Tuesday 30 November 2010

Spiced Potato and Cauliflower

If there's one thing I'd like to achieve writing this blog, it's to introduce the idea that eating a mostly "plant" based diet is anything but boring!  Even though Eric and I eat fish, we don't eat it that often so most of our meals are likely to be based on vegetables in some form or other. The variety of vegetables available all year round means you can ring the changes and eat really well.

Potatoes and cauliflower are rarely at the top of most people's list of favourite vegetables but wait till you try them served this way!  The spices in this Indian dish transform the humble potato and cauliflower into something quite exotic.   There's more than enough for two people as a main course with rice and poppadoms. It also goes well with onion bhajis which I'll be posting later.

This recipe works best with a firm waxy potato that holds it's shape well so I use  the pink fir apple variety that I grow at home.  A Charlotte or Nicola potato will do just as well.


250g (8oz) small waxy potatoes
1 small onion
2.5 cm (1") piece of root ginger
5ml (1 tsp) cumin seeds

2.5ml (1/2 tsp) turmeric
Half a cauliflower
A small bunch of fresh coriander

Salt and pepper
2 tbsp sunflower oil

Prepare the potatoes.  If they're large, peel and cut in half, otherwise leave whole and unpeeled and parboil in salted water for 5 minutes. They will still be hard on the inside. Drain.

When cool enough to handle, peel away the skins and cut the potatoes into chunks.

Cut the cauliflower into small florets.  Store the leaves for another day but you can use the middle of the stem if cut into small pieces.

Put the cumin seeds into a pestle and mortar and grind to a powder.

Peel and finely chop the onion and peel and grate the ginger.

Heat the sunflower oil in a large frying pan.  I use a wide-based saute pan with a lid. Fry the onion and ginger until the onion is translucent but not brown.  Add the cumin and turmeric and cook gently for a couple of minutes stirring all the time to avoid burning.

Add the potatoes and cauliflower to the pan and pour in 100ml of boiling water. Stir well to coat the vegetables in the spice mixture. 

Season with salt and pepper, then cover with a lid and cook gently for about 15 minutes. 

Keep checking that the mixture doesn't dry out and add more water as necessary so that there is plenty of steam to cook the vegetables.  Don't overcook them though, they should keep their shape and stay firm. 

Stir in some chopped coriander leaves and serve immediately.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Simple Tomato Sauce

As promised, here's my recipe for a simple tomato sauce.   Despite it's simplicity, a good tomato sauce is endlessly versatile and can be the making of a dish.   Serve it on it's own with pasta,  as an accompaniment to grilled fish or homemade burgers, as a pizza base or with the Olive Polenta and Mediterranean Roasted Vegetables recipe I posted recently!

In the late summer months, I make this sauce with lovely sun-ripened tomatoes from my organic greenhouse. I fry a chopped onion or some shallots and a crushed clove or two of garlic in some good olive oil. When they've softened, I add some roughly chopped tomatoes, simmer the pan over a low heat without a lid until all the juices have reduced and I'm left with a naturally thick sauce. 

Then I put the whole mixture through a vegetable mouli to remove the skins. It's much easier than skinning them beforehand.  The beautiful smooth sauce goes back in the pan with some freshly ground salt and pepper and a handful of torn up basil leaves.  Simple yet intensely flavoured, without the need for any other ingredients and with a natural sweetness that tinned or bought tomatoes never have.

Unfortunately, for most of the year, the British climate can’t provide enough sunshine or warmth for homegrown tomatoes so we have to rely on imported ones which can be a total disappointment with tough skins, no flavour and often rotten before they’re ripe.  Goodness knows how they ever end up in this condition when home-grown ones last for ages!

The only answer is to make a sauce using either half fresh/half tinned tomatoes or just tinned tomatoes on their own though they can be rather acidic. If you ever find any tinned tomatoes without citric acid in the ingredients,  snap them up!  To balance the acidity, you can always add a pinch of sugar. 

There are absolutely no rules when it comes to making tomato sauce and there are any number of variations depending on what you have available. When you're using tinned tomatoes in the winter, I think it's worth adding some extra flavour, like an outer stem of celery that's lurking in the fridge,  a green pepper if you happen to have one handy, a bay leaf or a nice handful of fresh basil leaves.  Adding a teaspoon of sundried tomato paste or some chopped sun-dried tomatoes gives an extra intensity.  If you're making a sauce to eat with pasta,  adding black olives, grilled or baked courgettes, mushrooms or thickly sliced red peppers makes a perfect variation. 

Here's the basic recipe for a Simple Tomato Sauce.


15ml (1tbsp) olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, skinned and crushed
400g (14oz) can tomatoes, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 tsp sundried tomato paste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a saucepan.  I use a wide-based non-stick saute pan with a glass lid. 

Add the onion, garlic and celery.  Cover with a lid and cook for a few minutes, then add the chopped green pepper. 

Cook over a medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes stirring occasionally.  The vegetables need to soften but don’t let them brown.

Add the tinned tomatoes with it's juice, the sundried tomato paste and some freshly ground salt and pepper and bring to a simmer.

Continue to cook gently without a lid for about 15 minutes until the sauce has reduced and thickened.


If using, add your extras such as halved black olives,  grilled courgettes and peppers, fresh basil leaves etc. 


Save the oil drained from a tin of tuna and use instead of olive oil. It adds a lovely depth of flavour.

If your tomato sauce has cooked too long and gone very thick, add a spoonful or two of the water you've cooked your pasta in. 

VARIATIONS ON A THEME  ....  some extras

A Red or yellow pepper, deseeded and cut into pieces 
Drizzle with olive oil, cook until golden under a hot grill and stir in at the end

1 Courgette, sliced or cut into wedges
Add to the sauce before the tomatoes or cook under a grill as above

50g (2oz) Sun-dried Tomatoes in olive oil, drained and chopped
Add at the same time as the tinned tomatoes

Mushrooms, quartered or sliced 
Add to the sauce before the tomatoes or cook under a grill as above

15-20 Black Olives, stones removed and cut in half
Add towards the end of the cooking time 

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Olive Polenta with Roasted Mediterranean Vegetables

In this recipe, each of these lovely vegetables retain their individual identity yet combine to create the flavour of the Mediterranean.   The polenta is made in advance, then quickly fried to give a crispy outside and soft middle.

Serve with a tomato and olive sauce - I'll be posting that recipe next time!

Serves 4 people

110g (4oz) maizemeal (polenta)
20 fl.oz (1 pt) boiling water
1 vegetable stock cube (Kallo Organic)
28g (1oz) dairyfree margarine
28g (1oz) black olives, stoned and chopped
Salt and Pepper
2 red onions
1 red pepper
1 orange or yellow pepper
1 aubergine
1 or 2 courgettes
Extra-virgin Olive Oil

Polenta is a traditional Italian ingredient made from ground maize and is a wonderful golden-yellow colour.  It’s so easy to cook in the microwave and can be made with water or vegetable stock for extra flavour.

First make your polenta.  Put the maizemeal into a bowl.
Dissolve the stock cube in a jug of boiling water and add to the maizemeal. Stir well to make a smooth liquid. 

Add the margarine and mix well.

Microwave for 10 minutes, removing the bowl every 2 or 3 minutes to give the mixture a really good stir as it thickens.

Finally add the chopped olives.

Now you need to spread out the polenta to set.  I either use a baking tin (approx 18cm x 28cm) or a large dinner plate,  greased with a little olive oil.  Pour in the polenta and level neatly with a knife.


Cool, then leave to set in the fridge.  This can be made well in advance and stored in the fridge until needed.

When you’re ready to eat, preheat the oven to 220C. 

Prepare the vegetables.  Cut the red onions into about eight segments and place in a bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Mix together then transfer to a large roasting tray.

Then cut the peppers, aubergine and courgettes into pieces about 1” square.  Mix in a bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Transfer to the roasting tray and spread out neatly.

Place in your preheated oven and bake for about 30 - 35 minutes. Check the vegetables once or twice, turning them over so they become evenly browned.

Meanwhile cut the polenta into four oblong slices  (or 8 equal segments, if using a circular plate) 

Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and fry the polenta slices for about 5 minutes on each side until brown and crispy.

(Alternatively, brush the polenta slices with olive oil and grill on both sides until brown and crispy)

Transfer to the oven to keep warm whilst you fry the remaining slices.

Serve the polenta slices with the roasted vegetables and a
generous spoonful of homemade tomato and olive sauce.  

Sprinkle some chopped fresh basil leaves on top.

Sunday 14 November 2010

Back to Basics

Greengrocers in Southwold, Suffolk in 1949
Once upon a time, not so long ago, eating was a simple affair.  We bought food from small independent shops like butchers, bakers, fishmongers and greengrocers and made meals from scratch using basic ingredients.  We learned the principles of eating - how much, what and when - from our elders. Those early experiences usually stayed with us for the rest of our lives. 

However, food is no longer that simple, is it?  In the past fifty years or so, supermarkets have transformed the way we buy and prepare food and they now probably influence our eating more than our mothers ever did!  The choice of what's available is bewildering and whilst raw ingredients still have their place, it's the growth of food products that has changed everything.

You only have to look at the allocation of space to know what supermarkets sell most of.  Crisps, snacks, biscuits, confectionary, cakes, meat products, dairy, frozen meals, carbonated drinks, desserts, sauces, etc. fill the aisles.  An ever-increasing choice of food products, carefully arranged to tempt the shopper with easy options for family or single meals and any number of "bogof" offers to make us buy more.

When commercial TV was launched in 1955, advertising slogans and jingles soon had us trained and buying well-known brands. Eating was no longer just about food, it was about selling and the big supermarkets became experts at understanding consumer needs.  A century ago, who could have predicted that much of the world's food supply would end up in the hands of a few all-powerful global corporations?

Meanwhile, health problems related to eating have increased so dramatically that products claiming to offer health benefits are big business too.  When it comes to knowing what to eat to stay well, we're bombarded from all sides with nutritional values, wonder foods and the latest diet guaranteed to lose those excess pounds!

Maybe it's because I got interested in health a long time ago, giving up meat and dairy way back in the early 1980's, but much of what's happened in the past 30 years seems to have passed me by.  I buy few processed foods from the supermarket, I grow fruit and vegetables on my organic plot and I get great pleasure from creating meals from scratch using low cost, natural ingredients.  

To me, choosing what to eat has everything to do with the impact it has on my physical health.  Staying well is more than just a priority; it's a way of life that doesn't require any effort or discipline.  It's just a simple decision to eat food that does my body, mind and soul good.

It seems to me that food isn't just about food any more, it's about the array of food products that now take the spotlight.  Call me old-fashioned but I prefer to stick to the basics. That way I know what I'm eating,  the real thing! 

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Spiced Apple and Date Cake

People are often surprised when I say I make cakes.  Just because I don't eat eggs or dairy products doesn't mean I can't make delicious cakes, muffins and cookies!  

This is a lovely moist cake, full of natural ingredients and ideal if you have lots of windfall apples to use up.  I prefer not to eat too much sugar so this is a fabulous recipe as it contains no eggs or sugar, though you'd never know. The spicy apple and date flavour is delicious enough on it's own! 

170g (6oz) peeled and chopped eating apples
115g (4oz) chopped dates
3 tbsp water
1 tbsp pear and apple spread
55g (2oz) dairy free margarine (e.g. Pure, Sainsbury's Freefrom)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
170g (6oz) self-raising flour
1 tsp cinnamon
Grated nutmeg

You can buy pear and apple spread at Health Food shops (like Holland and Barrett)  It adds natural flavour and sweetness and contains only apples and pears.

You'll need a 20cm (8") sandwich tin, preferably with a loose bottom, about 4cm (1½") deep.

Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas Mark 4.

Put the chopped apple and dates into a saucepan with the water.

Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and cook gently until the apple is tender.

Add the pear and apple spread and mix well.

Cool slightly, then whizz the mixture with a hand-blender, or mash well.

Add the margarine and stir until melted. 

Then add the bicarbonate of soda and mix well.  You will see the apple and date mixture froth up a little.

Add in the sifted flour, the cinnamon and a good grating of nutmeg and mix well.

Transfer to a well-greased sandwich tin and level the top of the mixture. 

I sometimes sprinkle a little demerera sugar over the top (about half a tablespoon) but it's entirely up to you.

Bake in the oven for 40 minutes until golden brown.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a cooling rack. 

Suggestions ..

This is lovely to take out as a snack on a winter walk. 

For a quick dessert, peel and slice some extra apples into a bowl and microwave or cook until soft.   Serve a couple of spoonfuls with a slice of cake. 

Bon Appetit!

Thursday 4 November 2010

Here goes. First posting ...

Welcome to my new blog and thanks for joining me in my new exploration into food.  If you enjoy delicious eating, adventurous cooking and conscious living like me, then you’ve come to the right place!

Maybe you already know me from my monthly newsletter New Thinking New Living, which I’ve written for the past three years on a variety of lifestyle topics.  Eating for health has been one of the regular features. As food is so often in the news these days and not necessarily for the right reasons - affecting people’s lives, ruining the environment too - I felt it was time to pay more attention to what’s going on.

It’s generally accepted nowadays that our health and the condition of our bodies today has a lot to do with the food choices we've made in the past. So it stands to reason that the condition of our bodies and our health in the future will be a result of what food choices we make today.

In case you’re wondering, I don’t believe in trying to convince others of my point of view.  What I do believe is that we each have natural inclinations that make us who we are and, as it happens, concerns over the food we eat, and where it comes from, has been a constant theme throughout my life! 

When I first got my very own kitchen (well, kitchenette in a tiny bed-sit to be more precise), I suddenly discovered I had a passion for cooking.  A few years later, when I got my first pocket-handkerchief garden, I instantly found I had a passion for growing vegetables, much to the surprise of my family! When I discovered health foods and organic gardening in the early 80’s, I knew I’d found my natural home!

I’d love to share the fun and pleasure I’ve had, and am still having, experimenting with food, trying out new ideas using simple natural ingredients.  Presentation, flavour, texture and balance are all important considerations.  To me, cooking is creative and instinctive and nothing reflects our personality more than the plate of food we produce!   And if, by making more thoughtful food choices, we can become healthier and our environment benefits too, then surely that’s worth writing a blog about.   Well, that’s my thinking.

That’s all for my first post.  If you'd like to have my blog delivered straight to your Inbox, just look down the left hand column for  "Subscribe via email" and click the link below it.

Look forward to seeing you next time!