Black Forest trifle

Well, I don’t know about where you live, but the weather has been a bit stink-o around here recently. I guess it goes with the time of year, but the wind and the rain doesn’t really help elevate my mood (which is pretty darn sombre after recent events in the news).

I’m not saying this recipe is going to cure all ills (especially since sugar is the devil these days to a lot of folks. Hey, I still love you, sugar!) but it was certainly a worthy use of leftover cake. I made my standard chocolate cake a few days ago (this time with added flaked almonds) but that’s quite a large amount of cake for one person to get through and I’m a bit short on freezer space so it’s heading towards stale. How to deal? Take some inspiration from ye olde Black Forest gateaux!

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Sainsbury’s were selling frozen cherries at a slightly reduced price recently and I had managed to find space to squish those into my freezer. They also had a modest discount on Alpro custard pots. You may also recall that I am never without a large supply of Fair Trade chocolate from Plamil, so I simply cut up some cake, placed some frozen cherries on top, heated up a pot of custard, added a few spoonfuls of chocolate chips to melt in and about a tablespoon of rum then poured the latter over the former! A good 5 minutes work, if I say so myself 🙂

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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!

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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!


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!)


£100 challenge – day twenty-two

Went to work, then went to some different work via this place –

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New Walk, one of the prettiest places in central Leicester, especially at night. The following is a shot I took last night coming home in the drizzle, but whatever the weather New Walk is always beautiful. Obviously my phone-cam doesn’t remotely do it justice!

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I’ve avoided spending any money today, although I’m running low on or completely out of some stuff I’d quite like to have. I ate the last of the rice noodles today with more of the pumpkin stew (with a few additions), I’ve been out of facial tissues for some time and I’m starting to run out of the other kind, too. I could do with some more tights, and I’d really like to get a portable economical heater, but I think that will be completely impossible this month. I’m worried that if I leave it until it gets cold they’ll become more difficult to procure or the price will go up. Probably fretting over nothing though.

It was the final of the Great British Bake Off tonight! I won’t give away who won, because I’ve had a couple of episodes spoilered before I could catch up and it was infuriating! However, I didn’t think it was too bad a result and the winner seemed so happy I was really pleased for her.

As usual, I’d made a little something to scoff while watching. My very basic chocolate cake, doctored up with some orange oil and preserved ginger. Did the job.


Flapjacks on Sunday

flapjacks with chocolate chips melting on top

I’m still feeling a bit sore-throat-esque and also have been offered some casual work tomorrow morning so I’m not sure I’ll feel like getting up early and making potato scones as originally planned. Since I’m aiming to blog every day this month, if something gets posted just after midnight that relieves the pressure for a bit longer than normal!

Instead, here are some rather substantial snacks I made a few days ago based on this peanut butter and golden syrup flapjack recipe

Since my granulated sugar was nearer to hand I used that instead of light brown soft sugar. I didn’t have enough oats by about 65g, so I topped it up with about 35g of oat flour and 30g flax meal. To make up for no brown sugar I subbed one tablespoon golden syrup with molasses, but when I came to mix it all up it looked too dry so I ended up squeezing more syrup in anyway. I also wanted them to be ever so slightly cakey so I put a couple of spoonfuls of water in.  I used sultanas and dried sour cherries instead of raisins, and I couldn’t be faffed with the topping they suggest so I just sprinkled 100g chocolate chips over the surface shortly after they came out of the oven. Apart from those adjustments I followed the recipe faithfully!

And yes, I’ve finally decided to try Instagram three years after everyone else.

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Boozeday Tuesday – chestnut rum truffles

I would have preferred these to be brandy truffles, but I only had 3 tablespoons of rum left and less of brandy, so I went with the rum. The following recipe, which I’ve kind of made-up (but based on a plethora of similar ideas for tart fillings and desserts), was a bit of a gamble, since I don’t always get the ratio right in getting enough chocolate to set the truffles without them being bullet-hard. I figured, though, that if it didn’t set it’d be just as good spread on bread, and I’d just try again!

I got one of my tins of chestnut puree ( this stuff ) and weighed out what the scales told me was 200g. The tins are supposedly 415g and I’d definitely taken more than half out, so once again my need for new scales is apparent. I thought I would match the weight with some dark chocolate, so I weighed out the last of my open bag of 72% Plamil chocolate chips in a separate bowl, which came to 155g, and then made up the rest with some of a slightly lower cocoa content, I think 63%. I put the chips to melt in a bain marie, then weighed 50g golden syrup into the chestnut puree and mashed it in with a fork. Could have used a food processor to get it smooth but I didn’t want the extra washing-up and don’t mind a few lumps. I added the last 3 tablespoons of rum in my bottle (that sounds worse than I intended it to! I had eked a 70cl bottle of rum out over at least the last 6 months!), and by now my chocolate chips were melted so I added the chestnut mixture into the melted chocolate, and then poured it into a small Pyrex dish I’d lined with clingfilm.

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If you thought my pictures were bad before, let me tell you that my laptop has just conked out and instead I’m working on a tiny tablet, so I’ve no idea how things are going to look on a larger-than-miniscule screen now, sorry about that!

I  covered the dish and left it to cool for a couple of hours in the fridge. When it was time to get the lump of truffle out for hacking up, it was surprisingly difficult to remove. I guess I should have oiled the dish before lining it, maybe? I did manage in the end though, and cut it into square-ish shapes.

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Although I did intend to temper some chocolate to cover these with, and maybe get fancy with some decorative toppings, these really don’t need anything else. For such a simple and easy recipe, they really are delicious, with a little bit of fudge-like grainyness from the chestnut, just the right hint of rum without being overpowering, and enough chocolate to get a good truffly melt going on. I would think these would be absolutely perfect to end a dinner party with. Or just eat, really! I’m going to have to freeze most of these, otherwise they’ll be gone in no time.
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Market (and nearby) Monday

Got my avocados this week! I saw avocado feature in so many other people’s MoFo blogs I really started wanting some. Think I can risk £1, especially as the bowl I got had 5, not 4 avocado pears in it. I’m going to make some bread later, as the first way I ever had avocado (smooshed up on wholemeal bread with salt, pepper and vinegar) is still my favourite way to eat them. 

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Nothing else really caught my eye, apart from a bag of pickling onions I dithered over before deciding against, so I’m going to fill out this post with some eulogising about one of my favourite places near the market, Just fair trade shop.

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This is a couple of minutes walk away from Leicester Market, on Silver Street, and is nearly always the first place I go to when I’m looking for cards or gifts. Although veganism is strictly only about avoiding harm to animals as far as possible, I believe most vegans are pretty socially conscious in general and try to include humans in their not-harming endeavours. I’m obviously not the only one, as there’s clearly a market for cross-sectional do-gooding if the array of vegan-friendly goodies on offer here is anything to go by. For example, they have intentionally vegan chocolate as well as stuff that’s ingredient-suitable although it has “may contain traces…” style warnings (I’m looking at you, Divine chocolate!)

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Particularly pleased to see the cinder toffee, as I’ve not seen this before, and I do miss crunchie bars very occasionally (although really, after 16 years I only have the haziest memory of what they actually tasted like).

They also have quite a good selection of other grocery items like olive oil, spice mixes, couscous, drinks, a few beans, and some tasty-looking (albeit pricey) spreads, and a choice of several teas and coffees. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a ‘suitable for vegans’ label on tea before!

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So yes, well worth a visit if you happen to be in the neighbourhood.


Midweek miscellany

My goodness, it’s been a bit of a rubbish day on the weather front! I had a lot on at work today, and I’d left my purse at home, and didn’t want to go back home for lunch so I was reliant for sustenance on the contents of my desk drawer.

I always start the day at work with almonds and a cup of coffee. I don’t usually feel like eating breakfast and almonds are small in volume and snackable, and relatively good in terms of protein and vitamins and minerals and all that. Also they’re quite cheap. A bit later in the morning I had some Finn Crisp thin rye crackers. These are one of my favourite snacks! So crunchy, with a surprisingly big flavour for something with such a short list of ingredients. Check ’em out – http://www.finncrisp.com/crispbreads/thin-crisps/ (I am in no way affiliated with Finn Crisp, I just really like these).

Since the weather was so yuck, it’s definitely a warm-comforting-something-in-a-mug day. Given my limited options, I improvised some hot chocolate

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Yes, I do have the remains of a kilo of chocolate chips at my workplace. And I keep a jar of cinnamon on my desk drawer. As you can see, the chips have a bloom on them, from the 2 weeks we had this summer where the weather was actually hot. Fortunately that doesn’t affect the taste at all. 

I decanted a handful of chips and a sprinkle of cinnamon to my mug and then filled the cup about a third of the way up with boiling water from the water heater, stirred vigorously then topped it up with more water.

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This would have been a lot nicer with soya, coconut or hazelnut milk, but even with just water it did cheer the day up a bit. Here’s the view I enjoyed while I drank my chocolate

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When I got back from work I was really in the mood for something savoury and warming. A short while ago, I started discovering heavily discounted cans of chestnut puree, so I stocked up on them, but then couldn’t find quite the right recipe to showcase their smooth, light texture and mellow flavour (they are a key ingredient in my family’s traditional Christmas pie, but it’s not quite time for that yet!). I did see quite a few suggestions for either pairing with butternut squash or mushrooms in a soup though, so I had soup in mind and it was the work of moments to chop and fry up an onion and a stick of celery and then add half a can of chestnut puree, a crushed clove of garlic, some bouillon powder and a couple of spoons of tomato paste and top it up with hot water then bung in a roughly chopped courgette. As soon as the latter was done, into a bowl and then down my gullet it went!

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The chestnut works as a great thickener in this soup, although the flavour was pretty well swamped by the celery, I’d probably cut that down or out if I made something like this again.

Last and probably the ugliest thing I made today, some tropical jelly with gooseberries in (frozen a couple of months back), using up something I found in the bargain bin of the local healthfood shop. Love this stuff! The addition of fruit stops it from just being empty calories too! 

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Thinking about possible Wednesday MoFo themes, one of my tentative ideas had been Wibbly Wednesday. It also seemed like a potentially appropriate-looking thing for a Halloween party in a few weeks time. 

I boiled a pint of water, added it to 165g frozen gooseberries in a little pan then brought it to the boil again. The idea was to just cook the gooseberries a little bit so they didn’t burst so I only boiled them for about a minute and some came open anyway but never mind. 

Here’s the rather repulsive looking result! In a strange way, I’m quite proud of it. If it was just set in a bowl you could probably tell a small child that it was giant frogspawn and get them to believe you.

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