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.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Vegan baking gluttony: Lemon bars, smore's, and scary apple cake

Do you ever have days when everything you touch in the kitchen goes right? No? Me neither. So when I had one of those the other day, I was absolutely astounded. Let me tell you about it.

I'm a sucker for a fruit or vegetable that I've never seen before. If it's a new plant, I can't resist taking it back home to try it out. If you labelled carrots as 'orange parsnips', I'd think 'I've never had an orange parsnip, I'm totally buying half a kilo for Sunday lunch'. When the place I buy my veg from was advertising bergamot lemons, I bought a packet.

Bergamot lemons are very close in appearance to normal lemons, but dinkier and with a divot near the end. You're probably most used to them as the thing that gives Earl Grey tea its distinctive taste. I'd never seen the actual bergamot before, so I was intrigued to give them a try.

After a quick thumb of my cookbooks, I stumbled on the lemon bars from Veganomicon. After a bit of reservation about making a separate biscuit and lemon curd top, I knuckled down and got on with it.

Biscuit mixed, cooked, cooled, curd made, poured on top, stuck in the fridge for a while, while you check your watch and wish the bloody thing would hurry up and set. Final stage: stand and admire handiwork.

Here's what it looked like:

The curd top was so pretty! I used annatto rather than turmeric to colour the top, and it turned out like blown glass.

And the bergamot? It had all the tangy citrus glory you'd expect from a lemon, but with a really floral background note. It was moreish, and the lemon bars didn't last long.

The next baking extravaganza wasn't really much in the way of baking at all. I thought I'd experiment with some Rore's (I coined that name for something half way between raw and smore's, and I'm sticking to it.)

Something I probably should mention - smore's just don't exist in the UK. We don't have them. If you stopped 100 people in the street and asked them what a smore was, you might get one who knew the right answer. It's only because I hang around on American vegan blogs that I've seen smore's before.

I know you're meant to use Graham crackers for the smore's, but Graham crackers don't exist over here either! So, I thought why not make something raw to balance out the toasted marshmallows? I blended some oats, banana, walnuts, and dates and dehydrated a bit. Well, about 12 hours in the end, I think. Then got some chocolate chips, toasted some marshmallows and sandwiched them all in between my dehydrated biscuits.

I was happy with the result!

Bear in mind I've never seen a proper smore up close (nor do I know whether the singular for smore's is smore), so I've no idea if this looks like it should, but it tasted mighty fine. When the biscuits ran out, I just took to toasting the marshmallows on my gas stove and sticking them straight into my mouth.

OK, you might need to sit down for this next photo, because things get a little weird.

My other half brought me news that vegan cake had been sighted in our particular corner of South London - and not only that, he had brought some back home to try. Needless to say, I was fairly excited at the prospect, and a great chunk of apple cake was laid before me.

I tucked in.

I gagged. 

It wasn't good. It wasn't good at all. It was dry and had a chalky, chemical taste to it. It was meant to be gluten free and I have a horrible feeling that it was made my someone with not a lot of experience in vegan or gluten free cooking who had been heavy handed with the egg or gluten replacer. I know that gluten free and vegan cakes can be amazing (cf Cookies and Scream) so this was a huge disappointment. I'm hoping the cake stall in question was having an off day and I'll be going back to try them once the memory of this scary cake chunk has left me.

In general, I prefer to buy my cake from all-vegan bakeries - they're generally better (see sorry case in point above) and there's none finer than Brixton's Ms Cupcake. I used to live a lot closer to that wonderful establishment than I do now, but the other week I got an excuse to stop in. (Excuse = visiting a friend who won't let me in the door without a batch of Ms Cupcake cakes).

There were a couple of new additions (new to me, anyway, maybe not to Ms Cupcake): Nanaimo bars and red velvet oreo brownie. 

They got a bit mangled in the journey from the shop to my friends, but they still tasted fine enough to bring a tear to the eye of the most hardened vegan cake fan

The Nanaimo bar in particular was warmly received by the friend. No surprise there - a great big chocolatey, coconuty base with a river of custard and a topping of chocolate thick enough to need a pickaxe to get through. They may not have been overly photogenic when I got them home, but tasted amazing nonetheless.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Blood oranges, miso mushrooms, and a first try at potato farls

It's been a really mild winter in London this year, but I'd be lying if I said I'm not glad to see the first signs of spring coming to my kitchen.

Blood oranges are now in season, and they're a really welcome addition to regular fruit rotation. There's something really heartening about slicing open the orange and seeing that phenomenal burst of colour in front of you. So pretty.

But while I'm waiting for the rest of the spring fruit and veg to turn up, I'm going to indulge in some hearty winter cuisine with a bit of a carb overload. 

I decided that it was high time I made my first batch of potato farls (or tattie scones, depending on which bit of the world you're from). I used to eat them in my pregan days, but stopped as the readymade versions all seem to have weird and possibly non-herbivorous additives in.

Given how easy potato farls are to make, why I left it so long to cook some up at home I don't know. You have to imagine me slapping my forehead with my palm at this point for appropriate levels of exasperation. 

I started my farl-based experiments with a recipe on the Guardian appropriately entitled 'How to make the perfect potato farls'. The recipe's not vegan, but it's very easily veganisable. You could pretty much sum it up as: take some mashed potato, add some flour til you get a dough, roll out, fry for a bit. 

Once you've done that, you get these beauties:

They're so delicious and so simple to make, and they'll definitely be figuring in more of my breakfasts from now on. I reckon a few fried mushrooms and grilled tomatoes, baked beans or your favourite tofu scramble, and you'd pretty much be making the best breakfast I could think of. (Avocado too, you say? I like your style.)

And talking of mushrooms - since I started getting a veg box scheme, fungi has been making an increasingly frequent appearance in my kitchen. Don't get me wrong, I love mushrooms, but Mr Flicking the Vs hates them. He maintains they have the texture of earlobes and refuses to eat them in any form (mushrooms, that is, not earlobes, though presumably those too).  I haven't really tended to buy mushies for that reason in the past, but thanks to the box scheme sending them regularly, I've been tucking in.

My favourite new thing to do with them is miso marinated carapaccio - the recipe's on Serious Eats, from a series they did on vegan recipes by a guy who'd gone vegan for a month. The recipe's delicious, but beware, there's a lot of 'wow, gee, vegan food can taste good, wow, it's not all lentils, gee'.

That grating nonsense aside, the carpaccio's great. The mushrooms have to left to marinate in miso, soy, sugar, lemon juice, and oil overnight, and then baked. It's worth the forward planning, as the fine, deep, dark result is definitely worth your patience.

I've been turning to it as a brunch staple recently - English muffin, shredded lettuce, smashed avocado and miso mushrooms. It's heaven in two slices of bread.

Of course, I can't finish off a post without a shot of some cake I've been stuffing down my gullet, and this week is no exception.

After meandering around Shoreditch for a while at the weekend, we wandered into the food hall at the old Truman Brewery. There's a fair few good things to try there for vegans, including an Ethiopian stall, but I was immediately drawn to the Essential Vegan stall, piled high with plant-based cakes, biscuits and other sweet treats.

Despite the chocolate eclair calling to me rather forcefully, I took home a bounty cake (that's chocolate and coconut to you and me) and a slice of chocolate and pistachio. It got a bit mashed up on the way home, but luckily there was no damage done to the rather awesome taste. The glaze was fab - sticky and chocolately - and the pistacho underlayer (is that a word?) was a grown up treat. If you're in the region of Essential Vegan, get yourself down there and you won't be disappointed.

Monday, 2 March 2015

The vegan taco tray I've been waiting for and gingerbread without the ginger

Not so long ago, it was my birthday. The number wasn't a significant one, but it still freaks me out how it keeps getting bigger and bigger nonetheless.

Still, reaching mumblemumble years old was a good excuse as any to ditch studying for a day and remind myself what I used to do with free time when I had some free time.

Mr Flicking the Vs has promised me breakfast in bed. Breakfast in bed! Yes, I didn't get out of bed and go and study for literally minutes! Mr FtVs can't cook to save his life, so there was no scrambled tofu or crazy brunch muffins or any of that jazz, but Mr FtVs knows how to top a good oatcake. I asked for oatcakes with hummus, carrots, tomato and watercress, as well as tea and coffee. (Yes, both, don't judge me - it was my birthday. I'd have asked for hot chocolate too if I thought I could have got away with it.) Aaaand I even got to chow down on those lovely oatcakes with a copy of the London Review of Books for reading material. Bonus!

After I'd done all the digesting, we took ourselves off to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum. I think I've been every year for the past I don't know how long, and it's uniformly great. This year was no exception thankfully.

Then we wandered off for lunch. I fancied trying a new place for lunch, so we went to Mestizo, a Mexican place up towards Euston with a vegan menu.

"How big is the taco tray?" we asked the serving lady. "It's big," she said. We didn't opt for a starter, and we went straight to this:

A taco tray might sound like a safe and reliable option, but there were all sorts of new fun things to try out: along with nopales, there was a spot of flor de calabaza - courgette flowers, I think - and cuitaloche. I've heart about cuitaloche and its fungal delights before, but never put them in my mouth. If you don't think about the look of them, and the slightly slimy feel, then they taste kind of truffly.

Along with the cactus, cuitloche and courgette flowers, there was all the traditional taco fixings - guac, refried beans, red and green salsa, and lots and lots of jalapenos. There was a great big stack of warm corn tortillas to work our way through too, and we just about polished them off. I think we made the right decision to skip out on the starter. There were vegan tamales for dessert too, but the taco tray had done for us, so we'll just have to try it on our next visit.

At home, my notable successes have been oven based of late. For reasons I can't quite remember, I rarely cook with polenta. (I think it was because it figured in almost every vegetarian dish of the 1990s, often baked and topped with Mediterranean vegetables.) I was tempted to break that moratorium recently after a ready-made mix convinced me polenta could indeed have flavour, so I bought myself a big bag and experimented anew.

First up, a shepherd's pie type arrangement: polenta stuffed full of chilli, rosemary and garlic, layered on top of green vegges including broccoli, leeks, and chard. 

I was pretty surprised at how well it turned out. It may not have much in the way of sophistication, but it did have far more taste than I remember. I guess most things turn out well if you put enough rosemary, garlic and chilli in them. Apart from cake. That would turn out deeply wrong.

Talking of cake, when it was Valentine's Day not so long ago, I saw some rather sweet vegan cakes at Raffo and Ridgeway, and thought I should do the decent thing and take one home to Mr Flicking the Vs. Check it out - chocolate and vanilla with a raspberry and little pink hearts. 

Mr Flicking the Vs actually shared it with me, which reminded me why I liked him in the first place - who wants to go out with someone that doesn't share cake?

And to make sure there was ample cake in the house, I got cooking some gingerbread cookies. Here you go:

I saw gingerbread, but I am misleading you, dear reader, for there was no ginger in them. When I came to cook up a batch, there was no ginger in the house, I proceeded with cinnamon and allspice instead. The end result was indistinguishable from gingerbread, despite being distinctly gingerless. I wonder if the presence of all the other gingerbread flavours conned my mind into not noticing the absent of the main ingredient?

Either way, these were delicious. I used the recipe here, but added some vegan margarine and gingerbread toppers from a previous Vegan Kind box. They were great, and yes, I even shared them...