Sunday, 30 December 2012

Vegan Tiffin

Ali is my favourite London neighbour of all time. We met when the roof between our flats caved in, and have lived on the top floor of our dilapidated building ever since. I made up a tray of tiffin for Ali to say thank you for looking after my rabbit while I was away- and in the process also managed to work out a vegan recipe for it so I could save a bit back in the mixing bowl!

Tiffin, or fridge cake, is just about the easiest thing to make- it's not even baking as it never touches the oven. The name comes from British India, as another word for a snack or small meal. As it's still December I think it would be perfectly acceptable to eat this for breakfast.

You could add sour cherries, cocoa powder or even macadamia nuts to this recipe, but I prefer to keep to the recipe my Mum has used for as long as I can remember. I replaced the milk chocolate with dark, which as well as being vegan gave it an even richer, intense flavour that's perfect cut in to tiny chunks with a coffee.

Two packs of digestive or rich tea biscuits- Sainsbury's have quite a few options- you can click here to read their full list of vegan-suitable products. I used their freefrom Rich Tea biscuits for this recipe.
160g vegan magarine
2 handfuls of raisins or sultanas
2 tablespoons of golden syrup
300g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces

Grab a carrier bag and place all the biscuits inside, tie a knot and bash with a rolling pin until the biscuits are roughly broken up, but not too fine, as it's nice to have some crunch in the texture of the tiffin. Pour into a large mixing bowl.

In a pan, melt down the margarine and then stir into the biscuits. Then add in the raisins and golden syrup. On a very gentle heat, slowly melt the chocolate pieces making sure to take off the heat the second it has turned to liquid and velvety in appearance. Add to the mixture and stir well.

Now pour into an oven tray, spreading so the tiffin mixture is around 2-3cm thick. Cool in the fridge overnight or for about five hours, then get the kettle on and your neighbours round for a slice!

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Home cooking

Christmas dinner seems to be one of those last remaining bastions of meat eaters. From what I can gather it's a meal a lot of people couldn't imagine without meat. This post serves to answer one of my favourite questions when people find out I'm vegan and ask in horror: "But what do you eat for Christmas dinner? How can you not eat pigs in blankets?!"

For the third year in a row my family let me cook Christmas dinner. Previous years have involved gin-infused sorrows over celeriac, raw sweet potato and trout turned an awful shade of pink thanks to some wayward beetroot. This year, I guess after cooking with so many amazing seasonal vegetables all winter, I decided to pare everything down and just focus on some great flavours, like cranberry, sprouts, apples roasted in rosemary and mashed butternut squash. There was so much more I wanted to try out, but I ended up just choosing a few recipes I'd already cooked loads over the past few months (as you can see from December's blog roll) and could handle after four of my brother's lethal mojitos.

I guess I'm pretty lucky that the rest of my family let me hijack Christmas dinner once more- and other families have a lot of traditions that won't get changed by someone being vegan. My Dad also cooked vegetarian toad in the hole for the rest of the family, and my Mum went to town on some crazy puddings that never seemed to stop coming out the oven.

This was my first Christmas as a vegan, but it wasn't hard, it was easy. Yes there were no chocolate coins or mince pies, but I also ate about five more roast potatoes each time someone else had a slice of Yule log. I think if you know eating a vegan meal alongside everything  your family holds dear for Christmas dinner is possible, it's another brain hurdle that suddenly isn't so hard to get past, and not really all that hard to imagine. I hope you all had an amazing Christmas!

Monday, 24 December 2012

A vegan, gluten free Christmas

Happy Christmas everyone! Here are a few photos from the gluten-free, vegan Christmas dinner/marathon I cooked with Naomi and Mark the other day. After five hours of cooking we'd used every pot and saucepan in the kitchen (my daily aim) and concocted up a feast of proportions we're still working through.

We started with salted popcorn and mulled cider to help fuel snowflake making, A Charlie Brown Christmas watching, and obviously, quite a bit of cooking.
Here's Mary Berry's chestnut and apricot stuffing, adapted using vegan margarine and gluten free, vegan ciabatta rolls.

You don't need turkey to have cranberry sauce (it tastes amazing with basically everything we cooked) so I made my own from scratch, just heating cranberries with sugar, a little orange zest and ginger. Based on a BBC recipe, I made this the day before and left it to thicken over night in the fridge.

Instead of one key dish to replace the meat, we had about twelve. Above are the mushroom, leek and wild rice tarts I made with gluten free flour and ground almonds for the base, taken and adapted from this recipe by Vegerrific.

Amongst a ton of other treats I'll have to blog about another time, Mark and Naomi bought some of the best beer I've ever tasted from The Kernel Brewery in Bermondsey.

Along with everything else we also had hasselback potatoes, cabbage, cavolo nero, butternut squash roasted in spices, balsamic shallot gravy, roasted parsnips, purple carrots, onions and apples with rosemary and mashed potatoes.

By the time we were ready to serve I couldn't fit everything on my plate and had to go for two rounds (convenient).

So until next year folks, have a wonderful Christmas!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Gluten free, vegan shortbread

One thousand and one apologies for going a little quiet on the blogging front for the past few weeks. The irony is I don't know if I've ever been cooking, baking, concocting and sampling more! My laptop's bookmarks are now just full of vegan holiday recipes, while my camera has taken on an extra layer of icing sugar dust that won't budge. However, while the baking subsides a little I will be posting plenty of Christmas and winter solstice recipes here.

First up is this vegan, gluten free shortbread recipe- this would be perfect to make for any gluten free-friends you have as a homemade present, or even to have ready to stack up at your desk to try and speed up those last few days of work (and how they drag!!)

I adapted this recipe from an American one I found by Char's Kitchen. I chose to use Doves Farm Gluten Free bread flour as it comes with Xanthan Gum in the blend, which you need for this recipe. If you have a preferred GF flour then just use that but with 1/2tsp Xanthan Gum to every cup of flour.

NB: The photos here of the finished biscuits are just half the final batch.

340g vegan margarine/butter such as Vitalite
About 2/3 cup of icing sugar
2 cups of Doves Farm Gluten Free White Bread Flour (plus about another cup for rolling and dusting the biscuits)

Cream together the margarine and sugar, then sift in the flour and mix until the mixture is fluffy.
Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. This helps the flour firm up a bit and makes it much easier to cut out shapes like hearts and rabbits, as otherwise the mixture does break easily.

Once the mix has chilled, pre-heat the oven to around 175 degrees Celsius. Tip the dough onto a floured surface and add more flour to knead. It will feel quite soft at first but add a little more flour at a time until it goes a little firmer.

When you're happy with the texture, roll out into around 1cm thickness and cut out with biscuit cutters. Use a spatula to transfer the biscuits to a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper.

Bake for around 10 minutes- you want the biscuits to stay pale and not colour. Move to a baking tray and allow to cool for 10 minutes, when they will also harden.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Supper fit for a tree

One of my ultimate favourite new-traditions-in-the-making is our yearly journey to get the Christmas tree. Last year we got a 5ft tree, this year they only had 6 ft trees left so it's now taking up half the flat. I really hope we can afford a 7ft tree next year. 

As you can probably tell by how cold I look in the photo above, it was freezing work. It became pretty clear on the trek home that a big dinner was in order, not a Christmas dinner per se, but something with the same zest for FEST.

I chopped up a few of the leftover roasted chestnuts from the other day, and added these to Sainsbury's sage and onion stuffing- which is clearly labelled as vegan making things much easier in the supermarket aisle! 

If you're looking for something a little different from roast potatoes, hasselback potatoes are fun to make and give a nice crunchy texture when you've got lots of vegetables in the mix. Get these in the oven before anything else as they take a deceptively long time- around 50 minutes to an hour. 

While trying out various ways of making the tree stand up (no dental floss this year, thankfully) I also chopped and roasted some apples, parsnip, carrots and onions, along with a few Linda McCartney sausages. Once these, along with the stuffing, where all set in the oven, I started on the gravy: chopped mushroom and onion, along with chopped cabbage. Finally I cooked through haricot beans with rosemary, crushed garlic, seasoning and olive oil, mashing lightly once bubbling and allowing the beans to thicken a little as they cooked. Cobbled together and all the tastier for it!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Roasted chestnuts and spiced apple cider

Spiced apple cider and roasted chestnuts- perfect for helping to decorate the Christmas tree or getting through a long list of online Christmas shopping orders. With a rich, almost fleshy and woody flavour, I like to roast a big batch of chestnuts, pinch a couple to fuel Sunday afternoon chores and save the rest for a stuffing mix or pie filling.

Having been lucky enough to try this spiced apple cider recipe for the first time this week, I've decided it's my tipple du jour and will be spurning frowns in the supermarket aisle with my three litre bottle of cider for the rest of winter. I urge you to do the same.

Ingredients for the chestnuts
Bag of chestnuts
Pinch of salt

For the spiced apple cider
Original dry cider
One apple chopped into small chunks
Brown sugar
Mulled wine sachet/flavouring
Extra cinnamon, cloves, or whatever you fancy.

Preheat the oven to 200C, and make a small cut in the pointy end of each chestnut so the flesh can cook and the tough outer shell won't burst. Place in an oven-proof dish and sprinkle over a pinch of salt. Cook for 20-30 minutes.

Heat around 1 litre of the cider, add the mulled wine sachet, around 2 tablespoons of sugar and any extra flavourings you'd like. Stir so it is well mixed through. Place chopped apple in clear glasses and once the cider is heated pour in and share around.

Once the skin of the chestnuts can peel away, and the inner flesh is hot to touch, remove from the oven and de-shell, taking away the tougher pith layer. Snack on them now with a little extra salt, or save for recipes later.

Vegan gift list: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

Way back in December 2011, half way through curating my (somewhat extensive) Christmas list, I stumbled upon a book called Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. I think I'd actually typed into Amazon's search list 'books that will change your life' just to see what would come up, and there was Eating Animals.

At the time I was one of those vegetarians people have to call to check they are "eating meat this week" before they make them dinner. In retrospect it was actually the perfect time for me to read this book for a bit of a wake up call- who am I kidding, a MAJOR wake up call. I'd done quite a bit of research into the farming industry in the UK for work, but I realised I wanted to find out some facts; I wanted to be a little clearer in my head when I sat down to eat chicken curry or a fish finger sandwich or even a slice of cake, what exactly I was about to consume.

After being given Foer's book for Christmas, I started reading on the 2nd of January. By the 9th of January I turned vegan without telling anyone for a few days. I was physically repulsed by what Foer describes in his investigation into the meat industry, and to be totally honest it was more of an immediate reaction at first: there's no way I could eat an egg after learning about the welfare of hens in the USA and the UK, free range or not, I couldn't go near them. I've now been a vegan for eleven months and couldn't think of living any other way.

I didn't plan to become a vegan when I started reading Eating Animals, and what's interesting (without giving too much away) is that Foer didn't become a vegan after writing it, but a vegetarian. Whatever your reaction to Eating Animals, it will change something about your standing. Whether it makes you begin to research a vegan lifestyle or all the more fierce as a meat eater to consume only the best, hand-reared whatever, the least you'll take away from this book is a better understanding of the animals you're eating. Don't let it pass you by.