This piece of paper has been in my kitchen pretty much since I moved in. It’s a simple absorbtion rice recipe, and I do use it a lot. If my scribble is hard to parse, you need 2 parts of boiling water (with a bit of salt) to white rice by volume, then 15 minutes on the lowest heat, then remove from the heat, insert a teatowel between the lid and the pan, put the lid back on and let it sit for 10-15 minutes. I usually fry the rice in a bit of oil first, and might chuck in an onion or (to really push the boat out) a few chopped mushrooms and garlic before adding the rice.
Barbecue sauce? Why make that, when I can buy it? Because it falls close to the intersect of the perfect recipe Venn diagram, being both very good and very very easy. It’s like making a cake mix up; 10 minutes of bubbling and stirring and the pride you’ll feel will easily be worth the effort. I had this with some pulled pork which I’ll blog about later, but here is the non-specific booze barbecue sauce, adapted from a recipe by Mark Bittman so that it doesn’t make a vat of the stuff.
As for the booze, I’ve made it with red wine, whiskey (I guess for authenticity it should be bourbon or at least a Tennessee like Jack Daniels, but really you should make it with whatever whiskey you have in; this is not a recipe to buy in specially for), beer, and, today, cider (because I had some in the pork anyway). And I know that half a shallot is a bit of an annoying amount to specify – you can do almost anything with a spare shallot, though. You could leave it out, which will also make the sauce smooth.
All you need to do is mix 120ml ketchup, 60ml of your chosen booze, and 30ml vinegar (so wine, or cider, not distilled) in a small pan. Add 1tsp each of chilli powder and Worcester Sauce (I tend to use Henderson’s Relish instead, but if you’re not in Yorkshire I imagine you’ll find it hard to get hold of) and half a shallot (or the equivalent amount of onion) very finely chopped. Stir together, heat and gently simmer for 10 minutes – you’ll have to watch it and give it a stir, because it darkens during the heating from the sugar in the ketchup, and generally becomes more than the sum of its parts. Leave it to cool and eat – it’ll keep in the fridge for about a week in a sealed container.
I’m not normally one to boast, but since starting my new job (3 months now), I’ve managed to take in a lunch every day. Mostly this is because, as per my last post, I’m trying to be slow carb (or at least low-carb) for most of the day, but it’s also for woolly, high-and-mighty reasons about not letting where I work dictate what I eat. Besides, I like making food, and I like eating food, so I figure I should do that for as many meals as I can.
But that does mean, as I don’t always have the most well-stocked kitchen, that I occasionally need to to muster something up from things lurking around the place. This is my standard recipe for those times. It’s also, incidentally, a handy reminder during the day – if I’m eating this at lunch, I know I need to stop at the shops on the way home.
Obviously, a “storecupboard” dish is a relative term. I have seen storecupboard recipes calling for sour cream, fresh parsley, and cherry tomatoes before now, none of which are likely to be found lurking at the back of any of my storecupboards in any sort of edible state. But I always have the ingredients for the dish below, and anyone could have since they last for ages. This is it:
Drain and rinse in a colander 1 tin cannellini beans (any other beans would, of course, be fine – I go for white ones just so it looks like a bean salad I might have planned to eat anyway). Similarly drain 1 tin tuna in spring water or oil (use brine if you prefer – I don’t). Chop 1 shallot small (you should have shallots in your storecupboard – last as long as onions and much more versatile). Mix in a tupperware, probably the night before if you’re organised, and put in the fridge. None of these things will suffer from lurking in the fridge overnight and then at work till lunchtime, or indeed for another day. In the morning, drizzle with vinaigrette and eat.
My personal vinaigrette preferences run to 2 tblsp of olive or rapeseed oil, 1 tblsp of cider vinegar, a little bit of salt and plenty of pepper, but vary as you want. And I don’t understand why people get sniffy about shop-bought vinaigrette – it’s not that hard to make but it is something you end up making over and over again, so I don’t see why you shouldn’t buy it in.
It’s tasty and easy to make, although I do admit that calling “vinaigrette” one ingredient even grates a little with me. Comment below if you’ve got a reliable storecupboard meal, or even a ridiculous “storecupboard” ingredient reference.
The picture is my dinner tonight (Tuesday, as I write this). It’s leftover roast chicken, lentils (made in a big batch on Sunday as I roasted the chicken) and green beans cooked then tossed in lots of butter with sliced shallots. I made it at 7pm out of what I could scavenge in the fridge because I’d forgotten about dinner. Not just forgotten to make it, forgotten to think about it during the afternoon, forgotten to go out and buy food, forgotten to be hungry, I guess.
For the past three years I’ve been intermittently following the Slow Carb diet (after some experiments here) described by Tim Ferris in his book The Four Hour Body (and, complete with outrageous before-and-after pictures of people who followed it, on his blog here). I won’t repeat the rules (and I don’t follow all of them all the time), but it’s basically no white carbs, lots of beans, high protein breakfast. I do it for about a week or so at a time probably about every month or so.
For context, I’m not overweight, nor have I ever been, but I’m aware if I’m overindulged and wanted to look – and feel better. And I’m terrible at exercise. I hate it, all of it. I feel great by about the third day of it and carry it on for a few more days, then cycle off (fall off the wagon, I guess) and come back round to it in a bit.
Here’s what I’ve learned from it:
- I don’t feel hungry on it. I used to be terrible for this; breakfast at 6.30 am left me a starving, stomach-rumbling ogre by 10.30 who would usually have to eat by then to keep going until lunchtime. I’d then return home from work hungry, have a snack, before eating a late dinner. When I’m slow carb, I have to remind myself to have lunch and dinner, because I feel fine (and, occasionally, I catch myself out and forget). I don’t snack.
- Having a high-protein breakfast is great, but takes some planning. I pretty much have a slow-carb breakfast every day, even when my other meals aren’t, because I feel so much better for it, and I can keep going until lunchtime (see above). My usual mix-up is two hard boiled eggs and then something extra to fill out the protein; when I had a less brutal commute to work I used to cook up the eggs (and, often, bacon) in the morning. I’ve had to adapt that a bit now that I leave the house at 6.30, but I’ll post more about that later.
- Eating out, as you would expect, is a challenge. The examples given in the book are for Mexican restaurants, which aren’t quite as common in the UK as they are in California. I do like a challenge, though, and I’ve come up with plenty of options – which I’ll expand on in a future post.
- I don’t stick to it. I let myself off a little cheese and fruit, and I’ll often swap out the 2 glasses of red wine for a beer or a white wine (and, I’m afraid, not always stick to 2). It doesn’t appear to affect how I feel with it.
- I don’t do it for more than a week, generally. The model is meant to be that you follow it for 6 days and then pig out on a ‘cheat day’ and then get back on… I usually just do the weekdays and then relax during the weekend, and cycle back into it when I’ve had a break. I feel like I eat normally most of the time this way, and I can always cut back when I need to… I get the most benefits in terms of energy and alertness after 2-3 days, and I can usually maintain these after I’ve gone off it for the week.
I am the last person that I ever thought would follow something wacky like this, but it works for me… I have more energy when I eat like this. I’ll be giving more detail in future posts, but I think I’d cautiously recommend it, as long as you approach it in the spirit of it’s intentions – try what works, experiment, and see how you feel (obviously, I’ve got no medical knowledge whatsoever, so bear all that in mind).
I had some great meals out last year, but three stand head and shoulders above the rest. The focus of this blog is mainly on what I eat at home, but you can’t escape the link between the two, either, so here goes.
3. Hansa’s Gujerati, Leeds. About 15 years ago I bought my mum the Hansa’s cookbook – classic Christmas gift for a vegetarian. After 15 years of them talking about it (at least 4 of which spent living within reach of Leeds) I finally took my mum there. Completely unlike any Indian meal I’ve had before, with the best puris I’ve eaten, and really fresh flavours too. Well worth a visit – and go for the mixed starters, too. A place to take anyone who is skeptical about vegetarian food being luxurious.
2. St John, London. Again, but it’s me who had been thinking about this for years without ever getting my act together to go. Deeply flavoured traditional British with an emphasis on meat, and the bits of meat you don’t often see (my starter was rabbit offal with lentils, and it was delicious). Relaxed and remarkably good value, too – got to celeb – spot Ralph Fiennes in there the same night too, but maybe that’s just London for you. More impressively for a significant subset of my readership, Ken Hite was in the night before me and he had the same main (braised hare and swede). Top class, even if the cheesecake did taste a little too much like wensleydale.
1.The Man Behind The Curtain, Leeds. You know Michelin star restaurants? They’re quite good, it turns out. Going for the menu with selected drinks at each course makes the experience less distinct in the memory, however much you gain at the time. I remember squid ink-dusted potato straws so salty and vinegary they were like Chipsticks, an amazing plum sake with dessert, and blagging an extra desert at the end. Well out of reach of anything I’d ever be bothered to make, but that’s the point, isn’t it.
There’s a wise saying that you should ditch eating at mid-range places, instead concentrating on really expensive places and cheap places. And it’s true. I’d swap any number of middling Italian meals or so-so steaks for any of these. In fact, all of my worst meals have been from boring middle-of-the-range places, and some of my very best meals have been cheap lunches (worth noting: Humpit, the humous place at Leeds’ Corn Exchange, and Zaap, probably the best and definitely the best value Thai I’ve had in the past year).
So, go on then, what are your top meals out from 2015?
This is hardly even a recipe, I admit, but it is great for new year’s day, or any other time you might be nursing a hangover and want the satisfaction of having cooked something without the hassle of having to actually, er, cook anything. I guess this time of year is when lots of folk have plenty of cheese and cold meats in, too, which this uses up.
You just make 2 cheese sandwiches, with whatever extra you like in them – I had some ham, but I’d try it with pickle, tomatoes, or even (especially) pickled gherkin slices. Cut them diagonally into 4 triangles each, and stack them up as best you can in a dish that looks to be appropriately sized. I used a pie dish, but there’s probably better shapes, and geometrically it’s not ideal putting triangular things into a circular dish.
Beat 3 eggs with about 200-300ml milk with plenty of seasoning (this isn’t going to be the most strongly flavoured dish, so plenty of pepper in particular is good) and pour this over. Leave it to soak for 20 minutes or so while the oven heats up to 180 degrees C or so, then bake for about 20 minutes. You could serve it with anything, even as a side dish to something a bit less trashy; I had it with some sliced cucumber which was a token salad gesture if ever there was one.
It’s great to try new things. It’s one of my favourite things about making, and eating, food – finding a recipe or ingredient that I haven’t seen or used before and making it work; it’s the chemistry experiment part of cooking. And, usually, it comes off. But not always.
So beware. The fruit pictured here, behind the red dish with marinating tofu in, is momordia charantia, commonly know as bitter melon. You can check it’s wikipedia page here, where you can read about its uses across Asia, and its distinctive bitter flavour. The recipe which led me to source it out (and source it I did, spending a whole afternoon wandering around Kirkgate Market asking different greengrocers if they had any), is from Ken Hom’s Vegetarian Cookery, published in 1995 when, let’s not forget, we all had more pedestrian tastes. Ken talks of it being “…one of my favourite Chinese vegetables,” and although he admits its “bitter quinine taste which even many Chinese do not like,” it is still, he says “a taste worth acquiring.”
Quinine is fine, isn’t it? I like gin, and I’m no stranger to bitterness – I’m drinking a strong green tea while I write this. Alarm bells should have rung when I posted my intentions on social media; there was immediate disgust shared from two people – I know expect they will have been the two people who had tried it before. I plodded on regardless, following Ken’s instructions carefully; blanching them first (to remove some of the bitterness) and then stir frying with black beans, garlic, ginger. What would they know?
It was foul. Not just bitter, but claggy and seeming to stick in the mouth. The nearest taste I can compare it to is earwax. It looks duplicitously refreshing, too, only to hide how bad it
tastes. Don’t make my mistake; some tastes, despite what Ken Hom may advise, are definitely not worth acquiring. Or do. This is exactly the kind of post which would make me seek some out and cook it. I’d offer a recipe but I don’t want to encourage you, and I’d imagine whatever one you pick it’ll end up tasting equally disgusting. Just don’t say you’ve not been warned.