KNOW YOUR ONIONS

I’D FIND LIFE VERY DIFFICULT WITHOUT ONIONS.

Leaving aside pickled onions for a moment, which we get though a fair whack of in this house, as I’m married to a pickled onion fanatic (and let me take a moment to pay tribute to the delightful tiny cocktail onions which blessed my Gibsons, before I stopped drinking alcohol). I tend to buy three types: red onions (which, for some unknown reason, are called Spanish onions round these parts), spring onions (or scallions to our American comrades) and brown onions.

I generally use the red onions for salads, often lightly pickling the sliced onion segments in the bottom of the salad bowl, either in lemon juice or vinegar, as I prepare the other ingredients. It’s also worth noting that a red onion, sliced in half against the grain, is a thing of remarkable beauty.

Spring onions are obviously good for dishes originating in Asia, like stir-fries or ramen, or indeed in salads – but not in the truly wretched British salads of my childhood, which consisted of a couple of lettuce leaves, some slices of cucumber, a couple of tomato quarters, a couple of spring onions and some protein (usually one of the following: a hard-boiled egg, some cheese, a slice of ham, Spam, tinned corned beef, tinned salmon), with only a blob of Salad Cream to alleviate the suffering.

As I use brown onions for all other basic cooking, from finely chopped in sauces and stews, to sliced and fried on a sausage or vegeburger sandwich, I get through a lot more of these.

Spem in Allium.

Here, then, is my hot tip: I always buy brown onions by the sack. In my experience, a sack costs not much more than what at small net of onions costs (see above pictures) and contains about ten times more. It’ll be ages before they start to sprout and go soft (pick out any that do), and you’ll have already saved loads of money. Obviously, you need to have somewhere to store them, and I’m fortunate to have room. Keep an eye out for any that go off, though, because they stink.

If you come to the end of a jar of pickled onions, don’t discard the vinegar, try just filling the jar with sliced brown onions. They’ll quickly pickle and are delicious.

As something of an afterthought, it came to me that I should include onion powder here. I’d never used this until a year or so ago, when I saw it being included in lots of American cooking shows. If you’re making something burger-y, onion powder is a fantastic addition; it gives loads of onion flavour without disrupting the form of the burger. Anyone who has despaired as their vegeburgers fall apart in the pan will appreciate this. It’s also essential in those barbecque or chilli sauces that you make for, say, baked beans or Buffalo wings.

YOGHURT

Yoghurt is truly wonderful stuff. I still recall getting a tub of flavoured yoghurt as a treat as a kid and just loving it. In those days, it was all fruit pulp and sugar. Things are very different now, with supermarkets having a huge range of flavoured and unflavoured yoghurts to choose from. (In Australia, I think we have to give a big shout out to our Greek community for pushing things forward in this area). Still, similar to the hummus situation: such small tubs; such high cost.

The English-speaking world struggles with the word yoghurt. It’s apparently Turkish in origin and the way people say the word in English tends to fall into two camps: yo-gurt and yog-ert. I think each group considers the other’s pronunciation as odd and slightly foolish. I come from the yog-ert part of the world and live in the yo-gert part, can’t find it in myself to change and have had to come to terms with the fact that I sound faintly ridiculous.

I eat yoghurt most days, either in my morning muesli smoothie or with something like preserved peaches or a drizzle of honey for a simple dessert. Making dairy or non-dairy versions are just as easy, as the same ‘good’ bacteria work on both dairy and plant milks.

That, dear reader, is the perfect consistency.

Years ago, when I was a vegan, I started making my own soy yoghurt. The homemade stuff is really cheap, has all the good stuff in it (blah, blah, probiotics), and can be made with the minimum of faffing about.

In the old days, I had a wide-necked thermos and I’d bring a pan of soy milk up to just below the boil, let it cool to just above blood temperature (too hot, the bacteria will die; too cold, the bacteria won’t multiply), take off the skin, then add a bit of the previous batch (or some shop-bought live yoghurt) and let it sit overnight.

More recently, I’d been making it directly in mason jars using much the same method, only this time putting the filled jars into an esky with a jar of boiling water overnight to maintain the temperature.

However, about six months ago, I bought myself a rice cooker. Turns out that the ‘keep warm’ setting is perfect for yoghurt fermentation. I just pour in two litres of unsweetened soy milk, add the starter (either the last of the previous batch or a few tablespoons of bought yoghurt), flick the switch and leave overnight. I end up with two litres of thick, delicious, nutritious soy yoghurt.

My extensive internet research tells me (rightly or wrongly) that I don’t need to bring my milk up to near-boiling point anymore, so I don’t.

I primarily use unsweetened soy milk, largely because it has a good protein content (as opposed to, say, oat or almond milk, is lower in cholesterol than cow’s milk, and has a pleasant ‘beany’ taste. Also, I’ve found that different brands of soy milk produce very different results – not so much in flavour, but in consistency. I recently tried hemp milk, which made a runny yoghurt, with a pleasant taste, but cost a dollar or so more per litre.

I understand that you can also put it in your pants if you get thrush.

MUESLI

MUESLI IS PROBABLY THE MOST VIRTUOUS of all the breakfast choices. I find it a bit hard work to be honest – even possessing a set of teeth resilient enough to have survived the dentistry inflicted on the British working class, I still find all that chewing tedious; there’s just not enough hours in the day. Much of the commercially available, ready-mixed muesli is all-filler-no-killer, so to speak; heavy on the wheat flakes and light on the tasty shit. I make my own.

Approximately twice a year I fill my shopping trolley with a variety of nuts, seeds and dried fruits, which I mix at home with rolled oats and eat each work day morning. Whilst this is something of a financial investment initially, you have to keep telling yourself as they scan them through the checkout, that the cost-per-day is negligible, especially as you will be able to start your day with a delicious and righteous meal of plant protein, good fats and soluble fibre.

Because of the chewing issue, I’ve taken to soaking it overnight (in homemade kombucha, don’t you know, but you can use water, milk or fruit juice; whatever floats your breakfast boat) and including them in a fuck off breakfast smoothie, which I drink at my desk (I’ll do a separate post about this).

The ingredients and quantities will vary in each batch, according to what’s cheap and available (or not available), but I get as many of the following as possible and mix them in with some cheap rolled oats:

Brazil nuts

Hazelnuts

Almonds

Walnuts

Pumpkin seeds/pepitas

Sunflower seeds

Chia seeds

Hemp seeds

Dried apricots

Dried cranberries

Sultanas

Cranberries

Then I just save the dry mix in plastic tubs and use a half-scoop a day until it’s time to start again.

GARLIC KNUCKLE-DUSTER

WE EAT A LOT OF GARLIC. I’m old enough and white enough to remember the days when, If someone had had, say, a curry the night before, everyone would comment on the smell. I can still remember how exotic and delightful the taste was when I first used it when I left home and started cooking for myself – we would NEVER have had it at home when I was growing up.

Describing how alien garlic was to the British working class tastebuds would now seem almost unbelievable. I think its absence from British food until relatively recently was due to the Protestant fear of inflaming the passions. I’ve always quite liked the smell on other people, to be honest, and have never really given a shit if I sail around on a garlicy waft myself, or indeed if my passions become inflamed.

Along with flossing my teeth, filling the car with petrol and unloading the dishwasher, I find crushing garlic a bit of a ball-ache. Getting the skins off, chopping, mincing…not a major ball-ache, but just a rather tedious element of cooking, a process I otherwise enjoy greatly.

I own a traditional hinged garlic press, which I never use, because of the large amount of uncrushed garlic which remains inside, making it both inefficient and a pain in the arse to clean. I also own a pestle and mortar, which is good for grinding a few cloves down with salt. Mostly, though, I’d just use my knife to finely chop and/or puree it with a little salt.

Until recently that is, when I saw an advert for this little tool. It’s basically a garlic crushing knuckle duster which makes short work out of garlic crushing, either with salt or without, but also rinses off very easily afterwards. I bought mine from AliExpress for about $6 I think, and have used it regularly ever since. It also easily rinses clean under the tap after use.

A quick bit of internet research tells me that our current unelected head of state doesn’t eat garlic. Although this is probably a generational thing, it also turns out that lizards hate garlic. I’ll leave you to form your own conclusions.

HUMMUS

HUMMUS FUCKING ROCKS. It’s a piece of piss to make and so very cheap that I am amazed by the tiny tubs they sell in supermarkets and the prices they charge.

Basically, to make it, you need a shit-load of chickpeas (garbanzo beans, if you’re in America). Dried are best, but use tinned if you need to.

Soak your dried chickpeas and overnight in loads of water (they will swell). Some people, myself included, add a teaspoonful of bicarb and a teaspoonful of salt to this water.

Change the water, adding a teaspoonful of salt to the fresh water, and boil or pressure cook, the soaked chickpeas until they are soft.

Drain the cooked chickpeas, reserving the stock.

Set a few cupfuls of cooked chickpeas aside.

Then add:

A jar of tahini (for 1 kilo of dried chickpeas) – an essential ingredient (Dark or light, doesn’t matter; both nice), which adds a dry note to the taste and improves the texture. Tahini has a habit of separating and the solids sinking to the bottom of the jar, and mine had to be practically chiseled out, but that’s OK.

Lemon juice (I’m lucky enough to have a lemon tree in my front yard, so I used the juice from the lemon crop, which I’d frozen in ice cube trays, but have no objection to using bottled lemon juice. Lemons can be ridiculously expensive, and you’ll need far more than you think.) Add until it tastes a bit lemony.

Garlic which has been crushed to a pulp with salt. Some people, myself included, believe that the salt partly cures the garlic, knocking off some of that raw taste. (During an office discussion over this a couple of years ago, one of my former managers, a bit of a funny bugger, got the right hump over the very suggestion of this and tried to start an argument – it seemed to me an odd hill to choose to die on, especially as I don’t really give a fuck what you do with your own hummus.) If you’re planning to freeze some of the hummus, leave the garlic out and add it after you’ve defrosted.

Salt.

Black pepper.

Blend, blend, blend. Get it as smooth as you can. I use a stick blender. Add some of the cooking stock, if you need to. Don’t leave it too thick. In fact, make it a bit wetter than you think you need to, if that makes sense.

Once blended, stir the saved whole chickpeas through.

Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle paprika and drizzle oil on the top (this not only adds another taste/visual/texture element, but it stops it developing a crust.)

Keeps in the fridge for about a week.

I saw a television show recently where Ottolenghi went to Tel Aviv’s best hummus shop and had a big bowl of hummus, served with chunks of raw onion; sprinkled with the juice from pickled chillis and scooped up with fresh pitta. Fuck me, it looked good. I didn’t have any pickled chillis, so I substituted dill cucumbers and their juice, along with a segmented brown onion and a Lebanese pitta (I always keep some in the freezer.) This too was delicious.

TINNED SPAGHETTI ON TOAST

Carb-avoiders avert your eyes

A lot of once-popular meals have found themselves going through the complete cycle, from being staple parts of the diet, to being out of vogue and rather naff, to being rediscovered, albeit with a sense of irony and a hip twist. This dish is somewhere on that cycle. Tinned spaghetti on toast was something I’d be fed with regularly as a kid, when cheap and filling were the only essential ingredients in food. I would gladly never have eaten it again, once I had discovered that there was a whole world of other foods available.

The pleasures are simple in this retro-classic: it’s old-skool enough to not give a single seventies shit about piling one lot of carbs (coated in a delicious, sugar-laden, tomato sauce to boot) on top of another load of carbs (slathered in butter).

A quick look at the internet unearths a few twists to this: adding melted cheese, using fancy-pants pasta and sauce…NO, you hipster fuckers! You open a tin of spaghetti, heat it up and pour it on some toast. In fact, I think I’m already pushing my luck by using brown bread. The only acceptable variations to this dish are to change up to spaghetti hoops (for a special occasion, like) or – if you’re really posh or learning to read – alphabetti spaghetti.

Turns out my wife has brown sauce (HP) with hers. For the sake of marital harmony, I will leave this without further comment.

Also, this is one of the only dishes where the use of margarine is acceptable (but not your modern, butter-wannabe shite – this calls for crappy Blue Riband-style margarine-tasting margarine, full of trans fats, the type that clickbait articles tell you the flies won’t even touch.)

Whilst I grew up on food like this, I rarely eat it nowadays. I’m always really glad when I do, though. However, it’s important to recognise the vast difference in experience between rediscovering and appreciating a meal like this anew, and needing to eat it for the third time this week, because that’s all there is.

A FEW WORDS ABOUT COFFEE

I FUCKING LOVE COFFEE. Always have. It helps you wake up, helps you think; helps you poo. Living in Adelaide, a city where the inhabitants try to distract themselves from the ennui caused by living in Adelaide, by being obsessed, not just with coffee, but with perfect coffee, has only made this love more potent.

Quality froth.

I try to start every day with as good a cup as I can manage and drink two or three more cups each day. I avoid regularly buying from coffee shops, despite working near one of the best, largely because I’m a bit of a skinflint, but also so that – when I do go out for a cup – I like it to feel like a treat.

I bought a cheapo espresso machine a few years ago, which was quickly flogged to death in this household of relentless coffee drinkers. When my mum died and I inherited a few quid, I invested in a fancy DeLonghi coffee machine, which, although it was eye-wateringly expensive, lasted years with the occasional service and repair, churning out decent coffee, multiple times a day. We were all fucking bereft when it finally gave up the ghost. When I priced up a replacement, they were, sadly, just too expensive to justify the outlay.

As luck would have it, I’d been in an op shop (thrift/charity shop) and picked up a boxed, Bodum glass milk frother a couple of years previously, just because it was too good to resist at $5. It looks and functions like a traditional cafetière (French press/plunger), but without any metal parts on the jug, so you can put an inch or two of milk in it, pop it into the microwave to warm up, then plunge the plunger up and down to froth the milk. I thought I’d dig this out of the cupboard and give it a whirl, not having very high hopes, to be honest. Turns out it makes hugely thick, luscious, frothy milk. Well done Bodum. It also produces good results with your non-dairy milks, too.

I did a bit of internet research and found the Brikka moka pot, made by Bialetti, which has a little valve inside which is supposed to add crema to the coffee. I invested in the 6 shot version. It makes consistently superb coffee, frequently with a decent crema, which I drink with my frothed milk which takes, rather conveniently I think, about the same amount of time to prepare as the coffee takes to percolate.

It’s also worth noting that this process takes about the same amount of time as using the machine, once you factor in waiting for it to flush out, warm up etc. You also avoid having to clean the machine, which was always a proper ball-ache.

The only problem I had was sitting the moka pot on the gas stove. The iron trivet-thingy was just too small, so it would always be a bit of a balancing act, leading to the occasional spill – and fuck me, it makes a mess if it falls over.

To resolve this, I managed to buy online some small, flat, circular iron things which sit on the stove to support the pot. Unfortunately, due to my inability to read Japanese, I bought three, but never mind, eh.

One afternoon, on a day off, I was pottering round the house when I fancied a coffee, so made and drank a six-cup special. This gave me the worries. Quite uncomfortably so. So, for the sake of my mental health, I got myself a smaller version.

This wonderful little gadget (also made by Bialetti, as it happens), delivers a single shot of espresso straight into the cup and is perfect for giving you a little coffee-caffeine hit, without causing your brain to spoil your precious day away from your place of employment by causing you to ruminate over conversations you had ten years ago or why your boss is such a cunt.

I’m not getting paid to recommend this.

During the day at work, I drink black coffee made in my little cheapo one cup cafetière/plunger/French press. Whilst I’m not one to skimp on the essential ingredient, I’ve recently discovered that the organic, fair trade ground coffee sold by Aldi is, to me, pretty hard to beat. It’s not just because I’m trying to be woke, either.

It’s frothy, man. [Shout out to the 70’s kids out there]

A note about milk. Currently, I’m drinking oat milk at home and will happily go for whole milk, soy, dog, cat or oat if I’m out and about, depending how the mood takes me and I appreciate the taste variations.

WHO THE FUCK AM I?

I’M A PERSON WHO WAS UNFORTUNATE enough to have been brought up on the British food of the sixties and seventies, which was pretty crap overall. It wasn’t until I became vegan (where I reached the rank of Chief Inspector of the Vegan Police, before handing in my badge after 12 years) that I learned to cook and explored lots of amazing new foods. Apparently, I’m now a ‘flexitarian’. Fuck. I’m lucky enough to have lived in three wonderful cities (London, Birmingham, and Adelaide), all of whom have left their culinary mark.

I started this blog, because I thought I’d like to share some of the recipes which I enjoy, along with some associated topics. I’m not a trained cook (as will become abundantly clear, I expect), nor am I a nutritionist, lifestyle guru, or internet influencer. I do, however, have a love of tasty, healthy, economically viable food, and enjoy cooking.

The keener-eyed among you will have noticed I’m not a great one for giving quantities in my recipes. The reason is, that this is cooking, not fucking chemistry, and the correct amount of an ingredient should be what you think it should be (in most cases). I realise this makes me sound a bit of a prick, but, you know – my blog and all that.