Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Sour cherry and macadamia nut granola

I used to work in the cafe of a stately home, where I was given the absolutely brilliant task of making industrial quantities of flapjack (mainly because of the face I made when they asked me to go anywhere near the carvery, and my unique skill at dropping a record number of mugs when manning the coffee machine) . Which is why you'd think I'd be a bit better at judging when a flapjack has finished baking, but apparently not...

So instead of vegan flapjacks, I decided to turn half an hour's cooking into granola....everything's not lost. Obviously golden syrup isn't right up there with the major greats in terms of a light breakfast, but if you're adding it yourself, you can decide exactly how much goes in, and it will probably be a lot less sugar than anything shop-bought. Or just tell yourself that. Whatever. Golden syrup is god.

Makes enough for a jar full, or you can keep in an air tight box for up to a month.

100g macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
100g dried sour cherries
250g rolled oats
2-3 tbsp of golden syrup
2 tbsp sunflower/nut oil
2 tbsp sunflower seeds

Heat the oven to 150C.
In a large bowl or pan, mix in the oats and nut, then the oil, and finally stirring in the golden syrup. You can hold back the sunflower seeds are they are fine raw and can be added at the end. The cherries are added during the baking to stop them burning.

Line an oven tray with greaseproof paper and spread across- you want the heat to get to as much of the mix as possible to bake it, so allow plenty of room for the granola to be spread out.

Bake for 15 minutes, then add in the cherries, mixing them through, and bake for another 10 minutes. Then remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Once totally cooled down, pour the mixture into a jar or container and spoon in the sunflower seeds. Now all you need is soy milk, yoghurt, chopped banana, apple or pears, and breakfast is made! 

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Congratulations Growing Communities!

I was so happy to find out on Sunday that Growing Communities won the Observer Food Monthly Awards 2012 for Best Independent Local Retailer. I cannot think of any company more deserving, or one that has changed my entire attitude to food any more. I feel like I talk about their vegetable box scheme all the time, but if that's true, it's because it's so damn good!!

As if to add to such good news, my walk down to collect the vegetable box was scattered with autumn leaves and the prize of a pumpkin at the end of it- the first one this season, to be found in our vegetable bag...

Safe to say it's now very much at home on my desk!

If you live in Hackney or near any of Growing Communities' schemes in the UK, there really is no reason not to give it a trial month. It costs me and my boyfriend each a pound per day to have all the fruit and vegetables we could want every week, they're seasonal, you know exactly where they've come from and the farmers that grew them, and they taste SO much better than anything you can find in a supermarket.

Well done Growing Communities! Such a deserved award!

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Polenta paradigm shift

You know what they say about inheriting your parents' fears? Well polenta used to be one of mine. After the amount of trial and errors I'd seen at Sunday lunchtimes, I steered clear for five long years, not knowing quite what I was missing out on. Never quite salty, flavoursome or set enough, it seemed like polenta was just not one for me.

However. This all changed last Sunday, when I found this recipe from Skinny Jeans Food- although I couldn't follow it exactly (I have no idea where to find a jar of veganaise for starters) I used it as inspiration for brunch with Liz and Sabrina and it was YUM. Mixed with Sabrina's Ultra Super Food Rainbow Salad, the polenta was absolutely scrummy, gluten free, and so easy to handle on a Sunday morning when most things (ie the London Undergound) are not so easy to work with.

nb. As Skinny Jeans Food mentions- the lemon in the polenta won't effect the taste, just makes it so much more brighter and sunny-looking, always a bonus on a dreary Sunday.

Serves four (obviously, generously)
1.6 cups of polenta
2 cups water
1 cup almond milk
1.0 cup of vegan margarine (such as Vitalite or Pure)
Juice of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt

100g per person of mushrooms
100g per person of cavolo nero (or kale, spinach, greens would also work)
Handful of pine nuts
1 chopped onion
2 chopped garlic cloves
Glugs of olive oil

You can make the polenta way before time and just heat it in the oven once you're ready to cook the mushrooms and greens.

In a saucepan, place the polenta and almond milk in, along with the water, and allow to heat through until it thickens. This could take anything up to 10 minutes so just be patient and keep whisking. Once you can see the bottom of the pan by stirring the thick mixture, turn off the heat and add the margarine, salt and lemon juice. Pour into a heat-proof dish and allow to cool.

Sweat the onion and garlic in a pan for five minutes, before adding the chopped mushrooms. Try to use a large pan where the mushrooms wont sit on top of each other, as this makes them go soggy.

Whilst waiting for the mushrooms to cook, heat a saucepan without any oil and toast the pine nuts- this will only take 2-3 minutes. Set aside.

Once the mushrooms are browned, add the cavolo nero and any seasoning. Finally plate up with chunks of the polenta and pine nuts on top. A salad is great to add to this dish to counteract the oil and lighten up the polenta, or just a few grilled tomatoes and black coffee.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Off the menu: a breakdown

The long and short of it is eating out as a vegan in most standard restaurants pretty much sucks. There will be the odd, amazing place that are happy to make something up for you in the kitchen, but most restaurants will see you as a Meg Ryan circa When Harry Met Sally orderer (she is just the greatest though) and after all the caveats and cross examinations, you're left with chips and salad. And a slice of bread. Thanks, Wetherspoons.

There are a few places that make it very easy to order vegan. Orders without parenthesis or footnotes are sooo nice. Wagamama is one of these places. Their dietary menu filter (click here) makes it really easy to spot what's suitable. And although it would be great to have a little more to chose from than just the yasai itame (pictured above), it's sooo nice to be able to order straight from the menu.

Other places that I've found are great for this are Wahaca (just ask your server to show you the list of menu items they can change, and then usually they'll circle them all and then you can just order EVERY ITEM) and Pret are also improving on being clear about what is vegan, (now soups and salads).

Earlier in the year I was in contact with Eat over their sliiiiightly confusing (read: very) dietary listings. They've since added two new vegan soups to their menu, and taken away a salad dressing that had honey in it so it is now suitable for vegans. SO IT AINT ALL BAD.

The moral of the story? If you want to see vegan dishes on the menu, ask for them. If they're not on there yet, carry on asking, tweeting and writing emails, until you can order straight from the menu in all its minimalist delight, no ifs, no buts, just vegan.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Roast dinner: this time it's vegan

It's been October for all of one week... so naturally I've already eaten a month's worth of Sunday dinners AKA ROASTS THAT RULE THE WORLD. Because it turns out roasts aren't actually *that* hard to veganise... apart from the whole roasted meaty bit. The rest is a breeze.

Just like fry ups, everyone has their favourite components for roasts- but here's a few vegan ideas and alternatives I've been working on (eating a lot of)...

Making a nut roast from scratch (that's coming later) or cooking Morrisons Butternut Squash Nut Roast - (seen above) Morrisons don't provide a list of vegan-suitable products, but as far as I can tell and have researched, these are vegan friendly.

Roast potatoes with olive oil, roasted carrots, parsnips, apples, shallots, cauliflower, curry-roasted squash (again, coming later...) onions, garlic and not forgetting cubed and roasted celeriac.

Mashed potatoes- just use olive oil whilst cooking, and then once the heat is off I add plenty of Vitalite (or another dairy-free spread) to add a little butter-flavouring. This is great with plenty of seasoning and chopped chives.

Kale, spinach, chard, green beans, peas, courgettes, cavolo nero. You know, ALL THE GREATS.

Stuffing- even with a nut roast, there is something about stuffing I can't get enough of! And what's even better is that from a look through Sainsbury's vegan-friendly product list, there are plenty to chose from.

And last but not least.... mushroom and onion gravy.
Running out of gravy is something that just does not happen for me. I've been known to disguise it as soup for lunch the next day, as is my level of devotion to that glorious gloop.

To make a really simple, hearty gravy, (as seen above) chop a white or red onion, sweat in a little oil, then add a handful of chopped mushrooms per person you are cooking for. Once these have reduced, pour in boiling water to just cover the mushrooms. Crumble in a vegetable stock cube and allow to reduce for about fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally. If you're lucky enough to have come across Geo Watkins Mushroom Ketchup then add about 2 tablespoons to the gravy now, or if not and you like a tang to your gravy, add a few good glugs of vinegar (although I feel this might be a love or hate thing...). Allow to reduce until your roast dinner is ready, making sure there's more than double enough to go round- this stuff won't hang about for long!

What are your favourite vegan roast staples?

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Roasted butternut squash soup

The first thing I want to make when I see all the squashes and pumpkins piled up outside greengrocers and in the vegetable bag is soup. Sure, there's plenty of time for risottos and curries, but let's hail in the season of huddling round bowls of warm things in the right way, by tracking down the biggest pot you can find and getting the radio on, a teapot full of English Breakfast and a good hunk of bread to 'sample' before lunch is quite ready.

1 butternut squash, chopped into finger-size chunks so they roast easily
Handful of carrots- about 3 or 4, chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 red onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tbsp curry spice (of your choice)
1 tsp chili flakes
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp ground coriander
1 handful fresh coriander, chopped
300ml vegetable stock
Salt, pepper

Turn the oven up high, about 200°C, and place the butternut squash in a roasting tin with plenty of olive oil, garlic cloves and the dried spices. Cook for about 40 minutes while you make the rest of the soup.

Sweat the red onion in the biggest pan you can find with a lid for about five minutes. Then add the chopped carrots and potatoes, covering in the oil, and then the vegetable stock. Allow to cook for twenty minutes, then season to taste. Check on the squash, and turn down the heat of the soup to a very low heat. 

Once the squash is ready, pour everything into the soup pan including all the oil and garlic cloves. Add the fresh coriander, then blitz with a hand blender or mixer. The result should be a pan full of rich and spicy soup, which I love to top off with croutons and lashings of black pepper.