Sunday 4 December 2022

Advent 2022 - Fast Tracking #8

 Today's Challenge: Fast from... all dairy products.

A non-dairy day today. Dairy products normally make up quite a significant percentage of my diet, especially yoghurt but also milk, a certain amount of cheese and quite a lot of butter in cooking and baking so today has felt a bit unusual. 

Traditional dairy products often get slightly frowned on, I feel, despite the rehabilitation of proper butter, in place of artificial margarines and spreads in recent years. Beside the smug virtue of so-called 'plant milks' and plant-based yoghurt, cream and cheese substitutes, the real McCoy often seems to have to apologise for itself. Of course, there are some people who simply cannot digest lactose and for whom dairy products are a recipe for indigestion, or worse, but the number of people for whom that is a serious issue is rather more limited than health gurus would have us believe. Dairy products, within reason, are good sources of protein, calcium and vitamins; they are produced to a very high standard in this country and they are delicious. I've missed them today.

Be that as it may, dairy products have been off today's menu. In their place has been the following:

tea with unsweetened soya milk
apple juice
pears and clementines
oatcakes (made as per Day #3) with honeycomb

aubergine and walnut butter as per Day #6 multigrain seeded crackers
fruit - apples / pears /clementines

black tea
Pfeffernuße - the classic German cookie made with flour, spices, honey and egg. The recipe I use comes from Classic German Baking by Luisa Weiss. They are raised with ammonium bicarbonate which gives them their special light texture. You can get this from a specialist German ingredient supplier such as this one. You'll find it listed in their bakery section under 'Baking Ingredients'. Its German name is 'Hirschhornsalz'. It gives off an unpleasant smell during baking but this soon dissipates and in no way affects the taste of the cookies which are very moreish. As with Maltesers, it's impossible to eat only one. 

Puy lentils cooked with fresh rosemary, thyme and bay leaves dressed while hot with French dressing* (apple cider vinegar, olive oil, salt and black pepper)
roasted red peppers in agrodolce dressing (apple cider vinegar, olive oil, agave syrup, salt and pepper)
ciabatta-style white rolls made from yeast, strong white bread flour, salt, olive oil and water

fruit - apples / pears /clementines and assorted nuts in their shells

*These Puy lentils are one of my favourite things. The fact that they are dead simple to make and happen to be vegan is by the by. For best results, firstly, make sure that you use genuine Puy (or Puy-type) lentils - the small dark, olive-green ones that hold their shape and texture after cooking which is what you need. A lentil purée, or dal, is a lovely thing but it's not what you want here. Secondly, add the dressing (made with plenty of salt - 1½ tsps salt:250g lentils) as soon as the lentils have been drained of their cooking water and are still piping hot. This is what enables them to absorb the oil and herby flavours and sing. Thirdly, the lentils are at their best while still warm so ideally, don't prepare them too far ahead of when you want to eat them. Leftovers stored in the fridge benefit from being warmed through in the microwave before serving and are very good with poached eggs. 

You can use any mixture of fresh herbs you like to cook with the lentils but rosemary, thyme and bay are a good starting point - a good few sprigs of each. I tend to leave the herbs in with the lentils unless I spot any very woody 'tree trunks' but you can fish the bay leaves and stalks out before serving, if you prefer. You can, with advantage, include a few peeled cloves of garlic too. I would do this but, sadly, garlic doesn't really agree with me these days so I omit it. 

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