Archive for ‘Comment’

February 9, 2013

Ways with tofu

A few weeks ago I was asked about tofu: do you like it and what do you do with it? A few years ago I would have said I didn’t like it one bit, but all that’s changed. Why? Well, eating tofu in the Vietnamese restaurants of Kingsland Road and its environs in London, for one thing. And, also, wising up to the fact that tofu comes in differing textures: from ‘silken’ and soft versions to firm. Our ETP tofu cooking requires the bean curd to be knocked about in a pan so we look for the firm varieties. Sometimes we marinade it first and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we chop it up into bite-size pieces and sometimes we slice a block into a large slab. Smaller pieces become more crispy when fried – good for throwing into soups and for dishes where there is a fair bit of sauce. The large slabs, while crisping at the edges, also retain a soft centre, which can make for an appealing contrast of textures. A distant memory makes me want to liken tofu in our dishes to pork crackling. But I could be wrong – all that is more than half a life ago.

Below we have two recent examples of tofu dishes we’ve made. First, chopped to bite size, is an earthy tofu dish with broccoli, shiitake mushrooms and noodles. Below that is a fragrant marinated tofu dish with oyster mushrooms, salad and rice.

Tofu, broccoli, mushroom noodles

Marinated tofu

There are some other ideas for tofu on this site too (you do use the ingredients list to search out recipes, don’t you?) Have a look here, here and https://earthtoplate.wordpress.com/2011/06/18/last-nights-dinner-tofu-with-lemongrass-and-chilli/.

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January 2, 2013

Last Night’s Dinner: Brussels Sprouts with Gnocchi, Roasted Shallots and a Blue Cheese Sauce

Brussels Sprouts gnocchi and shallots

Oh Brussels sprouts! Every Christmas it’s the same isn’t it? Everyone has them, everyone hates them.

Well, actually, here at ETP Towers we rather like them. Recently, in fact, we’ve been eating them with pasta. For New Year’s Eve, Ella decided to make this rather rich dish from goodly Cork chef Denis Cotter of Cafe Paradiso fame. The problem was, we were both rather ill and the heady combination of greens, blue cheese, roasted onion and soft, cheesy gnocchi felt too much for us. After doing half the prepping we called time and put the ingredients aside.

Luckily we were feeling better the following day and carried on where we left off. It’s a great recipe and the combination of potatoes, greens and a cheese sauce, while hardly revolutionary, takes on some extra nuances through the choice and ways of cooking the ingredients.

You want the recipe? Well, it’s not ours, it’s Den’s, so you’ll need to look here.

Or you could have a go yourself. A creamy blue cheese sauce? A five-minute job. Roasted shallots? Get the oven on. Cheesy potato gnocchi? If you haven’t tried making gnocchi, look it up, it’s easy. And the sprouts? Just remember not to boil them.

April 17, 2012

Recipes for nettles

This is perhaps a point at which foraging for food becomes a prickly subject. All those features and TV cookery programmes that see chefs scouring wild landscapes for sea buckthorn or roaming the woods to find edible funghi… all that foraged food can seem ever so exotic, fit for a restaurant such as Noma in Copenhagen or one of its many followers. And yet, there’s a much more common ingredient, which grows in abundance, and which is probably due a revival, and which great so many kinds of recipes. It is, of course, the humble nettle. Why aren’t we all out there picking them?

Down the trail near our house nettles are shooting up all over the place at the moment: their fresh young leaves so green – not like the old deep green and tough-looking leaves found later in the year. But it’s not just about being in the countryside – I used to see nettles peeking through railings and rising up at the edges of the parks and canals of urban East London.

I’ve never picked any, though. Have you? Is it just me that’s been missing out? I had a lovely bowl of nettle soup once, at Petersham Nurseries. It was something of a revelation in its delicate greenness. And then it was forgotten again.

But when this damn rain stops I’m going to head out with some thick gloves and pick some nettles. And I’m going to make something with them. Watch this space.

In the meantime, here are a few ideas that might convince you to do the same.

For those of you who might want to make your own fresh pasta, try Blanche Vaughan’s nettle ravioli here. The Guardian feature is worth a read in any case, to put your mind at rest about how to treat nettles and their avoid their stings.

More recently in the Guardian is Hugh FW and his recipes for a nettle soup, a risotto and a nettle and feta filo pie. They’re here.

Happy foraging. Let us know how it goes!

February 6, 2012

Veggie food on the radio!

BBC Radio 4 gave over an episode of its Food Programme to vegetarian cooking yesterday. Hear it here.

There’s some usual preconceptions, but also words from Earth To Plate regulars Yotam Ottolenghi and Denis Cotter. Has the programme been reading this blog?

January 23, 2012

Recipe: The perfect egg fried rice

A few days ago the Guardian newspaper offered up its advice on how to make the perfect egg fried rice. Glad to see it didn’t differ to much from our own here at ETP Towers – other than the non-addition of garlic. I think at the moment I’d also revise our version and go with the paper’s, although it’s a matter of personal taste. The newspaper’s recipe is here. X-ref with our own here.

December 31, 2011

2011 leftovers: blackberry and apple pie

Over the years I have been known to wax lyrical (which is surely another way of saying ‘bored people rigid’) about childhood autumns spent blackberry picking – the huge buckets of blackberries that our family would bring back and the freezer full of blackberry and apple pies and crumbles. It’s a story seen through purple-tinted shades.

We did go blackberry picking, sometimes as a family, often my dad on his own. And I did love those home-baked pies and crumbles – the taste of autumn. In fact I loved them so much that shop-bought blackberries and blackberry-based desserts seemed a heresy. Only recently have I bought blackberries from the supermarket. Huge fat ones, not the smallish, round, neat little berries of subtle joy that I remember.

But this autumn, freshly settled into our new abode in the (almost) wilds of north Essex, a-blackberry-picking we did go (see our blog from the beginning of November). Not long after, a blackberry and apple pie was made.

We used shop-bought pastry as I was feeling lazy that weekend, blind baking the pie bottom before adding some slices of bramley apple, the blackberries, sprinkling over some sugar, encasing with the pie top and baking for 20 minutes.

The result? Well it wasn’t quite the great pie of antiquity, but then nothing was ever going to match the sublime taste of my berry nostalgia. However, it disappeared very quickly one wintery Saturday evening. And yes, it still delivered that true taste of autumn. Can’t wait till next year!

December 30, 2011

Where’s the pasta?

WordPress informs me that there are now well over 100 entries on this Earth to Plate blog, brimful with recipes, cooking tips, serving suggestions, reviews and more – all, of course, meat-free.

But so far there’s also one other ingredient that is almost as absent from the blog as meat/fish. This one, however, will come as more of a surprise to many vegetarian cooks. Can you guess what it is?

Pasta. Yep. It seems only one entry has a recipe for pasta (check by searching the ingredients list to the right of the page). But isn’t pasta a veggie staple? Well, as we claimed on the ‘About this blog’ page (here), we don’t do much pasta. It looks like that our first year of blogging has proved that to be true.

December 30, 2011

2011 leftovers: Chilli and parmesan polenta recipe

Before we made this, a couple of months ago, I think I had eaten polenta about twice in my life. Each time it was bland and distinctly, well, horrible. I never wanted to go near t again. I’d see it on a menu and think “Ha, well they’re trying to be clever, but it won’t work,” or see it cooked on TV and think “They’re gonna taste it and say it’s nice, but they’ll be lying”.

Polenta. Italian peasant food. But I kept on seeing it and some of my favourite cooks feature a polenta recipe every time they release a new recipe book. So what was my problem?

Well, blandness and texture were the big things and, fortunately, they could be sorted. I wanted a polenta that was rich with flavour and didn’t feel like gritty mush in the mouth. Actually, it’s easy to achieve and, typing this up, I’d like some more of it now.

We cooked 250 grams of ‘coarse maize’ polenta in around a litre of simmering vegetable stock until it was soft, stirring regularly. I think that took about 20 minutes (to remove the granularity) but I could be wrong – so keep checking. We then stirred in some chopped birds eye chillis and a handful of grated parmesan/pecorino cheese, gave it a good mix and spread into an oiled shallow baked tray. After about 20 minutes, the polenta is cool and set firm. We could then cut it into triangles and grill/griddle it. This would work well on a barbecue, though it’s too chilly to be thinking about that at the moment.

We served our polenta wedges with greens and peppers – thinking of it as the carb on the plate in place of potato, pasta or rice. And it was really tasty. Honest. Consider me converted.

October 6, 2011

Last Night’s Dinner: Pinto beans with slow-roast tomatoes and goats cheese

Thursday 15 September

Before the recipe, a quick word about trust and cooking, as it brings some influence to bear on our pinto beans with slow-roast tomatoes and goats cheese.

Trust in the food we eat is one of the most natural, early, primal, comforting, rewarding, continuing experiences we have in life. Hopefully. It’s learned, hopefully, as a baby, with the first food coming straight from our mothers themselves. Then we learn to trust again, as the foods we are provided with begin to vary and as we begin to choose from different options ourselves. Our palates, hopefully, develop in a comforting, safe environment – little wonder many people have a strong emotional attachment to the notion that their mum, grannie, dad, auntie, next door neighbour… whoever… could make food more comforting than anyone else. That’s not always true, of course, but it’s a widely held experience. Even if your childhood carers were useless cooks you will have found some way of trusting that the food you ate could do its job of nourishing you. It’s probably one of the reasons McDonalds et al like to get to kids early and give gifts with the meal – that equation of food plus treat plus fun plus comfort is a powerful one that will hold into adulthood.

We carry this into later life. A favourite restaurant? Probably a new variant of that McDonalds equation – a place you can go back to, where you can trust that the food will provide what you’re looking for, where you don’t have to worry, where you can relax. A favourite recipe book? It’ll be one you can turn to that has instructions you trust, where, miraculously, you can follow it step by step and what goes onto the plate bears comparison with the picture on the page and brings a smile to your friends or family.

It’s when you start going off piste, turning to a new recipe book, visiting a new restaurant with unfamiliar dishes and, specifically for us, making a recipe up for yourself, that trust often disappears and food becomes a little more fraught. Just as someone with a limited diet and palate might get nervous when presented with a plate of unusual ingredients, so a decent cook can lose the plot completely when asked to deviate from their usual repertoire.

So why all this preamble? Well, it’s to explain how a rather tasty and comforting dish like pinto beans with slow-roast tomatoes and goats cheese can come about, off the top of your head, without being scary. Let’s trace the genesis:

We wanted a dish of some savoury beans, because we like that kind of thing from time to time. A quick flick through some favourite recipe books brought no inspiration, for some reason. There were recipes for borlotti beans, butter beans, recipes we’d already tried… but nothing new or for pinto beans. No matter. Pinto beans are pretty much like borlotti beans and one recipe suggested (I think we’ve done it before) cooking the beans then grating the zest of a lemon into them to pep them up. So, okay let’s do that. Beans, cooked and drained, kept warm, plus lemon zest, hmm, a clove of crushed garlic and a tablespoon of olive oil? Well, oil plus garlic plus lemon is pretty much a vinaigrette, so that should work. Season. Add some parsley for a little freshness? Okay. And what about a chopped red chilli? Beans and chilli? That’s common. Okay. Done.

But what about the topping? Well, baked beans come in a tomato sauce, so what about tomato? Okay, but how do you make it a bit posher? Hmm, slow roast halved tomatoes on a very low heat for a couple of hours until they’re semi-dried. We’ve seen this done in another recipe somewhere, so okay, yes. And what about that third constituent ingredient that brings things all together? Well, who hasn’t sprinkled grated cheese on their baked beans? And goats cheese is great with tomatoes – and, since they’re in the oven we could put the goats cheese on top of the tomatoes…

And so… there’s nothing in this recipe that is strange, out of the ordinary or particularly unexpected. All of it is variants of other things we know and trust. And yet it was completely made up, from the top of our little hungry heads. And it tasted delicious.

Trust: bring it into the kitchen now. It’s a vital ingredient.

October 5, 2011

Tuesday-night suppers – the stir fry

I’ve mentioned previously that many of the dishes we post in the ‘Last Night’s Dinner’ section of this blog are the interesting ones – the ones that make use of gorgeous seasonal ingredients, or that make a pretty picture on the plate, or are worked up to some extent: a weekend meal rather than a Tuesday-night supper.

But that’s only half true. Our cooking at ETP towers varies little from weekday to weekend, mainly because at the moment yours truly doesn’t quite work a standard Monday to Friday 9 to 5 week. It’s also because even after a busy day’s work we enjoy a little kitchen prep and cooking as a way to relax. Why completely give that up during the week if you can help it?

That’s a privileged position, however, and there are times of course when you don’t want to think about cooking; when easy fall-backs become a practical necessity. For some people that’s once a week, for others almost every evening.

At these times we often resort to one-pot cooking to create a big bowl of health – for example our own signature dishes of butter beans, greens and peppers in a spicy tomato sauce, or spicy ‘Spanish’ chickpeas (recipes we may reveal in the fullness of time). This is basic stuff: take a big pot, fry an onion, add in some veg, chuck in some tomatoes, add spices, top with water and leave to simmer down. A hob-cooked stew, by any other name. You hardly have to think about making these and they’re so difficult to ruin.

I’ve heard that many carnivores resort to Spaghetti Bolognese and stir fries for a quick weekday meal. Well, we don’t eat much pasta here, but a stir fry, such as the one pictured, does hit the mark. The beauty is that we don’t have to think too much about how to cook the ingredients. Simple innit? But is a good stir fry as basic as one-pot cooking?

Well, it can be: if you use straight-to-wok noodles and throw all the veg in at the same time. Typically, however, and without wishing to turn a simple stir fry into a culinary challenge, I do now think a little extra effort can help.

Take the tofu in our Stir-fried tofu with broccoli, mushrooms and rice (above). Throwing chunks of even a firm tofu straight into the wok with the other veg will cause it to break up into a mush. Much better to fry it separately first for 5 minutes each side, then add it to the wok at the last minute. And the broccoli? To avoid tough stems it’s much better to steam it for 5 minutes before it hits the wok, too. So that’s two extra pans, but not a lot of extra thought. And it really does mean your stir fry will be a much more enjoyable Tuesday-night supper.