Foodie Ramblings, Part 372…

Feed 4 for a tenner…


The Guardian is running an article, first published in the Observer Food Monthly at the weekend, in which they make a big deal of a bunch of foodies and chefs presenting a range of one-pot dishes that will feed 4 people for under a tenner.

Not wishing to appear boastful but if I couldn’t do that I’d hang up my knives. With that sort of budget you could feed a multitude and do a bloody sight better than a few loaves and fishes.

No way that “feed four for £10” and “budget” should even appear on the same page – just ask Jack Monroe.

One of the reasons why I make so many one-pot dishes is that they are, by their very nature, cheap. They needn’t be cheap and nasty, though, and some of those in the article are. Take Pot-au-Feu. Normally made with beef, this version is made with pork belly. Pork belly is largely fat, and cries out for slow roasting – few things are more repellent than boiled fat.


Dehydration gets into gear:-


The idea behind my dehydrator was to make life easier. For some years now my ability to cook has been circumscribed by my ability to do other useful things – like stand, or breathe or, some days, even hold a knife – and the point of dehydrating was that I’d lay in a stock of the things I use as the basis for most of my dishes. This is something that varies from country to country, and even from cook to cook, and I’ve settled into a personal mix of Echalion shallots, cooking onions, Sweet Spear carrots ( all three from Sainsbury’s), swede, and maybe celeriac (not keen on celery – unless you de-string it, it can be like eating wire wool.

My plan was – and still is – to lay in a dehydrated stock of at least the first three, and maybe all of them, so that on the days I’m too ill to stand and do all the prep (and at the moment I’m averaging one good day a week, often not even that), I can just toss a handful of dried ingredients into the pot with no work involved (yes, I do realise the work will be done at some point, but using the food processor to do all the slicing – foods for dehydrating need to be uniformly sliced – I can prep enough veggies for half a dozen meals in the time it would take, by hand, to do one. Well, more or less – the stuff still has to be peeled by hand.

I’ve recently dried a pound of carrots and, after peeling and dehydrating, I was left with a whisker over an ounce, and greatly reduced bulk too, plus it frees up room in the fridge as, once dried and bagged dehydrated food can be stored pretty much anywhere.

So far, drying veg, or fruit, which is destined to be cooked gives the best results, as fruit dried to be eaten winds up leathery. Some people don’t mind that; I do.

And if you – yes, you, muttering at the back – are wondering why I don’t use pre-prepped fresh or frozen veg, it’s simple. Partly, it’s because I use quite specific varieties of alliums and carrots for a good reason – they taste good – and it’s partly because, with frozen prepped veg, quality suffers. I have tried prepped and frozen veg and the quality leaves a lot to be desired, and no matter what Sainsbury’s might claim in their current TV ads for the stuff, it quite simply is not as good as fresh. With one exception, Aunt Bessie’s Frozen Carrot and Swede Mash. This does give results as good as fresh, and I use it quite a lot, especially is a chunky finish isn’t important

There’s also another consideration – the loss of traditional culinary skills. Swapping them for knowing how to slit open a plastic bag isn’t a bargain. This is something of a bête noir with me as the need to learn kitchen skills is seen by the advertising industry as seriously reactionary, while foods and gadgets that remove the need to learn pretty much anything beyond how to slit a plastic bag, pierce a film lid, or turn a dial and push a button – assuming you’ve actually bothered to learn how to read the instructions – are touted as eminently desirable!


Tools not weapons.


As for people – and there are more of them than you might think – who can look at my knife rack and see not a cherished array of much-used tools but a sinister display of potential weapons, well, I have a question for you.

Seriously – especially if you call yourself a friend, yet see my kitchen tools as lethal weapons – what does that say about how you perceive me?

Knife Rack


Left to right:- 6” cleaver, and knives – utility, fish filleting**, carver, Santoku, scalloped bread, 8” chefs’, saw-tooth bread, scalpel.

**The narrow, extremely flexible, blade is very good for slicing soft cheese; the blade is also sharpened on the back. And, out of sight in the drawer below is a short, stiff-bladed, filleting knife for meat.

The cleaver was bought for tackling hard veg, like swedes, but proved a failure as it becomes immovably wedged. It’s perfect for squashing and chopping garlic cloves, cutting up baked goods like quiche and pizza, or chopping herbs. The one that gets most use, by a huge margin, is the chefs’ knife, mainly because it’s what I’m used to, having used one for most of my life.


Pulmonary Oedema and Food:-


I’ve found another Pulmonary Oedema (PO), trigger – Croft Original sherry.

It’s not exactly PO – my breathing is OK – but it does make my lungs bleed quite badly and greatly increases sputum production (and plays hell with my stomach too).

Sainsbury’s own pale cream sherry, on the other hand, does me no harm at all.

I don’t even begin to understand it. The only thing I can think of is that Croft contains a far higher level of sulphites (which I have to be careful of), than Sainsbury’s. But as neither quote figures there’s no way of knowing.

I can hear you out there you know, muttering “Why doesn’t he just drink Sainsbury’s and shut up about it?” I wish I could, but it’s harder than it should be as I shop online and, so far, only one attempt to buy their o-b pale cream sherry has succeeded. It’s also a fiver cheaper than Croft and is very near as good in terms of flavour, so presumably it sells out faster.

The thing is, I need a nightcap, whether it be food or a shot of booze, to be able to sleep. Falling asleep isn’t the problem – staying asleep is. 100ml of sherry is the lowest calorie way of fixing that (126kcals).

My previous favourite, a tub of Longley Farm cottage cheese, is twice that, and my other fave, a handful of Carr’s Melts crackers turned out to be staggeringly high in kcals and fat – 83kcals each for a tiny cracker, 27% fat – that they had to go. Plus, they were a very serious PO trigger. And a handful could almost double my daily kcal intake.

However, if supplies of Sainsbury’s OB pale cream sherry continue to prove elusive, I’ll have to revert to cottage cheese. It does, at least, have the virtue of always being available. And I like cottage cheese.

Update: Just managed to buy 2 litres. And the food triggers for Pulmonary Oedema are proving problematic. No sooner have I gathered enough evidence for one thing, it’ll stop working. Last night I had a cheese and onion quiche, 14% fat – no problems at all I can eat Pié d’Angloys cheese (29.7% fat and deep in the danger zone), with impunity yet Carr’s Melts (about the same), never fail to trigger an attack. Clearly there are other factors at work than simply the fat content, but I have no idea what they might be. The only things that put me in harm’s way with 100% consistency are chocolate and Carr’s Melts. Everything else is still up for grabs.


Garlic Oil…

A revised version.


8-12 plump cloves (depending on how strong you want it), peeled and trimmed (and any withered parts cut out), and sliced. Keep the bits you cut off then, at the end add an extra clove, or more, to compensate for the loss.

Slice the cloves as thin as you can – this is easier with a broad-bladed chefs’ knife than a fiddly utility knife – and put them in a jar with a tightly-fitting screw cap (you don’t want it leaking oil when you shake it). I’m using a 312g tomato purée jar (Sainsbury’s).

Fill with extra virgin olive oil (or whatever you prefer), leaving an air space of about a centimetre – makes it easier to shake. Cap tightly and leave in the fridge for a week, shaking daily. You’ll find many recipes say to keep it somewhere cool and dry. Dry doesn’t really matter as it’s in glass, but central heating is so widespread that cool is hard to come by. The fridge is fine.

After a week, shake and taste, then either leave for longer or strain into a bottle with a screw cap. I think a week is probably about right. Its smell is intense and by then the garlic slices are starting to outgas – giving vent to a stream of bubbles every time they’re disturbed. My guess is that they are either fermenting or it’s some anaerobic decay process. Either way the garlic gives off enough gas to push up the “safety button” and to create an audible hiss when the jar is opened

So I called a halt after a week, strained it into the bottle that had previously contained Sainsbury’s weak and feeble garlic oil, added a fat clove, peeled, trimmed and quartered from tip to root. After a further 4 days it was remarkably pungent, so I removed the quartered clove and called it a day. The oil – a little, stirred in at the end of cooking – should impart all the garlic flavour you could wish for, without the need to add too much oil.

Like all herbs and spices, store in glass in a cool and dark place. You can keep it in the fridge, should you wish to, but olive oil will set at around 2 degrees C, so do remember to remove it from the fridge in time for it to come up to room temperature, or keep it in a jar, and spoon it out.


A Robust Winter Soup . . .


The plan was to make a roasted butternut squash and lentil soup, blitz it smooth with a stick blender and add some cooked soya beans (for the protein content). Which I appear to be out of. Time for a rethink.

After the success of using Quorn Family Roast in a couple of dishes – well, OK, in Mock Chicken Soup, twice – I could either go with that, or defrost a pack of Quorn pretend chicken pieces, and dice them. At 14% protein they are a useful addition.

Watch this space…



OK, this is taking longer to finish than I thought, so on with the soup. A change to my original idea, above, in that I didn’t roast the squash – Wednesday is a busy day with the nurses in the morning and laundry in the afternoon, plus I’d pretty much maxed out my Oramorph for the day by noon, and was still in terrifying pain thanks to a cock-up by a nurse who really should know better! She knows my policy too, as regards pain – some pain is unavoidable, I accept that. What I won’t accept is pain inflicted as a result of stupidity or carelessness – and today was both.


Butternut Squash, Red Lentil, and Quorn Soup…

Makes 4 litres.


5 or 6 plump Echalion shallots, depending on size, finely chopped

4 medium carrots, quartered lengthways and sliced

Swede, about the same amount, in small dice

½ a butternut squash, peeled, seeds and fibres removed, in small dice

300g split red lentils

300g Quorn chicken pieces, cut into small dice

3 Kallo organic veg stock cubes

2 tablespoons Knorr Touch of Taste Vegetable

1 generous teaspoon dried basil

2 or 3 tablespoons garlic oil (homemade is best – see above). This is my first use and so far I’m unsure whether it’s best added at the start to sweat the shallots, or at the end as a flavouring agent. I suspect the latter will give the best results, but this time I went with the former.

Maldon Sea Salt and Schwartz black pepper, to taste

Adjust flavour with Marigold Bouillon Powder if/as needed (soup hasn’t been tasted yet so don’t know about flavour/seasoning levels)



As ever, don’t cook lentils (or any other pulses), in anything other than plain water (i.e. no stock cubes or salt).

So, sweat the shallots in the oil until soft, add the rest of the veg (not the lentils just yet), cover with hot water, bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the carrots are almost soft.

Add the lentils and the Quorn.

Stir well, boil, reduce to simmering point and stand by ready to add more boiling water as the lentils expand. Top up as needed, and continue to simmer.

Once the lentils have softened, add the dissolved Kallo cubes and the Touch of Taste, plus enough boiling water to fill the pot to within an inch of the top and continue to simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Taste and adjust with Marigold and/or salt and black pepper (Marigold first), cook out for a few minutes more then remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Refrigerate overnight so the flavours have time to snuggle up to each other in the dark.

Next day reheat and serve with good bread or crumble in some crackers (I like Krackawheat), one or two at a time, so they’re eaten before they go mushy. A pack of Krackawheat, for those of you unfamiliar with them, contains 3 stacks of crackers. For me, one stack is enough for a bowl of soup.

Add a drizzle of garlic oil in the bowl if you fancy it.

And you’re done.




Well, this has taken a record 5 days to write. The reason being that it became a painsomnia project.

The change of posture necessitated by taking my early morning meds (06.00), never fails to fire up the pain in my leg these days, and I’ve learned from experience that trying to get back to sleep for a couple of hours is excruciatingly futile.**

So I get up, chug a shot of Oramorph, and go online to read the papers, snarl at numpties on the comment pages and, usually this past week, tinker with this.

Which is now finished so I need another project, starting tomorrow.

**I’ve tried taking my Oramorph to bed, so I can have a shot and try to get back to sleep, but the pain is simply too extreme – I can’t deal with it without some sort of distraction mechanism, and in bed that doesn’t happen.