Real vegetarian food, served in an imaginary world...

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Fantasy Veggie Dinner Guest - MICHAEL PORTILLO

If politics should be kept from the dinner table, inviting an ex-politician might seem a strange choice. However, Michael Portillo did not earn this invitation for his views, but for his televised railway journeys.
I love a knowledgeable enthusiast. Since leaving Parliament, Portillo has spent his time presenting numerous radio and TV programmes (one of which was Dinner with Portillo where he discussed current affairs with guests as they ate). We are enjoying watching re-runs of his 'Great American Railroad Journeys', where he crosses America using Appleton’s Guide from the 1870s. In this clip he hams it up in a Dodge City shootout.
In Series 2 he takes ‘The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway’ so I thought it would be appropriate to make him a little something which would once have been served on board its most famous train, the Santa Fe Super Chief. 

And, as it happens, I have access to some of that train’s most iconic dishes courtesy, once again, of the fabulous Mr Vincent Price who, along with his wife Mary, produced the wonderful book ‘A Treasury of Great Recipes’.

Here is a page from the book, showing what the man himself says:
The Prices enjoyed the meals so much that they included them in The Treasury, along with a copy of the menu from the 1960s:
So, I think 'French Toast Santa Fe' would be a good choice.
Here is the version immortalised by Vincent and Mary:
And this is how I adapted it to share with Michael who can come to dinner and discuss the American West all he likes, as long as he refrains from mentioning Westminster.


3 slices bread (2 or 3 days old is best) cut ¼ inch thick
2 eggs
½ cup (120ml) single cream
pinch of salt
½ tsp nutmeg
60ml cooking oil

Trim the crusts from the bread and cut each slice diagonally to make triangles.
In a bowl, beat the eggs until light and frothy. Add the cream, salt and nutmeg and mix well.
Soak the bread, a few pieces at a time, so that they absorb the egg/ cream mixture.
Heat the oil in a pan and fry the bread in batches on both sides to a golden colour.
Remove and drain on kitchen roll to absorb any excess grease. Place all pieces on a baking tray. 
Cook at 400°F/ 200°C/ Gas 6 for about 5 minutes until puffed up.
Serve 3 slices per person. I sprinkled them with some caster sugar and served them with fresh raspberries and a drizzle of the remaining cream.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Vegetarian Delirium- DAVE'S SIMPLE SALAD

Every cook knows that sometimes you just have to put pleasure on a plate.

When I make a salad for myself, I try to get fancy and mix up dressings. My sister-in-law made a fabulous one a few weekends ago where she added walnuts and croutons to the leaves.

But, my Dave knows what he likes, and he likes it plain and simple.
This is the one we had today according to his specification, and I have to admit it was rather lovely…

¼ iceberg lettuce, sliced
1 red ripe tomato
¼ cucumber, sliced
½ red onion, peeled and sliced into rounds
Lots of fresh herbs, chopped, ripped or whole, according to size
2 radishes, sliced
½ green pepper, chopped

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Vegetarian Delirium - ‘POSH’ MUSHROOMS ON TOAST

'Posh' Mushrooms on Toast is what Dave christened my way of using up the mushrooms and cream we had in the fridge.
The evening before, I had been looking through A Treasury of Great Recipes by Vincent and Mary Price, one of the greatest cookery books ever written. So, their recipe for Mushrooms in Cream popped into my head. I looked it up and decided to use it as a starting point, with a few additions.

150g mushrooms, sliced
25g butter
salt and pepper
1 garlic clove, crushed
75ml double cream
3 sprigs of fresh thyme

Heat the butter in a pan until it foams.
Add the mushrooms and toss to make sure they are all coated, then allow them to cook for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the garlic and cook for a minute more. 
Then pour over the cream and sprinkle in leaves from two of the sprigs of thyme. Bring to the boil.
Turn down and allow to simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring every now and then until it thickens. Season to taste.
Meanwhile, toast the bread.
When ready, serve the mushrooms on top with the rest of the thyme. (I even served it on a piece of sliced bread taken from the freezer. To make this a lovely snack, lunch or starter, use fresh crusty bread.)

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Fantasy Veggie Dinner Guest - JOHN CLAY

 Zelda has just been inspired by a re-reading of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

So, is she preparing a meal for Mr Jabez Wilson, a pawnbroker, who consults Sherlock Holmes in The Red-Headed League, and gives him ‘quite a three pipe problem’? Or maybe Holmes himself, who makes instant deductions based on his client’s appearance? (He is a freemason, takes snuff, has done manual labour and has been in China’.) Not this time.
Jabez Wilson owns a shop in Saxe-Coburg Square: “Let me see,” said Holmes, standing at the corner and glancing along the line, “I should like just to remember the order of the houses here. It is a hobby of mine to have an exact knowledge of London. There is Mortimer’s, the tobacconist, the little newspaper shop, the Coburg branch of the City and Suburban Bank, the Vegetarian Restaurant, and McFarlane’s carriage-building depot.”
Holmes knows that the location of the pawnbroker’s shop is as important as the soil stains on the knees of Wilson’s assistant, which brings us to tonight’s Veggie Dinner Guest: Vincent Spaulding, also known as John Clay. 
Here he is, as portrayed by Tim McInnerny in the 1995 Granada TV version:
In the words of Holmes: “He’s a remarkable man, is young John Clay. His grandfather was a royal duke, and he himself has been to Eton and Oxford. His brain is as cunning as his fingers, and though we meet signs of him at every turn, we never know where to find the man himself. He’ll crack a crib in Scotland one week, and be raising money to build an orphanage in Cornwall the next. I’ve been on his track for years and have never set eyes on him yet.”

With the vegetarian restaurant so close by to Clay/Spaulding’s ‘place of work’, I would like to think that he might have popped in and enjoyed the food.
The Vegetarian Society was founded in 1847, so the restaurant which was near Saxe-Coburg Square may well have been set up to promote its values:
The objects of the Society are, to induce habits of abstinence from the Flesh of Animals as Food, by the dissemination of information upon the subject, by means of tracts, essays, and lectures, proving the many advantages of a physical, intellectual, and moral character, resulting from Vegetarian habits of Diet; and thus, to secure, through the association, example, and efforts of its members, the adoption of a principle which will tend essentially to true civilisation, to universal brotherhood, and to the increase of human happiness generally.
 Vegetarian cookery books became popular at this time, but fresh fruit and vegetables were equally hard for vegetarians and carnivores to obtain.

When caught, John Clay is haughty and uncooperative, as Watson relates:
 “I beg that you will not touch me with your filthy hands,” remarked our prisoner as the handcuffs clattered upon his wrists. “You may not be aware that I have royal blood in my veins. Have the goodness, also, when you address me always to say ‘sir’ and ‘please.’”
“All right,” said Jones with a stare and a snigger. “Well, would you please, sir, march upstairs, where we can get a cab to carry your Highness to the police-station?”
“That is better,” said John Clay serenely. He made a sweeping bow to the three of us and walked quietly off in the custody of the detective.

I’m not sure what his punishment will be, but maybe, if he was granted a last meal, I could serve him this lovely curry.
I’m not sure that this particular recipe would have been available prior to 1892 when the story was first published, as sweet potatoes were not as popular here then as they were on the other side of the Atlantic. Lentils and chickpeas would, however, be readily available.

But this is a fantasy world, and this is very tasty.


Serves 2-3

1 red chilli, chopped finely
1 garlic clove, crushed
150g red lentils, rinsed
1 onion, chopped
400g sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into small pieces
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 can coconut milk
400ml vegetable stock
2tbsp olive oil
1tsp ground coriander
1tsp ginger powder
1tsp ground turmeric
1tsp ground coriander

Heat the oil and fry the onion until just turning golden.
Add the garlic and the chilli and fry for a minute or so more.
Add the ginger powder, turmeric and coriander and stir well to coat.
Pour in the coconut milk and vegetable stock and season.
Add the lentils, sweet potato and chickpeas, and bring to the boil.
Turn down to a slow simmer and cook for at least 30 minutes until the sweet potato has softened and the liquid has thickened.
Serve with chosen accompaniments. (Here seen with rice and mango chutney.)

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Fantasy Veggie Dinner Guest - ROBERT DOISNEAU

What an amazing photograph! That was the way to capture a moment.

Le Baiser de l’Hotel de Ville was one of the most iconic photographs of the Twentieth Century. 
(I don’t care whether it was or was not staged.)

Doisneau's name was made famous after the publication of this image of a couple embracing on a Parisian street.

Starting as a draughtsman, he later became a camera assistant and then a photographer in his own right. 

He was a soldier and a member of the French Resistance.

The Croque Monsieur first appeared on French menus in 1910 so would have been familiar to Doisneau. He might like to enjoy this with me while we look at his beautiful evocation of reckless passion (like vegetarian ham and cheese in harmony).


Serves 2

4 slices vegetarian ham
100g hard cheese, grated
4 slices fresh bread from a crusty loaf (or 2 large, each cut in half)
40g butter at room temperature
2tsp Dijon mustard
125ml milk
125ml double cream
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 small onion, peeled and chopped finely
2 bay leaves
20g plain flour

Heat the milk and cream together in a small saucepan. Add the garlic, bay leaves and onion. When nearly boiling, turn off and leave to infuse for about 10 minutes.
Then pass through a sieve and discard all the bits.
Melt 20g of butter in a pan and add the flour. Cook through and then add the milk from before, a bit at a time, stirring well. Then add 1tsp of the mustard. You should now have a thick sauce.
Spread the slices of bread with the rest of the butter.
Place them – buttered side up – under a grill until toasted and golden.
Then, turn the slices over and spread each with a little of the remaining mustard, followed by a thick layer of the sauce.
Cover each with grated cheese (use about two-thirds)...
...and then a slice of the ‘ham’.
Place two slices together to form the sandwiches.
Cover each sandwich with more of the sauce and sprinkle over the remaining cheese.
Cook in oven at Gas 7/ 220°C/ 425°F for about 20 minutes, or until piping hot and golden.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Fantasy Veggie Dinner Guest - LORD BYRON

George Gordon, Lord Byron
Why? Well, where do I start?

What about here with an example of one of his wonderful poems:

So, We’ll Go No More A Roving
So, we'll go no more a roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a roving
By the light of the moon.

Or, maybe, because his heart is buried just down the road from Zelda, in Hucknall...

...near his beautiful ancestral home, Newstead Abbey (where Zelda can be seen with friends Stuie and John and Roxi).

Or, for the fact that he wrote the best epitaph to a pet, ever seen.

Or, perhaps, because he looked like this:

According to BBC History: At Cambridge University, his horror of being fat led to a shockingly strict diet, partly to get thin and partly to keep his mind sharp. Existing on biscuits and soda water or potatoes drenched in vinegar, he wore woolly layers to sweat off the pounds and measured himself obsessively. Then he binged on huge meals, finishing off with a necessarily large dose of magnesia.

So, should I give him a fat-free, low calorie meal or something he could binge on?  
I have decided that we will eat Potato Biscuits to assuage his guilt and then drink red wine from a skull and plan a revolution.

Potato Biscuits
120g plain flour
2tsp baking powder
60g butter melted
150g mashed potato (If using leftover mash, warm through before using)
240ml buttermilk
salt and pepper to taste

Cut greaseproof paper to size and place on a baking tray.
Sift the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl.
Add the melted butter, mashed potato and buttermilk 
and mix well until a soft dough has formed which does not stick to the sides. (Add more flour if needed.)
Place on a floured surface and roll out into a rough square, about 1cm thick. 
Cut into circles (Zelda uses a beer glass)...
...and place each on the baking tray.
Bake at Gas 5/ 190°C/ 375°F for 18 to 20 minutes, until golden brown.
These are lovely just as they are. (Hopefully His Lordship will think so, too)
If you fancy keeping some for later, chill and fry in oil. 
Great with a cooked breakfast – Byron still invited!