Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Breakfast like a king, notes on the best meal of every day

In the pub last night with some friends we got talking about how different diets can boost your mood- that classic "yeah live a healthy lifestyle okay" attitude we all take for granted. The main recurring issue seemed to be that everyone said they didn't have time to organise every part of their day to be healthy, and that's something I can defo agree with. Chips in the kebab shop are a way too-frequent occurrence on my weekly meals rota!

It was this sense of not having enough time that used to mean I never, ever ate breakfast. When I moved away from home and was studying I didn't eat until 5pm at the earliest. Crazeh times. In any case, I've realised through a few good pals that always seem to be switched on from dawn til dusk that breakfast is, in fact, the bomb.

In the winter I'm pretty much a porridge or bust kinda lady. I don't even care about soy milk any more. Hand me the goddamn water and oats perlease. But by summer I guess there's reason to be a bit more adventurous- here are a few ideas for vegan breakfasts:

In reality, no one has time for freshly baked breakfast muffins or tracking down that bit of the smoothie blender that got used as an ashtray last time you had people round. Ta. Working on a five minute preparation-limit, the easiest thing for a vegan breakfast is to have some uber nice museli hidden away somewhere at your desk, some soy milk in the work fridge and some pieces of fruit in your bag. I usually add a vegan hot chocolate for extra decadence/motivation to see the day through to lunchtime. Be sure to pick a museli with plenty of nuts and seeds like almonds and brazil nuts and you'll be getting a good helping of protein and essential nutrients. Whack three pieces of fruit in and you're basically on the 5-a-day home run.

At the weekend I say no holds barred, go all out. Fried mushrooms with shallots and dried herbs on ciabatta are almost easy enough to make before your first coffee (almost, I said, almost) or there's homemade baked beans OR American-style pancakes with banana and cinnamon. Go on, go on, go on, go on.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Gazpacho sweats and sangria withdrawal

A staple Catalan diet (maybe) of sangria and gazpacho

Hey, I'll admit it, I wasn't holding out much hope for an easy vegan ride in Barcelona. Considering Spain ranks as one of the highest meat consuming countries per capita in the world, I figured it would be paprika crisps, watermelon and black coffee most meals, if my (admittedly brief) stays in Poland and Italy were anything to go by.

So you can only imagine the relief that began to seep in after a few days in Barcelona and at Primavera Sound. There's stuff vegans can eat here! People know what that word is! There's VEGANAISE!! By the time I left Spain I'd tried more vegan food than I had ever imagined I would and have basically never eaten better on holiday. Scotland was more difficult. Who am I kidding, central London is more difficult.

We stayed in the centre of Barcelona where things like soy milk, plain pasta sauces and a lot of gorgeous fruit are easy to come by. The Turkish shops sell falafel wraps until the small hours and a lot of the bars will bring you a selection of vegan tapas dishes if you ask extra nice.

Espinacas a la Catalana, or, the best spinach you've ever tasted

But even when we ventured into the mountains- an hour's train ride out of Barcelona, we were able to make up a huge vegan, gluten free picnic with some of the most delicious food I've ever tasted- a tray of Catalan spinach cooked with olive oil and pine nuts was so rich we had to pretty much roll back to the cable car and down into the valley.

But it was the vegan food stall at Primavera Sound that changed EVERYTHING. I ate vegan brownies whilst watching Deerhunter, a vegan thali at 3am before Hot Chip and veganaise with (not so hot) chips at pretty much every opportunity. I would probably have eaten my way through the entire stall if we'd stayed any longer.

¡Muchas Gracias Spain! 

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

We're caught in a trap: The perils of potato dauphinoise

Few people are able to understand the heartache that comes with adoring potato dauphinoise. Amelie is one of these people. Not only did she cook me, Ruth and Keelan the most perfect vegan potato dauphinoise ever, but in the same week managed to get into some kind of virtual tussle with Felicity Cloake over what exactly makes up such a flawless yet infamously tricky dish.

See, the problem with potato dauphinoise is that when it's done right, it's a wall of creamy potato, infused in garlic with an impossible-to-place yet omnipresent nutmeg seasoning. It's the kind of side dish that people row over at Sunday lunch. It's the kind of dinner I've been known to simply take out of the oven and walk off to my room with, oven mits still in hand.

So, conversely, when it's done wrong, when there's cheese, clumps of garlic, onion, ham, bacon, egg, (THESE HAVE ALL HAPPENED TO ME) it's heartbreaking, and why, until now, I had never even attempted to go near it with soy cream.

My Nanny was also one of the few people who fully comprehended the gravity of the gratin. Her potato dauphinoise was secretly also Marks and Spencer's, carefully re-assembled in her own crockery, heated to perfection and shared out among my aunts and uncles. Everyone always wanted more dauphinoise, but once it had all been served up, my portion never seemed big enough. I soon worked out that if I went to see my Nanny in the kitchen twenty minutes after dessert, she'd let me help her 'tidy up' the plastic microwave-able dish the dauphinoise came in, our stealth second helpings disguised by the rumble of the dishwasher.

Just as I tried to savour my helping of creamy potatoes as a child, I now only ever make dauphinoise when nothing else will do. Sick days, birthdays and bad days, when life gives me lemons, I can still be found in the kitchen tidying up bits of leftover potato. This one is for you Nanny!

This is based on Amelie's recipe for potato dauphinoise. I would use fresh nutmeg over ground anytime, but ground is better than nothing, so just use what you have in. Unlike some other recipes I've seen, the potatoes are not parboiled, as this means any moisture they soak up is also from the cream, making it far richer and less likely to go gloopy or too sloppy. A slice of this should stand up on its own.

Makes enough for 4, or 2 if you are not in a sharing mood. Let's be realistic.

500ml cartons soy cream
Fresh nutmeg
Salt, pepper
4 garlic cloves, sliced in half
400g potatoes, peeled and sliced as thinly as possible, around 1mm- 4mm thick.

Gently heat the soy cream in a pan, with a good amount of seasoning and about 1 tsp of nutmeg. Add in three of the garlic cloves and allow to simmer. It's much better to add the salt here, so taste the cream to test if it needs any more. Once heated through, remove and discard the garlic from the cream and set aside while you prepare the dauphinoise dish.

Preheat the oven to around 180 degrees Celsius.

Using the remaining garlic clove, rub a wide, shallow dish all over with the cut-open side of the clove. You may need to use both halves to get a thorough coating.

Then begin to layer up the potatoes, slightly overlapping the edges as you work across the dish. Once you've completed a layer, pour over a quarter of the cream and grate some more fresh nutmeg over. You should be able to do around 3-4 of these layers, before pouring the rest of the cream over the last of the potatoes.

Place in the middle of the oven and cook for at least 40 minutes. The top potatoes should be crispy, the middle and bottom piping hot. Allow to stand for a few minutes before serving, or bribing everyone else to leave.