It’s that time once mo’…

The month of vegan food blogging is here again: VeganMoFo will be on for the whole of September and I’m getting excited to see people’s quirky, inventive themes, beautiful food styling and witty commentary. I love seeing the stuff folks come up with, and it’s a great challenge too! Even if you’re not vegan, it’s a great opportunity to try out new vegan food and show off what you can make or find.

Of course, not everyone will produce spectacular food that has been photographed beautifully. Witness my first item.

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Can you guess what it is? That’s right! Tiger bread!!

No? You think it’s more of a lumpy burnt-looking possibly-a-cat? Yeah, well the only way is up from here, my friends!

It puzzles me when people don’t understand why vegans or vegetarians would want to eat fake meat. I think anyone who has been veg*n for any length of time gets pretty tired of explaining that it’s not the taste most of us didn’t like, it’s the idea of something having to have gone through pain and death to get to our plates, so I thought I’d take the ‘eating fake animals’ thing to the extreme this MoFo and cover all the tasty animals we can eat that aren’t really animals at all.

One small hitch is that I’ve got about 8 ideas at the moment (and the goal of MoFo is to post at least 20 times in the month), so expect it to get pretty tenuous towards the end! Or I may just give up and start posting pictures of sandwiches. The above abomination came about because I only realised when I came to stripe-up my tiger-patterned pizza that I didn’t have any olives or in fact anything dark and savoury so I just left the tomato-paste and turmeric orange base on, thinking I could go out and get some olives to top it once it was baked. Then I burnt it. Like I say, it can only get better from here!

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Thirsty Thursday – poorly potions

Possibly due to the changing of the seasons a large number of people where I work seem to have come down with cold or sore throat type ailments. Sadly, I am included in the crowd of malady sufferers, though infuriatingly it’s not been bad enough for me to be able to take a sick day, rather I have a low-level sore throat and sniffle going on, and sneeze now and then for good measure.

Whenever illness strikes I, like many others, take comfort in a warm cupful of something. My daytime choice is a cup of hot water with a teaspoon of Marigold bouillon powder (I’ve mentioned this stuff before, because I have a massive tub of it. I’ve been known to enjoy Kallo brand as well, although it’s irritating that not all of their tubs are vegan.) and about half a teaspoon of dried ginger powder.

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Because I have the humungous container of powder I’ve been able to transfer a few spoonfuls to a little jar to add to my stash at work. Not pictured: the remains of 100g bag of ginger I’m still trying to make progress on before its use-by at the end of next month.

Second in my line-up of soothing mugstuffs is a simple, comforting drink made from apple juice, hot water and cinnamon. It’s nice and easy, perfect if you’re not feeling too hot as it requires half a mugful of boiling water to be poured over a heaped teaspoon of powdered cinnamon, then the mug topped up with apple juice and a good stir with a teaspoon. I can’t think of a more comforting drink, with the possible exception of my final suggestion.

Last on the list, for when feeling ghastly and in need of a soothing cheer – make up a packet of vegetarian jelly crystals, strawberry for preference, with the requisite pint of water. Then fill a mug or bowl with some of the mixture, get a soup spoon and start dipping it out in spoonfuls and just wait for it to start setting in the spoon. As soon as a jiggly skin starts to form, down the hatch! It’ll still be a bit warm, and brilliantly comforting to a sore or scratchy throat.

If none of these suggestions tickles your fancy (perhaps you are feeling particularly fit and well at the moment. Good for you!)  I leave you with a picture of something I saw in a skip earlier today…

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Mid-week mash – creamy avocado mustard mashed potatoes

Bit low on veg at the moment, but I still have several avocados left. I’d been thinking about mash since I saw a shepherds pie pizza on the Get Scorned blog – http://comesconewithme.com/2013/09/17/the-art-of-shepherds-pie-pizza-recipe-more-from-the-bake-and-destroy-blogtour/ so it was only a matter of time before I got my spuds out.

Hastily slicing some Lady Balfour into a pan of lightly salted boiling water without bothering to peel them, I impatiently awaited the moment I could crush their gentle spirits, along with a nice ripe avocado, English mustard and a pinch of smoked sea salt.

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Once that was taken care of i hastily coated some slices of tofu in Marigold bouillon powder and smoked paprika and while those were pan-frying, sliced up a bit of cabbage and cooked it briefly with a bit of water, dash of cider vinegar and a few drops of soya sauce.

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May seem like a strange mix but it certainly hit the spot! I don’t usually add fat to mashed potato, generally liking it just mashed with a bit of the cooking water and some salt, pepper and mustard, but the avocado worked excellently, making this creamy, comforting and subtly tasty.


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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Scones on Sunday – AKA what I didn’t have for breakfast

Yesterday’s post didn’t actually happen yesterday, it was something I prepared earlier, as I knew I wouldn’t have time to write while being busy enjoying the sights of the rather pleasant city of Worcester.

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We left Leicester on Friday evening and drove up the motorway in rather horrible rainy conditions to arrive after 9pm. We didn’t get up to much that evening beyond nipping out for a quick drink just before last orders.

On Saturday we were meeting a couple of friends for the afternoon, but decided to go out for breakfast (especially because we were staying in a Travelodge, where it looked as though there was a set price of £8 for breakfast, which I’d probably baulk at paying even if they were offering me something better than boxed cocoa pops or dry toast). 

Worcester has only 3 places to eat listed on Happy Cow, and we visited them all. Our breakfast destination was the Karmic Cafe, and it is here that I did not have scones for breakfast.

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If we’d have had room later, I did fully intend to come back and try one of these, as they offered cream teas at the cafe, including the above vegan scones with jam and I think some kind of vegan cream and a pot of tea.

But these scones stood no chance with me in the morning, because if someone offers me a choice of the above, or a vegan version of a full English breakfast, guess which one I’m going to take?

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2 hash browns, traditional tinned tomatoes, baked beans, veggie sausage and bacon, herby mushrooms, brown sauce and a couple of rounds of toast with vegan spread, with a glass of juice to wash it down. That was a good breakfast!

Before we left to come back today, we went to Boston Tea Party, and they also do a pretty nice breakfast. Of note were the rosemary potatoes, and the toast made from seedy bread, although the latter lost marks with me because it came pre-spread, whereas I prefer to use my toast to mop up bean juice.Image

 

Not pictured is the excellent blueberry and ginger smoothie I had with this. Totally worth a visit for that even if you’re not hungry.

 


Sociable Saturday – Shivalli

I’m lucky enough to live in Leicester, which has a hugely diverse population, including many whose religion strongly suggests they should be vegetarian. This results in an enormous choice of places I can pick up something to eat, with many restaurants, cafés and sweetmarts offering vegetarian food with vegan options or happy to substitute menu items so a meal can become vegan (I had a most interesting mixture of Punjabi and English breakfast a few weeks ago!).

So far, I haven’t found a match for my favourite restaurant, which is handily situated just across the road from my main workplace. Can’t do better than to point you to the Happy Cow reviews for this place (especially since mine is in there, from early 2011) – http://www.happycow.net/reviews/shivalli-leicester-20481

I was therefore very happy when my boyfriend suggested we toddle along to this place, and that he would treat me. With this on offer, what else could I do but get a thali?

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The lighting and my phone-cam really don’t do this justice. When it came out, I actually said “holy moly!” – and this wasn’t even the whole thing! Previously we’d been bought poppadoms and  other deep fried snacks, with chutney which I had to assure the new-ish waiter was one of my favourite things when he tried to warn me about the heat level.

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This wasn’t the starter though! This was the pre-starter. For starters I had a dosa (thin delicious pancake made out of fermented rice and lentil batter, filled with spicy potato and onion mix), and a samosa, and more chutney. 

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No wonder I had to regretfully decline when they offered me dessert!

Maybe this doesn’t exactly look sociable. I haven’t even shown you what my boyfriend was eating, but to be honest his was a bit boring in comparison. He helped with eating the fried things to begin with, then he had some potato balls with chutney, and then beans palaya, which is pleasant enough but visually unassuming, and some kind of cashew and vegetable thing. He also had to help me quite a bit with the main thali plate, which even so I didn’t quite manage to clear. Close enough though!


Pie-day Friday – cottage pies

I had potatoes to use up last week from the last veg delivery I got. My potato go-to is wedges, because the effort-to-taste ratio is very favourable and you don’t have to peel them, but I don’t find wedges very satisfying unless they’ve got a goodly amount of oil in the coating, whereas mash can take being lightened up without losing its main appeal. And the reason I’m talking about fat content all of a sudden is that I’m currently trying to lose weight for a ’20lb challenge’, even though the food I’ve posted so far may not make that very obvious!

So, mash on top of some kind of well-seasoned protein-and-veg goop is a standard going back through the centuries, and veg*n takes on this concept will be familiar to many people going back several decades. This may look like a very 80’s throwback thing, I prefer to think of it as a classic :p

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Cottage pie or shepherds pie? I guess the name doesn’t matter in a non-meaty version, I’ve also seen similar looking things called hunter’s pies, however my mum always makes hunter’s pies using layers of sliced potatoes, so I tried a take on that too…

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As the filling I’d made had some pureed chickpeas as well as whole ones, the texture of the slices was a better contrast.

These were a nice enough supper. The base mix was a bit average, so I won’t post a recipe, but just to give you some idea it had mushrooms, chickpeas, onions, tomato and carrot in it, and I tried out some dried chipotles for the first time as part of the seasoning – being a bit heavy handed with these was probably the reason they didn’t turn out 5-star. I’m always happy to perfect my pie technique by practising though!

 

 

 

 

 


Thirsty Thursday – Ginger Beer part 2

glass full of yellow ginger beer with slice of lemon on yellow, patterned background.

On Tuesday I posted my whole ginger beer recipe, but in reality I had only got up to the ‘leaving it in a big container for a while’ stage. Yesterday I sieved out all the ginger-chilli-lemon-zest, set the pulp aside, bottled the ginger beer up, and it’s been building up pressure nicely in the bottles.

So I’m going to go back to that bit where you have your drinks bottles and pour them 3/4 full (actually, you might want to make it 2/3 full even, depending how many bottles you have spare). Your squeezed bottles should look like this:

plastic bottle containing yellow ginger beer, that has been squeezed to exclude air.

(only you probably want less blurry bottles!) Leave them for a few hours in a moderately warm place, and you should come back to find them looking something like this:

plastic bottle with yellow ginger beer inside. there is a gap full of air between the beer andthe closed lid at the top of the bottle.

You can now unscrew the cap a little bit, squeeze out all the air and make them look like the first picture again. If you’ve left them for long enough that the yeast has been fermenting wildly, be careful how you open the bottles, as they do tend to fizz up quite a bit!

ginger beer frothing up in bottle.

I generally give them an extra 24 hours to ferment in the bottles before refrigerating and probably relieve the pressure 3-4 times during that period.

(Alternatively, if you want to leave them for a while to ferment out of the fridge and won’t be around to relieve the pressure, you can get a bit of plastic sheet (e.g. a section cut from a zip lock bag, make sure it’s clean), wrap that over the top, and then secure it with a couple of rubber bands (2 in case one breaks). The rubber bands expand to let the gas out, but vinegar flies (which you always want to avoid when you’re making alcohol, unless you want vinegar instead), and mould and other undesirable additions cannot get in.)

A sieving doesn’t get all the bits of ginger and solids from the mix, so a sediment will start to form in the base of the bottles. If this bothers you, you can get some more clean bottles and carefully pour your ginger beer off the sediment or even rack it off if you want to be fancy! http://www.homebrewtalk.com/wiki/index.php/Racking has a good explanation. If you don’t want fuss and don’t mind the possibility of a slightly cloudy drink, just pour it carefully, trying not to disturb it too much, as you would a bottle-conditioned beer. You could also have lined your sieve with cheesecloth to get out more solids, although you’ll still get yeast sinking to the bottom even then.

Ah, solids… remember the ginger-lemon-chilli pulp set aside earlier? Well, you could dispose of this by composting it or something, but there’s still life in the gunk, if you care to use it! After I’d finished bottling yesterday, I decided to make bread. There’s still live yeast in the stuff that’s been set aside that is perfectly adequate to raise a loaf. I also had half a can of chestnut puree left to use up so I got some plain flour (320g, but that was the only thing I weighed, sorry! I only weighed it to get an idea of how much liquid to add, but in the end I didn’t need any because the pulp and puree added enough), added in the pulp, the chestnut puree, a handful of sultanas, a spoonful of blackstrap molasses, a pinch of salt, and some oat flour and rolled oats for texture and heartiness. This combination resulted in a delicious loaf! Not very sweet, but perfect for breakfast toast. Unfortunately the chestnut puree made it a bit on the brown side, so it’s not the most photogenic of loaves, but it really was very pleasant indeed! The white specks are oats, in case you were wondering.

brown coloured bread loaf and two slices on bread board.

two slices of toasted bread with margarine melting into them, on a polka-dot bordered plate.


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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Boozeday Tuesday – Hot and Spicy Ginger Beer

I’ve been dabbling in homebrew for about 17 years now. It’s not a regular thing, but every so often I get a windfall of produce. I have a great memory from university days of finding a stack of organic blackcurrants in punnets in a supermarket which had been something like £1.50 a go, reduced at the end of the day to 9p each. I piled as many as would fit into my shopping basket and made a gorgeous wine out of them. (Being a broke student at the time, I also tried experimental wine making using fruit squash. I cannot stress enough that this does not work and produces something absolutely revolting!)

Much as the end results of winemaking can be delicious when using the right ingredients, there’s no denying it’s a bit time-consuming. It can also get expensive buying demijohns and airlocks etc., although there are cheap-skate ways around having to fork out too much on equipment. If you don’t want to wait more than a few days for your home-brew or worry about specialist equipment then ginger beer will answer your needs much better.

For this recipe I am (mildly) experimenting by adding green chillies, while I’ve only used smaller red chillies before. I’ve also not tried adding in dried ginger, I thought it would add depth of flavour and also I found a 100g bag best before October so thought I better start using it!

Just a note on measuring – The jug I use measures an imperial pint, i.e. 20 fluid ounces. I sort of gave up on trying to give different measurement options through the recipe, and I hope what I’ve ended up with is understandable, but please leave a comment if it’s not.

Hot and Spicy Ginger Beer

Equipment: Big saucepan with a lid that will hold all liquid in the recipe, measuring jug with pouring spout, sieve, empty clean plastic fizzy drinks bottles.

Ingredients:

8 pints (4.5 litres/19 cups)  cold water, divided – use 1/4 of the water for the first stage where you’re heating ingredients, and add 3/4 later to cool the mix down.

130g  (just over 4 1/2 ounces) root ginger

2 green chillies

450g (16 oz/about 2 cups) granulated sugar

2 unwaxed lemons – zest and juice

2 teaspoons powdered dried ginger

1 teaspoon bread yeast (I use Dove’s Farm quick yeast)

method:

Grate the ginger and chop up the chillies, or, if you are lazy like me, roughly chop the ginger and then stick it and the chillies in a powerful blender with a pint of water and blend them for about 10 seconds.

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If you have used a blender, tip the blended ginger goop into your saucepan, then swill the blender container out with another pint of water and tip that into the saucepan too – basically you’ve added 1/4 of the total water in the recipe to the saucepan at this point, so If you’ve grated the ginger rather than blending, add it, the chillies and 2 pints (1/4 of the water) to the pan.

Turn the heat on high under the pan. While you’re waiting for the mixture to boil, zest the lemons. Add the zest to the pan. Juice the lemons and add that. Add in the powdered ginger too. When the mixture is boiling, add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Turn off heat.

Now add the rest of the cold water. The mix will look bitty, but don’t worry, it gets strained later.

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The final 3/4 of water cools the mixture down enough to add the yeast without killing it. Just get a teaspoon and sprinkle yeast over the top of the pan, stir it in then cover the pan with the lid and leave it somewhere of moderate temperature to ferment for a while. I generally give it about 24 hours. [This is the stage I am up to at the moment. To see pictures of the rest of the process and to find out how this tasted, come back in two days time on Thirsty Thursday!]

To bottle, I use 3 empty 2-litre plastic bottles. To save me having to rinse them I mostly use ones that have held ‘Value’ fizzy water (which I’ve previously enjoyed), but you can also ask around and see if people get through a lot of lemonade or other pop and will save their bottles for you.

Have a clean plate nearby to put the sieve and dipping equipment on while you’re pouring into bottles.

Place your sieve on top of the measuring jug. Use a mug, ladle or other measuring jug if you have one to scoop some ginger beer out of the saucepan, and pour it through the sieve. Pour the strained liquid into one of your plastic bottles (on the draining board or over the sink is the best place to do this). Continue until your bottle is 3/4 full, then squeeze the air out of the bottle and screw on the cap. Fill the other 2 bottles in the same way.

Leave the bottles of ginger beer at moderate room temperature for 12 hours or so and see them fill out as the yeast goes to work. When they have expanded to their original shape again you can either put them in the fridge now to greatly slow down the fermentation, meaning the drink will be fizzy but low alcohol, or you can loosen the cap a little and squeeze the gas out, so the yeast can continue to ferment at room temperature. Don’t continue to do this past 3-4 days though, as it’s not such a pleasant drink at higher alcohol content. The bottles are fairly robust, but avoid letting them build up too much pressure, as I have read of them occasionally not holding out, with predictably messy consequences.