Friday, 29 March 2013

To combat an endless winter

I must apologise. While searching through the archives of Guac on the hunt for a curry recipe I realised just how long winter has held centre stage here. Don't get me wrong, I love comfort food and hunkering down for the night probably a lot more than the next person, (got the personal best of six roast dinners in seven days to prove it) but I think my capacity for stodge has reached its limit.

Here's a lunch or even brunch to add a little colour to the end of the coldest March in more than 50 years. This salad is warm, filling and perfect for anyone totally sick of porridge. The garlic in the spinach and herb pesto is left raw so it really comes through against the lemon juice, cutting through the giant cous cous and the olive oil. You could make a more traditional pesto with basil leaves and pine nuts, but basically it was too cold and windy for me to leave the house so I went with something different! 

-One last thing- don't bother with sourcing giant cous cous from the posh bit of the supermarket- if you have any newsagents with a good food section or local shops they will usually sell it in packets at around a third of the price. 

Giant cous cous with spinach pesto, grilled tomatoes and puy lentils

Serves 2 for a big lunch

150g giant cous cous
Olive oil
1 handful spinach leaves
1 spring thyme
2 sprigs of parsley
1 garlic clove chopped small
Juice 1 lemon, half for the pesto, half for serving
2 tomatoes, chopped in half
2 inches cucumber, cut into slices
1 spring onion, cut into slices
125g cooked puy lentils 

In a medium pan on medium heat, gently fry the giant cous cous for about 60 seconds in olive oil, until it just begins to sizzle. Then pour in around 300ml of cold water and let it cook for around 15 minutes.

In this time you can make the pesto: in a small pan heat the spinach with just enough water for it to cook in, and take off the heat the minute it's wilted down. Drain the water away, and now blend the spinach in a jug with a handblender, a mixer or even a pestle and mortar, with the leaves from one sprig of thyme, 2 springs of parsley, plenty of salt and pepper and the garlic. Add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and half the lemon juice and check the seasoning. 

Give the cous cous a stir to make sure it isn't sticking to the pan, then either grill or fry in a little oil the tomatoes with plenty of black pepper. While all this is cooking you can chop the cucumber and spring onion ready for assembling the salad.

Once the cous cous is ready turn off the heat and add in the pesto to the pan so it takes on some of the flavour of the pesto at the very end of its cooking time. Then add the puy lentils and check the seasoning once more. 

Assemble on a large plate with the roast tomatoes, cucumber and spring onion on top, with any extra spinach leaves or olive oil for serving. 

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Springtime roast with braised celery and paprika butternut squash mash

Sunday, Sunday here again! A few notes from a spring-time roast last week.

Celery is one of my all-time favourite flavours, and yet it sometimes feels a little side-lined, just one stick needed for each recipe, a few sticks garnishing a jug of bloody mary, left in the sieve from gravy, reduced down beyond any recognition in rich sauces. And all of those components are better with celery, but on it's own, it's strikingly salty flavour and texture can also be delicious. I lightly roasted a few sticks along with some carrots and onions last Sunday, so it came out juicy and almost the same taste as celeriac, (the bulb of the plant of which celery makes up the stalk), but without the aniseed flavour, which I can sometimes find overwhelming. One thing to bear in mind when seasoning the celery is that it does seem to absorb any salt it goes anywhere near.

With the braised celery I made a paprika butternut squash mash, adding some chili flakes and chili oil. The squash seemed to release a lot of liquid so I let it reduce on a low heat for about 20 minutes. You could also add a potato to the mash to absorb some of the excess liquid. This paired up well with some flash-cooked greens and leeks, barely boiled and left with a clean, light flavour to counter everything else going on. 

Roast potatoes, vegan haggis uncovered from the depths of the freezer and rosemary onion gravy completed a pretty huge Sunday roast line-up.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Homemade baked beans

Be careful with these beans. They'll make all other beans feel inadequate and turn a normally innocent, go-to comfort food meal into sadness.

I've been wanting to try to make homemade baked beans since I tried some in a hostel in Florence. I'd been out all night with my best friend Rach when we decided to sample the 4 euro breakfast at the place where we were staying. I was yet to eat a full meal since arriving as vegan fare was proving pretty hard to come by, that was until I found the huge metal dishes of cannelini beans stewing in a rich tomato and rosemary sauce at the hostel canteen. Despite a hangover veering on sea sickness, me and Rach made it through two platefuls of these beans, with just bread and black coffee. I loved how something traditionally English and run-of-the-mill had been turned into one of the most delicious breakfasts ever after being translated into Italian. 

This isn't fast food, it will take about an hour to prepare, but it's worth every minute. You'll know it's properly ready when the tomatoes reduce way down so they make the beans almost sticky and rich with the olive oil.

Serves 4
1 tin haricot beans
1 tin cannellini beans
2 sprigs of rosemary
1 onion, chopped small
2 cloves garlic, chopped small
Olive oil
1 carton or tin of chopped tomatoes

Sweat the onions, garlic and seasoning in a frying pan with plenty of olive oil. Once the onion begins to go translucent add both tins of beans with some sprigs of rosemary, and a little water to stop the beans from sticking.

Allow the beans to cook and reduce into the water, checking the seasoning for enough salt and pepper. Once the liquid has gone, add the tin of tomatoes and stir into the beans. Now simmer for around 30 minutes until the beans are well done and the tomato juice totally reduced. 

Add a sprig of rosemary and more olive oil before serving. These will keep in the fridge for at least another day, but be warned, they'll steal the limelight from pretty much anything else you put on your plate. 

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Plum and blood orange crumble

My Mum is the queen of puddings. Pavlovas the size of your pillow, spewing with summer fruits and broken chocolate, or huge, washing-up bowl size birthday cakes made to perfection. Dense, muddy brownies and tiny chunks of sweeter-than-thou tiffin for after school. But my favourite of my Mum's puddings isn't ostentatious or planning to make an entrance with sparklers- it's the crumble, which she makes on a Sunday night, usually wheeled into the living room on a tea trolley by about 9pm, with custard and cups of coffee.

This is my version of a Sunday night crumble that never fails to perk up Monday and Tuesday mornings for breakfast, as the blood orange juice gives the crumble a spectacular colour for brightening up any bowl. I tried Alpro's soy custard for the first time with this recipe and I could hardly taste the difference between dairy custard.

Serves 4
1 punnet or about 2 handfuls of plums, de-stoned and cut in half
Juice of 4 blood oranges
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1 tbsp caster sugar for the fruit
2 tbsp caster sugar for the crumble mix
1 1/2 cup plain flour
1/3 cup vegan margarine

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. In a large mixing bowl, rub together the margarine, flour and sugar until the texture is just a little thicker than sand but very smooth. Set aside.

On a low flame, heat the plums and blood orange juice in a pan, adding in the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. You could add in any other spices or fruit you think could also work here.

After about 10 minutes on a low heat the fruit will have begun to stew a little so it is soft and has absorbed the blood orange juice. Pour the mix into a lightly greased oven-proof dish, and top off with the crumble mix.

Bake for around 30 minutes or until the topping starts to crisp up and is a dark golden colour. Serve hot or cold with custard, cream, or just plain.

Monday, 18 March 2013

When birthday cakes go wrong

The day after my birthday I spent a train journey home plotting how to make this cake. There were diagrams, there were pros and cons lists drawn up for each recipe, a somewhat lengthily discussion with various friends over txt about which theme the cake should take and even a Pinterest inspiration board. The minute I got home, I ran out to the cake decorating shop (aka Nirvana) to stock up on glitter and sprinkles. I then ran home and began construction, which took around three hours.

It was a four layer vanilla victoria sponge cake with a jam centre and pastel pink faux-butter icing top and sides. And some sprinkles and pale green icing piping for good measure. It was meant to stand at around 12cm high, but it only came to about five. Because it was also inedible. Although the batter rose at first, it later sunk somehow even lower than the level it was when it went in the oven, and never lifted again. When I cut through the many layers of icing and piping and sprinkles (with my whole family looking on, actually quite hungry now too) it was to four layers of wafer thin raw cake mixture. Nice. We all tried to eat a slice, drank twice as much prosecco and didn't mention it again for the entire weekend.

So there you are, when bad cake happens.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Squash and potato pie with braised red cabbage and mustard

I made this pie in the deep mid-winter but I think comfort foods like this are still appropriate when even the supermarket's daffodils are refusing to spring. Made with Jus-roll puff pastry, this would be a perfect weekend lunch for friends and will make enough for six servings.

Team up with the braised red cabbage, apples and onion recipe from way back in November for optimum comfort times, and of course a hefty dollop of English mustard for good measure.

Jus-roll puff pastry
1 onion, chopped into circles
1/4 gem squash, chopped into large chunks
2 carrots, chopped
2 handfuls of potatoes, peeled
2 bay leaves
500 ml stock
Vegetable or sunflower oil
A little soy milk for glaze

Sweat the onion rounds in a large saucepan with the oil, then add in the carrots, squash, potatoes, bay leaves and seasoning. Allow the vegetables just to start heating up before adding the stock and bringing to the boil.

Cook with a lid on for around 20 minutes, then 10 minutes off so the liquid can reduce and until all the vegetables are nice and soft and break apart easily. At this point you can pre-heat the oven to around 180 degrees Celsius.

Add a little more seasoning to taste for the pie filling, then remove the bay leaves and spoon into your pie dish.

Roll out the pastry and cover the pie dishes and seal with a fork edge, or however you fancy! I like to make tiny bite-size pastry rolls with any extras which are good for plying guests or housemates getting impatient about dinner! (To do this just roll out the extra scraps of pastry into a rectangle and spread anything you like- mango chutney, bbq sauce, even ketchup, across one side. Roll up into a swiss-roll shape and then cut into slices, then place on a tray and pop in the oven for about 10-15 minutes while the pie is cooking. Messy, sure, but tasty.)

Brush on a little soy milk on the top of the pies to add a glaze, and then cook in the oven for about 20-30 more minutes, until the pastry has risen and is a golden-brown colour.

In the mean time you can now prepare anything else to go alongside the pie and track down/beg/borrow/steal the strongest mustard you can find, which tastes perfect alongside the slightly sweet squash and flaky pastry.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Vegan fry ups take two: refried chipotle beans and herby spinach mushrooms

Vegan and fry-ups go together like- well, where to start? Hashbrowns and beans? Linda McCartney sausage sandwiches? Mushrooms with thyme and oregano? So here's my 2013 take on that bastion of weekend-ness- when two whole days stretch out wayyy into the distance and no-one needs to talk about things like commuting times and tube delays. And if you'd like to see the 2012 edition, just click here.

Although I guess refried beans might sound a little strange pre-midday, they're a key part of traditional Mexican breakfasts, just as baked beans are to English ones. Refried beans aren't actually fried twice, as the English use of the prefix suggests, but just 'well' or 'very' fried, as the Mexican Spanish use of 're' means when translating frijoles refritos, or 'well-fried beans'.

Makes enough for two or three

For the refried chipotle beans:
2 tins black eyed beans
1 onion chopped small
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp Sainsbury's chipotle paste (or use a chopped chipotle chili if you have one!)
1/2 tsp chili flakes
1 clove garlic, chopped
Vegetable or sunflower oil
-plus lemon/lime juice if you are so inclined!

For the herby mushrooms:
Few sprigs of thyme
Dried oregano
Mushrooms, chopped into chunks
Olive oil if you have it, or vegetable or sunflower oil hashbrowns (Sainsbury's are vegan), Linda McCartney sausages, tomatoes  to grill, bread for toast and of course a Bloody Mary or five.

In a pan with a few glugs of oil, gently fry the onion, garlic and chili flakes, adding some seasoning and the chipotle paste. Once the onion has softened, add the two tins of beans with a little more oil and the bay leaf and allow to simmer.

(While this is happening get everything that needs cooking in the oven on the go, as the beans can take as long as you like.)

Once the beans are cooked through, turn off the heat of the pan and transfer 3/4 of the mix to a mixer, or if you're like me and don't have one, use a hand blender or potato masher in a bowl or jug to blend up the beans. Make sure you leave the bay leaf and a few beans in the pan, as I think these add to the final texture.

As soon as the beans are just blended, add back to the frying pan and cook on a low heat to allow all the flavours to intensify. Add a little more seasoning or even some lemon juice if you fancy it. This will happily fry away for about 10 more minutes.

In a large pan begin to fry the mushrooms with the thyme and oregano. I do them in batches with just a little olive oil to make them really dry, but cook to your preference. When the mushrooms are almost done, gently wilt the spinach over a pan of boiling water, and add to the mushrooms once they are off the heat.

Plate up with the refried beans (which are great on toast), grilled tomatoes, hashbrowns, sausages and whatever else you fancy. Bingo, le weekend.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Vegan Oreo chocolate cupcakes

Without fully realising my luck, I managed to procure upwards of sixty Oreos last month. Now while European-manufactured Oreos have milk in them, those made in the US don't, rendering them vegan. 24 of them mysteriously never made it into the baking process, but a fair few did. I've adapted this recipe to make it a little more simple from one over at the PETA website.

Something I've noticed from baking with cake wrappers is because of the lack of butter, the cupcake often sticks to the wrapper after baking, so it doesn't come apart as a whole. To stop this from happening so much, only take the wrapper off when the cake is totally cool. I've also read that you could do away with using them altogether and just grease a muffin tin on its own, but I haven't experimented with that yet!

Milk and I have something in common...

Makes around 36 cupcakes


For the cupcakes

4 1/2 cups plain flour
3 cups caster sugar
1 cup cocoa
1/2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp bicarbonate soda
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1/8 cup vanilla extract
3 cups fresh brewed coffee
1/4 cup and 2tbsp vinegar

For the faux-butter icing (the measurements really depend on how much icing you want- I often start with a small amount mixed to the right consistency and carry on adding until there is enough)
Icing sugar
Pure soy margarine
1 tsp cocoa powder

Preheat the oven to around 150 degress celsius and fill the cupcake tins with wrappers.

Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl with the sugar, cocoa, bicarb and salt. Then add the vegetable oil and vanilla extract until just combined.

Slowly pour in the coffee, mixing for a few minutes until well combined. Finally, add the vinegar and stir for one last minute.

Pour the mixture into the baking cases to just below the edge of the wrappers and bake for around 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle of a cupcake.

Allow to cool completely.

To make the icing, sift the icing sugar and cocoa into a large bowl, and add small chunks of the soy margarine. Mix in with a fork to separate the margarine until it blends in with the sugar. Add more and more icing sugar until it is as firm as you'd like it to be- the icing will get softer once it's been mixed for a while, but will harden in the fridge. Decorate with a whole or half piece of Oreo- the biscuit will soften next to the icing so it's best to save this final touch to the very last minute.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Covered in flour: vegan pasta from scratch

If at first you don't succeed, try, try, and try again. If there's a pasta machine involved, maybe wait for the flour to settle first.

For my birthday I was lucky enough to be given a pasta maker from my parents. I have been wanting to make my own pasta after watching Michela Chiappa's Simply Italian on channel 4 (which, like Little Paris Kitchen and anything Nigel Slater's ever touched, makes for perfect sick-day viewing). Michela has a ton of useful tips for making pasta which I had never come across including using polenta or semolina to stop the pasta from sticking and some beautiful ways of adding herbs and colours to homemade pasta.

My first attempt at making egg-free pasta obviously was nowhere near as easy as Michela makes it look. However, I've managed to eat a meal from each attempt I've made, and the good news is it does get easier and quicker! Once you've got a knack to it and an evening free, dried pasta will feel pretty drab in comparison to the gorgeous pasta shapes you'll be able to make in around an hour. And if all else fails, you can always make bows!

Makes enough for four-six portions (but you can also freeze the dough to use at another point)

2 cups plain flour
1 cup 00 flour (I use a mix of flours and so far this mix has lead to the best results but you may want to experiment)
1  and 1/4 to 1 and 1/2 of water
Pinch of salt

Pour the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in the water slowly, incorporating a little flour from the edges each time to gradually build up a ball of dough. Use your hands to get all the flour and water mixed together- it needs to be moist but not sticky.

Turn on to a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. These will feel like the longest 10 minutes of your life but after about six you will see the dough begin to change and feel stronger and more elastic- add a little more water if you need it to keep it moist.

Cover the pasta with clingfilm and set it aside in the fridge for half an hour. In this time I start making a sauce to go with the pasta. You could also set up a tray or large plate for your pasta to dry on while you're making the batch. Sprinkle polenta or semolina over the try to stop the pasta sticking, as this will fall to the bottom of the saucepan when boiling the pasta and will not effect the taste.

After 30 minutes is up chop the pasta into four pieces so it is easier to work with, while keeping the rest covered so they don't dry out. I have found each of these portions makes enough for two meals, so you could freeze one of the pieces at this point to use for lasagne sheets or anything else you want to have some homemade pasta on hand for.

Take one of the pasta dough pieces and with your hands stretch it into a shape similar to a lasagne sheet. I have found this easiest to work with through the pasta machine. On the widest setting, roll the pasta through the machine twice. Then run through each roller setting until you get to the thinnest. You may need to fold it over if it gets too long, and add more flour to the pasta and machine if it starts to stick. It doesn't really matter how it looks at this point, just to get it through the rollers.

Once you've been through each setting twice, roll it through your chosen pasta shaper- I've been using the wider setting to make fettucine as this is easiest for now. Hold the pasta loosely in your hands as it comes out the rollers so it doesn't stick together, then place on the polenta tray.

After you've shaped all the pasta, boil a saucepan full of salted water. In another little pan, take a few spoonfuls of the sauce you've made and heat up gently. Once the water is bubbling, drop the pasta in and move around with a fork to stop it cooking together. It should cook much faster than dried pasta- in about 2 to 4 minutes. Then lift out and place in the smaller pan with the pasta sauce, and cook for another minute. This will allow the pasta to soak up the sauce while it is still cooking. Trust me, the finished result is entirely worth the faff.