To Quorn or not to Quorn…

Well, so far in our experimental voyage into Quorn territory we have made a few discoveries. Firstly we’ve found that Quorn make really good fake chicken and fake hamburger (mince). The jury is out on their pork products as the bacon was not really a full “fail” but damned close. We haven’t tried their ersatz sausages yet. The sausages might be great thus increasing their score on the fake pork front.

Delicious and nutritious tasks just like chicken…

For the record we’ve enjoyed everything that was chicken or mince related. We had the coujons the other night and they were a run-a-way success.

Although we got robbed of one coujon. Our packet only had seven. I can only assume that someone on the assembly line got hungry. We tried the chilli again last night and it too was just as tasty and satisfying as the last time we cooked it.

Tonight we are trying the chicken style and leek pies with rice and vegetables.

So far so healthy.

We’ve got two more Quorn products in the freezer patiently waiting for their culinary debut. Hamburger patties and “pork style” sausages. Those will be eaten later in the week and I’ll report on whether or not they passed the taste test.

In terms of cooking I know that the kitchen doesn’t smell of grease and when I do the washing up — by hand of course, we must be the only house in Suffolk that doesn’t have a dishwasher — there is no greasy residue left in the wash bowl. Another by-product of our new diet is the absence of that, “I’m so full I can’t move,” feeling. You know the one, where you have to let your meal settle before you can even think of moving around.

And apart from the beans in the chilli having their usual effect, indigestion has vanished from the Smith household. In the stakes of cutting down our meat consumption and increasing our vegetable intake we are definitely winning. But just the sight of the word stake, makes my mouth water for a medium rare steak.

Quorn Road
Quorn Road (Photo credit: Mykal Shaw)

As we continue our trial and error attempts at eating healthily via the Quorn route I’ll continue to pass on any new recipes and products that we try and like or don’t like.

Whether Quorn turns out to be our main non-meat product is open for debate. I had at least one suggestion by a reader about trying some of Linda McCartney‘s non-meat products. So far I have resisted the urge to try the late Linda’s fare. I do have my reasons.

I have noticed over time that whenever a product has a celebrity’s name on its packaging, the price rises accordingly. That’s not to say that the McCartney products aren’t worth it, but I know that most of their “vegetarian” substitutes for meat are made up of glutens and other cereal products. Not to mention good old soybean.

To be honest if I wanted to eat soybean, I’d just cook everything with tofu in it. At the risk of sounding facetious, I’m not changing my diet because I cannot bear the thought of “poor innocent animals” dying so I can eat. In my opinion that’s what animals are here for (some of them anyway) and I like meat, damn it.

But for health reasons I’m forced to change my dietary habits of a lifetime. Anything that at least tastes like meat and looks like meat is going to come up trumps in my search for a sinewy substitute. But I don’t want to chow down on a plate full of glutens and cereal and soybean. Not unless I have to.

Besides I am not cutting out meat entirely. I still plan on having the odd rump steak sans fat, of course. I want my arteries to stay as open as possible but I don’t want to eat like a monk to get them that way. I’ve given up some of my favourite things, sour cream being at the top of the list.

Luckily I have always liked most vegetables, with the exception of eggplant or aubergine if you have a university degree, so increasing my consumption will not be too difficult. Just as cutting down on the richer deserts will not pose too much of a problem. I do have a sweet tooth, but not a “sickly sweet” one.

I’d love to go on about my inner thoughts on Quorn and whether or not it’s the answer to my culinary quest for heart healthy repasts, but I’ve got Quorn pies in the oven and must keep an eye on them.

Bon Appetit!

Chicken Style and Leek Pies….Yum!

Quorn Korma Another Healthy Heart Meal

So last night we had Quorn Korma. It was, as expected, delicious. I can also point out that it was easier to make than our usual chicken korma. I did not have to cut anything into small pieces apart from the mushroom that is a staple ingredient of most of our favorite dishes.

Quorn Korma. YUM

Admittedly it tasted much better than it looks in the picture. After I had taken a couple of snaps of the finished product, my daughter Meg looked at the pictures and said flatly, “It looks like dogfood.”

After surveying the pictures for a moment I had to agree, but to me it looked like more than dogfood. It looked like dogfood on rice.

This is so easy to make that you don’t really need a recipe unless you want to make the whole mess from scratch. We will be attempting a “curry” type dish from scratch later, but for now we took the easy way out.

The ingredients are simple. Well, simple if you live in the UK. We took one jar of Tesco’s finest Korma cooking sauce, –which is probably chock full of all kinds of heart attack inducing ingredients, but hey, we wanted to see what it would taste like– some mushrooms, –organic is you want to be really healthy–  and rice.

While we cooked the Quorn fake chicken in the korma sauce with our added mushrooms, we made the rice. In roughly 15 – 20 minutes the meal was made, dished up and put on the table.

It’s funny how differently you see things after you’ve had a “near death” experience. Before my tremendously exciting eventful day on the 30th of August this year I could not understand why anyone would prefer a meat substitute for the real deal.

Like Meg, I was of the opinion that Quorn, or products like it, was a sort of westernized Tofu. A strange sort of soybean curd thing that took the flavour of whatever it was cooked with.

Wrong.

The stuff isn’t made from soybean and it doesn’t absorb the flavour of what you cook it with.

The other opinion we share was our misunderstanding of why people would become vegetarians but still want meat flavoured substitutes. After the necessary changes to my diet, we can both now understand why. We are both eating healthier but are not having to live without “meat.”

So we now have a better understanding of vegetarians. The same cannot be said of Vegans. These rather eclectic “holier than thou” food snobs are completely beyond me.

Back to the recipe for a minute, I am sure that wherever you live a sort of cooking sauce exists that can be used instead of our Tesco’s finest korma sauce.

We are continuing our excursion into healthy eating the Quorn way. We are still experimenting with other vegetable type dishes and it’s on the calendar for us to attempt to do “homemade” sushi.

I will point out that I do still miss my meat, but I don’t miss the grease and the after-smell. Tonight, if the store has any, we will be trying the Quorn bacon in one of our favourite dishes.

It remains to be seen if this fungi bacon will satisfy my craving for the crisp real bacon that I adore. But, like all the other “new dishes” we’ve tried since my heart attack, I’ll let you know how it turns out.

On a completely different note, I will be putting my grimacing mug at the top of all my blog posts for awhile. Since my problem with the thumbnails the other day, I’ve had the odd person say that they liked my picture on the top. So until a lot of people complain at my apparent narcissistic tendencies, I’ll leave it up as my blog posts “calling card.”

Who is that handsome man??

Chilli Quorn Carne Another Healthy Heart Meal

Chilli Con Carne Quorn style

After my previous attempt at “healthy” chilli –Turkey mince chilli– I was a bit skeptical about trying another variation on the healthy alternative theme.

Despite my best efforts the turkey chilli, even with all the extra spices added, still tasted like turkey chilli. It was edible sure, but it was not a screaming success.

I had previously thought about using Quorn. Quorn for the uninitiated is a meat substitute manufactured in the United Kingdom. It is available in 11 countries, the USA being one of them.

Now here’s the important bit.

It’s good.

My first introduction to the product was when my daughter Meg was in high school and in a cookery class. Her teacher had insisted that her class make a pizza with this ham substitute called Quorn.

I did not like it. The texture was funny and even though it did taste faintly of ham the texture of it didn’t match the taste. Fortunately they’ve improved on their imitation meat textures. Improved enough for me to give it a second chance.

Since my heart attack and the resultant surgery I’ve had to completely restructure my diet as well as my lifestyle. I’ve been trying to share each new recipe as I try them.

For the record we’ve tried the winter vegetable lasagna:

Scrumptious.

And the turkey Chilli Con Carne:

Chilli Con Carne with turkey mince

In my blog post For ‘Every Beat of My Heart’ Thanks I mentioned Quorn but had decided that it was too expensive. The packet of mince I’d seen in the store was priced at £1.85 for 300 grams. I had decided that I would need at least 2 packets to make chilli con carne.

That would have made it pretty expensive so I gave it a miss. Actually the reverse was true. It was extremely cost effective. Cost effective because you only need one 300g packet to make chilli.

The recipe is simple and just like making regular chilli –the meaty type– and it tastes delicious. If you’re interested, I’ll pass the recipe on before the end of the post.

But first I’d like to tell you what Quorn is made of. According to Wikipedia Quorn is made of fungi:

Quorn is made from the soil mould Fusarium venenatum strain PTA-2684 (previously misidentified as the parasitic mold Fusarium graminearum [13]). The fungus is grown in continually oxygenated water in large, otherwise sterile fermentation tanks. During the growth phase, glucose is added as a food for the fungus, as are various vitamins and minerals (to improve the food value of the resulting product). The resulting mycoprotein is then extracted and heat-treated to remove excess levels of RNA. Previous attempts to produce such fermented protein foodstuffs were thwarted by excessive levels of DNA or RNA; without the heat treatment, purine, found in nucleic acids, is metabolised by humans, producing uric acid, which can lead to gout.[14]

The product is dried and mixed with chicken egg albumen, which acts as a binder. It is then textured, giving it some of the grained character of meat, and pressed either into a mince (resembling ground beef), forms resembling breasts, meatballs, turkey roasts, or into chunks (resembling diced chicken breast). In these forms, Quorn has a varying colour and a mild flavour resembling the imitated meat product, and is suitable for use as a replacement for meat in many dishes, such as stews and casseroles.[citation needed] The final Quorn product is high in protein and dietary fibre and is low in saturated fat and salt. It contains less dietary iron than do most meats.

The different tastes and forms of Quorn are results of industrial processing of the raw fungus.

Okay, boring science class over. I just felt that you ought to know what this tasty stuff is made of. It doesn’t bother me, because it tastes brilliant and is better for my heart than my lifetime favorite of meat.

  • 300g pack of Quorn Mince
  • 1 onion diced
  • 3 large flat mushrooms diced
  • 2 tsp of chilli powder
  • 1 red pepper diced
  • 400g can of kidney beans
  • 400g can of chopped tomatoes
  • garlic powder approximately 1/4 tsp
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • salt
  • lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp unrefined sugar
  • 1 tsp of mixed herbs

Cook the above ingredients for approximately 15 minutes while you boil up a cup of rice –you can use wild rice– and grate a bit of light mature cheese for a topping.

This will feed four or if you are a family of two it will stretch for two meals.

This recipe is actually cheaper than making it with traditional beef mince (hamburger).

If you can get Quorn where you live, give it a try and let me know what you think of it!

Healthy Heart Lasagne or Tastes Good & Good For You

My lovely assistant (actually Meg was in charge, there’s just not a picture of me doing anything).

If these pictures look a little fuzzy or a bit out of focus, it’s because I was weak from hunger while we labored our way through the first of my ‘healthy heart’ meals that were on my new FLORA proactiv (cholesterol lowering butter replacement) recipe booklet.

Out of all the recipes listed, the Winter Vegetable Lasagna looked the most straightforward and easy to follow. Amazingly it was fairly easy to prepare, although getting the ingredients was a little challenging.

Now I don’t know what classifies as “winter vegetables” where you live, but over in the UK it’s veg of the root variety. Parsnips, sweet potatoes, swede, carrots, onions, and so on. All of these bar the swede were used in the lasagna and the only ‘non-root’ vegetable was the red pepper that the recipe called for.

Now I will hold my hand up and state quite loudly that I like my vegetables. Not as much as meat though, there’s just something about tearing at the cooked flesh of most animals with my teeth that appeals to the Neanderthal in me. Unfortunately since my “life changing event” in August I’m having to rethink my mealtime choices.

One of the first things that the pharmacist gave me when I went in for my first wheelbarrow full of pills and potions that my new condition required was a recipe book. It does have quite a few little healthy meals in it and if you’re interested they also have a website with loads more recipes and food ideas to tempt your taste buds. FLORA.com just click on the link and have a drooling look or two at what’s on show.

The recipe is simple and easy (it really is, otherwise I couldn’t have helped at all) just have a look:

Preparation time
35 to 40 minutes
Cooking time
35 to 40 minutes
Serves
4
Course
Mains and soups
Main ingredient
Vegetables
Ingredients:

2 tbsps olive oil
1 red onion, peeled, cut into wedges
2 parsnips, peeled
1 sweet potato, peeled
2 carrots, peeled
1 courgette
1 red pepper, diced
400g can chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp oregano or thyme
6 sheets no-cook lasagna
25g (1oz) Flora Buttery spread
25g (1oz) flour
350ml skimmed milk
55g (2oz) reduced fat Cheddar cheese, grated
½ tsp English mustard

The recipe won’t tell you, but these puppies need roasting for about 45 to 50 minutes.

Method
1. Cut the parsnips, sweet potato, carrot and courgette into chunks and place in a roasting tin. Add the onions and pepper, drizzle with oil and roast in a preheated oven at 180˚C (fan assisted)/gas mark 5 for 25 to 30 minutes or until cooked.
2. When cooked, mix with the tomatoes, tomato purée, chilli powder and herbs.
3. Meanwhile prepare the sauce by placing the Flora Buttery spread and flour into a saucepan. Add the skimmed milk gradually, constantly stirring over a moderate heat. Bring to the boil.
4. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes until smooth and thickened. Add half the cheese and the mustard.
5. Assemble the lasagna by placing half the vegetables in a ovenproof dish, cover with three sheets of lasagna and top with half the sauce. Repeat layers ending with cheese sauce.
6. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and return to oven for 35 to 40 minutes until golden brown.
Now the only thing we left out was the English Mustard. We also added a bit of extra cheese. The mustard was left out because Meg’s not a huge fan of the taste and the extra cheese was to meet my culinary requirements.

The smell while the vegetables were roasting prior to adding the cheese sauce and the lasagna sheets was maddening. If I could figure out a way to include the aroma here, I would.

I will warn you that the measurements are English measures. If you look on the net though you’ll find quite a few different sites that will convert those pesky “foreign” measurements to something that US kitchens can use. I’d convert them myself, but hey, I never claimed to be Martha Stewart.

But do take that extra minute or two to get the measurements converted and don’t be tempted to just use the existing recipe as is. Trust me when I say, it won’t taste the same and it may even not be edible.

The end result is an aroma to die for and a taste that (for me anyway) is surprisingly delicious.

Scrumptious

The recipe states that it will feed four folks and it probably can. It certainly stretched to two meals for Meg and me. There is also a menu for homemade garlic bread but, as we did not prepare that, I’ve left it out.

You can find that recipe, along with the one for the lasagna on the website I linked above.

I was a bit leery about the new dietary requirements that awaited me after my heart attack but I think that I can relax a bit. If only a few recipes are as good as this one, I think I’m going to like my new menus and my heart will hopefully thank me.

For ‘Every Beat of My Heart’ Thanks

The King of the Hoodies.

It has now been 44 days or one month and two weeks since my heart attack and the two subsequent surgeries (one of which was an emergency surgery) that saved me from taking a prolonged vacation with that king of all ‘hoodies‘ the big Grim Reaper.

Wow.

In many ways it seems like a lifetime ago and in others ways it does seem like 44 days. I know that I am recovering incredibly well, everyone is telling me so. My scars (quite impressive if I do say so myself, 9 inches on my chest and 12 inches on my right calf) are fading quickly and no longer itch as much.

I can walk a little bit further each day without my traitorous back seizing up and today I actually went into the town centre and traipsed up and down the High Street. Although I was not able to do too much gallivanting about, I did have to stop occasionally and stretch my back and butt muscles. I only limped a little bit and in the area of breathing and heart rate, I don’t think I did too badly at all. No breathless episodes and my heart didn’t feel like it was going to come leaping out of my chest.

All in all, a good first shopping day out.

I am still learning to curb my natural inclination towards impatience and feel that I’m not doing too badly. My first ‘follow-on’ appointment with the surgeon is on the 17th and I will be driving the almost 2 hour drive to the hospital myself. On the first of November I’ll have my initial ‘fitness’ assessment and I will finally learn what I can and cannot do and how to get my self and my heart back into shape.

There are other tests and assessments scheduled as well, like cholesterol and the like, but everything is going pretty smoothly and I am not inclined to rush any part of the process. I’m even going to have a ‘flu jab‘ this year. I have never liked the flu shot. When I was in the USAF each year I had the damn thing (in the Air Force it was mandatory, you had to have it) I invariably got some sort of chest cold that lasted for months.

This nasty experience has led me to turn down all offers of flu jabs full stop. But in keeping with my new healthier mindset I’ve agreed to having the jab in two weeks time.

I am learning to make healthier meals. Meg and I made our first turkey mince chilli the other night. While it was not a blazing success, it was not inedible and as we cautiously picked our way through it, we saw how it could be improved with the addition of various spices and the odd herb or two.

Turkey chilli from leanonturkey.co.uk

It will never taste as good as the ‘real thing’ but it’ll do. I had thought very briefly about making chilli using Quorn. The moment I saw the price of this ‘meat substitute‘ I began to think the stuff had a solid gold base. Price prohibitive to the nth degree, I doubt that I’ll ever be using that stuff as a substitute for anything. I’m sure that some of the Quorn products aren’t that expensive, but the mince is obscenely overpriced.

We have a recipe for a winter vegetable lasagna that, despite having the horrible white sauce that the English insist on putting in every Italian dish instead of cheese, looks and sounds quite yummy. There are chilli recipes on websites that sound tasty, although the one I just looked at had celery in it and no mushrooms, but I will be adapting the ones that sound the best sans celery.

The lovely Marilyn over at Serendipity gave me some wonderful suggestions on food ideas after my blog post on the blandness of my new diet. She pointed out that spice is our friend and that sushi and sashimi were not only healthy but tasty as well. I do like sushi and although I never actually thought of preparing it at home, Meg (who also likes sushi) said we’d “give it a go” as soon as we find some recipes.

So there we go. It’s all stations full steam ahead. I’ve been incredibly lucky, I think. I was talking to my mother the other day and she told me that her father (my grandfather) had died age 52 of a massive coronary caused by his leaky aorta aka the  widow maker.

I still think I have a hard time realizing just how close I came to taking a “dirt nap” and not being part of this wonderfully exasperating world. When I left the hospital, they told me to expect it to all sink in later. “Most likely,” they said, “It will be when you least expect it. Some people go home and burst into tears when they walk through their front door. Just don’t be surprised when it happens.”

Well it hasn’t happened yet. I suppose I’ve still got too many plates spinning up in the air. Of course there is the possibility it will never ‘sink in’ as they put it. I might go through the remainder of my life blissfully unaware of just how close it was (and according to the experts it was very close) and that would suit me fine.

I’ve had my warning shot and I may not get another one. I consider myself very, very lucky. I just hope I can do something to justify this extra time I’ve been granted.

Your time starts…Now!