Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Food Shopping

Online food shopping seems, to me, a difficult area to investigate. I was searching for Hungarian Paprika the week before last (thanks for the obsession, Diana Henry) and I was quite surprised to find that the results were mainly for small, amateur-looking spice sites and there wasn't one of the big-bucks, well-designed, user-friendly ecommerce sites that you'd usually get for every other kind of shopping. Perhaps online food shopping isn't such big business yet?

Of course, just so's you don't think I am an eco monster, I buy into the whole farm-shop-local-economy-food-miles-carbon-footprint-yada-yada message. I get it. I buy in. I'm tired of all the trendies talking about it. I'm just saying.

But you can't get Hungarian paprika at my local barn shop. (You can get ostrich feather dusters, but that's a whole nother story.) And I can't get special schnapps or coffee syrups or gold dust for fairy cakes. Or jam jars, baking tins or retriever-shaped cookie cutters. (I live in a village with two shops, you know.) Hence the occasional online forays.

The Spice Shop
This is one of those sites that came up in my search for Paprika. I dismissed it at first: poor design, no pictures, no supporting copy, and (later) nonexistent customer communications. However. This website is the online presence for The Spice Shop in Notting Hill, where renowned spicy lady Birgit blends and dispenses hundreds of interesting spices and mixtures for posh foofdies like Nigella and Jamie. Once I heard this, I had to give it a go. 15 days later, I'm still waiting for my parcel, but I'll keep you updated.

The Drink Shop
This is a more slick site with lovely moreish Monin syrups and a frighteningly enormous range of whisky (close eyes amd point at screen, best method). Delivery charges are a bit hefty (because they charge you what it costs, instead of a nice friendly flat rate) but service is personal and I've had a good experience with these guys. And I'm back for more Monin soon - our Toffee Nut has run out!

Very poor navigability on this site and small pictures, but once you get past the user issues, it's got an overwhelming stock of sugarcraft supplies. Actually though, since I only wanted the gold lustre, I wound up researching at Jane Asher and then ordering from eBay - kinder delivery rates for just the one little tube.

Think I'll bookmark this post and add to it in the future. If anyone has used any other food sites, and can recommend them, I'd really love to hear from you.
A new kind of squash stew, and meatballs (the horror!)

Having roasted a whole shoulder of lamb for three people on the weekend, my dear better half left the remains in the kitchen for me to deal with*. I hate wasting food. So I searched online to find out what other people do with leftover cooked bits of meat. Husband won't eat the same thing twice and he turns up his nose at cold meat sandwiches. I found lots of ideas: moussaka, lamb crumble, shredded lamb with spices and flatbreads, and rissoles. I decided that rissoles seemed the easiest way to use up the lamb as an addition to a vegetable stew that I was planning. So this concoction was born.

The vegetable stew I'd planned was a variation on Deborah Madison's squash and spinach stew, which she flavours with a base of almonds (say 12 for two people), dried chillies (3), a tsp of cumin and a few sesame seeds. She toasts and grinds these to add to softened onions and form an aromatic base for the stew.

It doesn't sound like much but it's a deliciously original combination of flavours, and it really lifts an ordinary tomato-and-vegetable stew. So I have started using the almond-chilli-cumin base as the starting point for almost any combination of vegetables and lentils. Yesterday's had a few coriander seeds added (and rosewater would have been good, if I'd thought of it). Softened onions, ground spices, then chunks of squash and cooked (leftover) courgette slices, a couple of scoops of (no-soak) red lentils, a tin of tomatoes, and simmer for 20 minutes. Ta da! Simple, low fat, and highly flavoured. It's sort of like chilli, I suppose, but the almonds give it a more unique taste.

On top of his, husband had these delicious-smelling meatballs:

In mini chopper or food processor, mince:
2 packed cupfuls cooked lamb
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 fat clove garlic
Juice of 1/4 lemon
1tbsp finely chopped mint
1tbsp finely chopped coriander stalks

Season, then add a beaten egg. Chill for as long as poss. Flour your hands and squeeze firmly to make smallish meatballs, and fry in very little olive oil until brown and crusty on both sides. Top with yoghurt/lemon juice/mint if liked.

* I am a vegetarian, of course, but not one of the unbearably squeamish or preachy sort. No crying over bones for me.

Monday, April 14, 2008


I am reading such a great book at the moment: 'Vegetable Heaven' by Catherine Mason. There's plenty of inspiration - vegetables with new partners and flavours - without anything too complex or demanding. Probably one reason why the recipes all sound so great is that a lot of them revolve around cream and cheese - an important source of protein when your diet is mainly veg, but not exactly heart-healthy. She describes a tart made with feta, cream and squash, and when I was looking in the fridge last night for something fast, I decided that feta and squash probably was a happy partnering.

I just pared down the fat a little and served it with some steamed potatoes. This isn't low-fat all the same, but for a weekend indulgence that's quick and easy, it's perfect.

1/2 medium squash, roasted with 1tbsp chopped sage
2 slender leeks, sliced

5 eggs, beaten with 2tbsp low-fat creme fraiche
75g feta cheese, crumbled

Serves 2

Saute the leeks in a frying pan, just until they soften - not brown - maintaining the bright green colour. Throw in the squash and turn it for a moment to warm up. Now make sure the veg are evenly distributed, then tip in the egg and creme fraiche mixture. Preheat the grill to high. Swirl the pan to make sure there are no gaps and scatter the feta evenly over the top. Keep over a med-high heat for a couple of minutes, until browned underneath (peep using a spatula). Slide the pan under the grill until it's set on top and serve in wedges.