consumed, and was manufactured in large amounts, then dried for used on ships- as the dry pasta had a long shelf life for extended sea journeys. The first recipe for pasta with tomato sauce was written in 1790, and this has now become the national dish of Naples.

There are hundreds of different shapes, sizes and varieties of pasta- each one is given an Italian/Latinate name, often connected to the shape of the pasta (for instance, “Stellini” is a small star shaped pasta, with “Stella” being Latin for star). Pasta is usually a light brown colour, being darker if wholemeal- however, pasta can be coloured, with squid ink (black), spinach (green) and beetroot (red/pink) if desired. Pasta can be generally classed into four different categories:

Long pasta- Long strands of pasta, such as spaghetti, linguini and Tagliatelli.

Short pasta- small pasta in various shapes, popular varieties in this country include penne (small diagonally cut tubes of pasta) fusilli (“corkscrew” shaped pasta) and farfalle (“bow tie” pasta).

 Soup Pasta- very small pasta shapes, often used to add substance to vegetable soups, such as minestrone. Varieties include Stellini (mini star shaped pasta), Annelini (small circles of pasta- like the type you get in your minestrone CupaSoup!) and Risi (small rice shaped pasta).

Pasta al Forno pastas- sheets of pasta, used for ravioli/tortellini and for baked dishes, such as lasagne or cannelloni.

Health Benefits
Pasta is a good low calorie/low fat source of carbohydrates, a nutrient needed for energy expenditure. Whole-wheat pasta is also a good source of several nutrients, including protein, Thiamine, Niacin, Magnesium, Phosphorous, Manganese, and Selenium. Pasta is low on the Glycaemic Index, meaning that when consumed the energy is released slowly, unlike white bread or sugary foods, which cause spikes in insulin release, causing brief moments of energy, followed by lethargy. The “Mediterranean Diet”- a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish, lean meats, olive oil, and pasta, has shown many health benefits, such as lowering cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, weight loss, and the reduction of risk for numerous cancers (particularly colon/bowel cancer).

Nutritional Information  (per 100g dry, based on wholemeal spaghetti)
Calories- 348kcals
Carbohydrates- 75g
Protein- 15g
Thiamine- 0.5mg (33% RDA)
Niacin- 5.1mg (26% RDA)
Magnesium- 143mg (36% RDA)
Manganese- 3.1mg (153% RDA!!)
Selenium-73mcg (104%)

The biggest global producer of pasta is (of course!) Italy, producing over 3,000,000 tonnes of the stuff!  The two other biggest producers are the USA, and Brazil. Interestingly, the biggest consumers of pasta are Italy, Venezuela and Tunisia.

 Interesting Pasta Facts
It is estimated that on average an Italian person eats over sixty pounds of pasta a year, it is loved so much in the country, that individual consumption over-reaches the amount of wheat produced by the country, so Italy often has to import wheat from other countries to make enough pasta.

Recently, there has been a large number of Italian immigrants settling in South Africa, making spaghetti with meatballs a traditional and very popularly consumed dish in this country.

Ways we like them
“Traditional Pasta” is eaten all over the Mediterranean,  the USA and South America. In Asia, noodles (similar to pasta) is also consumed in large quantities. In Africa, couscous (Made with the same ingredients as pasta, but the dough is not rolled out and processed like pasta- it is like very small “grains” of pasta) is consumed readily, often with spiced meat stews (known as tagines).

Fresh egg Tagliatelli is popularly consumed as a side dish to meat dishes in the south of france/ north of Italy. There is pasta served with fresh tomato sauce, such as napolitana (tomato and basil) and Puttanesca (tomato, chilli, olives, capers and anchovies). There is pasta served in creamy sauces- fettucini alfredo, or carbonara (Italian  bacon, egg, cheese and cream). Rich meat sauces/ ragus are popular, particularly “Spaghetti Bolognese”-  a very popular dish in Britain, it being a slowly simmered beef and tomato sauce.

There is Lasagne, a dish with layers of beef ragu, white sauce, pasta sheets and cheese, baked in the oven. Canneloni is stuffed with a ricotta and spinach mixture, topped with a tomato sauce and baked. Macaroni Cheese (or Mac’N’Cheese like our eloquent American friends call it) is exactly what it says on the tin- cooked macaroni in a cheese sauce.

Pasta “Vongole” is a pasta dish with fresh clams, sometimes fresh mussels, in a wine/tomato/herb sauce. In Italy, pasta is often consumed very simply, with good olive oil, butter, parmesan. Another simple dish is pasta with pasta with olive oil, chilli and garlic.

Pasta is one of my favourite ingredients of all time- I must eat it at least 2 times a week. My favourites include some of the dishes mentioned above actually- I love lasagne, my favourite not actually being the traditional beef/white sauce combo- I think the nicest lasagne I’ve even made was with turkey, mushroom and pesto. Spaghetti with tomato and olive sauce, with plenty of parmesan on top, has to be one of my top ten favourite foods. I like buying the ready-made tortellini/raviolis in the supermarkets, and they are often so cheap! The ones filled with butternut squash, or with mushrooms are my faves. Spaghetti Bolognese is one of the lushest traditional dishes ever- when the ragu is simmered for hours, with loads of garlic, some red wine, fresh herbs, and a splash of Worcestershire sauce, it is just wonderful. However, this country does ruin the Bolognese a little bit- the stuff you get in tins and jars are only just vaguely edible. In terms of creamy sauces, to be honest a lot of the time they are a little too rich for me- although my creamy blue cheese and spinach farfalle recipe is pretty comforting. You will see from my blog, I cook with pasta regularly, and you can find some delicious cheap dishes here at Chef Mel’s Kitchen! My cupboards would be lost without pasta!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Recipe: Plum, Chilli and Almond Chutney

SO! This year I have been swamped with plums. My parent's new house has delivered the goods (as well as blackberries, blackcurrants and cooking apples), and rather a lot of it- mum's just picked the last lost and i think i have about 7kg here! Not sure i'll be able to preserve all of it, but heres hoping.
Now this is a rather pokey chutney, I must warn you. I think it's because of the hot chilli powder i added- it's this big bag of malaysian chilli powder i got from an Asian shop when i was experimenting with Malay cuisine, and it doesnt half pack a punch. Dad loves this though- the plum, almond and fennel flavours go so well together, and then you get the chilli afterheat. If you are a fiery sort, i reccomend trying this with some chilli cheddar (Somerset Scorcher is a good one to try!)

Plum, Chilli and Almond Chutney  (makes about 1.2kg)
800g plums, stoned and halved
3 white onions, diced
1 red chilli, chopped
1 tbsp fennel seeds
¼ tsp hot chilli powder
1 tsp salt
150g flaked almonds
350ml red wine vinegar
425g caster sugar
1) Put all ingredients together in a large saucepan (or preserving pan), and cook on a high heat for 50 minutes, stirring often.
2) Allow to settle 10 minutes, and then pour into sterilised jars. Allow to cool, and then seal with the lids.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Cheap Food Factfile: Tomatoes

(Fresh) Price per kg- £2
(Tinned Chopped) Price per kg- 88p

Tomatoes originate from Mexico, where the first records of tomatoes being used in cooking was in 500BC by the Aztecs. When the Spanish conquistadors defeated the Aztecs they brought the tomato back with them to Europe in the early 16th century. In many places in Europe, including Italy and Great Britain, the tomato plant/tomatoes were used for decorative purposes first, before being cultivated for consumption. Modern tomatoes are often bred/cultivated so that the tomatoes colour evenly, yet many believe that this has resulted in flavourless, and not very sweet tomatoes. As most everyone these days are aware, the tomato is classed as a fruit, not a vegetable, as it is the ovary of a plant containing it’s seeds.

There are over 7500 different varieties of tomato cultivars, with the most popular being “Heirloom tomato” variety (known in Britain as “Heritage” tomatoes). Tomatoes come in different colours, including red, yellow, green (when fully ripened), dark red/brown, purple, and stripy varieties. Tomato varieties are generally classified into sub-types, including:

·         “Slicing” or “Globe” tomatoes- used in bulk in commerce, for a variety of dishes.
·         “Beefsteak”- often used for sandwiches/burgers. They are not used much commercially, as they have a short shelf-life. They are large, but much squatter.
·         “Plum tomatoes”- often used to make tomato sauces, pastes, or canned in juice, as they have a high solid content.
·         “Cherry tomatoes”- whole, small, circular, sweet, and often consumed in salads.
·         “Grape Tomatoes”- a mini variety of the plum tomato- like cherry but longer. Often used in salads.
·         “Campari tomatoes”- a sweet and juicy tomato, slightly smaller than plum tomatoes.
·         “Tomberries”- I’ve noticed these in the shops recently, but they are horrifically expensive- they are blueberry sized tomatoes, absolutely tincy!

Health Benefits
Tomatoes contain a vitamin called “Lycopene”, which is a proven very effective antioxidant. It has been linked to protecting skin against sunburn, and reducing the risk of getting prostate cancer. Also, whilst many vitamins/minerals are destroyed or leach out during the cooking process, lycopene actually increases in tomatoes once cooked. They are also low in calories and contain no fat.

I haven’t seen this in the shops, but apparently a special type of blue tomato has been cultivated for its nutritional qualities, containing 40x the amount of vitamin A, twice the amount of vitamin C, and a much higher amount of lycopene when compared to a normal tomato.

Nutritional Information (per 100g raw)
Calories- 18kcal
Carbohydrates- 3.9g
(of which sugars)- 2.6g

China is the biggest importer of tomatoes, importing over 48 million tons of them in 2011 (and reportedly over 150 million tonnes in 2009). The two other biggest importers are India and America. Interestingly, 90% of the tomatoes grown in the USA are grown in the state of Calafornia!

Interesting Tomato Facts
Although tomato plants were being grown in England from the 16th century, they were not regularly consumed by the British public until the 18th century because we believed them to be incredibly poisonous . An influential botanist during the 16th century labelled them as poisonous due to the flowers resemble to the flowers of the deadly nightshade.

The deadly nightshade flower resemblance is no mere coincidence, tomatoes, as well as potatoes, peppers and aubergines, are all related to the poisonous deadly nightshade plant. In fact, there are a very small number of people in the world that are allergic to these entire “family” (known as the “Solanaceae” family), and many fad diets involving removing these foods from the diet (including one advocated by Kate Moss) are very popular.

When tomato plants are grown, they are often grown with what gardeners call “companion plants”. These companion plants help stop the numerous pests that love munching on the tomato plants away from them, as well as attracting insects that prey on these pests. Some of these include carrots, parsley, alliums (garlic/onions) and basil. It is said this protective planting together of tomato and basil was where that classic combination originated. Tomato plants areplanted in order to protect asparagus also.

Tomatoes should never be kept in the fridge, as with their permeable skins, the flavour will end up leaching out almost entirely at that temperature. In supermarkets in certain countries (although not UK ones I notice!) they sell tomatoes with a “Never Refrigerate!” label on the packaging.

The tomato’s latin name translates as “wolf peach”. This is based on german folklore, where witches used to use the flowers and fruits of deadly nightshade in potions to turn themselves into werewolves!!

Ways we like them
Tomatoes are eaten worldwide. Unripe or green tomatoes can be breaded and deep-fried (a popular dish in the southern states of the USA) or can be made into chutney. Tomatoes can be stewed and canned at home just as they are commercially. Tomato can be used to make ketchup, as well as many other sauces. Blended tomatoes (sold as either tomato juice or passata) is a popular drink, and is popular in the “Bloody Mary” cocktail (a mix of vodka, tomato juice, lemon, celery salt, Worcestershire sauce, tabasco and port). In America, they sell something called “Clamato juice”, which is a mix of clam juice and tomato juice, which sounds horrifically revolting.

Tomato can be concentrated and blended into a paste (sold as tomato puree in UK), and they can be dried (and often served in oil- sun-dried tomatoes being very popular in Italy).

In Italy it is the base of many traditional dishes, particularly famous ones being pizza, tomato bruschetta, and spaghetti napolitana. Tomato, mozzarella and basil salad is popular in Italian restaurants, and is also supposed to mimic the colours of the Italian flag.

Tomatoes  are very popular in Spain, and are used as the main ingredient in one of their famous national dishes “Gazpacho”- a tomato and vegetable soup traditionally served ice cold (sometimes also with ice in it!). In Spain, it is also traditional to consume finely chopped raw tomatoes, olive oil, and garlic on toast for breakfast.

In Greece they are often hollowed out, stuffed with a rice/mincemeat mixture and baked. Another popular in Greece is “Dakos”, which is toasted stale rusk, topped with fresh minced tomatoes, mizithra (kinda like feta) cheese, fresh oregano and olive oil.

In India they are added to  many different variety of curries.

In turkey there is a popular dish known as “Ezme”, a tomato and red pepper salad which is eaten in large quantities as a side dish for numerous types of meal.

In Egypt, tomatoes are popular in a spiced tomato soup, and also on top of their national dish “Koshari”- Egyptian rice, lentils and pasta with a tomato and chilli sauce. Recently (in 2012), there was a very large and influential Islamic group that banned Muslims from eating tomatoes because “they were Christian fruits” because they looked like a cross when you cut into them. How rather odd.

In Iran fresh tomatoes are used far less than tomato paste/puree, which is used liberally in many of their traditional dishes.

In South America, they are popularly made into fresh salsas, dips, and base sauces for other dishes. In Brazil, despite the tomato being a very popular ingredient, there has recently (April 2013) been a major increase in the price of tomatoes in Brazil, with the prices sky-rocketing them to being more expensive than meat and chicken in many areas.

Tomatoes are one of my favourite fruits/vegetables- in fact my mum said if she could choose two ingredients to live on for the rest of her life it would be potatoes and tomatoes! I think they positively amazing just consumed raw with a pinch of good flaky sea salt on top. I love  them diced up with red onions, herbs and olives on top of grilled garlicky bread- a traditional bruschetta. I  love them in soups and sauces- and I don’t think I should be ashamed in saying I love Heinz cream of tomato soup (I like adding fresh basil and loads of black pepper to this!). Heinz ketchup of course, it also a must.

The way I most often end up using tomatoes is for a pasta sauce, I often chuck a tin of chopped tomatoes, a handful of chopped olives, a stock cube, some dried herbs, salt sugar and pepper in a pan, heat up and mix into spaghetti- cheap and heavenly! I love fresh salsa- chopped fresh tomatoes, green pepper, loads of fresh coriander, chilli, lemon and lime, either served on the side of a chicken breast as a side dish, or with nachos as a dip.

I love myself a Virgin Mary (a Bloody Mary without vodka), which I have without the tabasco as I am a wimp. I could drink pints of the stuff though. Many individuals (my boyfriend amongst them) believe a cocktail incorporating tomato juice (similar to a Bloody Mary I guess), with a cracked raw egg mixed into it, is the perfect hangover cure. Bleugh no thanks!!

I also love tomato based curries- like roghan josh’s, bhunas, dopiazas etc. As long as they ain’t too spicy!!I have never tried making tomato chutney, nor have I tried green tomatoes, so I will have to put these firmly on my “Bucket list” of things to try before I die. Maybe a culinary bucket list ought to be called a “bowl list” or something, lol!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Recipe: Spicy Turkey Tarts

I love turkey- it's not just for Christmas you know! If cooked properly, turkey can be very delicious and moist, and then theres just so many things you can do with leftover cooked turkey, with this recipe being one of my favourites. Very quick and easy to make, and very tasty. If you all dont mind me speaking so soon about "That December Event", in mid-September, but this also makes a fab Boxing day lunch to use up your roast dinner leftovers!
Spicy Turkey Tarts (serves 2)
1 yellow pepper, sliced thinly
200g tomato pasta sauce
¼ tsp smoked paprika
200g diced cooked turkey
1 green chilli, diced finely
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
Salt and pepper
1 ready rolled puff pastry sheet
Milk or egg to glaze (Optional)

1.       Preheat the oven to 210C. Mix together all of the ingredients (except the pastry and milk!) in a mixing bowl, and season to taste. Cut the pastry sheet in half. For each half, fold over the sides, creating “borders”.
2.       Place the tarts onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Prick the middle of the tarts with a fork, to prevent the middle from rising. Top the tarts evenly in the middles with the turkey mixture (be generous! Don’t worry it shrinks in the oven!).
3.       Brush the sides of the pastry with milk or egg, and bake in the oven for 30 minutes, or until well risen and golden. Serve!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Cheap Food Factfile: Courgettes

Cheap Foodie Fact-files

Price per kg- £1.60

The courgette is a form of summer squash, in the same family as the marrow and pumpkin. While Great Britain, France, Ireland, New Zealand, the Netherlands call it a courgette, it is known as the “zucchini” by the USA, Australia, Italy, Germany and Scandinavia. In South Africa, it is more commonly harvested as a baby vegetable, and called a “baby marrow”. The fruit and flowers are edible, but the leaves and stems are not. Like many other squash variants, courgettes (or a similar cultivar) was most likely to have been first grown in America. However, the traditional courgette that we know well and consume today was cultivated in Italy from around the 15th century.

Courgettes come in many varieties, but the main courgette purchased by consumers worldwide is 20cm and dark green in colour. Courgettes also come in patchy green, light green and yellow colours, and different shapes- including a circular “spaceship” looking variety, known as patty-pan, and circular globe courgettes. Popular varieties to grow in the UK include:

·         Black Beauty (a very productive cultivar producing dark green courgettes)
·         Golden Dawn (a cultivar that produces sweet bright yellow courgettes).

Health Benefits
Courgettes are low in calories, contain absolutely no fat, 80g counts towards one of your 5 a day fruit and vegetables, and  are a good source of vitamin C (particularly if consumed raw, or cooked lightly- vitamin C being a heat sensitive vitamin). Courgettes are also a good source of lutein, a type of carotene based vitamin that aids in eye health.

Nutritional Information (per 100g raw)
Calories- 18kcal
(of which sugars)- 2g
Protein- 1g
Fat- 0g
Vitamin C- 18mg (equivalent to 28% R.D.A)

The countries that consume the most courgettes are Mexico and Great Britain!

Interesting Courgette Facts
The smaller the courgette, the sweeter it is.

The courgette was voted in a large poll (in 2005) to be the UK’s tenth favourite vegetable
The longest courgette ever grown measured 7 ft 10 inches long, and the heaviest courgette ever recorded was grown in the UK, in Norfolk, and grew to a whopping 65kg!! Now that’s a lot of ratatouille!!

Ways we like them
In Mexico, the courgette is often cooked in stews, such as the popular beef and vegetable stew “caldo de res”, soups and in fillings for quesadillas/burritos. 

In Italy, courgettes are very popular, and often breaded or pan fried as side dishes/ appetisers.

In both Italy, France and Greece, the flowers are very popular and consumed in large quantities (particularly in south of France). Courgette flowers are often battered and deep fried, sometimes filled with ricotta cheese, or it is popular to stuff them with rice in Greece.

In France, courgettes are used for one of the nation’s most popular and well-known dishes “ratatouille”- a rustic country vegetable stew, usually incorporating courgettes, aubergines, peppers, tomatoes and herbs.

In Turkey, grated courgette is the prime ingredient of a popular dish “mucver”, which is a sort of courgette pancake that is served with yoghurt.

In Greece, as well as the filled deep fried courgette  flowers mentioned earlier (which, by the way, is my favourite food in the entire world), courgettes are often hollowed out and baked with a mince/rice filling.

In Egypt, courgettes cooked in a garlicky herby tomato sauce are a popular side dish.

Courgettes can be consumed raw, in salads and dips, and can also be baked into bread/cakes/muffins. Courgettes, just like cucumbers, can also be pickled.

I personally absolutely LOVE courgettes. I fell in love with them further since I’ve been growing them the last couple of years- they are fantastically easy to grow and yield so much!  Although I must admit I have always adored them- my favourite food when I was three was fried courgettes with black pepper and grated cheese on top! Nowadays the ways I like them best is either roasted with plenty of seasoning and garlic, thinly sliced then barbequed/ griddled as a side dish or a topping for a pizza/tart, or they can be made into a fantastic chutney (my courgette, tomato and chilli chutney on the blog is my favourite preserve of all time).

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Recipe: Smoked Sea Salt Pork Chops, with Braised lentils and a Honey dijon yoghurt

Classic combination of ingredients, done in a very classy way! Pork chops are very cheap from the co-op at the moment, you can buy a pack of 6 thick pork chops for £5! I used apples, thyme and bay leaves from my mum's garden as well, so despite this dish sounding very posh i managed to make it fairly cheap. I have been using "asafoetida" in place of garlic lately, because I haven't got any garlic in the house, but this indian spice does give the similar oniony/garlicky taste to most dishes. And you don't have to use very much- it's very pungent. Feel free to use normal salt on the pork chops, i've just used smoked because i still have a posh pot of it left that i brought back from Penzance.

Smoked Sea Salt Pork Chops, with Braised lentils and apples, and a Honey Dijon yoghurt (serves 2) 

Drizzle olive oil
4 chunky pork chops (fat cut at the sides to avoid meat from curling up)
Few pinches of smoked sea salt

1 tbsp duck fat (had this leftover, feel free to use olive oil instead)
1 white onion, diced
1 tbsp fresh thyme
½ tsp asafoetida
1 bay leaf
2 tins puoy lentils, drained and rinsed
250ml beef stock
2 apples, peeled and diced finely

100g natural yoghurt
10g runny honey
2 tsp Dijon mustard

1. Fry the onions, thyme, asafoetida and bay leaf in the duck fat for 5 minutes. Add the lentils and cook for a further two minutes. Add the stock, and cook further 5 minutes. Add the diced apple, and cook on a low heat stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, put a griddle pan onto a high heat with a little oil. Sprinkle the sea salt over the pork chops (both sides) and grill for about 3-4 minutes each side, until well charred but still golden.
3. Mix together the yoghurt, honey and the mustard. Serve the sizzling pork chops with the braised lentils and a few spoonful’s of the flavoured yoghurt.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Recipe: Blackcurrant and Apple Jelly

What a wonderful jar of purple loveliness! Making jellies is a little bit more "faffy" than making jams or chutneys, but I think you'll find the results are utterly worth it. I made this jelly with my dad's homegrown blackcurrants and apples this year- very nice on buttered toast, but to be honest dad just likes eating whole spoonfulls of the stuff on it's own! This recipe can be easily adapted depending on what fruit you have- the blackcurrants are very easily replaced with redcurrants, whitecurrants or blackberries. Think I will make a batch of blackberry and apple jelly after this as well- got to start getting all my preserves ready for Christmas presents!!

Blackcurrant and Apple Jelly (makes about 1kg, but varies batch to batch)
250g blackcurrants
1kg apples, diced
2 litres water
Juice of half a lime or quarter of a lemon.
400g sugar per 500ml of drained liquid.

1. In a large saucepan or jamming pan, boil the apples, lemon/lime, blackcurrants and water for 40 minutes.
2. Strain through a jelly bag/muslin cloth for 2 hours (you may have to do this in batches).
3. Put the strained blackcurrant and apple liquid back in a large pan with the appropriate amount of sugar. Bring to a rolling boil, and skim off any scum that may form. Stir constantly for about 25 minutes- or until it is at setting point (you have to use your own judgement!)
4. Pour into jars and wait to cool and set. Seal with a lid.