Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Cobnuts to you all

I've been banging on about spring for a while, but thanks to a bit of stuff I forgot on my camera, we're going to get a little bit up in autumn's grill.

Last autumn, I bought a bag full of cobnuts and promptly stuck them in the fridge. For months. Seriously, months. I'd never cooked with them before, they sort of looked a bit alien, so I put them in the vegetable crisper and forget about them.

It was only after a bit of fridge archaeology that I found the stray paper bag and the sorry looking cobnuts within. And then I made these cookies with the cobnuts:

I really am a dumbass. Did you know how good cobnuts were? You did? Why didn't you all tell me?! They're so sweet, like little blocks of caramel. They're well and truly delicious. My mind was truly blown.

So, lesson learnt. Next time autumn rolls around, I'm going to get shedloads of cobnuts in and believe you and me, I'll not be abandoning them for half a year.

OK, after a spot of praising autumn, we're back to spring and all that. Salads are back in fashion while asparagus season lasts.

I read somewhere that pumpkin seeds contain something that's good for memory so with exams coming up (not long now!) and all that revision going on, I'm pretty much putting them on everything right now - salads, dinners, oatmeal in the morning!

(Then again, I can't remember what it was the pumpkin seeds were meant to contain, where I read it, or based on what evidence the memory link was there, so clearly I should be more skeptical when I read pseudoscientific nutrition articles. Still, eating more pumpkin seeds is no bad thing.)

I wasn't kidding about asparagus either. I've been putting it in everything. Including potato farls.

Yep, I made some normal potato farls, and then stuck a load of asparagus, wild garlic and spring onions in there for good measure. You can't really go wrong with that holy trinity.

Began vegan, leafy greens are like mother's milk, so I was proper chuffed to see chard coming back in at the markets. I love chard when it's really tiny, so you don't have to bother with all the chopping the stalks first then messing around with the leaves later.

I got this recipe after some high level research - I put 'chick peas and chard' into Google and found this. It's apparently from the River Cafe cookbook, and there's the proper recipe on Google Books preview. It's not too hard to make, but it's really tasty. And you can't say fairer than that.

For the sweet fix this week, I've been making sultana oatmeal cookies. I think they're an American thing maybe, because you don't see them over here. A friend of mine was going back to San Francisco, where's she's from, and she brought me back some oatmeal raisin cookies from Trader Joe's and ever since I've been craving them little devils.

For a first attempt, they were darn tasty. Admittedly, they looked a bit like something that you'd find on the side of a volcano when the lava cools, but that didn't stop me enjoying them.

And after I'd made may way through those cookies (not all in one go, I'd like to make clear), there was still this little beauty waiting for me from last month's Vegan Kind box:

It's a sea salt peanut butter cup from Eat Chic, an artisan East London chocolatier (so the internet tells me). As someone who happily eats peanut butter from the jar with a spoon, and sometimes with my hand if I'm too lazy to get a spoon involved, I was completely smitten. I love Go Max Go's peanut butter cups, but these are something else. They're very grown up with the sea salt and dark chocolate, with a little sweet filling. I am officially in love.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Spring things: Runner beans, stuff on muffins, and vegan Cherry Garcia

I'm about two weeks away from (hopefully) my last exams. If all goes well, this September I'll be at university and I'll have spent a whole summer enjoying remembering just what I did before I had to spend all my free time either working or studying.

The first thing I think I'll do is spend a lot more time reading, seeing friends, and cooking. I love cooking. I mean, I write a blog about what I ate for dinner, that's how much I like cooking. All those things I bookmarked and tore out of magazines to cook, I might finally get around to making. In the meantime, here's a few spring-like delights.

More stuff on muffins again. I might get the blog sponsored my Sainbury's basics muffins or get a muffin tattooed on my neck or something. Turns out most things go well on muffins - some avocado, some spinach, some asparagus, and some cheesy cashew sauce.

More asparagus and muffins for another late weekend breakfast - this time with a lot of miso marinated mushrooms. Underneath, a few spears of asparagus, grated carrot, leaves, and spring onions and sesame on top. I keep making these miso marinated mushrooms whenever I run out of ideas. I guess my brain is too full of science revision to think up anything clever to eat.

I did manage to remember why I like runner beans - that's something of an achievement. Albeit, a really small achievement, but still. 

I got a big load of runner beans in my vegbox recently and wasn't too sure what to with them. I remember my granny always served them up with Sunday roasts, and I liked them then. I bought them again on whim last summer, and forgot to take the strings out. I made some loubia with them and had to chuck it all away because eating the stringy beans was like flossing my teeth with a vegetable.

This time around, I remembered to de-string the beans. I thought they might like some beany company from butter beans and some of this 'revved up runner beans' sauce. I like the sauce, but if I was making it again, I think I'd add a bit of paprika. Everything tastes better with paprika, right?

A less successful attempt to recreate a childhood dish was this go at bread pudding: 

Bread pudding is a great dish. Whoever came up with the idea of putting milk and sugar into bread and baking it was a genius - what a great way to use up leftovers and get a sweet treat at the same time.

I think bread pudding started to go wrong when I used sourdough instead of normal bread, and figs instead of sultanas. Oh, and I put some brandy in there. I'm not sure why. I really should start up a section of this blog called 'things I tried to make and it sort of worked but mostly didn't'.

It was bit wet, and the spices could contend with the sourdough's tang. After conquering the runner beans, I'm pretty sure I should give bread pudding another go in the near future.

In the meantime, I'm mostly eating this:

I love that stuff. It's homemade ice cream of sorts. I really like getting the ice cream maker out, warming coconut milk with something and all the rest of it, but sometimes, all I've got is the energy to stick a frozen banana in the blender.

Thanks to some clever soul out there in blogworld (whoever you are, kisses to you) I worked out that putting some frozen cherries in with the banana along with some choc chunks gives you a vegan Cherry Garcia. Spring has been here long enough that I'm already thinking of summer and when I get to eat this All. Day. Long.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Step away from the kitchen, right now

You know when you think 'there's all sorts of crap in my freezer, why don't I go all Iron Chef and see what I can make with it?' Well, that happened this week, and it wasn't all good.

My clearing out frenzy resulted in one of the weirder plates I've eaten in recent times, but I thought I'd post it for amusement value. Here's a couple of beets I defrosted earlier and arranged into this jaunty fan salad thing. It tasted fine, but you can't really go wrong with roasted beets. You can even put beetroot in cake and it's nice, so I'd have to foul up things up pretty badly to not be able to eat one slice on top of the other.

As for the other thing, I'd love to tell you a) what it was and b) I was drunk when I made it, but nope, I think I was just hungry and desperate and I've no idea what I was thinking. It's a masala roti type thing with some leftover salad in it - roasted peppers, chick peas, salad leaves and know knows what else.

It looks alright doesn't it? It wasn't. It was less than the sum of its parts. Masala rotis are best saved for curries.

Still, what better to go with clearing out old food from the freezer than going a bit mad with all the good new stuff that spring's brought in. Yes! It's gorging time for anything new season, pointy and green: roasted asparagus, purple sprouting broccoli, and wild garlic. I love spring, it brings an abundance of some of the best veggies of all time.

Here's the rest of that yellow beetroot coupled with some lovely pointy green things and cashew cheese from the back of the fridge. I could eat this pretty much every day. In fact, I pretty much will do until asparagus is out of season (Dear Mother Nature, please don't let that be soon, love Flicking the Vs x).

Yep, while asparagus is cheap at the markets (and not air-freighted in from Peru), it's going into everything. Like chick pea scramble.

I love chick pea scrambles. They're like a blank canvas that you get to paint all over with veggies. I think if you take a serious peek at that scramble, you'll see a bit of wild garlic in there. I wasn't joking when I said I'd been eating these veggies almost every day (Dear Mother Nature, leave us the wild garlic next to the asparagus for a while, would you? Thanks, Flicking the Vs x).

No spring stuff in this brunch type dish, but lots of green stuff nonetheless. And note the avocado fan attempt here - I'm just trying to impress you by slicing my avocado funny.

Here's a bit of marinated tofu, snuggling up to its new avocado best friend, all sitting on a sun lounger of English muffin and spinach. Note the huge lump of ajver - thanks to Maud at Food Feud for reminding me just how much I love that stuff. I think it's because it's like the Swiss Army Knife of jarred sauce - you can use it for so many things. It's a dip, a tofu topping, a sandwich filling and a pasta sauce all in one. 

You know I can't go too long without cooking up something sweet, and thanks to find some scarily speckled bananas in the fruit bowl, it was time for banana bread. 

Oh banana bread, why don't I make you all the time? You're almost no effort to cook, you taste amazing, and you freeze really well. If there's every any left to freeze, of course. Banana bread is one of those cakes for all seasons as well - you can have it with a cup of tea in the afternoon, or a couple of slices for breakfast. There's not many cakes you can say that about.

(Side thought - when I lived in France many years ago, you used to be able to buy sponge cakes sold as a breakfast food. They were known as 'le cake'. I'm pretty sure I didn't imagine that, but if anyone could confirm, that would make me rest easy in the knowledge I've not lost my marbles in my old age.)

And from the readymade pile, a vegan Wagon Wheel! I love the variety of weird and wonderful things people have veganised. I salute you, Ananda Foods, for making the Wagon Wheel vegan. It's so cute - I love the little Alice in Wonderland inscription. I think the fluffy mallow bit has got a slightly weird texture, but the biscuits were delicious and I'd eat this whole thing a million times over.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Old favourites and new discoveries - Brunch, Mexican, and chocolate cake

Thanks to the ongoing nightmare of my revising-for-exams-while-doing-a-full-time-job, I don't have much in the way of free time. Watching something I like on TV for half an hour seems like a huge treat, reading a book the worst kind of self-indulgence, and actually leaving the house for leisure purposes like two weeks on the French Riviera. (Don't worry, there are upsides to my studies: I know a lot about reproduction in flowering plants and blood clotting and cell structure, among other nuggets of fun. Admittedly most of the stuff I've been learning will only ever be of use in pub quizzes after I've taken the exams, but still. At least I'm going to rule at biology questions in those quizzes. That's compensation where I come from.)

This self-pitying prelude is basically a long way of saying I've actually been out for lunch recently. Yeah, me! I put down the past papers and went down to the ever-reliable Tibits.

Those lovely people at London's best veg*n buffet place have now started a flirtation with brunch, which inspired me to go check it out. Look away if you're the singer of the Strokes - I really like brunch. It's to my constant chagrin there are not more vegan brunch options in London. Happily, Tibits agree - every now and again, between 11.30am and 3pm, you can go get yourself down there for a smorgasbord of vegan delights.

As per usual, the lighting was quite frankly bum, but I hope you get an idea of what's on offer here:

I lost all self-restraint, I'll be honest. (Due to the fact that Tibits' food is sold by weight, I knew I'd picked up way more than Mr Flicking the Vs, who is around one-fifth taller than me.) It's a ridiculous plate - garlic mushrooms, Boston baked beans, potato wedges, orecchiette salad, dried bean salad, scrambled tofu, seitan rosti and pancakes. But it was AMAZING. I regretted not getting more, despite the fact I'd have needed another stomach to pack it all in. Minor quibble - the garlic mushrooms were a but undercooked for me. Major love - that rosti, man. If there was some sort of Tibits rosti subscription service, I'd have signed up to it by now.

Side note - I didn't just go out to be a massive glutton, I stopped into the Goya exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery. It's great, you should go. Only go early, because the pictures are tiny and will be blocked by other gawpers. We saw two separate people hogging the pictures for minutes, standing in front of them with massive Inspector Gadget style magnifying glasses. The Courtauld Gallery's main collection is also small and perfectly formed.

Its stairs, however - a bit terrifying.

And it doesn't stop there - me and him went for a walk around Shoreditch afterwards to look for a new vegan baker called the Friendliest Flour. While we somehow managed to not find the Friendliest Flour, we did stumble on vegan cake! (Phew!)

After wandering into the Backyard Market, we passed a Tea Rooms where everything was a quid, and there was a big vegan chocolate cake up for grabs.

While sadly it was the only vegan option (Mr FtVs' non-vegan brownie pictured below), it still pleases me to see more and more vegan food getting on menus. And, for a £1 cake from a non-vegan eatery, I was impressed:

And that's not all. Having discovered that a new veggie eatery, the Moveable Feast, had opened near my work and that Club Mexicana was going to be selling their wares there, I thought I'd better go and part with some cash.

At my first attempt, the feted jackfruit tacos had sold out, so I opted for the beer marianted seitan burrito instead. It was, as the reports suggest, very good:

What could possibly go wrong with shoving seitan, rice, guacamole, vegan sour cream, chillis, and lime into a huge burrito? Not a thing.

My next jackfruit-hunting attempt was more successful and I snuck off with four dainty little tacos and a big pile of chips. Granted, it looks like I photographed it in a cave, but you still get an ideal of how darn pretty it was:

Top marks to Club Mexicana for delivering vegan grub in the otherwise unlovely area near London Bridge. We'll be seeing each other again soon.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

What to eat when you can't eat too much

You know those blogs that are at the very forefront of trends, telling you what's the next big thing for foodies in the know, spotting the next hip snack before it hits the mainstream? That's not me.  I'm so behind in food trends, I'm only just having my first green smoothie. Yes, I fear the past called and it wants its blogging back.

I see smoothies of all shades, and particularly the emerald-hued ones, on lots of blogs, think how delicious they look, but never get around to makign them. Sadly, that's because I'm a lazy sod and I can't be harassed to wash up the blender. (As one wise man once said, I'm always one cup of tea away from actually achieving something. In this case, it's a load of washing up away.) Thanks to a throat infection that stopped me eating much in the way of solid food, I decided to get a few bits of healthy stuff down my neck using those beautiful smoothies as inspiration.

The first smoothie I made was a green one using this recipe from Kris Carr's website as a starting point. With no cucumber in the fridge and a chronic fear of coconut water, I just blended up some apple, avocado, spinach and water to get this:

It was good the eyes and throat: so pretty to look at, and the avocado made it so rich, smooth and easy to drink. I cursed my fear of washing up once again, and resolved to make more smoothies - mapping out a beautiful smoothie-filled future, where laziness would be no barrier to delicious fruit drinks. Let's see how far I get with that one!

In the meantime, as my throat began feeling less like someone had taken a sand blaster to it, I managed to get onto solid food again in the form of a black eyed bean curry and some upma, a sort of South Indian porridge made of semolina. If semolina makes you think of school dinners, it's worth trying to purge yourself of those funky memories with a bit of upma. Chuck a load of curry leaves, ginger, chilli and pistachio nibs into your semolina, and serve it up next to a chilli-filled curry - it's a great foil to the heat. And, if you've got a grumpy throat, it's not too much of a fight to swallow it.

Once I was beginning to show signs of recovery, it was Korean food I was after. I've been studying biology at college, including about the antimicrobial affect of garlic and ginger extracts - maybe I was inadvertently trying to kill of the infection from the inside?!

Well, alright, the science doesn't hold up, but the japchae tasted pretty good. Tofu, glass noodles, vegetables - what's not to love? And, if you're a sharp-eyed individual, you'll have noticed there's some asparagus tips in there. Spring has arrived in the supermarkets, which means lovely stuff like purple sprouting broccoli, spring garlic, and that tasty asparagus have all hit the shelves. Luckily, they're being accompanied by some of the nicest weather I've seen in London in April for a long time. Much sun, so wow etc.

And once I'd wrestled my throat a little closer to normality, I decided to get back to baking.

I needed something soft, and what better than melting moments? Melting moments, I think, are an Australian biscuit (can any Aussies out there confirm?) If not, they always make me think of Australia, which is where I discovered them. They're a bit like Viennese whirls in UK - two soft, crumbly biscuits, stuck together with jam and buttercream-type filling. They're amazing, and for some reason, despite not having lived in Australia for a good number of years, I had an overwhelming urge to make the biscuits I loved there.

Luckily, they're not too hard to veganise and there's some nice, easy recipes online. (I used this one from for an extra Aussie touch!) What makes the lovely melting moment unique is adding custard powder to the biscuit mix - something I didn't know until I made them for the first time this week, but it's a tasty touch I'll be using for other biccies, for sure. The lemony jam filling was a do-over of the lemon bar topping from Veganomicon, and the buttercream is just buttercream.

Due to the excellent softness of the melting moment, I had about three with the dodgy throat with ease. Did I mention that lemon also has antimicrobial effects? (yeah, I know, the only way I'd actually get the benefits is by cleaning my sink with the lemon rather than eating it, but let me enjoy my pseudo-science delusion).

And finally, what better way to recover from a nasty bout of Feeling A Bit Manky than ordering a truckload of sweets off the internet? Vegan Tuck Box is another vegan box scheme in the UK, which looks great. Sadly, I've already got one box scheme on the go with The Vegan Kind, but that doesn't stop me ordering the odd treasure trove from Vegan Tuck Box from time to time. I treated myself to a load of Hoots crisps, some vegan peanut butter M&M equivalents, and - after seeing them featuring on Food Feud and drooling a little - some Cocomels.

Laughter may be the best medicine, but candies can't be too far behind.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

A week of cake and pickles

Look, look, I'm still eating my vegetables, I promise. Here's proof, a big salad I made recently:

That's some rocket that was past its best in the back of the freezer, tomatoes, green lentils, avocado (who doesn't love avocado? Show me that person and I'll give them a Chinese burn), and the pickled figs I made last year. I'd been avoiding opening them for fear they'd actually be disgusting. Don't get me wrong, I love figs and I love pickled stuff, but sometimes two and two do not make a delicious four. I hadn't found any recipes on the internet either, so I kind of had to guess how to make them myself. I'm surprised at how good they turned out, so I'll be making some more next time fig season comes around. Just another six months to go, then.

While I'm waiting for the figs to return like fruity migratory birds, I'll be pickling anything else that stands still long enough. Case in point: a bag of jalapenos that had set up home in my fridge for a bit too long. I had a little light bulb come up over my head: 'I've got jalapenos, I've got vinegar, I normally chuck out £1.50 for a jar of pickled jalapenos... I know what I could do here.'

I could do this:

Yep, it looks a bit like a science experiment, I grant you - like those jars of specimens are used to decorate the science labs at school. (Side note - they had animals in formaldehyde when I studied first science *cough cough* many years ago, and they still have them now. No no no no. Just no.)

Anyway, the jalapenos were good. Some things belong in jars, and chilli peppers are one of them.

And of course, as well as eating my veggies, I'm still eating cake.

One of my colleagues from another office was over last week. He's a vegan too - the only other vegan I know in real life - and very kindly brought in a vegan cake from Pourtoi which he picked up at Whole Foods in Piccadilly.

It was a delightfully huge gluten-free chocolate and orange number, and I was pleasantly surprised by its tastiness. The sponge was nice and light, the icing deep and fudgy. The cakes aren't cheap apparently, but they are pretty darn good. I nabbed two slices while my colleagues weren't looking. (Don't tell them, OK? That's just between us.)

I headed up to Manchester recently to visit my family up there, including my nieces, who won't allow me to enter their house without a box of Ms Cupcake cupcakes. "Seriously," I was told, "don't come without the cakes, or they will shiv you."

I didn't want to get shivved, so I took a box. It was this box. The colours looked particularly pretty, I thought:

I can't remember which one of the six I had, but everyone likes a bit of Ms Cupcake goodness, so I'm sure it was grand. One of my family is allergic to soy and another to gluten, but they look the other way on their exclusion diets when it comes to Ms Cupcake. I'm not sure if that's a good thing, really, but they seem to be willing to contend with the consequences, and I would never want to deny anyone a good cake.

We ended up going out for lunch in Tampopo, an Asian chain restaurant with branches in Manchester as well as a couple of other cities. I was pleasantly surprised - they not only have a handful of vegan options that are well-marked on the menu (always appreciated), there's a couple of nice ones for dessert too. (Get the fried banana with the dairy cream swapped for mango sorbet.) I ended up going for the tamarind tofu, and it was rather good. A bit on the expensive side, but who can complain about a load of tofu in tasty sauce and enough rice to sink a battleship?

That's enough talking about things that aren't cake, let's talk about cake some more.

I just discovered Code Planète - it's a French green/vegan blog with lots of interesting recipes on. This one, for crème de marron muffins, really caught my eye. I had a tube of crème de marrons in the cupboard, some pear puree from a Vegan Kind box a while back, and a desire to make these muffins.

Said desire was particularly strong as, after enjoying a streak of baking successes, I'd fallen onto hard times. A recent attempt at madeleines came out hard and slightly oily, while a courgette cake I'd made before to great effect was wetter than an otter's pocket and could not be rescued. It met its ignominious end in the kitchen bin.

Luckily, the crème de marron muffins turned out way better than I had hoped: lovely and bouncy and well-risen. I even managed to feed them to my parents for dessert. There was custard involved. We were all happy.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

What do you get if you cross kale and brussels sprouts? This

After last week's gluttony, I thought I best show you that I do eat things other than cake, in case you were wondering whether I might get scurvy through lack of vegetables.

Look, here's my proof: a great big vat of curry.

It's gobi aloo saag right there. It's been a favourite of mine since I was a kid, when my dad use to make it for us on a Saturday. I make it a bit differently to he did though - I like to roast the cauliflower before I add it into the rest of the dish (inspiration courtesy of this recipe on the BBC).

 Mr Flicking the Vs fears cauliflower (the only dinner I've cooked him which he admitted to not liking was a cauliflower curry) so this dish was pretty much mine, all mine.

Occasionally I ramble on about discovering a new vegetable, and you're probably reading this thinking: 'yeah, new to you, maybe, I've been eating monk's beard since, like, forever. Duh.' Well, here's a veggie that I reckon is actually pretty new as new goes. Do you recognise it?

Looks like a bit like purple kale, you might think. While it's not kale, there is a bit of kale in its family tree.

That bowl above is full of flower sprouts, also known as something like rosetta sprouts.
When I did a bit of Googling to work out how to cook them (which I Googled just after Googling 'what I have bought?') I found flower sprouts being talked up on a few websites as the vegetable that can get kids to like greens. How can they charm even the most hardened of green-dodgers, you may ask? It's because they're apparently a cross between kale and brussels sprouts without being too much of either. I didn't know that when I bought them, but it filled my heart with joy to read - kale and brussels must be two of my favourite vegetables in existence (and there's a lot of vegetables on my love list.)

Having stumbled on the official flower sprouts website (yep, there really is one), I decided to cook up some bubble and squeak cakes and stick a few flower sprouts in for good measure.

The end result? Sadly not as good as you'd hope. I love brussels, I love kale (is it a vegan thing?) but the reason flower sprouts are being pitched as right for children is that they don't really taste of either vegetable.

There's none of the irony tang of kale or the cabbagey fun of brussels. Flower sprouts are fine, but next time I want some green veg, I'll leave this one to the kids and pile my plate high with its ancestors.

Kale is never far away from my plate, of course. After all my sugar binge the other week, all I fancied was just a bowl of veggies. Sometimes, just roasting some and serving them with rice and lentils is all you need and all you want.

I was told once that in Japanese food should always have five colours on the plate for lots of interesting reasons. If you close your eyes and pretend the kale is black (well, it's a little overdone, so not such a massive stretch of the imagination) then I'd totally have aced the whole five. Whatever the origins of the practice, there's no denying that the more different colours you have in your diet, the more balanced diet you have.

I love yellow beetroot. I love purple beetroot too, but the yellow beetroot stain your clothes less. 
After roasting one for my veg bowl up there, I thought I'd try salt-baking another one. I've never tried salt baking anything before, but I'm intrigued to find out if it was worth the effort.

Most of the recipes I saw involved making the crust with salt and egg whites, but I found this one that was salt, water and flour. I made up the dough, wrapped the beetroot in its little briny coat and baked til the skewer I stuck in it didn't meet with any resistance.

I waited for the crust to cool and then broke it open, took off the skin of the beetroot, and tucked in. 

Aaaaaaand - it was a bit disappointing. It was SO salty. All I could taste was the salt, not the lovely beetroot underneath. Sure the texture was interesting and definitely different to the non-salt-baked version, but the taste? Yeesh. I could feel my blood pressure being pushed skywards with every bite.

Where am I going wrong? Here's a quick look at what I took out of the oven, all tips gratefully received:

And yeah, of course I didn't let a week go by without baking something to assuage the demands of my sweet tooth, the ferocious beast that it is.

I had to whip up another batch of ginger-less gingerbread biscuits. I will write down the recipe one of these days and share my lazy person's biscuit discovery. You can't go wrong with it - add a load of flour, you get a biscuit with a nice snap, add a bit less and you'll get a softer cookie type snack. What's not to love?

So, until I get around to posting the definitive recipe, you'll just have to admire these from afar.