Creamy asparagus, leek and prawn orzo

Winter is officially here, and as the nights are drawing in and the weather starts to turn chilly, the best way to spend a dark Monday night is with some rich and tasty comfort food.

I conjured up this dish with what was left in the fridge. The flavours compliment each other well: the sweet and indulgent creamy sauce is offset by the inclusion of green vegetables for a little bit of a naughty, but nice, autumnal pasta dish.

I first tried orzo while I was volunteering at a homeless shelter a couple of years ago as it was donated by the vatful. I couldn’t believe this gigantic looking rice was in fact pasta: ‘liney pasta’ I like to call it. It’s so easy to prepare and makes a nice change to everyday pasta shapes, for a risotto-like presentation.

For a veggie friendly version, simply leave out the prawns.

Orzo

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 150ml double cream
  • A handful of frozen prawns, defrosted (or use fresh ones if you have them)
  • 1 small leek
  • 100g orzo
  • 3 asparagus spears
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 tbsp gruyere cheese (or parmesan)
  • 5 drops bottled lemon juice
  • 2 garlic gloves, crushed
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Serves 1 (easily doubled, tripled and so on)
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes

Method

1. Chop the asparagus spears into thirds and put them on a baking tray. Place them under the grill on a medium heat for 5-10 minutes, rotating every now and again so they cook evenly.

2. Put the kettle on to boil. While it’s boiling, place a medium to large frying pan on the hob on a medium heat. Pour in the olive oil and leave to heat up. When the kettle’s boiled, pour it into a medium sized saucepan and bring to the boil on the hob.

3. Meanwhile, slice the leek into 3-4 centimetre rounds. Using your hands, push the individual ribbons out of each slice and wash under the tap. Lift the frying pan up and tilt it in a circular motion to distribute the oil evenly. Add the leeks and fry until soft, stirring occasionally.

4. When the water is boiling, add the orzo and cook on a high heat for 10-12 minutes, or until shiny and soft.

5. Pour the cream into the frying pan and reduce the heat slightly, mixing the liquid in with the leek. Add the garlic and rosemary and cook for five minutes, stirring frequently. When the cream has thinned slightly, add the prawns and lemon juice and cook for a further five minutes.

6. When the asparagus has softened, take it out of the grill and add to the creamy mixture.

7. Grate the cheese finely and add it to the frying pan, holding a little bit back for decoration.

8. When the orzo is ready, drain it and add it to the creamy mixture. Stir the ingredients in together well and cook for a couple of minutes, until they are well combined.

9. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve in a bowl with a sprinkling of cheese on top.

Vegan and vegetarian eating in Prague

I visited Prague for the first time last weekend with my boyfriend. What a beautiful city; its streets are lined with grand pastel-coloured buildings and red-roofed houses. There is a wealth of historical architecture from the Jewish Quarter up to the castle, and its quaint, cobbled streets don’t get tiresome to wander around.

View of Prague

And of course, I’d heard a lot about Czech beer. At around 90p for half a litre of good quality pilsner, you can’t go wrong. The food however, I hadn’t heard much about…

If you opt for a meatless diet, it’s best to do a bit of research before going away, especially if you want to sample the local cuisine.

For a short three-day trip, we managed to eat a lot of food! We visited two vegan restaurants, but the first of the two was the most memorable for me.

On the first evening, we were super excited to try traditional Czech food, so we jumped on the metro to Plevel.

Plevel

A little off the beaten track, this cosy café-come-restaurant had a friendly floral interior and was bustling with young Czechs and laid back staff. As we were keen to try traditional Czech nosh, I opted for the vegan equivalent of brawn to start.

Brawn

I had no idea what ‘brawn’ was, but the waitress seemed to think it was nice, so I thought, why not? Soon after however, the sensible part of my conscience laughed in the face of such spontaneity…

As described by Wikipedia, brawn is a ‘terrine or meat jelly made with flesh from the head of a calf or pig, or less commonly a sheep or cow, and often set in aspic.’ So, in its traditional form, it’s very much a meaty concoction.

On Plevel’s meVegan brawnnu the dish is described as ‘Agar brawn made from vegetables, soya and tofu’, with onions, vinegar and brad. I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

I now know agar is a type of jelly. The dish is what I imagine a combination of meat loaf and cat food taste like – not to my taste!

So round one of sampling Czech cuisine didn’t go so well. But luckily, the main course made up for it.

Hearty goulash

For the main, I had vegan goulash with dumplings. Described as ‘spicy goulash with soya meat, cooked with beer and served with homemade dumplings’, I was intrigued to see what this dish would look like.

Vegan goulash with dumplings

The sauce was a thick, soupy consistency which tasted of creamy pumpkin and herbs. In amongst the sauce were big chunks of soya meat and as you can see from the photo, there was a tangy lemon slice and scoop of chunky cranberry jam to offset the rich sauce.

On the side were thickly sliced dumplings that had a soft and doughy texture and absorbed the goulash well. This type of dish would be perfect in the cold, winter months.

The portion was enormous, and so as is very rarely the case, I couldn’t finish it all. Unfortunately, neither of us had any room left for pudding. Two of us had two courses and we each had a glass of wine/beer, for the equivalent of about £15.

If you’re off to Prague and fancy trying the local food without the meat, Plevel is definitely worth a visit.

LoVeg

The second vegan restaurant we visited was located in the Little Quarter, a more touristy part of the city. Up a sloped street and with a few sets of winding stairs to climb up, by the time we made it to the restaurant, we’d earned our dinner.

With a more hippy/spiritual vibe, the walls were decked with canvases of photography from around the world, particularly from Asia.

Having learned from having eyes bigger than our bellies the night before, we decided to share a starter: a classic vegan entrée with a twist – double houmous – the classic dip as well as a beetroot version.

Double houmous

The portion sizes were modest in comparison to our feast the night before, but provided a tasty, light starter, well-presented with a contemporary look.

Vegan burger

For the main course, I chose the vegan burger, described as a ‘mixture of black beans and smoked tofu in homemade bread, with grilled potatoes and homemade tartar sauce.’

I don’t think I’ve ever ordered a burger out without it coming with chips, so this was a revelation. The potato stack was quite light and went well with the tartar sauce which was fresh and creamy and tasted of spring onions.

Vegan burger

The burger was served in a fresh, springy bun with a crisp, crunchy salad, but the burger itself was a little on the thin side for my liking.

Overall, I thought the quality of the food at LoVeg was high in terms of presentation and choice, but it was a bit pricier – I would imagine because of the location (though still very cheap compared to London) – and the huge hearty portions from the night before made my choice of meal look a bit small on the plate.

The waitress was really friendly however and the organic draught lager was delicious.

Carrot and orange cupcakes

Well, I think my first baking post is well overdue. A couple of Sundays ago I took part in a local initiative in Walthamstow, the St James Street Jumble Trail, where residents of the St James Street area were encouraged to set up shop in front of their homes to sell old wears, food and drink, books, records and more, to get to know neighbours and find out what people think could be done to improve the area.

To go alongside the clothes, shoes and bags I had on offer, I baked these cupcakes to tempt any jumble sale customers with a sweet tooth, and sure enough, they all went! They went down a treat with the kids; one very smartly dressed little boy was my best customer, buying three cakes.

carrot-orange-cupcales

I’ve made these cakes a few times now using this BBC Good Food recipe. The light, carrot sponge is complimented delightfully by the lavish vanilla cream cheese icing. The sponge is quite quick and easy to make. But don’t be fooled into thinking that’s the hard part over and done with; preparing the icing is just as time consuming, so make sure you leave yourself a good hour or so for this bake (and a bit longer for the washing up!)

Ingredients

  • 175g light muscovado sugar
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • zest of 1 orange (the skin), grated
  • 2 eggs
  • 150ml sunflower oil
  • 200g carrots, grated

For the icing

  • 100g butter, softened
  • 300g soft cheese (I used a ‘light’ version)
  • 100g icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • orange and yellow sprinkles to decorate

Preparation time (including the icing): 40 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Makes 12 cupcakes

Method

1. Heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4 and line two 6-hole muffin trays with cupcake cases.
2. In a large bowl, add the sugar, flour, bicarbonate of soda, mixed spice and orange zest. Mix together so they are combined well.
3. Crack the eggs into a small jug and whisk. Stir in the oil.
4. Stir the carrot into the dry mixture then add the oil and eggs and stir thoroughly.
5. Pour the cake mixture into each of the cupcake cases evenly and then pop them in the oven. After 20 minutes, take one of the trays out of the oven and poke a knife through the middle of one of the cakes. If the knife comes out clean, without any cake mixture, they’re ready.
6. Take them out of the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack if you have one. If not, pop them on a chopping board to cool (I usually take them into another room as my kitchen gets very hot).

To make the icing

7. Pop the butter in to a small mixing bowl and beat until really soft. Add the cream cheese, icing sugar and vanilla essence and mix in together. Using an electric whisk on a medium setting, beat the mixture together until thick and light. Leave in the fridge until you’re ready to ice the cakes.
8. When the cakes have cooled down completely, apply the icing to each cupcake generously using a small spatula. Use an anti-clockwise motion, starting from the outside to get a neat finish.
9. Lastly, pour a handful of sprinkles into your hand and carefully decorate each cake with a dozen or so.

As with most cakes, these are delicious washed down with a mug of English breakfast tea.