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Wednesday, 21 January 2015

You've brought cake, you say?

If you want to make friends and influence people, bring them cake.

I've never written a book on how to do business, but if I was, that would be the first lesson in it. The reason I mention this is at work I deal with a lot of freelancers, and they're pretty much all great - lovely people that do good work. One of them dropped by the office the other day. He knew that I was a vegan, and clever soul that he was, he brought some vegan cake with him.

He bought some cookies and a brownie. Behold:

I quizzed him about where he picked them up, and it turns out it was a place called Lab Organic in Neal Street. It wasn't a shop I knew, so I was quite excited to find a new purveyor of vegan treats in London.

I wasn't blown away by either cookies or the brownies, alas. Both were raw treats, but didn't really do it for me on the flavour front and were a bit dry to boot. I've had some cracking raw cake before so I was hoping for a little more. Still, it was really kind of the freelancer to bring some in and I can't say I wasn't appreciative!

I don't know about you, but I always get really nervous cooking for other people. I mean, not my other half, he's used to the highs and lows of dining a la Flicking the Vs, but whenever anyone says 'why don't I come over for dinner?' I kind of panic.

I'll be honest, it's the vegan thing. None of my friends are vegans, and only one's a veggie, so I always feel like I'm on show a bit, demonstrating that, whatever you've heard, vegan food is tha shizz, it's not boring, it's not all tofu, it's not not just whole foods and lentils (though I love tofu, lentils and whole foods unabashedly) and it's damn tasty. I feel like I'm some vegan avatar.

I mean, I know I'm not. All my friends are very vegan friendly and all have cooked me super good vegan food in the past. But still, do you know what I mean?

So when Mr Flicking the Vs invited his brother and his brother's girlfriend round for tea, I got all giddy and didn't know what to make.

First up, the pudding had to be good (that's pudding in the English sense, not the US sense - we use it interchangeably for dessert). I made tiny chocolate tarts for everyone and they weren't half bad. The base was this single serve cake doubled and shared out between four ramekins and baked at 180C til done. Then there was silken tofu chocolate mousse on top, and chocolate ganache on top of that.

Here's what happened:



Seriously, this may be the best thing I have ever cooked. It wasn't hard to make and it was glorious. Even better, we were stuffed from the main course, so there were a couple of tarts leftover, and we got to eat them the next day.

I didn't photograph the rest of the meal, so you'll just have to imagine it - there were tortilla chips and salsa, guac, and Sour Supreme sour cream, then pipian, spinach and black bean quesadillas, and some Mexican type spuds.

One thing I did take a picture of - Mexican carrots!


Love those little guys. They keep pretty well in the fridge (recipe's here if you want it) and they go with a lot of different meals, so make yourself a big batch and enjoy.

My secret career change project continues apace (hopefully more on that in the next month or two - keep them fingers crossed for me!) but things have been crazy busy here, which means food creativity has gone out the window a bit.

On those days where I need to eat, but messing around in the kitchen seems all a little bit too much for me, there's always popcorn. If you think popcorn should be sweet, you are very, very wrong. Popcorn is much better savoury, that's just science. In my world, there's not much that beats nooch and garam masala as a topping. Hey, I'm not saying it's classy, and I doubt anyone will want to kiss me afterwards, but right now this is my popcorn jam of choice.
 

Aaaaaand here's a photo I found on my camera from the aftermath of Christmas. It might look like someone's tipped a swamp on some fritters, but it was pretty awesome.

As I remember, the fritters were leftover veg from Christmas dinner (parsnips, carrots, and potatoes) with a bit of gram flour and tumeric, topped with chard and tomatoes in a sauce made of up of spare cashew cheese.

I love it when meals like this come together from stuff that you've got lying around and never planned. It didn't take too much effort to make, it helped clean out the fridge, and it made my stomach happy. What more can you ask?


Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Kale, washing powder, and cactus salad (no, that's not a recipe...)

With the ghosts of Christmas food past now really almost gone (yep, it's taken over two weeks to clear out the last remnants of festive eats!) I'm trying to get back to eating normal, healthy, vegan food. And if there's one thing that smacks of normal, healthy and vegan around here, it's kale chips.

Luckily, the folks who bring my veg box included a forest of kale this week, so I've been giving the dehydrator a workout.

Whenever I make kale chips, I tend to stick to the usual tried-and-tested cashew cheese type recipe - you know, nooch, cashews, lemon juice, miso, bit of onion and garlic powder, and then dehydrate til tasty. I love this recipe, but it tends to involve a bit more planning than my brain can typically cope with ('what was that thing I meant to do last night? Ahhhh, soak the cashews, right. Damn, too late') so I'm alwayson the look out for a cashew free recipe.

I've tried versions with kale wrapped in just a little oil and some spices, and they don't seem to quite hit the spot.  Any other suggestions for how to dress up my kale?


New year, new pantry. Every so often, I like to clear out the store cupboards and take stock of all the weird and wonderful ingredients I have on hand (and, ideally, use a few of them!)

This January's excavation has uncovered a jar of nopales. I love nopales. There's always a jar in the cupboard that I'm saving for some great recipe I never get around to making. This time, I thought I'd just bust open the cactus and enjoy it in whatever way I could think of.

Bit of an imagination failure on my behalf, but I thought I'd make some sort of taco salad - lettuce, tomatoes, pepitas, hot sauce, avocados and lots and lots of nopales. Yum.

Side thought - why does the liquid nopales comes in have a weird slimy texture, like it's made of snail trails? I mean, it's not enough to put me off eating nopales, but still.

Side thought two - has anyone ever dreamt up a vegan recipe for queso fundido with nopales? If not, can they please do so soon?


More Mexican flavours were in evidence in the kitchen with a big batch of chilli making. I think learning how to make chilli is a bit like learning how to play Mah Jong - it takes a little while it learn and a lifetime to master.

I'm always tinkering with chilli flavours, and after seeing the mole recipe in Veganomicon, I tend to add a bit of dark chocolate and a bit of peanut butter for good measure - it seems to give the chilli a nice silky texture and an extra depth of flavour.

Not pictured: Sour Supreme, homemade cashew cheese topping. Love that stuff. (Side note three: does anyone know why Sour Supreme is so hard to come by in London? Is it actually sold anywhere in the capital?)


And, as it's the start of the month, there was a new Vegan Kind box headed my way. Normally the only notable arrivals through my inbox are bills and the odd magazine subscription (hello, London Review of Books!) so it's nice to get something in the mail you're looking forward to.

This month's box was a mixed bag - the usual snacks and treats, soapnuts, fruit in a pouch, and what looks porridge on the go.

That's the fun part of box schemes - you never know what will turn up on your doorstep. Oddly, I was most taken with the fruit pouch of pear puree. I mean, sure, I could use it as a snack or whatever, but I bet it would make a great filling for muffins, or more importantly, a base for pear Bellinis (on a related note, Sainsburys has started making £5 vegan prosecco. It's not going to win any prizes, but at that price, it's a steal.)

It's also good to see non-food items in vegan box schemes. I find it weird that supermarkets that are normally great at labelling vegan food don't take the same care with washing powders, washing up liquid, deodorant, cosmetics and all the rest. The other side of the coin I guess is that I've never had a good experience with soapnuts - they never seem to get my mucky clothes properly clean. Any top tips, soapnut users?


Wednesday, 7 January 2015

South Indian in Borough, good food in Carousel, and Christmas leftovers that won't leave

Morning all. How was your Christmas and New Year? If it was anything like mine, then all that bonhomie and wellbeing you built up over the festive season will have eroded by now, and all you'll be left with to remind you of the fun times is the last of the Christmas food.

Case in point: this little Santa's sack from Choices. I bought it a few weeks ago and still haven't worked my way through it. (If anyone can work out why all the individual things in the bag say vegan on them, but the label for the bag doesn't, send your answers my way!) 

Christmas isn't Christmas without a shedload of chocolate, so I'm keeping the Christmas spirit alive by eating mine sparingly. I'd never tried the Choices caramels before, but after encountering them in Santa's sack, I will be going back for seconds.

Another Christmas hangover that won't quit, but is nonetheless a welcome overstayer in my house: huge bags of mixed nuts. I keep seeing them cheap at the supermarkets now Santa has well and truly departed the building and bringing them home. As a result, I'm never more than an arm's length away from a bowl of burnished nuts, a nutcracker, and a pile of shell fragments waiting to be trodden into the carpet.

 And lastly, another ghost of Christmas past that won't quit - fruitcake! I was inspired to make my first ever fruitcake by Three Meat and No Veg, who reminded me recently that it's one of those cakes that for some reason get more and more appealing as you grow older. I used to hate and fear their regular appearance at Christmas when I was a kid, now this year I made my very own.

I adapted a number of recipes from the internet and added a load of dried figs, Marsala and fresh grated carrot and apple. The result was amazing and I hope to post the recipe before too long (just so I can make it one more time!)


I’ve not been eating just Christmas leftovers this year, oh no. The chick pea scrambles have been making an increasingly frequent appearance in my house of late. Now I’ve mastered the technique, there’s no stopping me.

This version looks like it’s got kale, green peppers and tomatoes in there. Hopefully some chilli too.  I can't believe it took me so long to learn how to make them - there should be some sort of support group set up to help vegans who haven't yet acquired the scramble skill.

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Normally, I take the best pictures I can. That doesn't always mean good pictures, but hey, you know. Sadly, I'm going to have to post a bit of an eye-offender for you now, so bear with me. Here it is:

OK, maybe it doesn't look so pretty but I can assure that was all down to the hands of the fool wielding the camera, and not whatever fairy-blessed chef in the kitchen. So, to explain, I often get invited to a lot of events through work - parties, dinners, awards dos, that sort of thing - and I rarely go. I'm lazy, and a bit socially awkward, so usually I just politely pass. 

Last month, I got invited to a dinner at Carousel. It's a place in London that the omni folk have been raving about. When I was asked if I fancied going there myself, I felt compelled to say yes and to see what the place was all about.

It hosts a series of chefs and sadly I can't tell you who was in residence when I got to go, but whoever it was, I take my hat off to them. Five courses of vegan fare later (in my defence, small courses!) and I'd like to shake him or her by the hand. There were freekeh rolls with vegan yoghurt, aubergine and miso, an dessert of orange compote and slices (far better than it sounds), some white bean soup, and my favourite up there - a yellow-themed dish of cauliflower, yellow tomatoes and courgettes, chick peas, and sultanas, all lightly and perfectly spiced. If I'm making it sound plain, it really wasn't.

Moral of the story - if someone offers to take you to some fancy-dan omni hangout, don't always assume the vegan food will be second rate. Sometimes, they'll go and surprise you.

More good news: Borough Market has now got itself another REALLY GOOD vegan option. Yep, SE1 is getting some seriously tasty veganity going on of late. After recently trying out Gujarati Rasoi and praising their big box of vegan Indian deliciousness (including an onion bhaji the size of a man's fist), a couple of weeks ago I got to taste test another veg*n stall, Horn OK Please.

Like Guajarati Rasoi, Horn OK Please is exclusively veggie and the only non-vegan thing I saw when I stopped by was a yoghurt sauce.

There were two choices available for us plant-eaters when I went: a dosa or aloo tikki. I went for the dosa and here's what it looked like:


Good huh? That lovely desk in the background is where I spent my waking, working hours, so ignore that for now and focus on the huge Indian crepe before your eyes. For a mere £5, you get a great big lovely pancake stuffed with masala potatoes and a load of chick peas and sev (those delicious crunchy noodle things). If you're in the Borough area, I wholeheartedly recommend getting yourself down to see what the Horn OK Please folks are cooking up.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Vegan options at Wahaca and the joy of vegan box schemes

Alright, I'm a bit late on this one - I've been subscribing to The Vegan Kind's lifestyle box for a few months, and I've only just got around to posting about it.

You know how these box schemes work right? You give someone a few quid, they send you an assortment of interesting vegan stuff in the post. Sometimes it's stuff you like, sometimes it's stuff you've never heard of, but in general, it's pretty much the best thing you've going to get in the post all month.

Here's the November box (yes, I know we're well into December, but I thought you looked like the forgiving kind, so you'll let me off) for not posting about it last month.


And this is the joy of it - look at that crazy mix - readymade quinoa, crisps, shower gel, milk, caramel sauce and body wash in one package, and all stuff I'd never tried before.

I'll be honest, I'm kind of confused about the crisps - it's a vegan crisp company that sells a flavour called 'how chicken soup saved the day'. Shouldn't it be called 'definitely not chicken, because that's not cool'? Anyway, everything in there I really liked, as much for the novelty factor as for the fact that they tasted good. (Apart from the shower gel, I don't know how that tastes.)

I haven't got around to using the

Another minor discovery in Whole Foods - iced vegan coffee. It's not something that when I went vegan I sat there yearning for, but it's still nice to see it readymade should I ever need it.

Pictured below with some rare London winter sun:


I know you've been secretly craving more updates from my ventures into veg box world. Here's another box from a few weeks ago with carrots, leeks, squash, peppers, mushrooms, parsnips, and probably some potatoes as well.

Come to think of it, it's pretty much like the Vegan Kind box up there - I give some guy a few quid every week, he brings a box of good stuff to my door, and then I have to work out what to do with it.

I ended up making some curry with the cabbage and potatoes, because that's one of my favourite things to do with cabbage. In fact, it's kind of my favourite thing to do with most vegetables. With the parsnips, I made something along the lines of this recipe for creamed parsnips with roast winter vegetables from the Guardian.


But with the squash, I was feeling a bit Mexican and decided to raid the venerable Veganomicon for inspiration. Handily enough, I had a tin of tomatillos to hand and I'm never without a bag of pumpkin seeds (never never never) so what better to make than the green pumpkin seed mole? Seriously, there is nothing, in case you were wondering. It's phenomenal.

And, in case it felt lonely, I chucked in some refried beans, coriander, and squash to get all it going.  I also had some blue corn tortillas in the freezer. Yes, I'll be honest, I bought them because they're blue, but you know, BLUE! How much blue food to you get to eat? Not enough, I reckon.

What's better than tasty Mexican you make at home? Tasty Mexican that someone else makes for you. I thought I'd give Wahaca a go at the request of my other half. I was a bit trepidatious after a few other vegans have reported mixed experiences. And a mixed experience was pretty much what we got.

Though Wahaca does have a menu with dishes categorised by allergen, and you can find all the veggie and vegan dishes in there. That is, if your server knows what it is. Ours had vaguely heard of it and after a while foraging managed to unearth it.

There's not a whole lot of vegan dishes, despite the fact that making vegan Mexican food really isn't that hard and most of the dishes looked like they could be veganised without much effort.

We opted for guacamole to keep us busy:


It was fine, but you can't really go wrong with guacamole can you? Well, if you can, you shouldn't really be in the Mexican restaurant game!

Next, a bit of salad:


It was corn and bean salad, allegedly, but most of it was lettuce with not much in the way of either the eponymous corn or beans. Not much in the way of excitement there really.

That was the less interesting bit, here comes the thing you may want to order if you're in Wahaca (given the paucity of vegan options, you might not have much choice): it's the winter vegetable fajita. The vegan version comes without feta and possibly something else, I can't remember and I'm not sure the waitress could either.

Nevermind, it was fab. So much flavour in such a little package, with mushrooms leading a deep, dark, umami charge. Plus so much rice - more than enough to keep this little carb bunny happy.


On the downside, the salsa was weeping a bit of tomatoey water, so it kind of looked like it had peed on the plate. Ignore that though, and it was very pleasing burrito.

I'd probably go back to Wahaca, but I wouldn't race there - it kind of gives off the impression that vegans are an afterthought or an inconvenience. There's a lot of good Mexican food in London at the moment, so next time I have a hankering for a bit of comida, I'll go seek out somewhere with a few more vegan options.

Wahaca
http://www.wahaca.co.uk/
020 3697 4140 119
Waterloo Rd, Lambeth, London SE1 8UL

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Chinese tofu, pistachio pudding, and sourdough cake

Sometimes, all I want to eat is the same thing over and over and over again. Right now, it's a simple Szechuan dish that's captured my heart, and is holding my taste buds to ransom.

I would publish a recipe for this, but it's so simple you don't even need to. Chop a red chilli, a big chunk of garlic and two or three cloves of garlic, and fry for a couple of minutes. Grab yourself your favourite block of tofu (pressed if you need to) and chop into chunks and then toss in your pan. Add enough water to cover the bottom of the pan by 1cm or so, then add a hearty squirt of tomato puree and a couple of tablespoons of soy sauce.

It's not my recipe - I half-inched it off someone else. In their version (I think it was reprinted somewhere from the Little Book of Lunch), the tofu's replaced with baked and chopped up aubergine. Either's fab and you should go make it right now. RIGHT NOW, I tells ya.


Other dispatches from my kitchen include one answer to 'what can I make with my sourdough starter when I've had enough of bread?' The answer, as to some many questions in life, is cake.

I made a little gingery cake with sultanas and cherries and lots of wintery spice. There was no recipe out there for such an endeavour, but the end result all turned out rather wonderfully - a really fun bouncy texture that you don't get with a lot of cakes. And the sort of cake that goes amazingly well with cake. I'm really starting to embrace winter and all its flavours. Why do you get so many spiced cakes being traditional for this time of year? Is it because historically sugar and spices were so expensive you only broke them out on feast days?

Whatever the reason, I'm all for it. There's something lovely and warming about ginger, nutmeg and all its spicy bedfellows.

In other new discoveries, I can finally take my hat to those who managed to persuade me to get cooking some chick pea scrambles (Green Gourmet Giraffe and Coconut and Berries, I'm looking at you). I tried making one a while back, it was grim, I never tried again. UNTIL NOW.

Thanks to all those creative blogging types out there, I was inspired to revisit the gram flour with fantastic results. I found out that making a good scramble needs 1) a good non-stick pan 2) enough patience to let the chick pea flour cook out and lose enough water so it doesn't still taste floury. You probably knew that, I didn't, so I was delighted when mixing up a batter then leaving it well alone for a bit resulted in a glorious scramble.

I've been trying to work out just what I added to the batter in this picture, in some sort of CSI: Vegan Dinner way. I think it's mushrooms and tomatoes, with avocados on top, but you can join me in guessing what's going on.


And updates from the weird world of vegan convenience foods you didn't know existed, I bring you pistachio pudding. (I'm using pudding in the US sense of the word, rather than the UK one).

At a recent foray into my local ethic food market - which stocks everything from Jamaican food to Turkish to Indian to Polish - I discovered a packet of pudding. You just add milk (non-dairy in my case, obviously), heat a bit, then leave to set in the fridge, and you end up with a smooth, creme caramel-textured dish.

As far as I could tell from looking at the ingredients, there was nothing I couldn't make at home if I went out and bought some pistachios, but still, it's good to know when you're too lazy to do just that, fun pudding can still be yours.


Monday, 1 December 2014

I'm dreaming of a raw Christmas

Things I like: cooking. Things I like slightly more than cooking: cheap cooking.

A Groupon deal came through a while ago offering a raw vegan dessert class for under half price, so I thought with Christmas coming up, I should get involved.

I'll be honest, I hesitated for a while - I've had some dodgy experiences with raw food classes. Not so long ago, I did a raw chocolate class with a friend where everything was demonstration (no hands on!) and tasted awful. The person running the class also became quite aggressive when the friend and I (very politely) questioned some of the outrageous pseudoscience that was being presented as fact.

Shudder.

Luckily, I squashed those less than pleasant memories, and bought the Groupon - and a good job it was too.

The class was run Yuuga Kemistri. I turned up late after stomping through a downpour and settled down with around 20 other raw-curious types. (I don't follow a raw diet, I should add, I've just had a lot of good raw food and wouldn't mind making more at home).

After a brief introduction to the ingredients, we got stuck in. No demos, just us and some hands-on making stuff. There were five different recipes to work on, and I attached myself to some kindly sisters working on the raw Christmas pudding.

A mix of raisins, flax, oranges and other goodies, I was pleased that we managed to turn out something that looked like the traditional English pudding and tasted phenomenal too, especially because I normally loathe raisins. (Be honest, they're like sultanas that have given up on life, aren't they?)


Other kind types had worked up rose petal dusted brownies, bocca di dama biscuits, chia pudding, and raw truffles. They were all fabulous, and I'll be making quite a few of them at home.

Here's the mango and banana chia pudding:


Don't these brownies look pretty? Bit heavy on the coconut oi, but otherwise nice - there was a subtle rose flavouring that was great.


One of the interesting discoveries for me was mesquite powder (not the Southern rub, a sort of sweet smelling brown powder with a wonderful caramel type taste). Have you tried it? If so, let me know what you make with it, as I've now just acquired a great big bag of the stuff.


After all the raw endeavours, we sat down and troughed what we had made, each group showing off its contribution and being met with 'oh, that is good' and other approving, full-mouthed noises of approval.

I shuffled off into the night full of raw goodness, good will to all people, and my faith in raw cooking classes restored. Isn't Christmas wonderful?

Monday, 24 November 2014

Too disgusting not to post...

As a wise woman once said, sometimes things are too disgusting not to post, and this, my friends, is one of them.


It looks entirely innocous doesn't it? Well, it wasn't. It was pure filth.

Let me explain - a while back, I bought a ready made pot of microwaveable vegetable congee, because I'd always wondered what it tasted like. I kept it for over a year, and long past its sell-by date, but couldn't bring myself to either bin it or eat it.

Until the day came, when I had to. I popped the top, heated it up, added the dinky sachets of sesame oil and seaweed that came with it and then dived in. It was a party in mouth. That sort of party where 20 people get invited and 200 people turn up, and leave cigarette burns on the floor and vomit in the plant pots and the police get called. NOT NICE.

It was weirdly slimy while at the same time having no taste to speak of. It was pretty much like eating a bowl of snot.

Moral of the story - if you haven't eaten something after a year, you probable shouldn't ever try.

To try and get that nasty image of congee out of your mind, try something more like this:

Yeah, that's better, right? I went to see Interstellar at the cinema in Brixton recently (summary of that visit: lots to love, lots of dodgy science to grind your teeth over). Why I like going to Brixton: it's a nice cinema, and you can pop over the road and get a big fat cake from Ms Cupcake and a can of beer from the local off licence, and enjoy the both with the film, in the dark.

Pictured above is a heavenly slice of peanut butter rice krispie cake roughly the size of my fist. I loved it, and I'm happy to know the recipe's in Ms Cupcake's cookbook, so I'll be making these at home too. Yay.

In slightly less sugary news, I saw a vegetable delivery box scheme on offer at one of the voucher sites and decided to give it a go. You know the type of thing - some thoughtful guys drops off a big fat lot of organic veg outside your door every week. You never know what you're going to get, but it's interesting whatever it is.

My first foray brought this to my doorstep:


You can't really see what's going on there, but there's savoy cabbage, radicchio, sweet potato, leeks, potatoes, kale and possibly some other stuff.

I wouldn't consider myself a fan of sweet potatoes (apart from in brownies) or radicchio, but I like the fact that these boxes turn up and I'm forced to reassess my grumbly attitude to both.

I love cabbage in all its forms though, but thought it deserved a new treatment in my kitchen. Behold, a great big potato, chick pea, and savoy cabbage curry that hit my plate recently.



Cabbage does tend to look like it's crawled out of a swamp, but I don't care, it was good. Plus, I've found that Whole Foods stock vegan naan breads - result!

This box was from a while ago, and my voucher's been used up. Still, I'm keeping on with the box scheme, because I love the weirdy beardy interesting stuff that turns every week and the fun stuff it does to my weekly meals.

All box scheme folks, any tips for me?