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.