Thursday, 15 October 2009

Garlic Is Driving Me Wild!

My onion sets (Red Baron & Sturon) arrived this morning, along with four garlic bulbs ( two each of Albigensian Wight and Lautrec Wight). It's all been sitting next to me, in its padded envelope, on the sofa whilst I catalogue it on Folia...and it's making my tummy rumble something rotten!

Torture I tell you!

The scent from the garlic is so strong - I'm sorely tempted to just go and bake one bulb and turn the other into garlic bread! Fortunately, I have some of this year's garlic harvest sitting in my kitchen, so the new stuff is safe. For now! Probably best to get it in the ground at the weekend! :-)

Now then, regarding lunch...!

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Weeding and seeding...and some great news!

Saturday 10th October:
Well, the first thing I have to say is that only three hours of gardening so soon after having ‘flu absolutely knocked me for six! Nevertheless, we still got quite a bit done, although not as much as I’d planned. Ho hum.

The Regiment had been over the weekend before – whilst we were away in York – and tidied up the grassy parts of the garden, plus cleared the orchard area and built a delightful little wattle fence around Bed #2. Spiffing!

Our priorities were to get at least two more beds dug out, dig over Beds 3 & 4, weed, and get the peas and beans in. Amato mio dug over the beds only to discover some building remains about 6" down in #4! As it is probably Elizabthan, we decided not to emulate Time Team but to leave it be, and only plant shallow rooted varieties in there!

Since the broccoli in Bed 1 was not authentic and had also been munched to near-death by critters, we decided to take it out. We also got rid of the aubergine because it’s now far too late for it to fruit…it had only just come into flower! In their places, I sowed some land cress and broadcast mustard. I think I shall be thinning the turnips next weekend, and possibly getting a second radish harvest.

Bed 2 was a joy to work on; it just needed a little tidying up, and I couldn’t resist taking a photo! Next weekend, I shall be thinning the kale.

In Bed 3, I sowed Aquadulce broad beans, Meteor peas, and some winter butterhead lettuce. Haven’t put anything in #4 yet but am hoping to get some plants in over the next week or so. Kevin marked out Bed 5 but his back was aching, so we thought it best to quit whilst we were ahead! Will be full steam ahead this weekend however, because we should have some brassicas and leeks to go in (I was too late to sow any, so have bought in plants).

Also transplanted three decent size feverfew bushes and a tiny one from the dye bed to the herb garden.

October 14th:
Today I received some Carlin peas from Manda at . I’d emailed her after reading on her blog that she’d been growing some Carlins (very popular in the 17th C), and asked if she had any to sell or swap. She very generously sent me 95 seeds and said to ‘pay it forward’ next year instead of sending something to her! How wonderful! I love gardeners!

The best news is that today I also received my Heritage Seed Library membership pack! Can’t wait to be able to order my six packs of seed! I’d like to eventually become a seed guardian but that’s going to be a way into the future…I’d like to get an allotment first. Or perhaps access to Holdenby’s kitchen garden! Heheh!

Pictured below;
Bed #2, Snowball turnip, Summer Crunch radish, feverfew, part of herb bed...

Saturday, 10 October 2009


It's been far too long since my last post...but there has been good reason. During the last few months I've been working on corset and wedding gown orders, knitting, researching historical foods....and digging. Lots of digging!

Back in May this year, amato mio and I were at the Holdenby House* Garden Show; we were supposed to have a PermOrganics stall there but unfortunately we didn’t have enough ready for it, so we decided to go along to the show anyway.

Whilst wandering around, we happened upon a sign, pointing us in the direction of a cruck house farmstead…so off we went to explore! When we got there, we discovered a reconstructed 17th century cottage (although not a true cruck house) and a very neglected garden. We both thought it was a shame that such a place was so overgrown, so noting the contact details of the people responsible for its upkeep, we resolved to get in touch!

Although the cottage is within the grounds of Holdenby, the owner (James Lowther, descendant of the Duke of Marlborough) has given over the care of it to a regiment of the Roundhead Association (oh, the irony!). 

We got in touch and had a meeting with them the day before my birthday. The day after my birthday, we began work on the garden! Four of the regiment (the Earl of Essex's Regiment of Foote, which we've now joined to do some Living History with) came over to help clear the land, and together we made good headway.

Since then, we've dug four food beds (planted and sown two, with more to be done today) and one for herbs at the front. The plan is thus;
  • Create eight food beds in total
  • Plant fruit trees on the slope at the end of the house, with possibly some invasive dyers there too!
  • Create a dyeplant bed at the back
  • Englarge the herb bed at the front
  • Be as authentic as possible (so no potatoes or caulis as they were very much high status foods!)
Fortunately, I have a wealth of information regarding what was grown by the common person during the mid-17th century, plus I have loads of recipes (which fill in the gaps). I also have a facsimile of a 17th cent. seed catalogue!

At the moment however, we’re concentrating on getting the land working, so have put in things from our garden (pepper, aubergine, broccoli) for now but come spring next year, we’ll be growing heritage/heirloom crops!

The best thing however, is how much amato mio has got into this! He’s never been a gardener but now he’s really keen, and even nips up several times a week by himself to check how things are and to do a bit of groundwork! He’s even making suggestions as to what we should be growing! I love how engaged he's become with this!

The rest of the regiment has been great; they organised a work party to go over last weekend (when we were away in York), and have offered to do a lot of the heavy work which I can’t do very well because of my back. They’re also going to be doing some repairs and restoration to the cottage. :-)

Long-term, we’re hoping to be able to get all the repairs to the cottage done, put some more appropriate furniture and tableware inside, and do some living history there. Holdenby has visitors to the gardens every Sunday in the summer, so it would be great to be able to give them a glimpse of 17th cent. country life! In addition, local schools visit, so I want to put together some fact sheets, and perhaps even some worksheets too (plant identification etc.).

’Tis all very exciting!

These two photos (above and below) are pretty much as we first saw the cottage in May...

Below: By August the first three beds had been dug. From the right of the picture; two beds have crops growing away nicely (although something decided to dig up the carrots in the bed on the far right!).

Above: Bed #2.
Below: The herb bed at the front of the cottage (well, the half of it which has stuff growing!); I have plans to extend it out into a more pleasing shape but it can wait - there's no hurry!

Today the plan is to get the broad beans into bed #3, dig over bed #4 and make a start on the other beds in preparation for getting in the cabbages, leeks, kales, onions and garlic. Once they're done, we'll move over to the dye bed!

*(Holdenby is a stately home, built in 1583 by Sir Christopher Hatton, Elizabeth I's chancellor. At the time it was the largest privately-owned house in England. After Hatton died, the house passed to James I and then to Charles I. During the last English Civil War, Charles was kept there under house arrest (1647), and at some point shortly after, the house was sold to a Parliamentarian who reduced it to the size it is now – still pretty large, despite being only an eighth of its original size! After Charles II came to the throne, Holdenby went back to the Crown, and in 1709, it was bought by John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough. It’s been passed down the female line ever since.)

Sunday, 10 May 2009


I just found this....

Trekkies Bash New Star Trek Film As 'Fun, Watchable'


Star Trek XI

SPOILER ALERT: Whilst there aren't many, there are a have been warned!

Although I wasn't expecting anything dire, I really wasn't prepared for the absolute brilliance of it all. Not only was it well-written and wonderfully directed, but the casting was top-notch too. Quinto & Pine have Nimoy & Shatner's nuances and mannerisms down to a tee. So much so, that it really was as though we were watching their younger selves! Even down to McCoy's sniping at Spock! Plus, the humour was very natural - it certainly felt more like the originals than the oft-forced banter of later Treks. The chemistry was definitely there!

I thought it was very well-paced too; there were no "Skip to the end" moments ('Spaced' fans will understand this!), no slowing down, no boring bits. It was relentless...but in a strangely relaxing kind of way!

I suspect the bit with Scotty materialising inside the tube was a nod to the the Scotty TNG episode. Also, Deep Roy had a cameo (I saw him briefly on the bridge of the Enterprise), so maybe that was an explanation for the Willy Wonka-ness of the scene. Simon Pegg was genius (we gave a little cheer when he finally appeared on screen!), and I suspect that he enjoyed playing the part just as much as we loved watching him. I also loved all the little homages to earlier Trek (Orion slave girl as a cadet, banging head on overhead beam, Delta Vega, ubiquitous hairy monster fight...although I did think it was going to get kicked in its knees!), and I loved the other sci-fi references too - particularly Cadet Vader, and one gribbly being swallowed by an even bigger one! They were a really nice touch, and a definite geeky crowd-pleaser! Apparently there were some Lost references there too but since I've never seen the show, they were....well, lost on me!

Visually, the film was stunning. It wasn't just a case of excellent SFX - although they were pretty darn fab - but more one of brilliant design and crisp contrasts. I absolutely loved the drab harshness of the Narada in comparison to the almost sterile environment of Spock's ship. The Romulans were pretty cool too actually, and it was great that they were gnarled and hard-bitten miners as opposed to the shoulder pads and psuedo-Vulcan hairstyles of TNG. For that alone, I think Nemesis did a good job! The tattoos were brilliant as well! I like tattoos! The Enterprise too, looked amazing - you really got a sense of scale and magnificence that I don't think has ever really been present before. I have to admit to getting a little goosebumpy!

I also really liked that the classic uniforms were kept. Yes the fabrics may be 21st century (and I'm glad they ditched the ric-rac braid!) but the style and the colours were faithful...and very cool! And it's great to see that a red shirt still means you're going to get bashed up (and certainly don't ever wear a scarlet skydiving suit!)!

All in all, a thumpingly good film; well written, well acted, well directed. A finely crafted piece of sci-fi....and a jolly good romp around the galaxy to boot!

As for Bones – definitely swoonworthy! He was my favourite character from TOS (and The Doctor is my favourite from Voyager too!); it was great that Karl Urban managed to recreate that curmudgeonly attitude so well. And I am sooooo pleased we got a "Dammit, I'm a doctor not a physicist" line! Of course, it would have been good to have a "She cannae take it Cap'n" from Scotty but I suspect that's something for another time! Apparently the next one is already in progress! Yay!

I heard on Friday from someone in the know that the SE DVD will be an extended version, with over an hour of restored deleted scenes, including, I presume, the sex scene between Kirk and Uhura.
I think there is every probability that I shall have to see it at least twice more at the cinema!

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Fast food - should the law be changed?

Bry has just posted something about fast food which got me thinking:

Call me a fascist but I really do think that fast food should be more strictly regulated in some way. The laws applying to catering and FF are not the same as those for food which we buy from shops/markets etc. This means that a gazillion types of rubbish is legally allowed to be put into this 'food'.

For example, a caterering supplier around the corner sells drums of pomace oil to restaurants/takeaways. Pomace is non-food grade olive oil. It's the worst kind of olive oil you can get, and is most commonly used in the cosmetics and soap making industry. It's what's left after all the nutritional goodness has been squeezed out of the olives. It's essentially a by-product, and generally deemed unfit for human consumption.

Because laws pertaining to supermarkets are pretty stringent, Waitrose for example, couldn't sell it to its customers for cooking use, but a caterer can. Yet this stuff will clog you up, and give you a bad say the least.

As may be assumed, I'm not a fan of fast food (although the odd pizza has been known to pass my lips) - probably because I was brought up with good, healthy, home-grown food. I've always cooked from scratch too, and frankly, I find it utterly frightening that legally, companies are allowed to put so much crap into food.

Beef connective tissue anyone? Trans fats? Chicken feathers?

Even more frightening is how non-resistant some people seem to be to the appetite-stimulating chemicals which are pumped out of these places and into the surrounding air. Think they don't do that? Think again. Even a certain high st. chocolatier pumps out chocolatey scents in an attempt to get our receptors dictating to our purses. Add to that the flavour enhancers and other almost addiction-inducing chemicals, and what you end up with is a nation of junk(food)ies.

It's not just the obesity issue, although admittedly it is a huge problem, if you'll forgive the pun. It's a question of health too. I go into town and I see leagues of greys at McSatan's. Their skin is dull and lifeless, their hair is manky, and they generally look like extras from Shaun of the Dead. Food is supposed to be good for you. It is supposed to maintain health, not destroy it.

There has to be a level of responsibility because if as Bry says, people are unaware of the damage they are doing to themselves, then the onus must surely be on the food suppliers to ensure that risk of damage is limited. I don't expect for one minute that your average person walks into JunkBurger and asks for nutritional content and an ingredients list for the Big Whoppa they've just ordered. In fact, I'd be surprised if the staff could even furnish said customer with such a thing! How is it so difficult to make a healthy and delicious burger? Surely people's health is more important than profit?

People are always going on about their civil liberties and the Nanny State, but if they are not capable of looking after themselves, then it's time surely, that someone stepped in to lend a hand. We all accept that alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs can be hazardous, so why do we still close our eyes to the damage that food can do?

And don't even get me started on the ecological implications...

Of course, when I rule the world, there will be no fast food outlets. There will be no junk food sold in shops. There will be no wearing of sports clothing unless a sport is being participated in. (The latter will be easy enough to implement however, due to the chavs having been exchanged for fine upstanding citizens from less wealthy nations, who are more than willing to work for a living.)

Furthermore, it will be illegal for Microsoft to try to turn the 360 into a Wii.

Or for Michael Bay to make any more films.

Or for Tom Cruise to call himself a reasonable human being...much less an actor.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Oohhh shiny!

Despite still feeling utterly rough, I am nevertheless chuffed to bits. Why? Because my wonderful man has just paid for my Hub 2 ticket! The second Torchwood convention next month is being held literally five minutes from my home, so Birgit is coming to stay for a weekend of Weevils and Blowfish!

As if that wasn't enough, Kevin's 360 has just been returned, all fixed an' everything. Inside the packaging was a code for a free month's subs to XBL! Not that either of us needs it at the moment, due to purchasing a year's subs (each) in advance, but I'm sure it will come in handy sooner or later.

Well, that will flimmin' well teach me....

Amato mio took me out for a meal last night to one of our favourite restaurants. We've purposely not dined out since New Year's Eve because of my I-must-shift-the-poundage-thing. It was lovely. The food was gorgeous as usual, and it was lovely to go out on a date again with my beloved. 

(Although we've been living together for just over two years, we make a point of going out on dates!)

However, I'm really paying for it now. It seems that in just five weeks, my body has grown accustomed to not having rich food, which meant that at 4.40 this morning, I awoke with a horribly churning tummy. By 7am, I had resorted to Immodium (which is still giving me cramps). Ugh. In addition, I feel....well, heavy, sluggish and generally bleurgghh. It's really not nice at all.

My chum SapphireBlue blogged about having a food hangover a little while ago, my SIL's hubby had one the weekend before last, and now I understand how they felt. It's utterly heinous. Even worse though is the idea that I may be doomed! I mean frankly, if this is going to happen whenever I have something rich to eat, I'd rather not bother; however, I don't want to give up dining out. I love food, and I get so much pleasure from going out on dinner dates with  amato mio. Perhaps at some point, I'll find a happy medium.

For now though, I'm sticking to ultra healthy nosh! :-/

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Valentine's Day - bah humbug!

I loathe the way that over here (in the UK) every 'special' day now seems to be turning into mass consumerism. Valentine's Day should be about showing your love for someone (or declaring your fondness for them), which ought to be a very personal thing. Instead, people are conditioned to buy overpriced bouquets (the price of red roses is extortionately raised on February 14th), chocolate and meals out. And if they fail in their duty to line the pockets of shopkeepers, they're often made to feel bad about it. Why? Because they're told that this is the way to behave. Just as we are told we must spend, spend, spend in order to make our loved ones happy....and love us in return.

What utter nonsense.

What's wrong with a simple handmade card? Or a poem? In fact, there is a lovely scene in 'Cranford', where, upon seeing factory-printed cards for sale, the ladies declare that anyone stooping to such levels instead of making a card, cannot possibly be sincere!

Just as with Mothering Sunday, if you need to have a designated day to tell someone how much you appreciate them....

I admit I am rather curmudgeonly when it comes to all these events. I'm happy to let V/Day slip by unnoticed but K likes to do something romantic (it's not like we don't have a romantic relationship anyway!), so I go along with it. In fairness though, we don't do the whole champagne and roses thing. A candlelit dinner for two in our beautiful cellar tends to be as far as it goes, which is good. Actually, we always have candles on the table for dinner. And breakfast too sometimes! I really wouldn't be impressed if he spent a small fortune on a bouquet. After all, what's a bunch of flowers saying? Looks lovely for a short while, starts to fade and wither, and then eventually dies. That's not my idea of true love, and it bears no resemblance to what K and I have.

And while we're on the subject of pointless celebrations;

I don't celebrate Easter because I am not a Christian. I don't celebrate Samhain (or Hallowe'en) because I am not a Pagan. And if it weren't for K and his family, I'd have nothing to do with Greedmas either!

I actually find it incredibly sad that the majority of people in the UK appear to celebrate things that they have little or no idea about. Non-Christians celebrating the birth of Christ by getting themselves into debt and overeating? Is that really what Jesus was all about? Non-Pagans celebrating the time between times by dressing up as Barbie and extorting sweets and chocolate from their neighbours? And you wait, if the prol has its way, very soon we'll all be expected to hang footie flags out of our windows in April to celebrate a chap in the Middle East who inexplicably became England's patron saint by virtue of his cruelty to animals.

I have a solution though - instead of dressing up our desire to have a good old knees-up and tack-fest with pseudo religious excuses, why not be honest about it? Let's replace Christmas with Consumer Day, Hallowe'en with Disney Day and Easter with Chocster. And if we have to have it, instead of St. George's, let's have National Act Like a Thug Day.

And Valentine's? If you truly love the person you're with, then every day should be an excuse to show it.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Roofs, rain and red rings of death!

Our roof has sprung a leak. So much so that we've had to move the bed! It's not too bad at the momet however, and we only have to use the bucket when the rain is torrential! Of course, it couldn't have happened in November when Kevin was still employed.....oh no, it had to wait until the end of December! Luckily his consultancy seems to be taking off, so we'll be able to afford to get it fixed soon.

As if that wasn't enough, on Sunday we were on our way to see my eldest son; he's at Canterbury Christchurch, and as the M25 was a bit snarled up, we decided to go to Broadstairs via the North Circular. Good job we did because the car suddenly decided it wasn't going to work anymore! Luckily there was a bus stop, and as Kevin pulled in and switched the car off (can you tell I'm not a driver?!), the roof started to go down. It was pouring with rain at this point! It was pretty comedic! Luckily, Kevin had joined the RAC last week.

An hour and half of playing hangman later, the engineer arrived and decided that it was something to with an electrical fault in the transmission. Another hour and half (and more hangman) later, the towtruck arrived to take us back to Northampton! The garage said yesterday that they've fixed the transmission but the roof and the wipers are still being mental! Apparently they are ringing Smart to see if they will cover part of the cost of the repair because it's going to be pretty expensive.

Bizarrely, whilst we were waiting for the RAC, there was an accident across the road from us. Fortunately nobody appeared to be hurt but one car's entire front resembled a concertina. Ouch.

We've decided that actually, living in the middle of the town, we don't really need a car that much, especially not now both of us work from home. Any travelling that Kevin has to do generally requires a train journey into London, or a flight. Shopping is not really an issue because I'm happy to walk to the market every couple of days, and for other stuff, Waitrose delivers. So it's only really visiting which we'd need a car for, and it would actually work out cheaper to hire one for two weekends a month than to keep a car on the road full time!

The worst thing however.....last night Kevin got the Red Ring of Death .

Poor man switched on his 360, and there it was in all its reditude. (Sob) He spent half an hour on the 'phone to Microsoft, arranging to have it fixed (£59 - gulp), only for them to ask him to call back because rather ironically, their system had just crashed! (Doh!) Thankfully, mine seems to still be fine, so we can carry on playing Mass Effect together!

They say bad things happen in threes don't they? Fingers crossed that's right then!

EDIT: Those nice people at Smart have said they'll cover £1,000 of the £1,500 repair bill, despite the car being out of warranty. That's a loyalty scheme that's really worth having!

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Baked Vegetable Crisps

Servings: 4
Cooking Time: 120 min

Spray oil
2 medium parsnips
2 medium sweet potatoes
2 large carrots
Freshly ground salt and black pepper if desired

Preheat oven to Gas Mark ½/130°C/250°F

Line a couple of large baking trays with parchment or spray with a spray oil (try Filippo Berio Spray Olive Oil – much nicer than Fry Light).

Peel the veggies (I set aside the peelings to make stock with later), and then finely slice them. I use a food processor to do this but you could use a mandoline or do it by hand.

Blot the veggies with kitchen paper, muslin or a clean teatowel to remove as much moisture as possible. Once dried, spread them out evenly on the baking trays. Don’t worry that it seems a lot – they will shrink considerably.

Coat the veggies with some spray oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Bake for 1 hour and then turn the veggies over. Roast for a further 1-2 hours, or until the crisps are crunchy….but not charred!

Store in an airtight container or bag for up to three days (if they last that long!).


Last night we went to see Defiance. It wasn't bad - not a great film but certainly not a bad one. Daniel Craig, despite being stubbly, scruffy and largely dirty (and not in a good way!), was still gorgeous - he was the highlight of the film! Great to see him actually acting again too...although I have absolutely no objection to his eye-candyness of James Bond (aesthetically, I still prefer Mr Brosnan though).

Two things which struck me about the film; the sense of doom - no matter where they ran to, they would always be hunted. How on earth do you manage to keep up morale in that kind of situation? I suppose given that they didn't actually know how long the war would last, they just hoped that tomorrow it would all be over. Even so, it was surely unutterably grim. I don't think the film really conveyed just how awful it must have been.

Secondly, the film conveniently neglected to mention anything about what happened to them between 1944 and the end of the war. If it's OK to show that the Nazis slaughtered Jews, why is it not OK to show the same regarding the Russians? OK, it may not have been the wholesale slaughter of the Nazis but we know that once the Russians gained control of Belarus, many Jews returned home and were promptly murdered by the Russians who'd taken over their homes, farms and factories, so why not say so in the epilogue? Instead, it was all happy happy, nice nice. Sure, for some there was a happy ending but for others it was completely tragic. I do think that if film makers feel the need to inform through their storytelling, then they should do it properly, and not be so keen to turn a selective blind eye. Surely in doing so, it devalues to some extent, the magnitude of these people's travails?

On a happier note, I am feeling justifiably pleased with my own defiance in the face of demon Minstrels! No, not some hellish fiddlers forcing me to dance unceasingly on the Sabbath, but those of the rather more chocolatey variety! Previously, our cinematic experiences have always included a pot of Minstrels and a large cup of Diet Coke (with no ice, for certain they are the Devil's lumps!).

Not last night though. Oh no, I planned ahead!

I knew my resolve would probably not be enough to tell me that snacking at the cinema was just a psychological habit, and that I didn't actually need anything to eat; aware of this, I made myself some baked vegetable crisps (recipe to follow), and took along a banana and a bottle of water. As yummy as they were (and believe me they were), I didn't even eat half of the crisps! But even better, Kevin had a pot of Minstrels (he didn't munch his way through all of them, I hasten to add), and I wasn't even tempted. In fact, I can honestly say I didn't so much as think about it!

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Paneer and Spinach Curry

Servings: 4

280g pack paneer
150g frozen peas
1 large tin chopped tomatoes
1 large white onion
100g fresh baby spinach leaves
1 tbsp mild cumin & coriander curry paste
50g Total 0% fat Greek yoghurt
30g Fresh coriander
2" cube of fresh ginger
Freshly ground salt and black pepper
1 tbsp rapeseed oil

Chop the onions as finely as you like them and fry gently in the oil. Peel and finely chop, or mince, the ginger and add this to the pan. When the onions are soft, add the curry paste, peas and paneer, stir, making sure everything is coated, and fry off for about five minutes.

Try not to inhale as you stir as things can get a little acrid at this point!

Add the chopped tomatoes and the coriander, which you will have had the foresight to chop finely or shred before you get to this point! Stir and leave to simmer for 10 mins.

Stir in the yoghurt and simmer for another five minutes. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary. If in a hurry, it can be served now but it will be much better if you let it simmer on as low a heat as possible for another 15 minutes.

Whichever you choose, just before serving, stir in the spinach. The heat from the curry will just wilt it, so you still get max vitamins etc, plus all the taste. I personally can't bear it flaccid but if you prefer it that way, then add it a little earlier.
Eaten on the day of making, the flavours tend to cycle, which is great, but if left for 24 hours, all the flavours tend to infuse and blend together, so it’s almost like having two different meals from the same recipe!
By the way, for those worried about the ethics of cheese, if you get the paneer from a Hindu-friendly place, you at least know it has been made after the calves have had their fill of the milk, and that the cow has been treated properly. It doesn't contain rennet, so is suitable for veggies...but obviously isn't vegan.

Pasta e Funghi alla Goktor!

Servings: 2

Preparation Time: 10 min
Cooking Time: 25 min
Level of Difficulty: Easy

1 large can tomatoes
200g fresh mushrooms
1 medium onion(s)
3 cloves garlic (crushed)
1 tablespoon low-fat plain fromage frais
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh basil (shredded)
½ tablespoon mixed Italian herbs
300g cooked pasta
Freshly ground black pepper

Make the sugo: Finely chop the onion, and gently sauté in the oil in a large pan or wok until softened and beginning to turn golden. Add the garlic and mix in well (if you add the garlic before now, it will turn bitter and also risks burning).

Continue to sauté on a low heat while you prepare the mushrooms; wipe off any growing medium with a piece of kitchen roll, and then slice finely. Add to onion and garlic mix, increase the heat and cook off for about five minutes, keeping the food moving all the time to prevent burning and sticking (I use two spatulas for this as it makes life much easier!). Add all of the herbs except the basil.

Once the mushrooms have browned, reduce the heat to its lowest setting once more, add the tin of tomatoes and stir in well. (You could use fresh plum toms if you prefer but in all honesty, good tinned ones are just as acceptable, and much less bother.) Simmer on a low heat for around five minutes, and then stir in the tablespoon of low-fat fromage frais. Continue to simmer for a further 10 minutes. Add the shredded fresh basil just before serving, and check for seasoning.

Cook the pasta: In the meantime, cook the pasta according to its instructions until it is al dente – you need this slight bite to it because it will continue to cook for a couple of minutes once the sugo is added to it. If you cook it until it’s completely soft, it will become overcooked at the final stage.

Drain the pasta once it is done, and place into two warmed dishes. Divide the sugo between them. (Normally I would mix the pasta and sugo together and then serve up, but I think that by doing it separately, it’s easier to check that everything is divided equally, thus making it easier to calculate the calories.)

To veganize: Substitute the fromage frais for low-fat plain soya yoghurt. I suspect it will be just as creamy but I can’t verify this because I have a soy intolerance at the moment. If anyone does use the soy yog, please email me to let me know whether it works! (nicole AT nicolelestrange DOT com)

A note about pasta: I used a good-quality dried spaghetti for this recipe, which works really well, but it’s entirely down to personal preference as to which type/shape you use. Just remember however, that if you opt for fresh pasta, it will alter the calorie value of this meal.

A note about herbs: Whilst it is always best to use fresh herbs (not just because of the flavour but also for the vitamins etc.), if you don’t have them, it’s okay to use dried ones, provided they’re less than a couple of months old. It’s really not worth keeping them any longer than this as you lose so much flavour. If using dried, halve the amount called for in the recipe because the drying process intensifies them. If using frozen herbs, use the same amount as for fresh.