Monday, 15 December 2014

Vegan options at Wahaca and the joy of vegan box schemes

Alright, I'm a bit late on this one - I've been subscribing to The Vegan Kind's lifestyle box for a few months, and I've only just got around to posting about it.

You know how these box schemes work right? You give someone a few quid, they send you an assortment of interesting vegan stuff in the post. Sometimes it's stuff you like, sometimes it's stuff you've never heard of, but in general, it's pretty much the best thing you've going to get in the post all month.

Here's the November box (yes, I know we're well into December, but I thought you looked like the forgiving kind, so you'll let me off) for not posting about it last month.

And this is the joy of it - look at that crazy mix - readymade quinoa, crisps, shower gel, milk, caramel sauce and body wash in one package, and all stuff I'd never tried before.

I'll be honest, I'm kind of confused about the crisps - it's a vegan crisp company that sells a flavour called 'how chicken soup saved the day'. Shouldn't it be called 'definitely not chicken, because that's not cool'? Anyway, everything in there I really liked, as much for the novelty factor as for the fact that they tasted good. (Apart from the shower gel, I don't know how that tastes.)

I haven't got around to using the

Another minor discovery in Whole Foods - iced vegan coffee. It's not something that when I went vegan I sat there yearning for, but it's still nice to see it readymade should I ever need it.

Pictured below with some rare London winter sun:

I know you've been secretly craving more updates from my ventures into veg box world. Here's another box from a few weeks ago with carrots, leeks, squash, peppers, mushrooms, parsnips, and probably some potatoes as well.

Come to think of it, it's pretty much like the Vegan Kind box up there - I give some guy a few quid every week, he brings a box of good stuff to my door, and then I have to work out what to do with it.

I ended up making some curry with the cabbage and potatoes, because that's one of my favourite things to do with cabbage. In fact, it's kind of my favourite thing to do with most vegetables. With the parsnips, I made something along the lines of this recipe for creamed parsnips with roast winter vegetables from the Guardian.

But with the squash, I was feeling a bit Mexican and decided to raid the venerable Veganomicon for inspiration. Handily enough, I had a tin of tomatillos to hand and I'm never without a bag of pumpkin seeds (never never never) so what better to make than the green pumpkin seed mole? Seriously, there is nothing, in case you were wondering. It's phenomenal.

And, in case it felt lonely, I chucked in some refried beans, coriander, and squash to get all it going.  I also had some blue corn tortillas in the freezer. Yes, I'll be honest, I bought them because they're blue, but you know, BLUE! How much blue food to you get to eat? Not enough, I reckon.

What's better than tasty Mexican you make at home? Tasty Mexican that someone else makes for you. I thought I'd give Wahaca a go at the request of my other half. I was a bit trepidatious after a few other vegans have reported mixed experiences. And a mixed experience was pretty much what we got.

Though Wahaca does have a menu with dishes categorised by allergen, and you can find all the veggie and vegan dishes in there. That is, if your server knows what it is. Ours had vaguely heard of it and after a while foraging managed to unearth it.

There's not a whole lot of vegan dishes, despite the fact that making vegan Mexican food really isn't that hard and most of the dishes looked like they could be veganised without much effort.

We opted for guacamole to keep us busy:

It was fine, but you can't really go wrong with guacamole can you? Well, if you can, you shouldn't really be in the Mexican restaurant game!

Next, a bit of salad:

It was corn and bean salad, allegedly, but most of it was lettuce with not much in the way of either the eponymous corn or beans. Not much in the way of excitement there really.

That was the less interesting bit, here comes the thing you may want to order if you're in Wahaca (given the paucity of vegan options, you might not have much choice): it's the winter vegetable fajita. The vegan version comes without feta and possibly something else, I can't remember and I'm not sure the waitress could either.

Nevermind, it was fab. So much flavour in such a little package, with mushrooms leading a deep, dark, umami charge. Plus so much rice - more than enough to keep this little carb bunny happy.

On the downside, the salsa was weeping a bit of tomatoey water, so it kind of looked like it had peed on the plate. Ignore that though, and it was very pleasing burrito.

I'd probably go back to Wahaca, but I wouldn't race there - it kind of gives off the impression that vegans are an afterthought or an inconvenience. There's a lot of good Mexican food in London at the moment, so next time I have a hankering for a bit of comida, I'll go seek out somewhere with a few more vegan options.

020 3697 4140 119
Waterloo Rd, Lambeth, London SE1 8UL

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Chinese tofu, pistachio pudding, and sourdough cake

Sometimes, all I want to eat is the same thing over and over and over again. Right now, it's a simple Szechuan dish that's captured my heart, and is holding my taste buds to ransom.

I would publish a recipe for this, but it's so simple you don't even need to. Chop a red chilli, a big chunk of garlic and two or three cloves of garlic, and fry for a couple of minutes. Grab yourself your favourite block of tofu (pressed if you need to) and chop into chunks and then toss in your pan. Add enough water to cover the bottom of the pan by 1cm or so, then add a hearty squirt of tomato puree and a couple of tablespoons of soy sauce.

It's not my recipe - I half-inched it off someone else. In their version (I think it was reprinted somewhere from the Little Book of Lunch), the tofu's replaced with baked and chopped up aubergine. Either's fab and you should go make it right now. RIGHT NOW, I tells ya.

Other dispatches from my kitchen include one answer to 'what can I make with my sourdough starter when I've had enough of bread?' The answer, as to some many questions in life, is cake.

I made a little gingery cake with sultanas and cherries and lots of wintery spice. There was no recipe out there for such an endeavour, but the end result all turned out rather wonderfully - a really fun bouncy texture that you don't get with a lot of cakes. And the sort of cake that goes amazingly well with cake. I'm really starting to embrace winter and all its flavours. Why do you get so many spiced cakes being traditional for this time of year? Is it because historically sugar and spices were so expensive you only broke them out on feast days?

Whatever the reason, I'm all for it. There's something lovely and warming about ginger, nutmeg and all its spicy bedfellows.

In other new discoveries, I can finally take my hat to those who managed to persuade me to get cooking some chick pea scrambles (Green Gourmet Giraffe and Coconut and Berries, I'm looking at you). I tried making one a while back, it was grim, I never tried again. UNTIL NOW.

Thanks to all those creative blogging types out there, I was inspired to revisit the gram flour with fantastic results. I found out that making a good scramble needs 1) a good non-stick pan 2) enough patience to let the chick pea flour cook out and lose enough water so it doesn't still taste floury. You probably knew that, I didn't, so I was delighted when mixing up a batter then leaving it well alone for a bit resulted in a glorious scramble.

I've been trying to work out just what I added to the batter in this picture, in some sort of CSI: Vegan Dinner way. I think it's mushrooms and tomatoes, with avocados on top, but you can join me in guessing what's going on.

And updates from the weird world of vegan convenience foods you didn't know existed, I bring you pistachio pudding. (I'm using pudding in the US sense of the word, rather than the UK one).

At a recent foray into my local ethic food market - which stocks everything from Jamaican food to Turkish to Indian to Polish - I discovered a packet of pudding. You just add milk (non-dairy in my case, obviously), heat a bit, then leave to set in the fridge, and you end up with a smooth, creme caramel-textured dish.

As far as I could tell from looking at the ingredients, there was nothing I couldn't make at home if I went out and bought some pistachios, but still, it's good to know when you're too lazy to do just that, fun pudding can still be yours.

Monday, 1 December 2014

I'm dreaming of a raw Christmas

Things I like: cooking. Things I like slightly more than cooking: cheap cooking.

A Groupon deal came through a while ago offering a raw vegan dessert class for under half price, so I thought with Christmas coming up, I should get involved.

I'll be honest, I hesitated for a while - I've had some dodgy experiences with raw food classes. Not so long ago, I did a raw chocolate class with a friend where everything was demonstration (no hands on!) and tasted awful. The person running the class also became quite aggressive when the friend and I (very politely) questioned some of the outrageous pseudoscience that was being presented as fact.


Luckily, I squashed those less than pleasant memories, and bought the Groupon - and a good job it was too.

The class was run Yuuga Kemistri. I turned up late after stomping through a downpour and settled down with around 20 other raw-curious types. (I don't follow a raw diet, I should add, I've just had a lot of good raw food and wouldn't mind making more at home).

After a brief introduction to the ingredients, we got stuck in. No demos, just us and some hands-on making stuff. There were five different recipes to work on, and I attached myself to some kindly sisters working on the raw Christmas pudding.

A mix of raisins, flax, oranges and other goodies, I was pleased that we managed to turn out something that looked like the traditional English pudding and tasted phenomenal too, especially because I normally loathe raisins. (Be honest, they're like sultanas that have given up on life, aren't they?)

Other kind types had worked up rose petal dusted brownies, bocca di dama biscuits, chia pudding, and raw truffles. They were all fabulous, and I'll be making quite a few of them at home.

Here's the mango and banana chia pudding:

Don't these brownies look pretty? Bit heavy on the coconut oi, but otherwise nice - there was a subtle rose flavouring that was great.

One of the interesting discoveries for me was mesquite powder (not the Southern rub, a sort of sweet smelling brown powder with a wonderful caramel type taste). Have you tried it? If so, let me know what you make with it, as I've now just acquired a great big bag of the stuff.

After all the raw endeavours, we sat down and troughed what we had made, each group showing off its contribution and being met with 'oh, that is good' and other approving, full-mouthed noises of approval.

I shuffled off into the night full of raw goodness, good will to all people, and my faith in raw cooking classes restored. Isn't Christmas wonderful?

Monday, 24 November 2014

Too disgusting not to post...

As a wise woman once said, sometimes things are too disgusting not to post, and this, my friends, is one of them.

It looks entirely innocous doesn't it? Well, it wasn't. It was pure filth.

Let me explain - a while back, I bought a ready made pot of microwaveable vegetable congee, because I'd always wondered what it tasted like. I kept it for over a year, and long past its sell-by date, but couldn't bring myself to either bin it or eat it.

Until the day came, when I had to. I popped the top, heated it up, added the dinky sachets of sesame oil and seaweed that came with it and then dived in. It was a party in mouth. That sort of party where 20 people get invited and 200 people turn up, and leave cigarette burns on the floor and vomit in the plant pots and the police get called. NOT NICE.

It was weirdly slimy while at the same time having no taste to speak of. It was pretty much like eating a bowl of snot.

Moral of the story - if you haven't eaten something after a year, you probable shouldn't ever try.

To try and get that nasty image of congee out of your mind, try something more like this:

Yeah, that's better, right? I went to see Interstellar at the cinema in Brixton recently (summary of that visit: lots to love, lots of dodgy science to grind your teeth over). Why I like going to Brixton: it's a nice cinema, and you can pop over the road and get a big fat cake from Ms Cupcake and a can of beer from the local off licence, and enjoy the both with the film, in the dark.

Pictured above is a heavenly slice of peanut butter rice krispie cake roughly the size of my fist. I loved it, and I'm happy to know the recipe's in Ms Cupcake's cookbook, so I'll be making these at home too. Yay.

In slightly less sugary news, I saw a vegetable delivery box scheme on offer at one of the voucher sites and decided to give it a go. You know the type of thing - some thoughtful guys drops off a big fat lot of organic veg outside your door every week. You never know what you're going to get, but it's interesting whatever it is.

My first foray brought this to my doorstep:

You can't really see what's going on there, but there's savoy cabbage, radicchio, sweet potato, leeks, potatoes, kale and possibly some other stuff.

I wouldn't consider myself a fan of sweet potatoes (apart from in brownies) or radicchio, but I like the fact that these boxes turn up and I'm forced to reassess my grumbly attitude to both.

I love cabbage in all its forms though, but thought it deserved a new treatment in my kitchen. Behold, a great big potato, chick pea, and savoy cabbage curry that hit my plate recently.

Cabbage does tend to look like it's crawled out of a swamp, but I don't care, it was good. Plus, I've found that Whole Foods stock vegan naan breads - result!

This box was from a while ago, and my voucher's been used up. Still, I'm keeping on with the box scheme, because I love the weirdy beardy interesting stuff that turns every week and the fun stuff it does to my weekly meals.

All box scheme folks, any tips for me?

Monday, 10 November 2014

Cornmeal pizza, pizza leftovers, Indian pizza, and parsnip experiments

After the Hallowe'en pizza the other week, I found myself with a half a pack of VBites ham and a pint of leftover cashew queso (using this old favourite recipe, courtesy of PPK).

I'm a big fan of the cashew queso, but I wasn't quite sure what to do with a pint of it (aside from eat it in a corner with a spoon and hope noone saw me). The VBites ham I can normally take or leave, as it's always a bit floppy - it was only acquired after the other half requested a Hawaiian.

But then I had an idea how to kill two leftovers with one stone. A great, big cheesy, hammy idea.

Let me take you back many, many years ago to when I lived in France, when I used to eat croque-monsieurs a lot (we were at university, so we still found the literal translation of croque monsieur - nibble man - hilarious). Yeah, it feels weird saying I ate something with both cheese and meat in, but it was a looooooong loooooooooooooooong time ago. Anyway, I decided to recreate that most unvegan of dishes at home.

After toasting two slices of bread on one side, I spread their other sides with queso, then put them and the ham under the grill to firm up a little. After both have enjoyed a spell under the grill, you just chuck it all together and enjoy. Bon appetit and all that! (Not sure why the picture's come out in soft focus, like one of those 80s and 90s photo shoots where they rubbed vaseline over the lens. Maybe it's a homage to the vintage of my first encounter with the croque monsieur…)

Not that I've just been eating pizza or anything, but we recently went back to Otto, a small pizza restaurant in Notting Hill. It's not a vegan place, but it always has a vegan option on the menu and a few others that they can veganise.

When we dropped in, the vegan offering du jour was Otto's old faithful of Thai-style red lentil kofte, with red onion and coriander. The special that day was cashew cheese and sweetcorn. I ordered both, and they were both great.

I only had two slices - one slice of each - but trust me, unless you're a big person with a big appetite, then you'll be good for food after just two. The crust is cornmeal (handy for anyone with a gluten allergy) but it also makes a few slices super filling. Mr Flicking the Vs, who's not a small chap, had three slices and was well and truly stuffed.

We've been to Otto a few times, and if I've ever had a niggle with the place, it's that the service can be a bit uninterested. You know, sweet hipster kids who'd rather be out practising with their band, but until they're the raking it in with their platinum albums, they're just y'know waiting your table. Sigh. Anyway, the server we had this time around was a lovely, on the ball, smart lass, so if I needed another reason to get back to Otto, I now have it.

The other pizza-themed edible entering my gob this week was uttapam, sometimes referred to as Indian pizza.

The 'pizza base' is made with a mix of fermented lentil and rice. You can make the batter from scratch, or handily there are packet mixes where you can just add water and get a decent result. No prizes for guessing which I chose!

If you've ever made a dosa, I think the batter's much the same, only with uttapam you make a thick pancake instead of a thin crepe, and sprinkle your toppings so they bake into the uttapam as it cooks.

I went for some chard, fried onion, green chili and cherry tomatoes for my toppings, with a chick pea and spinach curry to go alongside. 

Uttapam are meant to be stovetop dishes, but I've always found that without a decent non-stick pan, the uttapam attaches itself to whatever you're cooking it in with a limpet like ferocity that will have you cursing its name as you try to chisel the crispy bits off your frying pan for the next five days. Pro tip: bake it in a well-greased Pyrex dish and save yourself the raised blood pressure.

But I haven't just been eating pizza-themed treats, oh no. I've been discovered pepperpot stew - a rich, warm Jamaican dish. (When I say discovering it, I mean reading the recipe and then completely murdering it with inauthentic ingredients that merit inclusion chiefly because they're in my cupboard at the time.)

Originally, pepperpot stew includes beef. Pah. No need for any of that, clearly. 

First, chop up and onion and fry lightly with a big chunk of chopped ginger, a couple of minced cloves of garlic, some sprigs of thyme, a quarter teaspoon of powdered allspice, a chopped red chilli, and a couple of bay leaves.

Once the onion has sweated down, chuck in a chunked-up carrot and pumpkin or squash, a drained can of kidney beans, some chopped up pak choi, and half a can of coconut milk and enough stock to barely cover the veggies. Leave it to simmer for ten minutes, then add dumplings of your choice and allow to simmer for another ten minutes more, or until dumplings or cooked.

If you're wondering why I'm off-handedly flinging around 'add dumplings' rather than offering my own suggestion, it's because the ones I made were a bit grim. Normally I make pretty decent ones with self-raising flour and vegan suet, but I thought I'd mix it up, and tried a mix of gluten-free flours, the suet, and some mashed parsnip. Guess what? It was like chewing on tiny parsnipy bowling balls. Note to self: parsnip dumplings were not a success. There is a reason parsnips don't feature in most dumpling recipes. STEP AWAY FROM THE PARSNIPS.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Happy Hallowe'en pizza

First up, happy Hallowe'en!

Second up, can you guess what these spooky things are?

Yep, that's right, blue pancakes! BLUE! I got a new crepe pan not so long ago, and this was my first time doing a bit of pancake magic.

In honour of Hallowe'en, I made them with purple carrots grated inside. What's Hallowe'eny about those? Purple carrots are sold under the name witches' noses in the local supermarket - sweet huh? For extra bonus Hallowe'en points, I stuffed it with pumpkin (and tomato, chard and sunflower seeds, but that's not Hallowe'en themed). For extra bonus super Hallowe'en points, I made a pumpkin sauce to go on top and baked the whole lot in the oven.

The sauce was made with pureed roasted pumpkin, miso, lemon juice, stock, soy milk, mustard, sage, and nooch, all mixed together. It was really good! Only it looked like something that had come out of the wrong end of a dog, so there's no picture. Seriously, I couldn't bring myself to post it. You'd have been really sad with me.

Still, I've been making the odd concession to deliciousness that doesn't involve making dog sick food.

Inspired by Maud on Food Feud, I decided I needed pumpkin beer (complete with Hallowe'en cup)

Also, I discovered these little guys at Marks and Spencer. They're not labelled as vegan, but there's nothing non-vegan in them that I can see. They're rather cute.

But what's cooler than all these things is - jack o' lantern pizza! In honour of Hallowe'en, I decided to make some festival-appropriate pizza. Alright, I don't think I'm going to be getting a job as a pumpkin artist any time soon, but you can see the idea I was going for.

There's no pumpkin in it either - Mr Flicking the Vs had a craving for Hawaiian, so there's some Vbites vegan ham slices and pineapple there, all buried under a mound of cashew queso. It's a his and hers pizza - the other half is mushroom and tomato for me.

And what's best about this pizza is that there's still a slice of it left for breakfast. It's just another reason to love Hallowe'en!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Lunches in and out - Itsu, Leon, Gujarati Rasoi

Lunch for me is normally leftovers - cheap, cheerful, and usually better than the vegan options I can lay my hands on near the office. (What's not to enjoy about eating last night's tea out of a tupperware box while hammering away on your keyboard? Yes, everything.)

Anyway, an out of the ordinary week had me going to Itsu, the chain of Japanese places you can find in more and more postcodes across central London. They used to be all cagey about what was and wasn't vegan on their menu, and they wouldn't respond to questions on the subject, the goons.

Still, now they've smartened up their act, and they're starting to actually tell the world what's planty and what's omni on the menu (all in a PDF here). Armed with that info, I went for a mix of veggie dumpling soup and maki rolls.

The soup could have done with a few veggies - all a bit beige, no? - but I love dumplings and crystal noodles and all their work, so I was happy. The sushi wasn't half bad either, though if anyone could tell me how to eat maki rolls with dignity I'd be eternally in their debt. I mean, if you take a bite into the rice, the whole thing landslides onto your plate and then you have to pick up each speck individually. The other alternative is you try and stuff the sushi into your gob in one go, and you look like a snake doing that thing where they dislocate their jaw to swallow an egg. Tips gratefully received.

There's also a Leon in the general London Bridge area, which does some decent vegan options. They recently added some milk free shakes to their menu (vegan!) which I was, I admit it, quite excited to try. I love milk(less) shakes.

I went for banana (there's also chocolate and coffee options too), here's what I got:

(They're not skimping on portions, I just drunk a bit before I took a picture!) To my milkshake loving self, there are two things every shake should be: thick, and fairly sweet. And they shouldn't be grainy. This kind of fell down on all counts. (I'm guessing the grains were unpowdered cinnamon.)

It was OK, I might get it again if I was having a Leon lunch, but I wouldn't rush back for one.

But chain food only goes so far round London Bridge. Happily for veg*ns around and about that area, there's Gujurati Rasoi, whose presence in Borough market doubles the number of veggie food stalls (surely a missed opportunity for some veggie stalls there?!)

They're veggie rather than vegan, but the only non-vegan thing there when I visited was a bit of yoghurt - everything else was plant-based. Oh yes.

Of course, that meant I had to try everything. Three curries, rice, and a bhaji the size of a wrestler's fist. I was highly impressed.

There was a cauliflower curry, a lentil dhal, and a potato based curry too, along with the option of topping including a sharp tamarind dressing, onion, and coriander. The potato curry was particularly fine. Alas, this picture doesn't do it any justice - but trust me, it tastes so much better than it looks here (I know that's not hard!)

It's a bit on the expensive side (north of £7 with the bhaji), so not an everyday meal, but it's the best thing you'll find in Borough by a country mile.

My bought-in lunch bonanza was caused by the fact I was out of the office on a course for three days, so no cooking facilities or tables to eat at. But I wasn't just eating out last week - I did manage to bring in some of my usual stuff and find a quiet corner to trough it in. In today's autumnal sarnie section, I bring you fig, avocado, and chard wrap with toasted pumpkin seeds and chick peas, normally served with a banana and a big flask of lapsang souchong.

Maybe that tupperware lunch isn't so bad after all...