New: Recipe Tuesdays

A friend of mine posted a link to “13 banned foods still allowed in the U.S.” and I was intrigued by a link on that same page was to “50 Seemingly Healthy Foods that are Bad for You”. Fortunately I know to take such lists with a grain of salt, yet as I clicked through all 50 items in the slide show, I was both puzzled and bemused. So many of these foods are packaged or pre-prepared! Since when did fruity gummy snacks start counting as “healthy”? Once again, repeating the observation I made about the lack of vegetarian options in American restaurants, I saw the obsession with calorie counting. I just want to say it here loud and clear: fewer/no calories does NOT equal “healthy”!

Maybe I’m not sympathetic enough to what seems to be the target audience of people trying to lose weight by eating “healthily”. Yes, I am one of those people who always buys full-fat yoghurt and drinks semi-skimmed or whole milk. I just don’t eat junk food; my sweet tooth is picky and limited; I shy away from prepackaged sandwiches and meals; I eat until I’m satisfied and only when I’m hungry. I don’t think about calories at all when I eat or cook —  or, if I do, it’s to make sure I’m getting enough. I choose to eat what I eat because I like it and because, well, it’s healthy.

So, for an experiment, I am going to keep a log of what I eat from today until next Tuesday. And to ensure to my readers that I’m not rigging it by consciously choosing low-calorie foods I will wait to do all the calculating at the very end. I already know that the calculations are going to be tricky because I prepare most of my food.

Until then, I leave with you a recipe I recently made for dinner. This new series also will make up for my lack of book reviews: I may not read as much these days, but I still have to eat! Chosen because it is vegetarian, full of yummy veg, and colourful, F. and I enjoyed this roasted butternut squash with goat’s cheese.

Roasted butternut squash with goat’s cheese
(adapted from BBC Good Food)
Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 1 small butternut squash
  • garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tbsp olive oil (or a glob)
  • a pinch dried chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • half a courgette, cut into chunks
  • half a sweet red pepper, cut into chunks
  • half a carrot, cut into chunks
  • a handful of chestnut mushrooms, cut into chunks
  • 1 small red onion, cut into thin wedges
  • 100g cherry tomatoes
  • 25g pine nuts
  • 50g goat’s cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 tbsp breadcrumbs (made from plain crackers)
  • a dash of dried parsley
  • 1 tbsp grana padano (or parmesan)
  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds then cut criss-cross patterns over the cut-side of each one. Mix together the garlic, 2 tbsp olive oil, chilli and thyme and brush this mixture over the flesh. Bake for about 30-40 minutes until the flesh is tender.
  2. Meanwhile, make the filling: put the courgette, pepper and onion in a roasting tin and drizzle with 1 tbsp olive oil. Season and roast for about 20-25 minutes until tender and starting to brown at the edges. Add the cherry tomatoes and pine nuts and cook for another 10 minutes.
  3. Mix the breadcrumbs, parsley and grana padano. Arrange the roasted vegetables and goat’s cheese in the squash halves, scatter with the breadcrumb mix and bake for a further 10 minutes or until golden and bubbling.

It was delicious — and there was enough filling left over to mix with couscous the next day for a yummy lunch. The next time I make this, though, I will also peel the squash to make sure that it cooks all the way through, leaving no hard bits.

Eat your vegetables

Since being in the States for the past three weeks, I’ve eaten out a lot — Saltgrass Steakhouse, Alamo Cafe, Cracker Barrel (2x), Ruby Tuesday, Rising High Cafe, Olive Garden, El Fenix, La Madeline, Panera Bread (2x), Cattleman’s — and I have noticed something about their menus. Only two of these fine establishments featured little “V’s” to indicate vegetarian options: Rising High Cafe and Panera Bread. What a difference from restaurants in the UK where you can usually find at least one option that is vegetarian if not vegan (even if it is always risotto).

Instead, those other restaurants (the steakhouses excluded) had other symbols in their menus to indicate low-calorie or low-fat or even “healthy heart” options. But I am somewhat confused why none of these restaurants, save the two soup, salad, and sandwich lunch cafes would offer meals for vegetarians. Most of these are chain restaurants — and I mean, really? Olive Garden, an Italian restaurant, doesn’t offer any meat-free pasta dish?

I’m not vegetarian, but I do eat a mostly vegetarian diet at home. Partly because meat is expensive, I just prefer vegetables, think that it’s a healthier lifestyle, and because my boyfriend is vegetarian. I’m used to eating meat maybe once a week and this meat-heavy diet the past three and a half weeks is feeling very heavy indeed. I’ve found myself ordering only sides, asking for chicken or prosciutto to be left off the salad, ordering broccoli and cheddar soup only to be annoyed that it had bacon in that wasn’t in the description.

I am still baffled that these restaurants would go through the trouble to mark “healthy” or “low calorie” entrees and forget that purely vegetarian meals might be the healthiest and lowest calorie options of all! And those people who are trying to lose weight or feel healthy by choosing the “healthy” but still meat-heavy options might need to revisit the adage to “Eat your vegetables”.

Granted, I know I have one of those frames and metabolisms that sheds pounds more quickly than it can gain them, but I will be glad to get back into being once more mostly-vegetarian and live in a country that accommodates such eating choices.

When in doubt…

Make soup.

I haven’t really kept up with grocery shopping the past week or two. I’ve been working long hours in the office so dinners were more likely to be from the chippy or panini place down the street. Tonight I pulled my meagre provisions out of the fridge and tried to decide what to do with them.

So what do you do with two large carrots and half a jar of roasted peppers? You make soup.

Two carrots, one and a half red bell peppers, 750ml of water, one vegetable bouillon cube, some lentils (I just finished a bag), and ground coriander, cumin, chili pepper, and lots of paprika. I like that red pepper countered the lentils so that the soup still came out orange.

It made enough for two. I know what lunch will be tomorrow…

Thanksgiving

This year was the first year I got to host Thanksgiving. Ros and I invited a bunch of mutual friends — well, we were limited to ten, as that is the maximum amount of people we can squeeze around the table. In attendance were representatives from Americaland, England, Germany, and Poland. It was an interesting meal to cater for four vegetarians and dairy free and various allergies, but we still had quite a feast!

In pictures:

(Autumnal decorations.)


(Lots of choices for beverages.)


(That would be me… carving the turkey.)


(L-R: Kalim, me, Sara, Anna, and Kristin.
Not pictured are Joanna, Allie, Peter, and Ros.)


(Pumpkin pie, apple tart, and chocolate pecan pie.)

Soup for a cold day

Roasted red pepper and sweet potato soup:

This soup is adapted from a hint of honey, a food blog that I discovered quite recently and have enjoyed experimenting with her recipes. I love how flavourful, simple, and healthy her recipes are — but I find that her soups are somewhat insubstantial, which is why I have been experimenting with them. I pretty much followed this recipe directly, with the exception of adding a bowl of chickpeas and then more water for consistency. I use dried chickpeas which I let soak overnight, so I don’t have an exact measurement for those. The bonus to adding chickpeas is that it yields more soup! I am going to freeze a serving or two for those nights in November when I can’t waste time cooking because I need to be writing…

Travel woes

It seems that every other time I want to make a transatlantic flight, the first leg of my journey is canceled. Last time, it was the Great Snow of 2009 that stranded me in the Edinburgh airport. This time, it is because of Hurricane Irene. Fortunately, I found this out before arriving at the airport — thank goodness I just happened to be checking my flight status online during breakfast. I phoned my mum (it was only 11.30 PM her time, so early was I awake) because I couldn’t find any UK numbers to call. She phoned United customer service, and after being on hold for nearly two hours we finally were able to talk to someone. The woman who took our call was very helpful — the exact opposite of her airline’s website! — and I have been put onto a different flight tomorrow morning, flying into a different, non-East Coast airport, and arriving only 24 hours later than I would have originally. Not bad. We still need to confirm the first leg of my new flight, but the woman said that shouldn’t be a problem. At one point during the call we realized that our conference call (for we had her on speaker phone and she could hear me via skype) was covering Scotland, Texas, and Hawaii. Technology still amazes me.

So, faced with an unexpected free day, what do I do?

…thus using up 9 of the 12 courgettes I picked yesterday. There was also various sundry, lots of skyping with my mom, and watching the new Doctor Who. New Who! I actually watched it ‘live’ on my computer. It was fun. Now, to go to bed way early so I can wake up at 3.00 AM for Take 2 of my American Holiday.

Our Garden, Part 10

Right now, my Victory Garden is mostly taking care of itself. The pumpkins are spreading their vines as far as they can across the garden and I’m hoping the small fruits that are forming will be big and orange and ready for Halloween. The sweetcorn is valiantly growing in Scottish weather, and even a few cobs are forming, sticking out their creamy tassels to flutter in the wind. I’m disappointed that on the whole the sunflowers haven’t been as successful as I hoped, but I did get one good, beautiful sunflower. When I look at this sunflower, my heart is glad.

And then there are the courgettes. Lots of them.

That’s only the bag from today’s harvest. I’ve given bags of courgettes away to friends, colleagues, and even my supervisor. Ros and I have been putting courgettes into whatever we cook for dinner, and we’re still not going through them fast enough.

Just a few things I have made with courgettes:

As well as, you know, tossing courgettes into whatever other concoction I might be making, be it pasta, rosemary chicken with tomato sauce, chicken coconut curry, Scotch broth, or my own spicy red lentil soup. On the list of things to do with our cornucopia of courgettes is to make quiche, chutneys, and blanch some to freeze.

Any suggestions for what else can we make with courgettes?

Awesome granola

In a bid to add more protein in my diet, especially at breakfast, I have revisited my granola recipe. Having been released from making it Ros-safe, I have added cinnamon, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, flaked almonds, and hazelnuts. It’s heavenly. Eaten with Greek yoghurt and strawberries, it’s simply divine.

I’m still getting hungry before lunch, though, so a boiled egg might start making an appearance at breakfast. Ros has introduced me to soft boiled eggs in egg cups, and it feels so civilised.

On rhubarb

This winter was a hard one, and now I look forward to the bounty of spring, summer, and autumn so I can prepare for next year: gathering berries, growing vegetables, foraging for wild garlic and whatever else I can find. It’s already beginning.

Faced with the most recent financial uncertainty, I turn to canning. (‘How 1930s of you,’ commented Chris, who then said I should refer to my vegetable patch as my ‘victory garden’. I just might.) My first preserving endeavours this year have been to make rhubarb jam and bottled rhubarb. You see, we have a lot of rhubarb.


See? I told you.

The River Cottage, No. 2: Preserves might just be my new favourite book. (Actually, it’s tied with the RHS New Encyclopaedia of Gardening Techniques. I’m borrowing both from Rebecca, and I will be loath to return either of them.) I used the recipes in this book to make both my rhubarb jam and honeyed bottled rhubarb.

Making jam is not without adventure. Having never cooked rhubarb myself before, I didn’t know that one is supposed to ‘peel’ the rhubarb before cooking with it. I interpreted ‘trim’ in the recipes to mean trimming the ends of the stalks! Neglecting to peel the stalks before making the jam did not seem to make any difference however, except to turn the jam red. That’s a much more jammy colour anyway. I ended up with three jars instead of the predicted five — I’m not sure why. It seems like whenever I make jam I end up with one or two jars less than what the recipe says it will yield. I also ended up not having enough rhubarb to completely fill the bottles. (Why couldn’t I have just gone out and cut some more to put in? Because rhubarb is quite tart, and the stalks had soaked overnight in a honey syrup mixture.) As you can see, I took the time to peel the rhubarb before canning it.

So far we have made crumble, muffins, jam, and preserves, and have given at least four full carrier bags away. If Rebecca can be parted with her big steel pot for a little bit longer, I might give jam and bottling another go! Rhubarb cake, bread, and cordial are also in the works…

Sunlight remedies

This is my third springtime in Scotland, and though it’s still only the beginning of spring — oh, what a difference sunlight makes! Each year springtime blooms with greater brilliance. I can understand how the pagans would celebrate the changing of the seasons: the sunlight makes me want to dance, to sing; I stand in rapture in the sound of birdsong. The weight of darkness has been lifted from the world.

It was a lovely, sunny weekend. More puttering about the garden, watching the birds that come to our feeder (and the cats that saunter by with more frequency than before…). I made chicken stock for the first time yesterday afternoon, which was so easy I’m baffled why I hadn’t tried it before. I’ll see how successful I was when I put it in soup later this week. I made chicken coconut curry for dinner (far better than my first attempt months ago). And last night, Ros and I baked banana and apple muffins. It was Ros’s first time baking ‘in volume’, using cup measures.

Some of you may remember my post about baking woes. Ros and I both have had bad luck with baking in our oven. I took Rebecca’s and Casey’s advice that our oven might be running hot and put the muffins on a lower rack and at a slightly lower temperature than the recipe called for. We also used the new muffin tin that my mother brought for me. The result? Perfection. Thanks all!