Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Food Matters by Mark Bittman & Sweet Potato Spread

This month the Kitchen Reader book club has been reading Mark Bittman's treatise on "sane eating". I have used Bittman's recipes and ideas in the past because I love his simple style. In recent years he has become more interested in health and the environment and it has really impacted what and how he cooks. I've been inspired, so I was thrilled to read his book, Food Matters. Thanks to Elizabeth of Spike Bakes for choosing it.

He writes compellingly about the kinds of food that we can enjoy that also minimise environmental damage, expense to our health, and reduce costs for us. The first half of the book contains the evidence he provides for each of these three areas; it's hard hitting.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Turkish pide (for Fresh from the Oven)

This delicious bread was the selection of Mrs Ergul for the June challenge of Fresh from the Oven, a baking group that has helped me stretch my skills with bread.

I added some aubergine dip (baba ganoush), sweet potato spread, and tomato chilli jam to the table, and we had a mezze-style meal with some friends.

Friday, June 25, 2010

lunchbox tips, part 2

This post is part two about planning for taking lunch to work. It takes a bit of preparation if you are determined to avoid the work canteen with its uninspiring options, but it's worth is for taste and health, usually. (If your work canteen has a salad bar you could eat there every day; I would be jealous!) Have a look at last week's lunchbox tips and then add some of your own in the comments below.

--One of the best lunch boxes is salad. But think beyond lettuce when it comes to salads. Salads based on sturdy vegetables like carrots, corn, and broccoli travel well. And using rice or beans as a base adds nutrition to salad. Otherwise I might not make it through the work day. And try to add a protein item each time: some grilled chicken, a hard boiled egg, or a handful of nuts. (Here's a whole other post about making salads into a real meal.)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

sweet potato coleslaw

Fuel for athletes or fans: fresh, healthy food that tastes great. Such as this unique coleslaw, made with raw sweet potatoes, toasted almonds, and juicy raisins. And if it's made with homemade mayonnaise, this easy slaw becomes a firm favourite for those on and off the pitch.

With England's World Cup bid progressing via a few stumbles, Ant and I needed a pick-me-up to get us through the late nights and long days. This coleslaw caught my eye because it uses raw sweet potato--something I have not tried before. I imagine it would be just as tasty with carrots, of course, through a bit softer in the mouth. This coleslaw has a firm bite, and the fresh mayo gives it a zesty edge.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


"I'm not a total mayo fascist," says Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in his cookbook River Cottage Everyday. I surely agree with him. In general, life is a bit to fast-paced to make your own mayonnaise. But when there's time and when you want to showcase a fresh, tasty coleslaw or salad, homemade mayonnaise is the perfect way to do it. Thankfully it's not too hard once you get the knack, and it keeps well in the fridge, so you can use and enjoy it several times for your trouble.

I have made mayonnaise in the past and found it a little tricky beating it by hand. This time I used an electric beater and it was so much easier. I have learned that it is essential that the egg yolk is at room temperature. And Hugh says that if you are worried about the mayo splitting, you can add a teaspoon of ready-made mayo to hinder this. Use any mild oils you have available, for example, sunflower, rapeseed, or mild olive oil, or a mixture of any of these.
adapted from River Cottage Everyday by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
makes 175 ml

1/4 garlic clove
1/4 t mustard
1 medium egg yolk, at room temperature
1 t mild vinegar
1 t ready-made mayonnaise (optional)
2/3 c (150 ml) mild oil(s)
lemon juice
salt and pepper

Crush the garlic and place in the bottom of a large bowl with the mustard, egg yolk, vinegar, and ready-made mayonnaise, if using.
Use an electric mixer on medium to beat as you add the oil very slowly, half a teaspoon at a time in a thin stream.
Continue to add the oil very gradually and the mayo will thicken.
Don't overbeat. When all the oil is added, taste, and add lemon juice, salt or pepper if needed.
Cover and keep in the fridge for a week.

So try it out; it's not too hard and it's well worth the trouble for the delicious, fresh condiment that is worth eating on its own! I made it to feature in a salad that I'll blog about later in the week.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

lunchbox tips, part 1

The weekend has arrived. It's a good time to relax from a week of work and then to look forward to next week. It's a good time to talk about taking lunch to work. Packing your own lunch box is a really great way to get a healthy lunch each day, and it's cheaper than eating out or in the work canteen. But taking lunch to work can sometimes require a bit of forward planning. That's why the weekend is a good time to start thinking about it.

This post is the first of two; here is a selection of tips to help make sure you get a healthy lunch at work each day. Look for the other tips and ideas next weekend.

--Plan to take leftovers of last night's dinner. The easiest and tastiest lunch can also be the healthiest because you made it yourself. When you plan your week's meals, make an extra serving or two for lunches. Take the lunch box serving out of the pan first when plating dinner, then you know you won't eat all the food by accident!

--Cook ahead on the weekends. Make a pot of soup or a batch of whole wheat gems and store in individual portions. They can be taken to work throughout the week.

--Leave some lunch supplies at work: For example, take in a loaf of whole wheat bread if you like soup or salad with bread or toast. Leave a large pot of yogurt in the work fridge and eat from it each day (much cheaper than buying individual pots). And plain yogurt can be made interesting and different every day with nuts, oats, or fruit added on top. Buy bags of apples and oranges and keep them in your desk.

--Make meals special with some added extras. Keep some mixed nuts or seeds at work to add to salads or soups. Or how about a lemon or two to squeeze over your dish? (Also, nothing causes my colleagues to comment more than when they see me garnishing my lunch.)

--Grow basil on your desk. A friend of mine does this at her creative television job and no one even blinks! But I think even non-arty types can try it out, though. And fresh basil makes even less than pretty leftovers or cafeteria food taste great.

--Start a lunch club with colleagues. This can be just one other person or a small group who want to bring in healthy food and wouldn't mind making or bringing enough to share. Or your lunch club could even bring in salad or sandwich supplies bought (cheaply) from the grocery store and assemble lunch there. By sharing the cost of the raw ingredients you make a huge saving over buying a ready-made sandwich. You also get to control the ingredients, giving you better taste and nutrition.

I'm sure you have lunch tips to share too. What do you do for your work lunches?

[And here's part 2 of our lunchbox tips!]

Thursday, June 17, 2010

sage breadsticks

Perfect party food, these crispy breadsticks had my guests crunching and dipping incessantly. They were part of the spread at our going away party in London, and were served with homemade hummus and some Tex-Mex queso (thanks to Matt and Bree for the Velveeta).

With sage and cheese added, they are tasty enough to eat on their own, or are great as dippers. Make them as long or short as you like--mine were limited only by the width of my pan and oven!

After the dough rises, punch it down and roll it out into an oblong. Now use scissors to cut long, thin strips. Either stretch them even thinner or twist them into twirls. While store-bought breadsticks are vapid tasting and full of additives, these are cheesy, savoury bites that everyone loved.
Sage Breadsticks
makes 40
adapted from 'Tis the Season: A Vegetarian Christmas Cookbook by Nanette Blanchard

1 T active dry yeast
1 t sugar
1 cup warm water (about 110 F/40 C)
1 t salt
2 T olive oil
2 T minced fresh sage or 2 T dried sage
1/4 c grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
about 2 1/2 c plain flour

Mix the yeast, sugar, and water in a mixing bowl and stir to dissolve. Let stand for 10 minutes.
Add the salt, olive oil, sage, cheese and stir to combine.
Add the flour, mix, and turn out onto a floured surface. Knead for 10 minutes until dough is smooth and satiny.
Place in a greased bowl, turning the dough to coat it in oil.
Leave in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 30 minutes.
Punch down, then roll out on a floured surface. Use scissors to divide the dough into quarters, then cut each into 10 strips. Stretch or twirl each one, then lay them on baking trays.
Bake at 400 F/205 C for 15 minutes, until breadsticks are golden brown and crisp.

Monday, June 14, 2010

vegetable pate (for the Daring Cooks)

Our neighbours downstairs had a baby this weekend. What do you give to new parents? Pate and bread, of course! Their little darling is a gorgeous girl, and her vegetarian parents deserve a little break from cooking.

Our hostesses this month, Evelyne of Cheap Ethnic Eatz, and Valerie of a The Chocolate Bunny, chose delicious pate with freshly baked bread as their June Daring Cook’s challenge! They’ve provided us with 4 different pate recipes to choose from and are allowing us to go wild with our homemade bread choice.

So I baked four loaves of bread and made two pates so that I could give away half and serve half to my own darling husband. The pate was easy to make and very tasty. It was easy to unmold and came out wonderfully. The bread was a bit dense this time, but was a suitable surface for eating pate!

Tricolour Vegetable Pate
serves 12
adapted from Bon Appetit October 1993 on Epicurious

Bean Layer:
2 c (500 ml) cooked pinto beans
1 T lemon juice
1 T olive oil
1 t dried oregano
2 garlic cloves
salt and pepper

Roasted Red Pepper Layer:
1 c (250 ml) roasted red peppers (drained if jarred)
3/4 c (190 ml) crumbled feta cheese

Pesto Layer:
2 garlic cloves
2 c (500 ml) rocket
1/4 c (75 ml) toasted sliced almonds
3 T olive oil
1/2 c (125 ml) ricotta cheese

Line two bowls with plastic wrap, which should hang over the sides.
Puree the ingredients for each layer in turn. Spread the layers in the bowls, smoothing each layer before adding the next.
Cover and chill for at least eight hours.
Place in the freezer for 30 minutes before unmolding.
Serve with bread or crackers.

Seeded Whole Wheat French Bread
makes four small loaves
adapted from Simply in Season by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert

4 c (1 L) whole wheat bread flour
2 c (500 ml) white bread flour
2 T active dry yeast
2 T sugar
1 t salt
2 1/2 c (625 ml) hot water
2 T olive oil
1 egg
2 T water
1-2 t cumin seeds, fennel seeds, sesame seeds, or poppy seeds

Mix together the flours, yeast, sugar, and salt in a large bowl.
Gradually add the hot water and olive oil; mix well.
Add more flour if necessary to make a soft dough.
Knead for 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Place in an oiled bowl and cover with a damp cloth.
Allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk.
Punch down and leave for 20 minutes. Then divide and shape into four loaves. Place on a baking tray and make diagonal slashes on the loaves.
Mix the egg and water and brush over the loaves. Sprinkle with seeds.
Allow to rise again until doubled in bulk.
Heat oven to 400 F/200 C and bake for 20 minutes.

I would make this pate again, and change the order of the layers so the green one ends up on top--that would be so much prettier. And I would make the bread again too, and try adjusting the liquids to get a softer dough--I'm sure it would be delicious after another attempt.

And I can't wait to meet the little girl downstairs. Happy birthday to her!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

flowering broccoli with angel hair pasta and ground pork

I love the new vegetables I am trying here in Hong Kong. One of my favourites so far is flowering broccoli. I see from some web searching that other countries call this "Chinese broccoli". I think I will have to avoid names like that because otherwise every vegetable I meet will be called "Chinese". These broccoli stalks are tender and they also have soft leaves that are similar in taste to mild spinach.

Flowering broccoli needs very little preparation: just a quick steam, or in this case, a dip in the pasta's boiling water while it is just finishing cooking. The ground pork is fried separately with a couple of not too spicy chillies and then tossed with the hot pasta. Easy and delicious.

You can easily use normal broccoli in this dish: just add it to the cooking pasta a minute or two earlier.
Flowering Broccoli with Angel Hair Pasta and Ground Pork
serves 2

250 g ground pork
1 red chilli
1 green chilli
2 cloves garlic
125 g whole wheat angel hair pasta
200 g flowering broccoli
sprinkle of parmesan cheese (optional)

Scramble fry the ground pork in a non-stick frying pan until no pink remains.
Add the chillies and garlic and fry for a couple of minutes until they are aromatic.
Meanwhile, add the pasta to a pan of boiling water. Consult the package directions; one minute before pasta is finished cooking, add the broccoli to the pan.
Drain pasta and broccoli and toss with pork mixture.
Season to taste with pepper and parmesan cheese (if desired).

Sunday, June 6, 2010

potato salad

Every dish needs that little surprise: a interesting texture, an unexpected flavour, or a vibrant colour. Otherwise, food can become boring. Potato salad is an item that has been made badly so many times. I remember eating it at church potlucks as a young person; the older ladies smothered the potatoes in mayonnaise and there might have been some pepper sprinkled on top. That is a boring version of potato salad.

This, on the other hand, is the kind of potato salad that is worth writing about. In Ruth Reichl's book Tender at the Bone (which I read recently for the Kitchen Reader group), she writes about her Aunt Birdie's potato salad: the only recipe Aunt Birdie could make. And Reichl's father would kiss Aunt Birdie's cheek, saying reverently, "You make the world's best potato salad."

What makes this potato salad special is that the onions are just barely cooked in a little vinegar. The result is a slight bite that is still crunchy and very tangy. It's a nice offset to the creamy potatoes. Exactly this kind of little surprise texture and taste is what potato salad needs to stay interesting.

Aunt Birdie's Potato Salad
adapted from Tender at the Bone
serves 2

450 g baby potatoes, unpeeled
salt and pepper
1 t sugar
1/2 onion, diced very finely
1 T vinegar
2 t water
2 T vegetable oil

Boil the potatoes until just tender. Cool and cut into bite-sized pieces.
Put the rest of the ingredients, except the oil, in a small saucepan. Heat briefly until the liquid is close to boiling and the onions are just a little soft.
Toss the onion mixture with the potatoes and oil.


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