I Was A Guest Chef For Jeanne In The Kitchen!!!

celebrity chefWell today, I had to leave the house in huge Jackie O sunglasses and a wide brimmed floppy hat, to hide from the paparazzi and the autograph hunters. That’s all because I am now a celebrity chef! You may already have seen it for yourself, but in case you didn’t know, Caramel was featured as a guest chef by Jeanne, the creator of A Jeanne in the Kitchen.

Here is the link where you can see Jeanne’s post detailing my recent culinary escapade:

We Have a New Guest Chef – Mel’s Leek & Greens Lasagne

Jeanne is inviting anyone who would like to be featured as a guest chef to get in touch with her – but make sure you have sunglasses and a hat before becoming a celebrity chef – the paparazzi are a nightmare!!

You can make anything you like! I chose a dish I was make for friends – it was a hit, although one of the lads asked where was the meat. That was after he told me he didn’t mind eating vegetarian food for the evening.

Here was my choice:


Leek And Greens Lasagne – a BBC Good Food Recipe!

First of all. the recipe said to make the bechamel sauce. Here are the ingredients required:

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1 tbsp olive oil
50g butter
1 bay leaf
rosemary sprig, leaves picked and roughly chopped
1 leeks, finely sliced 
40g plain flour
500ml milk
fresh nutmeg, for grating
75g cheddar, grated
30g parmesan, grated

And these were the instructions to make the sauce:

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Heat 1 tbsp oil with the butter over a medium heat. Add the bay leaf, rosemary and finely sliced leek, season and cook for a few mins until the leek has softened
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Tip the flour into the pan and cook for 1 min more until the roux smells nutty. Remove from the heat, slowly pour in the milk and whisking out any lumps. Return to the heat and whisk slowly until thick and smooth, about 5 mins. Season well with grated nutmeg, then add cheddar and Parmesan, cooking until they are melted. Set aside.

Next, it is time to make the leek and greens mixture that will make up most of the filling in the lasagne. Here are the ingredients needed:

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2 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
½ green chilli, sliced
400g mixed green leaves, such as kale, chard and spinach, roughly chopped
100ml dry white wine

I love garlic, so I actually used four garlic cloves instead of two. I could not find chard when I went shopping, so I had to be content with kale and spinach. The wine I chose was a sauvignon blanc.

Here is the method to combine the leek and greens mixture:

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Heat 2 tbsp oil over a medium heat and fry the garlic and chilli for a couple of mins until aromatic.
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Add the rest of the leeks, season and fry until softened.
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Add the mixed greens and season a little more.
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Cook the vegetables, stirring, until the greens have wilted, (about 4 mins), then pour in the wine and cook until it evaporates.

Now, I would recommend turning on your oven to pre-heat it. My oven heats up very quickly, but if you have one of those ovens that takes ages to get going, maybe you should turn it on before you do any of the above 😉

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Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/ gas 6.

So now we come to the important part – assembling the lasagne! Here are the rest of the ingredients that will be needed for the lasagne:

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Olive oil to grease the tin
100g walnuts
280g jar preserved artichoke hearts in oil, drained
100g ricotta
6 dried lasagne sheets

Here some photographs that I took while assembling the lasagne:

And these are the steps the recipe described for assembling the lasagne:

  • Oil a medium roasting tin (about 20cm square)
  • Tip half the greens into the tin.
  • Dot half the walnuts over the top, and nestle in a third of the artichoke hearts. Dot over half the ricotta.
  • Remove the bay leaf from the leek bechamel and pour over a third of it.
  • Top with three lasagne sheets to cover everything in a layer.
  • Repeat the process
  • Cover the top layer of lasagne sheets with the remaining bechamel and artichokes and then scatter over the remaining cheese.

Then of course we need to slip the lasagne into the oven and bake! In the meantime, you have the rest of that bottle of wine to keep you busy.

After 30-40 minutes, it should be golden and bubbling and looking delicious:

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Et voila!

It will be scalding hot, so it needs to rest for a good ten minutes before you tuck into it.

For me a lasagne is not really complete without a salad and a hunk or garlic bread:

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And of course, the rest of that wine!

 

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They Named A Fruit After Jack!

I mentioned in a post a few days ago that I have been vegetarian since I was six years old. One thing I did not have for a long time, was variety in my diet. Variety means so much to me now.

For a long time my diet consisted of either very cheesy dishes or those made with lots of tomatoes  – and I ate a lot of pasta and bread. My favourite combination of those basics being being a mozzarella and tomato baguette with pesto dressing – yum.

But when I started to earn my own money, I was excited to find new flavours and ingredients and expand my culinary skills. It was great to discover vegetables and pulses that I had not tried before. Although I never had the desire to eat meat or fish, I was bored of just cheese and tomatoes. Avocados and hummus became my new staples especially after I became sensitive to dairy.

When I moved to London and had friends from forty other countries – I asked my friends for cookery lessons so I could make vegetarian dishes from their cuisines. I have to admit I love variety. I love it! I still love making new discoveries of flavours.

Well, this past year I have been excited by how many bistros and cafes are featuring jackfruit on their menus. Jackfruit is more like a vegetable, but has a meaty texture. From jackfruit burgers to jackfruit curries. I can’t get enough of it! It’s so exciting to have a new flavour on vegetarian menus. I have seen in the supermarket chiller units jackfruit pizzas and packets of pulled jackfruit.

I have been looking at recipes on line so I can start cooking jackfruit dishes myself and have found jackfuit pies, jackfruit tacos, jackfruit fritters. Love it!!!

I have been reading all about jackfruit and where it grows and am looking out for more and more recipes.

Fancy naming a fruit after Jack!!

Mum And Dad Thought It Was Just A Phase

Vegetables and fruits background.I am a vegetarian. You may have noticed that I have mentioned that occasionally in other posts. I am not a vegan. I do not eat meat or fish, however I do eat animal products such as honey, dairy products and eggs. I have some friends who are vegan and I think some of them disapprove of me eating some animal products. But I have never had strong feelings about being vegetarian, I just lost the desire to eat anything that used to be alive and is now dead.

I stopped eating meat at the age of six. I can’t remember exactly why. I think there were were two major influences. The first was my little best friend at school who became a vegetarian. It was something I had never heard of, she introduced the idea to me. But there was also a school trip to a farm, Tatton Farm in Cheshire. I distinctly remember being horrified when I saw a pig. I had been reading story books with tiny little pink pigs. But seeing a enormous hairy pig was terrifying. I went home and told mum I no longer wanted to eat what had previously been my favourite food, sandwich ham. Not long after that I lost the desire to eat any meat or fish.

Mum and Dad thought it was just a phase. But the phase has lasted a very long time. I remember my parents wondered what I would eat instead of meat and fish. They bought vast quantities of frozen veggie burgers from the supermarket. I couldn’t stand them! Being a vegetarian at school was hard because there was not often a vegetarian choice. I remember dinner ladies being very angry with me that I was eating only boiled rice because I did not want the chicken supreme or the mincemeat chilli. My diet at home for many years growing up was cheese on toast, beans on toast, cheesy pasta, tomato pasta – then I found pesto sauce and was so grateful for the variety.

I was desperate for variety in my diet. When I was a teenager, I asked my parents if I could start doing some of my own shopping and cooking. I started making things like vegetable curries (with a jar of curry sauce from the supermarket), vegetarian lasagnes, and using soya mince to make shepherd’s pie and spaghetti bolognese.

I don’t have a problem with other people eating meat. I just don’t have any desire myself. I cook meat for other people, family, friends and while I was working as a cook I cooked meat for clients of course. I don’t mind cooking pieces of meat that I can’t really identify. But if I have to cook a bird, I find it really hard, because I can see where it’s head and feet where. It makes me feel really sick. When I was six years old I had no idea what gelatin was, or rennet or the ingredients that might be hidden in soups and stocks and gravy. So for years I ate all of those in ignorance. Many years later I learnt about them and realized I had been eating them. It did not really upset me.

I have done pretty well on a vegetarian diet. I remember at school the teachers saying that vegetarians are weaker or they don’t develop properly, or become sick more often. I don’t know if that was the general opinion back then. But I was a competitive swimmer with a lot of strength and stamina. I was on all the school sports teams. I did not seem to be lacking in strength. In more recent years I have been more conscious of making sure I eat more vegetarian sources of protein and a huge variety of vegetables. I love my veggies, I always have.

The only difficulty I have had is that I seem to have become sensitive to dairy. For that reason I have been eating a mostly vegan diet for some years. I am not sure, but I wonder if I ate too much dairy for many years. I cut it out completely for around five years, during which time I did not have a single cold. Before then I seemed to be chronically congested and snuffly. Since then I have been able to introduce a little dairy into my diet. I don’t drink milk or eat ice-cream, yoghurt or cream But I will have a little cheese every now and then (I love cheese!) and I seem to get away with it if I have a little. I know if I overdo it because I suffer!

So that is me. I am a vegetarian, not for religious reasons, not for ethical reasons, not for health reasons. I know some people do have some very strong feelings about being vegetarian or vegan, and I respect that. But in my case, I just lost the desire to eat meat and fish when I was six years old and thirty years later, I still have no desire.

So when I do mention I am vegetarian, I am not preaching, I am not promoting a vegetarian diet as superior to others, it’s just a small detail in a personal account I might relate.  I don’t mind what you eat.

 

Would You Like To Come Over For Supper? (Don’t Be Fooled – This Is Not A Food Blog)

I have been looking at lots of other blogs.  (Especially the blogs produced by everyone who has kindly decided to follow or like one of my posts.)  There are some really beautiful blogs out there.  I have to admit foodies, travellers and fashionistas are particularly amazing.  Your blog sites are stunning!  I love the phenomenal photos, the delicious details, the infectious enthusiasm.  I am so impressed by the blogs I have been scrolling through – truly inspirational!

I am not great with a camera I must admit.  Someone mentioned they thought my stories needed photos to make them look a bit more appealing.  I am trying – honestly!  I have to remind myself to take my tablet out to take photos that will relate to my stories.  I promise I will work on making my blogging site more appealing and colourful…if you have not realized by now, I am in this for the story writing.  But I am trying to apply all the lovely advice and helpful tips that readers have given me.  It has been delightful to receive feedback and encouragement.

To mark my appreciation for all of the kind and supportive words that other bloggers and readers have been sharing with me, I thought I would invite you all for supper.  I have in mind a very tasty summery dish that is vegetarian (so many vegetarian and vegan blog sites out there) and I will make some hummous, a crisp salad and a crusty loaf…plenty of lime and lemongrass pressé (wine will be available if you do like to indulge)…and if you would like, I will even make a naughty pudding for dessert.  I am going to abstain from naughty pudding myself, so I can work towards being almost perfect for my Goldfinch.

I am not a food blogger (and by the end of this post you will probably be thankful of that!)…but this is my attempt at a colourful post, full of photos and chatter.  The recipe came out of a magazine…I am sorry I do not know which, but I deserve no credit for this culinary creation.  I am going to turn these beautiful specimens into our yummy supper.

Start of Supper

The oven is on, pre-heating to 200ºc …do you need me to find out the temperature for an oven with a gas supply?  Apparently that would be Gas Mark 6.

So, sorry for stating the obvious, but I have washed the peppers before anything else. Then I have cut them in half and scooped out the seeds and the white stringy bits.  Then as you can see I have arranged them in an oven-proof dish.

Halved peppers

The next step is to take 100g of pistachio kernels and put them into a dry saucepan.  They need a gentle toasting.  You just begin to smell them cooking and then you need to take them away from the heat – unless you are fond of the taste of burnt nuts.

Now if you have a pestle and mortar – and you probably will if you are a food blogger – then please use this to crush the toasted pistachios.  I don’t have one, so I painstakingly chop them up with a knife.

Put them aside for now, they are going to be used later.

Pistachios

Now I have to get ready for the teary-eyed bit…chopping two onions.  Red, white, green – your choice.  I have used one red and one white today.  I have also chopped up four cloves of garlic.

Into the saucepan it goes with a nice lug of olive oil.  This needs to heat gently for about 8 minutes until the onions are soft and smelling delicious.  They should not be crispy, so gently does it with the heat.

Onions

I have weighed out 200g of rice.  Today I am using organic brown rice…because that is what I found in the cupboard.  I think other rice would work just as well…maybe much better.  I have added one teaspoon of dried oregano and a few twists of salt and pepper.

Oh no, you can see the reflection of my hand while I take the photo…that looks a bit creepy weird doesn’t it?

Rice

I have thrown this into the saucepan with the onions and garlic and stirred everything together thoroughly.

I have already prepared a jug with 300ml of boiling water and a vegetable stock cube and a tablespoon of tomato puree.

Stock

So the tomato-ee veggie stock goes into the saucepan with the onions and rice and everything is mixed again thoroughly.

I am going to let this mix simmer for another 10 minutes with regular stirring.

Mix

In between stirs I have prepared some of the other ingredients.

200g of feta cheese – crumbled.

A handful of flat-leaf parsley and a handful of mint leaves – chopped up roughly.

Oh and those chopped up pistachios.

So remove the saucepan from the heat and now mix in these last few ingredients…the aroma is so yummy.

Feta Nuts Herbs

Then…the nicey ricey goes into those halved peppers….

Stuffed Peppers

Now we need another one of these.

300ml vegetable stock and another tablespoon of tomato puree mixed together.

This should be poured over and around the stuffed peppers.

Stock

I then put a layer of foil over the top and bake the dish for a whole hour.  After an hour, I remove the foil and allow it to continue baking for another 15 minutes so that the top is a tiny bit crispy.

And voila!!!

Supper

Bon appetite!

This might not look the most appealing recipe you have seen this month (and I am sure my photography does not make it look more enticing) but I will say this…people love it!  Everyone I have made this for raves on about it…I love supermarket magazines for the recipes they contain…not too many ingredients, not too much skill and they often are very delicious.

I know what you are thinking…Caramel should definitely NOT start a food blog…safer to stick to the story writing.

All the same…thank you again for a very warm welcome to blogging.  Keep the tips and advice and comments coming.  It makes it so much fun to come home from work and see what might be waiting for me.

Now…who would like to help me with all the washing up?