Tuesday, 28 October 2014

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...

Monday, 20 October 2014

I guess autumn has properly arrived over here. The long days where the sun would slant lazily over the horizon are gone, replaced by sheets of drizzle and falling temperatures.

It won't be long til I'm moaning about the never ending kale and squash combo that seems to rock up with the fall, but for now I'm loving the changing seasons

I went down Borough market to stock up on some veggies and caught an eyeful of this early Hallowe'en visitor - how cool is he?

As a bit of marketing, it totally worked - I had to bring home a big chunk of pumpkin. It's still in the fridge though - any ideas what I should do with it?

The Borough visit also saw me come back home with a load of girolles -  I love how cheap they are at this time of year. They're so bouncy and toothsome, they don't need much doing to them to turn them into something tastyI put them in the oven with a load of peppers and that other amazing winter vegetable, the jerusalem artichoke. I love those so much - just baked in the oven for a while until the insides are fluffy and almost melting, they're delicious. Add a sprinkle of parsley on top, a little salt and pepper, and you're done.

Another thing that says autumn to me is apples! I went to see my brother and his family at the weekend, which was amazing. My niece is vegan too, and my bro made the whole family apple pancakes. Sweet, huh? And very autumnal.

As the only vegan in the family, my brother is keen for my niece to learn to cook some new, fun vegan recipes, so I've been trying to dig out some of my favourites to help her along the way.  I've sent over the tuna-less tuna and egg-less egg sandwich recipes from Crazy Sexy Kitchen for lunchbox filling, and a couple of Veggiestan favourites, including tofu scramble and Afghan carrot hotpot. If you've got any suggestions for recipes for a (relatively novice) vegan to start on, send them over. She's just learning to cook, so as simple as possible is definitely the order of the day!

Talking of as simple as possible, the change in the weather reminded me how long it had been since I last made soda bread.

Soda bread is bread for those days when you want something hot and floury out of the oven, but you just can't be harassed with all the kneading and proving. Making soda bread is just a matter of mixing a few things together in a bowl and then baking. I always use this recipe from the Telegraph and it always turns out great. There's not much to it - you can add a bit of treacle or some oats if you want, but you don't have to.

It's deliciously simple and it deserves to be served up in a very simple fashion - just toast it, add a bit of your vegan spread of choice, and enjoy with a big cup of tea in a cosy corner somewhere. Bring on the autumn, I'm ready for you.

Monday, 13 October 2014

I have a confession to make, and I have a terrible fear you're going to think less of me because of it. But I know you're a forgiving type, so I'm just going to get it out there - I've started preparing for Christmas already. No, really.

I always try and give some homemade presents and bought ones, and normally that involves food. I reckon food is one of the best presents you can give. If people love it, that's great - they get a tasty treat made by you; if they hate it, they can give it away to someone else and tell you they loved it and ate it all, and noone's the any wiser. No having to hide that scary old lamp your mum bought you a million years ago every time they come around, just a jar of something interesting in the Christmas stocking.

First up, sweet chilli jam - I make this every year for my parents. It takes a while to make, but most of that's standing around stirring by the stove. If you fancy making it at home, get yourself a good book and a comfy chair. All you need is some ginger, garlic, vinegar, sugar, chills and red peppers - here's the recipe.

Then there's the pickled watermelon. My parents are Cockneys, and Cockneys love pickles. Pickled gherkins, pickled walnuts, pickled eggs (seriously) - if it stands still long enough, Cockneys will pickle it. I'm banking on my parents never having tried pickled watermelon rinds though (I'm fairly sure melons don't grow in the East End. Cholera maybe, but not watermelons.)

After my earlier experiments with watermelon pickling, I used a fairly similar recipe: brining the watermelon, boiling it with sugar, vinegar, water along and spices like coriander seed, pink and black peppercorns, and mustard seeds.

And finally, I said goodbye to the autumn with a big jam making session. I ended up with a big stash of apricots when they were cheap at the end of the summer (£1 a box? Don't mind if I do) so I decided to make my first ever jar of apricot jam. It came out a beautiful jewel-like orange and it's now in the cupboard to give someone a taste of summer at Christmas time.

I also came across an insane amount of blackberries in my local park, and ended up coming home with several big tubs of fruit. Half went into crumble, the other half got jammed. I think I ended up using this recipe.

But it's not all been slaving over sugar and fruit for me this week, I've also been out to investigate a new restaurant in the West End, called Ethos.

It's a buffet place that's vegetarian but does a load of vegan stuff too. You either by the food by weight, or can go for an all you can eat brunch option at the weekend.

It all looks a bit brown doens't it? I managed to pick up a great big plate of brown.

It might look a bit like a homogenous plate, but there were all sorts of goodies - dengaku aubergine, sweetcorn fritters, panzanella, Eritrean mango salad, bread, salad leaves, and some Indonesian fried rice.

It's a world menu and most of it was highly flavoured - the sweetcorn fritters in particular felt like going 10 rounds with a stick of lemongrass - so a lot of the plate ended up clashing with something else on it. Most of it was pretty good though, including the aubergine in particular, but the cost for the rather modest meal you see above was £13. Yowzer. I can't see myself coming back to Ethos in a rush - Tibits is a much better bet for a veg*n buffet.  (Another odd point - while all the dishes are all clearly marked as veggie or vegan, the drinks aren't. They sell Camden Hells beers, though, which are vegan.)

Mr Flicking the Vs opted for the all you can eat £17 deal, which was much better value (at least compared to the buy by weight option)  - as much food as you need plus a coffee and a juice. That meant he got to top himself up with a big plate of lunch, and also got to check out dessert.

There were a few options for veggies and a couple of for vegans - carrot cake and fruit salad. The cake was really dense, but moist and spicy as you'd hope. Not sure about the pink icing, but I could have easily stood another piece.

48 Eastcastle St,
020 3581 1538

Thursday, 2 October 2014

So, I've been set free from exam hell. I'm free to run into my kitchen and go mad, get out the pots and pans, and go wild. What do I cook? From the looks of the photos on my camera, a lot of the same stuff I cooked when I had my nose in the books.

There was a lot of gnocchi. While I can take or leave most pasta, I'll happily rhapsodise about the humble gnocchi as long as you want. It's squidy, it cooks in a couple of minutes, and it somehow manages to make me think I'm cooking fancy food, even when the gnocchi comes out of a packet that's aged gently in my freezer. Let me enjoy my delusion for a bit, eh?

Here's one example of my gnocci fandom:

It was a stab at doing something late summery with yellow and green courgettes, mint and pink peppercorns, which I like so much I covertly sneak a couple out of the jar and crack them between my teeth when no one is looking. (I'm not sure who I think is going to come after me for my spice-sneakery - the peppercorn peppercops?)

Things I discovered while cooking this dish a) yellow courgettes are incredibly watery and reduce to slime if you don't pay attention. b) that slime is still tasty.

There was more to be found gnocchi to be found here:

I don't know why, but this dish looks kind of spooky, doesn't it? It was just meant to be a sort of autumnal gnocchi (well hello, gem squash and spring greens) but it looks more like a science experiment that's been caught under a spotlight while trying to escape from custody. Again, it tasted pretty nice. Probably needed a spot of tidying up though.

After my gnocchi Stockholm syndrome subsided, I was seized with a desire for one dish which I'd mentally bookmarked on another blog (mentally bookmarked = another way of saying I can't for the life of me remember on whose blog it appeared). I'd been craving it desperately, and finally got a bit of time to do the necessary veggie pampering: a spot of roasted greens (featuring windowsill chard!), yellow beetroot cut into chunks that look a bit like some Easter Island heads, avocado and rice. Holy moly, it was good.


Normally I tend to avoid the cravings that my body has as typically they're for cake, but sometimes, just sometimes, it comes up with the goods. This was so simple and delicious, I was very full, very happy, and very satisfied afterwards. I had it again the next day. I would probably have had it the day after that, but for the fact that I'd run out of 'root.

But (wo)man cannot live on gnocchi and beetroot alone. Me and Mr Flicking the Vs went out for lunch to a Cuban restaurant near us that we kept walking past and not going in.

Big mistake.

Casa Cuba in Crystal Palace has two vegan options for main meals on its menu, and a few vegan sides to boot. Mr Flicking the Vs and me got one each and shared (by sharing I mean we divided each in half, then I ate my half and kept taking crafty bites of his half for good measure). I got the vegan black bean burger and he got the beans and rice plate.

I've not been to Cuba, so I can't make any claims about the authenticity of the food, but I can definitely vouch for its tastiness. The cassava fries on my plate and the fried plantains on his were things that I don't eat often enough. The rice-plus-beans-plus-avocado combo reminded me of the food we got a lot of in Central America - I loved it there, I loved it in Crystal Palace. We're definitely not leaving it so long til we take another food holiday with Casa Cuba.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Finally, FINALLY the exams are behind me! I feel so relaxed now that I don't have to permanently think about how long I've got til the next multi-hour mind-bender. I'm doing a little dance in front of my computer, that's how excited I am.

I can't tell you how good it is not to be able to read novels on the train to work, not textbooks, how happy I am that I can make dates with friends not with practice exam papers. I've got the first results back, and things are looking positive, but I should know for sure by the end of the year.

Hopefully in November, I'll find out how I did in the toughest one - a five and a half hour beast. We did get a lunch break mid way through, and I was exhausted. I had the solution in my bag though - a vegan power bar.

I got the recipe idea from another blog, but I can't remember who it was - if any recognises them, let me know and I'll add the link in! Here's how you do it: put a couple of handfuls of oats in a blender with a ripe banana, then stir in a load of fruit, seeds, and nuts (I used almonds, sunflower seed, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, glace cherries, sultanas, and cashews) and a bit of tahini, then bake in a medium oven til set.

They must not be the prettiest things in the world, but they pack a huge energy punch and keep you going through a five and a half hour exam. They do pretty much everything apart from giving you the answers. (Man, I got to find a recipe that does that).

Once it was all over, Mr Flicking the Vs helped me celebrate with a load of cake, including this Inspiral raw vanilla berry tart. So pretty in its little glass jar, so darned tasty.

Of course, one of the things I've been most looking forward to is getting back to cooking and blogging on a regular basis. I love spending time in the kitchen, but that went south with the exams. Now I've reemerged back into the world of pots and pans, and I feel like I've almost missed out on the whole wonderful world of summer produce while I've been studying - stone fruit, berries, asparagus and all that good stuff have come and gone while I've been away.

Now, when I wander down to the markets, figs are in season and so super-cheap. I bought two huge bags and smuggled them. Then, I couldn't quite work out what to cook with them. A quick Google later, and I found this - a recipe for roasted kale, avocado, and fig salad. I was a bit skeptical, but then I saw these colours and I fell in love:
The textures were the most pleasant surprise - the crispy kale, the fleshy figs, the creamy avocado were such a beautiful marriage, I made it again the next day. It was the simplest recipe to make too, which won my heart a little more: there's some chopping up of avocado and figs, and roasting the kale after messaging it with olive oil and spices. 

The spices I used were just a big handful of the Gourmet Spice Co's Magic BBQ Dust, which I got in the most recent Vegan Kind box. It's my second, and I've been surprised (in a good way!) and pleased about the interesting selection of things including that magic dust. It made the kale sing. Lovely.

Talking of new discoveries, I gave readymade vegan cheese a new go recently. I tried Violife smoked cheese - here it is with a homemade (!) sourdough loaf:

Like most every other non-nut based vegan cheese I've tried before, I didn't love it. I wanted to, because I've heard lots of good things about it, and it was some of the nicest vegan cheeses I've tried, but it was still just so-so. One slice was just enough. I don't think I'll be buying another packet, but it's good to know there are more vegan cheese options on the market.

Here's another new-old discovery, coming out of the Vegan Kind box. It's another bag of Nothing But freeze dried tastiness. There's some beautiful alchemy that happens when Nothing But freeze dries fruit and veg. Normally I don't love some dried fruits because all that chewing does my head in, but Nothing But stuff is crispy not chewy. The only down side is that I've not seen their products on sale anywhere - anyone got any hot tips?

Sunday, 14 September 2014

I didn't want you to think I'd completely lost it with all the cakes in my last post. I've totally not got scurvy, I have been eating my veggies, I promise. Look, here's some pickled carrots I made recently:

I have a soft spot for all pickled veggies - I think it's the Cockney heritage - so any time I can stick some poor plant in some vinegar sugar and water with some spices, and I'm a happy bunny. Here's the recipe for these lovely little carrots - it's a Mexican one, so a great side dish for whenever you're knocking up some fajitas. But it's so heady with bay, pepper and chilli, so I wouldn't just save it for when you're having a fiesta.

And look, there are more carrots here, in this big bowl of age jaga here. I've waxed lyrical about my love of age jaga before - a Japanese take on the traditional British meat and potatoes stew, made with abura-age tofu.

The recipe I have normally uses potatoes, carrots, mange tout, onions and tofu. I decided to swap out mange tout, flown in from thousands of miles away, for the more local broccoli, grown in Lincolnshire, and a few bits of chard, grown on my windowsill.

The broccoli looks a bit washed out, because age jaga is a dish you're encouraged to make one day and reheat and eat the next, to let all the flavours get all cosy.

And look, there are even more carrots in this bowl of miso, and they're all snuggled up with some shiitakes, reckon, broad beans, and okra. There's also a big old heap of kale there, dressed in sesame oil and sesame seeds. I've seen a lot of Japanese recipe that mix sesame oil and spinach, so I thought I'd swap in some kale and see how it worked. Turns out, it works pretty well.

Bonus carbs: scallion steamed buns from my local Chinese market.

See that great big slab of tofu there? Looks like normal tofu right? It's called koyadofu, and it's my new favourite thing. If you've got a Japanese grocer nearby, that's a good place to stock up. Roughly the size of a block of cards and about as hard, it's freeze-dried. You just plop it in some water and it rehydrates.

Think of it as your emergency tofu - you don't need to press it or defrost it or marinate it or bake it - just drop it into your miso soup, let it suck up the nectar, and five minutes later you've got dinner on the table. Wonderful.

With all the studying (nearly done!), I've been making miso a lot and koyadofu is such an easy way to bulk it all up.

My last bulletin from vegetable world is in the form of lovely mushies - the excellently-named trompettes de la mort. I've mentioned them before, but I didn't take a picture of them, so here's what they look like:

When I saw them at the farmers market in all their gothic glory for a dainty price, I took a big bag home. I made up a big batch of chanterelle rites again using this recipe and vegan butter (just not as much as the recipe recommends!) After it was all made up, I divided it into different pots, and froze some so when trompettes get expensive again, I can winkle a little pot out of the freezer and enjoy.

The riettes are so simple to make - just fry the garlic and mushrooms, add some tomato puree, marsala, lemon juice and parsley and blend. It's DELICIOUS and when you cook off the mushrooms, your whole kitchen fills up with an amazing smell.

I can't believe we're half way through September already! That means my exams are almost over and I'll soon be back cooking and blogging like normal. Hooray! It also means Vegan MoFo is half way through - which is half great because it means that all my favourite blogs are publishing new stuff every day, but half bad, because it means we're half way through already - eek! While I couldn't join in this year (cheers, exams!) the lovely Caitlin at the Vegan Word through me a lifeline in the form of her Hungerlust series. Here's my two pennies' worth on vegan travelling, and how I'm still dreaming of the perfect baleada…

Friday, 5 September 2014

What no MoFo? Sadly, I'm not doing the Vegan Month of Food this month due to my ongoing exam preparation hell. Still, I am gorging on all the other wonderful blogs out there and will be back for MoFo next year.

In the meantime, I really have been eating properly, I promise. It's just that everything I've been taking photos seems to involve baked goods. It's not because I've just been stuffing myself with pastry and cake, but more that the everyday stuff I've been cooking tends to be one pot meals, quick to make, quick to eat, so I'm only taking minimum time out to hit the books. Given my food of late has been all about function rather than form, I didn't bother getting the camera out.

Yet, when I see a finely turned out pain au chocolat, I have to reach for the camera to share the baked wonder with you. Like these little beauties - I salute Jus Rol's fine work on this front. You've got love vegan-friendly bake at home croissants that you can pick up in your local supermarket.

And when I saw a new type of vegan friendly ice cream on a recent resupply mission to the Japan Centre, I decided I had to give it a try - meet Yi, a coconut milk based ice cream. It comes in a fair few interesting flavours, including this one - coconut and wasabi ripple.

I can't tell you if the inclusion of wasabi was a good or bad thing, as there wasn't a huge amount of it in there. The result, then, was a nice but unsurprising coconut ice cream. While it's good to see a new vegan ice cream on the market, if you were looking for a tasty coconut milk gelato, I think I'd point you in the direction of ZenZen, whose maple, pecan and banana efforts are rocking my world right now.

It's not all ready-made stuff sweet treats chez Flicking the Vs though - despite the never-ending slog of revision, I have managed to get back into the kitchen to do some cooking of my own (though yeah, I have been letting ZenZen provide a meal or two!).

Andrea of Andrea's Easy Vegan Cooking opened my eyes a while back to the possibilities of putting vegetables into cakes and I've taken that particular ball and run with it. Into a big cakey end zone. Repeatedly. First it was sweet potato brownies, and now it's courgette cake loaves.

I discovered this vegan courgette cake recipe not so long ago and now I feel like an evangelist for it. I sort of want to stop people on the street and say, 'dude, did you know that we've been living in a world where this cake exists all this time, and we've only just found it? I know, right? Quick, run home and make one now'.

I made this one with a lime drizzle. It didn't taste overly courgettey (or courgettey at all, in fact) but the strands of zucchini made it really rich and moist. Plus I can get one of my five a day from a slice of cake, so that can only be a good thing. (I know, I know...)

Related exits from my oven of late included some banana muffins. I had a single banana that was on the turn, and after a quick Google, turned up this rather nice recipe for vegan banana nut muffins for two.

I think an oft-overlooked benefit of vegan baking is how scaleable it is. Most omni cake recipes are governed by the number of eggs involved, because hey, who wants to use half an egg? So most recipes tend to make a family sized cake. Vegan baking, because it has not of the grimness and relies on things that are measured by the gramme, can be scaled up or down as you need. In this case, scaled down to make just two muffins - one went to me, one to Mr Flicking the Vs.

The brown goo inside is ready-made vegan salt caramel sauce, a kind gift from a friend.

Just to prove that I haven't only been eating food whose main constituent is sugar, behold, a big plate of soup. I tried to fancy it up for you by drizzling some olive oil on top, but it kind of looks more like a snail's climbed over the top of it!

Still, it tasted amazing, and was mostly made of leftovers so cheap too! I made some carrot and swede mash as a side dish for Sunday lunch had a truck still left once we'd finished our meal. The next day I boiled up some split dried fava beans, added home made stock and garlic, and dumped in the spare mash.

The result was astonishingly good - creamy and comforting. I was surprised at how well it turned out, and had to check it was good all the way through by eating a second bowl. (It was.)

Another non-sweet item that made its way into my kitchen was this bold, beautiful cauliflower. I admit it, I bought it for the colour alone. I love caulis, but this one was calling to me more than the others - what a great look. There were orange and white versions at the market, but I just couldn't say no to this gem.

It made an honourable cauliflower cheese (vegan cheese, obvs) with some cherry tomatoes. It didn't taste any different to standard caulis, but it didn't make me feel like I was eating alien trees for dinner - what's not to love?