Friday, 31 January 2014

Buddha's Delight for Chinese New Year

Buddha's Delight

I've recently discovered an excellent Chinese grocery store, less than half an hour from where I live. I know that choosing to live up a hill in the middle of nowhere isn't always compatible with being able to nip out and buy whatever exotic products I fancy, so this is quite an exciting development. In fact, it's across the road from the little Turkish place where I already spend so much money on ingredients, so I suspect that soon it will become a habit for me to pop into both shops whenever I'm in the area.

Aside from stocking up on obscure tea variants (I'm a particular fan of genmaicha, a Japanese green tea with roasted rice grains), I naturally browsed the aisles to see what I might bring home to experiment with. Having rejected the huge bag of frozen lotus root as too likely to defrost before getting home (and besides, what would I do with it all?), I settled on a few tins.

Tinned Chinese products

I was particularly excited by the bamboo shoot halves. In British supermarkets it's common to find tins of bamboo shoots which are tiny slices, but it's rare to see these complete halves on sale, and it gives a very different texture to a finished dish. Combined with a couple of different kinds of Chinese mushroom, this automatically put me in mind of one of my favourite Chinese stews.

Wikipedia tells us that Buddha's Delight is commonly enjoyed on the day after Chinese New Year, when it's traditional for everyone to purify themselves by eating vegetarian food. Although I'm vegetarian all year round, I can certainly get behind the idea of eating more healthily at this time of year. Usually this dish would contain at least one type of beancurd - often two - but my husband isn't a tofu fan so I thought I'd better skip over that part (add those, and this dish easily feeds four). I served the casserole with egg fried rice for a really filling meal.

And if you're looking for an easy dessert, you could do worse than following up with a batch of Chinese almond cookies.

Buddha's Delight

Buddha's Delight
Serves 3

For the sauce:
1 medium onion
1 large carrot
½ red pepper
1 inch piece of ginger
2 cloves garlic
1tbsp sesame oil
4tbsp soy sauce
2tbsp plum sauce
2tbsp rice vinegar
8tbsp vegetable stock

200g shitake mushrooms
200g bamboo shoots
200g straw mushrooms
100g snow peas (mangetout)
200g pak choi

  1. Finely dice the carrot, onion, and red pepper. Slice the garlic and ginger.
  2. Heat the sesame oil in a large lidded saucepan and sautee the carrot, onion, pepper, garlic, and ginger until the onion is soft.
  3. Add the sauces, vinegar, and stock, and simmer for 10 minutes. 
  4. Add the mushrooms and beansprouts to the pot.
  5. Trim the snow peas, and slice the pak choi into bite sized pieces.
  6. Once the mushrooms and beansprouts have heated through, add the snow peas and pak choi.
  7. Cover the pan to allow the vegetables to steam; this should only take a few minutes.
  8. Serve hot, with rice or noodles, and enjoy the virtuous feeling!
Buddha's Delight

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Easy Egg Fried Rice

Egg Fried Rice

Egg fried rice is one of the easiest dishes you could ever hope to make, but it's also a classic. If you're planning a banquet for Chinese new year, you'll certainly need to make sure you have plenty of rice to mop up all the delicious sauces.

The peas and scallions really stand out against the white rice, making it look more striking than any five-ingredient dish really has a right to. You could season the rice with a little soy sauce, black pepper, or chilli flakes, but as I was making it to serve alongside other dishes, I decided to leave it plain on this occasion. For a snack on its own, I'd probably add a few extra seasonings.

I first learnt to make egg fried rice by watching the preparation at a Japanese teppenyaki restaurant, where the method was approximately thus: fry an egg, and chop it into the (already cooked) rice. End of story. It was just so ridiculously simple. Cooking the egg first means you end up with distinct pieces of egg in the final dish, and the rice grains also remain separate, which wouldn't happen if you combined the rice with uncooked egg.

This quantity serves two, quite generously, but it's easy to double up if you're feeding family and friends.

5:2 Intermittent Fasting button5:2 Diet
Prepared as described, and shared between two, this recipe comes in at around 450 calories per serving.

Egg Fried Rice
Serves 2

150g (6oz) basmati rice
1tbsp vegetable oil or sesame oil
2 eggs
100g (4oz) peas
4 spring onions (green onions/scallions)
  1. Cook the rice according to the packet instructions. Leave in the saucepan, away from the heat.
  2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan, and fry the eggs. Flip the eggs to fry the second side. (You're aiming for over medium consistency, and it doesn't matter if the yolks get broken.)
  3. Using the edge of your cooking slice, chop the egg into small pieces.
  4. Add the (still hot) rice, and stir into the egg.
  5. Slice the spring onions, and add along with the peas.
  6. Stir fry for a couple of minutes, and serve warm.
Egg Fried Rice

Monday, 27 January 2014

Lacemaking in Bruges

Bruges' lace centre is tucked away behind the macabre Jeruzalemkerk, an intriguing church that's well worth a visit. One ticket gets you into both, or if you have a museum card, they're both included in the package.

The museum itself, it has to be said, is not much of anything. Lace doesn't have a spectacular history that can be showcased on display boards; beyond the occasional pricked finger, this is a story quite devoid of bloodshed. It's a bit of an exaggeration to call it a story at all, since no-one even knows exactly when lace started to be made, or who thought of it first. What we do know is that by the 16th century, it was an important luxury product in European trade circles.

My point is, you shouldn't go to the lace centre to learn about the history of lace... but do go. Go to watch lace being made, by a group of local women who will impress you with the dexterity of their fingers. Check the times of the demonstrations before you plan your day, and make sure you're there at the right time to catch them. They're producing beautiful and intricate work, and often at a speed that's simply dazzling.

If you don't catch a demonstration, the museum consists mostly of some pretty sample pieces, and a couple of boards explaining the different types of basic pattern. You'll be disappointed, so double check your timings.




Sunday, 26 January 2014

Acorn Squash with Sesame Greens

acorn squash

Even for me, this isn't a completely typical birthday present.

A friend turned up unexpectedly and handed over... a knobbly green squash. It wasn't, he confessed, the result of a carefully considered shopping trip. (Though that wouldn't have been so implausible: What would Rachel want more than anything else? A new ingredient!)

No, rather, it turned out that a relative had given them the squash, which had appeared in an organic veg delivery. They'd left it lying around for a few days, before deciding that I'd make better use of it than they would. I've heard of 'regifting', but never quite like this.

It was still a pretty cool present.

I wanted to make something a bit different to my last stuffed squash recipe, which was rich and creamy and luxurious. This one is light, savoury, even slightly bitter. It's also insanely healthy.

5:2 Intermittent Fasting button5:2 Diet
This dish works out at just under 250 calories per half-squash, so it's a perfect fast day meal.

Acorn squash with sesame greens

Acorn Squash with Sesame Greens
Serves 2

1 acorn squash
1tsp olive oil
100g cabbage
100g kale
2tbsp sesame seeds
5 large cloves garlic
1tbsp toasted sesame oil
1tbsp soy sauce
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F).
  2. Scrub the skin of the squash, then slice in half and scrape out the seeds.
  3. Brush the squash flesh with a little olive oil, and bake for 25 minutes until soft.
  4. Meanwhile, finely shred the cabbage and kale.
  5. In a large frying pan, warm the cabbage and kale over a low heat with the sesame seeds. Stir frequently to prevent sticking.
  6. After about 15 minutes, once the vegetables have started to wilt, crush and add the garlic. Toss through the soy sauce and sesame oil.
  7. Heap the wilted greens in the squash and serve straight away.
Acorn squash with sesame greens

I'm linking this up at Homemade Mondays, a weekly collection that's packed with healthy, homemade recipes.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Bruges: A View from Canal Level


Almost the first thing we did, upon arrival in Bruges, was to hop on one of the many boats for a tour of the canals. We arrived in the morning (after a brief stop in Brussels for breakfast) and our hotel room wasn't going to be ready for a few hours. The weather was lovely, and a short boat trip felt just the thing to get our holiday off to a good start.

Before we could do that, though, we had to buy the Bruges museum card... which includes a canal trip in the price. If you've got a couple of days and fancy checking out a few of the weird and wonderful museums, this is definitely a worthwhile investment.

Since the canals go (almost) everywhere, the boat gives you a great way to get your bearings, and start forming a list of places to go back to. It's also just so pretty, and a very relaxing start to the weekend.








Wednesday, 22 January 2014

10 Warming Vegan Recipes for Winter

At this time of year, when we're all still recovering from the excesses of the festive season, healthy food is a must. At the same time, the icy weather can make resolutions waver, and increase the temptation to slather everything in cheese. (Cheese is one of my biggest weaknesses, especially when it's cold outside.)

So I wanted to share a few suggestions for hearty vegan comfort food from some of my favourite veggie bloggers. These guys always inspire me, and I hope they'll inspire you, too. Because when vegan food looks this good, there's no excuse not to make a healthier dinner.

1. If you're celebrating Burns Night this month, you could hardly get more appropriate than this Haggis, Neep and Tattie Pie from Allotment2Kitchen. Shaheen is the queen of pies, and has provided recipes for dozens of vegan options.

2. With a creamy mashed potato topping, Cottage Pie is another winter staple in my house. I love the way Jac from Tinned Tomatoes has managed to get so many extra vegetables into her version - even going so far as to mash cauliflower in with the potatoes.

3. For something a little lighter, how about a warm salad? Deena Kakaya's Garlic Roasted Cauliflower and Red Onion is flavoured with a crunchy mixture of pine nuts and za'atar spices, with some fresh red chilli to give it an extra kick.

4. If you've got something to celebrate (or can manufacture a suitable excuse!) this gorgeous Portobello Wellington from Virtually Vegan Mama would make a perfect centrepiece for any dinner party plate.

5. I'm somewhat addicted to Middle Eastern food, at any time of the year. This Moroccan Chickpea Tagine from Amuse Your Bouche is packed with colourful roasted vegetables, black olives, and spices.

6. A bowl of hearty stew is another guaranteed crowd pleaser on a cold night. This White Bean Stew with Winter Squash and Kale from Fat Free Vegan Kitchen highlights some classic vegetables that are only around at this time of year.

7. They say life's too short to stuff a mushroom, but these Tofu & Walnut Stuffed Mushrooms from Bridgid Gallagher might make you reconsider the wisdom of that phrase. Flavoured with miso and balsamic vinegar, the filling looks like an intensely savoury experience.

8. Indian spices are another reliable way of adding some warmth to a chilly evening. This Pumpkin and Spinach Curry from Veggie Belly uses homemade curry powder, coconut milk, and garlic.

9. These Chickpea Onion Patties from Divine Healthy Food are inspired by felafel, but baked instead of fried to make them even more virtuous. They look to have a beautifully moist texture and would be easy to prepare ahead of time.

10. And finally, this Wild Rice Stuffed Acorn Squash from Vegetarian Ventures looks like it would pack a big punch for a small squash.

I hope you'll agree that there's plenty here to keep you warm through the winter months. If you're looking for more healthy inspiration, do check out my page on low calorie vegetarian recipes. Or follow me on Pinterest, where I'm always sharing delicious (if not necessarily virtuous!) recipe ideas.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Lemon & Garlic Linguine with Broccoli

Lemon Garlic Linguine with Broccoli

If you took me out to an Italian restaurant, chances are high that I'd end up ordering something that looked a bit like this. Something with vibrant, simple flavours and lots of greens. Although I'm not sure I've ever been to a restaurant that put two kinds of broccoli on one plate (but it really works).

Cooking with HerbsThis dish was inspired by two different blogging challenges this month: Jacqueline's Pasta Please and Karen's Cooking with Herbs.

Pasta Please this month is hosted by The Spicy Pear, and the theme is pasta recipes with garlic. For Cooking with Herbs, the suggestion for January was to include some citrus. The idea of making a dish that combined lemon and garlic on one plate was just too delicious to resist, and so this recipe was born. Broccoli just felt like most the natural vegetable to accompany these flavours.

This dish requires a little attention to timing, as you don't want the pasta to be sitting around going cold, but other than needing to be awake to that, it's a very simple method.

Lemon Garlic Linguine with Broccoli

... and it didn't last long ...

Lemon Garlic Linguine with Broccoli

Lemon & Garlic Linguine
Serves 2

200g (8oz) linguine (dry weight)
200g (8oz) sprouting broccoli stalks

For the sauce:
1 small red onion
8 cloves garlic
1 lemon
100g (4oz) broccoli florets
4tbsp olive oil
handful flat leaf parsley
black pepper
  1. Finely chop the onion, and slice the garlic.
  2. Zest and juice the lemon. Reserve a small amount of zest for garnishing.
  3. Chop the regular broccoli florets into small bite-sized pieces. Trim the sprouting broccoli stalks, and consider halving any particularly large ones, but leave as large pieces.
  4. Heat half of the olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat, and add the onion, garlic, chopped broccoli florets, and lemon zest. (Really, do pick out a large pan, because you'll be adding the pasta to it later!)
  5. Meanwhile, cook the linguine according to the packet instructions (mine took 7 minutes) and steam the sprouting broccoli (about 5 mins). I did both at once by cooking the pasta in the base of my steamer pan, just to save on washing up!
  6. Reduce the heat on the frying pan once the onion is softened, and the broccoli tender and starting to brown. Add half of the lemon juice and season liberally with black pepper and parsley leaves.
  7. Drain the pasta and add to the frying pan, a little at a time, stirring through. (Don't worry if a small amount of pasta water also ends up in the frying pan.)
  8. Add the remaining olive oil and lemon juice, and mix thoroughly before removing from the heat.
  9. Serve on large plates along with the sprouting broccoli.
  10. Garnish with a little extra parsley and the reserved lemon zest.

Friday, 17 January 2014

The Bakelite Museum in Somerset

Bakelite Museum

It was one of those fortuitous moments where a sign catches your eye as you're driving from A to B:

The Bakelite Museum.

The what?! We'd had no idea that such a thing existed. It didn't, frankly, sound like the sort of museum that had any right being a museum.

Bakelite Museum

We weren't in any great hurry, so we turned around and pulled in for a look around. It was immediately obvious that we were visiting a rather haphazard, private collection. Instructions asked us to pay at the cafe, which was closed, and we'd seen half of the museum before the owner turned up to request our payment.

The Bakelite Museum is one of the strangest museums I've visited, in part because its contents are comparatively modern. This isn't a collection of ancient artefacts, it's a collection of cheap plastic toys and hairdryers and plates. Well, okay, it wasn't entirely everyday stuff: there was also a Bakelite coffin and a boxed set of false teeth! Items were packed into drawers, balanced on the rafters, and stacked on top of one another. It felt like if you touched anything, half of a display might come toppling down on your head.

The collections aren't strictly limited to Bakelite, either. Other historic plastics and plastic-precursors like vulcanite also get their own sections, while plastic trinkets of almost every kind appear to fit in somewhere. Bakelite itself has an important place in the history of plastics, being the first such invention to really take off, and so it's fascinating to see some of the products that started it all.

Weird, but also just a little bit wonderful.

Bakelite Museum

Bakelite Museum

Bakelite Museum

Bakelite Museum

Bakelite Museum

Bakelite Museum

Bakelite Museum

Bakelite Museum

Bakelite Museum

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Mushroom & Kale Cannelloni - Healthy Family Meals

I was challenged by the Collective Bias Social Fabric Community to put together a healthy family meal for under £10. As part of this shopping study, I was asked to go shopping for ingredients to put together a nutritious recipe on a budget. I was compensated for my time, but recipes and opinions are my own.

Spoiler: it ends with this mushroom and kale cannelloni:

Mushroom & Kale Cannelloni #shop #cbias

It's hard to argue that homemade is cheaper than ready meals these days, when you can buy a one-serving meal for less than a quid, but at least if you make your own then you know exactly what you're eating. And as a vegetarian, the budget options are often comparatively unappealing. (Good luck finding kale in the cheap freezer meals section.)

I like to think that I'm quite good at saving money in the supermarket, so I enjoyed the challenge of sticking to a budget. We always shop around, have all the loyalty cards, and stock up on larger quantities of non-perishable stuff whenever there's a good deal on.

I also collect vouchers for products we'd be buying anyway - but we won't buy something (or switch to a more expensive brand) just because there's a coupon. Speaking of which, I generally find that own-brand products are just as good as the big names, and can be quite a lot cheaper. We've noticed that Tesco's Everyday Value range is consistently decent quality, so that was the store that sprung to mind when I was thinking about where to shop and what to buy.

I also find really useful when planning a meal. It's easy to use, and allows you to check the price of ingredients across several supermarkets to see which is the cheapest. You can even save your shopping list and synchronise it with the mobile version.

Healthy Budget Meals #shop #cbias
My initial shopping list on

I headed to Tesco with a plan in the back of my mind, which revolved around making mushroom cannelloni out of 32p lasagne sheets. But as always, I was happy to be inspired by offers in store.

On this occasion, what particularly caught my eye was half-price kale, reduced to 50p for a sizeable packet. That sounded like something which would be perfect with the mushrooms, especially if I threw in a few cloves of garlic. I also found pre-formed cannelloni for 95p, which seemed a worthwhile upgrade to save the mess of rolling my own.

My bill for the cannelloni ingredients was £9.56, so just within budget. However, if you account for leftover flour, butter, cheese, etc. then the actual cost for the four servings is a much more sensible £5.45.

To round off the meal, I made a jam sponge pudding (not healthy, but yum!), which with current prices, works out at about 90p to serve four, plus 15p for a packet of instant custard. In total, then, that's £1.63 per person for a hearty two-course dinner.

Healthy Budget Meals #shop #cbias
The fruit & veg section at our local Tesco; sadly today's headline offers were all fruit-based.

Mushroom & Kale Cannelloni #shop #cbias
The fruits of a successful shopping trip.

Mushroom & Kale Cannelloni #shop #cbias
Cooking in progress.

Mushroom & Kale Cannelloni #shop #cbias
Cannelloni stuffed with yummy mushroom mixture.

Mushroom & Kale Cannelloni #shop #cbias
And the final dish, ready to eat.

Kale & Mushroom Cannelloni Recipe
Serves 4

For the mushroom and kale mix:
15g (½oz) butter
1 large onion
5 large cloves garlic
600g (1lb 5oz) mushrooms
100g (4oz) curly kale

For the tomato sauce:
2tsp olive oil
1 large onion
½ green bell pepper
1 tin of tomatoes
½tsp paprika
black pepper

For the white sauce:
30g (1oz) butter
30g (1oz) flour
200ml (7 fl.oz) milk

16 dried cannelloni tubes
30g (1oz) cheddar cheese
  1. Melt the butter for the mushrooms in a large saucepan.
  2. Finely chop the onion and garlic, and sauté in the butter until soft.
  3. Dice the mushrooms and add to the pan. I find it works fine to add the mushrooms a few at a time, as I'm chopping them, which just results in some pieces being slightly softer than others at the end.
  4. Shred the kale into the mushrooms and simmer over a low heat.
  5. In a separate frying pan, heat the olive oil.
  6. Finely chop the onion and green pepper, and fry until soft.
  7. Add the tinned tomatoes to the onion and pepper, and season with paprika and black pepper.
  8. Once the kale is tender, drain the liquid from the mushroom mixture into the tomato sauce. (Turn up the heat on the frying pan to reduce the liquid.)
  9. Set aside the mushrooms and kale.
  10. To make the white sauce, melt the remaining butter together with the flour in a saucepan.
  11. Add a little milk to the flour and butter mixture, and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, to form a thick roux.
  12. Add the remaining milk, little by little, continuing to stir.
  13. Season the sauce with black pepper.
  14. Stir the white sauce into the mushroom mixture.
  15. Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F).
  16. Stuff the cannelloni tubes with the mushroom mixture, and arrange the tubes in an ovenproof dish.
  17. If you have a little filling left over, just stuff it around the outside of the tubes.
  18. Smother the cannelloni with the tomato sauce.
  19. Grate the cheese onto the top of the dish.
  20. Bake for 30 minutes, until the pasta is cooked and the cheese is crispy.

I'm submitting this recipe to two recipe round-ups with a healthy theme this month: Four Seasons Food and One Ingredient. Apparently everyone is enjoying a new year's health kick this month!

Four Seasons Food is hosted by Delicieux and Eat Your Veg. One Ingredient is hosted by Franglais Kitchen and How To Cook Good Food.

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