Quorn Sausages, Beans and Fried Potatoes.

Well, I promised some recipes, so I suppose I’d better make good. The first one is for a batch of 4 ready meals, Quorn Sausages with baked beans and deep-fried potatoes (no, not chips).

I don’t particularly like Quorn in any form so why, I hear you asking, am I cooking the bloody stuff? Simple – it’s high in protein, and I need that right now to counter the protein being lost from my still-leaking legs, so off we go.

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Veggie update…

On June 27 I mentioned my return to vegetarianism, mainly on economic grounds. So far, this has worked out well, even though it’s been complicated by the fact that I have no appetite and I’m dieting to lose weight.

The first few weeks have been fairly expensive, as I find a veggie diet needs a more comprehensively-stocked store cupboard than a meat-based one. Today, however, I achieved my aim of reducing my food bill to a sensible level – a whisker over £8 which, apart from some fresh veg, will see me through the week.

There are some other bonuses from my whole-food veggie diet, in that I have far more energy, less stomach trouble and, on the whole, I’m sleeping better. Yes, I know this style of vegetarianism has fallen from favour in recent years, but I like it and it seems to suit me and, unlike the lighter and more modern veggie diets, getting adequate protein is very easy, without over-reliance on cheese or eggs. To see what I mean, compare the Cranks style of vegetarianism (remorselessly whole-food based), with that of, say, Yotam Ottolenghi, whose leafy, lightweight, recipes can have an absurd number of ingredients and still come up lacking in essential nutrients, like protein (or even, in my case, fail to be anything I’d actually like to eat!). I’m intrigued – Ottolenghi writes a vegetarian column for The Guardian, and I’ve just had a look at his restaurant page, assuming the place would be a hotbed of modern vegetarian cooking. It’s nothing of the sort – the place is as omnivorous/carnivorous as any other, which strikes me as very odd.

{Update: There’s also a hugely beneficial side-effect. Quite a few of my drugs cause constipation (mainly my anti-inflammatories and analgesics), which has been a big problem for years, and prevents me from getting as much pain relief as I need. It’s also one reason I drink as much beer as I do (it helps). However, my whole-food veggie diet is high in fibre, which has had a dramatically beneficial effect on my constipation and this, alone, makes it all worthwhile.}

When I feel up to it – I’m often not able to cook – I’d planned to make red onion and mushroom burgers (Tesco allegedly sell these, but they’re always out of stock), but I’ve decided to make these in the form of “rock cakes”, and bake them instead. To the red onions and chestnut mushrooms I’ll add chopped nuts, cooked brown Basmati rice and a rather nice extra-mature Cheddar – just a touch, I don’t want the result to be essentially cheese-and-onion – and spiked with garlic, a little Cayenne pepper, and a good dollop of Small-chunks Branston Pickle (tastes way better than it sounds – trust me!), the whole bound with oatmeal, cooked with a little water, stirring well, until sticky, and a rare-breed egg. Looks pretty damn’ good to me, and has the advantage that it can be put together over two days, maybe even three, should it be necessary.

And tonight, for rather more instant gratification I’m going to bake some beer-mat sized Portobello mushrooms (which are just large chestnut mushrooms), with butter, garlic, pesto, plenty of the above cheese and a little olive oil infused with Cayenne. I’ll serve them on discs of wholemeal toast, so that none of the buttery juices escape. Cayenne, by the way, is lethally hot, and and mixing just a little with oil makes it easier to add a small amount just where you want it (if you don’t like olive oil, you can beat a little into some softened butter – it’ll keep well in the fridge.

Next week I’m making a mixed bean stew, loaded with fried peppers, red onions, garlic and extra-virgin olive oil – basic, but easy and tasty…

Updated update: Yeah, I know…

Anyway, as many of you may know – depending on how much else here you’ve read – I have wildly fluctuating ME/CFS (but the trend is remorselessly downwards), and severe COPD. These conspire to make the amount of cooking involved in maintaining a veggie diet pretty much unsustainable.

For example, a batch of half a dozen bean-burgers takes longer than is feasible, and it’s a two-day process (but I can never bank on having two good days together), whereas if I fancied a conventional burger I’d just open a packet. Ditto with sausages, though I’m getting very close to being able to produce a veggie sausage that’s actually a pleasure to eat – watch this space.

The big snag is that veggie convenience food is the most egregious crap, as I’ve said elsewhere, and if it’s Quorn-based it’s expensive crap too. There’s no veggie equivalent to just throwing a frozen, battered fish and some chips into the fryer, either. Bottom line – there’s too much damned work involved.

There are two alternatives – become a part-time veggie, as and when my health permits, or just give it up. I favour the former option, as there’s no doubt vegetarianism has some health benefits, and part-time is better than not at all. This week, though, my shopping is certainly going to verge on the carnivorous. Ah well, we all do the best we can, and karma can go screw itself!

Veggie or vegan…

I have to say, as an omnivore, that my diet sucks – not least because buying the quality of meat that I actually want is way beyond my budget, and my food bill is getting out of hand anyway. I also need at least one large meal a day, because otherwise my anti-inflammatories make my stomach bleed without food to buffer them. Simultaneously, I also need to watch my calorie intake to lose weight (exercise isn’t an option).

The answer to these quandaries is, I think, a return to vegetarianism. I was a veggie for about 15 years, from the mid eighties, before lapsing. This wasn’t an ethical decision – my then wife wanted to be a veggie (though I didn’t realise at the time it was because she was anorexic), and as I cooked, I decided following suit was no hardship, and it avoided cooking different meals for each of us.

My wife got me to write down my recipes – something I’d not done before, or since – and I eventually noticed that, without even trying, we’d slipped into a vegan diet. These day, that’s unlikely to happen, as I’m pretty fond of the extraordinarily versatile fromage frais and crème fraîche , (hard to find last time round, as was fresh tofu), which will improve the mouth feel of many veggie dishes, and a veggie diet can use a little fat (as long as you dont go berserk with cheese and eggs).

What tipped the balance was the Observer’s restaurant reviewer, Jay Rayner, being persuaded by his editor to try a vegan diet for a week – and pretty much failing, on the whole, though he did come up with some inspired vegan meals, which tipped the balance for me.

Being a veggie will make life a little more difficult, as some products – fresh tofu, and the more unusual vegetables, like tiny, flavourful, aubergines – mean travelling to Liverpool which, trust me, is no fun at all. The city centre is a giant building site and parking is almost impossible (public transport is out – I can’t walk well enough). On the other hand, a lot of stuff is now obtainable online – which simply wasn’t an option last time round – and I should be able to find a decent farm shop for veg and fungi.

It would, for me, not be too hard to become a dietary vegan, though I can’t be doing with all the rope belts and plastic shoes stuff, by cutting out dairy and eggs. I do get through a lot of milk, for drinking – sooths my drug-abused stomach – but I actually like Alpro soya milk, so that’s not a problem. What is a massive problem is getting Sainsbury’s to put the bloody stuff on the shelves – the milk section seems to be stocked up by half-witted trolls. For pity’s sake, these oiks are too stupid to make sure they put 6-pint containers of milk, often putting out extra 4-pinters by mistake – I’m sick and tired, over the years, of the repeated arguments over this.

The soya milk problem is a nation-wide Sainsbury’s snafu – they re-stock according to zones so, if zone A just needs, say, 4 or 5 packs of butter, but zone F is utterly devoid of soya milk then, bugger it, zone A gets the attention and zone F stays empty until its time comes around. That’s the explanation I got from the Dairy Products manager at my local Sainsbury’s, though I’m forced to wonder if a person without the initiative to over-rule such a mind-bogglingly stupid system when the need arises is the right man for the job.

I had planned, this year, to start making my own sausages, but my flat is just too warm to do that safely – keeping the meat cool during processing is critical, apparently. However, I’ve long harboured a desire to make a vegetarian sausage which is actually a pleasure to eat – those commercially available are truly awful, and veggie haggis is an abomination. I have a recipe – my own – for marinated, deep-fried tofu, which is pretty damn good (the marinade, after removing most of the water from the tofu – otherwise it’s like boiled snot – is a mix of mushroom soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce and veg stock, with a little garlic salt and some white wine vinegar), and it would make a good base for a veggie sausage, with minced cooked grains and pulses and a little greenery in the way of fresh herbs, the whole bound with egg. My idea is to use synthetic casings, poach the sausages to set them, then strip off the casings (which aren’t veggie, they’re made from beef collagen), before frying them. The principle will work, though the actual recipe will need tinkering to get the right taste and texture. I’m not aiming for a meat substitute, but it has to taste and feel right. That’s where commercial veggie sausages fall down. They either try to emulate the look and taste of meat – as with Quorn – or are overtly vegetable. Either way, for me, they all fail miserably on both taste and texture. I think I can do better.

Anyway, this isn’t going to happen for a week, as I have some beef in the fridge that has to be eaten first, but watch this space for progress reports…