Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Can you eat carrot tops? Yes - here's how

For a long time (until last week, pretty much) I thought the leaves of carrots were inedible. I even had the vague idea that they were poisonous.

But it wasn't until bunches of carrots, leaves attached, kept turning up in my veg box that I actually bothered to get on the internet and find out if all my old prejudices against carrot leaves were true. Turns out I was very, very wrong.

Carrot tops are not only not poisonous, they're pretty tasty and very adaptable - apparently they're a good substitute for parsley.

Next time you get some carrot tops with your carrots, don't chuck them out - use them to make a carrot and carrot top dip.

It's basically hummus but without the chick peas. It's the sort of thing you could use to dip some crudites in, use as a sandwich filling, put on oatcakes or toast, or just get some chips and get stuck in. It's your dip, you do want you like with it. I won't tell.

100g of carrots, cut into thick half moons and roasted until soft (35 minutes at 180 should do the trick, or just steam til tender)
25g of pumpkin seeds, roasted in a dry pan until they pop
One tablespoon tahini
The juice of quarter to a half of a lemon
10g of carrot leaves (don't take the stems, just pull the leafy bits of like you would if you were taking thyme or rosemary off the stems)
One small garlic clove, sliced

How you do it
Chuck all the ingredients in your food processor (or use a stick blender) and process til it's as smooth or chunky as you like it.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Look, more pictures from the outside world - proof exam season really is over. Hooray!

First up, check out these stairs:

These stairs are stairs in the Queen's House, part of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. I had to go down to the museum at the weekend to look at some artefacts for an article I was working on. When I got there, one of the guides told me the stuff I was after had been archived while they do some refurbishment work. Which will be done in 2018. Ouch.

So, while I didn't get to see the objects I wanted to, we went for a wander around the museum anyway. And we saw those stairs.

To me and you, they might look like just stairs. But you and me clearly haven't paid enough attention. These are special, spooky stairs. These stairs are known as the Tulip Stairs, and the site of an apparently well-known ghost photo.

While I tend to believe all such things are cobblers, the photo hasn't been debunked, so we went walking in the footsteps of the apparition and took a photo to see if we could snap the spectre. As you can see above, we kind of missed it.

No ghost, no artefacts. Does that mean it was a waste of time? Not a bit of it. Greenwich is a hot bed of vegan tastiness.

If you pop down to Greenwich market, there's at least four vegan stalls there: vegan Ethiopian, falafel, and a big salad bar. I only had eyes for the fourth though: the vegan bakery wonder that is Ruby Tuesday's.

I can't say enough nice things about this stall, so I'll keep my flapping trap shut and recommend you get down there and pick up some vegan, gluten free, or sugar free treats.

I restrained myself to this rather pretty donut:

It looked a lot nicer than that when I bought it, but it had been rolling around in my bag for  a few hours by that point.

If you're wondering how I managed to keep my hands off this donut for so long, there's one simple answer: I was pretty stuffed.

Being in Greenwich, it was a wee stroll down to Deptford to visit the Waiting Room. I guess it's called the Waiting Room as it's opposite the station, but it's an appropriate name for another reason - it takes an age to get a seat. The place is tiny. Like the size of my bathroom tiny. Alright, maybe not that small, but there's only two or three tables and a couple of benches to settle on and, because it's such a popular place, you end up having to wait for ages if you want to get a seat.

Despite the fact that we turned up at 2.30, it was still humming. Mr Flicking the Vs was getting hangry, but we persevered and eventually swooped in to get a tiny place to sit.

Mr FtVs got a falafel wrap, and I opted for a vegan Luchador, a burger with guac and lettuce and some other stuff I forget. It was really, really good. The vegan banana milkshake I had with it was even better. I'm slightly drooling thinking about the milkshake. *wipes away stray dribble*

While I was pretty full after the burger, I couldn't resit getting some dessert. An amazing vegan brownie and two scoops of vanilla ice cream (Swedish Glace, if I was a betting person) went into my face. I'm also driblling about the brownie too. Had me and Mr FtVs not said we'd share, I would have happily eaten the whole thing on my own, burger or no burger.

Just in case you were worrying I wasn't getting my veggies and it was all cake and eating out, I have proof to the contrary. Look, a salad:

How fancy does that beetroot look? How good is that colour? Beetroot in mustard mayonnaise is my new favourite thing, I think in part because it just makes anything look beautiful and taste good.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

All hail seitan! (and polenta too...)

Back out the other side of the exams, back out the other side of sandwich purgatory! Hoorah!

To say that I'm happy is an understatement. Occasionally, I find myself breaking into spontaneous dancing when I'm going about minor household tasks. And I'm smiling at work too. Clearly, this is not a normal state of affairs. Hopefully, my work colleagues haven't noticed anything's up!

So, with the exams behind me, I can get back into making some decent meals - ones that don't involve bread. Like this one, which involves quinoa! I don't normally eat a lot of quinoa because I think it's what people think vegans eat and I like to be a contrarian. That's French for idiot, by the way.

Anyway, I like lazy getting my nutrients the easy way, so when I worked out that quinoa and green lentils could be cooked together in the same pot, I was a happy bunny. Add some mint, sprint onion, and avocado and you're away. And some pumpkin seeds. Of course add pumpkin seeds, goes without saying. I should totally be sponsored by pumpkin seeds.

And then I revisited curry. Look, there's three different bits of stuff down there. You can tell I've got some extra free time, right?

It's a bit of an Indian culture clash on the plate - gobi aloo, which I think is a northern Indian dish, and avial and upma, which are southern. I can't remember where the gobi aloo recipe comes from, but the avial one was adapted from the recipe here, just swapping beans for veggies.

Have you tried upma? Upma is savoury semolina, and I love it. Semolina was always a food stuff of terror in my family due to its regular occurrence as a dessert with school dinners. For that reason, we never had any in the house and I got to try it as a grown up as an Indian side dish. I love it. Top tip - it's about the only thing that kept Mr Flicking the Vs going during a terrible throat infection when he could hardly swallow.

And when it's not hot food, it's cold food. I don't eat a whole truckload of salads (pretty much for the same reason I don't eat quinoa) but when I had some mushrooms and asparagus in the fridge, I felt like frying them with soy and sherry vinegar and piling them on a big pillow of leaves. Note: more pumpkin seeds. I should buy shares in pumpkin seeds.

And you know what's better than getting into your own kitchen? Getting out and getting into someone else's.

The lovely Essential Vegan, whose cakes are truly tremendous, has now moved to a new location (the ever well-informed Fat Gay Vegan has the details) in Shoreditch and is now savoury food  - along with a few cakes too!

Me and Mr Flicking the Vs went for some burgers, and got these fist-filling seitan burgers!

I'm not a huge seitan fan, but these were really great. You can't see it here but there was some homemade cheese (I'm guessing cashew?) that was absolutely fantastic, and I would have happily have eaten that on its own!

Not pictured up there is polenta fries - another thing I was a bit sceptical about before I shoved them down my neck. They were lovely and crispy, salty and moreish. We would have gone back for seconds if we hadn't already had the last portion!

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

A whole lot of sandwiches and procrastination

Of course, when you have to study and revise for exams, you suddenly remember you need to repot a plant, or do the washing up, or sew up that hole in your sock, right? The best thing about sitting these exams at the moment is that my flat has never been so clean. When I found myself washing down the bathroom door, I realised I probably should knuckle down a bit more.

But while I managed to neglect the siren call of the hoovering, the fact that I still need to eat every day means that I can happily procrastinate by cooking up some elaborate dinner. I mean, look at this:

I didn't need to make all those different elements, did I? I could have just had a sandwich. But noooooooo, because I needed to study, I hunkered down in the kitchen and got cooking. Still, that dinner was just great. There's some runner beans with sauce I had made and frozen earlier, some kale with pumpkin seeds, brown rice with lentils, curried roasted chick peas, and a really amazing dressing. I'm going to have to work out how I made it again so I can tell you. I think you'd like it.

As well as a feeling of gluttonous warmth, the other thing that I tend to experience after making an elaborate meal is fear - and a justified one at that - that I haven't been revising. Then I head back to the books and study until I can think of the next excuse to head back to the kitchen. Normally, that's for a sandwich.

Sandwiches can't take very long to make, right? Wrong! If you're desperate to avoid spending another minute pondering the organelles of a plant cell, then you can spend a looooooong time crafting the finest sandwich a small London kitchen can make.

Exhibit A:

The eggless salad sandwich, possibly one of my favourite sarnies of all time. It's not just a matter of slapping some filling in bread, oh no. You've got to press your tofu, press it again a second time in a dishcloth, mix it up with other ingredients and allow all the flavours to mingle for a bit, get up, taste the mixture, decide more mingling is needed and pop back a while later. And all that's before you've even got to considering what salad goes with it.

I can even procrastinate with hummus. That's Hummus, the most lazy, half-arsed bread-botherer in the world. The thing that everyone gives vegans when they lack the imagination to think of a single think a herbivore might eat (see also: salad, bowl of fries). Rather than go out to the local shop and pick up some hummus, a matter of about a ten minute round trip, I decided to make my own: roasted a yellow beetroot, puree it up with tahini and lemon juice, washed up the blender, and made a wrap. Waaaay more time efficient than going to the supermarket, obviously

But if you're really looking for class A, top drawer, Premier League procrastination, may I present the fishless finger burrito? Not only does it require 15 minutes or so in the oven for the fishless fingers, it requires walking to the nearest health food shop (at least 40 there and back if I go fast), and making coleslaw, including marinating time.

Looking at all those sarnies, I kind of feel pretty bad about all the time I wasted making sandwiches. Then I remember how good they were, and I think 'yeah, that was time well spent'. Remind me of that when my exam results come out...

Monday, 1 June 2015

Is savoury oatmeal disgusting, and what rum goes best in vegan rum and raisin ice cream?

After always discovering food trends about three years after they've passed, so I was delighted to find out that savoury porridge (that's oatmeal to you if you're on the other side of the Atlantic) is still Officially A Thing.

I'd been mulling for a while if savoury oatmeal (that's savoury porridge to you if you're on this side of the Atlantic) would be amazing or disgusting. After a quick bit of Googling, it seems that a lot of people think it's worth sticking down their necks. I decided to join them.

I thought I'd Japanese it up, because I love Japanese food, really. Instead of making it with soy milk like my breakfast porridge, I used konbu dashi and a bit of soy sauce. Once it was cooked through, I stirred in some asparagus, spring onions, as well as sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds, and topped with sesame oil.

The verdict? Yeah, pretty good. It's not something I'd want to eat for breakfast, but I could go a bowl at lunch every now and again. Bonus points for being something I could cook in the microwave at work.

Mind you, it loses some of those bonus points for reminding me a bit of my first, last and only bowl of congee to date. I had my first taste of congee, another type of savoury porridge but made with rice, it reminded me a bit of what I guess eating snot would be like. (Nope, in case you were wondering, I've never tried it, but thanks to congee I was force to use my imagination on the subject.) Anyway, savoury porridge reminded me of that.

Is that just psychological? I eat porridge almost every morning, but it doesn't have that snotty texture. Is it the made with water vs made with milk thing? Someone call a porridge scientist, the not knowing is just eating me up.

Talking of eating it all up, this was more like it. Where you're from, fish tacos might be normal fodder, but I decided to break my duck on a vegan version.

There's some VBites fish style fingers in there, with some carrot, maybe some avocado and some leaves, I guess.

And, for bonus points, some Mexican style summer greens. I'll be honest, I'm not sure what summer greens are, but I guess they're just spring greens that overstayed their welcome - not that I'm complaining, it's nice to have some UK-grown irony greens. (US types, are spring/summer greens a bit like an Old World collard greens?) Anyway, I tried to Mexican them up with a bit of cumin and oregano, and probably a load of hot sauce.

More UK grown wonderment in the form of rhubarb! I love rhubarb's tart flavour and eye-stinging pink colour. It sings health and taste and as it's dangerously cheap at the moment, I'm stuffing my face and you can't stop me. 

Roasted rhubarb covered with custard - what could be better than that? I mean, lots of things - world peace, a lottery win, Trojan ska - but what could be better than that and still fit in a little tiny ramekin?

I did wonder if I could turn into into a rhubarb and crème brûlée by shoving a snowdrift of sugar on top and leaving it under the grill. Reckon that would work? I chickened out of doing it because I thought I'd a 50% chance of getting rhubarb crème brûlée and 50% chance of getting sugary rhubarb and custard covered in shards of broken pottery.

I decided I was too attached to my soft palette to risk it, so I went for the safe option and enjoyed the rhubarb and custard. It was lovely hot and lovely cold the next day too. Excellent work, rhubarb.
Another flavour I always think of as being very English is rum and raisin. Whenever I was a kid and we'd go on day trips to the beach, we'd always get an ice cream. My dad would always get rum and raisin, which me and my brother would pronounce as disgusting and have vanilla or chocolate instead.
A few decades later, I kind of think my dad had a point. Rum and raisin is one of the best ice cream flavours you can get. Chocolate, sorry, I've moved on. Vanilla, you're dead to me. The sad thing is that rum and raisin doesn't seem to be a thing any more in omni world, let alone in vegandom.
Which leaves you with only one option, right? Vegan soft serve! Note to self: there are very few things that can't be solved with vegan soft serve. So: rum and raisin. First, soak your raisins in rum for half an hour or so. Chuck one frozen banana in the blender with a splash of milk. When all is suitably blended, stir in your rummy raisins. Stir, put it all into a dish and pour over more rum.
And because I love you guys, I've tested this out extensively and I can report that the rum you need for this is Stroh. You're welcome.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

A black bean and sweet potato burger recipe for Vegan Burger Day

Happy Vegan Burger Day!

Like you need any excuse to eat vegan burgers, but if you do, I'm happy to provide one! I read on Tea and Sympatico the other day that a bunch of Belgian vegans had decided to start the event as a plant-based alternative to the omni burger day.

When it comes to burgers, normally I just reach for something out of the freezer (Fry's, I'm looking at you here). Given the importance of today's festival though, I thought I should actually try making my own and seeing what happens.

The result, accompanied by sweet and normal potato fries and coleslaw, was surprisingly tasty!

Here's what I did:

One small sweet potato
One white onion
One red chilli
Three garlic cloves
One tin of black beans, drained
One grated carrot
One teaspoon of coriander seeds, lightly toasted and ground
Two teaspoons of cumin seeds, lightly toasted and ground
One chopped chilli in adobo, plus half teaspoon of adobo
Half teaspoon of soy sauce
One ounce of oats

How you do it
Roast a small sweet potato  in the oven until soft (or microwave it).

Sweat off one onion in 1 tbsp of oil. Once it's softened, add a chopped red chilli and three chopped up cloves of garlic and fry another couple of minutes.

Pile the sweet potato, onion, garlic, chilli into a bowl with the black beans, grated carrot, spices, chilli, soy sauce, and oats.

Take out a quarter of the mix, and blend to a paste. Add another quarter, pulse a couple of times, then add the rest of the mix and stir. If it looks a bit wet, add more oats.

Shape into patties and bake at 200C for 20-25 minutes, flipping over mid-way through cooking. They firm up a bit the next day, so they're good to reheat if you want a rerun of Vegan Burger Day tomorrow.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Cobnuts to you all

I've been banging on about spring for a while, but thanks to a bit of stuff I forgot on my camera, we're going to get a little bit up in autumn's grill.

Last autumn, I bought a bag full of cobnuts and promptly stuck them in the fridge. For months. Seriously, months. I'd never cooked with them before, they sort of looked a bit alien, so I put them in the vegetable crisper and forget about them.

It was only after a bit of fridge archaeology that I found the stray paper bag and the sorry looking cobnuts within. And then I made these cookies with the cobnuts:

I really am a dumbass. Did you know how good cobnuts were? You did? Why didn't you all tell me?! They're so sweet, like little blocks of caramel. They're well and truly delicious. My mind was truly blown.

So, lesson learnt. Next time autumn rolls around, I'm going to get shedloads of cobnuts in and believe you and me, I'll not be abandoning them for half a year.

OK, after a spot of praising autumn, we're back to spring and all that. Salads are back in fashion while asparagus season lasts.

I read somewhere that pumpkin seeds contain something that's good for memory so with exams coming up (not long now!) and all that revision going on, I'm pretty much putting them on everything right now - salads, dinners, oatmeal in the morning!

(Then again, I can't remember what it was the pumpkin seeds were meant to contain, where I read it, or based on what evidence the memory link was there, so clearly I should be more skeptical when I read pseudoscientific nutrition articles. Still, eating more pumpkin seeds is no bad thing.)

I wasn't kidding about asparagus either. I've been putting it in everything. Including potato farls.

Yep, I made some normal potato farls, and then stuck a load of asparagus, wild garlic and spring onions in there for good measure. You can't really go wrong with that holy trinity.

Began vegan, leafy greens are like mother's milk, so I was proper chuffed to see chard coming back in at the markets. I love chard when it's really tiny, so you don't have to bother with all the chopping the stalks first then messing around with the leaves later.

I got this recipe after some high level research - I put 'chick peas and chard' into Google and found this. It's apparently from the River Cafe cookbook, and there's the proper recipe on Google Books preview. It's not too hard to make, but it's really tasty. And you can't say fairer than that.

For the sweet fix this week, I've been making sultana oatmeal cookies. I think they're an American thing maybe, because you don't see them over here. A friend of mine was going back to San Francisco, where's she's from, and she brought me back some oatmeal raisin cookies from Trader Joe's and ever since I've been craving them little devils.

For a first attempt, they were darn tasty. Admittedly, they looked a bit like something that you'd find on the side of a volcano when the lava cools, but that didn't stop me enjoying them.

And after I'd made may way through those cookies (not all in one go, I'd like to make clear), there was still this little beauty waiting for me from last month's Vegan Kind box:

It's a sea salt peanut butter cup from Eat Chic, an artisan East London chocolatier (so the internet tells me). As someone who happily eats peanut butter from the jar with a spoon, and sometimes with my hand if I'm too lazy to get a spoon involved, I was completely smitten. I love Go Max Go's peanut butter cups, but these are something else. They're very grown up with the sea salt and dark chocolate, with a little sweet filling. I am officially in love.