Monday, 10 November 2014

Cornmeal pizza, pizza leftovers, Indian pizza, and parsnip experiments

After the Hallowe'en pizza the other week, I found myself with a half a pack of VBites ham and a pint of leftover cashew queso (using this old favourite recipe, courtesy of PPK).

I'm a big fan of the cashew queso, but I wasn't quite sure what to do with a pint of it (aside from eat it in a corner with a spoon and hope noone saw me). The VBites ham I can normally take or leave, as it's always a bit floppy - it was only acquired after the other half requested a Hawaiian.

But then I had an idea how to kill two leftovers with one stone. A great, big cheesy, hammy idea.

Let me take you back many, many years ago to when I lived in France, when I used to eat croque-monsieurs a lot (we were at university, so we still found the literal translation of croque monsieur - nibble man - hilarious). Yeah, it feels weird saying I ate something with both cheese and meat in, but it was a looooooong loooooooooooooooong time ago. Anyway, I decided to recreate that most unvegan of dishes at home.

After toasting two slices of bread on one side, I spread their other sides with queso, then put them and the ham under the grill to firm up a little. After both have enjoyed a spell under the grill, you just chuck it all together and enjoy. Bon appetit and all that! (Not sure why the picture's come out in soft focus, like one of those 80s and 90s photo shoots where they rubbed vaseline over the lens. Maybe it's a homage to the vintage of my first encounter with the croque monsieur…)

Not that I've just been eating pizza or anything, but we recently went back to Otto, a small pizza restaurant in Notting Hill. It's not a vegan place, but it always has a vegan option on the menu and a few others that they can veganise.

When we dropped in, the vegan offering du jour was Otto's old faithful of Thai-style red lentil kofte, with red onion and coriander. The special that day was cashew cheese and sweetcorn. I ordered both, and they were both great.

I only had two slices - one slice of each - but trust me, unless you're a big person with a big appetite, then you'll be good for food after just two. The crust is cornmeal (handy for anyone with a gluten allergy) but it also makes a few slices super filling. Mr Flicking the Vs, who's not a small chap, had three slices and was well and truly stuffed.

We've been to Otto a few times, and if I've ever had a niggle with the place, it's that the service can be a bit uninterested. You know, sweet hipster kids who'd rather be out practising with their band, but until they're the raking it in with their platinum albums, they're just y'know waiting your table. Sigh. Anyway, the server we had this time around was a lovely, on the ball, smart lass, so if I needed another reason to get back to Otto, I now have it.

The other pizza-themed edible entering my gob this week was uttapam, sometimes referred to as Indian pizza.

The 'pizza base' is made with a mix of fermented lentil and rice. You can make the batter from scratch, or handily there are packet mixes where you can just add water and get a decent result. No prizes for guessing which I chose!

If you've ever made a dosa, I think the batter's much the same, only with uttapam you make a thick pancake instead of a thin crepe, and sprinkle your toppings so they bake into the uttapam as it cooks.

I went for some chard, fried onion, green chili and cherry tomatoes for my toppings, with a chick pea and spinach curry to go alongside. 

Uttapam are meant to be stovetop dishes, but I've always found that without a decent non-stick pan, the uttapam attaches itself to whatever you're cooking it in with a limpet like ferocity that will have you cursing its name as you try to chisel the crispy bits off your frying pan for the next five days. Pro tip: bake it in a well-greased Pyrex dish and save yourself the raised blood pressure.

But I haven't just been eating pizza-themed treats, oh no. I've been discovered pepperpot stew - a rich, warm Jamaican dish. (When I say discovering it, I mean reading the recipe and then completely murdering it with inauthentic ingredients that merit inclusion chiefly because they're in my cupboard at the time.)

Originally, pepperpot stew includes beef. Pah. No need for any of that, clearly. 

First, chop up and onion and fry lightly with a big chunk of chopped ginger, a couple of minced cloves of garlic, some sprigs of thyme, a quarter teaspoon of powdered allspice, a chopped red chilli, and a couple of bay leaves.

Once the onion has sweated down, chuck in a chunked-up carrot and pumpkin or squash, a drained can of kidney beans, some chopped up pak choi, and half a can of coconut milk and enough stock to barely cover the veggies. Leave it to simmer for ten minutes, then add dumplings of your choice and allow to simmer for another ten minutes more, or until dumplings or cooked.

If you're wondering why I'm off-handedly flinging around 'add dumplings' rather than offering my own suggestion, it's because the ones I made were a bit grim. Normally I make pretty decent ones with self-raising flour and vegan suet, but I thought I'd mix it up, and tried a mix of gluten-free flours, the suet, and some mashed parsnip. Guess what? It was like chewing on tiny parsnipy bowling balls. Note to self: parsnip dumplings were not a success. There is a reason parsnips don't feature in most dumpling recipes. STEP AWAY FROM THE PARSNIPS.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Happy Hallowe'en pizza

First up, happy Hallowe'en!

Second up, can you guess what these spooky things are?

Yep, that's right, blue pancakes! BLUE! I got a new crepe pan not so long ago, and this was my first time doing a bit of pancake magic.

In honour of Hallowe'en, I made them with purple carrots grated inside. What's Hallowe'eny about those? Purple carrots are sold under the name witches' noses in the local supermarket - sweet huh? For extra bonus Hallowe'en points, I stuffed it with pumpkin (and tomato, chard and sunflower seeds, but that's not Hallowe'en themed). For extra bonus super Hallowe'en points, I made a pumpkin sauce to go on top and baked the whole lot in the oven.

The sauce was made with pureed roasted pumpkin, miso, lemon juice, stock, soy milk, mustard, sage, and nooch, all mixed together. It was really good! Only it looked like something that had come out of the wrong end of a dog, so there's no picture. Seriously, I couldn't bring myself to post it. You'd have been really sad with me.

Still, I've been making the odd concession to deliciousness that doesn't involve making dog sick food.

Inspired by Maud on Food Feud, I decided I needed pumpkin beer (complete with Hallowe'en cup)

Also, I discovered these little guys at Marks and Spencer. They're not labelled as vegan, but there's nothing non-vegan in them that I can see. They're rather cute.

But what's cooler than all these things is - jack o' lantern pizza! In honour of Hallowe'en, I decided to make some festival-appropriate pizza. Alright, I don't think I'm going to be getting a job as a pumpkin artist any time soon, but you can see the idea I was going for.

There's no pumpkin in it either - Mr Flicking the Vs had a craving for Hawaiian, so there's some Vbites vegan ham slices and pineapple there, all buried under a mound of cashew queso. It's a his and hers pizza - the other half is mushroom and tomato for me.

And what's best about this pizza is that there's still a slice of it left for breakfast. It's just another reason to love Hallowe'en!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Lunches in and out - Itsu, Leon, Gujarati Rasoi

Lunch for me is normally leftovers - cheap, cheerful, and usually better than the vegan options I can lay my hands on near the office. (What's not to enjoy about eating last night's tea out of a tupperware box while hammering away on your keyboard? Yes, everything.)

Anyway, an out of the ordinary week had me going to Itsu, the chain of Japanese places you can find in more and more postcodes across central London. They used to be all cagey about what was and wasn't vegan on their menu, and they wouldn't respond to questions on the subject, the goons.

Still, now they've smartened up their act, and they're starting to actually tell the world what's planty and what's omni on the menu (all in a PDF here). Armed with that info, I went for a mix of veggie dumpling soup and maki rolls.

The soup could have done with a few veggies - all a bit beige, no? - but I love dumplings and crystal noodles and all their work, so I was happy. The sushi wasn't half bad either, though if anyone could tell me how to eat maki rolls with dignity I'd be eternally in their debt. I mean, if you take a bite into the rice, the whole thing landslides onto your plate and then you have to pick up each speck individually. The other alternative is you try and stuff the sushi into your gob in one go, and you look like a snake doing that thing where they dislocate their jaw to swallow an egg. Tips gratefully received.

There's also a Leon in the general London Bridge area, which does some decent vegan options. They recently added some milk free shakes to their menu (vegan!) which I was, I admit it, quite excited to try. I love milk(less) shakes.

I went for banana (there's also chocolate and coffee options too), here's what I got:

(They're not skimping on portions, I just drunk a bit before I took a picture!) To my milkshake loving self, there are two things every shake should be: thick, and fairly sweet. And they shouldn't be grainy. This kind of fell down on all counts. (I'm guessing the grains were unpowdered cinnamon.)

It was OK, I might get it again if I was having a Leon lunch, but I wouldn't rush back for one.

But chain food only goes so far round London Bridge. Happily for veg*ns around and about that area, there's Gujurati Rasoi, whose presence in Borough market doubles the number of veggie food stalls (surely a missed opportunity for some veggie stalls there?!)

They're veggie rather than vegan, but the only non-vegan thing there when I visited was a bit of yoghurt - everything else was plant-based. Oh yes.

Of course, that meant I had to try everything. Three curries, rice, and a bhaji the size of a wrestler's fist. I was highly impressed.

There was a cauliflower curry, a lentil dhal, and a potato based curry too, along with the option of topping including a sharp tamarind dressing, onion, and coriander. The potato curry was particularly fine. Alas, this picture doesn't do it any justice - but trust me, it tastes so much better than it looks here (I know that's not hard!)

It's a bit on the expensive side (north of £7 with the bhaji), so not an everyday meal, but it's the best thing you'll find in Borough by a country mile.

My bought-in lunch bonanza was caused by the fact I was out of the office on a course for three days, so no cooking facilities or tables to eat at. But I wasn't just eating out last week - I did manage to bring in some of my usual stuff and find a quiet corner to trough it in. In today's autumnal sarnie section, I bring you fig, avocado, and chard wrap with toasted pumpkin seeds and chick peas, normally served with a banana and a big flask of lapsang souchong.

Maybe that tupperware lunch isn't so bad after all...

Monday, 20 October 2014

Squaring up to autumn with soda bread and a scary pumpkin

I guess autumn has properly arrived over here. The long days where the sun would slant lazily over the horizon are gone, replaced by sheets of drizzle and falling temperatures.

It won't be long til I'm moaning about the never ending kale and squash combo that seems to rock up with the fall, but for now I'm loving the changing seasons

I went down Borough market to stock up on some veggies and caught an eyeful of this early Hallowe'en visitor - how cool is he?

As a bit of marketing, it totally worked - I had to bring home a big chunk of pumpkin. It's still in the fridge though - any ideas what I should do with it?

The Borough visit also saw me come back home with a load of girolles -  I love how cheap they are at this time of year. They're so bouncy and toothsome, they don't need much doing to them to turn them into something tastyI put them in the oven with a load of peppers and that other amazing winter vegetable, the jerusalem artichoke. I love those so much - just baked in the oven for a while until the insides are fluffy and almost melting, they're delicious. Add a sprinkle of parsley on top, a little salt and pepper, and you're done.

Another thing that says autumn to me is apples! I went to see my brother and his family at the weekend, which was amazing. My niece is vegan too, and my bro made the whole family apple pancakes. Sweet, huh? And very autumnal.

As the only vegan in the family, my brother is keen for my niece to learn to cook some new, fun vegan recipes, so I've been trying to dig out some of my favourites to help her along the way.  I've sent over the tuna-less tuna and egg-less egg sandwich recipes from Crazy Sexy Kitchen for lunchbox filling, and a couple of Veggiestan favourites, including tofu scramble and Afghan carrot hotpot. If you've got any suggestions for recipes for a (relatively novice) vegan to start on, send them over. She's just learning to cook, so as simple as possible is definitely the order of the day!

Talking of as simple as possible, the change in the weather reminded me how long it had been since I last made soda bread.

Soda bread is bread for those days when you want something hot and floury out of the oven, but you just can't be harassed with all the kneading and proving. Making soda bread is just a matter of mixing a few things together in a bowl and then baking. I always use this recipe from the Telegraph and it always turns out great. There's not much to it - you can add a bit of treacle or some oats if you want, but you don't have to.

It's deliciously simple and it deserves to be served up in a very simple fashion - just toast it, add a bit of your vegan spread of choice, and enjoy with a big cup of tea in a cosy corner somewhere. Bring on the autumn, I'm ready for you.

Monday, 13 October 2014

I hope you like jamming too

I have a confession to make, and I have a terrible fear you're going to think less of me because of it. But I know you're a forgiving type, so I'm just going to get it out there - I've started preparing for Christmas already. No, really.

I always try and give some homemade presents and bought ones, and normally that involves food. I reckon food is one of the best presents you can give. If people love it, that's great - they get a tasty treat made by you; if they hate it, they can give it away to someone else and tell you they loved it and ate it all, and noone's the any wiser. No having to hide that scary old lamp your mum bought you a million years ago every time they come around, just a jar of something interesting in the Christmas stocking.

First up, sweet chilli jam - I make this every year for my parents. It takes a while to make, but most of that's standing around stirring by the stove. If you fancy making it at home, get yourself a good book and a comfy chair. All you need is some ginger, garlic, vinegar, sugar, chills and red peppers - here's the recipe.

Then there's the pickled watermelon. My parents are Cockneys, and Cockneys love pickles. Pickled gherkins, pickled walnuts, pickled eggs (seriously) - if it stands still long enough, Cockneys will pickle it. I'm banking on my parents never having tried pickled watermelon rinds though (I'm fairly sure melons don't grow in the East End. Cholera maybe, but not watermelons.)

After my earlier experiments with watermelon pickling, I used a fairly similar recipe: brining the watermelon, boiling it with sugar, vinegar, water along and spices like coriander seed, pink and black peppercorns, and mustard seeds.

And finally, I said goodbye to the autumn with a big jam making session. I ended up with a big stash of apricots when they were cheap at the end of the summer (£1 a box? Don't mind if I do) so I decided to make my first ever jar of apricot jam. It came out a beautiful jewel-like orange and it's now in the cupboard to give someone a taste of summer at Christmas time.

I also came across an insane amount of blackberries in my local park, and ended up coming home with several big tubs of fruit. Half went into crumble, the other half got jammed. I think I ended up using this recipe.

But it's not all been slaving over sugar and fruit for me this week, I've also been out to investigate a new restaurant in the West End, called Ethos.

It's a buffet place that's vegetarian but does a load of vegan stuff too. You either by the food by weight, or can go for an all you can eat brunch option at the weekend.

It all looks a bit brown doens't it? I managed to pick up a great big plate of brown.

It might look a bit like a homogenous plate, but there were all sorts of goodies - dengaku aubergine, sweetcorn fritters, panzanella, Eritrean mango salad, bread, salad leaves, and some Indonesian fried rice.

It's a world menu and most of it was highly flavoured - the sweetcorn fritters in particular felt like going 10 rounds with a stick of lemongrass - so a lot of the plate ended up clashing with something else on it. Most of it was pretty good though, including the aubergine in particular, but the cost for the rather modest meal you see above was £13. Yowzer. I can't see myself coming back to Ethos in a rush - Tibits is a much better bet for a veg*n buffet.  (Another odd point - while all the dishes are all clearly marked as veggie or vegan, the drinks aren't. They sell Camden Hells beers, though, which are vegan.)

Mr Flicking the Vs opted for the all you can eat £17 deal, which was much better value (at least compared to the buy by weight option)  - as much food as you need plus a coffee and a juice. That meant he got to top himself up with a big plate of lunch, and also got to check out dessert.

There were a few options for veggies and a couple of for vegans - carrot cake and fruit salad. The cake was really dense, but moist and spicy as you'd hope. Not sure about the pink icing, but I could have easily stood another piece.

48 Eastcastle St,
020 3581 1538

Thursday, 2 October 2014

A food holiday in Cuba

So, I've been set free from exam hell. I'm free to run into my kitchen and go mad, get out the pots and pans, and go wild. What do I cook? From the looks of the photos on my camera, a lot of the same stuff I cooked when I had my nose in the books.

There was a lot of gnocchi. While I can take or leave most pasta, I'll happily rhapsodise about the humble gnocchi as long as you want. It's squidy, it cooks in a couple of minutes, and it somehow manages to make me think I'm cooking fancy food, even when the gnocchi comes out of a packet that's aged gently in my freezer. Let me enjoy my delusion for a bit, eh?

Here's one example of my gnocci fandom:

It was a stab at doing something late summery with yellow and green courgettes, mint and pink peppercorns, which I like so much I covertly sneak a couple out of the jar and crack them between my teeth when no one is looking. (I'm not sure who I think is going to come after me for my spice-sneakery - the peppercorn peppercops?)

Things I discovered while cooking this dish a) yellow courgettes are incredibly watery and reduce to slime if you don't pay attention. b) that slime is still tasty.

There was more to be found gnocchi to be found here:

I don't know why, but this dish looks kind of spooky, doesn't it? It was just meant to be a sort of autumnal gnocchi (well hello, gem squash and spring greens) but it looks more like a science experiment that's been caught under a spotlight while trying to escape from custody. Again, it tasted pretty nice. Probably needed a spot of tidying up though.

After my gnocchi Stockholm syndrome subsided, I was seized with a desire for one dish which I'd mentally bookmarked on another blog (mentally bookmarked = another way of saying I can't for the life of me remember on whose blog it appeared). I'd been craving it desperately, and finally got a bit of time to do the necessary veggie pampering: a spot of roasted greens (featuring windowsill chard!), yellow beetroot cut into chunks that look a bit like some Easter Island heads, avocado and rice. Holy moly, it was good.


Normally I tend to avoid the cravings that my body has as typically they're for cake, but sometimes, just sometimes, it comes up with the goods. This was so simple and delicious, I was very full, very happy, and very satisfied afterwards. I had it again the next day. I would probably have had it the day after that, but for the fact that I'd run out of 'root.

But (wo)man cannot live on gnocchi and beetroot alone. Me and Mr Flicking the Vs went out for lunch to a Cuban restaurant near us that we kept walking past and not going in.

Big mistake.

Casa Cuba in Crystal Palace has two vegan options for main meals on its menu, and a few vegan sides to boot. Mr Flicking the Vs and me got one each and shared (by sharing I mean we divided each in half, then I ate my half and kept taking crafty bites of his half for good measure). I got the vegan black bean burger and he got the beans and rice plate.

I've not been to Cuba, so I can't make any claims about the authenticity of the food, but I can definitely vouch for its tastiness. The cassava fries on my plate and the fried plantains on his were things that I don't eat often enough. The rice-plus-beans-plus-avocado combo reminded me of the food we got a lot of in Central America - I loved it there, I loved it in Crystal Palace. We're definitely not leaving it so long til we take another food holiday with Casa Cuba.

Monday, 22 September 2014

An end of exams feast

Finally, FINALLY the exams are behind me! I feel so relaxed now that I don't have to permanently think about how long I've got til the next multi-hour mind-bender. I'm doing a little dance in front of my computer, that's how excited I am.

I can't tell you how good it is not to be able to read novels on the train to work, not textbooks, how happy I am that I can make dates with friends not with practice exam papers. I've got the first results back, and things are looking positive, but I should know for sure by the end of the year.

Hopefully in November, I'll find out how I did in the toughest one - a five and a half hour beast. We did get a lunch break mid way through, and I was exhausted. I had the solution in my bag though - a vegan power bar.

I got the recipe idea from another blog, but I can't remember who it was - if any recognises them, let me know and I'll add the link in! Here's how you do it: put a couple of handfuls of oats in a blender with a ripe banana, then stir in a load of fruit, seeds, and nuts (I used almonds, sunflower seed, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, glace cherries, sultanas, and cashews) and a bit of tahini, then bake in a medium oven til set.

They must not be the prettiest things in the world, but they pack a huge energy punch and keep you going through a five and a half hour exam. They do pretty much everything apart from giving you the answers. (Man, I got to find a recipe that does that).

Once it was all over, Mr Flicking the Vs helped me celebrate with a load of cake, including this Inspiral raw vanilla berry tart. So pretty in its little glass jar, so darned tasty.

Of course, one of the things I've been most looking forward to is getting back to cooking and blogging on a regular basis. I love spending time in the kitchen, but that went south with the exams. Now I've reemerged back into the world of pots and pans, and I feel like I've almost missed out on the whole wonderful world of summer produce while I've been studying - stone fruit, berries, asparagus and all that good stuff have come and gone while I've been away.

Now, when I wander down to the markets, figs are in season and so super-cheap. I bought two huge bags and smuggled them. Then, I couldn't quite work out what to cook with them. A quick Google later, and I found this - a recipe for roasted kale, avocado, and fig salad. I was a bit skeptical, but then I saw these colours and I fell in love:
The textures were the most pleasant surprise - the crispy kale, the fleshy figs, the creamy avocado were such a beautiful marriage, I made it again the next day. It was the simplest recipe to make too, which won my heart a little more: there's some chopping up of avocado and figs, and roasting the kale after messaging it with olive oil and spices. 

The spices I used were just a big handful of the Gourmet Spice Co's Magic BBQ Dust, which I got in the most recent Vegan Kind box. It's my second, and I've been surprised (in a good way!) and pleased about the interesting selection of things including that magic dust. It made the kale sing. Lovely.

Talking of new discoveries, I gave readymade vegan cheese a new go recently. I tried Violife smoked cheese - here it is with a homemade (!) sourdough loaf:

Like most every other non-nut based vegan cheese I've tried before, I didn't love it. I wanted to, because I've heard lots of good things about it, and it was some of the nicest vegan cheeses I've tried, but it was still just so-so. One slice was just enough. I don't think I'll be buying another packet, but it's good to know there are more vegan cheese options on the market.

Here's another new-old discovery, coming out of the Vegan Kind box. It's another bag of Nothing But freeze dried tastiness. There's some beautiful alchemy that happens when Nothing But freeze dries fruit and veg. Normally I don't love some dried fruits because all that chewing does my head in, but Nothing But stuff is crispy not chewy. The only down side is that I've not seen their products on sale anywhere - anyone got any hot tips?