Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Some days, I just run out of cooking inspiration. Then I ask my other half what he wants to eat, and he says one of three things: Mexican, stir fry, or pasta. Without fail. In his culinary world, there are but three foodstuffs, and he's happy for us to eat all three in rotation forever. I try my best to come up with interesting, healthy, tasty vegan meals, but if I'm ever feeling fresh out of ideas, I just make Mexican, stir-fry or pasta, and I know everyone's happy.

Only the other day, the other half only went and blew my mind. I asked him what he'd like for tea, and he said "carrot and coriander soup". My first instinct was that he'd been bodysnatched and replaced with a replicant that hadn't downloaded the file on food preferences yet.

After satisfying myself he really was my other half, I made a carrot and coriander soup: sweated off onion and garlic with ground coriander, added some chopped carrot and stock, and when it was all done, blended it and topped with fresh chopped coriander.

I was surprised at how much more than the sum of its parts it was, it's not become a regular part of my lazy cooking rotation, sometimes with lentils or chickpeas added.

Behold, the fourth known dish in my other half's culinary taxonomy:

The next meal looks a little bit parsimonious, but I promise you again, it may be made of humble ingredients, but there's a lot more than that to it.

It's based on a recipe on The Telegraph here for roasted carrots and chick pea mash.

I didn't have any chick peas on hand, but butter beans soaked and boiled for a bit made an admirable stand-in, perked up with some fried leeks and tahini. Carrots roasted with a bit of coriander may not sound like anything special, but if you get the timing right, they become sweet and melty things of wonder.

I even had some radicchio to hand, and made a facsimile of The Telegraph salad with some quinoa, peas and mint. Oh, and then I chucked in some purple sprouting broccoli with tomatoes, because, well, when doesn't broccoli make everything better? (What? When you're making brownies, you say? Fair point.)

It may not look pretty (blame the low-lit phone pic), but it tasted pretty good.

Now this next dinner I'm blaming on you guys. On pretty much every blog I read at the moment, there's someone telling me how amazing Ethiopian food is and how I need to get involved. 

I finally took your advice, and found a nearby Ethiopian and Eritrean place that did a load of veggie food, most of which was vegan. Our eyes were taken by the veggie platter, made up of a little bit of everything served on enough injera to feed a football team that hadn't eaten all week. 

They were happy to dodge the dairy and make up a vegan platter for me and the other half, and this is what we got given:
Now I see why you guys have been getting so excited - this stuff's amazing!

Alas, I can no longer remember what we had on our plate, but there was a beetroot based dish, an okra one, three separate lentil dishes, something mushroomy, a fluffy gram scramble, and a load of other stuff that's escaped my memory.

What was perhaps more amazing than the variety of dishes was that they were all delicious. Even sharing this monster between two, me and the other half couldn't get through most of it, and we had to leave it. Lesson learnt - we'll be back, and we'll not be having a starter!

Finally, I've dug out the dehydrator again, and made up some courgette (or zuccini, if you're over the other side of the pond) chips. It was just a case of massaging the mandolined courgette with some chilli oil, ras el hanout and garlic salt, and dehydrating til crisp.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Three surprisingly good meals this week that all merit a mention, and nothing overly ugly to assault your eyes either!

First up is my new go-to meal when I have a fearsome hunger but not the time or the energy to match.

It's a sort of variation on japchae: veggies, cellophane noodles, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and Korean soy bean paste (doenjang, I think). Pour boiling water over noodles and leave for five minutes. Fry garlic and ginger, add veggies, fry til done, then add the noodles and soy and doenjang to taste. Job's a good 'un!

It's one of those wondrous meals you can get from chopping board to furiously shovelling it down your throat in 15 minutes or so.

Both doenjang and cellophane noodles (aka bean thread, glass or crystal noodles) are fairly new additions to my pantry, but I couldn't live without either now. Doenjang brings that rich umami flavour that I love and goes perfectly with shiitakes, while cellophane noodles have a wonderfully bouncy texture that's both comforting and addictive.

Alas, there's nowhere near me that sells either, so I have to make a massive detour to the Oriental supermarket in Elephant and Castle. Still, it's worth it - more noodles, more doenjang, more steamed buns and tofu related shenanigans. What's not to love?!

The other new recipe I gave a go to recently was pastrami-style tofu, courtesy of The Telegraph, of all places (recipe's here - it's veggie but not vegan, though veganising it is no great stretch). There's not much to it, bar pressing some tofu and leave it to marinade in some spices and herbs for a while, then pan frying it.

The original recipe has some odd amount of sugar in it, but I just left most of it out, and it still turned out spicy and delicious.

I can't actually remember what the white blob on the plate is, so I'm just going to guess - magic? Pixie dust? The sound of children's laughter? Or butter bean mash? I'll let you decide... There's also broccoli with peppers, and kale and peas.

Last up - a curry. I've mentioned on more than on occasion how I love eating curries, but struggle with making them. I may have finally exited that dark period - behold the wonder of this chick pea laden glory:

It's another recipe from a mainstream newspaper - in this case, The Guardian - with a few tweaks.

The original recipe (found here, among a bunch of other very non-vegan other recipes. Alternative here) is for a tomato curry, and involves skinning tomatoes and sieving mixtures. These days I don't have time to read the paper, let alone skin a tomato, so I followed the recipe but mortar-and-pestled the spices first and didn't sieve them out later. I also turned the 12 peeled tomatoes (that's twelve!) for a couple of handfuls of cherry tomatoes and a can of chick peas.

The end result was hands-down the nicest curry I've ever made. Oddly, unlike most curries, it tasted better on the day it was made, not the day after. If that means I have to eat it all in one day, I reckon that's probably just another reason to love it.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

I may have mentioned (several times) that I moved house a while back. Compared to our last place (which was about the size of a postage stamp), our new flat is positively palatial - and that means a whole new kitchen to fill with crap and get to know.

And it really does need getting to know! The oven is a bit of a loose cannon. If you try turning it on to 180C right away, it trips all the electrics in the flat and you're suddenly standing in the dark, without power. If you don't try and rush the oven into things - turn it on at 100C and ease it up slowly 15 or 20C at a time - it seems to prevent it a freak out. It's a time consuming process and you end up feeling like you're oven sitting! Even then, once it hits 180C, half the time it has a diva moment and shuts down anyway.

Which means if you want to cook anything at a high temperature - you know, at a temperature that might actually cook things - you have little hope of success. The oven says no, not for you. That makes it really hard to cook things like bread.

Still, some days, the oven gets to feeling more cooperative than others, and you can get something approaching a decent loaf out of it.

Here's one I made from this recipe for easy white bread on the BBC:

It turned out not too bad, freaky oven and all.

(By the way, if any of you are electricians and think my oven's tantrums are a sign it may blow up and take out my new kitchen, please let me know…)

Aside from the oven lottery, one of the delights of my new kitchen is the space - which I used up a nice chunk of recently by buying a big dehydrator. I've been dehydrating all sorts of veggies and even recently attempted some homemade flax crackers.

I managed to work a pretty darn good curried carrot version, but also had some minor flubs with a kale and tarragon combo (just say no!).

Can you guess which one I got a picture of though? I post it here as a warning to other cooks who may recklessly try to make similar crackers. Look upon my crackers, ye mighty, and tremble...

One way to ensure decent baked goods (or raw goods for that matter) is to buy them. While the Free From Bakehouse in Borough Market only does one vegan cupcake normally, it's a solid effort (and they're not far from work) so I like to keep them in business. Behold, the spiced plum cupcake:

I recently shared one of these with a cake-fiend friend, and she pronounced it one of the best cakes she'd had in a long time. Not sure I'd agree, but still, it can be no bad thing.

Elsewhere on the cake front, bad news: a while back the delightful Cat and the Cream cupcakes disappeared from London. This is a massive shame, as there were hands down the best vegan cupcakes around. Rumour has it that Cat and the Cream will return later this year, but until that happens, we're all slightly worse off in Vegan Land.

I normally picked up my Cat and the Cream cakes from Whole Foods. In their absence, Whole Foods has turned to a company I'd not heard of before, Trina's Delicacies, to fill the vegan void. The offering below was my first crack at their wares.

The verdict? Nice, but no Cat and the Cream. And at £3.50 though - about a third more expensive than the Cat and the Cream - it's a treat my stomach likes, but my wallet can't stomach.

Monday, 24 March 2014

When all else fails, make stir fry. This is my motto for when life gets in the way of cooking - when studying and working and all the restless gubbins of life tries to get me out of the kitchen, I get back in it and make a stir fry.

Apart from the fact you can have it from chopping board to plate in about 15 minutes, another reason why I love the humble stir fry is it can take practically anything you can throw at it and taste decent - a saving grace I normally attribute to soup (we eat a lot of soup here too!)

The other reason stir fries occur a lot in my house is whenever I ask my other half what he wants for dinner, he will always say, without fail, "Mexican. Or a stir fry." For the reasons listed above, he mostly gets a stir fry!

This stir fry must have been one for when he wasn't around though - it features mushrooms, which I love and are his nemesis. He recoils from them like he thinks they might be poisonous, so they rarely make it into our dinners together.

There's also mushrooms in the steamed buns: I found a load of frozen cabbage and shiitake steamed buns at our local Oriental supermarket and I can't get enough of them. One is never enough. Neither for that matter is two or three or four...

Mind you, I can't say as I blame him - mushroom dishes aren't always the prettiest. I found this snap on my phone of mushrooms on toast - I must have made it for myself with some fancy dan fungi from Borough Market. It looks like a dogs breakfast - another sign I was eating alone that evening!

I particularly like the fact that I must have thought 'man, that looks shocking. If I put some parsley on it, it'll transform it!' Erm, no.

Still, it was subsequently covered with cashew cheese sauce and it tasted good, so proof if proof were needed that looks aren't everything!

Along with mushrooms, my other current obsession of late has been Jerusalem artichokes. They may beat even mushrooms on toast for one in the ugliness stakes, but their nutty, creamy-fleshed perfection is all I've been craving for the tail end of winter.

My current favourite way of preparing them is to steam them for 10 minutes or so ,then roast them til crisp. While they're in the oven, I make up a pesto like sauce by blending walnuts, lemon juice, salt, water and either coriander or parsley (and as we know, a bit of parsley on top can right any wrong.)

Dollop liberally on your roasted 'chokes, and enjoy.

You may not enjoy the aftermath though - there's a reason they're also known as Jerusalem fartichokes...

Moving swiftly on, I found out that Coopers Vegetarian - a small veggie cafe and supermarket near Waterloo - has shut down. While I didn't ever eat there (there wasn't much in the way of vegan friendly food on offer), I could pop in and grab some soy milk or vegan biscuits if I was in the area.

Alas, there can't have been enough business to keep it afloat, and now it's gone - a lesson in 'use it or lose it' if there ever was one.

So, with that in mind, I made a trip to the health food store a mile or so away from where I lived, with the aim of making sure a similar fate didn't befall it.

I walked out with some Neapolitan Swedish Glace, a bag of linseed, some vegan tortellini, and one of these:

It's a sandwich of vegan shortbread with apple and date filling and to gives me that sort of Proustian feeling of having eaten something very similar as a child. It's also the size of a house brick, which made me love it even more. I'm definitely going back for another several trillion of these - fingers crossed that can keep the shop in business!

Thursday, 13 March 2014

I've been meaning to post these pics since Christmas, after a surprise afternoon off and a few hours to kill led me to north London.

It's not often I have free time that isn't accounted for by work, studying, or all the other stuff, fun and otherwise, I have going on right now. When you get gifted a couple of spare hours, what do you do with it?

I set off for Camden, telling myself I was off for some Christmas shopping, but knowing full well I needed to check out a couple of new vegan places up there.

The first place was Rupert's Street. It's not actually a place at all, as it's a truck, but you can find it lodged in Camden Market every Monday to Friday – you can't miss it, it's bright yellow and parked by Camden Lock!

I don't think I caught the truck on the best day – there were problems with the oven in the truck, but the owner was nonetheless managing to turn out a variety of dishes including this burger:

And, it being Christmas, a load of mince pies. They were still cooking when I grabbed my burger, and when I returned later to pick some up, they'd all sold out. Good news for Rupert's Street, bad news for me!

The other place I went to check out was Vegan Cakes and Treats, a small all-vegan cafe and cake shop tucked away down a side street not far from Camden tube.

They sell amazingly indulgent cakes and treats (you spotted that from the name? You're a clever one!) and high-octane coffee. What's not to like?

I ordered the tiramisu, and it came in this rich, supersized slice. Now, I'm a glutton, but even I struggled to finish this (Note the 'struggled' there – of course I finished it. Never leave a vegan cake behind is my motto.) So perhaps if you're dropping by this place, may I recommend bringing a friend and splitting a tiramisu between you.

Cakes and Treats also sell some savoury options like bagels and burgers, but realistically, who's going to get one of those when there are windows of wicked looking cakes to be had? 

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Not so long ago, I moved into a new place. In return for moving out to the 'burbs, I got a larger flat with a lovely kitchen. I felt giddy from all the storage space - I had to restrain myself from going crazy and buying all the kitchen gadgets I'd been dreaming of.

OK, so maybe I wasn't that restrained. I went out and bought myself a dehydrator.

There seem to be two kinds out there - fancy-dan ones that cost a couple of hundred pounds and up, and cheapo, easy to break ones for around £30. You can guess which one I went for (hint: champagne tastes, lager budget. It was the latter.)

I was a bit worried that the poor dehydrator would suffer the same fate as so many of its gadget breathren - left to gather space in a box in some unloved cupboard until it's rediscovered by someone saying "why on earth did I buy this?"

Happily, that's not been the case. Me and my dehydrator are very happy together and we've been spending a lot of time together ever since we met. Sure, it's a bit of a space hog, but I can overlook that without too much trouble.

The best reason to get a dehydrator? KALE CHIIIIIIIPS!

They sell those for £4 a packet in some of the whole foods shops (or in Whole Foods' shops, in fact!) Now I've got a dehydrator, I can just knock up a load of kale chips at home for a few pennies. These were made with purple kale I got from Borough market with a mix of soy sauce, tahini, rice vinegar and mirin on, dehydrated for a couple of hours. I think them being purple makes them taste better in some way.

Then there's also homemade Nakd bar bites for a bit of a sweet treat. These ones are a mix of dried dates and figs, and whatever mixed nuts I had in the cupboard - peanuts and almonds I think. They took a little while to dehydrate, but they were lovely when they were done.

Also joining my new dehydrator roster are beetroot chips - I used candy beets because they mean less purple juice to clean up, and because they look so pretty. They make a nice alternative to potato chips, and they're awesome rawsome with a bit of hummus.

That's three for three on my first dehydrator recipes - I'm very pleased so far. Any suggestions for what to make next? Send em over!

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The joy of having a decent cameraphone on you at all times is that you never miss a chance to snap something beautiful you get at a restaurant or something tasty you've just made. The downside is that you end up with a waxy build-up of random shots food on your phone you feel obliged to purge in an equally random blog post.

Join me, dear readers, for a new series: Crap I Found on My Phone. Some of this stuff is antediluvian, so you can play Guess What's In It along with me.

First up, this bowl of what appears to be a mix of quinoa, squash, tomato, parsley, black beans, and kale. It's the sort of dish I cook up when I imagine I have to placate the health gods: look, oh great ones, beans and greens on one plate! Please forgive me for my continued worship of cake!

Worship of cake that may have taken the form of this:

It's the Inspiral raw blackout cake, picked up from Whole Foods. It comes in a cute little jar, and because it's raw, it allows you to think you're actually eating some form of health food. At least, that's what I tell myself. Next up: work out the mental tricks needed to convince myself that as beer is made of hops and yeast, it can somehow be counted towards my five a day.

Also excavated from my phone was this picture of raspberry pancakes:

These were a surprise breakfast treat made by a great friend of mine when I stayed the weekend at her house. We stayed up late playing zombie-themed computer games, and when I awoke, there was a whole pile of lovely raspberry pancakes ready for me. 

I grant you, they may not look like food-styled beauties, but I'd already eaten platefuls of them with such speed, it took super-human restraint to pause for a moment, pull out my phone and take a picture. They were lovely and pillowy and sharp from the fruit. A friend with pancakes is a friend indeed.

Next up, another Borough market vegetable buying expedition that ended with me having bought something cool I had no idea what to do with: a big bag of pied bleu mushrooms. They have a lovely faint blue colour, and a lovely bouncy texture. 

I decided to put them to use in a recipe that originally featured in the Guardian's top 10 cauliflower recipes (scroll down to the bottom - it's the roasted cauliflower tart with oat-walnut crust and lemon herb filling recipe).

I followed the recipe but subbed out the cauliflower for the pied bleus and went from there. I had been planning to make it more of a quiche using silken tofu, but after my blender started making a funny noise, I fished out from amongst it all a peg. Yep, a common or garden clothes peg, which I can only assume was in the Mori-Nu box somewhere. Has anyone else had that happen?!

I decided to abandon the tofu and peg to the bin (I'm all for trying out new flavours, but trying splinters is a little too far out) and use the Guardian recipe. It turns out like this:

(It's in two halves because my other half is a mushroom phobe, so he got the tomato half.

The crust was amazing - far more interesting than the standard pastry, enlivened by the addition of walnuts and oats. The quiche-type filling also got bonus points for a) tasting nice and creamy without the need for silken tofu and b) not having a clothes peg in it.

I served it with a salad which is my new favourite: roast butternut squash and green pepper with spring greens, and a dressing made of equal quantities hummus and lime pickle.

I am firmly of the belief that lime pickle makes everything better. Luckily, it didn't have a lot of work to do with this tart.