Hospital food’s not so bad, if you’re in the right hospital!

Things have been a bit quiet on here recently, as I had to plan a visit to the hospital a couple of weeks ago for some surgery. I’m feeling a lot better now, but one of the things I was worrying about prior to being admitted was that I wouldn’t be able to get any decent vegan food. I could not have been more wrong!

I was greatly heartened to see that they actually had an option listed as vegan on the printed menu!

tray holding plate of rice and curry and bowl containing an orange.

My first meal was chick pea and sweet potato curry, served with rice. For pudding the vegan-suitable options were either a piece of fruit (orange, banana or apple) or a little cup of tinned fruit salad in fruit juice. Not the most exciting desserts in the world, but the fibre and vitamin content are surely helpful (anyone who’s been confined to bed for a while at the same time as having to have an anaesthetic and pain meds will know you need all the fibre you can get)!

I think there might have been some coconut milk in the curry, as it was listed as a calorie-dense meal. It was very mild, but well-flavoured and I enjoyed it a lot.

When the next meal-time came, I wasn’t keen to have the same thing again, even though I’d enjoyed the first one. Although there was only one item specifically marked as vegan, there was also an Asian Vegetarian section on the menu. All the meals were basically a vegetable dish, a pulse-based dish, rice, chapati and yoghurt, and there was a choice of about 7 meals. I asked the lady who had given me the menu whether the meal was milk-free without the yoghurt and confirmed they were all egg-free. She didn’t know about the milk, but I asked her if she could find out, and with a little insistence on my part I got her to agree to bring me whichever of the meals did not have milk listed on the allergens box (all the meals were pre-prepared and bought in from an outside company). The chapatis were somewhat disappointing on these meals, but apart from those they were excellent and I think I enjoyed them a lot more than my neighbouring ward-mate liked her meal – she told me the shepherds pie was okay, but “not how you’d make it yourself”. Since she seemed a very polite lady I took that to mean it wasn’t actually that nice, but was edible!

I also enjoyed the many tea rounds that occurred throughout the day. There were biscuits I could eat (chocolate bourbons), crisps, and fruit juice on offer. I got through a lot of little tubs of pineapple juice. I also liked the cheery demeanour of most the staff members who pushed the trolley, especially one who kept trying to tempt me to a cake because “they’re from Marks and Spencer”! I’d prepared a box of snacks in advance in case there was nothing I could eat, but I ended up barely touching them.

So, in conclusion, I’d like to congratulate the catering team at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust on their menu choices for vegetarians and vegans, and I loved the blurb at the front encouraging people to enjoy their food as an integral part of the recovery process!


Creamy chocolate peanut-butter mousse

Having an obsession with something traditionally made with egg whites, double cream and/or gelatine is tricky as a vegan! When I was a child, my mother used to make an incredibly boozy chocolate mousse using dark chocolate, egg whites, cream and liberal splashes of brandy. I remember eyeing up the individual glass serving dishes chilling in the fridge in preparation for dinner parties. Perhaps I got to “help clean” the mixing bowl and I am sure I got my own dish at dinner, but I would happily have eaten the lot of them if I could have got away with it!

Since finally getting a long-wished-for Vitamix several years ago I’ve made a lot of moussey desserts, mainly based on nuts. They aren’t quite as smooth or light as the mousses of my childhood, but they have their own charms. Soon I hope to start experimenting with aquafaba but until then, I’m mighty pleased with the peanut-butter and chocolate creation I made a couple of days ago, especially as I think it will work as a recipe even without access to a high-speed blender if a few modifications are made.

The quantities I used made a huge amount, so I’ve frozen an ice-cream tub full in the hopes that it might work semi-frozen.

If you’re going to try this I suggest halving the quantities, which will still make several generous servings!

  • 1 cup smooth peanut butter (I used Meridian organic because it’s palm-oil-free and I’m trying to be good about that, plus it was on special offer, £5 for a kilo from the Better Food Company in Bristol earlier this year)
  • 1 cup dark (72%) chocolate chips (I used Plamil)
  • 2 Tbs sugar (could be left out if using sweeter chocolate)
  • 4 cups non-dairy milk (I used value soya)
  • 1.5 Tbs flax seeds
  • 1 Tbs vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp chocolate extract

I put a cup of milk into the blender, followed by the peanut butter, flax seeds, then another couple of cups of milk and the extracts. That got blended up until the friction started heating the mixture, then I added the chocolate and sugar and it melted in and blended. It soon became evident that the mix was going to be too thick, so another cup of milk got added, then I poured it into a variety of containers and left it to chill in the fridge for a few hours. Once it sets it’s light and airy, creamy but with a slightly floury texture from the peanut butter. I daresay there would have been a smoother result from a more processed style of peanut butter, but this is fine, it’s kind of velvety!

chocolate-pb-mousse

I also added a few mix-ins to some of the pots, such as oats and raisins, and I blended an orange into the last cup or so of mixture to see if that would work (it was okay, but probably not worth repeating).

If I were going to make this without a blender, I would probably warm a couple of cups of milk, add the peanut butter and stir until it had thoroughly blended in, then add the chocolate and whip in another cup of milk, see what the texture was like and add more milk as necessary. I probably wouldn’t add flax if making a non-blender version as it’d make the texture grainy. If I try this version I will update this recipe, but if you happen to fancy trying it in the meantime please comment and let me know how you get on!


Rhubarb and ginger smoothie!

I’m not going to post a picture (you know what a smoothie looks like!) or make this a long drawn out post. I just had a smoothie containing a bit of fresh rhubarb from the garden and it was really delicious, so I thought I’d quickly jot down the ingredients.

Soya milk (maybe 2/3 pint?)

an apple

a banana

a small carrot (I like thick smoothies and carrots work really well to bulk them up and add extra vitamins – probably don’t work in a lower powered blender though)

a sliver of ginger (I’d frozen a box of these to add to smoothies, which works really well. They also grate into food more easily when frozen!)

about 3 frozen plums (I say “about” because they’d been sliced and were kind of lumped together)

1 Tbs flax seeds (optional, for omega 3 goodliness)

A section of rhubarb stick, about 5cm long? Not huge, but the stick was quite fat!

All that got blended up in my high-powered blender and made just over a pint. It was delicious, one of the nicest smoothies I’ve had for a while, not too sweet, not too sharp, a bit creamy from the soya milk and really fruity!


New Choc on the Block – iChoc white nougat crisp

I try very hard to keep it frugal on this blog, but I’d be a hypocrite not to admit to a weakness for new types of vegan chocolate, and if not constrained by a budget I will buy anything sufficiently novel which costs less than a fiver, and maybe spend more if it’s big enough!

I’d never heard of iChoc until I saw a review of the white rice-chocolate bar they make; part of a vegan chocolate round-up. The reviewer wasn’t overly enthusiastic, but I thought I’d like to try it anyway if I saw it, as I sometimes like things other people think are too sweet. When I was visiting Currant Affairs today with the virtuous goal of buying wholemeal flour, I saw they were displaying a new bar at the end of their shelf of goodies, not the white chocolate but, even better, a white bar containing crispy hazelnut nougat. Hazelnut and chocolate is an ideal combination as far as I’m concerned so I didn’t hesitate to buy this even though it was £2.19 for 80g. Call it a payday treat.

vegan rice-milk white chocolate bar next to its box

I very much enjoyed this. It is very sweet, yes, and also very rich. I will be interested to hear what non-vegans think of this, as it’s definitely got a richness there that I’ve not experienced with most other vegan chocolates. It reminded me of a cross between the chocolate green triangle (“Noisette Pate”) and the (I’m informed by Wikipedia that this is a discontinued flavour) hazelnut cracknell chocolates from Quality Street selection tins.

This doesn’t quite replace the Vivani dark chocolate hazelnut bar at the top of my list of great chocolate worth splurging on, but I’d say it’s definitely got a place on the list in the “now and then” category.


Vegan chocolate is much cheaper in bulk!

(Relatively speaking, that is.)

If you are a vegan/milk-avoider who enjoys chocolate you’ll know that it’s usually not cheap. It’s possible to buy 100g of plain Value/Basics chocolate for around 30p, but most of those contain milk (I’m told Morrisons sell a bar without milk listed in the ingredients) but when I tried a non-milky one several years ago I was not at all impressed with the taste. If you’re going to have a luxury food, it has to actually be a pleasure to eat, or what’s the point?

I’ve always been a fan of Plamil’s range of dark chocolate chips. If you buy a small pouch of their diary-free chocolate drops they’ll cost over £3 for 175g (you might think that’s reasonable if you only want a small amount, especially if you have allergies, as they’re made in a dedicated dairy and nut-free environment), but if you look at their bulk options the price gets a lot more attractive. They will sell you a kilo of organic, fairtrade baking chocolate drops for £8.63, so 86p per 100g. If you buy over £25 worth of goods, they don’t charge for postage. They also offer 10% off for first time orders, and once you’ve registered your email address with them (and this is what prompted this post – hey, direct mailings do sometimes work!) they also offer 10% off deals throughout the year, such as for this Bank Holiday weekend.

Where the savings really come in is when you start buying their catering packs of 7.5 kilos. At the moment they are selling  ‘Free From’ Baking chocolate drop Catering Packs of 7.5kg, 53% cocoa, for a reduced price of £45.89. Take 10% from that and it will cost £41.30, so 55p per 100g, for something that actually tastes nice eaten straight up. (NB – If you want 10% off you must either be a first-time customer or buy this weekend or the next time they run an offer!)

If you want fairtrade organic, the 7.5 kilo bulk boxes are £52.13 for the 53% stuff, which is £46.92 with 10% off, making 100g cost 62p.

It’s quite a bit of money to find in one go, but if you’ve got a cool dry place to store it chocolate will last for a long time. You can also split the cost of an order with one or more friends or neighbours.

I know I sound like a blaring advert for Plamil. I swear I am not affiliated with them in any way, I’ve just ordered from them several times and I’ve always been pleased with the service and pleased that I splashed out the money. That amount of chocolate will keep me going for more than a year and is brilliantly handy for making gifts for birthdays and festivals. When you consider how much a 100g bar of allergy-friendly chocolate normally costs, this seems a much better option in the long run.


Very easy chocolate muffins (vegan)

I don’t remember posting this recipe before, and that’s strange because it’s the easiest cake recipe I know and my go-to most of the time. Maybe I didn’t think it was worth posting because there are a huge number of vegan muffin recipes out there already, who needs another one, right? But this has been my favourite for many years because it’s so easy to remember the ratios that I never have to look it up. It’s also very pantry-friendly in terms of ingredients and it tastes good and chocolatey.

Very Easy Vegan Chocolate Muffins

The recipe below makes about 15 or 16 cupcake-sized muffins. (I quartered the recipe this evening and made 4 cupcake sized muffins by using a 1/4 cup but following the measurements as if it was a cup – it’s the ratio of ingredients that counts, that’s why you can make this recipe anywhere. I’ve made it with teacups or empty hummus containers before!). I guess this is similar to many wacky or dump cake recipes, but without the vinegar.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups self raising flour (or use plain flour and add a heaped teaspoon of baking powder)
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water or non-dairy milk of choice. (Water lets the chocolate flavour shine through, milk mellows it.)
  • 1/2 cup neutral oil (I used canola/rapeseed)
  • pinch salt
  • vanilla extract/chocolate extract to taste. Suggest at least a teaspoon.
  • 1/2 cup add-ins – chocolate chips, walnuts, sultanas etc. (I used walnuts this time and sprinkled a few chocolate chips over the top)

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180/350/gas 4

Line a muffin tin with papers or get your silicon muffin cases ready.

Add flour to a suitably-sized mixing bowl. I usually dig the first cup of flour out of the bag using the cup measure, dump that into the bowl, pour 1/2 cup flour into the measure and then top up with cocoa powder until the top of the measure is reached. Use the same cup to measure the sugar and add into bowl on top of the flour. Mix together with a dessert spoon.

Using the same, now-empty cup to save on washing-up, about half fill it with oil, then top up with water/milk. Add that on top of the dry ingredients. Fill the cup again with water/milk and add it in. Chuck the extract and salt in, and your nuts/chips/fruit. Mix it up with the spoon until you can’t see dry ingredients any more.

Spoon mixture into your cases about 3/4 way up. Bake for around 20 minutes (check after 15 to make sure they’re not burning, and that they’re all baking evenly. Turn the tray if necessary).

Leave to cool, then eat, preferably on the same day they were baked. Or eat them warm if you prefer, but they’ll stick to the cases!

chocolate muffin

(P.S. I don’t know if the previous title of this post will continue to show up on the WordPress feed. In case of confusion, I changed it because I suddenly realised I might be unintentionally insulting other bloggers, which was not my intention at all!)


Not-hummus pizza

In my last entry I posted a recipe for sunflower-seed and chickpea spread. After I had finished my lunch I changed my mind about putting the spread away as it was, that amount of sunflower seeds made a very rich smooth spread, but I decided it was a bit too rich so added about 2/3 cup more chickpeas, more lemon juice, garlic and water, so there’s been plenty to keep me going over the past few days.

Some got turned into a sour-cream and onion dip for crisps and tortilla chips by adding in a few spoonfuls of Tesco plain soya yoghurt, along with dried onion powder, cider vinegar and nooch, but I still had a tub left. Since I was making bread today anyway it was no hassle to make a pizza base from some of the dough, chop up some onion, yellow pepper, a few mushrooms, a couple of cloves of garlic, add a couple of spoonfuls of chopped tomatoes and some dried mixed herbs, pinch of salt, mix that all up with a splash of oil, cover the base with the veg and then dollop a few spoonfuls of chickpea spread and smush it onto the top, along with a few halved olives. This went into the oven while it was pre-heating for the rest of the bread – I know conventional pizza-making wisdom says make sure your oven is smoking hot before putting your pizza in, but I defy convention :p

pizza topped with veg and chickpea-sunflower spread

I am under no illusions that this is a pretty picture. Not bad for about 5 minutes of actual hands-on cooking though! :)


Sunflower not-hummus

I wouldn’t want to risk enraging Ottolenghi by calling the creamy chickpea dip component of my lunch hummus. This has never seen a sesame seed, but it gets a good dose of seed-based oil and fibre from sunflower seeds. It’s not exactly low fat, but the fat that is in there is un-heated and unrefined (if that is important to you). Spread on crackers, topped with cucumber and red pepper slices, I’d say this does the job of filling-in for hummus quite nicely, thank you very much.

Sunflower not-hummus

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup hulled sunflower seeds
  • 2/3 cup chickpeas
  • 2/3 cup water
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cloves of garlic (I like garlic!)
  • 3 or more black or green olives, pitted (optional, but I like to add a subtle olive taste without quite so many calories as using olive oil).

Method:

Put the sunflower seeds and water into a blender and blend until they make a paste. Add the rest of the ingredients and carry on blending, pausing to stir now and then until everything is nice and smooth. Add more lemon juice/salt if necessary, or a splash more water if it’s too thick. Garnish with smoked paprika, chopped herbs, chopped olives etc.

This makes a good batch, I’ve got enough to stick in a tub in the fridge for a few sandwiches next week. I’m pretty sure this was cheaper than making regular hummus too, since I got the sunflower seeds in bulk from Currant Affairs, I think they were about £3.20 for 1 kilo. I don’t know if you can get tahini for that price, but I doubt it. And despite being a bit unbalanced when it comes to essential fatty acids, sunflower seeds are pretty good in terms of nutrition. The chickpeas were £5 for 5 kilos from Tesco, which works out cheaper than split peas.

As an aside, I was planning on having this with what I thought was left over bread in the freezer from Below the Line and gherkins I bought from Lidl. When I’d actually defrosted the “bread” I discovered it was an experimental peanut butter and jam cake I’d made in my practice run before the challenge! I did toy with having it anyway (a la brioche bun with a burger or one of those terrifying doughnut burgers) but then I couldn’t get the gherkin jar open either, so it ended up on rosemary crackers instead!


Worth the salt

I’ve still got most of the kilo of salt I bought for 25p a month back for the challenge (this is not a surprise when you think about it, I would probably be dead if I’d eaten that much salt in so short a time period!). Now, I’m not exactly a salt snob, I’ve always owned a big plastic container of the next stuff up from Basics (I think it’s worth paying about 12p more for the convenience of not having to heft a large plastic bag of salt around, and being able to close it up easily so bits don’t accidentally fall in it or a huge avalanche come out if it’s picked up wrong), but I also like to buy bags of proper sea salt when I’m on holiday, particularly in places that specialise in salty treats, such as Lanzarote with their salty potatoes, and if I see some smoked salt, or fancy pink Himalayan salt cheap on sale you know I’m going to buy it, so I was already pretty well stocked up.

Meanwhile, I’ve been on a huge baked tofu jag recently. I can get about 600g for £1.30 from one of several places around Leicester (usually Asiana or The Farmlands) and I’ve been dicing that up and coating it in combinations of sesame oil, soya sauce, smoked paprika, pepper, liquid smoke, allspice, Herbamare, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, ginger and garlic. Sometimes I’ve made one batch, let it cool enough to scoff half and fridge the rest and then gone on to make another batch in the same Pyrex roasting dish. Consequently, the flavouring was really baked onto the dish as well as the tofu and despite soaking overnight I had a huge struggle trying to clean the dish today. Then I remembered the salt I’d decanted into an espresso cup to make it easier to use. There were about 3 tablespoons left, and I poured half onto the burnt pan and used the previously-ineffective scourer with the salt and a squirt of washing-up liquid to give the burnt-on grease a beating it won’t forget in a hurry!

I’m sorry I didn’t take before and after pictures now, it was a very satisfying transformation. I know salt isn’t news for dish cleaning (especially if you have a dishwasher. I don’t, but I’ve seen them in action), but I was happy to realise I had this low-cost and high impact way of tackling the problem. Now to go out, buy more tofu and begin the whole cycle again!


A new low for oats…

…in a good way!

lidl oats

I noticed earlier this year that a Lidl store was “under construction” on their store-finder 0.7 miles from my house. I’ve been checking the site every couple of weeks since then and it finally showed as open when I looked today, so I eagerly trotted over to check it out.

I found a few good bits and bobs. I got a can of coconut milk that is actually mostly coconut (rather than 48% plus thickeners and water, like some I have seen) for 79p, 4 big bulbs of garlic for 89p and some cashew nuts at £1.49 for 200g (so just under 75p per 100g). They also had some of the lowest prices I’d seen for a few staples I didn’t buy at this time but wanted to note for future reference. I didn’t buy the oats pictured above, but in a real penny-watching situation the information that 500g bags are available for 39p is useful. These packets didn’t say what country the oats are from that I could see, but I did find some Scottish porridge oats at 99p for 1kg, which is also a pretty good price. Other highlights included big jars of gherkins for 65p (I’ve had them before and they’re really nice, and the jars are a good size for re-using), and 1kg sugar for 49p, which is the lowest price I’ve seen sugar for quite a while (EDIT: I’ve since been to Aldi, who are also selling sugar for 49p and theirs is produced in the UK, a bonus for my next challenge which is going to be a local eating one).

Lidl is good in marking a lot of their own brand stuff suitable for vegans, even if you have to take a magnifying glass to the label to spot it sometimes, so that’s another plus for them. They also had a not-too-bad selection of Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance certified goods and one or two organic items as well.

I’m pleased to add this option to the already wide choice of supermarkets nearby, especially as it means I can now walk there then wander around for hours on my own, price-checking stuff and peering at labels and telling passers by that this is a great price (yes, I did that to some poor man nearby when I spotted the oats today!), rather than having to con someone into giving me a lift and then trying their patience so they eventually resort to “herding” me towards the tills!


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