Friday, 28 June 2013

I can eat a rainbow!

How many of us remember being told as children to 'eat our greens'. Our parents were right in encouraging us to eat green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, kale and cabbage. They are a rich source of potassium, magnesium, iron and B Vitamins. They are high in fibre and low in fat and calories. Greens are also high in antioxidants that have been linked to the prevention of certain cancers.

Health experts now tells us that we should not only be eating at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day but that these should be a variety of colours as well. Many of the naturally occurring chemicals that give fruit and vegetables their bright colours also help keep us free from disease. They act as antioxidants which can help to protect against heart disease, cancer, cataracts and premature ageing. So don't just think green when you are choosing your vegetables but also red (peppers, tomatoes, radishes and red cabbage), orange (carrots, sweet potato and squash), yellow (peppers, sweetcorn, yellow courgettes) and purple (aubergines, purple sprouting broccoli and purple cabbage).

I find that a great way to incorporate a wide variety of vegetables into a meal is in a vegetable curry. I first started making these about a year ago when we decided as a family to eat at least one meal a week meat free. This was as a result of watching Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's series River Veg Everyday where he went meat free for three months. I have found the book which accompanied the series a great source for inspiring recipes . The vegetable curry below is one I have adapted from a Waitrose recipe. I find the vegetables soak up the spices really well and you really don't notice it doesn't contain any meat. In the summer I like to make it using new potatoes, courgettes and peppers. In the winter you could use sweet potatoes, squash and kale. It's good to serve it with basmati rice and an extra serving of vegetables such as cabbage or broccoli. If you did this you could almost get your 'five a day' from this one meal!

Vegetable Curry
Serves 4
1 large onion peeled and finely chopped
1 garlic clove peeled and crushed
1 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger
400g new potatoes chopped in half or quarters
3 courgettes sliced
2 peppers (red, orange or yellow) deseeded and cut into chunks
2 tomatoes chopped
2 tablespoons of medium curry powder
2 tablespoons of mango chutney
300ml of vegetable stock
400ml can light coconut milk

Heat a teaspoon of vegetable oil in a large heavy based pan
Add the onion and cook over a low heat for 5-10 minutes until softened and golden
Add the garlic, ginger, potatoes and peppers and cook for a furthur 5-10 minutes
Add the curry powder and stir to coat the vegetables in the spices
Stir in the tomatoes and chutney
Pour in the vegetable stock and coconut milk and bring to the boil
Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes until the veg is almost tender
Add the courgettes and simmer for another 5 minutes
Serve with basmati rice and a green vegetable such as cabbage or broccoli

Friday, 21 June 2013

A Spoonful of Sugar!

When I was younger I had a very sweet tooth. I was always baking cakes. I had sugar in my tea and my mum gave us a home made dessert (such as lemon meringue pie, trifle or apple crumble) every night of the week. I have found in recent years my tastes have changed and I probably prefer savoury flavours over sweet ones now. The average person in the UK is now eating over 2 lbs (1 kilo) of sugar a week and this is affecting our health and contributing to the increase in Type 2 diabetes and obesity. A lot of this is found in the processed foods we buy - ready meals, drinks, yogurts and shop bought cakes and biscuits. This makes it very hard to gauge how much we are actually eating. I like to cook most of our food from scratch. This way I know how much sugar is going into our meals, cakes and desserts. Recently I came across a recipe in a magazine for malt loaf. It uses malt extract. As I found this difficult to find in the shops I substituted it with molasses sugar and it still tasted very good. Molasses sugar is a thick black, syrupy sugar. It was the most popular sweetener used until the late 19th Century. Refined sugar was very expensive and so molasses sugar was an affordable alternative. I was interested to read that it has some good nutritional benefits. It is a very good source of iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium. One tablespoon provides the same amount of iron as a tablespoon of red meat and almost the same amount of calcium as half a glass of milk. As it is unrefined sugar it is broken down into the body more slowly and helps keeps energy levels more stable than if you ate refined white sugar. For the malt loaf recipe you need to buy the Molasses syrup (which looks a lot like black treacle). I found it in the health food shop Holland and Barrett. The good thing about this recipe is that the cake keeps well for a week or even two. It  is best made and left wrapped in baking parchment and foil for a couple of days to become moist and sticky before eating.

Another good recipe with molasses is a dessert that uses Molasses sugar as a topping over Greek yogurt mixed with bananas. It is left in the fridge for a few hours and the sugar melts down to make a lovely fudge like topping. It really is one of the quickest and easiest desserts to make and tastes great.

Malt Loaf
Makes 2
sunflower oil for greasing
150ml/1/4 pint of hot tea
175g/6oz molasses
85g/3oz dark brown sugar
300g/11oz mixed fruit
2 large eggs beaten
250g/9oz plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

Heat oven to 150C/Gas Mark 2
Line the base of 2 1lb loaf tins with baking parchment and grease the sides
Pour the hot tea into a mixing bowl with the molasses, sugar and dried fruit
Stir well then add the eggs
Tip in the flour then quickly stir in the baking powder and bicarbonate of soda
Pour into the prepared tins
Bake for 40 minutes until firm and risen
While still warm brush with a little more molasses and leave to cool
Remove from the tins, wrap in baking parchment and foil and leave for a couple of days

Molasses with Greek Yogurt and Bananas
Serves 2
1 large banana
250g Greek yoghurt (2% 0r 0% fat)
75g Molasses
25g of chopped Brazil nuts, walnuts or flaked almonds.

Slice the banana and mix together in a bowl with the Greek yogurt
Divide between 2 small glasses or ramekin dishes
Top with the molassses sugar
Cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge for about 3 hours
Just before serving sprinkle with chopped nuts

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Crumbs this is a Good Dessert!

I love Apple Crumble. If we go out for a meal and there is crumble on the menu I will normally choose it. At the weekend I will often make a crumble as a special treat for dessert. I remember it was one of he first things I learnt to cook at school in Home Economics. Apple crumble is my favourite and as we have two apple trees in our garden we will have a good supply of apples to see us through the winter. We wrap them in newspaper in the Autumn and store them in the garage. This will last us the rest of the year. Sometimes in September we pick blackberries and freeze them so I can use them in crumbles. Crumble is a very popular dessert in this country and is normally on the menu in most restaurants, usually in the form of apple and blackberry or rhubarb. A couple of years ago I came across a recipe for apple and banana crumble. This may seem an unusual idea but it works really well and is probably the favourite in our house. The sweetness of the banana contrasts really well with the tartness of the apples and it also means you do not need to add quite so much sugar to the filling.  It is nice with a few chopped dates mixed in too. There are many variations on the crumble topping. To the basic mix (flour, butter and sugar) you can add spices (ginger, mixed spice or cinnamon), nuts (flaked almonds, walnuts or pecans) or oats. You can also use soft brown sugar instead of castor and wholemeal flour instead of white. I don't normally use a lot of butter in my cooking (as it is high in saturated fat) but when I make a crumble I do think butter tastes better in the topping. I use a smaller amount and then bulk it out with some porridge oats.

Apple and Banana Crumble.
Serves 4
2 medium ripe bananas peeled and sliced
2 large cooking apples, peeled cored and chopped (about 500g in weight)
1 tbsp of soft brown sugar
6-8 dried pitted dates, chopped

100g  plain flour
50g butter cut into small pieces
50g castor sugar
30gr rolled porridge oats

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 5
Put the apples, bananas and dates (if using) in an oven proof dish
Sprinkle over the sugar and stir to combine
Put the flour and  butter into a mixing bowl. Using fingertips rub together until it resembles fine breadcrumbs
Stir in the sugar and porridge oats and rub together again so the mixture is slightly lumpy and not dry
Sprinkle on top of the apple and bananas
Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes until  the fruit is soft and the topping crisp and golden
Delicious served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Yo Sushi!

Have you tried making sushi before? It is something I first started making about a year ago. My husband and I spent an evening as a date night learning the art of sushi making through a Group On deal. It was great fun and I was surprised at how easy it was to make and also how tasty it was. It has inspired me to try other Japanese cooking. The Yo Sushi Cookery book has been a very good source for recipes. The main ingredients of Japanese cooking are rice, miso, mirin, wasabi, fish, green vegetables and seaweed. These are now widely available in the major supermarkets. (I have seen them in Asda, Sainsburys and Waitrose). If you make sushi regularly it is probably cheaper to order ingredients in larger quantities on-line. I have used before.  These ingredients are all healthy and low in calories. This probably explains why Japan is one of the healthiest countries in the world. It has the lowest obesity levels (5% of the population) and the highest life expectancy. Japanese cooking is in itself quite simple food and is prepared and eaten where possible in its natural form. 

The secret to good sushi is learning how to cook the rice. Sushi rice is high in starch and very sticky when cooked. In order to get rid of some of the starch it should be rinsed before cooking. It will take several rinses in cold water until the water becomes clear and should then be then left to drain. When cooking sushi rice the quantity of water is also important. It is always 10% more than the quantity of rice. eg. If you are cooking 100g of rice you need 110ml of water, This should be cold water placed in a thick based pan with a tight fitting lid. Place the lid on the pan and bring up to the boil (this takes 5-7 minutes). You must resist the urge to take the lid off and see how it is doing as it is important to keep the steam inside the pan. You will learn to hear when it is boiling. When the water has come up to the boil the rice will then need another 5-7 minutes to cook. The heat is then turned off and the rice left to cook for a further ten minutes in the steam from the pan. The lid still remains on.

Sushi vinegar is added to the cooked rice while it is still hot in order to create sushi rice. The three main ingredients for this are rice vinegar, sugar and salt. These are combined in a non metallic bowl and then stirred carefully into the rice with a spatula. Do not over stir or the rice will become mushy.

The fillings for sushi are very varied. People normally think of raw fish (salmon and tuna) but there are lots of vegetable fillings you can use (asparagus, avocado, pepper and cucumber). I have even seen a recipe in the Yo Sushi book for chocolate and mango sushi! (I haven't tried it yet!) You can also accompany any of these fillings with some wasabi paste. This is made from an aquatic plant in Japan and has a distinct strong flavour  like horseradish (beware you only need a small amount as it is very hot!)

To make the traditional sushi rolls (called maki) you will need a rolling mat. You can buy these from supermarkets as well (I have seen them in Waitrose and online with Ocado). This should be covered with cling-film to make it easier to roll the sushi.

Prepare the fillings that you are using and then you are ready to roll! As sushi rice is very sticky you will need to make a vinegar that you can dip your fingers into to keep them clean while you are making the Sushi . It is important not to use too much rice and to spread it out thinly (just under a cm thick). I find that if you use too much then it is hard to roll and won't end up looking so neat and delicate. Rolling does take practice.

When you are ready to eat put out some plates and chopsticks. Fill some bowls with soy sauce, toasted sesame seeds, which are great for dipping the sushi into.

If you haven't made Sushi before I hope this inspires you to give it a go. Not only is it delicious it is also very attractive and would be a great thing to serve if you were having friends round for a meal. It is also a fun thing to make with someone else and eat together.

Traditional Maki sushi
Makes 4 rolls (24 pieces)

240g Sushi rice
268ml of cold water
1 portion of sushi vinegar (see below)
1 portion of tezu vinegar (see below)
2 Nori sheets
Fillings of your choice. some good ideas are
Salmon and chives
Salmon and cucumber
Salmon and avocado
Avocado and sasame seeds
Cooked asparagus and sesame seeds
Fresh tuna
Red or yellow peppers

Sushi vinegar
25ml of rice vinegar
15g-25g of sugar (the amount of sugar varies depending on personal taste, but a less sweet vinegar is generally used for raw fish and a sweeter one for vegetables)
7g of salt
Combine these in a non metallic bowl and stir well until the sugar has dissolved

Tezu water vinegar
200ml of water
2 tablespoons of rice vinegar
1 teaspoon of salt
Combine these in a bowl and set aside

Cooking rice for Sushi
Rinse the rice through a sieve, draining away the milky water and repeat 3-5 times until the water runs clear. Leave to drain for an hour so that the rice has time to absorb moisture
Put the rice in a heavy based medium saucepan with the cold water
Place the lid on the pan and bring up to the boil (listen for boiling sound) which will take 5-7 minutes
Lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for another 5-7 minutes
Turn the heat off and leave the rice with the lid on for another 10 minutes
Transfer to a non metallic bowl and stir in the prepared sushi vinegar
Leave until cool enough to handle

Assembling Maki Rolls
Cover the rolling mats with clingfilm
Cut the nori sheets in half lengthwise
Place nori sheet on a rolling mat, shiny side down about 1cm from the edge of the mat closest to you and with equal space on each end
Wet your hands in the tezu vinegar
Take a handful of the sushi rice and gently press the rice in the centre of the nori sheet. Spread the rice thinly (just under a cm) leaving a cm strip along the top edge uncovered
Place your filling in the centre of the the rice
Use your thumbs to lift the edge of the rolling mat closest to you over the filling, forming it into a roll
Lift the top of the rolling mat and turn the roll a little to overlap the edges of the nori and seal the roll
When the edges come in contact they seal themselves
Roll again, exerting gentle pressure to ensure it will keep its shape and remain sealed
Remove from the rolling mat and use a very sharp knife to slice the roll into six equal segments
Repeat with the remaining ingredients (you may not need all the rice)
Chill for 2-3 hours or overnight
Serve with toasted sesame seeds, soy sauce and pickled ginger