Friday, 31 October 2014

Quorn, Pepper & Mushroom Stir-Fry

Quorn & Corn Stir Fry with Rice

As an almost-lifelong veggie, I've never learnt to cook meat. I don't use meat substitutes much, either, probably because I don't have that base to build on. The other day I found myself looking at recipe ideas from @quornfoods on twitter, and ended up inspired to try this vegetarian chicken & rice stir fry from their website.

I couldn't find the Quorn fajita strips that the recipe recommends, so I used chicken-style chunks instead, which look less striking but still tasted good. I also added some mushrooms (because I love them) and dropped the beans (because I was adding mushrooms). It seems I'm chronically incapable of following a recipe without adaptations.

The original recipe claims to serve 4, so I was going to halve it, but when I laid out the ingredients it looked a bit sparse. I got two generous meals out of these quantities, but perhaps I'm just greedy.

I often serve rice with stir-fried vegetables, but this was my first attempt at stirring the rice into the veg before serving. To be honest, I'm not sure I'd do it that way again - this isn't the most visually appealing of dishes, and serving the rice on the side would give a bit of contrast on the plate.

Still, it might not be beautiful, but it was tasty.

Quorn, Pepper & Mushroom Stir-Fry
Serves 2-3

1 large onion
1 red pepper
150g mushrooms
2 cloves garlic
2tbsp olive oil
200g Quorn chicken-style pieces
200g sweetcorn
50g coconut cream
2tbsp tomato puree
½tsp Spanish paprika
black pepper to taste
100g brown basmati rice (250g cooked weight)
  1. Chop the onion and pepper into thin strips, and slice the mushrooms. Crush the garlic.
  2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan, and fry the Quorn for 5-10 minutes, until golden brown.
  3. Add the vegetables, sweetcorn, and garlic, and continue frying for a few more minutes until the vegetables soften.
  4. Dissolve the coconut cream and tomato puree in 2tbsp boiling water, to make a thick paste.
  5. Add the paste to the stir-fry and season with paprika and pepper.
  6. Cook the rice according to the packet instructions, drain, and stir through at the last minute (or serve on the side).

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Tassimo Vivy Review

I've been toying with the idea of getting a capsule espresso machine for a while, so when Tassimo offered to send me a Vivy machine to review, I jumped at the chance.

The Tassimo Vivy is a neat, compact machine that fits easily into my kitchen cupboard, keeping it out of the way when it's not in use. It's small enough and light enough that it's no hassle to get it out when we need it and then put it away. Since I have a worrying tendency to fill my worktops with gadgets, this is a definite plus.

At 20-30p per drink, the capsules compare very favourably to coffee shop prices, and there's a significant range to choose from. Well-known brands like Costa, Kenco, and Carte Noire are all getting in on the act, as well as hot chocolate from Oreo or Suchard, and teas from Twinings.

The coffee discs have an Intellibrew chip that tells the machine what's being made, affecting the temperature, brewing time, and amount of water (so your espresso automatically comes out short, and your longer drinks). Packaging design seems to be left largely at the discretion of individual brands, but the sensible ones list the volume of the resulting drink so you can pick an appropriately-sized cup. (You can also override the settings to make a longer drink, for example extending an espresso into an americano.)

There are a few other features that make this a particularly good design. The drip tray has two positions, which is really handy for making espresso in a smaller cup.

The capsule process does feel quite wasteful compared to spooning loose coffee into a pot: every time you make a drink, you're throwing away a fairly hefty chunk of plastic. As such, I'd feel guilty if I used this machine daily to feed my (extensive) caffeine addiction. But for an occasional treat, it's ideal, and as each capsule is sealed you can keep a range of different drinks in stock without them going off.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Postsnap: Remote Postcard Service

When we were in Cuba, we sent postcards home. Or rather... we tried to, but not one of them actually arrived back in the UK.

In countries where the value of an international stamp is high, compared to the typical cost of living, it's not surprising that there's sometimes corruption to be found in the local postal services. We took all the precautions advised in the guidebooks, like putting cards in the hotel mail instead of a public post box, but it wasn't enough.

At the time, I remember thinking how great it would be if you could just send your own photos to a local printing service back home, and dispatch them directly to your friends and family.

Now, you can.

Postsnap kindly gave me some credit to try out their service, so I sent myself a postcard as a test.

The app is quite straightforward to use. You can choose one or more photos for the front of your card, and select from a range of frames and backgrounds. You can add text, or apply filters.

Then you enter your message text, and an address, for the back. So far, so good. The signature was more of a challenge: you have to write on the screen, using your finger or a stylus, and I found it impossible to get text that wasn't unnaturally angular. I would have preferred to sign my name with a pen and photograph it, but that option wasn't available (you can add a photo, but only as a small square alongside your name).

Ordering was also a bit fiddly (the server timed out a couple of times) but eventually it went through, and a couple of days later the postcard dropped through the door. The end product was great quality - I went for the large, which comes out at a generous size, and the printing was bright and clear.

The fact that you can do all this from within a single app, even using a photo you've taken on your phone, makes the whole process incredibly simple.

Because it's all UK-based, this is a great option for Brits looking to circumvent the vagaries of international post services, and I'll definitely be using it more on future travels. For once, you might be able to send a postcard that arrives home before you do. It looks like it's only available for iPhone at the moment, but if it takes off, I'm sure an Android app can't be far behind.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Courgette & Mushroom Pesto Pie

Courgette & Mushroom Pie

Higgidy - who make some of my favourite individual-serving pies - are running a competition for the public to design their next guest pie. The Higgidy Recipe Hunt is open to anyone in the UK (well, subject to various terms & conditions, which you can find on their site), and you can win a year's supply of pie, so get your thinking caps on! It doesn't even have to be a whole recipe, you could win by just suggesting a combination of flavours. It'd be great to see more veggie pies in the range, so I'll definitely be entering an idea or two. The deadline is October 26th.

To celebrate, Higgidy founder Camilla sent me a gorgeous enamel pie dish (you can see it in the photos) and some pie-making tips. One of Camilla's top tips is not to be afraid of using shortcuts (like ready-made pastry) if you're short on time, something I really took to heart this time as I'd been feeling under the weather all weekend and still wanted to knock up something impressive and tasty to feed my friends.

I happened to have a load of courgettes in the fridge, and half a jar of pesto, so this pie filling came together very easily. It worked really well, and really only took a few minutes to prepare, so I'll definitely be doing something like this again.

This recipe is vegan, just as long as you use vegan pesto and check the ingredients on your pastry.

Courgette, Mushroom & Pesto Pie
Serves 4

320g (11oz) courgettes (zucchini), approx. 2 large
200g (7oz) chestnut mushrooms
160g (5½oz) baby sweetcorn
1 large leek
1 large onion
1tbsp sunflower oil
2tbsp pesto
1x 320g (11oz) puff pastry sheet
  1. Chop the courgettes, mushrooms, and baby corn into bite-sized pieces. Finely chop the leek and onion.
  2. Heat the oil in a large, deep saucepan.
  3. Fry the vegetables until soft, then set aside to cool.
  4. Stir the pesto into the vegetable mixture.
  5. Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F).
  6. Tip the vegetables into an oven-proof pie dish.
  7. Top with the puff pastry sheet, trimming the edges to fit, and press down the edges to seal.
  8. Brush the top with a little milk or water.
  9. Bake for 25 minutes, until the surface is golden-brown.

Courgette & Mushroom Pie

Courgette & Mushroom Pie

I'm submitting this recipe to Shaheen's Eat Your Greens vegetarian recipe challenge.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Indiana Sugar Cream Pie (Secret Recipe Club)

Indiana Sugar Cream Pie

One of my favourite things about blogging is the opportunity to learn new recipes from around the world. You know, those foods that are taken for granted in faraway places you've never been to. (Or nearby places you've never been to, for that matter.)

Case in point: I'd never heard of a sugar cream pie, but apparently this is big in Indiana. I've never been to Indiana, either, but one day I'm sure I'll get there, to try a slice of this sticky goodness in its hometown.

Diana from A Spoonful of Luxe is my assigned blog for Secret Recipe Club this month, and this recipe just leapt out at me as I was paging through her dessert collection.

The filling is, indeed, basically made from cream and sugar. (Health food, it is not.) I'm sometimes nervous about trying a recipe when I haven't

Diana topped her pie with cranberries, which sounds wonderful, but I happened to have some late summer blueberries so I switched those in instead. Of course, I've also converted the recipe to metric, and added in quantities for anyone who wants to make their own pastry rather than buying a ready-made crust.

I think this is designed as a cold dessert, but we also tried it hot (it melts into a gooey mess when you warm it up, but it's still tasty).

Indiana Sugar Cream Pie

Indiana Sugar Cream Pie with Blueberries
Serves 8

For the crust:
100g (1 stick) butter
200g (1⅔cups) plain flour
Ice-cold water

For the filling:
115g (½ cup) granulated sugar
60g (¼ cup) soft brown sugar
40g (⅓ cup) plain flour
¼tsp salt
¼tsp freshly ground nutmeg
360ml (1½ cups) double cream
25g (2tbsp) butter
1tsp vanilla

For the topping:
320g (2 cups) fresh blueberries
  1. First, make the pastry: rub the butter into the flour until it has the texture of breadcrumbs, and add cold water a little at a time until you have a stiff dough.
  2. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F).
  3. Combine the sugars with the flour, salt, and nutmeg in a large mixing bowl.
  4. Heat the cream in a small saucepan, until it bubbles.
  5. Stir the butter and vanilla into the warm cream, to melt the butter.
  6. Pour the cream over the sugar mixture, and whisk until combined.
  7. Roll out the pastry and line a deep, loose-based pie dish.
  8. Pour in the sugar cream filling.
  9. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the mixture is set, but still with a slight wobble. The topping should be golden brown.
  10. Serve with fresh blueberries.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Mushroom Miso Soup

Miso soup is one of those ridiculously healthy, almost-calorie-free foods that nonetheless fills you right up, especially if you include a decent amount of tofu.

I've had instant packets of miso soup, now and then, but when Yukata offered to send me a jar of their organic miso paste to try out, I decided it might be fun to have a go at making it myself.

And honestly, it's so straightforward that I'm not sure I'd ever buy the packets again. This hardly even deserves a recipe: dissolve miso in stock, maybe add a few bits and bobs to liven it up a bit, and drink it while it's hot.

Mushroom miso soup

Traditionally, miso soup has seaweed in it, but seaweed isn't exactly a staple of mine so I didn't have any in the cupboard. What I did have was a handful of mushrooms, and some mushroom stock cubes that I'd never tried out before. For my second miso soup experiment, equally tasty but less photographed, I added some asparagus to the mix. The mushroom version was my favourite, as the mushroom flavours are robust enough not to get overwhelmed by the miso, but I'll continue to experiment. You might also want to try adding more of the miso paste, but it's quite salty, so I prefer to keep it quite light.

5:2 Intermittent Fasting button5:2 Diet
This is a very low-calorie option, at about 120 calories per bowl (most of which comes from the tofu).

Mushroom Miso Soup
Serves 1

500ml (2 cups) mushroom stock
1tbsp miso paste
100g tofu
4 small chestnut mushrooms
2 spring onions (scallions/green onions)
  1. Heat the mushroom stock and dissolve in the miso paste.
  2. Chop the tofu and mushrooms into small bite-sized pieces, and slice the spring onions.
  3. Add the tofu and vegetables to the broth, and simmer for five minutes until heated through.
  4. Serve immediately.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Switzerland #NoFilter

I've only ever visited Switzerland for one of two reasons. When I was studying physics in college, and we took a couple of trips to CERN - where the most exciting stuff is deep underground. And to ski, where the excitement happens on the side of a mountain.

No question which my mind went to when I heard about the Switzerland #NoFilter Challenge being organised by London City Airport this month.

The goal is to share photos which haven't been pushed through smartphone filters, to highlight how beautiful the world can be without digital enhancement.

This was easy for me since I haven't been skiing in a few years (thanks to injury), and I'd never even heard of a 'filter' last time I was on the slopes. It was before I had a smartphone, and definitely before I had an Instagram account... I didn't even have a great camera, although I was starting to think I needed one.

To be honest, I seldom do much filtering in post-processing anyway. It's much better that way: time spent in front of the computer tweaking pictures is time I could be spending out and about, doing something else. If I remember to do proper white-balancing on my camera before taking photos, then I can generally get away with just a bit of cropping and straightening.

I've never taken masses of photos on ski trips, either, because I was too busy doing actual skiing. But even the couple of pictures I've managed to dig out really make me want to hike straight up into the mountains and get lost amongst the snowy fir trees.

In theory this is a competition (judged by Becky and Gray from Global Grasshoppers), but I'm not really entering to win anything. I'm just indulging in a little nostalgia, and remembering why I really, really want to get back out in the snow this year. I'm also looking forward to seeing others' photos, especially anyone who's been to these same mountains in the summer, because I bet it's just as beautiful in a very different way.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Pasta Please: Fusion for October #PastaPlease

I'm delighted to be hosting the Pasta Please food blogging challenge this month. Created by the lovely Jacqueline at  Tinned Tomatoes, Pasta Please has only one purpose: to celebrate pasta in all its forms.

I love looking at all the foodie challenges each month, and whenever there's a slightly unusual theme, I find it a great excuse to push beyond my comfort zone and try something a bit different.

With that in mind...

Instead of picking a specific ingredient this month, I decided to go for a theme that's both very broad and (I hope) encouraging to wilder flights of the imagination:


We already know how versatile pasta is. (If you've never had chocolate pasta, go and make some. And then maybe count yourself lucky that I didn't pick 'dessert' as my theme.) As such, it feels like a blank canvas that's crying out to be fused with almost any cuisine.

So, step away from the classic Italian sauces.

Whether you go Asian or African, or just to a different region of Europe, go and find me something that isn't usually seen with pasta. (Vegetarian recipes only, please.)

To join in, simply post your recipe on your blog by 28th October, and link it up here. There are just a few simple rules:
  • One entry per blog.
  • Link back to Rachel Cotterill and Tinned Tomatoes.
  • Use the Pasta Please logo (shown above) in your post.
  • If you use twitter, tweet your post to @tinnedtoms and @rachelcotterill using #PastaPlease, and we will re-tweet all that we see.
  • Link up by October 28th.
I'll post the round-up at the end of the month. Can't wait to see what you all come up with!

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